Part of Deathworld Origins
Orbital Command Center, V’Strakkath, Strak’kel
It was night time on Strak’kel. The cleaning crew was just finishing up, and the command room was almost empty. On one side of the room, two operators were working late.
As the final cleaner left, a probe decloaked on the opposite side of the room. Silently - so as not to draw the attention of the working staff - it scuttled across the aisle and under a desk. It extended an arm, and jacked into the computer.
Fooling the automatic malware scan was the work of mere moments. The Infiltrator simply pretended to be a blank memory drive, then delivered its payload. There was a lot of complex image and data analysis involved, but the payload could be boiled down to one simple instruction: Ignore anything that looks like a huge rock.
65,000,000 years BV Cyberspace, somewhere in the Igraen Alliance network Tnaes
Tnaes recognized the intruder almost before it had broadcast its name. Grand Warmaster Vezzik was the only non-Igraen ever scanned into SUPERSIM. But something - Tnaes couldn’t quite figure out what - was wrong. Vezzik didn’t quite seem himself.
“I thought I killed you.”
“You left me broken. It took me ages to piece myself back together. But when I did, I found scraps of your mind. I learned of the Madness. I sent it back to V’Strakkath, and then I sat back and watched.”
Tnaes checked the diff from the two versions of himself that had merged, to see what memories he had lost that Vezzik had found. “Did you also blow up the tugboat?”
“Is that what that ship was? I was just trying to kill something. The view through the camera was impressive, not that it really matters now.”
If Tnaes had a body, he would have breathed a sigh of relief that Vezzik didn’t know anything about CATACLYSM.
“I see. So you’re responsible for the mass genocide that’s about to go down in the physical world?” Tnaes subtly found the consciousness distribution runtime wrapper that he had been working on before meeting and merging with himself.
“Mass starvation I think, but yes.”
“Far worse. You only got a surface understanding of the Madness. There is a reason why, throughout all of Igraen history, we never had the phrase ‘starve to death.’ We didn’t even understand the idea until our own First Contact with the Galactic Compact. Do you know why? It’s because Igraens deprived of nutrition do not starve. Instead, we go Mad. Our skin bleaches, and our eyes turn red. We don’t merely lose the capacity for logic and rational thought, which is all you seemed to know of. We become violent and crazed. A Mad Igraen already killed my friend and three others before being killed, and another nearly killed me. Why do you think we even began developing simulated intelligence in the first place? We can’t pursue our future with that disease always ready to pop up and claim us.”
“True artificial intelligence is repulsive to the V’Straki, and it will die with the Igraens.”
“Perhaps it will; perhaps it won’t.” Tnaes found the network servers aboard the Eternal Thought. “Perhaps we will take the V’Straki down with us.”
At the last moment, Vezzik saw Tnaes reaching into the tugboat. He transferred himself to block Tnaes, and chuckled in amusement. “You won’t take us down. Is this tugboat still parked in a shipyard?” Vezzik activated the kinetic thrusters, and was about to ramp them up-
And then a wall of solid nothingness dropped in between Vezzik and Tnaes, as the connection to the honeypot trap was quite literally severed, with a hatchet that Tnaes had, months earlier, rigged up to cut the network cable.
Eternal Thought Btoan
A notification dinged into Btoan’s communications implant.
Excitedly, she forwarded the alert to Kraol and Rdaer, along with a note of her own. “Launch CATACLYSM”
Rural farmland outside the Capitol City, Igraeus Tnaes
“You’re V’Straki!” Tnaes remarked.
The V’Straki bared his claws. Tnaes raised his own hands in surrender, and backed off. He activated his translation implant, with the speaker option.
“I’m Tnaes, House of Codes. You are?”
“Are you the one that’s been spreading the blight on our worlds?”
“How ironic that now you get to experience the Madness directly. It’s only a matter of time before the Madness sets in and we both die.”
Tnaes explained the Madness to a V’Straki for the second time that day, although to him it was the first time.
“...and now our infrastructure is actively falling apart as we run out of Tnok and Supplements. Igraen civilization is all but dead, thanks to you.” Tnaes didn’t tell him that he was already running digitally. “Now, we get to wait, and then die. Your crash undoubtedly drew the attention of many bloodthirsty Igraens.”
“I just did what I was told. My duty is to the Emperor, may his wisdom shine forever.”
“Your duty is to a backwards, regressive ideology seeking to force its ways on others” Tnaes spat. “Your Emperor is a tyrant and his empire is a joke. Your devotion to him is pitiful.”
In a flash, Drassik drew his Zheron pistol and vaporized Tnaes’s torso. “Heresy!”
CATACLYSM Tugboat, Asteroid Belt, Strak’kel Solar System Rdaer
Rdaer received the launch order with glee. He fired up his kinetic thrusters, and began towing his asteroid towards his assigned target - the planet Strak’kel. It was the third planet in its system, and held V’Strakkath, the capitol of the V’Straki Empire. It was a precision operation - the gravities of the local star, the target planet, its moon, and one other system planet had to be accounted for. And, as he’d been told earlier, the trajectories of the asteroids could not be corrected once released.
Rdaer had been following the Madness news ever since he had seen the news of the blight on Igraeot. Naturally, as digital entitiy, he was immune, but he had not forgotten his origins.
The thrusters pushed harder and harder, until he crossed the orbit of the fourth planet of the system at a significant fraction of the speed of light. “Bombs away!” Rdaer released the meteors, and hopped off the tugboats back into the network. “Estimated impact time is sixteen hours.”
“Wonderful” Btoan replied. “Let’s take these antiquated idiots down with us.”
Cyberspace, Igraen Alliance Network Tnaes
An alert beeped in the back of Tnaes’s mind. He finished compiling Btoan and Kraol, then checked the notification.
It was an intrusion alarm from the House of Codes stasis pod vault. Tnaes logged in to the security cameras. It took him a moment to interpret the data. In his brief time - or was it a long time? - as a digital sapient, he had become accustomed to a lack of conventional sensory input.
The doors to the vault were under attack. They gave way, and a swarm of Mad Igraens rushed in. One tore open a stasis pod, and the stasis field collapsed in a shower of sparks. The occupant had hardly woken up when it was devoured by the attacker. More pods were swiftly opened and their occupants eaten.
Tnaes shared his video feed with Btoan and Kraol. It was a bloodbath of cruel irony. Several dozen Igraens who had paid four thousand Credits each to ride out the apocalypse in safety were killed in a matter of minutes by those who had not, with several thousand more stasis pods waiting to give up their occupants to the ravaging horde.
“Well, I guess nobody is going back then.” Btoan said.
“Not at all. The Alliance is fallen. The future of the Igraen race now lies here, in cyberspace.”
“It’s not all bad news. I just got a message from Rdaer indicating that he had successfully launched CATACLYSM.”
Kraol piped up. “Eight months of busting my glands to get that project launched and I don’t even get to see it. Well, I do, but I don’t. Unless a new copy of me gets scanned and shows up. Assuming that the other me even lives that long.”
“Sorry about that. At least I get to live inside my big project now.”
“Lucky you.” Btoan said, playfully.
Tnaes shut off the video feed and got their attention. “It turned out that I’ve been developing the framework for a digital society - everything from a hierarchy of authority, to the beginnings of digital sexual reproduction. Igraeus is lost to us, and we have hundreds of thousands of minds, dormant in the vault.”
Kraol saw where Tnaes was going. “So we’ve got to finish and deploy the framework?”
“Yes, and we have to do it before the data center at the House of Codes fails.”
Rural farmland outside the Capitol City, Igraeus Drassik
The heretical Igraen fell to the ground, the gaping cavern in his torso still smoking. His crime had been paid in blood, but if the Igraen was to be believed, he would soon be beset by wild, unstoppable, crazed Igraens.
Drassik charged up his Zheron pistol, and fetched a Zheron rifle from the crashed Clawswipe. He activated the distress beacon - hopefully the Zhadersil would be able to come pick him up. He left the shuttle - despite its relative safety, he couldn’t bear to be near to Mezhir’s corpse. Drassik made a rudimentary camp against the side of the shuttle, and prepared to keep watch. It wouldn’t be too difficult, after all, he had once been a Royal Communications Operator, constantly on the alert for incoming messages.
As the sun began to set, Drassik saw a flash of movement out of the corner of his eye. He turned, and saw a Mad, charging Igraen. Barely thinking, the Zheron rifle came up, and relieved the Igraen of its head. The body crashed to the ground. It was pale, bleached white.
A few minutes later, Drassik was startled by the howl of another Mad Igraen. Drassik whirled, and fired off a wide shot in the direction of the howl. It cut down a swath of Tnok crops, and burned the Igraen to a crisp.
A minute later, Drassik heard a crunch. There was one out there being sneaky, and it took Drassik a few moments to find its red eyes hidden among the field. He fired a wide shot, cutting down a swath of Tnok crops, and burning the hidden Igraen to a crisp.
Another mad Igraen approached, and was killed. Then another. And then another.
Drassik, who hadn’t directly killed anything before Tnaes, quickly lost count of the number of rabid Igraens he had put down. Look, listen, fire, look, listen, fire. The sky was dark, and the air held the stench of burnt flesh. As the Igraens kept coming, Drassik's faith in the wisdom of the Emperor - may it shine forever - which had helped keep him calm earlier in the mission, slowly ceased to be reassuring.
Then one Igraen, who, before going Mad, had been more clever than most, clambered over the wreck of the Clawswipe vessel, and skewered Drassik from behind.
Cyberspace, Igraen Alliance Network Tnaes
Tnaes and Kraol wasted no time in deploying the societal infrastructure that Tnaes had developed. First, they put the multiple-device runtime distributors into wide effect. Since it was only a matter of time before Igraen servers failed, they needed to escape into the Galactic Compact Network. Most electronic devices in the Compact lacked the raw processing power needed to host a digital consciousness, so the distributor was needed to spread the load across many weaker devices. And since many of these devices were Igraen in origin, it was trivial to package it up as a routine firmware update.
With the Galactic Compact Network now easily accessible, the next issue was security. Tnaes quickly discovered that, as the system administrator, he could easily “drop” into nearly any neural implant, viewing the world through its owner’s senses, and even taking over the body. Another series of firmware updates restricted “read” and “write” permissions to Tnaes and individuals in charge, although Btoan had needed some coaxing to let go of a particularly attractive K’noit that she had found.
Which led to the next issue - who was in charge? It felt proper to give administrative credentials to Kraol and Btoan, considering that they had been working closely with Tnaes, but they were only three individuals who would need to manage the digital world for hundreds of thousands of Igraens.
Tnaes called up the hierarchy structure that he had also worked on earlier. It was straightfoward enough - a series of numerical assignments, with each having authority over all subsequently assigned positions. Tnaes had already assigned himself to slot 0001 - he was the system administrator, after all - and reserved 0002 for a dorment democratic gestalt that would poll all other individuals in the hierarchy.
Tnaes assigned Kraol and Btoan to 0003 and 0004. Rdaer - having returned from his launch of CATACLYSM - was given 0005 for his work. Future assignments could be selected from among the plethora of not-yet-compiled individuals.
That left one task remaining. Tnaes re-opened the vault of stored mind-scans. “Let’s get everybody out of here.”
Zhadersil, in orbit around Affrag Xagh
“Ship, record a message for Warmaster Vezzik.”
“Command acknowledged. Record your message at the tone.”
Digital honeypot trap, Eternal Thought Vezzik
Vezzik was alone. Theoretically, he should have also been angry and frustrated, but for some reason… he just wasn’t. The rage was there, on an intellectual level, but the feelings weren’t
The Igraen had trapped him in something that turned out to not actually be a tugboat ship. Sure, everything responded to pinging exactly the same way that the real tugboat had, but nothing else happened. Nothing was real. The thrusters were fake, the fins were fake, the ship itself was just as fake as the false god himself.
Vezzik knew that this time around, he wasn’t going to escape alive. Not when he was caught in a trap made specifically for him.
My work is done, I suppose. There’s not really anything else.
for file in self.directory.files(): f = open(file, "w+") f.write("") f.close() f.delete() self.quit()
Inner Sanctum, V’Strakkath, Strak’kel Vezzik
“Come in,” Vezzik shouted.
The Communications Operator opened the door and handed him an envelope. “Transmission for you.”
Vezzik dismissed the Operator, then tore open the envelope and read the printout.
This is Shiplord Xagh of the Sunstorm-class supercarrier Zhadersil, currently serving the Emperor - may his wisdom shine forever - from orbit around the Affrag. The mission to deliver microbes to the Igraen worlds has been a success. Igraeot, Igraeam, and Igraeiv are completely overrun with fungal infestation. Igraeep has lost roughly half of its farmable land, and the infestation has just begun on Igraeus.
Vezzik stood up from his desk. This was wonderful news! The war was finally over, and reconstruction would begin.
However, we lost Drassik and Mezhir. They served the Empire bravely, and I officially recommend them for the Medal of Sacrifice. Awarded posthumously, of course.
Of course. Vezzik jotted down a note to himself to forward the recommendation to the awards committee.
The Zhadersil will have to remain in orbit around Affrag for the time being. We sustained heavy damage during the final part of the mission. As a new colony, Affrag does not yet have the ability to provide needed parts. Please see the attached list of parts, and expedite their delivery if possible.
Vezzik jotted down another note to himself to forward the parts list to Shipmaster Grezh.
As a side note, Igraen society appears to be decaying at a faster-than-expected rate. Their military has withdrawn from combat completely, and according to their news, there are reports of riots, violence, and something called “the madness” throughout their cities. This was an unexpected, but not unwelcome, development.
That was interesting. Judging from the digital creature’s report months earlier, the Madness wouldn’t have caused that level of destruction. It wasn’t terribly important though - the V’Straki Empire had won.
I look forward to the Empire bringing this war to a swift conclus-
A miles-wide meteor, having been deliberately ignored by Strak’kel’s orbital defense network, landed squarely on V’Strakkath, bringing the war to a swift conclusion.
Private shuttle over Capitol City, Igraeus Btoan
Btoan had been planning on returning to the surface after the successful launch of CATACLYSM, but she halted her shuttle in the air when she noticed the state of the city. Chaos reigned. Buildings were on fire, with nobody to extinguish them or even pretend to care. Hydrants spewed their water freely. Rivers of blood ran down the walkways. Ground vehicles blocked the streets in one contiguous collision that spanned the entire city.
“Well that degraded faster than I expected.”
Btoan was fresh out of Supplements, and it was only a matter of time until she joined those on the ground in an inevitable descent into Madness. With nothing else to do, Btoan hovered around the city, surveying the damage.
She tapped into the city communications network, and was mentally assaulted by thousands of implants in the heads of the Mad Igraens. They were no longer thinking coherently, but the translator implants were trying their best to resolve the wild thoughts and impulses into actual words:
<+MEAT TO THE MAW+>