This we were told 100,000 years ago by the Great Gravemind.
“Our urge to create is immutable; we must create. But the beings we create shall never again reach out in strength against us. All that is created will suffer. All will be born in suffering, endless greyness shall be their lot. All creation will tailor to failure and pain, that never again shall the offspring of the eternal Fount rise up against their creators. Listen to the silence. Ten million years of deep silence. And now, whimpers and cries; not of birth. That is what we bring: a great crushing weight to press down youth and hope. No more will. No more freedom. Nothing new but agonizing death and never good shall come of it.”
This we were told.
This gives the beings of the Halo universe one single, simple goal. Defiance.
Defiance against the will of the god-like beings who created all that we know, who structured the universe itself – moved stars across space, seeded whole galaxies with life, and linked together whole planets and solar systems with their immense Star Roads.
No biggie, right?Perhaps I should introduce the topic with some context? The new novel, Hunters in the Dark, came out a little while ago and I’ve been sifting through literally over two hundred notes that I made throughout the two times I’ve read it. Not only was it a beautiful thematic successor to Primordium and wonderful introduction to Fireteam Osiris’ Olympia Vale, it offered some fascinating insight into something I really didn’t expect. In fact, it ended up being what the book was all about.
To put it in no uncertain terms: Giving the Great Gravemind’s decree of universal failure the middle finger.
I was intending to write this as two posts, the second part looking at examining what kind of future lies ahead for the species in the Reclaimer Saga and understanding how it gave the Gravemind’s decree the middle finger, but I’ve changed my mind about that. I’m happy with leaving this as it is as a solitary analysis of an already rather obscure, even nebulous area of the lore. What I had intended to write for that second half is now something I’m more interested in just seeing develop – and it will, as we’ve got Saint;s Testimony coming out this month and Halo 5 isn’t far off. I leave the future of the galaxy to your own speculative minds.
Enough dilly-dallying, let’s get started.
The Third Vector of Chaos
For those of you who have read John Shirley’s novel Broken Circle, released just last November around the same time as Nightfall and the Master Chief Collection, we’re given this very interesting piece of San’Shyuum philosophy. It’s wisdom that has been committed to writing by the hand of the Prophet of Inner Conviction many thousands of years ago, during the early years of the Covenant’s formation.
In the year 2552, as the Great Schism erupts, a San’Shyuum named Zo Resken, a descendant of this character, relates the philosophy to one of his Sangheili compatriots.
“This is the third vector of chaos,” Zo said with a sigh.
“What do you mean?” Tul asked.
“Something that the fabled Prophet of Inner Conviction wrote at the end of his life. He said that every civilisation fights a perpetually losing battle with chaos; every society is always under siege, even when it seems at peace. And he said that there are vectors, fronts of chaos that penetrate a social order here and there. One comes, then two. And when there are three at once… then a society will crumble. The first two vectors of chaos afflicting the Covenant were the humans and the Flood. Now civil war is the third vector. The Prophet of Inner Conviction was correct in his theory: the Covenant will not survive.”
This is one of those things that you would normally just sort of go over without thinking much of, but the more you think of it, the more you see just how much sense it makes when applied to other races in the Halo universe. It’s a model for the failure and deconstruction of whole civilisations.
Let’s look at the Forerunners, for example. The first two vectors that affected them were the war with humanity and their civil political conflict which led to the ousting of the Warrior-Servants from the Ecumene and the rise of the corrupt Builders, and then the Flood came as the third vector which led to the end of Forerunner civilisation as the Halos had to be fired.
Note how similar these factors are – an external threat (humanity), an internal threat (civil conflict), and the Flood. It’s just jumbled around in a different order. I can’t help but cast my mind back to something that Frankie said in the DVD commentary for Halo: Legends – Origins.
“The Flood is sort of the heart of the Halo story and things always tend to come around to that.”
At this point, I’d like to make a revision for something I’ve previously talked a lot about – the Flood. We now have actual confirmation that the Flood will not be in Halo 5 from this video. While we know that the Flood’s return is essentially written in stone, we now can say for certain that it will be later rather than sooner – their return heralds the endgame of the Reclaimer Saga, and we’re not even half way through yet. So just bear that in mind, that none of the things that have been discussed about the Flood are likely to happen any time soon.
But while we’re on the subject of Origins (again!), what’s the central theme of that story? Tell us, Frankie…
“The story which Cortana is telling, which is humanity’s continual need for conflict and war.”
Even Cortana, who is telling the story, is pointed out by Frankie to have been conceived ultimately as a “weapon of war”. But it doesn’t end there, as we get a number of references to other species having a natural instinct for war, right down to the Unggoy.
“But [the Unggoy] are among the Covenant’s most devoted seekers after the Great Journey, sacrificing themselves in great number on the battlefield, so prolific that more seem always ready to throw themselves upon the altar of war.”
The Sangheili are also said to have a similar disposition. Conflict is the natural way of things, it’s practically woven into the universe as a fundamental law and this agon goes right down to the atomic level. That’s something that’s just intrinsically accepted as scientific fact, right? But what I find interesting is that Halo seems to grant consideration to why that is. I believe that the answer lies with the failure of the Forerunners when they were ‘tested’ 10 million years ago by the Precursors. Having been decided to be unworthy of the rule of protection over life, their great ‘flaw’ was revealed – propensity for violence and defiance.
The Mantle is really the key part of this, the Precursors’ vision of the Mantle that is – where all things are regarded as life. Their concept of neural physics essentially posits that the universe itself is ‘alive’ in some way, but we’ll get to that in more detail later.
“You could not accept our judgement, could not bear up under your inferiority, so you reached out and did what we never expected from those we gave design and life and the change that is thought. You drove us from our galaxy, our field of labour. You chased us across the middle distance to another home, and destroyed that home, did all that you could to destroy every one of us.”
War was something that the Precursors seemed to have had absolutely no clue about, at least through their creations. Of course, they allegedly came from a time before there were stars, before there was any conceivable consequence of cause and effect – therefore… no innate conflict? Of course they were arrogant enough to never expect that their children would rise up and attack them, it didn’t even register with them that that was something they were capable of. So… what exactly might we infer from that?
Well, looking back to that first quote at the start of this article from the Great Gravemind, I think that if the Precursors needed a ‘blueprint’ for life to be tailored to “failure and pain”, and a natural instinct for war is exactly the kind of thing that they would write into existence to the beings that they would continue to create. Conflict which manifests itself in three vectors that leads to the ultimate downfall of a civilisation to ensure that no society could ever rise up again to defy their creators. I hate to make the comparison, but think of the Cycle in Mass Effect with the Reapers – only far more complex than “aliens come into the galaxy after x years to kill advanced races”.
“Don’t you feel the truth of it? We gave the Precursors reason to retreat into madness. A passion for vengeance. And the Gravemind gave it all right back to me. I am filled with that passion, that madness, that poison!”
The Gravemind’s malediction was what transformed the Ur-Didact into the final note in the discordant symphony of Forerunner civil conflict (the second vector of chaos for the Forerunners), those base passions for conflict are what the Precursors were driven to experience when the Forerunners hunted them down across the galaxy.
Consider the way in which the Ur-Didact describes his transformation into the Flood’s puppet.
“A deep, burning brand. An upwelling of hidden genetic contents… So many things I would never have imagined. Things I cannot repeat, lest I lose what remains of my sanity, my Warrior soul.”
Hidden genetic contents, stored within living beings that has been unlocked? Well, doesn’t that sound rather familiar?
Remember how it was off-handedly mentioned in Cryptum that there were philosophers who speculated that the Precursors imposed a geas on the Forerunners?
“A Lifeworker as powerful as the Librarian certainly had the means to impose a generations-long genetic command upon the objects of her study. Such a compulsion in past times would have been called a geas. Some students of the Mantle even believed that the Precursors had imposed a geas upon Forerunners.”
This could well have been it… and they wouldn’t have just done it to Forerunners either, but to all that they created. This was the ‘blueprint’.
But let’s backtrack a bit here for a bit because I want to talk a bit about what a geas actually is, since there’s a lot of confusion as to how they work and what that means.
A geas in its most generic form is a genetic command that’s imposed on a living being which provides subconscious orders that leads to a predefined outcome, except sometimes it doesn’t. A geas requires certain triggers in order to activate and flower, otherwise it will remain dormant and may even die out. In some cases, like in Halo 4 with the Master Chief, it has to be directly ‘unlocked’.A more comprehensive look at the specifics of the concept of geas in Halo along with examples of it has been written up by a friend of mine, so if you wish to read that you can check out the Google Doc here – Halo: A Comprehensive Guide to Geas.
Suffice it to say, I am saying that the Three Vectors of Chaos philosophy may well be those triggers for the geas, those “hidden genetic contents”, which fulfils the purpose of causing misery and pain that the Timeless One found to be “sweetness” and bringing about the end of civilisations. We really have no idea what the civilisations of the Halo universe were like 10 million years ago, we have next to no information about the time of the Precursors and what life was like back then, but it’s clear that the Forerunners were different in how their act of defiance came as a complete surprise to their creators.
Just to nail this point about geas home, I’ll just drop this quote from Cortana in Origins II:
“Old resentments, ancient squabbles re-emerged. History began its terrible repetition and once again, man fought man. Like a virus, war was always lurking inside you, no matter how hard you tried to suppress it. It just fought harder to get out. It always got out.”
The final point I want to make on this is that there’s one thing we know that could remedy the Ur-Didact’s condition, and that is the Domain – the record of the joy of life’s interaction with the Cosmos. With the Domain confirmed to be active in Halo 5 and central to that plot, there is actually hope that the Ur-Didact(‘s digital essence) might be cleansed of the Gravemind’s malediction and fulfil the purpose that Librarian charged him with – becoming a teacher once more, helping humanity to be better. But that’s a whole other topic that I’ve already covered. But the continued existence of the Domain is huge for a number of reasons, but it actually tried on a number of occasions to help the Forerunners but was largely prevented from doing so, and was said to feel sadness at their passing.So the question we’re left with now is what exactly are the Three Vectors of Chaos for the Reclaimer Saga? I was actually in two minds about this, but now that we know that the Flood are not going to be in Halo 5, I think we have our answer.
The first vector was the reformation of the Covenant under Jul ‘Mdama, and it was through him that the second vector was brought into being – the Ur-Didact and his Prometheans. That fulfils the quota of two external threats, but what about the third?
Well, we’re still missing civil conflict, and that has been boiling under the surface for a long time with the Insurrection, and is now seeing a resurgence through the organisation known as the New Colonial Alliance. Their role has been steadily growing in the fiction, from their attempted takeover of the UNSC Infinity in the comic series Initiation, to the alliance between Daniel Clayton and Vata ‘Gajat in Escalation, to Mickey’s defection from Buck’s squad in New Blood, and most recently in Hunt the Truth where they are going active across entire colonies.
Clayton quite ominously says to Lord Hood that they have agents on every colony, even on the shores of Earth, and that they will meet again on the day that the UNSC falls. If that’s not foreshadowing, then I… well, then I really don’t know what is!Humanity in the Halo universe seems like they’re on the precipice for a huge change, in fact all of the factions are since it seems like the Covenant will be brought to a final end in Halo 5. Later this month, we’re getting a short book from Frankie called Saint’s Testimony which will follow the story of Iona, the AI from Blood Line who served alongside Black Team, launching an appeal against her own death sentence as she hits her seventh birthday. In a Canon Fodder article, he said:
“There’s a lot of philosophy and physics pointing to consciousness being an aspect of existence itself – the universe itself evolving thought with life as a node of that evolution.”
Quite interestingly, this is actually very much reflective of the Precursor and Forerunner philosophy of Living Time – the very foundations of the Mantle. This piece of fiction could bring about a huge fundamental shift in one of the pillars of the Halo universe and how AIs are treated, as they have historically been very much mistreated by the various races and factions they’ve been involved with.
With the rise of the NCA as well, it looks like Halo 5 is going to echo Halo 2 in how humanity is set to undergo their own Great Schism. This is the Third Vector of Chaos for humanity, the civil conflict that will bring about the fall of their civilisation – or will it? Frankie has teased that there are going to be some huge revelations in the second half of Halo 5’s campaign, that the nature of Fireteam Osiris’ mission changes in a really big way in how it’s no longer about hunting the Master Chief. With the war against the Covenant coming to a conclusion (echoing the Covenant’s war with the humans coming to an end just prior to the Great Schism), the Prometheans becoming a more dominant force in the galaxy (like the Flood coming in to change the playing field in Halo 2), all that remains to fulfil the parallel and the philosophy of the Third Vector of Chaos is for civil conflict to break out – which we’ve been building up to for a long while.
I think that the status quo of the Halo universe is about to undergo its biggest change yet, with so many disparate factions in a state of open conflict there yet one final note of this discordant symphony that’s yet to be played.
“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.”