Lore of Yore
Histories of the known universe... and beyond
The stellar maelstrom circling the Garden of Ostermereen, tumbling with the pulped wrecks of a hundred spacecraft, was not enough to deter Doctor Hassock Chase from reaching the planet's surface.
The Impassable Obelisk of the Twelve Sun Pillars, whose pulsating, tar-black surface caused queasy stomachs in seven of her fellow Tempium Expeditioners, didn't phase her either.
Nor did the thousand-foot drop through the chalk denehole into the heart of the Hypaethral present the archaeologist with a problem: She brought a rope.
Inside the hypogeum, Chase discovered the lost treasure vault of the last Dynast to escape the Hinterland Purges, which she hoped to return to the Royal Infomarium to help fill in the blank pages of the Hinterkings' long reign. However, one further curio caught her attention in the bowels of the temple; separate from the Hinterking's treasure was a nook containing a single, clay statue of a beckoning cat. In her academic journal, Doctor Chase writes thusly:
"In my career I've fought off gibbering skeletons in the Seven Temples of Tibb; unearthed the Cask of Dragons with my bare hands; even tackled the infernal puzzle box of King Jiid—but in all my travels nothing has affected me as much as that blasted clay cat. It had a power I couldn't understand, and don't to this day. I only knew that it was beckoning me, and I wanted naught but to follow it to the ends of the universe."
The doctor did indeed pursue this enigmatic compulsion across eight quadrenes over the next several years—along the way solving the riddle of Banjo Grumpus, and excavating the Starfall meteorite—but continued to express an irresistible pull towards a place that did not appear on any map known to the Cartographer's Range.
Ultimately, what was left of her Tempium Expedition washed up on the Shoal of Dancing Fire on Liasu, and Hassock set off alone across the salt pan, still carrying the clay cat in her satchel. A day after her water flask ran dry, Chase happened upon a small oasis fronted by a wooden shack, and crawled towards it in the fervent hope it was not a heat-induced mirage.
In fact, the crystal pool and shack were both real, and once Hassock had taken draught of the salty water, she approached the diminutive gentleman occupying the shack. She discovered that his stall was stocked full of clay cats identical to her archaeological find, some of which waved at her in mechanical greeting.
Questioning the man as to the provenance of her artefact, Chase learned that the trader's maneki-neko were self-propelled units seeded on worlds along a specially-designed pheromone trail through a large portion of the Fifteen Galaxies, and would lure potential customers to his shack by an irresistible physiological stimulus. Having spent a sizeable amount of her academic resources following what turned out to be a intergalactic sandwich board, Doctor Chase was understandably ticked off at the small gentleman, and current reports suggest his shack now occupies the bottom-most sedimentary layer of the oasis.
The frigate appears in a flash, its turbines spinning out as it drops from light-speed into the silent desolation of the Barkeem Ascension. Lights flicker across its mullanium hull, and go dark.
Inside: chaos. Crewers run to and fro laden with gizmos to kick-start the leaking turbines, spilling precious vrillium into the grating of the deck that had, moments ago, been juddering happily in flight.
On the flight deck, a desperate plan is concocted. Captain Lubrious doesn't believe it will work, but he has little other choice. As preparations are made in the hold, a call is put out, ship-wide, for two officers to volunteer.
Lieutenant Pilt Gogran and Private Nomp Brilkwater step up. And step outside.
Clad in space suits, the pair clamber across the frigate's hull, making aft-wards as they lug the Keelkicker between them. The device, manufactured by a Mandurai subsidiary and used as a deep-space pummeller to hammer giga-rivets into the hulls of their stellar accretion refineries, might be just the thing to save the ship.
Gogran and Brilkwater manhandle the Keelkicker into place between the frigate's failed turbine cowlings, and together they secure it with bricks of magna-silt. Brilkwater slips, almost pitching from his perch into the wide black beyond, but his mate grabs his arm, holds him tight. Both officers' sons, born in the cosmos, they know how important it is to stay together out here.
Together, they begin the activation sequence. They cling on with white knuckles as the pummeller winds up. Then, with a thunderous clap that shakes the entire frigate, the Keelkicker shunts the becalmed vessel beyond its top speed. The officers are almost thrown into the deep void, but clutch their restraints in sheer terror, their bodies going horizontal as the starlight falls away around them.
The ship emerges, steaming, half a quadrene away, where Gogran and Brilkwater are extricated from their death grips on the hull. The pair are given a week's shore leave on the Julip moon, as well as the thanks and commendations of everyone aboard. The two heroes will surely dine out on their astonishing story across the Royal Navy for many years to come.
An excerpt from The Cracking Christmas Crisis, one of the many Penny Amazings released seemingly on a weekly basis by the Plinkington Publishing Group of Cheapside, London, accredited to Captain Dashworth but likely ghost-written by his loyal scribe Quilton. What follows is an example of the manner of festivities carried out by some in the British Empire, although it is clear that Mssrs Dashworth and Quilton have taken some liberties with the details.
Needless to say the crafty Captain Dashworth escaped from the quasar's crushing energies with barely a speck of accretion on his doublet, and began preparing for a fine jaunt to the glamorous Glim Blazar. The snow-capped world was hosting many seasonal festivities, and the space-adventurer was always one for observing a noble British tradition.
However, who should come scurrying along the accessway but Dashworth's faithful manservant Benson, fresh from a bout of goodening to secure provisions in the Sentum Cynosure. The stalwart ensign had come away with barely a mince pie and a pair of brightly-coloured odd socks, but this haul pleased the little fellow no end. He also appeared to be dragging something large, green, and leafy along the grating of the deck.
"I hope you're going to get the dedustifier on those pine needles," Dashworth pointed out, observing the green trail Benson was leaving behind him as if a giganticated gombaslug had slithered its way aboard.
"Quick as a flash, Captain," Benson chirped, "but I thought I might put up my tree first, sir." The hopeful note appended to his voice was so tremulous it would have snapped the strings off a cello. "I've got a bag full of baubles."
"Benson, I've warned you about reading newspapers," Dashworth reminded the young lad, who had indeed spotted an advertisement for a festive tree, given the royal seal of approval thanks to the Queen's consort, who had apparently migrated the tradition over from the Nebula of Saxony. While Dashworth was, naturally, a staunch royalist, he didn't altogether trust folklore from foreign territories—on one occasion he spent an afternoon explaining to the druids of the Quilted Raven why they shouldn't hang witch's heads and other shamanic totems over their fireplaces. In both cases, Dashworth would soon be proved rightly justified.
As it transpired, the tree was actually a mutant Yiggdrashl of a Thousand Needles, or Spruce That Sheds in the Night, and it took all afternoon to prise its goopy tendrils from the ship's instruments. In the end, however, the valiant Dashworth reigned supreme after poking it in half of its forty eyes with Benson's carpet sweeper, which the dutiful ensign summarily used to clean up his mess.
The novella goes on to chronicle an incident with a mechanical spider at the royal parade on Glimbork Three, which certain Archivists at the Royal Infomarium suspect is a modified retelling of a sighting of the terrorist known as the Mage of Spiders by Princess Victoria some time before, with the transclusion of Dashworth in the princess's place. The entire account has been sprinkled with festive references, in a transparently cunning method for Dashworth and his writer to capitalise on the holiday season. It is this author's opinion that the simple light dusting of a story with a thin veneer of seasonal spirit is an entirely hollow and materialistic act benefiting the market over the consumer.
That said, season's greetings to everyone at the Infomarium, and to all of you at home as well.
While the light of Britain's space empire touched many worlds across the region of the Fifteen Galaxies, there were some planets which no amount of light reached at all. Gnossin, the World Without Fire, was one of these.
It was said that the planet Gnossin was once in orbit around two suns, both of which strayed too close to a Vendra Storm, one of the legendary (indeed, mythical) primeval powers of the cosmos. While one star was subsumed in the storm's incredible energies, its sister was flung into the far reaches of space, its planets spiralling along for the hypervelocity ride. However, Gnossin ultimately broke free of its wandering star's wake, and now drifts aimlessly through the dark.
The inhabitants of Gnossin clung on as well, having observed the oncoming storm and making preparations by digging city-wells deep into the planet's surface. Here, lit by the natural luminescence of Gnossin's inner mantle, the spade-handed Gnossini struggled through a thousand years of hard graft and bare protein from the carbon lichen scraped from the silicate rock walls.
Finally, the wayward planet was discovered by a British survey team led by Andonio Trum aboard the Space Mayflower, who marked their discovery as dangerous and noted it down as the "World Without Fire" or the "Sunless World". Refusing to investigate further after reportedly spotting one of the now-bioluminescent Gnossini peering from their wells, the surveyors fled back to their ship, but without time for their eyes to adjust, the entire team was believed to have stumbled down a well. Their vessel and data were recovered by a second team, helmed by Sir Farthing Tapper, who stayed long enough to briefly converse with several Gnossini, and returned their findings to the Royal Infomarium in London.
The (second) discovery of Gnossin happened to coincide with Britain's conquest of Vorgak 3, and with the empire's attention so diverted, the Gnossini were left to their own devices once again. As a curious footnote, a Penny Amazing written by Quilton on behalf of Captain Dashworth, titled Darkest Day of the Darklings of Darkness!, claimed that Dashworth battled a horde of Gnossini "darklings" on their rogue homeworld, and brought Gnossin back into alignment with a nearby star through a combination of a Tumblecore planetary magnet and his own sheer charm.
The Infomarium has declined to comment on the veracity of the claim.
The Mandurai Robotonists have got it cushy. Creating bio-synthetic forests and the huge artificial brain in orbit around the Gant Nebula has given the robotonists a certain sense of superiority. The Cosmic Brain was only programmed to catalogue solar flares: now it's thinking about starting a family.
A robotonist's product line ranges from the sublime to the downright bizarre. They live by the creed that imagination leads, which they use as a blanket excuse to muck about with genomes. The Cloister of Ligotechs files ethics complaints daily.
The facilities are secure—particularly the nuclear cage held at the heart of the Mandurai system's sun, from which advanced cybonics are streamed out through hyperspace. Nothing untoward can get out of a Mandurai factory, and if something were to get in—well, they make robots of war.
One of which is missing. An RK Pummeller is not where it should be in the storage facility on V'kanderplon IX. It is currently aboard a Vor-Rama host-carrier bound for the outward quadrenes where the Mecha-Priests have no jurisdiction.
Destination: Vorgak 3.
Of all the dangers faced by cosmonauts of the void, none are so pernicious and pervasive as the accumulation of space matter on spaceward surfaces during interstellar flight. In other words, pilots have a hell of a job keeping their windscreens clean.
While travelling through the luminiferous ether, a standard rocket ship can pick up millions of space microbes, photons, and particles, clinging to the electrostatic hull or tangled in the kinetic field generated by turbines achieving light-speed. While engineers have been able to prevent these particles from shooting forwards at the cessation of light-travel, and thereby saving any unwary planetary body in their path from being peppered by the tiny, hurtling projectiles, their solution means that rocket ships are left grimed with the greasy after-effects of space travel.
One of the most stubborn of these interstellar stains is solomite, a hardy mineral which clings to a spacecraft's hull in lumpy deposits, amassing in greater numbers the further a cosmonaut might fly. Solomite deposits have clogged turbine intakes, caked the muzzles of blazer cannons, and plastered themselves across portholes and windscreens the Fifteen Galaxies over. And no self-respecting space captain would be caught shimmying up a ladder to scrape solomite off their prized vessels with a squeegee.
Instead, a solution was discovered by the unassuming trawler captain Norah Venfield. Having completed a cargo run to Sessoon, Venfield stopped overnight at the nearby Nidifice Rest Stop, but in the morning awoke to a surprise. Her tramper, moored in its bay below an ark belonging to F.C. Wombell of the Great Galactic Travelling Menagerie, had acquired a coating of fat, furry slugs which had dropped through the ark's slats in the night.
These were truckles; silicon-based molluscs native to the moonlets and moss spirals of the Circle of Orion which grew fat and happy on space dust, carbon crystals, and solomite. These persistent critters eat as much as they sleep, and cling fast using mucus-covered suckers to stuff their furry bodies to bursting. While this proved helpful in wiping a ship's hull clean of pesky solomite, the problem then became the removal of the truckles once feeding was complete. Attempts at stroking, tickling, and singing the critters into a malleable state proved counter-productive, as truckles latch even more securely to their perches in sleep. One of the only reliable methods of truckle removal was to electrify the hull, which knocked the fluffy lozenges off, but with the unfortunate side-effect of outright killing the critters. Because of this, the profession of truckle sweeper saw a boom in several docks and ports across the British Empire, and many ex-truckles became tiny oddities in the gutters of a hundred worlds.
The phenomenon of a "spite house" became an unusual note in the history books of the Humans of Earth, being as it was a building constructed with the express purpose of annoying a neighbour, often to ensure the last word in a squabble. For Bernard Rasp, a descendant of the British colonists of Lars Luma, these quarrelling home-owners were all thinking too small.
Rasp, the son of forward-thinking activists Kevan Meric and Gesillé Rasp, became determined to rebel against his progressive and easy-going parents by growing up as straight-laced and irritable as possible. However, no one drew Rasp's ire more than a Mr. Desmond Groan, inhabitant of the neighbouring Lars Orbit world of Lars Proxima, who made a fateful visit to the sunward planet for a New Year's celebration.
There, Mr. Groan attended a street party hosted in Rasp's home town of Bobbins, and while fervently dancing to a selection of popular hits by Vamp and the Losers, accidentally spilled Rasp's ale. The affront so offended Rasp that he pursued a vendetta of strongly-worded letters against Groan for the next three years, and took to gazing up at the planetary body in the sky and muttering obscenities under his breath. Ultimately Mr. Groan, tired of having to pay for successively larger mailboxes, wrote a letter of apology to Rasp, hoping to end the matter.
This was not enough for Rasp, however. The sight of Lars Proxima from his front lawn now enraged him, and he spent the following year devising methods of removing it from his sight. After constructing hundred-foot fences and solid-steel dishes to block the planet from view, but which failed to account for the planetary orbits, Rasp searched further afield for a solution. It was not for another two years that he would stumble upon his final and somewhat extreme manner of revenge.
Happening upon a being named i'Fici'fit, rumoured to be an embodied descendant of the lost Pencans and working as a cosmic ecopoiesegist on Terra Arthus, Rasp paid a small fortune to have her construct a small nebula between Proxima and Luma. The cosmological engineer was as good as her word, and the resulting stellar growth did indeed obscure Rasp's view of Lars Proxima for the first period of its gestation. However, i'Fici'fit failed to impart the specifics of the nebula's size, and it soon developed its own gravity. This played havoc with the orbits of both Lars worlds, and pulled the pair into an irreversible collision course. While both worlds were successfully evacuated, Bernard Rasp refused to leave his home, and was last seen sitting in a deckchair on his lawn with a somewhat triumphant expression on his face as his world careened into Lars Proxima, obliterating both bodies.
Mr. Groan and his family relocated to the nearby colony on Vorgak 3, and said little about the Rasp affair, presumably from sheer awkward embarrassment. The nebula, having obtained a much larger mass thanks to the remnants of the planetary collision, was nicknamed Bernard's Spite, and its distinctive golden hue can be seen from Earth on a clear day.
The British Empire is expanding through the cosmos. Albion's reach extends far from Earth, encompassing worlds happy to become devoted subjects of the Crown and leave their silly civilisations in the dirt.
The third planet of the Vorgak Hegemony. The soil is fertile and the seeding fields provide rich nutrients in abundance for the local sporganisms. The Empire has need of riches and abundance.
Fifty-four Bristol Bombardiers rain from the Vorgak skies. Fire flows wild over the fields. Coral pods pop and burst. Flesh and spores burn above as, below, the primordial ooze remains untouched and vital.
The Unification Fleet descends, bringing Colonarks to begin the harvest. Terrafarmers set up camps and colonies near the morass of swampland, and Vorgak 3 falls under the green thumb of Britain.
As for the natives? Gone; pitched out into the dark depths of space. It is definitive: The Vorgak are no longer in the British way.
Once there were heroes, whose amazing exploits and deeds of derring-do continue to inspire generations from the Albion Reach to the furthest boundaries of known space. Throughout the cosmos these stories are devoured by children and adults alike, and give rise to new adventurers and explorers for successive generations, inspired by the tales of old.
Young spats of the Brackish Nebula absorb myth-cycles in the patterned rings of mangrove trees in the Grove of Words; the Pycin Tetra of Gos sing tales into crystal flutes which will continue to resonate for millennia after their heroes pass beyond the veil; the Humans of Earth even cut down the elder sentients of their planet, strip their skin and write legends onto the pulped remains. This barbaric practice, while frowned upon in many other civilisations, shows the lengths to which some races go to preserve their stories.
While Humans have only recently begun expanding their world-building empires into the greater cosmic realm, adventures of a thousand species have blazed their trails across space since the universe was young. The elder races were said to have written their stories in the stars; indeed, cosmologists at the Laplace Institute recently confirmed the use of ancient stellar manipulation technologies brought about the creation of the Constellation of Ploot. Further, Professor Susink's team have deciphered meaningful patterns in the placement of stars on the outer edge of the Vemodalen Obscurity: Rather anti-climatically the message turned out to read, "Bread, Eggs, and Milk", but has at least been heralded as the largest known example of a shopping list ever recorded.
The endeavours of some heroes are immortalised in the large, friendly pages of children's storybooks and activity annuals, such as Cosmic Counting with Captain Kittykat, The Tale of the Merry Quasar, and The Bumper Book of Space. Many children, kits, spats, and sporelings grow up on these sanitised tales, in which the terrible deeds of Purple Bertha and her cybernetic vagabonds have become a series of enjoyable romps to discover lost handkerchiefs and pairs of woolly mittens. Bertha herself was responsible for the toppling of the Hinterland Dynasty and the execution of the Hinterkings, none of which appears in The Purple Pirate Goes Fishing, or Bertha Gets a Birthday.
Other stories remain true to their unwholesome origins. The burning crusades of the Witch of Rats were serialised in the pages of The Strand, while vicious pirates such as the Laughing Buccaneer are revered as folk heroes throughout the Fifteen Galaxies. Even warmongers such as General Broadchest, famed for his actions at the Siege of Corvanus, are still considered home-grown heroes by the simple peons of Britain. In his younger days, the strapping Admiral Ironjaw was said to have fought cybernetic polar bears across the frozen planetesimals of the Himalayan Nebula, and remains a legendary figure generating fear and awe in the halls of the Admiralty Building.
However, although both remain active in the British Empire, both General Broadchest and Admiral Ironjaw are no longer seen as the stalwart bastions of the golden age of heroes; rather, their glory days are behind them, and few figures have managed to fill their impressive boots in the hearts and minds of the British people. Public opinion can be fickle; despite the many improbable exploits attributed to him, the so-called Pirate King of Japan, considered just as immortal as he is insane, never attained the heroic acclaim of other warlords and cutthroats, and has instead been relegated to the role of a shadowy villain in folklore spread through the Japanese Diaspora.
For some, such as the tenacious Captain Dashworth, the passing of the true heroes represents a challenge to be met, and thanks to his exploits at Vorgak 3 (as chronicled in his newly-bestselling series of Penny Amazings) he seems determined to join the ranks of the greats of bygone times.
The ability to shape an inhospitable world to suit the needs of its settlers is known to many species of the universe. While the Humans of Earth began greening conquered planets, many of the elder races had already been terraforming for aeons. The Pencans, an ancient species of cognitypes existing as beings of pure thought on the fringe of the Gonjo Nebula, could transform the atomic structure of entire solar systems on a whim, which made living in the nebula certainly interesting and definitely surprising.
For others, the art of terraforming is a precise science. Crobosi minunauts seeded worlds with tiny crystal eggs, from which the miniaturised terraformers would spring to begin modifying the molecular make-up of the soil. The Kin of Tweltiin utilised nuclear fusion devices to ignite new suns in proximity to target worlds, dramatically heating the atmospheres of frozen planets to an arable standard.
The British, while just as exacting in their attempts, sallied forth with more mundane methods of interplanetary climate change. While their highly-trained cosmonauts explored brave new worlds, the rural folk of Earth were cherry-picked to drive the alien soil towards the British ideal. These so-called terrafarmers were shipped out to numerous British colonies, from the Treven Mons project on Mars to worlds as far-flung as Lars Luma, Mov, and Vorgak 3. By the time of the conquest of Vorgak 3, these farmers of the sky had refined their craft after learning from the disastrous Seeding of Canstrar, which resulted in a hideous red weed mutating across the entire planet's surface, strangling all other life in a matter of months.
The terrafarms on Vorgak 3 were initially maintained by Sir Simon Leigh of the Colonark Tythe, who, as a keen sailor, had little experience with growing crops, and his first batch of tubers failed to sprout after being planted spectacularly out of season. Fortunately for the colonists, future harvests have proven more bountiful, and the eradication of the indigenous Vorgak in the Bristol Bombardiers' cleansing fires has meant that Vorgak 3 now flourishes as an arable colony ripe for British plantations.
Histories of the known universe... and beyond