Art by, wildfire
Common Jobs: The mightiest interstellar empire ever known to the galaxy. We do not use superlatives often on the cosmosdex, but here we have no choice.
Likes: Faded into history
Dislikes: Worn into dust
Attack Method: The grol had a number of forms of martial arts, focused around the use of claws as a puncturing weapon. The only other known form of Grol aggression is that of the orbital strike.
If they existed, they failed the grol.
The grol were a large insectoid species, mostly covered in a shaggy, long-flowing fur that came in a variety of colours, often with equally-furred winglike protrusions down their back, bulky in nature but without any real use. It has been theorised that this was a biological hold-over from their evolution, but this cannot be proven as the location of the grol homeworld is currently yet to be discovered. Their insectile heads, however, were bare and glossy-smooth, with angry-looking eyes and pincer mouths set beneath. The hands and feet of grol were also unfurred, with very sharp claws each ending with needle-like points. Each of these claws could move independently of each other as if it was a hand composed entirely of thumbs.
While their extremely heavy fur might trick an observer into believing they existed in cold conditions, this is actually not the case - the conditions they tended to favour would be considered worryingly hot by most species. The fur exists nonetheless because of their high internal body temperature needing to be maintained even hotter than their ancestral habitat, according to modern socio-archaeologists.
Depictions of grol frequently show them partly or completely covered with what can be described as mechanical assistance suits that were a blend of fashion and technology, in order to allow for an expanded range of strength or movement. These suits had a direct brain interface for control, rather than simply amplifying the wearer's movements, indicating advanced technological computing. In areas where many grol have died, these bits and pieces of suits are all that remains, all other traces of bodies long since worn away by the winds of time.
The grol had a complicated society, the details of which administration remain somewhat unclear. Due to their lack of faster-than-light travel, direct enforcement of central power was effectively impossible, leading to a decentralised nature in which, despite all populations being theoretically subservient to a central leader, actual power was absolute in their local administrators.
We know that the grol had a tendency to think in the longest terms possible, making everything designed to last for as long as it could possibly be needed. Since their space flight was so slow, by necessity this meant many of their things were made to last virtually forever, standing proud aeons after their founders were gone. This philosophy sometimes found its way into even such simple goods as cooking implements, found perfectly intact in the long-decayed dust that is all that remains of a more ephemeral structure. To build things to last, socially and physically, was considered the pinnacle of good behaviour and responsibility in their society.
The grol also seemed to see nothing wrong with leaving indiscriminate traps when they withdrew, from a facility or area however, presumably assuming the records of their locations would be preserved and available to any who were to later arrive with a legitimate business. Now that the records themself are so long-gone, these traps are all that remain, waiting to snare or injure unsuspecting latter-day intruders.
If it seems to a reader that this article has been remarkably light on the actual personalities of the grol then they would be correct. While physical structures have remained intact, digital media simply has not survived the vast gulfs of time since the disappearance of the grol, all but eradicating the traces of their culture which would ordinarily be used to construct a profile of their personality.
The grol are a singular anomaly amongst the galaxy, having achieved spaceflight and a galactic civilisation many tens of millions of years before the current era. However, this civilisation was greatly different from the current state of modern universal society, as the miraculous breakthroughs in interstellar travel pioneered by the notails were never achieved by their species, limiting them to what could be accomplished by the limits of the speed of light, slaves to classical mechanics of the universe.
Trapped below the speed of light, the grol used radically different vessels, similar to many of the science fiction concepts of pre-spaceflight species. While these advanced ships travelled unimaginably faster than modern ship technology, they made no use of portals and therefore were forced to travel the entire physical distance between stars, taking decades or even centuries real-time per trip. Nonetheless, grol civilisation expanded across space ever so slowly, driven by grand and mighty goals we can only guess at.
One of the most notable signs of their passing is the megastructures they built, constructs truly unimaginable size and grandeur, that are believed to have taken hundreds of thousands or even millions of years to construct. There seems to have been little reasonable justification for these structures in practice since most of their capabilities could be more effectively provided by a large number of smaller, infinitely more practical constructs. The grol built them anyway, however, and to this day they still stand mostly intact, millions of years after their enigmatic architects' disappearance.
While the majority of their technology still exists, waiting to be found in incredibly durable containers across the ruins of their empire, there have never been discovered any maps of their territory, and attempts to locate their worlds by simply quickly searching every adjacent system are stymied by a strange peculiarity of grol system planning.
Blindly jumping into a grol system is incredibly dangerous, due to their tendency to be carpeted with innumerable billions of tiny high-speed satellites, making it virtually impossible to safely arrive without knowing the location of a pre-cleared access corridor. Ships arriving by portal are extremely likely to be smashed to pieces by ultra-high-speed velocity shrapnel appearing inside them without warning. The precise reasoning for this unparallelled act of celestial littering is not clear, but analysis of a handful of recovered satellites has shown these tiny, self-sufficient devices prove to be similar in design to grol navigation beacons, indicating that they may have been part of some typically-monumental grol guidance system. Others however believe that this may actually have been part of a defence system, as with so many other seemingly-innocuous pieces of technology produced by these ancient precursors.
Whatever the cause, these tiny hazards continue to speed around the stars and planets in absolute silence as they have for uncounted aeons hence, uncaring and uncountable.
Bold theorizing aside, this has led to only a minority of even the known areas of ancient grol territory being properly explored, as the only way for explorers to clear a system is to make special portals on the edges of the solar systems, then send long-haul ships with powerful defenses inwards to manually clear safe zones and lanes into the killing fields. This endeavor is extremely expensive and time-consuming, meaning that only the worlds with the most potential for serious grol technology are ever actually explored. Some people believe that despite the lack of any meaningful evidence that this could mean that the grol are not, in fact, extinct. They say that the possibility that the grol could be surviving, hidden away on a yet-unknown world without any of the distinctive megastructures that attract explorers like flies. While this is certainly possible, fragmentary records indicate that there was a total and catastrophic collapse of many of their still-unknown population centers, including the mysterious capital world known only by its name carved in memorial across entire continent-sized structures, Akhenator.
At some point very late in their history, the grol did seemingly develop a form of ships based on the same principles as modern spaceships, allowing for extremely efficient but slow (by their standard) vessels to exist. More than one expeditionary team into a suspected grol system free from the interference drones has been forced to hastily retreat at the approach of titanic automated defense ships, rising from the decaying ruins of ancient spaceports. The secrets of faster-than-light travel however, continued to elude them, if they even knew it to be possible.
Eventually though, even this unimaginably powerful and vast empire was struck by utter disaster. A powerful and ancient (To us, at least) species known as the Great Filter arose around fifty million years ago, hell-bent on exterminating all other species that dared to ply the stars. This species, while far smaller than the grol, had one advantage that simply could not be denied. They had developed faster-than-light portal technology, able to cut the distances between stars to mere moments. The circumstances of their meeting are unclear, but what follows can be deduced from certain surviving sources. The grol, having believed themself to be utterly alone, would have been confused and alarmed by this impossible-seeming attack, performed by means that were as if magic to them. It is about this time that modern-style ships began to appear, indicating that they would have recovered enough debris of the invaders' ships to discover this technology, yet still, FTL eluded them. The fighting may have been slow and sporadic or it may have been intense, but the outcome was sealed from the start. Able only to move directly through the space between stars, the grol were doomed against this foe situated millions of years of travel away from their own empire, yet able to attack as rapidly as if they were in the same neighbourhood, immune to all retaliation. The satellite clouds which also became far more common during this period seemed to have slowed down the Filter attacks much the same as they stop modern shipping, but worse yet was to come. Despite its vastness, the grol's empire could never have been very centralised, given that it could take centuries to travel from one part to another, and even in places where no actual fighting was taking place, strife disrupted the monumental supply chains that kept the wheels of civilisation turning. This ultimately seems to have resulted in the collapse or destruction of all known colonies and outposts of the grol, destroying their civilisation even more completely than the war in the stars. All the invaders had to do in the end was clean up by annihilating the scattered remnants.
While records become scarcer and scarcer over the last aeons as the grol were destroyed with more and more thoroughness, small holdouts seem to have continued for many millions of years past the death of the empire. The latest known record of grol activity in fact survived millions of years past the end of serious war, when the crew of an abandoned space station detonating their ship's reactor core part-way through evacuating for unknown reasons, circa 12.5 M.y.a.
Further research into archaeological sites is pending.
The grol seemed to have a great personal fascination with their own home-world, which is presumed via context clues to be the Akhenator of which they cared so much about. Even its mere name, representing their ultimate home and origin, was treated with respect and honour, engraved across their vastest monuments as if some stamp of authenticity or quality. To say that this structure or arcane-seeming device was [I] worthy of their ancestral home.
Apart from that however, we in fact know not a single thing about this place. Not what sort of planet it was, not what the civilisation there looked like, nor even where it is. So much of the dead grol empire still lies out there undiscovered until random chance shows us the path there. What wonders might lie on this planet? And what tombs of the long-since murdered?
When I was young, we looked to the stars with wonder.
My mother and I would sit out under the night sky as a small child, when the moons were dim, and name stars. This star would be in one constellation, and that star would be in another. We drew pictures with these glinting dots, far away in the sky, though we knew their true nature even then. They became Sori'xi the Hunter and Halatar the Doomed Man, transposing the stories she had shared with me into the heavens above. How Miara the Brave chased after their enemy until the enemy leapt into the sky to escape her. I adored the stories, and I wanted to sail amongst these great legends on the sea of the night, to be a sailor of the light.
When I grew a little older, I learned of the science, the cold majesty of the cosmos, the bitter emptiness that was the truth behind Sori'Xi and Halatar and Miara and Latar and Rodichus. The furnace fuelled by the forces of the universe that dragged our lives around by the invisible strings of gravity. And I still loved it. All the love and mystery opened up into a whole new world. We had never left our world but for some faltering steps, on and off as one or the other locale would transport a few hardy souls to our nearest neighbours atop a thundering pillar of flame and ice the size of a skytower. But we dreamed, dreamed of so much more, and those dreams became available to me. The mechanics of science fiction, the "what-if'' they posed, of the great endeavours that would allow us to go even further beyond, calculated, proposed, written... they completed me. They nourished me as I grew and I learned and I discovered. The heavens I had drawn pictures in were there, just inches from our grasp, and we designed ever more fascinating and bizarre ships in our heads, with ever more rigorously-studied means of travel. "Delta - V" and "Orbital Rendezvous" and "Specific Impulse", the words of the promise of the future.
I became knowledgeable, and studied, and scrimped and scraped the academic prowess I would need to join these all but arcane efforts as I grew older. Eventually, we started to build some of these structures and technologies that had been as fictional as the star-travelling generation ships of my youth in the youth of my mother, and my wonder grew greater still. My generation might truly be the first to explore the bodies we could see through our telescopes, the stars and planets and comets and suns of the universe, Miara and her quarry no longer beyond our grasp. As I grew closer to adulthood, more resources were poured into the effort, spidery frameworks taking shape in the sky, a great assemblage ready to travel but a planet's distance away at last.
And then the aliens came.
Oh, we now know how lucky we are. That the beings from beyond the stars with their strange, reactionless drives of impossible efficiency that effortlessly soared through sky and space alike could easily have been one of the cruel imperialists of the universe. Those who stumbled upon our speck in the cosmos were friendly enough, willing to simply hand us their spaceship technology, the keys to the universe. To induct us, even, into the vast universal society we had never even an inkling existed (For a reasonable fee of course). A world of robotics, artificial intelligence, interstellar wars, and unfathomable plagues.
We all staggered, bemused, into this greater place of life. There was so much new to learn, so many things that had been done, that everyone was all but overcome with the new world. Set aside were the monumental technological marvels that cost as much as a city and were a thousand times less useful to explore the stars than our new, convenient ships, be they ever so much faster. Suddenly, overnight, the bleeding edge of technology became utterly obsolete... by cheap designs hundreds of years out of date. All worked out in advance and licensed cheaply. The new way was here, and it offered so much.
All that I had worked for, obsolete in the snatch of an eye, but I was too thrilled with the implications to mourn that loss. We passed onwards, saw the stars as equals rather than things above, read article and book alike, poring over the data and visiting all the sights to see... And yet I began to feel strangely unhappy. Everything had been achieved that I wanted to accomplish. The stars in the sky could be visited at the twist of a dial, a ticket booked to the miracles of creation for less than an armful of rations. But it felt wrong. All of the vision, the aspiration was gone, replaced by an almost numbingly pedestrian notion of normality. Where was the majesty I had envisioned with my mother? Where were the unknowable mysteries of the heavens, the harsh science of the stars? All packaged up and sold, the final frontier made safe. This technology allowed so much, it seemed that it truly was the pinnacle of creation... a universe where the only remaining thing to strive against was other people.
I grew older and I grew bitter. What good had the years of life set in preparation for discovering things ourselves done me, now that this technology that bypassed everything had come? What for those decades of work by thousands of minds, now that all these better alternatives had been handed out on silver platters? I withdrew my enthusiasm from the new fields of discovery in a fit of spite unnoticed by any whose world still turned and became a wanderer. I occupied my time booking tickets to travel all across the universe to all the true locations of the stars I had idolised in my youth, in some kind of scavenger hunt for memories. As if retreading old ground would simply bring back the way things had been to me.
As the space-ferry slowly cruised towards the research station above a blasted and nameless moon, I mused on the mythological figure that was all the name anyone had ever given the star pouring merciless heat out in the space above. Halatar the Doomed Man was someone much mentioned in the background of other mythological tales, but with only one story to call his own. His quest for immortality.
Halatar was a young man, who had been to a fortuneteller and discovered that he was fated to die unexpectedly. Many who had received such an omen would give in to their fate or ignore it, but not he. He wanted to do so many things in his life - but was fearful at the idea that he would have too little time, cut short by his curse before he could be satisfied. He wanted the answer to this fear to be immortality - but having achieved it made a terrible realisation.
The things he wanted to do, that he loved so much... were finite. Eventually he would run out of things to do, and face an eternity bored, and was horrified. Chastened, he begged the gods for relief, to restore him to his broken prophecy, but there was nothing that could be done. All that the gods could do was hurl him into the heavens, to become emblazoned across the sky, the constellation bearing his name looking as if it were holding its head in shame, the largest and brightest of the stars in it being named for him too.
Halatar the star of course, could not care what an irrelevant species on an irrelevant species halfway across a galaxy thought of it. But as I and a gaggle of researchers bound for the science outpost below stared out of the windows aimlessly, it was suddenly cut off. Proximity alarms blaring throughout the ship as a great shadow poured across the screen, blotting out almost every star.
Tiny lines of detail whipped past faster than could be made sense of, and as we stood there stunned at the vastness of the thing, rocketing past impossibly fast despite being a thousand times larger than the largest spaceship I had ever seen, something changed in the world. It passed, and as I blinked in the light, staring at the rapidly-receding form, the room erupted into a chatter and a buzz, all talking at once. I later found out what that titanic entity had been from my co-passengers - a relic of an ancient time, a thing left behind by species of precursors from the shadowy aeons of history, known as the Grol.
This chance encounter with an automaton, so many millions of years beyond any need for it, affected me long after the ship had passed into the eternal night, and gave me cause for thought. All this time, I had been so bitter about the way that the new ways of the universe had shattered my old dreams, and yet here it stood. The more I learned about these ancient titans of the stars, the more I realised that the dreams and wonder had never had to end at all. The sheer scale forced upon these vessels by the lack of our new spacefaring paradigms had, in a strange twist of fate, driven them to become impossibly more advanced than we now ever would. Such things would be impossibly impractical to the way things were now, with our easy and cheap space travel, and they might just remain so forever. A fiction of science to all these dwellers of the stars, in a sense. And because they can never attain it, they dream of it as surely as we did when it was the only future ahead of us.
How strange, that the discarded dreams of the past turned out to be the same dreams as those held by the people of the future. To gaze in awe at an impossibility of a very different kind, yet tantalising to all those perceiving it nonetheless.
Now I am old, and I look to the stars with wonder again.
• It is unknown how the grol communicated across interstellar distances, as they clearly kept contact between their disparate planets faster than light in real-time, despite not using any system comparable to modern space communications.
• No matter how strong you are, no matter how invincible you and everyone in the universe know you to be, you are never safe. Death comes in infinite forms and finds a way ever more surely than sweet Life does.