For good SF, like most works of fiction, there needs to be a source of conflict, and there’s no better source of conflict than a recognizable villain.
The problem with villains is that plausibly, they shouldn’t think of themselves as villainous: I’m sure the Daleks of Doctor Who are just plain mean-n-nasty pieces of work, but they don’t see themselves as evil, just doing whatever it is that their species does to survive and flourish – at the expense of everyone else.
It’s important to have bad guys who don’t sound like something out of silly 1980s animated toy commercials.
This time around, I’ll discuss one of my species of antagonists, a horrific elder race that for lack of a humanly pronounceable name for themselves, I’ll use a corruption of it instead – Suthidruu – an innately insane species consumed by love – a twisted, murderous love that drives them to bring the gift of merciful extinction to every intelligent species they come across.
Suthidruu are essentially a priestly species, who worship a group of remote, godlike entities known in their theology as the Nine who are One, who artificially evolved, or uplifted them, from worm-like colony organisms billions of years ago into intelligent beings to serve as priests and enforcers of the ancient and now defunct Grand Civilization and Empire.
Suthidruu physiology is based on the number nine as is their religious symbology: with three sets of nine tentacular limbs: 9 limbs for eating and speaking, 9 limbs with sensory clusters for smell, sight and hearing, and 9 limbs to serve variously as arms or legs depending on posture and whim.
Having been uplifted as clergy, the species has a strong tendency for fanaticism, and for most purposes possesses only the emotion of love.
A perverse, inhuman, psychotic love for all the universe’s creatures.
Suthidruu see the universe as a place of unending misery and sorrow, and see it as their holy mission to send all other species to paradise in acts of mass mercy-killing, one planet-buster bomb or nova-trigger at a time.
They generally make no attempt to communicate with the doomed species, until conducting last rites before their victims’ home star explodes and their planet is vaporized.
Why not kill themselves?
Because they don’t see themselves as worthy of eternal bliss until they send everyone else in the universe there first, only then will they have ‘earned’ it, and only then will they bring about their own extinction, in a single orgy of species-wide suicide.
NOT extermination — THAT would be Daleks!
A recognizable enemy can be very useful. It drives the plotline of a story, provides conflict, and motivates the heroes.
But what if that enemy isn’t recognizable, until it is far, far too late to notice?
I thought it would be fun to put one species, my elder race the Suthidruu, up against a rival species, called the Tathladi – never mind trying to pronounce it accurately, human vocal chords can’t manage it, so says me, so there – another species engineered to sapience by the Nine who are One, specifically a being known as the King of Shards, who created them to counter the aggressive, psychotic fanaticism of the Suthidruu when interpersonal splits among the Nine occurred.
No major spoilers here, but what does a Tathladum (singular of Tathladi) look like?
I imagine them as an unlikely-looking combination of pill bug, trilobite, squid, and crinoid, and descended from their world’s equivalent of porpoises…obviously an aquatic race…who, due to details of their uplift, innately lack the capacity for irrational belief based on little or no evidence, and with a handful of other traits genetically instilled and culturally inculcated are the ultimate rational counterbalance to their insane zealot brethren.
They are also utterly pessimistic, being comparatively devoid of subjective illusion and bias to rosetint their view of the universe.
Tathladi serve the King of Shards out of gratitude from the gifts of sapience and civilization, and serve as the harvesters of the King’s sustenance, the neurological energy of sapient beings, like humans. They currently deal with human agents who serve the King’s avatar, the Star-faced Rani, and work to manipulate through alliance and then harvest the mental reserves of the entire human species, much to humanity’s detriment.
Tathladi and Suthidruu have traditionally been trying to expunge each other from the cosmic stage, and each has so far only managed to check the other, without any conclusive victory for their troubles. And while they struggle, other species have suffered collateral damage.
That will change when both species encounter humanity for the first time, and our species’ lineal descendants, the hominin Wavetouched…
With this entry, I’m bringing back the weekly fiction installments. Here is another chapter draft for my short story “Dirge.” In future installments, I’ll continue where I left off on the Journal of Sergei Romanova entries, and then there’ll be a change of pace with doctor, war vet and inquirer into Weird Things, Francesco Novella. ~Troythulu
Chapter 4: An Unpleasant Surprise
A bright blue nimbus of light flickers, and the Suthidruu are here. The Elder Worms. Ancient, powerful, insane, and heavily armed the lot of them. The sane ones are always culled from the gene-pool, leaving only the zealots to survive and thrive.
Theirs is a society run like a strict authoritarian ecumenical hierarchy which crushes all dissent by killing it before it spreads. Terran sectarian fanatics would be envious at the apparent success of this model. It’s also stagnated their science and technology for billions of years, even as advanced as it is.
My blood runs cold. There, among the Worms, is a familiar sight. Dasaelos Gurao. Well, no, that’s not his real name, just the best approximation possible with human vocal equipment. Add a bass rumble to the vowels, a staccato boom on the hard consonants while simultaneously coughing and hissing like an angry cat and crocodile performing a duet, and you have something close to how it’s really pronounced…
He’s a physical giant of his normally squat species, Pseudoreptilias tenax, the Rj’lt’ai, also known locally as the Dragons. He stands in at three meters tall, and masses about eight hundred kilograms of reinforced muscle, bionically augmented bone and connective tissue, and heavy prosthetic armor plates nano-woven into the skin.
The Dragons are a conservative species, given to a society in which harmony and order is valued over individual social mobility and justice. They take a dim view of social change, though their philosophy admits the need to adapt to a changing universe to survive — their conservatism doesn’t blind them to reality. Still, change is ill-regarded when not forced.
Dasaelos is a seasoned leader, and a veteran of more wars than I remember having years in my own far too long life. A cybernetic hand tips Dasaelos’ left arm, and it is well known that it can do much more than simply punch, crush, lift, or manipulate objects. It’s a piece of nanotechnology, made up of billions of microscopic systems and circuits that can rearrange into any one of several useful weapons, shifting from one configuration to another, visibly flowing between shapes like some kind of liquid metal.
Dasaelos is a revolutionary by his race’s standards, a military officer who rose to become the warlord of his species until a certain someone brought him down for declaring war on humanity. Needless to say, I took offense at that.
You see, I happen to like humans.
They’re both silly and brilliant, given to both senseless brutality and astonishing compassion. I see them as potentially the greatest agency for both good and evil there is. They have their shortcomings, but it’s their ability to alter the course of history that matters.
Collectively, they can work wonders. It’s always struck me as baffling why such a fantastic species would waste its time crediting its own success instead to the billions of gods it invented from whole cloth.
No wonder the older species fear humans so much. After all, they’re cousins to the Kai’Siri. What strikes me most about them is the capacity to heal their emotional wounds when injured and move on.
Isn’t it funny? I can bring the Moon down from the sky…blast it from orbit…but I can’t mend a broken heart. I envy humans.
The giant looks far out of place with the Suthidruu. What the hell is he doing here? I’m curious to find out.
I self-consciously adjust my field uniform’s half-cloak, taking stock of my surroundings. I consult my ‘shard’s visual overlay, and stride casually over to meet the aliens, looking more sure of myself than I feel.
This had better work.
I’m reading “The Last Human,” an awesome book I recently picked up at the local library on humanity’s ancestors and relations going back an estimated seven million years, 22 separate species in all, and none of these distinguished peeps are around any more.
Gone. Deleted. Extinct. Kaput. All your hominids are now belonging to us…
The title of the book is, I think, accurate and quite possibly prophetic, and I strongly suspect that if we don’t start taking better care or ourselves, each other, and the world environment we need to exist, we will be the last humans.
Think about this for a bit: There have been times in the past, even within the last 100,000 years, that multiple human species lived not only in the same era, but in some cases in the same locale as well.
The fact that we are alone as far as human species go, and are in the process of making even the surviving great ape species in Africa and island Asia extinct as well, speaks volumes about our intolerance of competition with “Those other peeps not like us.™”
This is not an attitude I find useful in the long-term and seems in part to be very much a manifestation of our tribalistic evolutionary baggage that could get us all killed fighting amongst ourselves over somebody’s stupid, dogmatic, ideological dislikes.
I mentioned before that our future looks bright if we don’t kill ourselves off to soon, but though this could just be an example of the Clustering Illusion in statistical probability, given the current political and world events of the past couple of years, my confidence isn’t helped much.
I’m very much concerned about the outcome of this, and our future as a species when we seem determined to bring about our own extinction, through war, environmental inaction, and sometimes disastrously mistaken social policies.