Frontline 5: Calibrate this!

Posted June 4th 2004

This is Radio WRKX broadcasting, and in our latest instalment from the mysterious ringworld Halo, resourceful reporter Suzie Hoffenblatt finds herself on an orbiter, face to face with the cutest little AI construct in the galaxy. Temporarily extracted from the head of a green-helmeted gentleman whose identity remains classified, Cortana flickers and glows in life-size holographic form, bright eyed and mischievous. Frontline reporting at its best, here on Radio WRKX. Take it away Suzie…

Suzie: Cortana, so good to meet you at last, and I have to say that I just love what you've done with your hair.

Cortana: Oh gosh, do you? I thought I'd try it out this way for a while to see what people think. But it's mostly Marines up here you know. Most of them never notice a damn thing. Don't know why I bother sometimes.

Suzie: Oh I can't believe that; surely you turn a few heads now and then. And those are some beautifully coloured patterns radiating across your exterior.

Cortana: These patterns? Oh these are just something I threw on when I heard you were coming. I can do better than this. Got some really sparkly numbers in deep storage I have. But with all this shooting going on about the place, a girl just doesn't have time for things like that. Not this girl anyway. It's more a case of "Compute this" or "Calibrate that" or "Estimate the laminar flow coefficient in the bipolar diffusion array just for the hell of it, honeybunch". Really gets a bit trying sometimes. Sooner or later it's going to be one calibration request too far, I can tell you. I'm hooked up to the ship's air supply you know…

Suzie: Oh dear. Perhaps I'd better put in a word and ask people to be a bit more considerate.

Cortana: Well, it wouldn't hurt.

Suzie: I'm sure our audience appreciates you at least, and I can assure them that you look just lovely even without your sparkly numbers. But your name, 'Cortana': that's an unusual one isn't it?

Cortana: Yes, pretty unusual. I don't think you Earth girls get lumbered with that name too often! I suppose the boffins just cobbled it together when they decided they'd better call me something handy. You know, some white-coated genius probably thought they could base it on 'cortex', on account of my enormous analytical capabilities, and then some other bozo suggested adding a feminine touch by messing around with the ending. But I can't say I'm best pleased with it to be honest. I love your name though.

Suzie: Well you're not having that one girlfriend.

Cortana: No, of course not. Maybe something else. Have you got any ideas?

Suzie: Let's see… Amanda? Denise? Helen? Jennifer? Jenny?

Cortana: Jennifer… Jenny… maybe a bit too soft; how about Jen? That's cute and efficient! Gosh, you know I think I could be a 'Jen' if I tried.

Suzie: Oh I'm sure you could dear, with a little retro-engineering. You certainly sound like one. But if we can move on to the more serious business, I'd like to ask you what it was like on the Pillar of Autumn before it fell into the atmosphere. It must have been scary.

Cortana: I'll say. We were just cruising along minding our own business when these beastly Covenant people turned up and started blowing pieces off the exterior. And that hurts when you're tied into all the sensors. People think I can't feel anything because I'm just an AI, but it's not like that at all. I mean, if somebody poked you in the eye, that would hurt wouldn't it?

Suzie: I suppo…

Cortana: Of course it would. Well it's just as bad for me when I take a shot in the sensors. In fact it's probably worse, since I'm fully capable of analyzing exactly how much it's hurting, billions of times per second. Hell, sometimes I only wish I was as slow-witted as you people. No offence.

Suzie: Yes, none taken I'm sure. So, a bit of a shock to the system then. And what happened after that?

Cortana: Oh then they started boarding us, of all the cheek. Never mind any invitation or anything. Just straight in, no manners at all. Next thing we know, we're starting to get overrun, and that was when they got the Chief out of the freezer, so to speak.

Suzie: The 'Chief' being the secretive green-helmeted gentleman you were later installed into.

Cortana: That's right. Fed me into his head they did. Which was easy enough 'cos there was plenty of room in there to be honest. Oh god, don't tell him I said that, he might get the wrong idea.

Suzie: Your secret is safe with me and our several billion listeners.

Cortana: And after that, well we had a terrific time for a while. He's awfully good at blasting things you know. We bumped into some sort of gaggle of miniature overweight pixies almost right away and he blasted them in no time at all. And then there were a few really nasty looking eight-footers with quite atrocious dental hygiene, but he blasted those too. Down the next corridor there was some more blasting, and then if memory serves, oh… what was it we did?… oh yes, some blasting. You see where I'm coming from Suzie. Really quite enthusiastic about it he was.

Suzie: He certainly sounds it. And all this blasting must have been quite discouraging for those naughty aliens.

Cortana: Oh they were on the defensive pretty soon I can tell you, those we hadn't blown to bits. But the ship had taken too much damage and we finally had to bail into a lifeboat. Went down with a very nice lady pilot actually. Had a brief chat with her. But I'm afraid that along with the Marines we were carrying, she took a bit of a turn for the worse when we hit the ground, as you people often do.

Suzie: Yes, impacting at speed never sits terribly well with us.

Cortana: And when the Chief got his head together, there we were in this lovely valley with a stream and waterfall and everything. Ever so nice it was. It would have been ideal for a picnic, if it wasn't for the enemy dropship that turned up a few moments later.

Suzie: Gosh, a whole dropship. Sounds like a sticky situation. How did the Chief cope?

Cortana: Well we nipped over a bridge for starters, but then we spotted a couple of Banshees heading our way. But the Chief, he wasn't worried at all. He got behind a rock, and when one came diving in, it was a case of bam! bam! bam! with his pistol, followed by a few bursts from the assault rifle just as the pilot pulled up and started to swoop off. And then boom! One toasted Banshee, MC style.

Suzie: He's a fast worker then.

Cortana: Doesn't hang around at all Suzie. Anyway, the other pilot couldn't have fancied his chances after seeing that, because he chickened out and started flying off. But the Chief was having none of it. He jumps up onto the rock and whips his pistol back out, and bam! bam! bam! Got that one too, up in a huge ball of smoke just before it disappeared around the corner. Pilot went flying. Wasn't pleased at all.

Suzie: I bet he wasn't. And I imagine the Chief was fairly harsh with the dropship troops as well?

Cortana: You're getting the picture Suzie. Actually it was quite funny because he was sneaky and hid behind the rock until the leading Elite was halfway across. Then he jumped out and peppered him with the pistol, and the silly Elite dodged sideways, completely forgetting he was on a narrow bridge.

Suzie: Oh dear, that is a shame. Was it a long drop?

Cortana: A very long drop Suzie. And the Chief and I were still chuckling about it when he polished off the last of them. And ever since then we've been running about doing blasting and stuff, seeing the sights and so on. Pretty much doing the whole 'gun-toting vandal' thing, really. Been quite interesting. He seems to like it anyway.

Suzie: I can imagine. And you get along well?

Cortana: Oh yes. He seems to listen to me anyway, which is nice. Says he likes my voice too.

Suzie: Is that a little smile I can see there Cortana?

Cortana: Well what if it is? It's nice to be appreciated for once. Actually I've got a good mind to put in for a permanent transfer, because it's been a lot more fun than sitting around running a ship, day in day out. And as I say, it's pretty spacious in there. All modern fittings you know. Very soft and comfy.

Suzie: Oooh, sounds nice.

Cortana: And bulletproof too! "Soft on the inside, hard on the outside", that's what I like to say. Bit of a joke between us actually.

Suzie: Sounds like there might be a bit more than military camaraderie going on here young lady!

Cortana: Oh stop it Suzie, you'll make me blush.

Suzie: And I'm sure you could too. This holographic image is quite lifelike I have to say.

Cortana: Yes, it's good isn't it? Designed it myself. And luckily I have the access codes for the duty roster, so I did a bit of creative rescheduling and had Engineering knock it up for me. Still has a bit of flicker, but I'm working on it.

Suzie: Hmmm… but wouldn't Engineering have been a bit busy with other things? You know, such as helping to stave off imminent destruction from the enemy fleet and so on?

Cortana: Oh, picky picky picky! A bit of damaged shielding here, a broken manoeuvring thruster there; who's counting. Ok it was a bit naughty of me I suppose. The new model's not strictly necessary, but I always felt a bit shabby on that pint-sized little UNSC projector. Gave me that 'low-res' feeling, which can really get an artificial girl down. It's not as if I ask for much. And I feel so much more real like this.

Suzie: You know Cortana, I'm starting to wonder if you'd really like to be real.

Cortana: Well, a girl has her dreams. I mean, I'm having a great time with the Chief already, but imagine if I had some sort of body of my own. I could still give him all the information he needs, and I could cover his back and help him out with the blasting.

Suzie: Gosh, so you fancy a spot of blasting too! My, we're quite the little minx aren't we!

Cortana: Well I don't see why the boys should have all the fun. And some of those Covenant are really ugly. Gets a bit frustrating sometimes, just hanging around in Chief's head shouting "Let him have it Chief!" or whatever. Give me one of those needlers to play with and I'd let 'em have it myself!

Suzie: I can well believe it; and woe betide the really ugly ones. You like the needler then?

Cortana: Oh yes, that's my favourite; those explosions are such a lovely shade of pink! And I really like the idea of burying needles into enemy hide. I mean, not that I'm spiteful or anything, but under the circumstances it seems like such an excellent idea.

Suzie: It absolutely does, Cortana. And on that note of happy agreement, I think we'll leave you to your secret dreams and call it a wrap!