Sunday, 3 November 2019

A History of Homeworld Part 5: The Homeworld War

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.

Following the defeat of the Hiigarans and the driving of their people into exile in a remote corner of the galaxy, the Taiidan emerged as the strongest and most powerful of the galactic empires. The strongest race on the Galactic Council – bar only the now avowedly non-interventionist Bentusi – the Taiidan expanded their empire far and wide. They established their new seat of government on Hiigara, although Taiidan remained their most populous world.

Emperor Riesstiu was hungry for more power and influence, but also cautious. He knew that the Bentusi, should they be provoked out of their neutral stance, could destroy the Taiidan with the very same technology the Hiigarans had used to lay them low, so adopted a cautious path of expansion mixed with consolidation and aggression tempered by compromise. For three millennia, the Taiidan ruled as the pre-eminent galactic power, but its rulers always restrained their worst instincts.

During this time period the galaxy entered a period of stagnation; technological development proceeded extremely slowly and, with almost the entire galactic disc mapped and explored, there was a lack of brave new frontiers to explore. Various expeditions to the neighbouring satellite galaxy and even other galaxies altogether were proposed, using the Bentusi’s Far Jump capabilities, but nothing came of them. For three millennia, as the Exiles on Kharak collapsed to a medieval level of technology and then rose again, the galaxy spun in peace, but an uneasy peace punctuated by the slowly growing brutality of the Taiidan.
In 9035 GSY, whilst the Heresy Wars still raged on Kharak, the long peace was interrupted by the arrival of the Turanic Raiders. A race of space pirates, the Raiders waged unceasing war on the Outer Rim Trade Routes, stealing vast quantities of cargo. The Raiders soon learned not to test the might of the Bentusi, but had no fear of the ships of other races and became a serious menace. In 9410 GSY (four years after the Second Core was found in the ruins of Khar-Toba) Emperor Riesstiu IV the Second made an alliance with the Turanic Raiders, giving them free reign to attack other races as long as they steered clear of Taiidan ship sand worlds.

Emperor Riesstiu IV had already been among the bloodiest and most unhinged of the Taiidan Emperors, but his clone-successor was possibly deranged, soon becoming known as the Mad Emperor. Riesstiu IV 2nd was so bold as to be reckless, constantly baiting and testing the patience of the Galactic Council and even the Bentusi. In 9503 GSY, the Bentusi broke their long neutrality to censure the Taiidan and suspended all trade contact with the Empire. The Frerrn Aggregate, a powerful Council race along the Far Rim, found itself in almost a state of war with the Taiidan due to a series of border conflicts.

At the same time, Riesstiu IV 2nd was cracking down hard on dissidents within the Empire, including a nascent democratic movement which was demanding the replacing of the monarchy with a republic, restored to Taiidan rather than captured Hiigara. The Mad Emperor’s brutal measures brought several Taiidan worlds and naval fleet elements to the edge of outright rebellion.
If there was one weakness in the Mad Emperor’s armour it was the fate of the Exiles. His predecessors had sent ships to the edge of the Kharak system to monitor their fate, with orders to sterilise the planet completely should the Exiles show even the vaguest signs of developing hyperspace technology. Instead, many of the Taiidan ships simply vanished and failed to return. 
Taiidan forces eventually discovered the presence of a massive hyperspace interdiction field surrounding the Kharak system, presumably the result of Bentusi intervention (the possibility that the Second Core had survived the destruction of Sajuuk’s Wrath and been taken to Kharak seems to have been discounted). An experimental drive managed to briefly penetrate the field and allowed a weapons platform to be deployed in Kharak orbit, but the ship carrying out the work was then pulled down to the planet’s surface and the platform never activated (until, ironically, its discovery by the Kushan themselves).

A prophecy had been uttered at one point that the Exiles would escape from their prison and return to Hiigara, toppling the Taiidan Empire along the way. Despite their best efforts to stamp out the superstition, it continued to be repeated and Riesstiu IV 2nd became convinced that if the Exiles ever did escape their planet in his lifetime, he would need to take swift action. He had a Taiidan fleet positioned as close to the field as possible with orders to completely annihilate all life in the system should it fail. He also granted the Turanic Raiders the right to strip the system of anything of value afterwards.

In the year 9510 GSY, 1216 by the Kharakian Dating System, the inhibitor field shut down and the Taiidan guard fleet immediately responded.

The Kharakian Genocide.

The Kharakian Genocide

It was only a matter of hours after the Mothership departed to the outer edge of the Kharak system that a fleet of alien warships appeared in the skies above Kharak. The planet’s missile defence system immediately responded, destroying several of the Taiidan warships out of sheer surprise, before the Taiidan responded, obliterating first the Scaffold and then the orbital fighter squadrons and missile launch platforms. The space around the planet secured, the Taiidan then dropped several atmosphere-deprivation bombs on the planet.

These weapons of mass destruction, whose use was prohibited by the Galactic Council, detonated with tremendous force across Kharak’s northern hemisphere. The multi-gigaton blasts annihilated vast swathes of the planet, its cities and people by themselves. The blasts then ignited the atmosphere, burning the planet’s biosphere from the ground up. Nothing could survive. Approximately 300 million people were killed.

Satisfied that the job was done, the Taiidan fleet withdrew, aside from several frigates left behind to mop up any remaining orbital assets.

The Kushan Mothership had jumped to the outer edge of the Kharak system to rendezvous with the Khar-Selim, only to find the ship already a wreck. Turanic Raiders were already swarming through the outer system, seizing resources. The Mothership fought off the Raider forces that had eliminated the Khar-Selim and jumped back to Kharak, only to find their planet burning in space. They also found the Taiidan assault frigates commencing an attack on the cryo-trays which had been left behind in orbit. The Mothership’s own fighter and corvette squadrons were able to destroy the Taiidan ships and capture one intact. The cryo-trays were recovered. The Kushan race was now reduced to just 650,000 survivors.

The Mothership in the Great Nebula.

The Journey

The crew of the Mothership had to overcome immense shock and grief to ensure the survival of their race. With Kharak rendered completely uninhabitable, they now had no choice but to follow the path laid out by the Guidestone, to Hiigara. The odds seemed ridiculous, especially once the interrogation of the Taiidan crew was completed. The Taiidan Empire was vast, spanning a considerable portion of the total width of the galaxy, with a population of billions spread across dozens of planets and their capital standard planted firmly on Hiigara itself. The Taiidan navy consisted of thousands of ships, compare to the single Mothership. The chances of victory seemed slim.

However, the Kushan possessed several advantages. The first was surprise: the Taiidan did not know that the Mothership even existed, let alone had survived. The Mothership’s Hyperspace Core was also capable of jumps dozens of times greater than those of the Taiidan. The Mothership could jump past Taiidan fleet lines and make its way to Hiigara in a few months, whilst it would take the Taiidan years to recall their entire fleet to defend Hiigara. The Mothership’s ability to harvest resources and build new ships in deep space also allowed it to rapidly expand itself from a single vessel to the flagship of a substantial fleet of vessels consisting of fighters, corvettes, frigates, destroyers, heavy cruisers and carriers. The Kushan also had remarkable salvaging abilities, boarding and seizing control of enemy ships under heavy fire, allowing them to swell their fleet further. Although the Kushan were ludicrously outnumbered, they were still able to bring their entire firepower to bear in a single engagement, whilst the Taiidan were scattered in an attempt to find them.

In this manner, the Kushan undertook one of the boldest and most impressive military campaigns in galactic history. From Kharak they travelled into the Great Wastelands and destroyed the Taiidan fleet that had attacked Kharak. They then reached the outskirts of the Great Nebula. There, for the first time in three millennia, they were confronted by a Bentusi trade ship. The news of the Exiles’ return was greeted with cautious optimism by the Bentusi, but some trepidation for the behaviour of the ancestors. But the Kushan proved surprisingly merciful for a race which had lost so much, accepting the surrender of enemy forces where it took place and accepting diplomatic mediation with the Bentusi.

The Exile fleet passed through the Great Nebula, coming under attack by the Kadeshi, an off-shoot of their own race who had abandoned the flight to Kharak three millennia earlier. The Exiles defeated the Kadeshi and seized some of their ships to add to their fleet. Beyond the Great Nebula, in the Sea of Lost Souls, they neutralised an ancient alien vessel which had been seizing control of passing ships for centuries. Even the Bentusi had been unable to subdue it.

The Exiles entered Taiidan imperial space by destroying a guard post near an active supernova, then closed in on the Galactic Core. By this time news of the great “victory” at Kharak had reached Hiigara and the Emperor loudly proclaimed the achievement, but the result was not what he expected.

The final battle over Hiigara.

The Galactic Council censured the Taiidan for their use of a forbidden weapon and the Bentusi petitioned the Council to restore Hiigara to the Exiles. The Emperor, furious, launched a concerted attack on the Bentusi. The Bentusi refused to respond with their full force, but defended themselves. One trade ship was actually in danger of being overcome by a large Taiidan fleet until it was rescued by the Exiles themselves. The Emperor’s obvious insanity now split the Taiidan Empire, with a new, free republic being declared on Taiidan itself. Dozens of Taiidan worlds fell into civil war.

The final act began when the Taiidan Republican Navy made contact with the Exiles and formally allied with them. Fleet Captain Elson guided the Mothership fleet to the vast starship graveyard at Karos, from where vital intelligence was extracted showing a way into the Hiigaran system, bypassing most of the Taiidan defences. The Emperor, now aware of the growing precariousness of his situation, had called as many ships in as possible to defend Hiigara, but found this was much less than expected; the allied Kushan and Taiidan rebels were able to smash his fleet in a final pitched battle over Hiigara. They then fired on and destroyed the Emperor’s flagship.

As fire reigned down on Hiigara, the Taiidan forces on the planet surrendered and agreed to withdraw. The Taiidan Empire fell, almost half of the member worlds joining the new Taiidan Republic, the rest becoming independent worlds, or falling to various warlords styling themselves the new Emperor.

It had taken the Exiles – Kushan no more, now once again Hiigarans – six months and thousands of lives to reclaim their homeworld. Hiigara was again theirs, a planet they could barely have dreamed of in the burning sands of Kharak. A world of vast blue oceans, bright blue skies and cool breezes, teeming with animal life.

The Mothership took up station in orbit as a defensive redoubt and then a shipyard. The fleet it had accumulated became the core of an even larger navy dedicated to defending the planet and the system. The slow process of unloading the cryo-trays and thawing out the half million survivors of Kharak could now begin, but not before all of those who had fought their way to Hiigara were allowed to stand on the surface and breathe its air. The last to do so was Karan S’jet, who had guided the fleet more than 35,000 light-years through war and fire. She survived extraction from the Mothership core and became the figurehead of the new era.

The Exiles had returned to their Homeworld. But their struggle was not yet over.

The fall of the Taiidan Empire.

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