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Halo: Cryptum
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Halo: Cryptum

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Author: Greg Bear
Publisher: Tor, 2011
Series: Forerunner Saga: Book 1

1. Halo: Cryptum
2. Halo: Primordium
3. Halo: Silentium

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
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Synopsis

100,000 years ago, the galaxy was populated by a great variety of beings.
But one species--eons beyond all others in both technology and knowledge--achieved dominance.
They ruled in peace but met opposition with quick and brutal effectiveness.
They were the Forerunners--the keepers of the Mantle, the next stage of life in the Universe's Living Time.
And then they vanished.
This is their story.

Bornstellar Makes Eternal Lasting is a young rebellious Forerunner. He is a Manipular, untried--yet to become part of the adult Forerunner society, where vast knowledge and duty waits. He comes from a family of Builders, the Forerunners' highest and most politically powerful rate. It is the Builders who create the grand technology that facilitates Forerunner dominance over the known universe. It is the Builders who believe they must shoulder the greatest burden of the Mantle--as shepherds and guardians of all life.

Bornstellar is marked to become a great Builder just like his father.

But this Manipular has other plans.

He is obsessed with lost treasures of the past. His reckless passion to seek out the marvelous artifacts left behind by the Precursors--long-vanished superbeings of unknowable power and intent---forces his father's hand.

Bornstellar is sent to live among the Miners, where he must come to terms with where his duty truly lies.

But powerful forces are at play. Forerunner society is at a major crux. Past threats are once again proving relentless. Dire solutions--machines and strategies never before contemplated--are being called up, and fissures in Forerunner power are leading to chaos.

On a Lifeworker's experimental planet, Bornstellar's rebellious course crosses the paths of two humans, and the long lifeline of a great military leader, forever changing Bornstellar's destiny ...and the fate of the entire galaxy.

Halo: Cryptum by Greg Bear is a tale of life, death, intergalactic horror, exile, and maturity. It is a story of overwhelming change--and of human origins. For the Mantle may not lie upon the shoulders of Forerunners forever.


Excerpt

ONE

SOL - EDOM TO ERDE-TYRENE

THE BOAT'S CREW banked the fires, disengaged the steam engine, and raised the calliope horn from the water. The bubbling clockwork song died out with a series of clicks and sad groans; it hadn't been working well 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 brilliant moon rose bright and cold behind our boat. The crater's inland lake rippled around the hull in ways no tide or wind had ever moved water. Under the swells 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 shallows 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 lulling 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, practically hairless, and totally 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 smaller 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 intelligence. 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 all rates wear body-assist armor through much of their lives. The armor protects us both physically and medically. In emergencies, it can suspend a Forerunner until rescue, and even provide nourishment for a time. It allows mature Forerunners to connect to the Domain, from which all 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 ancilla, the armor's disembodied intelligence and memory--a small 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 all our sakes, I would have to go naked, 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 all my father's children, I was the most incorrigible. In itself this was not an ill mark or even unusual. Manipulars of promise often show early rebellion--the stamp in raw metal from which the discipline of a full 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 finally, 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 yellow star--and in particular, the fourth, a dry, reddish desert world called Edom--became my home. Call it exile. I called it escape. I knew my destiny lay elsewhere.

When I arrived on Edom, my swap-father, following tradition, equipped my armor with one of his own ancillas to educate me to the ways of my new family. At first I thought this new ancilla 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 ancilla I had ever experienced.

During my long periods of tutoring and regimented exercise, she drew me out, traced my rough rebellion 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 will treat you well, teach you what they know, and return you to your family with all the discipline and skills a Manipular needs to advance."

After two years of generally 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 ancilla's strange favor was her opening of my swap-family's archives. Ancillas are charged with the maintenance of all 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 call 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 well 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 ancilla 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 ancilla 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 all. 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 ancilla'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, fully 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 still 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 called human.

My ancilla'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 hallways 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 rebellious Manipular. I had become a hijacker, a pirate... And was astonished at how easy it was! Too easy, perhaps.

Still, I could not believe an ancilla would lead a Forerunner into a trap. That was contrary to their design, their programmi...

Copyright © 2011 by Greg Bear


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