For me, the story of the Forerunners is perhaps the most significant aspect of the Halo trilogy, yet, enigmatically, for most fans of the series, it is an unsung song. If players did not capture the emotional gravity of the Forerunner’s tale in Halo: Combat Evolved or in Halo 2, by the time they arrived at Halo 3′s robust terminal entries, they either lacked the courage or the interest to examine them.
The terminals, personally speaking, are by far the best aspect of the Halo trilogy’s story. And although we really only get a peek into the Forerunner fable from the outside, the information which is culled from those archives is really unparalleled within the game’s other fictional attributes.
The following is the essential story of the Forerunners as told within the context of the terminals. There are individuals and events which will be covered more extensively at a later time, but what follows here is the most complete articulation of the fate which befell the Forerunners, their last fleeting hope turning against them and the redemption it sought a hundred millennia later.
The Forerunners were a flourishing race of beings which occupied our galaxy successfully until they suddenly vanished approximately one hundred millennia ago. Prior to their disappearance, they were the pinnacle of sentient evolution and any race which came before them is now only considered theoretical or legendary, despite there being some evidence of the Precursors.
They were a socially and technologically advanced society with amazing architecture that melded their profound knowledge of physics with a geometric and organic aesthetic. They acquired a keen ability to integrate natural resources on their artificial worlds into functional purposes. While it is unknown when and for what reason they first began manufacturing self-sustaining worlds, we do know that they had produced at least eight various installations connected to the Halo Array weapon system and at least one planetoid or ‘shield world’ (although likely more) in a process which is now referred to as the Onyx Project.
All of these things were accomplished through their innate understanding of slipspace, the access point of space and time which allows one to travel across the galaxy at superluminal speeds (far beyond the speed of light). Using their powerful and precise navigation systems, they could move effortlessly across the span of the galaxy with pinpoint accuracy and at unprecedented speeds.
These ancient beings also developed intricate and powerful artificial intelligence constructs. AI so advanced, in fact, that they were tasked to control entire fleets and even monitor the Forerunners’ artificial worlds as caretakers. Most AI constructs were held within small, highly-protected spherical or teardrop-shaped casings which could independently hover or fly as they went about their ordered tasks. They were an amazing achievement of science and clearly represented the height of the Forerunners’ technological prowess.
At some point during their advances and expansion, the race’s genetic superiority to everything else in the galaxy ushered in the practical application of their religion. This was commonly referred to as the Mantle or Guardianship. It is unknown how or where they adopted this belief system, but the very term ‘mantle’ implies that they assumed it from another race of beings and, in turn, that they are extending the same belief system to a future race.
The Forerunners believed that they were to be the sole guardians of the galaxy and that they had been charged with the protection of all sentient life within what we now call the Milky Way. The Mantle not only dictated a personal behavior of benevolence by each member of their race and on all worlds, but it also directed the affairs of their central government – something which came as a natural extension of the belief system itself.
At one point, well before the great war with the parasite, the Forerunners had committed to the task of disarming their race. In an effort to engender peace, they removed most infantry and planetary weapons within their sizable network of planets, colonies and artificial worlds.
In all of their expansive knowledge of the galaxy, the last thing the Forerunners anticipated was to be attacked from the outside. Approximately three centuries before the end of their civilization, they learned how dearly such a mistake would cost them.
One thing consistent with every installment of the Halo trilogy is the presence of a complex parasite that gathers and attacks biological sentients, metamorphosing its victims into a variety of hideous, deathly forms which further propagate its own life cycle. They feed on sentient life and although, when first forming, they only resemble a chaotic virulent deluge of the undead, at some point their collective reaches critical mass and then begins to manufacture its own leadership.
Still carrying their motor functions and some of the memories and instincts from their previous bodies, they cooperatively build what is known as a Compound Mind or more commonly, the Gravemind. This lone biological creature, a mass of flesh and tentacles, can communicate telepathically with all of its component parts and each form. It becomes the logical core of the parasite, allowing it to direct, coordinate and plot against various sentient prey, further incorporating others into its collective and transforming them into hosts. And since the parasite spreads from one being to another, the knowledge which has been gained throughout the ages is transferred directly to the Gravemind – ensuring that it learns from its previous mistakes.
The Forerunners referred to this parasite as the Flood.
No one yet knows how or why the Flood discovered our galaxy, but a variety of theories exist. The parasite was learned to be extragalactic rather early in their arrival, so one could assume that either a vessel alien to our galaxy traveled here or sentients who were traveling to another galaxy discovered the Flood, succumbed to it and brought it back. There is substantial evidence to suggest that a military exploratory detachment became infected when investigating a communication lapse by a pioneer and surveying team – once infected, they may have returned to a major population center to propagate.
When the Flood arrived, it mattered little where it came from or why it was there, but only that sentients could not coexist with it. The Forerunners represented intrinsic diversity, their Guardianship demanding the protection of all sentient species. The Flood, however, sought synonymy and community, throttling all organisms into the same phenotypic biology with identical purpose and function.
During its initial siege, entire systems were infected by the parasite and those who had fallen prey to the Flood carried it with them to other worlds, spiraling out from the galaxy’s center. The violent spread of the Flood soon gave way to the Gravemind and then its progression became more exacting and precise. For the Forerunners, it grew from a quarantine problem to an all out war in a very short period of time.
Specimens of the parasite were carefully captured and allowed to survive for study and testing, but there appeared to be no cure. Early on in the conflict, it became frighteningly clear that the only way to defeat the Flood was to obliterate it. There was no immunization to the parasite and no defense mechanism against its infection.
According to the records, the Forerunners battled the Flood with what was left of their military after the disarming initiative, but made little progress. For hundreds of years the war raged on, but it was clearly favoring the expansion of the parasite. Scores of worlds were claimed and with it, the enemy of the Forerunners grew at an exponential rate.
At some point, there was a harrowing but necessary decision made and a line was drawn in the galaxy’s sand.