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) is a UNSC "smart" AI. She remained 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 Forerunner data pertaining to the Halos, including the Activation Index from Installation 04. Without Cortana's assistance the UNSC would not have survived its war against the Covenant, or the Flood's rapid spread across the galaxy.
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. Cortana was to serve as the codebreaker, hacker and intelligence lead in the mission. As a result an exceptionally intelligent human brain was needed to create the required AI construct. It was ultimately decided that Dr. Catherine Elizabeth Halsey would the best possible brain donor for the operation. Under normal circumstances, the brain donor for an AI construct is deceased as the organ itself is destroyed in the process. The natural, and highly illegal, solution was for Halsey's brain to be flash cloned for the procedure. Twenty brains were duplicated, but only one survived; the origin of Cortana. The neural pathways of the cloned brain were scanned and copied through a process called Cognitive Impression Modeling. 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. Cortana is one of two AI that were created from Dr. Halsey's brain, the other being her predecessor, Kalmiya. She 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 obvious 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 the mission into Covenant-controlled space, Cortana was asked by Dr. Halsey to pick a soldier that would act as her "carrier". Cortana chose John-117 for their neural compatibility, and 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 for an air strike 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 specifically. 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 the Package 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 on-board 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 Covenant supercruiser, a ship 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 on. 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 immunity to the Flood - a result of Boren's Syndrome.
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 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 instincts were correct: the Gravemind deliberately allowed Cortana 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 assimilated them all.
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 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 began composing a history of the Forerunners and of humanity. Five years after John entered cryo-sleep, the ship's sensors detected unknown contacts nearby, prompting Cortana to revive John. They soon discovered that they were under attack by a Covenant fleet of Storm insurgents. After repelling boarders, the two crash-landed on a Forerunner shield world known as Requiem.
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.
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 is very aware of her short lifespan, (a "Smart" AI's lifespan is an average of seven years before rampancy) and 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.
As of the present, it is unknown whether Cortana has fully entered rampancy, or whether she has progressed through it and become metastable. However, by 2557, symptoms of Cortana's rampancy were undeniable.
Cortana is an extremely advanced "smart" 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 early 2553, 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 almost 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. 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 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.
|Halopedia has 72 images related to Cortana.|
- 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.
- Easter eggs involving Cortana can be found in a couple places. In Halo 3, look for a UNSC mobile computer. Watch the lower-left monitor. After a few seconds, Cortana's face will appear for an instant and then disappear. 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.
- 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.
- In Halo 3, she repeated lines Dr. Halsey has said before such as "You will be the protector of Earth and all her colonies." which Dr. Halsey says to the 6 year old Spartans 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 storing, processing etc. 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.
- The name "Cortana" (also "Curtana" or "Courtain") is a Latinised 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 a previous Bungie game, Marathon. This also ties in with Cortana telling the Chief "I am your shield, I am your sword."
- The Chief appears to be unaware that Cortana is created from Dr. Halsey's cloned brain, although he can recognize that whoever died to create the AI must have been a genius, and that Cortana sounds more like a picky civilian than a military construct.
- 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.
- At the end of Origins, Cortana's eye creates the Iris campaign symbol (the Forerunner number for 0.) Mendicant Bias's "eye" also bears the same symbol.
- Her voice is featured in Forza 4 for a description of the Halo 4 M12 Force Application Vehicle in the game's Autovista mode. 
- Bungie took a fair of amount of artistic freedom in the evolution of her appearance throughout the Halo trilogy, noticeably from Halo: Combat Evolved to Halo 2; she has longer hair, a more realistic humanoid figure, a much more feminine appearance and a slightly different shade of purple. In Halo 3, she becomes slightly bluer and again her face, hair, and body are changed to look more feminine and realistic.
- There was going to be an alternate story in Halo: Combat Evolved in which when 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 several British idioms, such as "sod off!" when addressing 343 Guilty Spark. 
Concept art of Cortana and John-117, along with early designs.
Cortana and Dr. Halsey.
The Iris symbol projecting onto Cortana's eyes.
Cortana's non-canon appearance in Halo Legends' Odd One Out.
Cortana and John-117 in Halo 4 announcement trailer.
List of appearances
- Halo: The Fall of Reach (First appearance)
- Halo: Combat Evolved
- Halo: The Flood
- Halo: First Strike
- Halo 2
- Halo: Ghosts of Onyx
- Halo 3
- Halo: Evolutions - Essential Tales of the Halo Universe
- Halo Graphic Novel
- Halo Legends
- Halo: Reach
- Halo: Glasslands (Mentioned only)
- Halo: Fall of Reach - Invasion
- Halo 4
- Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn
- ^ 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 Halo: Reach Limited Edition - Dr. Halsey's personal journal
- ^ Halo: The Flood, page 255
- ^ Halo: Reach, campaign level The Package
- ^ Halo 2, campaign level Cairo Station
- ^ Axon Clips, Chapter 5 Jersey brain_ninjas
- ^ 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
- ^ 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."
- ^ Game Informer: May 2012
- ^ Halo 3 ViDoc: Journey's End (CJ Cowan: "Cortana is a) naked, b) blue, and c) a hologram.")
- ^ Halo: Legends credits
- ^ Games.net: Top Ten Disturbingly Sexual Game Characters
- ^ a b Halo: First Strike, page 195
- ^ Halo: Evolutions - Essential Tales of the Halo Universe, Palace Hotel, page ??
- ^ Bungie.net: Bungie Weekly Update: 07.16.10
- ^ Eurogamer: Why you can't drive Forza 4's Warthog
- ^ a b Halo 3, Legendary Edition bonus disc
- ^ Halo 3 Essentials, Halo: Combat Evolved Cutscenes with Commentary- 38:34-39:48