Home > Halo: Cryptum (Halo #7)

Halo: Cryptum (Halo #7)
Author: Greg Bear

Halo series Book
Halo #1: The Fall of Reach Halo #2: The Flood
Halo #3: First Strike Halo #4: Ghosts of Onyx
Halo #5: Contact Harvest Halo #6: The Cole Protocol
Halo #7: Cryptum Halo #8: Glasslands
Halo #9: Primordium Halo #10: The Thursday War
Halo #11: Silentium Halo: Evolutions, Vol. 1



THE BOAT’S CREW banked the fires, disengaged the steam engine, and raised the cal iope horn from the water. The bubbling clockwork song died out with a series of clicks and sad groans; it hadn’t been working wel to begin with.

Twenty kilometers away, the central peak of Djamonkin Crater rose through blue- gray haze, its tip outlined in ruddy gold by the last of the setting sun. A single bril iant moon rose bright and cold behind our boat. The crater’s inland lake rippled around the hul in ways no tide or wind had ever moved water. Under the swel s and whorls, sparkling with reflected sunset and moon, pale merse twisted and bobbed like the lilies in my mother’s pond. These lilies, however, weren’t passive flowers, but sleeping krakens growing in the shal ows on thick stalks. Ten meters wide, their thickened, muscular edges were rimmed with black teeth the length of my forearm.

We sailed over a garden of clannish, self-cloning monsters. They covered the entire flooded floor of the crater, skulking just below the surface and very defensive of their territory. Only boats that sang the lul ing song the merse used to keep peace among themselves could cross these waters unmolested. And now it seemed our tunes were out of date.

The young human I knew as Chakas crossed the deck, clutching his palm-frond hat and shaking his head. We stood side by side and stared out over the rail, watching the merse writhe and churn. Chakas—bronze-skinned, practical y hairless, and total y unlike the bestial image of humans my tutors had impressed upon me—shook his head in dismay. “They swear they’re using the newest songs,” he murmured. “We shouldn’t move until they figure it out.”

I eyed the crew on the bow, engaged in whispered argument. “You assured me they were the best,” I reminded him.

He regarded me with eyes like polished onyx and swept his hand through a thick thatch of black hair that hung in back to his neck, cut perfectly square. “My father knew their fathers.”

“You trust your father?” I asked.

“Of course,” he said. “Don’t you?”

“I haven’t seen my real father in three years,” I said.

“Is that sad, for you?” the young human asked.

“He sent me there.” I pointed to a bright russet point in the black sky. “To learn discipline.”

“Shh- shhaa!” The Florian—a smal er variety of human, half Chakas’s height— scampered from the stern on bare feet to join us. I had never known a species to vary so widely yet maintain such an even level of intel igence. His voice was soft and sweet, and he made delicate signs with his fingers. In his excitement, he spoke too rapidly for me to understand.

Chakas interpreted. “He says you need to take off your armor. It’s upsetting the merse.”

At first, this was not a welcome suggestion. Forerunners of al rates wear body- assist armor through much of their lives. The armor protects us both physical y and medical y. In emergencies, it can suspend a Forerunner until rescue, and even provide nourishment for a time. It al ows mature Forerunners to connect to the Domain, from which al Forerunner knowledge can flow. Armor is one of the main reasons that Forerunners live so long. It can also act as friend and advisor.

I consulted with my ancil a, the armor’s disembodied intel igence and memory—a smal bluish figure in the back of my thoughts.

“This was anticipated,” she told me. “Electrical and magnetic fields, other than those generated by the planet’s natural dynamics, drive these organisms into splashing fury. That is why the boat is powered by a primitive steam engine.”

She assured me that the armor would be of no value to humans, and that at any rate she could guard against its misuse. The rest of the crew watched with interest.

I sensed this might be a sore point. The armor would power down, of course, once I removed it. For al our sakes, I would have to go nak*d, or nearly so. I halfway managed to convince myself this could only enhance the adventure.

The Florian set to work weaving me a pair of sandals from reeds used to plug leaks.

* * *

Of al my father’s children, I was the most incorrigible. In itself this was not an il mark or even unusual. Manipulars of promise often show early rebel ion—the stamp in raw metal from which the discipline of a ful rate is honed and shaped.

But I exceeded even my father’s ample patience; I refused to learn and advance along any of the proper Forerunner curves: intensive training, bestowal to my rate, mutation to my next form, and final y, espousal to a nascent triad … where I would climb to the zenith of maturity.

None of that attracted me. I was more far interested in adventure and the treasures of the past. Historic glory shined so much brighter in my eyes; the present seemed empty.

And so at the end of my sixth year, frustrated beyond endurance by my stubbornness, my father traded me to another family, in another part of the galaxy, far from the Orion complex where my peoples were born.

For the last three years, the system of eight planets around a minor yel ow star— and in particular, the fourth, a dry, reddish desert world cal ed Edom—became my home. Cal it exile. I cal ed it escape. I knew my destiny lay elsewhere.

When I arrived on Edom, my swap-father, fol owing tradition, equipped my armor with one of his own ancil as to educate me to the ways of my new family. At first I thought this new ancil a would be the most obvious face of my indoctrination—just another shackle in my prison, harsh and unsympathetic. But she soon proved something else entirely, unlike any ancil a I had ever experienced.

During my long periods of tutoring and regimented exercise, she drew me out, traced my rough rebel ion back to its roots—but also showed me my new world and new family in the clear light of unbiased reason.

“You are a Builder sent to live among Miners,” she told me. “Miners are rated below Builders, but they are sensible, proud and strong. Miners know the raw, inner ways of worlds. Respect them, and they wil treat you wel , teach you what they know, and return you to your family with al the discipline and skil s a Manipular needs to advance.”

After two years of general y impeccable service, guiding my reeducation while at the same time relieving my stultifying existence with a certain dry wit, she came to discern a pattern in my questions. Her response was unexpected.

The first sign of my ancil a’s strange favor was her opening of my swap-family’s archives. Ancil as are charged with the maintenance of al records and libraries, to ease access to any information a member of the family might need, however ancient and obscure. “Miners, you know, delve deep. Treasure, as you cal it, is frequently in their way. They recover, record, settle the matter with the proper authorities … and move on. They are not curious, but their records are sometimes very curious.”

I spent happy hours studying the old records, and learned much more about Precursor remnants, as wel as the archaeology of Forerunner history.

Here it was that I picked up hints of lore discouraged or forgotten elsewhere—not always in actual evidence, but deduced from this and that odd fact.

And in that next year, my ancil a measured and judged me.

One dry and dusty day, as I climbed the gentle slope of Edom’s largest volcano, imagining that in the vast caldera was hidden some great secret that would redeem me in the eyes of my family and justify my existence—my common state of pointless fugue—she broke ancil a code in a shocking manner.

She confessed that she had once, a thousand years ago, been part of the retinue of the Librarian. Of course, I knew about the greatest Lifeworker of al . I wasn’t completely ignorant. Lifeworkers—experts on living things and medicine—rank below both Builders and Miners, but just above Warriors. And the highest rank of Lifeworker is Lifeshaper. The Librarian was one of just three Lifeworkers ever honored with that rank.

The ancil a’s memory of her time with the Librarian had supposedly been expunged when the Librarian’s foundation traded her to my swap-family, as part of a general cultural exchange; but now, ful y reawakened to her past, it seemed she was prepared to conspire with me.

She told me: “There is a world just a few hours’ journey from Edom where you might find what you seek. Nine thousand years ago, the Librarian established a research station in this system. It is stil a topic of discussion among the Miners, who of course disapprove. Life is ever so much more slippery than rocks and gases.”

This station was located on the system’s third planet, known as Erde-Tyrene: a forsaken place, obscure, sequestered, and both the origin and final repository of the last of a degraded species cal ed human.

My ancil a’s motives, it seemed, were even more deviant than my own. Every few months, a craft lifted away from Edom to carry supplies downstar to Erde-Tyrene.

She did not precisely inform me of what I would find there, but through hints and clues led me to decide it was major.

With her help, I made my way through the labyrinthine hal ways and tunnels to the shipping platform, smuggled myself onto the cramped craft, reset the codes to conceal my extra mass—and lifted away to Erde-Tyrene.

I was now much more than just a rebel ious Manipular. I had become a hijacker, a pirate … And was astonished at how easy it was! Too easy, perhaps.

Stil , I could not believe an ancil a would lead a Forerunner into a trap. That was contrary to their design, their programming—everything about their nature. Ancil as serve their masters faithful y at al times.

What I could not foretel was that I was not her master, and never had been.

* * *

I stripped down reluctantly, unwinding the torso spiral, then the shoulder and arm guards, and final y the leg guards and boots. The thin pale fuzz on my arms and legs prickled in the breeze. My neck and ears suddenly itched. Then, everything itched, and I had to force myself to ignore it.

The armor assumed a loose mold of my body as it slumped to the deck. I wondered if the ancil a would now go dormant, or whether she would continue with her own inner processes. This was the first time I had been without her guidance in three years.

“Good,” Chakas said. “The crew wil keep it safe for you.”

“I’m sure they wil ,” I said.

Chakas and the little Florian—in their own language, specimens, respectively, of cha manune and ha manune—scrambled to the bow, where they joined the five crew members already there and argued in low whispers. Anything louder and the merse might attack whether or not the boat sang the proper song. Merse hated many things, but they especial y hated excess noise. After storms, it was said they were upset for days, and passage over the inland sea became impossible.

Chakas returned, shaking his head. “They’re going to try pumping out some songs from three moons past,” he said. “Merse rarely invent new tunes. It’s a kind of cycle.”

With a sharp lurch, the boat spun about on its mast axis. I dropped to the deck and lay beside my armor. I had paid the humans wel . Chakas had heard strange tales of ancient forbidden zones and secret structures within Djamonkin Crater.

My researches among the Miners’ files had led me to believe there was a decent chance there was real treasure on Erde-Tyrene, perhaps the most sought-after treasure of al , the Organon—the device which could reactivate al Precursor artifacts. It had al seemed to fit together—until now. Where had I been guided wrong?

After a jaunt across sixty light-years and a second, trivial journey of a hundred mil ion kilometers, I might never get any closer to my ultimate goal.

Merse broke the surface on our starboard side, flexing gray-purple fans and shedding ribbons of water. I could hear long black teeth gnawing at the wooden hull.

* * *

The journey from Edom to Erde-Tyrene took a long and boring forty-eight hours, entry into slipspace being deemed unnecessary for a routine supply trip across so short a distance.

My first live view of the planet, through the open port of the supply craft, revealed a glowing, jewel-like orb of greens and browns and deep blues. Much of the northern hemisphere was lost in cloud and glacier. The third planet was passing through a period of deep cooling and expanding ice floes. Compared with Edom, long past its best eon, Erde-Tyrene was a neglected paradise.

Certainly wasted on humans. I queried my ancil a about the truth of their origins.

She responded that to the best of Forerunner research, humans had indeed first arisen on Erde-Tyrene, but over fifty thousand years ago had moved their interstel ar civilization outward along the galactic arm, perhaps to flee early Forerunner control. Records from those ages were sparse.

The supply ship landed at the main research station north of Marontik, the largest human community. The station was automated and empty but for a family of lemurs, who had set up residence in a long-abandoned barracks. It seemed the rest of civilization had forgotten about this place. I was the only Forerunner on the planet, and that was fine with me.

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