Story Page Gadfly Bites Two, Leaves Dog Alone

Those who've complained that Rampancy hasn't updated in quite some time are quite correct. While I've no excuse, I do have a reason, and the reason is that the flow of information about Halo 3 has recently slowed to a trickle, and that trickle has now been over-analyzed, much as two boys with twigs might poke and prod at a rivulet of sudsy water running through a patch of sand without ever deducing the existence of a car wash.

While the various fan forums contain far too much rampant speculation to digest, let alone refute, the Halo Story Page provides a convenient place to separate the wheat from the chaff before setting it, too, aflame.

To wit, today's contributions regarding the Prophet of Mercy, Master Chief and the Flood, and Cortana.

Click "read more" from the front page for the complete article.

Stuntmutt pointed out that "kamikaze" in Japanese means "divine wind", a phrase Mercy uses to describe what will happen when the Halos are activated and this likely seems a bit of foreshadowing by Bungie that the Covenant are on a suicide mission. Nothing really to find fault with there except to say that somebody else should have thought of it first. Perhaps lots of people did, but thought it was so obvious it didn't bear mentioning. That's probably it.

keenan thinks that 343GS' question "why would you hestitate to do what you have already done" to the Master Chief in Halo 1 is in reference to killing Flood. There are a couple of major problems with this.

First of all, Cortana just got through saying at the start of Two Betrayals that the Halos don't kill Flood. We don't know if this means that even combat forms are unaffected, or if it just means that even after all hosts and potential hosts are eliminated, the infection forms survive.

Secondly, 343 continues, referring to an earlier incident in which the Chief supposedly asked 343 if he would make the same decision, and that he still agrees with his earlier answer: that the rings must be activated. Even if the earlier question was not part of the same diatribe, there is still a reference to a prior activation that is not explained away, and the alternate explanation for the first question adds nothing of any use.

Ethan Holman wonders if Cortana isn't actually talking to the Chief in the Halo 3 announcement vid, and posits that she's actually talking to Gravemind, and that this is an indication that she will side with the Flood in Halo 3.

I think it's important when discussing the announcement vid to determine whether we're looking at it literally or figuratively, especially because of the technique of image superimposition used there. Halo and Halo 2 cutscenes are slavishly literal. They show actual events, locations and characters. Even flashback scenes are literal, as they are video recordings.

However, it is almost impossible to view everything that occurs within the announcement vid literally. Even if we were to interpret the superimposition of Cortana's image as well as her voice on top of the footage of the Chief walking towards the cliff edge as a conversation between the two, problems emerge. For one, the Chief and Cortana are facing the same direction, rather than looking at each other, as one would do when having a conversation and as the hologram of Cortana does uniformly when appearing to the Chief and other characters in Halo and Halo 2.

One might suggest that the image of Cortana is being shown on the Chief's visor; but in this case, we'd be seeing what the Chief is seeing with Cortana superimposed, instead of seeing the Chief himself. While the Chief has never been known to be particularly garrulous, he doesn't respond to Cortana in the vid at all. One might think a "what the heck are you talking about" would be in order if he could hear her. So while what we're seeing may be intended to convey the idea that Cortana is distant as well as in distress, I do not believe we are looking at a literal communication between the two characters on screen at the time in any case, so there's little reason to deconstruct it by saying it isn't what it seems.

In short, Cortana is delivering a monologue to the audience, and it's likely she is both addressing the player and describing her relationship to the player. This explains the disintermediation between her and the Chief, as Cortana only speaks to the player through the Chief.

Given the widely held speculation that the "other voice" doubling Cortana's lines is Gravemind's, that would mean that instead of an address to the chief or a monologue, what we're looking at is a soliloquy where Cortana/Gravemind talks to it/her/himself. That seems possible, but overly complicated and not terribly revealing.

As for the idea that Cortana may side with Gravemind, I also think it is likely, but for more obvious reasons: if it becomes apparent that the only effective means of assaulting the Flood is the activation of the rings, then Cortana (and the Chief as well as UNSC) may eventually oppose this on the grounds that it would wipe out humanity (if indeed it would). The question then becomes what options, if any, Gravemind leaves open.

I do think Cortana's role in Halo 3 will be different than in the first two games, and I think Bungie certainly has a twist or two in store for the fans. However, Cortana simply going over to the other side doesn't really cut it, and I don't see her actively working against humanity-- I think it more likely she will espouse a strategy that perhaps the human leadership won't want to endorse, but will likely turn out to be the only plausible alternative.



Very little has been said about Cortana's remaining life - only a few more years. Is it possible that Cortana could figure out a way to extend her life beyond the usual seven years? What if it meant turning on humans?

I see a recurring theme in the Halo universe; choosing what is viewed as a lesser evil than the other alternatives in the hopes of getting some greater benefit. As examples:
[*]The SPARTAN program: kidnapping children and performing extremely risky experimental surgery upon them... to avoid internal strife and short-circuit a looming civil war that could kill billions of citizens in the UNSC.
[*]Detonating the [i]Autumn[/i]: killing all of the surviving crew without hope of escape or even warning... to contain the spreading Flood, destroy a Covenant battle fleet, and stop the Monitor's plan to fire Halo.
[*]The Halos: destroying all sentient life in the galaxy capable of hosting and spreading the Flood... to prevent the Flood's assimilation of the entire galaxy and subsequent extinction of all other life. (Note: the motive is speculative but reasonable based upon available evidence.)
It could very well be that Cortana sees assimilation by Gravemind as yet another "lesser evil" in order to gain a greater, desirable result. (Sabotage of the Flood from within? An expendable ally against the Covenant and Forerunner-remnants?)

-- Steve

I'm guessing J.S. Mill would approve of Cortana's actions in this case.

I think you've definitely identified a theme that's going to be used in how the story concludes, with the exception of the less savory parts of the SPARTAN program. As the Chief's genesis has not been mentioned at all within the context of the game, I don't think it, or reaction to it, is going to end up operating as a factor, as Bungie can't count on players having read the novels in order to understand the emotional and intellectual motivations that drive the series' conclusion.

For instance, if Cortana were to eventually betray humanity and the Spartans (Chief included) in favor of assisting and/or saving the Flood, it can't be done on the basis that humanity is no better than the Flood because they make morally questionable actions, such as those committed during the SPARTAN program. That won't make sense to anybody who hasn't read the novels.

Rampant for over se7en years.

Rampant for over se7en years.

Well, there are overtones of the less-savoury aspects of the SPARTAN program in the "Conversations in the Universe" insert... the one with Cortana, oddly enough, discussing loyalty and free will with that other AI. (If you wish, I can quote it when I get home. Work doesn't seem to appreciate me bringing an Xbox and game discs into the office...)

Don't know if that counts as "within context of the game", though.

-- Steve