Part of Deathworld Origins
Approximately 65,000,000 years BV Imperial Spaceport, Outer Wastes, V’Strakkath, Strak’kel
It was quiet. The last of the shuttles had departed for the day, and the crew was getting ready to clean up and go home for the night.
Near one of the landing pads, a spot of dirt began to move. Coincidentally, this was the same landing pad where Btoan had scanned Vezzik’s mind just a few months prior. A luminal sensor extended from the ground. After the sun set, the small Infiltrator drone climbed up from its small hole, and began silently creeping its way towards the city. Its progress was slow, as it was programed to evade detection at all costs.
Ten hours later, it had made its way to the Inner wastes. As the sun began to peek over the horizon, the Infiltrator buried itself in the ground.
“So it looks like…” Drassik pulled up a planetary model on his tablet. It was covered in irregular black splotches. “Igraeot farmland is nearly twenty percent infested. And Igraeam’s crop is…. Just over one percent dead.”
“Ig-reen war over soon. Few months perhaps.” responded Mezhir.
“That is what it looks like.”
“What is next stop?”
Xagh spoke up. “According to the itinerary, we have to make a stop on Grikt, and then we hit Igraeiv and Igraeep.”
“Good to know.” Mezhir looked at his tablet. “Shifts start soon. We get to work.”
House of Codes, Igraeus Tnaes
“Btoan, I’ve got something for you.”
“Please tell me it’s something good.”
“Almost. I found a connection between Igraeot and Igraeam.”
“You’re kidding me. Already?”
“Yep. Two days before the first signs of blight appeared, a Galactic Compact cargo cruiser, registration GO1986, had an unscheduled drop from warp in the immediate vicinity of each planet. According to the minor incident reports, in each case they stated it was due to debris disrupting the warp field.”
“I thought debris didn’t matter to a warp field?”
“Not modern ones with kinetic shielding and interstitial spacing. Older ones, perhaps. But here’s the thing: in both cases, the vessel was reported to re-enter warp along the same vector only a few seconds after dropping out, leaving behind a trail of debris to burn up in the atmosphere.”
“How is that important?”
“If it’s old enough to be knocked out of warp by debris, then it’s too old to be able to recalculate warp vectors that fast.”
“So this ship is pretending to lose warp, dropping biological contaminants on our colonized worlds, and sailing off again?”
“That’s what it looks like.”
“You have contacts at the House of Shields, right? Let them know that any unscheduled drop from warp is to be immediately met with full firepower. No hailing, no warning, no delay. Full strength gravity spikes and pulse cannons, no questions asked.”
“I’ll tell them right away.”
“If you can swing it, I’d also like a network of orbital fighters, to destroy any debris.”
“I’ll think that should be doable.”
One week later... Zhadersil Drassik
“One minute to Igraeiv drop window.” Drassik announced.
“Airlocks open. Drones ready.” Mezhir responded.
This would be the third drop, and it was supposed to be the easiest. Igraeiv was the least-developed Igraen farm world, and also one of the most amicable to life. The Igraen crops would never stand a chance against the deathworld microbes.
“I sent Varr and Dorn off on errands.” announced Xagh, through the radio. “Ship, on my mark, execute the command sequence in this memory card.”
“Drones outside. Waiting for warp drop.” said Mezhir.
The Zhadersil dropped out of warp near Igraeiv. Mezhir guided the drones out of the warp bubble, while Drassik plotted trajectories and uploaded them.
And then the Zhadersil rocked under a barrage of kinetic pulses.
Moments earlier Planetary Security, House of Shields, Igraeiv Moarbv
“I have a large cruiser making an unscheduled drop from warp!” Moarbv shouted.
“Damn! Gravity spike out, now!” someone shouted back.
“Firing pulse cannons!”
“They aren’t getting away this time.”
Moarbv watched his screens intensely. He had heard about what had happened to Igraeot and Igraeam, and he wasn’t going to let anything happen to another world.
“They knew we were coming!” Drassik shouted into the radio.
“Obviously!” Xagh shouted back. “I am putting up all the shields!”
“Drones deployed! Go warp!” added Mezhir.
“We are in a gravity spike. We literally cannot go warp - spacetime is too distorted. And NEVER tell me what to do with my ship!”
Drassik grabbed his tablet. “Then I apologize for this but I need to get into the Zheron cannons!”
Xagh cursed. “Deceiver take you, this is MY ship! Ship, give weapons access to Drassik!”
Drassik thought back to the surveillance maps that had been included in the mission briefing. He found the target for the Zheron cannons, and fired.
Planetary Security, House of Shields, Igraeiv Moarbv
“What’s the status?” asked Moarbv’s supervisor.
“They have been taking almost a full minute of continuous pulse cannon fire. The whole cannon array is concentrated on them. The gravity spike is holding steady too.”
The gravity spike emitter chose that moment to collapse into a toxic puddle of molten metal, and flow into the newly-created hole in the ground below it.
“I think I hit it!” Drassik shouted.
“Gravity spike is down! Re-entering warp.” responded Xagh.
For a moment, the warp field emitter fought with the incoming cannon pulses to envelop the ship. And then they were gone.
A few hours later... Eternal Thought Tnaes
Tnaes was just about to enter Btoan’s office when he heard her screaming.
“TELL ME EXACTLY WHY WE DIDN’T HAVE FIGHTERS IN ORBIT, AND YOU BETTER HAVE A GOOD ANSWER, OR I SWEAR ON MY LIFE I WILL EAT YOUR SPAWN!”
“WHAT DO YOU MEAN THEY’RE TOO EXPENSIVE?”
“NOT IN THE BUDGET? NOT IN THE BUDGET? I’LL TELL YOU WHAT’S NOT IN THE BUDGET. MULTIPLYING THE GLOBAL AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTION OF IGRAEUS AND IGRAEEP BY TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY PERCENT TO SUSTAIN IGRAEOT, IGRAEAM, AND IGRAEIV, BECAUSE THE MAN CHARGED WITH THE PROTECTION OF IGRAEIV COULDN’T FIND THE TESTOVLES TO DO HIS JOB! THAT’S WHAT’S NOT IN THE BUDGET!”
“THEN YOU TELL THE WASTES OF OXYGEN AT THE HIGH HOUSE TO SHOVE THEIR STINKING BUDGET SO FAR UP THEIR GLANDS IT COMES OUT THEIR EYEBALLS. AND THEN YOU PUT THE FIGHTERS IN ORBIT ANYWAYS!”
Tnaes had been hoping to get a report on the incident over Igraeiv, but, well...
“YOU BETTER HOPE THAT THE BLIGHT DOESN’T GET STARTED ON IGRAEIV, OR I WILL PERSONALLY STUFF BLIGHTED TNOK DOWN THAT HOLE YOU CALL A MOUTH!”
Tnaes hesitated for a moment, and then knocked.
“Arrrgh! Come in!”
“I’m afraid I have more bad news for you. Vlaor at the High House has denied our request to publicize SUPERSIM.”
“Did he tell you that before or after Igraeiv was attacked?”
“It was before.”
“Ask again and see if that overly paid waste of space changes its mind. Use plenty of buzzwords, too. ‘Existential threat’, ‘last-resort protection’, ‘end of life as we know it’. Because we’re cutting it too close for comfort, even as it is. And if we lose Igraeiv, we won’t be able to prevent a Madness outbreak.”
“One step ahead of you, Btoan. Already done.”
“I suppose you being ahead of me on that is a shred of good news in this wreck of a situation.”
“How’s Kraol doing?”
“He’s working his glands off, getting the tugboats ready. But we also have to scale back CATACLYSM again to just the eight core V’Straki planets. There are three minor colonies - Affrag, Colvu, and Grikt - and as far as we can tell, they have no females there. Igraeot is our main supplier of steel, and it’s turned into a ghost world. Everyone who can afford it is fleeing, and evacuations on Igraeam have started as well. With just eight targets, we should be able to launch in not too long.”
Tnaes’s old fears of the Madness were creeping up again. “If we lose Igraeiv, how long will we be able to stave off the Madness for?”
“House of Fields says that they’ve begun terraforming and farming operations on another planet. I think they call it ‘Igraeyr’. If Igraeiv goes down, the Supplements will run out a week or so before the first Tnok harvest. Though I’m sure we will be able to allocate the last of the Supplements to Eternal Thought to complete CATACLYSM, and to Igraeyr to begin rebuilding.”
“Small comfort, considering we’ve pretty much lost already.”
“I know. At least we’ll take the V’Straki savages down with us.”
One day later…. Zhadersil Drassik
“How much damage?” asked Mehzir.
Xagh pulled up his inspection report. “The side of the Zhadersil took a pounding, but it held just fine. No meaningful damage. You did a good job with the Zheron cannon, Drassik.”
“Thanks.” said Drassik. “I think one of the drones made it to the planet surface too. I had also set my personal tablet to pick up some data from the Galactic Compact network during our attack. It looks like Igraeot is almost completely consumed with its fungal infection, and Igraeam is well on its way.”
“That is great news,” replied Xagh, “but we still have two problems. First, we need to change our tactic for Igraeep and Igraeus. Another five-second drop from warp is just going to get us another gravity spike and kinetic pulse barrage. And second, we might need to brief Varr, Dorn, and possibly the rest of the crew, on the mission. They are going to want to know why we detoured from a cleared space lane into hostile territory.”
“Do you have any captured Igraen craft in the hangars?” Drassik asked.
“I have one. Why?”
“I think I have an idea for Igraeep.”
Eternal Thought Tnaes
“Btoan, I have good news and bad news.”
“Alright, bad news first.”
“Igraeiv is contaminated.”
“I figured that would be it. There’s the end of the war. We lost.”
“There’s good news too. Vlaor finally pulled his claws out of his face and declassified SUPERSIM. I’ve ordered the deployment of scanners throughout Igraeus and Igraeep. We may not be able to save the Igraen race physically, but we can still move to cyberspace while we wait on a cure for Madness.”
Btoan was instantly more cheerful. “So this whole war hardly matters then? If we can just live on in SUPERSIM?”
“No, it absolutely does matter. If the V’Straki threat isn’t contained, then any equipment used to run SUPERSIM is subject to physical destruction. Yesterday, CATACLYSM was merely about winning the war in an expedient fashion. Today, it’s about securing our own continued existence.”
House of Medicine, Capitol City, Igraeus Praomn
Praomn’s research had been put on indefinite hold in order to deal with the impending Tnok shortage. With the entire worlds of Igraeot and Igraeam contaminated, the Igraen Alliance was forced to evacuate the planets and start digging out its reserve stores of Supplement pills. Praomn was tasked with dispensing Supplements to refugees coming off ships from the two evacuated worlds. It was thankless work, and it wasn’t as rewarding as making progress towards a long-term cure.
“According to your manifest, we’re still missing six passengers,” Praomn informed the captain of the latest ship.
“They’re probably asleep in their cabins.” the captain informed him. “Let me send another ‘all ashore…’” The captain paused as he cybernetically gave his ship an order. “Done.”
Sure enough, in the next few minutes, five more Igraen refugees disembarked and received a Supplement.
“One left.” said Praomn.
“I hate it when passengers make me pay them a personal visit,” the captain grumbled. “Cabin A-10. Let’s go.”
Praomn followed the captain aboard his ship. They made their way to cabin A-10. “Passenger Ptaero, this is the captain. Open up!”
A pained howl came from the other side of the door. Praomn exchanged glances with the captain. “He’s in trouble. I’m a doctor, open it up!”
The captain issued an override order and the door swung open. They barely had time to regret the hasty decision before a flash of red eyes and white skin eviscerated them.