To someone who is playing Warframe, the phrase “What are Tenno?” is a pretty easy question to answer on the surface. A Tenno is the player’s character. It’s who we are playing as from the moment we wake up in the hands of Captain Vor to the moment we free ourselves on the Moon to the moment that we watch the Lotus return home. More specifically, the Tenno is the person in the back of your ship who telepathically controls a Warframe during missions and occasionally leaps out of said Warframe to do things on their own.
But deeper down, the answer to “What are Tenno?” is a little more complicated.
The first thing to note is that the Tenno are all children from a specific ship – the Zariman 10-0, that was lost in the Void. When the ship was found, only children were found to be alive, everyone else was dead. While they were in the Void though, these kids gained a huge amount of Void power and they didn’t really know how to control any of it. Of course, when a bunch of Orokin soldiers found the ship and found a bunch of kids inside, the kids got scared and accidentally attacked. How did the Orokin respond? They sealed them all up in cryopods and put them to sleep for a bit while they worked out what to do next.
But here’s the interesting thing. The Zariman 10-0 was a military ship. There weren’t supposed to be families on it at all, according to some sources (most notably the codex entry for Ember Prime). Not that the Orokin really cared, mind you. They did some experiments, messed with the kids a little bit then kinda ignored them, considering them to be evil monsters. The decision whether to destroy them, weaponize them or rehabilitate them was an issue for about five minutes, until the Sentients decided to attack.
When the Sentients came, the Orokin were too busy throwing anything and everything at them. Including these weird infested things called Warframes.
The Warframes were completely feral at first. Of course they were, they were humans infected with a specific strain of infestation, which turned their skin into steel and mutated energy. Even the well-trained minds of elite Dax soldiers couldn’t cope with that. At some point though, someone working for Ballas figured out that the Tenno had the ability to calm down the Warframes. Just by being there.
So the Tenno and the Warframes ended up working together. To the point that they were one and the same. But here’s another question. What are Tenno, from the view of everyone else?
To the Lotus, the answer is obvious. The Tenno are her children, the Warframes are the Tenno’s tools. Or at least, they were until the Lotus buggered off. To many others, from Teshin to the Syndicates to the Quills, the Tenno are buckets of untapped potential, filled with huge amounts of power we haven’t eve begun to touch. But not everyone is completely aware that the Warframe and the Tenno are two separate things. Teshin knew all along what you were. The Red Veil were aware that Tenno and Warframes weren’t the same because they originally looked after Rell, who had his own Warframe.
Some of our enemies are also in the know. The Twin Queens know that the Warframes and the Tenno are very different and, during the War Within, they separate you from your Warframe in order to take control of your Tenno mind. But it’s not clear how far this knowledge goes. Vay Hek for example doesn’t care either way what you are, and neither do the other Grineer higher-ups. As far as they’re all concerned, you’re just a threat. The further down the chain of command you go, the more of a threat you are and the less the Grineer care what you are. The lowest Grineer will just call you Tenno Skoom, never knowing what they’re shooting at, even if they see a Tenno exit their Warframe and survive.
It’s not much better for the Corpus either. There’s some idea of what Warframes and Tenno are but it doesn’t always sync up. There’s Warframe-disrupting technology out there but the Tenno’s power in general is a vast unknown. Heck, we don’t even know how great our powers are.
To Ordis, the Cephalon who has always been by your side though, you are something else. You, the Tenno, the Operator, are everything. The light of Ordis’s existence.
No matter what you are, you are important.