“We're gonna make it aren't we, sir? I don't wanna die out here.” One of the marines on the lifepod asks. He doesn’t get an answer and he never will as only moments later, Master Chief emerges, a lone figure, from the flaming wreckage that had rescued them from the Autumn. This isn’t the last time the Chief and Cortana will survive in the face of spine shattering odds, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Cortana is Master Chief’s voice. She is as commanding as the Chief is brutal. Ripping through the enemy lines, united they claw together more fortunate marines from other crash sites. The Chief is on a combat high, Cortana is working, thinking, plotting. Things are close to desperate but looking up. Time to save Keyes. The Chief and Cortana complete each other. She thinks, he does. She has power over this blunt weapon, this “demon” and as they travel on the gravity lift into the heart of a Covenant ship, they are becoming closer, anticipating each other, beating as one. The momentum is with them.
Later on, Keyes is safe, they find themselves in Halo’s central control room. “You all right?” the Chief asks. “Never been better! You can't imagine the wealth of information; the knowledge! So much so fast. Its glorious!” comes the response. Unlike Master Chief’s control on the battlefield, Cortana’s dark desire for information and power shows who is the real demon. The Chief feels this bubbling malice, Cortana snaps, “This ring isn't a cudgel, you barbarian.” However, Cortana becomes aware of a new threat, something beyond her conception and control.
Cortana: The Covenant found something buried in this ring; something horrible. And now they're afraid.
Master Chief: Something buried? Where?
Cortana: The captain! We've got to stop the captain!
Master Chief: Keyes? What do we...?
Cortana: The weapons cache he's looking for is not really... We can't let him get inside!
Master Chief: I don't understa...?
Cortana: There's no time! Get out of here, find Keyes stop him before it's too late!
The Flood are coming, remaining hooked to the halo’s computers she sends Master Chief off, alone, to stop Keyes. She has abandoned the Chief.
We now find ourselves in Installation 04 and 343 Guilty Spark, an A.I. construct of Forerunner origin, shows Master Chief the way, “We must collect the index before we can activate the installation.” They only find death and destruction in this place - and the precious ‘index’. Keyes and his squad are dead and the Flood have been unleashed. Time to escape back to the control room.
Cortana, absorbed in Halo’s fountain of knowledge, has lost focus and with it command of the Chief and the situation in general. She has let Guilty Spark use Master Chief to achieve its own calculated ends and, as hers was before, his loss is now unacceptable.
Cortana: I've spent the last twelve hours cooped up in here watching you toady about helping that thing get set to slit our throats.
Master Chief: Hold on now. He's a friend.
Cortana: Oh! I didn't realise. He's your pal, is he? Your chum? Do you have any idea what that bastard almost made you do?
“Sod off!” Cortana barks in a rage as Guilty Spark notices in disgust this new alien A.I.. Master Chief is wavering, “The Flood is spreading. If we activate Halo's defenses we can wipe them out.” Guilty Spark reminds him. The Chief is an unknown, a volatile weapon, a blunt tool vulnerable, needing instruction and now at the mercy of the universe’s most powerful artificial intelligences. However, Cortana is more than just a calculating construct. She has grown to know the Chief, as he has her. She returns, humbled, to her familiar self, a creation of logic growing beyond her preconceived parameters. She tries to regain control of the spiraling situation “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. You don't believe me? Ask him!” And so she sparks doubt in Master Chief’s mind, “Is it true?” he asks Guilty Spark. “More or less.” comes the response.
Cortana has wandered through the horrors of the shade but has finally emerged bloody, but unbowed. Ignoring Guilty Spark’s blathering Cortana and the Chief are working as one again, “Get us out of here.” With everything to lose, the halo must be destroyed; the only way is to detonate the crashed Pillar of Autumn.
The Maw - the Autumn is enveloped in rot. Just like the previous two chapters Master Chief and Cortana are alone. They have evolved together and we can see the culmination of their interaction almost explicitly expressed as they approach the Autumn:
Cortana: This thing is falling apart!
Master Chief: It'll hold.
Cortana: We're not going to make it!
Master Chief: We'll make it.
Computers, A.I.s, machines are definably inhuman through their inability to look beyond reason. To borrow from Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, which captures this idea perfectly, “There are things that machines will never do. They cannot possess faith - they cannot commune with God... They cannot appreciate beauty - they cannot create art. If they ever learn these things, they won't have to destroy us. They'll be us.” The Chief has led Cortana to this epiphany and she presents us with the most human of characteristics - faith. It isn’t an illusion or an attempt at replicating an idea; it is genuine faith. Neither solely logical nor abandoned to emotion she now places her trust, not to mention her life, in Master Chief’s hands against her own judgment (and considering her intelligence, her judgment might as well be law). As Master Chief put his trust in her before, it is time for her to return the favor.
Together, not only do they complete each other, they are holistic.
With the job done, the halo destroyed, they escape into the dust and echoes. “We're all that's left. We did what we had to do - for Earth.” Together, adrift in space, the threat to humanity is extinguished; there is nothing more for them to do. “Halo - it's finished.” remarks Cortana.Master Chief
: No. I think we're just getting started.
And there we have it, Halo: Combat Evolved, at least, is over – job done, boy meets girl, boy and girl blow up universe destroying alien artifact. In part two we’ll see what happens when their bond is put to the ultimate test – the ride is definitely just getting started.