Whispers of the Starkin: Ruinous Words and Peculiar Customs

(The following material is intended only for SolFed military personnel with Class 9-10 Clearance, or those presently working on Project Precursor. If for whatever reason you have viewed this material, whether accidentally or otherwise, without said clearance, submit yourself immediately to your nearest Data Oversight Center for immediate memory scrubbing. Failure to do so will be counted as high treason, punished by on-site summary execution, when discovered.)

Admiral Williks,

I will begin with the bad news. For the time being, I’ve ordered all future translations to be carried out initially by the Fetaarans you volunteered us. At this point, I’d prefer they give us false translations rather than our own teams experience any more precursor influence. We initially hoped that Specialist Faring–aided by heavy doses of neuro-suppressants–could use the Fetaarans as neural proxies; she herself had a great deal of faith in the idea.

Without further preamble: Specialist Faring is KIA. And I do mean KIA; these precursor writings war with us every step of the way, and I refuse to write “deceased” when she died harshly as any in conventional warfare. I know you don’t like hearing this. You want science from us, sterile rationality. Damn it, Rhetta, don’t like typing this! Specialist Illowen is PWIA, and her prospects for recovery seem slim. This same incident has cost us a grant total of nine Project Specialists KIA (full report to follow this evening), 11 WIA, 30 PWIA, and 106 Fetaarans lost one way or the other.

In brief, we were translating a precursor archive concerning something called The Elder War, which I should hope is quite self-explanatory. This archive appears markedly more recent than the others, but all attempts to date it have failed. This indicates the precursors are even older than we thought; at the very least, this argues strongly for their total destruction. If there were any remaining, they’d have rebuilt enough to seek us out by now. It lists no less than forty-two species as participants in this Elder War, including the precursors themselves.

We still cannot find a record of the precursors’ name, and a number of other relevant passages seem to have been removed. I am increasingly convinced this has less to do with stopping us from harnessing the precursors’ powers, and more with preventing those powers from annihilating us or any other species foolhardy enough to seek them. Even in death, Their strength–well, I assume you’ve been reading the casualty reports.

I did not intend to capitalize “their” in the preceding paragraph. I have let this correction stand, though I will attempt to continue mistyping otherwise. This entire project is a mistake, Admiral. Even should we uncover something useful, I cannot believe we’ll be able to control it.

Faring, through her proxy, and drawing on Specialist Akebe’s linguistic ability, was able to translate much of the first few paragraphs. She came to two words which I cannot type to you, because I have no idea of their sound. We were forced to adjust the archive interface to show only one word at at time, have separate translators pore through each after the fact, write the meanings down, and enter the English-language versions into the database using numeric linking. I have put both on two weeks’ leave, and ordered them to undergo memory scrubbing for their survival.

The phrase, in English, is Black Dawn. We do not know what it actually means, nor do I have any intentions of seeking further translation.

I was not present at the time, and fortunately we’ve taken the precaution of stripping all audio from the translation room feeds. If we had not, you would be reading a search-team report wondering what destroyed us–if, that is, someone in their madness didn’t broadcast the obliterating phrase throughout SolFed. In view of this last possibility, I have taken measures to bar all off-planet audio-visual communication without pass-codes and subtler authorizations that–we hope–can only be provided while sane.

All this is necessary because, when Faring translated both parts of the phrase at once, she began howling them at the top of her lungs and would not stop. Her Fetaaran puppet did the same.

Faring tore her own eyes out, bit through her tongue, and suffered multiple cerebral hemorrhages in the space of three seconds. Autopsy of herself and the others who succeeded in suicide indicates they experienced surges in fear-related chemicals thousands of times what should be physically possible. Every individual, human, person of magical origin, or alien in the entire translation section went mad at the same time. Those with combat experience sought others to kill, with attendant impossible aggressive stimuli; those without it attempted to kill themselves. Specialist Illowen attempted to surgically remove her own uterus with a chisel in what, as far as we can tell, was some form of ritualistic penitence. Fortunately the response team was able to save her, physically. She’s been babbling in Anglo-Elvish since. I have explicitly forbidden any of her people from translating, for obvious reasons.

She regained enough lucidity to tell me, with impossible urgency, that she is, and I quote, “Their disdain-wreaking’s afterbirth, filth-daughter to servants who pretended mastery.”

I have passed this phrase on to others; I am not certain I should’ve done so. From this point forward, all translations will be carried out in three stages; first by Fetaarans, then by piece-meal assembly, and finally by combination in perfectly-isolated circumstances using expendable personnel. If you feel this will cause unacceptable delays, I must remind you that we can’t research anything if we’re dead, Rhetta.

As far as the good news, we managed to glean a few interesting facts about the precursors’ culture from the archives, both this entry and another which produced some of the same peculiar symptoms associated with the word
(studies are still in-progress, despite the incident) and in passing learned something of their military organization.

There are strong indicators that a large, influential portion of precursor society consisted of this warrior caste. In fact
assumed to mean “caste,” has rendered coherent a number of previously-obtuse passages. This also suggests that the parables addressed in one of my previous reports were much more important than initially assumed. We’re reexamining them in hopes we might uncover more now that we understand this.

This has also recontextualized the word I’ve been unable to send you. We’re exploring this data failure, but I fear there’s no real likelihood of overcoming it. I don’t believe it’s truly a matter of code or computers. I’m beginning to suspect it’s a name. We’ve discovered a single additional instance since. Both times, it’s been associated with the word

I suspect the second portion of the second parable we uncovered depicts a member of this group, and it seems the Duelist may actually be representative of a large sub-faction within the warrior caste. In a way, perhaps McMartin was right; not about there being a cipher, but in the sense that the stories are meant to say more than we assumed.

Not that he’ll benefit from knowing this; he’s among the PWIA, and has been rhythmically repeating a motion something like a sabreur’s Cut #1 anytime he’s unbound.

Otherwise, we’ve translated passages from another war-related archive–mercifully, this does not feature the slaughter-inducing phrase of the other–pertaining to something called
according to the precursors’ word-order methods, more accurately written “The Void’s Tide War.” I should mention this is only the third instance of “Void” found in precursor writings. They seem far more reticent with the word than human authors, and I hypothesize it’s either a forbidden or sacred concept, if not both. As with many precursor phrases, this one behaves unexpectedly; I do not feel anything whatsoever when I say it, type it, or think it. I have no idea why this is.

I am doing my best only to think of “Void” as a precursor word in this context. This project’s other psychological effects are difficult enough without suicidal ideation.

Regardless, we’ve uncovered enough to say with certainty that this was a civil war between two or more factions with the precursors. Considering the context and the extravagant name, it seems likely this was the event which doomed their species. There’s a corrupted data segment which I am completely certain contains the name which is impossible to send. If so, this faction are considered responsible for overthrowing the precursors’ empire (Specialist Clearview insists we should translate the word as “Imperium,” but that’s ridiculous).

Otherwise, a passage states that near the high-point of the war, this faction introduced a bizarre warship-naming convention. The passages states that “their” warships were no more than a number and the name of their captains until they proved themselves in battle. The greater their deeds, the grander the names they were allowed in christening, but a ship could only be named once. Many crews opted not to name their ships at all until they earned a particular favorite.

This suggests many things about the role of warrior ideology not just in the caste itself, but throughout the precursors’ military, or at least the military of this faction. There are both pragmatic and romantic reasons for the naming convention; the romantic ones are quite obvious, but we must also assume that the precursor fleets were many and exceptionally large in their hey-day. This system would remove a logistical concern–presumably, that there aren’t nearly enough names to go around–and add a vital psychological warfare element to those ships which did have names. Considering the physical effects of precursor words otherwise, I can’t bring myself to ignore the possibility that the better of these names might have conferred direct combat advantages which only strengthened over time.

Below the statement, there follow several dozen lines of script, each a short phrase followed by a few sentences. These must be names and brief histories of famous warships. Obviously, I’ve permanently blacklisted them from translation, and locked this particular archive behind my directors’ privileges for extra safety. At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if translating the names summoned a ghost ship to blast us into oblivion.

I close with one more observation: in its current state, this project is not sustainable. The Federation does not have enough qualified personnel in enough fields for us to toss so many of our best and brightest into this meat-grinder while still maintaining secrecy. I know you’ve culled my Specialists from as far apart as possible, but sooner or later one family will find another, and they’ll talk. What then? Do we disappear that family? Disappear the people who knew they disappeared them?

Where does this end, Rhetta? How much death for the dream of power?
With Loyalty,

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