“You are the child of my makers, inheritor of all they left behind. You are Forerunner… but this ring is mine.”
It’s been over ten years now since Halo 3 released and we ‘finished the fight’ (er… sort of?), bringing with it this ‘reveal’ from 343 Guilty Spark at the end.
The statement is comprised of three words. Words that one would think are about as direct and unambiguous as you can get – “You are Forerunner” – and yet this continues to be one of the most misunderstood and misappropriated lines in the entire series.
I wrote an article on this over two-and-a-half years ago, but the additional wealth of information we’ve received (from both lore texts and behind the scenes tribulations) since then has compelled me to revisit this topic with the hope that it will be something of a definitive and comprehensive record on how the relationship between humanity and the Forerunners developed from 2001 to now.
Despite what is commonly thought in the ongoing ‘Bungie versus 343’ discourse, the question of the relationship between humanity and the Forerunners has not been definitively answered and the context behind Bungie and 343’s approach to addressing it is far more complicated than it appears on the surface.
First Floor: Aliens, Ringworlds, Loosely Defined Canon
In order to get the clearest possible picture of where this all ends up, we have to go all the way back to the beginning.
Halo: Combat Evolved (hereby colloquially referred to as Halo 1) endured many trials during its development, undergoing several complete overhauls right down to its genre – from a real-time strategy based on Bungie’s Myth (1997), to a third-person action game set in an open world, eventually settling into the form of the first-person shooter we all know and love.
Those trials greatly impeded the actual story of Halo 1 from coming together, so that particular mantle of responsibility was largely handed over to Microsoft’s own Eric Trautmann, Brannon Boren, and Matt Soell, who wrote, according to Trautmann, about eighty percent of the in-game dialogue and came up with a number of aspects of the series (like ODSTs) which are regarded as iconic.
This information comes from a podcast with Trautmann himself, which Eric Nylund hooked us up with back in 2015. Unfortunately, the web page for The Science Fiction Show podcast no longer seems to work, which is a devastating loss for this essential context, but I previously referred to it in this article in-reference to the approach taken to dealing with the Master Chief’s characterisation in Halo 1.
In essence: Bungie wanted to ‘kill’ The Fall of Reach, Nylund’s tie-in novel for the game, but Trautmann made a deal that was, as Nylund put it, “a cross between UN diplomacy and the bargain Vito Corleone made to get Johnny Fontaine out of his original contract”, which made the demands from the higher-ups at Bungie to kill The Fall of Reach go away.
The relationship between Bungie and Microsoft was not a positive one in its early days, as the folks at Bungie had previously enjoyed a lot of creative freedom without much in the way of collaborative constraints being imposed on them, owing to the fact that they hadn’t previously been attached to any big publishers when they made their earlier games.
After partnering with Microsoft, they were working under completely different conditions to what they were used to – right down to the office space, which wasn’t at all like the kind of ‘open house’ layout they had previously operated in.
To this small company, Microsoft was something of a Big Brother figure that was trying to interfere with the process of making their game.
On the other hand, Microsoft felt that they absolutely did have a stake in this project because it was a launch title for their very first console. The pressure was on for them to break into a new market, which meant they needed games that would be ‘heavy hitters’ and system sellers: games that would make the Xbox stand out from its competition. All their bets to accomplish that were riding on Halo.
It’s come up a number of times over the years, but Bungie never planned to do a Halo 2, they were going to move onto (as Paul Russel, the ‘godfather’ of Halo, puts it) a fantasy game – which Destiny has its roots in.
Indeed, Russel states that most people at Bungie were against making a sequel, but it was clear that Microsoft had other ambitions due to Halo 1’s unanticipated popularity.
Trautmann said in the podcast that Bungie were being rushed to finish Halo 1 and the script that they had proposed to Microsoft was something that nobody was really happy with, so it ended up being scrapped.
As a result of that Corleone-esque deal mentioned by Nylund, it was then put down to Trautmann, Boren, and Soell to pick up on the writing with very limited time (a couple of days, according to the podcast), with little more than vague descriptions about what was going on in each level because they weren’t allowed to see the game. They had the gist of what was going to happen in the story, what your objectives would be, and what the environments looked like – and they had to go from there.
I bring up this context because when people say ‘the Bungie era’, and refer to the product of the time as a ‘Bungie game’, it is important to realise that this is actually something of an inaccurate generalisation.
It’s easy to buy into the narrative of Microsoft being the greedy publisher that wanted to make their big bucks and didn’t care about the product, but the reality seems to be that there were significantly different pressures and goals for both Bungie and Microsoft that left them at odds with each other over the best way to handle things. Microsoft came in perhaps overbearingly strong, while Bungie hadn’t fostered any collaborative spirit.
A clear example of this can be evidenced from the way in which the Flood came together in Halo 1 and how they were developed over the years.
“The Flood, as far as I can remember, was something that Jason talked about purely as a gameplay twist. This is the enemy we could introduce to change the gameplay dynamic. It had to be horrifying. Beyond that, there was nothing fleshed out.
So, I started putting together all kinds of different sketches and ideas. Originally – and this is sort of funny considering how militantly opposed I became to the idea after the fact – the Flood was an engineered weapon. Basically a living, intelligent mine field that the Covenant seeded the worlds on the edge of their space with. You showed up on one of their planets and you were screwed as soon as you made landfall.
[…] Griesemer wrote up a really interesting alternative story (and he was the guy who coined the term ‘Gravemind’ as well.) Basically, in his early version, the Flood was a type of meningitis that somehow made a life form more aggressive, but also made them more intelligent, so it was this rite of passage. When males reached a certain age, they’d be hit in the head and tossed into this mass grave. They’d come out smarter, but looking for a fight.” [Robert McLees, Feast of Bones, (29/3/2010)]
One version had the Flood being telekinetic zombie supersoldiers created as a bioweapon by the Forerunners; one version has the Flood being purely a gameplay twist, with no actual story behind them; one has it as a Covenant bioweapon, one has it as “space meningitis” that was used for ritualistic purposes…
To hammer in the point:
We’ll come back to Russel’s first tweet in this thread later…
Throughout the early history of Halo, it seems that the backstory was something that largely existed in the minds of the individuals at Bungie – they all had their own ideas and interpretations that they never felt the need to expand on within the canon because they only planned to do one game.
I Would Have Been Your Genetic Ancestor…
2007 was a very confusing year…
It came as the year that would have us finally Finish The Fight™ with the release of the long-anticipated Halo 3, rounding off Bungie’s trilogy with an epic finale, but that year also brought us a wealth of other fiction with an alternate-reality game (ARG) known as Iris lasting through the summer and Halo: Contact Harvest at the end of October.
What’s notable about all of these texts is that they deal with the question of the human-Forerunner relation, but they bring us to a crossroads where they took a step in both directions – leaving us with more questions rather than a dead end with answers.
Before we get to any of that, though, there is the important matter of context to consider…
Thanks to Steve Haske’s article The Complete, Untold History of Halo, which dropped earlier this year, we have a much clearer insight into the messy development of Halo 3 which sheds some interesting new light on the writing process and the people behind it – to read the specific section, jump to ‘part 2’.
Jason Jones left on an extended sabbatical and didn’t name a successor, which led to in-fighting amongst the creative talent at Bungie, and, at the same time, they were trying to negotiate the future of Halo, their involvement with Microsoft, and better profit sharing.There tends to be this myth that ‘Bungie Halo‘ was this immaculately conceived narrative where everything slots together perfectly, but it’s clear from the developers’ testimonies that it was a battle just to get the fundamental plot points of the story down.
Halo 3 was largely done by a story committee, “a bunch of guys in the middle ground”, lacking direction until Marty O’Donnell stepped in with his list of plot points that had to be satisfied by the narrative in order to end the trilogy.
The extent to which the Forerunner element was present in that list is not clear, but from the fact that practically nothing about the Forerunners is mentioned throughout this entire retrospective on how the story came together (and how much of it comes down to the struggle of getting the fundamental aspects of the story down), it seems likely that it wasn’t a huge concern compared to everything else that was going on.
This, we know, from what Paul Russel and several other Bungie employees have said over the years, was the original intention for the outcome of that ‘sub-plot’ that generally sort of existed in the studio’s subconsciousness.
The majority of the novels stayed largely non-committal on the matter too. There were plenty of moments throughout The Fall of Reach, The Flood, First Strike, and Ghosts of Onyx that utilised the connection between humanity and the Forerunners, but none of them went to any lengths to try to explain what that connection was – leaving it malleable for whatever future direction the main series was going to take.
The display’s shimmering geometric patterns nagged at him, as if he should recognise them somehow. Even with his enhanced memory, he couldn’t place where he’d seen them before. They just seemed… familiar.
He reached a finger out to one of the symbols, a blue-green circle. The Spartan expected his finger to pass through nothing more than air. He was surprised when his finger met resistance – and the panel lights began to pulse more quickly.
“What did you do?” Cortana asked, her voice alarmed. “I’m detecting an energy spike.”
“I… don’t know,” the Spartan admitted. He wasn’t sure why he touched the ‘button’ on the display. He just knew it felt right.
[…] He seemed to know instinctively how to activate the panel – it almost seemed hard-wired, like his flight or flight response. [Halo: The Flood, page 95]
This particular scene from The Flood, adapting the bit in Halo 1’s second mission where the Master Chief activates the light bridge, is a good example of utilising the connection but not making any definitive statement about it.
With the later context of the Forerunner Saga, the peculiar familiarity with Forerunner technology demonstrated throughout the earlier novels quite seamlessly connects with the idea that this stems from the geas imposed on humanity by the Librarian.This pattern did not entirely hold, however.
Halo: Contact Harvest was written by Joe Staten and released just over a month after Halo 3. There is a significant scene where the Minister of Fortitude, Vice Minister of Tranquility, and the Philologist (better known as Truth, Regret, and Mercy) enter the hallowed halls of the Anodyne Spirit – the Keyship at the heart of High Charity – in 2525.
There, they communicate with a fragment of Mendicant Bias – the part of him that escaped his tomb on the Lesser Ark – and they discover a truth that would undo the Covenant if it ever got out.
The Oracle’s eye dimmed. For a moment it looked as though it might resume its long silence. But then it blazed anew, projecting a hologram of the reclamation glyph recorded by Rapid Conversion’s Luminary.
< THIS IS NOT RECLAMATION > the Oracle boomed. < THIS IS RECLAIMER >
Slowly the glyph turned upside down, and its central shapes – the concentric circles, one low inside the other, connected by a thin line – took on a different aspect. The shapes’ previous arrangement had resembled the pendulum of a clock. Inverted, the glyph now looked like a creature with two curved arms locked above its head. The glyph shrunk in size as the hologram zoomed out to show the entire alien world, covered with thousands of these newly oriented Luminations.
< AND THOSE IT REPRESENTS ARE MY MAKERS >
Now it was Fortitude’s turn to feel weak in the knees. He grasped the arms of his throne and tried to come to terms with an impossible revelation: each glyph represented a Reclaimer, not a relic, and each Reclaimer was one of the planet’s alien – which could only mean one thing.
“The Forerunners,” the Minister whispered. “Some were left behind.”
“Impossible!” Tranquility spat, no longer able to keep his peace. “Heresy!”
[…] The hologram of the alien world disappeared, and once more the Oracle’s eye shone forth.
< I WILL REJECT MY BIAS AND WILL MAKE AMENDS >
The vault’s dark walls began to glow as their veinlike pathways brightened inside them. The ancient circuits surged with light that raced into the obelisks behind the Oracle. The banded red and brown rocks began to crack, venting plumes of chalky vapor.
Suddenly, the Vice Minister sprung from his chair, plasma-pistol drawn. “Shut it off!” he screamed, leveling his weapon at the Philologist. The pistol’s tip shone brilliant green as it built up an overcharge bolt. “Or I will burn you where you stand!”
But at that moment, the Oracle’s lens became so bright – began to flash with such feverish frequency – that it threatened to blind all three San’Shyuum. Tranquility screamed and brought the long sleeves of his robes up before his eyes.
< MY MAKERS ARE MY MASTERS > The Oracle’s teardrop casing rattled inside its
armature as if it were trying to take flight with its ship. < I WILL BRING THEM SAFELY TO THE ARK > [Halo: Contact Harvest, page 274-276]
Between the main narrative of Halo 3 and Contact Harvest, the idea that humans are Forerunners seems clear… on the surface. Word of God intentions aside, we still have to deal with the fact that this information comes from an ‘unstable’ fragment of Mendicant Bias (whose messages even up to and throughout Halo 3 are half-formed and broken until the Keyship fragment reunites with its other half on the Ark), and the way it is narratively filtered is through the perspective of three San’Shyuum interpreting what they have learned.
Notably, it is Truth who infers that humanity are Forerunners that were ‘left behind’, as that’s the only conclusion the presentation of the context really allows him to come to. The extent to which we can take these interpretations as fact has always been open to debate.
The specifics of Mendicant’s knowledge here aren’t infallible. This fragment has been stuck on the Keyship for 100,000 years, he’s had no contact with the wider galaxy and its goings on; he is simply relating what the Reclaimer glyph represents.
Regardless of how things appear, this is not the whole story…
The summer of 2007 played host to Iris, an ARG for Halo 3 that, for the first time, dealt directly with the Forerunner universe and set up a number of characters and story beats that would go on to be dealt with in Halo 3’s Terminals and beyond.
This is where, again, the idea of ‘Bungie Halo‘ and ‘343 Halo‘ proves to be unhelpful and inaccurate because we really have to bring this down to an individual level.
Iris may have Bungie’s name attached to it, but the ARG was written by Frank O’Connor, with help from Brian Jarrard and Aaron LeMay.
Iris provided the foundations for the Forerunner lore that 343 has built on, as O’Connor worked on fiction like Halo 3’s Terminals, Soma The Painter (from Evolutions, which I have analysed here), Halo 4, and Greg Bear’s Forerunner Saga.
The bulk of this particular aspect of the lore has primarily been the brainchild of a number of people that you can count on one hand.
“Bungie content chap Frank ‘Frankie’ O’Connor has written most of the material, with help from community manager Brian Jarrard and artist Aaron LeMay.” [Eurogamer – MS explains Halo viral campaign, 18/06/2007]
The idea that humanity are Forerunners was complicated by Iris, particularly by the web-comic named The Cradle of Life, which depicts prehistoric humans (namely the African tribesman, N’chala) observing the Librarian as her Retriever Sentinels construct the portal to the Ark.It’s difficult to reconcile the notion that humans are Forerunners when they’re both shown to be present as two separate species like this…
Indeed, Paul Russel’s statement was that the Forerunners were “seeding their DNA on Earth to re-evolve away from the Flood” – a point which I earlier said we’d come back to. Humans, a race that already exists, being seeded with Forerunner DNA doesn’t mean that humans are literally Forerunners, contrary to Guilty Spark’s direct and literal statement.
Additionally, this is further complicated by the fact that what we’re seeing on the Forerunner side of things are the actions of one person: the Librarian. She stranded herself on Earth, which is implied to be a newly discovered world, but that is later contradicted in Halo 3’s fourth Terminal where the Didact says that he can guess where the Librarian has gone – implying that the Didact already knows about Earth (which lines up with what we see in the Forerunner Saga).
So even the statement that humans are Forerunners is itself something of an inaccurate generalisation, if the explanation was to be that the Librarian was simply seeding humanity with Forerunner DNA.
This is where we can pull in another part of what Guilty Spark says in Halo 3:
“You are the child of my makers, inheritor of all they left behind.”
Spark calling Chief (and, by extension, humanity) the child of his makers likewise acknowledges the difference between them. If humans were simply Forerunners, then surely Spark would refer to humanity as his “makers” – as Mendicant Bias does in Contact Harvest, which is itself complicated because Mendicant is just referring to the Reclaimer glyph.
The notion of humans being their “children”, being Reclaimers, opens up clear room for differentiating between what those words mean. As a result, the statement that “You are Forerunner”, even within the context of what ‘Bungie’ intended with the outcome of this narrative, is not exactly true.
This is the crossroads we arrived at and the issue that needs unpacking is the fact that the fiction took a step in both branching directions. There’s enough ambiguity and room for interpretation to make a case for both, which is why it’s still such a contentious topic.Part of why this comes across as so jarring is because Iris came before Halo 3, portraying the two races as separate, and then Halo 3 and Contact Harvest came later with further conflicting information because the Terminals (having been written by O’Connor again) continued Iris‘ case while the game itself (written by several groups of different people “in the middle ground” through a turbulent process) haphazardly nailed down the opposite as the conclusion.
Whatever the base idea was in the studio’s general consciousness, it developed in such a way that grew increasingly complicated and opened the door for other options.
“Humans are Forerunners, but they’re actually the ‘children’ of Forerunners, which may have been because the Librarian seeded DNA into humans when she was on Earth, but neither Iris nor the Terminals make any reference to that, so they seem to be separate species…” and so on.
It becomes a lot easier to latch onto Spark’s “You are Forerunner” statement because it’s presented as the answer to the question in a game that presents itself as the conclusion to the Halo story – neither of which are the case (further supported by the fact that Bungie originally agreed to make Halo 4).
Likewise, Contact Harvest was written by Joe Staten, who didn’t work on Halo 3 until the end run of its development – therefore his book, the scene with Mendicant Bias, was more-than-likely influenced to a degree by the already-established story that he returned to.
As an aside: Staten was, for the most part, working on major pieces of Halo transmedia with Peter Jackson (who was trying to form a game studio – WingNut Interactive), such as the Halo movie and Halo: Chronicles, which, funnily enough, is where the concept of the Prometheans originates from. It wasn’t until these projects fell through that Staten returned to Bungie, primarily to work on multiplayer maps for Halo 3 with Paul Bertone.
Iris and Halo 3’s Terminals put forward a more complex series of questions that were (and still are) much less accessible to the general audience. They are inherently less attractive because they belay the notion that Halo 3’s campaign did anything other than provide a clear-cut conclusion to these questions.
The Truth and (Narrative) Reconciliation
I love the Forerunner Saga.
I said it from the moment I read the preview chapters of Cryptum, I say it now, and I’ll keep on saying it until the heat death of the universe (and beyond).
The Forerunner Saga was the story I had been hoping for from the moment I stepped onto the surface of Installation 04 and my imagination filled with what most excites me about the Halo universe: the Forerunners. I’m a big fan of the ‘ancient era’ in just about any setting, and I love stories about the last days of a gasping empire.
Greg Bear gave me both.
I also love the Homeric style of language that Bear uses and how he filters the Forerunner universe through the eyes of characters who, like us, can barely comprehend it – the scale of this immense catastrophe while living under the boot heel of the galaxy’s self-appointed rulers, laying bare their politics in all of its complexity and seeing these titanic characters who previous existed as nebulous proper nouns exposed with all of their flaws and tragic depth.
A big thing that was addressed in the Forerunner Saga was the question of the relationship between humanity and the Forerunners, following up on the fiction that came before it.
But here’s the thing…
Contrary to popular belief, it hasn’t given us the answer.
As the Forerunner Saga approached that crossroads, where we’ve set one foot in both branching directions, having to deal with whether humans are Forerunners or a separate species, instead of conforming to those binary options it did something unexpected.
It says that both are potentially right.Within the opening chapters of Halo: Cryptum, Bear plants two importance seeds for this story – beginning by addressing Guilty Spark’s declaration that “You are Forerunner” at the end of Halo 3.
“First, tell us why you’re really here,” Chakas said. “Tell us about Forerunners and Precursors.”
In the dark, I could see nothing above the palms, and beyond the beach, nothing other than a faint glow from the breaking wavelets. “Precursors were powerful. They drew lines across many skies. Some say that long ago they shaped Forerunners in their image.”
Even the name we gave ourselves, “Forerunner,” implied a fleeting, impermanent place in the Mantle – accepting that we were but a stage in the stewardship of Living Time. That others would come after us. Other – and better. [Halo: Cryptum, page 30]
‘Forerunner’ is a name, a title, and the original name of who we know as ‘the Forerunners’ has long been forgotten.
This single passage smooths over Guilty Spark’s statement to colour it with new context that adds to its meaning, rather than outright changing it. It posits that humans in the modern setting are the ‘new’ Forerunners – that title has passed to them, as they are the next stage in the stewardship of Living Time.
Therefore: humans are ‘Forerunner’, as we now have a much better understanding of what ‘Forerunner’ means, and they are also separate species…
Or are they?
Because of strong similarities in our natural genetic structure, some Forerunner sages thought humans might be a brethren species, also shaped and given breath by the Precursors. It was possible the Librarian was intent on testing those theories. [Cryptum, page 26]
As a Manipular, I still resembled Chakas more than my father. [Cryptum, page 28]
Something that Bear introduces in these books is the concept of mutation, which is integral to an individual Forerunner’s maturation – ‘customising’ them through genetic and biochemical engineering to better suit their role in their caste-based society.
This expanded their physical and mental capabilities, with Forerunners typically undergoing at least two over the course of their lifespan (some having five or more).
Adolescents who have yet to undergo the process of mutation are Manipulars, identified as ‘Form Zero’, which is what Bornstellar is when we first meet him in Cryptum.
Manipulars are said to bear a strong resemblance to humans, but with additional patches of fur – generally coloured black, white, or pink. When talking about a ‘natural’ Forerunner, what we are referring to is a Manipular.
Forerunners like the Ur-Didact and Librarian are notable for not being typical of their kind as well. The Ur-Didact, as he appears in Halo 4, botched his latest mutation (presumably his sixth) which distorted his appearance; the Librarian mutated herself to look more like a human – and her appearance subtly changes to every human who sees her due to the geas she imposed on humanity, which is why Halsey sees her as a younger woman in Spartan Ops while the Master Chief sees her as older.
Naturally, this is also due to the difference between the CG and in-game models articulating her appearance differently, but it’s done with this intent.
Lifeshaper is her title among Lifeworkers – a term of extreme regard. Her slender body and careworn face, with those great, dark eyes, revive emotions I might have felt before assuming the carapace. I once had an eye for beauty among all rates. Yet the Librarian’s beauty lies neither in youth nor in physical perfection. She is in many ways flawed: a tilt of one eye, slanted lower lip, unseemly whiteness of teeth She seems to have deliberately adopted a few characteristics of those humans she now collects. [Halo: Silentium, page 21-22]
One of the biggest additions to the series made by the Forerunner Saga is the reveal that humans were once a technologically advanced species; laid low by the time the story begins in Cryptum after a war with the Forerunners, who turned back the clock on their evolution as punishment.
Part of why this has been controversial is because of the idea that it upsets the notion that humans and Forerunners are the same species.
Or does it?
These entities were expressing an almost cruelly isolated and lofty interest in the stages of an ongoing experiment.
Was there some sense of satisfaction at this melding of so many Forerunners and humans? Some triumphal revisiting of an ancient plan, long ago frustrated, then abandoned, but now possible once more?
Could Forerunners and humans be recombined and reverse their shivering asunder so many millions of years before… when the Primordial and the last of its kind decided on a larger, wider strategy, a greater plan that would no doubt bring about immense pain, but also a greater unity of all things…
Through the Flood, the Shaping Sickness. The greatest challenge and contest of all.
From that challenge, humans had for a moment only emerged victorious, only to be decimated by the Forerunners – a second crushing defeat for the Primordial’s plans. All of this had been laid out in detail to the coldly logical mentality that was the Halo’s master.
Even enhanced and combined, I – we – could only appreciate a small portion of the depth and power of this plan, this argument, unveiled to us as if we were children peering through curtains at the copulation of our parents. [Halo: Primordium, page 335-336]
Revisiting an ancient plan?
Recombining humans and Forerunners?
Reversing their “shivering asunder” from millions of years ago?To better understand some of these questions, we must turn to an important sub-plot in Halo: Primordium, driven by the debate between Forthencho, the Lord of Admirals, and Yprin Yprikushma, Political and Morale Commander.
It was commonly accepted that Earth (referred to by ancient humanity as Erda) was humanity’s cradle world, a conclusion that Yprin came to.
I queried my ancilla about the truth of their origins. She responded that to the best of Forerunner research, humans had indeed first arisen on Erde-Tyrene, but over fifty thousand years ago had moved their interstellar civilization outward along the galactic arm, perhaps to flee early Forerunner control. Records from those ages were sparse. [Cryptum, page 20]
Ironically, it was Erde-Tyrene that fell first, a tremendous loss both in strategy and morale, for it was the most likely to have been the birth-planet of all humans. We had lost those records and memories during the dark ages, before we encountered the Forerunners, but our own historians, scientists, and archaeologists had done their work, analysed the makeup and physiology of the humans spread across that sector of the rim and inward, and decided Erda was the genetic focus of all human activity – the planetary navel of our races.
Completing that survey, that analysis, encouraged her to believe she completely understood human psychology and culture. Yprin had advanced to Political and Morale Commander of all human forces.
I disagreed with that advancement, her rise to power. I had severe doubts that Erda was our planet of origin. Other worlds in other systems seemed more likely. I had been to many of them and had viewed their ancient ruins.
And I had seen evidence that Forerunners had also visited these worlds, were also interested in human origins – not just the Librarian and her Lifeworkers, but the Didact himself. [Primordium, page 238-239]
The mention of these dark ages in ancient human history, leading to the loss of countless records and scattering human populations across their systems, is particularly intriguing because it’s very convenient.
Convenient because it just so happens that the Forerunners themselves are none the wiser, as the Domain chose to either remove or suppress information about humans.
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– [Cryptum, page 164]
Bornstellar asks how humans connect to the Mantle, and we later learn, in Silentium, that humans were either going to inherit or be tested for the Mantle by the Precursors. It is understandable why the Domain would block the Forerunners from learning that piece of information, but it goes beyond that: the Domain seems to have nothing on humans at all…
The recorded sum of 100 billion years worth of knowledge, the soul and record of life’s interaction with the Cosmos, has nothing on the second-greatest technological power in the galaxy.
And the humans themselves have lost most of their history. I’m going to put on my tinfoil hat (or hardlight crown?) and say that it’s distinctly possible that these things are related.
But what of these worlds with ancient ruins that Forthencho believes to be more likely candidates for the birthplace of humanity?
Worlds that the Didact and Librarian have visited too?
I direct your attention to Halo: Legends – The Babysitter.In 2009, The Babysitter drew controversy for what many took to be a heavily stylised depiction of Forerunner ruins on a planed named Heian – which were later revealed, as some of us had speculated, not to be Forerunner at all.
“We can’t go into this too much because it has some sort of contingent aspects to it, but we wanted to start another mystery. On this world, one of the Spartans’ main missions is to take photographs of these weird, what they’re calling ‘xenoarchaeological evidence’, very, very strange buildings.
And the strangest thing about them is they’re very human.
You have these kind of Far Eastern-style buildings that pick elements from Japanese and Chinese architecture and they’re juxtaposed with things with kind of Greco-Roman aspects, and other things that have kind of Forerunner elements to them.
And so the mystery is what are these things? If humans didn’t put them there, then who did? And why? And that’s something that we’re planning for somewhere later in the Halo universe, and there will be a payoff to that.” [Frank O’Connor, Halo: Legends – The Babysitter commentary (10:42-12:30)]
This commentary comes from 2010, which is notable because it was still a year before the Forerunner Saga began (January 2011) and Halo 4 was announced (E3 2011), but it did come around the same time as the anthology novel Halo: Evolutions (November 2009).
The final story in Evolutions is called From the Office of Dr. William Arthur Iqbal (hereby abbreviated to From the Office), one of the first stories to be set after Halo 3 and taking the form of an email transcript discussing studies of various Forerunner artefacts and sites that have been found over the course of the Human-Covenant war (including the portal to the Ark at Voi, which was noted to still be active and drawing power – a story thread that Hunters in the Dark returned to, even featuring Iqbal in the flesh).
In From the Office, the ancient ruins from The Babysitter are directly mentioned.
I direct your attention to the photographs from Heian. There were obvious Forerunner elements in that architecture, but also unmistakable architectural themes from Greco-Roman, East Asian, and Middle Eastern eras. All of those buildings predated human travel to that world by perhaps hundreds maybe thousands of years. We find ourselves wondering if they borrowed from our history, or we from theirs. It is impossible that it was a coincidence. [Halo: Evolutions – From the Office, page 345]
As I see it, three possibilities exist:
1) Heian is an ancient human world that the Forerunners simply missed when they purged all traces of their kind after the war.
2) Heian is an ancient human world that was abandoned or lost during one of their dark ages.
3) Heian is a world from much further back, when humans and Forerunners were the same species, and is one of the worlds Forthencho, the Librarian, and the Didact visited.From my perspective, I think the third option is the most likely – the giveaway being how it is pointedly noted that Heian’s architecture has recognisably Forerunner elements to it.
It seems to me that humans and Forerunners, at some point in the past, over fifteen million years ago when the Precursors enacted their grand experiment in the Milky Way, were very closely related in some way. The mention in Primordium that the Timeless One was ‘recombining’ the two races suggests that they may well have been one-and-the-same at one time, but no definitive answer is given. The possibility simply exists as one potential outcome of this trail of breadcrumbs.
If they were indeed the same species, then at some point they were split apart and made to evolve separately in different areas of the galaxy; humans on Earth, Forerunners on Ghibalb.
What if, in Forthencho’s search for human origins, the Didact and Librarian were on a similar investigation into Forerunner origins beyond Ghibalb… and ended up in the same place?
Turning to more recent fiction, the reference book Halo: Warfleet has given us some new tidbits of lore for the ancient era.
On the Precursors, it states:
“With boundless intellect and patience, millions of solar systems were reengineered by the Precursors and populated with what would eventually – after eons of growth, tending, and evolution – become new tools and companions.” [Halo: Warfleet, page 8]
And, of the Forerunners, we are told:
“The Forerunners were skillful builders, brilliant thinkers, and fearless warriors raised up by the Precursors to serve as their assistants and adjutants. [Warfleet, page 8]
It is, of course, difficult to speak with any certainty about this period, but the use of the word “adjutants” in reference to the Forerunners and the previous mention of species being created as “tools” opens some interesting doors.
An adjutant is a military officer, one that acts as an administrative assistant to a senior officer – typically in giving out orders.
How this ultimately ties into the bigger picture isn’t exactly clear, but it seems that the Precursors created at least some of their species to serve a specific purpose. The use of a military term being applied to the Forerunners’ purpose paints a suggestive picture of what that time in the setting might have been like. But that’s a topic for another time…Bringing this back around to the fundamental issue of the relationship between humanity and the Forerunners, it’s plain to see that it’s mired in more complexity than it tends to be given credit for – owing to the fact that we now have a greater insight into the trials and tribulations faced by the developers behind the scenes in Halo‘s earlier years.
It’s not a simple matter of “Bungie unanimously did X, and then 343 ignored it and did Y”. That’s not to say that there aren’t inconsistencies in this grand narrative and simpler intentions for the outcome of this weren’t present during Bungie’s tenure, but what I think needs to really be recognised is how much the telling of this story comes down to the vision held by individuals over the years. It all sort of exploded in 2007 with Iris, Halo 3, the Terminals, and Contact Harvest, all of which resulted from differing contexts from behind the scenes that we now know a lot more about.
The Forerunner Saga came around with 343’s early years, where they had the benefit of being able to plan out several years of fiction and how it would all fit together.
That’s 343 at their best, with all the intertextual layering of their worldbuilding. The Forerunner Saga, Evolutions, and Legends all have little connections that build a much larger picture while, at the same time, denying us any answers.
Contrary to the notion that the Forerunner Saga just answered all of our questions and “removed the mystery” of the ancient era, it only served to further substantiate the unknown. Bear’s novels went to great lengths to ensure that both answers to the question of the human-Forerunner relation are not only valid, but can co-exist in a way that doesn’t necessitate a final answer as to which one is more accurate.
It leaves us free to draw our own conclusions by following and interpreting the trail of breadcrumbs left for us. What I have proposed in this section are just the product of my own conclusions. You may well have come to something completely different.
I leave you with the same question I posed over two-and-a-half years ago when I wrote the original version of this article.
“We announced to your kind long ago that you were not the ones chosen to receive the Mantle, the blessing of rule and protection of life and change that thinks. That blessing was to be given to others.
To those you now call human.” [Silentium, page 174]
The Forerunners adopted their name as a title, having long forgotten who they used to be.
So, if the Forerunners now call us ‘human’… then what were we before?