Halo Fiction: Next Level – Cortana or Halsey?

In the 13 or so years of Halo’s existence, the teams behind the franchise has crafted one of the most complex and deep story universes in video game history. Unfortunately, as with the development of any story universe, resources to fully realise the unlimited aspects of the Halo universe are limited, and so limit the number of stories that can and will be told. To fans like myself, this is a sad and unfortunate reality, as there are so many stories and additions to the fiction that will never see the light of day.

This series explores the stories likely never to be told, the dilemmas that deserve to be explored in detail and various other fun & interesting in-depth Halo concepts.

This time, we’re looking at Cortana, the very familiar blue companion who took a turn for the worst in Halo 4, experiencing the inevitable final stages of rampancy before her apparent demise. Later in the game, as she really starts to deteriorate, her personality begins to distort and elements of her creation begin to seep through. Before we look at what this means, let’s remind ourselves how Cortana came to be, especially for those a little out of the loop.

Cortana was created by scanning and copying a flash-clone of Dr Halsey’s brain, meaning that she is effectively the embodiment of Halsey in a digital form, sharing certain thoughts, memories, opinions and ideals. Whereas certain A.I.’s will take unusual forms, some not even humanoid, Cortana took the image of a young Halsey, further cementing her connection to the infamous doctor.

Moving back to the present… Take a look at the below cutscene in which Cortana’s rampant personality takes over, spouting what sounds like nonsensical quotes before the Lich she was piloting crashed.

When her “rampant” personalities get the better of her, we hear four out-of-context lines:

“Do you know what that condescending b***h said to me after our first game of chess?”

“Even I don’t call her by name any more.”

“Yes, well he also said he works better alone. I can see why you chose him, Catherine.”

“I’m your greatest achievement and you detest me.”

A few questions have been raised by many over this outburst. Is each line from a different conversation or all from the same? Who was each line originally spoken by? What’s the story behind them? It’s likely that none of these will be answered in full, some will just assume it’s the product of her rampancy, and others will have their own theories. The fun part about not knowing the truth means there are a wealth of theories surrounding the origin of these quotes, some add more mystery to the Cortana-Halsey relationship than others. Here’s one for you…

Journal_1Cortana & Halsey Aren’t Friendly Anymore?

Halsey created Cortana at a very important and pressured time in her career. She was knee-deep in one of the most controversial and unethical military R&D operations in the UNSC’s history, and had been exposed to ONI’s “unsettling” way of operating for many years. The actual creation of Cortana in itself was illegal, flash-cloning her own brain and using that as a basis for the AI. The result? One of the most brilliant artificial minds of all time, a construct resembling the Doc both in personality and visually. Whilst this connection could have worked wonders for the working relationship between Halsey and Cortana, there’s always the chance that the two could have disagreed, and that almost certainly wouldn’t have been pretty. Imagine arguing with a copy of yourself, especially when there’s a dominant-submissive dynamic between the two of you, sharing the same personality and memories means you really know how to get to the other.

Cortana, being a super-charged Smart AI, possesses more humanity than most other AI’s, and with that more freedom to think and “feel”. It’s not unreasonable to imagine a scenario where a highly stressed Halsey “snaps” at Cortana. Factor in their shared cynicism and clinically blunt way of communicating and you may well end up with one ugly scene. Perhaps Halsey played a game of chess with Cortana as some form of test? The game ends, one thing leads to another and Halsey says something that rubs the AI the wrong way.

This context offers the following explanation behind Cortana’s rampant outburst:

“Do you know what that condescending b***h said to me after our first game of chess?”

“Even I don’t call her by name any more.”

– Cortana to Chief, we know Cortana used to call Halsey “Catherine” from the below quote, whereas we can assume she now calls her “Dr Halsey”. In this context “by name” essentially means she’s on first-name-terms.

“Yes, well he also said he works better alone. I can see why you chose him, Catherine.”

“I’m your greatest achievement and you detest me.”

– Rampancy outburst accelerates and degenerates into Cortana angrily quoting things she said in her argument with Halsey.

 

If we were to now look into what Cortana said when she was arguing with Halsey, we can speculate a little further about Cortana’s more emotive “Halsey” side:

“Yes, well he also said he works better alone. I can see why you chose him, Catherine.”

– Is “he” John? At first, John believed he could succeed without the aid of a team. Was Cortana calling Halsey self-centred by saying she “chose” John to work with Cortana, believing he would work better with a Halsey-resembling Cortana because the two both believe they work best alone?

“I’m your greatest achievement and you detest me.”

– The argument dissolves into an “emotional” Cortana spouting insecurities, one of which being that Halsey detests her. This may well be true, after all, Cortana is a distorteded image of Halsey. To see oneself in such an artificial format may be hard to deal with.

Now, this theory is all well and good, but being a theory it’s bound to have weaknesses and probably sounds outlandish to some. There are those who think that this conversation doesn’t involve Cortana at all and is actually just Cortana quoting things from her memory as Halsey, being dug up in her rampant state. There are those who think (probably rightly) that we need more context to these lines to understand the meaning, and that it may make sense in a way we simply can’t say in its current context. All of it is just fun speculation and theory at the moment, who knows, maybe one day 343i will give us some more background? We’ll just have to wait and see…

Do you have a theory? We want to hear it!
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