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40k Lore: We’ll be Back!

6 Minute Read
Jul 21 2011
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And coincidentally I’m back!  Yes it’s been a while and I’ve had a lot on my plate, but now I’m back with some new 40k Lore articles.

This time I wanted to consider the Necrons, and specifically what how their resurrection and phase outs work in-universe.  We should all be aware of the basics here, Necron creations are (generally) known to exhibit two remarkable characteristics in battle which are far beyond the technological capabilities of the younger species; self-repair and phase-out. 
In the first case it seems that the remarkable materials and “living metals” developed in the ancient past by the Necrotyr and C’Tan from which the mechanical Necron “race” are created.  These materials seem to “heal” themselves much as actual flesh can, though at a far faster rate than merely biological matter can.  The logical limits of this function would be the original mass of the Necron creation in question; matter cannot be created so the auto-repair function would only have the remaining mass of the damaged Necron to work with, reconnecting and patching damage rather than simply creating a whole new leg or arm.  In this way Necrons can only be permanently incapacitated by truly massive damage which leaves too little intact for their repair functions to work from.  However, even in this case the damaged Necron components are almost always “phased out.”
Phasing is the Necron mode of teleportation, and is very poorly understood by all of the other species.  Most forms of teleportation rely on a limited and highly refined application of Warp travel; the matter to be teleported is wrapped in in a Geller bubble and transported through the Warp to its intended destination.  Needless to say this is a very dangerous prospect fraught with risk and instability (even in the hands of such past-masters of applied Warp tech as the Eldar).  However, as the Necrons do not make use of any Warp based technology their phasing teleportation must work on different principles (most likely some form of tesseract space-bending technology).  The result is far more accurate and controllable than other forms of teleportation and seems to incur far less risk to the materials involved and it is used by the Necrons quite widely at a tactical level for insertions, tactical relocations, and withdrawals.  It is this last that it is perhaps most famous for, given eerie the tendency for Necron forces to disappear after (or during) an attack leaving not a trace of their presence but the damage they have wrought.  In this way the Necrons will recover even the remains and components of their “dead.”
However, these characteristics beg a hidden question of sorts with very interesting ramifications; what happens to the mind of the Necron construct in question when its body is destroyed?  At first glance this does not seem to be very significant, after all they are simply automatons and there is a functionally infinite supply of them anyway, so who cares?  And yet, they are NOT simply robots, they are the minds of the original Necrotyr species transferred into mechanical bodies by their C’Tan masters in the most ancient mists of time.  What’s more this suggests an interesting problem, that there CANNOT BE a functionally infinite supply of Necrons, as clearly there could not have been an infinite supply of Necrotyr any more than there are an “infinite” supply of humans.  In fact there are should be a VERY finite supply of Necrons as (unlike humans, Orks, or even Eldar) there are NEVER any new Necrotyr to become Necrons, so the number of Necrotyr that were originally turned into Necrons should represent a limited pool of possible Necrons.  Even apart from the eons of attrition suffered by this pool of Necrons through their war with the Old Ones and their servitor species, the possibility of degradation during their hibernation, and more recent conflicts as they awaken again the pool could not have been all that large in the first place.  It is known that the original Necrotyr were a struggling species, ravaged as a species by the conditions of their native region of space and struggling to eke out a niche for themselves in the galaxy (it was a collective bitterness born of these factors that motivated their omnicidal war on the rest of the galaxy).  Even if their numbers (as is likely enough) numbered in the trillions this is but a drop in the metaphorical bucket of the galaxy, and certainly not enough to (without replenishment) wage a hundred-million year war on the rest of the galaxy.
So all things considered, if there are no new Necrons (barring minor exceptions like the creation of Pariahs), how is it that there still seem to be an inexhaustible number of them?  As I see it there are two possible solutions to this problem.  The answer might well be that there are (at any given point) only a very limited supply of Necrons in any given region of the galaxy, broken down into their nodal structure.  Any given node having only so many available “minds” (those of the original Necrotyr), but equipped with a replenishable supply of construct bodies for them to operate. Upon the destruction of a Necron body beyond repair the digitized Necrotyr mind is recalled and simply placed in a new construct body to be returned to the front line while the only destroyed body is recovered to be recycled into the creation of new constructs.  It is already understood that the essence of a C’Tan may be moved from shell to shell in this manner, and that the Necron Lords minds are “reincarnated” in this way should their bodies be destroyed, so it is hardly beyond the realm of already observed behaviors.  Adding to the deterioration of the Necrotyr minds from their original digitization such repeated transferences could reduce the mind to little better than a pure automaton, whatever identity and free will it might have once have had eroded to nothing as the bulk of them are now.  Specialists like Immortals and Wraiths might represent minds that have endured somewhat better, carefully husbanded a protected for their ability to operate more complex and potent constructs.
The other possibility I see is no less intriguing, that of the replication the originally finite supply of Necrotyr minds.  If one considers that, after being digitized, the minds of the Necrotyr were essentially no more than stored packets of data it seems reasonable that, even if they could not be created from the ground up in the first place (necessitating the digitization of the Necrotyr species rather than the mass creation of A.I.s), once stored they could be simply copied.  After all, one does not have to understand a document to run it through a copy machine, or to order a computer to copy an file.  This replication process might well have been imperfect (errors routinely occur when copying data, especially when a copy is in turn copied) and degraded the minds over time to shadows of their former living selves.  More intact minds would again be an important commodity, copies of copies of copies might be good enough for mass infantry, but more capable minds would be needed for the more complicated and specialized constructs with more complex battlefield roles.  In this way the limit on the number of available Necrons becomes one of physical construction, only specialist units would be in limited supply while a functionally infinite supply of minds would be available for basic troops.
It is interesting to note that, while A.I.s are present in Necron forces (Scarabs and Tomb Spyders being the most obvious) the bulk of the Necron warmachine is controlled and commanded by once living minds.  This might suggest that, all appearances to the contrary, these minds are still more flexible and/or capable than purely artificial ones, even with the degradation.
References:
Codex: Necrons
Core Rulebook
Xenology
I open it up to comments, questions, and opinions from you readers, have at it!
If you have a favorite corner of the 40k lore that would like to see featured, or just a lore question you think would interest the community, let me know, you can even PM me on the forum if you like.  New ideas are always welcome.

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