The Mech Plague actually consists of three related quantum nanomechanical self-reproducing artificial organisms. All three strains function as quantum destabilizers, disrupting advanced technology as part of their reproductive cycle.
Strain A attacks Coltrain-Fazuza based quantum computing devices, a technology underlying all general purpose computing devices produced during the last six hundred years of the Empire of Humanity and most Dragon, Khald’aron and Grand Federation computers, including Zhretran sentience matrixes. Strain A is most associated with the general collapse of Known Space civilization during and after the War of Disintegration, as all aspects of society relied on data systems.
Strain B attacks Active Quantum Field (AQF) materials. Most notably, this destabilizes the hulls of all worm drive starships, causing quantum froth leakage, structural disintegration and subsequent damage to exposed nervous systems of most sentient beings. Strain B also destroys AQF-based structures common throughout the Empire in Concordian and Quantum architectural styles.
Strain C attacks Voltan and Markan-based high temperature superconductors. While Strain C spread more slowly and had less dramatic effects, nearly every electronic device since the late-fusion era used these materials to transmit current. Substitute superconductors cannot duplicate either the temperature tolerances or the tensile strength of either the Voltan or Markan alloyed crystalline materials.
The first reports of the Mech Plague surfaced in late 4755CE on Belgona (Sector 768), Russell (Sector 765) and Wardell (Sector 728). These reports, with Strains A and B evident on the first two worlds and all three evident on Wardell, occurred within three weeks of each other in November 4755CE, though with contemporary commercial travel times of forty light-years per day, the actual source of the Plague could have been anywhere in the Coreward half of the Empire or Rimward half of the Grand Federation. Spotty historical records also limit the certainty of a supposed origin in the Imperial-Grand Federation Trailing Border region.
Given the similar architecture of all three strains and their basis on standard quantum-based nanomechanical assemblers, wilder theories of ancient or distant origins for the Plague are not warranted or supported. Most scholars believe the Mech Plague represents an accidental or deliberate release from a secret nano weapons program of either Imperial or Grand Federation sponsorship. While the theory advanced on several occasions of a Khabederan revenge plot against Humans and Zhretra is supported by motive, it seems unlikely that Khabaderan scientists independently developed the Plague.
The Mech Plague eventually spread through all hundred thousand inhabited systems of Known Space. Lying dormant for indefinite periods on the surfaces of worm drive vessels and capable of crossing unlimited reaches of vacuum, they hitched rides on commercial, private and military vessels. By the early months of 4756CE, significant Mech infestations had reached three hundred light years in to the Grand Federation, killing Zhretra and disrupting operations at Vushoka Drift. In the same timeframe, it had reached pockets of the Mormargr Autonomous Region and had crippled a B'dr'rak freighter in Sector 371.
The initial spread followed the web of major trade and communications routes and a complicated cross pattern arising from the continuing War of Disintegration. In the first three years, no more than a few hundred Imperial systems were affected, mostly in the Coreward Regions. By 4759CE the Plague had begun a major rampage through the Zhretra community, causing widespread panic and disorientation within the Grand Federation. In 4760CE, the infestation reached critical mass, and major outbreaks rocked the Imperial Core Worlds, much of the Grand Federation and the Dragon Sphere. The Grand Federation began active quarantine measures, virtually crippling trade and communications. By 4763CE all of the Empire, the Grand Federation and the Khald’aron Republic were suffering massive disruptions from all three strains of the Plague.
As the War of Disintegration sputtered to an end in 4773CE, the Mech Plague had effectively destroyed the Worm/Stasis culture of Known Space. The Zhretra suffered a holocaust of epic proportions, loosing over half their population – over two hundred billion sentient beings, and whole worlds, Drifts and habitats became totally uninhabitable as structures, controls and systems failed.
All three strains of Mech Plague proved difficult to control. The strains are able to remain dormant for long periods, hide in all forms of non-organic material and survive indefinitely in environments of hard vacuum and high radiation. They can reproduce exponentially, reaching a critical infestation mass within hours. Highly corrosive acids and gases such as fluorine effectively destroy the nanomechs, but often at the cost of destroying the infect material. Exposure to temperatures above 5000K also vaporizes the organisms. Looking for solutions other than annihilation, researchers from throughout Known Space worked feverishly to control the Plague through the 4760s, 70s and 80s.
The first solution was not one for the Plague, but one designed to save civilization. The IAK research facility on Orpheus in conjunction with the Than race - who had suffered a similar fate after exposure to the Hitzarchi Plague two hundred thousand years before - developed Technological Life Boat (TLBs), a package of Than-based late fusion era technologies, materials, superconductors and electronics that proved immune to the Plague. The TLB was a self-contained module with a radio and maser transmission system, 100MW miniature fusion reactor, 5m3 fabricator and large databases of industrial materials, encyclopedias and other information that would assist a world in recovering to fusion era technological levels. Starting in 4762CE, the IAK used the bulk of their remaining vessels to spread TLBs to over five thousand systems, mostly along the galactic plane. Unfortunately few packages reached the Northern or Southern regions, areas suffering from continued warfare, or the Spinward Rim Sectors. Some TLBs were destroyed by suspicious local forces, other were lost in orbit or in wilderness areas for centuries or millennia, but thousands of systems owe the TLBs for preventing total collapse.
The Grand Federation of Races had the diversity and cohesiveness to attempt to overcome the Mech Plague, but with Zhretra society collapsing and travel severely restricted, it took years for a coordinated effort to emerge. In 4778CE, the Tze’t developed biological superconductors capable of replacing the current infrastructure. Working in cooperation with the Mechanist church, whose Soulboxes utilized a unique Quantum computing architecture, surviving Zhretra developed consciousness matrixes immune to the Plague in 4789CE and frantically spread the technology in an attempt to save their race and, incidentally, the Grand Federation. Both the Tze't superconductors and the Zhret-Mech quantum computer specifications found their way into Imperial Space, where they were adopted by the remaining interstellar states.
The first real control of the actual Mech Plague organisms came from a team of scientists on Venus, led by the cyberneticist Geena Ombeka. Unable to effectively destroy the Mech organisms, the Venusians developed the CounterPlague, a set of specialized self-reproducing killer nanomechs that relied on simple fusion era components and had a hard-coded and redundant failsafe kill switch. The CounterPlague was first released in 4790CE and was initially a closely guarded Ibrahimite secret, but Bruce Relmann, a Kalmaran agent, stole the CounterPlague in the following year and it soon received widespread distribution through the remaining civilized worlds.
The CounterPlague allowed remaining Worm/Stasis era equipment to continue to function for a few more centuries, but no failsafe or clear eradiation method for the Mech Plague was ever developed. With infrastructure crippled and wars disrupting commerce and society, the Mech Plague eventually triumphed over the remainder of high civilization, forcing all of Known Space to develop new Mech-proof technologies, often inferior to the originally. Through these new technologies, some civilizations slowly recovered to a late macrojump-early microjump level over a period of millennia.
The Mech Plague destroyed Known Space civilization and began an era of chaos and sporadic recovery that has continued for two thousand years.
In Human Space, even on worlds that had retained political cohesion and had received a functional TLB package, more than ten percent of the population often died before the resumption of essential power, food and data distribution. These worlds limped into a stable fusion era society within a few decades, but remained vulnerable to unexpected challenges and political unrest, which often precipitated a general societal collapse. Worlds that survived the collapse best, often relied on old “museum” pieces to sustain civilization while the fusion infrastructure gradually rebuilt shattered economies.
On newer worlds where Worm/Stasis technology was the only basis for civilization and where the TLBs never reached, the collapse was total, often causing a complete failure or a die-back that left a fraction of the original population in a pre-industrial state. Expeditions into the North, South and Spinward Rim show countless examples of the failed and collapsed worlds. Of the 1.53 trillion citizens of the Empire of Humanity in 4750CE, an estimated four hundred billion were dead by 4800CE, though warfare contributed as much as Plague to this toll, especially in the Central Region. An estimated two or three thousand of twenty thousand Imperial colonized worlds failed completely, though the true numbers are still not known.
Other Known Space states mostly fared better than Humanity, with the notable exception of the Zhretra and Drift cultures of the Grand Federation. The Grand Federation itself never lost political unity and restored a functional macrojump-based interstellar society before 4900CE, recovering to a microjump infrastructure by 5800CE.
The Dragon Sphere quickly reverted to pre-contact technologies, including their forty light year ranged macrojump III vessels. The Dragons collapsed back into a balkanized, semi-interstellar society only after the nova destroyed Draco in 4837CE.
The Khald’aron Republic withstood the Mech Plague, and despite hardship and some colonial failures, maintained their Republic, first through gravstar and then through macrojump vessels.
The term "Mech Plague" was first popularized by Councilar forces during the later War of Disintegration as was promoted by Ishmahil as a deliberate slight towards the Mechanist Church. As a result, Mechanists even now insist or referring to the Plague as the QNM (Quantum NanoMechanical) Plague or just "The Plague". The Zhretra rightly refer to the Plague as the "Great Destroyer".
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by Geir Lanesskog, All Right Reserved