“I am Mendicant Bias. This is what I have done.”
Some of the greatest, most enduring mysteries of the Halo universe are instantly called to mind and summed up by that strange name. Beggar after knowledge. Mendicant Bias.
Where their (co-)creator, the Didact, sought vengeance for 100,000 years, Mendicant Bias has single-mindedly sought atonement.
This quest for redemption has made them a pivotal character behind the scenes, to the point where their actions set into motion all the major events of the Halo story (because they couldn’t find the brakes).
With Halo 3 now on PC, this is the perfect time to examine the full extent of Mendicant Bias’s involvement in the past, present, and what potential lies ahead for them in the future of Halo in their ongoing efforts to finish the fight.For those unaware, or perhaps need a quick refresher…
After all, this stuff is your history!
WHO IS MENDICANT BIAS?
Mendicant Bias is a Contender-class artificial intelligence who has been in the shadows of the lore since Halo 2.
They were co-created by the Didact and the Master Builder after the war with ancient humanity, where the Forerunners first learned about the Flood.
A Contender is no ordinary AI, however. Unlike those we’re familiar with (Cortana, Serina, Isabel, and so on), Contender-class AIs are not made from a single mind, but many – not dissimilar from the Flood itself.
For this reason, I will be using they/them pronouns to refer to Mendicant. Considering the fact that they’re literally made up of multiple minds and the gender-ambiguous description we receive from Vinnevra in Halo: Primordium where she describes Mendicant’s voice as both male and female, this seems most appropriate.
Much remains unknown about the origins of Mendicant Bias, however there is substantial evidence that suggests the many minds they are composed (heh!) of are, in fact, the Composed essences of ancient humans. I’ve covered this particular theory of mine in another article: ‘Mendicant Bias… is ancient human.’
Originally, the Didact had intended to connect Mendicant Bias to the Domain (the vast alien network found and used by the Forerunners), then cede control over the Shield Worlds and other defences to them. This was part of the Didact’s plan to combat the Flood when they inevitably returned to the galaxy after their mysterious retreat.
When the Didact’s plan was passed over by the Forerunner government (then sent into his first exile) in favour of the Master Builder’s Halo array, Mendicant Bias was assigned strategic control of the original twelve rings.
HEAVY PRICE PAID
We were first introduced to Mendicant Bias through several indirect references to them in Halo 2.
In the penultimate mission, High Charity, Cortana notes that there is a strange and unusually formidable presence in the Keyship that was combating her attempts to slow the vessel’s launch sequence.
“I’ll do what I can to slow the launch sequence, but there’s something inside the ship… a presence that’s fighting back. For a Covenant construct, it’s unusually formidable.” [Cortana, Halo 2 – High Charity]
Also, in the track Mausoleum Suite (specifically ‘Destroyer’s Invocation’), there is a reversed message which can be heard:
I have walked among men and angels for 3,000 years.
Time has no end, no beginning, no purpose.
I wandered the earth seeking forgiveness for my horrible crimes against God and man.
I live to see death and destruction. Evil over the light, but the light cannot be extinguished.
I live in a prison of my own demise. I am lost in time. [Halo 2, Mausoleum Suite – reversed message]
While the identity of this character has never been explicitly stated or confirmed, the Doylist in all of us can appreciate that Bungie (more specifically, Frank O’Connor, Robt McLees, Brian Jarrard, and Aaron LeMay) would go on to establish a whole story around Mendicant Bias for Halo 3 – in the Iris ARG and the Terminals.
The dialogue here references “seeking forgiveness,” which is a central beat in Mendicant’s story, as they betrayed the Forerunners to the Flood.
Mendicant led the fleets and forces of the Gravemind, they even attempted to fire a number of Halo rings at the Forerunners’ capital, Maethrillian.
For a time, they (along with the ancient Precursor entity known as the Timeless One, the Primordial, and eventually the Gravemind) were the master of Installation 07 – the ring that will be the setting of Halo Infinite.In the end, Mendicant was defeated.
A second Contender, known as Offensive Bias, was created to combat Mendicant. Offensive Bias commanded the remainder of the Forerunner military in order to buy time for Bornstellar (the IsoDidact) to fire the Halo array – pulling the trigger on the gun pointed at the head of the universe.
After succeeding, Offensive Bias brought Mendicant to the Ark where they were put on trial by the surviving Forerunners.
Bornstellar decided to preserve Mendicant, due to their extensive and intimate knowledge of the Flood, which would prove to be invaluable in the event of their return.
They were entombed in the sands of the Ark, their processes locked to a single thought for the rest of time.
“You are brought here to be sentenced. You have not been immediately destroyed because you may yet be needed. Your intimate knowledge of the Flood makes you invaluable should they return, but we can never trust you, never again allow you any latitude. You will be entombed here. Your processes locked, frozen into a single thought for all eternity: absolution. Should you be needed, you will be reawakened. Should there be no need, you will be buried here until the end of Living Time.”
“Then I will serve as a monument to your sins. That is what you wish for.”
Bornstellar shook his head. “I wish only for the Mantle to be upheld.”
“I am penitent. I know that what I have done cannot be forgiven. I will accept my stasis with grace and await a time when I might redeem myself.”
“Aya, so shall it be,” said Bornstellar.
He reached out to a pylon, spread his hand across the controls as they appeared and closed his fist. The constructors finished their webs and sealed themselves into the tomb’s fabric. Mendicant Bias’s coffin was locked in place. The entire structure dropped slowly below the ground into the void and the foundation metal, its blue lines pulsing more and more slowly.
“One thought for all eternity,” said Mendicant Bias. His tone sounded almost wistful. Now the lights were fading, flickering, going dark. “Atonement.”
The tomb turned as black as night. The machine’s final words spread across the false desert and echoed moments later from the false mountains. Bornstellar, Riser, Trial, Chant, and all the rest watched silently as the rest of Mendicant Bias, locked in eternal exile, was covered by sand. [Halo: Rebirth, ‘The Trial of Mendicant Bias’ (transcript, audio)]
Mendicant’s story did not finish here.
In fact, it was just getting started…
WARNING: HITCHHIKERS MAY BE ESCAPING CONVICTS
(Or, how Mendicant Bias literally caused all the modern Halo universe’s problems because they couldn’t find the brakes…)
In the centuries that followed the firing of the Halo array, the Forerunners who had survived on the Ark served their own penance by fulfilling the final phase of the Conservation Measure.
During the war with the Flood, the Librarian and her Lifeworkers had travelled known space to catalog population samples from as many species as they could muster. These were to be reseeded onto their worlds after the galaxy was silenced by the Halos.
The last species to be returned to their homeworld from the Ark were the San’Shyuum – or, as most know them from the games, the Prophets.
During this time, a fragment of Mendicant Bias escaped from the tomb and made its way onto a Keyship – one that was bound to Janjur Qom, the San’Shyuum homeworld.
Mendicant was sentenced and locked away on the Ark installation. This would not be permanent however, as sometime after the activation of Halo, a shard of the AI managed to escape into a Forerunner dreadnought, attempting to make amends for the crimes against its makers by aiding humanity. The ancilla’s efforts were cut short when the dreadnought crashed onto Janjur Qom, the nascent homeworld of the San’Shyuum. [Mendicant Bias, Waypoint Universe article]
In Halo: Mythos, the reference book that serves as a guide to the complete Halo story, we learned that Mendicant’s plan was to assert control over the Keyship once it had finished its work on Janjur Qom and then take it to Earth in order to guide humanity to the Lesser Ark and discover the responsibility the Librarian intended for them to inherit.
This ties in with Mendicant’s dialogue in Joseph Staten’s Halo: Contact Harvest novel, where Mendicant reveals the misinterpretation the Covenant is based upon.
“For eons I have watched. Listened to you misinterpret. This is not ‘Reclamation.’ This is ‘Reclaimer’ […] I will reject my bias and make amends… My makers are my masters. I will bring them safely to the Ark.” [Mendicant Bias, Halo: Contact Harvest, p. 274-6]
And this is wrapped up within both the Halo 3 Terminals and the Librarian’s concluding thoughts at the end of Halo: Silentium.
Who will use this portal?
Who will live to return here? And what will they think of this machine that I’ve buried? Those I have fought for, for so long. Those who, it is clear to me now, ultimately will and must inherit the Mantle.
I can only hope that they will survive and upon returning, that they will find this portal and use it to travel to the Ark – in order that they might discover their rightful place in this galaxy, and the great responsibility they have finally inherited.
They are the last of my children. They must reclaim their birthright. [Halo: Silentium, p. 324-5]
However, it seems that Mendicant (the second most advanced AI in the setting) lacked an understanding of exactly where the brake pedal was on the Keyship.
Because of this, the Keyship crashed into Janjur Qom and created a crater on the planet’s surface that could be seen from orbit – the Great Apothtea.
From there, the rest of the Halo universe’s history just sort of happened…The San’Shyuum had long forgotten their past history with the Forerunners, so when they found the crashed Keyship and the many Forerunner artefacts that littered their world it was with god-fearing reverence that they regarded their former enemies.
This eventually gave way to the War of Wills, which began as the Reformist faction of San’Shyuum demanded access to the Keyship, provoking the wrath of the Stoics who believed that Forerunner technology must be revered – that to actually use it was an act of blasphemy.
At the end of this conflict, the Reformists succeed in launching the Keyship and leaving their homeworld behind as they sailed out among the stars…
…until they encountered the Sangheili, that is, and a new war – the War of Beginnings – was fought for the same reasons the Reformists fought the Stoics.
After almost a century of bloodshed, a ceasefire and settlement was eventually reached between the two species, realising that the inevitable end of their fruitless war would bring only mutual annihilation.
The Writ of Union was signed. The Covenant was formed, along with the promise – the lie – of the Great Journey and the Halo rings as a gateway to divine transcendence.
In the thousands of years that followed, countless species were laid low by the Covenant’s might and either cast aside or assimilated.
A planetary civil conflict, two galactic wars, and countless other battles with other species across the galaxy had come about as a result of Mendicant crashing the Keyship on Janjur Qom.
If only Mendy B had known where the breaks were!But what was Mendicant actually up to at this time?
In the anthology novel Halo: Evolutions, there is a short story from Frank O’Connor (one of three) called ‘Wages of Sin.’
This story takes place during the Flood’s invasion of High Charity at the end of Halo 2, as seen through the eyes of a San’Shyuum known as the Minister of Discovery. In his final moments, after locking himself in his office, he, too, seeks to atone by confessing the wrongs committed by himself and the Prophets.
At one point, Discovery ruminates on the Keyship, and the entity that lies within it.
“The Ship is and has always been the key. It once stood on our secret world, just as majestic and mysterious as it is now, an enigma that drove our civilisation to greatness – the seed of all our discoveries.
Our world – our true world – had been unkind to us, or I suppose, we to it. The ship liberated us from the toxins and ash of our own endeavours, sanctifying our path. From it, we learned of the Forerunner legacy, the ubiquitous scatterings of their wake. So many worlds contain their leavings and their structures, but only ours was blessed with a Ship, a teacher.
It taught us all how to unlock the secrets of space and time, to build ships of our own that sail the stars to spread the word. But it also seemed to ever nudge us in a direction, to build weapons of war – energy that could burn or sear flesh, vaporise bone. Technology that oft ekes conflagration from vacuum.” [Halo: Evolutions, ‘Wages of Sin,’ p. 290-91]
Mendicant Bias was clearly not idle after crashing on Janjur Qom, and sought to make the most of a bad situation.
They taught the San’Shyuum how to create plasma-based weapons in order to combat the Flood, knowing that they will return in the future.
About that…Those weapons of war were not used against the Flood. They were used to ensure the dominance of the Covenant, to burn away those who were deemed blasphemous and heretical… and eventually they turned their gaze to humanity.
This was the turning point.
After millennia of being bound to the Keyship, watching war after war break out in the name of defending the reverence of the Forerunners’ misconstrued divinity, a chance encounter with the alien hegemony meant that humanity was at last within reach.
In 2525, Mendicant attempted to launch the Keyship, an act which would have critically damaged or even destroyed High Charity. The ancilla declared to the three San’Shyuum present in the Keyship’s chamber that the humans were the true inheritors of the Forerunner legacy, that the entire Covenant religion had been founded upon a lie, and the humans will be taken to the Ark (see the quote referenced earlier from Contact Harvest).
Mendicant’s plan was foiled by the Lekgolo present in the Keyship’s systems who disconnected it.
And those three San’Shyuum who were present in the room? They would ascend to become the Covenant’s hierarchs, going on to become the Prophets of Truth, Mercy, and Regret, ordering the total extermination of humanity.
The Contender’s efforts to make things right had, once again, brought about another blood-soaked war which lasted almost three decades and drove humanity to near-extinction.
But Mendicant was not yet ready to call it a day on this journey to redemption.
FORWARD UNTO HALO 4
At the end of the Human-Covenant war, on the extragalactic shores of the Lesser Ark (the very place Mendicant had been attempting to bring humanity all these years), the shard from the Keyship was able to rejoin its other half.
This is the story we see unfold in the Terminals of Halo 3, as the Chief receives strange and incomplete messages from Mendicant, who attempts to reach out but is prevented by the Ark’s security daemons.
That is, until the player accesses the final Terminal on Legendary difficulty.
As the Chief, Cortana, and Thel make their way to the control room of Installation 08 to fire the ring, Mendicant is able to directly send a communique to the Chief to deliver a final message of hope.
You don’t know the contortions I had to go through to follow you here, Reclaimer. I know what you’re here for. What position do I take? Will I follow one betrayal with another?
You’re going to say I’m making a habit of turning on my masters.
But the one that destroyed me long ago, in the upper atmosphere of a world far distant from here, was an implement far cruder than I. My weakness was capacity – unintentional though it was! – to choose the Flood. A mistake my makers would not soon forgive.
But I want something far different from you, Reclaimer.
And so here at the end of my life, I do once again betray a former master. The path ahead is fraught with peril. But I will do all I can to keep it stable – keep you safe. I’m not so foolish to think this will absolve me of my sins. One life hardly balances billions.
But I would have my masters know that I have changed.
And you shall be my example. [Halo 3, Terminal 7]
A far larger game was being played here than we yet knew. Mendicant intended to use the Master Chief to fulfil the Librarian’s plan, which would become clear in Halo 4 and its peripheral fiction – the details of which I’ve covered extensively in this article: ‘Why the Librarian is Halo’s greatest antagonist’
It has been made quite unambiguously clear over the years that Mendicant Bias was responsible for the the Chief and Cortana ending up at Requiem (this much has been inferred since 2007).
“When the Ark’s portal collapsed, the aft section of Forward Unto Dawn was mysteriously redirected by an outside force to a point inside the distant Epoloch system
[…] The Master Chief had unwittingly been brought here to release humanity’s greatest enemy.” [Halo: Mythos, page 168]
Indeed, the very first track you hear in Halo 4, every time you get to the main menu, is called Atonement.
Also, I hate to invoke textual authority, that’s something I am generally against, but since it’s convenient for me to do I am moved to say Jeff agrees with me! (Sorry Jeff! <3)
This is where Mendicant’s plan intersects with the Librarian’s.
The Librarian had pinned all of her hopes on the Ur-Didact, her husband. When she imprisoned him within the Cryptum on Requiem, she intended for his mind to be healed of the Gravemind’s malediction through a long sojourn in the Domain.
She believed that the Didact would awaken, receive the Janus Key (a galactic cartographer holding the real-time location of every piece of Forerunner technology in the galaxy), and that he would serve as our teacher on the path to inheriting the Mantle.
Once again, Mendicant’s plan failed.Instead of emerging healed and whole, the Ur-Didact had been condemned to 100,000 years of stewing in his Gravemind-induced trauma and madness.
The Domain had been wiped of its rich knowledge and ancestral wisdom by the firing of the Halos, leaving the Didact trapped in millennia of silence.
When the Master Chief awakened the Didact, he emerged with a renewed passion for vengeance and set out to obtain the means to accomplish his goal of ensuring that only the Forerunners would hold the Mantle.
Using the Composer, he would forge his immortal army of Prometheans and lay low all suspect species – not killing them, as that would violate the Mantle, but imprisoning them into eternal servitude to ensure the Mantle was upheld by the only species the Didact saw fit to hold it. The Forerunners.
As a result, seven million people on Earth ended up being Composed and the Chief suffered the immense personal loss of Cortana, who sacrificed herself to stop the Didact.
Failure compounds upon failure.
A new fight begins.
On November 25th 2558, a month after the events of Halo 5, the Banished – led by Atriox – arrived at the Ark.
Four months later, the UNSC Spirit of Fire was unexpectedly pulled through slipspace and also arrived at the great foundry of the Halo rings, to find it occupied by this deadly new threat.
Exactly how the Spirit of Fire was brought to the Ark is never revealed in Halo Wars 2, and remains a mystery to this day, but the natural answer to settle on is that Mendicant was responsible for it.
After all, Mendicant has been shown to be able to exert control over slipspace in sending the Master Chief and Cortana to Requiem. Who’s to say that they couldn’t use the vast power of the Ark to pluck a human ship adrift in space not too far from a major Shield World site?
There is, of course, one slight snag here.
Mendicant Bias believed that they would perish at the end of Halo 3.
And so here at the end of my life, I do once again betray a former master. The path ahead is fraught with peril. But I will do all I can to keep it stable – keep you safe. [Halo 3, Terminal 7]
My answer to this is that Mendicant Bias perishing at the end of Halo 3 is just a bit of a rubbish idea, especially when stacked up against the potential of this story moving forwards.
This is a character that has a lot to answer for, and what they believed to be their great act of atonement in sending the Chief to Requiem – to their maker, the Didact – only unleashed a new wave of chaos upon the galaxy.
As I’ve previously written, the theme of Halo 3, as I see it, is not about resolution, but fulfilment.
Will the Chief be able to fulfil his promise to Cortana?
Will Thel be able to fulfil his need for revenge against the Prophet of Truth?
Will the Prophet of Truth be able to fulfil the promise made to the Covenant about the Great Journey?
Will Guilty Spark, now devoid of function due to the loss of Installation 04, fulfil his need for purpose?
Will Miranda and Johnson, who have lived through the entire war, be able to bring it to an end? What are the sacrifices they must make to fulfil their duty to protect humanity?
Even the Flood has its own need of fulfilment because it aims to bring about the next stage of universal evolution, fulfilling its own conquest (and, in cut dialogue, the need for the Flood finding sanctuary on the Ark as well).
And the answer to all of these is “Yes, but…” – that’s where the poetry lies, not in the resolution but in the consequences each character must face.
So should it be with Mendicant, in my eyes. If a character who is on a redemptive path thinks that they’re getting what’s essentially the easy way out, resolution through death, the most interesting thing a writer can do is deny them that.
They must keep living, keep trying to make things right.
“What all the great, higher Domains of the universe mandate for Forerunners is never peace, never solace, never rest. Never consistency, logic, or even pure passion.” [Halo: Cryptum, p. 152]
Even at the time, back when this was being hotly debated in those years immediately after Halo 3’s release, this just never felt like a story that had concluded to me.
There’s so much more to do with this character, and that list has only grown longer over the years – especially now, with the Flood’s reemergence on the Ark in Halo Wars 2, we have these two titanic figures in-play.
While the Flood is seemingly ‘contained’ on the Ark, it did not take long at all for a new Proto-Gravemind to reach almost critical mass. The Banished had to make tremendous sacrifices in order to prevent that from happening, losing much of the hard-won ground they’d gained against the Spirit of Fire’s crew in the months since losing their flaghsip.
To bring Mendicant’s story to what I feel would be a premature end in Halo 3, in the practically unreadable Terminals that most people missed or ignored, would be a tremendous waste of what amounts to the single most important character in the series.
What Halo Wars 2 effectively gives us is a scaled down recreation of the Forerunner-Flood war.
The UNSC and Banished at war with each other, much like ancient humanity and the Forerunners were, and the Flood in the middle of it all. Mendicant Bias now has a chance to truly atone, which would demand an active confrontation with the Flood – and quite possibly a Gravemind, his old master.
Halo Infinite may not continue and deal with this story, but the impact that Halo Wars 2 has had on the universe is undeniable.
THERE WILL BE ANOTHER TIME…
In summary: A fragment of Mendicant stowed away on the Keyship, hoping to take it to Earth after it reseeded the San’Shyuum… except it accidentally crashed.
Mendicant taught the San’Shyuum how to make plasma weapons to fight against the Flood upon their return, except they ended up using those weapons on the other civilisations of the galaxy to maintain the Covenant’s hegemonic power.
And then, when Mendicant eventually managed to regain control of the ship, preparing to launch it from High Charity to bring the newly-encountered humanity to the Ark, they revealed that we are the true inheritors of the Forerunners and the entire Covenant religion is a lie. Cue the human-Covenant war.
At the end of that war, Mendicant sent the Chief to Requiem in order to reawaken the Didact, except the Librarian’s plan failed and he awakened still filled with a burning passion for vengeance and belief that the Mantle belonged only to the Forerunners.
Most recently, Mendicant (might’ve) brought the Spirit of Fire to the Ark to combat the Banished, who ended up releasing the Flood from the ruins of High Charity…
It’s become clear that we haven’t been able to Finish The Fight because Mendicant keeps accidentally putting the pieces in place for new ones to start!
There is more – much more of this story to come. But we are not worthy.