Liirian Art of War, The

From SotS


The Liir as a species are going through a time of great turmoil. Since the coming of the Suul'ka, they have been forced to cope with some things which were virtually unknown to their species for thousands of years. Murder. Slavery. And now, war.

Some Liirian ships up-close
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Culturally speaking, the Liir have a strong pacifistic streak and are inclined to avoid violence.

Up until recently the very notion of "war" was unknown to them; they do not war among themselves, historically, and had some difficulty grasping concepts like “conquest” or understanding why such a thing would be desirable.

Because of their empathic and telepathic abilities the Liir are always keenly aware of the sufferings of others and they take no joy in causing pain, fear or anger. They revere life and harmony and abhor needless death or destruction. Nonetheless, they also value their own lives and over the past two centuries they have come to embrace survival as a necessary virtue.

There is a great deal of debate, angst and soul-searching among the Liir general population over the actions of their military. There are many Liir who have never embraced the changes that came with Suul'ka and genuinely would have preferred to find some peaceful way of resisting their oppressors. They argue that mass suicide would have been a better answer than embracing the ways of their enemies. In death they would have freed themselves from bondage without becoming stained—without losing an essential part of themselves which made them Liir and not Suul'ka. Or Human, or Hiver, or Tarka, or Zuul.


In general, recruitment campaigns really aren't necessary. Most Liir go to their drowning day out of concern for their race. If they perceive a threat to their people, they put themselves in harm's way. It is what they are socially trained to do.

If the Black chooses to launch a recruiting drive, he only needs to make it clear that the threat is urgent. This can usually be accomplished by rescuing a few civilian survivors from a world or transport vessel that has been attacked and letting them circulate among the general population.

The Black Swimmers

"There is no zeal like that of a convert".

Liir who join the navy often do so against the express wishes of their families, friends and elders. Sometimes they are disowned and ostracized entirely. More often, a Liir who decides to become a "swimmer in the black sea" goes through a death ritual before he enters the service. He lies very still in the water; his loved ones circle him, sometimes for hours, singing mournful songs and touching him one last time, as is their habit when a Liir dies. Then the funeral procession carries his unresisting body to the Naval base and he is remanded to the custody of the Black Swimmers.

A Liir in battle armour
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It is universally understood that he is no longer Liir from that point onward. He will not behave as a Liir would; he will learn the ways of the black sea and carry out missions which no living Liir could countenance. These Liir retain their old name, although it is likely to have a bittersweet irony. A new name would come if they were ever able to leave the service--such an event is considered rebirth, and would involve a new name to commemorate the occasion, and allow the past to be left behind.

If he ever returns, and wishes to become a Liir again, he must go through a re-birthing ceremony and he will slowly to be re-integrated into Liir society by use of a long process of purification. The horrors he has seen and done must be cleansed from his body and soul; he must learn to swim and sing again as a Liir. The elders will help him in this process. They are considered strong enough to bear his burdens and each of them will hear one of his battlesongs as a confession and keep the sin of it for him. The heart of an elder is so massive, the long ages of beauty and joy it has lived are so powerful, that one Liir's grief, guilt and rage cannot overshadow it.

As an example, the Liir victory screen shows some abandoned armor. The Swimmer who occupied it was relatively young – the equivalent of the 18-year-olds who populate most of Humanities armies. He was neither too old nor too far gone to heal his war wounds and go on with his life. And going on with life is very much the definition of "victory" to a Liir.

Most of the cleansing rituals have to do with being physically close enough to your victims to absorb their death agonies. For a Liir, being within "shouting" distance of a kill is incredibly visceral and devastating. It's hard to put this in human terms without sounding almost deranged--but taking the life of a thinking, feeling sapient being for a Liir is as intimate and terrible as it would be for a human being to drive a short sword into the belly of a close relative, feel that person's fluids rain onto your skin, and stare intimately into the victim's face as life left the body. They not only have to empathize with the death, but taste every shade of pain and rage and despair and fear as that experience devours someone's consciousness.

And they go through this knowing that they've caused it.

They may even have to face the fact that some part of them enjoyed it.

A swimmer is brutal not out of efficiency but out of fear. Liir do not breed like flies, nor do they the ability to marshal their entire population as soldiers. They are vulnerable at all times and the first visitor from the stars enslaved them all. A black swimmer does not destroy an enemy world as his opening gambit. It is done as a last resort. Not much a condolence to the millions coughing up plague blood...but there you have it.

Unfortunately, not every Black Swimmer is able to reintegrate back into society. The Liir are occasionally involved in genocidal wars against other sentients, and are often forced to kill the entire civilian population of an enemy world. The Black Swimmer who must pilot assault shuttles are often the ones most deeply affected by this action. So, how do they cope? Often the answer is "not well". The truth is that, in some cases, a Black Swimmer crew who have seen too much of the wrong kind of action will never return home. When they are no longer needed by their people, they may well choose to "decommission" their own vessel by piloting it into the corona of the nearest star. They understand that they will never be able to become Liir again. In this way, they are still protecting their home from the horrors of war.

In short, the Liir have found a way to cope, culturally, with war.
Do not expect to face a peaceful and idyllic race in battle.
The beings who helm the starships of the Liir navy count themselves among the dead.
They are not Liir; they are everything which is not Liir.
They are ruthlessness, they are destruction, they are death-dealers and plague-bearers.
They have become one with the black sea, deafened by its darkness; the void swallows all sound and they cannot hear you screaming.


Training begins on "Drowning Day". This is the first day of basic training for a Black Swimmer, the day that a Liir's lungs are first filled with liquid oxygen medium. The psychological impact of those first few hours, during which a Liir must learn to intake liquid rather than pure air, are extremely powerful and devastating. Often new recruits need to be restrained by other Liir, lest they injure themselves in their struggles. Even those who can retain physical control, however, find the experience very emotionally traumatizing, an overwhelming death experience. Thereafter, it is relatively easy to re-arrange patterns of thought and behavior, especially given that the recuits are always volunteers.

Black Swimmers in basic training quickly learn how to communicate in fleetsong and read steelsong symbols, the principles of their drive systems and weapons, combat tactics and manuvers, and various mental and emotional disciplines and shielding techniques which allow them to cling to sanity and remain on task under extreme conditions. They also pick up the philosophy and mindset of the Liir warrior through telepathic contact with other Liir warriors. All else is learned by experience, as in any navy.

"I have become death, the destroyer of worlds." - The Bhagavad-Gita


Liir are somewhat removed from the psychic impact of killing in space combat much more so than in a close assault. But there are still echoes and there is still tremendous guilt and pain, especially as the "lights" aboard the enemy vessel flicker and go out. Whenever a sentient dies, the universe is a darker place for a Liir.

The farther away this event occurs, the easier is it is to shunt aside the emotions associated with the act. But yes, even Liir working to create weapons or build ships are somewhat hardened relative to a normal Liir, and even they have ethical pain to deal with. They usually think of their work as a defensive measure to protect their people, both planet-side and in the Black.

There is darkness in the universe that humanity has seen only in glimpses. The Liir know more than they are telling about many, many things.


The Liir are extremely curious and quick to learn and have made astounding strides with technology of various kinds in a very short period of time. They are masters of back engineering; the combination of telekinetic tool-use and their ability to form three-dimensional schematics of any machine without having to disassemble it have proven to be powerful advantages. And although most of the weapons in their arsenal are easily recognizable, the unique character of their species does tend to show in their battle tactics.

Liir have a tendency to encircle their enemies, forming an attack ring which allows them to assault the target from several sides at once; this is analogous to the standard treatment of predator species on their home world which are dispatched in a similar fashion. Liir will always target an enemy’s engines if possible, not only to spare the lives of the crew but to preserve any useful technology or data that might be gleaned from the undamaged remains of the ship. Their reverence for life has given them a strong aversion for high-explosive weapons and they dislike the indiscriminate bombardment of planets because of the impact to life forms other than the resident Suul'ka. When Liir attack, they strike with surgical precision.

Close Combat

A Liir in close combat is the most dreadful foe imaginable, unless you have developed specific technology to spoof his psionic and physical senses.

You cannot hide. Your life force and thought patterns are about as subtle as foghorn with a laser show attached.

If you can be "seen" sonically, you can be easily attacked--not only by his weapons systems, but by a tornado of whatever stray objects he has managed to tear loose from his surroundings. Everything under the size of a bread box in your ship is likely to come hurtling at you at the speed of sound.

If he understands the mechanisms which operate YOUR weapons, the tiniest telekinetic twitch can cause them to misfire or explode. The same is true of the tiny flicker of pressure it takes to burst the blood vessels in your brain, which are as easy for him to read sonically as the trail map in a city park.

This, of course, is assuming that he's very calm and being subtle. If he's hurt and angry, he'll get crude and childish--pick you up and crush you to jelly in a telekinetic fist, or batter you into spam against the hull of your own vessel.


With the current era of hesitant alliances and peacemaking in the SotS universe introduced by Born of Blood, Black Swimmers may have another way to retire from active duty away from civilian Liir. "Retirement" of former Swimmers to isolated planets held by former enemies gives a Liir warrior the opportunity to return to the water and breathe air again without returning to his own kind--no untainted Liir would be present, and thus no Liir could be harmed by the freight of these war wounds. In addition, it would be possible for such a veteran to perform services for the civilians of the alien population, and thus expiate in daily service some of the sins committed against similar alien civilians and warriors in the past.

It is the sort of solution that might appeal to a certain sort of Liir. Death is not the preferred solution for everyone, and a third alternative to death or an eternity of madness might be very welcome.

It should also be noted, however, that the Liir distaste for war criminals is not simply an issue of "societal context". This proposed exile would be self-imposed. Black Swimmers are profoundly aware of their own unclean nature, and it causes them great pain. They do not decline to return home just because they will be shunned or not accepted. They decline to return home because they know it would be irresponsible and wrong--they are saturated with toxins of a spiritual nature, and they love their own people too much to harm them in this way.

Some of these swimmers may live long enough to achieve 'elder' status on these adoptive homeworlds. Such a swimmer would be the Elder of Earth or of Avalon or whatever human colony that swimmer chosen to inhabit.

Keeping in good Physical health is more than possible, if proper food could be grown or harvested. Procreation would be neither possible nor desired in that population. A Liir unfit to live among its own people is certainly not fit to parent a Liir child, nor would it want to. Such urges would be far more likely to be expressed by nurturing other Liir veterans or non-telepathic alien children.

War Effort

Building a machine, no matter how deadly the machine, is still a sterile task by comparison to the actual combat faced by the Black Swimmers. The Liir are no different from humans when it comes to achieving emotional distance from acts which are physically distant. This is why they try to keep war as far away from their homes and loved ones as they can. But yes, even Liir working to create weapons or build ships are somewhat hardened relative to a normal Liir, and even they have ethical pain to deal with. They usually think of their work as a defensive measure to protect their people, both planet-side and in the Black.

If there was a motto of the Black Swimmers, it might well be "You must kill--so they don't have to."

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