I. THE AGE OF FEAR
Each second, deadly waves of solar radiation from the slowly dying sun bathed planets of the Vyra system with lethal caress. This agony that lasted for several millennia turned the whole Illnir civilization into pale deathly shadow of its former glory. Majestic cities with pillars reaching to the heavens and sprawling artificial gardens and forests were turned to burned-out dark husks, each skyscraper now pointing into the sky like a severed skeletal finger. Insects, fish, and animals – nothing remained, and the only sound that could be heard is that of wind howling between the spires or a section of a building falling to the ground after centuries of exposure to elements.
Illnir race, insectoid in nature, at its peak and before death came to them from their own sun, was represented by several dozens of sentient (or semi-sentient in relation to slow-witted scarab-like Thogg) species, all working and living under the same stars in a heavily stratified society. Castes were formed of individual species, and while there was no open conflict between the castes, no member of one cast could claim the benefits (or bear the burdens) of another caste. Six-legged spider-like No’xi, for example, were the main military force that took to battle in sophisticated heavily armed and armored exoskeletons, while flying, light-boned Chir were ideal messengers and recon specialists. Each played his role, and each basked in the race’s rising glory.
Four of these species died within weeks following the first explosion on the sun’s surface. Abandoning their achievements and cities, remaining Illnir escaped underground, in hopes of hiding from their impending doom in vast industrial subterranean complexes and transportation nods. When once an Illnir could live between twenty human years and two full human centuries, depending on the species, now his life ended with his body wreathing with cancer or other manifestations of radiation poisoning in mere years. No immune system, however artificially enhanced, could compensate for deterioration that came once access to fresh air and food was all but lost.
All available research was rerouted to life support and subterranean expansion. The race was not yet destroyed, but it was evident that the end was near, and just one gust of wind separated that candle from being extinguished, removing the last sparks of life from the system. More and more settlements succumbed to the sun, whole planets becoming deathbeds with sophisticated machines still running amongst decaying chitinous bodies of their former creators.
II. THE SOUL TRANSFER DOCTRINE
It was only logical that ideology would change as well, and the new philosophical dogma was adopted by the Illnir – the Soul Transfer Doctrine. According to the Doctrine, it was possible to achieve immortality by transferring soul and mind from a living entity and into a machine. For a society that was long ago accustomed to cybernetic enhancements, stasis and anti-gravity vehicles, it was not just words, but a real technological possibility. And for a race as desperate as the Illnir were, it seemed to be the only solution.
For each Illnir that was still able to function and did not succumb to illnesses, a machine was created or modified that was supposed to copy the owner’s personality, memories and thoughts – everything that according to Illnir constituted a person’s soul. Each machine was unique, and was a result of hard work of many scientists working in tandem with engineers and military specialists. Every piece of high technology that the Illnir race ever created was used to make the machines as perfect as possible.
These machines, or Mirrs, were the ultimate bodies that were free from pain and fear of death, the two categories that were the now a permanent experience for Illnir.
The process of transition of soul from flesh to metal was almost complete when the scientists encountered a deadlock – they could record and transfer every bit of data that a brain or any other living tissue or fluid could contain, they managed to create and implement AIs that could adopt the owner’s habits and mimic his behavior, but it was still impossible to transfer the individuality and free will, the key components that make a construct of meat and bone, or plastic and alloy in the case handoff certain Mirrs, a person. A certain trigger was lacking, and after several centuries it was still not found, even though more and more resources were diverted from other sectors to fulfill this purpose. In the same time, with each passing year, fewer Illnir were born and far more died, bringing the combined race ever closer to extinction.
III. THE TRIGGER
The solution came from where no one expected it. Appearing from the void, the Voidfarer’s main nuclear engines that were separated from the vessel in the Collapse rammed into the agonizing sun of Vyra like a ballistic missile, triggering its immediate death in an unprecedented burst of heat, light, EMP and radiation. In a single second, what remained of the Illnir race, even in deep underground hideouts, was no more as every living thing in the system drew its final breath. And in the very next second, the Shattered race was born.
Each living Illnir that was hooked to its Mirr in a lasting attempt of soul transfer at the moment of the impact was transformed into a wisp of pure energy, as material tissues were disintegrating into nothingness in final moments of fiery agony.
The scientists finally achieved what they were looking for, even though the explosion, now known as the Trigger, happened despite their will. Machines rebooted after the EMP burst, but now they were different, their AIs were now supplemented by the very essence of their creators. Bound together within confines of metal bodies, AI and living souls were the new race, one fusing free will and personality with unprecedented technology and universal digital connection.
Not every Illnir successfully completed the transition – only a portion of them was hooked into the machines, and even amongst those lucky ones hundreds of Mirrs were annihilated by the explosive energies or were not able to reboot, wisps inside trapped and slowly dissolving into nothingness with no access to energy sources that now sustained their life. Some of the latter were subsequently saved by Shattered forces during reclamation of long-lost planets of the Vyra system.
When outside their Mirrs, Shattered resemble ball lightnings encountered on Earth during storms or electromagnetic anomalies. Sometimes, they instead take ordered, strict geometrical forms that could be described as floating cubes embraced by tentacles of energy. Hovering several inches above ground, these beings did not retain any physical characteristics of their former material selves, such as faceted eyes or four upper body arms specific for some species of the Illnir race. Humming silently, Wisps travel between Mirrs and elements of infrastructure, feeding on energy when required directly from cables, reactors or even living fire.
By itself, a Wisp is not capable to do any harm to a living entity, passing harmlessly through any living matter as a ghost, leaving it behind with a feeling of cold and slight dizziness.
After the soul transfer, the race created a system-wide network of communication, the Communication Matrix, with each Mirr acting as a moving data transfer node.
Without an energy source to support it, or a Mirr to keep its life force sustained with its generators, a Wisp will dissipate into emptiness, vanishing altogether and becoming forever lost for the Illnir cause. Depending on the situation and environment, a Wisp can dissipate within several hours or live for years in a row when there is a still-running generator in an abandoned human ship or on a planet with many storms and hurricanes, with the Wisp being able to literally syphon electricity from surrounding air. In combat conditions, weapon discharges and explosions may cause a Wisp to instead rapidly lose its energy, resulting in it fading prematurely. This leads to the Shattered developing many means to save a Wisp that had to evacuate its Mirr and that risks dissipation, such as transfer of a Wisp to another Wisp’s Mirr, or even placing it into containment fields until a replacement robot body is found.
Inside its Mirr, a Shattered becomes godlike, a perfectly controlled meld of mind and machine. Acting with pinpoint precision, with not a single second lost or an energy unit wasted in vain, Mirrs piloted by Wisps stride across industrial sites and battlefields alike in practically all dimensions, performing tasks with efficiency inaccessible by a being made of flesh and bone. Each move, action and decision is all but perfect.
Wisps “talk” and relay information into the Communication Matrix using any available information channels, be it cables, radio waves or even heat emanations – everything is able to carry necessary data that wound be devoid of anything not related to the intended use and that could cause misrepresentation or mistake. Each Wisp is capable of projecting visual, audio and any other types of information, however usually only factual data is needed thanks to the Shattered not requiring eyes, ears or other sensory organs to process information.
A Wisp that happens to be far from its Mirr will quickly try to find a means of communication to allow it return to its mech, battle group or ship. Many sentient beings experienced an unpleasant surprise when a Wisp from a downed Mirr used their own communication channels to relay its location to its fellow forces with pinpoint accuracy.
In order to fully destroy a Shattered, it needs to be brought outside its robot body and isolated from any energy sources for at least several hours. It can use any wire or cable to escape captivity though, so the task will likely be far more difficult than it sounds.
V. THE MIRRS
Unlike crude walker vehicles used by some of the other races of the Enigma sector, an Illnir-crafted Mirr is a sleek and agile machine capable of all-terrain and sometimes all-dimension movement. Each Wisp is bound to a particular walker that was crafted specifically for its former Illnir body before the Trigger occurred, and some of these Mirrs copy Illnir’s physique. After the death of the Illnir race new Mirrs were crafted by the Shattered, with many machines lost to war or other reasons, however with no new Wisps being artificially created these machines are usually made to accommodate Wisps that lost their previous home.
Mirr’s generators are capable of leeching energy from almost every source imaginable, and can use this energy to both repair itself if needed (and if equipped with necessary modules), analyze any energy sources and single-handedly perform in-field research in many spheres, accumulating data and then transferring it to other Shattered within the Communication Matrix.
The main weakness of any Mirr of the Shattered is the Wisp energy containment compartment that acts as the cockpit for the incorporeal being. A precise (or lucky) shot could puncture this part of the mech and both eject the Wisp into the surrounding world and damage the interface that the Wisp uses for controlling the Mirr and sending data to the Communication Matrix. In addition to that, Wisps act as ignition systems and energy sources to Mirrs, should extra energy expense be required for battle, and thus the dissipation of a Wisp could leave the Mirr forever frozen in space with whole of its mechanized body intact. There were few such cases in the history of FALCON contacts with the Shattered however, since the latter are far from stupid to allow enemies precision shots at their precious cargo.
Illnir created bots that reflected their cast structure, with certain types of Mirrs performing certain functions better than other. Illnir that were military elite in life now pilot battle Mirrs, capable of housing multiple modular weapon systems and powerful energy shields. However, even engineering or a mining robot can be quickly modified to carry weapons and support systems due to its uniform connector structure, and while it will not be capable of rate of fire or pure damage output its military “brother” could provide, it will still be able to effectively participate in a prolonged combat.
It may be possible sometimes, for example when one of the two Mirrs sent on a mission is irreparable damaged, that a single mech houses two Wisps. However, since each vehicle is heavily attuned to a particular pilot, this results in the Mirr’s systems drastically dropping in performance, disobeying simple commands. In these cases, the two pilots prefer to altogether retreat from command and let the AI pilot the Mirr back out of danger.
VI. THE NEW ORDER
Illnir society was that of a caste-based democracy. The Shattered do not have need for any type of social hierarchy since common social norms no longer apply to their society. The whole new race is united into a single information web with each individual wisp participating in it willingly since according to its calculations no better “social” form of existence and way of reaching the race’s goal could be achieved in another way.
In the same time, Wisps retained part of their free will, despite the new digital and energy state in which they now exist. Elder Wisps, for example, are what remained from once proud military leaders, while Lesser Wisps could be a rank-and-file trooper, and a Visionary Wisp – a field engineer. This division is reflected in the Mirrs that these Wisps pilot, and if an Elder Wisp enters the field it will likely do so in the most imposing and battle-capable Mirr that the local Shattered force could provide. This division remained because it is the most cost-effective way in which a task could be accomplished, with each Wisp retaining the skills that it honed while its body was still intact. Also, all Wisps have a certain energy and data capacity that matches their levels of vital energy, psychic and personal development that they had before death, and Lesser Wisps could simply be not powerful enough to properly operate multiple weapons or support systems simultaneously. Each Shattered compliments the Matrix by sharing its own experience and data. With its perfected communication structure, every single piece of the web receives this data in short order, which allows the Shattered to act in coordination unimaginable for a race whose presence spans across several star systems.
In rare cases, a Shattered could develop another formula to achieve the common goal, and, if unsupported, may choose to separate from the Matrix to act independently. Other shattered do not react to this in usual cases, however when there is a risk of Shattered technology being lost or stolen by other races, the Shattered may decide to force the deviant to return to the Matrix, punishing it if it fails to comply.
Free from fear and pain, the Shattered have few weaknesses. One of them is impossibility to reproduce. Loss of a single Wisp that acts as an information node results in a major tear in the Matrix that cannot be replaced easily without diverting resources and time.
For many of the new Shattered painless dissolution into oblivion was a welcome relief after years of physical suffering.
VII. TECHNOLOGY AND MODULES
Each Mirr was constructed with full compatibility with others of its type in mind. Almost all weapons and support systems can be placed on any single given Mirr in the Shattered forces, particularly in the SCS Node that often finds itself far from main Shattered presence. Certain equipment however requires either extra energy reserves, certain skilled Wisps or enhanced chassis speed, and so may only be mounted on specific machines. Of course, some Mirrs are able to operate the same modules with extra effectiveness, and a Coordinator armed with an Impaler cannon will be able to achieve higher rate of fire thanks to its greater energy capacity. However, the same Coordinator will not be able to use mining modules at peak efficiency due to extra stability that mining Mirrs possess. There are many key principles that are shared throughout the Shattered technology and that make it uniform.
VIII. TRAVEL, OTHER RACES
The Shattered do not consider other life forms to be their enemies or friends. Depending on a particular situation they may choose to fight together with one race, only to switch sides and attack it on the next day – there is no treason in this, just cold calculations in mind. When possible, Shattered prefer to avoid combat due to limited number of Wisps that exist in the world and large volume of resources that are required to create new Mirrs.
Nevertheless, the Shattered are known for taking representatives of sentient races as prisoners to test soul transfer technologies on them. Offering ransom or pleading to return the prisoners will not achieve its goal – the Shattered simply need a particular test subject at that point of time. Shattered can also sometimes highjack ships of other races, steal technology or even demonstrate an unexplained degree of violence when whole settlements or even cities are removed from the maps. However, each of these actions has a carefully weighted reason for the Shattered, which cannot be understood without access to the Communication Matrix.
The Vyra system was reclaimed and almost abandoned after all valuable resources were recovered from the now-dead planets, with only minimum garrisons and bases of the Shattered remaining in place. While Shattered are capable of intersystem flight, it is extremely slow, and it took them several centuries to reach and start colonizing two bordering star systems. In each system, Shattered forces construct teleportation facilities that allow them to jump between planets where such facilities are built.
Recent openings of space rifts all over the territories occupied by the Shattered signaled for them another opportunity to search for valuable data, and dozens of SCS Nodes were sent into these portals to investigate and return with samples. Preferably, still living samples.