While the tweets have not been confirmed by Valve to be part of the canon story, they can be considered an interesting perspective into the Half-Life universe through the eyes of one of its creators.
Here are five interesting insights that can be inferred from the BreenGrub tweets:
1. The Combine Advisors are victims
The Combine Advisors, or ‘Shu’ulathoi’, are menacing and terrifying. They were first seen in Half-Life 2: Episode 1 in the Citadel as they were being loaded into escape pods. By the end of Episode 2, the player has learned to fear and loathe them. They appear powerful and completely evil.
It’s easy to look at the Advisors and assume them to be the primary Combine race, but Breengrub implies that they are not. They are in fact victims of the Universal Union, just like the Nihilanth’s race, the Vortigaunts and Humans.
The Shu’ulathoi had a hidden society. Telepathic in nature, their weak physical existences were vastly contrasted to the rich culture they created with their minds.
“Philosophers. Scientists. Dreamers, sages, composers of intricate artforms that exist only in their minds. An invisible culture that persists–or persisted–for eons. In the larval state, they possess a racial telepathy. During the dormant phase, they are engaged in ceaseless communication. They are shapers of visions that they trade like currency, builders of unseen worlds.”
But this all changed when the Shu’ulathoi were discovered by who we can only assume to be the Combine.
“And so it went for generations, for eons. Until the world of the Shu’ulathoi somehow came to the attention of…the ones I cannot name.”
Before this, the Shu’ulathoi were afflicted with a mental parasite. A kind of telepathic virus that spread throughout their civilization. Breengrub implies that the Shu’ulathoi quarantined affected members in an effort to save the whole race. The Combine saw this parasite as an opportunity and used it to quickly corrupt the Shu’ulathoi.
“THEY came upon this paradise of philosophers, this unbodied malleable invisible empire, where only thought had power. But such power. And in its isolation, such vulnerability. They were a perfect target, those perfect hosts. With an unerring eye for weakness, THEY pursued not the host but the parasite. This is what THEY are after all.”
“What is known is that the home world was at last breached, its harvest of hosts exhumed. And the first of the nurseries set to work.”
2. Not all Shu’ulathoi are bad
Not all were affected by the combine. Some managed to escape assimilation.
“You have friends. Allies. I have heard their chatter. I have heard them spoken of. This should give you hope. Nothing can be without flaw. The superstructure is riddled with cracks. THEY are vulnerable. THEY are compromised. I am “living” proof.”
This probably means there are Shu’ulathoi still resisting the Universal Union. Some of them might have escaped during the initial assimilation while others could have adopted a state of mental hibernation to avoid corruption.
“A desperate few encysted, deeper, thrust themselves into trances that would endure hundreds of thousands of years. They sleep still. And fewer still took flight. By what means I cannot comprehend…I am not that much one of them. Little of this knowledge is shared or shareable. But they flew/fled.”
It also appears that the uncorrupted Shu’ulathoi fought back. The result of this resistance is unknown but it’s an interesting possibility that they may still experience the same oppression the Vortigaunts and Humans still do at the hands of the Universal Union.
“There is some indication that once they understood the process of parasitic engineering, they embarked on a desperate course of subversion. If they found another world, this is something I cannot know.”
Finding these “sleeping philosophers” could be the key to understanding the Combine.
3. The Advisors are suspended in a larval state
The Shu’ulathoi, as we see them in the game, are only babies.
“The host bodies, the grubs, are a larval stage. Dormant and buried in the epochs of extremity, waiting to hatch, but not wasting their time.”
Much like the human suppression field, the Combine are preventing their reproduction by suppressing their growth into adulthood.
“More commonly, metamorphosis is suppressed. The hosts are equipped with amplifying devices–for locomotion, for investigation.”
It’s highly relevant that Breengrub implies that the Shu’ulathoi can choose their own physical form upon hatching, presumably by using their psychic ability to shape cells.
“Their psychic strength is such that they can imprint upon their cells and dictate the form which they will take upon hatching. But again, the hatched forms are airy nothings, of little import to the culture of the grubs. The Shu’ulathoi scarcely acknowledge them.”
Could these hatched ‘nothings’ imitate the Human form? It’s just speculation, but one peculiar entity in particular comes to mind.
4. The Combine can replicate consciousness
The Combine can transfer a single consciousness into multiple hosts and machines.
This was suspected, but not known for sure until Breengrub mentioned it. He writes that his own consciousness has been copied and stored multiple times, as part of his pact.
“As for myself, I believe there were several copies made. The first was made as a condition of surrender. Part of the bargain. After that, occasional backups.”
This could imply that Breen had his consciousness copied long before his fate at the Citadel. Breengrub goes on to explain that the same occurs for every race visited by the Combine.
“The finest minds are stored and then imprinted, replicated over and over on an endless supply of hosts.“
Who else in the Half-Life universe managed to do this? None other than Aperture Science, with GLaDOS/Caroline. Though we can only speculate on a potential relationship between Aperture and the Combine, such a link would certainly be interesting.
Breengrub also writes that conscious data degrades each time it is copied. He seems to lose memories as he is replicated.
“Each one younger, with fewer genuine memories. I can review of course but it is not the same as knowing. I don’t trust the infused data. How do I know it hasn’t been altered? How do I know I haven’t been altered? Whoever it is shifting me, helping me leap ahead, I sense distress, futility. What’s left of me, an increasingly degenerated copy. Earlier versions. Without the wisdom of the older ones.”
“I feel I am getting farther and farther away from myself…a standard bearer without an army…make of me what you will. Why do they keep me around? A creature that grows both more youthful and more senile at the same time.”
5. Vortigaunt Foes
We aren’t given much about information about where Breengrub is being physically held, but one thing seems apparent – Vortigaunts are present.
Could we assume these Vortigaunts to be hostile? Could they remain enslaved by the Combine? Breengrub doesn’t appear to be sure either.
“I can use the name Shu’ulathoi because THEY do not recognize that term. The vortigaunts have developed a language which defies THEIR comprehension.”
The name ‘Shu’ulathoi’ has evidently been around for a long time, as we hear Vortigaunts using the name on Earth. Breengrub being surrounded by Vortigaunts suggests we only see the ones that fled to Earth from Xen. Many others may still be trapped and enslaved by the Combine, plotting in the shadows using language the Shu’ulathoi do not understand to undermine them.
“Even these vortigaunts…what if they are of the other sort, allied with THEM, and merely feigning revolutionary thought?”
Breengrub is swifty silenced right after sharing these thoughts.
“The vortigaunts are singing… It is a kind of hush. Silence is the oppressor. I speak to hear myself speak. I cannot bear the loneliness. They want me to be still but I cannot. I’ve had enough of stillness. Why should I flee again? Why should I fear? What do I really know?”
Can we really trust the Vortigaunts?
“I don’t care if THEY hear me, do you hear? I don’t care! I will not be muffled. Don’t move me again! No more shifting from dark to dark! No more mgfghrff Nmrff”
After that final transmission in July 2014, Breengrub started talking nonsense before turning silent. He hasn’t returned since.
What are your thoughts? Discuss below.