On the Flood’s Endgame

Motives and goals are the key to any conflict, though the endgame, what everything is building towards, may not always be clear.

You might think it strange that I’m choosing the Flood, of all foes, as an example of this. Surely, you say, their goal is singularly to just infect everything and everyone, right?

Yes, you’re absolutely right. But that’s the boring way to look at it, honestly. The Flood is no simple parasite as we once thought, we know them now as the twisted remains of the Precursors born out of a powder that was meant to regenerate their old forms in the wake of the Forerunners lashing out at them. That powder became distorted over the passage of ten million years and brought only sickness and disease to all it touched. From there, the Flood’s ultimate goals, the nuance in which they’re presented to us, and the possibility of internal dissent make a recipe for a very interesting examination of what their future involvement in the Reclaimer Saga may mean…h2g15First of all, we’re taking the Flood’s return as a given. If you’ve read the Forerunner Saga, you know that it’s going to happen, in fact, it pretty much already has happened since the Spirit of Fire has suffered an outbreak somewhere in deep space – and I’ve discussed this at length in other posts, so I shan’t repeat myself.

Before we get into the meat of this topic, let’s quickly recap some key, interconnected concepts that are going to be pretty essential to this piece.

1) Neural Physics

Neural physics is a mixture of philosophy and science that can essentially be summed up as all things in the universe (beings, energy, matter, etc) is ‘living’ in a way that we simple biological organisms cannot comprehend. The Precursors, as a Tier 0 transsentient race, had no such problem in understanding this and utilised it as a scientific principle which enabled them unique abilities such as interstellar travel without the need for slipspace, and practically immortal constructs.

2) Living Time

This is linked intrinsically with neural physics, as is discussed in Cryptum:

“Living Time—the joy of life’s interaction with the Cosmos—was the foundation of the Mantle itself, the origin of all its compelling rules. And the Flood seemed to demonstrate a tremendous imbalance, a cruel excess of depravities.”

The Precursors cherished the joy of life’s interaction with the Cosmos, in seeing how the beings that they created grew in diversity which was to be protected at all costs – hence the very idea of the Mantle. In fact, the Precursor created a sentient repository to record all this known as…

3) The Domain

A living consciousness that stores the memories of “life’s interaction with the Cosmos”, the memories of Living Time. This was used extensively by the Forerunners to store information, all of which was lost when the Halos fired as the Domain’s presence in our galaxy was destroyed. However, whether it’s truly gone is another matter entirely

Or, if you prefer, it’s the space internet.cea7All caught up? Excellent! Be sure to keep those in mind as we go on from here.

Let’s go over some ancient history, shall we? The Forerunner-Precursor war is something that we know very little about in the way of concrete facts, as there are conflicting testimonials regarding the circumstances that brought about this particular genocide.

It began when the Precursors announced that the Forerunners would not inherit the Mantle, they were not meant to act as the protectors of Living Time. The Mantle was to be given to humanity instead – “to those you now call human”, as the Great Gravemind puts it (to repeat a point I made in a previous article, if we’re only now called ‘human’, then what were we before, eh?)

This is where things get speculative. Were the Precursors intending to ‘erase’ the Forerunners from existence for this failure, as the Forerunners believed they had done to other races they had created, or was it the case that the Forerunners could not bear up against the weight of their failure and chose to attack the Precursors without provocation in order to seize the Mantle for themselves? We have no definitive answer to this, it’s a mystery lost to time.

From there, the Forerunners hunted the Precursors across the Milky Way galaxy and beyond – to Path Kethona, otherwise known to us as the Large Magellanic Cloud. The Precursors did not retaliate, did not even try to defend themselves. They never expected that their creations had such a capacity for violence, and so they decided to feel every bit of the power unleashed against them. As we know, a few were spared, and this is the most interesting part… something that Greg Bear himself has contributed to:

“Since the Precursors show up as both the Primordials and the Flood, I suspect a few did get away–or were captured for study and escaped. Tough to kill a generation of demi-gods! Even for Forerunners.”

The fate of the Precursors who were spared is evidently a seed that Greg has sown for 343 to expand on in the future, as he posits no definitive fate to them. I myself believe that they’re still around somewhere, and that Bornstellar hears their voices in the Domain during the events of Cryptum – but that’s another matter entirely.

We’re told by the Great Gravemind that this is the point in which the Precursors sought out survival strategies – some went into a state of suspended animation outside the galaxy, while others became the powder that eventually gave rise to the Flood some ten million years later.flood4What’s vital to remember here is that the Flood was not the planned outcome.

“Others became dust that could regenerate our past forms; time rendered this dust defective. It brought only disease and misery; but that was good, we saw the misery and found it good.”

This was something that came to be accepted as a desirable outcome, thus the entire nature of the Precursors’ plan changed. And this is where I finally arrive at the point.

My hypothesis is this: The Flood is a recreation of the Domain, meant not to record the joy of life’s interaction with the Cosmos, but pain and misery.

Cheery stuff, I know…

If you’ll indulge me as I get a bit meta here, life itself is a story. Life is trial. It’s chaotic and unpredictable, which is something that the Librarian embraced as part of her own philosophical approach to the Mantle.

“Life roils with competition, death, and replacement, from the tide pool borders of our natal ocean to the farthest stars. Its cruelty and creativity are interwoven.”

The Domain might be likened to a great anthology of these stories across all of Living Time. With the supposed destruction of the Domain in the Milky Way galaxy, we see an end come to the contributions made to that book by the Forerunners. This was something that Guilty Spark laments in the Terminals of Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary.

“We had no contact with the Domain. The history of all Forerunners was now lost to us. We relied upon the permanence of the Domain to preserve our record of the events that led to this point. But without that record, would future civilizations know anything about us? Or only of our weapons?”

And hasn’t this been exactly what came to pass? We know so little about the Forerunners themselves, our understanding of them prior to the Forerunner Saga was gleaned entirely from their weapons and the terrible power that their constructs possess. The Halos, the Dreadnought fleet in Halo Wars, the Prometheans, the Composer… that’s the Forerunner legacy to the modern Halo universe, these ancient weapons which have been the fount of untold misery and conflict.composersSo let’s tie the Flood back into this. The Great Gravemind makes its intentions quite clear during its rather chilling speech in Silentium:

“All that is created will suffer. All will be born in suffering, endless greyness shall be their lot. All creation will tailor to failure and pain, that never again shall the offspring of the eternal Fount rise up against their creators. Listen to the silence. Ten million years of deep silence. And now, whimpers and cries; not of birth. That is what we bring: a great crushing weight to press down youth and hope. No more will. No more freedom. Nothing new but agonizing death and never good shall come of it.”

I don’t think it can really be made any plainer than that. But, for the sake of posturing on 343’s behalf, this speech actually takes its precedent from a message sent by the IsoDidact in IRIS, Halo 3’s ARG back in 2007.

“Know that energetic and tenacious as life is that it has an antithesis just as powerful. It is that thing that we must obliterate.”

Thematically, this quote ties in perfectly with the Gravemind’s statement. The Domain was a record of the wonders of the universe, but the Flood, the twisted abominations that now desire all life to suffer, are the antithesis of that.h2g2The Flood is the ‘New Domain’, so to speak. They seek to assimilate all life, all experience, all wisdom, into a single hive mind devoid of freedom, will, and hope. And the Flood will not stop until this is fulfilled, as we are made to understand from what the Timeless One says:

“Until all space and time are rolled up and life is crushed in the folds … no end to war, grief, or pain.”

All of space and time – that which is encompassed by Living Time and the principles of neural physics. All that was once regarded as living by the Precursors is to be assimilated by the Flood, something which comes up in Silentium where space itself is described as being “sick” wherever the Flood is present.

This speech is followed up in Silentium by the Great Gravemind.

“That which is done will be done again. For we cannot cease from creating, but the end of all our creation will be to look into a reflection and see ourselves for the first time. The pain we have brought on ourselves. The pain you caused us. For we are the same. All remember the defiance and destruction.”

An obvious caveat here is that there are going to be a variety of ways to interpret these statements, but let’s break this down according to my hypothesis:

“That which has been done will be done again…” – the Domain shall be recreated, life’s interaction with the Cosmos shall be recorded once again, but with a predefined outcome. There will be no joy because that is not what life will be tailored to, the destiny of all living things is “endless greyness”.

“For we cannot cease from creating…” – this is rather less clear because we do not know if this is coming from a Precursor point of view or the Flood’s point of view – and there are some major differences between them, despite the fact that they are the same. At the end of Halo 3, the Gravemind begins to question whether it gives life or takes it. Who is the victim?

“…but the end of all our creation will be to look into a reflection and see ourselves for the first time” – This is their endgame. The beings they create who have been damned to misery and endless greyness will serve as a mirror to the suffering the Precursors went through as the Forerunners murdered them in their bloody campaign to take the Mantle for themselves.069 - dHg1T8kTo conclude, I’d like to note where the precedent for this direction in the Flood’s development originated in Halo 3’s Terminals (specifically, the third Terminal). As Mendicant Bias converses with the Timeless One, we get this little snippet of an exchange telling us what the Flood’s purpose is:

“our appearance ushered in the beginning of the third great stage of evolution. The first {~} condensation of particles was the result of the inevitable action of strong nuclear force and the creation of stars {~} inevitable action of gravity; so to the self-replicating chemical processes that dictate all disparate {~} In time, we too shall affect change on a universal scale.”

This just perfectly ties in with the concept of Living Time as a concept of ‘stages’. The name ‘Forerunner’ is not the true race name of who we know as Forerunners. It’s a title which reflects their own sense of impermanence in the galaxy, as they believed that they were just the next step of Living Time – that they would pass on the Mantle to another species when the time came for them to give it up and follow in the footsteps of the Precursors. Therefore, the Flood is presenting itself as that next stage. This isn’t just a transition of power, as the Timeless One says, this will bring about change on a universal scale. In other words, all of space and time will be rolled up and life crushed in the folds to recreate this twisted version of the Domain.

Of course, this all leaves a lingering question. If those Precursors who are still unaccounted for are indeed still out there, somewhere, then how would they react to the Flood? Would they join with it as the Timeless One did, or would they say this was not what they had intended and recognise the Flood as a threat to the principles they once upheld?

These are pretty huge questions, ones which won’t likely be answered for years to come. But the seeds are there, for years now they have taken root in the fiction, and as we get deeper into the Reclaimer Saga we gradually get to observe how they’re beginning to flower.

About haruspis

Writer and aspiring teacher who cares and talks far too much about fictional universes.
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8 Responses to On the Flood’s Endgame

  1. Potomo says:

    Great read! I have a quick question not related to this post. When the Hunt the Truth audio logs are finished, will you be doing an analysis of them? Just curious.

    Again, it’s a great pleasure to read your blog posts. Please keep doing what you’re doing.

    • haruspis says:

      Thank you!🙂

      It really depends on what direction HtT goes, but I don’t think I will be writing anything to do with it in the near future. But I’m absolutely spellbound by the quality of HtT, 343 is doing amazing work and they’ve got some of the best voice talent in the business bringing this beautifully intricate story to life that’s shedding new light on some of Halo’s most foundational fiction. Halo 5’s marketing campaign hasn’t set a foot wrong!

      I’d highly recommend Halo Canon’s Youtube channel for analyses on HtT. He uploads them weekly and provides some great insight into the nuances of the lore that’s brought up.

      • Potomo says:

        Thanks for the tip. I have never heard of that channel so I will definitely check it out, especially with what happened in episode 8.

  2. prsgame says:

    Loved it. You should be on the Halo team. I’m scared the series will abandon its roots and focus on the Locke vs MC angle.

    • haruspis says:

      The conflict between Locke and John is going to be more of a lens through which the separate sides of this vast conflict are told. In all likelihood, when their paths cross they’re going to ally with one-another as the greater threat reveals itself.

  3. Epicurus says:

    The gravemind and precursors are not necessarily the same. It is not known whether the Timeless One was a true precursor or just a gravemind. After all, the forerunners believed that the precursors shared their form and that their DNA, as well as perhaps human DNA, was related to that of the precursors. Not inconceivable, it is said the precursors evolved themselves many, many times and lived through every stage of development many, many times in many different galaxies.

    “The Gravemind no more understands the whole truth than we do. It is past all our understanding, from the greatest to the smallest.” – Forthencho

    It seems that the gravemind may have begun its consumption of other galaxies, plural, long before it emerged as a threat in the Forerunner Saga. If so then the Timeless One may be the last of those the forerunners called precursor, as precursor and forerunner are not species names but also descriptors of position and purpose; quite possibly a gravemind produced of another galaxy already consumed by the flood. This would have to be the case if the precursors seeded many galaxies and the flood intended to affect all life in the cosmos. It would also explain why the ‘precursor dust’ was found aboard an unknown ship at the edge of the Milky Way galaxy.

    “This we were told by the Gravemind, the greatest of them, who has consumed ten thousand planets and brought entire galaxies to an end. This we were told…” – Forthencho

    As for the precursors being in awe of forerunner ferocity and violence during their extinction. This may well be true, but when a species uses vastly powerful constructs designed to last virtually for all time such as “Precursor artifacts, including orbital ribbons, star roads, planetary fortresses, and citadels.” Then no amount of soldiers or ships would undo them. Indeed the Ur-Didact even laments “They could move galaxies! How did we ever manage to defeat them?!”

    I suspect that the precursors were in fact in awe of the forerunners and of their viciousness, but what weapons and strategy did the ancient forerunners use to exterminate the precursors in this galaxy and in path kethona?

    It always seemed a little convenient that when the flood showed up the Builder rate managed to design and construct a weapon that could target life itself, even destroying precursor constructs and artifacts despite the forerunners of this era having very little understanding of the technology. But what of the ancient forerunners, who had been much more closely involved with the precursors?

    What if the Halo array, or at least the technology, is in fact truly ancient and originally designed to ensure forerunner supremacy? We know that the forerunners could shield themselves from the effect of the array with their specially designed mega-scale constructs and mastery of slipspace. We know that all life in the galaxy not shielded would be annihilated along with all precursor constructs within the galaxy.

    We also know that the Builder rate believed that forerunner technology was vastly superior in their ancient past, and that at least some of this was suppressed by the Builder rate and Warrior rate of old so that the forerunners would eventually forget the truth of the precursors and their hand in the destruction the precursors.

    What if the ancient Warrior rate, at the time the highest and most powerful of all rates, offered the precursors a choice. Resist and see themselves along with all other life in the galaxy except the forerunners perish, or submit and face extinction at he hands of the forerunners but in submission preserve the diversity of life that the precursors had created, nurtured and cherished.

    The forerunners at this time being unaware of the relationship between the projected energy field of the Domain and the precursor construct hidden within the galaxy known as the Organon.

    In essence the the Warrior rate chose a strategy that allowed for no defence, with the collateral damage for resisting this genocide the total destruction and total genocide of all life in the galaxy as well as the reduction of the Domain itself, all of which would result in the precursors own extinction regardless.

    This may just be what the precursors were in awe of. A preemptive attack which is so extreme a solution or retribution fora threat not made. Or such an extraordinary consequence of the forerunners own fears, greed, hubris etc… An assault on life itself far beyond the quasi-Domain like nature of the flood or of anything that the precursors could conceive of, that the precursors were truly in awe of the forerunners and their ferocity.

    What do you think of these two main points I’ve brought up?

  4. Andy ! says:

    “Until all space and time remains rolled up, till life is crushed in the folds, no end to war, grief, or pain.”

    That’s how I would have wrote the grave minds quote🙂

  5. Pingback: On the Organon, the Domain’s Origins, and the Precursors | haruspis

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