In the first of a new series celebrating the franchise's twentieth anniversary (and the impending arrival of Homeworld 3), I look at the background lore of the critically-acclaimed Homeworld series of video games.
The galaxy during the First Time.
Attend carefully, for the mysteries of the past hold many clues for the future and events to come. Wisdom can be gleaned from studying the ancients, their triumphs and their mistakes.
In the most ancient of days, the First Time, there arose the Bentusi, a race great in scientific knowledge and engineering prowess. They built great ships to explore the gulfs between the stars, and delighted in learning new knowledge and contacting new races. They were among the first of the modern races to travel from one star system to another, traversing the galaxy through advanced drives that propelled them at close to the speed of light.
But as they explored the galaxy, the Bentusi found the ruins of an even more ancient, stranger civilisation. Tens of thousands of years before the Bentusi reached the stars, another race had gotten there first. They had built an empire spanning thousands of systems, plumbed the very mysteries of hyperspace to exceed lightspeed and built megastructures that defied easy understanding or comprehension, even for the enlightened Bentusi. Their power had appeared supreme, commanding fleets of intelligent starships and constructing utterly vast space habitats thousands of kilometres in length.
These “Progenitors” were overthrown and destroyed almost overnight. The vast ruins at Karos and Tanis stand testament to the fact that they encountered something that could not be resisted, and they were destroyed or forced to flee the galaxy altogether. The Bentusi, unnerved, could find no evidence of whatever fate had befallen them.
The Great Harbour Ship of Bentus, the flagship of the Bentusi Fleet and the carrier of the First Hyperspace Core for millennia.
For millennia, the Bentusi presided over a galaxy at peace. They forged the Outer Rim Trade Routes, allowing dozens and then hundreds of spacefaring races to trade together in peaceful cooperation. The Bentusi identified promising races and gave them the gift of “normal” hyperdrives (derived from the technology of the First Core), allowing them to Short Jump across dozens of light-years at a time. As the centuries passed, the Bentusi became creatures of space, merging with their starships to become “Unbound,” not limited to a single world or system.
During this time many thousands of Progenitor ruins and artefacts were uncovered by numerous races. Progenitor records were almost non-existent, with no histories or detailed accounts left behind to explain their origins or their fate. But a few symbols were found that could be translated. These eventually gave rise to the myth of Sajuuk, the Great Maker, He Whose Hand Shapes What Is.
Chief among those races who were found and helped by the Bentusi were two humanoid species. One originated on a world close to the Galactic Core known as Hiigara. The other, relatively nearby, was located on a world called Taiidan. Both the Hiigarans and Taiidan were civilised and grew rich from trade, but both races also grew resentful of the Bentusi’s overwhelming power, and in particular their ability to Far Jump, leaving the “lesser races” standing still in comparison.
Hiigara, the homeworld of the Hiigaran people, as seen from space.
Some five centuries after Hiigara and Taiidan became interstellar players, the galaxy was rocked by a series of military conflicts, which in turn spread more conflict and chaos across the stars. These conflicts revealed that even the Bentusi could not be everywhere at once, and by the time the Bentusi had restored peace (forcibly, in some cases), dozens of powerful confederations had formed, chief among them the Hiigaran and Taiidan empires. Acknowledging the new reality, the Bentusi proposed the founding of a Galactic Council as a forum for peaceful debate and discussion between the new powers. The Hiigarans and Taiidan eagerly agreed and were among the Council’s sixteen founding states.
The Hiigarans and Taiidan may have cooperated to reduce the power of the Bentusi, but they were also rivals. Their empires were approximately equal in power, with between forty and fifty major planetary systems each under their control. Their military technology was roughly matched and their empires located in a similar region of space, the Hiigarans claiming a wide swathe of the Shining Hinterlands around the Galactic Core and the Taiidan slightly further out, towards the Inner Rim. Border conflicts erupted, including several major enough to be called small wars. The Council stepped in each time to negotiate an end to the conflict, but the Hiigarans came to believe that they were being treated badly, with each resolution seeming to favour the Taiidan side. In particular, the imposition of a thirty light-year-wide “buffer zone” between Taiidan and Hiigaran space which encroached strongly into territories claimed by the Hiigaran Empire was seen as a move directly benefiting the Taiidan. The Taiidan were accused of using bribes or blackmail to coerce the Council into making decisions in their favour, a claim outright rejected by the Council. Decades of simmering resentment from the Hiigarans to the Council and to the Taiidan began.
During this period, the Hiigarans made a shattering discovery. In a derelict starship in a remote system, they located the Second Hyperspace Core of the Progenitors. Extracting it, they gained the same ability as the Bentusi, to Far Jump across thousands of light-years in an instant. Like the Bentusi, they had to design and build a special starship to use it. This they named Sajuuk’s Wrath, as the Hiigarans came to believe that Sajuuk himself had forged the Three Hyperspace Cores for a greater purpose.
The Hiigarans’ purpose was more straightforward: survival. Over the preceding decades, the Taiidan had grown more powerful, eclipsing the might of Hiigara. Their empire had grown larger and the Galactic Council continued to make judgements in favour of the Taiidan. The Hiigarans feared that they would be overwhelmed and annexed by the Taiidan gradually over time. To avert this fate, they put into motion an audacious plan.
Every Hiigaran military ship gathered in the skies above Hiigara. The Sajuuk’s Wrath activated its Far Jump capability, opening hyperspace portals to deep inside Taiidani space, far behind their defensive lines. The Hiigaran fleet passed through and annihilated everything in sight. The fleet then jumped to the next defensive strongpoint, destroying everything they could find, and then again. Their jumps were so vast that they outran the warnings that Taiidan tried to send back to their leaders. The first the Taiidani central government knew of the danger was when the Hiigaran fleet emerged out of hyperspace above their homeworld.
The Sajuuk’s Wrath led the armada in bombarding Taiidan from space, destroying its orbital defences and then targeting the surface. According to Hiigaran records, the fleet expertly and surgically targeted military installations and government facilities only, ignoring civilian targets. Taiidan records suggest a more general bombardment that killed millions. The government was annihilated and the Taiidan military decapitated in a single blow.
The Hiigaran fleet returned home approximately sixty-seven hours after departing on its mission. In that time, it had laid the Taiidan Empire low. In the following days, the Hiigarans mounted a widespread offensive along their frontier, retaking dozens of worlds lost or ceded to the Taiidan over the preceding centuries.
The Hiigarans believed that the Galactic Council would, as normal, dither and prevaricate in the face of overwhelming, resolute force, as the Council had often done in the face of Taiidan aggression. However, the Council saw the Hiigarans wielding the Second Core as an existential threat to the galaxy. They feared that the Hiigarans would conquer all of known space, and they issued them with an ultimatum: to surrender the Second Core, to withdraw from all conquered worlds and to stand down and scuttle the bulk of their fleet in the buffer zone between Hiigaran and Taiidan space.
The Hiigarans agreed, but only on the condition that they would surrender the Core to the Bentusi. This was deemed acceptable, but the gambit was a ruse. The Hiigarans launched a sneak attack on the Bentusi using the Sajuuk’s Wrath. They very nearly succeeded, with the first shot coming close to disabling the Bentus’s hyperdrive. But ultimately, they failed. Bentus used its Far Jump drive to summon a vast fleet of reinforcements and in short order the Hiigaran fleet was annihilated. The remnants fled back to Hiigara, the Bentusi in pursuit. The commander of the Sajuuk’s Wrath rejected the call to surrender and instead triggered the ship’s hyperdrive, making a jump directly into the gravity well of the Angel Moon, Hiigara’s largest satellite. The Wrath crashed into the surface of the moon, exploding impressively. The Wrath was gone and – apparently – the Second Core with it.
The Bentusi supported the claim that the Core had been destroyed, a claim in itself suspicious, as the Bentusi had wielded the power of the First Core for millennia. They knew (as we do now) that the Cores, as products of Progenitor technology, were nigh on indestructible and almost invulnerable to physical harm, and the Second Core had almost certainly survived. Yet they made no move to retrieve the Core, a decision which remains a topic of fierce debate.
The Hiigarans offered unconditional surrender. Their empire was dismantled, their conquered worlds liberated and their fleets scuttled. They were left with barely a token defensive flotilla. For the Bentusi, the war had sapped much of their morale and reserve. Sickened by the violence they had unleashed, they renounced their role as the galaxy’s peacekeepers. They remained on the Council but now dedicated themselves to peaceful trade and exploration only.
The Taiidan were not so merciful.
Looking towards the Galactic Core from the Outer Rim.
Admiral Riesstiu, the highest-ranking surviving member of the Taiidan Navy, had committed himself to the rebuilding of the Taiidan military. The homeworld had been decimated, but dozens of other planets survived with an enviable industrial output. Fleets around the edge of the Taiidan Empire, the forces the Hiigarans had jumped past to achieve total strategic surprised, remained intact. A vast armada was assembled. Riesstiu used advanced technology to extend his lifespan by first decades and then possibly centuries. Declaring himself the Emperor of Taiidan, he led the fleet on a war of retribution against Hiigara. Hiigara’s colonies were overrun and conquered in a matter of weeks. The Taiidan fleet closed in on the near-defenceless homeworld and stood poised to incinerate it from orbit when Riesstiu stayed his hand. The Galactic Council and the Bentusi had made a plea for mercy and Riesstiu was aware that the Taiidan’s moral superiority would be lost if they behaved even worse than the Hiigarans had. He announced that the Hiigaran population would be spared. Their planet would become the new throneworld of the Taiidan Empire and the Hiigarans would become slaves of the Taiidan.
The Hiigarans balked at this last point, preferring death to servitude. The Taiidan may have granted them their wish, but again the Council requested clemency. Keen to maintain his authority with the Council, Riesstiu agreed to instead send the surviving Hiigarans into exile on the very fringes of the galaxy. They would take no weapons with them and would leave all of their most advanced technology behind. A fleet of large bulk freighters was assembled, enough to carry millions of people across the galaxy, albeit in some discomfort and with only marginal capacity for food and water.
The Hiigaran people set out on their journey, which would be long, arduous and fraught with danger. Only capable of Short Jumps, the fleet took generations to reach its destination, spending vast amounts of time crawling at sublight whilst their antiquated jump drives recharged. Ships were lost due to malfunctions, mis-jumps and mutiny. Several vessels abandoned the fleet within the Great Nebula, a vast region of star formation on the Outer Rim, preferring to settle the hidden region of Kadesh rather than carry on to their designated destination. But eventually, several surviving ships made planetfall on a remote desert world on the outermost fringes of the galaxy, 35,000 light-years or more from Hiigara. The largest surviving ship became the nexus for a great city, “Khar-Toba” (the First City). The desert planet was named “Kharak,” and the Hiigarans adopted a new name for themselves, the “Kushan.” One of the mightiest empires in the history of the galaxy had been reduced to a handful of survivors in a single city on a barren world.
But they did have one advantage left to them. Before the flight, Hiigaran engineers had secretly landed on the Angel Moon and recovered the Second Core from where it had fallen years earlier. Powered down, it was secreted in the hold of the lead refugee ship and taken with them to Kharak.