Monday, 7 October 2019

A History of Homeworld Part 2: The Exile

In the second of a 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.
Kharak in ancient times.

At this point it may be instructive to consider the social structure of the Hiigaran people and their exiled descendants on Kharak, the Kushan.

Each Hiigaran family unit is part of a larger clan or house, known as kiithid (singular: kiith). Each kiith can contain dozens, hundreds or thousands of families. Each kiith has a different focus, ideology or religious belief; although each kiith will have a wide variety of opinions and beliefs, these will ultimately support the kiith’s primary ideology. Those who feel unable to follow the kiith’s path can apply to leave the kiith and be adopted into another. Some kiith have formed out of those who felt out of place in other kiith, and are looser arrangements. Kiith can break apart, merge or dissolve with the passage of time.

The most powerful individual family within the kiith is known as the Kiith-Sa. This title is also appended to the name of the leader of that family, and thus the entire kiith. Each kiith may have its own way of nominating or securing a leading family or individual, but in past epochs it was the most experienced or senior member of a kiithid who took this position; after the Dark Ages of Kharak there emerged a disturbing tendency for the richest or most politically astute of a kiith (who was often not the wisest or most intelligent) to gain the post.

As the centuries passed, the kiithid became more democratic, with internal referenda held on decisions of great import rather than the Kiith-Sa being left to decide for everyone.

Khar-Toba seen from above. The small white object at the centre is the crashed starship itself.

Age of Khar-Toba
The Kushan people made landfall – somewhat roughly given the status of the starship wreckage found on and above the planet – on Kharak in Galactic Standard Year 6510. The First City, Khar-Toba, spread out around the ruins of the largest-surviving ship. How many people survived the journey to Kharak is unknown, but given the sheer size of Khar-Toba and the other transports, it appears to have been in the hundreds of thousands.

At least six kiithid are known to have been represented in Khar-Toba: Kiith S’jet, famed for its scientific discipline; Kiith Somtaaw and Gaalsien, the religious kiithid; Kiith Naabal, famed for its industry; Kiith Paktu, a kiith of farmers; and Kiith Manaan, the kiith of artists and orators. It appears for a time that the six kiithid worked together to survive the harsh conditions on Kharak.

Kharak was already an ancient world, more than six billion years old. At one time it had been pleasant and temperate, partially covered in vast seas. But the seas had retreated, possibly as solar radiation from its star had slowly increased with age. At the time of the Kushan arrival, there were only three small salt seas near the north pole and a larger ocean surrounding the south pole. The lands inbetween were a mixture of desolate wastes and dune-covered deserts. The Great Banded Desert, which girdled the planet along the equator, was fiercely hot and barely habitable. During the height of summer, temperatures could approach 100°C, the boiling point of water (and human blood), making it impossible to venture outside. Khar-Toba’s location, barely nine hundred kilometres north of the equator, was decidedly suboptimal.

For a time, survival was possible thanks to the surviving reactors and power generators from the crashed ships. These were adapted to cool the city, recycle water and allow some semblance of civilisation to continue. However, they gradually began to fail. Without the underlying technological base from Hiigara, it was simply not possible to fabricate the components needed to keep the technology functioning. The Kushan attempted to rebuild a technological base, but were stymied by their lack of resources. Metals were also scarce.

At some point, perhaps a century or two after the landing, the power systems failed altogether and the Kushan people had no choice but to abandon the First City altogether. They left the city in the winter, most striking north for the rocky plateaus and mountains which offered some respite from the stifling heat of the Great Banded Desert.

Kharak as seen from orbit.

The Dark Age of Kharak
For a period of almost eighteen centuries, little is known about the Kushan people. The loss of high technology was a serious blow, forcing them to fight with spears and swords and farm only with the most primitive of tools. The loss of data recording devices meant that their history had to be written down, or related orally. At times it appears that serious cataclysms – storms, plagues, war – struck the kiithid, which they barely survived. Knowledge of their history dwindled and then vanished. Only a few garbled legends survived, including the reverence of the Great Sajuuk as a god, and the myth that the gods – perhaps including Sajuuk – had cast down the Kushan people onto Kharak as punishment for an ancient wrong.

Eventually, though, the Dark Ages ended. New languages came about and new histories were written. Better farming techniques allowed larger populations to form. 1,784 years after the landfall on Kharak, in the Galactic Standard Year 8294, a new Kharakian Dating System (KDS) was implemented. At this time, it was clear that the kiithid had prospered and grown larger; as well as the original six kiithid, many smaller ones had formed, including the religious Kiith Siidim.

By 100 KDS, the kiithid had penetrated deep into the northern polar regions, to the areas abutting the Seas of the Three Sisters, three small saltwater seas located near the pole. Kiith Gaalsien gained respect among the kiithid for its bold explorations of this region, helping open up the area for settlement. However, over the next 175 years Gaalsien’s influence waned compared to more innovative, less conservative kiithid. Ironically, this caused Gaalsien to retreat even more into religious dogma.

Also, by 100 KDS, Kiith Somtaaw had claimed the peaks and valleys of the Khontala Mountains as its main stronghold. The walled cities of Hameln and Gydeo were built, the latter on the slopes of Lungma Jin, the tallest mountain on Kharak. In 178 KDS the Somtaaw founded the Shimmering Path, a pilgrimage route leading from the Oracle of Tala (on the desert plain of the Kasaar, at the feet of the mountains) to the Temple of Mysteries, located at the very peak of Lungma Jin. The Star-Metal Scrolls, sacred artefacts written by Jakuul (a Somtaaw variant name for Sajuuk) himself, were placed on display in the Temple of Mysteries. In total, thirty-three shrines and temples led from the Oracle of Tala to the Temple of Mysteries. Other named temples were the Purifying Flame, Silent Wayfarer, Truth Seeker and the Dome of Heaven, the latter located within Gydeo’s walls. The Somtaaw opened the Path to all seekers of wisdom.

In 416 KDS, Kiith Soban, the warrior kiith, was founded by the warrior-general Soban the Red when his original kiith refused to take vengeance against a rival kiith for a dishonourable attack. Soban led his people beyond the Sparkling Desert to take vengeance and then sold their services to other kiithid for a price.

Inter-kiithid cooperation was common at this time, as the kiithid had plenty of space to spread out and settle. But as the years passed, populations grew and resources grew scarce, so disputes between the kiithid began to increase. The most damaging move came in 462 KDS when Kiith Siidim issue a proclamation that it was the only true kiith of “divine origin”. All of the other kiithid were formed on Kharak and no more than “Gritiidim” or “sand people,” subhuman in Siidim eyes. Particularly offensive to the Siidim were the Paktu, the kiith of farmers and hunters. Although they fulfilled a valuable function, the Siidim considered them particularly dirty, grubby and unclean. Starting in 488, the Siidim began driving the Paktu from the territories adjoining their own.

The Paktu, who had been facing persecution elsewhere, responded boldly. In the winter of 490 KDS almost fifty Paktu families set out from the northern plain of Albegiido. Using great wooden ships propelled over the sands by the winds of the seasonal storm, the Chak m’Hot, they crossed the Great Banded Desert from north to south in the space of a few months. The crossing was hard, especially when they reached the titanic Hunon Mountains and had to find a way through the peaks. Eventually they reached the far side and glimpsed the Majiirian Sea, the largest on Kharak. The Paktu established a new settlement on the shores of the sea and, thousands of kilometres from the other kiithid, prospered. In 493 an expedition returned to the Paktu lands in the north and led to a mass exodus of all the Paktu into the far south.

The Siidim’s orthodoxy and fanaticism soon found other targets. In 513 KDS they made war upon Kiith Manaan, proclaiming the Manaani to be hedonistic, corrupt and godless. They conducted a great slaughter of the Manaani at their own holy site, Ferin Sha, the Dancing Grounds. The Manaani retaliated, launching a series of devastating raids into Siidim territory that caused great loss of life. In 520 the Siidim widened their war to target their most powerful rivals, the Gaalsien, over differences in dogma, particularly the reason why the gods exiled their entire people to Kharak in the first place. This conflict widened into a war that dragged most of the Kushan people into its blood-letting, the Heresy Wars.

Religious iconography of Kiith Gaalsien, the most fanatically religious of all kiithid. The Gaalsien are devoted to the worship of Sajuuk the Great Maker, He Whose Hand Shapes What Is. In Gaalsien lore, Sajuuk exiled the Kushan people to Kharak for a great sin. If they ever try to leave, the Kushan will be slaughtered by fire.

The Heresy Wars
The wars are often described as a Siidim-Gaalsien conflict, which is inaccurate. The wars allowed many ancient, old arguments between the kiithid to flare up and be addressed. Some kiith chose a path of neutrality, such as Kiith Somtaaw which was able to fortify its mountain strongholds and defend the passes (which had the unfortunate effect of forcing them to effectively close the Shimmering Path in 675), but most engaged in the conflict on one side or another. The Siidim even launched three massive military expeditions across the Great Banded Desert, seeking to claim tribute from the Paktu, but were defeated each time. By 656 KDS the Manaani had dropped out of the war, having inflicted significant damage on the Siidim, to focus on trade. They also allied with the Paktu, who allowed them to build a new Dancing Ground in the southern polar region.

In 698, the Gaalsien launched a major assault on the Paktu but were defeated in the Battle of the Majiirian Sea. The military offensive used up a lot of Kiith Gaalsien’s spare capacity, and over the next twenty years they suffered a series of devastating reversals. In 717 the Gaalsien destroyed their own temple city of Saju-ka (killing thousands of pilgrims from other kiithid) and withdrew into the central desert wastelands. Before leaving they uttered a prophecy that the northern kiithid had offended the gods and their decadence would one day bring down the wrath of Sajuuk. The following year, the other kiithid declared the Gaalsien outlaws for their actions.

In 789 Kiith Somtaaw discovered rich iron deposits below the Red Creek Valley in the Khontala Mountains. They began their transition from a religious kiith to a mining one. They sold metals to all sides in the conflict. In 800 Kiith Hraal was founded by five families from other kiithid, united in surviving the chaos of the wars.

In 810 KDS, Kiith Naabal emerged from an isolated mountain valley where they had been dwelling for centuries. A kiith dedicated to engineering, technology and the pursuit of power through technological advancement, they had made many gains unknown to the other kiith. They had developed advanced metallurgy, refining techniques, advanced explosives and steam power. Naabal was willing to share its discoveries with the other kiithid in return for peace. A great summit was held at the hidden Naabal city of Tiir, marking the end of the Heresy Wars. It was also agreed that the kiithid would send representatives to meet in a great council, the Daiamid, to adjudicate disputes before they could descend into all-out war. By 830 KDS the Daiamid had been established in Tiir, which was now acknowledged as the de facto capital of Kharak.

The Stormbreaker Wall under attack by the forces of Kiith Gaalsien.

The Age of Reason
For the next two hundred years, the people of Kharak underwent an industrial and technological revolution. Rapid advances were made, which saw the development of first steam engines and then primitive aircraft. Jet technology followed, along with the first primitive computers. In 1024 KDS the Coalition of the Northern Kiithid – as those kiithid loyal the Daiamid had become known – launched its first manned spaceflight. The decision to go into space was controversial, and religious extremists tried to destroy the spacecraft. One religious leader even managed to penetrate to the launch platform and martyred himself by standing under the main engine when it activated.

This was a period of great innovation, which some kiithid adapted to better than others. In 1012 Kiith Hraal underwent an internal schism when an ambitious subfaction, eager to capitalise on space technology, seceded from the rest of the conservative, old-fashioned kiith. These secessionists allied with like-minded discontents from Kiith Liir to found Kiith LiirHra. Oddly, this was also the name of an ancient kiith from Hiigara; it is unclear if this was just a coincidence or if the new kiith had taken the name deliberately. There was some precedent for this, with Kiith Soban taking at least the sigil of a kiith from Hiigara that had become extinct during the Dark Ages.

Contact between the northern kiithid and the southern was limited, but in 1026 KDS the Coalition Intelligence Arm surprisingly found itself in contact with the Gaalsien over a common threat that had arisen: the Khaaneph. The Khaaneph were not a kiith, but a loose alliance of rebels, heathens and raiders who did not believe in any religion or ideology. They had utterly rejected the kiithid system itself, and now acted as anarchies and agents of chaos in the desert wastes. They fortunately never became numerous enough to become a true threat to the Coalition, but remained a major irritant for centuries to come (even moreso to the Gaalsien).

In 1057 the Northern Coalition embarked on its boldest project: Project Stormbreaker. A giant ridge of sand baffle walls was built along the entire southern face of the Barrier Mountains. A kilometre wide and thousands of kilometres long, the wall was mean to break up storms as they passed overhead and to hold back the encroaching desert stands. The wall was also fortified, becoming a key defensive bastion against Gaalsien raids out of the south. In 1074 the Gaalsien attacked the wall but were halted by an alliance between Kiith Naabal and Kiith Soban. Ten thousand Gaalsien soldiers were killed in the Night of Fiery Daggers (Siifar Kor’shesh), a major setback that it took the Gaalsien a full generation to recover from.

Four years later, a manned space mission into high orbit made a startling discovery: metallic debris. The atomic composition of the debris was like nothing seen on Kharak, and it gave clues to Kharakian industry that allowed them to make great strides in metallurgy and manufacturing, as well as the development of fission and fusion power plants. In 1068 Kiith Naabal launched Siila’s Eye, a new generation of environmental satellites.

These satellites made an environmental assessment of Kharak that was startling and sobering. In 1073 the final report confirmed that Kharak was dying. The desert was spreading ten times faster than previously thought. The Seas of the Three Sisters were drying out, and would be gone in 200 years. The natural aquifers which fed the Coalition irrigation systems were also shrinking six times faster than previously projected. The final conclusion was that in less than 350 years, Kharak would no longer be able to support life. The records were shared with the rest of the Daiamid under top secrecy, but not the general population for fear of causing panic. The Kushan had three and a half centuries to find a way off their planet, but there was nowhere to go. No other planet in the Kharak system could support them. The Kushan were, it seemed, doomed.

Thank you for reading The Wertzone. To help me provide better content, please consider contributing to my Patreon page and other funding methods, which will also get you exclusive content weeks before it goes live on my blogs.

No comments: