Homeworld: Exodus – Prologue

Back in 2000, I was one of a large number of fans who fell in love with the computer game Homeworld. What truly sold the game for me was its effective use of storytelling in crafting an epic science fiction tale the likes of which I’d not seen in a couple decades. It inspired me to write what were called the “Fleet Intelligence Personal Logs” where I reported on my own adventures in the game, from the viewpoint of the head of Fleet Intelligence, one of the two “voices” players heard while playing the game.

What you see below is a revision of those old stories, expanded to have more story while remaining true to the log-style format of the original stories. I’ll be posting the story in segments, and plan on posting these segments on a weekly basis.

Homeworld: Exodus

by Robert A. Howard

Prologue: Departure

Fleet Intelligence Personal Log

I suppose I should be writing something pithy and memorable at the start of this log. Something about this being the end of an age, and the start of a new age, or something like that. But oddly enough, all I can think about is what I’m leaving behind. Of my mother and father, who encouraged me despite the risks involved… of Kaali, the woman I love, and who is remaining behind on Kharak. Kharak herself is in my thoughts, even as my shuttle floats above the planet, looking down at the sun-burnt red world below us.

I’d often joked that one day I’d leave, and never look back. But now, floating above the place of my birth, I feel a sense of loss. It’s just homesickness. It’s silly when you really think of it. I’ve wanted this for my whole life. I grew up watching the Mothership grow, knowing, knowing that one day, I would be on that ship, seeking out our Homeworld. Besides, it’s not like I won’t be able to return.

The sky outside the viewport has darkened, though only remote spots of light greet us out here. They’re distant galaxies for the most part, and a smattering of old tired stars, much like Kharak’s star, out on the edge of the galaxy. The journey to the galactic center is expected to take months… I can see the Scaffolding and the Mothership at the edge of Kharak’s horizon.

I don’t think I’ve seen a more beautiful thing than the Mothership as we approach. It’s the work of several generations, and will take over 600,000 Kharakians on a grand journey to find our origins. Truly this moment is even greater than when Anthrocist Mevath Sagald recovered the Guidestone with the galactic map from the Ancient City of Khar-Toba, which revealed that we came from the stars… and how to return to our ancient Homeworld, Hiigara.

Some of the smaller kiithid claim that the Mothership project is a waste of time and resources. They feel we should have spent this effort to improve Kharak itself and work to stop the encroaching deserts, or even bring more water to our barren world. I disagree with those sentiments. Though I suppose that’s obvious, seeing I’m above Kharak on an approach vector to the Mothership. Don’t get me wrong. I sympathize with their position and do feel we should save Kharak. But our quest to find Hiigara… a number of sociologists state that the Mothership project, and the quest to find Hiigara has united most of our people in a common cause.

Most, but not all. One of the greatest tragedies that has befallen this new age was when one of the great Kiiths, Gaalsien, allowed their religious beliefs blind themselves to the truth. They doomed their greatest city, Saju-ka, by destroying the sand baffles that kept the Great Desert at bay. In a matter of weeks the Great Desert poured in and buried it forever. The Gaalsien claim that our arrogance, in reaching for the stars, would bring about our doom. They claim they sacrificed Saja-ka to placate the Gods. But they doomed only themselves. They are anathema now, and have vanished into the desert.

It is a lesson, but not the one the Gaalsien intended to teach. Gaalsien have been losing power and influence for decades, even before kiith Nabaal came out of their self-imposed exile and brought Kharak into the Age of Reason. They constantly looked back even when they were among the most powerful kiith of Kharak, and dreamed of that past, instead of looking forward and embracing the future. If we followed Gaalsien’s example, we’d be as doomed as they are. Fortunately, other than a handful of fanatics, the kiith are united behind the Mothership and finding Hiigara.

The shuttle is circling the Scaffolding now, and the Mothership. My grandfather told me of the first images satellites showed of Kharak; it was a crescent of light floating in the vast darkness of space. In that memory, the Mothership is likewise shaped as a partial crescent. Her colors are blue and red; blue for the color of water and of life, and red for the blood that was shed in our long quest to this point.

The viewports have dozens of last-second crew plastered to them, watching the Mothership as we approach. I’m fortunate enough to have a seat next to a viewport, even if several crewmembers are clustered around it. I’ve one person leaning over my lap even as I type, a young lady: Lieutenant Jaana Somtaaw, who’s assigned to the future Corvette wing. I actually requested for her to be transferred to the Mothership upon seeing her innovative navigation of sand shoals during the sandskimmer trials.

I’m not sure why we still have those damn sandskimmer trials. Oh, the Commodore of the Academy claims it helps build teamwork and innovative thinking, but he was furious at Lt. Somtaaw’s navigating the shoals after a competitor forced her sandskimmer to lose its lead. I was forced to take on his favorite as well, but the lad’s got top marks, and even if I find him an arrogant ass, it’s not like I’ll be directly working with him.

Light is pouring in from all the viewports. We’re on final approach to the docking bay of the Mothership. The light is intense… and beautiful. It drowns out the pale stars beond, though Kharak is still visible, red with swirls of white along the poles. Kharak may not be the birth world of our people, but it has been the forge that strengthened us and made us what we are. We should never forget this place, even long after we return to Hiigara. And to be honest, I think many will want to stay on Kharak.

We’ve docked. I’ll get back to this after I reach Fleet Intelligence.

* * * * *

I’ve a few minutes before the meeting, so I decided to update my journal. I suspect when we get underway I might not have many opportunities to do so. Fortunately, I’ve an excellent memory and will have access to the sensor data. I doubt I’ll leave out many details.

I must admit I’m a bit nervous. My position as head of Fleet Intelligence on the Mothership may be met with some dissatisfaction; I am the youngest Colonel in Fleet Intelligence and have not served in space before. Back on Kharak I heard several of my elders complaining that I lack sufficient experience for this post.

Personally, I agree. I would prefer it if an Elder was on the Mothership as well. Unfortunately none of my superiors were able to pass the rigorous physical and mental exams required for this maiden journey of the Mothership; none who volunteered, anyway. But that doesn’t stop them from complaining from the comfort of their armchairs that I should have experience in the Fleet first.

Fleet. As if it can be called that. Kharak’s fleet consists of a dozen older-generation corvettes, two heavy tugs that are left over from when we dragged resources to Kharak to assist in building the Mothership, our first true frigate-class vessel, the Sandstrike (expected to leave the LiirHra shipyards in a week; the engineers are putting the finishing touches on armor around the engines), and a couple dozen older fighter craft, precursors to the current Scout-class fighter and the Blade Mk.4 Interceptor. The Home Defense Fleet will not be accompanying the Mothership. They would be unable to in any event, as none of the vessels possess hyperdrives.

The Mothership is ready to begin final tests, so I can easily gain any needed experience while integrating with current and new members of Fleet Intelligence for the Mothership. As many in Fleet Intelligence are new to their posts, I’ll be less of an outsider now than if I arrive after the test flights are complete.

I’m more worried about Karan Sjet than my own inexperience. She invented the technology that hardwires her to the Mothership. No one truly knows what this will do to her. I’ve read several reports that state she’s showing signs of being distanced from her emotions. All of her stimuli comes from ship sensors and reports, rather than her own eyes and ears (though considering she’s floating in a vat of oxygenated fluid shielded from vibrations, there’s nothing for her to see or hear in any event).

It must be strange, seeing stars and Kharak from video cameras rather than your own eyes. Undoubtedly it loses something in translation. And her only physical contact with the outside world comes from periodic visits from medical staff to ensure her body isn’t deteriorating. I’ll have to recommend that visits should increase so to remind Karen that she is still Kharakian.

There is another reason I’m concerned about Karen Sjet. If anything were to happen to her, I’m next in line to be linked to the Mothership. While there is an emergency system in place that doesn’t require surgery, it is not nearly as efficient and primarily meant for tactical situations. Karen controls the shipyards, dry-dock, weapon systems (though that currently consists of a dozen point-defense weapons; added weapons are planned once the initial trials are complete), sensors, life support, and much more. I do not envy Karen Sjet one bit, and am going to fight to ensure she keeps her sanity, if for my own sake.

Fleet Intelligence and Fleet Command will be working together closely. We in Fleet Intelligence will provide Karen with advice she needs to make decisions; she’s a scientist, not a tactician or a xeno-sociologist. If we encounter hostile aliens, we will be responsible for tactical systems and the fleet, while Karen transmits commands. We are the ones who’ll study enemies for patterns we can exploit, and hopefully find weaknesses. And while Fleet Command controls the Exodus Fleet (consisting at this point of seven Scout-class fighters and one fusion-torch mining vessel), Karen’s lack of military knowledge is a detriment. Fortunately, she’s brilliant and learns quickly. And we may be fortunate enough not to encounter any hostiles.

I better put this away, the meeting is about to begin.

* * * * *

Sometimes I wonder how we’ve gotten to this point in time, with the Mothership built and ready for final trials before leaving for Hiigara. I swear, if it’s not kiith politics, it’s squabbling between the ground military and Fleet over who has the bigger… needless to say, the first meeting of Fleet Intelligence could have gone better. The first thing I noticed when I arrived at the conference room was that several factions had sprouted up. Fleet made up at least half of the department chiefs and junior officers, while the Diplomatic Corps, civilian contractors, and non-Fleet military made up the rest.

Needless to say, the space jockeys were looking down their noses at us “ground pounders” and were dismissive of my position as commander of Fleet Intelligence. The problem is that Fleet had its heart set on Rear Admiral Telar S’jet being assigned to command Fleet Intelligence. He failed the psychological evaluation, which opened the way for my own promotion to this position. The man’s a hidebound traditionalist who thinks fighting is the best solution to any encounter; I had the displeasure of writing a paper that successfully refuted one of his pet theories, and he’s casually despised me ever since.

The view of Telar’s lackeys was that there was no point in my taking command of Fleet Intelligence as Telar was appealing the psychological evaluation that kept him off the Mothership. Considering Telar’s political connections, he might succeed in this effort. I have to thank Colonel Tyrin Manaan, head of the Diplomatic Corps, for defusing a potentially nasty situation. He asked them if they were going to disobey a direct order from Kharak Command. After hemming and hawing for a minute, they backed down.

Fortunately, Tyrin has been on the Mothership for months now, and has kept his eye on the political situation on the ship. I suppose it was naïve of me to believe politics wouldn’t play a role on the journey to Hiigara, but hopefully it’ll take a back seat when we finally leave Kharak. The majority of Fleet Intelligence accepted me without problem; there are a significant number of new graduates from the Academies who are willing to accept me into the team. I suspect it’s also because there’s safety in numbers; by siding with me, they’re bypassing the power structure that was forming around the older Fleet officers.

Despite the initial political squabble, I had the feeling that there’s a lot of excitement among the crew and the members of Fleet Intelligence. We’re preparing to do what no Kharakian has done before, outside of our ancient ancestors who first landed here on Kharak. I wonder what brought them here. Why did they choose this planet out of all the worlds in the galaxy? And how did we lose contact with Hiigara? Are our people still in Hiigara? And how will they react when their cousins appear from the galactic edge? Hopefully we’ll learn those answers when we reach Hiigara.

The Command Information Center (CIC) was ready for the initial launch test for the Mothership. It’s larger than I expected, even after examining the control specs for the Mothership. There’s close to a hundred people working on various stations to help Karan S’jet coordinate construction facilities, ship traffic, and even combat. The plan is for the Mothership to launch from the Scaffolding before Fleet Command takes command of a squadron of Arrow-class light interceptors while simultaneously directing a fusion torch mining ship and test the shipyard construction facilities. The test is more to test Karan and see how she integrates with ships outside the Mothership, as the Arrows are a proven design.

* * * * *

I’ve been on several shuttle flights in the past. But launching from Kharak’s surface will never compare with the feeling of the main engines for the Mothership igniting. You could feel the ship vibrate through the floor. It wasn’t enough to unbalance you, but you could still sense the power within the Mothership as she came to life. Pushing gently from the Scaffolding… a child being born. It’s enough to make even a Kaalel wax poetic. We only traveled two kilometers from the Scaffolding; even with the intense mower behind the fusion engines, the immense mass of the Mothership would make it impossible to travel primarily with the main engines. That’s what the Hyperdrive engines are for.

The Hyperdrive engines began charging while the tactics trials were underway. Seven Arrows, designated Echo squadron, and the Providence-class mining vessel Dreamscape launched from the primary construction facilities. (Secondary facilities are not yet online, but will be extensive enough to build ships almost half the length of the Mothership; I am told a large panel of the ship separates from the Mothership to allow these vessels to launch as the primary docks are too small for the larger capital vessels. This is where the cryogenic trays will be loaded once the hyperspace trials are successfully concluded.)

Karan initiated construction in the Shipyards of two vessels; a Space Recovery and Rescue Corvette designed the Porter Mk. 2 Salvage Corvette, and the Science vessel Illumination. The Illumination is unarmed, lacking even anti-meteor mass drivers. The Porter Mk. 2 is also unarmed, but a squad of marines is on board and the vessel has a sophisticated computer array and powerful electromagnets, along with the most advanced fusion engines that have been designed for corvette-class vessels.

The Shipyards completed construction of the Water Thief in ten minutes. Karan is coordinating with both Fleet Intelligence and the deck crews to make further modifications to the Shipyards; she believes we can cut construction time in half. Personally, I think ten minutes is amazing. The ships in the Home Defense Fleet took weeks to build (and the Sandstrike has taken several months, though that’s to be expected for a new ship design). The Shipyards are fully automated, however, which minimizes the problems that plagued the construction of Kharak’s fleet. The Illumination was completed in 20 minutes, and an extra ten minutes were spent putting her through extra tests and letting her crew settle in.

The Illumination’s design is modular, and can be expanded upon. In time, up to six separate sections will be linked, and the science teams will be able to research multiple projects at the same time. As part of their trial, Kharak Command uploaded research that had been completed on fighter chassis design and on corvette fusion engines; this is more of a test of our science crews to double-check the existing research. I jmust admit I’m curious to see if our team might make improvements over the suggestions given by the aerospace engineers of kiith LiirHra. The science team on the Illumination is comprised of scientists and engineers from LiirHra, S’jet, and Somtaaw, so I’m not expecting too much in new innovations.

Tactical trials consisted of Echo squadron’s interceptors targeting combat drones. The drones contain sensors in various points to register the effectiveness of each strike. Previous trials didn’t use live rounds, but it was decided to perform a life-fire test in this trial to ensure the mass drivers work as expected in a simulated combat situation. The combat trials exceeded expectations; Karan monitored and advised Echo squadron without any signs of stress.

The fighters practiced various formations and tactical postures (including tight formation flights and having the squadron scatter into pairs (lead and wingman)). Of the formations used, the most effective was a three-dimensional attack run that is basically an inverted “X” that the pilots jokingly refer to as a “Claw” formation proved the most effective. Tighter formations were difficult to maintain under high-G maneuvers.

Tests of the Providence-class mining vessel Dreamscape went off without a problem. Several smaller asteroids had been towed into orbit near the Scaffolding for this purpose, and the Somtaaw crew reported no problems in using the fusion torches to break the asteroid into usable components. Transfer of resources to the Mothership was likewise successful, with neither the Dreamscape or docking facilities reporting any problems.

The next test in the tactics trial was a field test of the capture systems on the Water Thief. A specially designed target drone with encrypted computer systems and engines was launched from the Scaffolding. The viral protocols were able to break through the firewalls on the target drone without much difficulty, and returned the drone to the Mothership. Of course, we realize recovering a hostile vessel won’t be anywhere nearly that easy. It will likely take multiple Salvage corvettes to capture a larger ship, and it would probably need to have suffered significant battle damage before the engines of the Salvage corvettes could drag any such vessels to the Mothership.

I suspect the Porter Mk. 2 will serve better as a Rescue and Recovery vessel. Fighter cockpits have been designed to resist damage and keep the pilot alive if possible; if hostilities do occur, we’ll need every pilot we’ve got. And it’ll help keep morale up if our pilots know we’ll do everything we can to recover them.

Once the combat and recovery trials finished, the scientists of the Illumination reported that research double-checking the corvette drive was finished. They actually managed a 2% improvement in efficiency over the drive designed on Kharak; their result was marginally slower than the designs from LiirHra. The Illumination transmitted their findings to Kharak Command, but it’s likely this design will be the one we use with new corvettes.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for research on the fighter chassis for the Blade Mk. 4 Interceptor. The Blade is meant to be a multipurpose fighter that can fight in atmosphere and in space. Unfortunately, there’s a heat distribution problem that can result in the plasma vents damaging the hull integrity. While the twin rotary cannon housed in the nose armor plates give it increased power over the Arrow, the other problems with the Blade make it unviable. I’m going to suggest the design be scrapped. Hopefully the Arrow can handle any problems we encounter.

Karan initiated another construction order not in the tests. One of the design suggestions that the Illumination came up with is for the Mercy-class Repair corvette. The hull is actually based off of the maintenance shuttles used early in the construction of the Mothership; a small turreted cannon and a docking bay have been added, along with repair facilities. The Mercy should be able to refuel and repair fighters, and also patch any damage to larger vessels. Karan initiated build orders for a pair of Mercy corvettes which the deck crews have affectionately named the Patches and the Stitches; I suspect the deck crew might have started celebrating early.

Another design that the Illumination has suggested is the Cavalier, a light corvette that is considerably faster than corvettes currently in Fleet. It only has a third of the firepower of the old Sandskipper-class corvette (with a single turreted mass driver), and half the armor, but can easily fly circles around it. Kharak Command sounded impressed at the design; I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cavalier ends up supplanting the Sandskipper by the time we return from Hiigara.

Research, resource harvesting, and combat tactic tests are complete. All ships have been ordered back to the Mothership. The Hyperdrive engines are fully charged and we’ll be entering hyperspace once the order is given. The Mothership will travel to the outskirts of the Kharak system and rendezvous with the support vessel Khar-Selim, which has spent the last 10 years on conventional drives to reach the outer Kharak system. The Khar-Selim will monitor the quantum waveform as we return to normal space and assist in tuning our drive control systems. If we suffer a malfunction in the hyperdrive system, the Khar-Selim will provide assistance, repairs, and resupply. Our mission objectives are to dock with the Khar-Selim to complete adjustments to the hyperdrive systems and to the Mothership.

All ships, including the Illumination, have docked in the Mothership, and all systems are green. It is time to take our fest step into the galaxy.

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