by Max Barry

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The Redlight Virus

An ancient and terrifying virus created by Elizabeth Green, Alexander Mercer’s ancient lover, Redlight is constantly adapting and developing new forms to combat tactics and weapons, allowing it to remain competitive. The virus is extremely malleable, and can infect almost anything in existence, with the notable exception of Drakul, and can corrupt and interface with technology. The virus is led by Elizabeth Green and the Redlight Hivemind, which consists of the minds of every infected individual, now worshipping Elizabeth, regarding her as their "Mother", or "The Red Queen".

Elizabeth Green:
The “leader” of Redlight, Elizabeth Green is considered an existential threat to all life, all sentience, and generally everything in existence. Also known as The Red Queen, The Mother of Vampires, Mother, The Plague-Mother, and the Crimson Goddess, Elizabeth is the creator of both Redlight and the Drakul, and is the leader of the Redlight hivemind.
Her origins are a mystery, but it is known that she and Alexander Mercer are from the same place (just what that is is unknown; a different dimension? A different reality? There’s no way of knowing and neither of them are particularly talkative about their origins), and arrived in this universe roughly a trillion years ago. The two were lovers, and when Alexander created his Empire and his Evolved, Elizabeth ruled alongside him, spreading her own virus, Redlight. The two engaged in twisted and horrific atrocities on the other species of the universe together and are believed to have exterminated several thousand sentient species for their amusement, forcing them to worship them beforehand. It is believed she created the Drakul sometimes during this period as well (if Elizabeth approaches a system inhabited by Drakul, regardless of sentience, they will go mad and begin drinking and infecting as many people as is possible.)
Abruptly, sometime after the formation of the Empire and long before the Rebelllion, Alex apparently grew tired of sharing the worship with Elizabeth and her companionship, for he abruptly destroyed her Avatar and banished her spirit to the edges of the universe, while her Redlight infected were obliterated. All monuments and records of her were destroyed, so all of this information comes from herself and Alexander.
Since then, Elizabeth appears to have simply waited for millennia, slowly creating a new Redlight army. First contact with Redlight occurred on October 2nd, 2105, when the colony of Carvik mysteriously went dark as did the vessels sent to investigate. A Torchwood Prowler arrived, and briefly sent a terrified, frantic message, before the transmission cut off. Shortly thereafter, Redlight began to rapidly spread to nearby colonies, overwhelming them within hours. Elizabeth was encountered and confronted by Alexander (who, thanks to memory loss associated with his death, had no memory of her at first, though he recovered them not long after). Elizabeth promptly tried to sway Alex to joining her, so they could pick up where they left off, unaware of the Rebellion or Alex’s death and resurrection. Alex retaliated by impaling her. This did little to injure her and she simply teleported away. Ultimately the Outbreak of 2105 was pushed back to the fortified region controlled by Redlight known as The Crimson Wastes, after Alex, in collaboration with several of his best men, allied nations, and even Nyarlathotep (who regarded Redlight as a threat to his amusement; if everyone was infected, the entertainment value of manipulating or driving said people insane drastically diminishes) killed Elizabeth’s Avatar.
Elizabeth patiently spent 200 years refining the virus and crafting terrible new forms to counter the advantages of the enemies faced during the initial outbreak, such as Runners, Silencers, Bioships, Technopaths, Hive Guardians, and more, leading to another devastating outbreak in 2351, which was even more difficult to push back than the first and resulted in The Crimson Wastes expanding further.
Elizabeth Green is an excellent example of inhuman psychology; she believes individuality and free will to be negative traits, and genuinely believes she is helping the organisms she infects by incorporating them into the Redlight hivemind and thus, in a roundabout way, making them immortal, sharing their knowledge, memories, personality, and biomass with Redlight for eternity. She blames Alexander’s altered personality since the Rebellion on the Orsonians (and is thus always happy to infect them, but then restore their minds so she may torment them), and even, bizarrely, sincerely believes they are to blame for Alex’s abrupt loss of interest in her. She seems to have largely ignored this and has attempted to woo Alex by appealing to his ego and his power hungry nature, to no avail so far. She regards herself as the ‘Mother’ of Redlight, regarding the infected as her “Children”, and is fiercely protective of them. Due to her strange outlook on things, mortals often believe she is insane; no, Elizabeth is canny and clever, waiting for the right moment and exploiting it, and is intelligent enough to recognize the issues her children faced during the first outbreak, such as a reliance on infected vessels to spread, and created solutions, such as the bioships.
Appearance and Abilities
Elizabeth’s Avatar has always been that of a beautiful young woman with long red hair (the style of which occasionally varies, mostly if she believes she will encounter Alexander), rich green eyes, tall and thin, but with very pale skin. She often wears a ‘dress’ of biomass, either red, or, much more rarely, black. She has shapeshifting abilities similar to Evolved, and can form biomass weapons and tendrils at will.
In combat, Elizabeth is terrifyingly fast and strong, effortlessly slaughtering and infecting Torchwood Kill-Teams, and is generally considered impossible for mortals to defeat. She possesses highly formidable magical abilities as well, her magic manifesting as an emerald light. Simply by existing, her Avatar spreads Redlight; every breath or word emits millions of viral spores, while viral vines form on whatever she touches and wherever she steps. If her Avatar is destroyed, so long as even a single Redlight infected exists, or samples of the virus are preserved, the hivemind will continue to exist, and Elizabeth can simply form a new Avatar and continue spreading, regarding death as a temporary inconvenience (which also partially explains why she is so baffled by Alex’s altered personality, since her deaths are not true deaths and she assumes his was not either).

Equipped with a biomass blade and an arm capable of firing bundles of infectious tendrils that burrow through armor, the Warrior is a former Orsonian, Evolved, or Human now serving the Hivemind. They can operate vehicles and use weapons if need be, but their strength lies in their numbers, infectiousness, and the ability to quickly regenerate most wounds. Their bodies are gruesome clusters of raw biomass, tumors full of the virus that pop in close combat, and eerily glowing red eyes. They are capable of short bursts of speed of up to 12 miles per hour to allow them to overtake foes, and can climb walls to wait for enemies to enter a building before falling and engaging them with their blade. Mostly incapable of feeling pain, Warriors make up the bulk of an infected force, and while individually they may be dismissed as weaker than Evolved, they make up for with numbers and sheer infectiousness. Given enough time, their blades can even destroy tanks, through the 'death of a thousand cuts'; each blow doing little, but gradually chipping away at armor, while their tendrils constantly try to burrow through and weaken the armor.

Highly maneuverable and agile organisms, Stalkers are able to cling to walls or ceilings, and have inhuman reflexes. One arm is a long whip with barbs coated in Redlight to lash out and infect people, the other arm a long-range “rifle” firing hardened pods that can penetrate armor before bursting apart into a number of vines which infect anyone nearby. They can use the whipfist to grab foes (typically officers) from far away and carry them off to be infected, so Stalkers are more threatening than they may seem at first glance. Considered 'snipers' for Redlight, Stalkers are hated by infantry deployed in infected zones.

Hulking 8 ft ape-like forms, albeit without any hair, Hunters are large and heavily muscled, able to quickly rip or smash apart tanks and armored vehicles with their bare hands and powerful fists to get to the crew inside. Created from pure Redlight biomass and 'gestated' from either biomass pods or Hives, Hunters are the hard-hitting assault forces of Redlight. Able to shrug off heavy munitions and regenerate most injuries, Hunters are typically the most threatening Redlight form encountered for tank crews. Capable of achieving impressive speeds for their size, they can run up to 45 miles per hour on all fours, and can leap vast distances. When fighting in urban areas, they often climb up buildings before dropping down on the enemy from below in a devastating ambush and throw debris at gunships and other targets they cannot reach with surprising force.

A Witch is an infected Banshee or other psionic or magic-user. Both male and female, Witches are a significant threat, able to use whatever powers they could in life, amplified by Elizabeth Greens psionic might. A Witch can dissolve tanks but leave the crew intact, obliterate starships, or directly take control of the minds of those without sufficient psionic protection or willpower to resist and incorporate them into the hivemind before their bodies are even infected. Thankfully, a Witch had to have very impressive magical abilities before being infected to do these things, most of them simply becoming Warriors.

A Hydra is distinct from other Redlight organisms in that they can only be formed after a Hive has been created. Burrowing underground and connected to the Hive, a Hydra is an immense construct of biomass. Anywhere from 25 to 50 meters tall, Hydra's are equipped with a 'mouth' consisting of two spiked and barbed flaps. The body of the Hydra is highly flexible and this allows the Hydra to quickly devour infantry or mangle armored vehicles. It can also open the flaps to expose a mass of long sharp tendrils that can shoot out up to 300 feet away, allowing them to deal with foes further away. The flaps of the 'mouth' can also be used to grip and throw things at targets, be it unlucky soldiers, armored vehicles, debris, civilian vehicles, building components, whatever can be thrown as makeshift artillery; the Hydra can quickly calculate angles and throw things with impressive accuracy, allowing them to act as artillery or engage low flying gunships or very low flying aircraft. Hydra's can quickly burrow back underground if need be and relocate, and have a disturbing tendency to blast up into and through armored vehicles. Hydra's work in concert with Hive Guardians to defend Hives.

Designed to counter aircraft, Flyers are sleek forms made from a hardened yet light form of biomass and propel themselves by emitting superheated air using an ‘engine’ that uses bioplasma to generate the heat, and, quite surprisingly, can keep pace with modern fighters. Equipped with sharp talons for close range combat, they can also fire bioplasma projectiles for ranged attacks, or bundles of tendrils to penetrate aircraft and infect the crew or subvert the AI.

Local “headquarters” of Redlight, they are tough and hard to destroy, made of hardened biomass with looser layers to absorb shockwaves from explosions. Hives function as local nerve centers for Redlight, coordinating offensives and defensive efforts, and “gestating” Hunters and other creatures made from pure Redlight biomass. It creates and disperses millions of Redlight spores and vines to infect anything that has yet been infected, and directs infected organisms in the area. Hives can cause adaptations in local Redlight to react to strategies, such as creating psionic shields to defeat energy or particle weapons, or creating “pseudo-lead”, a biological equivalent to lead to resist some varieties of ionizing radiation, or hardening outer biomass layers to better deflect or absorb weapons fire. If a Hive is destroyed, the Redlight virus in the area would, due to a lack of coordination, become uncoordinated and feral, more infectious due to a lack of control, but without tactics or direction. Despite this possible threat, Redlight continues to make Hives, and, even more threateningly, Elizabeth Green and Runners act as a walking Hive, dramatically improving the coordination and infectiousness of the virus simply by being nearby.
Hives can be made from infected buildings, underground, or capital ships. Hives can develop quite early in an infection, and are thus priority targets for destruction if one wishes to have any hope of saving an infected world from total infection. Knowing this, Redlight defends Hives ferociously, Elizabeth having designed special Hive Guardians to protect them.

Hive Guardians:
The strongest “regular” Redlight form, equal in strength to a Runner, perhaps stronger due to their combat optimization, Hive Guardians act as Redlight “officers” and walking tanks, guarding Hives from ground attack. Due to the malleability of Redlight, these creatures have three main “forms” they can effortlessly switch between.

The first, designated by Torchwood as “Lancer” is an organism optimized for long-range combat. It is a triple-legged form, it’s body consisting of muscles and a “barrel”, as well as several large chambers in which the “Lancer” creates highly destructive spheres of bio-plasma, to melt apart tanks, airburst and melt scores of robots, or track aircraft like ball lightning. “Lancers” fire the same bio-plasma as other Redlight forms, but they are much more accurate and can create much more of it, ensuring a steady stream of long-range and highly destructive bio-plasma. Lancers were created in response to aerial assault and are more akin to biological turrets than anything else.

The second form, known by Torchwood analysts as the “Knight”, is a bipedal form, similar to an Evolved, and capable of achieving similar speeds and reaction times. The principal weapons of a “Knight” is a sharp blade of biomass capable of cutting through almost any armor like a hot knife through butter, replacing one arm. The other arm is a vast mass of tendrils designed to ensnare and trap enemies, capable of ensnaring and disarming infantry, or burrowing into and destroying robots, and hampering and slowly destroying vehicles until they reach and infect the crew. “Knights” are incredibly fast, agile, and capable of incredible reaction times, even dodging Hardlight sniper fire at times. Knights were created in response to Torchwood Kill-Teams fighting their way into Hives and destroying them from the inside out, but are also capable of destroying vehicles.

The final form is known by Torchwood as the “Rook”. It is a vast and well-armored form, lumbering on four legs. It sports a massive Bio-Plasma Cannon on its back, and often integrates its own biomass into that of the Hive itself for further armor. It acts as a specialized anti-armor role, it’s immense cannon firing bio-plasma that melts and burns whatever it touches. Shields are overwhelmed by the sheer force, and tanks and armored vehicles are quickly reduced to flaming wrecks. It can also fire indirectly, acting as devastating artillery, every single Redlight entity on the planet feeding it targeting data. Rooks were designed in response to armored units destroying Hives.

No matter their form, Hive Guardians are incredibly tough, and can withstand even fire from main battle tanks, for limited periods. They have access to incredible psionic abilities, capable of crumpling tanks and slamming aircraft to the ground, firing magical lightning in the form of green ball lightning which tracks its targets, and they can augment their armor with psionic shields, among other things. Hive Guardians are incredibly lethal combatants, and Torchwood is thankful they are rarely deployed for offensive operations, mostly used to defend Hives, except when used alongside Elizabeth Green’s avatar, and in that case, Torchwood and Imperial High Command generally consider a battle lost if an avatar arrives anyway. Thanks to their reliance on non-psionic weapons, they can fight just as effectively under the influence of Nullwave technology.

Unique in that they incorporate technology into them, Technopaths are mobile corrupted AI, surrounded by highly psionically active Redlight, vastly increasing the power of said AI and allowing it to interface with systems it should not be able to interface with. Technopaths work to subvert and manipulate technology, scrambling sensors, jamming communications, corrupting AI and robots, and hacking into things. They can remotely manipulate systems that are, technologically, isolated from networks, psionic shielding being required to protect them from Technopath interference.
Technopaths are rarer than most, but can immediately and irreversibly turn the tide of a battle.

A rare Redlight form created after Elizabeth’s Avatar was destroyed, Silencers exist to incapacitate magic-users. They are bipedal, with a pulsing, brain-like mass emerging from the neck ‘stalk’. This mass emits a strange energy, similar to the Nullwave tech used by the Empire, that effectively cuts off all psionic and magical abilities, including the abilities of local Redlight forms. The connection to the Hivemind remains intact. The Silencer has two arms which consist of huge masses of tendrils to reach out and snag magic-users, now incapacitated, and then drag them closer. The chest of the Silencer can split open and bathe the target in an emerald green light, during which they appear to go instantly limp and appear dead, after which claws emerge from the chest and obliterate and devour the body. The purpose of this light is unknown, though it has been speculated that it is some way of devouring the soul or consciousness of the magic-user, incorporating it directly into the Hivemind. Surviving magic-users report feeling irrationally terrified, cold, and ’shrouded in darkness’ when around Silencers, and when the light is used, they reported panic, terror, and an intense desire to get as far away from the creature as is possible, simply calling it ‘wrong’.
Silencers are hardy and durable, difficult to kill due to their quick regeneration. They are a rare sight, but can turn the tide of a battle in Redlight’s favor. Due to their abilities, they are never deployed alongside Technopaths.

The most dangerous form of Redlight infected, a Runner is Redlight’s version of an Evolved. They resemble Humans, Orsonians, or Evolved, and can pass blood or biomass tests, and can act like an ordinary, uninfected person. Runners are unique within Redlight, as they have a pseudo-independent mind. Due to their infiltration needs, they cannot be one of the basic infected, a shared consciousness. Rather, they have their own personality, albeit one dominated by their goal of infiltration and infection, and unfailingly loyal to Elizabeth Green. One may prefer to assume an alluring form and use charisma to infect officers, so Redlight may gain a strategic advantage, one may favor going from ship to ship to infect as many travelers as possible.

With every breath they take, the exhale millions of spores of a unique Redlight strain which does not immediately infect those who inhale it, but lies in wait for a signal from the Hivemind or the Runner, at which point they instantly begin reproducing, quickly infecting the individual. However, prior to this, the spores ‘jack in’ to the central nervous system and, through their Hivemind connection, begin sharing everything the individual sees, hears, and experiences, effectively turning the person into a sleeper agent for Redlight, all without their knowledge. However, this strain of Redlight will decay and cease to exist two weeks after initial infection, if it does not reproduce and fully infect the host within that time.

Runners are capable of drawing on the collective knowledge of the Hivemind at will; whatever someone has been infected knew, the Runner can access whenever it becomes necessary, from military protocol to passcodes, personal information to local law, whatever it needs to blend in or gain an advantage.

Runners typically operate in one of two ways;
Some Runners will do as their name implies, and attempt to spread their particular strain of Redlight as far as possible into uninfected territory rather than any one location, giving Redlight a huge number of randomly located sleeper agents to activate and start infections behind enemy lines. This tactic often proves devastating, due to the sheer infectiousness of Redlight once an outbreak has begun.

Other Runners will, rather than simply wander, locate a strategic target and begin to saturate the target with their strain by moving to the target location and becoming a valued member of the community, all while secretly spreading their strain of Redlight across the target planet or location, continually replacing spores that have died from lack of activation. They can live in a community for years and never be suspected, until one day, they activate their strain and convert everyone they have infected into Redlight infected, typically overrunning the planet due to the percentage of the population infected by the Runner.

In the event a Runner has to enter combat, they are more than capable of eliminating or infecting any foe, as they can form biomass weapons similar to Evolved, but also have access to the full might of the Redlight Hivemind to engage in magical and psionic attacks similar to the kinds used by Banshees, psionically-active Orsonians, and sentient Drakul, and can even use an ability similar to The Murmer to incapacitate people. This makes them extremely dangerous in combat, or if they are somehow exposed. They are also unnaturally fast and agile, capable of dodging gunfire and even certain energy weapons if they are aware they are being targeted. In addition, they are capable of short range teleportation. They can subvert and trick sensors in a similar manner to an Ancient Drakul, helping them avoid detection.

Runners, similar to Elizabeth Green, can augment the intelligence, strength, coordination, and tactical ability of all nearby Redlight forms simply by existing, acting as a walking Hive, and sometimes Runners serve as ‘officers’ due to this. When Elizabeth herself enters the battlefield, Runners always accompany her avatar, functioning as ‘guards’.

The process of creating a Runner, if one exists, is completely unknown, but the fact that they exist in fairly low numbers (SIC: Roughly 200 at any time, and they’d be spread all across the universe, scattered throughout different nations, not acting as a unit) suggests they are hard to replace.

Redlight Bioships:
First seen in the Outbreak of 2351, Redlight bioships are organisms which exist to transport Redlight to other worlds, and engage enemy ships. There are no classes of bioships, only commonalities between all types. Most are armed with long barbed whips, the whips armed with hardened biomass capable of ripping through armor, as well as claws for close combat. Ranged weapons include powerful bio-plasma emitters, which can punch through shielding, as well as pods of biomass fired at missile-like speed, regenerating damage done to them by point defenses, until they smash into the hull. These either contain extremely potent acidic compounds that begin dissolving the hull, or they contain tons of Redlight biomass, which will either begin burrowing into the hull to infect the crew, or begin spreading across the exterior, ensnaring weapon systems, jamming and blocking sensors, and entering the interior of the ship through hangers and any other entrance it can find for its vines and tendrils to grow into. There are several other missile equivalents available to a bioship, ranging from a pod that, upon impacting small craft, releases swarms of worm-like organisms that feed on metals, literally eating the fighter apart, to pods that are full of energy which manifests as an EMP, shutting down unshielded electronics, and even pods designed to break through ship armor before 'gestating' a Hunter or several other infected into the vessel to begin killing and infecting. To deal with capital vessels, bioships can also fire huge spikes made of metals and hardened biomass at incredible speed, not entirely dissimilar to a MAC round, but with the added bonus of spreading Redlight to whatever it hits.
Bioships even have 'small craft', in the form of hundreds of Flyers (see Basic Redlight Forms) equipped with smaller forms of the bioships weapons.
However, their potent weapon systems are not the most powerful assets available to a bioship. Every bioship creates an effect similar to that of a Hive, granting greater intelligence to every Redlight organism in the vicinity. In addition, if there are no anti-magic apparatus (Nullwave devices or Psywave Siphons) in the area, the bioship can act as a hub of psionic activity, unleashing devastating bolts of magical energy, teleporting Redlight forms directly into warships, obliterating small craft which attack it by unleashing a 360-degree pulse of magic, or, most insidiously, using psionic and the Hivemind to hijack AI and ‘infect’ them, turning them on the crew. There has even been a case where a bioship somehow directly attacked the minds of crew members of a cruiser, linking them all to the Hivemind and making them willingly give themselves up to be infected. Bioships can also journey through FTL, by unknown means, via shimmering green portals.
All bioships are heavily armored with thick layers of hardened biomass, and, like all Redlight organisms, are very hard to kill because of their ability to very rapidly regenerate damage.

The Crimson Wastes:
The area under Redlight control, to which the initial Redlight invasion was pushed back. Redlight dug in this area, fortifying it against orbital or ground attack, advanced networks of defenses (consisting of various things, biological, psionic, and infected technology) and armored Hives being created, Redlight biomass constantly being produced and stockpiled and made into new forms. Vast Hives create new strains of the virus and new forms, modifying old forms to test them against uninfected life forms to gauge their efficiency in killing and infecting other life forms.
On the other side, all the various nations that share a border with this area have heavily fortified it, many installing fortified stations and planets full of defenses. The Cybusian Empire has collaborated with The Raven Technate and the Collux Ascendancy, among other nations to form a vast “Calluex Line” named for Henry Calleux, the prime minister of the small Lanerean Republic, a Cybusian-allied nation, after Calluex had, after ensuring the capital had been evacuated as best it could be, detonated several thermonuclear warheads hidden across the planet, jacketed in massive amounts of radioactive materials in an attempt to deal a blow to Redlight by contaminating everything they had infected on the planet. The Republic valiantly helped push Redlight back and reclaimed their capital planet, purifying it of radiation. The Line was named in honor of his sacrifice. The Republic maintains a quarter of its fleet monitoring its portion of the Line, in collaboration with Cybusian, Colluxian, Technate, and other national patrols.
Skirmishes between Redlight forces and uninfected forces are common, as both parties seek to expand and push back, respectively, new weapons and Redlight forms being tested all the time.