The Great Races: Skennite
It can be difficult to discuss Skennite. When we speak of it, we speak of it as a material, not a being or even a series of beings. The Dryth Basic tongue does not give us the flexibility to encompass the paradox that is this, the first among the Great Races. Even our own Thraadi languages seem to have difficultly parsing an intelligence that both lacks and possesses individuality and that both is and is not alive by many standards. Even now, after many many centuries of living with Skennite, depending on it/them, and learning from the paths it/they have already tread, there is so much we do not understand.
To begin, then: Skennite is a crystalline structure/entity native, so far as we (or they) are aware, to the voids of space. It demonstrates, after a fashion, all the hallmarks of life – it reproduces, it grows, it reacts to stimuli, it has internal organization of enormous complexity – but it does none of these things in the fashion of other species. Shards of Skennite, by themselves, are inert crystals that drift through space. They are fed by the ambient radiation of the cosmos, and so tend to grow fastest near very bright stars or pulsars. As they grow, they gain more and more complexity and grow more and more intelligent until, at some point, they achieve sentience. What is interesting, however, is that this sentience is not precisely unique in form – all Skennite represents more-or-less the same identity, or perhaps shards of that identity. Indeed, when two large masses of Skennite encounter one another, they typically join and, curiously enough, those who knew either mass of Skennite before can ascertain no change in personality or behavior, but only come to learn that the entity they had conversed with before now has access to a much vaster array of knowledge and memory than it had before.
Because of this apparent lack of individuality, Skennite does not “die” so much as splinter. Gradually, any given crystalline mass of Skennite breaks down thanks to environmental factors and fractures apart. These shards later grow into new masses of Skennite, though this process can take centuries or even millennia depending on the availability of the kind of radiation the creatures need to grow. Shards of Skennite drift through space, through the deep voids between the stars, for uncountable aeons. Everywhere the Great Races of the Union have gone, there have we found Skennite.
Thanks to their essential immortality, Skennites possess an incredible depth of knowledge. Communicating with them, however, is difficult. They produce visible light in complex frequencies and wavelengths to communicate with most creatures and the technology to translate these patterns into words is ancient by our standards, but there must have been a vast period of history where ancient sentient creatures encountered the hyper-intelligent Skennite without realizing it and, indeed, there was likely just as vast a period of time where the Skennite were unaware that sentient, carbon-based life was at all interesting or could be communicated with. Indeed, packs of “wild” Skennite found in unexplored space often are unwilling to communicate with others unless the others have their own core of Skennite with which to make introductions.
Today, Skennite is an essential part of the Union of Stars. Most interstellar vessels, Bodani excepted, have Skennite cores that serve as databases, navigational and computational resources, and can also operate most of the ship’s systems. The Skennite itself then also consumes/absorbs a significant portion of the waste radiation given off by the ship’s power plant, making the arrangement mutually beneficial. When the Skennite grows too large, it will splinter parts of itself off and eject them into space, thus seeding the starts with its future descendants, if indeed “heredity” is relevant here.
In terms of culture, Skennite lacks anything truly resembling it on a level we can understand. It is known that they are curious and intelligent, endlessly patient, and entirely neutral on topics we would consider moral imperatives – life, death, love, religion, morality, the lot of it. While you can certainly discuss Kophis and Jaegai with it, such weighty philosophies seem like frivolous diversions from the Skennite perspective. It was here long before we were and it will likely be here long afterwards – our lives, and all our struggles, are merely passing through. One wonders, then, about the ancient legends that state that it was Skennite that taught the Dryth how to achieve slipdrive – for what purpose was this information transmitted? Was it, to the Skennite core in question, merely an idle conversation? It is hard to tell and we may never know, unless the shard containing that memory is, by some random chance, ever found and incorporated into a ship.
Skennite is utterly peaceful in nature – it is unclear how it would commit intentional violence in any rate, or why it should wish to – but it cannot be said to be faultless in the wars that ravage the Union each cycle. For every missile or piece of ordnance launched by a Lhassa cruiser and for every slipdrive jump calculated by a Lorca raiding vessel, there is a Skennite core running the numbers to make that feat possible. When the Lesser Races howl beneath the bootheel of a Dryth Solon, they must understand that Skennite put it there. Among the Great Races of the Union of Stars, there are no innocents.