Female personality; tall and slender woman covered by patterns and scrolling symbols
|Political and military information|
- "I know what you're thinking, and it's crazy. Unfortunately for us both ... I like crazy."
- —Cortana to John-117 on Cairo Station.
Cortana (UNSC Artificial Intelligence serial number: CTN 0452-9) was a UNSC "smart" AI. She was one of the most important figures in the Human-Covenant War, and served as John-117's partner in the final months of the conflict. Her flexibility and tactical skill proved invaluable in boosting the combat ability of the Halcyon-class cruiser Pillar of Autumn, the Orbital Defense Platform Cairo Station and the UNSC frigate In Amber Clad. In addition, she held vital data pertaining to the Halos, including the Activation Index from Installation 04.
- 1 Biography
- 2 Personality
- 3 Appearance
- 4 Trivia
- 5 Gallery
- 6 List of appearances
- 7 Notes
- 8 Sources
- 9 External link
According to the Librarian, a geas that would eventually lead to the creation of Cortana had been planted in the human genome as early back as the Forerunner-Flood war, taking inspiration from Forerunner ancillas. This may be why Cortana's avatar resembled the ancillas used in Forerunner personal armor, whose images were of a blue woman who could merge with the wearer's mind. Before the creation of Cortana, Dr. Catherine Halsey had tested Cortana's intrusion routines and software on her previous AI, Kalmiya.
Cortana was created specifically for Operation: RED FLAG, a SPARTAN-II mission to capture a Covenant ship and kidnap a high-ranking member of the Covenant hierarchy. She was to serve as the Spartans' codebreaker, hacker and intelligence lead in the mission. As a result, an exceptionally intelligent human brain was needed to create the required AI construct. Dr. Catherine Halsey ultimately decided that she, herself, would be the best possible brain donor for the operation. Under normal circumstances, the brain donor for an AI construct must be deceased, as the organ itself is destroyed in the Cognitive Impression Modeling process. Halsey's ingenious (and highly illegal) solution was to have her brain flash cloned for the procedure. Twenty brains were tank-grown in clone bodies with enhanced neural physiology but lacking most normal bodily functions, leaving them severely misshapen. Halsey then extracted the brains and incinerated the bodily shells they were grown in. Most of the cloned brains had imperfections and had to be discarded; only one specimen was sufficiently developed for AI creation. This brain, designated as H-1, was used to create Cortana. Halsey placed the three other remaining specimens, H-2, H-3 and H-4, into cryogenic suspension for potential future use.
Cortana's first words was the Italian phrase, "Quando il gioco è finito, il re e il pedone vanno nella stessa scatola ('When the game is over, the king and the pawn go in the same box')." This phrase was spoken by Halsey's mother after their first game of chess. The newborn AI chose the name "Cortana" herself, and although Halsey did not tell Cortana that she had planted a standard viral termination code in her software, Halsey speculated that Cortana had already isolated and bypassed the code without her knowing. Cortana spent the first three years of her life residing in the computers of CASTLE Base, often accompanying Dr. Halsey in her work. Halsey enjoyed Cortana's presence, both due to her useful skill and her personality. While smart AI are not carbon copies of their 'parents', Cortana chose a young representation of Halsey to act as her physical avatar, while also retaining some of Halsey's mannerisms. In Fall 2552, in preparation for RED FLAG, Cortana was asked by Dr. Halsey to pick a soldier that would act as her "carrier". Cortana chose John-117 for their neural compatibility, as well as his uncanny luck in battle. In her personal thoughts, Cortana considered him "attractive in a primitive animal sort of way".
Fragmentation and fateful meeting
- "They let me pick. Did I ever tell you that? Choose whichever Spartan I wanted. You know me. I did my research. Watched as you became the soldier we needed you to be. Like the others, you were strong and swift and brave. A natural leader. But you had something they didn't. Something no one saw, but me. Can you guess...? Luck."
On August 3rd, 2552, Dr. Halsey separated Cortana into two "fragments". One of these fragments, which contained all of her higher functions and personality, was stationed on board the UNSC Pillar of Autumn, while the other was tasked with mining data from the Forerunner artifact beneath SWORD Base. As the translation began to progress, Cortana's decryption of the Babd Catha artifact began to reveal what Halsey's fellow xenoarchaeologist, Laszlo Sorvad, had reported of the excavation, a "latchkey discovery", something that could change the tide of the Human-Covenant War. Deciding to ensure the data's delivery to Spartans, Dr. Halsey chose to recall NOBLE Team, who were not being "kept in the dark" about the Fall of Reach, and tasked them with delivering Cortana's fragment carrying the data to the Pillar of Autumn. Before their arrival, by August 14,[note 1] Cortana and Halsey discussed which of NOBLE's Spartans she would trust to escort her, eventually choosing SPARTAN-B312, "Noble Six", noting the Spartan's "hyper-lethality", which she compared to that of John-117. However, contacting NOBLE Team proved difficult, as the team had been separated following the aftermath of Operation: UPPER CUT and would not be recovered by the UNSC until August 26th.
Meanwhile, on August 29th, 2552, the alternate fragment of Cortana was inserted into John-117's MJOLNIR Mark V armor for the first time, and the two then took part in a test to determine the abilities of their bond as an AI-human team. The test was devised by Colonel James Ackerson, a bitter rival of Dr. Halsey's who held contempt for the SPARTAN-II Program, and by extension, John-117. Ackerson incorporated armed Orbital Drop Shock Troopers, Lotus anti-tank mines, automated turrets in a razor wire field, and even a SkyHawk jumpjet into the test in order to have John killed. Despite the fact that the test was rigged, John-117 was determined to finish without breaking the rules. With Cortana's assistance providing battlefield intel and boosting his reaction time to its limits, John managed to traverse the course relatively unharmed.
After the test, Cortana was installed into the UNSC Pillar of Autumn as the primary AI, with another AI, Wellsley, as backup. While aboard, she exacted revenge upon Colonel Ackerson by hacking into his system and blackmailing him, hoping that this would send him back to the front lines. She also hacked into the SPARTAN-II highly classified personal files, and read over John's file. Cortana was shocked and divided over the dubious morality of the SPARTAN-II project, and secretly vowed to protect John to the best of her ability. On August 30th, as the Autumn was making final preparations for the mission into Covenant space, Captain Jacob Keyes was informed that a massive Covenant fleet had dropped out of slipspace and were moving towards Reach. The Autumn was forced to abandon its original mission and to assist in defending Reach.
Fall of Reach
- Main article: Fall of Reach
- "So, you've made your choice? Yes, well... great minds do think alike."
- —Dr. Catherine Halsey, agreeing on Cortana's choice of Noble Six as her carrier.
On August 29th, 2552, NOBLE Team arrived at Sword Base under pretense orders of a "torch-and-burn" operation to destroy SWORD Base, being informed only at the last minute that their real mission was to deliver an armored matrix containing Cortana's fragment and the artifact's data to the Pillar of Autumn, which had docked at the Aszod ship breaking yards. By this time, the decryption had been completed and responsibility of the Package was turned over to Noble Six. Although nearly every member of NOBLE tasked with the delivery was killed in the process, Cortana was successfully brought to the ship, with Captain Keyes collecting the Package personally. SPARTAN-B312 sacrificed refuge on the Autumn to cover the ship's escape and Cortana's two fragments were reunited once the Autumn took off.
During the battle, Cortana excelled in her capabilities as an onboard AI, managing to maneuver the Autumn through an asteroid field upon the appearance of a Covenant carrier, destroying the enemy vessel with little effort. Cortana also assisted Captain Keyes in destroying a dangerous, theretofore unknown Covenant warship, which had wrecked havoc upon the defending UNSC fleet. However, the Covenant destroyed Reach's orbital defense generators, and began glassing the planet as they had done countless times before. The Autumn was eventually forced to flee the burning planet, jumping to a random location as per the Cole Protocol. However, Cortana secretly inserted coordinates translated from symbols on a rock that Blue Team discovered on Sigma Octanus IV, in addition to coordinates extracted from the Forerunner installation at the Babd Catha Ice Shelf beneath SWORD Base, believing them to be of great significance to the Covenant.
Battle of Installation 04
- Main article: Battle of Installation 04
- "You have no idea how this ring works, do you? Why the Forerunners built it? Halo doesn't kill Flood, it kills their food. Humans. Covenant. Whatever; we're all equally edible. The only way to stop the Flood is to starve them to death. And that's exactly what Halo is designed to do: wipe the galaxy clean of all sentient life."
- —Cortana reveals the true purpose of Halo to John-117.
On September 19, the Autumn emerged from Slipspace in the Soell system, in orbit around the gas giant Threshold. It was there that the crew discovered Installation 04 in orbit around the gas giant. Cortana could only speculate as to what exactly the ring was, only able to deduce that it was artificially created. The AI then informed Captain Keyes that fifteen Covenant ships had pursued the Autumn from Reach, and were moving to engage with boarding parties. Cortana assumed control of the Autumn and used its weapons to destroy four of the fifteen attacking Covenant ships. By the time John-117 had thawed from cryo-sleep and reached the bridge, the cruiser was severely damaged, and Keyes was forced to initiate the Cole Protocol. He ordered Cortana to upload herself into John's armor to protect the vital information she carried. John fought his way through the Autumn's service corridors with Cortana's guidance, and the two escaped the ship in a lifeboat. The lifeboat entered the ring's atmosphere as the Autumn was shot down.
The lifeboat made a crash-landing on the surface of the ring, leaving John and Cortana as the only survivors. The two evaded Covenant patrols and rendezvoused with a group of Marines fending off a Covenant attack. Pelican Echo 419 dropped off a Warthog, and the pair set out across the surface of the ring to rescue any survivors in the immediate area. At the same time, Cortana hacked into the Covenant Battle Network, and discovered Keyes' location - being held prisoner on-board the Truth and Reconciliation. The two were transported to the UNSC's base of operations on the ring, Alpha Base, and along with ODSTs of the Twenty-Second Tactical, devised a plan to rescue Keyes. John, Cortana and several Marines were dropped off near the Truth and Reconciliation that night and boarded the ship via its gravity lift. Cortana led John and his team through the interior of the alien vessel, opening doors and marking Navigation Points. The group eventually located Keyes and several other captured crewmen in the ship's brig. Keyes had learned from the Covenant that the ring was known as Halo, and was possibly a weapon of mass destruction. The group escaped the ship, and soon learned that Halo's control room could be found using the Cartographer, a map room.
The next day, on September 20, the Chief, Cortana and two squads of Marines set out for the island on which the Cartographer was located. After fighting through significant Covenant resistance, the two reached the Cartographer, and found that Halo's control room was located below the surface. As the two made their way back towards the surface, Captain Keyes informed them that he was going to investigate a supposed "weapons cache" with several other Marines. John and Cortana were retrieved by Echo 419, which descended into the interior of Halo towards the control room. The Pelican continued to descend as far as it could before dropping off John and Cortana on a platform. There they traversed through a network Forerunner structures within a large underground chasm. After many firefights, the Chief and Cortana reached Halo's control room, where the AI was uploaded to Halo's core systems. Cortana was overwhelmed by the amount of data contained within Halo's systems, but discovered that the "weapons cache" Keyes and his Marines located was in fact a Flood containment facility. John left to evacuate the trapped soldiers immediately.
After the Chief encountered the parasitic Flood for the first time, he was convinced by the Forerunner Monitor 343 Guilty Spark to activate the Halo. During this time, Cortana absorbed as much data as she could from Halo's control systems. When John returned to the control room accompanied by the Monitor on September 21, he had recovered Halo's Activation Index, intent on using it to eliminate the Flood. John inserted the Index into the control systems, but was stopped by Cortana before it could trigger. Cortana absorbed all data from from the Index, and explained to John the true purpose of Halo; to wipe the galaxy clean of sentient life as a final resort against the Flood. Guilty Spark confirmed this and summoned his Sentinels, demanding that Cortana be handed over. When John refused, Spark left his Sentinels to eliminate them. The two escaped the control room as the Flood began to run rampant across the ring, infecting human and Covenant alike. Cortana suggested that they should overload Halo's three phase pulse generators to slow the Monitor's activities. While the generators were disabled by John, Cortana discovered that the Pillar of Autumn was still structurally intact after its crash. She deduced that overloading its fusion reactors would have enough force to destroy Halo, however Captain Keyes's CNI transponders would be needed to do so. Cortana tapped into the Monitor's teleportation network and transported both herself and John to Keyes' last known position - the Truth and Reconciliation.
By the time John and Cortana arrived at the Truth and Reconciliation the vessel was under attack by the Flood, and was severely damaged. Immediately upon arrival, the pair were contacted by Keyes, who weakly ordered them to leave him. After intense fighting within the ship, Cortana observed that the Flood gathered bodies of the dead for use as biomass. As Covenant forces made an attempt to retake the ship the pair was again contacted by Keyes, who repeated his order to leave him behind. Cortana was desperate to rescue Keyes, stating that the Captain was delirious from pain. Finding the source of Keyes' transmissions on the ship's bridge, the two were met with a gruesome sight - Keyes had been infected and assimilated into a Proto-Gravemind. In order to complete their objective and spare the Captain needless pain, John retrieved Keyes' CNI transponders, killing him in the process. The pair escaped the ship in a Banshee, and headed towards the crashed Pillar of Autumn.
On the morning of September 22, John crashed the Banshee into the side of the Autumn, much to Cortana's irritation, and the two boarded the ship and fought through Flood and Covenant to the bridge. The Chief uploaded Cortana into the ship's systems, and she began a countdown timer to overload the ships reactors. However, the countdown was halted by none other than 343 Guilty Spark, who was on board the ship, and absorbing much of its data. Spark sent his Sentinels to capture Cortana and retrieve the Index. John suggested that they overload the reactors manually with grenades and rockets, to which Cortana reluctantly agreed. The two moved back through the ship, and reached Engineering, where they overloaded the Autumn's reactors. Cortana radioed Echo 419 to extract at an external access junction on the ship. As the Autumn began to explode and fall apart, John entered a Warthog and drove down a service corridor than ran the length of the war-torn ship. However, upon reaching their extraction point, Echo 419 was shot down. In an act of desperation, Cortana discovered a Longsword fighter still docked in Launch Bay 7. With little time left, the two entered the Longsword and sped away from Halo as it was ripped apart by the exploding Autumn. Upon scanning, Cortana found nothing but "dust and echoes", thinking them the only survivors of Halo, concluding that it was finished. John however, stated that they were just getting started.
Dust and echoes
- Cortana: "We did what we had to do; an entire Covenant Armada obliterated, and the Flood...we had no choice. Halo...it's finished."
- John-117: "No...I think we're just getting started."
- —Conversation between Cortana and John-117 after the conclusion of the Battle of Installation 04.
Cortana and the Master Chief, seemingly the only survivors of the Battle of Installation 04, quickly discovered a small number of other UNSC personnel in a Pelican dropship. Knowing that the Pelican wasn't capable of traveling long distances, the Master Chief, along with Cortana and the Pelican's four-man crew, fought their way onto the Covenant super-carrier Ascendant Justice. Shortly afterward, Cortana took control of the ship, and returned the survivors to Reach, where the group helped to rescue survivors of the Raid of Reach, including her "mother", Dr. Halsey. She managed to improve on the ship's weapons and slipspace capabilities, jumping below Threshold's atmosphere, a technique never accomplished before by the UNSC. In an impressive display of cunning, Cortana quickly destroyed a Covenant AI, as well as a half dozen Covenant warships with Ascendant Justice's newly refocused plasma projectors. She also copied two of the construct's functions: the ability to translate Covenant speech, and the ability to create imperfect clones of herself. These capabilities, along with her exclusive knowledge about the Halos, made her invaluable to the UNSC war effort.
The sheer amount of information recovered from Halo cut into Cortana's processing power, a burden which weakened her greatly. During her time on Ascendant Justice, Cortana exhibited uncharacteristic behavior including anger, distraction, and self-doubt - an indicator that she was nearing rampancy. Dr. Halsey erased some data from her memory to give her more thinking space, including data regarding Sergeant Johnson's supposed immunity to the Flood as a result of Boren's Syndrome, which was in fact a cover to hide Johnson's status as a former ORION supersoldier.
The Ascendant Justice was effectively fused with the UNSC Gettysburg. It was at this point that Cortana learned of a planned Covenant assault on Earth. The Master Chief, along with SPARTAN Blue Team and a patchwork software copy of Cortana, would later execute Operation: FIRST STRIKE.
Unfortunately, the Covenant AI that Cortana had decompiled had managed to, prior to its capture, send a message over Battlenet, warning the Covenant of its capture and sending the necessary calculations for a sub-atmospheric Slipspace jump. This information was later used by the Prophet of Regret to enter Slipspace right above New Mombasa during the Battle of Mombasa.
The Master Chief and Cortana would later return to Earth, at which point Cortana handed all of the sensitive data in her possession over to ONI. However, Cortana retained the Index and apparently still possessed some data on the Halo network, including critical information on the Ark.
Battle of Earth
- Main article: Battle of Earth
After returning to Earth, Cortana served on the orbital defense platform Cairo, where a ceremony for both Sgt. Johnson and Commander Miranda Keyes was soon interrupted by the arrival of a Covenant Fleet under the command of the High Prophet of Regret, starting the Battle of Earth. Cortana was given control of the Cairo's Magnetic Accelerator Cannon to repel the invaders, and with the Master Chief's help, she successfully deactivated a Covenant bomb that would have destroyed the station. Interfacing directly with the bomb through the MJOLNIR Mark VI armor, the explosive was then used by the Master Chief to destroy a Covenant assault carrier. John offered for her to remain behind on the station after she claimed that his plan was "crazy". Cortana stayed with the Chief in the end, claiming she was just as crazy as he was. The AI continued to aid the Spartan when he arrived in New Mombasa on a mission to board Regret's assault carrier Solemn Penance, and later accompanied him when the In Amber Clad followed the fleeing carrier into slipspace.
- Main article: Battle of Installation 05
Upon exiting slipspace, it was discovered that the Solemn Penance had led the In Amber Clad to another ringworld, Delta Halo. Cortana gave Miranda Keyes access to all information recovered from Halo ring, and provided vital intelligence to the Chief, UNSC Marines and the ODSTs deployed to the surface of the ring.
After the Master Chief assassinated the Prophet of Regret on Delta Halo, he, Cortana and The Arbiter were captured by the Flood central intelligence - the Gravemind. However, it did not harm them, instead choosing to use the two as pawns to stop the Prophet of Truth from firing the Halo. The Gravemind sent the Master Chief and Cortana to the Covenant capital High Charity, where Cortana infiltrated the city's computer systems, while the Master Chief pursued the Prophet of Truth. The construct promised to detonate the crashed In Amber Clad's reactors to destroy the city if the Flood proved unstoppable, or if the Halo ring was activated. However, doing so meant she would be forced to remain in High Charity's computers to ensure detonation. As Truth boarded the Forerunner Dreadnought in the heart of the city to reach the Ark, Cortana fought with the ancient Forerunner AI Mendicant Bias to delay the ship's launch. The firing of Halo was averted by Miranda Keyes, the Arbiter Thel 'Vadamee, and Johnson, while John successfully boarded the Dreadnought and escaped High Charity. Cortana was left alone with the vast Gravemind to battle for her survival. She had only John's promise that he would return soon to free her.
- "Chief! High Charity, the Covenant's Holy City is on its way to Earth. With an army of Flood."
- —Cortana's recording for the Chief.
Forced to interface with the Gravemind and under constant mental torture, Cortana nonetheless managed to send a message to the Master Chief on Earth, stashing it on an Earth-bound Flood-infected ship that crash-landed in Voi. She accomplished this by creating a message and using the Gravemind's link to the ship in order to transmit it. The Gravemind permitted this in order to lure the Master Chief to destruction, but was unaware of what the message said. Cortana claimed that the Gravemind was approaching Earth in the infested High Charity, and that it was as yet unaware of the Portal and where it led to. Through the portal, there was a solution to stop the Flood once and for all. Though Lord Hood doubted her message, fearing that Cortana could have been corrupted or driven rampant, the Chief's trust in the AI never wavered. A joint UNSC-Covenant separatist task force then entered the Portal, heading to Truth and to Cortana's solution. Lord Hood's instincts were correct: the Gravemind was in fact aware of the Portal and where it led (it had learned this after assimilating the Prophet of Regret) - and had deliberately allowed Cortana to send a message in order to lure all of its enemies into one place. Then the millions of Flood forms stored within High Charity would assimilate them all. Cortana, however, managed to hide the existence of Installation 04B and the Index she possessed from the Gravemind.
Throughout her time in captivity, Cortana continued to appear to the Master Chief in transmissions where she spoke cryptic phrases, some of which were based on the memories of Dr. Halsey, while others appeared to indicate she was going rampant. Most of the transmissions were actually broadcast by the Gravemind, who had hacked into Cortana's system and used her voice and form in order to deceive (and taunt) John.
John-117 successfully recovered Cortana from High Charity during the Battle of Installation 00. Fighting through the core of the city, the Chief was overwhelmed through his neural interface with Cortana's pain, guilt and loss of self. At the brink of rampancy, Cortana was pulled back when John reminded her of his promise from the Battle of High Charity. Despite the damage of several systems, Cortana managed to gather herself and produce the Index from Installation 04, which she had secretly kept. With it, Cortana was able to fire the newly constructed Installation 04B, causing it to destroy itself, the Flood, and the Ark in the process. As 04B was not linked to the rest of the array, sentient life within the Milky Way galaxy was left unharmed.
Stranded in space
- "But you did it. Truth and the Covenant...the Flood. It's finished."
Escaping the Ark on the UNSC frigate Forward Unto Dawn, Installation 04B activated just as the vessel began to enter slipspace. The portal immediately collapsed, cutting the Dawn in half. While Thel 'Vadam managed to return to Earth safely in the ship's forward section, John and Cortana were left adrift in the aft half of the ship. Cortana activated a distress beacon but knew that it could be years, or decades, before they were found. As the Master Chief prepared to go into cryonic sleep to await rescue, Cortana confessed to her friend that she would miss him greatly.
By 2556, Cortana and John were still stranded in unknown space. Cortana, who was showing signs of rampancy, tried to communicate with the Spartan. As he was still in cryo-sleep, she was unable to get a response from him. With little else to occupy her time, Cortana composed a history of the Forerunners and of humanity. As more time passed, Cortana's mental state continued to deteriorate and she began to exhibit more drastic signs of instability.
- "I WILL NOT ALLOW YOU TO LEAVE THIS PLANET!! I didn't mean to... I didn't mean to do that."
- —Cortana, 2557, rapidly turning rampant.
Four years after John entered cryo-sleep, the Dawn's sensors detected unknown contacts nearby, prompting Cortana to revive John. They soon discovered that they were under attack by a fleet of Covenant insurgents. The two repelled the boarders, but found that the Dawn was rapidly approaching a Forerunner shield world. Cortana directed the Chief to find an escape pod, but Requiem's artificial gravity well tore the Dawn apart and sent them tumbling down through an access portal to the world's interior surface.
After landing, Cortana sought to gain contact with the UNSC Infinity, which she had discovered was approaching Requiem. John, however, told her to explain her condition, since he had noticed signs that she was beginning to malfunction. Cortana admitted to him that four years had passed since they had left the Ark, meaning that she was now undergoing rampancy. She had some idea of a cure, however: Dr. Halsey. Cortana theorized that since she was the only AI ever made from living tissue, then her "mother" might be able to repeat the process to rebuild her neural map. Now with a concrete plan, the two set off to find the shield world's Cartographer and contact Infinity.
Cortana eventually began to pick up transmissions from Infinity, however they were garbled and difficult to hear. Likewise Cortana was unable to contact the vessel, which was slowly approaching their distress beacon. Fearing that the ship might get pulled inside the planet's gravity well, Cortana and John proceeded to track down the source of the interference, determined to be a satellite station in the planet's core suspended by two beam pylons. To reach them so they could be deactivated, Cortana managed to access Requiem's translocation portals, allowing John to teleport from one tower to another. In the process, however, Cortana awakened the world's security drones, which she discovered by their data surges to be called Prometheans. Worse, the satellite turned out to actually be a Cryptum, which was now freed to release the vengeful Ur-Didact. The Forerunner turned out to have been manipulating Infinity's signal so that the two would free him.
By now the Infinity had been pulled into Requiem, and John and Cortana witnessed it crash on the interior surface, as well as the Didact's Cryptum pursuing it. Following recovered friend-or-foe tags, the two managed to meet with UNSC forces led by Commander Thomas Lasky and Captain Andrew Del Rio. The two successfully forced away the attacking Cryptum and Covenant, but despite their advice, Del Rio chose not to pursue their enemies in favor of preparing the Infinity's escape. John and Cortana's next mission was to disable particle-beam cannons that could cripple the starship, but during a detour into a Forerunner facility Cortana was kidnapped by a mysterious entity.
That entity turned out to be the memories of the Librarian, who explained her plans that humanity would take over the Mantle of guardianship of the galaxy. Those plans had been as personal as to plan gei that would lead to the SPARTAN Program and Cortana herself. However, the Didact sought revenge and would execute it with the Composer, a device that could extract and digitize the mind of a living being while destroying the body, which he had once used to create the Promethean constructs. When the two returned and told Del Rio of this, the Captain refused to listen, thinking Cortana's rampancy made her testimony unreliable. These comments angered her, unleashing an outburst that temporarily overrode the Infinity's bridge, but ended seconds later with her tearful apologies. Del Rio thus ordered for Lasky to remove her chip and terminate her, but John took it before Lasky and told them he would follow Cortana's orders. The Captain was furious, but Lasky agreed with them, secretly providing an outfitted Pelican for the two to pursue the Didact in.
Racing the Didact
- "I can give you over forty thousand reasons why that sun isn't real. I know it because the emitter's Rayleigh effect is disproportionate to its suggested size. I know it because its stellar cycle is more symmetrical than that of an actual star. But for all that, I'll never actually know if it looks real... if it feels real. Before this is all over, promise me you'll figure out which one of us is the machine."
- —Cortana, musing to John aboard the Infinity, 2557.
The Infinity had tracked the Didact to a southern dock where he was preparing to exit Requiem in search of the Composer. Cortana and Chief flew their Pelican to there, and attempted to deter him by lowering the defensive field around his Cryptum. As they battled through the surrounding towers, the Didact became aware of their presence, taunting them with messages that John could hear but Cortana could not. Realizing he knew of their plan, Cortana attempted an alternate defeat by taking control of the surrounding towers, then making the towers form a cage around his Cryptum. Unfortunately, Cortana's rampancy overtook her, and the surge of emotion distracted her long enough for the Didact to escape. As the Cryptum merged with a larger ship and prepared to leave the system, Cortana and John pursued him by hitch-hiking on a following Lich.
The Didact's ship traveled to Ivanoff Station, an orbital research facility stationed near Installation 03 which had unearthed the Composer. As the Chief warned the scientists inside that the Forerunner planned to steal it, Cortana's rampancy emerged again and, in a fit of anger, crashed their Lich. The two survived, but the Ivanoff was already under attack. Cortana prepared the station's defenses to assist evacuation while Master Chief defeated the boarders on foot. When the Composer was found to be too large to transport, Master Chief resolved to destroy it. A nuclear device was prepared, but Cortana was breaking up further, now swinging between joy and anger, even forgetting where she was, deterring them from keeping contact with the scientists. The nuclear weapon came too late, and in that time the Didact's ship gained the Composer and killed everyone in the station.
Their slaughter traumatized Cortana, and caused her to reflect on her own mortality. By now she was sure that she could never be repaired, confessing that the next AI cloned from Halsey would likely not be her. John consoled her the best he could, but stoically reminded her of their duty to Earth. The duo then formed a new plan: to fly a F-41 Broadsword carrying the HAVOK-class nuke in hopes that it could reach the Composer. Their Broadsword piggy-backed on the Didact's ship through slipspace, arriving with it in orbit around Earth. The UNSC Infinity, now under the command of Lasky, assisted the two by using its weapons to punch a hole in the Forerunner vessel, allowing them to fly inside.
When their Broadsword crashed, John and Cortana exited to carry the nuke to the ship's center where the Didact and Composer were. The device was heavily shielded, but Cortana overrode it with a method she knew John would not like: fragmenting herself and sending her rampant parts all over the ship's system so that the shield would become as unstable as her. Their plan worked and the shield fell, but the process further destabilized her, as her fragments whispered to John while the main Cortana's voice spoke with pain. The Didact launched the Composer regardless, digitizing the population of the metropolis of New Phoenix, Arizona, then attacked John, taking the bomb from him and lifting him off their light bridge's edge. John's life was saved, though, when Cortana's fragments emerged from the light bridge and formed chains of light that held the Didact down and temporarily disabled his armor so John could climb back up and push him off with a grenade. With the Forerunner defeated, John fired the nuke, destroying the Composer and the Forerunner ship.
- John-117: "We go together. It was my job to take care of you."
- Cortana: "We were supposed to take care of each other. And we did."
- —John and Cortana during their last conversation.
Just before the blast could kill him, Cortana transported John off the ship and protected him in a bubble of hard light. She also projected her avatar as a human-sized hard light construct, allowing her to face John and touch him at last. Rather than distraught like before, Cortana was at peace again, glad of their victory and that she could meet John this way. However, too much of her data had been left in the Didact's ship, which was rapidly falling apart from the blast. She had only enough power left to teleport John away from the ship. The normally stoic Spartan protested this, insisting he could save her and that they were supposed to remain together. Cortana walked backwards out of the bubble as John continued to protest, smiling as she told him, "Welcome home, John." In her last moments she preserved John's hard light bubble while the Didact's ship collapsed around him.
After Infinity recovered John as he floated in space, he tried to face Cortana's death with his usual stoicism. However, Captain Lasky discerned it was hurting him much more, and responded to John's thought of soldiers and people as two different things; he claimed that soldiers are people, not machines. After Lasky left the observation deck, John remembered that Cortana had made a similar quip before the pair left Requiem: "Before this is all over, promise me you'll figure out which one of us is the machine."
Cortana has a witty and playful personality, with a sarcastic sense of humor. She maintains a deep friendship and bond with SPARTAN-117, each having saved the other's life many times throughout the Covenant war. While she is not boastful, she does take pride in her adaptability as an AI, and occasionally teases John-117 about her invaluable talents.
Cortana's personal loyalty is regarded as unwavering, but as an AI construct she is subject to corruption and rampancy. Near the close of the Human-Covenant War, she was captured by the Flood Gravemind on High Charity, and was continually assaulted and interrogated by the Gravemind. Her stability was pushed to the brink as she eluded the Gravemind's attempts to capture and dissect her for information. Among the Gravemind's favorite tactics were exploiting Cortana's insatiable desire for knowledge, the nature of her artificial existence, and providing her glimpses of thoughts and feelings from humans absorbed into the Flood collective. In order to preserve herself from destruction and possibly gain information for the UNSC, she eventually consented to give up some pieces of information to the Gravemind. Her personal loyalty to and unwavering trust in John-117 helped anchor her and allow her to hold on to her sanity. She was instrumental in finally putting a stop to the Flood during the events that followed.
Cortana seems to share some of her creator's memories, thoughts, opinions. When she was asked by Dr. Halsey to pick a "carrier", Cortana chose John-117 for their neural compatibility. She is not only a facsimile of Dr. Halsey's mind, but her avatar is also a replica of her physical form, albeit at a younger age. However, Cortana was torn over the morality of the SPARTAN-II project, vowing to protect John-117 from any future threats. This was decisively demonstrated when Cortana set out to ruin the career and reputation of Colonel James Ackerson for his attempted killing of John during a training exercise.
Relationship with John-117
- "Keep your head down. There's two of us in here now, remember?"
- —Cortana, describing the interdependency between herself and John-117.
While her loyalty is first and foremost to humanity and the UNSC, Cortana exhibits unique devotion to John-117 beyond that which her programming or mission requires. After she learned of the events endured by John during the SPARTAN-II conscription process, she decided to protect him from further harm to the best of her abilities without compromising her mission. During the confrontation with the Didact, Cortana was so loyal to the Chief that even her rampant parts worked together with her to save him, telling the Didact that they weren't doing it for humanity, meaning she was doing it for the Chief. She ended up essentially sacrificing herself to ensure the Chief survived the destruction of Mantle's Approach.
She frequently jokes about having a relationship with the Master Chief and it is often implied that the two characters have developed a bond that extends beyond friendship. In Halo: The Fall of Reach, she says to Dr. Halsey that the Master Chief is "attractive in a primitive animal sort of way" while examining a photo of him. In Halo 3 his mere presence and reminder of his promise to rescue her are enough for Cortana to pull herself together to help him. This closeness is amplified through John's neural implants, as the two have a limited ability to hear each other's thoughts and feelings. She was, as classified by the AI constructs of the Assembly, "re-made as one" with her creators.
Cortana was very aware of her short lifespan; as a "Smart" AI, she had an operational period of seven years, after which she would inevitably succumb to rampancy. Her anxiety about this was compounded by her derivative nature as a copy of part of another person, rather than a true human being. Desperate and tortured aboard High Charity she murmurs: "A collection of lies; that's all I am! Stolen thoughts and memories!" Later on she says: "I'm just my mother's shadow..." and "It was the coin's fault," referring to the game of chance that Dr. Halsey played with John-117 when he was young. Human Weakness revealed some of these fractured statements to be from Cortana defying the Gravemind and others to be from copies she made of herself, which were meant to distract the Gravemind. These copies were eventually consumed.
By 2557, symptoms of Cortana's rampancy were undeniable; while still aboard Forward Unto Dawn, she exhibited a split personality, with a visibly rampant personality fragment surfacing to argue with the still stable portion of her mind. That angrier personality wanted to lash out at everything, at one point even attempting to kill John. Her gradual deterioration also began to diminish her abilities, enough that in the hour before the awakening of John she hadn't even noticed their ship was approaching Requiem. After landing, though, she worked with him dutifully with little noticeable error.
By the time the Infinity recovered them, though, Cortana's rampancy had progressed and her symptoms were more visible. Occasionally John's HUD would flicker and turn purple, Cortana's voice would distort, and eventually she began to have furious outbursts. During one outburst her attempt to capture the Didact's Cryptum reminded her of "they" captured her, causing her to relent which gave it time to flee. When she and John flew a Lich to Ivanoff Station, Cortana went on an anecdote about how she would not address some man by name because he was rude to her during their first game of chess, crashing their dropship in anger. Her strongest one was later that day when she went mad with power once she controlled the station's defenses, laughing for a while about how she controlled all their lives. John forced her back into sanity by ordering her to remember their mission, Cortana having to list trivia about their ally Tillson before she could remember what it was.
The two initially hoped that she could be cured if they could get back to Halsey. Cortana had theorized that since she was the only AI ever made from living tissue, her "mother" might be able to repair her neural map by repeating the process with another cloned brain. Later on, though, Cortana admitted that the new AI would likely not be her, and the process was never carried out. For a brief time, Cortana was able to relieve her rampancy by splitting herself into fragments just as she had first done on Reach. However, this left too much of her aboard the Didact's ship with no chance of recovering them. This led to her death, but by then she was certain she had deteriorated too much to have been repaired anyway.
Despite being based upon third-generation "smart" AI architecture (which was already succeeded by two newer generations at the time of her creation), Cortana is an extremely advanced AI, described once as "a generational leap" in AI technology. Her software is designed to infiltrate computer systems, and she is excellent at the task - as of 2552, she had never encountered a Covenant security measure that she was not able to bypass. In addition, she is proficient with UNSC military hardware and can run both warships and stations entirely by herself. The UNSC's primary use of AIs in combat is to oversee targeting of point-defense weaponry used in space battles, but for Cortana, this is merely an additional capability. Much more efficient than a human crew, she can greatly boost the combat capability of a vessel; while operating UNSC Pillar of Autumn, she was able to defeat four CCS-class battlecruisers out of a dozen, a feat normally unheard of for a human ship. Cortana has acted as the AI of the Pillar of Autumn, Cairo Station, the Forward Unto Dawn, the Gettysburg and the Covenant flagship Ascendant Justice.
Cortana can be transferred among various computer systems, either through a data crystal chip or simply through close physical proximity to a computer system (though it appears that the method of transfer depends on the sophistication of available technology).
On the battlefield, Cortana is able to gather data from local sources (including the Covenant battlenet) and improvise effective battle strategies. John-117 acknowledged her value of providing "intel support in an operation where there had been no reconnaissance." Her efficiency for planning has helped John-117 and others in many life or death situations.
Cortana is also capable of interfacing with Forerunner technology. During the Fall of Reach, she was able to decode a large amount of data from the Babd Catha Forerunner complex, and while on Installation 04 she was able to make use of the installation's teleportation grid.
One of Cortana's most unique abilities is her ability to create "clones" of herself, which she learned from a Covenant AI she captured and dissected. She can create multiple runtimes of herself to carry out different tasks simultaneously, and can control the level of intelligence and the number of abilities of each clone. Cortana once created a clone of herself that contained copies of her decryption and translation software, and set it to interface with a Forerunner data terminal on Reach. Later, she was reunited with this copy, and assimilated the information that it had gathered. She and Halsey were able to achieve a similar feat through a "Solomonic solution", which instead divided her into individual copies, rather than cloning. Cortana was able to create a clone to help with Operation: FIRST STRIKE, this clone ultimately made more clones that multiplied into numbers in the hundreds. Cortana later created clones made out of her rampant parts to overwhelm the system of Mantle's Approach. This seemed to relieve her rampancy a bit, but she was clearly in pain afterwards.
Cortana is capable of linking her consciousness with a SPARTAN-II through the Spartan's armor and neural interface, allowing her to enhance the performance of the armor and communicate directly to the Spartan's mind. Doing so is described as "cold mercury" seeping through the Spartan's brain, and brings their reaction time to near-instanteous limits, though she can not block thoughts or force control of the Spartan's body. She has displayed this capability extensively during her time serving with John-117. Although this is not necessarily an ability exclusive to Cortana, her neural link with John-117 marked the first time that a "Smart" AI had joined minds with a human (as noted by the Assembly in 2552).
As Cortana is an AI, she has no physical body. She can communicate through comm systems and project a holographic image of herself from appropriate projectors, such as holotanks. Her chosen avatar is a nude female human (albeit censored by geometric patterns over her body), roughly in her early twenties, with purplish/bluish skin, shoulder length purplish/bluish hair cut shorter at the back, and blue symbols scrolling down her body. When in a different emotional state, Cortana usually changes colors. This was especially noticeable when she was embedded in the Core of Installation 04's control center.
Cortana has been said to resemble her creator, Dr. Catherine Halsey as a young woman, with a similar attitude "only unchecked by military and social protocol." Dr. Halsey stated in her journal that Cortana looks somewhat like her own daughter, Miranda Keyes.
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Behind the scenes
- Cortana is voiced by Jen Taylor, the same actress that voiced Princess Peach in several Mario games for the Nintendo GameCube, Zoey from Left 4 Dead, Keira Stokes from F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin, and also voices Catherine Halsey, reinforcing the connection between the two characters. This is also the case in Halo Legends, where Shelley Calene-Black voices both Halsey and Cortana.
- Her voice is featured in Forza 4 for a description of the Halo 4 M12 Force Application Vehicle in the former game's Autovista mode.
- In January 2014 Microsoft insider MSFTnerd reported that Jen Taylor would voice Cortana as a voice recognition service, similar to Apple's Siri personal assistant. The Cortana app will launch in beta on Lumia series smartphones for US developers in April 2014, with the intention of then releasing it as part of the Bing app for iPhone in the US that autumn. Cortana is then slated to expand to American Xbox One and Windows users in 2015, before finally being made available to additional English-speaking territories throughout 2015 and 2016.
- There was going to be an alternate story in Halo: Combat Evolved in which when the Master Chief rediscovered Cortana inside the control room, she had become mad with power and wanted to take over Halo and the universe. This appears to mirror themes of rampant AI in Bungie's earlier game series, Marathon.
- In the original draft of the Halo: Combat Evolved script, Cortana was supposed to have a British accent. When in search of voice actors, Martin O'Donnell made sure they had the ability to interpret the accent correctly This is evidenced by the fact that in Halo: Combat Evolved, Cortana uses British idioms, most notably "Sod off!", when addressing 343 Guilty Spark.  In Halo: The Flood, this line is replaced with the less regional "Piss off!"
- Chris Hughes, then-character modeler at Bungie during the development of Halo: Combat Evolved, modeled Cortana's face after the ancient Egyptian queen Nefertiti.
- The name "Cortana" (also "Curtana" or "Courtain") is a Latinized form of the Anglo-French curtein, from Latin curtus meaning "shortened." The name is used for a ceremonial type of sword; according to legend, one such weapon was the sword of Ogier the Dane; it bore the inscription "My name is Cortana, of the same steel and temper as Joyeuse and Durendal."
- The alternate spelling "Durandal" was used as the name of an artificial intelligence in the Marathon trilogy; it is often argued among the fanbase that Durandal, not the player character, is the true protagonist of the series. Cortana's adaptation and enhancement of a Covenant warship, and using its firepower to devastate an armada is a feat she shares with her "brother" Durandal. The UESC AI devastated a Pfhor fleet in exactly the same way.
- Cortana's creation date, November 7, is a reference to John-117's service tag, as the date can be written 11/7. The year of her creation is a reference to the number seven, as 2+5=7 and 49=72.
- She was rated as one of the ten most "disturbingly sexual" game characters by Games.net and one of the fifty greatest female video game characters ever by Tom's Games.
- Cortana's voice is available in Halo: Reach's Firefight mode. She, Auntie Dot, Kat-B320, and (if the player's selected gender is female) Noble Six are the only selectable female voices.
- In Halo 3, she repeats lines Dr. Halsey has said before such as "You will be the protector[s] of Earth and all her colonies." which Dr. Halsey says to the six-year-old Spartan candidates in Halo: The Fall of Reach. Cortana also recites a few lines from the Cortana Letters in Halo 3 in some of her messages and in the announcement trailer. Some of the lines are said in the Cortana moments in the level Cortana.
- Being a smart AI, Cortana's operational life span is approximately seven years. However, after she took in all the Forerunner information in Halo's control room, her estimated life span was possibly halved, due to the vast task of processing and storing all that information. In addition, all of the data she absorbed on Halo noticeably decreased her efficiency. On the other hand, it has been suggested that Cortana found a way to use that information to prevent her own "death" from rampancy, remaining stable when normal AIs would have shut down.
- In Halo 3, Easter eggs involving Cortana can be found in a couple places. On the lower-left monitor of a UNSC portable computer, Cortana's face will appear for an instant and then disappear every few seconds. Two of the easiest ways to see this is to either look at the aforementioned screen in the beginning of Crow's Nest or at one of the computers in the multiplayer map High Ground.
Concept art of Cortana and John-117, along with early designs, for Halo 3.
Cortana and Dr. Halsey.
Cortana and John-117 in Halo 4 announcement trailer.
The Iris symbol projecting onto Cortana's eyes.
Cortana's non-canon appearance in Halo Legends' Odd One Out.
A page of Halsey's journal with information on Cortana's creation.
Cortana rising above her holotank in Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn.
List of appearances
- Halo: The Fall of Reach (First appearance)
- Halo: Combat Evolved
- Halo: The Flood
- Halo: First Strike
- Halo 2
- Halo Graphic Novel
- Halo: Ghosts of Onyx
- Halo 3
- Halo Wars (Indirect mention)
- Halo Legends
- Halo: Evolutions - Essential Tales of the Halo Universe
- Halo: Reach
- Data pads (Indirect mention)
- Halo: Fall of Reach
- Halo: Glasslands (Mentioned only)
- Halo: The Thursday War (Mentioned only)
- Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn
- Halo 4
- Halo: Mortal Dictata (Mentioned only)
- Halo Xbox One (Data crystal chip only)
- ^ In the A Spartan Will Rise ViDoc, Jorge is presented as one of Cortana's options to serve as a courier; this suggests that Cortana's decision took place before Halsey learned of Operation: UPPER CUT, during which Jorge died on August 14.
- ^ a b c d e f g h Halo: Reach Limited Edition - Dr. Halsey's personal journal
- ^ Halo 4, campaign level Midnight
- ^ Halo: The Flood, page 255
- ^ Halo: Reach, campaign level The Package
- ^ Halo 2, campaign level Cairo Station
- ^ Halo 4, campaign level Reclaimer
- ^ Halo: First Strike, page 126 ("Kalmiya was Cortana's "older sister." Dr. Halsey had designed and tested the software intrusion routines on her. Once the process had been debugged and streamlined, she'd incorporated the routines into Cortana.")
- ^ Halo: The Fall of Reach, page 236
- ^ Halo: Reach, ONI: Sword Base
- ^ a b Halo: Reach ViDoc: A Spartan Will Rise
- ^ Halo: Reach, campaign level New Alexandria
- ^ Bungie.net: Bungie Weekly Update, 1/29/10
- ^ Halo: Reach campaign level The Package
- ^ Halo: Reach campaign level The Pillar of Autumn
- ^ a b Halo: Combat Evolved campaign level The Pillar of Autumn
- ^ Halo: Combat Evolved campaign level Halo
- ^ Halo: Combat Evolved campaign level Truth and Reconciliation
- ^ Halo: Combat Evolved campaign level The Silent Cartographer
- ^ Halo: Combat Evolved campaign level Assault on the Control Room
- ^ Halo: Combat Evolved campaign level Two Betrayals
- ^ Halo: Combat Evolved campaign level Keyes
- ^ Halo: Combat Evolved campaign level The Maw
- ^ Halo: Evolutions - Essential Tales of the Halo Universe, Human Weakness, page ??
- ^ Halo Legends: Origins, developer commentary: Frank O'Connor - "This story is told through Cortana's memories, as she's starting to approach what we suspect might be a stage of rampancy."
- ^ a b Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn
- ^ Game Informer: May 2012
- ^ Halo 4, campaign level Dawn
- ^ Halo 4, campaign level Requiem
- ^ Halo 4, campaign level Forerunner
- ^ Halo 4, campaign level Infinity
- ^ Halo 4, campaign level Reclaimer
- ^ Halo 4, campaign level Shutdown
- ^ Halo 4, campaign level Midnight
- ^ Halo 4, Epilogue cutscene
- ^ Halo: Reach, Data pad 18
- ^ Bungie.net: Jason Jones Interviewed By You (12/18/2001)
- ^ Halo 3 ViDoc: Journey's End (CJ Cowan: "Cortana is a) naked, b) blue, and c) a hologram.")
- ^ Halo: Legends credits
- ^ Eurogamer: Why you can't drive Forza 4's Warthog
- ^ Gamespot.com: Siri-like Xbox One voice search program will be voiced by Cortana actor, January 16, 2014
- ^ a b Halo 3, Legendary Edition bonus disc
- ^ Halo 3 Essentials, Halo: Combat Evolved Cutscenes with Commentary- 38:34-39:48
- ^ Halo.bungie.org Cortana's face was modeled after an Egyptian queen
- ^ Games.net: Top Ten Disturbingly Sexual Game Characters
- ^ Bungie.net: Bungie Weekly Update: 07.16.10
- ^ a b Halo: First Strike, page 195