Its claws twitched, as it lusted to grasp the relic I offered – or perhaps it was clutching at me, not the relic. “I require this item,” it rattled. “Give it me. Give me.”
I held the relic close to my bosom and reassured the creature. “Yes, I can certainly give you this item. But we must have an exchange, not a gift.”
The Collector vibrated, in pain or lust. “Trade?” it muttered, as if to itself. “What does it desire?”
The idea I was trying to explain was simple enough. The Collectors had raided a fringe world while my niece was visiting, and she was among the missing. I wanted her back. I told the Collector so in no uncertain terms.
“But … which one is it? How can I know. Give me the item!” It made a quick snatch almost too fast for my eyes to see. Almost.
I showed the Collector a holovid of my niece, telling it, “I require this girl and she alone. When she is released, I can hand over the relic.”
The Collector groaned. “I must discuss with the Comptroller. Only the Comptroller would know.” I was patient. I knew that the Collectors did not mistreat their victims – that would ruin the whole point of the collection.
The next week, the Collector appeared at my hotel. “I require the item you displayed. Hand it over.”
“No no,” I said. “Where is my niece?”
“She cannot be returned. She is unique.” Unique? Her? I loved my niece, but she was just an ordinary kid. I examined the Holovid, which she’d sent me before the raid. Suddenly I understood. She was young, flashy, and had dyed her hair bright green to show off her green eyes. The Collectors thought they had a rarity – a human with green hair.
I explained. “Check her hair. It is not really green, just added pigment – a mere decoration.”
The Collector’s mouth widened in fury, “A trick?! She must pay for her deceit.”
I shouted him down. “It is not dishonesty! She never wanted to be captured by you monsters. She’s just a teenager, wanting to fit in with a crowd! Let her go and you can have the relic! You can have a hundred such relics! Give her back!”
The Collector scuttled backwards, thinking furiously. What would it decide?
Their Athenaeum is not just a vessel, but a repository of valuables and wealth. It transports relics that the Collectors hold dear, and as their collection grows, they become more obsessed and more eager to see it progress. As a result, the larger their museum’s assortment, the more fanatical and fixated become the Collectors about these vessels.
The Collectors must gather copies of every different species, every ship type. They must own them all, or as many as possible. As they improve their collection, the Collector threat grows as well.
We remember the dark days. When the sea rose. When the dreams came, and our minds were filled with images of the sunken, unthinkable city. Of the sky-flung monoliths, and the voice that was not a voice. At first we believed it was just legends, or an outbreak of psychosis, or perhaps religious mania. But as the dreams spread, and more and more people were overwhelmed, an expedition was sent to the place that kept reappearing in the visions – deep in the South Pacific. That was disaster.
The expedition found a nightmare city of titan structures and green dripping ooze. And they unleashed Something. The Starspawn had been waiting, inside the earth and under the sea. Now it was time for the great priest, Cthulhu, from his dark house in the mighty city of R’lyeh, to rise and bring the Earth again beneath his sway.
We were not ready for him. How could we be? Why had our submarines, our deep-sea radar, not seen this gigantic structure – hundreds of miles of carved rock and sleeping monstrosities. The only answer was that Cthulhu’s psychic power extended to more than simply sending dreams. Our researchers minds were clouded. Those few who could resist the mental sendings and tried to warn the world were murdered by Cthulhu’s cult – traitor humans who sought to please the Starspawn.
We fought. Oh we fought. But it was hopeless. The Starspawn were not composed of flesh and blood. They had shape, but their shape was not made of matter. They could never really die, though they could be temporarily dispersed by our most powerful weapons. Earth died, as mountains of protoplasm rose from the sea. Shapeshifting horrors flew through the sky, devouring as they traversed our continents. And the cult rose too – the worshipers of Great Cthulhu shouted and killed and reveled in joy, assisted by the cosmic horror of Cthulhu’s minions.
In the end, our wisest leaders realized that Earth was a lost cause. It was blanketed by the millionfold terrors of the Starspawn. Thermonuclear devices and particle beams were mere toys compared to the power and resilience of the star-born creatures who ravened across our world. We had ships, and started trying to get as many as possible off the doomed planet. At first, we had complicated rules. Only the healthiest or best-educated could go. We were careful to choose candidates from every ethnic and racial type. But this broke down as our society and military collapsed. In the end, the ships simply took everyone who came until their holds filled up, then fled the impending catastrophe. Entire languages and peoples are lost forever, for those folk could not get to a ship.
We forever mourn Earth and the lost billions. We remember.
Great Cthulhu - The Starspawn Supership
The most powerful Starspawn weapon is of course Great Cthulhu himself. But since his rise, he underwent mitosis, and now two are available. Perhaps this was always the point of conquering Earth -simply to enable Cthulhu’s duplication.
The Starspawn plunge through the sky, gain the secrets of Cthulhu’s wisdom, and must slumber periodically. They can devour enemy ships before the latter get off a shot, and they can instantaneously gather rewards. They are fearsome, but fortunately at least in Hyperspace terms, not unbeatable.
I was taking a much-needed holiday at a resort world. The seawater reflected the cloudless sky. Beautifully-designed buildings gleamed under the twin suns. Vacationers basked on the beach. All nature was in harmony. My dog frolicked in the surf.
A shadow fell over the resort. People looked up to see the looming mass of a colossal warship floating down toward us. A girl shrieked, fearing invasion. Others calmed her – they recognized the insignia. The ship was Terran – our own, and doubtless here to protect us. “Protect us from what?” the girl asked. No one was sure.
Shuttles flew from the ship and heavily armed soldiers emerged, shouting. “Get on the transports! Everyone leaves! NOW! Abandon all belongings! Save your lives! Run run RUN!” At first, most people just stared, dazed and amazed. A few obeyed. A few ran seeking their children. Within minutes, most had lined up trying to get themselves organized onto the shuttles. I whistled frantically for my dog, who ran to me whimpering. I picked him up in my arms.
As the first shuttle left, gigantic missiles fired from the warship, aimed far out to sea. Just before the missiles struck, a colossal head erupted from the sea, visible against the sky despite the vast distance. The ocean exploded mountainously as water instantly turned to plasma and steam.
Everyone screamed. Was this the elimination of the outrageous behemoth they had seen? Was the threat ended? “Go go GO!” screeched the soldiers and no one delayed further. We all piled onto the shuttles and abandoned the resort.
A flailing claw emerged hundreds of meters from the sea and waved furiously. From the vantage point of the rising shuttle, I could see the creature, intact, still headed straight for the island, a massive V-shaped wake behind it. The resort was no more. Perhaps the same was true of the whole planet.
The Urumak have two different forms they can take. The most commonly-seen are the colossal planetary invaders. But they can also grow (or attach – the process is not clear to outsiders) gigantic cavorite crystals around their bodies and rise into space, orbiting worlds as defense bases and shipyards.
The Starspawn plunge through the sky, gain the secrets of Cthulhu’s wisdom, and must slumber periodically. They can devour enemy ships before the latter get off a shot, and they can instantaneously gather rewards. They are fearsome, but fortunately at least in Hyperspace terms, not unbeatable.
“I’m so happy to see you. My father will be joining us shortly.”
“Ruth – your father is dead.”
“Yes, I know. He is dead, but he has returned, and has visiting me on and off for a few weeks. Look! Here he comes!”
From the corner of my eye, I saw a glowing phantom writhing. When I looked straight at it, it seemed to fade. That was my first introduction to the specters. Soon, people all over the planet saw them. Many, like Ruth, believed they were the manifestations of the angelic dead. New religions arose. Scientific experiments on the topic are common, but all they have found is that the entities are somehow forcing their way into this universe – a discovery not at odds with the concept of heavenly visitors.
After a few months, the phenomenon expanded dramatically. Ethereal floating cylinders, hundreds of meters tall, became visible. Eventually, entire phantom cityscapes were visible in many areas. These were followed by apparitions of vehicles and skycraft.
The specters became more solid – at least the apparitions of structures and vehicles. While the objects remained intangible, they began to block our view, and sometimes that of our sensors. The ghosts themselves – the “angels” – remained visually incoherent.
At last, the prophets of the new religions, as well as some other people, made direct mental contact with the angels.
“They arrive tomorrow!” Ruth reported excitedly. “We must go to greet them in the site of Zion, heaven’s city which they bring to us.”
The next day, clad in white robes, the chosen believers sang hymns, and marched to hilltops and gathered around sacred groves. The ghosts gathered too, in unprecedented hordes.
I watched from six kilometers away, using a digital monocular. Something was happening. The ghosts cavorted excitedly. A rift, a three-dimensional tear in the atmosphere, opened, and the ghosts poured through it. But as they emerged into our reality, they did not manifest as our beloved dead. Their twisted forms were same as before – incoherent, ever-changing, internal organs sometimes revealed to view, sometimes hidden. They twisted and danced into our world. Their buildings solidified, displacing and crushing ours. Their vehicles became grim reality, bristling with weapons, which they were not averse to use. It was clear that this planet was to be cleared off, and my people with it. The self-appointed worshipers died in seconds.
It was Earth’s first encounter with the entities now called the Valkar.
The Valkar’s mightiest vessel, the Phantasm, perpetually fades in and out of existence. Its internal vibrations (it’s not even made of atoms) have two phases, and thus can either fuse enemy circuits, or alternatively intercept and nullify energy blasts and attacks. Thus, it has either a defensive or offensive value, and the Valkar can adjust the effects according to tactical needs.
The Valkar are invaders from another dimension. Early, they are comparatively few and easy to push back. But in the later game, with techs prepared, and their defensive advantages manifest, they are a redoubtable foe.
The Old Ones
“Begone,” whistled the squirming entity, bizarre limbs, wings, and lobed head twisting and flexing. The Old One’s constant motion was confusing and a bit nauseating. It’s speech device spoke in flat-toned Terran, as though it wasn’t interested in adding emotional tones to its dialog. “We have nothing for you here, primate.”
I didn’t take offense. I was a primate, after all. “We need your help. The gray dust spreads over our colony on Copernicus. Millions are menaced.”
“They are not millions of our people. Breed replacements.”
“But nothing stops it,” I pled. “Electromagnetic pulses only slow the dust down. We fear it may soon reach the ocean.”
A year ago, a trade expedition had returned from one of the Old Ones worlds with the replicator powder. Tiny nanobots, which duplicated themselves, and could be programmed to build any chemical compound from raw materials. A mutation had occurred, or perhaps we had made an error, and the powder had gone berserk. It simply turned everything into copies of itself and kept spreading. Hundreds of miles of a continent’s interior were already just seething gray dust. Anything it touched, or that touched it, began to crumble, dissolving into more of the dust. We could see no end to it. Even thermonuclear devices simply fried the dust particles inside the fireball itself, and the pressure blast sent the killer dust particles miles away.
I tried again, “Your people must have a way to stop or destroy the gray dust. We will offer you anything.”
It piped arrogantly. “What can your kind offer us? We ruled interstellar space when you were furred burrowers, hiding from the great reptiles.”
It wriggled, seemed to recover itself, and spoke in a final tone. “Value our privacy. If and when we choose to grant you primates any of our lore, it shall not be at your behest. Begone.”
Defeated, I left my audience with the Old One and went back to my ship. Suddenly the communicator buzzed. I grabbed it eagerly. Had the Old One changed its mind? Was it now willing to help?
Something tapped on the microphone at the other end. A guttural half-voice burbled, “Is this the human-primate? The star-head is dead, headless now. I talk now. You need destroy dust. I can do. We shoggothim eat it, so is dust never threat to star-heads. But they hold us down, contempt. We build all for star-head. They say we stole their art, we built their art.”
“You Aurora speak of space dragons, undead, alien forces. We a shoggoth wait outside ship. Lower ramp. We join you. Bring me to Copernicus. Gray dust will fall. We learn under your tutelage, as we learn under star-heads.”
I sealed my ramp tightly closed and considered. Was even the gray dust menace worth bringing a shoggoth to Copernicus? I pondered.
The Oracle super-ship is an amazing vessel. When its main armament fires, it can either inflict vast damage, or create a portal into hyperspace, granting strange energies for the Old Ones. Either result is useful to their species and makes them a particularly knotty problem to crack.
The Old Ones grant wisdom and lore to other species. They suffer from their current decadent state, which makes them unable to boost colonies, but they can make up for this by the blessings they spread selectively.
I heard footsteps down the corridor, approaching my door. It must be Henry, I thought. Tap-tap came upon the door. I wasn’t alarmed. It must be Henry. “Come in,” I said. “Come in.”
The door opened with wonderful swiftness – a figure loomed into the room and then shut the door as rapidly, leaning against it. I tried to scream but my tongue refused. I trembled. It was not Henry, but Vood – the vampire.
The Dacian drew up its gaunt frame to its full height, and crossed prehensile legs upon its breast, standing on its wingtips. There was a hideous grin upon its black countenance, and its voice was deep and sepulchral, as it said, “Aurora Ultraviolet, hear what I have to say, and hear it calmly. You have nothing to fear. Make an alarm – shout for help, or reach for your communicator, and by the hell beneath us all, you are lost!”
There was a death-like, cold, passionless manner about these words, as if they were spoken mechanically. I heard them, yet scarcely comprehended them. I stepped slowly back and held to a chair for support. I could not speak; a psychic oppression lay over me.
Vood’s strange glassy eyes glared unflinchingly. With hideous and strange contortions of its face, it mouthed the words, “You are beautiful. The most cunning artist might model a rare work of art from your limbs. Your face. What enchantment.”
How could the monster care about human beauty? I flushed. “You understand me,” It said. “Let that pass.” What was Vood trying to say?
“I have inflicted much misery on you and your family, but I can spare you much more. At some point brother or your lover will challenge me.”
“Oh no, no,” I said. “Spare Henry! Spare Lockhart!”
“I say it will happen. I can trivially kill either. My skill and strength is beyond theirs.”
“Mercy,” I cried!
“To spare them, I have one condition. Induce them to sell the Hall to me. I ask no more. If they sell, I will not fight with them, and you shall never see me again.”
That would indeed be worth a sacrifice.
“I covet the Hall. I must have it, though my path be through a sea of blood. You understand? You may not live to regret being a friend to Vood.”
It advanced towards me, and I involuntarily uttered a shriek of terror. In an instant, its claw clasped my waist like an iron vice. I felt hot breath flushing my cheek. My senses reeled, I gathered my breath & energy into one piercing cry for help, and then fell to the floor. A crash of breaking glass, and then all was still.
The Dacian Lancet
Their super-ship Lancets is part and parcel of your Feed action’s success. It ensures a Feed’s success, letting you drain your foe and bump up the battle track without risk.
The Dacians are a terrifying threat. When the Dacians produce, they drain extra resources from their neighbors. Their Vorax tech makes them both fearsome and flexible in battle. At least they prefer to keep your colonies alive, as feeding grounds, and they must carefully plan just when they are going to receive a secret, to manage their vampirism.
The nuclear reactor stalked across the horizon, its robotic legs pounding inexorably. All around rose windowless slab-sided buildings, to house such machines as must be not exposed to the air or sunlight. In a society where any citizen can plug into a building’s own exterior sensors, windows are a structural weakness.
Of course, none of the city’s inhabitants have a home. All are machines – they alternate between maintaining internal systems and completing assigned tasks. When a serious malfunction occurs, the citizen is repaired or junked. Nothing is decorative – all is purposeful.
My flyer drew closer to the ambulatory reactor. The Automata run on broadcast power, so it made sense to have a power plant that could follow them as they traveled. Really though, the nuclear reactor itself is as alive, as intelligent, as the tiny machines that swarmed over it like parasites on a prehistoric behemoth. It, too, is a citizen of this city.
My flyer landed on the reactor’s upper surface. As I emerged, the machines continued to polish and tend the monster they served. Eerily, they took no notice of me, even when I captured one of the smaller machines for inspection. One of its claws was steel mixed with chromium. Another claw had a vanadium core. It seemed as if the two parts, identical in purpose, had been cannibalized from different sources. My meddling produced no reaction. I knew that until my interference reached a critical point, it was more efficient to ignore me rather than send a security drone to dispose of me. I was safe, so long as I did not threaten productivity too much.
I disassembled my captured Automaton, and its components told the story. Each part of the machine was from a different source. No doubt, long ago some race constructed devices to run their empire. When the race went extinct or lost the power to regulate their creations, the machines kept in operation, following their original directives. Eventually, these machines encountered another group of machines – relics of a different set of builders. The two machine empires, lacking prejudice, hate, or love, merged data banks, and blended technology and prime directives.
“I am a ma’am, not a sir. And that is an odd request.”
As they spread across the galaxy, these met more machine empires. Many once-successful species must have died out, leaving devices to carry on. Over time, these remnant robot empires merged. Perhaps one were originally war machines. Another were laborers. A third were designed for exploration. All these clashing purposes combined into something new – the Automata. All the original directives from a hundred alien species are still in effect. Now their existing machines are built of parts re-assembled from earlier devices.
The Automata continue to expand, and to relentlessly fulfill the tasks assigned by long-dead masters. What are those tasks? How will their internal algorithms affect our fate as they move towards our worlds?
The Automata Technotron
The Technotron is a highly-flexible ship with controlling computers that can access and instantly activate a wide number of effects. When encountered, Technotrons can manifest many different results. They are not just for combat, either, and are often seen helping with manufacturing projects, scientific research, and other such efforts. As with all Automata ships, the Technotron has no “crew”. It is, itself, a single machine, and as such is precisely a single “Automata” resident, though a large and authoritative one.
The Automata are efficient, well-balanced, and effective as befits a machine civ. They can draw on tech powers without researching them, and their abilities are evenly divided between early- and late-game advantages.
I could hear the hum of the Azota’s anti-gravs in the next room as it flitted aimlessly about. Every few seconds, I heard a *zap* when it spotted a stray insect or rodent and disintegrated the hapless vermin. The Azota was certainly dedicated to its task. I had only my hand needler and was sure it wouldn’t penetrate the Azota’s defense screens.
But I had noticed, when the Azota descended, that their containers resembled the brain cylinders used by the Fungi. Of course, instead of a brain, the Azotan cases held whirling flashes of energy, but the brain cylinders functioned on electricity. The Azotas themselves weren’t electrical, of course. They were otherplanar force – or from what I’d heard, perhaps that wasn’t right. They didn’t come from another plane of existence, but from between the planes, a kind of null-space. One scientist told me they should be called “extraplanar”.
What mattered is that I might disable the Azotan cylinder if I short-circuited it. The warehouse still had power – the lights were on; electric cables festooned the walls. I pulled one loose, and as quietly as possible scraped off the end, revealing its vanadium wire core. I plugged the cable into a socket, and the exposed wires sparked. I knew the crackling noise would attract the Azota.
It floated through the door, sensors spinning. I leapt desperately, brandishing my wire. The Azotan’s base ring spun quickly, bringing its disintegrator to bear, but I was the faster. The wire sizzled. The Azota’s colors bloomed from violet to orange. Lightning spat over the cylinder’s metal surfaces, and it crashed loudly to the ground.
I quickly disabled its weapon and anti-gravs. Then I sat back. The Azota soon recovered. The cylinder certainly looked like the Fungi devices. Were the Fungi responsible for bringing the Azotas to our realm? Is this yet another crime to lay at the feet of those loathsome crab-things?
The Azotan spoke in a tinny voice, “A pleasant day. Please re-activate my disintegrator, kind sir.”
“I am a ma’am, not a sir. And that is an odd request.”
“I cannot reward and bless you without it. Please reactivate at once.” It shrilled.
“You will disintegrate me. What a reward!”
The Azota seemed nonplused. “Pain exists because life feels it. Sorrow and regret are from life. When life ends, so does remorse, guilt, agony. We must bless the universe with its absence. Our burden is to save all from pain. We joyfully accept our task.”
“I hate and fear you. We don’t want disintegration.”
The Azotan trilled gaily. “Of course. But all hate, all fear, will be forgotten post-oblivion. If an afterlife is real, no pain or regret will be there either. Let me help you.”
The entity’s happiness perversely angered me. This is not what I expected the Azota – the enemies of all life – to be like. “You are alive too, are you not? Why don’t you disintegrate yourself!”
The Azotan droned on “Oh we shall. We shall. Ultimately all existence must be ended, including our own. Till then, we are fraught with care and worry – before we can go, we must first rescue all the life in the universe. This is our great and noble sacrifice. Can you not see our love? You are dear to us. Let me help you darling human. I want only to give you the greatest service possible.”
The Azota Skeleship
The Skeleship is designed for one purpose only – to kill. If you can afford to accompany it with a single puny corvette, it is certain to score a kill in every fight – possibly more than one. It is deadly, and the Azota ability to engage in extra battles makes it even worse.
Over time the Azota enervate and weaken the others – gradually, but permanently, removing colonies from play. But the Azota weaken over time as well – so it is a race. The Azota must “spread the love”, hitting colonies from all their rivals as they go. Basically the Azota are more powerful in the early game, and lose oomph as time goes on. They must maximize their advantages before they fall apart.
All humans know that the Yithians were created by us. While this is true, it is not the whole truth. “Yithian” isn’t even their real name. Millions of years ago, the minds of these beings sped across the void from an obscure trans-galactic world known as Yith, but even this was not their original home.
Their minds took over the bodies of a type of organic life of which no fossils remain, colonized Earth and spread their cities across the world. Throughout the Mesozoic era, they ruled Earth.
But they retained their ability to move their minds through space and time, to take over the bodies of other species. This is how they survive the aeons – by en-masse occupying new bodies, swapping their minds. The conquered species minds are sent back to another era, filled with terror, in new strange bodies, only to die hideously, as the Yithians perform their swap just before their own species goes extinct. Thus the Yithians planned to swap with a future Earth species just before the final extinction at the end of the Cretaceous.
It is a little embarrassing to admit that the Yithians did not want to take over we humans. Perhaps our brains are not powerful enough for the Yithians’ liking. Or our bodies too feeble. For whatever reason, they aimed at a species of future beetle, which they knew would one day rise.
But then the Starspawn threatened. The Yithians saw that Cthulhu and his race would occupy the Earth, and drive out the humans. We would become nomads, seeking a new home. But what would become of the Yithians.
Their incredible brains had a plan. They sent hundreds of Yithian minds to occupy our best biologists and genetic engineers. Taking over universities, research labs, and even governments, they ruthlessly used our own human tools and skills to physically create the desired Yithian species of intelligent super-beetles. Once created, the controlled scientists released the new Yithians into the wild.
Their task was completed just before the Starspawn arose and the Final War took place between us and Cthulhu – now know as World War C. As all humans know, we lost. A few of us managed to evacuate the Earth, and now we wander, colonizing stray worlds here and there. Knowing Earth is lost forever to the spawn.
The Yithians, too, battled the Starspawn, with more success than us, at least for a while. But as they battled, they also built ships. Before their cities were finally conquered by the Starspawn the Yithians, too, evacuated Earth. Their ships traveled to a new fertile world which their minds had previously explored, and soon they were ensconced in safety, with mineral wealth galore.
That is where the Yithians live now. While human hands constructed their current form, it was Yithian minds. They literally created their own species – a paradox of time travel I suppose. I also supposed they can never die. They still jump from host species to host. Sometimes just to explore possibilities. Sometimes for more sinister reasons. Should we mass our fleets to destroy their world (for what reason?) they would simply mindswap with another species. Our radium bombs would destroy a planet from which all Yithian life was gone – only their bodies would remain, with the hapless terrified minds of some other poor species to feel our wrath.
They might be the most heartless species in existence – continuing their lives by genocidally exterminating other intelligent races in entirety.
The Yithian Battleship
The Yithian battleship is designed with internal nodes and weapon ports for a gigantic array of devices and systems. When they swap minds with a target species, they adapt the technology best-suited for their new bodies into the battleship, and so the battleships take on a variety of roles.
This species is the hardest of all civs to play in Hyperspace. Not because it is inherently complex, but because it is able to mindswap, gaining the abilities, weaknesses, and technology of an entirely different species. So it may start as the “vanilla” Yithians, then become Dacians, then Xk-13, and so forth, forcing their rivals to adapt to the new situation.
Of course the Yithians must adapt too – learning or figuring out how to use their new powers.
The Zevolt! A name at the center of galactic events. These beings came seemingly out of nowhere, but in only a few Terran years, the Zevolt rose from one success to another, becoming a cosmic threat. Other races first mocked them, then sought to defy them. According to their enemies, the Zevolt were true devils, the embodiment of all evil.
I had come here, to a starbase conquered by the Zevolt, to find the truth. Few humans would venture here.
I knew the Zevolt were dragon-like in nature, but I had no realized how large some of them were. The starbase was huge, and they kept the gravity inactive, so I had to rely on magnetic shoes to move around. The Zevolt themselves wriggled through the air, leathery wings beating. I wondered how they managed to stay aloft in a planet’s gravity. Perhaps they didn’t visit planet surfaces? Or they used grav-nullifiers.
Or, most likely, only the smaller Zevolt traveled into a planet’s atmosphere. The creatures ranged in size from only a few centimeters long to 20 meters or more. The small ones didn’t seem to be hatchlings, but fully-grown miniatures of the larger dragons. No doubt they had some technique to control adult size – hormones, diet, or genetic engineering.
I passed by a floating grid on which many Zevolt seemed to be singing a hymn or prayer. A booming hiss (translated by my wristpiece) proclaimed “The kings, generals, leading minds and heroes of the past were the tools of Providence in building our nation. As we thank them for our great Empire, we accept the splendid riches of our history. We thank Almighty Archion that he has blessed us with this privilege.” Were the dragon folk religious in nature? Odd.
I was led by a tiny dragonet to a room full of knobbed pillars. Zevolt twisted around the pillars, which seemed to be what they used instead of chairs or couches. It made sense for a being with such a snake-like body. One of the Zevolt was bright-green, and it spoke to me, using telepathy rather than mere speech. “Humans fear us. But if we really wanted a war of conquest, we would have concealed our strong fleet. We are entirely open about it. Our intention is not to wage war, but to build a new state with the highest level of culture.”
Yes I thought to myself, but as you expand your theocracy, what happens to “uncultured” species such as the Zepzeg, Glazaqtoq, or we humans?
“You doubt,” sang the green Zevolt. The smallest hatchlings open their hearts to him. The growing youths listen to him. The entire Zevolt nation serves him. The future belongs to him whom the youth obey. We are stronger than all other nations, because Archion is the best leader.”
Archion? I must have seemed inquisitive. The Zevolt gestured straight up with its tail. I looked at the armor-glass dome. Outside the starbase, in space, filling the entire sky, floated an unthinkably vast horror – a colossal multi-headed monster with swarms of wingless or partly-winged Zevolt crawling over its flesh. As I shrank in terror, my mind could not grasp the awful Thing, though one part of my brain realized wildly, “It is shaped a little like a dragon.” I couldn’t stand it. I screamed and tried to flee from the appalling sight. I ran to my spaceship and threw it into hyperdrive as quickly as possible, wildly gibbering in terror while my dog barked.
That frightful Thing must have been their god and king, Archion. As rationality returned, I realized that the herds of smaller Zevolt on it must have been the Zevolt young. No doubt enzymes produced by their dread master controlled their size and caste as they fed on its secretions. It was literally the step-parent to all the Zevolt, at least in that star system.
Were there more than one of these God-Dragons? I hoped and prayed not, though in my heart I fear otherwise.
The Zevolt Dragonship
One of the most dreaded ships in Hyperspace – it has a first strike capability that removes enemy units before they can even focus their cannons. Its one weakness is that because it cannot attack in concert with its other ships, they tend to damage enemies more than destroy them, and they are actually weaker against space monsters.
Every rival hates their ability to strip away useful techs, which not only boosts the Zevolt but weakens their victims. And the fact that you cannot wreak vengeance with your secrets adds insult to injury.
The plague penetrated Athena Base, emanating from the mountain where the meteor landed last season. Almost the whole strength of the town died, struck by sudden disaster. In the factory town Vestige, more than 4000 died in just a week. At the same time, there was a destruction of beasts. On this world, we had maintained large flocks of greenwool sheep, and they fell by thousands – so rotted that neither beast nor even insect would touch them.
The economy was sorely altered. Everything was cheap, due to the fear of death. No one cared about wealth –household pets and the few remaining sheep wandered over fields and through the town, for no one was left to tend them. Crops perished in the fields – our harvesting machines left idle for want of workers.
The remaining legislature passed a law that workers could not strike for higher wages, but this law was completely ignored. The workforce was so diminished that anyone still willing to labor could demand almost any fee he desired. The police force was mostly dead as well. Looting was common, but few cared, for they were only stealing the belongings of the dead.
The buildings began to fall into ruins for the lack of inhabitants. Many smaller towns were desolate – all having died who dwelt there. The social structure is shattered. Families are set against each other – the well rejecting the sick. The sick die alone, for no doctors are left – the health profession was the first to die. It was terrifying how quickly society fell apart under the impact of the plague.
How many brave men and women had breakfast with their kin and friends, all in the best of health; but by evening were in Hell or we can hope, Heaven? Many fled the doomed world on ships, only to die in travel. A few lucky ones got away.
I was one of the last – perhaps fortuitously immune to the sickness due to my many travels and the alien worlds I’d visited.
One day, a terrible penetrating stench filled the air – not rotting bodies, but something sharp and painful to the nose. I heard a scrabbling outside. I peeked through the window to see a verminous being scuttle along the street. As it moved, a noxious yellow vapor seeped out between its body plates. Was this a Nomian? Is this how Nomians operate? It seemed like filth incarnate.
No longer willing to remain, I made my way to my ship and left the world to the Nomians and the dead.
The Nomian Plagueship
Nomians, as an intelligent disease-based organism, gain effectiveness the better they understand their opponents’ defenses, biology, and technology. The Plagueship is the apogee of the Nomian infectious cycle. It carries within it acid spores, energy pods, and is equipped with blasters, plague-beams, and anti-metal virus casters. The real threat of the plagueship is that the more it battles, the more the Nomians learn about your weaknesses, and the stronger the ship gets. After a lengthy war, the plagueships become almost unstoppable in efficacy.
The disgusting Nomian pests are a real problem. Other civs are forced willy-nilly to evacuate worlds when they arrive, and their ability to spread their infection even to other civs storage is aggravating and enervating. Their hand is against every man, and every man’s hand against them.
It started with a nightmare. A voice, like a cracked recording, repeating again and again. “Get up and get into the crate … crate … crate. If you don’t you won’t ever rest … rest … rest.” I awoke, glistening with sweat. I knew what crate the squeaking nightmare voice spoke of. A large box had arrived by special courier the day before. I had ordered nothing, but my name and address was clear. I had opened the box. It was a solid plasteen, clean and empty. Nothing inside at all.
“Big enough for me to fit inside.” I’d thought, morbidly. Then I determined to dispose of it tomorrow. But that night the voice …. I rolled over and went back to sleep. As soon as I’d dozed off, the voice began again. “Get up … up … up.”
What WAS it? Just a nightmare? Or a potential threat. I clambered out of bed; pulled on some sweatpants and tank top. Even this simple action seemed hard, as though I was in slow motion, or underwater. I wobbled into the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror. I wasn’t there.
Instead, Something Else had taken my reflection. A hideous countenance, snouted and tusked, beady yellow eyes stared grimly back. It wasn’t human in the slightest. My gorge rose. It was costumed, with a complex headpiece that concealed part of the Something Else’s malformed head. As I stared aghast, a repulsive claw reached up and scratched its neck. So it wasn’t just a reflection – I had not moved a muscle. Was I seeing into another realm? The Something Else opened its black maw and I heard the cracked voice again. “You are up … up … up. Get into the crate … crate … crate.”
I reeled back in horror. As I turned around, my bedroom wavered in my vision, it filled with twisting colors and fumes. Something was seriously wrong. I stumbled to my apartment door and fell out into the corridor. I blacked out.
Someone shook me awake – it was my fiancé, Lockhart! He was worried. “Are you hurt?” he asked.
“I don’t think so … not physically.”
“You have a nosebleed,” he said, pressing a tissue to my face.
“Wait,” I interrupted, pushing the tissue away. “What are you doing here? You were at the Hall last night.” I had spoken with him via subspace radio.
“Don’t worry about that,” he said comfortingly. “I’m here now.”
I wasn’t comforted. Ultraviolet Hall was on a moon of Fomalhaut, more than ten light-years away. The fastest ship would take weeks to get here. He brought up the tissue again. I smelled a chemical agent. I crawled backwards frantically. The Lockhart-thing lurched forward, its bones bending the wrong direction, grin askew. Its torso was too thick to be Lockhart. What WAS this thing? I shoved at it, and its mask fell off. A prehensile snout twitched around fangs and tusks. Black chitin glistened on its surface. “Come with me … me … me.” it warbled.
I screamed and ran to the stairs, falling and rolling down them to the landing below. I felt my ankle snap and screamed again in pain. The Lockhart-Thing rocked to and fro as it waddled towards me, trying to re-affix its mask.
The Yaddith Stingship
The Stingship doesn’t require a key action to build – which means with enough resources you can amass a deadly fleet faster than any other civ. Keep this in mind – the Yaddith is not about slowly growing over time – it is about quick reflexes and adaptability.
The Yaddith start with the best homeworld in the game. Unfortunately, they lose it shortly into the game, so they must maximize its use early on. At the game end, they have the advantage that they earn VPs from enemy starbases so they don’t need to try to conquer them – this knowledge often means opponents let them safely live alongside their own colonies.
A rusty colossus, the sphere drifted in space. Nestled inside its hollow interior was another, smaller sphere, a red sensor cluster glowing brightly. My ship, far smaller, floated before it. I knew weapons of appalling power were trained on me. I had seen their catastrophic effect.
I spoke to the sphere via microwave radiation, as I sat uneasily in my ship’s bridge. Would it listen? Would it reply with words, or with an annihilating wave of energy?
I had been appointed ambassador to the Xk-13 by the Vorck High Overseer, mainly because of my experience in dealing with other aliens. The Vorck were friends, of a sort, and I saw no reason why their colony world should be destroyed and replaced by the Xk-13’s war factories. I had agreed to the mission but had not promised for success. Behind me, Vorck transports flocked, desperately trying to evacuate as many citizens as possible lest the Xk-13 bombard the planet.
The Xk-13’s lights blinked on and off. The entity was not actually electronic –at its core was a living, organic being. Could it understand? It had allowed me to approach, at least. A buzzing noise filled my bridge. As the buzz became almost unbearable, suddenly my translator kicked in – the Xk-13 was trying to speak, clumsily. No doubt, it normally communicated only among its own kind. Perhaps its connectors were damaged through disuse. What it said made no sense.
“We have received training and direction. We fight against a cunning and cruel foe. Our enemy shall be defeated! No quarter will be given! Prisoners will not be taken! Whosoever falls into our clutches is forfeited. A thousand years ago, the Xk-13 made a name for ourselves, one that even today is mighty in legend. Now we shall re-affirm by us in such a way that for the next thousand years no Vorck shall dare to lift its eyes to the Xk-13. The universe’s blessing is on us! Beware lest you share their fate.”
More orbs, and vessels of war, were moving into position. I cried out in passion, “The Vorck have done nothing to offend you! You attack purely on whim. Behold an entire planet before you. The Vorck are only on the northern continent. Surely you can share the world’s wealth!”
“It is not wealth we seek, but glory. Stand aside.”
Crying tears of rage and helplessness, I withdrew my ship. I messaged the Vorck High Chair, telling him of my mission’s failure. The Vorck were not completely unprepared – counter-fires lanced up from the planet’s surface and ships of war flashed in from hyperspace. Vorck ships and Xk-13 globes shattered in atomic fire. The Vorck transmissions were frantic as they urgently coordinated their counterattacks.
The Xk-13, too, filled the vacuum with messages, but of a different nature. “I die resplendently, brothers. Join me!” “I seek superb oblivion!” “Eat blaster, Vorck filth!”
Sick at heart and seeing that the environment was becoming dangerous, I transitioned to hyperspace, and never saw the battle’s end. I hope the Vorck won, or at least were able to evacuate most of their people.
The Yaddith Stingship
The Stingship doesn’t require a key action to build – which means with enough resources you can amass a deadly fleet faster than any other civ. Keep this in mind – the Yaddith is not about slowly growing over time – it is about quick reflexes and adaptability.
The Xk-13 are obsessed with war, as befits their ancestry as war machines. The more they fight, the more they benefit from fighting. They have few material advantages, but such as they have parlay easily into their deadly nature.
Starport Lavash teems with habitats, constructed for all the varied entities that wish to visit, live, or trade here. This port is ruled by the Broodmasters, and by Broodmaster law, such as it is. I have stayed here for two years and have never seen a real Broodmaster.
Oh, I see plenty of the small tick-like spawn everywhere. In common parlance, most human residents of Starport Lavash term these “Broodmasters” though I suppose they are really only “broodlings” – non-breeding creations of the main body. These broodlings lack speech apparatus of their own, but hear, understand, and respond to human speech. Most broodlings are small, with carapaces only 5-10 cm across. All the vehicles and work machines at Starport Lavash are operated by broodlings, nestled inside tiny control compartments. I am staying at the Friend Human Hotel, where the concierge is a large broodling with a 50 cm carapace. I suspect my concierge was grown to such size so it would be safe from being stepped on or injured by a drunken guest.
My broodling concierge is the fastest typist I’ve ever seen – in human languages yet. Sometimes I test it, asking for help in translating a document into Tagalog, Thai, or Mixe-Zoquean. It has never hesitated and simply taps it out in a minute or two. It does expect a tip for this service, though I’m not sure why it wants money. I never see it go anywhere – it’s always at its desk.
Occasionally a giant armored vehicle with a huge cabin grinds slowly through town. I suspect these vehicles transport an actual Broodmaster. Normally the Broodmasters reside in massive armored bunkers, to which all entrance is forbidden.
In olden times, humans dreamed of the ability to read minds. The Broodmaster developed this faculty to its logical extreme. Now we see the terrible result. A master telepath has no need for eyes, ears, or any other senses. It has no need to move on its own. It sees and hears through its brood, and travels through its brood. It is a huge repulsive immobile insensate blob – a thing of pure mind.
Dealing with a Broodmaster is exhausting. Though their intellects are vast, their desires are crass and shallow. Every contact I have with the Human Friend Hotel’s owner (through my concierge) is a struggle to keep from being tricked, as the creature seeks to twist every statement I make to its selfish advantage. The Broodmasters have no loyalty even to their own kind. Once my concierge tried to hire me to plant stink-bombs in a rival hotel’s foyer as a minor financial ploy to force some conventioneers to switch quarters to his own hotel.
I loathe the Broodmasters, though I have never seen them. I fear their intellect, their monstrous egotism. But I also pity them.
The Broodmaster Monitor
The Monitor is designed to carry an old and powerful Broodmaster into battle. The ship is unarmed! Its defense is the Broodmaster’s own powers of mental control. The central cabin holds the Broodmaster itself, while the large enclosing ring has electronics and devices to power-up and amplify his mental energy. The interior of the ship swarms with tiny broodlings, performing maintenance and upkeep and of course also tending their vile master.
The Broodmasters are cunning and subtle. They can bribe other player’s units to become their mercenaries, swap bases with unwilling rivals, and suppress a foe’s attacks in battle. They even corrupt the deck of secrets for their own self-serving purposes!
In better times, this world was a joint colony of humans and Zepzeg. A shining example of cooperation. How, I heard the shrieks of men and women, the wailing of children, and the hissing ululations of frightened Zepzeg. Some called for their children or spouses, or on God. Some prayed for death in their terror of dying. Some called on God, but others shouted no Gods were left alive. The universe was plunged into eternal darkness forevermore.
A gleam of light returned in the sky, but we took this to be a warning of approaching flames, rather than daylight. The flames, if such they were, remained some distance off; then darkness came on once more and ashes began to fall, in heavy showers. About a hundred of us clambered through piles of the falling ash; otherwise we should have been buried, crushed beneath their weight. Over the course of an hour, my group attracted more forlorn survivors, and I seemed to be leader of the group, perhaps because no cry of fear escaped me. I admit I derived some poor consolation in my mortal lot from my belief that the whole world was dying with me and I with it.
Finally, we reached my ship after struggling ponderously through the ash. I wasn’t sure we could launch through the dust, but we had no choice. Success! Below us, cracks became visible in the planet’s crust. It seemed likely we had escaped just in time. But even so, my ship seemed doomed. It was pitted and damaged while taking off through the storms and swirling cinders and was unable to transition to hyperspace. We could not leave this ruined system. We drifted uselessly for weeks, eating stored supplies, and growing more frantic as time wore on. One day, my sensors detected a Daldath platform floating in synchronous orbit around our asteroid field, once a fertile world. Was it an observer, to record the havoc its nation had wrought?
I sent messages to the Daldath platform, asking for permission to dock, and its airlock opened. My ragtag band of survivors were too frightened to enter the Daldath construction, but I took courage and crossed the threshold.
The platform was small. The airlock opened directly onto the control room, where a repulsize being floated, mechanically-enhanced eyes glowing venomously. It had a dozen pipes, tentacles, or hoses dangling from it, each with some different purpose. Some hoses were attached physically to the ship’s wall.
I questioned it, “Why destroy this world? Why not at least wait until we could evacuate? You have made enemies of both humans and Zepzeg.”
The Daldath’s computer-enhanced response was immediate. “My analysis: your ship is damaged. I must retrieve useful elements here. Assist me. I repay you with access to repair machines.”
Was … was it offering me a job? Alone on its platform, tasked with harvesting supplies from the world’s wreck, my ship seemed just a tool to the thing. I should have refused support to this genocidal beast, save for one factor – the men, women, children, and Zepzeg evacuees aboard my ship. I am not proud of the days that followed, but the Daldath kept its word, even handing out large credit bonuses. My survivors were able to set up new lives elsewhere with this cash. Some went so far as to thank the Daldath for its “help”, forgetting that its platform had wiped out their homes, their friends, and their whole previous existence.
As for me, I shall neither forget nor forgive. Death to the Daldath.
The Daldath Planet Smasher
The Daldath can create gigantic biomechanical structures, deeply rooted in a planet, and powered by energy from its core. These structures are able to project destructive energy across the light-years of space and destroy entire worlds. Their planet smashers can be destroyed, though it is difficult and they are the core of Daldath power.
The Daldath are a terrifying civilization which can change and desolate an entire star cluster. They leave hollow spots in their swath, from which they can later harvest precious supplies. The destruction is expensive, however, and other civilizations can often profit through this same destruction.
The cylinder spoke: “Sometimes the ignorant call them Yuggothans, because they were once known as the Fungi from Yuggoth. But Yuggoth is just Pluto – an old forward base for the fungal scouts. The Outer Beings – which we Terrans know as Fungi, are the most marvellous organic things in all space and time – a cosmos-wide race of which all other life-forms are merely degenerate variants. The Outer Beings are more vegetable than animal, if these terms can be applied to the sort of matter composing them, and have a fungoid structure; though the presence of a photosynthetic pigment and its unusual nutritive system differentiate them from true fungi. Indeed, they are composed of a form of matter alien to this part of space.”
It continued its lecture, droning on as I looked surreptitiously at my timepiece. “Only a few species of the Fungi have the ether-resisting wings enabling them to fly through space, and these are by no means the most highly developed. They dwell in mighty cities – great tiers of terraced towers build of black stone. The fungus-beings need no light – they have other, subtler senses. Their prodigious surgical, biological, chemical, and mechanical skills enable them to modify their own forms, growing or carving them into useful functions, or attaching devices.”
Growing bored, I walked up and switched off the speech machine. What was the point? The brain, trapped in its glass cylinder, would just continue to propagandize about its masters. A panel opened in the ceiling and a pinkish monster dropped into the room. It scuttled on crab-like legs. It was repulsive, resembling a large crustacean infected by some terminal fungus illness. Spore bodies sprouted from its carapace, and its head was simply a mass of diseased-looking filaments. Machines of unclear purpose were cemented into its body. I watched cautiously, one hand on a hidden weapon.
The creature scuttled to the table and plugged the speech machine into a port on its own body. It itself began to speak through the machine, in a buzzing voice. “The human brain has failed. We have come down from the Seven Suns to seek a human agent. You shall be rewarded for guiding our messenger among mankind. He shall put on the semblance of man, the mask and robe that hides. Guide him.”
I backed away. It waved its limbs in a ritual pattern, entranced by its own rhetoric. “You must comprehend. Come with us. Live forever among us. We will use your brain and body.” I was puzzled. What did it want? Why did it separate the terms “brain” and “body”? That seemed ominous.
More portals opened, and other Fungi-beings scurried into the room, clutching surgical instruments. The original entity exulted, its voice rising feverishly “You are untrained in our ways. The solution is simple! We shall remove your brain and preserve alive it for later use. You will feel no pain. This shall be your reward. Your body shall also be our human messenger – we shall put a new, loyal brain into your form and it shall go forth in your façade to communicate and guide our messenger from the Seven Suns. The humans shall be mocked and fooled … “
As I realized their awful plot, I turned and ran for the door, as it started to iris shut. I jumped, hoping to roll through the diminishing aperture, to escape the horror of these detestable beings.
The Fungi BatRatSpider
The Fungi are able to easily attach mechanical and electronic devices to their bodies, and their surgical skill, combined with their fungoid nature, lets them modify one another easily. They can graft parts together, grow larger, or bloat organs or body parts that they wish to emphasize.
The Batratspider is the result of the Fungi’s desire to create a dangerous war machine. It is composed partly of a native animal found on their homeworld, with fungoid brain attachments and controllers, along with cybernetic weapon and shield enhancements. The end product is a deadly bio-mechanical war machine, immune to any but the most devastating attack.
The Fungi are a fearsome enemy. They are subdivided into castes which they can apply to dominate the map – using the Drone Caste to accelerate victory, the Flight Caste to move citizens through space, and their Batratspiders to dominate combat. But their mightiest power is doubtless their Brain Caste, which they can use to customize and synergize technology in a manner unknown to any other civilization.
No one likes the Glazqaqtoq. All of us know they are toadying, lying, cheating cowards. To make matters worse, the Glazaqtoq are notoriously abusive and arrogant. But they did once rule vast tracts of the galaxy. Their ruins and abandoned colonies speckle the universe. Unfortunately for me, I had been sent to one of those colonies to make contact and see if a trade agreement could be worked between the Glazaqtoq and my corporate bosses.
When my ship landed, I saw at once that the Glazaqtoq starport was a mess. Garbage and abandoned ship parts, even decaying food, lay about the field. No one was there to meet me. I hiked into town. A few Glazaqtoq were parading up and down the road, dressed in ragged splendor. I stopped by one to ask directions to the palace, but it spoke first. “You are a human, correct?” it asked in perfect Terran.
“Yes indeed,” I replied.
“Excellent.” It said. “Please sweep the walkway on this block. You will find tools and cleaning agent in the red-painted shed. When you are finished, you may take a ten-minute rest period.” It whirled and stalked off. I was flabbergasted, and more than a little offended.
Ignoring my “orders”, I continued in the direction I believed the palace lay. Soon I saw its tarnished towers rising above the city slums. Slums I call them, because they seemed poor and run-down, and stank of organic filth. But these slum buildings were also decorated with brightly-colored finery – cracked plastic domes adorned rooftops, peeling veneers made to imitate gold and palladium coatings covered doors and window frames. Even the lowliest Glazaqtoq clearly felt he was a high aristocrat, deserving of the outward appearance of rulership.
Perhaps that was why their city was so filthy – not a single Glazaqtoq was willing to lift a finger to perform such a low task as cleaning the streets. What indolent, useless beings! I tried to rid my mind of my new-found contempt. It wouldn’t do to have the Glazaqtoq lord sense that I felt he was anything other than impressive.
I finally walked up to the palace. Glazaqtoq troops lined the walkway, and a fanfare of trumpets announced me. I checked my wristphone network for images of Glazaqtoq uniforms and insignia and realized, to my amusement, that every single soldier on the walkway was labeled as a “General” or “Field Marshal”. As I stepped carefully over a piece of rotten fruit, I entered the grand hall. On a floating throne, at the far end of the hall, sat an elderly Glazaqtoq, evidently the city’s lord. I waited till I was summoned forth to address the lord.
It spoke. “You are the Terran envoy.”
“I am the Terran envoy,” I confirmed.
“We deign to re-impose our will upon the Terran subject species, and accept you as our personal maid.”
Um. Sure. Whatever. I winced. “What about the trade deal my corporation is interested in making with your world?”
“Commercial intrigues are beneath my grand notice. Carry out whatever plans you wish. Just ensure that the proper tribute is paid on a quarterly basis.” A splendidly-seedy official handed me a scroll, already signed, and ready for my superiors. I looked it over. It seemed to have all the points covered. Suddenly I realized that the scroll was made from tanned human skin and shuddered. No doubt the Glazaqtoq had no idea of the effect that had on me. Nor did they care.
I had what I wanted, but I still had questions. “Great Lord Emperor, can I ask you something,” I begged?
“You may request one single answer from me, Terran envoy. Then I must depart to address galaxy-wide concerns.”
My mind swarmed with questions. I fixated on one. “Great Lord Emperor. Why are all your soldiers high officers? What is the point of officers with no troops to command?”
“Foolish Terran. Do you not know that sergeants are more valuable than privates? Officers more valuable than sergeants? And generals the most valuable of all. By our great wisdom in promoting ALL our warriors to the highest ranks, we ensure that every soldier is the mightiest and most valuable.”
The Glazaqtoq closed-minded idiot logic stunned me and I backed out of its presence without further comment. Despite its claim that I was now its private maid, I wasn’t stopped or molested as I made my way back to the starport. I wish my corporate contractors luck in dealing with these abusive, foolish Glazaqtoq. I would be happy never to see another.
The Glazaqtoq Exprimis
The Glazaqtoq ship was once the most powerful vessel in the universe and enforced their will on hapless minions. Now these ships are obsolescent, though still striking in appearance. The Glazaqtoq still put great faith in them however.
The Glazaqtoq start with an extra homeworld, which is their major advantage. Their sloth and laziness means they can’t benefit from salvaged items on newly-colonized worlds, but this also acts as a sort of protection, since they are less likely to be on an interesting continent. Their high-handed approach to secrets lets them manipulate the other civs to an amazing degree, and try to maintain their ancient hegemony.
How does a group of beings with no leader, no plan, create complex structures, and carry out organized operations? What are their rules? How do they execute them? The best-known fact about the Mendeku is that the individuals are unintelligent – less intelligent than monkeys. Some observers posit the existence of a “noble caste” which controls the rest. But no evidence of these “nobles” has ever surfaced. When a Mendeku ship, destroyed in battle, is salvaged, we find dead Mendeku gunners, pilots, engineers, and so forth. But no “nobles”, no “commanders”.
I dared not risk a visit to a Mendeku world – while individual Mendeku behavior is predictable, as a group they are dangerous. If something I did prompted a defensive response by a warrior, I’d certainly be killed. The Mendeku have no legal system, no resource. Should you trigger an attack, it’s all over. The warriors never miss a shot, are not subject to argument, and completely relentless. So, to study them, I sent a drone, armed with sensors, down from orbit. Even this was hazardous – I was in orbit after all and if a Mendeku corvette decided my ship was a threat, I’d be attacked. I would have to depend on my shields and engines to escape. My dog whined, sensing I was nervous.
My drone flew over the surface, observing the Mendeku swarming like minnows. They built structures, fed one another, and (rarely) rested. One huge building was apparently the chrysalis tower. I did not let my drone approach closely, lest this be deemed a menace, but I used telescopic sensors to view it. New Mendeku were brought outside, cocooned in white mummy paste. Their wrappings were cut off by nursemaid Mendeku, and the new members of society immediately crawled onto transports and were trolleyed to hospital-like buildings, where they were surgically outfitted with tools, cameras, weapons, or what-have-you, to suit their permanent task. I saw no evaluations of any individual proclivities; apparently any Mendeku can be programmed for any task.
My observations were clear; the Mendeku have no “noble” or “brain” caste. They are a social, cooperative, seamless organism, different from we think of as an individual only in that they do not physically adhere to one another. They are a super-organism, like an ant colony, except immeasurably more highly evolved.
The Mendeku doubtless have instinctive rules that guide interactions between the individuals. We know they are highly imitative. They won’t trade until they have seen someone else trade. They won’t attack until they have been attacked or seen a battle.
So we have the Mendeku paradox. A space-faring species with advanced technology, which colonizes planets, and even uses cyborg enhancements, yet is non-intelligent. The superorganism – the group – can learn and react in a way that the individuals cannot. You can’t negotiate with a non-sentient animal. You can’t explain your position nor make friends. You can only try to predict their behavior.
The Mendeku Dromon
The Dromon is the apex of the Mendeku war machine. These vessels are partly organic, produced from a giant Mendeku caste hatched for this purpose. The huge creatures are not whole, however, until they are attached to faster-than-light engines and an enormous railgun, firing straight down the being’s body, and aimed by its inerring instincts.
Deadly in battle, with powerful ever-growing economies, the Mendeku have the rather interesting weakness that they cannot take any action they have not seen another player perform. Over time this becomes a real burden. They think, “I want to attack, but if I do, the Mendeku will learn how to battle.” But eventually the balloon goes up and the Mendeku horde is unleashed in all its fury.
My ship lowered softly onto the Salp landing pad. I left my dog aboard – the Salps are a small species, and I was unsure how he might react to them. Most of the Salp “buildings” were just underground cut-outs. Vents and conduits projected through the concrete. At first it looked like the rather crude facilities were infested with vermin. On closer examination these “vermin” were the Salps themselves. They were far smaller than I’d imagined, only 10-40 cm long. As I watched, a Salp split across its back and shed its cuticle. As it crawled out, some smaller Salps descended on the discarded husk and devoured it. Nothing goes to waste I guess. The newly-molted Salp puffed itself up, frantically increasing its size while its external skin hardened.
Though the Salps flew slowly and erratically, they did not have wings. I could not tell if they were powered with individual generators, inflated with gas, or used some kind of mental energy to maintain altitude. As I pondered these odd creatures, one Salp, crawling feebly across the ceiling, suddenly fell to the floor, stone dead. As with the shed cuticle, other Salps began to devour the corpse.
I made my way to my hotel, taking care not to step on the small creatures, and spoke to the Salp behind the desk. Its terminal had a nameplate, stating it was ADC-4336-1577-QQ. I greeted it by “name” as best I could, and it seemed pleased. I hired a chamber and transferred the funds. After a short nap, I returned to the desk, hoping to enquire about restaurants. The Salp behind the desk was different, and had a new nameplate. I asked when ADC-4336-1577-QQ would be back. It said, “Never. ADC-4336-1577-QQ is dead.”
I was shocked. “What happened?”
The response amazed me, “It was a natural death. She was extremely elderly – more than 6 terran hours old.”
“Six hours? Is that a Salp’s lifespan?” I asked in wonderment.
“No indeed, few are that long-lived.”
“Yet you spend your entire existence behind a desk at a hotel?”
“No,” it replied patiently. “I have occasional other tasks. I spent several minutes learning my duties and how to use the translator.”
What an existence – a race of ephemerae! Most Salps can never see a sunset or sunrise – none ever see both. They must rely on ancestral memory to maintain their purposes. Who or what taught the new Salp how to run a hotel? Institutional memory may be all these strange organisms possess!
Outside a Salp plastered a building wall with a million tiny eggs.
The Salp Arcology
Salps are mainly oriented towards reproduction and dispersal, so of course their super-unit is not a ship, but a gigantic colony, designed to host billions or even trillions of salps. It is mechanized to provide food, housing, and even funeral services (such as they are). It is armed as well, for such a large concentration of the salp race may need protection from the many predators and enemies they can face.
The Salps are cheap and cheerful. They spread like wildfire, and soon thrive throughout the star cluster, but their feeble ships are not difficult to destroy. Their bases and colonies are another matter entirely.
“I see so many Skith.” I hear you cry. “The sky teems. There is no end to them.”
No, I say. Exactly one Skith exists in all the universe. Perhaps it has always existed. More likely it is just impossible to tell when it came into being. Those trillions of seemingly separate entities? All are the same individual. Spray paint a Skith – tomorrow you’ll see a million wearing the same patch of paint. You see, the Skith moves physically through time. The Skith just goes back in time a day, a week, or an hour to visit itself. Now two Skith exist at that point in time. Now imagine this process repeated a billion times – we end up with a billion Skith, all are the same entity, repeating itself as a fugue.
“If I kill one Skith, do I kill them all?”
Alas, no. Any remaining versions can just fugue a few million times, so killing a single “copy” does little. Always a plenitude is left over. Of course this leads to time paradoxes. How can the Skith “remember” it needed help to build a spacecraft – after all it never needed any help, because its replicated versions showed up. Unfortunately, the Skith can never tell us. The Skith is completely solipsistic – it has means of writing or recording its thoughts. It has no understanding of history. To it all time is the same. When the Skith learns a task or a skill or a fragment of knowledge, all Skith flowing from that moment both past and future also learn this.
“Why does it never communicate?”
It cannot. Its understanding of others is extremely limited. Since it’s all the same individual, it knows what it wants to do. Why communicate to yourself? I am sure it has no concept of messaging.
“Yet what if the Skith encounters something novel, like a threat. How does it tell its other copies if it can’t speak?”
The answer is terrifyingly simple. It does not inform them. Instead, a Skith which finds out about the problem replicates, fuguing a million times or more. Now it has a million allies, all of which know about the threat. Of course, the threat then kills all the “old” Skith who didn’t know and weren’t. Who cares? Not the Skith.
“Does it have no sense of self-preservation?”
Most Skith run out of energy in only a few days, starving to death. A handful of Skith keep themselves fed, so when these time loop, all their duplicates begin their existence ready to take action.
“This is why it is so cruel.”
Yes. It can’t know or learn that other beings are not like itself. So the Skith loots worlds, kills other species, cares nothing for its brutality. It is callous about its own millionfold deaths. The Skith is harsher to itself than we could ever be, so it is useless to punish it for its misdeeds.
For the Skith, there is no future nor past. Only the eternal now.
The Skith Marauder
The Skith are solipsistic time travelers and raiders. They can break the rules, build fleets in alternate realities then gate them into our dimension, and get second chances unavailable to other beings.
The Thing was shimmery, vaporous. Was it a projection? A ghost? It murmured, “Meriptah is my name, Tamshas my mother’s name, Wosret my grandmother’s. ….” It seemed willing to go on interminably.
I interrupted, and told it I sought an audience. It responded glumly, “Shall a sepulcher be prepared for me? Shall I have a coffin of gold and zyziphus-wood? I may rest therein.”
I said I would commission whatever was needed.
This was not what I had expected. I’d traveled to the Thoth starbase, equipped with the sigil of the official Terran consul to open trade negotiations. I had been chosen by the ambassador because of my travels – he hoped that I would be able to break through the fabled Thoth reticence. When my ship arrived at the station, I pinged the stationmaster, but got no response. The base did not fire on me, so I took the initiative to dock, using my ship’s computers. No magnetic support seemed forthcoming from the dark base.
Everything seemed totally dead.
When I emerged from the airlock, the hallways were silent and airless. My oxygen filter hissed as I crept cautiously. The only illumination came from my helmet’s own light – the halls seemed to lack light fixtures whatsoever. When I reached the control chamber, after traveling for kilometers of twisted cramped passageways, I found only this misty Thing – a mental image? A hologram?
I tried communicating again. I assured it the Terran consortium could be relied upon to fulfill any promises. I displayed my sigil proudly.
The Thing muttered, as though to itself, “What use are these? Unless a tree is exposed to sunlight, it sprouts no leaves. Stone never ages – it merely crumbles.”
This seemed like a non-sequitur. What was it trying to do? I contacted the Terran chief through my ship’s relay. He did a quick data search. “Zyziphus-wood is an old commercial name for an organo-plastic found naturally on HD 22781. We have a station there.” I told Meriptah that we could indeed built a sepulcher on HD 22781, and showed it the coordinates. Zyziphus wood was forthcoming.
It seemed mollified and became more solid. “Perhaps my name shall endure after all. Long have I sought those to find the world of my childhood. I rejoice.” It suddenly flickered out of view. But the control room filled with light, as did all the hallways and passages. The starbase came alive; automatic controls and viewing screens powering up. Small statue-like automatons emerged from hidden doors and began to move purposefully down the halls. A weird wailing chant filled the station.
I looked at my sigil, only to see that a banner was now attached to it, etched in odd pictoglyphs. Perhaps the desired trade agreement? I never saw it attach. When did that happen? Chills ran down my spine. Still no living thing was visible. I ran down the halls towards my ship, eager to leave this place of death.
The Thoth Sphinx
The Sphinx is a light-sail, which elegantly swings through space at the minimum energy cost needed. It is built of so-called “resurrected matter”, a high-energy form of normal matter. As such it is indestructible by normal weapons, though the attached devices and sensors on the Sphinx’s outside surface can of course be burned off and need re-affixing.
A death/Egyptian themed alien civ, the Thoth’s powerful psychic curses blight and hamper other players, and often leads to violence. Meanwhile they benefit from the glories of death, firm in their knowledge of their complicated afterlife.
At first all went well. My Venge passenger paid up front, and was happily ensconced in my spare cabin. My ship was in fine working order, and the trip to planet Peritate was going smoothly.
The second day, the Venge came out of its cabin and asked to take its meals with me. Seeing no reason to deny this, I agreed, but immediately regretted my decision. The Venge ate small live animals, squirming and squeaking. My dog was keenly interested, of course, but I had him keep to kibble. I focused on my pasta salad and tried not to watch the Venge as it “dined”, biting the heads off lizards and rodents.
The third day, the Venge started asking personal questions – odd ones that made no sense. “Where do your arms come from? They are similar in size, but opposite in rotation.” It’s true that the Venge’s limbs were wildly asymmetrical. Was it puzzled because my arms were mirror-images? I explained that’s how humans grow. It was amazed. “These are your original arms?!” It told me that Venges are modular. Each limb and major organ have a separate sub-brain and blood supply. All parts of a Venge can be detached and plugged into another Venge.
“Where do your arms come from,” I wondered?
It babbled, “My upper right arm is from Friend xaXXa. My lower right arm is from TloKK, an old enemy. My central arm is from Friend rhySng. I would like to trade an arm with you, Friend Aurora. You can take your pick of the three!”
I hesitated. I didn’t want to offend the creature, but I certainly wasn’t going to trade arms. “Humans are not built for this exchange,” I finally informed it as politely as possible.
It seemed baffled. “Do you not comprehend, Friend Aurora? When we trade arms, we trade emotions, memories. Our new arms will fuse their brains into our nerve networks, and we will find wisdom.”
I replied “Really, I’m honored, but as a human I cannot physically comply.”
The Venge’s eyes turned dark orange, and it gibbered to itself. “Well we shall do the best we can.”
The fourth day, it strode aggressively into the control room. The Venge then demanded, “You must euthanize the dog. It takes up too much of our ‘us time’ together.”
What?! My eyes narrowed: “This is a simple shuttle job - we don’t NEED any ‘us time’.”
The monster stated unequivocably “Now that we have traveled together, I know you well. I will stay here on your ship forever. Cancel our flight to Peritate. Show me how to work the controls on your vessel. Then I can spell you here in the bridge, while you eliminate the dog. Please also erase all your stored games and media tapes – you have no need for such solitary entertainment now I am staying here.”
I ordered it back to its room in no uncertain terms, and the Venge’s eyes turned deep flaming yellow. It chattered in rage. I pulled out my sidearm (thank heavens I’d worn it today) and forced it back to its cabin, while it shrieked vengeance.
Now I’ve docked at planet Peritate. The Venge now bears a grudge I fear. Worse, when it swaps an organ or limb with another Venge, that new Venge will gain that grudge, through its shared sub-brain. The new Venge then may also seek retaliation. And when it swaps an organ, the hate will continue, spread through the Venge species. Must I avoid Venge areas for the rest of my life? Meanwhile the original Venge, chittering in rage, is locked in my spare cabin. How can I get it out of my ship? The Peritate station is unwilling to assist, prudently avoiding further offense to this irrational creature.
The Venge Hateship
The Hateship is designed as a device to carry out all of the Venge’s ingrained prejudices and rage. It’s internal systems can unleash a desperate and potent final blast if the ship’s integrity is compromised. It is thus a “last strike” of sorts, an eleventh-hour retaliation for the enemy’s offenses. But of course it has other weapons and equipment designed to function effectively before that moment is reached.
At game start, everyone is the Venge’s designated friend. Over time, the relationship deteriorates. The vicious, unforgiving Venge overlook no slight. They are remarkably fun to play, as they can inflict retribution even when others try to ignore or bypass them.
The hulking rough-skinned Vorck moved clumsily around the starbase. Their foul smell overwhelmed the most potent air conditioning devices. My corporation was supposed to welcome them, to encourage peaceful integration as new contractors for our upcoming building program. My task was to ease this amalgamation of Vorck and human.
Many of the Vorck carried weapons, in theory forbidden aboard the station. When confronted politely, they claimed that the weapons were tools, and demonstrated tool functionality. Our security officers were too shy or too browbeaten by corporate suits to call them out. But obviously a “welding lance” with a range of 200 meters is perfectly useable as a killing weapon.
Anton came with me to the starbase’s tavern. A huge Vorck blocked the doorway, glaring. Tattooed on its shoulder in glowing letters were the Terran words, “Gilchrist-Can-Assist”, presumably the thing’s name. All Vorck claimed to have Terran-style names, perhaps a misguided attempt to curry favor. I might have misinterpreted its foul expression – the rudimentary Vorck face is no mask of the soul. I stood quietly waiting for it to step aside, so we could enter the saloon. Either not knowing what we wished or not caring, it stood firm. It was muscled like a rhinoceros – it could snap a man like a twig. Anton took the lead. He walked up to the goliath, poked it in the torso, and loudly shouted, “Out of the way!” To my amazement, Gilchrist-Can-Assist moved meekly aside. As we passed, I heard it briefly hiss angrily, quickly suppressed.
I ordered a melontini at the bar.
“What was that about?” I questioned Anton. “Why did Gilchrist move aside from your puny shove?”
He replied, “The Vorck are an engineered worker race, designed to live and labor in space. They escaped or massacred their makers. No one knows. Now they live independently, but the Vorck still have a slave mentality. If you aggressively command them, their first impulse is always to obey.”
“After obeying, they may feel resentment. That’s why it hissed.”
Four or five more Vorck stood around the bar, all erect, as though the concept of a chair was incomprehensible. None ate or drank, but simply stood bovinely. One stared at a blank wall less than a meter away. Its tattoo read Ralph-Is-Strong. An advertisement? A testimonial?
I further asked, “What are they doing here?”
“I’m not sure. The Vorck don’t eat or drink. See those nipples on its torso? Those are attachment points, marking the sites from which its body was grown in a pod. Once fully-formed, the Vorck are fed through those same points. Not real food – more like electric current, combined with enough minerals and chemicals to keep their body in running order. This is probably a rest period for them. Perhaps they enjoy the ambience of being near humans.”
I stared at a Vorck. It stared back blankly. Its unsophistication, yet raw power, appalled me. For now, it was my contract employee. Would it and its clan turn on us one day as they did their ancient lords? Will I be its slave one day?
The Vorck Ram
The Vorck have no strong instinct for battle. To them, war is just another industrial project. Most of their weapons are converted tools. Instead of blasters, their troops carry overclocked welding torches. Instead of sergeants and officers, they have foremen and supervisors.
Their super-ship, the Ram, is a converted wrecker. The back half of the ship is the “real” vessel, basically just a small control compartment and huge engines. On the front is a powerful magnetic clamp, which the Vorck use to lock bits of flotsam and destroyed ship parts. This giant spiky surface, they then directly ram into the target enemy. Of course, the crash itself often harms the Ram, but by then it has done its duty.
The Vorck have a strong work ethic and never lack for resources. They love to build alongside other civs and this booms the Vorck economy, through the same cannot be said for their planet-mates. Eventually they can turn those extra resources into a terrifying fleet incorporating their dreaded ramships.
The Zepzeg pluralist was fabulously beautiful. Its perfectly-aligned face looked familiar, so I took an unobtrusive picture with my wrist-phone and did a network search. The alien’s face turned out to be a close model (though eyeless) of the ancient media star Hedy Lamarr. When it noticed my eyes widen upon recognition, it rewarded me with a smile that would stop traffic.
Its flesh was translucent pink, like crystal. I knew the Zepzeg dislike being touched, so I pretended to trip, and brushed up against it. It recoiled, still smiling. It’s flesh was hard as rock, though warm and smooth. My theory that the Zepzeg were made of crystal rock was reinforced. My touch left a print on its polished surface, and it rubbed the spot furiously with a cloth while speaking, “Visitor Ultraviolet – how may this Pluralist assist?”
I told the creature that I wanted to visit a beauty parlor. It gestured, and a hoverchair flew down. “Visitor Ultraviolet – this throne will take you to the Loveliness Sculptor.” I sat and rode off to an improbably tall and spindly tower, of transparent metal. The Sculptor was at the very top, on a platform a few dozen meters across. The Sculptor’s suite had separate chambers for different species. My throne took me to the human chamber. Next door a venge was getting her teeth sharpened. Four heartbreakingly lovely Zepzeg in various colors moved delicately towards me, accompanied by tiny floating robotic tools. “Fear not,” the tallest sang. “Soon you will be attractive.” I decided not to take the statement as an insult.
I expected my beauty team to ask me questions, but they were silent while they operated. Apparently, they applied their own preferences, and did not care what I wanted. While the team labored, I peered into the other chambers through the transparent walls. I noticed that the two Zepzeg working on the Venge next door actually looked rather Vengish themselves, though more symmetrical and well-organized. Did the Zepzeg consciously modify themselves to resemble other species? I inconspicuously released a spy nanobot from my bag. The nanobot scuttled off through the complex.
When my beauty treatment was complete, I inspected myself in their mirror. I was flabbergasted – it was still me, but an impossibly gorgeous version. I was almost frightened. I wondered how long the treatment would last. As if in response to my thought, a Zepzeg sang, “Your appearance will deteriorate over time, returning to the human norm. Return here approximately twice per Terran year to maintain optimal attractiveness. Your fee has been deducted from your account.”
Once I returned to my ship, I downloaded the spy nanobot’s visual feed. It lasted 51 minutes before a janitorial device eliminated the bot. What I saw was fascinating. In the Zepzeg beauty chamber a strange multi-limbed entity entered. Its upper body was just an amorphous rough mineral formation. The beautician set to work, using chisels, rock polishers, and sculpting tools and over time began to literally carve the being into form. The Zepzeg were actually composed of living crystal. Their bodies were carved to be aesthetically appealing to target species. This one seemed to be designed to appeal to the Dacian vampires. But even to my human eye, it was still a striking being. Its delicate false fangs glistened in the light. As the beautician worked, she shot lasers into the crystal mass, which started to change tint from the natural blue to a deep indigo – presumably a desirable color in Dacian eyes.
Why do they care if we admire their looks? Is this an attempt to manipulate our emotions? If so, it is working well.
The ZepZeg Cathedral
The Zepzeg construct their major structures, which also have a religious purpose, out of smaller ones. They carry this practice into space, and thus their largest and strongest starships are built of smaller ships, cemented together into an organized whole. As a desired result, when a Cathedral is damaged or destroyed, chunks of it break off, and return to their former use as smaller ships.
The Zepzeg are a twisted and engaging civ. The other players love the Zepzeg’s presence, generally benefiting from them, which of course is a potential problem for the Zepzeg itself. But you can turn the tables on them – stealing their resources and forbidding combat where you don’t want it.