16 November 2552
ONI EYES ONLY
OFFICE OF NAVAL INTELLIGENCE
//AMICO ET INIMICO?//
//URGENT// ADM. M. O. PARANGOSKY
Considering the circumstances of impending extinction, I’ll be brief. Two months ago, I compiled a target profile on Supreme Commander Thel ‘Vadamee and his recorded interactions with humanity from 2535 to the fall of Reach. As the Covenant’s most dangerous military asset, it was my recommendation that he be terminated immediately.
Yesterday, 48789-20114-AJ was authorised by 07960-48392-TH to step into the interrogation (our interrogation) of ASSET RD-9743-X within the terminus of the QUITO SPACE ELEVATOR.
Exactly how 48789-20114-AJ and 15972-19891-MK returned home from the Halo ring has been classified, but striking up an alliance with the Sangheili is a hard thing to keep quiet. It has come to the attention of Naval Intelligence that the leader of these Sangheili is ‘Vadamee himself, now simply referred to as ‘The Arbiter.’
The obvious hardly needs to be pointed out here.
Due to the event at Joyous Exultation and the complete loss of the Combined Fleet of Righteous Purpose, the Sangheili are hobbled – they are no longer in a position to finish the fight by themselves. Whatever caused that detonation was a damn miracle for us, but this alliance of convenience is more delicate than that awful tea set you sent me last year (end of the world confessions, apologies, you can court martial me if we survive this), particularly considering ‘Vadamee’s leadership.
To cut the BS: Two months ago, I signed up to personally carry out ‘Vadamee’s assassination. That option is still on the table.
Our needs may be aligned for now, but this war has shown us that anything can happen – the scales tip, the wheel turns, and our grasp on our place in the universe becomes more distant and more solemn than a fading star.
If there’s even the slightest sign that ‘Vadamee and our alliance with the Sangheili is compromised, permission to cut off the head of the snake?
//RE: AMICO ET INIMICO?
//ADM. M. O. PARANGOSKY TO LT. CMDR. LOCKE
Real life stuff continues to get in the way of things. Hopefully it will all be sorted by June and I’ll be able to fully throw myself into some of the bigger projects I’ve currently got on standby in my drafts. As far as Halo content goes, the big ones yet to come are the Master Chief character study for Halo 4 (which will be my 117th article) and the Halo Wars 2 story postmortem.
This article will be a bit different from all that…
I haven’t done much in the way of headcanon and alternate worldbuilding stuff recently, but I was replaying Halo 3 a little while ago for the purpose of taking screenshots (thank you, campaign Theatre – please, please return in future instalments) and something that happened throughout the first mission – Sierra 117 – really stuck with me.
Among the various Marine NPCs was a young, dark-skinned man with a goatee. He stayed very close to Thel throughout the mission.
He was every bit the spitting image of a younger Jameson Locke.
Now, of course, it hardly needs to be said that this obviously isn’t him, but my mind has since run away with and become invested in the idea that the paths of the Chief, Thel, and Locke unknowingly converged in Halo 3 – *puts on Cutter’s voice* – and this is how!
I WOULD HAVE BEEN YOUR ASSASSIN…
At this time, Jameson Locke was just twenty-three years old and had risen to the rank of lieutenant commander in the Office of Naval Intelligence – serving as an Acquisitions Specialist for Section 3, he became known as one of their best field operatives.
In September 2552, Locke compiled a target profile on Thel ‘Vadamee, who was then the Supreme Commander of the Fleet of Particular Justice. He concluded this profile, saying:
“‘Vadamee is responsible for over one billion total casualties and the loss of at least seven human planets. His forces have defeated all UNSC counter-attacks at the cost of one hundred-twenty-three fleet vessels and over twenty-three thousand personnel.
And now, with Reach lost, ONI and UNSC strategic AI report a zero percent confidence that the Navy can stop ‘Vadamee through traditional means.
In the opinion of this investigator, ‘Vadamee is the most dangerous Covenant military asset on the field. It’s common knowledge that the Covenant have a significant technological advantage over the UNSC, but are sometimes inflexible in their tactics. This is not the case for ‘Vadamee. We cannot predict what he’ll do next. But, given time, we fear that he will dismantle all remaining UNSC strongholds.
This agent’s recommendation: immediate termination. If humanity wants to survive this war, we cannot do it with ‘Vadamee on the field.” [Jameson Locke, Halo 2 Anniversary, Terminal 3]
When playing Halo 2 and Halo 3, we see the alliance between the UNSC and the Sangheili presented through quite specific perspectives that make for very limited conflict.
The Master Chief doesn’t trust Thel at the start of Halo 3; Lord Hood questions Rtas’ intentions when it comes to dealing with the Flood, followed by a scene where a group of Marines and Sangheili are sitting around in the Shadow of Intent’s hangar as an exchange of arms occurs…
There are some good ideas there, but that’s all they really exist as. Halo 3 doesn’t find the time to do much with them beyond their superficial appearances (which I, in my more generous moods, tend to put down as a result of the issues that we know plagued the game’s writing process).If we consider the context of the novels, specifically Ghosts of Onyx, then the UNSC-Sangheili alliance gains some new dimensions beyond what we see in the games.On November 3rd, 2552, at the onset of the Great Schism, Imperial Admiral Xytan ‘Jar Wattinree held a summit at Joyous Exultation – a colony that served as a fortress for the Sangheili (while the book doesn’t go into much detail about the world itself, there is a sense that this is intended to be a parallel – the Sangheili equivalent to Reach).
In-attendance at Joyous Exultation to listen to Xytan – regarded as a legendary commander who had never been defeated and was revered as highly as the Prophets – were a number of vessels from the Second Fleet of Homogeneous Clarity (which we see with High Charity in Halo 2) and the entirety of the Combined Fleet of Righteous Purpose – both of which numbered in the hundreds.
Before Jul, before the Servants of the Abiding Truth, before Merg Vol and the countless other Sangheili warlords who looked to reform the Covenant in its fractured state after Halo 3, there was Xytan…
Xytan had summoned all the factions of the Sangheili to Joyous Exultation. He was, in Voro’s opinion, their best chance for survival.
Voro was one of thirty representative Ship Masters who had been called from the two hundred vessels in orbit to hear these words.
[…] “They have called for the destruction of all Sangheili. They have aligned themselves with the barbaric Jiralhanae,” Xytan said. He hung his head and his four jaws opened slack for a moment, and then he looked up, a new determination burning in his eyes. “The Great Schism is upon us. The unbreakable Covenant Writ of Union has been split asunder. This is the end of the Ninth, and final, Age.”
A grumble echoed within the oration chamber. These words were the grossest sacrilege. Today, however, they could be the truth.
Xytan held up a hand and the dissent quelled.
“You must now decide to surrender to fate – or resist and strive to persist. Myself, I choose to fight.” He outstretched both hands to his audience.”I call upon you all to join me. Let the old ways fade and battle by my side. Together we can forge a new, better union – a new Covenant among the stars.” [Halo: Ghosts of Onyx, page 240]
Xytan’s Covenant would not come to pass, as his flagship – Sublime Transcendence – picked up a Nova bomb on Reach either during or after its fall.
The bomb came with a pre-recorded message from Vice Admiral Danforth Whitcomb, who previously appeared in Halo: First Strike, and when it detonated it not only obliterated the fleet that had gathered but also caused an extinction-level event on the planet and shattered its moon.
Admiral Whitcomb’s Nova bomb destroying Joyous Exultation was perhaps the single most important moment in the Human-Covenant war…Without this event, the Sangheili would have had no real motivating factor to join forces with humanity. They likely could have solved their problems by themselves, which was certainly the plan as Xytan saw it – swiftly wiping out the Jiralhanae Alpha Tribes, then cleansing Installation 05 of the Flood, then turning their attention to humanity.
If the plans at Joyous Exultation had succeeded, then the Sangheili would have won the Great Schism there and then.
They had more ships than Truth, whose only advantage for naval combat would be the Keyship, and in such a desperate situation where he’s lost everything else it’s likely that the Jiralhanae (and other Covenant forces) would have turned on him.
The Flood throws a bit of a spanner in the works here, since the Gravemind had made it to High Charity and took over the station. How that whole situation may have gone is up in the air (though the fact that all it took to sufficiently damage High Charity and harm the Gravemind was a bit of small arms fire on its reactors, it probably wouldn’t have been too difficult), but it’s safe to say that we’d be looking at a very different galaxy if the Sangheili had won the war this way.
Because of that Nova bomb, the Sangheili really had no choice but to ally with humanity – regardless of the emotional catharsis of Halo 2’s ending.
I think it would’ve been interesting if Halo 3 (or some peripheral story in the years that followed, particularly as Locke was in the process of being introduced) had dealt with that.
I understand why it didn’t, but this is where I think having that dimension of the story told through Locke would work. We follow Thel’s journey through Halo 2, we see who he was and who he ultimately becomes. We sympathise with him… but there’s no reason why the human characters would (beyond the likes of Miranda and Johnson, who have some degree of awareness of the emotional context).
How one leverages dramatic tension is hugely important in stories. Where Halo 3 does a relatively good job at portraying humanity being on the brink, be it of victory or extinction, the conflict stems entirely from external threats – the Covenant and the Flood.
What Halo 3 really lacks is a meaningful conflict from within.
So, what if we were to integrate Locke into the story?
SUDDEN BUT INEVITABLE BETRAYAL?
At this particular point it should be noted that the Master Chief was aboard the Keyship, attempting to assassinate the Prophet of Truth (another missed opportunity in Halo 3, to be honest – we really needed to see the Chief lose at the beginning). He wasn’t on the ground with UNSC forces, he spent nine days on the Keyship – which held back from approaching Earth directly until Truth believed the Chief to be dead.
So, in the absence of having a Spartan to rely on, what if Locke had been sent by ONI as their ‘insurance policy,’ in case anything happened that put the UNSC-Sangheili alliance in jeopardy?
What if the alliance was some kind of ruse?
What if Thel were swayed back to the Covenant’s side?
What if the Sangheili who followed him changed their allegiances?
This alliance turned the tide in many ways, but the stakes for humanity were higher than ever before and anything could’ve gone wrong.
Dramatic irony is at play here – a term which here refers to a situation where the audience’s awareness of a characters’ dialogue, actions, and/or motives differs from that of the characters themselves.
We, the audience, having experienced Halo 2, know that Thel joining forces with humanity is a genuine act and a huge step forward in his overall character arc. We know that because we’ve followed that journey and seen how he changes as a person, culminating in him extending a reconciliatory hand to Tartarus, of all people!
But the other characters don’t know that, do they?
The key to drama beyond just having enemies who want to destroy or consume all life in the galaxy is the folly of perspective and how that leads to actions and dialogue that makes the characters have to deal with those ideas and themes.
When Thel and Locke meet in Halo 5, it may well be the most complex and interesting relationship in the game… but it’s without any meaningful context, beyond the first three Terminals of Halo 2 Anniversary – which is just the target profile on Thel that Locke compiled over half-a-decade ago at that point.
The idea is a good one, but it lacks substance. Just like much of Halo 3, the delivery is saved by the strength of its presentation on the part of the voice acting and performances (and the contrast of being handled well compared to… y’know, the rest of the story).Now, it’s a bit of a one-note idea if this is the sole reason I have to offer for why Locke could be grafted into Halo 3. After all, just because you can do something, doesn’t necessarily mean that you should.
What about the wider applicability of Locke being involved in Halo 3, to make his involvement cohere more with the overall theme of the game?
For this, I’d like to briefly look back at the marketing campaign for Halo 3.
“He’s received the highest commendations for bravery. Countless decorations for honour and selflessness. But Master Chief’s greatest achievement reaches far beyond what any medal could ever hope to commemorate. For the men and women of the 26th Century, he is a human embodiment of possibility, the last Spartan standing against an angry tide. This strength of spirit is forged through his legend.
Jericho VII. The Battle of Reach. High Charity. Tales rife with sacrifice and courage. Tales that grow, flourish, and inspire. And while he shapes his own history, he in turn shapes the history of all who follow.
For no matter what horrors are released upon the day, they cannot match the reply of soldiers emboldened with his spirit, an army of Master Chiefs unto themselves.
A hero need not speak. When he is gone, the world will speak for him.” [Halo 3, Believe, EGM (September 2007)]
It remains one of the greatest video game marketing campaigns of all time. The Believe diorama trailer in particular is something that… just hasn’t been surpassed by anything in the years that have followed – though Hunt the Truth definitely comes close.
Each of the live action trailers features an ‘interview’ with veterans of the Human-Covenant war, recounting their experiences of the battles they fought and their time alongside the Master Chief. Some waited with their platoon in the dark for hours to avoid detection, all their equipment switched off; some reflect on scrambling in the mud to get what ammo they could after they ran out; and some consider the words the Master Chief allegedly spoke to them that they carry with them all these years later.
The expectation I had going into Halo 3 was that this would be as much about the common soldiers we fight alongside as the titans who drive the story, but that aspect of the marketing never really materialised in the game beyond the fact that Marines were… there.
And that brings me to the biggest thing I’d rewrite about Halo 3’s story.
I’d make it a rescue mission for a bunch of ‘nobodies.’
THIS SEQUEL IS BIG ENOUGH FOR THE BOTH OF US
The plot doesn’t arrive until the end of The Storm, loading the latter half with a lot of baggage it has to deal with and giving those ideas no breathing room. This wouldn’t be as big of an issue if the preceding levels took the opportunity to do some substantial work with the characters and themes.
But they… didn’t.
We know that the Covenant needs humans to activate important Forerunner installations, yet the one time they actually start capturing humans (in Sierra 117, where Johnson and his team are imprisoned – all, except him, killed) it’s done without context. It comes off as more of a contrivance for the level design than something they actively thought about being done in-service to the story.
The second mission, Crow’s Nest, is just your standard base-under-siege mission that has no relevance to the plot at all. It introduces the Prophet of Truth in its opening cinematic with a rather out-of-character speech.
As I see it, the ideal way to ‘fix’ this is to have the first few missions of the game deal with the Covenant having a secondary objective (their primary one being to dig up the portal):
Capturing as many humans as they can so that they can actually activate the rings when they reach the Ark.
Crow’s Nest would be about the Covenant trying to capture humans and succeeding. It would be notable because, prior to this, the Covenant were never known to take human prisoners, but now they’re looking to acquire a plentiful supply.
Then, for Tsavo Highway, the Chief and a group of survivors have to catch up to the Covenant, who have a head-start after the base blows up.
Nothing about the missions really needs to change beyond the framing of their purpose.
By the time Truth activates the portal and has escaped with a bunch of humans, the impetus to go through the portal is the fact that Truth actually poses a real, tangible threat to the galaxy because he can fire the Halos.
In Halo 3 proper, there’s no tension here because Truth’s fleet goes through the portal to… sit around and do nothing because they don’t have the means to activate the rings.The Flood arrives at Earth and Cortana’s message about the “solution” to the Flood reinforces their need to go to the Ark, but the emphasis needs to really be on the emotional need: the idea that saving these people, people you don’t know, is just as important to the Chief as saving Cortana.
The overall goal of the game would be as much “Let’s bring our people home,” as it is “We need to defeat the Covenant and the Flood.”
This, I think, would connect a whole lot more to Halo 3’s Believe campaign and all the talk about Chief’s heroism, offering a more thematically coherent and emotional story that actually acknowledges the importance of the ‘little people’ we’re actually fighting for.
The Chief undoubtedly is heroic, there’s no counter-argument to that, but I wish they’d done a better job of showing that by having it come from something that motivates and humanises him as a character. After being unable to save anyone present on Installation 04 in Halo 1 (a game which portrayed the Chief as genuinely caring about his fellow soldiers), Halo 3 would culminate with that loss coming around to triumph.
Bungie, however, has made no secret that their primary motivation was giving the player a power fantasy (to the point where they actually cut a number of substantial lines of dialogue for the sake of that).
But, anyway, among those abducted humans, perhaps, could be Locke.
When Locke says to Buck in Halo 5, in that infamous nonversation they have, that “You’re not the only one here because of him,” it’d be great if that line actually meant something – that Locke could well have been one of those veterans interviewed in the Museum of Humanity.
These are, of course, the idle fantasies of a frustrated fan when good ideas are present but they don’t quite make it the full way.
All the same… shall we just call it canon? *winks*To conclude this rather different piece, let’s have a go at patching up that nonversation.
“YOU’RE NOT THE ONLY ONE HERE BECAUSE OF HIM.”
0500 Hours, October 25, 2558 (Military Calendar) / Slipstream space – En Route to Hestia System, Hestia V (Meridian)
Edward Buck had been moving boxes of equipment around and checking his weaponry with – as Veronica had once described – all the rehearsed proficiency of somebody who was trying not to look like he was nervously pacing.
How could he not, after being told what this next mission would be? Tanaka had gone back to fiddling with a Warthog’s engine and Vale had slipped away – Buck suspected she had sought out Spartan Kossup, who he noted she spent a lot of her free time around after he had introduced them during the Infinity’s chili cook-off night. They were both dealing with it in their own way.
But Locke didn’t seem at all fazed, those statuesque features betrayed no reaction (How the hell does he do that?), so Buck decided to cut to the chase.
“You know, Locke… Every other Spartan – every soldier, when they hear about this – they’re gonna hate us. You know that, right?”
Locke paused for a moment, deciding what to say.
“You’re not the only one here because of him.”
His expression hardened and he began to walk off, as if Buck had gotten within an inch of getting the man to admit something about himself. To confess, even?
Pausing momentarily, Buck considered letting Locke go… but, from his experience with Veronica, he had learned at least one thing: to deal with ONI, you had to push them.
“You gonna tell me what that’s supposed to mean?” Buck tried to quell the frustration in his voice, so as not to seem like he was whining, but found himself falling back on humour again. “Veronica said you were ‘ONI to the bone,’ but give me an inch here, Locke. We’ve served together for months. I know this isn’t any other squad, but I still gotta decide which of you I’ll be bringing back to dine with me ‘n’ the missus. Vale and Tanaka are invited, not so sure ’bout you.”
Locke couldn’t help but make the sound that Buck had come to understand was his way of laughing – the short, sharp exhalation through his nostrils, followed by the subtle softening of his expression.
There was warmth there, but Buck deduced that, for some reason, Locke wasn’t quite ready to fully show it.
He liked having Buck around. He saw much in-common with the old soldier, beyond the shared trauma of what the Human-Covenant war had done to them. No, it had been the events in Buck’s life after the war that caught Locke’s attention – the disintegration of his old team, Alpha-Nine.
Locke knew the feeling of losing that precious bond – that love, that sense of home – and he realised now that he was making a big mistake. By closing himself off, especially in the face of a mission like this… it could only lead to Osiris facing the same fate.
Perhaps it was worth trying again, opening himself up once more to a team that could become a new family. Wasn’t it the nature of being a soldier that one signs up to get close to good people, to walk into hell with them – to fight as much for them on the battlefield as humanity itself, and to feel the weight of their passing when they’re taken away?
“Okay,” Locke said, sitting on the crates that Buck had been piling up and motioning for the old man to join him. “You’re right. I owe you better than this.”
Relaxing a little, Buck obliged.
“I was born on Jericho VII. Covenant glassed the planet when I was six years old, back in ’35. The Master Chief was there – he and his team cleared the path for our evacuation, then drew out the Covenant’s rear guard for another team to slip behind their lines with a HAVOK. They couldn’t save the planet, my home, my family… but I made it off that rock because of him. And now they want me – us – to go after him.”
Buck opened his mouth to speak, but Locke found he couldn’t stop. Now that he had begun to say the words, he didn’t want to stop.
“The parameters of this mission are complicated, no doubt, but we have orders that are well-founded if the Chief is emotionally compromised. I’ve seen the worst of what that can do to a person… so we’re not doing this to ‘bring the Chief in,’ we’re going to bring him and his team home. I owe him that. And whatever’s coming, humanity is always at its best when we face the unknown together.”
Buck stood, putting a reassuring hand on Locke’s shoulder as he started to walk off, then paused in mock-confusion.
“Well, what’re you waiting for, Spartan?” He said. “Let’s go get ’em.”
A moment of understanding passed between them as Locke got to his feet and joined the old man. He found that he both appreciated and missed having people he could be honest with.
“Hey, Locke?” Buck said, his mind returning to the armour restraint.
“The hell have we just got one of those things?”