- "Mine is the face of blood and fire."
- ―The Sickness, as experienced by Dail'Liss
The Imperial bioweapons Project I71A, known as the Sickness, was an infectious viral agent created through the powers of Sith alchemy that attacked biological tissue and transformed its victims into undead monstrosities. The disease was originally created by the Sith Lord Darth Drear on Odacer-Faustin sometime prior to 4645 BBY, and was intended to grant immortality to its crafter. Drear's initial experiments resulted in failure, and the Sith Lord fell victim to his creation. Over one thousand years later, during the period of unrest following the Great Galactic War, the Sith Lord Darth Scabrous attempted to recreate Drear's disease in the hope that he would succeed where his predecessor had failed. Scabrous likewise failed to create a path to immortality, and in the process unleashed the virus upon the unsuspecting students and staff of the Odacer-Faustin Sith academy. Before long, all of the Sith Acolytes and Masters on the planet died and were born anew as cannibalistic monstrosities motivated only by the will to eat.
Knowledge of the Sickness, as it had been known during the Odacer-Faustin outbreak, survived several millennia and eventually fell into the hands of Darth Vader, a Dark Lord of the Sith alive during the reign of the Galactic Empire. Around 1 BBY, Vader commissioned a scientific team from the Imperial Biological Weapons Division aboard the Imperial I-class Star Destroyer Vector to re-engineer the virus and turn it into a weapon that could be used to further Imperial interests. Operating in secrecy, the scientists recreated the disease under the codename "Blackwing" and prepared it for deployment. However, in that year, an accident aboard the Vector unleashed the Sickness once more, turning almost all of the personnel aboard the vessel into savages not unlike those on Odacer-Faustin. The infected took control of the ship and used it to cripple the Imperial prison barge Purge, thereby forcing the barge's occupants to enter the Star Destroyer and become prey for the Sickness.
The disease was created through Sith Alchemy and activated by the Murakami orchid—a highly Force-sensitive black flower. Victims of the plague suffered numerous, extremely painful side effects prior to death, and became mindless monstrosities postmortem. The virus was fully self-aware, and utilized the undead to spread the pathogen and either transform or eat any who avoided infection. Due to the extremely quick rate of transmission and the difficulty of isolation, successful treatment of the disease was rare; although one could be prevented from contracting the virus by injecting an anti-virus intravenously, those who were already infected had little chance of survival. The fluid that coagulated within the bodies of the infected and carried the virus throughout their anatomy bore many similarities with the entity known as Mnggal-Mnggal, leading some to believe that the two were in some way related.
- "Darth Drear wrote that he had found an elixir for staving off death itself, the ingredients of which he recorded in the Holocron—including, of course, your beloved orchid. The mixture was complete in and of itself, with a single flaw—the inevitable dissolution of the tissue."
- ―Darth Scabrous, to Hestizo Trace
The Sickness, later known as Imperial bioweapons Project I71A or the Blackwing virus, was a disease that was synthesized through the use of alchemical techniques practiced by members of the Sith Order. The pathogen was not the goal of alchemical experimentation, but was instead created during attempts to concoct an elixir to achieve immortality. The mixture that generated the virus required several ingredients, the most crucial of which was the rare Murakami black orchid. The orchid was a fully self-aware and highly Force-sensitive plant that could communicate telepathically with other Force-sensitives and, when added to the other components of the immortality elixir, would create a potent and deadly viral infection.
For synthesis to be successful, the mixture had to be enriched within a living being. Through the use of mechanical pumps and surgical tubing, the alchemist would create a circuit between the organic host and a fluid reservoir into which additional ingredients could be added. The final product was a yellowish-red liquid that would run throughout the body of the organic host, through the tubes, and into a pump before being cycled back through into the body. When the fluid was completed and ready to be collected, the circuit could be broken in order for the viral fluid to be siphoned into storage. Other methods of production and experimentation included the use of Human lungs as a biological host in which the virus could be enriched and studied. When created for the purposes of immortality, the finalized mixture was to be ingested by the alchemist; conversely, when the mixture was crafted specifically for the creation of the virus, a highly refined fluid version of the Sickness could be collected from the living hosts and stored within airtight tanks.
- "Otherwise, the pathogen has already spread throughout the Purge. I'm following several reports of symptoms from all over General Population—inmates, guards, support staff. Rate of infection is nearly one hundred percent. Our medication and supplies will hold out for another week if nothing changes."
Imperial bioweapons Project I71A was an extremely persistent and audacious pathogen. The disease easily crossed species barriers and transmitted itself within a population quickly and in myriad ways. Humanoid species susceptible to the Sickness included Bothans, Dathomiri, Delphanians, Devaronians, Humans, Ithorians, Mon Calamari, Rodians, Sullustans, Trandoshans, Twi'leks, Whiphids, Wookiees, and Zabrak. The virus could also infect plant life, such as the sentient Neti and the Murakami orchid itself. Additionally, non-sentient creatures, like the reptomammalian tauntaun and rancor, were susceptible to infection. Even dead tissue could become infected, as was the case with the Human Von Longo, who was killed two weeks prior to an outbreak. The transmission rate within a contained population was nearly one hundred percent, when excluding those naturally immune to the pathogen.
The first individual to fall victim to the virus during an outbreak was always the organic host within the fluid circuit that synthesized the viral mixture. After that initial carrier fell victim to the disease, there were a number of ways by which the Sickness could spread in a population. The most direct method of transmission was a bite from an infected subject. Bite wounds would produce the most drastic symptoms and deposit the highest number of viral agents into a new victim. Another way by which transmission could be achieved was through contact with the bodily fluids of the infected. The virus could be carried by saliva, blood, or a gelatinous coagulation of fluids that ran through the bodies of the victims. If any of these liquids came in contact with the fluids of an uninfected subject through an open wound or a mucus membrane such as an eye, the Sickness could enter the body and replicate. A method of conveyance that was exclusive to the weaponized version of the virus was airborne transmission. When stored within airtight tanks, the virus could be released into an atmosphere by allowing for the tanks to be subjected to a leak. In its airborne strain, the virus could transcend all quarantine and containment efforts to reach new hosts and accumulate more victims. In this form, the disease could even infect individuals within biohazard gear or stormtrooper armor, both of which were specifically designed to prevent chemical or biological attacks.
- "[The disease] struck immediately upon exposure, spreading first through the brain, where it drove the victim into a state of homicidal madness, and then through the rest of the body, shutting it down. The flesh would remain animate, but insensate—living only to hunger, to feed and kill."
- ―Darth Scabrous
The effects of the Sickness on organic tissue were drastic and overwhelming. The disease worked quickly to destroy a body, but the severity of its symptoms varied greatly, depending on the method of transmission that resulted in infection and the species of the victim. The most direct form of transmission—a bite sustained from an infected victim—caused the swiftest bodily reaction. Immediately after the virus entered the subject's system, their skin would adopt a pale gray pallor and perspire profusely. The flesh around the transmission site would begin necrosis within minutes, and a gelatinous gray fluid would develop beneath the wound. The victim's vision would quickly become impaired, and their breathing would be labored. Minutes after being bitten, the Human Mnah Ra'at began to suffer from all of these symptoms, in addition to a shooting pain in his left arm and violent hallucinations of a skeletal black fist seizing his heart. Others experienced mental symptoms ranging from vividly reproduced emotional memories to visions of a mouth opening from within their torso. Some, like Ra'at and Rance Lussk, found the final moments of life to be a relieving and empowering experience.
The Neti species experienced a longer-term incubation period when infected via a bite wound. As the virus spread through their body, the bark that served as their skin would turn a dark brown or black and begin to molt. Their branch-limbs would atrophy and clump together, and the victim would emit a musty odor that later intensified into a boggy, diseased stench. As the bark molted, it would expose open sores and reveal the pulpy heartwood within the body, from which sap and other bodily fluids leaked. When a Whiphid was infected via bodily fluid contact, the site of transmission suffered from heavy swelling and necrosis. Sores would open and seep blood and thick discharge, and their tusks would turn a sickly yellow. All fluid and bite transmission victims, regardless of species, were eventually driven mad by the Sickness's progression into their brain, resulting in a loss of self-awareness and bodily control. This led the infected into fits of homicidal rage before the virus ultimately shut down their body.
The symptoms experienced by those who contracted the virus through airborne contagion were drawn out over a longer period than those experienced by bite victims. When the virus activated within a subject, they would immediately suffer from a light cough and draining sinuses. The respiratory difficulties would gradually worsen, leading to labored breathing and deep, rattling sounds of mucus buildup in the lungs. The patient would quickly experience gastrointestinal abnormalities including vomiting and nausea. The skin would turn a pale green or gray and would break into heavy perspiration, similar to a bite victim. Unlike bite victims, these symptoms continually worsened over the course of several hours, and included conditions like fever and internal bleeding. Vomiting blood, seizures, respiratory arrest, and cardiac arrest soon followed, as well as general lethargy and pain. Other patients suffered from internal and external hemorrhaging and even comatose. Those who avoided comatose usually fell into a state of delirium, experiencing vivid hallucinations that ultimately led to aggressive madness. This would cause the victims to turn on one another or commit suicide. Others died from their seizures, cardiac arrest, or blood loss.
The airborne virus interacted differently with the physiology of the Wookiee species. Wookiees who became infected suffered from a swelling of the tongue that restricted their airways. A thick gray fluid collected in their throats, eventually causing them to rupture and expose the musculature within. Prior to death, Wookiees were susceptible to horrific hallucinations; the smuggler Chewbacca saw visions of his family and of dead Wookiee younglings during a Life Day celebration. As the Sickness progressed through their body, the Wookiees would become violent and emit a feral stench, similar to the effects of an activated aggression gland. Rodians also had a unique reaction: the virus caused violent vomiting that expelled their own organs through their mouths. Due to a biological predisposition, Sullustans were particularly susceptible to Imperial bioweapons Project I71A. As the virus took hold of their anatomy, infected Sullustans displayed severe mood swings, cold sweats, and whitened eyes. All of these unique symptoms ultimately culminated in death for all these species.
- "An amazing thing. They're miracles, really. Marvelous. They woke up! They just…eat."
Regardless of the transmission method, all who were infected by the virus eventually died. Immediately after their death, their bodies would decay abnormally quickly, emitting a foul odor of death and rot. At this point, each body went through a transformation: the collective conscious that governed the virus directed its agents to take control of the corpse's nerve receptors and reanimate the flesh by compelling the musculature to fire. The bodies of the dead rose once more, this time as undead monstrosities. These newly reborn victims had no will of their own, and existed only to eat, kill, or transform any survivors of the initial plague. In bite victims, this transformation happened almost immediately after death or, in some cases, as the victim died. For victims of the airborne contagion, however, the dead did not rise once more until the virus had killed a sufficient number of the living. For Force-sensitives, the transformation was accelerated and intensified through the dark side.
There were several key characteristics that were symptomatic of a patient's resurrection. The undead typically suffered from heavy flesh and muscular decay, and therefore had difficulty walking. They instead shuffled about slowly until they were met with potential prey, in which case they entered into a staggering half-run. In their search for food, the infected victims often inflicted bodily harm upon themselves. Many chewed through their own lips, while others broke their own jaws in the act of unhinging them to eat. These oral wounds, in addition to other facial decay, often caused the dead to display a perpetually sinister grin that stretched from ear to ear. Other common conditions included lazy, dead eyes, sagging skin, and an aggressive, hungered appearance. They tended to salivate heavily, and made shallow, rasping noises that were akin to attempts at breath or speech.
Being a member of the undead granted the victim's bodies certain abilities that would not have been available prior to death. The infected could endure physically damaging and debilitating accidents and injuries with little difficulty, such as one-hundred-meter free falls, decapitations, shootings, beatings, and stabbings. The resurrected could accumulate gastric juices and pulpy, partially digested matter within their bellies and regurgitate the fluid to build barriers and obstacles, similar to the nesting techniques of cosm-wasps. Among the characteristics that were essential to the group-think of the undead was the ability to communicate via oscillating screams. These screams were of a pitch and wavelength that only the resurrected could accomplish or understand.
- "What in the name…What's wrong with him?"
"What's wrong? What's right?"
- ―Sith students Hartwig and Maggs, upon seeing an infected classmate
There were several methods by which one could diagnose a patient with the Sickness. Although traditional contamination diagnostics were unable to detect the airborne contagion within a select atmosphere, the disease was easily detectable once it entered the body. Blood analysis and cultures could detect a virus within an individual's anatomy, although this tended to not be necessary once symptoms arose. The pervasive quality of the disease allowed for physicians and onlookers to assume that anyone who exhibited symptoms of poor health within an outbreak area was infected by Imperial bioweapons Project I71A.
If no symptoms were readily observable and appropriate medical equipment was not available, infection could be inferred based upon whether or not a subject had come in contact with infected transmission material. Self-diagnosis was possible for those who began to experience mental abnormalities, such as hallucinations or contact with the virus's collective conscious. At least one HK-series assassin droid was able to detect any organisms that were infected by the Sickness within a given vicinity.
Viral behavior and characteristics
- "It seems as though the individual organisms are using quorum sensing to communicate with one another inside the host[…] Individual cells don't activate to full virulence until they've reproduced to such numbers that the host can't combat them."
- ―The 2-1B surgical droid known as "Waste"
As noted by its creators, the virus had a level of self-awareness and deliberation that was uncommon among pathogenic diseases. This sentience originated from the addition of the Murakami orchid, but existed as an entirely separate entity from that of the individual orchid that was added to the viral mixture. The mind that governed the individual viruses had drives and motives of its own, and worked outside the will of the alchemist that created it. Upon entering an organism, the individual viral agents remained benign, but replicated within the cells of the host so as to bolster their numbers and strength. By using quorum sensing, the viral particles could tell when their numbers had reached a point at which the host organism would be unable to combat them with their own immune system. When this threshold was reached, the disease particles would activate to full virulence and attack the body of its carrier. This behavior affected the victims on more than a microbiological level alone—when the Sickness was introduced into a new population, the infection would kill off and replicate within all carriers until only those who were immune to or vaccinated against the disease were left. Using the same quorum sensing techniques, the Sickness would then reanimate the deceased hosts and use their overwhelming numbers to hunt down and kill the survivors of the initial plague. To coordinate the actions of different groups of the undead, the infection would cause its puppet victims to emanate rhythmic waveform screams. These screams alerted the various groups of undead to the locations of others, and served as a system of communication through call-and-response screaming.
The disease also possessed the extraordinary ability to learn and develop new skills based on the experiences of its infected puppets. Although newly transformed populations of undead began their existence as primitive stalkers, they quickly learned to avoid danger and to utilize machines and technology. Because of the collective sentience that governed each of the victims, they even moved as if they were a single living organism reacting and adapting to the environment around it. Depending on the situation, the undead could equip themselves with weapons ranging from blasters to lightsabers, and even starfighters. One group of the infected even arranged a communications blackout and activated and operated a tractor beam in order to prevent survivors from leaving their immediate vicinity and to trap any unwary passersby. Their rate of behavioral adaptation was extremely swift, and happened simultaneously throughout a cluster of cooperating undead.
The Sickness's drive and will to kill and devour any living creatures was the only motivation within the mind that governed the viral particles, and so drove it to attempt to purposely spread the infection to new populations. The consciousness of the disease also spoke directly to the infected prior to their death, sometimes mimicking the presence of the Force or even reasoning with its victim. When the virus finally activated itself within an infected organism, it congealed various bodily fluids into a gray oozing substance that was capable of independent locomotion. This ooze carried the Sickness throughout the body, and had emitted viral agents into the atmosphere when exposed to open air. Upon coming into contact with living flesh, the fluid coagulated and crawled over the skin in search of an opening or wound by which to enter the body. Many of these characteristics—particularly the collective consciousness, the physical appearance of the gray fluid, and the postmortem symptoms of the infected—mirrored the effects and physical manifestations of Mnggal-Mnggal, a dangerous entity native to the galaxy's Unknown Regions.
The concentrated airborne version of the Sickness possessed a peculiar limitation: while it had the ability to infect a large population over a short period of time, that population had to have constant exposure to an atmosphere contaminated with Imperial bioweapons Project I71A. If the undead separated themselves from such an atmosphere or distanced themselves from a readily available source of viral agents, the decay process would stabilize and muscle receptors would cease to fire, essentially terminating the facilities of the undead.
Treatment and prevention
- "My medical droid and I have no idea what type of infection we're dealing with, only that it's extremely aggressive and traditional treatment seems completely ineffective. Worse, our isolation and quarantine countermeasures have no effect. Although I haven't found any sign of contamination in myself yet, I can't help but think it may be inevitable."
- ―Dr. Zahara Cody, in a message to her father
The Blackwing virus was capable of overcoming nearly every traditional method of treatment or containment, making it incredibly difficult to prevent or cure. Because the airborne strain could penetrate biohazard gear and containment bubbles, quarantine efforts were a vain exercise. Despite its strengths, the disease could be blocked or fought in several ways. Some Humans possessed a natural immunity to the disease due to a genetic predisposition. However, this protection only worked to prevent airborne infection; bite wounds would still result in traditional infection. After blood analysis of these immune individuals, the specific gene that allowed for this protection could be synthesized and replicated in order to create an anti-virus that could slow the infection or prevent it altogether. Injected intravenously, the anti-virus worked well with Human physiology, but induced infection symptoms in Wookiees. The anti-virus could be used on the undead, but had little effect—while some measure of mental and bodily control returned to the victim for a short time, they were quickly reclaimed by the Sickness and once more turned into a cannibalistic monstrosity.
To prevent the spread of the disease once an outbreak had begun, an individual had several limited options. Wookiees could be saved from death by removing the infectious fluid buildup from their throats with a syringe. A patient could also be saved by amputating the limb or body part that hosted the site of transmission. If the infected gray matter began to move through the body before amputation could be performed, a physician could make an incision into the patient's body and insert their fingers in order to squeeze and pop the gelatinous substance that carried the virus. If the substance was halted, the areas of the body that had already been infected would fall to necrosis while the rest of the being survived. Death could also be delayed by flushing the transmission site with a saline solution and attaching an intravenous pump and performing regular blood transfusions. This removed infected blood from the body and pumped in new, uninfected fluids. Although the transfusion method was effective, it only slowed the progression of the disease. Eventually, the virus would take hold of the fresh blood as well, slowly turning the patient into a member of the undead.
To destroy the hordes of the undead, only certain methods proved successful. Grinding up the bodies of the infected was effective, but some of the remains could still spread the infection. Chopping up a victim with a lightsaber, burning it with a flamethrower, or crushing it underneath a heavy object all destroyed a zombie victim. Other effective methods included the usage of explosives, conjuring Force lightning against the belligerents, or destroying the cranium. Also, as with most living beings, complete vaporization was effective. A Force-sensitive individual that made contact with the consciousness of the Murakami orchid that was used to create the viral mixture could, on occasion, urge the orchid to grow within the bodies of the undead. If the orchid agreed, it could force the spores within the gray viral fluid to germinate and push their way out of the body. Although this stopped the body of the uninfected individual, the newly grown Murakami orchids were controlled by the Sickness, and so sought to attack and kill any survivors in the vicinity.
For the Sith alchemist who created the virus in hopes of finding a path to immortality, their goal could be achieved only by completing a dark ritual within a Sith Temple. This ritual required that the alchemist first infect themselves with the virus, then capture a member of the Jedi Order who registered a high midi-chlorian count. The virus ensured that the Sith's body would live on beyond death, but the process of decay killed the alchemist, leaving the corpse to be controlled by the Sickness. By using a Sith sword to cut out and devour the still-beating, midi-chlorian-rich heart of the Jedi, the Sith could retain the death-defying qualities granted by the Blackwing virus, but prevent the dissolution of their bodily tissue, thereby gaining ultimate immortality.
Created by the Sith
Darth Drear's search for immortality
- "Before he died, Darth Drear wrote of the final stage of the process—the step that he himself was never able to achieve."
- ―Darth Scabrous
At some point prior to 4645 BBY, the Sith Lord known as Darth Drear established an academy for students of the dark side of the Force on the frozen world of Odacer-Faustin in the Outer Rim's Esstran sector. Drear built the academy ostensibly to train acolytes to serve the reborn Sith Empire, but had ulterior motives. After compelling his students to build an extensive library, Drear went about perfecting a hidden Sith temple beneath the athenaeum. From within the depths of this temple, the Sith Lord experimented on a number of specimens in the search of one thing: immortality. Drear eventually formulated a recipe for a complex elixir that could hypothetically grant eternal life, given that the seeker complete a precise series of rituals. He recorded his findings in a Sith holocron and went to work creating the elixir through the powers of Sith Alchemy. Using a rare Murakami black orchid as the active ingredient, Drear ultimately succeeded and ingested the final product. While the mixture he consumed was complete, and therefore allowed his body to live on beyond the normal confines of death, it carried with it a single flaw—a viral disease that would ultimately attack and shut down its host's brain, leaving the decaying body to exist as an empty shell of undead tissue.
To avoid such a fate, Drear planned to complete a ritual he had devised to halt the Sickness's progression. This ritual required that, at a specific point shortly before the disease killed him, the Sith Lord use a ceremonial Sith sword to cut out the living heart of a midi-chlorian-rich Jedi. Upon removing the still-beating heart from the body, Drear was to devour it so as to imbue himself with the Force-strong blood and thereby live forever. The Sith Lord commissioned a special sword to be forged for the occasion and sent his sentries to a nearby world to capture his Jedi sacrifice. His pawns ultimately failed to return with a Jedi that had an acceptable midi-chlorian count, and so the Sickness eventually claimed Drear's life. Despite the Sith's failure, records of his attempts survived within his holocron that was hidden deep within the temple for over one thousand years.
Darth Scabrous and the Murakami orchid
- "Her name is Hestizo Trace. She's the orchid's keeper. It needs her to—"
"Survive. I know. That's how I knew you were bringing me the genuine article. It was the one piece of information I withheld about the orchid."
- ―Tulkh and Darth Scabrous
The academy survived Drear's death and continued as a training institution for aspiring Sith through the Empire's Great Galactic War against the Old Republic and years beyond. During the period of political unrest that followed the Great War, the Sith Lord known as Darth Scabrous served as the academy's headmaster, overseeing a student body of several hundred, as well as a full staff of Sith Masters. During his tenure there, Scabrous journeyed deep into the library's ancient labyrinths and discovered Darth Drear's secret temple. Within, the Sith Lord rediscovered his predecessor's holocron and claimed it for himself. This was witnessed by the elderly Neti Sith librarian Dail'Liss, but the onlooker made no move to procure the artifact for himself. Eager to unlock the secrets within, Scabrous thoroughly studied the holocron's historical and alchemical contents and committed to recreating the immortality elixir so that he might reap its benefits.
To that end, the Sith Lord began to abduct students from the school and hold them within his tower that sat squarely in the center of the academy grounds. Within his laboratory at the highest level of the tower, Scabrous performed torturous experiments on the young Sith in his attempts to achieve immortality. He set to work creating the fluid that carried the virus, but lacked a key component—the Murakami black orchid. Knowing that the ritual would not work without this vital ingredient, the Sith Lord set out to retrieve the plant through the employment of bounty hunters. Multiple hunters, including the Human Dranok and his Nelvaanian companion Skarl attempted to collect the bounty, but they all failed to bring Scabrous the genuine item. Instead, these hunters returned with physically similar flowers that had none of the alchemical properties of the Murakami, and were ultimately killed for their mistakes. While he waited for one of his mercenary pawns to bring him the orchid, Scabrous moved forward with experimentation on his students. The subject of his focus in 3645 BBY was the acolyte Wim Nickter, who had been defeated in a training duel with a classmate and was promptly abducted by Scabrous, who recognized his weakness in combat. While the boy was unconscious and recovering from his defeat, the Sith Lord placed him within a cage in his lab and surgically inserted six large tubes into his vertebrae, intending to use Nickter as the organic host in which the viral elixir could be synthesized.
As Nickter was being driven insane by Scabrous's experiments, one of the Sith Lord's hired bounty hunters found success in his search on the Core World of Marfa. Within a greenhouse maintained by the Jedi Order's Agricultural Corps, the Whiphid bounty hunter Tulkh discovered the Murakami orchid. However, during his attempts to remove the plant from its hothouse, the Whiphid discovered that it was reliant on the Force presence of Agricultural Corps member Hestizo Trace—a characteristic Scabrous had omitted from his descriptions of the orchid to bounty hunters in an attempt to ensure the legitimacy of the specimens brought to him. In an effort to guarantee the plant's survival during the journey to Odacer-Faustin, Tulkh kidnapped Trace and took her to the Sith academy world as well. Upon arrival, Trace and the orchid were taken to Scabrous's tower and handed over to the Sith Lord, who promptly added the plant to the viral mixture being pumped through Nickter's broken body. With this addition, the disease activated to full virulence within the acolyte, driving him to commit suicide before reanimating his body.
Infection released on Odacer-Faustin
- "One of the ones who fell was Wim Nickter. After he hit the ground, he got up and attacked me. He was dead, but he was…still alive. I had to pin him under a pile of rocks to get away. That Sickness in the air that you're talking about—that's Scabrous's doing, up in the tower. I think…I think he's bringing the dead back to life."
- ―Mnah Ra'at
Upon reanimation, Nickter's body broke free from its cage and tore the surgical tubes from its back in an attempt to attack Darth Scabrous. Failing to predict such an attack, the Sith Lord suffered a serious facial wound when the newly born creature bit into a large portion of his flesh. Jura Ostrogoth, a Sith student who had sneaked into the tower to investigate Scabrous's activities, was caught in the melee between the Sith Lord and his creation, and was inadvertently thrown out of the laboratory when Scabrous Force pushed the Nickter creature out of one of the room's viewports. The two students landed one hundred meters below and were crushed by the impact. After noting that Hestizo Trace had escaped the tower in the commotion, Scabrous treated his wound in an effort to stave off the disease's progression through his body, fitting himself with a portable hemodialysis pump and monitoring his contamination levels. Understanding that the pump's transfusions would only grant him a six-hour reprieve from transformation into the undead, Scabrous went to work hunting down Trace so that he might use her to complete Drear's ritual.
Meanwhile, Nickter's decimated body re-awoke on the ground below and quickly began to eat what remained of Jura Ostrogoth, thereby infecting his corpse with the Sickness. Fellow student Mnah Ra'at witnessed their fall and Nickter's reanimation, but escaped the undead acolyte after pinning his body beneath a large pile of stones. In the shadow of the tower, Ostrogoth was born again as a member of the undead, staggering off towards the dormitories to find more victims. Within, he encountered and bit the Zabrak Scopique, who later infected six more Sith students. The academy Masters, who sensed the Sickness and its disturbing impact through the Force, called all of the students to a large convocation to inform them that lessons were canceled until the cause of the disturbance could be identified. Until then, all acolytes were ordered back to their dorms or to the dining hall for their evening meal. One hundred and twenty of the students went to the hall to eat, and within they were ambushed by the six acolytes who were transformed by Scopique. All of the students were killed, only to be reanimated later as zombies under the will of the Sickness.
The undead gradually took control of the academy, killing a number of Masters and systematically working to infect any survivors. Ra'at and three other Sith students survived for a time, but eventually turned on each other and were killed alongside their Blademaster Xat Hracken. Hestizo Trace also survived the initial plague with the assistance of the Whiphid Tulkh, who elected not to leave the planet after finding Wim Nickter's undead body. Trace and Tulkh traveled around the academy together for a time, defeating the undead and discovering new ways to kill or trick the zombies. The young Jedi eventually discovered that she could communicate with the orchid that had been used to create the virus, and could motivate it to grow within the bodies of the undead, thereby destroying the zombie. As she capitalized on this connection, Darth Scabrous continued to search for her. The Sith Lord returned to the academy library, wherein he confronted the librarian Dail'liss and demanded that he assume the telepathic identity of the orchid and ask that Trace come into the library. Dail'liss complied, but before Scabrous left him to his work, the Sith Lord bit the Neti, spreading the infection to him.
Trace ultimately entered the library, where she was confronted and captured by Darth Scabrous and several undead specimens of the Murakami orchid. Meanwhile, Hestizo's brother and fellow Jedi Rojo Trace was searching the academy for his abducted sister. After escaping the now-insane Dail'Liss, Rojo journeyed into the hidden Sith temple, wherein he found Scabrous about to use Darth Drear's sword to cut out his sister's heart. He jumped into the fray to defend his sister, but was ultimately killed. Despite his victory over the Jedi Knight, Scabrous had reached the limits of his body's resistance and succumbed to the disease. Hestizo Trace was also nearly killed by the reborn Scabrous creature, but instead encouraged the Murakami orchid to grow within his body as well, thus destroying the Sith Lord once and for all. Trace was then rescued from the planet by Tulkh, who was working alongside Darth Scabrous's reprogrammed assassin droid and an academy mechanic named Pergus Frode. During their flight from the planet, the droid was lost to laser cannon fire, and Tulkh contracted and died from the Sickness, leaving Hestizo Trace and Pergus Frode as the only two survivors of the outbreak on Odacer-Faustin. The undead creatures created by the disease were left behind on the world while Trace returned to the Jedi Order to report on the incident. Despite the apparent isolation of the Odacer-Faustin academy and the monsters within, Trace still feared that the Sickness would find a way to spread.
Rediscovered by the Galactic Empire
- "In a strictly scientific sense, I do know that my programmers were working on an easily conveyed chemical means of slowing the normal course of decay in living tissue. Ideally the virus would be able to take over nerve receptors and make the muscles fire even after clinical death has occurred."
- ―A 2-1B medical droid aboard the Vector
Over three thousand years after the Odacer-Faustin outbreak, Hestizo Trace's fears came to fruition. During this period, the galaxy was ruled by the Order of the Sith Lords by way of Darth Sidious's Galactic Empire. Circa 1 BBY, Darth Vader—Sidious's apprentice and Supreme Commander of the Imperial Military—learned of the existence of the Sickness and laid the groundwork for the virus's re-creation. The Sith Lord ordered the Imperial Biological Weapons Division to devise a process by which the pathogen could be synthesized and enriched into a concentrated, weaponized version of the original disease; this product was destined to be a method for the Empire to eradicate revolutionaries and freedom fighters, like those in the Alliance to Restore the Republic. The effort was designated "Imperial bioweapons Project I71A," but the final outcome was eventually codenamed "Project Blackwing," or the "Blackwing virus." The scientists of the Biological Weapons Division operated in secrecy to fulfill Vader's mandate, working out of the Imperial I-class Star Destroyer Vector as it toured the Outer Rim Territories, Wild Space, and the Unknown Regions. Although the biologists and weapons developers affiliated with the project were aware of the goal of their effort, the stormtroopers and Imperial officers aboard the Vector were kept uninformed about the research being performed in their midst.
This research eventually reached fruition after the scientists synthesized a concentrated viral fluid in the bodies of two Human hosts. This more concentrated variant of the Sickness existed in its original grey liquid form, but also had the potential to become airborne, thereby making it more pervasive. As the Biological Weapons Division team began seeing promising results, the Vector was directed to the Inner Rim world of Meglumine. Here, a small group from the vessel traveled planetside to collect pallets of airtight tanks that could contain the fluid form of the Blackwing virus. After being taken aboard, the tanks were loaded with the liquid and were moved into storage while the Vector journeyed towards a weapons testing base on Khonji Seven, outside of the Brunet system. Despite the Weapons Division's prior successes, the process of moving the tanks proved to be problematic when several troopers mishandled the cargo and caused a number of the containers to leak. The leaking tanks released the Blackwing virus as an airborne pathogen that quickly infected the thousands of Imperials aboard the Vector.
Infection aboard the Vector
- "It started ten weeks ago, when the first tanks began leaking."
"There were those conspiracy theorists among us who insisted it wasn't an accident, that we were all part of some larger experiment, which I suppose is possible."
- ―Commander Gorrister and Captain Sartoris
The disease initially appeared to be easily containable, as the scientists aboard the Vector succeeded in quarantining the area of the ship that had been directly exposed to the virus. This effort worked for a time, and even allowed the biologists time to collect sample tissue from those who had become infected and examine these specimens in Bio-Lab 177. However, during this time, the Vector's engines experienced a critical malfunction, causing the ship to periodically lose power and stall in space. While technical crews tried in vain to address the problem, the research team conducted studies on the Blackwing virus's effects on the lungs and larynx by removing those organs from the bodies of the diseased and placing them in a large, fluid-filled vat in the laboratory. As they studied the waveform screams emitted by the larynx, they continued to collect the viral fluid being produced within the lungs and even discovered that some aboard the vessel had a natural immunity to the disease. After learning that this immunity was due to an apparently random genetic quirk, they used the blood of the immune to create an anti-virus that could prevent infection in those inoculated with it. The anti-virus was supposed to be issued to all crewmen aboard the Vector, but it soon became apparent that there would not be enough of the serum to go around. The problems with the engines eventually led to power failures throughout the ship, causing the Vector to lose communications and come to a complete halt in the Unknown Regions.
While rank-and-file soldiers continued with daily activities and training exercises, members of the research team and the Vector's high command had to address the issues developing within the quarantined zones. Among the most troubling developments stood the inaccessibility of the remaining anti-virus, which was located in the ship's contaminated Bio-Lab 242, as well as the resurrection of those who had been killed by the virus during the initial leak. Eventually, the plan to quarantine the infected fell apart, as the Blackwing virus transcended the containment barriers aboard the Vector and began to spread to the rest of the crew. While hundreds of troopers became sick and died, those who were inoculated against the infection enacted contingency plans to try to stave off the disease's progression through the ship and prevent the victims from transforming into the undead. To that end, the survivors rounded up the bodies of the deceased and ground them up in a garbage facility, leaving behind a massive hill of flesh, limbs, and entrails in the waste room. Even this attempt was only marginally successful—some of these remains were still possessed by the Blackwing virus, while victims who were transformed before they could be chopped up began to eat the immune and inoculated.
As conditions worsened, a number of the surviving Imperial forces made plans to escape the doomed Vector. Under the leadership of Commander Gorrister, twenty-nine Imperial soldiers boarded the Sentinel-class landing craft Freebird and departed the Star Destroyer. Gorrister's forces did not make it far; the undead aboard the Vector had taken control of the entire Star Destroyer and learned to operate its tractor beam. After pulling the Freebird back into the capital ship's hangar, the Blackwing-controlled victims attempted to breach the ship's hull and access the survivors within, but found themselves unable to do so. The zombies thus resigned themselves to stalking the now-derelict destroyer while the soldiers aboard the landing craft waited for rescue for the next ten weeks. During that time, Gorrister's men were forced to resort to cannibalism for sustenance, which ultimately reduced their numbers from thirty to seven.
The contagion spreads
Horror aboard the Purge
- "There is sickness and despair everywhere, confusion and complete breakdown of order on every level. I just saw a stormtrooper in the hallway take off his helmet and put his blaster to his head. He was crying when he did it."
- ―Dr. Zahara Cody
For the ten weeks following the leak on the Vector, the ship drifted through the Unknown Regions, intercepting and capturing any vessel that crossed its path. Around this time, the Imperial prison barge Purge was transporting a full load of inmates to the corrections facility on the detention moon known as Gradient Seven, passing directly through a region of space occupied by the Vector. The barge became easy prey for the Star Destroyer, which caught the Purge in its tractor beams, thereby damaging the transport's engines. Those aboard the Purge—including the Imperial Corrections Service Warden Bissley Kloth, Guard Captain Jareth Sartoris, and the on-board technicians—were unaware of the reason for their engine's failure. As such, they saw the presence of the Vector as a blessing; the Star Destroyer, although apparently derelict, was certain to be carrying the necessary supplies and parts to allow the Purge's technicians to repair their drives. To collect the goods, Warden Kloth directed the Purge to connect with the Vector via an extendable docking shaft and ordered Captain Sartoris to lead a team of nine men—consisting of Imperial Corrections Officers Austin, Vesek, and Armitage; engineers Greeley, Blandings, Phibes, and Quatermass; and two stormtroopers—into the larger vessel. Upon entering the Star Destroyer, the ten Imperials split into two teams, both independently searching for the necessary parts to repair their barge. During the search, the men became infected with the airborne Blackwing virus, gradually becoming sicker and sicker. Sartoris' team of five completed their objective and returned to the docking shaft, but the other group came under attack from the undead aboard the Vector and were killed. The Guard Captain assumed his missing subordinates had already returned to the Purge, and so returned to the ship to rendezvous with them and begin repairs.
At this point, all members of his team were experiencing rasping coughs and occasional vomiting. Because their contamination diagnostics had indicated that the Vector had not been exposed to any harmful biological agent, they believed this to be the result of subpar prison mess hall food, but their continually worsening conditions forced them all into the Purge's med bay. The medical wing was overseen by Doctor Zahara Cody and her 2-1B surgical droid Waste, neither of whom could identify the specific illness that was overtaking the men, nor find the appropriate measures to stem the progression of the disease. While ICOs Austin and Vesek descended into hemorrhaging and uncontrollable vomiting, Captain Sartoris remained unaffected, for he possessed the rare genetic quirk that prevented him from contracting the Blackwing virus through airborne means. The same could not be said for most aboard the Purge—upon the return of the team sent into the Vector, the disease spread uncontrollably throughout the prison barge. While stormtroopers and corrections officers were sent to the med bay in droves to seek treatment for nausea, seizures, and other symptoms, the prisoners in General Population were left to ride out the disease on their own. Despite efforts to avoid contraction through the use of quarantine bubbles and biohazard gear, the Sickness continued to spread, driving its victims through waves of pain or fits of insanity. Beside Sartoris, three other individuals aboard the Purge were immune—Doctor Zahara Cody, and inmate brothers Trig and Kale Longo. Upon realizing her natural resistance to the disease, Doctor Cody allowed Waste to take a sample of blood from her. The droid used the sample to create an anti-virus, but did not succeed in doing so until nearly all of the prisoners, guards, troopers, and administrators—numbering five hundred and twenty-two prior to exposure—had been killed.
Zahara Cody was able to save the lives of only two of the convicts; the smugglers Han Solo and Chewbacca, who were being kept in solitary confinement, were subjected to an entirely different airflow than that of the rest of the Purge, which prevented them from contracting the airborne contaminant. Doctor Cody released the two from imprisonment and inoculated them with the anti-virus before journeying to find the rest of the survivors. She succeeded in finding the Longo brothers, but discovered that Captain Sartoris had escaped the Purge in the last accessible escape pod only moments earlier.
- "I think we're the only ones left. For a long time everybody was yelling, 'Let us out so we at least have a chance,' stuff like that. The Rodians in the cell across from ours died. Then the rest of them did too. Now it's so quiet. I can smell the bodies locked up around us. They're starting to rot. There are no guards left either. I don't know why we didn't get sick. Whatever it is Kale and I must be immune to it. If no one comes to let us out we'll starve to death in here. I'm not hungry but I am thirsty and I don't want to die in here."
- ―Trig Longo, in a letter to his father
While the survivors formulated a different plan of escape, the virus compelled all of the dead to gather within the lower levels of the General Population area. When the Sickness's quorum-sensing ability recognized the high number of undead pawns at its disposal, it reanimated the bodies, which immediately began to search for the only remaining living things on the Purge: Doctor Cody, Captain Solo, Chewbacca, and the Longo brothers. The sudden and unexpected assault from the vessel's deceased forced the survivors to journey through the docking tube that still connected the Purge to the Vector. During the attempt to flee, Kale Longo was bitten and infected by the reanimated corpse of his father, who had been killed weeks prior. All five of them escaped into the Star Destroyer's hangar and sealed the tube behind them, but the elder Longo brother was unable to travel due to his injury. Doctor Cody chose to stay in the hangar and work to treat his wound while Trig Longo followed Solo and Chewbacca to the Destroyer's bridge, where they hoped to gain control of the Destroyer. During the journey, the boy and the smugglers discovered that the ship was filled with thousands of undead crewmen and stormtroopers who were roaming through the vessel in search of food.
In the hangar, Doctor Cody was able to stem the progression of the disease through Kale's body. While the two rested, the undead in the docking tube utilized blasters in an effort to break through the seal; the attempts were successful, and as they shot their way into the hangar, Kale Longo was hit in the face with a blaster bolt, killing him immediately. Cody was forced to leave his body and flee, allowing the undead to fully infect and transform it. Elsewhere in the hangar, Captain Sartoris—whose escape pod had been captured by the Vector's tractor beams—awoke after having been rendered unconscious by his pod's tumultuous entry to the hangar. Sartoris was also set upon by the ravenous undead, but was rescued by Commander Gorrister and his men, who were still hiding within the Freebird. Gorrister explained the fall of the Vector to the captain while his six surviving soldiers moved to kill the newcomer. Although the survivors intended to eat Sartoris for sustenance, the captain overpowered the emaciated Gorrister and threw him and several of his men to the zombies waiting outside the vessel. He decided to spare three of the men, White, Pauling, and Tanner, but soon discovered that he had been bitten by one of the undead during the commotion. Upon realizing this, he set off to find other survivors from the Purge and deactivate the Destroyer's tractor beam. Meanwhile, Doctor Cody wandered into Bio-Lab 242, where the virus had been recreated. Within, she was nearly killed by one of the infected scientists who had helped create the plague, but was saved by an Imperial medical droid. Cody later made it aboard the Freebird.
Near the Vector's bridge, Trig Longo was separated from Solo and the Wookiee and ultimately became prey for the newly transformed body of his brother, Kale. He escaped his attacker but nearly fell into a horde of the undead. Having deactivated the tractor beam, Captain Sartoris commandeered one of the vessel's utility lifters and caught the boy and picked up Solo and Chewbacca. Despite the apparent rescue, their combined weight pulled the hovercraft towards the ravenous morass. Knowing he was already in the process of transformation due to his bite, Sartoris sacrificed himself so that the others might live. The three met up with Tanner and Pauling at the Freebird. White had been killed earlier. The five survivors eventually reached the Freebird only to find a creature had gotten aboard, and killed Pauling and Tanner. Doctor Cody "killed" the creature and the four escaped. As they fled the Vector, they witnessed other docked ships take off, piloted by the undead with the intent to spread the Sickness. These ships ultimately failed to make it into hyperspace, as their zombie pilots lost their faculties after distancing themselves from an atmosphere that provided continuous exposure to the virus.
The Dathomir quarantine
- "There was an accident at an Imperial Research and Prison Facility and as a result many...well, most in the area have become infected."
- ―Guri, to a spacer
After the Vector incident, the Blackwing project was relocated to a secret Imperial Research and Prison Facility on the remote planet Dathomir. The Empire recruited high-profile scientists from all around the galaxy to participate in the project. Doctor Griffax Jin served as chief virologist and other scientists included Doctors Pram Dramango, Stane Tritan, Nomi Rhane, Piodas Ray, Tare Sal and Ziris Enz.
Around 1 ABY an accident happened in the Imperial Research and Prison Facility and the virus escaped containment another time. Again, the virus killed most people in the area and turned them into hungry zombies. The undeads included mostly Imperial soldiers and prisoners from the Imperial Research and Prison Facility as well as indigenous Dathomiri Witches.
In place of sterilizing the area with an orbital bombardment, the Empire promptly established a Quarantine Zone to contain the infection. The few people who survived the initial virus outbreak, mostly Imperial staff and prisoners, were trapped in the Quarantine Zone. They established five camps inside the area, Camp Alpha, Camp Beta, Camp Gamma, Camp Delta and Camp Epsilon, to try to live in safety while waiting for an evacuation. The camps all came under regular attack from the zombies. Moreover, all rescue teams were attacked upon landing in the area and their members were killed before they could find the survivors. Landing in the Quarantine Zone was eventually prohibited, and Imperial authorities only tried to support the survivors with supply air drop.
Doctor Zahara Cody and Trig Longo, the survivors from the Purge, soon arrived on Dathomir and were dropped in Camp Alpha from the Millennium Falcon by Han Solo and Chewbacca. Cody and Longo had decided to distribute to the survivors of the Quarantine Zone an anti-virus developed by Dr. Cody during the Vector incident.
Darth Vader was not eager to lose the virus and the research data. The Dark Lord dispatched Captain Piett to recruit volunteers in order to enter the quarantine zone and obtain an original sample of the Blackwing virus in the research center. In the meantime, both the Rebel Alliance and the Black Sun managed to steal Imperial authorization for the Quarantine Zone, and Han Solo and Guri sent their own agents to find the virus before the Empire.
The spacers ventured into the Quarantine Zone, where they had to fight a number of undeads. They finally reached the Imperial Research and Prison Facility, where they were attacked by the most aggressive undead creatures. They even had to fight a giant undead rancor in the depths of the facility. The Blackwing crystals found in the undead rancor's cave were possibly an unknown byproduct of the Blackwing virus they were aptly named after. The spacers finally found Dr. Griffax Jin, the Imperial chief virologist, who had survived the outbreak. However, the man soon turned into a zombie and attacked the spacers. After the scientist was definitely killed, the spacers got a sample of the virus in the lab. The spacer also encountered some survivors, including Dr. Pram Dramango, Dr. Stane Tritan, and Dr. Nomi Rhane, and eventually helped them to all leave the research facility alive.
During the Blackwing outbreak on Dathomir, a number of Witches of Dathomir became infected with the disease. In an attempt to contain the outbreak, the Galactic Empire killed most of the Howling Crag Clan. However, three of the infected witches—Denkra Kymeri, Naija Kymeri and Thestriel Kymeri—survived, using spells to fight off the contagion. They became known as the "Sisters of the Void" and developed the ability to reanimate the corpses of dead Witches and slaves and control them in battles.
Behind the scenes
- "There was a point where I actually wanted to try and see if I could show the effects of a droid if it got infected with the virus. I wrote a scene where some bizarre contaminated droid had gotten the virus, but it just wasn't working out in the practical sense of the continuity."
- ―Joe Schreiber
- Red Harvest
- Red Harvest audiobook
- Stormtrooper TK 329 (TK329) on Twitter
- Death Troopers (First appearance, simultaneous with Death Troopers audiobook)
- Death Troopers audiobook
- Death Troopers: Recovered Messages from Purge (Mentioned only)
- Star Wars Galaxies: The Complete Online Adventures
- Star Wars Galaxies Trading Card Game – Threat of the Conqueror (Card: Trig Longo)
- The Unknown Regions
- The Essential Reader's Companion
Notes and references
- Red Harvest
- Death Troopers
- In Red Harvest, which takes place in 3645 BBY, Darth Scabrous indicates that the Sickness was originally engineered over one thousand years prior, placing its creation at some point before 4645 BBY.
- Star Wars Galaxies: The Complete Online Adventures
- The New Essential Guide to Weapons and Technology
- The Unknown Regions
- Death Troopers: Recovered Messages from Purge
- Red Harvest notes that Drear lived, approximately, in 4645 BBY, during the time of the Sith Empire. Given that Drear's academy continued to serve this Empire a thousand years later, this article assumes that Drear was part of the Sith Empire.
- The events of Red Harvest are stated to take place in 3645 BBY, eight years after the end of the Great Galactic War, as seen in Timeline 1: Treaty of Coruscant, The Old Republic: Deceived, and Star Wars: The Old Republic, Threat of Peace. Although neither the Great Galactic War nor the Cold War are mentioned in the book, the dates provided indicate that the academy on Odacer-Faustin was in use during these periods.
- Star Wars Galaxies: The Complete Online Adventures—Quest: "Mysterious Meeting Request" on Dathomir
- Star Wars Galaxies: The Complete Online Adventures—Quest: "Investigate Dathomir" on Lok
- Star Wars Galaxies: The Complete Online Adventures—Quest: "Research Facility, Level 1" on Dathomir
- Star Wars Galaxies: The Ruins of Dantooine
- Star Wars Galaxies: The Complete Online Adventures—Collection: "Undead Boss"
- Star Wars Galaxies: The Complete Online Adventures—Collection: "Camp Location Collection"
- Star Wars Galaxies: The Complete Online Adventures—Collection: "Forward Watch"
- Star Wars Galaxies: The Complete Online Adventures—Quest: "Find the Stormtroopers" on Dathomir
- Star Wars Galaxies: The Complete Online Adventures—Quest: "Speak to Trig" on Dathomir
- Star Wars Galaxies: The Complete Online Adventures—Quest: "Get Inoculated" on Dathomir
- Star Wars Galaxies: The Complete Online Adventures—Quest: "What Next?" on Dathomir
- Star Wars Galaxies: The Complete Online Adventures—Quest: "Group Event - Undead Rancor" on Dathomir
- Star Wars Galaxies: The Complete Online Adventures—Game Update 19: The Witches of Dathomir