THE CHILDREN OF THE DRAGON
Comparing to the “Voidfarer” that was made with short-to-medium-term expeditions in mind, the “Niulangxing” was a true marvel of colonization technology. Excessive private funding and many years of research from top Singapore and China scientists allowed creation of a vessel with nearly unlimited duration of service and unprecedented scale of self-sustainability.
Stasis chambers for more than 80.000 adult colonists, hundreds of thousands of pre-fertilized eggs for in-vitro growth all frozen in hibernation – the ship was ready to populate (and dominate) words yet unexplored. The Niulangxing was designed to colonize up to eleven habitable planets within the span of two decades. Complicated hydroponics, cloning facilities for livestock and plant seeds beyond count were ready for providing food for newly established colonies. From most perspectives, the ship was a true biblical Ark, ironically so when it originated from the part of the world that traditionally shared different religious beliefs.
Both vessels heading into the wormhole were supposed to colonize the Eden system simultaneously, two similar worlds each for step one of the joint operation. However, Niulangxing’s real agenda, as initially intended by the expedition’s founders, was also to secretly send colonization ships to systems neighboring Eden and seed them with life.
The Collapse caused irreparable damage to both vessels. However, the Voidfarer was spared the worst when the wormhole imploded.
II. THE AFTERMATH
After a brief moment of calamity that followed after the Collapse, Niulangxing was ejected from the void into an uncharted system and crash-landed on an alien planet avoiding total destruction only thanks to its backup retro jets. The ship’s core modules remained intact behind blast shields and strengthened hull. However, majority of support and secondary modules were torn to pieces and descended onto the planet in a fiery rain. Most of the crew that was awake at the moment of impact remained alive, but almost all stasis chambers and cell storages were either crushed by debris or decompression, or had inhabitants thereof boiled in their hibernation by bursts of radiation that swept the inner hulls of the ship once the outer plating was torn asunder
In the years that followed the Collapse the miraculously saved crew realized the true horror of their situation. Radiation that ravaged the ship touched them as well, sparing their lives, but rendering almost every still living male crew member irreversibly sterile.
With almost no means of natural or artificial in-vitro fertilization without healthy male cells, the future seemed grim for the Niulangxing’s survivors. At that moment, a solution was found. Several of laboratories and cattle cloning facilities still remained intact, and a decision was taken that would have not been adopted in any other situation. Cloning of crew members that would be the second generation of colonists living in the «Xin xiwang» system has begun.
II. THE GUARDIANS
Communication equipment that remained intact or that was repairable was unable to reach Earth, the wormhole did not open again, and after several years colonists accepted the reality where their hope of ever returning home was lost for good.
However, the planet on which Niulangxing landed, named Xin xiwang by the remaining crew, was a surprisingly hospitable and verdant world, with breathable air and forests teeming with wildlife that was easy to both domesticate or hunt, supplementing the otherwise-scarce resources of the colonists. Soil readily accepted earth plants, and within a year gave rich harvests that eliminated the risks of the colony starving to death.
Even local parasites appeared to be completely harmless. When several decades after the crash one of the colonists, a 62-year old farmer, pulled a noodle-thin yet pencil-long worm out of his throat, the entire colony was put to red alert. However, after several weeks of quarantine and extensive tests it was confirmed that the infestation not only did no damage to the host, but also healed the old man from high blood pressure, lowered his cholesterol and sugar levels, and even removed his first stage cirrhosis without leaving a trace.
Further to this, it was later proved that the parasite revitalized and protected its hosts, reducing consequences of light radiation poisoning that the crew suffered and effectively prolonging their life without causing no apparent deterioration of life signs or blood test results. By that moment, almost the entire colony was infested, with worm cysts found aplenty in both water and winds sweeping across Xin xiwang.
And thus, men and women of the first generation of colonists unwillingly forged a strong and seemingly mutually beneficial symbiosis with the parasites, now affectionately called Guardians.
IV. THE NEW MASTERS
Unbeknownst to the crew, everything changed after the first worm-infested colonist was used as a donor for cloning materials and the first cloned generation reached maturity. Cloning process permanently mixed DNA of men and Guardians, altering the symbiosis in an unpredictable manner. New generations of colonists became more than mere generous hosts.
For the first generation of settlers the infiltrated worm could influence only certain pathological processes in the human’s body, enhancing regeneration in exchange for naturally accumulating human wastes. The symbiosis between parasites and second-generation hosts allowed the worm to influence the central nervous system by emulating brain signals and triggering reactions via biochemistry, affecting self-security and survival instincts of humans. While this allowed a colonist of the second generation to achieve almost impossible feats of awareness and dexterity – for example, a woman side-stepped burning pieces of wreckage from an exploding plasma generator in six consecutive moves, this also meant that in certain situations the Guardian effectively took control over the host, and decided what was best for it, even if for just a brief moment.
The Guardians proved to be capable of rapid evolution. Each next generation of men had yet new strains of Guardians infiltrating their organisms, which in turn spawned even more developed eggs that returned to the planet’s ecosystem only to restart the infestation cycle. With the life span of a Guardian matching that of its host, the generations of men and their now-unwelcome guests changed almost simultaneously, with a man of third generation usually hosting a third-generation Guardian.
In the third generation, that of naturally reproducing cloned colonists, the Guardians overtook logic centers and hormone glands, making hosts avoid actions unnecessary or harmful for the worm. While earlier the worm had no physical integration with the host, preferring instead to latch itself into sides of its bowels, now it found a new home in the brain, coiling just behind the frontal cortex, all while fusing its feelers with nerves and blood vessels for both control and nourishment.
By the fourth generation, the process of covert possession was complete. With their nervous and sensory systems dominated by the worm’s will, the colonists were reduced to a species fully dominated by the parasites. While the humans remained self-aware, and believed themselves to be still fully capable of free thought, it was the worm inside that decided on what action the human should undertake, what thought to contemplate and what wishes to express, generally choosing what was better for both it and the host.
What was even worse, worms that fused with human mind, body and psyche developed individual personalities, which with the almost unlimited resources provided by human body and mind allowed a simple worm to become a threat superior to anything encountered so far by the human civilization. All these years late Guardian eggs that are found everywhere in Xin xiwang now bear a far more dangerous cargo…
V. AGE OF THE DRAGON
In less than five hundred years the colony changed from a damaged but still operational technological marvel to a medieval religious cult, the Cult of the Dragon, with the former crew of Niulangxing as a whole becoming known to the outsiders as the Children of the Dragon. Fully aware of their physical weaknesses and incapability of sentient existence outside the hosts, the Guardians altered both the human psych and physique. Once looking into the stars with hope and curiosity, humans now walked as if blind-folded, their wishes and thoughts reduced to a primitive level, with the life of a religious fanatic praying to their Dragon gods being the only imaginable option. In this way, the worms eliminated the only thing that could endanger their dominion – a human shaking off the Guardian’s control and finding means to cleanse the colonies from the parasites’ influence.
The human race knows how to use 10% of their brain in each particular moment. The Guardians learned to use the remaining 90%, bringing the symbiotic entity to unprecedented levels of psychic and self-regulation potential, as well as building a telepathic communication network between the possessed hosts. The worms became godlike for the humans, this belief implanted in their minds by the parasites, with a whole cult created around them that would become the dominant social and economic structure on Xin xiwang.
Becoming more and more powerful and free from interference, Guardians learned how to alter hosts’ flesh and channel human metabolism into unnatural paths of growth and development. Now, some of the hosts began to suffer rapid mutations, limbs twisting into weapon like appendages and bone scales erupting from beneath their skin, all that to protect the delicate worm inside. Other humans experienced exponential growth of brain matter, better to allow the worm inside to communicate and use its new found psychic capabilities.
Further to this, some of the worms that previously were incapable of prolonged life outside the host’s body learned to modify human bodies into grotesque cocoons, from which after several weeks of gestation worms the size of a large human dog erupted in showers of gore. After several weeks of feeding on cattle, local wildlife and humans deemed for ritual sacrifice, the worm reached the size of a large bull and buried underground into the planet’s soft soil, there to live until ultimate death in several decades, continuously growing in strength and size. These gargantuan creatures, known as simply the Dragons, when appearing close to human settlements on Xin xiwang were considered a good sign by the members of the cult.
VI. THE CULT
After centuries of symbiosis, a new power became dominant in the Xin xiwang system. A new society was born, that of a union of man and worm. Using latent human psychic abilities the Guardians could communicate with each other, creating an unseen network of control that ruled over human settlements throughout the system. Via dreams, visions and direct commands in cases in which more subtle means were unsuccessful the worms imposed an order all but free of war and crime. Humans in turn established and fervently enforced the Cult of the Dragon, much to the convenience of the Guardians – it was so much easier to maintain control through blind zealotry.
In order to further structure the Cult, the Triumvirate was created. The Triumvirate is the council of three High Priests of the Cult. Each High Priest is the eldest and one of the most psychically attuned hybrid of man and Guardian ever created.
When a member of the Triumvirate dies or proceeds to another evolutionary cycle, a new High Priest is elected by the remaining members. In the unlikely situation in which the whole Triumvirate is wiped out in a single moment, such as when a renegade group blew up a Cult shuttle en route to the second greatest planet in Xin xiwang system to oversee establishment of the largest colony on its surface, three strongest possessed took the seats in the council, engaging in telepathic duels with competitors. After the shuttle incident, the Triumvirate never assembles in full in a single physical location in the same time, using long-range telepathic communication from different strongholds to decide key matter in the Cult’s life.
Not all humans can become or remain until death the suitable hosts for the Guardians. Particularly strong immune systems (for example, with unusually high eosinophil levels), certain blood diseases, rare flu mutations and some other conditions may result in the host’s body becoming uninfiltratable by parasites’ cysts, uninhabitable by nascent worms, or may even lead to premature death of the parasite that already entered the body. In some cases, a proper neural bond cannot be established between the parasite and the host, or the worm cannot fuse itself with the human’s cortex, dooming it to a life of a simple tapeworm that can never reach the heights its more successful relatives achieve, and with no ways to communicate with other parasites or somehow influence the host’s behavior.
Sometimes, combat wounds or labor-related trauma can maim or even destroy the parasite, however in such cases the host usually dies within several days alongside its Guardian.
Renegades are thus both uncontrollable by the worms and untraceable by psychic scanning of Priests which can only pinpoint other mature parasites. And to the Guardians’ greatest disdain, renegades are fully aware of what has befallen their comrades from Niulangxing and to what their colony was reduced.
Joining in underground groups, hiding amongst cultists by mimicking humans with their worms not yet mature enough for telepathic communication, renegades sabotage Cult infrastructure, assassinate Priests and hope one day to elaborate a virus or another weapon that could cleanse the once-proud colonists from the parasites’ scourge.
In some cases, particular Guardians that develop a rebel personality and that do not share in the Triumvirates’ view of the world (or that simply wish to have their own path, without the omni-present dominating force of the Priests) join with human renegades, lending them troops and resources in exchange for removal of the Guardians’ enemies or for enforcing the worms’ own agenda. While these Guardians are also hated by human renegades, they know all too well that should the conspiracy unveil, both the hybrid and the man will face the same sad fate in the Triumvirate’s hands.
Needless to say, each renegade is considered to be and is described as such to Cult members as an enemy of men and gods alike, and a possessed son carrying a worm inside his body will kill his renegade father without a second of hesitation.
If caught, renegades are usually tortured and forcefully impregnated with one of special strain of the Guardian worm that scans the host’s brain, destroying it in the process, and relays its content to priests in images and visions before coiling and dying inside its victim.
To prevent its secrets from leaking to the Triumvirate, almost every renegade with access to sensitive data has a miniature acid vile or a neurotoxin injector implanted into his head that once activated by voice or remotely by his comrades liquefies particular sections of the brain, both granting the captive swift and merciful death and rendering its mind useless for the Cult.
VIII. XIN XIWANG
In the years following the Collapse, the crew of Niulangxing colonized not only Xin xiwang, but also every other habitable planet in the Xin xiwang system, eleven in total, using terraforming when necessary and bringing to them both human life and cysts of the Guardians. Wishing to protect itself, the Cult effectively turned the whole system into a stronghold leaving not a single habitable space rock without attention, with Xin xiwang at its core. Each planet now houses a major Cult temple at its capital that acts as a relay of the Triumvirate’s power.
Thus, the Triumvirate is strong enough to reach every part of the system, however planets of secondary colonization became slightly different from Xin xiwang, with local ruling councils elected thereon that, while reporting to the Triumvirate and heeding its ultimate will, sometimes developing plans and even local cults of their own.
On extremely rare occasions a local dominant Guardian may decide to initiate its own colonization expedition or trigger a mass mutation not sanctioned by the Cult. If it is not approved by the Triumvirate or the local planetary councils, such cases of revolt are met with extreme prejudice from Cult forces, which may result in eradication of both the insurgent Guardian and hybrids supposedly tainted by its influence.
Nevertheless, the Cult society is not that of open hostility or aggressive warfare. Being self- aware and possessing high self-preservation instincts stronger that a human could ever develop, the Guardians prefers to resolve conflicts by diplomatic or trade means, with open war being the last resort. The Xin xiwang is thus one of the most peaceful systems in the Enigma sector, which is ironic considering how the Cult was established and how it is operated. Expansion on yet uncolonised planetoids within the system, when and if performed, is carried out via colonization of planets by already infected colonists.
IX. OTHER RACES.
X. TRAVEL AND SPACE
No rapid intersystem flight is available for the Cult, with Niulangxing incapable of leaving the surface of Xin xiwang. While the ship is still subject to repairs that could ultimately make it airborne, the Cult will never allow humans to engage in such level of research and development, since it could lead to an invention that could affect Guardians themselves, or worse – damage their rule over colonists. Thus, humans are only allowed to operate already existing military and civilian space-capable craft that were salvaged from Niulangxing’s docks and miraculously remained intact when the Collapse tore the ship asunder. Automated factory blocks of the colonization vessel that remained operational also retained a limited capability of producing simple interplanetary shuttles and cargo ships. Boarding these vessels, colonists traveled to neighboring planets to establish new colonies in flights that took decades due to the low-tech level of propulsion systems used on the shuttles, with any upgrades or advancement out of question. So far, inter-system flight seems forever lost for the Cult.
However, several years ago the High Priests sensed major space anomalies that appeared all around the system. Appearing seemingly in random, wormholes resembling ones that initially brought the Humans into the sector opened and closed, showing them unknown lands and worlds. For the Cult it was a signal to reach into yet-inaccessible space. Boarding their low-class vessels, first posessed parties of settlers together with the omnipresent Priests entered the rifts to spread the word and gift of the Dragons into the uncharted territories.