Part of Deathworld Origins
Date Point: Approximately 65,000,000 years BV Eternal Thought Kraol
“Is the launch bay isolated from the network?”
“Completely.” replied Tnaes. “I’ve also had my engineers isolate all of the construction bays. I realize that will be an inconvenience, but we can’t risk another intrusion.”
“I understand. Rdaer, are you fully loaded into the pod?”
“I am.” Rdaer’s voice issued from a hand-held that served as a host for his digital consciousness. It had a camera, speaker, microphone, and an obscene amount of processing power. The physical Rdaer smiled and licked his eyeballs.
Kraol checked the time in his communicator. “It looks like the engineers are finishing up the final checks on the engine. We should get you loaded in.
The two chief engineers left the office, Tnaes holding Rdaer’s pod. The engineers began to power up the secondary prototype.
“SUPERSIM online… Remote control environment loaded.”
Tnaes connected Rdaer’s pod to a jackpoint in a control panel.
“Importing mind state to SUPERSIM.”
“Releasing construction pylons”
“Commencing test flight.”
Rdaer slowly flew the test engine out of the launch bay. He gave it a turn, and powered up the kinetic thrusters. “Everything looks good to me. How is it on your end?” he asked.
“Everything successful so far.” Kraol responded. He was excited.
“And it hasn’t blown up yet.” added Tnaes, under his breath. “So far so good.” he said, out loud.
Rdaer flew the test engine in a slow loop around Eternal Thought, then docked it in the landing bay. “Test successful!” he shouted, through the speaker. “Now we just need a few more of these.”
Kraol was excited. He’d been thrilled when he had received the CATACLYSM file, but now, victory was finally within reach. He licked his eyeballs in anticipation. “Start up the rest of the construction bays and begin full production.
As Kraol began issuing orders for full production, Tnaes checked his honeypot trap. There was no sign of the digital creature that had caused the explosion.
Zhadersil, Galactic Compact Warp Lane G19 Drassik
“And these are our cabins?”
“Yes”, responded Shipmaster Xagh. “This one for you, and this one next door, for Mezhir.”
They deposited their bags in their rooms and made note of the cabin numbers.
“Now, I am sure you want to check your mission supplies. They are in cargo hold H, box 3110. Then you will need to report for duty, if you want to keep your cover. Drassik, you will be in the galley. Mezhir, I am assigning you to guard duty. Your shift starts in… two hours.”
“Yes, Shiplord.” Drassik replied.
Xagh walked away, leaving Drassik and Mezhir on their own. They set off to find their mission equipment, took a wrong turn, ended up in cargo hold F, and didn’t realize their mistake until finding that shipping container F3110 was filled a shipment of live flumlouts. Drassik backed out of the cargo container quickly, hoping that the resulting mess wasn’t a biohazard.
Cursing themselves for wasting time, Drassik and Mezhir worked their way to cargo hold H, which was - naturally - at the opposite end of the ship. They located box 3110, and found a miniature laboratory.
There was a freezer, filled with vials of what appeared to be ice. There was a cabinet, full of drones. Another cabinet was packed with Zheron guns. The rest of the cabinets were filled with “dummy” drones - things that would look like space debris to scanners. They knew from the mission briefing that each ice vial had been assigned to a different Igraen farm territory, and contained a mix of viable biologic agents - mostly fungal spores - suited for taking out Tnok and Tptp plants in that territory. The drones were for giving the vials a one-way trip to the surface, and protecting them from the forces and heat of atmospheric entry.
The ship’s itinerary had it passing by the first Igraen colony world - Igraeot - in fifteen hours, when there would be a five second drop window to release the drones. Drassik and Mezhir closed up the cargo container, and reported for work.
Fourteen hours later…
After a thoroughly unproductive work shift, Drassik and Mezhir arrived at their lab-in-a-box, this time without having taken a wrong turn to the F hold. They found three vials labeled Igraeot 1, 2, and 3. Mezhir removed three drones from the cabinet, and loaded the vials in, while Drassik paired the drones to a control tablet.
Then, they loaded the drones onto a hover cart, and set off for the airlock.
“Ten minutes to drop window.” Drassik announced to nobody in particular.
They reached the airlock and loaded the drones into the airlock, and began depressurizing it.
The drones floated out of the airlock. They were outside the Zhadersil, but within its warp envelope.
Meanwhile, in the Control Room
Xagh was alone in the control room. Normally, Varr and Dorn would be there with him, but they were both off duty at the moment, thanks to a convenient clerical error.
Xagh removed a memory card from his uniform, and inserted it into his controls. “Ship, on my mark, execute the orders on the memory card.”
Drassik and Mezhir watched the count tick down to the deployment window. One minute. Thirty seconds. Ten seconds. Five, four, three, two, one….
The Zhadersil dropped out of warp into local space.
The warp bubble collapsed, and Mezhir directed the drones forward, out of the space that would be occupied by the bubble. Drassik’s tablet screen filled with data. He quickly plotted three trajectories, one for each of Igraeot’s main landmasses, that would allow the drones to descend through the atmosphere.
“This is Igraeot Planetary Security of the House of Shields. Unidentified ship, come in.” The Zhadersil translated the message for Xagh.
He played a pre-recorded message that had been digitally altered to sound like an Igraen. “This is Galactic Compact Cargo Cruiser GO1984. We ran into some debris that disrupted our warp field. We should be off in a moment.”
Drassik sent the trajectories to Mezhir and to the Zhadersil. Mezhir forwarded them to the drones and ordered them to follow it.
The Zhadersil, following the next instruction on Xagh’s card, released several “dummy” drones from other airlocks, and ordered them to follow trajectories similar to the main drones. Then, it re-entered warp space as the drones turned to follow their assigned routes. The Zhadersil followed the final command on Xagh’s memory card, and erased the last ten seconds from the logs. Xagh removed the memory card and returned it to his uniform pocket.
“Mission success. First batch of drones deployed. One planet down, four to go.”
Igraeot Planetary Security, House of Shields, Igraeot Officer Snael
“That was weird.”
“What happened?” asked Supervisor Taormn, as he walked into the room.
“Just a Galactic Compact cargo ship. They said some debris disrupted their warp field and left.”
Taormn turned his sensor array towards where the ship had been detected. Sure enough, a field of debris was streaming away from the area.
“Did they have a flight path filed with the Compact?”
Snael looked it up. “Yes. Lane G19. It passes close to Igraeot this time of the year.”
“Alright. File it under minor incidents. I doubt anything will come of it.”
One week later... Maozr’s Bar Tnaes
“How was your day?”
“Pretty good, actually.”
“Want to tell me about it?”
“Classified. Tell me about your day.”
“Confidential. You’re looking a lot better, though.”
“Heh. The latest project hasn’t had nearly as many setbacks.” Tnaes said, happily, and took a big gulp of methanol. “Something blew up, no casualties, everything else going smoothly.”
“I’m glad that one of us can say that.”
“Why, did something happen while I was offworld? Other than my explosion, I mean.”
“You seriously haven’t heard?” Praomn was shocked. “Hang on, let me send you…” He paused and licked his eyes as he found the right file. “Here you go, read that.”
The message dinged into Tnaes’s implant. He opened it.
SEVERE BLIGHT THREATENS IGRAEOT TNOK YIELD
The House of Fields is reporting that an unfamiliar blight is spreading throughout the ecosystem of Igraeot. So far, an estimated 2% of the planet’s Tnok crop has died. The source of the blight is unknown, although there is speculation of cross-planetary contamination. At this time, the disease is not expected to impact the Alliance’s supply of Supplements, although projections will be adjusted as new information becomes available…
The article was accompanied by a picture of infested Tnok. Rather than green, leafy, and upright, they were black, soggy, and rotten.
“That’s not good.” Tnaes said bluntly.
“Not at all. The farm that I get my research material from is on Igraeot. It’s close to one of the diseased areas too.”
“One of the? How many are there?”
“Three, I think. Looks like a new global contagion. And that was written three days ago. Current estimates are five to six percent infestation of the viable farmland, with no sign of slowing.”
“Damn, that’s really not good.” Tnaes sat and brooded for a moment. His memories of his insane digital clone were creeping back into his mind.
“No, it’s not. The price of Supplements is going up, my research is going to have to take second place to the food supply.”
“And everything will be just fine. Worst case scenario, Igraeot is a total loss, and the House of Stars and the House of Fields have to start colonizing another world. Not the easiest task, but hardly impossible either.”
“A wise man once told me that today might be rough, but tomorrow could be better.”
Praomn grunted in amusement. “I told you that.”
“You did.” Tnaes sipped his methanol. “Do they know if the V’Straki are behind it?”
“It’s unlikely. They specialize in close combat and radiation weaponry. Poisoning a food supply is something we would do. Or rather, we would do, if we had anything strong enough to poison a death world. As it is, the V’Straki can shrug off damn near every infectious disease in the galaxy.”
“I suppose you would know. I just manage code jockeys.”
“I wish I was in your shoes right now. You have some fun project for the war, which apparently involves things blowing up. Meanwhile, I’ve got the House of Words and the High House up my glands wanting to know how widespread the Madness will get. They don’t realize that we have contingencies in place for losing a farm world. We have a huge back-supply of Supplements, and we’re even making some progress on artificial manufacture of them. Like I said before, worst case scenario, the Supplements are a bit more expensive while we wait on a new world to be colonized.”
“Take a vacation then. I hear that the colony on Igraeam is nice this time of its year.”
Praomn finished his bowl of methanol. “It’s been a while. I might just do that.”
V’Straki Colony on Colvu Drassik
The Zhadersil was in orbit around Colvu, with a cargo shuttle dispatched to the surface. Being on a secret mission, it could not just make a straight run of all the Igraen worlds, but instead had to hit them on the way from one world to the next.
Naturally, its shipping route had been planned to bring it close to each Igraen planet.
Drassik relaxed in the shade of some tree native to Colvu. At least, it was tree-sized, but looked rather more like a huge flower. Drassik supposed that it was a side effect of developing on a smaller, less harsh planet.
Mezhir was operating the cargo crane to drop off the delivery. According to the manifest, that was an array of cloaking devices, intended to protect the new Colvu colony from Igraen aggression. Out of idle curiosity, Drassik checked the shipping manifest for his lab-in-a-box. It was listed as as a shipment of stinkwurt. That made sense - it was plausible, and yet nobody was likely to inspect it.
Eventually, the cargo was unloaded, payment was collected, and the Zhadersil was on its way.
Planetary Security, House of Shields, Igraeam Caonm
“...And then he said my spawn would grow up into flumlouts. I mean really, can you believe this? I’m just doing my job; it’s not like it’s my fault his papers expired eight cycles ago.”
“Hey, at least you don’t have to work in immigration any more.” responded Vroat.
“Yeah, this is way more comfor- hang on, I’ve got something. Unscheduled drop from warp. Large cargo transport of some sort.”
“Better not be.” Caonm hit the transmit button and queued up some missiles, just in case. “Unidentified cargo vessel, this is Igraeam Planetary Security of the House of Shields. Identify yourself.”
The speaker crackled. This is Galactic Compact Cargo Cruiser GO1984. We ran into some debris that disrupted our warp field. We should be off in a moment.
“Please move your disabled ship out of the transit la- aaaand they’re gone.”
“Fancy new Compact ships with automatic re-warping,” Vroat complained. “In my day, if your bubble was disrupted, you had to do all the calculations all over again, and that was after you spent eons figuring out where you had ended up.”
“Tell me about it. Ugh, I suppose I have to file a minor incident report, don’t I.”
“Yup. Trust me, you do not want the higher-ups to find out that you missed a report.”
“What’s the point?” Caonm grumbled, as he filled out the paperwork. “It’s not like anybody’s ever going to read them.”
Two days later Eternal Thought Tnaes
Tnaes growled at the message that had just arrived.
From: Kraol To: Tnaes, Btoan Subject: Emergency. My office, now.
Tnaes made his way over to Kraol’s office. It wasn’t as fancy as Vlaor’s in the High House, but it was still the nicest rooms in the shipyard. “What’s so important?”
“You know the blight on Igraeot?” Kraol asked
“Yes….?” he and Btoan replied.
“It’s developed on Igraeam as well. Just a handful of farms ruined so far, but the House of Fields is saying it’s the same thing as what’s currently destroying Igraeot.”
Tnaes’s heart sank. If the Igraen Alliance lost a second farm world, they would only just be able to prevent the onset of Madness once the emergency stores of Supplements ran out.
Kraol continued. “I’m going to accelerate production of CATACLYSM tugboats as hard as I can. There’s a good chance that we can launch CATACLYSM before too much damage is done. Tnaes, you need to- Tnaes?
Tnaes snapped out of his mental haze. “I’m here.”
“You need to check the security logs for both planets. See if there’s anything in common that would suggest V’Straki action.”
“And also see if High House will let us open up SUPERSIM to the public. I have a feeling there’s about to be a demand for stasis pods and mind storage.”
Btoan spoke up. “What’s the accelerated time frame for launching CATACLYSM?”
“The original time table was six months from a successful prototype to full fleet to take out all V’Straki worlds. But in four months, we will have enough tugboats to target the eight worlds with a significant female population, plus three more of their colonies. It won’t win the war as quickly, but it will at least put the remnants of the V’Straki threat on the clock.”
“In that case,” Btoan replied, “It’s time to activate the Infiltrator.”