Part of Deathworld Origins
Date Point: Approximately 65,000,000 years BV Classified Facility near Capitol City, Planet Igraeus Tnaes, Chief Scientist of the House of Codes
Tnaes entered his office, having just returned from yet another useless meeting. He grunted, and flopped into his chair.
The war was not going well. Of course, the war with the V’Straki Empire had never been going well. But, for some reason, today everything just seemed to be going even worse than usual. Perhaps it was the latest news that the V’Straki had leveled another colony with Nervejam. Or perhaps it was the reduced funding in the contract renewal from the House of Cannons. Or perhaps it was the message that dinged into his communications implant as he entered his office.
Hardly any progress on SUPERSIM. For this iteration, the subject rapidly developed extreme psychosis and launched a denial-of-service attack against the file share before being force-quit. See the attached report.
SUPERSIM was the project that had taken well over half of Tnaes’s adult molt. It was a digital simulator intended to replicate a sentient brain right down to the neuron. Once finished, it would be able to run a conscious entity in a computerized system. It was a project that had been started over forty cycles ago, with the goal of allowing one to escape the physical world.
Which is why Tnaes growled and dismissed the message. As the project lead, the SUPERSIM test model had come from a scan of his own head, and Tnaes did not enjoy being informed at regular intervals that his digital clone had gone insane yet again.
Appointment reminder: Call with Galactic Compact Science Development Board.
Well, maybe that would go well. It was a desperate move, turning to the Galactic Compact for funding after his budget was slashed. Tnaes activated his translation implant, licked his eyeballs, and put the call code into his communicator.
One hour later…
The call had not gone well. Tnaes deactivated his translator and closed his communicator. As it turned out, it was very difficult to get grant funding for SUPERSIM when the fund managers weren’t cleared to know the project specifics.
Tnaes growled and popped a Supplement. He was quite sure he didn't actually need one, but the simulations made him paranoid. Still in a foul mood, he got up and left for the day.
Maozr’s Bar, Capitol City, Igraeus
“Want to tell me about it?”
“Classified. Tell me about your day.”
This had become the weekly banter between Tnaes and his friend Praomn. They were spawn-brothers, born out of the same pool of young. There was a good chance that they were at least genetic half-brothers. They had been inseparable during all three youth molts, until Tnaes had been assigned to the House of Codes, while Praomn had been taken into the House of Medicine. Now, they got together at Maozr’s Bar to commiserate over bowls of methanol.
There was a long silence. “Got rejected for funding.” Tnaes offered. “The budget cuts haven’t been friendly to us. The V’Straki are trying to undercut our entire way of life, so naturally the bureaucrats at the Compact decide to fund Madness research instead.”
Praomn gave a light grunt - the Igraen equivalent of a chuckle. “Hey, at least that means I have a job.”
“Truth be told, some days I wonder if I’m going Mad.” Tnaes confessed. The simulation results were weighing heavily on his mind, though Praomn wasn’t allowed to know that.
“The Igraen have spread over fifteen planets, and across all of them, Madness kills less than three hundred Igraen per cycle. Your skin is a healthy color; you’re fine.”
“That’s not going to stop me from taking Supplements. Or from trying to win this blasted war so we can focus our resources here.”
“It’s nature’s cruel joke on us, isn’t it? Eat properly though, and you have nothing to worry about.”
“It’s still terrifying if you think about it too much. I don’t know how you can stand it.”
“It’s just what I’m good at. Look, I can tell when something’s in your head. Tell me.” Tnaes sat quiet for a moment, trying to assemble words that wouldn’t give away anything classified.
“It’s the simulation project. For the last forty cycles, it’s been going more or less smoothly. Even when I was brought on five cycles ago, steady progress. And the first 99% of it went smoothly. We were ahead of schedule from the beginning. Two cycles ago, it gets complete enough that we can start preliminary testing. And the results…. Well, I’m not sure how to say it. They scare me.”
Praomn responded. “Look, you can’t let yourself get down. We haven’t been making much progress on Madness either. It’s difficult enough to cure Madness in a lab dish. And what little we can do wouldn’t work inside the body. The House of Medicine has made huge scientific advancements, just to learn that we’re stuck up against a wall. You just have to keep going, doing what you can.”
Tnaes sipped his methanol. He was starting to relax. “Yeah, I suppose. It’d be easier with funding though.”
“Look, I’m sure your project just has a few bugs to work out. Be patient; let your engineers figure it out. Today was clearly rough on you; I’m sure tomorrow will be better.”
That made sense to Tnaes. He licked his eyeballs thoughtfully. Tomorrow definitely could be better.
Several days later…
Bug reports 64002 and 64007 have been closed. For this iteration, the subject rapidly developed schizophrenia, claiming to hear voices of its past incarnations. Subject was eventually force-quit out of pity. See the attached report.
Tnaes grumbled and deleted the message. This was getting annoying.
A few days after that…
Bug reports 64004 and 64176 have been closed. For this iteration, the subject became listless, failed to do much. Subject voluntarily
self.quit(). See the attached report.
Well, that was new. Maybe the insanity issues had been resolved?
A few days after that…
Bug reports 64037, 64092 and 64100 have been closed. The subject appears to be stable, and successfully interacted with researchers. Researchers also created their own test subjects, with similar results. See the attached report.
Now that, was more like it. Tnaes sent a message to Btoan at the House of Cannons. She was overjoyed, and insisted on throwing a celebratory party that same night. She forwarded the original contract to her comptroller, and an enormous lump sum payout - nearly a million Galactic Compact Credits - was deposited into the House of Codes’ corporate bank account.
With the simulation software working (final tweaks and optimization notwithstanding) all that remained was to trap at least one prominent V’Straki mind and load it into the simulation.
Six weeks later… Royal Communications Array, Outer Citadel, V’strakath, Strak’kel Drassik, Royal Communications Operator to the Emperor (may his wisdom shine forever)
Drassik stood by the incoming communications array, as he did all day, every day. That was his job. He had been been assigned to it ever since he had finished Royal Post-Hatchling Preparatory School. He was there to monitor the communications array, and pass along any important messages from traders or travelers.
Of course, this was a rare occurrence. But that did not matter. Drassik was there to watch the array at the pleasure of The Emperor (may his wisdom shine forever), so that is what he did.
When the printer started printing the second-most devastating message to ever arrive in V’Strakath, Drassik was present and alert to receive it. Per his training, he noted the sender (Chief Strategist Btoan, Igraen House of Cannons) and the recipient (Grand Warmaster Vezzik) and folded the message into an envelope. Drassik stepped outside, and made his way through the streets to the gates of the Inner Citadel, and from there to the gates of the Outer Sanctum.
Drassik found the Grand Warmaster’s chambers and hand-delivered the message. He would later regret this, but only for a few minutes before his death. For now, though, Drassik prided himself on following his training, and fulfilling his duty to the Emperor (may his wisdom shine forever).
A few hours later… Council Chamber, Outer Palace, V’Strakkath Vezzik, Grand Warmaster to the Emperor (may his wisdom shine forever)
“I am sure you all are wondering why I called this council meeting. Earlier today, I received this.” Vezzik passed the message around the table. “The Igraen House of Cannons wishes to discuss terms of a peaceful resolution to the war.”
“Why now?” asked Shipmaster Grezh.
“I do not know. But they want to send an unarmed diplomatic envoy in five days’ time. Obviously, we should demand that they dismantle the atrocity that is their artificial intelligence program.” Vezzik looked around the room. Wurgt, the High Councilor of Agriculture, an old V’Straki with little care for anything not related to farming, was asleep. “What other demands should we make?”
Everyone, aside from Wurgt, began shouting over each other to give Vezzik their demands for the Igraen Alliance.
Five days later... Imperial Spaceport Outer Waste, V’Strakath, Strak’kel
Grand Warmaster Vezzik stood at the edge of the landing pad, watching the unarmed Igraen ship touch down. Behind him stood his private contingent of personal guards, armed with Zheron rifles. Behind the guards were four Destroyer tanks and two Zheron tanks, ready to annihilate the Igraen ship at any moment.
The doors opened, and Chief Strategist Btoan of the House of Cannons stood ready to meet him. She was dressed in an Igraen hazard suit - Strak’kel was a deathworld, after all. Vezzik smirked. The Igraen was barely half as tall as he was - and that was their chief strategist?
Btoan licked her eyeballs and activated a handheld translator. “On behalf of the Igraen Alliance, greetings, Grand Warmaster. We are honored and delighted to be in your presence.” The translator waited a moment, then repeated her words in V’straki.
Vezzik held up the letter that the communications peon had given him. “The Emperor - may his wisdom shine forever - accepts the surrender of the House of Cannons.”
“I am grateful to the Emperor - may his wisdom shine forever - for any mercies he chooses to bestow upon us. The translator struggled with the word “mercies” but was eventually able to convey the concept in V’Straki. “Parlay?”
Vezzik hissed in agreement. They sat at a table and - waiting for the translator to repeat each line - began negotiations.
Vezzik demanded the destruction of the Igraen artificial intelligence programs. Btoan countered with a need to reassign those workers to another function. There were several rounds of back and forth as Vezzik found potential opportunities for them to serve the Emperor (may his wisdom shine forever) elsewhere.
Then, Vezzik demanded a tribute, payable in Galactic Compact Credits. “So that the Empire can engage in trade with the Galactic Compact.”
“Why not just join them?” asked Btoan.
Vezzik’s face grew dark. “Undermining the authority of the Emperor - may his wisdom shine forever - is the highest heresy. Were this not a diplomatic meeting, you could be executed for even suggesting such a thing. We will not submit to the whims of the bureaucrats at the Compact.”
Btoan apologized for the offense and began outlining the Igraen economy (“Each major industry has a House. For example, the House of Codes designs software, the House of Stars deals with extraplanetary mining and construction…) and possible avenues to supply tribute funding (“We have a bit of a budgetary surplus in the House of Medicine. We can take some from that, without having to slow down our medical research”).
The negotiations continued for hours.
“The House of Cannons is going to be dissolved,” Vezzik stated. “No more military for you.”
“We would like to keep our own smaller peacekeeping force, in the House of Shields. As we saw earlier, we do have different cultural ideals, and it would be best if the laws were enforced by our own kind.”
“Only if the Empire has oversight and final authority.”
“And authority over your courts as well. Our laws will need to supersede yours.”
“There will be a few things that need to be changed though. For example, your laws regarding hatcheries are incompatible with our… method of reproduction.”
Vezzik blinked. Igraen spawning pools were known throughout the Galactic Compact as being perhaps the most disgusting and repulsive means of reproduction in existence, at least to everybody who wasn’t an Igraen. And that was including the more recently discovered Abellam, a race of extremely clever and highly flexible slugs that laid fertilized egg cells in beds of their own digestive waste and covered them with their own mucus secretions.
“Of course,” he replied. “We are willing to accommodate your… biological needs.”
The House of Hammers would be set to work repairing and improving the infrastructure of the city of V’Strakkath. The House of Medicine would take on research into V’Straki diseases.
Vezzik laid demand after demand onto Btoan, until it grew dark. Btoan drew his attention to this fact, and brought the session to a close.
“I will bring the demands of the Emperor - may his wisdom shine forever - to the High House. I am sure they will be eager to accept and avoid any unnecessary bloodshed.”
Vezzik was internally amused at the idea of unnecessary bloodshed, but he did not show it. “They would be wise to accept without contest.”
Btoan smiled. “I have faith that they will. Please convey our gratitude to the Emperor - may his wisdom shine forever.” She deactivated the translator, and returned to her ship.
Vezzik watched her take off, then ordered his guards to escort him back into the city.
“I will bring the demands of the Emperor - may his wisdom shine forever - to the House of Law. I am sure they will be eager to accept and avoid any unnecessary bloodshed.”
“They would be wise to accept without contest.”
Btoan smiled. “I have faith that they will. Please convey our gratitude to the Emperor - may his wisdom shine forever.” She deactivated the translator, and returned to her ship. “Stupid V’Straki.”
She set the ship to take off, then checked on the hidden scanning systems concealed at the side of the ship. Carefully, she extracted the storage drive, and immediately created a backup. Then, she copied the data into an FTL communications buoy.
Once Btoan was safely out of the system, she launched the buoy towards Igraeus.
Hours later Classified Facility near Capitol City, Planet Igraeus Tnaes
Tnaes was thrilled. Btoan’s meeting with Vezzik had been an unparalleled success. It had taken longer than they had hoped, but there was no way to conceal the mind scanners within the ship without significantly slowing them down. But now, he had a complete V’Straki scan - and of the Grand Warmaster, no less. They had been expecting the Grand Warmaster to delegate the meeting to an underling, but Vezzik had come in person instead. And now, the House of Cannons was waiting on SUPERSIM to deliver every last scrap of intelligence from Vezzik’s digital head.
Tnaes loaded up an elaborate digital environment, added a translation module, dropped in a copy of Vezzik’s file, and started it up. Then, he loaded a fresh scan of his own mind, and dropped it into the chamber with Vezzik.
And in doing so, condemned both races to extinction.