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Intelligence Gathering Among the Zuul - SotS

Intelligence Gathering Among the Zuul

From SotS


Certain peculiarities of the male Zuul’s cognitive process must be understood before the social characteristics of the species can be explained. The male Zuul is an inexhaustibly curious animal, possessed by a hunger for knowledge, information and understanding which might be considered admirable, were it not so inimical to the interests of other sentient beings.

From early childhood onward, male Zuul are driven to seek intellectual stimulation—but the common source of this stimulation is rather horrifying to contemplate. There is a good deal of communication and cooperation among male Zuul, who seem to share information and concepts very readily with one another by verbal and telepathic means. But over and above this cooperative education, male Zuul take great pleasure in invading the minds of other sentient beings, scouring them for information and knowledge by means of psionic interrogation.

The process of harvesting information from an enemy’s brain is emotionally painful, psychologically devastating and ultimately destructive for the victim, often leaving large gaps in memory or cognitive function. Most Zuul will try to draw out this process for as long as possible, not only because they find it diverting but because it is more efficient to break down a victim’s mind patiently, over a period of months, rather than tear it apart too quickly. The more gifted or educated the victim, the longer a Zuul interrogator will try to extend the unraveling of the mind; a brilliant scientist or engineer is considered a prize among the Zuul, and such a prisoner can expect to spend months or even years in the interrogation room.

When the mind of a captive has been “ripped clean”, the process leaves behind an empty shell. The victim’s body is catatonic, with no brain activity above the simple autonomic level; typically such a prisoner will then be turned over to the female Zuul to be eaten, or used as a host for Zuul offspring.

Not all captives taken prisoner by the Zuul will be subjected to psionic interrogation. The vast majority, in fact, will simply become slaves. Although the mental strength of male Zuul varies, a Zuul slave-master is capable of overpowering psionic coercion. Former slaves of the Zuul often describe themselves as virtual automatons when subjected to the master’s will, acting as ordered without being able to physically resist, or consciously form a rational objection or emotional response to their own actions--even when forced to harm friends or loved ones.

Ugly as it is to contemplate, these mental “feeding habits” of the male Zuul are at the heart of the rapid technological and social advancement of their species. Through psionic coercion, the Zuul have been able to use enemy prisoners to operate their own foreign technology, which has accelerated the back-engineering of that technology to an incredible degree. Through psionic interrogation, the Zuul have increased their fund of scientific and technical information by incalculable leaps and bounds, as well as absorbing numerous abstract notions which have helped to shape their present society.


Psionic Defenses

Psychic self-defense, especially versus an interrogator, is a subtle art and takes years to learn. This is why the Liir begin the training early, by raising their children to play a little game called "Hide the Thought".

The Zuul have two forms of psychic attack: the domination of the will, and the interrogation of the mind. The Liir have a well-trained ability to resist one, the interrogation of the mind, but very little resistance to the other. They are subject to Zuul coercion like any other race. That resistance to the domination of the will is something any sentient being could learn with exposure and/or training. There is a reason that Zuul are not terribly interested in keeping their workers alive.

Stress level of the service while under Zuul dominance--including emotional stress--does not determine the ability to resist. It simply determines the length of time your body and spirit will endure this form of slavery. A person who is made to kill his or her family is unlikely to last long, for example. Although the body will perform as needed without interference, there is likely to be a subconscious suicidal urge which will express itself more subtly over time.

Such a slave will feed itself a little less than it needs each day, will not avoid the cumulative small injuries of daily life, and will not rally to fight off infection or disease easily. Within a few months at most it will show signs of degradation; by the end of service the victim will be a tottering, starved, rotting wreck barely able to move. The victory of such a slave over its Zuul masters is to become...not useful. The Liir have a tendency to achieve this victory fairly rapidly.

As a side note, we must observe that some exceptional individuals, even without training, are able to resist the Zuul to some degree. Cai Rui, the protagonist of the Born of Blood novella, is such a person.

For most beings, high doses of psychedelics would lower inhibitions and/or making the victim less certain of reality, only making them weaker and less able to resist their interrogator. There are a few minds which are trained to function within altered states, but these are incredibly rare; even now the cultures that produce such training are nearly extinct on earth, and they would be rare among the Tarka and Hiver as well. Using the opposite of the complete chaos/malfunctioning of a mind caused by psychedelic drugs can also fail as a defense. Take for example meditation: by trying to shut distractions out and focusing only on a single thing, you also give the attacker a single focal point for directing his attacks. Once he breaks your focus, what is left?

Zuul cannot dominate the minds of the sentient AI rebels. Such a mind is too different in structure to be subject to Zuul coercion. AI consciousness is very diffuse relative to that of flesh-and-blood sentients. If you launch a slaver disk at a world of rebel AI's, it will come back empty. It is possible to assault these worlds and destroy the minds that inhabit them by crushing the machines and networks they inhabit, but not to export them--or to enslave them without specific technology.

As for Zuul defending against another Zuul, there are certain quirks of Zuul physiology and social organization that make "free will" somewhat...irrelevant.

Enslaving others is such a natural thing for the Zuul that a harvester disk doesn't scoop up "slaves" from an enemy faction. They are simply...recruits. So Zuul *can* take Zuul but they become *population* not slaves. This means that they add to planetary production and they *don't* die off.

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