Squeedles and the Cult of Carsten
This was originally a featured article in the July/August 2019 issue
Squeedles – Gregarious, faintly psionic vermiform amphibians belonging to the species Pseudonata squedelium. Squeedles are characterised by their pronounced eyelashes and ring of independently innervated, prehensile circumcloacal tentacles. Once native to subtropical woodlands and lowland areas of many Terran-class worlds. Domestication of the squeedle was rare and the species passed without much notice until a particular religious cult emerged in 1106 that raised the common squeedle from ecological curiosity to purported channel of divinity. That this involved praising the animal’s psionic powers as a path to spiritual enlightenment caused some alarm across the Third Imperium.
It was discovered that the squeedle had been initially misclassified by taxonomists and that instead of descending from anatomically similar species native to the empire, the squeedle itself originated on planets now controlled by the Zhodani. Some cultists were rumoured to have gained limited psionic powers after prolonged exposure to squeedles. It was speculated that the Zhodani had deliberately introduced the squeedle to the Third Imperium so that its contagious psionic abilities would spread among humanoid lifeforms. Their eventual aim was variously speculated to overrun the Imperium with psionic humanoids who would then be numerous enough to force their acceptance (or dominance) or to cause accidents, worker shortages and other disruptions across the Imperium capable of derailing the economy and bringing down the Imperium from within.
Labour shortages reported on some worlds after clusters of semi-skilled menial labourers left employment to join the growing religious movement and rumours that a distant member of the Imperial Family had crashed their pleasure craft after suffering an absence seizure brought on by keeping a squeedle as an exotic pet took the public imagination by storm. Within months, rumour became accepted fact and pressure was brought to bear on the security services to tackle “the squeedle menace” once and for all.
In what many modern historians have argued was a heavy-handed approach designed to quell these rumours, Imperial Security reacted by passing emergency measures to exterminate squeedles wherever they were known to exist. Faced with mounting resistance from the scientific community as news of the widespread squeedle extermination spread, when the planet Aramis objected to the squeedle’s extermination on sound ecological grounds, the Imperium curtly agreed to leave the squeedle population of the planet intact. They instead summarily imposed an Imperial interdict, placing the world under indefinite quarantine. Not for the first time, the administration appeared more interested in suppressing civil unrest and making demonstrable actions against psionic activity than they were in natural justice.
The religious cult itself was outlawed and appeared to disappear around 1113, within five years of the widespread eradication of squeedles.
~ “Squeedles”, Encyclopaedia Galactica.
Regina: Imperial University Press, 1115.
Imperial Security Report
Subject: Origins and extent of “The Listeners”: a psionic
Legal status: Outlawed for psionic activity in 1107.
Public status: No longer in existence.
Actual status: Extent and activity unknown.
Species discovery and description
The limbless amphibian Pseudonata squedelium, commonly known as the squeedle, was first described by an expeditionary force several hundred years ago. Recent research into the species has found the original classification to have been at error, and characterises the squeedle instead as a relatively recent introduction around 200-300 years ago from planets under Zhodani control. Following its introduction to the Imperium, the squeedle spread rapidly and naturalised as a detritivore, insectivore and common agricultural pest species. For around a hundred years, it was accepted as part of the natural fauna and on some worlds came to take over important ecological niches. Outside primitive agrarian communities, it was afforded little significance until 1105, when reports surfaced of it being bred and used for its comparatively weak psionic abilities in the rituals of a religious cult who called themselves the “Listeners”.
It remains uncertain whether the original confusion of P. squedelium with morphologically identical native species was an honest mistake or deliberate subterfuge. The species displays remarkable convergent evolution and physiological similarities to some native species but none of them have demonstrated the same capacity for reproduction and spread of the squeedle. In a science with considerable error bounds and little research being put into a species that is not a serious economic pest on developed worlds, differences in behaviour and metabolism were easily overlooked as the squeedle outcompeted and replaced morphologically identical native species of amphibious worms wherever it was introduced.
Psionic capacity and cult worship
Prolonged contact with P. squedelium is capable of inducing psionic abilities in otherwise healthy humanoids. Whether the introduction of this contagiously psionic amphibian into the Third Imperium comprised a hostile act by the Zhodani or whether it was introduced accidentally is uncertain; however, its extremely rapid spread throughout the Imperium is suspicious.
A religious cult describing themselves as the “Listeners” cultivated P. squedelium, apparently attracted by its psionic powers. The cultist professed not to be seeking new psionic abilities for themselves but claimed to experience absence seizures following prolonged contact with P. squedelium, during which they believed was revealed to them realities unknown to the waking mind. After extended exposure, the psionic damage inflicted causes higher brain functions to permanently cease, which the cult celebrated as the moment that the individual’s mind or soul (accounts vary) was released to a higher reality to join or serve some deific being rather than being condemned to the usual oblivion following a natural death.
Co-distribution of species and associated cult
It is speculated that a criminal known only as “Adma” might have started the religious cult after treating members of the trader March Harrier for accidental exposure to the psionic effects of P. squedelium. Following a possible psychotic break resulting from experimental psionic treatment on Aramis (for evidence of this see Appendix) “Adma” is believed to have subsequently introduced P. squedelium deliberately to several populated worlds and started the teaching of what seems clearly to have been a personality cult. An early figure featuring consistently in cult lore is that of the “Amanuensis” or “He who first heard”. Uncharacteristically for this religion, this particular mythologised character is consistently represented as male, and suspects interrogated on different worlds report that he started “spreading the faith” at the exact time “Adma” was known to have been serving as medical officer aboard the trader March Harrier in the Spinward Marches. All this lends further credence to the supposition that “Adma” might have been the progenitor of this cult. No clear connection can be made between “Adma” and the Zhodani but with such a widespread introduction of a psionic species, cases like this were eventually inevitable. This was the justification for the final extermination of the pest species.
Perhaps surprisingly, it was on the scarcely populated desert world of Carsten (Spinward Marches 2906) that the religious cult was first discovered. Other cult chapters were soon uncovered radiating outwards across the Spinward Marches and from there spread along major trade and shipping routes into the heart of the Imperium.
On each affected world, clusters of victims were identified suffering from prolonged absence seizures, erratic behaviour and mood changes. All shared a similar unexplained neurological dysfunction. Radiation sickness was blamed at first, followed by heavy metal poisoning but the standard treatments proved ineffective. Semi-skilled workers working in drainage, liquid waste reclamation and air conditioning systems were the most commonly struck down, suggesting some specimens escaped captivity and adapted to life in waterways in urban settings and that these hapless workers, cultists or not, were therefore among the most heavily exposed.
Beliefs and organisation
Popularly known as “The Listeners” or less commonly the “Cult of Carsten”, this religious sect has a strict cellular organisation similar to many terrorist and intelligence organisations. Each cultist cell or “chapter” commonly farms sometimes small hives of the amphibian. Cultists travel individually to other P. squedelium-infested worlds where they approach those disenfranchised with the social order and indoctrinate these vulnerable individuals, their friends, families and associates. The reduced mental function they later suffer is interpreted as a sign of being “chosen” or “blessed” (reports vary) by their obscure deity. This deity, whom they refer to variously as the “Old One”, “Great Counsellor” “She/He who listens”, “The inheritor” or (in one source) “He who hears even that which has not yet been spoken”, does not match descriptions found in any previously-known Imperial religions or literature. It is not possible to know whether it originates in Zhodani culture.
Very little is known of the cult’s belief system, other that it involves spending long periods meditating, sleeping or dreaming in close vicinity to P. squedelium. All those cultists who have been captured have been found to be severely mentally compromised. Interrogations revealed only that cultists understand the mental inebriation brought about by the amphibian to be a dream state in which they receive divine knowledge about the true nature of reality. While this knowledge is impossible to recall upon waking again to this world, they believe each extended absence seizure brings them closer to “true awakening” or “sublimation”. This is reportedly the point where all higher mental activity in the body ceases. At this time, cultists believe the consciousness is freed to a higher state of awareness, independent of physical form.
Even among the cultists, there is only a weak consensus of what happens after higher brain functions cease. It seems to be generally held that the awakened mind or soul serves the aforementioned obscure deity. Some believe that following sublimation the enlightened simply rest alongside the deific being who has guided them to the truth, until all who resist enlightenment or otherwise die in ignorance simply cease to exist. This sect holds our material reality to be nothing more than a delusional consensus somehow maintained by an imperceptibly weak psionic force shared by all intelligent life. It is from this collectively maintained delusion they believe prolonged exposure to P. squedelium frees them. Following this logic, the eventual death of all intelligent life will precipitate the collapse of our collective reality, leaving the sublimed and their deity to inherit reality unchallenged, a time some describe as the “Dawn of the Second Age”, when reality will be remade.
Impact and spread
Evidence of the cult has been found across the Third Imperium, with cultists fanning out to spread their beliefs along trade routes from the Spinward Marches toward the centre of the Imperium. No concrete evidence exists of the original cult having ever spread beyond the Spinward Marches but reports of similar activity, imitation cults and secret psionic research stations are still filing in from across the Imperium. Many respectable research installations such as that on Aramis have been found to house secret psionic research facilities. Money dedicated to bettering humankind has been spent in the pursuit of research into this foul Zhodani practice independently of the military and in secret. Such activity should be considered de facto treason. It is uncertain how directly the Zhodani control or manipulate these networks of researchers and religious devotees. The hand of the pale puppet masters are never clear until their foul rites are complete, when it is too late to escape.
Most accidents involving psionic injury have been attributed to the result of careless exposure to unstimulated specimens kept as pets. These claims are being re-investigated out of concern that any or all of these incidents might be concealing cult worship. Given the status of many of those affected, the cult might have reached up to the highest levels of the Imperial Administration. At any rate, there have been sufficient clusters of menial and semi-skilled worker incapacity on many worlds to cause localised economic injury. The resulting unrest and rising prices for raw materials was itself an intolerable security threat before the mass media began to generate hysteria over the possibility that the Zhodani had disrupted Imperial supply lines to derail the Imperial economy through the psionic infiltration and replacement of native wildlife with psionic clones as a prelude to a full-scale invasion. Paranoia was fast becoming hysteria and public order concerns made it necessary to act.
Risk assessment and control measures
P. squedelium was purged under the Planned Planetary Extinction (Pest Species) Regulations on all inhabited Imperial worlds where it was known to live. Refusing to allow the extinction of what was claimed to be a keystone species supporting part of its temperate woodland ecosystems, Aramis (Spinward Marches 3110) was placed under Imperial interdict and remains under indefinite quarantine. Autonomous orbital weapon platforms established in orbit about Aramis enforce the total travel embargo to and from this world, preventing further outbreaks of P. squedelium infestation.
All Imperial officials have since been screened for neurological changes and psionic capability as part of routine medical examinations. Notable psionic damage has been detected in comparatively few of them but some psionic ability has been found in disturbingly high-ranking citizens. Cult involvement is suspected and these individuals and their associates are being duly investigated for cult activity and links to the Zhodani.
Three research institutes have been harbouring secret centres of psionic research. Careful historical reconstruction of the March Harrier’s ship’s log revealed one on Aramis. Zhodani listening devices were discovered in this research institute but no other evidence of direct Zhodani intervention or contact between the research institute and the Zhodani was found to have taken place.
Outlook and risk management
The cult has now fallen quiet or been eradicated; it is uncertain which. The levels of discontent and lawlessness that permitted the influence of what appears to be one man such impact across the entire Third Imperium is a salutary lesson in how vulnerable humanity is to the pernicious influence of our galactic enemies.
The presence of any psionic species on a world has been made a reportable event and increased export and import checks have been imposed on all worlds with active P. squedelium infestations. This measure alone has greatly increased the number of pest extermination requests. We can only wish similar enthusiasm and dedication was being shown systematically to survey the Imperium for possible psionic threats and infiltration.
The infestation is however now so ubiquitous that it has only been possible to eradicate it from worlds where cultist activity had been reported and otherwise of TL 8 or higher. Many less developed planets are harbouring infestations and suffering without tourism and from careful import/export restrictions. As ever, the poorest are the hardest hit.
The possibility of a weaponised sub-species introduced alongside the rest of the specimens that can instil a still greater psionic capacity than most has been proposed and cannot be dismissed. Once again, concern for liberty has compromised security.
Report filed 090-1113/Subcmdr A.D.M. Arosh
A decrypted personal log entry created aboard the free trader March Harrier purportedly by the individual known as “Adma”. It appears to comprise a draft report to shipmates arguing for the retention or possibly cultivation and breeding of P. squedelium specimens but degenerates into religious ramblings consistent with the doctrine of the cult that originated shortly afterwards.
[Excerpt: file: Text/100_Sq_uses][Crypto: TL13]
Subject: 100 uses for squeedles
Index to linked files as follows:
- Accelerated healing.
- Reduced risk of death, including sport related fatalities.
- Early warning of other psionics and particularly of psionic attack.
- Enjoy robust physical health without all the running!
- Biological control for vermin and other pest species.
- Cures for mania, incessant nagging,* ADHD and terminal psychosis.
- Reduced jet lag and on-board tedium. Petting squeedles soothes the nerves. All of them.
- Lose yourself for hours with the perfect ship's pet. Literally.
- Perfect diplomatic gifts for any Zhodani or other psionics we meet.
- Can be stored in berths until needed for medical or defensive purposes.
- Perfect living props for HP Lovecraft appreciation events.
The list goes on... and on. The suggestions become stranger and more passionate as Adma writes, rants, and finally, apparently, fantasises…
100. Dream states give forgotten insights into the true nature of reality given freely by squeedles and then stolen from us by the cult who wanted to contain the Truth. Only through the pure truth revealed in psionics, can we behold the full majesty of the Key and the Gate and bring about the necessary ablation of what is to reveal the true glory of what is to come! We must listen to the squeedles, and then we shall grow ears on the inside and hear the truth of all things! Squeedles must be nurtured and shared for the salvation of all sentient-kind. Squeedles be praised!!!
* Something has to be done about the self-denounced heretic!
Willing amanuensis of the inevitable
Praise be to that which hears even that which has yet to be said!