“Lopers. That’s what they call ’em. Before our unit arrived on-world, it was all jokes, you know? Nobody thought something that looked like an overgrown rabbit would cause any trouble. But we weren’t ready for them. Not at all. The first week, we had thirty casualties. Most of those were patrols that got separated down in the lowlands. We’d find bodies missing heads… burn pits full of bones… empty sets of armor filled with nothing but meat and blood. The first time I saw one up close, I was too scared to shoot. They were taller than any of us, and their claws… those claws. They went through helmet visors like a laser-scalpel through butter. Take it from me: the lopers are nothing to scoff at. They’re too stupid to frighten, too tough to injure, and too stubborn to die. If they try to send you to Lattram, desert as fast as you can. You’ll thank me later.”
– Anonymous Hegemony soldier, leaked audio from the SeedNet
Lattram was eventually subjugated by the Hegemony, but not without plenty of bruises and psychological trauma in return. To understand the resolve of the loper clans, all you have to do is refer to their word for enemy, which, in the common tongue, would translate literally as “walking meat.”
“The storms are getting worse and worse. Last week, one of our guys had to sell his genome as an NFT collection just to afford another ventilator block. The reports don’t paint an optimistic picture for the future, either. There’s supposed to be another big dust-up next week, and we aren’t prepared for it. Not at all. The last surge caught two of our workers out in the quarry, and when we found ’em… well, we didn’t find ’em. All we found were gloves, respirators, boots. The dust had flayed everything else, carried it off, pulverized it into the dust itself. I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t mourn the loss of those two sods… I just nabbed one of the respirators and tossed it in my pack. Survival of the fittest and whatnot.”
– Crew Lead Joille-Tan Currah
No idea which planet this happened on (not even the galactic sector), but it’s a fairly common theme across worlds that were into mining rhodium and palladium. Those metals fetched a high price, but it asked a similar price of those who were unfortunate enough to wind up on a world like this. Pressure might form diamonds, but it also wreaks havoc on fleshy bodies.
“Halcium Echo is, in my humble opinion, the overlooked gem of the Hegemony’s core worlds. Several centuries ago, it was renowned for its landmark contributions to the Hegemony’s artistic, cultural, and aesthetic development, boasting no less than sixty-four hundred universities across its metropolitan surface. Although its splendor has faded somewhat in recent years, it remains an indelible cornerstone for varying schools of thought, particularly those related to ecology as a pragmatic or religious discipline. The reasoning for this last point should be clear; its commitment to Halcius’ ideal of “the world as nature” is admirable, if a tad visually jarring.”
– Garayn Levem, Hegemony Critic of Fine Art, Holographic Media, and Architecture
A little fun fact… Halcium Echo was completely ravaged during the Krutharan Extinction event, but a small portion of its populace managed to survive by utilizing the subterranean tunnel and bunker networks—both of which were left over from another extinction-level event about three thousand years prior, long before the Hegemony ever controlled the planet. The more you know…
“The situation is growing dire. Although I appreciate the logistical challenges of the operation, and certainly sympathize with the opinion that this is an unprecedented call for materiel, there are no alternatives. Each day of conducting ground operations on Kettras B requires approximately one-point-five million shells, one million liters of fuel, five thousand fission cores, and an influx of three to four thousand infantrymen. Failure to deliver the requisite supplies and personnel will lead to the annihilation of our forward positions. If the Hegemony sincerely wishes for our forces to secure the extraction sites, this is what we need. Otherwise, I would urge you to begin arranging immediate exfiltration routes. May Halcius endow you with wisdom.”
– Esteemed Returner Branteis
I’m not great with visual identification of transmissions, but the accompanying note makes it clear this is indeed the world of Kettras B, which was once renowned for its abundance of high-potency xenon vents. As the story goes, a battalion of Hegemony troops got stranded on-world after the extraction process was deemed too jeopardized to continue. They spent weeks waiting for reserve troops or a ride back home, but the logs indicate they never got it… which means the local forces probably got them. Poor bastards.
“… and our platoon arrived for service about twenty years into the broader conflict. We were part of a Clapper unit. [Murmuring] Oh, a Clapper? They were sort of… biomechanical, I guess. I’m not sure. The indigenous forces providing fire support had loads of them. Maybe relics from an older, more primitive war… though they must’ve been old as hell, because nobody knew who’d built them or why.
They had a weird way about ’em, those Clappers. They seemed responsive enough to take orders—the, uh, indigenous troops controlled things with little flutes—but I dunno. Sometimes you just got the feeling they’d been in the fight a little too long. This one time, we ordered our Clapper to mow down a platoon across a marsh. ‘Stead of turning its guns on the enemy, though, it just spun back around, grabbed the flute handler, and started tuggin’ like they were a ragdoll.
I’ve never seen limbs come off so easily. Well, anyway, ever since that day… everyone kept their distance from the Clappers. Especially me.”
– Ardent Restorer Valkris
This is a curious entry. There isn’t much recorded history of the Fern Wars in official Hegemony records, but if you do a little digging, you’ll find that 0.27% of their forces participated in the conflict at one point or another. That may not sound like much, but when you run that number against the Hegemony’s total rosters, it’s significant. Curiously enough, however, there are no images or vids of the aforementioned “Clappers.” The best we have is this painting, which was produced by the Hegemony’s official art liaison at some point during Operation Decisive Venture. It’s worth nothing that the same art liaison was killed just two months later, his death listed as “Accidental: Mechanical Malfunction and/or Defection.”
Interrogator Nefris (IN): “What did it say to you, [REDACTED]?” The subject does not reply. IN: “[REDACTED], can you hear me?” Subject (S): “It’s hungry.” IN: “Specify, please.” S: “He hungers. He calls to me in my sleep.” IN: “He? The entity?” The subject does not reply. IN: “What is the nature of the entity, [REDACTED]?” The subject is silent for 176 seconds. S: “He is the darkness at the bottom of the drain. He hides in all places, yet stares out from them, waiting. He is here. He is everywhere. If you listen closely, you can hear him hollowing out the worlds.” IN: “Can we get a tranquilizer here?” S: “He has no stomach. It all just falls through. Falls into the nothing. He’s here. Here. Here. Here. Here.” IN: “Security?” The subject’s jaws appear to invert and dislocate. End of audiovisual recording.
This is the only semblance of a clue I received regarding the origins of this image’s subject. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s some kind of parasitic, hive-minded entity that’s prone to scouring the folds between dimensions. As far as I know, the identity of the subject (and the entity he encountered) is currently classified. Makes you wonder if they’ve mopped up the issue yet, or if it’s still lurking down in the drains.