+ inload: Alien Wars – Anatomy of the enemy I: Orks +

+ Anatomy of the enemy I: Orks +



It is said – perhaps apocryphally – that when mankind first stepped into the stars, the first species with whom the pioneers made contact were the orks. After a short pause, the two species immediately settled into an eternity of conflict. 
Extract from All Human History – Inquisitrix Barbari Kills, Ordo Xenos

Greenskins have plagued the galaxy since time immemorial. Their origins are uncertain; with competing theories placing them as the degenerate descendants of the long-extinct krork; as a naturally developed form of galactic hygiene; as a genetically uplifted and manipulated slave species that outlived its creators; and – perhaps predictably in these times – as the scourge of God-Emperor, sent to test mankind's worthiness.

The truth is that nobody knows for sure; least of all the orks. Their culture is as ramshackle and resilient as their biology, but not predisposed to recording events. Most tribal groups maintain an oral history of sorts, but this seems primarily geared towards encouraging social grouping, rather than the transference of acquired knowledge. Most Imperial scholars agree that orks inherently have 'built-in' knowledge; a sort of precociously complex and deeply-based instinct. It is a part of their biology that underscores their culture, their actions, and even their mindset.

With every ork – and their precursor organisms and slave caste – seemingly containing the underlying structure of the entire culture, it becomes clear how the orkoid's robust civilisation has spanned the stars for time immemorial.

Typical orks – belligerent, aggressive and seemingly enjoying the events of war. These specimens belong to a sub-group of the Charadon empire; a force which translates as the 'Drop Legion of Luggub'.


+ Orks during the Nova Terra Interregnum +

Across such a timescale – the Nova Terra Interregnum now entering its fourth century – and span of the whole Imperium, it is impossible to do more than touch upon the broadest generalities of the ork encroachment on previously safe Imperial space.

Whatever their origin, orks have infested the whole known galaxy. Rogue Traders, explorators and pioneers almost always inevitably meet with greenskin pirates or isolated ork settlements when travelling known routes – it seems orks are drawn to shipping, whether Imperial or otherwise. The species as a whole is nomadic, always seeking to expand and move on; though individual warlords are known to settle a particular system or region and fortify it as an empire. Such empires include Jagga, Charion and Charadon in the galactic east; the Calverna dominion which straddles Segementum Solar and Tempestus; and Gathrog and Dredruk in the north of Imperial territory. The two latter empires are most familiar to Imperial scholars, being unusually willing to trade with, and for a few isolated and celebrated periods, to have allowed cultural exchanges by Imperial observers. For this reason, the guttural dialect here is most familiar to the Imperium.

Nor is Nova Terra immune. The secessionists must contend with the Cromart empire in their northern marches, while the orks of Mastag Prime sit on the borders between the Western Imperium and Prime Imperium. These long-established empires are the exception, rather than the rule. While belligerent and aggressive, these empires are largely predictable [+appendnote auth. Unfortunus Veck – This complacency was to be rewarded with the near destruction of the Chapter Astartes Crimson Fists and the devastation of Rynn's World in later years, so perhaps the learned Inquisitrix's advice must be taken cum grano salis, as a product of her time.+] and mostly concerned with internal affairs. 

With the Imperium split, many sub-chieftains and hitherto unknown ork forces seem to have taken the opportunity to begin raiding. Where once they would have been swiftly countered, the Imperial Navy and Guard were largely concerned with internal patrols, leaving border regions and wilderness space unpatrolled. Fortunately, most Imperial Commanders proved capable of directing their own forces to counter most small-scale raids, though many dozens of border worlds were undoubtedly lost to the greenskins as a direct consequence of the Imperial division. 


+ Orks, Space Marines and The Alien Wars+ 

Nevertheless, disrupted and aggressive greenskin tribes are a sizeable threat, and no world could afford to be isolated. The Interregnum might have proven disastrous – even an existential threat to united humanity – had a purely defensive, inward-looking strategy been pursued by the Twin Imperium against species exemplified by the orks. It is fortunate, then, that the bulk of the Adeptus Astartes proved willing to begin prosecuting attacks and intercessary assaults on alien species in wilderness space.  

Novamarines struggle against power-armoured orks during the defence of Cypra Mundi against the orks of the Dregrak Dominions
As a whole, the Astartes stood aloof from the underlying events of the Secession – most Chapter Masters were either philosophically unwilling to be drawn into Imperial politicking, or recognised that the increasingly religious fervour of the Imperium made direct interference potentially deadly; inviting suppression of the arguably heretical Chapter Cults. 

With the exception of a few Chapters – notably the Imperial Fists and Chapter Castellan, who openly arrayed themselves with Terra; and the Consecrators, high profile successors of the mercurial Dark Angels, who declared open warfare on Nova Terra for reasons unknown – few notable Chapters openly declared in favour of Terra or Constantium (as Nova Terra was then known); instead prevaricating, citing constitutional technicalities that prevented them from interfering with Imperial policies, or simply withdrawing. To the common man, it would have made little difference, but to the Imperial nobility, the Space Marines' reduced communication must have seemed like the withdrawal of a protective aegis. 

Iron Hands Clan Trago fights the orks of da Shooty Boyz
Fortunately for humanity, the Space Marines were not sitting idle. They were, in many ways, more active than they had been in years; taking up the slack of patrolling the wilderness regions, and launching isolated, preventative assaults on xenos strongholds to degrade their ability to launch assaults on humanity. 

These wars were fought galaxy-wide, and were often unnoted beyond the individual Chapters' own records. The patchy histories of these largely unsung wars were later gathered into the period known as the Alien Wars, the name drawn from an early campaign launched by the Blood Angels Chapter Master of the early period, Formosus. Despite the name, the xenocidal campaigns of the Alien Wars lacked a unity of focus; most Astartes Chapters understandably wary of associating even with their closest cousin-Chapters, for fear of being honour-drawn into later censure, should their allies later decide to declare for Constantium or Terra.

An overview, then, tells of a thousand separate wars fought in isolation; of the Astartes fighting a leaderless crusade against the foes of humanity, largely free of favour or political affiliation. The Alien Wars tell of glorious victories and horrible defeats, but as the saying goes, for every battle honour, a hundred heroes die alone, unsung and unremembered

While these wars were fought against hundreds of species – the Q'orl, Shint, Eldar, Krell, Janii, and Muspella to name but a few – the wars against the orks were undoubtedly the most numerous. The struggle between ork and space marine on long-forgotten worlds, far beyond the borders of human space proper, has thus become entrenched as the enduring and iconic image of the Alien Wars.


+ The orkoid mind +

The 'deep instinct' of their inherited knowledge is perhaps the most alien part of these creatures' mindsets to humans; and what sets them apart in success and longevity than so many other species, who are similar or superior in physical stature and cultural nuance. Despite their outward actions mirroring the most base level of feral primitive or hive scum criminal; it is dangerous to think of them as inherently inferior. Their mental actions and processes are direct and uncomplicated, in their uniquely alien manner, but this is not to suggest uncomplex. 

While typically robust rather than innovative, ork technology is often surprisingly complex. Ork field technology, in particular, is of a level far in advance of modern Imperial ability to replicate. Some xeno-archeologists suggest it is in advance of such species as the Uive and Eldar. GIven their obvious technical prowess, why assume the orkoid mind is any less capable of extremes?
It is almost impossible to imagine how an ork's brain develops in cognitive terms, and it is arguable that an ork has no 'mind' as a human would perceive it. Perhaps the closest one an Imperial citizen might come to understanding it is through the relatively familiar concepts of hypno-indoctrination and injected learning: methods through which a human mind may become familiar with a language, skillset or set of knowledge. 

However, this is a very crude metaphor. The human mind is a blank canvas for such additions, whereas an ork seems to have nothing beyond such blocks. To extend the painting metaphor, while a human mind builds sedimentary layers of paint to inform his personality, the ork's mind is a series of interacting layers of paint, constantly swirling and bubbling; ever in motion. Even this does little justice to the nature of the greenskin, for far from being mental blanks or unthinking drones (like the drifting, locust-like biomechanical hive-mind creatures newly-discovered near Ultramar), each greenskin evinces personality, individuality, and a uniquely complex series of drives that propels him forward. 

Ork of the Bloodsuns Cluster, a minor ork Empire on the borders of Capricon Worlds.

Orkoid biology informs their mental space; and just as their bodies are resistant to physical damage, their psyches are concomitantly resistant to warp-interference – though overload will kill or derange them just as surely as a human; just as a sufficiently powerful firearm will kill individuals of either species.

+ The orkoid body +

Despite their seemingly rooted, unchanging nature, orks are superbly adaptable, in a manner similar to humans – though perhaps to a lesser degree. While humanity has shown capricious biological adaptation to new challenges, leading to numerous subspecies and stable abhuman strains, orkoid biology remains constant across the centuries. There seems to be an inherent biological conservatism to the orks, though this does not apply to individuals, who happily modify, alter and 'improve' their station through the creative use of bionics, augmetics and boosters.

Much has been written about their fungal nature, though is is easy to overstate this, and picture them as some form of mycoidal creature. In truth, orks have a physical structure broadly similar to Terran animals like hominids and humans; with robust osseous bones overlaid with muscle-like sarcotic fibres and tissues. These core tissues have an overlaid fungal banding which serves to increase physical resistance, bind and stem damage, and provide additional storage and provision for energy. 

Rear shot of an ork group – ork morale is excellent as long as they believe they are winning a conflict. While fierce, most orks retain survival instincts of some form. If you can convince them that the tables are turned, most orks will flee. 
This fungal banding has no direct relation to any human structure, though Magos Aro-venn made a strong case in early M34 for this mycoidal fungus serving a similar purpose as the embedded mitochondria in most Terran animal life – an endosymbiotic relationship that helps to provide energy to the cells. That Aro-venn then went on to claim that this was evidence for ancient genetic manipulation – and eventual raving about sleeping gods and apocalyptic deathless beings – was part of the reason he was later excommunicated and driven into exile; meaning that this interesting path of xenobiology has remained unpursued in the centuries since.

+ Fighting orks one-on-one +

Orks are tough; that much is indisputable. What will render a human a casualty will likely leave an ork unaffected, or at least only inconvenienced. Their physical robustness extends beyond physical trauma to a certain resistance to disease and exhaustion – their animal-like biology likely assisted or augmented by the symbiotic fungus-like structures. However, this should not be overstated. While the typical ork is bulky and fierce-looking, their physical strength is still comparable to that of an extremely fit human adult, rather than clearly superhuman. A typical ork is likely inherently stronger than a typical Imperial guardsman, but not to the extent that every physical contest is without doubt. What an orks gains in raw strength and bulk, he loses in agility; a trained guardsman can undoubtedly win one-on-one in close quarters – if he is sufficiently motivated, equipped and trained, that is.

It ought to be noted, by any Imperial military force, that this is no cause for complacency. The effect of even incremental superiority in raw strength is amplified by resilience – where a man might fall when bayonetted, an ork may be able to ignore the wound sufficiently long to maul his opponent – and by the ork's inherent seeming love of conflict. 

The rude, individually-crafted technology of the orks underlies their problems with supply chains; necessitating constant raiding and attacks. Of course, for the ork species as a whole, this keeps them mobile and driven.


+ Ork skin and blood +

Quite aside from their brutal, heavy visages and hunched, loping postures, the most obvious identifying feature of an ork is the colour of their skin; which has given rise to numerous derogatory terms amongst Imperial forces and beyond – the Semmel xeno-forms of the Gothic subsector are known to refer to the orks by a term which translates (albeit awkwardly) as 'the monsters who are the colour of our ancestral plains-vegetation but that sow death and ruin instead of bringing forth plenty damn them for their horrid colour.'

Typical green skin tone owing to the combination of blue and yellow pigments.
The green of an orks' skins is a result of their biology; a combination of yellow xanthin-like pigments and blue-black structures a little like the xantophores of ancestral terrestrial fish. In different proportions, this gives rise to orks coloured in a range from grubby green-browns to dark, petrol-like blue-greens. All are murky and earthy. However, the range of colours is further complicated by structural coloration – that is, the scattering and uneven refraction of light owing to the shape and structure of the skin cells. In a similar manner to long-extinct terrestrial mandrills or butterflies, these structures reflect and refract light, extending the potential range of apparent colours to include much more vivid, brighter greens under certain conditions.

More vibrant greens are possible under bright light; though some orks seemingly lack the physical structures that alter coloration, and remain earthy-brown-green in tone under all lights.
Injured orks bleed red; a fact which often comes as a surprise to novice guardsmen or agents, who expect their blood to match their skin. Orkoid blood system analogue still maintains iron as the oxygen carrier, though this is complemented with haemocyanin structures, meaning that an ork can survive and even fight (albeit at a compromised level) in low oxygen environments. In such circumstance, ork blood will take on a purple-bluish tinge. 

This is further complicated by the mulitple redundancies of biological systems, which conflate the endocrine, renal and digestive systems – that is, an ork's blood helps to fight infection, break down pathogens, and even digest food (in a minor manner). As a result, their blood will be affected by recent nutrition, ranging from a bright orange-red to a thick, murky maroon-black.


+ Lifecycles and lifespans +

With a typical lifetime running in the low decades – few orks live beyond twenty – one might suppose that the greenskins are inherently shortlived. However, the average is dragged down by the fact that orks take little time to mature and grow, and vast numbers are killed in internecine fighting. The more successful the ork, the longer he will typically live.

This is not to suggest, as certain sensationalist xenobiologists have hysterically claimed over the years, that orks are functionally immortal. Even those outliers that can be dated with anything approaching certainty rarely find orks of an age beyond fifty standard; with most specimens of that age showing signs of muscular stabilisation – if not atrophy – and general malaise. Given the highly competitive and physical nature of the ork social structure, failing to keep up will almost inevitably see them 'weeded out'.

Ork veterans 'Goranhuwl's skarboyz' of the 'Black Kuttaz' minor orkoid force.
Exceptions, as with humanity, are manifold. Reports exist of ork leaders living for many decades – even centuries – and while this is likely exaggeration or misreporting of an inherited title (such as the 'Grand Warlord of Morscar's Star', a title known to have been borne by over a dozen successive warlords), it is not beyond the scope of the greenskins to have manufactured similar life-extending technology as Imperial juvenat treatments; or some more esoteric solution, such as portable stasis-chambers or chrono-reversing fields.

The whole of ork culture aggrandises physical conflict as the solution to all of life's problems, and this feeds into the fact that, far from being permanently incapacitated by injury, orks thrive on it. Given sufficient time and nutrition, orks can heal from virtually any trauma short of decaphalisation; and if reports are to be believed, even this is not inherently fatal: ork spines will heal over time to correct paralysis, so a beheaded ork can survive through surgery.

Orks continue to build muscle and bone over time, with the effect accelerated through minor trauma. Ork squabbles and pitfights thus benefit any ork involved; with minor injuries serving to accelerate growth, and the sense of victory releasing growth hormones. Ork veterans – colloquially known as 'scar-boys' by the Guard – are thus slab-muscled and broad-backed, their already rubbery skin losing its elasticity and toughening like hide. 

Ork skin becomes thicker and coarser with age. Truly old orks are typically green-brown or even black, rather than the more vivid earth-greens seen in new-born orks.

+ Orks, subspecies and slaves +

While they are perfectly capable of creating their own armaments – and indeed, owning a unique firearm or piece of equipment hand-crafted and refined by their engineer specialists is a mark of honour and pride for an ork – such production is limited and slow. Most orks will instead be armed with armaments looted from enemy forces, or created by slaves in conquered industrial areas.

Orks prefer armaments that are designed to fit their anatomy – their long, sturdy fingers and rangy limbs struggle with human-sized weaponry – and most ork-controlled manufactories will be generating copies of a weapon or piece equipment first created by a 'mekboy' to make best use of local materials. Thus ork forces typically enjoy the benefits of short supply lines; with ammunition and materiel common across the force; while the numerous exceptional one-offs are readily replaced once depleted. This is part of the reason that orks – particularly officers – will commonly carry a back-up weapon or sidearm; giving rise to the common image of ork bands carrying piles of mismatched weaponry.


Orks are famed and feared galaxy-wide as slavers. In isolation, ork-held planets will have this need served by gretchin, a subservient caste of orkoid well-suited to repeated manufacture. Gretchin are, in fact, a precursor species – they will develop and arise in an environment before the orks themselves – but will be exploited and enslaved in short order once the environment allows their larger relatives to emerge from their fungal spawning pits. Gretchin themselves have a form of low cunning – their base intelligence is survival driven, and sometimes exceeds that of typical orks, though it falls behind that of their specialists.

Gretchin, being relatively tough, nimble-fingered and subservient, are favoured slaves, but orks will employ any species that they can force into labouring for them. Indeed, Imperial records know of numerous planet-bound species (that is, that have not developed interplanetary travel) that serve only as slaves to the orks; their original culture and achievements brought low.

A final note ought to be made here of ork mercenaries. The events of the Alien Wars saw a great deal of ork warbands selling their services to isolated human worlds; fighting alongside and under Imperial commanders against other species' attacks. Orks bear humanity no inherent ill-will, and are willing, with sufficient payment in weaponry and motivation, to fight alongside almost anyone. Such practises are to be avoided; as the orks' demands for payment and weaponry steadily increase until the inevitable occurs – the common enemy are defeated and the orks turn on their employers.

+ The orks in summary +

As mentioned above, The Alien Wars were a time of splintered actions across a whole galaxy. This history has merely touched upon the general actions of the orks at the time; and may give the impression that the orks lacked ambition or the ability to effect change on a galactic scale. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The very existence of the Segmentum Obscurus was in doubt for a number of centuries owing to raging wars with various orks subfactions, and was part of the reason that Terra was unable to divert punitive forces to deal with the secessionists of Constantium (Nova Terra). Similarly, the abhumans of the galactic core saw ork forces beyond anything they had seen for many centuries, and the allied Leagues record this time as the Embittering, when huge swathes of territory were lost forever.

The romantic impression that the Astartes held back the orks should not be overstated, either. At least two dozen Chapters were mauled irrevocably, either being lost entirely, or being unable to launch new strikeforces for decades afterwards.

This is only to mention the orks' assaults on the Imperium. While many minor species were content to reclaim ancestral territories lost during the Great Crusade, or to launch punitive raids against the latent, withdrawing forces of humanity, the greenskins attacked everybody. My own limited contact with the Eldar indicates that these ancient star-sailors fought terrible wars of destruction with the orks, and the atomic-scarred worlds of the Castal Rim show the indelible results of the battles between the festering K'Nib and the greenskins.

What little we know of the chrono-shifting Hrud indicates that a number of established settlements were driven into migration by orks invaders, and the Thyrrus of Segementum Ultima were utterly exterminated in a series of brutal campaigns.

What conclusions can we draw from this within the Inquisition? Simple: that while we hate the orks, the orks themselves fight war without prejudice or favour. Humanity is simply another foe for the orks – and long may it remain so; for the orks unwittingly fight our wars when in conflict with other xenos; and every ork killed by the aliens remains one less to threaten our divided borders.


In closing, I trust my candour here may prove of service to you, brother or sister Inquisitor; whatever your political inclinations. The Imperium may be divided, but humanity itself must remain united under the Emperor; or we will perish.

I remain, at your service; Inquisitrix Barbari Kills.

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