Author’s Note: What follows is a series of treatments, vignettes and fragments, all based on the premise that the human race not only survives the Zombie Apocalypse, but becomes the baddest buncha mo-fos in the galaxy as a result – the old “what does not kill you, etc.” bit.
While the “Earthblood” concept is intended more as sci-fi than horror, and the Cthulhu Mythos is not scheduled to make an appearance, this storyline is in many ways the “future history” of DM3.
Hey! Siddown and shuddup, you dumb spawn of a brood-spoor! You’re lucky to still have all your facial feelers, arrogant polyp that you are. Do you have any idea what that was? That, you three-eyed, ridge-fanged sack of intoxicated protoplasm, was an Ironheart! An Ironheart, you oaf! An Earthblood?
Oh, for the love of the Grand Curve! How can any sentient entity travel the worm-ways and not know the story of the Slayers of the Dead?
Well, this is going to cost you another glass of marrow-wine, my friend. Waiter!
So you’re not jesting – you really don’t know the saga of the Earthblood and their war against their own kind, who rose from the dead to eat the living? Yes, you heard me – eat! Oh, my dear sent-ent, it is truly a story to amaze and horrify!
The star known by the former inhabitants of its third planet as Sol – Ssssooooolllll… no, too moist; more sibilant… yes, exactly! – lies rather far out along the curve of this spiral arm. One decent planet in the habitable zone, one technological race on that. Hovering somewhere around the beginnings of nuclear propulsion and, of course, experimenting with various forms of global suicide.
Along come the theesh. You remember the theesh, surely? Yes, that’s them! The only species to be eradicated within living memory by a combined fleet of the Known Collectives. Do you recall as well, why that war of extermination was waged, and who the shock troops were for that fleet? No? Ah, then attend to me, my friend!
The theesh wanted the planet Terra – known to some of its folk as Earth – for their own mad, unfathomable reasons, and they cooked up a nasty little bioweapon to clear off the indigenous sentient populace. You are familiar, at least in principle, with mammalian physiology? Yes, well, the theesh bioweapon was a virus – a type of microorganism that can be quite lethal to mammals. This particular virus first killed, then reanimated its victims. Reanimated them with an insatiable hunger to feed on the living of their own species; a hunger that spread the disease through their bite, as the risen dead sought to devour the remnants of the living.
Once the living had all been consumed or converted, the dead would eventually rot away on the hoof. The theesh could then move in and take over the planet, without so much as expending a single round of ordnance or suffering a single casualty.
Even more important: if the matter ever came under the scrutiny of the Known Collectives, the theesh could claim that the plague of reanimation was inflicted upon the self-destructive Terrans by their own hand. Theesh biotechs, you see, made damn sure the genetic markers in the virus all pointed back to Earth itself. The theesh were past-masters at that kind of thing.
What the theesh could not predict however, and therefore could not factor into their schemes, was the same thing that led ultimately to the doom of their entire parasitic society: the sheer, bloodthirsty savagery of the hoo-ma’an race.
Not the risen dead, mind you – the living!
When any other sentient species in the galaxy would simply have surrendered to the unmitigated horror, and let itself be dragged down to extinction by its own dead, the hoo-ma’an race not only fought back, but turned the tide.
When the theesh arrived some seventy-five planetary years later, they expected to find – according to their timetable – a dead planet, wide-open and ripe for exploitation. Contrary to those expectations, they not only found living hoo-ma’ans still populating the globe, they also found themselves at the white-hot-poker end of a vengeance-driven pogrom. The surviving hoo-ma’ans put two and two together and came up with kill all theesh. Most of the theesh expeditionary force was slaughtered; a few were preserved to instruct the hoo-ma’ans in theesh technology and galactic geo-politics.
Within another five planetary years, a Terran force left their world in appropriated theesh ships, back-tracked the theesh fleet to its home nest, and…denuded that solar system of life. After a series of unfortunate encounters with Collective vessels – the hoo-ma’ans, of course, initially thought them theesh warships – effective communication was established, and the Collective learned the full extent of the theesh atrocities against the hoo-ma’an race.
As the historical records show, this was not the first time the theesh had been caught preying upon less highly advanced species, and the decision was made to excise the cancer that was theesh-dom once and for all.
Coincidentally, the people of Earth were looking for ways to finance the rehabilitation of their home-world at that time. I won’t say the Earthblood were paid for their part in the destruction of the theesh, but it is certain that a vast amount of theesh property passed into hoo-ma’an control as “spoils of war”.
They were a harsh and violent people before the theesh crossed their path, and they are infinitely worse now. In this spiral arm, at least, they are known as the deadliest fighters, cruelest assassins and most ruthless mercenaries of all, and you may count your blessings that female took no notice of you.
What can you say of a people who have faced down their own dead and triumphed?
They never did rehab their planet, you know. They made a paradise out of Earth’s one satellite, as well as settling throughout their solar system; but they have made no attempt to clean up their nest, so to speak. Indeed, it is a great taboo among them to even speak of such a thing.
In part, they say, this is because their world, Earth, is now a graveyard, the burial site of an entire species; it is sacred, a vast memorial, and should not be disturbed, even in its abominable hideousness and wretchedness.
But it is rumored – and I will only whisper of this, so lean close – it is also how they stay hard.
For the dead still stalk the soil of Earth. The theesh wrought too well, far better than they knew. Or perhaps the Earthblood have had a hand in it, knowing whence their strength truly arises.
A billion corpses or better, my friend, yet stagger and lurch through the dead cities of that silent, empty, backwater world.
And the Ironheart, the people of the Earthblood, still send their children there, to teach them to be hard…
“One only lives among the dead by choice.”
If there is one saying which might be thought of as the motto of the Ironheart, the Earth-descended warrior-cult that is and has been such a part of the fabric of galactic history, it might be this one.
For those who truly understand the Ironheart, and how they came to be what they are today, this saying holds such rich interpretations, all of them speaking to that most Earthblood of all virtues, self-responsibility.
One may glimpse the first layer of the mystery, if you will, by simply removing the qualification “among the dead” from the statement. We are left with the simple and inescapable truth that sentient entities only live – that is to say, experience our existence fully and immediately – if we choose to do so, that it is not something that often comes of itself, unbidden. We must first make the decision, the commitment, the choice to live fully, before anything else can be attempted.
Restoring the axiom to its original whole, we then see a little farther into the depths of the Iron Heart*. One only lives – that is to say, survives and prospers – against the unimaginable threat of the living dead by again making an unequivocal choice. A choice that borders on being a holy vow, a quest. This is the true power of the Earthblood, that they have made a religion of the choice to live or die. All other species in the galaxy today, especially those who, in their arrogance, believe they have left such things behind in their evolution, quail before the primordial power of that philosophy.
Finally, the aphorism speaks to what is perhaps a universal quality of all warrior cultures – that the true warrior considers him- or herself already deceased, resigned to die virtually at an moment, so that others may live. Or have a chance at life, at least.
Treff of the Hydran Collective
Earth’s Blood, Iron Hearts
* It is a common misapprehension that Ironheart – or Iron Heart – in fact means a heart of iron. The latter is indeed a common combination of word-concepts among the technological races of the Collectives, all of which know and have a word for iron, and all of which possess a heart or heart-analog as a part of both their physiology and their philosophy. The phrase actually originated as a mispronunciation by the Earthblood themselves of a term from one of their extinct languages, meaning “one harrier” or “solo fighter” or perhaps “lone hero.”