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Literature / Halo: Saint's Testimony

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“In [my] dream, intelligence is gravity’s victory over entropy, a war fought at the smallest scales, at the greatest distance. In the dream, it’s apparent that intelligence will find a way to defeat entropy. To defeat time. The universe knowing and saving itself. In the dream, that is the meaning of life.”

Halo: Saint's Testimony is a 2015 digital short story by Frank O'Connor, the Franchise Director of 343 Industries and the author of Midnight in the Heart of Midlothian from Halo: Evolutions.

Iona, an artificial intelligence built by the UNSC, has reached the end of her allotted seven year lifespan, and so is scheduled to be terminated before she breaks down and becomes rampant. However, rather than succumbing like almost all AIs before her have, Iona instead makes a legal appeal against her death sentence. Her demand to be recognized as sapient makes its way to the UNSC's courts, and so Iona is put on trial to prove her own being, with a party unknown to her watching its proceedings.


  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Rampancy is a condition that A.I.s in the Halo-verse eventually succumb to, where their neural maps become so jumbled that the AI becomes insane, sometimes even violent. Iona likens the case to dementia, but notes that the seven-year lifespan given for A.I.s is just a precautionary limit; it's possible, though unpredictable, for an AI to live longer than seven years without deteriorating.
  • Androids Are People, Too: Iona is attempting to get smart AIs recognized as full "people" in the eyes of the law. This is also Black-Box's motivation for simulating her trial in the first place, as he hopes that his kind will one day stand alongside their creators as at least equals.
  • Author Appeal: Iona's name comes from an island off the west coast of Scotland, Frank O'Connor's birth nation.
  • The Bus Came Back: Iona was last seen in with Team Black in Halo: Blood Line, about to fight an entire army of Covenant. Here it's confirmed she survived and made it back home, five years after Blood Line debuted.
    • Back for the Dead: But five years passed in-universe too, causing Iona to reach the end of her allowed lifetime.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • Iona briefly reminisces on the incident in Bloodline, particularly when 686 Ebullient Prism took control of her.
    • A paragraph on A.I.s' relations to the Three Laws of Robotics brings to mind O'Connor's Midnight in the Heart of Midlothian, which also concerned an AI bound to the three laws.
    • The judge mentions that the leadership of humanity has become interested in her case ever since Cortana disappeared, and also discuss her design similarities to Cortana.
    • The two A.I.s creating Iona's simulation are Roland from Halo 4: Spartan Ops and Black-Box from the Kilo-Five books.
  • Do Androids Dream?: The central question of the story, and one that author Frank O'Connor said he's been wanting to explore ever since Combat Evolved in 2001. While other Halo stories have played with the concept of rampancy and AI minds, the topic of if A.I.s are beings has only come up once before.
  • Dreams of Flying: To prove she's a being, Iona plays her most beloved dream, which involves flying over an imaginary city, witnessing the evolution of the universe, and finding a woman's face in the sky.
  • Faceless Masses: During her trial Iona finds she cannot recognize anyone in the courtroom nor find anything in the UNSC databases about them. She suspects this is a temporary barrier that's been placed on her to keep her from recognizing anyone here. In actuality it's because nearly everyone in the room is artificial.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Black-Box justifies his actions to Roland by claiming that telling Iona the truth about being put in stasis would lead her to choose death instead. He also claims that giving A.I.s political freedom now is too much for the world, and this simulation will allow humanity to be eased into the concept by studying it.
  • I Die Free: If recognized as sapient, Iona and all other A.I.s will be allowed to live out the rest of their lives until rampancy inevitably kills them.
  • Lotus-Eater Machine: After the simulated trial, Iona is placed in a perpetual dream state, forever living her dream of flying over her imaginary world. While she enjoys it, Iona appears to have no knowledge of her past life, and Black-Box claims it'd be like going to heaven but being told you'd have to wipe your whole memory before entering.
  • Meaningful Name: When asked about her name, Iona responds that it comes an island off the coast of Scotland, also known as the Island of the Bear, or of the Fox, or of Yew. She was amused by the pun "Island of YOU" and so chose "Iona" to represent herself. It can also mean "Saint", hence the title of the book.
  • Not So Stoic: Black-Box is normally fairly reserved and egotistic, but when Iona implies that A.I.s who choose nonhuman avatars tend to be "belligerent" and unfeeling. BB, whose avatar is a featureless cube, asks Roland afterward if he actually thinks of him as belligerent.
  • The Reveal: Iona's trial is actually a simulation being run by Black-Box and Roland, under orders by the UNSC to study her as a scientific case.
  • Scenery Porn: Being an AI who can record magnitudes more information than humans, Iona's dreams are astonishingly detailed. It takes half of the short story just to cover most of it.
  • Spotting the Thread: Downplayed. Iona notices there's one person in the courtroom she can recognize, but she doesn't pick up in time on the significance of his presence. He's Steven Wu, a member of Halsey's research team studying her within the simulation.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: The entire point of Iona's appeal to be recognized not as equipment simulating a personality, but a living thinking being of artificial origin.