Background for a novel series I wrote years ago and intend to revise.
From the Depths of History…
Piercing together what happened in the semi-mythical era before the foundation of the Imperial Empire (Year One, IE) is a complicated task made harder by the tendency of those who were there at the time to lie, mislead and otherwise remain silent on the past. However, certain things can be said with reasonable certainty.
The species that became the Imperials and the Greys originated somewhere in the Milky Way Galaxy, very soon after the galaxy came into existence. They were humanoid entities who looked out on the stars and saw a vast realm to explore; indeed, they may have been remarkably human-like for all the vast gulf of time separating their existence and humanity’s early days. This race was almost certainly alone; it is certain that they were the first in the galaxy to develop starships, and eventually discover how to penetrate hyperspace and use it for faster-than-light travel. By settling countless worlds, they precluded the existence of numerous other intelligent races; by the time they encountered their first aliens they were vastly advanced and not inclined to share conversation with their inferiors.
They passed through the singularity and became near-gods, walking through space with an ease that is barely imaginable today. Their greatest achievement was the MassMind, a giant computer (although ‘computer’ barely begins to explain what it was) that stored a copy of each entity’s mentality within a field that extended into hyperspace and allowed decision-making on a vastly more democratic scale than anything prior. Put simply, the MassMind was the sum total of their race, the shared consensus of all of them. It was capable of acting on behalf of the entities because, in a very real sense, it was the entities.
Disaster struck, finally, when one faction started to propose that it was time to upload themselves into higher dimensions and become transcendent life forms. The great debate dominated the MassMind for thousands of years; they had already reshaped themselves into all manner of creatures, but should they really give up their connection to their fleshy origins? It seemed an unsolvable paradox; the MassMind was unable to come to a decision, so representatives from both factions (those who wanted to transcend and those who didn’t) increasingly started acting on their own behalf. Eventually, the MassMind shattered under the pressure and civil war broke out.
It isn’t clear how long the civil war lasted, but it left the civilised galaxy in ruins. Entire sectors lost power as parts of their infrastructure were cannibalised to feed the war effort, while others were obliterated as the two sides sought to destroy the other. As neither side had fought a war for literally hundreds of thousands of years, no one realised just how destructive the war would be until it was too late – and, stroked by the invective hurled in their great councils, they shattered most of their civilisation. Between the impact of physical weapons, mental weapons and conceptual weapons (designed for use against transcendent entities) very few could hope to survive. It is believed that all of the other races in the galaxy were wiped out in the crossfire.
One small enclave survived. (There may have been others, but they never made it through the era of darkness that followed.) This enclave, a bastion of the conservative faction, withdrew completely into a small number of star systems and manipulated hyperspace currents around their homeworld to ensure that no one – other survivors or outside races – could disturb their solitude. They lost most of their technology and, even though they rebuilt over the following million years or so, they never returned to the high point their society had reached prior to the civil war.
In the darkness, new life began on the worlds that had survived the war. Over the thousands of years after the civil war, new races started to emerge into the galaxy. Some of them discovered artefacts left behind by the entities and used them to get into space, or were destroyed by them because they didn’t know what they were doing. On the other side of the galaxy from the surviving enclave, one race discovered a starship that had belonged to the other faction, the faction that had wanted to transcend. Unaware of the starship’s true nature, they accidentally repowered the ship and reanimated the entities inside. The unlucky aliens were merely the first to be overwhelmed and subverted by the faction that became known as the Greys. Resistance was futile.
In the meantime, the conservatives became dimly aware that the galaxy was changing. Where once they were alone there were now countless younger races growing up in the shadows of the galactic civil war. The conservatives studied the newcomers from a distance and realised, to their shock, that many of the newcomers had learned from their technology, while others had been destroyed by it (either directly or indirectly). Worse, the newcomers were advancing towards their own singularities – and towards the question that had ripped apart a society that had covered most of the galaxy. The galaxy itself might not survive a repeat of the last war.
Accordingly, the Conservatives moved to take control of the newcomers in the space around their enclave. They were unable – and partly unwilling – to show their true power, but they had no difficulty in creating a space fleet that outmatched anything the younger races could create. Once brought into the Empire, the younger races could be put to work in an association that both allowed their potential to flourish, while preventing it from flourishing in undesirable directions. The Imperials – as the Conservatives started to style themselves – told the younger races a somewhat altered version of the truth, rebranding themselves as selfless saviours who sought to prevent the younger races from destroying themselves.
Over the next four thousand years (the chronology is uncertain, because the Imperials were quite willing to rewrite the Empire’s early history to bury the truth) the Imperial Empire continued to expand. Races that were primitive when discovered were brought into the Empire (often destroying their own cultures along the way, which the Imperials saw as no bad thing) while their more advanced cousins were conquered by force and eventually taught their place. The Imperials established the Stargate Network to help foster the growth of galactic trade, the Imperial Civil Service to administer their Empire and the Imperial Navy to police, protect and expand their vast territories. All of these institutions had an undeclared purpose as well as their open missions; they were charged with ensuring that advanced technology didn’t fall into the hands of the younger races, either through the discovery of an artefact from before the civil war or through a researcher pressing the limits of explored science.
In appearance – at least the one the Imperials chose to show to their servants – they looked like tall thin humanoids, with orange skin, overlarge heads and bright yellow eyes. They were biologically immortal, a fact that contributed to the cultural stasis the conservative faction inflicted on itself during the long lonely years it spent rebuilding from the war. Primarily, the Imperials rarely acted directly, choosing to direct their servants rather than involve themselves. Their mystique was a vital part of their rule.
The Greys had a much harder task, even though it hadn’t required much effort on their part to overwhelm the unfortunate culture that discovered them. Their genetic patterns were badly damaged by the effects of the war, while their inbuilt desire for rapid change caused them to develop a version of cancer that plagued their older members. It was unlikely in the extreme that they would ever be able to perpetuate themselves like the Imperials, at least unless they managed to repair the genetic damage. Instead, they started to experiment with ‘clean’ DNA from their subjected populations, blending DNA from a hundred different races in the hopes of creating a liveable template. They also took mechanical augmentation forward at terrifying speed, often replacing damaged organs with technology.
Surprisingly, they did produce a major breakthrough of sorts. As they had hoped to transcend, they had done much more research into the exact nature of intelligence – and the soul – than the Imperials. They discovered that a Master Grey could extend his (insofar as the sexual difference mattered to the Greys, who were largely asexual) mentality into other biological structures, a definition that included their slave races. Most of the Masters spliced themselves into mechanical life support units and extended their mentalities out into vast numbers of slaves and Drones (see below). Unlike the Imperials, the Greys did not need to construct a socio-political edifice to hold their subjects in mental thrall; their subjects were, in effect, extensions of their master’s will. There was no hope of resistance.
They also created a sub-race – the Drones – to service them. The Drones were tiny creatures, barely half the size of an adult human, with grey skin, dark eyes and only limited intelligence (at least when not being directed by the Masters). Despite their size, they were inhumanly strong, fast and often enhanced with technology that included implanted weapons, making them deadly combatants in war. However, while they could follow orders exactly, they were very bad at dealing with unanticipated situations.
The Imperials encountered Earth in the human year 2030 by homing in on humanity’s radio transmissions. After a brief period of covert story, the Imperial Navy decloaked a small assault fleet in orbit around the planet, landed ground troops and demanded immediate surrender. When the human race naturally resisted, the Imperial Navy used precision strikes from orbit to obliterate most of the human defenders, shot down nuclear missiles aimed at the starships (and positions on the ground) and overwhelmed the human race’s communications system. The outcome was a foregone conclusion from the start; resistance might have continued up to 200 years after the invasion, but the Imperials held all of the advantages and were patient enough to continue with their own plans despite human stubbornness. As more and more humans chose to collaborate with the Imperials, the resistance became dangerous bandits and eventually faded away.
Earth was not the only world in the Sol System to be exploited by the Imperials. Intent on creating a new world for humanity – and a dumping ground for those who steadfastly resisted their rule – the Imperials terraformed Mars, taking the opportunity to remove a number of artefacts that dated back to their civil war (although rumours of ‘Martian’ artefacts continue to echo through the planet’s population.) Titan became a naval base for the Imperial Navy – close enough to Earth to provide reinforcement in case the garrison ran into an uprising it couldn’t handle – and numerous asteroids became later habitats.
Eventually, over a period of nearly a thousand years, humanity earned a place in the Imperial Empire. Humans entered the military, constructed businesses and settled countless worlds throughout the Empire. Indeed, humans were so good at fighting that nearly ten percent of the Imperial Navy was human by then, along with a similar percentage in the Imperial Army. The vast majority of humans considered the Empire as part of their lives. There was certainly no widespread resistance to Imperial rule.
Unknown to the Imperials, Earth actually lay on the border – insofar as such a term can be used – between the Imperials and the Greys. The Greys had actually considered turning humanity into a slave race – after visiting Earth numerous times and harvesting genetic samples from unwilling humans – and, accidentally, the Imperials saved Earth from a fate worse than death. Naturally, the Greys had kept an eye on Earth over the years since its discovery and were astonished to find that their old rivals had formed a galactic-wide empire of their own. Fearful of discovery, they pulled back (reports of little grey aliens on Earth were largely buried, or dismissed as hoaxes) and started both building up their own military power and infiltrating the empire their rivals had built.
So it was, by 3034 in human years, the Imperials discovered that their empire was running into unseen and unsuspected troubles. First, perhaps most significantly, their economic base had been badly weakened by a scandal that appeared to blow up out of nowhere. Second, their rule was encountering more resistance among fringe groups that required time and effort to squash, even though they posed little threat to the Imperials themselves. Third, more and more races were clamouring for a greater share in power and an end to technological restrictions, restrictions the Imperials believed to be vitally important to prevent a reprise of their own civil war. And there were rumours of another Imperium out beyond the Rim.
And when they discovered a Grey corpse, the Imperials knew that their empire was in mortal danger.