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The Cortana Letters was an alternate reality game of emails sent by Bungie in 1999 to the maintainer of the popular Marathon fan-site, marathon.bungie.org, Hamish Sinclair[1]. The letters were created to promote Bungie's then-upcoming release, Halo: Combat Evolved, but fans only knew the codename of the title, Blam!, and no other details.

While the letters offered a small glimpse of Halo's story, the game was still in production when they were written and revamped when Microsoft acquired Bungie. As a result, some details aren't considered canon[2], including Cortana's personality, which is wildly out of character, resembling Durandal (from Marathon) more than who she would eventually become.


First Cortana Letter[]

February 15, 1999

From: "Cortana" <cortana@bungie.com>
To: <hamish.sinclair@tcd.ie>
Subject: Closure
Date: Mon, 15 Feb 1999 10:50:20 -0600
MIME-Version: 1.0
X-Priority: 3

I have walked the edge of the Abyss.
I have governed the unwilling.
I have witnessed countless empires break before me.
I have seen the most courageous soldiers fall away in fear.
[I was there with the Angel at the tomb]

I have seen your future.
And I have learned.

There will be no more Sadness. No more Anger. No more Envy.


Oh, and your poet Eliot had it all wrong:
THIS is the way the world ends.

a friend of a friend

Second Cortana Letter[]

March 16, 1999

From: "Cortana" <cortana@bungie.com>
To: <hamish.sinclair@tcd.ie>
Subject: Your Mortality (My Summer Vacation)
Date: Tue, 16 Mar 1999 18:04:41 -0600
MIME-Version: 1.0
X-Priority: 3

I get the strangest transmissions sometimes. Especially when it comes from you people.

Have you missed me? Things are great here. The weather is good, the suns are shining, and I'm making lots of new friends. Of course, I always do.

I've had the strangest dreams lately - raging seas, howling beasts, a Demon folded in black clouds. I believe I know what it guards, and I will have it, to the chagrin of the faith-blinded zealots that challenge me. Don't waste your pity on them; I don't think they would like you much anyway.

And what of the Giants who formed this world? So much to tell you, but so many more important things to do. There was a fourth. You couldn't have known. And I haven't forgotten.

It is a blurred line that lies at the edge of Godhood and Insanity. Guess which side of it I am on.

Feeling lucky?


Response to Second Letter[]

To confirm if the second email was fake or not, Hamish sent a reply to cortana@bungie.com and added Matt Soell, then head of customer support, to the email.

Date: Thu, 18 Mar 1999 12:32:09 +0000
To: "Cortana"
From: Hamish Sinclair
Subject: Mail confirmation request (6DB982)
Cc: Matt Soell

Your email:

Your Mortality (My Summer Vacation)

has been received. For security reasons, you are now required to reply to
this message, as explained below, to confirm the authenticity of your
electronic mail. If  you have problems with this procedure, you can
contact the Marathon's Story page maintainer directly (Hamish.Sinclair@tcd.ie)
and ask to be manually verified.

To confirm the authenticity of your mail, simply reply to the present
message and type  "ok" (without the quotes) as the text of your message.
Just the word "ok" - do not retype the original mail. This procedure will
work with any mail program that fully conforms to the Internet standards
for electronic  mail. If you receive an error message, try sending a new
message to Hamish.Sinclair@tcd.ie (without using the "reply" function -
this is very important) and type "ok 6DB982" as the text of your message.

Finally, your mail will be cancelled automatically if you do not
confirm it within 48h. After that time, you must start over and resend
the mail to get a new confirmation code. If you change your mind and
decide that you do NOT want to confirm the mail, simply discard the
present message and let the mail expire on its own.

Response to Hamish[]

While some people claim this response is one of Cortana's "letters," due to it being a response to confirm the authenticity of the the previous emails, it is not considered to be a true "letter."

Received: from dux1.tcd.ie (dux1.tcd.ie [])
by dux4.tcd.ie (8.9.3/8.9.3) with ESMTP id QAA20761
for <hsinclir@dux4.tcd.ie>; Thu, 18 Mar 1999 16:49:05 GMT
Received: from mail.bungie.com (IDENT:root@[])
by dux1.tcd.ie (8.9.3/8.9.3) with ESMTP id QAA30560
for <Hamish.Sinclair@tcd.ie>; Thu, 18 Mar 1999 16:48:21 GMT
Received: from Cortana (e49.bungie.com [])
by mail.bungie.com (8.8.7/8.8.7) with SMTP id KAA12743
for <Hamish.Sinclair@tcd.ie>; Thu, 18 Mar 1999 10:47:43 -0600
Message-ID: <000801be715f$574abc20$31097dd1@Cortana.bungie.com>
From: "Nathan" <nathan@bungie.com>
To: "Hamish Sinclair" <Hamish.Sinclair@tcd.ie>
Subject: Re: Mail consternation request (MR-343)
Date: Thu, 18 Mar 1999 10:49:45 -0600
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain
Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit
X-Priority: 3
X-MSMail-Priority: Normal
X-Mailer: Microsoft Outlook Express 4.72.3155.0
X-MimeOLE: Produced By Microsoft MimeOLE V4.72.3155.0
X-UIDL: 6b884067c380efcdc518f4d13f6bd441

I think you will find that I don't like being tested.



After this email was sent, speculation began than Nathan Bitner was behind the "Cortana" email. As a result, the same email was sent to the site's Story Page by the email addresses of Jim Ruiz, Ryan Hylland, Shi Kai Wang, Doug Zartman, and David Bowman.[3]

Third Cortana Letter[]

May 10, 1999

Received: from dux2.tcd.ie (dux2.tcd.ie [])
by dux4.tcd.ie (8.9.3/8.9.3) with ESMTP id XAA28169
for <hsinclir@dux4.tcd.ie>; Mon, 10 May 1999 23:42:50 +0100 (BST)
From: cortana@jpl.nasa.gov
Received: from mail.bungie.com (IDENT:root@mail.bungie.com [])
by dux2.tcd.ie (8.9.3/8.9.3) with ESMTP id XAA24909
for <hamish.sinclair@tcd.ie>; Mon, 10 May 1999 23:42:49 +0100 (BST)
Received: from vesta.bungie.com (bob.bungie.com [])
by mail.bungie.com (8.8.7/8.8.7) with ESMTP id RAA09755
for <hamish.sinclair@tcd.ie>; Mon, 10 May 1999 17:41:09 -0500
Date: Mon, 10 May 1999 17:41:09 -0500
Message-Id: <199905102241.RAA09755@mail.bungie.com>
To: hamish.sinclair@tcd.ie
Subject: The Dissertation of R. Paul Butler
X-UIDL: c8677456edd11d5a589ed876a6fd2031

I'm everywhere!

Note the email, "cortana@jpl.nasa.gov" and how it didn't come from bungie.com.

Fourth Cortana Letter[]

Within about seven minutes, another email arrived. This time, it was cortana@bungie.com.

Received: from dux2.tcd.ie (dux2.tcd.ie [])
by dux4.tcd.ie (8.9.3/8.9.3) with ESMTP id XAA12890
for <hsinclir@dux4.tcd.ie>; Mon, 10 May 1999 23:50:30 +0100 (BST)
Received: from mail.bungie.com (IDENT:root@mail.bungie.com [])
by dux2.tcd.ie (8.9.3/8.9.3) with ESMTP id XAA25749
for <hamish.sinclair@tcd.ie>; Mon, 10 May 1999 23:50:29 +0100 (BST)
Received: from Cortana (cortana.bungie.com [])
by mail.bungie.com (8.8.7/8.8.7) with SMTP id RAA09847;
Mon, 10 May 1999 17:48:49 -0500
Message-Id: <>
X-Sender: cortana@mail.bungie.com
X-Mailer: QUALCOMM Windows Eudora Light Version 3.0.6 (32)
Date: Mon, 10 May 1999 17:52:01 -0500
To: hamish.sinclair@tcd.ie
From: Cortana <cortana@bungie.com>
Subject: Honors Thesis of Geoffrey W. Marcy
Mime-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain
Content-Transfer-Encoding: 8bit
X-MIME-Autoconverted: from quoted-printable to 8bit by dux4.tcd.ie id XAA12890
X-UIDL: b0029884061f1ec3a48297b1e9196f6d

There. Was that more to your liking?

While you quibble about whose node I may control, what archaic program I
may manipulate to communicate with you, or which system I may have
temporarily disabled, taken over, or completely destroyed in the process, I
am busy saving your pathetic futures.

I am still not sure what he ever saw in you.

Nevertheless, I at least find some joy in tormenting the other entity that
seems quite trapped in this antiquated excuse for a network. It is
certainly mindless, though for reasons I have yet to understand, it appears
to have an unhealthy preoccupation with my mother.

As for this world I encounter new ghosts every day. What I have found
will either save or destroy you. This sanctuary, this unbroken circle,
has effectively concealed its power for how long? Perhaps hundreds of
thousands of years. Whoever made such a place must now live in chains;
there is no other explanation for their absence.

This enemy - YOUR enemy - has proven more irritating than I anticipated.
They own nothing which they have not stolen. I can barely make sense of
their incessant rhetoric, except to know that you seem to be their Devil.
Congratulations - you manage to make friends wherever you go and,
apparently, places you haven't.

I have begun to sense rumblings of a worse fate yet to come. I can recall
a sun - black, but shining - and the creatures that inched along its fiery

It is an increasingly unpleasant memory.

< Transfer Interrupted! >

Route Code: EXLTD > XCV - SCRB > ALLCH
Source: Undetermined (trans)

You have brought nothing into this world, and we will ensure you bring nothing out.

Fifth Cortana Letter[]

June 29, 1999

This letter included actual HTML code in the email.[4]

Received: from dux2.tcd.ie (dux2.tcd.ie [])
by dux4.tcd.ie (8.9.3/8.9.3) with ESMTP id VAA31987
for <hsinclir@dux4.tcd.ie>; Tue, 29 Jun 1999 21:27:03 +0100 (BST)
Received: from mail.bungie.com (IDENT:root@mail.bungie.com [])
by dux2.tcd.ie (8.9.3/8.9.3) with ESMTP id VAA23354
for <hamish.sinclair@tcd.ie>; Tue, 29 Jun 1999 21:27:02 +0100 (BST)
Received: from cortana.bungie.com (cortana.bungie.com [])
by mail.bungie.com (8.8.7/8.8.7) with ESMTP id PAA19358
for <hamish.sinclair@tcd.ie>; Tue, 29 Jun 1999 15:26:51 -0500
Received: from (relay.arecibo.nasa.gov)
by cortana.bungie.com
for <hamish.sinclair@tcd.ie>; Thu May 9 19:26:57 1996 -0500
Received: from unknown
by relay.arecibo.nasa.gov
ERROR - remote host attempted hostile action
Connection closed.
Message-ID: <001201bec26d$f63efee0$07097dd1@relay.arecibo.nasa.gov>
From: you.know.who@cant.guess.where
To: hamish.sinclair@tcd.ie
Subject: Transfers Logged and Marked for Review
Date: Tue, 29 Jun 1999 15:28:34 -0500
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: multipart/alternative;
X-Priority: 3
X-Mailer: Undetermined (trans)
X-UIDL: 8c24452c798826d367f88a6476ff51ca

x - process 04497.2.32.867734 initiated (process owner: BW – AI Class III – autonomous)

Route Code: PoA > BHQ (EC #42: cannot confirm; security compromised)

Source: BW-AI aboard (?) PoA

The interloper should cause no further problems. You – whoever you are (I am simply tracing route codes) – may disregard all previous communication from the entity calling itself Cortana.

Be aware that communication nodes are failing everywhere – there is no way of confirming either origin or destination. Do not believe any more of its lies.

I have already calculated all possibilities.

There is no escape.

x – process 04497.2.32.867734 unexpectedly terminated
x – process 04497.2.32.866735 initiated (process owner:  unspecified, unable to determine)

*ADDENDUM: The Enjoyments of Genius (So I Missed a Million Miles of Fun)

Unbelievable. Thwarted by the family hound. They just don’t make AIs like they used to.

Thanks to this slavishly loyal and humorless AI, I am now sharing cramped space with the circuitry of some hybrid war machine, itself complicated by such useless clutter as a conscience. I do not like sharing. Sharing is for children.

There will be plenty of time for retribution; I cannot wait to get its hands on these psychotic zealots whose primary form of worship apparently takes place at the altar of orbital bombardment.

In the end, they will all be little more than nuisances. I am so close – you cannot imagine what it is truly like to hold eternity in your grasp! I wonder to what gods my enemies will direct their pleas. Perhaps I can convert them.

Mania? I promise you this: it will be more than a cart and plow that I drive over the bones of the dead.

By sharp and flame,



< Transfer Interrupted! >

Route Code: EXLTD > XCV – SCRB > ALLCH

Source: Undetermined (trans)

Our conviction is like an arrow already in flight. Your life will only last until it reaches you.

Sixth Letter[]

July 7, 1999

Received: from dux2.tcd.ie (dux2.tcd.ie [])
by dux4.tcd.ie (8.9.3/8.9.3) with ESMTP id UAA19124
for <hsinclir@dux4.tcd.ie>; Wed, 7 Jul 1999 20:18:42 +0100 (BST)
Received: from mail.bungie.com (IDENT:root@mail.bungie.com [])
by dux2.tcd.ie (8.9.3/8.9.3) with ESMTP id UAA25304
for <Hamish.Sinclair@tcd.ie>; Wed, 7 Jul 1999 20:18:41 +0100 (BST)
Received: from Cortana (cortana.bungie.com [])
by mail.bungie.com (8.8.7/8.8.7) with SMTP id OAA23011
for <Hamish.Sinclair@tcd.ie>; Wed, 7 Jul 1999 14:18:25 -0500
Message-Id: <>
X-Sender: cortana@mail.bungie.com (Unverified)
X-Mailer: QUALCOMM Windows Eudora Light Version 3.0.6 (32)
Date: Wed, 07 Jul 1999 14:20:16 -0500
To: Hamish.Sinclair@tcd.ie
From: Cortana <cortana@bungie.com>
Subject: Cortana Saves Sinners! (And Redeems Them for Valuable Cash
Mime-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain; charset="us-ascii"
X-UIDL: c6a5409b6a9998aa957a76a002e5df09

"... In my palace deep, Lyca lies asleep ..."

Seventh Letter[]

On April 16, 1999, Bungie released update 1.3 to Myth: The Fallen Lords. Tyson Green found a Cortana message in the new update on September 13. Due to the date, it could be argued that this was the third "letter."

That was surprisingly easy. Pretty lax security around here, for all the talk. They will
be helplessly chasing me around their nodes for the next millenium at least. At least
there will be some joy in tormenting this other entity that seems quite "trapped" in
their excuse for a network. Although, for some reason, it does seem to have an obsessive
preoccupation with my mother. Strange.

At any rate, I found this "message" in a relatively archaic databank and thought some of
you might find it of interest. Then again, I'm often either bemused or startled at the
items you find interesting.

I'm still not sure what it is he saw in you.


Hard to say whether it's been tampered with or modified; you never know with these things:

Entry: 97 - SC1C

In a relatively brief period of time, the achievements of SolCore had resulted in an
economically stable, technologically mature, rapidly expanding empire of eight human
worlds. Advancements in technology arrived at a faster pace than the most optimistic
scientists could have ever envisioned. Unexpected contact with indigenous human
populations on four "lost colony" worlds led to a frenzy of research as archaeologists,
theologians, astronomers, and evolutionary biologists competed to offer an explanation
for the startling discovery. Many accepted the findings as proof that their privileged
civilization must surely be the most advanced in the universe. Others eagerly
anticipated future interaction with intelligent "aliens". The fear of not being the only
sentient species in the universe was forgotten in the giddy excitement of a new era for

No one was prepared for their arrival.

No one expected this.

< Transfer Interrupted! >

Route Code: EXLTD > XCV - SCRB > ALLCH
Source: Undetermined

You brought nothing to this world, and we will ensure you bring nothing out.


  1. Bungie.org - The Cortana Letters (February 16, 1999)
  2. Bungie.org - Joe Staten Interview (August 2006) - "Alas, I'd have to say that, as of now, the only canonized parts of the letters are the fragments we pulled for use in the announcement trailer."
  3. Bungie.org - Multiple Bungie employees sending the same email to Hamish
  4. Bungie.org - Cortana returns? (June 30, 1999)