Part of Deathworld Origins
Approximately 65,000,000 years BV Royal Communications Array, Outer Citadel, V’strakath, Strak’kel Drassik
Drassik was on duty at the V’Strakath communications station when when the single-most devastating message was delivered. He had been rewarded handsomely for delivering the notice of the Igraen surrender - so much so, that he had gone out to the market and bought a new, brightly colored tunic, as well as a cushioned chair for work. The Grand Warmaster had sent one of his personal servants to the Royal Communications Array with a purse full of gold, and Drassik had delightfully accepted.
Despite his newfound luxury, Drassik was still on full alert at the Array. His new cushioned seat was far more comfortable than the old bare stool had been, but he had a duty to perform.
The printer whirred to life, and began spitting out page after page. Drassik initially thought there must be some mistake. Most communications were one or two pages, perhaps three. Rarely, a four page transmission came through.
This one was almost ten pages long, and seemed to be some type of health report. Drassik looked at the cover sheet - another message for Grand Warmaster Vezzik. For some reason, the Grand Warmaster was also listed as the sender. That was odd. Drassik fit the sheaf of paper into a binding, closed and locked the Communications Array, and made his way to the Outer Sanctum.
He found Vezzik’s quarters and knocked on the door.
“Transmission from the Royal Communications Array for Grand Warmaster Vezzik”
Vezzik opened the door. “You’re the same courier that delivered the last message.”
“Yes sir, I am.”
“Well, get on with it. What do you have for me today?”
Drassik handed over the bound packet. “Large transmission for you, sir.”
“Accepted. Now get back to your station.”
Drassik’s face fell. Vezzik noticed. “Just because you lucked out and delivered one good message, does not mean you are special. I gave you the gold, because I was in a good mood. Now get out of here.”
Vezzik was right. Of course he was right - he was the Grand Warmaster, and Drassik was a lowly Communications Operator. Duty to the Empire came first, always. “Yes sir.”
So Drassik made his way back to the Outer Citadel, and back to his Array station, and resumed his post.
One uneventful hour later, four Sanctum Guards, armed with Zheron rifles, kicked in his door.
“You have been summoned by Grand Warmaster Vezzik. In the name of the Emperor - may his wisdom shine forever- you are ordered to come with us.”
Asteroid field, Igraen territory Kraol, Chief Engineer of the House of Stars
Kraol was initially confused by the message that had arrived in his implant.
There were no other details.
Kraol had to spend several minutes trawling through the data archives in order to find the file, and eventually pulled up the old project data. There were designs for massive tugboats with unfathomable amounts of thrust and not much else. There were plans for classified orbital shipyards needed to build said tugboats. There were maps, identifying suitable meteors that had been tagged with tracking beacons. There was a report on the V’Straki orbital defensive networks, a report on the difficulties of cloaking such a large object, and finally, a project closure order.
CATACLYSM, it seemed, had been a military project from the very beginning of the war. It was beautiful in its simplicity - tow a meteor into a collision course with a planet, then sit back and wait for the fireworks. However, the project had been abandoned when the House of Spies reported that the V’Straki orbital defenses would have detected and vaporized any such meteor long before it was a threat. And to date, nobody had ever been able to penetrate the V’Straki defensive network. It had its own private communications, with private FTL datasync boxes, it was isolated from all publicly accessible equipment, and even isolated from the rest of the V’Straki communications network.
So there was only one reason CATACLYSM would be resumed now.
Barely able to contain his excitement, Kraol called in his engineers to begin planning out the project. Soon, the war would be over.
Office of Grand Warmaster Vezzik Outer Sanctum, V’strakath, Strak’kel Drassik
Drassik was unceremoniously pushed back into Vezzik’s office, where he had been only an hour before.
Vezzik’s face was dark with rage. His tail whipped angrily from side to side. “How much of this report did you see?” he demanded.
“Just the cover page sir. And something about an Igraen disease.”
“Good. Let me be very clear. You saw nothing. You heard nothing. This transmission does not exist. You never delivered it, and I never received it. We never even had this conversation. Do you understand?”
Drassik was too confused to do anything but nod.
“Now, in exchange for your silence, I want you to apply to the Guardsman Academy. You look fairly strong for your age, and it would be a waste of muscle to have you sitting at a communications array”
Drassik went from confusion to shock. Admission to the Guardsman Academy was highly competitive, as it was nearly the only way to rise from the lower castes.
This must have registered in his face, because the next thing Vezzik said was “I will see to it that you get in.”
One hour later…
Vezzik had sent off Drassik and promptly petitioned for an emergency meeting of the High Council. They were assembled in the Council Chamber, where just a few nights earlier, Vezzik had discussed the Igraen surrender with War Councilor Zagh.
“I am about to share something of grave importance,” he announced. “But first, your duty to the Emperor requires that we swear the Silent Vow: On my life, the words spoken in this place shall never be repeated, from now until the end of time.”
In turn, each member of the Council recited the oath, and pantomimed sewing their lips closed. After they had finished, they turned to Vezzik.
“Now then. As you all know, the Igraen House of Cannons offered surrender negotiations several days ago. However, few hours ago we received this transmission via the Communications Array.” Vezzik plopped the file down on the table. “The surrender was a ruse.”
“Then why surrender at all?” asked Zagh.
Vezzik spat it out with disgust. “The Igraen wretch used the negotiation meeting to create a false copy of my own consciousness, and extract some type of information from it. We have to assume that everything I know is compromised”
The Council was horrified. The Igraen pursuit of digitizing their own essence was morally abhorrent in its own right, but to do it unwillingly to a another species… that was a crime against nature itself.
Vezzik continued. “This transmission was sent to me by the… thing. Apparently it was able to discover some critical information and send it through.”
None of the Council seemed interested in what the digital abomination had reported. Vezzik was undeterred.
“The Igraen race suffers from a universal genetic disorder that impairs their ability to think rationally. They call it ‘Madness.’ This disease is treated - but not cured - by a naturally occurring substance found in their native plants and animals, in particular their ‘Tnok’ plant. They also purify this substance into a pill they call a ‘Supplement’.
Wurgt perked up, now that something plant-related had been mentioned. “So they are wholly dependent on Tnok for sanity?”
“Yes, that and also ‘Tptp’ fruit. The Igraens won’t starve - as members of the Galactic Compact, they’ll be eligible for emergency disaster relief - but they certainly won’t be able to maintain a functioning civilization.”
Now the High Council was paying attention.
“How would we actually do that?” asked Zagh. “We’re just barely able to contain the Igraen threat as it is. We rad-bomb and nervejam colony after endless colony, and they just pop up elsewhere! The orbital defense networks deflect an unending stream of missiles, and we can barely keep up with the onslaught. It takes all our resources just to avoid being overrun; how are we supposed to dedicate firepower towards an agricultural mission?
“Wurgt, you forget that Strak’kel is a Grade Zero deathworld.” Vezzik smiled wickedly. ”The Igraen can’t deal with anything tougher than Grade Six. A few vials of stagnant pond water should do the trick.”
The High House, Capitol City, Igraeus Tnaes, Chief Engineer of the House of Codes
Tnaes, Btoan, and Kraol were gathered in Vlaor’s office. It was a lavish place, with opulent red curtains, gold leaf along the walls and ceiling, and a desk of solid Tektek wood with an inlaid screen. Tnaes didn’t want to think about how much the desk had cost.
All of them had been given access to CATACLYSM.
Kraol began. “During the first attempt at CATACLYSM, the House of Stars designed and built several shipyards and tugboats. Most of the shipyards still exist in a repurposed state, but the tugboats have all been scrapped for parts.
“What’s the estimated time on building new tugboats?” asked Vlaor.
“We have existing supply for almost all of the materials, so it’s just a matter of updating the designs to work with modern control software. We may even be able to incorporate SUPERSIM - if Tnaes can add a control interface?”
“Of course we can.” Tnaes interjected.
“Then we estimate a prototype tugboat in two months, and full fleet in a bit more than one cycle. Less, if we can bring in the House of Forges to help with the sheer amount of labor needed.”
“Does the House of Stars have the budget to pay the House of Forges?”
“Then of course.”
“Then I think we would be able to have a full fleet in nine-tenths of a cycle.”
“Wonderful.” Vlaor turned to Btoan. “The V’Straki orbital defenses. What’s the status on dealing with those?”
“We still have the Infiltrator,” she replied. “But we can’t activate it until we need it.”
Guardsmen Academy, V’Strakkath, Strak’kel Drassik
True to his word, Vezzik had pulled some influence somewhere, and Drassik had cruised easily through the admissions process. He wondered what had been so important in that file to make it worth sending him to the Guardsmen Acadamy, but ultimately, that didn’t matter. His duty was to the Empire, and right now he was needed in the armed forces.
And so Drassik checked into his first day of training, eager to serve and only marginally apprehensive about what that might entail.
Drassik quickly realized that it didn’t actually entail a lot. He met his bunk-mate, a hugely muscular specimen by the name of Mezhir.
Drassik realized he must have been gawking, because Mezhir asked “You never seen a rock hauler before?”
“No, I, uh…” Drassik was embarrassed.
“Is alright. I need out of quarry anyways. Tore a tendon. Doc healed it up good, but I canna haul any time soon.”
“I’m sorry about that.”
“No need. I was useless there. We haul granite all day long, for ships or guns or something for Ig-reen war. Then Migh gets - you know who Migh is, right?
“High Councilor of Industry.”
“Yup. We haul up load of ore, next week Migh has yuge metal statue outside office.”
“So I thinks, I get in Guard, I put muscles to use hitting Ig-reens until no more left to hit. I serve Empire better now.”
Drassik nodded. Despite his higher birth and upbringing, he suddenly felt very inadequate.
“Anyways, enough about me, why you here?”
“I wanted to do something more useful too,” Drassik lied. “The opportunity came up for me to apply, so I did.”
“You small. How you get in?”
“I got in on the written test.” That wasn’t a lie; Drassik had selected the highly unpopular written test and done very well.
“Humpf. We see how you do in training.”
The training consisted mainly of combat scenarios followed by tactics lectures, with rotating promotions based on performance. Drassik thought he did reasonably well in the scenarios. Despite being smaller than the typical soldier, Drassik was much smarter. Where Mezhir would charge blindly into an ambush, Drassik would see it coming and route around it.
On the flip side, Mezhir was strong, so much so that he could brawl his way out of just about any problem.
As the weeks passed, Drassik’s muscles grew stronger. Soon, he hoped, he would make the cut.
Igraen Military Shipyard Eternal Thought Tnaes
“...Three, two, one, scan complete.” Tnaes and Kraol watched through the window as the tech removed the leads from the pilot’s head. “All done. Give the computers a few minutes to analyze and compile, and you’ll be good to go.” The tech packed up his equipment and left.
Tnaes entered the room. “Welcome to Eternal Thought. I don’t believe we’ve met?”
“Rdaer, House of Cannons, spaceflight pilot.”
“Tnaes, House of Codes, chief engineer.”
“And I’m Kraol, House of Stars, chief engineer.”
“So what exactly is this digital version of me going to do? Something for the war obviously, but nobody has told me anything.”
Tnaes paused for a moment to cybernetically grant Rdaer clearance for CATACLYSM. “Walk and talk?” Rdaer grunted in agreement, and the three of them set off through the station.
“The concept itself is pretty simple,” Kraol explained. “Throw rock at planet, planet goes boom. In practice, it’s more complicated, not least because of the V’Straki orbital defense networks. The tugboats have to coordinate in order to release the rock on the correct trajectory, because once it’s gone we can’t correct it. So we have to administer a huge amount of force, precisely measured and timed.”
“And that’s where I come in? To have one synchronized consciousness across all the systems?”
“Exactly. Tnaes here recently completed the development of true simulated intelligence. Your brain scan will be used to create a mind-state that will be simulated within the ships. It will, of course, have access to all of the ship’s hardware and controls.”
“So I literally get to win the war?” Rdaer asked.
Tnaes replied “If the tests are successful, then yes. And if you’re as good as Btoan says you are, then it should be no problem. And here we are.”
The trio had arrived at the control room for Eternal Thought’s launch bay. The bay itself held the engine prototype, an array of kinetic thrusters and reactors.
Around the control room, engineers were making last-minute preparations for the prototype test.
“SUPERSIM online… Remote control environment loaded.”
“Importing mind state to SUPERSIM.”
“Releasing construction pylons”
“Commencing test flight.”
The tugboat engine slowly drifted out of the launch bay, and spun a lazy quarter turn. It fired up its thrusters-
And then exploded in a silent, violent blaze.
The engineers were dumbfounded. There had been no warning, and no alarms. Everyone stared at the fireball outside the launch bay, barely reacting even when Eternal Thought shuddered under the shock wave.
A few moments later, the sound of the several incoming messages broke the tension.
From: Rdaer To: Rdaer, Btoan, Tnaes, Kraol Subject: Test flight I finished compiling just in time to see the engines explode outside the bay on camera. I wasn't actually in the tugboat. Sabotage?