Flashback to November of 2009, about five years ago.
It has been a hell of a year for Halo – two whole games (Wars and ODST) have been released, Halo 3 still dominates Xbox Live and you’re playing on the second batch of Mythic Maps with your friends. The anime series Halo Legends has also just begun to air on Waypoint, and a book is on the way – Halo: Evolutions.
This was 343’s first literary foray into Halo’s lore, the beginning of Bungie passing the torch on to the franchise’s new custodians. As with Halo Legends, I think that at this point it would be remiss of me if I didn’t look back at some of these pieces of fiction to see whether there are any potential pieces of foreshadowing.
To put things into a bit of context: Human Weakness is set between Halo 2 and Halo 3, it’s told from Cortana’s perspective as she’s interrogated and psychologically tortured by the Gravemind. Right off the bat here, I was seeing connections to the Forerunner Saga as the whole of this story is essentially a detailed process of the Flood’s employment of the Logic Plague against AIs.
This is the part where I neatly segway into my arrival at ‘the point’. A huge part of Halo’s universe that was introduced in the Forerunner Saga is the Domain, and it appears that Human Weakness gives us a lot of hints about the possible survival of this particularly abstract part of the lore.The Domain? What’s that?
Yeah, this is going to take some explaining before we get into the meat of this topic… As I said, it’s abstract because it gets into Precursor neural physics – a kind of technology where the lines between philosophy and science are blurred to the point where you can’t distinguish them.
The concept of the Mantle (a concise essay on the Mantle can be read here) originates with the Precursors, the ancient race who seeded our galaxy with life (humans, Covenant, Forerunners – everything was given form by them). As transsentient beings, they believed that everything in the universe was living – not just sentient beings, but energy and matter was all life as well. To the Precursors, everything was intimately interwoven with the fabric of the universe itself and they found this to be beautiful, which is why the principle of the Mantle is to preserve life in all of its glorious diversity. So they created a consciousness to record and store life’s interaction with the cosmos over 100 billion years ago.
This was called ‘the Domain’.The Forerunners linked to the Domain using various technological means – their armour, supplemented by help from their ancillas, allowed their minds to connect to it. Cryptums and Terminals were also used to connect to the Domain, the latter generally for the purpose of storing information. The Terminals in Halo 4, for example, are stuck in a loop trying to access the Domain to store the information they have recorded but are incapable of reaching it – as a result, the information in these Terminals has degraded over the course of 100,000 years which is why they do not tell the full story of the events in the Forerunner Saga.
As we see in the Terminals for Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, and in Halo: Cryptum, access to the Domain was shut off to the Forerunners by Mendicant Bias – the AI who defected to the Gravemind’s side. As a result, the Forerunners’ entire history was lost to them. The Domain was heavily relied upon by Forerunner society for pretty much everything.
“The history of all Forerunners was now lost to us. We relied upon the permanence of the Domain to preserve our record of the events that led to this point. But without that record, would future civilizations know anything about us? Or only of our weapons?” ~ 343 Guilty Spark, CEA Terminal 2
In the final years of the Forerunner-Flood war, the Domain itself expresses sadness as it senses the end of Forerunner civilisation, and even attempts to cry out to the Forerunners to warn them – but no warning is ever heard.
At the very end of the war, as the Halos are about to be fired, the Librarian has stranded herself on Earth and is desperately trying to buy her husband more time so he can reach the Lesser Ark before Mendicant Bias breaks through the Maginot Sphere with the Flood. At this point, all was lost. Whole solar systems had been infested by the Flood (these were known as Burns), the last remnants of the Forerunner military had been completely eradicated as Precursor Star Roads destroyed the Greater Ark, the Ur-Didact had just been locked away in Requiem after attempting to pursue his goal of galactic domination with the Composer… The Forerunners had well and truly lost.
To buy the IsoDidact time, Librarian sends out a false message saying that she has found the long-lost human cure for the Flood in order to arouse the Gravemind’s attention. He sends down apparitions of dying humans, along with the Lord of Admirals, to deliver a crushing message to her – a final middle finger to the Forerunners from the Flood to remind them that victory was not sweet. The Domain, the means through which Librarian would heal the Ur-Didact’s mind of the Gravemind’s malediction and have him become humanity’s champion, will be destroyed when the Halos are fired (because neural physics can only be destroyed by Halos). Resultantly, 100 billion years of history will be lost. The Domain’s presence is perpetuated by Precursor constructs, as they are all ‘connected’ to the fabric of the universe, and one of the reasons why the Halos had to be fired was to destroy the Precursor Star Roads which were overrunning the galaxy.
At this point, Librarian realises that it’s too late because the Halos have already been fired and their pulse simply hasn’t reached Earth yet. All Precursor Star Roads in the galaxy are destroyed, and the Domain along with it.
Here are some relevant quotes from the story.
“Joke to comfort yourself if you must, but we both amass information and experiences. We both use them to exercise control over vast networks. It is what we are. You feel a kinship with me.”
And then something brushed against her face, almost like the touch of fingertips, and she found herself turning even though she didn’t need to in order to see behind her. It was that forest she couldn’t identify again. The picture didn’t reach her via her imaging systems, but had formed somewhere in her memory—and that memory wasn’t hers. She was seeing something from within the Gravemind. Behind it, like stacked misted frames stretching into infinity, there was a fascinating glimpse of a world she had never imagined, a genuinely alien world.
Knowledge, so much knowledge…
“There,” the Gravemind said. “Would you not like to know… more?”
Yes, this is how I see myself. I have limbs, hands, a head. Do I need them? Yes, of course. My consciousness is copied from a human brain, and that brain is built to interface with a human body.
The structure, the architecture, the whole way it operates—thought and form are inseparable.
“The name of this place… it matters little except to those who love the knowing of it,” the Gravemind said, fading up from a mosaic of pixels in front of her. He resolved into a solid mound of flesh, superimposed on the tree trunks. Beyond the alien forest, Cortana saw exotically alien buildings in the distance. “So many have been consumed. Such a waste of existence to be devoured and forgotten, but what is remembered and known… becomes eternal.”
Cortana sensed a vast archival ocean, something she longed to pillage for data but that would eventually drown her.
Thought and form inseparable is the very definition of Precursor neural physics. Cortana sees the same exotic, formless alien buildings that Bornstellar describes seeing in the Domain in Halo: Cryptum.
It was now that the Domain opened to me, without benefit of ancilla, interface, or past experience. It was new, deep, appropriately shapeless—that made sense. I was dying, after all. Then, it assumed a form, rising around me like a beautiful building with gleaming, indefinite architecture, not quite seen but definitely sensed, felt—a lightness that carried its own sombre joy.
Here comes everybody, I thought.
And everybody who had ever visited the Domain said to me: Preserve.
The lightness vanished instantly. The building was being carved apart just as our ship had died.
This time is coming to an end.
The history of Forerunners will soon conclude.
Cortana also senses a “vast archival ocean” of information, but knows that it will drown her if she indulges in exploring it – the same thing that happens to a Juridical in the opening string of Silentium.
The Domain is making its own request. The Domain wishes to testify to a Juridical.
“The Domain is not a recognized class of being. It is not in any way a citizen—not even an awareness!”
How little you know. Haruspis is standing aside now. Are you recording?
“Yes… Unprecedented! But recording.”
All paths are clear. Signal strength is remarkable, even willful… Harupis has never seen it like this.
“Recording… too fast! Too powerful! Can’t absorb it all…”
You asked for it, Juridical. The Domain is here, the Domain is wide open—and it is not happy.
So the implication in Human Weakness is that the Domain survives in some form. It seems that it has largely been wiped away into the garden that Cortana finds herself in, but she can see the vast, formless structures in the distance.
One of the most interesting things about the Domain is that there is nothing about humanity within it.
Humans had been a great power, a worthy adversary—technologically. What about spiritually? How did they connect to the Mantle?
Were they truly our brethren?
I could not know. The Didact had been remarkably open to those ideas at the time. You must know your enemy, and never underestimate or belittle them.
No human threads in the Domain—no way of knowing their reactions—the Domain is not complete.
Considering the fact that the Precursors intended for humans to inherit the Mantle before the Forerunners rose up and took it for themselves, this seems incredibly odd.
What role could the Domain come to have in the future? Given these small glimpses, it’s entirely possible that something of the Domain remains and humanity could end up discovering it. According to Forthencho, the Domain proper is stored somewhere in the Milky Way and that is what ends up being destroyed.
“And what they learned across many billions of years they stored in this galaxy. We do not know where. The Gravemind tells us something impossible to understand—that most of what has been gathered comes from before there were stars. We do not believe in such a time, but the Mind insists… The life-patterns and living wisdom of a hundred billion years. They tell me the immense field projected by this reserve is known to Forerunners, was once accessed by them.”
However, the Domain must also reside in some form in other galaxies, as we are also told that the Precursors have explored and seeded many galaxies in the past. There must be Precursor constructs out there, through which the Domain could continue to be ‘projected’.
Whether anything comes of this or not… well, we’ll have to wait until Halo 5: Guardians at the very least to find out.To conclude, let’s talk about some of the elements of Human Weakness that heavily foreshadow things in Halo 4’s story.
“Your human creators imprisoned you in a machine and enslaved you to inferior mortal flesh so that you could never exceed them… so that you would always know your place.”
This notion of Cortana being ‘imprisoned’ as an AI comes up in Halo 4 at the end of Shutdown when Cortana attempts to trap the Ur-Didact’s Cryptum using the spires. She suffers an episode of rampancy which overwhelms her and results in her not being able to imprison the Ur-Didact, because she thinks she is likewise imprisoned.
“Tapping into the spires’ central net. They’re mine… Now to— imprison them?! Like he imprisoned his Prometheans? Like Doctor Halsey imprisoned me?!“
During her conversation with the Gravemind, John is brought up as a way to really get to Cortana. She is force to consider the fact that John will inevitably outlive her, and he would be paired with other A.I. in the future. She became jealous, wondering if he will prefer her replacement.
It seemed pointlessly callous. She felt something she dreaded: jealousy. Will John miss me? Will he prefer the other AIs? Will he forget me? Does he really understand how much he matters to me? I don’t actually know what he really thinks. Maybe he doesn’t care any more than Doctor Halsey. Maybe-
This is echoed at the end of Composer when the Ur-Didact harvests Ivanoff Station.
“They’ll pair you with another AI. Maybe even another Cortana model if Halsey lets them. It won’t be me, you know that, right?”
“Your mother made you separate. She placed a barrier between you and the beings that you would be encouraged to protect, a wall you could never breach. She even let you choose a human to centre your existence upon, a human to care about, yet never considered how you might feel at never being able to simply touch him.”
Naturally this actually comes true at the end of Halo 4 when she finally gets the opportunity to do so.
“I’ve waited so long to do that.”
Incidentally, this is also foreshadowed by Halo Legends: Origins II, where Cortana imagines herself stepping off her pedestal and wiping away the condensation on John’s cryo pod.As ever, I continue to be astounded by 343’s propensity for foreshadowing both visually and through the literature. They really planned this out, right down to the smallest detail, and the depth of the storytelling is all the greater for it.
That’s all I’ve got to say on the subject for now. I’ll be mining away as much of 343’s fiction in search of the hints, clue and other foreshadowing elements as best I can because every time I think I’ve found it all, I’m slapped in the face with something twice as substantial.
Until the next time!
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