You may recall last October that I made a lengthy post on this subject which covered a few basic areas of where I think the story of the next Halo game is going to go (Halo: Xbox One – What’s Going To Happen?). Time has passed since then, in that time we’ve had quite a bit of new story additions with the release of the final book in the Kilo-5 Trilogy, Mortal Dictata, and the ongoing monthly releases of Halo: Escalation. Not only that, but potential foreshadowing elements have been picked up in the older pieces of fiction as well.
With E3 less than two months around the corner, now seems like a good time to get the speculation mitts on and do a comprehensive study of where the story may go. For this post in particular, it’ll be a comprehensive look at what has simply come to be known as the ‘Ark Theory’.The Ark Theory can be traced back to last year’s E3 Media Briefing when Microsoft unveiled the teaser for Halo: Xbox One, I was among the first people to immediately jump into speculation mode and spearhead the idea that the Master Chief had been guided back to the Lesser Ark. For those who either missed the trailer, need refreshing, or just want to watch something awesome, here it is:
While it is important to keep in mind that the teaser is primarily a symbolic, conceptual piece for where the Master Chief’s journey is being directed, and therefore not necessarily representative of what’s actually going to happen in the game, there is a degree of truth one can draw from it based on Frankie’s comment on NeoGAF.
So, first of all, what is the current state of the Lesser Ark? Last time we actually saw it, we may or may not have detonated a Halo ring over it which tore itself to pieces and crumbled right over the megastructure. That was almost seven years ago now, there’s been a few tidbits of fiction since then which have revisited the Ark and given us some insight into its current state. Of particular note here is the fourth of the five Eleventh Hour Reports, released weekly by 343 in their weekly Bulletins in the lead-up to Halo 4’s release.
We dispatched an isolation contact group [L3-08] to the site. Upon entering the debris field, the group was immediately pinged by a non-standard, heterogenic signal emanating from the structure’s surface – or, at least, what remained of it after the event.
Following protocol, the contact group released probes  into the debris field. Once it was deemed secure by composite scans conducted over the course of 3.7 days, UNSC RUBICON was deployed from Luna. Aboard were a number of high-risk, remote contact teams [RCT] outfitted for deployment to the construct’s surface.
Without the installation’s artificial sun operating at full capacity, navigating the debris field for insertion was difficult – navigating the installation’s surface itself was even more difficult. The damage was… traumatic.
Habitability sustainment systems were still active in some locations, but were operating intermittently and in a state of disrepair – a factor that generated extremely volatile weather conditions. Some indigenous [if it can be called that] fauna may have survived the event, but RCTs were strictly advised to avoid all potentially hostile life forms.
After 8.4 days, all contact with RCTs was severed. Only one [RCT-06] returned, suffering extensive casualties. They brought back a severely damaged armature, which appeared to be the original source of the signal. Initially, there was a strong suspicion of this armature’s origin, but local science teams undertook an aggressive node cultivation process to withdraw data from the device and determine, with veracity, its actual origin.
All communications with the UNSC RUBICON halted within 48 hours of their last notice. Search and rescue teams have been deployed to the site, but have reported no findings yet.
This tells us that the Ark is still a functional installation, at least it’s relatively intact. The artificial sun is still active but not operating at full capacity, the surface of the installation has suffered “traumatic” damage, and there are “volatile weather conditions” sweeping the surface (like… maybe sandstorms?). However, habitability sustainment systems are still active and it is even indicated that life on the Ark remains.
This also ties in with two other pieces of Halo media – The Return from Halo: Evolutions, and Halo: Primordium, the second book of Greg Bear’s Forerunner Saga.
The Return follows the story of a Sangheili Shipmaster who returns to a human colony he once glassed during the events of the Human-Covenant war, the events of this story are primarily set in 2559 which is roughly two years after the events of Halo 4’s main campaign. You can watch the short here, as it was adapted into the form of a motion comic.
At the climax of the story, the Shipmaster discovers a group of humans who are battling Kig-Yar pirates at a settlement. The Shipmaster investigates what the humans were studying and discovers documents regarding the discovery of a Forerunner Monitor – the armature bearing an exact resemblance to that of the Monitors of the Halo installations, specifically 343 Guilty Spark.
The Shipmaster manages to rescue a single human, the story ominously ending with him noting that he has found his new purpose and still remembers how to get answers out of humans.
This brings us to Halo: Primordium, the events of which are directly linked to the Eleventh Hour Report and The Return, as we actually see the science team of the UNSC Rubicon discover and interrogate the severely damaged armature of 343 Guilty Spark – the origin of the distress signal. It turns out that the Spartan Laser blasts to the face tat we gave Guilty Spark at the climax of Halo 3 destroyed his compartmentalised personality and reawakened the memories of the ancient human underneath, Chakas.
To provide some context here, Chakas was a devolved human from the prehistoric civilisation following the Human-Forerunner war. He was imprinted at birth with a geas by the Librarian which was a part of her plan to reawaken the Didact from his Cryptum on Earth, he was then ‘kidnapped’ along with his friend Riser and the young Forerunner known as Bornstellar-Makes-Eternal-Lasting (who would later become the IsoDidact and fire the Halos to end the Forerunner-Flood war). When the Didact and his unlikely comrades are captured by the Master Builder, the Didact’s political arch-enemy, the humans are marooned on Installation 07 which has been made the home of the Timeless One and Mendicant Bias – two of perhaps the most important characters in the Halo universe.Long story short: Chakas is taken to the Cartographer of Installation 07 and his mind is used to ‘pilot’ the Halo ring through a planet so it can shed enough of its mass to move through slipspace. Bornstellar, now the IsoDidact as he inherited the imprint of the Ur-Didact which contained all of his wisdom and experiences, arrives with a fleet of Forerunner ships and foils Mendicant Bias’ plan. He discovers his friend unconscious and dying, saving Chakas’ life by extracting his mind and placing it in a Monitor’s armature. At the end of the Forerunner-Flood war, the IsoDidact prepares to fire the Halo array and assigns Monitor Chakas the responsibility of looking after Installation 04, renaming him ‘Guilty Spark’ as the personality of Chakas will soon be wiped as part of the compartmentalisation protocol. Chakas has a significant amount of knowledge about a number of important Forerunner installations and records, things which would be incredibly dangerous if he were ever to be captured by the Flood, so his personality is covered over by a new one. This is why Guilty Spark seems like he’s been driven insane during the events of Halo CE, 2 and 3 – we’re seeing moments of his true personality breaking through the artificial one which is what leads him to mistake John for the IsoDidact as they prepare to fire Installation 04.
So where exactly is this going? Well, after relating his story to the ONI crew aboard the Rubicon, he hijacks the vessel and relates two very significant points which foreshadow future events.
“You and I are brothers in many ways, not least in that we faced the Didact before, and face him now, and perhaps ever after. This is combat eternal, enmity unslaked, unified by only one thing: our love for the elusive Lifeshaper. Without her, humans would have been extinguished many times over. Both I and the Didact love her to this day. Some say she is dead, that she died on Earth. But that is demonstrably untrue. One of you almost certainly carries Vinnevra and Riser’s old spirits within. Only the Lifeshaper can find them and coax my friends back to life. And after a hundred thousand years of exploration and study… I know where to find her.”
This tells us two things: First, that our conflict with the Ur-Didact did not end with his defeat in Halo 4, the whole reason ONI are interrogating Chakas in Primordium is to learn about the Ur-Didact’s history with humanity because they’re worried that he may one day return. And secondly, that the Forerunners who survived the firing of the Halos and went on the Great Journey still exist somewhere and Chakas has found them.He believes that he has found the Librarian, referring to her as the “elusive Lifeshaper”, but we know from Halo: Silentium that the Librarian passed her title of Lifeshaper onto another Forerunner named Chant-to-Green. Chant survived with the IsoDidact and a group of Lifeworkers and Warrior-Servants on the Lesser Ark, she then helped reseed the galaxy of life from the species catalogued by the Librarian’s Conservation Measure, and disappeared with the rest of the survivors as they went on the Great Journey. The latter part of this comes from the epilogue to Silentium, Halo: Rebirth – you can either listen to it here, or read the transcript here.
Backtracking a bit, the Librarian strands herself on Earth at the end of the Forerunner-Flood war and builds a portal to the Lesser Ark for humanity to one day discover as part of her plan to help us reclaim the Mantle of Responsibility.
“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.”
This is particularly important because Librarian establishes that the Ark is a key part of her plan, it has something which will enable humanity to discover their place as the inheritors of the Mantle. The implication here is that the Ark is more than just a foundry for the creation of Halo rings, it is a part of humanity’s destiny. We’ve actually seen this hinted on multiple occasions from different sources, the most telling of which is in Halo 3’s Terminals where 343 Guilty Spark converses with the Ark’s ancilla.
Advice: Any further attempt to access [insects under stones] will result in your immediate addition to local Sentinels’ targeting ledger.
04-343 (errant): Vexation! I am the Monitor of–
Judgement: Your authority means nothing here.
04-343 (errant): Impatience!
04-343 (errant): I have told you who I am. Who are you?
All our makers once held dear.
[Alexandria before the Fire].
04-343 (errant): Sincere apology. But how–
Explanation: This facility is host to the [Librarian's] final–
04-343 (errant): The archive is intact?! Then our makers’ plan–
But also maintains [bellows, crucible, castings]
04-343 (errant): A what?
04-343 (errant): A Foundry?
04-343 (errant): For what purpose?
This confirms that the Lesser Ark has a greater purpose than merely being a foundry for Halos, something that Guilty Spark has a sliver of knowledge about. He specifically mentions “the archive” and “our makers’ plan”, and that these have something to do with the Librarian.It’s what the Ark’s ancilla mentions which is the real meat of this exchange however. Note the mention of “Alexandria before the Fire”, for those of you who are familiar with history this may ring a bell as it is a reference to the Great Library of Alexandria. This was once regarded as the largest library in the world, it held hundreds of thousands of manuscripts and scrolls and scribes would travel to different lands to document and copy down different books they’d borrowed so that they could store it in them library. It was a symbol of Egypt’s wealth and power, however the library was ravaged by a great fire which ultimately destroyed it.
What could this be referring to? What in recent fiction has come up which seems to link to this notion of an archive and a library full of information that is a vital aspect of humanity’s ascension?
The Absolute Record, of course.
Sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it? In Episode 9 of Spartan Ops, Doctor Halsey meets with the personality imprint of the Librarian who gives her the Janus Key – a galactic cartographer which will reveal the real-time location of every piece of Forerunner technology in the galaxy. The Key was originally meant to be given to the Ur-Didact to help humanity reclaim the Mantle once his mind had been cleansed of the Gravemind’s malediction, however the means through which the Ur-Didact’s mind could be healed (the Domain) was destroyed when the Halos were fired. Librarian instead gives the Janus Key to Halsey, telling her to “use what you find to propel humankind”, and that “the Key and what it details must not be lost”.
One other thing to take account of is the mention of “insects under stone”. The construct we see in the teaser for Halo: Xbox One looks very much like an insect, and the desert that John finds it in has a numerous amount of rocks – many of which begin to float as the construct is awakened. A rather interesting comparison…As a quick side-note, take a look at the Eld – the Forerunners’ glyph which represents the Mantle of Responsibility.
The middle section looks exactly like a half of the Janus Key, only further lending credence to the importance of the interconnected nature of the Key, the Absolute Record, the Mantle, and the Lesser Ark.
So what’s left in this puzzle for the Ark Theory? I made mention of him earlier, the Forerunner AI construct known as Mendicant Bias. Going back to Halo: Rebirth, there’s an additional segment to this epilogue which is titled The Trial of Mendicant Bias where the IsoDidact has the ancilla sentenced for his defection to the Flood’s side during the war.
“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 valuable 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 CAN NOT BE FORGIVEN. I WILL ACCEPT MY STASIS WITH GRACE, AND AWAIT A TIME WHERE 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’ 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.
Note the location in which this is all taking place, a desert. The IsoDidact buries Mendicant Bias in the Ark’s sands to await a time when he shall be needed again due to the fact that he holds an intimate knowledge of the Flood. This leads us once again back to Halo: Primordium, as the climax of the novel sets the stage for the galaxy’s ultimate conflict in the Reclaimer Saga.
“The decision is final. Humans will replace you. Humans will be tested next. [...] It is the way of those who seek out the truth of the Mantle. Humans will rise again in arrogance and defiance. The Flood will return when they are ripe – and bring them unity. [...] Misery is sweetness. Forerunners will fail as you have failed before. Humans will rise. Whether they will also fail has not yet been decided. [...] We are the Flood. There is no difference. Until all space and time are rolled up and life is crushed in the folds… no end to war, grief, or pain. In a hundred and one thousand [years]… unity again, and wisdom. Until then – sweetness.”
“Resignation is my virtue, like water I ebb and flow. Defeat is simply the addition to time to the sentence I never deserved, but you imposed.”
Going back to Halo: Primordium once more, at the end of the flashback events of the novel we learn that there are over twelve Proto-Graveminds still present on the ring. The IsoDidact covered the installation in a perpetual cloud cover so as to prevent the Flood from leaving and assigned multiple Monitors to safeguard the ring. However, it’s inevitable that we will one day find this ring and perhaps let loose the infestation there, as it was the UNSC Infinity’s primary mission (prior to the events that transpired at Requiem) to locate the remaining Halo rings to study and decommission them.
Another important snippet here regarding the Flood are the comments made by Roland in Halo: Spartan Assault’s introductory cutscene to the Flood series of missions.
“Today I need to talk to you about November 17, 2552 and the Battle of Kenya. The official story is that the Covenant glassed the area in a sneak attack, killing thousands before we could stop them.
Truth is… we let them do it.
The glassing was a last-ditch attempt to stop an alien infection called the Flood. Had the plan failed… the Earth would have fallen in hours.
Officially the Flood’s all gone. Kaput. But if humanity encounters the Flood again, Spartans are our first line of defence. You need to know what you could be up against, and you need to train to deal with it. I’ve loaded up a Forerunner-themed test location and set it to be infested by Flood. Good luck, Spartan.”
This adds a whole new dimension to the purpose of the Spartan-IVs, as they are set to be humanity’s first line of defence against the parasite should they one day return.The convergence point here and the way in which these events and devices are all linked should be quite clear now. We’re building up to the return of the Flood, necessitating Mendicant Bias’ return due to him holding intimate knowledge of the Flood after his time with the Timeless One/Gravemind during the Forerunner-Flood war. This will happen once humanity are “ripe”, once our species has risen up once more “in arrogance and defiance”, at which point the Flood will bring us unity.
What exactly “unity” means is yet unknown. On the surface, one might assume (logically) that the Timeless One is simply saying that the Flood will bring unity by assimilating all life and completing its ultimate goal. However, if we take a look a little further back at Halo Legends: Origins, as well as a few snippets of the developer commentary from Frankie, perhaps we might throw an element of ambiguity in the works for what “unity” actually means here.
“We didn’t just want this to be a recap, we wanted to take the opportunity to really push the story forward than just recall events that had happened, and so there’s little bits of that in here. And we want this to be something that people think about and interpret. [...] We want people to think, what does this mean for future games? What does this mean for future fiction? [...] Some of it is a lot more than what it appears to be right now.”
By itself and out of context, this simply tells us that Origins was partially a means through which some might interpret future events. However, in-context, this is a really telling statement about the future of Halo because Frankie specifically talks about this during the scene where we see humanity and the Covenant races all standing together on a Forerunner world to fight the Flood. Now, it’s worth mentioning that Cortana is in quite a state during the events of Origins and Frankie directly acknowledges this.
“This story is told through Cortana’s memories as she’s starting to approach what we expect might be a stage of rampancy, or at least confusion. Y’know, she’s been fighting with the Gravemind and she’s been battling with his sort of intellectual assault on her abilities, but also she’s been absorbing terabytes and terabytes of Forerunner information and she doesn’t understand it all and so this episode in particular is her really trying to come to terms with all this information and trying to interpret all this very very complicated eons of information and trying to fill in the gaps.
The problem with Cortana that we know from the game is that she’s going to be an unreliable narrator. She’s been locked up in the confines of the Gravemind on High Charity, and these sort of Covenant and Forerunner systems have been intruding on her as she’s trying to defend herself from this assault by the Gravemind who is trying to find the location of Earth, among other things.
All her memories, all her interpretations of events, have to be considered suspect – and that’s one of the interesting things about this episode. What’s real, and what is the kind of madness and the misinterpretation caused by the decay from the Gravemind experience and the vast wealth of Forerunner information that she’s been exposed to?”
It’s important to note however that Frankie mentions that there is a layer of ambiguity about what is foreshadowing, as in what is real, and what is the result of her decline and her attempt to fill in the gaps where her knowledge isn’t quite sufficient. He directly states that some of what we see is a lot more than what it appears to be. To give you a particularly telling example of that which has since come to pass, the ending to Origins II actually ‘spoils’ the ending for Halo 4.
“There’s some things going on in that image, you know – Cortana stepping off of her holographic plinth. Well, she can’t do that. She’s not a physical being, so you have to ask yourself what’s going on here? Is this real, or is it all in her mind? At the end of it, that’s the heart of this episode.”
Ringing any bells here? At the end of Halo 4, once the Ur-Didact is defeated and the Composer destroyed, Cortana says her final farewell to John. She touches John’s armour and says that she’s waited so long to do that, we see her attempt to do the exact same thing in Origins II. It’s indicative of the fact that we really need to take Halo Legends a bit more seriously when applying potential foreshadowing elements to the future of the Reclaimer Saga.
So, let’s return to Mendicant Bias because we’re not quite done with him yet. John actually encounters him in Halo 3 through the Terminals, there are a number of fragmented messages in The Ark and The Covenant which culminates in a final message from the ancilla in the final mission.
“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.”
Here, we’ve got affirmation as far back as 2007 that John’s story is not yet over and he has a purpose to fulfil, knowingly or not. Mendicant believes that he will die as Installation 04B’s debris crashes into the Ark, however since we know that the Ark survived and is still operational, combined with all that we have learned from these other sources in recent years, it seems especially likely that we will seek out Mendicant once more when the Flood inevitably return.
Frankie directly states in the developer commentary:
“The story which Cortana is telling, which is humanity’s continual need for conflict and war. [...] The Flood is sort of the heart of the Halo story and things always tend to come around to that.”
If this statement doesn’t link to the Timeless One’s prophecy about humanity rising up in arrogance and defiance, and the Gravemind’s dialogue in Silentium that “all will be born in suffering”, then I don’t know what does.
To conclude this piece, let’s just look at one final image from Origins II because I think it’ll be a fitting way to hit the nail on the head here with what we’ve covered.You can see how it’s clearly damaged, there’s evidence of a good deal of surface trauma which is consistent with what we learned from the Eleventh Hour Report. The foundation material is clearly exposed on a number of petals, and you can see pretty much where the surviving habitable locations are.
This is a depiction of post-Halo 3 Ark, there’s no doubt about it. As a final note, we see an energy pulse building up in the centre of the Ark itself instead of the Halo ring above it which links to Petra’s theory from the First Strike adjuncts that the Ark itself is a solution to the Flood judging by Cortana’s message – the thought process behind this message from Cortana is explicitly mentioned in Human Weakness, another one of the Evolutions stories.
“She needed backup. She triggered one of the copies to create a massage to HighCom, a few urgent words about the Flood heading for Earth, the Portal that the Gravemind didn’t know about, and that the way to beat the Flood without activating a Halo Ring lay beyond it – The Ark.”
A way to beat the Flood without firing a Halo ring, implying that the Ark itself is her solution. Petra believes that the Ark is some kind of weapon, or that it has some other kind of purpose. We know from Halo 3’s Terminal dialogues that this absolutely is the case, and from the way we’re seeing the current fiction build up it seems that the Lesser Ark is the home of the Absolute Record. Interestingly, Petra has actually started appearing in the comic series Halo: Escalation which details the events following on from Halo 4’s Spartan Ops campaign. She’s after answers from Lasky following the mysterious disappearance of the Master Chief, where he’s gone we do not know.Only 343 knows for certain what is going to happen, they’ve had this story planned out from at least 2009 when one takes into account what Frankie says in the developer commentary for Origins.
“We’re just making sure that we have it planned out. This doesn’t mean that the next Halo games are going to feature any of the things that we’re hinting at here, definitely these are things that we want to cover in the fiction, and obviously Greg Bear is going to cover some of this in the Forerunner trilogy of novels, but we want to make sure that we understand what the future of the universe is so that we can better understand the past and the present. So, timescale aside, we just want to make sure that everything makes sense in our heads and that we’ve committed it to a plan so that we’re not making things up as we go along – and I think that’s a trap that a lot of franchises can fall into.”
How this will all come together, I do not know. To be honest, I could be talking absolute nonsense here and the story could head off in a totally different direction. Or, I could be bang-on correct on all accounts. I don’t know, we’ll have to wait and see because this is a story that has been gradually unfolded across the last seven years.
One thing is for certain though – with the upcoming TV show(s?), novels, Escalation issues, and the next chapter of the Reclaimer Saga heading for Xbox One, we can definitely expect some answers come this year’s E3. I leave you with one final message from Mendicant Bias going all the way back to the IRIS Saga which Bungie used to advertise Halo 3.
You asked me once, what happened to those who vanished?
You asked me, why did we survive where our fathers fell?
You wished to know how we ever let it happen
A scourge that consumed the galaxy
And the cure that was worse than the cancer
You asked me once about my intent
And the spot that would not wash out
I promise you the answers lie in the Ark
Find me there in the dark
For that is where I abide