Monday, 28 October 2019

A History of Homeworld Part 4: The Guidestone

In this series celebrating the franchise's twentieth anniversary (and the recent announcement of Homeworld 3), I look at the background lore of the critically-acclaimed Homeworld series of video games.

The Guidestone, recovered from the Khar-Toba Observatory and providing a three-dimensional vector from Kharak to Hiigara.

The discovery of Khar-Toba changed Kushan overnight in fundamental ways. It proved that the Kushan people had once been far more advanced and powerful than they were now, and it provided tremendous backing to the Xenogenesis Theory.

With the defeat of the Gaalsien, who had been forced to scatter into the deep deserts, and the establishment of runways allowing relatively fast air transit to the northern cities, the scientific and engineering communities of the Coalition descended on the site. Soon it was abuzz with activity, the ancient city once against becoming inhabited after near three millennia of abandonment.

The wrecked spacecraft was not huge (although it was still many times larger than the largest object the Kushan had ever put into space), but the abandoned city of Khar-Toba was gargantuan. The site was unnaturally well-preserved. After three thousand years, the desert sands should have completely buried the site under metres of sand, but instead it remained open to the elements. Rachel S’jet, now a senior figure in the attempt to understand the site, attributed this to the same quantum force that had dragged alien spacecraft out of hyperspace and entombed them in solid rock.

Locating the source of the quantum interference was prioritised, but overlapping signals and the sheer size of the site made it impossible to find quickly. Early discoveries included ancient records and inscriptions that gave archaeolinguists a head start on decoding the languages of their ancestors, as well as rapid advances in metallurgy, engines and weapons gained from studying the Khar-Toba and the other wrecked ships discovered along the way, not to mention the now-disarmed orbital weapons platform.

Two years after the discovery of Khar-Toba, the explorers finally found the source of the quantum disturbance: a large piece of engineering technology. Oddly, it was not located in the ship’s own engineering or power system, but hidden in remote corner of what they believed was the ship’s hold. The artefact became known as a Hyperspace Core, and scientists and engineers alike were baffled by its fundamentals. But, gradually, they began to experiment with the Core and learned how to modulate its energies to open brief gateways into another dimensional realm, hyperspace, which could be used to circumvent the speed of light in normal space.

The Hyperspace Core and the ship’s great fusion power plant were both moved to Tiir, along with many of the most prominent artefacts of interest. After several years, the exploration of Khar-Toba fell to archaeologists alone, as the technological and scientific interest fell elsewhere. Exploring the ancient city proved challenging given the climactic conditions, especially since, with the removal of the Core, the site began to fall prey to the encroaching desert sands.

In 1135 KDS, twenty-five years after the city’s discovery, the archaeologist Mevath Sagald found inscriptions pointing to a location known as the “Observatory Temple.” The temple lay outside the city bounds of Khar-Toba, in an area buried under the sands, but careful excavations confirmed the presence of an underground structure. In the carefully-sealed inner chamber of the temple, she found a curious, large chunk of rock, sitting alone on a raised plinth. The rock had been smoothed over and chiselled into. Carved into its face was a map of the entire galaxy. A line extended from a position on the outer spiral arms, representing Kharak, to one near the Galactic Core. Numbers along the line provided three-dimensional vector coordinates. Next to that dot was inscribed one word in the ancient Kushan tongue: “Hiigara.”


The Scaffold in Kharak orbit.

The Project

Mevath Sagald presented the Guidestone to a stunned meeting of the Daiamid, the ruling council of the Northern Coalition (by now, the de facto government of the entire planet of Kharak). The Guidestone was subjected to scans and tests confirming it was more than three thousand years old and made of a form of rock completely unlike anything on Kharak. The Guidestone swept away the last vestiges of doubt: the Kushan people had originated on another planet, Hiigara, and had come to Kharak for reasons unknown. With Kharak three centuries away from being unable to sustain Kushan life (and that was being generous), they had both the means to escape the planet and directions to follow.

In 1155 a global plebiscite was held to decide what to do with the information. With the knowledge that Kharak was dying, the result was almost unanimous: the kiithid of Kharak would join forces as never before to build a large starship capable of making the journey to Hiigara. The ship was to ascertain the status of Hiigara and then, if circumstances permitted, begin a planetary evacuation.

For four years, the greatest engineering and scientific minds on Kharak met to plan the expedition and design the ship. Using the latest scientific advances gleaned from the wreck of the Khar-Toba, they were able to make firm plans for a huge vessel, kilometres tall and capable of holding hundreds of thousands of people in cryo-stasis. As technological understanding of the technology from the Khar-Toba site – particularly the invention of Phased Dissembler Arrays (PDAs), which made stripping resources from asteroids and reconstituting them into manufactured goods possible in just hours – grew, so the plans for the ship grew more ambitious.

In 1159 the design for the ship, to be known as the Mothership (the Daiamid failing to agree on a more artistic name), was finalised. But before construction could begin, the resources needed for the project needed to be amassed (which took twenty years by itself) and a massive construction space station, the Scaffold, needed to be assembled (which took another ten years).

In time, the cryo-stasis technology needed to take the population to Hiigara was also perfected. The plan was for the Mothership to be large enough to take half a million people in each trip, but for the ship to be large enough to hold the required living quarters and food for so many people, it would be too big to actually move. Instead, the people would go into stasis and be backed into the ship in tight racks which would allow them to be moved en masse. To test the technology, pilot Rei Magann was placed in stasis and his ship was set on a six-month circular flight path around the Kharakian system. At the end of the journey he was revived with no ill effects (other than some vivid dreams).

Support vessel Khar-Selim.

By 1204 KDS construction of the Mothership was well underway. The Gold List, a list of candidates for the first, pathfinding mission to Hiigara, had been assembled. Six hundred thousand people were on the list – none under the age of 17 and none over the age of 50 – and began entering cryo-stasis a full dozen years before the estimated date of launch. Two years later, the support vessel Khar-Selim left Kharak on a ten-year voyage to the outer system, with the plan being to rendezvous with the Mothership when it undertook its first hyperspace test flight and make sure the hyperdrive was working properly.

Of all the pieces in this immense puzzle, the Hyperspace Core caused the engineering and scientific teams the most consternation. The artefact was immeasurably ancient, apparently even at the time of the founding of Khar-Toba, but still seemed to be operating at maximum efficiency. Even after ninety years of testing, its properties and underlying principles were only vaguely understood. It was known that to function at its full potential – which would allow it to traverse the entire width of the galaxy, more than 125,000 light-years in a single jump – would require vastly more power than the Mothership was remotely capable of generating. After a great detail of work, the Kushan were able to deliver enough power for it to operate at 2% of its total potential, allowing the Mothership to jump 2,500 light-years each time, although the Mothership was required to recharge the system afterwards.

Another problem was that the Mothership was so immensely complex that even the most advanced computer systems on Kharak were unable to process the vast amounts of data pouring through the system. To avoid information paralysis, a direct neural interface was built and a human brain was connected directly to the system. Karan S’jet, a neuroscientist and one of the greatest minds of her generation, volunteered for the procedure and was directly connected to the Mothership Core, becoming Fleet Command.

As the Mothership drew near completion, so attention turned to the prospect of the voyage itself. More than 50,000 people would crew the Mothership during the voyage, from fighter pilots to potential capital ship crews to engineers to medics. The existence of numerous wrecked ships across the Great Banded Desert has been classified by direct order of the Daiamid, but it confirmed the existence of alien life. Some of these ships, such as the one at Torin Crater, were heavily armed, suggesting these aliens might be hostile. As a result, the Mothership was also designed to defend itself from possible attack.

Technical readout and specifications of the Kushan Mothership (source).

The Mothership itself was equipped with point defence weapons (mostly built around mass-driver principles), but to defend the ship it was decided a fleet of ancillary vessels was required, including fighters and frigates. Massive PDAs were built which could assemble capital ships as required, as long as they were fed with resources. The Mothership wasn’t just a colony ship, but a mobile shipyard and a flagship as well.

Some in the Daiamid voiced concerns that, without the Hyperspace Core providing its protective shield around the entire system, Kharak would now be open to potentially hostile ships arriving in orbit. As a result, an elaborate orbital missile defence system and orbiting fighter squadrons were also built.

The Guidestone provided a three-dimensional vector to a spot near the Galactic Core, but the precise location of the Homeworld was still ambiguous, not helped by over three thousand years of galactic drift and rotation. The Guidestone provided the coordinates of a relatively small area which the Mothership would need to comb in search of Hiigara. It would be helped in this by the unique composition of the Guidestone itself, which would help narrow down its system of origin.

Finally, in 1216 KDS, one hundred and six years after the discovery of Khar-Toba, the Mothership was completed. The 600,000 “sleepers” were loaded onto orbital cryo-trays, but these were not yet loaded onto the Mothership (for fear of a cataclysmic mistake which would destroy all of them). Instead, the Mothership was launched from the Scaffold, aligned on the beacon of the now-distant Khar-Selim, and made its first hyperspace test-jump.

The second the ship jumped, the hyperspace shield which had surrounded the Kharak system for three thousand years vanished, and the powerful surge of energy from the activation of the Second Core tripped a series of warning satellites surrounding the outer edge of the interdiction field, alerting the Taiidan Empire that the Kharak system was now vulnerable.

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