Greg Bear’s Forerunner Trilogy is thus far the most unconventional Halo media seen. Previous Halo books fit firmly in the established mold of military science fiction, but Bear’s works were not only removed temporally from the 26th century antics of humanity and Covenant, but tonally as well.
In fleshing out the story of the Forerunners, only hazily outlined in previous Halo media, a picture far different than what many fans expected emerged. The Forerunners were guardians of the galaxy, true–but they also harbored a hubristic streak from millennia of uncontested control of the Milky Way. Cryptum and Primordium also “humanized” the Forerunners beyond a homogenous group–there were heroes, demons, and ordinary citizens who wanted to avoid trouble. These Forerunners lived, worked, and (very occasionally) died. Families had conflicts, and society was imperfect.
And then came upstarts–humanity, and their allies the San ‘Shyuum. The Forerunners found the aliens, who encroached upon their territory, to be stubborn adversaries. Though the Forerunner beat them back, it took 50 years for the last bastion to fall. It was only after the fall of humanity–with the San Shyuum quarantined and humanity stripped of its technology and exiled to their home planet–that the Forerunner learned why the humans had fled into their territory. At the same time they were fighting the Forerunners, the humans had narrowly defeated a far more dangerous foe–the Flood.
The Forerunners were nothing if not thorough. They realized the threat that the Flood caused and began devising possible defenses. They believed their defeated human enemies might have answers, but bitter in defeat, even the dead impressions refused to yield their secrets. Eventually, the Flood did return, and after decades of warfare and exhausting every other option, the Forerunners activated the Halo Array. Every sentient being in range of the rings was eradicated to deprive the Flood of sustenance and stem its assault on the Ark, from which indexed life was reseeded across the galaxy. The Forerunners disappeared–whether any of them survived via the use of Shield Installations remains unclear, although fans may be tantalizingly close to the truth come November 6 and the release of Halo 4.
The final installment to Bear’s trilogy promises to be an excellent one, but it is worth appraising what we now know from the series with the Halo 3 terminals. Specifically, while the Bear novels greatly elaborate upon and texture the history of the Forerunners, they also appear to contradict key elements of the terminals’ narratives. Perhaps the final novel, Silentium, will ameliorate those concerns–in fact, there’s already some evidence as to this–but as we wait for the final novel, we can still consider the enigma of what actually transpired before all the voices in the universe were silenced, 100,000 years ago.
Detailing the exact events of the Forerunner-Flood Wars as described in the Halo 3 Terminals is difficult. Much of the language is imprecise, gaps are found in some of the most illuminating passages, and meanings are further clouded by approximations of human phrases–as any linguist knows, translations often leave something to be desired, and missing context can render the resulting words meaningless. Ultimately, the Terminals are not truly a history of the Forerunner-Flood conflict, but rather snippets of three overlapping stories–the doomed relationship of two powerful Forerunners, the rise and fall of a Forerunner AI, and summaries of the strategy against the Flood and the ultimate fateful march of the Forerunners towards self-destruction.
The rough synopsis is this: while other preparations and safety measures were underway, the Forerunners created an unparalleled AI, the Contender-class Mendicant Bias. Bias’ goal was a coordinated attack at the core of the Flood infection–the Gravemind. Bias set out beyond the safety of the garrisoned area of space described as the “Maginot sphere” with a battle group on this mission. Bias found the Gravemind, and over the course of many years conversed with it. Ultimately the Gravemind turned Bias by suggesting that the AI’s makers were the true enemies–standing in the way of the true evolution of life in the galaxy. Bias surrendered his material to the Flood and headed back towards the sphere to wage war against his makers. The tide of the conflict shifted entirely to the Flood’s benefit. The final stage of the war began. But the Forerunners were not to surrender the galaxy without a fight.
When Mendicant Bias arrived in the sphere, he found a new foe–an AI specifically designed, not to fight Flood, so much as Mendicant Bias itself. Offensive Bias was less capable than Mendicant, but the latter’s rage after succumbing to rampancy made it far more predictable. Though Mendicant attempted to reach the Ark and stop the firing of the Halo Array, it was too late–the Forerunner’s final solution activated, and with the loss of the Flood Mendicant was rendered helpless against Offensive Bias, who used his now-crewless ships to trap and crush the rogue AI. What happened to Offensive Bias is unknown, but he kept pieces of Mendicant, rather than destroying him outright–a fact that would indirectly cause the Human-Covenant war years later, when the once-dormant Mendicant Bias awoke and informed the Covenant leadership that humans were the Forerunner’s inheritors [Contact Harvest].
At the same time as Mendicant’s expeditions, contingency plans had already been laid–in fact, the Forerunner leader known as the Didact expected Mendicant’s mission to be improbable in success.
The Forerunners had built Halos to wipe the galaxy of the Flood and its vectors while protected from Halo’s fire on Shield Installations. To uphold the Mantle–the mandate to uphold life as stewards of the galaxy–the Didact’s lover, the Librarian, set about to index and preserve selected species. This Conservation Measure sent her deep into the “lost” worlds outside the Maginot Sphere, where she was eventually stranded (causing the Didact to attempt his Mendicant Bias plan) and strongly implied to have died on Earth, her own Eden.
The basic timeline of the history as presented in the Terminals is as follows:
1. Forerunners make first contact with Flood
2. Forerunner-Flood War begins
3. Shield/Sword Contingencies Developed
4. Mendicant Bias developed
5. Mendicant Bias turned rampant.
6. Librarian destroys keyships to deny access to the Ark as Bias assaults Maginot Sphere
7. Halo Array Activated
8. Offensive Bias defeats Mendicant Bias’ fleet
9. Conservation Measure reseeds life.
Complicating the timeline is the matter of the Gravemind; the Forerunner are clearly aware of it before Mendicant’s creation, and evidently have some experience with it (in that they know its response when threatened, leading to Mendicant’s mission.) Whether this was known before the plans for the Halo Array were formed is unknown.
The Terminals left many questions unanswered and while the general chain of causality is apparent, many gaps remain in the particulars. Was Offensive Bias created as a failsafe? His deployment to fight Mendicant Bias suggests either that the Maginot Sphere was incredibly large–giving him time to be developed, the keyships to be destroyed and the Halo Array activated by the time the final battle between the two AI was waged–or that his creation was relatively simple and the time period from Bias’ defection to the Flood and the activation of the Halo Array was relatively short.
The Forerunner Saga
The events of Cryptum apparently take place fairly late into the Forerunner-Flood War. Lower rates know little about the Flood, or at least the true threat and scale of the war. The Halo Array was not championed by the Didact–in fact, he went into exile rather than submit to Faber, the Master Builder’s plans. Faber created 12 rings, although they were not solely weapons; the Librarian was successful in persuading the Forerunner council to establish the Conservation Measure and so the rings became home to Forerunner Lifeworkers that studied the Flood and indexed species. Meanwhile, Faber sent the Forerunner ancilla Mendicant Bias to test-fire a Halo on Charum Hakkor, site of humanity’s last stand against the Forerunners, and home to numerous ancient Precursor structures. Bias’ test was a success–too successful, as it destroyed the Precursor structures, including a prison for one known as the Timeless One or the Primordial–possibly the last of the Precursors, left over after the Forerunner usurped their place in the galaxy.
Faber, acting without knowledge of most Forerunners, had Bias interrogate the Prisoner, and so Bias did–disappearing, along with the ring, for 43 years. When Faber’s crimes became known–including the use of a Halo on the rebellious San ‘Shyuum and the presumed murder of the Didact–he was brought before the Forerunner Council at their capital. At that time, Bias attacked–taking control of several of the Halo rings and launching an assault on the capital. Ultimately Bias was captured, the rogue rings that were not destroyed were brought under control, and the Forerunner Bornstellar Makes Eternal Lasting, whose consciousness was subsumed by the Didact’s after a brevet mutation, assumed control of the fight against the Flood.
Here are the most important elements from Cryptum and Primordium:
1. Forerunners learn of the Flood after defeating humans
2. Forerunners attempt to learn cure for the Flood from humans
3. Didact proposes Shield Worlds, Faber proposes Fortress rings; Didact loses and goes into exile in a Cryptum
4. Librarian’s Conservation Measure accepted by the Council
5. Halo test fired by Mendicant Bias
6. Bias interrogates the Prisoner, goes rampant
7. Didact awakened by Bornstellar
8. Didact captured by Faber, Faber brought to trial
9. Bias attacks capitol; several of the Halo rings destroyed; fate of the capitol unknown
10. Rings flee to Ark
11. Bornstellar Didact captures Mendicant Bias and Installation 07
12. Primordial killed
The timeframe of Bias’ creation are unclear, as is the exact timeframe for the construction of the Halos.
With these two timelines laid side by side, a number of issues begin to crop up.
The first and foremost is the question of the Flood’s discovery. Were they an unknown quantity found on the world of G 617 g, or known after the defeat of the humans, thousands of years before? Perhaps the Flood were known but the nature of the survey teams’ disappearance was not; the Flood’s return appears to have been largely kept from the Forerunner population at large. While Cryptum shows that the Forerunners had prepared for the Flood’s possible return, perhaps it was only after the loss of the teams on G 617 g that the Forerunners knew their fears had been realized.
More problematic is the exact timeframe of the Forerunner-Flood War. The Terminals would lead us to believe it was a conflict spanning three hundred years from the Flood’s discovery to the firing of the Halo Array [Encyclopedia 2nd Ed., p26-28]. The events related in Cryptum and Primordium, however, require a state of open (if secret) war between the Forerunners and Flood to have occurred for hundreds of years before that. The Master Builder’s solution of the Halo Array took place as the Flood already ravaged Forerunner space. The Librarian’s Conservation Measure was not part of the original specs, but an addition to Faber’s plan ex post facto. Ultimately, Faber began illicitly capturing more humans and experimenting on them to determine the source of humanity’s victory over the Flood; the AI Genemender describes this process as taking “[a] few hundred years” before 100,043 BC [Primordium, C19p187-191]. This greatly expands the minimum amount of time the conflict could have raged, given that we are repeatedly told that the Halos were conceived as a desperate last resort.
Also creating difficulties is the nature of Mendicant Bias’ creation and betrayal. The events of Cryptum suggest that Bias was, if not created before the threat of the Gravemind was known, than not created *specifically* to kill the Gravemind–rather he served as a grand marshall of the Forerunner’s weapons of war, demonstrating power over the Halos, the capital city and even the Forerunner rates’ armor, under Faber’s design [Primordium, C19p191-192]. It appears that it was the Primordial that conversed with Bias for all those years–so is the Primordial a Gravemind and not a Precursor, as the Bornstellar-Didact suggested? [Primordium, C41p363-364]
Because the Flood were clearly coordinated and threatening the Forerunners for decades or centuries before the Primordial was released from its prison, did the Primordial assume control of the Flood from another Gravemind after its release, and with its death the Flood consciousness reverted to lesser control masses? The implications are unknown, although Primordium shows us that smaller Graveminds do exist–so either the Gravemind we see in Halo 2 and 3 is the final, centralized form, or multiple Graveminds from multiple outbreaks exist and can serve as a form of distributed computing for the Flood. Previous Halo fiction has postulated or suggested that only one Gravemind could exist at one time (e.g., The Halo Encyclopedia [2nd ed.], p169.) Either way this causes an apparent discontinuity with the Gravemind as one form to rule them all, as related in the games and Terminals–why would the Flood coalesce to protect the Gravemind if there can be as many as they want?
More problematic is that Bias’ defection comes, by the Terminals’ reckoning, far too soon. While Bias’ assault on the capital could be considered tantamount to his penetration of the Sphere as described in the Terminals, that the Terminals would not mention Bias’ control of the Halos is puzzling. Indeed, the destruction of keyships and Bias’ assault on the path to the Ark in the Terminals suggested he did not have control of the Halos and hoped to stop it remotely, as the Gravemind attempted in Halo 3 by bringing High Charity to Installation 00.
There are a few other events that create the implication that this assault shown in Cryptum happens well before the final battle described in the Halo 3 terminals. The chief one is that the Librarian is far from cut off and marooned on Earth. The Terminals relay a message from the Librarian that from her location, she can see the Flood are mounting an attack (Bias’ assault):
The second is that Offensive Bias is nowhere in sight and the Forerunners still have a book’s length of time left to them–it’s hardly the end of days. But that throws the account of Mendicant’s rampancy into conflict–by Cryptum‘s account, he would have already betrayed the Forerunners well before his betrayal in the Halo 3 terminals.
In Primordium, the Bornstellar-Didact mentions the ancilla had been captured and was being “corrected” to work according to its original design parameters [C39p356]. But if he was pressed back into service, it seems mind-boggling the Foreunner would send a once-compromised AI back into the clutches of the Gravemind, where it would betray them a second time and lead to the events of the Terminals.
In fact the Didact’s own contributions to the events of the Forerunner-Flood War seem altered. Many of the transmissions in the Terminals suggest the Didact is busy waging the war against the Flood in a central role:
The Encyclopedia goes a step further and states that Mendicant Bias was more a desperate chance to delay the Flood so that the Librarian could be saved before the Array had to be fired [2nd ed., 194-195]. Unfortunately from what we learned in Cryptum, the Didact went into self-exile over the Halo Array question and would not appear to have any role in construction of the Halos. Cryptum retains the Didact’s connection to Mendicant Bias, and in fact makes it far stronger–the Didact appears to have been the chief architect behind its creation, and in fact the one who gave the ancilla its own name, although his reference to the AI as “our bastard child, [Faber's] and mine” suggests Faber had a large role in its deployment, and thus why it followed his instructions.
“Mendicant Bias,” I heard myself say. “Beggar after knowledge. That is the name I gave you when last we met. Do you remember that name?”
“I recognize that name,” the ancilla replied. [...] “The Master Builder gave me my final set of orders.”
“But I am the one who knows your chosen name, your true name, and who commanded your construction.”
“That is so.”
“Then I am your client and master.”
Mendicant’s construction taking place before the Didact’s exile (which is suggested by the “last we met” line) means that the AI was not constructed for the personal purpose of saving his wife, as expressed in the Terminals and Halo Encyclopedia. Putting all these elements together, we see a very conflicted history expressed:
A side-by-side timeline of unreconciled Forerunner history as depicted in Bear’s Forerunner trilogy thus far, versus the Halo 3 Terminals (and expanded information found in the Encyclopedia.) Click to enlarge.
There appear to be serious and mutually exclusive events given in different orders. For one of these accounts to be true or mostly true, then other of these accounts has to be wrong. However, Primordium and the advance press for Silentium throw a few new wrenches into these works.
Primordium is essentially a frame tale, with the main narration being related by Chakas/343 Guilty Spark to an ONI research team. This opens up a series of new questions, not least of which is this transcript:
ONI Commander: “We’re collecting the flow! But its value seems even more questionable. What we know about the Didact–from the Bornstellar Relation, if you believe that!–points towards his complete revulsion of the Halos and the Master Builder’s plans. The terminal dialogs–”
Science Team Leader: “The terminal dialogs may themselves be questionable, in the light of this testimony.”
On one hand, this could be seen as a confirmation that the Halo 3 Terminals are essentially being retconned in key portions, especially in regards to the conflicts outlined above. But even if you accept the contradiction, this opens a much larger can of fiction worms. How, exactly, did the ONI team gain access to this apparent backup copy of Spark, the Terminals, and the Bornstellar Relation (apparently the contents of Cryptum)?
The immediate answer would be that they reached the Ark themselves, although how this was done is problematic. With the Ark severely damaged and the portal shut off, it seems unlikely that ONI could have reached the Ark on their own power in the near future of the game’s timeframes, given the enormous distance to the edge of the galaxy.
The Halo Encyclopedia suggests that the Librarian destroyed every portal to the Ark save one (on Earth), so in order to reactivate the portal earthside, humanity would presumably need another Keyship (no other mechanism has been mentioned to open the portals to the Ark). The shield world Trevelyan might also be a good candidate for a way to reach the Ark, given its protective slipspace bubble and apparent atypical composition for a Shield World.
The mention of the Greater Ark in Primordium might suggest that this was the location from which the information was gleaned–and with the destruction of the lesser ark, the Greater Ark reactivated.
It is possible an ONI prowler piggybacked their way to the Ark with the FUD and the Arbiter’s ships, but then how would it have survived the activation of the Halo array unscathed?
How could the Terminals lie to us? And why would they? Surprisingly it doesn’t seem like many players have questioned how all the information about the Didact, Librarian, and co. found their way to the Ark. The snippets of conversation suggest that at one point it may have acted as a sort of communication hub and relay, increasingly the focal point of the Forerunner empire as the Flood ate away at the galaxy. The Didact’s final transmissions right before the activation of the Array fell on deaf ears when the rest of the universe went silent, leaving behind error messages in the terminals:
The CEA terminals visuals suggest that the Ark was even at one time inside the solar system rather than outside it, meaning it might have propulsion capabilities of its own, under the right circumstances. That would put it in a better position to record these last conversations from the Forerunners.
Mendicant Bias’ shards (one left on the Ark, one found aboard the Dreadnought powering High Charity) could perhaps be responsible for deliberately misconstruing key details in the terminals, but this doesn’t square with his penitent attitude towards the Chief–he certainly wants to atone for his past actions.
This leaves the most logical explanation as simple errors in the Terminals’ own records. The text is hardly a Forerunner’s chosen method of conversation, and with the Domain lost their most useful tool for imparting information was lost as well.
The headers of the Terminals outright state that the compiled record was created after the fact (perhaps by Offensive Bias); given the amount of damage and missing fragments, perhaps the picture the Terminals treat as complete is akin to a transcription error–fragments rearranged in a close approximation to the spirit, if not the letter, of history.
When Chakas and Riser encounter Bornstellar after their separation from Cryptum at the end of Primordium, he has apparently become the Didact.
“The Didact provided the template for my maturity. I am now all that remains of him, and so I serve in his place.”
Slowly the familiarity dawned on me.
“No more, except in my dreams.”
The presumed fate of the original (now helpfully disambiguated to as the “Ur-Didact” in Silentium) Didact was that he was killed by his political and ideological opponent, Faber, who showed no compunction in murdering his fellow Forerunners. The Silentium description from Amazon provides this summary for the upcoming book:
In the last years of the Forerunner empire, chaos rules. The Flood—a horrifying shape-changing parasite—has arrived in force, aided by unexpected allies. Internal strife within the ecumene has desperately weakened Forerunner defenses.
Too little, too late, the legal rate of Juridicals is only now investigating possible crimes by the Master Builder and others. Evidence-gathering agents known collectively as Catalog have been dispatched to collect testimony from the Librarian and both Didacts: the Ur-Didact, treacherously abandoned in a Flood-infested system, and the Bornstellar Didact, who accompanies the Librarian as she preserves specimens against the dire possibility of Halo extermination.
Facing the imminent collapse of their civilization, the Librarian and the Ur-Didact reveal what they know about the relationship between the long-vanished Precursors and the Flood.
The Precursors created many technological species, including humanity and the Forerunners. But the roots of the Flood may be found in an act of enormous barbarity, carried out beyond our galaxy ten million years before…
Because of that barbarism, a greater evil looms. Only the Ur-Didact and the Librarian–husband and wife pushed into desperate conflict–hold the keys to a solution.
Facing the consequences of a mythic tragedy, one of them must now commit the greatest atrocity of all time—to prevent an insane evil from dominating the entire universe.
This confirms the Ur-Didact is alive and will return to play a significant role in the series–interestingly, the Bornstellar Didact gets no heavy press. The references to “one of them must now commit the greatest atrocity of all time” also suggest that it is this Ur-Didact who is the one the Halo 3 Terminals transcribe.
More interestingly, the book description refers to “unexpected ally” of the Flood and a “greater” and “insane evil”. The latter mentions we can assume is the “ancient evil” spoken of in the E3 promotional materials for Halo 4. It also strongly suggests that the Didact (or at least the Ur-Didact) is not the big bad for Halo 4–although there are certainly plenty of other possibilities for that role. But more confusingly, the book refers to the Flood being aided by an unexpected ally. On the face of it, this would seem to be Mendicant Bias, but as already discussed it seems odd he would be allowed to lapse back into the Gravemind’s clutches. With his previous betrayal, it hardly seems that Bias’ allegiances shifting would be unexpected. Perhaps Silentium will add a new character to play a pivotal role in the coming Reclaimer Trilogy, or perhaps an established character also serves the Flood (unwittingly or otherwise.)
It seems unlikely that Bear could better mesh the two separate accounts we have of the fall of the Forerunner without significant acrobatics, and it’s unlikely he would bother. Which account is more true, however, is a tantalizing question that Bear may not be interested in answering completely. Perhaps some of the mystery of the Forerunners will be preserved by deliberately leaving the question open.
There are small clues that suggest 343i is not going to simply trash the Terminals, however. For one, Primordium makes the rather remarkable remarkable argument by proxy that it is the incorrect account, rather than the Terminals:
Science Team Analysis: “Seperate streams of data follow, differing substantially [...] analysis not yet complete, but we suggest skepticism as to their veracity and usefulness.”
ONI Commander: “None of this seems to be trustworthy. It’s almost a sure thing that we’re being fed fabrications. And if not–how can we even begin to correlate these so-called memories with actual events, after a hundred thousands years?”
Science Team Leader: “I cannot disagree, but we still find, scattered throughout, curious correlations with recent discoveries.”
ONI Commander: “Little bits of bait making use swallow the whole damned lie, right?”
Science Team Leader: “Possibly.”
Furthermore, the books have surprising links to the Terminals, both in confirming key events and in deepening our understanding of them. One rather puzzling passage of the Terminals has been the following log, found in Terminal 3:
The wording of what appears to be security transcripts are rather obtuse, but they reference a partition housing Mendicant Bias. Our modern concept of partitions as it applies to computing is dividing a large storage device into discrete logical storage units, and the log suggested that Mendicant physically existed in multiple locations, which plays into how Bias could essentially “splinter” the AI and how fragments found their way to the Ark and High Charity. Primordium elaborates on this facet by mentioning that Bias’ extensions were scattered across the Halos, with its primary location found on Installation 07. This deepens the story told in the Terminals, offering a new way to interpret it–and also makes one wonder who might be on the Halo ring seen in the prerelease Halo 4 build menus, or perhaps what lies in this room the Chief spies…
At the same time, Bear’s story has opened glimpses into the fiction that was merely told to us but never elaborated–the Encyclopedia mentions the Halo Array caused internal strife to the point of civil war, but there was no real substance behind that throwaway line until Bear related the internal politics of the Builders, Warriors, Miners, and Life-shapers and showed us the rebellion against Faber’s ring in Primordium.
We may be forced to see the Terminals as a sort of condensed version of events. The Forerunner trilogy, then, is a more personal and more honest recollection–a chance for the individuals who stood at the end of one epoch, and the beginning of another, to tell their story. It is a massive tale, no doubt with more surprises in store.
The Forerunner Story–the history of my people–has been told many times, with greater and greater idealization, until I scarcely reognize it.
So be this tale told, so be the telling true.
–Bornstellar Makes Eternal Lasting, Cryptum Prologue