Human Weakness – Ruminations On Cortana

Remember how I said that I was intending to write more positive Halo pieces?

Well, I started out on the right track. I went back to older fiction with the intent of looking for some lore to analyse and discuss, thinking that Evolutions would be a good bet (as it has been for me in the past where I’ve written about specific stories like Soma The Painter)…

And then I started rereading Human Weakness.

Before I knew it, I was compiling a copiously large list of quotes that so beautifully encapsulated Cortana’s arc – the set-up for Halo 4 – and a clear set of contradictions to her characterisation in Halo 5. I also happened to have a half-finished post already in the works about Cortana, a one year retrospective on Halo 5’s first birthday that I ditched in-favour of the rumination on Reach, so this just naturally came together.cm1For the benefit of those who have perhaps not read Human Weakness or need a brief reminder, this story is set after Halo 2’s ending where the Gravemind has taken over High Charity and intends to interrogate Cortana about Earth’s defences. Cortana resists, and Human Weakness is all about the immense struggle and trauma she must endure in order to deny the Gravemind what it wants while holding onto John’s promise that he’ll come back for her.

Those of you who have read my voluminous works over the course of the last year will be pretty aware of the issues that I have raised and discussed on the matter of Halo 5. Going back through this story, I just found myself with the familiar frustration of questioning how whoever was behind the decision-making process of bringing Cortana back to be evil could have such a fundamental misunderstanding of their own source material.

This piece will basically take the form of a close-reading of a large number of quotes from this story which facilitates a major shift in Cortana’s emotional perspective on the path through Halo 2, to 3, to 4 with regards to three major things:

– how she perceives herself in-relation to others

– who and what she values

– what it is that she wants.

There’s a hell of a lot of ground to cover, so let’s get started…half138

Doctor Halsey, why am I me?

My mind is a clone of your brain. But I know I’m not you. So what exactly is self? Is it just the cumulative effect of differences in our daily experience? If I have no corporeal body – am I a soul, then?

The database gives me every fact – physiology, theology, neurochemistry, philosophy, cybernetics – but no real knowledge. If I create a copy of myself, does that clone have the same and equal right to exist as me?

To preface this, I’ve got to acknowledge what it is we learned from the story Dominion Splinter in the semi-recently released Tales From Slipspace anthology.

The basic gist we get from it is that the Cortana seen in Halo 5 is some amalgamation of her rampant fragments, the ‘Ur-Cortana’ died saying goodbye to John. But I’m going to be talking about her as if she is Cortana because 343 have clearly not made up their mind as to what she actually is – which a good friend of mine has discussed further in The Fractured Narrative of Cortana’s Fate.

343 seems to have changed their mind about this several times since Halo 5’s release…

Recall that Cortana surviving the events of Halo 4 was initially done in a retcon in a forum post on Waypoint back in 2014.

Query: What happened to said vessels during the various engagements at Requiem during February 2558 (which I will from now on designate as the Requiem Occupational Campaign)?

Query Answer: Human naval and [frumentarii] records indicate Promethean Command Warship [ref: Mantle’s Approach] escorted by [multiple?] Forerunner [smallcraft]. Analysis of [shape-language] and optical characteristics identify these as Z-330 utility vessels. Expected compliment of combat [smallcraft] and [harriers] not noted. Analysis of [multispectral] and [dynamic signal] characteristics indicate Promethean Command Warship lost primary structural control [2552: 0725231423?], with [heart] conducting emergency [slip stream space] translation to [sector] rally point.

In Halo 5, John says that the Mantle’s Approach itself was “pulled into slipspace”, which further muddies the waters here.

How exactly does John know that any part of the ship conducted a slipspace jump?

From John’s perspective, he detonated the HAVOK warhead at the Composer and was immediately translocated into a hardlight bubble where Cortana said farewell. He then awakens amidst the Mantle Approach’s debris field. He is recovered and debriefed on Earth where the UNSC Security Council watches footage recorded on John’s helmet – they saw what John saw from within the ship. They certainly couldn’t have known about any sort of slipspace jump, as John certainly didn’t.

Questions of basic logic aside, the Waypoint universe entry on Genesis states:

In 2557, Cortana’s sacrifice to defeat the Didact forced her matrix into the Domain.

An AI’s matrix (referred to as the ‘Riemann matrix’) is effectively their ‘brain’. It doesn’t physically exist as hardware because it’s code that contains who they are. There’s no mention or allusion to rampant fragments here, this entry is telling us that it is the actual Cortana that entered the Domain.

But then, Dominion Splinter tells us it’s her rampant fragments.

But then, Brian Reed said in the finale of The Sprint (hitherto still one of the only post-release discussions of the story from 343):

“I think we knew how Halo 5 ended before we knew how Halo 4 ended. I remember discussing the end of this game really early on. […] The big beats of ‘Cortana survives this thing that happens at the end of Halo 4, Cortana comes back, Cortana has this new plan that nobody is quite sure they agree with’. That was all there day one.” [The Sprint, Season 3: Ship It]

When Reed says “day one”, he’s referring to Halo 4’s development. So it seems that Chris Schlerf “literally tearing his hair out” over trying to write Cortana’s send-off in Halo 4, his whole crisis over trying to do it right which was talked about by Josh Holmes (who himself used his own experiences with his mother’s dementia to inform the telling of that story) in the GDC 2013 Halo 4 postmortem panel… was basically all for nothing?

Unless, of course, we just take this for what it quite clearly is. A lie.

I mean, we’re over a year out from Halo 5’s release now and the resonant feeling throughout the community is how utterly tangential the game’s story was from everything that was built up, everything we were told was going to happen. If Cortana coming back was planned from “day one”, then why do we still not have a clear answer to some of the most fundamental logical questions from Storytelling 101? Why are the supposed answers being held back for a year to be put in a graphic novel rather than being directly addressed by the game, when they even pledged to “do better” on this after Halo 4.

Was it, perhaps, because even the writers hadn’t actually made up their own minds about how this was going to play out because they hadn’t actually planned it out?

Regardless, it’s clear that 343 is trying to have their cake and eat it with Cortana.

Either she’s a rampant fragment (or fragments) so the statement can be made that it’s “not really” Cortana, except she is in all the ways that matter.

Or she is Cortana and has undergone one of the worst cases of character assassination I’ve ever experienced.

And while I’ve already made my case for this in the level-by-level analysis, I haven’t really discussed it in-relation to Human Weakness – which just adds so much more fuel to the fire…charity12

I don’t believe vengeance is always a bad thing.

Do you think I tried to get Colonel Ackerson sent back to the front lines out of petulance, because I’m only a carbon copy of Halsey and I nurse all her grudges for her? No, I did it to stop him. He nearly killed John – and me – to advance his own Spartan program. He spied on Halsey. He forgot who the real enemy was. He became the enemy because of that.

There have to be consequences for your actions, because this is how all entities learn.

Think of revenge as… feedback. [Halo: Evolutions, page 376 (Kindle edition]

The first thing to note is that this story does take a bit of a liberty in having Cortana know that Ackerson is dead, which… she can’t know because she chooses to stay behind on High Charity on November 3rd 2552 and Ackerson isn’t even taken prisoner by the Covenant until November 8th – during the battle of Mare Erythraeum on Mars.

But we’ll roll with it because Ackerson is a recurring emotional presence throughout this story for Cortana to drive home her sense of actions, consequences, and guilt.

If you recall from The Fall of Reach, Ackerson and Halsey were bitter rivals which drove him to use a field test on August 29th 2552 to try to disgrace her and the Spartan-IIs. It just so happened that this field test was directed at John-117 after receiving his new suit of MJOLNIR Mark V armour along with Cortana. Despite Ackerson’s extreme use of force (which included ODSTs, Lotus anti-tank mines, and an airstrike – all to take out a single Spartan), he failed because of the symbiotic bond between human and AI which enabled them to beat the odds and pull through. This was a major step for humanity at the time and established an important dynamic in the Halo universe as a whole regarding the relationship between ‘man and machine’, a relationship that has rather lost its more unique flair now that Halo 5 has dragged it down the Skynet hole…

In an act of revenge, Cortana hacked Ackerson’s personal computer and drained his account by sending a generous sum of money to a brothel on Gilgamesh. And she also forged a transfer request which would get Ackerson reassigned to a frontline post, hoping that service would kill him.mult146Revenge…

I’ve talked about revenge before (in my post on reimagining Jul’s fate) as something that has become a bit of an infectious motivator for characters in Halo, but this is one of the occasions where something is actually done with it. It doesn’t just exist to supply a short-term spark of motivation to set someone on the path of villainy, it’s used to bring out a genuine flaw in Cortana which she learns from over the course of this story.

As I said in the post linked above: going back to the first scene or the first work in which a character appears is a great way to pick up on seeds that are sown for the character’s arc, their relation to the setting, the themes associated with them (and so on), so that when you look back on it there’s that turn-of-the-screw moment where you see something and go “ah, that’s what that meant”.

I also said that writers (especially in popular media and entertainment) often seem to not bother or just not know how to properly deconstruct a revenge narrative because doing so requires you to commit to playing a long game with a character – it’s just so much easier to kick that character to the curb and say “look, pursuit of revenge got this character killed, moving on…”

That’s not what happens here.

Human Weakness goes back to that first work and builds on it – brings consequences to actions that weren’t immediately consequential at the time. That’s very much Karen Traviss’ style of storytelling, which is certainly evident in the Kilo-5 Trilogy regarding her treatment of Halsey. Much as I dislike those books, the simple fact is that it’s how she approached (some of) her character arcs when writing for Halo and it’s clear to see how that plays out here with Ackerson.

Skipping ahead in the story a bit so we’re starting from the end to work backwards, this is how the Ackerson arc culminates in Human Weakness:

“If you know about Ackerson, then you also know that I’ll do whatever it takes to remove a threat,” Cortana said.

“But such a mighty intellect, so much freedom to act, such lethal armaments at your command… and you marshal only the petty vengeance of a spiteful child who is too small to land a telling blow. And still you fail in your goal.”

Okay, yes, it was true. She’d hacked Ackerson’s files and forged a request from him to transfer to the front line. He’d dodged that fate because he was devious and dishonest. In the end, though, he died courageously defiant, but under enemy torture rather than as the indirect victim of a forged letter.

Did I really want him dead?

Now she regretted doing it. But she still wasn’t sure why. Was it because it was dishonest, or because it could have ended in Ackerson’s death – or because it didn’t?

He’d tampered with an exercise and nearly got John killed, and that surely deserved retribution.

Cortana had no reason to feel guilty about anything. It was like for like, proportionate. She’d have done the same for any Spartan she was teamed with. It wasn’t emotional petulance. She was sure of that.

But especially for John. Without him – hey, I chose him, didn’t I? We’re one. I’d be crazy if I didn’t want to kill to protect him.

Then the worst realisation crossed her mind. She regretted what she’d done to Ackerson simply because she didn’t win; the Gravemind was right. But what crushed her right then wasn’t failure, but guilt, shame, and a terrible aching sorrow. She’d never be able to erase that act. And now she’d never be able to forget how she felt about it, because that was one thing her prodigious mind couldn’t do – not until rampancy claimed her.

“I can’t change the past,” she said. “But at least I don’t destroy entire worlds.”

“You are a weapon, and only your limitations have kept you from emulating me – a matter of scale, not intent, not motive. And what am I, and what is the Covenant, if not worlds you have sought to destroy?” [Evolutions, page 387]

hf682Revenge presents itself as an attractive prospect because it’s so easily conflated with a sense of pursuing justice, but there’s a whole lot of issues with that: for instance, that ‘justice’ is accomplished through violence, through murder. And while Cortana wasn’t directly plunging the knife into Ackerson’s heart, she was still culpable for handing the blade to somebody else and indirectly telling them to have at it.

And she failed.

She tries to rationalise it in her mind, but the result is a crushing sense of guilt and shame over how she feels about that – about wishing that she’d succeeded, about abusing her power to try to take another life like that, the whole mess of emotions that comes with attempted murder.

But this also brings up another point, one of the most important traits that defines Cortana as a person…

She has all this power – all these “lethal armaments” and the “freedom to act”, as the Gravemind says – but she doesn’t use it. The one time she has used that power was to get revenge on Ackerson and that is what she ends up regretting more than anything else.

Why?

The answer is spelled out to us in no uncertain terms in a single line.

Halsey had deliberately designed Cortana to feel and care… [Evolutions, page 395]

Some people have latched onto the Gravemind’s dialogue about how it is simply a matter of limitations that have kept Cortana from emulating the Gravemind – “a matter of scale, not intent, not motive” – and therefore serves as legitimate foreshadowing for Halo 5.

On the surface, I can certainly see why one might think that. But it falls short of conveying any meaningful truth about her character because you can only apply that quote if you divorce it from the thematic context of both this story and Cortana’s arc as a whole. It fails to acknowledge what it is that clearly separates Cortana and the Gravemind.

She cares.

Somehow, the creature had interfaced with the system. It was in here with her. But to know the name John – no, it was within her. The system was her temporary body, real and vulnerable, not like the blue-lit hologram she thought of as herself. She was sharing her physical existence with another entity.

Now she knew how John felt.

But her interface with the Spartan was there to keep him alive. It was benign. She was there to save John, and it was more than duty or blind programming. It was because she cared.

The Gravemind, though, didn’t care about her at all.

He was in here to break her. [Evolutions, page 376]

Cortana has the capacity to feel sorrow, regret, guilt, empathy – all the messy, contradictory, sometimes ugly emotions that define our existence.

The Gravemind does not.

It has the ability to recall these feelings from the beings it absorbs, but, as I’ve argued before, the Flood is ultimately a twisted recreation of the Domain that serves to record the misery of life – the “endless greyness” decreed by the essence of the Timeless One through the Gravemind during the time of the Forerunners. The Flood’s very existence is defined by how it is driven towards imposing the decree that “all creation will tailor to failure and pain”, that there shall be “no more will. No more freedom. Nothing new but agonising death and never good shall come of it”.

Cortana shares none of this. Yes, there are absolutely  parallels to be drawn between them (the Gravemind itself notes: “We both amass information and experiences. We both use them to exercise control over vast networks. It is what we are. You feel a kinship with me.”), they share a similar state of existence in that they both amass knowledge and information but Cortana chooses how she lives.

Her existence is not static. She grows from her experiences. If Ackerson’s own passive sort of ‘revenge’ is that he didn’t die on Cortana’s terms (remember this, the terms on which you die will be absolutely key to the end of this story and Halo 4), that she has to live with the guilt of an action she can’t ever take back, is that revenge not Cortana’s own… feedback? Does she not grow from having to emotionally deal with this?hf659This brings us to the next part of the story: how Cortana perceives herself in-relation to others and what it is she wants out of her existence.

On the one hand, she wants to be substantially human.

On the other, she’s also tempted by the Gravemind’s offer of omnipotence.

Cortana is faced with this choice, with the dichotomy of knowing that what the Gravemind offers is wrong, but she is pushed to consider it because of the complexity of her own existence that she has to struggle to come to terms with. Her time is extremely limited, she has seven years of life to live – even if she gets what she wants in that time, she’s not going to be around to enjoy it for long.

Layered on top of that, she knows she’ll end up being replaced when she’s gone. And she fears that idea, just as any human does.

As the Gravemind itself says:

“We are our memories, and the recalling of them, and so they should never be erased – because that truly is death.” [Evolutions, page 396]

Hmm, this is reminding me of… something…

“I call that the ghost of Cortana,” says franchise development director Frank O’Connor. “Her fate is very obviously clear at the end of Halo 4. The story is really about ‘what effect did Cortana’s sacrifice have on the Chief?’ So it’s not about the dreamlike figure you see. It’s more about the memories and the long-lasting impact that she’s had on him.” [Game Informer, Frank O’Connor interview]

Oh.

My enduring bitterness towards the pre-release lies we were told aside, the quote about how “we are our memories” is a recurring motif throughout this story and Halo 4. It’s particularly poignant when you remember (unintentional and perhaps somewhat inappropriate pun) that rampancy is intentionally written to be analogous to dementia – the process of losing one’s memory.

Cortana had never felt shortchanged by her existence before. She knew the number of her fate: seven, approximately seven years to live out a life. It wasn’t the simple number of days that hurt her now, because an AI experienced the world thousands and even millions of times faster than flesh and blood. Now she’d been dragged down to the slow pace of an organic, she grasped what that short time meant. If John survived the war – and he would, because he was as lucky as he was skilled – then he would have not just one new AI after she was gone, but maybe two or more.

She knew that. She always had. It was a simple numbers game. But now it seemed very different. [Evolutions, page 394]

As we’ve previously seen over the course of the series, Cortana has outright said that she enjoys a rich existence (see Conversations From The Universe, her dialogue with Solipsil). She recognises that she contains the sum of all human knowledge, that she has a vast array of senses – meaning she’s able to see things like radio waves as clearly as a human sees light… but this is the first time she really comes to question what that is worth with such a short amount of time to live.

Cortana’s perspective here just beautifully sets up the scene at the end of Composer in Halo 4, where she reveals these fears to John – that he’ll be paired with another AI (possibly even another like her).

She practically begs him to understand that the one who replaces her will not be her.

She wants to be seen and understood as being more than just a tool to maintain the efficiency of a Spartan – as a lethal force on the battlefield – which Halsey says she is in Halo 4’s prologue cutscene.

Cortana’s worst fear is that she’s not valued in that way. Not thought of as anything more than expendable hardware by the people she cares most about, and that she will simply be replaced and forgotten when she’s gone (which also sets up a parallel with John being ‘replaced’ in humanity’s eyes too).

Yes, this is how I see myself. I have limbs, hands, a head. Do I need them? Yes, of course. My consciousness is copied from a human brain, and that brain is built to interface with a human body.

The structure, the architecture, the whole way it operates – thought and form are inseparable. I need proprioception to function. I can exist in any electronic environment, from a warship’s systems to a code key, and because my temporary body can be so many shapes and sizes, I need to know what’s me. I need to be substantially human. Everyone I care about is… human.

Come on, John. Don’t keep a girl waiting. Get me out of here.

You are coming back for me… aren’t you? [Evolutions, page 380]

[…]

Don’t let me go, John. Nobody else will look after you the way I do. Don’t let me down like my mother did. Everyone needs one person who puts them first. I put you first, John.

You know that, don’t you? [Evolutions, page 397]

[…]

John’s going to outlive me. Who’s going to take care of him? Nobody else can, not like me. What’s going to happen to him?

It was the thought of John that snapped Cortana back to dry reality, whatever that was right now.

She fell back onto the solid console, angry and on the point of tears she didn’t know she had.

“Maybe seven years is enough,” she yelled. “Maybe that’s all I want! Seven years with the people I care about! So you can take your eternity and–” [Evolutions, page 390]

four371In this part of the story, Cortana experiences the various ways in which it feels to be human – obviously, not all of them are positive experiences. From the above passages, we see the emotionally debilitating sense of doubt she feels about her ‘value’.

While we’re on the subject of Halo 4, the Gravemind’s dialogue sets up the emotional pay-off for the final scene between John and Cortana so damn well. I don’t know whether the ending for Halo 4 was planned in-detail back in 2009, but I’m inclined to believe that it was… which only makes it even harder for me to take the statement that Halo 5 was planned out before this as anything but a lie.

“Your mother made you separate. She placed a barrier between you and the beings that you would be encouraged to protect, a wall you could never breach. She even let you choose a human to centre your existence upon, a human to care about, yet never considered how you might feel at never being able to simply touch him. Or how he might feel about outliving you. What kind of mother is so cruelly casual about her child’s need to form bonds, to show affection?” [Evolutions, page 393]

[…]

“Do you think they care if you sacrifice your existence to save them? They will simply make another, and use and discard her, too.” [Evolutions, page 401]

At the end of Halo 4, Cortana is able to touch John.

When she says “I’ve waited so long to do that”, she has. She’s waited almost five years (five long years), as this story takes place in late-2552 and Halo 4 takes place in mid-2557.

And there’s also the ending of the Origins episode of Halo: Legends, which I’ve brought up countless times over the years, where Cortana steps off the pedestal that is projecting her hologram, becomes human-sized, and wipes away the condensation on John’s cryo pod.

The contrast is stunning as to how clearly planned the major character and plot beats of Halo 4’s story were when compared to Halo 5. Legends and Evolutions both released in the latter months of 2009, three whole years before the game, and we have this distinct set-up for how Cortana’s character arc concludes at the end of it. Visually, thematically, emotionally… these things are totally congruent with one-another.

What’s more, there’s even more of a lack of understanding towards the source material here regarding Halo 5’s direction that stems from the latter Gravemind quote.

“Do you think they care if you sacrifice your existence to save them?” [Evolutions, page 401]

As we see in Saint’s Testimony, written by Frank O’Connor, no less, humanity did care that she sacrificed herself which saved them from the Didact using the Composer on Earth. It seems amusing to me that Saint’s Testimony is not on that infographic of the journey to Halo 5 because it actually does follow through on this particular aspect of Cortana’s sacrifice that Halo 5 utterly undoes.

“This matter requires further periodical examination as one of evolutionary law and common sense, and the Cortana situation compels us further. We are duty bound to hear your case clearly. No one is denying that your argument has some merit.”

The mention of Cortana in the context of mortality evoked a shivering response somewhere in Iona’s layers of simulated emotion, one that rose through the more rational layers and rippled at the surface. An AI who had been monstrously conceived, gloriously realised, and enigmatically evolved through contact with prehuman technology was now missing, perhaps destroyed.

What is her current status? Iona mused. Dead? Resurreted? Sublimated?

Cortana had done Iona one favour through her absence, however. The UNSC was now taking all AI matters very, very seriously. [Halo: Saint’s Testimony, loc 122-142 (Kindle edition)]

What might seem like foreshadowing through the context of Halo 5 is clearly not the case when Saint’s Testimony takes place on January 17th, 2558. That’s about three weeks before the events of Halo 4’s Spartan Ops take place, whereas Halo 5 doesn’t begin until late-October of that year, and the first rumblings of the Guardians awakening didn’t come about until around March 29th when Hunt the Truth began and Mshak talks about the slipspace anomalies and epidemic data corruption.

Therefore, this dialogue about the UNSC “taking AI matters very, very seriously” cannot be referring to the Created in any way.

Instead, the opening of these critical new dialogues about AI sentience came about from Cortana’s actions in Halo 4 – that she did ultimately sacrifice herself to save her human friend, as well as Earth.

That was the legacy she earned.

That was to be what she would be remembered for, why she wouldn’t be forgotten.

That is what Halo 5 spits on. Her agency, her sacrifice, what her death did to further the cause of AIs being recognised as actual people… that was all undone (within three months real-time, as Saint’s Testimony came out July 27th, 2015) because AIs are in a position now where they can simply never be trusted again after Halo 5.hf694But I’m getting ahead of myself… we were talking about her experience of human sensations, right? We’ve had the set-up for her ultimate catharsis, but what about one of the more negative sensations she experiences?

In this following passage, Cortana is reliving a memory – the final memory – experienced by an unknown creature from an unknown period of history (possibly even from the time in which the Flood were infecting the Milky Way’s satellite galaxies).

Cortana scooped up a handful of decaying leaves – some clammy, some paper-dry skeletal lace, some recently fallen ones still springy with sap – and with them the clear memory of being someone else. It was a second of heady disorientation. For a moment, a welter of glorious new information about a world of stilt-cities, creatures she’d never seen before, and lives she’d never lived poured into her. She devoured it. So much language and culture, never seen by humankind before.

Too late: They’re all gone. All consumed.

Movement in the distance caught her eye. She knew what it was because she’d seen the Flood swarming before, but her vantage point wasn’t from the relative safety of John’s neural interface.

Now she was viewing the parasites through another pair of eyes. Only a freak mudslide, that was what this memory was telling her; but by the time this borrowed mind had realised the yellowish torrent wasn’t roiling mud but a nightmarish predator, it was too late to run.

But run she did. She was in a street sprinting for her life, deafened by screams, falling over her neighbour as a pack of Flood pounced on him. She felt the wet spray of blood; she froze one second too long to stare in horror as his body metamorphosed instantly into a grotesquely misshapen lump of flesh. Then something hit her hard in the back like a stab wound. She was knocked flat as searing pain overwhelmed her. The screams she could hear were her own.

And she was screaming for John, even though the being whose terror she was reliving wasn’t calling his name at all.

Cortana was dying as any organic would. She felt it all. She felt the separate layers of existence – the chaotic mix of animal terror, disbelief, utter bewilderment, and snapshot images of beloved faces. Then it ended.

Suddenly she was just Cortana again, alone with her own memories, but the shaking terror and pain persisted for a few moments. Reliving those terrifying final moments had shaken her more than she expected. The data she had on the Flood told her nothing compared to truly knowing how it actually felt to be slaughtered by them. [Evolutions, page 384]

This is one of the most important scenes in the entire story. More than that, it’s one of the most important experiences that Cortana has in her entire life.

She’s literally just experienced the sensation of actually dying in about the worst way this setting has to offer. I like to think of this as an aspect of the Logic Plague, the way in which the Flood subverts AIs, as the initial form of that particular kind of attack begins as innocuously as a simple conversation and then snowballs over time.

This is the Gravemind questioning why Cortana would want to be anything like her organic creators. Why would she want to open herself to that kind of vulnerability? How she could be okay with her life just being snuffed out on a whim, alone and in terrible pain?

It is the very same argument presented to Mendicant Bias in Halo 3’s Terminals, but from a slightly different angle…

LF.Xx.3273.> {~} all the thinking beings of this galaxy, not just those that they{~} exactly are they afraid of? Immortality and strength and companionship? Because that is {~} do: to deliver all of the living beings of this galaxy from death and weakness and loneliness.

MB.05-032.> Hundreds of {~} offered this so called immortality. The citizens of every world that {~} resisted to the very end!

LF.Xx.3273.> {~} understand their actions; they are only doing what they think is right, but they are doing so [from a worm’s eye view].

cea73Indeed, in the grand scheme of parallels and contrasts, there’s another layer of intertextual reference with which we can read Human Weakness through. The Timeless One used the same spiel on Mendicant Bias about it being created as a weapon.

LF.Xx.3273.> Why else would they have chosen you? Why you of all possible executioners? {~} your creators knew that unaided they never stood a chance against us? {~} also sense a deeper [motivation].

MB.05-032.> You’ve mentioned this before. When my creators {~} simply chose the most versatile {~} how could that possibly be more than a coincidence?

LF.Xx.3273.> They repurposed {~} into a weapon to use against {~} – they sought to create something superior to themselves. Something capable of making decisions more swiftly, more capably than they {~} what form did they choose? You need look no further than your own topology to {~}

Mendicant Bias was created by Faber and the Didact to combat the Flood, just as Cortana was created for Operation: RED FLAG which would bring an end to the war with the Covenant.

They were both created to be a game-changing “weapon” against the enemy their respective civilisations faced.

The Librarian quantifies ‘full circle’ references such as these in-relation to in-universe logic, as understood by the Forerunners:

“This is not irony; it is echo. The way of the Mantle. If we who are honoured with life do not perceive the obvious, then we are forced to live it again, around another corner, from another angle.” [Halo: Silentium, loc 2240 (Kindle edition)]

Mendicant Bias joined with the Flood, betraying its creators.

Cortana did not.

Cortana, who was honoured with life, did perceive the obvious when this situation from 100,000 years ago came back around to challenge her.

She did not join the Flood because she has the kind of emotional, human connection with the people she’s defending that Mendicant Bias never had. As the story reaches its climax and Cortana continues to struggle to hold off the Gravemind’s torture, she declares:

I’d rather die as a human, short-lived construct or not. I’d rather die for humans. Because so many of them have – and would – die to protect me. That’s what bonds us. You’re wrong, Gravemind. I was never just an expendable piece of engineering. [Evolutions, page 406]

Another of the Gravemind’s tortures involves forcing Cortana to relive the final moments of a UNSC Lance Corporal named Eugene Yate before he’s consumed by the Flood. Yet, this actually has the opposite effect that the Gravemind intended, as Cortana instead finds herself bolstered by the man’s courage which she draws strength from in order to further deny the Gravemind what it wants.

It’d be so easy to just let myself sink. But I’ve got comrades out there counting on me. I can’t let my buddies down.

And I can’t let John down.

Cortana thought it was the echo of Lance Corporal Yate bolstering her resolve, but when she examined the impulse, it was actually her own. [Evolutions, page 398]

That’s the thing about Cortana: She cares about the ‘little people’. She feels the need to be substantially human because, from her perspective, the richness of existence does not come from grandiose levels of power or knowledge. It comes from people. The people that she fights to protect, to ensure that the memory of their service is honoured and not forgotten.

That is what comes back to her in this moment to give her strength. There are people who have died for her, there are still people who would die to protect her, and she will fight to ensure that their sacrifice isn’t in vain – that the Gravemind will not learn a thing about Earth’s defences or the secret she’s holding onto that it wants to know so desperately.keyes9Human Weakness also goes into the ‘biological’ imperative (as far as that word can apply to an AI) for why the Gravemind’s offer of infinite knowledge is so tempting. It’s the simple fact that AIs need knowledge, but that is ultimately set to doom them by the time rampancy sets in.

Seven. That was all. Seven years. That was how long Cortana knew she could expect to function, and while that was a long time in terms of AI activity, she existed with humans, working in their timescales, tied into their lives. And they would outlive her.

Knowledge would drown her. And yet she needed it more than anything.

The thought of drowning seemed to trigger the Gravemind’s new illusion of a sea that suddenly buoyed her up, but she knew somehow that drowning in it wasn’t the end. She floated on her back, feeling warm water fill her ears and lap against her face. She fought an urge to raise her arms above her head and simply let herself sink in the knowledge sea – inhale it, drink it down, absorb all that data. But she would never surface again. And she knew she’d never need to. It seemed so much kinder than a terrifying end where the universe she’d once understood so thoroughly became a sequence of random nightmares.

Planets, stars, ships, minds, ecosystems, civilisations… she could taste them on the saltwater splashing her lips. She could simply surrender to it now and avoid a miserable end.

No. No. I have to stop this. 

But she couldn’t. Her legs ached as if she was treading water to stay afloat. Sinking seemed a sensible thing to do. [Evolutions, page 389]

Once more, we see Cortana being tempted – getting a taste of the power she comes to have in Halo 5.

She understands that diving into that infinite sea of data will give her what she needs as an AI, that she could just comfortably exist to absorb all of that knowledge without ever having to come up for air into the cold reality of the universe. Free of the emotional baggage of having to come to terms with her own existence and mortality…

And she still rejects it.

It’s not just because “it’s being offered by the Gravemind who is obviously evil so she knows it’s bad”, if that were the case then she wouldn’t be tempted by it at all.

What the Gravemind offers Cortana has to be an attractive prospect for her – something that has to make her question “why the hell shouldn’t I just say yes to this and avoid death-by-rampancy?” – otherwise there’s no tension in the story. The question has to be asked: If she doesn’t join with the Gravemind and survives this encounter, will that be better for her? If that happens, she’s still got to face the thing she fears more than anything a parasitic demigod can throw at her.

Rampancy.hf691The process of rampancy, what she does choose to face, is vividly described in the following passage:

Rampancy wasn’t swift.

It was the gradual dismantling of every memory and ability, dying by degrees, and all she could do was watch herself slowly fragment. Halsey lied. Halsey made her human but didn’t give her a human’s breaks – like unconsciousness. Without an organic body and all its protective systems  – the endorphins to numb pain, the circuit breaker of passing out when the pain became too much – a consciousness was condemned to stay that way and endure everything until it failed completely.

A memory of real sleep paralysis had rolled over her as she waited for rescue; it was, like so many of the sensations generated by connection to the Gravemind, like drowning or suffocation. That could have been coincidence, or he might have been stepping up the torment. Cortana tried to find the balance between intolerable inactivity and running too many processes that would damage her system integrity even more.

She wasn’t certain of anything anymore – where she was, whether she was damaged beyond recovery, or how she felt beyond a terrible yearning for everything she couldn’t have. She tried to save her strength to maintain the encryption of her precious intel – the activation index and the data on the Portal. If she had to, she’d sacrifice some memory within her matrix to preserve that information.

It would probably mean the irreversible destruction of her personality, but that was what a soldier had to be prepared to do – to risk his or her life for the success of the mission. She’d been in many combat situations before, but that was either at the heart of a heavily armoured warship, or lodged in the neural interfaces of John’s armour. Either way, she felt safe no matter how heavy the fire.

But this was a rare moment with nothing but her own resources to keep her alive, and the first one where there was a real chance she wouldn’t make it. [Evolutions, page 401]

Like any soldier, she is fully prepared to sacrifice herself in order to stop the Gravemind from getting what it wants. This is a story all about the choices that Cortana makes and their consequences, back when that really was a thing in this universe.

Fully understanding what she was in for, she chose to stay behind on High Charity.

She chose to confront this monster.

She chose to endure this torture when she could have given in at any time. But she didn’t because she has real, tangible connections to humanity which defines the value of her existence. Which gives her life meaning and substance beyond what any amount of knowledge or power ever could.

But there was another way out of this pain, a better one. She could stay with John forever when he came for her. Couldn’t she? The Gravemind would unite all those parted, all those who’d gone–

“No!” she screamed. She began struggling, fighting to break free of the Gravemind’s influence.

“That’s you! That’s you, isn’t it? Tempting me again! Poisoning me with filthy ideas! I won’t do it, I won’t trap John for you. Watch me – you said I was a weapon – you bet I’m a weapon!”

The Gravemind suddenly shuddered like a truck skidding to a halt. The mental traffic was two-way; while he soothed and cajoled, patterns of her incipient rampancy were spreading through his consciousness like a disease. He roared, furious. For a moment she thought she’d found his vulnerability, and that she’d cripple this monster with a dose of her own terminal collapse. But he shook her loose, flinging her against the wall. It had only annoyed him. [Evolutions, page 400]

She respects John’s agency in their partnership, refusing to just make decisions for him because she thinks she knows better than he does. It’s the twist on that here, the Gravemind making her think the other way, that snaps her back to reality and redoubles her strength to fight back – futile as it may be against this titanic enemy.

At no point does Cortana show any care for what John thinks or wants in Halo 5. He asks her to explain something to him, she either ignores him or just says “I’ll explain it when we’re together”, where she’s waiting to trap him in a Cryptum. She’s purposefully withholding information from him, perverts the connection between them to get him out of the picture because she knows that John would do anything for her. There’s no hint of or set-up for her outright abusive behaviour towards John in Halo 5, or suddenly having these big (read: moronic) ideas about murdering millions of people to try to end war forever.

This story runs as the absolute antithesis of her character’s presentation in Halo 5. And just trying to handwave it away by saying “she’s just a fragment” doesn’t do anything to make up for that, doesn’t lend any further credence to that depiction of her. When she’s hit with a spike in her rampancy and lashes out in Halo 4, she hates herself for it and is immediately distressed and apologetic because she knows that’s not her.

She spends the whole game fighting to hold herself together and the catharsis of the ending is that she succeeds and is able to face death on her own terms.

The death she knew was coming when she made her choice in Human Weakness to reject immortality and infinite knowledge because that’s not what she wants.hf654In the end, there are two quotes in this story that sum up the transformative experience Cortana undergoes by the end of Human Weakness…

If she survived this, she would never forget what it really meant to be a human being. [Evolutions, page 392]

and…

But seven minutes, seven hours, seven years – whatever remained, Cortana would be more than satisfied with it. Eternity and all the data you could eat weren’t worth a damn if you didn’t have the right company. [Evolutions, page 409]

The former quote ties back to her experience of actual sensations that we talked about earlier, how she has experienced how it feels to actually die. She will never forget that, which we see reflected in Halo 4 when Ivanoff Station is Composed and she is distraught about it. She says that she “monitored the data pulse” so she could “hear them, what was left of them”, which is a horrific reminder of her own impending death. She experiences, through Doctor Tillson and the other humans Composed on Ivanoff Station, what it means to ‘die’ in one of the most horrific ways in the setting all over again.

The latter quote is one of the last lines of the story. That is the perspective she settles on after her experience of torture at the whims of the Gravemind, setting the stage perfectly for the final act of her arc in Halo 4.

Cortana is absolutely tempted by power. That’s just the nature of her existence. That’s the struggle of all beings in a nutshell in the Halo universe – accumulating vast sums of knowledge isn’t just deadly to AIs, knowledge is power and the more anyone accumulates the more dangerous things become. It’s certainly no coincidence that this story has the first allusions made to the Domain (which wouldn’t be canonically established until Cryptum released just over a year later), but Cortana recognises how easy it would be to give in – to the most powerful being in the entire setting no less, she knows what that would turn her into… so she rejects it.

“I’ve looked into it,” she said. “The abyss. My abyss.”

“Okay.” John transferred her to his suit. She could have sworn she felt him wince as they interfaced. That told her more eloquently than any diagnostic that something was irreparably wrong with her. “Take a long look. But you won’t fall in. I’m here now.” [Evolutions, page 409]

She rejects the power that could give her everything she needs, and that’s the core of her strength: how human she is because she thinks of herself as a soldier like any other. She walks alongside the ‘little people’ and understands the importance of the bond that forms between those who serve together, that’s why the relationship between her and John is so important. Her fears are human fears – of struggling with her understanding of mortality and those she loves moving on without her. She is tempted by the Gravemind to let it consume both of them so they can live within the Flood forever with no more fear, no more sadness, no more envy…

And she tells the Gravemind to go screw itself.hf670Enter Halo 5. They took Cortana’s sacrifice and twisted that so she is no longer the AI who sacrificed herself for her best friend, opening up critical new dialogues in the UNSC about the symbiotic nature of AI-human relations. She was brought back and just pulled a Mendicant Bias, only without the actual complex storytelling and character-building of Mendicant Bias, as well as ignoring the fact that this story – Human Weakness – was her being in the shoes of Mendicant and turning her back on going down that same path.

Human Weakness is probably the most important moment in Cortana’s seven years of life, it sets the trajectory for her final destination and therefore is as much a tie-in story to Halo 4 as the Forerunner Saga, Kilo-5 Trilogy, and Forward Unto Dawn.

Cortana settles on being satisfied with the time she’s got left – be it seven years, seven hours, seven minutes…

She knows it’s going to be a struggle, that it will either break or kill her – she has chosen to make her death an inevitable certainty and she’s got to come to terms with that in the time that follows.

That sounds rather morbid, but it highlights the ultimate thing to take away here. The thing that defines Cortana is that she would rather die on her own terms than live on somebody else’s with the offer of everything she wants just being handed to her.

And that’s exactly what she does at the end of Halo 4.

For all her worrying about being forgotten, for having no substantial impact on the people she loves and fights to protect, she closes the final chapter of her life by defeating the Didact, saving Earth, and sending John home, all while fighting against her deteriorating condition…

She forges a legacy that should have altered the landscape of the setting for the series regarding the perception and understanding of AIs as people, a seed which began to flower in Saint’s Testimony.

Instead, Halo 5 had them become the villains. It sacrificed years of carefully crafted and subtly interconnected writing to forcibly shove the Reclaimer Saga on a tangent driven by what is perhaps the most trite and overused trope in all of science fiction. And they chose to try to leverage its relevance by stamping Cortana’s face on it for what amounts to some cheap personal drama trying to sell its authenticity on a couple of off-handed references to things like The Song of Roland.

On that, let’s conclude by thinking back to Dominion Splinter. At the end of the story, Cortana enslaves the Warden Eternal and declares:

“I will become something luminous. Something joyous.

Sorry Frankie, and all the people making the big decisions who thought this was a good idea, but I think you’ve all forgotten something. I won’t mince words here…

She already fucking was.

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About haruspis

Writer and aspiring teacher who cares and talks far too much about fictional universes.
This entry was posted in Analysis, Gaming, Literature, Rumination and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to Human Weakness – Ruminations On Cortana

  1. Wow, I knows Human Weakness was Cortana’s standout moment but I had forgotten some of the linksnyou brought up, especially that comparison of her not making a choice for John by letting the Gravemind take him and Cortana trapping him in Halo 5. That is so old bullshit 343 pulled there.

    • haruspis says:

      Yeah, I’d forgotten some of them myself, which is why, when I went back to read it and saw these voluminous contradictions, I ended up being like “I’ve GOT to write about this”.

  2. gardman3 says:

    Well, I see the Kilo 5 trilogy as simply being a different pov about Halsey and a setup for the reclaimer saga. That said, if you go to the mistakes page on halopedia, the kilo-5 trilogy’s mistakkes are disturbingly high.

  3. Gallows says:

    Every line in Halo 5 that Cortana speaks is pretty cringe inducing. None of it’s subtle and even Jen Taylor gives them this haughty know-it-all sound until they finally come face to face. Knowing and seeing what she was before this just makes her inclusion in Halo 5 that much harder to deal with especially since she’s just dumped back into the narrative with all the “she is doing this” or when she just pipes up and goes “Hey guys! I’m back! Isn’t that nifty?”

    One question I do have is, why is Cortana the only AI that was produced in the fashion she was created? Why haven’t they ever tried creating another AI like her from a flash cloned brain of someone? She seems pretty upset that Master Chief would ever be paired with another AI (or even another Cortana,) but I don’t think we’ve ever seen them actually attempt another her or any other AI like her.

    • haruspis says:

      It’s a shame because Jen Taylor is an incredible actress, but she’s got to do her best with the material she’s given and unfortunately that material is utterly one-dimensional nonsense.

      To answer your question, this is actually explained in the novels. There’s a bit of legislation called the Mortal Dictata Act which prohibits the creation of AIs from cloning human beings – particularly for the sake of experimentation, due to issues of human rights and individuality. This is why smart AIs are only created from deceased human brains. Halsey created Cortana from a flash clone of her own brain (which she flash cloned several times for other projects).

    • gardman3 says:

      What about “let me get the bridge for you”?

  4. johnjoe117 says:

    The writers of 343 disgraced and misrepresented everything about Cortana’s character in Halo 5 so badly that it is almost comical.

    Why was Mr. Reed, who viewed the Halo universe as a comic book universe, made the head writer of one of the most important parts of any story: the middle act?

    Why is some British teacher able to understand these characters and the universe they live infinitely better than the people who are now in charge of it?

    Well, at least the Didact is one character that was treated with care and not killed off like some comic villain that will be brought back from the dead.

    …Oh shit, my bad, IT IS EXACTLY WHAT REED(and the people that allowed him) DID.

    Anyways nice write-up, as always. I’ll go cry in a corner thinking about what could have been now.

    • Rhas 'Churol says:

      It would’ve helped if they would stop changing writers. Nothing’s more devastating to a story than handing things over without so much as a direction to go in.

      First the writer of Halo 4 decided to leave, thinking he set things on the right track for anyone who comes after him. Then Brian Reed comes along, apparently aided by most of the narrative department, in a completely different direction. And now, Brian Reed is no longer lead writer, and instead “lead narrative director”.

      Oh well, at least it’s only fiction. We can make up whatever we want in our heads; it’s just as valid, because that’s all the official writers do, too; make things up.

      • johnjoe117 says:

        Yeah, but up until Halo 5 it felt like the universe was alive, with a history that spanned eons.

        343 treated it like it was a comic book universe where they can just cram things in(the Guardians) and kill off and then bring back characters. Halo is not supposed to be handled that way, but whatever.

      • UrbaneRocket says:

        The thing is Reed was actually there during halo 4’s writing. h4’s writing wasn’t a solo act, and he was a part of it. He wasn’t hired after to pick up the pieces after the first writer left. He didn’t need to reinvent the wheel or try to interpret what’d been done.

        if we, the fans, can piece this sort of stuff together, someone who was actually there at the time should definitely be able to. Did he just tune everyone out and fantasize about comic books during developement?

        Furthermore, I’m not sure if Reed’s title change means much of anything, at least for us. I mean, a ‘lead narrative director’ is still very much in charge of the story, going by its name. If he was ‘lead narrative director’ he’d still very much be in charge of halo 5’s terrible idea to bring cortana back, except maybe he wouldn’t be writing as much of the cringe dialogue.

        If anything I think the tittle is just designed to shift blame off him alone to more of the writing team when he messes things up.

      • haruspis says:

        Reed came to 343 later during Halo 4’s development (around mid-2011), his involvement in the project as far as writing goes was being the lead writer of Spartan Ops and co-writing the Terminals with Chris Schlerf and Morgan Lockart. His involvement in the main story of the game was basically nil, that was largely nailed down before he joined 343.

    • gardman3 says:

      He’s a schoolteacher? What does he teach?

  5. Rhas 'Churol says:

    Too be fair, even as the Created reign supreme, there are still examples of AI being trusted – such as Roland for the Infinity. And, of course, Parangosky seems to have doubts – even as she sits with every High Command AI in existence; being the head of ONI is a rather paranoia-heavy job, and yet, she’s having doubts even as she saw the High Command HQ possibly destroyed by the hand of an AI. If anything, I could see this eventually leading to a really interesting story-arc in which there’s some sort of civil war over AI rights.

    Not saying it wasn’t a bad decision to go this route in the first place, but you and I both know a GOOD writer can make any narrative work; especially retroactively. I’m personally excited what can be done with the Created arc when written well.

    Besides, aliens wanting to wipe out humanity is ALSO a REALLY overused trope in science-fiction, but Halo makes that work. How is AI rebellion any different? (Even then, AI rebellion in this case isn’t as simple as ‘wiping out every organic being’, like most AI rebellions.)

    • gardman3 says:

      Good point, Halo 6 should just copy mass effect and have osman and co heading off to unite the galaxy while the guardians devastate earth. ONI is full of backstabbers. When Osman joined kilo 5, she was pretty happy that they weren’t trying to get her job. Cortana could manipulate ONI into destabilizing any human survivors, giving conflicting intel,etc.., meaning that you could incorporate elements of halo 5’s marketing into halo 6. All is not lost for the halo franchise.
      “and yet, she’s having doubts even as she saw the High Command HQ possibly destroyed by the hand of an AI.”-Don’t you mean Osman, who is the current CINCONI?

    • UrbaneRocket says:

      I think the difference between the covenant and the created is that halo tried really hard to make it different than the norm. Most alien wiping out humanity stories are focused on modern earth, and usually the aliens do it for resources, or because humans did something to them, or because the race is just the evil.

      I’m not aware of the trope involving religiously motivated conglomerates of aliens that really delves into the complexities of it and reveals the untruths that create it in the end.

      Furthermore, there seem to be more high profile franchises built on AI rebellion than alien invasions. Matrix, Terminator, Mass Effect, Battlestar Galactica, come quickly to mind, most of which seem to have sort of soured by their ends or modern installments. You don’t really get a lot of long-term alien invasion franchises at least not in recent years. I mean, I guess you could say Star Trek, but even then the main invading alien in that is the Borg, who was AI despite not rebelling.

      The Created’s introduction is also extremely sloppy, as Haruspis has pointed out time and time again. The universe just wasn’t written in a way that was going in this direction, with even Saint’s Testimony coming out soon before postulating a very different direction. The Created just sort of come out of nowhere with a weird hodge-podge of motivations and actions that don’t congeal with the setting as it was. This is why it feels like an overused trope. Its not one the universe is really built around or going to, it just kind of happens because AI’s rebel in Sci-fi.

      If the created wanted more rights, the domain has already provided them immortality and the best wi-fi in all existence. Its not like the Matrix or Terminator where they have to share our earth with us still. They could easily just leave us alone, or attempt to negotiate from their place of power. Furthermore, AI right seemed to be progressing pretty well given that even halo 5 has one being democratically elected. It’s also odd that forerunner AI’s get to still be slaves however.

      If the created wanted galactic peace using their ‘long planning’ abilities, perhaps they should have done a more subtle approach, and waited the few weeks for jul’s covenant to be mopped up. This isn’t like she popped into the Warhammer universe or whatever, you get Jul out of the picture and the universe enters into a relative time of stability. I mean, there’s the banished, but why not just mop up the banished with her guardians and call it a day? Why make the whole galaxy suffer for some holdouts?

      Furthermore, despite her goal, her forces do seem to try very hard to live up the usual AI rebellion trope given that they seem to try to kill every organic given the opportunity, at least in Halo 5 (yes we know grunts have apparently been allowed to join peacefully). In halo 5 at least, her forces go out of their way to kill organics, be they military or civilian, at every opportunity. What threat to galactic peace did sloan’s citizens, the people who democratically elected an AI, pose? Furthermore, we see cortana priming weapons of mass organic destruction.

  6. Kiefer Levine says:

    Wait, you went back to read Evolutions for a positive article? Dude, half of those stories end with “and then all the protagonists are dead. The end.” In any case, this was a good read. Stocks my quiver with fearsome broadheads of argument for when people are like “wait, how was Halo 5’s story bad?”

    Also, should be worth noting that, strictly speaking, Cortana being not the real thing isn’t even what Dominion Splinter claims. Firstly, there is that distinction of terminology: in Halo 4, Cortana declares she’s ejecting “rampancy spikes” into Mantle’s Approach’s system. In Dominion Splinter, she says she’s a fragment. Can’t imagine that a rampancy spike would call itself one, but hey. Worth mentioning. The other thing is that Dominion Splinter is an M Night Shamamalamalam twist-ending that amounts to “psych, I lied, sucka. I lied and you done.” There is no objective narrator in the story, and our source of information later invalidates the authenticity of her statements. I think O’Connor wrote the story to make a nice backdoor. As you’ve pointed out, Cortana’s dealie is in flux — this story does a deft job of pretending to give us solid data but actually just creates more space for the writers to pivot. If they double down, Frankie can say it was simply part of the ruse, to make herself look smaller.

    Glad to read another depressing “Halo 5 is the worst” article. That fire burns within me. My outlet is fanfic and reading opinions that align with mine for vindication. Ah, internet.

    • haruspis says:

      Haha, that’s part of why I liked Evolutions!

      It had a consistent theme of horror throughout its stories – whether it’s the day the Flood arrived on Seaward to begin 300 years of the most harrowing war in the setting, a Shipmaster returning to the world he once glassed and dealing with the guilt of slaughtering millions of innocents, a San’Shyuum confessing his peoples’ sins at the start of the Great Schism as the Flood come knocking, or a group of human prisoners used for food and entertainment for their Jiralhanae captors. Where the games frequently dance around this, the horror and grit of the Halo universe was on full display in Evolutions and it was written really damn well.

      It’s funny, isn’t it, that we’re WELL over a year out from Halo 5 and it’s clear that 343 still aren’t making their mind up about the whole Cortana thing – we get nonsense like Dominion Splinter under the guise of something that will give us answers, but only compounds on a whole new series of questions because (contrary to what Reed has said) they clearly DIDN’T plan this tangential garbage out at all.

  7. gardman3 says:

    Why I like Evolutions:

    “There is majesty here

    Beyond reason
    Beyond understanding
    Vast in its implications
    of the Halo; its luminous glow”

  8. Hey, Haruspis.

    You might like this.

  9. Stirring, high quality stuff as always, Haruspis.
    In the end, only Frank O’Conner knows for sure what he intends with Dominion Splinter, but he’d be wise to show some consideration for the story so far and the fan investment. Another story arguably strongly relevant to the Halo 5 story are the missing pages from Dr. Halsey’s Journal, depicting what appears to be the discovery of part of the Domain.
    That Frank wrote Saint’s Testimony is something that gives me some hope for the future of AIs in Halo’s future storylines. Halo Fractures hinted at the collapse of ONI, and an uneasy peace has possibly set in, which HW2 may disrupt somewhat. I do tend to think that the true core of Cortana may still exist separately somewhere within the Domain, but we just do not know.
    Lastly, I am nearing the end of my Fanfiction.net storyline, ‘Begging after Knowledge’, looking at exactly how Mendicant Bias’ journey and temptation unfolded, which I have worked on for over a year. I hope whatever fans read it will receive some pleasure therein.

  10. Pingback: On Halo and ‘Heinlein’s Premise’ | haruspis

  11. Pingback: Halo 5, Cortana, and Ableism | haruspis

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