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Chapter 8: Koralon

What have we to fear from animals?

Admiral Nozik, Nu-Utopia Fleet Commander

The Nemesis of Mankind

Unstoppable alien horde, intergalactic virus, foot soldiers of a devious race of bio-engineered ancients, invaders from the fifth dimension: theories abound to try to make sense of the Koralon, some maintain that the alien's grievances against mankind exceed anything they have done to humanity, a few even openly welcome the Koralon and look forward to a great age of galactic harmony in which all life can be united under the alien's biological aegis. However these theories say less about the Koralon then they do about mankind's hopes, fears, and fantasies, its tendencies toward self-doubt or self-deception, even self-loathing. It seems as if mankind is incapable of agreeing on the Koralon, let alone understanding them.

The little that man does know is based on inference and observation, for nothing like a language or records for the Koralon has ever been discovered. Clearly they evolved as marine invertebrates, their soft, slug-like bodies shaped by the aquatic environment of some distant world. That homeworld is unknown to man, though it must surely lie somewhere along the edge of the Draconis-Alba Galaxy, where the Koralon maintain an empire in conflict with mankind's outermost colonies of the Rim Sector. This placement, on the edge of the galaxy, suggests that the Koralon may in fact be younger than mankind - though physiological and xenological evidence seems to indicate just the opposite.

The Koralon of course are inextricably linked with the substance coraline, a self-replicating and highly modifiable virus-like microbe that is the cornerstone of the alien's biological and material technologies - of the very race itself. It is thought that early in the Koralon's evolutionary history they entered into a symbiotic relationship with the microbe, at first utilising the substance to stiffen and protect their bodies, growing exoskeletal structures for support and protection. These were the first tools of the Koralon and their first technology, rather than stone handaxes and the use of fire the early Koralon made the first tentative steps toward civilization in the field of biogenetics, altering and augmenting their own bodies, and eventually their species as a whole. Everything about the Koralon follows from this early breakthrough.

Coraline is of central importance to the Koralon; it forms their buildings and ships, it modifies and maintains the biospheres and climate of entire worlds, it shapes not only the bodies of the Koralon but also those of assimilated species. Coraline's unique properties allow it to be 'programmed,' designed for a specific purpose, and hundreds of strains of the substance exist all with unique characteristics - everything from a rapidly replicating 'quick-dying' strain for growing habitations to a virulent sporulate variety that specifically targets human physiology. In this way not only can the Koralon remake entire worlds to best suit their tastes, but so too can they harvest and utilize entire species, selecting them for their best or most useful features and impressing them into a kind of biological slavery.

Other startling techniques have grown from the basic biological manipulations of coraline, and the strange resonant properties of specially grown coraline colonies have allowed the Koralon to exercise a profound and as yet incomprehensible mastery of gravity and fifth-dimensional physics. The highest caste of Koralon society seems dedicated to the utilization of this powerful technology and these Phazon, as they are known, are capable of manipulating n-space without benefit of a grav-well. In fact, it seems not to matter at all at what scale this operation is performed, a single Phazon can open a wormhole on a planet's surface for the movement of troops, and whole groups of Phazon are capable of moving entire fleets by a method more startling still, the creation of a warp bubble that effectively phases ships out of existence and into n-space to reappear almost anywhere in the galaxy! While scientists worked to understand this process the potential of warp bubble travel became painfully clear in the great Koralon Incursion.

With their ability to ignore grav-wells and shunt lines, the great grid on which humanity is so dependant to travel from system to system, the Koralon were able to strike deep into the undefended heart of human space without any forewarning. They targeted some of the richest and most strategically important worlds in man's empire, Gateworlds that were centres of trade and transport, the guardians of key grav-well hubs that linked the systems of man together. Fleets of reef ships stripped these systems of their defences while masses of coraline spores were seeded into captured worlds to begin the process of assimilation that would transform habitable planets and their inhabitants into suitable tools for their alien overlords. While mankind momentarily set aside its infighting to force the Koralon out of many of these worlds the damage had been done, whole worlds destroyed or made uninhabitable, the vulnerabilities of humanity's galactic empires made obvious, and the Great Powers themselves made to re-evaluate their intergalactic commitments, and their trust in one another.

The Koralon of Iskandria

We dared not linger there for long, for the strange sight that stretched across the coast filled us with an inarticulate dread. Where once the buildings of man had soared skyward the strange encrustations of the Koralon now held sway, and it was as if we had somehow stumbled upon an alien world in he midst of the city...

R. Habel Qveton, Notes on the Iskandrian War, p. 482

Iskandria has long been a crossroads of humanity, a place where goods and ideas are exchanged and the myriad cultures of the city continent are enriched through the cross-fertilization of metropolitan life. The Tripartite Powers on Iskandria too, by their sheer proximity to one another, have been subtly affected by each other's presence; and a Viridian or Ironglass native, for example, can immediately notice the many differences in his Iskandrian counterpart. This mutual influence has extended onto the battlefield, and from the crucible of war emerges unique techniques and technologies designed to cope with the many factions taking part in the conflict - or directly inspired by them. The Koralon, too, have become part of this process, but their biological assimilation and experimentation are a horrible parody of a practice that seems merely natural to humanity, namely learning from one's enemies. That the Koralon should be so adept at this, so eager to incorporate humanity into their arsenal, bears frightening implications for the future of the planet, and of the galaxy.

The long-dreaded Koralon invasion of the mainland finally arrived as the result of a probing expedition by a Tripartite fleet from the nearby Karnisian System. Though the information gained by this armed reconnaissance proved invaluable to the full-scale attack on the Arkadia / Helios System, its short-term effects were disastrous. Dense clouds of coraline spores drifted down from the Koralon's Reef Cities in the Nephrite Ocean, blanketing much of northern and central Iskandria. Within days hybridised life forms - infected humans transformed into alien killing machines - began roaming the streets and adding to the chaos. Soon, the purestrain masters of the Koralon emerged from the deep, choosing the Ophidian Straits that divide the two continents of Iskandria Major and Minor as their main vector of attack. They met with incidental resistance that was soon swept aside, and now these central bridge sectors, vital to any concerted human strategy of defence, lay in the hands of the alien invaders.

But what is extraordinary about this invasion is the difference between it and other reported events on the Rim and elsewhere. The Koralon greatly prefer aquatic environments to the land and, though they have made many adaptations to accommodate land warfare in the past, they have always concentrated their constructive assimilation efforts on small bodies of water or, on warm worlds like Kyklops, the ocean itself. The typical process has them destroy worldwide defences from space, deploy strike forces to reduce strong-points near areas they do not wish damaged, and then move into lakes or oceans to construct their cities and leave the land, and its populace, to the unsupervised ravages of coraline infection. Iskandria roughly followed this pattern save that the Koralon moved immediately into possession of the ocean, installing Mother Reefs to accelerate the process or assimilation, and practically ignoring the inhabitants of the mainland. It has been assumed that a combination of haste and indifference produced this strategy, and that the Koralon believed they had nothing to fear from human reprisal, and nothing to gain from assimilating a completely urbanized land surface which offered little in the way of biological resources. In light of present events, this theory must be questioned.

For it may be that this 'saving' for later assimilation is part of a new strategy by the aliens, an experiment in terrestrial living. In all of the newly conquered areas on both continents processes have been observed that suggest a deliberate attempt to utilize the urban bones of the city to create a habitat suitable for Koralon. Throughout these zones rapid growth has taken place, the strains of coraline engineered for underwater construction have been subtly modified for a new environment, and a never-before-seen 'hybridised' style of construction is evident in the encrusted towers and craggy domes that spread outward from the Iskandrian central districts. This is no casual growth, but deliberate engineering; entire structures have been shorn of their façades, their skeletal framework warped into new shapes by gravitic pressures and the whole overgrown with coraline. Much of this new coraline technology seems based on algal strains, both imported and native, and great sheets of hybridised coraline- algae blanket the areas of invasion and have begun to creep outward. It is thought these algal mats may serve an insulating and humidifying function for the aliens and, if so, it could be further proof that the Koralon are attempting to adapt to a new environment. If this is the case, Iskandria is surely an ideal location for such an experiment, with small land surfaces on an otherwise Koralon-ideal world of warm ocean.

But the real question is, does this experiment represent a unique, possibly spontaneous attempt by the Koralon to tackle mankind in their own environment, or is it part of a larger plan - a plan informing every move of the Koralon Incursion, a plan that, perhaps, has not yet revealed all of its surprises to a humanity that continues to move one step behind the alien invaders?

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