The Kilrathi are a race of warlike, feline extraterrestrials native to the planet Kilrah. Forming the Kilrathi Empire, they engaged in several expansion and imperialistic wars against other races, including the humans of the Terran Confederation.
The Kilrathi refer to themselves as the Firstborn or Sons of Kilrah. Humans refer to them derogatorily as "cats" or "furballs".
The Kilrathi were primarily a hated faceless enemy, but a more complex side of them was revealed to humans: one of the notable characters in the game is ex-lord Ralgha nar Hhallas, the Kilrathi captain who defected his ship to the Terran Confederation in order to deliver an offer of allegiance from the rebel Kilrathi colony of Ghorah Khar.
Physically they are bipeds who strongly resemble big cats: they have leonine manes, but also have markings which distinguish their clan of origin. The mane becomes white on elder individuals.
The average Kilrathi warrior has sufficient strength to dead-lift about 700 kg overhead. Even armed with a knife or staff, humans are grievously undermatched against Kilrathi warriors in close combat.
The Kilrathi follow carnivorous instincts; they eat (gorge) only once a day, then lie torpid for about an hour. They prefer raw but spiced meat. They drink liquids by lapping them up with their tongues from deep saucers. They metabolize alcohol content easily enough.
The Kilrathi have animal-like senses, like heightened smell. They feel other species's scents, and recognise it either as ukta (prey-food) or bak (another predator, therefore a threat or rival); upon meeting a new species, whose place is not yet determined, their scent is disturbing, and their reactions are mixed.
The Kilrathi race evolved on the harsh, arid planet of Kilrah. Their ancestors were among the fiercest predators of the planet. On the other hand Humans were also predators, but hunter-gatherers. The Kilrathi reached the top of the food chain much quicker than proto-humans did.
Before achieving sentience, at least 10 million years ago, Proto-Kilrathi performed ambushes. Hunting packs concealed themselves along known game-trails and attacked herds of food-animals, specifically the weakest, most vulnerable prey, in a coordinated manner, using only instinct and natural weaponry (Humans on the other hand did so when they achieved sentience and and used weapons 3-4 million years ago).
It is theorized that, typical of pack-hunters, presentient Kilrathi displayed dominance patterns: a smaller/inferior hunter would respond submissively to any challenge from a dominant pack-leader, a behavior still underlying modern Kilrathi institutions, beginning with the Imperial Throne. To counter this submissive behavior, which is unacceptable in warfare, the Kilrathi civilization employed the construct of honor thus engaging lesser warriors to face more potent enemies.
Intelligence itself emerged at first as a means to enhance the Kilrathi natural hunting abilities and to preserve them from the dangerous environment of their planet; they started to build tools and traps to capture their prey, but also shelters where to take cover during the volcanic eruptions that often rained acidic ash on the surface of Kilrah. Due to their fierce territoriality and the growth of their communities, which required larger territories for hunting, the Kilrathi soon learned that creating weapons and traps to kill other members of their species was as easy as preparing new tools for hunting.
The race remains a predatory species, only magnified to a galactic level; they attack and claim their opponents in the far reaches of space and take by force those who do not bow to them.
Because of the above, pack-hunting tactics remained very deeply ingrained in their nature. It is the paradigm they will turn to under stress, or when they have the advantage. Natural guerrilla fighters, they are naturally predisposed to attack over defense, and to ambush over attack-in-force. They are most comfortable in groups of 3 or more, feel more courage (even suicidal) and engage numerically superior forces. However, a single or two Kilrathi will tend to avoid contact. Because of their natural inclination to group tactics, Kilrathi are not prone to insertion operations involving a single individual, such as sabotage or espionage. A lone Kilrathi is normally a decoy luring opposing forces into an ambush situation.
Their tendency to fixate on the most vulnerable/wounded prey/enemy and pursuing it to the death, means ignoring more dangerous opponents ("blood frenzy"). Early in their social development, this behavior was deemed strategically inappropriate as the most dangerous adversaries remained. One of the central principles of all Kilrathi tactics therefore became the focus against the strongest asset first. However this left open the possibility of deceiving them by feigning the strongest asset, or allowing a coordinated attack on the flanks while they are concentrated on the primary target.
Formation of the Empire
From that point Kilrathi history is an extended chronicle of brutal civil wars. The formations of the long and narrow lakes of Kilrah marked the boundaries of those ancient clans. Xag was a legendary warrior remembered as the founder of the First Empire.
The "Tome of Sivar", an ancient Kilrathi relic, contains the so called "Prophecy" whose writing is attributed to the prophetess Kt'lan: it foretells the coming of a dark age for the Kilrathi (Kn'thrak), marked by the invasion from an unknown civilization (which is supposedly the Nephilim). According to Kilrathi lore, the Prophecy could be connected with an encounter between this alien civilization and the Kilrathi themselves during their ancient history. The invaders deemed the Kilrathi unworthy of fighting until they had risen to conquer the other races in their sector of galaxy.
At some point in the past, the Kilrathi were discovered by the peaceful spacefaring civilization, the Shata. As a sign of good will, they offered the secret of the jump points. The Kilrathi however slaughtered the Shata and claimed the technology of space exploraton.
The advent of space-faring technology simply enlarged the sphere of expansion of the Kilrathi and transformed dozens of planets into battlegrounds. It was only obvious that such a power hungry race would direct its desire for conquest towards other species living in the nearby regions of space so that they would not consume each other. The Kilrathi conquered many worlds without difficulty; none of their enemies had the force or the technology to compete with them. Such intra-species conflicts lasted until about two centuries before the War; by then the Kilrathi were divided into two, huge empires who battled to the death to establish who would rule over the whole species. Technological discoveries played a key role in dictating which factions would rise and which would meet their demise. After centuries of bloody wars, the leader of the winning side became the first Kilrathi Emperor. For the later history, see Empire of Kilrah#History.
- "Revenge is best when cultured, gathered at the proper time, and lingered over."
- ― Kilrathi ancient texts
Compared to Terrans, the Kilrathi, are mostly controlled by instinct and biology. Their culture is homogenous, with little or no variations of language or religion.
Their entire culture is based on a sense of war and aggression, elevated to religious levels. Both in individual and social level, Kilrathi are predators; even though they don't have to hunt physically to feed themselves any more, their predatory nature is expressed in their instincts, thinking, manners, rituals, and way of fighting; their existence is predicated upon conquest and the clear definition of superiority and inferiority. Their predatory society can't suffer the stasis of peace and demands constant state of combat, blood and glory so that the Empire doesn't turn against itself in civil conflict; the Emperor promotes war so as to secure his position. By extension they were xenophobic (and perhaps also speciesists): all other races were either ukta (prey-food) or bak (another predator, therefore a threat). In both cases they deserve to be conquered or destroyed.
What little the Kilrathi produced in form of orally transmitted or written art is obviously war oriented: myths of ancient Kilrathi warriors such as "Karga the Hero" or "Vorgath the Hunter" have been handed down next to songs, poems and reports of the deeds of past Kilrathi (emperors, nobles or warlords) who particularly distinguished themselves during some of the many battles the Kilrathi fought across the centuries. However within the Kilrathi such works are not intended as art, but rather as teachings, especially for the young who can learn what is expected from a true Kilrathi warrior. Another example of this kind of Kilrathi literature are the well known "Codices": this is a set of written principles with a profound value in Kilrathi culture, as they explain the Kilrathi concept of honor, and serve to pass on the militant culture to the next generation of Kilrathi.
When the Kilrathi introduce themselves to strangers, they use the formula "I make you free of my name" giving one the permission to use it.
The Kilrathi manufacture vessels, like from red-glazed porcelain, from which they drink liquids.
Honor is a set of principles that permeates Kilrathi life, especially that of a warrior. Honor is tied to aspects such as loyalty or bravery. Kilrathi warriors live by a three-tiered code of honor -- themselves, their clan's, and of the Emperor's. For a Kilrathi warrior honor is more important than his life.
The construct of honor was employed to counter submissive behavior, which is unacceptable in warfare, within the hierarchical system. Honor directs the lesser warriors to engage more potent enemies; honor obliges a Kilrathi to answer a challenge to combat to the death (backing down is punishable by death). This systm however has been used as an opportunity to harm someone; one could be lured to a veiled trap (in a for of an unwinnable situation) by challenging his honor.
Each generation of Kilrathi cubs, including nobles, were expected to perform their rite of passage, by doing their duty in the battle, drawing blood and winning honors on their own. Once this obligatory blooding was done, they had the right to step aside from the more dangerous risks, and leave them for the younger ones.
An example of dishonorable behavior during war is, for example, the taking of hostages. Although Prince Thrakhath nar Kiranka, after failing to conquer Firekka, resolved to kidnapping Firekkan nobles for political reasons.
Kilrathi religion is polytheistic and based on the cult of the war deity Sivar. Kilrathi females control all religious factions on Kilrah and direct all offerings and religious festivities. It's interesting to notice that most of the worshipping and celebration of Sivar takes place simply by fighting, hunting and offering part of the captured prey at one of the many temples entitled to the war god. The most important religious ceremony known in Kilrathi culture is the Sivar-Eshrad ceremony which is celebrated every year and preferably performed on newly seized territory, a fact that drives most Kilrathi wars and has caused the confrontation with the Terran Confederation. This ceremony is of utmost importance since it ensures that the Kilrathi instinct to fight and kill is directed outward to enemies, rather than inward with the risk of sparking heated civil wars between the clans.
Another ritual is the so called Pukcal (which translates as "ritual of atonement") performed with the aim of confessing any private, minor dishonor to Sivar and receive the god's forgiveness, thus avoiding mass suicide among Kilrathi who feel they have dishonored their clans.
According to the Kilrathi themselves, the destruction of their homeworld caused by the Temblor bomb, with the subsequent death of billions of their species, is considered as a huge form of "Pukcal" through which the entire race expiated the dishonor of fighting with duplicity at the "Battle of Earth" in 2668. Because of this belief Christopher Blair (the man responsible for delivering the Temblor bomb on Kilrah) sees a limited form of worshiping from the Kilrathi: his representation has been observed on the walls of a chapel aboard a Kilrathi vessel. Such a circumstance is probably related to a typical Kilrathi behavior which tends to idolize or sometimes demonize those enemies who proved their superiors in battle.
The Kilrathi believe that the soul resides on the location of the chest.
Art and technology
Being such a belligerent species, the Kilrathi never developed a specific taste for art in the same sense as a human may intend it: this is probably also a result of the Kilrathi history missing numerous periods of peace where real art and culture could flourish. Any cultural aspect that in human civilization is usually related to art or aesthetics is mostly meaningless for the Kilrathi. Everything is built, produced or decorated according to strict rules of functionality. Kilrathi designers never developed an appreciation for order and symmetry and therefore their designs are frequently asymmetric and discordant by human standards.
Kilrathi technological and aesthetic ideals reflect their belligerent nature, to which is culture is focused on. Their starships are mostly assymetric, with sharp and blade-like protrusions, resembling ornate cutting weapons.
The imagery used is iconic and bold, oriented almost entirely towards glorifying previous battles and intimidating foes. For example dressings and warrior uniforms look unrefined, a peculiar mix of functionality and ornament, high-tech and primitive. Favorite colors for textile fabrics are reds, blacks and maroons and the decorations are almost exclusively symbols and insignia identifying the warrior's clan and family. Metallic textures and elements of personal armor (used mostly by nobles) lean toward gold, copper and blood-red colors.
Architecture is driven by these same principles of functionality and is adapted to the Kilrathi's peculiar taste for death and destruction. Kilrathi buildings bear evident resemblances to the primitive caves their ancestors used as lairs, since pillars and protrusions are often found rising from unlikely locations. Exposed machinery is common and ceilings are rarely enclosed, leaving cables and ductwork exposed. Details such as the dark lighting, high temperatures and low humidity favored by the Kilrathi complete the description of their constructions. Decorations are minimal and mostly represented by trophies of war such as pieces of captured or destroyed starships or the skulls of victims.
In spite of such primitive principles, Kilrathi technology is very advanced or at least on par with human technology. While their starships and fighters lack whatever could be considered as aesthetically appreciable to human observers, these vehicles are extremely efficient war machines, designed to be lethal. Kilrathi vessels are built with asymmetrical elements, protruding angles, weapons and engines placed in plain sight and often incorporate fang or claw-like curves and points, making them resemble ominous-looking blades or other melee weapons. This last detail is thought to be as much an expression of the Kilrathi visual taste as a form of psychological warfare aimed at intimidating their adversaries. Decorations are limited to ship markings indicating the clan responsible for the ship's construction. In combat the Kilrathi are strongly biased toward smaller numbers of powerful heavy fighters coupled with swarms of swift but inferior light fighters. The Thrak'hra lords pilot the heavy crafts while the lowborn Kilra'hra are assigned to fight in the light crafts. Despite this division, many Kilra'hra aces have emerged, some of whom have won acclaim with the nobility. Ace pilots are also authorized to fly customized fighters mounting different energy weapons or loadouts and can decorate their ships with personal markings.
- They loosely resemble the Kzinti from Larry Niven's Known Space universe. The Kzinti are a felonoid alien race, aggressive and honor-bound who were involved in wars against a human space force.
- The Kilrathi seem to have some influence from the Japanese Empire, especially regarding the Pacific War: the McAuliffe Ambush is a retelling of the Attack on Pearl Harbor. Like Imperial Japan, the Kilrathi are an Empire who wages war against a democratic force. As the Japanese seemed to be honor-bound in the Western perception, this aspect is exaggerated on the Kilrathi. The Kilrathi also have the concept of tagugar (comparable to kamikaze) and zu'kara (comparable to sepukku).
- A rumor says that the name 'Kilrathi' is a combination of the words 'Kill' and 'Wrath'. Another rumor says that it is a combination of 'Kill' and 'Rat' as the cats do kill rats. Whatever the origin, another rumor says that Chris Roberts came up with the name late at night when he combined the two words and added an 'i' to the end before going to sleep.
- The Kilrathi also make brief cameo in the game Ultima VII, also by Origin Systems. There is a Kilrathi ship in the corner of a field and upon finding it the Kilrathi audio theme from Wing Commander is triggered. It is however impossible to interact with the ship.
- Ultima Underworld II, another Origin game, features a race of felines known as the Trilkhai, an anagram of Kilrathi. Their background story is similar to that of the Kilrathi. The Trilkhai are said to be the genetic descendants of the long ago space-faring bipedal Kilrathi. They act as watchdogs to their human masters, keeping their intelligence and telepathic abilities a secret. It's said that an interstellar war had ruined them to the point that they had regressed to be quadruped and being unable to use tools anymore.
- Cite error: Invalid
<ref>tag; no text was provided for refs named
- Chris McCubbin, Official Authorized Wing Commander Confederation Handbook, Kilrathi Tactics Document C776b-12
- Mercedes Lackey and Ellen Guon, Freedom Flight, Chapter 8
- Mercedes Lackey and Ellen Guon, Freedom Flight, Chapter 9
- Star*Soldier, pg
- "Wing Commander Academy" Talking Papers on rhe Kilrathi
- William R. Forstchen, Action Stations, ch. 5
- William R. Forstchen, Action Stations, ch. 1
- Cite error: Invalid
<ref>tag; no text was provided for refs named
- William R. Forstchen, Action Stations, Chapter 4
- Cite error: Invalid
<ref>tag; no text was provided for refs named