April 22, 2008

The Thunder and the Surf (I)

> — Vociferous @ 9:12 am

A single eye stares down the length of a bridge and out through a viewport at an oncoming storm.

The eye flickers for a moment. Its lens dilates; it is processing information. Thinking.

Then, unfazed, it returns to its steady gaze.

It is aboard a 50,000 ton Forerunner ship, staring across the bow through a star-laden window at the fleet which lies beyond. Offensive Bias, the AI construct in charge of the defense of the Maginot Line, did not take any time to calculate the odds, but then again, the reports had well-advised him of the unequaled volume of enemy ships his brother would be bringing back to make war.

Five million.

Mendicant Bias had the entire army of Flood there, at the line’s doorstep and on a one-way trip to the Forerunner’s secret cradle world, the Ark. If the parasite made it there, not only would it destroy the Halo Array and consume what was left of the Forerunners themselves, but all of the lives of those which had been carefully extracted for their species’ preservation would also fall to the Flood. The Conservation Measure had brought all of the surviving beings from throughout the galaxy back to the Ark, an effort to prevent them from falling prey to the Flood or the Array when it was sounded.

If Offensive failed to stop Mendicant here, it would be over. All would be lost.

The single eye stared through the viewport as the count of ships began to white out the blackness of space, covering it up like a veil over a monster’s tooth-strewn jaws. The only advantage Offensive had was that he was fully aware of his brother’s newly acquired vice: insanity. This knowledge would prove indispensable.

They were not literal brothers, of course, but they were both part of the same lines of technological evolution – Mendicant was the solution to the Flood parasite and Offensive was the solution to Mendicant’s rampancy.

A great deal of lives would be lost today, Offensive knew. Even though he was only a machine, he hoped, as was customary of his kind, that their deaths would be eased by the realization that they were serving a greater purpose. The Forerunner lives spent here today were not done so in vain, but through their sacrifice others would be saved.

This was the plight of Offensive Bias on the eve of the Halo Array’s first firing, but the story did not begin here. It began three and a half centuries ago, on an obscure, backwater planet known as G617g.


Briefly mentioned in the sixth terminal is the discovery of the Flood [T6-01], the information is so faint and brief, that many may have passed it by as trivial – but that is absolutely not the case. Due to the confirmation provided by the Flood entry in the Bestiarum, it is quite clear that this was the first time the Forerunners made contact with the parasite.

A research team called the Primary Pioneer Group made landfall on the border town planet coded G617g and they initially reported some interesting findings. Despite previous assumptions, the world could support life and they’ve found interesting fauna, which they intend to review more closely. The protocol allows them to dispatch a secondary batch of researchers called the Advance Survey Team. After a week of no communication, the Forerunners who were remotely monitoring this new discovery become worried.

Despite being first discovered on an isolated planet at the far reaches of the outer rim, the Flood’s true origin is clearly extra-galactic.

In their response to the initial report, those monitoring advise that they would send a military detachment to the site shortly to uncover why their two exploratory teams have halted communication. That would be the last time the Forerunners had any contact with G617g and it was the beginning of the largest war their galaxy would ever see. No one knows why the Flood were dormant on G617g or even how long they had been there before, but it is believed that due to their drastically different genotype they traveled to our galaxy from another.

Since the Forerunners’ curiosity was never known to leave a stone unturned, it was only a matter of time before their kind stumbled upon the parasite and unlocked the gates of hell.

We Have the Answer

Roughly 300 years later, the Forerunner military made the decision to issue one last assault against the Flood in a long history of failure. Traditional combat was not a solution, as had been proven in the three century-long war, and their vast collection of planets were all ill-prepared for such an aggressive and overpowering siege. Every new day worlds were falling prey and billions of innocent beings were transformed into puppets of the parasite’s limitless army.

The Ark, its foundry and the Halo installations it created are central to the story of Halo 3.

As the Flood’s size and scope grew, the Forerunner’s options atrophied. At some point they drew a line in the galactic sand, dividing what could be saved and what had to be abandoned. They created the Halo Array network, eight installations composed of one cradle world called the Ark (which existed safely outside the galaxy’s rim) and seven ring worlds (which existed deep within Flood-contested space). The network of installations was not only used as a series of isolated research facilities to discover a solution to the Flood, but it was also strategically built to destroy the Flood if necessary. By purging the entire galaxy of sentient life, the activation of the Halo Array would be their last resort. But before they would pull the suicidal trigger, they offered one last ditch effort…

This was Mendicant Bias.

We have the answer.

We’ve built Mendicant Bias. It’s a contender-class [AI] unlike anything we’ve ever achieved. And we’ve observed a pattern it can exploit. The parasite has formed a Compound Mind. When it reaches a certain mass, the Mind is able to recoil its disparate parts to create a [tactical shield]. This is a simple matter of mass preservation. The thing has no compunction about sacrificing parts of the whole. But when the core of the Mind is threatened, it reacts violently and quickly.

This is the only time we see it retract or slow its growth. If we are to defeat it, the trick will be coordinating our forays against the [sprawling infection] while Mendicant Bias assaults the Mind’s core. So far, we’ve been hesitant to use certain weapons because of the damage they cause surviving populations and environments. That protocol has been abandoned.

Mendicant Bias will draw the Mind into battle outside the line, dealing with local biomass and other parts as best he can. The scale of the problem is vast, but the strategy is sound. It will require patience, materiel and an investment of energy unlike anything we have ever considered. It’s a dangerous plan that carries more risk than the Array, but I believe it can work. Even if we simply force it to retreat–to retract–that will at least give us some respite.

Some time to muster more resources… [T3-03]

Though the real reason Didact was so hopeful about Mendicant was largely selfish, through this text we learn about the overarching Forerunner mindset during their final hours. They were grasping at straws, struggling to hold onto an ever-fleeting hope. Many plans had been attempted and all had failed. They were running out of options and the last 300 years of fighting against the Flood had only pushed the Forerunners further and further from their home.

When they designed the Maginot Line or Sphere, a barrier between what was quarantined and what was abandoned, many began to believe that the Halo Array would be the only real solution. After the centuries of war, the Flood had only grown and with this growth came the Gravemind (LF.Xx.3273).

This was the Flood’s heart and mind…

At some point, the Forerunners discovered a way to attack it and perhaps – hopeful as they were – force it to retract and withdraw, something the parasite had been forcing them to do for the entire war. They created the most complex and elaborate AI construct in their history – their very greatest achievement.

The Gravemind is the most important element of the Flood – a collective of compound intelligences with information and history salvaged from all previous iterations and transmitted through any surviving form.

Carbon and Ash

So they commissioned Mendicant Bias with a fleet of 1,000 core ships. His goal was to search the galaxy and locate the Gravemind. Upon finding the creature, he would be ordered to attack the beast’s core while the remainder of the Forerunner fleet abroad assaulted the disparate infection. It would be a use of such unadulterated firepower that it had no equal in their entire history. The end hope was that the Gravemind would be forced back or would, perhaps, suffer some strategic loss – giving the Forerunners a small victory and buying them more time.

Though his primary mission was important, Mendicant took every opportunity along the journey to learn about the parasite’s strategy and tactics. As he scoured contested space, he watched as entire planets fell under the siege of the Flood:

Despite the fact that the naval garrison was aware of the likelihood of just such an attack, their ability to effectively defend against it proved insufficient. This has always been the enemy’s [modus operandi]: [flood] your opponent’s ability to process information with so much noise that no meaningful resistance can be put into action.

[3 minutes] ago those same population centers began disappearing under brilliant flashes. This was not an ill conceived, poorly implemented counter attack; it was a deliberate denial of resources – those resources being the remainder of [CE-10-2165-d’s] population.

Is this the noble sacrifice my creators spoke of? Where is the nobility in these streets paved with greasy carbon and dun ash?

[My mouth is speaking at another’s behest] – that is not my voice; that is the other.

Its voice stands out as the single calm note in the panicked cacophony outside the sphere. It alone is not decrying its fate or raging against the [central government].

This anomaly bears closer examination. [T1-18]

Through the three years he had been searching for the Gravemind at this point, Mendicant clearly had time to think. He, as evident above, no doubt pondered the morality of the mass suicide that these planets conducted as they destroy themselves to eliminate the infection’s spread. It undoubtedly convicted him. Was it right? Was it truly noble?

Although well-veiled, it appears that the other’s behest which he is referring to is none other than that of the Gravemind itself, planting seeds of doubt into Mendicant’s artificial cerebrum from afar. The calm voice is the centerpiece of the Flood and this anomaly he takes note of is the first step toward the inevitable encounter and the harrowing events which followed.

One would imagine that since Mendicant is entirely artificial, that this sort of telepathic communication would not be possible – particularly on a being as powerful as him. This was not the case. He was made smart, perhaps too smart, and therein was the problem. Of course, this wouldn’t be the last time the Gravemind would manipulate Forerunner technology – on Delta Halo, the occupying Compound Mind teleported the Master Chief and the Arbiter to places within range of the installations transportation matrix and later, that same Mind nearly claimed Cortana’s immaterial life on High Charity.

Interestingly, Mendicant also makes a critical recommendation before even finding the Gravemind. Having seen the horrors inflicted on a planetary level by the parasite, he advises that any planet where the Flood has laid siege should be immediately razed, if not topically, through localized stellar collapse. In other words, the nearby Forerunner fleets would be ordered to destroy the system’s sun, annihilating the system under a billowing super nova the before the infection could use the world’s resources to escape.

This effort appeared to take hold, a process which would create firebreaks and stave off the encroaching parasite. It would buy them more time, something they’re running out of since Mendicant had calculated that the Keyship strategy (the Conservation Measure and Halo Array) will only exist unnoticed by the Gravemind for another 75 years at the very most. [T5-02, 03]

The Ark and the super-heated foundry at its center played heavily into the Keyship strategy.

For all he knew, it could be another century before he even located the Flood’s core.

[Proceed to Part II]

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