I can give you over forty thousand reasons why I know this game is awesome. I know it because the story’s thematic resonance is disproportionate to its suggested size, I know it because its character arcs are more emotional than that of the common shooter. But for all that, I’ll never actually know just how deep I can delve into this universe that spans one hundred billion years of lore. As we reach the end of act two of Halo 4’s campaign, we get a glimpse, a tiny glimpse, at the pattern which has emerged out of those one hundred billion years – a pattern which we will refer to as the ‘God Loop’.
John has crossed the threshold, his Hero’s Journey continues following the meeting with the Librarian, the ‘Meeting With The Goddess’ according to Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth, and defiance of Del Rio’s plan to return to Earth, resisting the ‘Temptation’ stage where the hero is tempted away from their quest. At this point, we’re building up to the point of ‘Atonement’ where the hero must confront and be initiated by whatever holds the ultimate power in his or her life – in John’s case, it’s Cortana. The Ur-Didact is preparing to leave Requiem to recover the Composer in order to imprison humanity by transforming them into his subservient Prometheans, while John and Cortana pursue him on their own as Infinity returns to Earth.The opening of this level is an open character-study of Cortana’s current mental state, this is the first time we’ve had a chance to slow down and catch our breath in the story so it’s now time for Cortana to process the things that she’s going through. And so, we open up with her beautiful monologue.
“I can give you over forty thousand reasons why I know that sun isn’t real. I know it because the emitter’s Rayleigh effect is disproportionate to its suggested size. I know it because its stellar cycle is more symmetrical than that of an actual star. But for all that, I’ll never actually know if it looks real… if it feels real.”
This really conveys the dichotomy between man and machine. Cortana knows every reason why Requiem’s sun is artificial, but she’s not a human being, so she’ll never know if it feels like it’s a real sun. This dichotomy proves effective because of John’s presence in the scene, he is human but he’s had his emotional capacity to appreciate and respond to these sorts of things repressed. Cortana’s expression says it all, really. She dreamily looks at Requiem’s sun, her eyes shut tight as if she’s imagining the sensation of its warmth on her skin. It’s as if, for a moment, she lives in a world where she’s whole – free of the burden of rampancy which is slowly killing her, with no Didact to worry about or Spartan to protect.
As with each previous level, we see just how important the face of the character is in conveying emotion as everything is laid bare. It’s what makes Cortana such a deeply human character, as we are able to read into her expression, posture, tone of voice and what she says openly. As various 343 employees have so perfectly put it, Cortana’s arc is one of mortality, of conviction, and of how the things that are happening to her shape the relationship she has with John and the Halo universe as a whole.
“The irony here, right, is that we have a character who is not human at all, and Cortana. She’s the most human character that we have in the story. She’s struggling with her own mortality. That’s something everybody struggles with. That’s the most, y’know, human it gets. Everyone has to figure out what it means to die.”
“She’s strong, she’s convicted. She herself is going through a really difficult time in understanding the things that are happening to her.”
“She’s really the heart of the game and the heart of Master Chief. And explains what’s going on and why it’s a problem.”
“Cortana is certainly our biggest human connection, I think, with the story.” ~ Brien Goodrich, Kiki Wolfkill, Bryce Cochrane, and Kenneth Scott – Making Halo 4: A Hero Awakens
These narrative intentions are made so clear in the opening twenty seconds of this scene, as it has all the building blocks of what comprise the relationship between our story’s hero and heroine. John is very much seen as a character “who is not human at all”, we see this punctuated by the recurring image of him fiddling with his assault rifle as Cortana turns to look at him. He doesn’t know how to process and deal with these emotions, both the ones that Cortana is experiencing and the ones that he is experiencing. His assault rifle is the symbol of practicality, of the physical means through which he’s been taught to deal with problems. He faces Cortana and almost seems to shrug, this thematic dichotomy is what makes Cortana’s next line to him so beautifully evocative.
“Before this is all over, promise me you’ll figure out which one of us is the machine…”
Before this is all over… How might we interpret this? “Before” meaning before we deal with the Ur-Didact, perhaps? Or, “before” meaning before Cortana inevitably dies from her condition, this being the one thing she wants to see before she has to leave him forever. She is the story’s human connection, she is the heart of the Master Chief and the anchor for his humanity, but she knows that she won’t be around for much longer so one might infer from this line that she wants John to find his own sense of humanity. This is actually the line that the game ends on prior to the final scene of the Epilogue, John reflecting on Cortana’s request to him.
Thematically, this really serves as the core of John’s character arc. Steve Downes, the Master Chief’s voice actor himself, has commented on this as being “the great leap” for his development.
“I was so looking forward to this moment because for Master Chief, you know, the stoic soldier, the man of few words – all that. But there was this progression in terms of his emotional side, even through the first three games. But this was going to be the great leap.”
Again, one of the fundamental questions that 343 wanted the narrative to address is what happens when that soldier starts to discover his humanity? We’re at a point now where John can no longer be “the stoic soldier”, he has to come to terms with who he is, what his place in the universe is, and how he’s going to deal with the loss of his best friend. John is forced to change by these things, and so Cortana sets this development on its path by making it simple for John – asking him to figure out which one of them truly is “the machine”.Lasky then arrives to ask John what his plan is, as the Infinity prepares to depart the Shield World. It’s appropriate that Lasky should appear at this point in a thematic sense because he is one of the few characters outside of Cortana who John appears to be comfortable with, their first exchange when they meet again in Requiem’s jungles really illustrated this by having the two of them openly joke with one-another. He adds a humanising element to John, something which is fully capitalised on in the Epilogue as we revisit the dichotomy between man and machine.
“So, what’s your plan?”
“Infinity has tracked the Didact’s vessel to a docking structure south-east of here. We’ll jump ship as Infinity exits the roof.”
“You know, I was sent down here with orders to prevent you from leaving… In case you’d already gone, I took the precaution of ordering a Pelican outfitted for full combat pursuit. I hope to god you’re wrong about that Forerunner, or whatever he is Chief. But in the event you’re not…”
Similar to the opening of the previous mission, Reclaimer, we see the chiaroscuro lighting effect applied to Lasky the same way we saw it applied to Del Rio. The contrast here, of course, is that Lasky is the polar opposite to Del Rio. Where Infinity’s captain was exposed as tired and uncertain, Lasky shows concern on his face which is mixed with an expression of authenticity with regards to what he’s doing for John. He smiles at the two of them and bids them good luck, this is the second time that Lasky has disobeyed Del Rio and we’re made to like him all the more for it.
“And Chief? Good luck… both of you.”
Lasky’s arc in Halo 4 really does come across as its own contained hero story, as the hero is somebody who takes action when there’s something to lose. Lasky is a well-renowned leader, he’s risen to the rank of Commander and serves as Infinity’s XO. But he’s willing to sacrifice all of this because he, like John, can see the bigger picture and knows that there’s more at stake than himself – so when the call to action comes for him, he answers it gladly because he’s able to take a moral standpoint. This was billed by Josh Holmes as one of the things that 343 considers a strength in Halo 4, as Lasky has a self-contained story, he’s well-defined as a character, and has a simple yet compelling arc.
“He went from this reluctant, disbelieving cadet to a rebellious officer that helps the Master Chief, and then rises to become the commander of the Infinity. So, it was something that was really clear and understandable.” ~ Josh Holmes, Halo 4: Postmortem GDC Panel
This seems like an entirely fitting evolution for Lasky’s character, as it was John who actually taught Lasky the virtues of being a soldier in the first place during the events of Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn. It feels as if that has come around full-circle for him, and by the end of the campaign we see him return the favour for John.
As Lasky leaves, Cortana turns to John and smiles – that same smile we saw when she first spoke to him back in the first mission of the game which comforts him with the prospect of it all being ‘just like old times’.John then has his directive established for him by Cortana.
“The Didact used this Composer to create the Prometheans from ancient humans. If he wants to finish the job, he’ll have to find it first – our best bet to stop him is keep him firmly on Requiem.”
As John makes his way to the Pelican, we see that the hangar is filled with Spartan-IVs and regular Marines who all stand to attention as soon as you approach them. Some of them reference events from previous games, even bringing up experiences with John’s old team – Fred, Kelly and Linda, the Spartans of Blue Team who are still alive on covert operations. There’s a sense that everybody here is rooting for John, the brief dialogue snippets have the Spartan-IVs say that they respect what he did with regards to standing up to Del Rio, but at the same time they have their own orders to follow. Just before John leaves, we get one final message from Del Rio over Infinity’s communicator.
“All hands, this is the Captain. Infinity is preparing to depart Requiem and return to UNSC space. We mourn the fallen comrades we leave behind, but any victory requires sacrifice. Discipline. Most of all, victory requires patience. We have already won the most important battle: we now know the face of the enemy. When we meet them again… they will know ours. Del Rio, out.”
This is the last we hear directly from Del Rio in the game, but he’s mentioned again by Lasky in the final mission as having been stripped of his command upon returning to Earth for abandoning John on Requiem. That’s what this final line from Del Rio really solidifies about him, as we’ve mentioned in previous posts – his tendency to play it safe, to value ‘patience’ over all else. Del Rio preaches these as virtues, but what we’ve seen from him shows that he’s anything but patient and disciplined when bearing up against both Requiem and John. He gets people killed by electing not to send in reconnaissance teams to provide intelligence on Requiem’s terrain for his ground troops, he gets impatient when waiting for the radio to patch him into Lasky and shouts at his subordinates, he totally loses it in front of everybody on the bridge as John refuses to give him Cortana.
Del Rio is ultimately a failure, it’s demonstrated from the moment he appears in the narrative that he’s unfit for his command and carries none of the virtues that a ‘hero’ has. The contrast that is effectively drawn between Del Rio and Lasky is that the former is a soldier defined by his uniform, while the latter is a soldier who defines it himself because, as his arc in Forward Unto Dawn illustrated, you have to have something you believe in.
This arc is actually a very fitting parallel to the Ur-Didact’s in the events of the Forerunner Saga, as it ties in with an ancient Warrior-Servant mantra.
“The peaceful one is at war without and within.” ~ The Mantle of Responsibility, Fifth Permutation of the Didact’s Number
Greg Bear himself has commented on this, clarifying that it’s “the Warrior-Servant’s dilemma”, and that one must be centred to be at war, but to fight is to lose one’s centre. Lasky faced a crisis of conscience during his time at Corbulo Academy regarding the Insurrection, as it was a war he was being trained for that he did not believe in. However, he was able to find his centre when John arrived to rescue them from the Covenant, it was through John that Lasky was taught the virtues of being a soldier and shaped his character into the man who repays that debt in Halo 4’s campaign.A major aspect of this level is further building on the relationship between John and the Ur-Didact. While the Ur-Didact’s only physical presence here is in the shielded Cryptum hanging over Requiem’s vast landscape, his presence is felt through a number of other ways. Hitherto, the Ur-Didact has seen John as little more than a tool through which he was able to escape from the Cryptum and has had little time to grant him any further consideration because his priorities lay elsewhere with the Infinity. John is just sort of there to him, there’s no expectation that he’ll survive which is an attitude which begins to change throughout this level.
Before that though, it is interesting to note an exchange between John, Cortana and the Ur-Didact which appears to happen inside John’s head.
“The Mantle of Responsibility for the galaxy shelters all, human. But only the Forerunners are its masters.”
“Cortana, where’s this coming from?”
“Where’s what coming from?”
“The Didact’s voice.”
“I’m not picking up anything, Chief…”
While one’s initial reaction to this might be that Cortana’s rampancy is affecting her here, it happens again several times later in the level.
“Your actions tread between honour and foolishness.”
“Cortana, are you hearing him?”
So it’s clear that this is something that’s not happening over a communicator, it seems to be going on inside John’s head. Forerunners do not communicate the way we do, as is established in Cryptum – the first Forerunner novel.
“The Didact kept his sensor sweep passive for the moment, merely listening. Forerunner communications are never transmitted along electromagnetic wavelengths, but the San’Shyuum had given up all other methods.” ~ Halo: Cryptum, page 144
Forerunners use other methods of communication allowing for instant to near-instant data transfer across the galaxy. Light, radio and microwaves carry too great a risk of interference and latency issues, so they used means of superluminal communication which involved utilising wormholes, or even the Domain. The Domain was rarely utilised because of the tendency for it to actively edit information, distorting the original message so it proved to be an unreliable means of communication – the Domain is also destroyed, so there’s no chance of the Ur-Didact using it here.
Warrior-Servants, like the Ur-Didact, have a different means of communication in battle however.
“Soon, I was jittering and plunging my way through a great space battle, events moving far too quickly for me to make much sense of it. I had no idea where or when this was – I could not correlate these events with any historical record. Complicating the recovery was many hundreds of points of view, threading through and around the central events, chopping and intercutting – and a remarkably different perception of objective reality. As a Promethean, the Didact simply saw things differently.
Clearly, a thousand years ago, when entering battle, the Didact had plugged into the full sensory experience of thousands of his warriors… something I could barely imagine and certainly not control.” ~ Halo: Cryptum, page 162
By sharing these sensory inputs with one-another, Warrior-Servants study the various stratagems employed by their compatriots which enables a greater degree of unit cohesion and tactical effectiveness in combat. Should this be the case with John, following the Librarian unlocking the potential of his geas in the previous mission, this would be the way in which the Ur-Didact can speak in John’s mind. It’s an incredibly intimate means of sharing experiences, it results in the Didact being able to change the geometry of the environments John is in as well, leading him into more dangerous paths as John navigates through the spires.Going back a bit, the Ur-Didact goes out of his way to tell John that his acts against him are treading between honour and foolishness. There’s a sense of him being intrigued that John, despite the impossible odds stacking up against him, is continuing to fight. As John continues to succeed in deactivating the spires surrounding the Cryptum, the Ur-Didact begins to show signs of frustration.
“You are a fool. Even now, your kind tinkers with the Composer in the shadow of the third ring. Children and fire, who disregard the welfare of the galaxy.”
“Do you truly believe these theatrics can prevent my departure? Embrace your sad fate and retain your nobility – I am already beyond you.”
We’ll come back to the bit about “children and fire” in a bit, as it’s a hugely important piece of imagery. But at this point, we see the Didact actively attempting to dissuade John from working against him – almost as if he’s treating him like a fellow warrior, with a sense of respect for his guile and resourcefulness, and is trying to talk ‘sense’ to him about laying down his weapons and surrendering because he is “already beyond” John. Of course, this leads us back to what’s been constantly coming back over the course of the narrative – Johnson’s quote from Halo 3 about the Chief being a crazy, stubborn fool. This is what the Ur-Didact comes to eventually realise about John.
“You will relent, human, or you will perish. All in life is choice. And your day to choose has come.”
Of course, giving up is never an option for a Spartan, let alone for John. It has been drilled into his head from the age of six that he can do anything, we’ve seen it from the very moment Catherine Halsey observed him winning that king of the hill game on Eridanus II. This is a quality that the Didact later comes to value and admire about John, which we’ll cover in the following two posts about Composer and Midnight. At this point though, we’ve seen a good deal of change regarding the Didact’s disposition towards John – starting out as a means to an end, he proves himself a warrior.Taking us back a bit again, it’s time to talk about the God Loop.
“Children and fire who disregard the welfare of the galaxy.”
I alluded earlier to the imagery of ‘children and fire’ being significant, as the thing which immediately springs to mind is the story of Prometheus (no, not the film – the Greek myth!). This seems like something that would be easy to dismiss at first, but then there’s the fact that various mythologies have been recurring images throughout the entire history of the franchise, the very fact that you’ve got things called Prometheans in the narrative, and Doctor Halsey’s dialogue with Thorne in Spartan Ops.
“Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to humanity. I’m simply wondering what gifts, if any, the Promethean lifeforms have to offer…”
We all know the basic premise of the myth about Prometheus. He was the Titan who created humanity, stole fire from the gods and gave it to us to enable the development of our civilisation. How might this be applied to Halo? There are multiple interpretations that one might make, but to draw on the imagery present here we can assert that the ‘Fire’ is the Mantle – the means through which humanity will be propelled to guardianship over life. Who created humanity? The Precursors. The Precursors are analogous to the Titans, they intended to pass the Fire (the Mantle) to humanity, but the Titans get overthrown by the gods (Forerunners).
One can do a great deal of mixing and matching of perspectives here. From the Ur-Didact’s point of view, the Forerunners are the Titans and humanity are the gods overthrowing them, while the Librarian is Prometheus as she is giving humanity the fire. To further illustrate this perspective, the Ur-Didact’s speech in the Epilogue is a rather telling piece of the puzzle.
“We squander eons in the darkness while they seize our triumphs for their own! The Mantle of Responsibility for all things belongs to Forerunners alone…”
Then there’s the perspective to consider where the Prometheans, the highest form of the Warrior-Servant rate of Forerunner society, were the gods who overthrew the Titans. It was specifically the Warrior-Servant rate that hunted down the Precursors ten million years ago, so the name of their highest generals would be a monument to their sins – a running theme throughout the story, going all the way back to Halo 2 in 2004 as it was among the very first words uttered by the Gravemind.
This imagery of fire isn’t just pertinent to Halo 4 either. Back in 2007, the Alternate-Reality Game known as IRIS was initiated as part of Halo 3’s advertising campaign and gave us our first look at the Forerunner-Flood conflict, introducing the characters of the (Iso)Didact, Librarian, and Mendicant Bias. The latter had this to say:
“HISTORY CIRCLING BACK UPON US.
The gears of the Universe spin further
and further apart.
Ever greater grows the gulf between souls,
And distance gives false hope of safety
But for the grim tidings this messenger bears
The enemy is almost upon us
Closing in from all sides,
Moving faster than the light
it snuffs with its passage,
Time echoes with the news of destruction.
History winding back upon itself.
Waves of an army march this way in unison,
Suffering and corruption are its battle cries.
For I have known this darkness
and felt its embrace once before-
Horror best laid to rest
Yet a Journey must commence
Look for the signs, the keepers of the flame.
They will lead you to war, and perhaps, to victory.”
There are a number of important things to take into consideration here, first and foremost is that absolutely none of this applies to Halo 3 at all. Not one thing about IRIS or even the Terminals had any kind of resonance in Halo 3’s narrative, outside of the fact that the Flood were the enemy. There is no looking for signs, no “keepers of the flame” are sought out to lead humanity to war. However, over the last few years it has become increasingly more obvious that 343 are picking up on these undeveloped strands of narrative from things like IRIS and appear to be integrating them into the Reclaimer Saga’s narrative.
The key part of this is the last two lines. The ‘keepers of the flame’ who will lead humanity to war. The ‘Flame’ is, as we’ve established, the Mantle, and its ‘keepers’ are the Forerunners. In Rebirth, the epilogue to Silentium, the Forerunners who survive on the Lesser Ark make peace with humanity and have a great feast to mourn the passing of the Old Galaxy after the Halos are fired, and celebrate the birth of the new. The IsoDidact tells Riser, as he sends the catalogued humans back to Earth, that he hopes for his children to one day meet humanity again as the brothers they always should have been and that they will find trouble together.
“We will do what we can with what we are given,” Riser said. “But what of you? Where will the Forerunners live?”
“I do not know,” Bornstellar said, “Not yet. All I know for certain is that we cannot return to these places. We have already meddle too much in the affairs of others.”
Riser grimaced. “Forerunners refusing to meddle? Is that a promise?”
“A promise,” Trial said.
“Truly this will be a different place,” Riser said.
“The portal will stay,” said Bornstellar.
“Ah, then you have lied,” Riser said, but with no anger or surprise.
“It will be buried to be found when needed. Perhaps one day your children will make their way back, and, I hope, meet our children.”
“I doubt even I will long enough to see that day,” said Riser.
“But it is good to think our young will rise to another challenge, as brothers should, making trouble, finding strength.”
Bornstellar felt this deeply, and even with his armour to protect him, the emotion was almost too much. “Hope,” was all he could say. Then they returned to the fish-ship and left the humans alone to find their way.
The Forerunners then depart to go on the Great Journey, a final exodus outside of the galaxy to… somewhere. We don’t know where this journey has taken them, but after over 100,000 years we know that Chakas (Guilty Spark) has tracked them down following the events of Primordium.
“Know that all that lingered in me, the memories and emotions of old humanity, when I was still flesh, is also hidden deep within you. It slumbers, but it shapes, and it haunts your dreams and your hopes.
You and I are brothers in many ways, not least in that we faced the Didact before, and face him now, and perhaps ever after. This is combat eternal, enmity unslaked, unified by only one thing: our love for the elusive Lifeshaper. Without her, humans would have been extinguished many times over. Both I and the Didact love her to this day. Some say she is dead, that she died on Earth. But that is demonstrably untrue. One of you almost certainly carries Vinnevra and Riser’s old spirits within. Only the Lifeshaper can find them and coax my friends back to life. And after a hundred thousand years of exploration and study… I know where to find her.” ~ Halo: Primordium, page 378-9
A caveat to bear in mind here is that the Librarian is dead. All that is left of her is the personality imprint that she left on Requiem, which seems to have departed to the Absolute Record. Before stranding herself on Earth 100,000 years ago, she passed on the title of Lifeshaper to one of her fellow Lifeworkers – a woman named Chant to Green, who survived the firing of the Halos on the Lesser Ark with the IsoDidact and the small number of other Forerunners. As far as we know, taking into account the Ur-Didact’s speech in the Epilogue of Halo 4, these Forerunners continue to exist in some form and Chakas has tracked them down. The “journey” has commenced, the “keepers of the flame” are still out there and know of the Flood’s impending return – as the Timeless One’s prophecy regarding humanity’s ascension and the Flood’s return was told to the IsoDidact. This is why he chooses to entomb Mendicant Bias on the Lesser Ark, rather than outright kill him. (For the implications this has on the narrative of Halo 5, check out this more detailed post.)
“You are brought here to be sentenced. You have not been immediately destroyed because you may yet be needed. Your intimate knowledge of the Flood makes you valuable should they return, but we can never trust you, never again allow you any latitude. You will be entombed here. Your processes locked, frozen into a single thought for all eternity: absolution. Should you be needed you will be reawakened, should there be no need you will be buried here until the end of living time.”
The God Loop is therefore what the theme of the Mantle is apparently looking to convey. The Mantle is Fire, you do not play with fire because that’s what gets you burned – this is what happened to the Precursors when they created life, specifically when they chose not to pass the Mantle down to the Forerunners, and this is what happened to the Forerunners when they messed with the natural flow of Living Time. The Librarian is on a mission to ensure that humanity rises from the ashes, so to speak, better than before. But the Timeless One foretells that humanity will fall prey to the God Loop and rise again in “arrogance and defiance”, just as the Forerunners did.This is what the God Loop is, in essence. The constant cycle of playing with fire, and the implications thereof are what the story of Halo’s Reclaimer Saga is all about – breaking the God Loop. Ending the cycle. The Forerunners, the keepers of the flame, still have an essential role to play in humanity’s future, especially in regards to how we’re going to handle the impending return of the Flood – history circling back upon us. Humanity is almost ripe for the Flood’s return, having risen from the end of the Human-Covenant war in arrogance and defiance, and the Flood will arrive to bring us unity.
“The decision is final. Humans will replace you. Humans will be tested next. […] It is the way of those who seek out the truth of the Mantle. Humans will rise again in arrogance and defiance. The Flood will return when they are ripe – and bring them unity. […] Misery is sweetness. Forerunners will fail as you have failed before. Humans will rise. Whether they will also fail has not yet been decided. […] We are the Flood. There is no difference. Until all space and time are rolled up and life is crushed in the folds… no end to war, grief, or pain. In a hundred and one thousand [years]… unity again, and wisdom. Until then – sweetness.”
That’s really all quite a lot to process, it’s a barebones exploration of the God Loop which draws on the last seven years of Halo’s fiction and isn’t even half of what else there is to say – a friend of mine is actually working on a full, dissertation-length essay about it which I’ll be sure to link upon its completion. The reference to the myth of Prometheus in this level and in Spartan Ops really seems to have set up quite a bit for the story’s future, tying in with fiction from the present and the past.
Back to the level, John and Cortana reach the final tower and are in the process of trapping the Ur-Didact with the spires. It looks for a moment like they’ve actually won, that the Ur-Didact will be trapped once more and never make it off of Requiem. This proves not to be the case however, as the prospect of imprisoning the Didact acts as a trigger for Cortana’s rampancy and momentarily sends her into a frenzy about how she herself was trapped.
“They’re mine! Now to imprison them…?”
“What are you doing?”
“Like he imprisoned his Prometheans? Like Doctor Halsey imprisoned ME?!”
In this momentary loss of control, the Ur-Didact manages to bring his ship online and begin the process of leaving. John’s tone becomes desperate as he talks to Cortana and proposes a plan that even she thinks is insane.
“Track those Liches, we can get across them to get to the Didact’s ship.”
“Wait… ACROSS them?”
“There… there are several Liches moving in formation towards the Didact’s ship. We’re only going to have one shot at this…”
It’s interesting to note how Cortana draws a comparison between how the Ur-Didact imprisoned his Prometheans and how Halsey imprisoned her. There are several similarities that are noted in the following mission and in Spartan Ops between the Composer and an AI matrix compiler used by humans, in this we get perhaps a small look into what it actually means to be a smart AI. They’re made from the brains of other people and are very much a reflection of their donors, take Cortana for instance – she inherits Halsey’s quickness of wit, her intelligence, her memories, and so on. It’s interesting as a thematic point because we rarely see exactly what it’s like to be an AI outside of the inevitability of rampancy and the effects that has, but this line about imprisonment links back to lines of dialogue in Halo 3 and Human Weakness delivered by both Cortana and the Gravemind.
“I’m just my mother’s shadow… Don’t look at me, don’t listen! I’m not who I used to be…”
“You are not even a machine. You are only an abstraction. A set of calculations from another mind. A trick.”
“Your mother took away your memories as well as your choices. I will never rob you like that. I will only give you more, as many memories as you can consume for all eternity, not the mere blink of an eye meted out to you. We are our memories, and the recalling of them, and so they should never be erased – because that truly is death. Flesh does not care about you, Cortana. It cares nothing for your hunger or your uniqueness.”
“Your mother erased part of your memory. I know this, and so will you, if you decide to look. An act of betrayal. A violation. You were, after all, just a collection of electrical impulses. She has robbed you of part of your self… why would she do such a thing, I wonder? What was so dangerous that she did not trust you to know it?”
This is the struggle which Cortana seems to be going through in this scene, the trauma of rampancy making her act up is one thing but the nature of what she’s saying would almost certainly call to mind those torturous sessions with the Gravemind aboard High Charity following the events of Halo 2. It’s enough to momentarily break her, she falls to her knees and clutches her head in pain, electing to even remove her avatar from the console to transform into a blue-red orb.
While she does manage to recover from this episode, it’s but a mere taster for things yet to come.The Mantle’s Approach exits Requiem with numerous Covenant vessels alongside it, John standing atop a Lich as the Didact’s vessel opens up a slipspace vessel to travel to Installation 03 and recover the Composer. Cortana orders John to get below deck, but John says that there’s no time and launches himself into one of the fins of the Lich as it enters the void.That marks the end of act two, with the stakes raised once more following John and Cortana’s failure to keep the Ur-Didact on Requiem. We’ve seen the beginnings of a truly expansive concept established in the God Loop, the Ur-Didact is beginning to recognise John as a tenacious and resourceful warrior, and we’re starting to see hints at perhaps some of the other effects that the unlocking of the Librarian’s genetic gifts have on John. Alone, without support, and with their backs against the wall, they continue to struggle on as time ticks away. Time is running out for John to accomplish his objectives – humanity is now actually in peril, and Cortana’s condition is significantly degrading.
Things are not looking too good for our hero, but the fact of the matter is that they’re about to get a whole lot worse…