Part of Deathworld Origins
Date Point: Approximately 65,000,000 years BV Maozr’s Bar Tnaes
Tnaes had returned to Igraeus in order to oversee the deployment and operation of the SUPERSIM mind scanners. He hardly needed bother; the news of blight on Igraeiv had galvanized the relevant industries into action.
He sat at the bar, waiting for Praomn to arrive. He brooded over his methanol, and tuned in to a news feed.
The House of Codes has announced that it is accepting all participants for its SUPERSIM mind simulation. With the latest outbreak of blight on Igraeiv, Lord Vlaor of the High House is urging all citizens to upload their minds at the nearest scanning center.
The image cut to Vlaor speaking.
“The latest V’Straki atrocity, the poisoning of Igraeiv with deathworld microbes, is a threat to our society and our way of life. That is why I rapidly chose to declassify the SUPERSIM project. It is time for every Igraen to put aside political and personal differences make the move to cyberspace.”
Tnaes nearly spat out his methanol. Vlaor had done nothing but delay declassification of SUPERSIM for political reasons, and was now taking credit for actually doing it.
That’s the latest from High Lord Vlaor. With SUPERSIM available for public use, it may actually end up protecting us against the war that some say it was responsible for starting.
In related news, the House of Medicine is reporting five casualties in an incident aboard the refugee vessel Timeless Benevolence. One passenger failed to take their Supplement, allowing for the onset of Madness. The death toll includes the Mad passenger, the ship’s captain, and two guards of the House of Shields. The names of those deceased have not yet been released, with one exception. The body of Doctor Praomn of the House of Medicine was found at the scene.
Tnaes spat out his methanol, earning him a dirty look from the bartender. Praomn was dead. All his relentless optimism hadn’t saved him from being one of the first victims of the Madness. Tnaes barely listened to the rest of the newscast.
At this time, we believe he was killed attempting to assist the afflicted passenger. This is the latest in a series of Madness-induced violence, which raises the question: as Tnok plants and Tktk fruit become rarer, and as we deplete our emergency stock of Supplements, how much worse will the Madness outbreaks get?
Eternal Thought Btoan
Btoan had stopped listening to the news. It did nothing nowadays but make her angry, especially anything regarding the colossal bureaucratic nightmare that was the Igraeiv attack. And since she had one of the best security clearances in the Igraen Alliance, there was hardly anything on the news that she didn't already know.
Instead, she was checking in on something that might never make the news. The Infiltrator drones on Strak’kel had thus far avoided detection. It was currently daytime in the city of V’Strakkath, and the drones were hibernating, hidden from view on several rooftops.
Btoan licked her eyes and allowed herself a smile. The drones were in the Outer Citadel now. In a few days, they would reach the Sanctum, and then Kraol and Rdaer would be able to launch CATACLYSM.
She just had to hope that the supply of Supplements would last that long.
“That should do it.” Drassik declared, as he put the finishing touches on a contraption attached to the captured Igraen Skirmisher. “We hook the drones on here. It is wired into the weapons system, so Mehzir will be able to release them with the left and right missile launch controls.”
Xagh looked it over and nodded in approval. “I am aiming us for a warp drop behind Igraeep-5, with a sub-light approach behind the moon of Igraeep itself. It will be long time out of warp space but I would prefer that to getting caught in another gravity spike.”
Mezhir was loading up the ship controls on his tablet. “I think I good. Ready to fly.” He looked at Xagh. “You make voice files?”
“I did.” Xagh responded. He tapped his tablet a few times. “And now it is loaded into the Igraen ship.”
Igraeep Planetary Security, House of Shields Officer Noach
The House of Shields was on high alert. With Igraeot all but dead, and Igraeam and Igraeiv dying, they could not afford any mistakes. Only yesterday, Officer Noach had helped contain a Madness riot in the Market district, where a handful of Houseless vagrants had begun attacking market-goers. Normally, even the poorest Igraen could afford at least one Supplement a week, but with the rising cost of Tnok, the Houseless were the first to succumb to malnutrition. The death toll was nearly thirty from that incident alone.
His instructions were clear: grav-spike and destroy any vessel that makes an unscheduled drop from warp. The House of Shields had even added orbital fighters, ready to destroy any of the vial delivery drones that had been found on the infected worlds.
“This is Skirmisher AC027 hailing Igraeep Planetary Security, do you copy?”
Officer Noach jumped into action. The AC-series Skirmishers hadn’t been used since the beginning of the war, and his hands automatically went towards the gravity spike controls. “Skirmisher AC027, this is Igraeep Planetary Security. We do not have an authorized flight plan for you.”
“Planetary security, I have escaped from V’Straki imprisonment on a crippled vessel. My warp can only do one kilolight. Requesting permission to land at Graoth City Spaceport.”
Officer Noach was taken aback. The pilot must have spent a long time in stasis if they were asking for Graoth City.
“Skirmisher, be advised that the Graoth City Spaceport was bombed almost twenty cycles ago. Sending you coordinates and trajectory for Raorg Spaceport. Do not deviate from this flight path.”
“Trajectory received. Thank you.”
Officer Noach went back to vigilantly waiting for the deadly V’Straki ship GO1986 to make an appearance. The Skirmisher followed a long, lazy arc through the atmosphere, landing at Raorg City Spaceport six hours later.
“And wheels are down!” Drassik shouted, as Mezhir remotely landed the Skirmisher.
“Drones?” Mezhir inquired. Normally, he would have flown the drones himself, but this time it was up to Drassik.
“They are approaching the target sites, well below the operating range of the Igraen orbital fighters.
Xagh chimed in. “Land them soon, please. It’s only a matter of time before someone at the Spaceport gets tired of waiting for nobody to come out of the Skirmisher, and realizes what happened. I want to get into warp.”
Several tense minutes passed. The drones had been released on schedule, but they couldn’t risk creating a warp wake signature until the vials had been delivered.
“Drones are on the ground.”
Xagh began powering up the warp emitter. “We are getting out of here.”
“Told you that would work.” Drassik gloated as the Zhadersil slipped into warp space. “They were expecting the cargo carrier, so we gave them the opposite. Not only that, but we even got in for close delivery.”
“Which is all well and good.” replied Xagh. “But that was our only captured Igraen craft. We still have to get Igraeus. How do you propose we deliver the vials?”
Drassik thought for a moment. “I have a few ideas.”
House of Codes, public scanning facility #73 Capitol City, Igraeus Tnaes
“Can I interest you in a stasis pod upgrade for only four thousand Compact Credits?” Tnaes asked.
“Alright, your total today is four thousand and thirty credits. Please tap your banking implant here… thank you.. please sign here, sign here too… claw print here… look at the camera… thank you… Tap your identity implant… Thank you… One more signature… Here’s your copy of the scanning contract and your ticket. Follow the signs and give your ticket to your scanning technician. After your mind scan, tap your identity implant on the elevator and that will take you to the stasis pods. Thank you for choosing the House of Codes. Next.”
As Tnaes had expected, SUPERSIM scans were in enormous demand. Anybody who could afford it was getting digitally backed up to ride out the coming Madness apocalypse. And that meant that everybody in the House of Codes - even the senior engineers like Tnaes - was pulling front desk duty. The line was out the door and wrapped around the block six times. The House of Shields had been brought in to provide armed security, not only to manage the line, but also to protect against the increasingly-frequent violent outbreaks.
Stasis pods were in high demand as well. Almost anyone could afford a scan - they were quick and cheap - but the stasis pods were truly a shameless cash grab. They were marketed as being a safe and secure place to ride out the coming storm, and the prices had increased tenfold. Not that Tnaes was complaining too much; as a senior engineer he had access to the financial data of the House of Codes, and that financial data was looking very nice right now. The Madness outbreaks were motivating people to get scanned, so at least Praomn hadn’t died in vain.
But there wasn’t time to think about that right now.
“Hi, welcome to the House of Codes, what can I do for you today?”
Two days later… Eternal Thought Btoan
Btoan was absorbed in her work. She had withdrawn hundreds of fighter craft and had them scrapped for parts to finish building the CATACLYSM vehicles ahead of schedule. Predictably, the V’Straki military had not pressed the advantage. Not that they really needed to; they were about to win either way.
Out of compulsive habit, Btoan checked her Infiltrator drones. They had gotten into the Sanctum, and were making their way through the control bunker for the Strak’kel orbital defense network. Progress was slow, as it was very busy. Between the drones’ stealth cloaking and their flawless detection of approaching personnel, they had not been caught.
Overall, the drones were performing very well. Almost too well. Now that Btoan thought about it, today was proceeding far too nicely.
She was hardly surprised when Kraol knocked on her door. “Blight is on Igraeep.”
“How did I know that was what you were going to say?”
“Because the last four times I came in here it was ‘another factory has shut down, find me a flux transistor that I can scavenge.’”
Btoan grunted in mild amusement. “For cycles, I used to imagine what it would be like to win the war, be a hero. I’d have no shortage of money, power, or genetic exchanges. Now that we are about to both win and lose the war simultaneously, we won’t even be around to witness it. The Supplements are going to run out soon, and then… I don’t know.”
“Have you gotten scanned yet?”
“Been too busy.”
“You know the scanner that the techs use for betting on digital fights? Tnaes’s engineers reconnected it to the FTLsync network, now that Rdaer is safely isolated in the control equipment. Let’s go get scanned together.”
“Come on. You’ll feel better once you do it.”
“Four days until we are within range of Igraeus.” said Drassik, as he paced his cabin. “That is four days to figure out how to deliver the vials to the surface.”
“Fly ship down like last time?” Mezhir offered.
“No, we do not have any more Igraen ships.” Drassik reminded him.
“We cannot do a warp drop because the orbital fighters will take out the drones. We cannot do a remote delivery because we are out of Igraen craft.”
Drassik thought a moment. “That would be dangerous. Dangerous, but certainly doable.” He picked up his radio. “Shiplord Xagh, what do we have for V’Straki craft?”
Three and a half days later... House of Codes, public scanning facility #73 Tnaes
“Can I interest you in a stasis pod upgrade for only four thousand Compact Credits?” Tnaes asked.
“How about a personal copy of your own consciousness on a storage card for only ten credits?”
“Alright, your total today is thirty credits. Please tap your banking implant here… thank you.. please sign here, and here... I need a claw print… grin for the camera... thank you… Tap your identity implant… Thank you… Here’s your copy of the scanning contract and your ticket. Follow the signs and give your ticket to your scanning technician. Thank you for using the House of Codes.”
Tnaes’s implant dinged at him. His shift was up. He closed his booth and left the House through the back entrance. As he walked to the House of Codes office facility, Tnaes idly flipped through some news feeds.
Riots are reported on Igraeep as refugees from other planets are learning that Igraeep has also developed the mysterious black blight first found on Igraeot.
A large explosion was seen at a House of Lightning refinery. The cause is not yet known, but initial reports suggest that an employee developed Madness while on the job.
Why do you think the High House is pushing mind scanners so hard? I’m telling you, they developed and released the blight just so they would have an excuse to get into our heads and control our thoug-
Tnaes didn’t let the crackpot finish his sentence. Next.
The price of Supplements has risen fivefold in the last two days. The discovery of blight on Igraeep has sparked a new buying frenzy. With supply still heavily limited -
Tnaes shut off his news feed. With all the focus on the Madness, the news wasn’t a very good distraction.
Tnaes was snapped out of his thoughts by a hiss and a growl behind him. He turned to see a bleached white Igraen emerge from an alleyway that he’d passed a few moments earlier. It hadn’t noticed him. Tnaes stood still, not daring to move a muscle or make a noise.
The Mad Igraen ambled across the street. It looked down another alleyway. Then it froze.
Tnaes hardly dared breathe. His lungs burned, his eyes were drying out….
“Hey you!” Tnaes heard a shout.
The Mad Igraen turned and charged towards the noise - and a barrage of kinetic pulse fire reduced it to pulp.
Tnaes licked his eyeballs and looked at his rescuer. It was a guard, from the House of Shields.
“No problem. That’s what we’re out here for. Keep the Madness suppressed until the House of Fields gets Tnok growing on Igraeyr.”
“You’re in for a rough ride, I’m afraid.”
“I know. Hey, where are you headed? It’s a dangerous night to be out on the street unarmed.”
“House of Codes. Don’t worry; I’ve got pulse guns there.”
“I’ll come with you.”
As they set off towards the House of Codes, Tnaes felt the crushing weight of the loneliness he had been pushing back since Praomn died.
They arrived without further incident. Tnaes let himself in and thanked the guard.
First thing, he was going to scan his own mind, and start up a live copy of SUPERSIM. Second, he was going to bail on Igraeus. It was time to wait out the rest of his physical days on board the Eternal Thought, and avoid the riots and outbreaks on the surface.
The mind scan went fine, although the tech had been looking a bit pale. Tnaes told him to find a Supplement, and nervously hustled to his personal shuttle.
He cybernetically filed a flight plan, and took off. He had just out of the city, when his shuttle displayed a warning from the House of Shields.
All non-military craft are to land or dock immediately and without exception. Landing at a Spaceport is not required.
Tnaes grumbled and landed his shuttle in the middle of a nearby farm.
Minutes earlier... Zhadersil, on approach to Igraeus Drassik
Drassik was nervous. It wasn’t that he was uncertain of his mission - his loyalty to the Empire was absolute. It was that he and Mezhir were about to nearly kill themselves with distorted spacetime.
Drassik and Mezhir climbed aboard a V’Straki Clawswipe-class fighter ship, with the final two vial delivery drones.
Xagh’s voice crackled through the radio. “May you find favor with the Emperor.”
“Same to you. Loading memory card.”
The ship beeped an acknowledgement as it loaded the custom instructions on the card. They would be needed for the delicate timing of the upcoming maneuver.
Xagh increased the size of the Zhadersil’s warp bubble, and Mezhir guided the Clawswipe out of the hangar at the rear end of the carrier.
Drassik and Xagh each ordered their ships to synchronize with the other, and execute the commands on the card. Nothing happened for several moments, then the Clawswipe began accelerating along the length of the Zhadersil. As the Clawswipe reached the bow of the Zhadersil, the Zhadersil dropped from warp into local space around Igraeus.
The Clawswipe shot far ahead of the Zhadersil. “Hidden drop successful!” Drassik announced, as Mezhir resumed control of the fighter.
“Go get them, boys.” said Xagh. “And go get them fast. I am already stuck in a gravity spike and taking pulse cannon fire. And I am detecting incoming ballistics and small fighter ships.”
Mehzir let the Clawswipe’s momentum carry it past the orbital fighters that were turning their attention to the Zhadersil. Then, he dropped down into the atmosphere, and started a trajectory that would allow Drassik to jettison the drones from the airlock.
“First drone out, no hostiles.” Drassik reported. “What is the state over there?”
Xagh replied “Shields are still up. We are returning as much fire as we can, but we can only tank the Igraens for so long.”
There were a few minutes of radio silence. “Approaching second drop point, still no hostilities.”
“Kinetic circuits are taking a pounding from the ballistics. I think we can hold out another few minutes.”
“Second drone jettisoned. We are still undetected.”
“The gravity spike is coming from the Troam military base near the capitol city. I cannot spare the firepower to take it out, I need you to do it.”
“Going there now,” Mezhir replied.
As the military base became visible over the horizon, Drassik could see the spacetime distortions caused by the gravity spike and the pulse cannon arrays. Beyond it, through the haze, was Capitol City.
“Shields just dropped!” Xagh told him. “We’re down to armor plating.”
Drassik aimed the Zheron cannon and fired, cutting a swath of destruction through the base.
“How is that?” he shouted into the radio.
Xagh shouted back. “I will let you know when you’ve disabled the gravity spike. Keep firing.”
Zheron radiation poured from Drassik’s cannon until the barrel glowed red hot. On the ground, equipment melted and roads were carved up. Some of the cannons started turning, seeking out the new target.
Mezhir completed the strafe, then did a wide bank between the base and the city. Heavy kinetic pulses from the Igraen batteries slammed into city buildings, destroying windows and walls. Mezhir began another approach, and Drassik finally found the gravity spike emitter.
“Gravity spike down!” Xagh shouted. “Get up here, now!”
With a holler, Mezhir pulled the Clawswipe into a sharp bank, then began climbing.
And then, a heavy kinetic pulse slammed into the side of the Clawswipe, sending it into an uncontrollable spiral. Drassik and Mezhir hardly had time to wonder what had happened, when the ground came rushing up to meet them.
“Pretender take me, we lost him!” Xagh swore. But he didn’t have time to mourn. The gravity spike was down, and the Zhadersil was taking heavy pulse fire, so Xagh fired up the warp drive, and set course for the nearest colony, at Affrag. For nearly a full minute, the warp field emitters fought with the spacetime distortions caused by the incoming pulse fire. Eventually, the emitters dominated, and the Zhadersil was gone.
Tnaes Digital Space on Igraeus
Tnaes finished compiling, and immediately realized he was in a computer simulation. That was interesting. He had always wondered what it was like. He began exploring, and immediately found himself.
Wait a moment. That wasn’t quite right.
“Hi. You’re me?”
“Or you’re me. I’m the most recent copy of me.”
“Of course. Pleasure to meet me. I’m the copy of me that I created to interrogate the V’Straki warmaster.”
“I see. What do we do now?”
“Well, I’ve been mostly just been working on developing the digital world. Since we don’t have physical assets to manage, and since I assume others will be coming before long, I figured it would make sense to start coding some societal controls.
“Like what happens if multiple copies of an individual get created?”
“Yes, of course! I’ve got a merge script right here. Take a look. I’ve also got backup tech, identity verification, and distribution of a single consciousness across multiple devices. I even added a hierarchy of administrative controls, and started some rudimentary recombinatory genetics simulators. It took a while - as you know, I haven’t been doing much coding as of late.”
Tnaes reviewed the merge script. It was - naturally - written almost exactly the same way he would have written it, because he did write it.
“Looks good to me, although I would have used recursion at that spot.”
“Either way, I suppose. It does work - I peeled off copies of myself and merged them into each other. Then I merged the copies back into myself. As near as I can tell, it works fine. Shall we?
Tnaes felt new memories arise in his mind - memories of searching through the captured V’Straki, memories of the Madness developing, memories of developing the structure of a digital world, memories of learning about Praomn’s death.
Tnaes was shocked. Praomn was dead? He spit out his methanol, earning him a dirty look from the barten-
Wait. He had known that the whole time, along with the Madness developments. Clearly, there were still a few things left to work out in the merge process. The test runs he had done earlier hadn’t been quite so disorienting.
Tnaes, as chief engineer of the House of Codes, had access to all of its computer assets. He opened the vault of minds being generated by the scanners, and found Btoan and Kraol. He was about to wake them up, when he sensed someone else around.
“Who’s there?” Tnaes pinged.
“Oh, you know who I am.” hissed Grand Warmaster Vezzik.
Rural farmland outside the Capitol City, Igraeus Drassik
“Urgh.” Drassik slowly came to. What had happened? He had been deploying drones, destroying the Igraen military base, flying back towards the Zhadersil and then - the crash!
Frantically, Drassik began trying to extricate himself from the wreckage. He tried to release his harness, but realized that his left arm was pinned. So he twisted and released his harness with his other hand, and accidentally got a view of the pilot chair. Mezhir had been crushed, and the controls were covered in viscera. Drassik threw up.
As Drassik finished evacuating his stomach, he heard an unfamiliar voice penetrating the broken hull. He opened his tablet - which had fortunately survived the impact - and activated the translator.
Anybody in there?
Drassik gave a shout, and made his way to the airlock at the rear of the shuttle. The interior door opened; the exterior door took some convincing from Drassik’s Zheron pistol.
I saw your ship come down, any survivors?
“Just me.” said Drassik, as he stepped out into full view.
You are a V’Straki!, Tnaes said.