Two bodies lay motionless in the room, the scorchmarks of a hand laser marking their foreheads like macabre bindi, looks of utter surprise frozen on their features as a team of paramedics prepared them for spacing. In the burial traditions of my people, the dead are jettisoned into the local stellar primary, necessary to utterly destroy the bodies to the molecular level, and prevent the return of their troublesome spirits to the world of the living.
Silly that even a rationalist society as my own still has superstitions.
The woman was lucky. She died in less than a second as coherent light drilled a hole through her brain. The man a bit longer when he tried to avoid my aim, but to no avail. He lived just long enough to prolong the pain as the light burned a half-second longer through the thicker part of his skull, the steam of vaporized cerebral fluids escaping through the hole.
I am Special Agent Akarmiin Piruuta, and the discovery they made will win this war for us, but these two have been watched for a while, and they had to be eliminated. Silly academics. Sooner or later their sense of ethics would get the better of them. But they had to die. Orders from higher up — from the Exarch himself. As the youngest operative of the Order of Orugruuta on this installation, that duty fell to me. I must prove myself.
Tricking the late Instructor First Rank was easy, tricking his student was even easier, and getting them to take their cargo directly to this base was brilliant if I do say so myself. Scientists are so gullible. Gods of ancient Sirug, never let me be taken so easily! Of course, posing as a research student was the fun part. I’m called into my Coordinator’s office to discuss the new project…
The datacomp that Samdrumani kept her notes on is in my hands now. Easy enough to get the encryption key when you spike someone’s nanocotics.
“Ma’am. The targets have been dealt with, and we are ready to proceed with the next phase. The weapons and all of their data belong to us.” I hand over my dataspike, and my Coordinator inserts it into her handcomp, a hologram tailored to look like a dead Terran philosopher, Ariztotl, or somesuch, projected above the touchpad, looking rather sagely as he goes over the essential points, changing to a hologram of Samdrumani when her journal files are accessed. Damn, that’s creepy, seeing the face and hearing the voice of the woman I’ve just killed, even if it is a recording.
The recording ceases. “Agent Piruuta, I’ve received word from the Exarch, and he sends his congratulations on a mission well done. He wishes to continue with this project, so you are ordered to Sacred Terra to acquire testing subjects, three in number we’ve identified and kept under surveillance, that new species of humans who shall prove perfect for what we have in mind. They will serve as the housing for our weapons,” — she hands me the dosier of a boy barely in his teens, that of a girl just reaching adulthood, and of an older man in his thirties — “Any questions?”
A smile crosses my lips, canines just barely showing in predatory anticipation.
“Only, one, Ma’am….When do I depart?”
To be continued…
There’s a powerful and ancient civilization in the Gods of Terra setting, descendants of terrestrial prehumanity diverging from a common ancestor, and belonging to their own hominin genus: Meganthropus tokmolosensis, the gigantic Mokthraga, and a somewhat shorter species, Meganthropus mentis, the Miithrok, both looking something like massively-built, impossibly tall and well-muscled humans.
Mokthraga average about 4 meters tall and mass an average of 800 kilograms; Miithrok average 3 meters tall and mass about 450 kg, not exactly beings you want to get angry with you. The frightening thing is that these are not low gravity species, but natives of a 1.3 gravity world, rich even in the planetary crust and oceans with heavy metal concentrations toxic to terrestrial life, but exotic only in this regard — most life is still carbon-based, just with a higher tolerance of heavy metals, particularly titanium, which takes the place of calcium in the bones of most vertebrate analogs, and the exoskeletons and shells of others, for example, the local analogs of beetles and molluskoids.
This, and factors of the Giants’ anatomy deviating from the human baseline are what make them possible, keeping them from collapsing of their own weight due to the implications of the square/cube law.
First, it’s almost impossible to mistake them for humans in good lighting, even at a distance. They don’t look exactly human in proportion. They’re too broad in build. Think of the incredible Hulk, then scale that back a bit. The Giants are literally built to support their mass, including the use of titanium in their skeletons in place of the calcium that their ancestors used before the ‘Great Experiment’ of the Strangers, an unidentified, hypothetical civilization with a penchant for biological meddling that resulted in the divergent evolution of transplanted human offshoot populations on dozens of worlds.
The bones, muscles and the connective tissues of the Giants, including cardiac muscle, ligaments and tendons, are all thicker and denser, with much more tensile strength than those of baseline humans, adding to their builds and giving them the tremendous strength they need to live in their native gravity. This helped keep them from suffering more than their due from the medical problems related to heavy gravity living. That, in turn, relieved selective pressures toward a reduction in size and mass exceeding that of the Miithrok. At first, these were genetically engineered into them by the Strangers, in giving them the necessary adaptations for survival on their home, and these were built upon by natural selection once the population was fully transplanted and underwent breeding.
Whatever they were when first brought to Tokmolos from ancient Earth, they are now so unlike us biologically that only their DNA and fundamental chemistry speaks of terrestrial ancestry. Even the foods they eat would be toxic to humans, which makes setting up interspecies restaurants difficult — food items must be labelled for edibility by species, as some Tokmolosian delicacies are poisonous to beings such as humans.
As I said, they’re an old race for one descended from early terrestrial hominins, becoming a technological civilization about 50 millennia ago, after transplanation from Earth about 450 millennia prior, brought to Tokmolos as live specimens and genetic samples, before the rise of anatomically modern Homo sapiens.
The Giants have a conservative streak; not in the political or ideological sense, of course, but they’ve grown old as a species and are slow to change. There is a certain degree of contentment, with a patience and tolerance of difference that makes them amiable enough with other beings, but slow to react to threats and they are no longer as curious as they were in their youth as a species, when much of their scientific and technological innovation occurred. Oh, they still do science, but not as much.
They’ve turned inward, and stopped looking at the universe outside their sphere of colony worlds, systems cut off from contact by massive Dyson spheres and Cryswell structures built around their stars.
This could mean their end, despite their status as a Type II civilization, as a new and aggressive race, the Kai’Siri, are encroaching on their ancient borders, and have discovered a frightful new weapon to counter the powerful but old technology of the Giants: Humans, or something very much like them, ‘Wavetouched,’ implanted with the powerful quasi-matter hypershard relics; mind-controlled soldiers empowered to single-handedly cause planetary mass-extinction events.
Will the Children of Tokmolos survive? Or will their Elder civilization be wiped from the skies forever by enslaved doomsday weapons that kill every world they’ve ever been sent against?
We’ll see…Time and luck are of the essence.
On the final leg of our journey from our expedition, we settle into orbit around the Damendas system’s mainworld, used for an orbital military installation for the Exarchate and a munitions testing ground, the perfect place to take our findings.
We’ve discovered ways to better handle the relics, these ‘hypershards’ as Ranan calls them, and to access their control systems, using brain-machine interfaces.
He’s…highly capable…in our more intimate moments, hardly the stuffy academic I first thought him to be. Our relationship has become our little secret, as it would be ethically unacceptable in University circles. But secret it must remain. I’ve already been forced to duel a fellow student, Embael Maaga for threatening to report us, ‘accidentally’ putting her into a coma with a well-placed blow before she could go public with what she found out. That rabid bloodferret had it coming anyway!
I must make sure I show more discretion in future nightly encounters… At least my honor remains unsullied for the time being.
It turned out to be fortuitous, for Embael’s comatose brain proved the perfect interface with the relics after we ran a few tests. Or so we thought. The hypershards ghostly quasi-matter will with little resistance pass through flesh and bone into the brain itself, and we are able to set up a means of controlling the relics remotely, sending signals into a ‘shard which then controls the brain, which then accesses the ‘shard’s functions.
Like weaponry. Whatever these things were meant to do, they make powerful weapons, as we suspected the day we found them. They have incredible defensive and offensive systems, and would be perfectly suited for a new breed of elite soldiers.
“Emisse maatan porangas, Embael Maaga” — “Embael Maaga, in service even in endless sleep”
About an hour into testing, poor Embael’s brain had burned out from apparent sensory overload and a power surge caused by a faulty connection in brain wiring.
Dead because her brain wasn’t so perfect after all… Oh well. At least she still proved useful.
There must be something maddening about getting raw sensory data along ten or more spacetime axes, even in a permanent dreaming state.
Surely there’s a solution…
Our time at the outpost, Warstation 43758, has still been productive, and we’ve learned much of the relics. While we were together last night, I ran the idea past Ranan of using aliens for the ‘shard receptacles, other species of humans, specifically a new daughter species we’ve discovered on Sacred Terra.
A nascent species, on the Motherworld of us All, with just the right brain architecture to handle the relic’s input and energy levels without burning out, according to computer models. There are only three we’ve found and identified, all of them relatively young, and all unaware of their status.
We call them ‘Wavetouched,’ and they are special indeed, for they are what the Terrans may yet evolve into. Not that silly ‘ladder of evolution’ fallacy, just a new sidebranch on the tree of human descent, which may or may not supplant their parent species in time.
They have potential…the potential to become gods…gods of Terra. They must be watched…watched and controlled.
I must close this journal file. Ranan is on his way to see me, he says for something *special* tonight. No one must see what I’ve recorded.
[quantum file encryption complete: eyes-only log saved as ordered]
To be continued…
“Samdru, what’s that?” Our team leader, Instructor First Rank Ranan Dumogga Batar, gestured to a display of an odd reading taken from the ground beneath our feet. Odd, for we had just scanned this area before landing, no signs of anything worth looking at below ground but our finding. Just moments ago, we dispatched courier drones to a Kai’Siri outpost in the next system following the funeral of our friend and teammate young Khamudraht Vaasa, dead on his twentieth birthday, or so we thought…
Seemingly destroyed, caught in a flash of Dunar radiation with no apparent remains, not even ashes to spread across the stars in mourning.
Ignoring the Instructor’s casual and improper use of my dimunitive, I look where he points, at a display showing an odd formation six meters below us — Fossils? Odd. Why didn’t they show up before? — The more I look, the stranger things get. That’s a human skeleton, in strata indicated at over 50 million years of age. That’s impossible, as our earliest human ancestors were transplanted from Sacred Terra only 200,000 years ago.
What on Sirug’s majestic glaciers is a human skeleton doing here at that date?? I get a chill down my spine as I look, and punch in a command to the ground scanner. I have a bad feeling about what I’ll find, perhaps just my grief over young Khamud’s sudden death only an hour ago, but I must find out. I order the scanner to match biometric data against the members of our team.
Numbers flash across the screen, and stop where I was afraid they would. The bones are the fossilized remains of Khamudraht Vaasa, dated along with the strata now at 55 million years or so. I let that sink in. For a moment, both the Instructor First Rank and I are speechless, then after several more tests of alternative hypotheses we conclude that Khamud must have been somehow shifted in time by the relics, and suddenly killed on this landmass in the distant past before he traveled too far on foot, or perhaps displaced just under it, tens of millions of years ago.
My heart sinks with despair. So young, so handsome and full of life. And now gone…I barely knew him. Then I think of what this implies…
“Instructor First Rank…” My voice quavers, “…the relics…If they can do that, they must be powerful weapons… They could be put to our service, even end the war with our enemies, end the stalemate of this conflict. We could win this!” Ranan touches my shoulder as I stare at the readings, but I ignore the familiarity, even welcome it. He ranks above me, after all, and is not an unhandsome older man.
In a moment of nationalistic pride that I’d come to regret the rest of my days afterward, I whisper, “We must use them, to overwhelm the Giants and cement our place in galactic affairs!” Ranan looked on at the relics, held in their Dunar field containers, slowly rotating in and out of spacetime, to us almost as intangible as ghosts and potentially giving us the powers of the gods themselves…
He nods, and begins giving orders to the rest of our team.
The others have so far been kept unawares of our plans for these relics as weapons, as we’ve convinced them that young Khamud was killed by ancient security systems. In a way, that’s true. We haven’t told them about the fossils we found — in an oddly fortunate turn of events, our funding has permitted us only one groundscanner system, and by tradition, only the Instructor First Rank and I as his assistant researcher have full access to its data.
Oh, others may use the device, but the data on Khamudraht’s multimillion-year old remains is kept quantum-encrypted as classified information, our eyes only.
Only the two of us know the secret of his demise. We oversee the loading of the relics onto the shuttle for our craft in orbit. Once docked, we set coordinates and starfold to an outpost three systems out, a frontier military base where our discoveries will be kept and studied. They are now state secrets.
It is difficult to keep the true nature of the relics from the others, and they cannot help but suspect that we are doing just that. None of us are stupid, and their insistent curiosity, so much a part of their scientific outlook, is not helping with keeping things quiet.
We Kai’Siri are an aggressive lot, though our social evolution has permitted us to outstrip that and survive as an interstellar species. Still, tensions run high, and we strain even our culture’s evolved safety mechanisms at keeping relations civil.
There is resentment, and jealousy…I fear now that I was too unskilled at hiding my feelings for Khamud when he lived, nor now for the Instructor. The others have noticed, and that may bring shame upon my family line.
I must take steps to ensure the secret of these relics, which Ranan has called ‘hypershards,’ even if I must eliminate others to do it.
I think a prayer to my family’s household gods that it does not come to that. We Kai’Siri are a civilized people! Please, let it not!
What have I gotten into?
To be continued…
This was the narrative from a dream I remember from a few years ago, much embellished from the original dream, and I was forced to clarify details that were kind of fuzzy in the dream itself. I think elements of it may have come from reading some of Robert Price’s excellent Weird Tale fiction in anthologies published by Chaosium a few years back. Look those up and read them if you can find them online. On with the piece… ~ Troythulu
Once, there stood the citadel of Mighty Oeveruuk, seat of civilization throughout the breadth of the galaxy, with its non-Euclidean stone towers and fractal glass minarets standing high above the clouds themselves and announcing the power of its Lords over all.
This citadel had been in decline for some time, though its rulers, the Spacelords, had kept it running, consulting the Wise Ones for tidings of the future, but these latest tidings were not to their liking…
The Maker of the End of Worlds, the horrid Manticora, was on it’s way to Oeveruuk, to conclude the cycle of decline the Spacelords had presided over, to end this once-mighty civilization of the stars. The Wise Ones advised the building of a weapon, constructed of alien stone and eldritch crystal, that would use bolts of twisted space to save the citadel, stabbing the sky to save their fallen world.
But while the weapon was being built, one of their number betrayed his fellows and sabotaged the project. Why the turning of the coat? None know with any surety, as all on this world died when the End arrived, though it is suspected that the traitor was tempted with power by the Manticora, sweet lies of life elsewhere, and worse, a game of revenge against the others, for they laughed behind his back, or so he thought, worms of resentment eating at his mind as bitterness and suspicion claimed what remained of his once great intellect.
The die was cast, the bargain, if and once made, was sealed, and so was the fate of Mighty Oeveruuk. The day arrived when the Manticora came to claim its prize, the routine death of yet another world, its mane of metal serpents writhing as it descended from the sky, enormous crimson wings spread wide to catch the solar wind.
The weapon, in desperation, was used…but its bolts of twisted, roiling space were out of focus, weakened and useless, amusing the Manticora as they splashed and slid off of its nickel-iron scales, grown from eating far too many asteroids in between meals, just before the weapon was flattened by an idle paw swipe, its tower and crystaline rings quickly shattered by the casual swing of a sting-tipped tail.
The Betrayer, his name is lost to time now, was of all people the most surprized. If his reward were to live, the joke was on him, for he was first to die. Without so much as time for a look of shock on his face, he was flattened by a paw the size of a league-spire for his efforts.
The sky darkened, and winds howled as wing-driven cyclones did their work, scrubbing the doomed world clear of all the taint of civilization. When the Manticora looked upon its handiwork, it saw that all was worthy, all had ended. All was good. All was dead.
Oeveruuk’s sun dulled, reddened, begun to shed its outer layers, and the tiny dead speck of a world once orbiting it spiralled outward, lifeless and scorched, into the chilly darkness of the vacuum in a universe neither knowing nor caring of those who once called it…home.