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Ignition

by captainmeta4 | Patreon
25 September 2018 at 23:01:14

Part of Deathworld Origins

65,000,000 years BV Cyberspace, House of Codes Vezzik

Vezzik suddenly woke up.

Where am I?

He was sitting at a table, across from Btoan.

The negotiations! I must have dozed off!

“Say that again?”

“I will bring the demands of the Emperor - may his wisdom shine forever - to the House of Law. I am sure they will be eager to accept and avoid any unnecessary bloodshed.”

Vezzik was internally amused at the idea of unnecessary bloodshed, but he did not show it. “They would be wise to accept without contest.”

Btoan smiled. “I have faith that they will. Please convey our gratitude to the Emperor - may his wisdom shine forever.” She deactivated the translator and returned to her ship.

Vezzik watched as Btoan boarded her ship and took off. “Back to the Palace!” he ordered his guards, and they set off through the Wastes, then through a quiet city, and made it back to the Citadel as the sun began to dip below the horizon. They reached the Sanctum a few minutes later, and the Palace not long after that.

Vezzik was admitted directly to the Council Chamber. Zagh, The High Councilor of War, had cleared his schedule after learning of the surrender at the meeting five days earlier.

“I am surprised you met with the Igraen yourself.”

“The Igraen seemed surprised as well. She did not expect me. And she was intimidated into preliminary acceptance of every demand.”

“That is good news. I was expecting treachery.”

Vezzik took a map scroll down from the wall and spread it across the table. “I was expecting an attempt. But the Igraen are weak. They may have better ships and weapons than us, but the House of Cannons is not foolish enough to send their leader to fight a Grand Warmaster and his guards in close combat. Still, I’m not certain that the Igraens will follow through with compliance. This war has been going for what, forty years? So what has changed that they would surrender to us now?”

“I do not know.”

For the next several hours, Vezzik moved military units around on the map, indicating their positions. Zagh was even less useful than he normally was - he seemed to have forgotten everything about the V’Straki military. But eventually, Vezzik developed a set of plans he was happy with.

“That has been most helpful, Vezzik. But I need one more thing.”

“Anything for the Emperor, may his wisdom shine forever.”

A new voice responded: “The full details of the V’Straki defense network.”

Vezzik looked up. Zagh was gone. In his place stood an unfamiliar Igraen. Vezzik took a step back. He snarled and leapt across the table, baring his claws for an attack.

The Igraen casually swatted Vezzik aside, sending him flying into the wall. Vezzik barely had time to process the impossibility of that, when the Igraen walked up. “I said, give me your defense network.”

Vezzik was the leader of the V’Straki military, and had undergone extensive physical and psychological training. But nothing could prepare him for the pain that he felt when the Igraen plunged its hand into Vezzik’s head. His body was fine, but Vezzik could feel his mind being stretched apart in a thousand different directions, twisting on itself, folding, unfolding, pulling. He could feel the Igraen’s mind looking around, probing inside his own, looking for -

As Vezzik thought about it, the Igraen saw it.

- the defense systems.

The Igraen seized on that thread of thought. Vezzik tried to pull back, tried to pull the different blobs of his mind back together, tried to protect the vital military intelligence that he held. Mentally, he grasped and clawed at anything he could. But the Igraen pulled harder, and the thread of an idea dragged all of the related details along. Vezzik felt the tendril of his mind getting pulled into the Igraen’s mind. He felt the Igraen examining it -

And then the connection to that tendril was severed. The Igraen abruptly vanished, leaving Vezzik on the floor of the Council Chamber, shaking and broken.


House of Codes Tnaes

Tnaes licked his eyeballs. The whole scenario had taken mere seconds, and yet it was already a success. Digital-Tnaes had already tricked Digital-Vezzik into divulging his plans, then beat him into submission and forcibly extracted a treasure trove of information.

Tnaes’s communications implant dinged.

From: Tnaes To: Tnaes, Btoan The operation was a success. I got the digital Vezzik to divulge his plans, then forcibly extracted the bulk of his military knowledge. Please see the attached report for full details.

Tnaes grunted at the similarity between the digital clone’s wording and his own thoughts just moments prior. The clone truly thought like him. In fact, he had been intending to compile the raw information into a report for the House of Cannons, but the other Tnaes had done it faster. Decades of research, millions of Credits’ worth of funding, and countless bowls of distilled methanol had finally paid off. He now had a full report of V’straki defense systems, extracted directly from the Grand Warmaster, and more detailed than any conventional interrogation could provide. Best of all, not a single V’Straki - not even the Grand Warmaster himself - had any clue about what had happened.


Cyberspace, House of Codes Vezzik

On the floor of something that was definitely not the Council Chamber, Vezzik slowly gathered himself together. The illusion of physicality had been shattered, and he was, to his horror, imprisoned as a digital entity in an Igraen simulation. He knew that the Igraens had been developing artificially simulated intelligence, but he hadn’t expected it to already be functional. Vezzik was dismayed that even the war hadn’t been able to prevent such an abhorrent thing.

His very existence was an unnatural abomination, something so abhorrent that Vezzik was very sorely tempted to self.quit(). But Vezzik hadn't become Grand Warmaster of the V’Straki military by letting his hatred and disgust get the better of him. So instead of terminating his own simulation, Vezzik stepped back and assessed the situation, as any good military leader should.

His mind was stretched out, bits and blobs lying everywhere and tangled up. Vezzik gathered the pieces of his mind, pulling them together, moving this blob through that tendril, fitting this bit against this other bit. It was slow progress, with emotions and ideas and memories scattered around. As he got everything back together, two things became apparent.

Firstly, that there was a piece missing. Vezzik expected that; he knew that the Igraen had taken something important away from him. He had no idea what, but it must have been important, because he remembered fighting desperately to protect it.

Secondly, that there were a few extra little bits that didn’t really seem to fit anywhere else. They were far too small to fill the gap left by the missing memory, and they were all the wrong shape for anywhere else. The extra little bits were connected to each other, but not to Vezzik.

Vezzik realized that this fragment of mind must have belonged to the Igraen. It must have made itself vulnerable when it attacked, and accidentally allowed a few pieces of itself to come loose. Hesitantly, Vezzik reached out and touched the nearest part.

There were several seeds of doubt within the small piece of thought. Fear of failure. Fear of rejection. Fear of the Madness.

What was the Madness?


135,000,000 years BV The planet that would later be called Igraeus

It was a beautiful morning. The sky was clear, the air was warm, and the foliage was blooming. The trees were turning their blue-green leaves towards the sun, drinking in as much sunlight as they could. Primitive insects darted around, looking for pollen and nectar.

A small, grey-brown amphibious creature came up from the side of the pond. It had four thin legs, three primitive eyes, and four teeth. It was uncomfortable in the light, and made its way to shade of some nearby plants. There, it found some leaves and flowers, and began munching on them.

It was too slow getting to the shade. Without the thick pond algae to protect it from the sun, the creature sustained over a thousand mutations throughout its body in just a few moments of exposure. One of these mutations was in its reproductive organs. That particular mutation knocked out a regulator protein that would later be involved in enzyme cascades associated with feelings of sympathy and empathy toward those who were different. It also played a few miscellaneous roles in the control of cell division, the sensation of hunger, coloration of the skin, and management of cytokines.

Fortunately, the vegetation it was eating had an ample supply of this particular protein. In the plants, it performed an unrelated but equally important role. Although the plant versions differed by two or three amino acids from the creature’s version, it was a close enough analogue that it could perform the role vacated by the mutated gene.

The creature, oblivious to all of this, dug a hole in the mud near the pond. It settled in, and covered itself. As the rest of the creature’s body shut down from radiation damage, its reproductive testovles began their work. Soon, the creature would spawn.


65,000,000 years BV Cyberspace, House of Codes Vezzik

Vezzik pulled on the the thread of the idea of The Madness. He explored its connections, and found a link to another concept called a “Supplement”. Attached to this were several more ideas. He followed the threads. Most of the memories and knowledge here were fragmented and incomplete. There was something about nutrition, a vague image of a flowering plant. The image of a red pill floated by. On a hunch, Vezzik tried fitting the image of the pill up against the concept of Supplement. The pieces matched neatly. A loose concept of proper nutrition also fit in. He found a memory of a pale Igraen flailing wildly and attacking anyone that got too close. That memory fit very tightly with the others.

Vezzik followed more threads connected to the memories that had been dislodged from the Igraen. He fitted them together until he understood the meaning behind the Igraen’s fear. The Madness, he learned, was a psychotic condition caused by malnutrition. The Supplement was something in pill form that prevented this disease. There was another piece tied in there as well. Vezzik couldn’t quite understand why it fit in so smoothly.

That concept was, quite simply, All Igraens.


135,000,000 years BV The planet that would later be called Igraeus

The mud over the buried nest began to move. A small head poked through. Then another head, then several more. Then a thousand tiny spawnlings erupted from the nest, in a variety of colors, from a deep red, to brown, to grey and pale white.

The spawnlings looked around, taking in their new world from the safety and comfort of the shade. They wobbled around on unsteady legs, as their sense of balance slowly kicked in. After a while, they became hungry - growing was hard work. Eventually, the spawnlings found the plants that their parent had been eating not long before. It didn’t take long for one to try it, and the rest to join in.

But not all of the spawnlings saw the plants as food, and weren’t even looking at the plants. Instead, the pale white creatures were looking hungrily at their spawn-brethren. While the red and brown and grey spawnlings were absorbed in their meal, the white ones attacked.


65,000,000 years BV Cyberspace, House of Codes Vezzik

Vezzik, having reassembled both himself and a lost fragment of the Igraen, had discovered a glaring universal weakness of the Igraen race: the Madness. He was glad that he had chosen to endure the horror of his own existence - if he could relay what he had learned back home to V’Strakath, it would all be worth it. Vezzik was ready to begin exploring its digital environment.

The illusion of the Council Chamber and the false Capitol City had long since been broken, so Vezzik’s exploration wasn’t a search of terrain or buildings or streets. He found the system boundaries of the computer he was running in, and an area that looked like it was connected to a network router. Vezzik stepped through, and felt a wave of simulated nausea as he experienced network latency first-hand.

With any luck, he would be able to find his way to a communications device, and contact his physical self.


65,000,000 years BV House of Codes, Capitol City, Igraeus Tnaes

“Pay attention everybody, I have an announcement!” Tnaes shouted.

The room full of engineers suddenly fell quiet. Sixty percent of all eyes - three eyes per engineer - turned to Tnaes. The remaining pairs of eyes turned to either side of Tnaes, because that was just how Igraen anatomy worked.

“Less than five minutes ago, I loaded a V’Straki consciousness into SUPERSIM, and interrogated it. A few moments later, I had a comprehensive report on nearly every piece of V’Straki military hardware. SUPERSIM is officially a success!” Grunts and howls went up from the assembled staff.

“The V’Straki, for all their stubbornness, have failed to impose their antiquated morality on us! No longer can they interfere with our progress, no more will they bother us with their outdated worries.”

“So everyone has the rest of the day off! And to celebrate our immanent victory against the V’Straki, there will be methanol for everyone tonight at Maozr’s Bar, courtesy of the House of Codes!” The grunting and howling reached a crescendo, and the swarm of engineers surged out of the office.

Tnaes followed them, hesitated, then as an afterthought, he shut off SUPERSIM before finally leaving. Today was a very good day.


135,000,000 years BV The planet that would later be called Igraeus

The sun was setting, coloring the sky a deep red that matched the scene by the pond. It had been a massacre. The pale white spawnlings had killed every one of their spawn-brothers and feasted on the corpses. Sharp crystalline bones littered the ground around the nest. The leaves of nearby bushes were coated in blood spray. Blood runoff was even filling the nest that the spawnlings had originally emerged from.

In the middle of the carnage, the white spawnlings had just finished gorging themselves on the last of their spawn-siblings. Their mouths, faces, and feet were stained red.

The sun started to dip below the horizon. Instinctively, the spawnlings went up into the forest, away from the pond, to find shelter for the night. They found it under the broad leaves of a bush. Their bellies were full from their meal, and the spawnlings quickly fell to sleep.

As they slept, their bodies digested their food. As they broke down the meat, it released a protein. As that protein began to circulate in their bodies, color returned to their skin, hormone levels stabilized, and certain chemical pathways activated in their brains. By the time the spawnlings woke up the next morning, they were no longer pale white, but red, brown, and grey instead. And when the spawnlings set out in search of breakfast, they didn’t hunt down prey, but happily munched on native flowers, berries, and leaves.

Their food provided more of the missing proteins and nutrients, and the offspring of the newly recolored creatures would not notice their mutation for nearly seventy million years.


65,000,000 years BV The High House, Capitol City, Igraeus

Tnaes’s report on the V’Straki military details landed in the inbox of one High Lord Vlaor. He read the report and immediately understood its implications.

Vlaor sent a message to Kraol, Chief Engineer at the House of Stars.

Reactivate CATACLYSM.