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The creation of all those gateways solves ones of the Empire's greatest issues. The navy will now be able to more easily fight back against threats.

It seems that humanity's first reaction to discovering new alien technology or natural phenomena is figuring out how it can be weaponized or used for mankind's benefit despite the consequences to other species.

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The Empire, bring peace and justice since 1000 AD! This post was legalized by the Imperial Ministry of Propaganda.
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Leon is very cruel.

And we have a Khan of marauders now!
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This just in: the Empire hates aliens. More at 11.
What incredible news! Never would have guessed that myself. ;)

Theudis merely embraced that hate even more.
The creation of all those gateways solves ones of the Empire's greatest issues. The navy will now be able to more easily fight back against threats.

It seems that humanity's first reaction to discovering new alien technology or natural phenomena is figuring out how it can be weaponized or used for mankind's benefit despite the consequences to other species.

Isn't it natural to see something for the first time and think how it could be used to destroy your enemies? It is for imperial scientists.

I've got good (?) news - apparently, despite the genetic engineering, some citizens actually did develop a conscience!
The Empire, bring peace and justice since 1000 AD! This post was legalized by the Imperial Ministry of Propaganda.
Keep up the good work, citizen!
Leon is very cruel.

And we have a Khan of marauders now!
Subjecting an entire species to a fate worse than death... yeah, I think that qualifies.

About time, too!
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Leon's Ambition

Leon's intentions with the Theudis the War Saint were clear – a ship of unmatched proportions, causing even the titans to seem small in comparison. Not only great firepower, but also the ability to build new warships on the front – a deadly war machine.

It would also be the main residence of the High Emperor, the ship's command centre right next to a throne room.

Leon was a historical revisionist – at least concerning the man who had always been acknowledged as the most reviled one of history, Roderic Chertans. The new High Emperor was of the firm opinion that without Chertans' Miracle, Earth would have been taken by the Evarites.

The end justifies the means, that was the lesson the monarch learned from that. And the galaxy, while not wielding swift destructive potential on the same scale as nuclear weapons on Earth, was in a similar situation to the Imperial homeworld in the 21st century. It needed a strong, guiding hand.

The Hulfir Khan's declaration to conquer the galaxy were just empty words. Leon would do it.

And the aliens were part of the problem, not the solution. Their permanent removal would lead to a happy, united galaxy under imperial control – ready to face whatever challenges awaited in the future as one.

His ambition was set. The Milky Way would feel imperial wrath sooner or later. Once he was done, there would only be two kind of people: those supporting him... and the dead.


Before he could embark on his galactic conquest, the Empire's economy needed to be fixed. While Imperial food production had recovered from the Sentinel War, Leon shifting the imperial economy towards military needs through increasing the alloy production caused energy and mineral shortages.

Mega-engineering would fix it. The Dyresson Sphere in Qenus and the Matter Decompressor around the Rixikar's Maw black hole.

Anteris' latest genetic innovation would further improve Human leadership.

And the Javorian Pox was being readied to be unleashed upon the Empire's enemies.

Divine Intervention... or Demonic?

Tensions had been high on Arosk since the Slutmyr Incident in year 1577 PG. Grand Leader Lurgush blamed the Glamanti Republic, who blamed Lurgush's lackeys in turn. At odds for decades, Slutmyr seemed to be the breaking point, the spark to light the powder keg.

The powder keg held enough power to devastate Arosk entirely. Both the Glamanti Republic and the Plulluk Empire had allies, but most worryingly, nuclear weaponry en masse. Lurgush's words were no longer empty threats. The big red button was pushed, the missiles launched. Glamant retaliated. This was it for the Sirgogg species...

Or not? The missiles seemingly vanished after reaching a certain altitude. Gone. No big boom. No mushroom clouds. Arosk was saved. For two weeks, the divine intervention was hailed, and both sides forced to parley.

For who would question the will of the gods?

As it turns out, someone would.

The truth became apparent when a booming voice was let loose across the whole planet. “Nobody devastates Imperial planets without my approval.”​

Was it some divine voice? The Sirgoggi didn't have to think about it for long, as not much later, shuttles dropped from the sky over the greatest cities, containing aliens who obviously did not come in peace.

For all their talk of righteous might, neither Glamant nor Plulluk could do much to repel the invaders, and in a mere week, the alien leader lopped off Lurgush's head with a swing of his giant purple blade.


In the days after, the aliens stuck the population into labour camps, mostly mines, where they were held in the most pitiful conditions. The invader held absolutely no regard for Sirgoggi lives, and if an explosion, cave-in, malnutrition or sheer exhaustion killed some workers, it was fully expected for the replacement to work on the corpse of the previous one.

Leon looked at the architecture of the palace where the “Grand Leader” lived and felt no remorse. A stain in imperial space, nothing more. He would have it razed before Human colonization began. The only reason he had descended upon the planet in July 2354 was because they were on the verge of nuclear destruction. As far as he saw it, they all killed themselves already.​

Might as well provide a short-term solution to the mineral shortage before galactic history will forget that they ever existed.

Javorian War

After the next stage of the Matter Decompressor was finished, the High Emperor declared war upon the United Figyar Hegemony the 5th December 2355. The Dabbax Trade League would aid the Figyari, but it was more welcome than a nuisance for Leon, who wished to deploy the Javorian Pox to wipe them out.

The Dabbax had been pushing back against the Horde, so not much involvement was expected from them – a misjudgement of the situation, as Daggagom was murdered by a would-be successor the 1st March 2356. The barbarian aliens' weakness became apparent as the horde descended into chaos while the Hulfir attempted to figure out the succession.


The distraction in the south of the galaxy removed, Leon diverted more forces towards the Dabbax as Lanckoronski destroyed a Figyari force in the Cadmael system – beginning bombardment of Eekryt the 1st July 2356. The Empire's apparent most potent biological weapon was deployed. Captured Figyari had succumbed to the Pox within a few months, which is what made it all the more dangerous – once the first symptoms showed, it was highly likely that the carrier had already infected plenty of others.

While Khan Mashgirg united the Hulfir under a new government, albeit without the dream of conquest pursued by his predecessor, the Dabbax Traders began work on a Science Nexus in the Rixim system. Increasing Imperial aggression could only be answered with a technological edge – at least that was likely the intention of the megacorp. The Endurga swiftly followed the Dabbax example.

Especially as the main Figyari fleet, attempting to enter imperial space through the L-Gates, was intercepted by Leroy and nearly fully annihilated. With the Dabbax apparently still readying their forces after the conflict against the Hulfir Horde, the newest imperial fleet, Ignatios Sigericos' Behemoth, began bombardment of Vurl-Pangit in January 2360.

It is only in 2361 that the traders mounted a counterattack, after Leroy's fleet had hunted a voidspawn near Figyari space. In great numbers, the Dabbax descended upon the planet they had lost in the Spine War, Brobdingnag. Mostly mechanical numbers. Wary of imperial biological mastery, it was probably a good decision. The small defensive force on Brobdingnag was overwhelmed before the relief force arrived.


A small victory for the traders, as with the loss of the accompanying fleet, their army was now stranded on a hostile planet. Dabbax occupation was mild; perhaps they were hoping to cause some unrest within the Empire. Their plans failed, and when the High Emperor personally led the relief force, not one occupier escaped.

The traders had assembled their main fleet, again under the command of Kont Dite (the lithoid apparently having survived spacing in the Spine War) to evict Sigericos' Behemoth from Vurl-Pangit's orbit, and managed to do so the 18th August 2364. In the four and a half years of orbital bombardment, the planet was left mostly a smouldering ruin – but with still well over half the population alive. Conventional weaponry had dealt more damage than the Pox.​


Leon was furious. The Javorian Pox, that terrible plague that had wiped out an advanced civilization before, then had been adapted by Anteris' team of genetic masters to be the aliens' doom – it had been easily countered by overgrown bugs and weird birds.

As the Endurga Union unveiled their very own ship of comparable size to the War Saint, imperial armies invaded the Figyari planets who had “only” suffered casualties compared to a mild pandemic.

Peace after the Javorian War was signed in December 2365. In these ten years, the High Emperor's forces had met with a single hard-fought defeat of Behemoth, but else it seemed like the Empire was unstoppable. It took the Dabbax the majority of their fleet to defeat one of the four imperial ones – the weakest, to boot. But the Javorian Pox had failed, and that was a thorn in the imperial side, wary of stretching its resources too thin over a multitude of planets.

It already took a lot of effort and most of the Imperial military forces to oversee the four taken planets from the Hegemony, as Leon placed the conquered Figyari population – at least 40 billion – in labour camps like the now-extinct Sirgoggi before them. It would take years of concentrated effort, great manpower and violence to wipe them out. The Dima'Xanians and Beldross, on the other hand, were arguably better off under Imperial rule. The latter species was just as servile as the former, and after being subjected to similar nerve-stapling, were kept around as cheap labour. Conditions were slightly better than as Figyari slaves, not that they retained enough self-awareness to notice.

Yarus Prime, the conquered Figyari capital, was named a penal colony. The very same man who had caused the end of the Redemption Legion now offered the criminal scum from across the Empire another chance at redemption – by being vicious overseers of a doomed alien population. Work criminals – Leon sometimes quoted as having declared “the more sadistic the better” – were well-suited to do.​


Another Reality

The Empire then went silent for the galaxy, which in turn banded together against the Vailon attempt to conquer the remnants of the Figyari. This couldn't be good news for the Milky Way – it meant that Leon was readying his forces.

In July 2370, the Vailon War's effects were felt in the Empire. A small civilian fleet was entering the Terminal Egress system through the L-Gates – and was not immediately shot down. What seemed like a clear violation of direct imperial orders was decided upon after contacting the High Emperor himself – for the ships, clearly Endurga in design, were crewed by Humans.

Imperial exiles, people who had, either themselves or their parents, fled the Empire, enamoured with the ideals of the Endurga or Dabbax melting pots – equality between aliens. Despite their clear orders, border guards were more often than not willing to overlook human ships leaving the Empire, if one knew just whose palms one had to grease. With the Imperillos, the imperial currency, only with value as a curiosity outside the realm, outrageous sums changed hands, leading to the exiles starting their new lives with nothing but their ships.​

Adding to that a somewhat flourishing smuggler culture in the border systems, and it was clear why border guard was not a detested post amongst the military but rather a highly-contested post. The government was certainly aware, which might have played a small part in further motivating the Emperor's desire for conquest.

These voluntary exiles were now fleeing the Vailon bombardment of their new homes, and their chosen refuge was their original home, for the imperial military could keep any foe at bay.

The refugees were put under close surveillance in a military facility – named Inferno – on Nucleia, the first so-called tomb world colonized by humanity. Residual radioactivity without the effective treatment against it would keep the people contained, while their insight about the state of the Endurga Union proved valuable. It seemed like Human population beyond the sprawling Empire made up around 3% of the entire species.​

Meaning that billions of Humans lived beyond Leon's absolute grasp. Even worse for the High Emperor was the news that Endurga scientists had devised a method to achieve inter-species fertility – the refugees explained that once initial resentment passed, they managed to coexist with the Evarites in the Union, and that Bakturian (some sort of molluscoid)-Evarite couples were relatively common... Half-Evarites were by now more numerous than “pure” Bakturians.

The refugees explained that the self-exiled Humans lived especially in Union or Trader territory. At first, they were carefully-watched oddities taken for imperial spies. But over time, the exiles left the absolute state of poverty they lived in as they espoused the ideals of their new homes and earned their host realms' trust.

In these highly diverse nations, Humans now lived on all echelons of society, had become valued members of society.

Human and Evarite coexistence was going fully against the doctrine installed by Liuva III used to justify the Evarite processing – and while the knowledge wasn't suppressed, it was now only known to the staff of the facilities on Nucleia and the High Emperor himself and would likely not leave the planet. And no matter if there were traitors to the Empire living elsewhere – only a traitors' fate awaited them.

It was far too late for a different Empire to become a reality.


Nuclear Survival

Leon's thirst for conquest apparently satiated for now, the Vailons sought closer relations ever more vigorously. Their war against Figyari, Endurga and Dabbax saw little gains of both sides, and it was only in September 2377 that they managed to take the last planet of the Hegemony – while a combined Dabbax-Endurga force ravaged their northern space.​

Consul Dack, son of Jark attempted to emulate imperial culture whenever possible, and sought to ingratiate himself in Leon's eyes by sending the results of his efforts to Councillor Alaric whenever possible.

With the Councillor and his staff being the Vailons' only access to Human culture, the man himself felt flattered by the attention... and abused that. Whenever he dressed like a walking fashion disaster, he informed the Vailon senator that it was the latest craze back on Earth – which promptly led to millions of Vailons copying the Councillor, to his great delight.

Not that the Vailons had any chance of success before, but Alaric's mischief caused them to made matters even worse. The Councillor gleefully showed his cousin pictures of the streets of the hippest districts of the Vailon capital, filled with the aliens dressed like a weird mix of indigenous Americans, ancient Chinese, stereotypical nerds, Kyrillian surfers and Anglo-Saxon nobility – mimicking the greeting of English communists of the 20th century to the best of their ability.

As the consul liked to proclaim, Human culture was quite popular on Vallgar – or at least what they thought was Human culture, viewed through Alaric-shaped glasses.

In this quiet period of imperial history, often dubbed the calm before the great storm, the Empire kept expanding its planetary presence. One of those newly-settled planets was the radioactive ruin of Proclas.

Settlers soon found massive sealed gates on the planet, hiding away an extensive vault-system – inhabited by millions of survivors of the nuclear destruction that had engulfed the planet. Another species of subterraneans on a Human colony – their fate appeared to be sealed.

Surprisingly, the vault was not purified by flame. Leon was convinced to leave the aliens alive. Of course, they went through the standard procedure of nerve-stapling and strict population controls – but they had a few reasons to offer the High Emperor for their continued existence. For one, they were humanoid in nature. There were even theories circulating that the vault-aliens and Humans might have common ancestors in some way – if they weren't the result of Human evolution according to a weird time-traveller's fetish. Secondly, their vaults were fully self-sufficient. Both aspects were of great interest to Human science, and it was better to have living subjects than to try and extract answers from their corpses.


Leon could be won over, despite many calling it a lost cause beforehand. He was too absorbed in his military projects. The strategic command centre in the Ejok system had been fully restored, yet this was only a first step.​

The High Emperor, disillusioned by the Javorian Pox's effect, had tasked imperial science with devising a new method of “wiping enemy planets clean”.

One result of this directive were xenomorph armies. Unleashing hordes of ravenous beasts on enemy planets was sure to end in carnage, while implants assured that they remained fully under imperial control.

But it was Project Harbinger that ended up succeeding at Leon's task. Theoretical work finished in 2372, and the Harbinger was ready for use the 2nd February 2379.

This was what Leon had waited for. The very day he festively christened the Harbinger, he declared war upon the entire galactic community, who was just debating yet another denouncement of the Empire.

Actions speak louder than words, Alaric was instructed to tell the Senate. Instead of mumbling on about denouncement, they would have to meet imperial might in battle.

The Great Galactic War had begun.​



With the declaration of the Great Galactic War, I am going to change up narration – to snippets from the perspective of people involved in the conflict in some way. I think the usual – fleet movement, battle etc. – would be too tiresome, as I believe you are all quite able to foresee how the war will go...​
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What's the united galaxy's fleet strength compared to yours? Is there any contest?
With the declaration of the Great Galactic War, I am going to change up narration – to snippets from the perspective of people involved in the conflict in some way
That sounds fun. Looking forward to it!
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Well that escalated quickly.

One result of this directive were xenomorph armies. Unleashing hordes of ravenous beasts on enemy planets was sure to end in carnage, while implants assured that they remained fully under imperial control.

I've seen enough of the Alien movies to know that this never turns out as intended. :p
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Well, Leon is clearly trying to become the Crisis.

There are other humans - free from Imperial rule? What a crime against the Empire's ideals!

I wonder how far Leon is willing to go - might he be willing to make... deals?
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What's the united galaxy's fleet strength compared to yours? Is there any contest?

That sounds fun. Looking forward to it!
If they all worked together, they may be able to put up a fight - against half the Imperial forces. With Leon being warlike, he made use of the peace to build up his fleet to great capacity.

I blame the immensely friendly RNG. Not just all these gaia worlds, also having absolutely no neighbour at all to the east.

Hope it works out as planned :).
Well that escalated quickly.

I've seen enough of the Alien movies to know that this never turns out as intended. :p
Leon doesn't mess around.

Hmmm, you might have a point. Not that Leon cares about the worlds where they are deployed anyway.
Well, Leon is clearly trying to become the Crisis.

There are other humans - free from Imperial rule? What a crime against the Empire's ideals!

I wonder how far Leon is willing to go - might he be willing to make... deals?
Hey, at least he doesn't blow up the galaxy. Though he's a different kind of crisis and very much worse in a way.

Adds some spice to it all, doesn't it? (Mechanically, it makes sense even though it really shouldn't - they are descendants of those who fled the Sentinels' purges, I guess.)

That very much depends on who is proposing the deal. The United Endurga Union (I'll never get tired of seeing that) has elected a Racket as president, if they elect a Human, there might be room for discussion with Leon.

And without further ado, I present the first chapter concerning the Great Galactic War, widely differing from this AARs previous style. Let me know how it works out.
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Great Galactic War - I

<message from Chintila Makretic, engineer on the Harbinger, to Maria Sosenos, 2nd February 2379, 22:32 Cherson time>

Hahahahah! Who's laughing last, Maria? Ohh, so Valerios has something I haven't, hmm? And you are both posted on the War Saint, which I am not? Well, so what! I am on the Harbinger! Go play with your little guns – our weapon devastates entire planets!

Only the very best – see, the very best – get to work on this beauty. The War Saint is so big they can easily do with some sub-par engineers like your new sweetheart – the Harbinger doesn't have that kind of room. Every little piece of this marvel fulfils its task to perfection, nothing superfluous.​

And there's no rivalry. At all. Not like the titans, each one's crews encouraged to one-up another. The Empress Taizu, the Sun Emperor, the Ashoka, the Alexander – I guess that with the expansion of the fleet, any great terrestrial culture will soon have its own titan. But there's only one Harbinger! Yeah, I guess there's just one War Saint, too.

Moral qualms? No, why? Once Harbinger is fired, it's swift and efficient – as swift as loverboy, but with far more oomph. Every advanced lifeform – gone. No need to deploy any more armies! The beauty doesn't kill anyone who wouldn't be dead anyway – it preserves Human life!​

Another triumph of Human ingenuity. Porabim B Ia's surface was mostly melted after some kind of ancient superweapon had been deployed there – no life could remain there permanently. Harbinger on the other hand left the planet perfectly habitable.

I know what you are going to say. Something Chertans-related. But don't worry! His Imperial Majesty might somewhat disturbingly be a fan of the guy, but everything's in place to prevent Miracle II.​

There is absolutely no way it could ever be fired on an imperial world. Authorization of the firing order can only be given by the High Emperor himself by inserting Righteous Rage into a special device – the new kind of big red button. Even if someone got hold of the blade somehow, they'd still have to gain access to the device behind the throne rooms of either the imperial palace or the War Saint. Even if they would manage that, then the crew of the Harbinger would also have to authorize it. And yet more – if the crew does, then it takes a good while to fire, long enough for a fleet to stop the colossus.

If someone manages to:​
  • slay the High Emperor, for he'd only relinquish Righteous Rage upon his dead body​
  • reach Harbinger's activation device in the heart of the palace or the War Saint, requiring them to get past the cream of the crop of the Imperial Guard​
  • have the crew of the Harbinger on their side or take it over​
  • and keep the fleets from intercepting the firing​
then they have already taken over the Empire anyway.

“We stand at the cusp of a new galactic age. The Human Age.”

Truer words than His Majesty's have never been spoken. And in the future, they will say that it was the Harbinger, not the War Saint that made it happen! It's just another ship! A big one, admittedly, but not the absolute game-changer!

I wish you good luck with loverboy in the overcrowded War Saint. With some luck, you can wipe clean some dust after His Majesty's passage – while I am enforcing his will on enemy planets! HA!

I should send you a broom!

Now forgive me, I have to tend to critical systems who could kill millions if looked at funny. Have fun dusting!


<governor Hol Myte, Endurgan capital of Durgassa, 6th September 2379, 15:42 Cherson time>

The Evarite looked out the window of the governor's office, trying to take his mind off things. Since the declaration of war mere seven months ago, the old archnemesis of his species, the damned imperial Humans, had swiftly moved in with seven massive fleets, overwhelming border, L-Gate and wormhole defences in a flash.​

The magnificence of the buildings here in Durgassa's heart were usually enough for him to refocus. But the last months were taking their toll, with one piece of news worse than the other. For all the hate he had against the Humans, in all the time of their galactic presence, they had never actually been the aggressors until High Emperor Leon II came to power.

They had been weaker, but succeeded due to superior tactics. But with all their expansion, the Empire was a sleeping giant – and this new monarch awoke it. After the hard-fought Spine War, the so-called Javorian War proved two things – this guy didn't mess around. The Empire wiped the floor with the Figyari and only lost half of one fleet against the Dabbax – and now fielded double the strength! His deployment of the Pox also meant that he's a bloodthirsty menace. Reports from Human immigrants were not exaggerated.

“So, what do we do, sir?”, one of the mayors of the 235 grand districts asked.​

Myte turned around to the assembly. He wanted to answer that they should pray to whatever god they believed in, but that would send the wrong signal. “We shall persevere. The fleet has not yet engaged in full, it's returning from Vailon space, the juggernaut included. We have to place our trust in the Union. All we can do planetside is install a warning system, as discussed. Representatives – it is time to get to work.”

The diversity of the mayors had always been a pleasant sight to Hol, but as he saw Anna Myrtenos, mayor of Gluggunish, he couldn't help but feel even worse. Unable to read Evarite expressions like any other organic when they didn't willingly adapt, Myrtenos smiled back at him and attempted to say “Grettun rfzhin mmwx Evari”.

The traditional Evarite goodbye for a few generations now. May you see Evari again.

Hope was never lower for that. As the last mayor left the meeting, the governor returned to contemplating the skyline. Reports from Dabbax space were ever more worrying.

Not long ago, the Traders lost contact with Vurl-Qallid, close to the Imperial border. This was where the bulk of their army had been stationed, millions upon millions of troops. The Imperials had made landfall, and it seemed even the synths of the Dabbax army learned the meaning of fear that day. Myte was no soldier, but he knew the historic battles of Evari Prime like any other of his kind.

Imperial Humans had a strong military hierarchy and clearly defined tactics, an efficient force to be feared, sure, but the invasion of Vurl-Qallid was different. Ravenous beasts were unleashed on the synths, seemingly ignoring weapon fire, tearing through the ranks with ease. Downed beasts bled some kind of killer-microorganism and a ferrophage, being just as dangerous dead as they were alive to both organic and synthetic. And in all that unleashed chaos, regular Imperial troops followed, mowing down the defenders relentlessly.

The generals believed that insight from Vurl-Qallid could be decisive for their defence. For civilians like Myte, it only increased the feeling of dread. How was one to prepare against that? And what was happening on Vurl-Qallid after the invasion? The processing of his people at imperial hands was an ever-festering wound. He didn't wish to have to share this pain with other species.

In any case, regions with greater Human habitation were put under increased police presence – for their own good, in case special tensions erupted due to the war.

Worse still was the mention of a gigantic, seemingly unarmed Imperial spacecraft consisting of several segments, left behind circling over Vurl-Pangit after the enemy fleet left the system. Scanners couldn't make any sense of the thing, but whatever it was, one thing was clear:

It wasn't just there to pull some kind of prank. Nobody builds such a monstrosity merely for psychological warfare. Even though he wouldn't put it past Humanity to do so. It was bad. He just felt it.


The governor had barely finished recollecting his thoughts when the alarms went off. Already? If the fleet was still fighting the Vailons and thus unable to defend Durgassa, then the Union was as good as dead.​

Perhaps the Evarite species would have been better off dying out on Evari Prime. Generations of pain, as well as the coming mass-processing, avoided...

But, no! He couldn't give up already. From a bunch of completely alien refugees, the Evarite species had made it far within the Union and the Traders. All the way to Chairman, and he was governor of the Union's capital. They would survive this crisis too.​

And one day, he'd see Evari again.

Preferably not just as luxury Human furniture.


<30th December 2380, 21:32 Cherson time – group of Human “scavengers”, Vurl-Pangit>

It was an eerie feeling, making planetfall. Despite all of them already having done so often. Especially Old Man Dimitri, having travelled the span of the Empire as a trader countless times. He had assembled the crew in order to “make it big”.

The High Emperor's terrifying weapon opened up a perfect opportunity. Soon enough, a heated discussion would surely embroil the Empire concerning the scavenger teams. It wasn't just like the ancient practice of battlefield looting. It wasn't like moving into a destroyed city after the passage of an army.

The alien towns were still in pristine condition. Whatever happened here, the planet itself hadn't suffered at all.

Sif, the young would-be adventurer picked up on Nanite's Gift, whistled. “Say what you want about the aliens, their architecture is not bad.”

“Say that again after you've knocked your head on an undersized door or tripped over some indescribable... thing. It's not made for us, girl.” Theoderic, grizzled veteran of the Spine War, spat out and handed Sif her intricate mask. “Don't let yourself be fooled by the flourishes Jeanne added during the trip – you'll need the mask. Believe me.”

“And why would I? Even if I were to rob a bank, there's no need to conceal our faces, is it? It's perfectly legal!”

“Don't know about that. Wouldn't surprise me if the Empire claims the whole planet. My old army buddies tell me Leon keeps 'em busy... Makes it all the more important we're here early. Anyway, just trust me on this.”

Sif held the mask and hesitated while Theoderic put it on. Thanks to Jeanne's modifications, he looked like a clown. She stifled a laugh. “Hey, Túpac.”

The Audarician, always complaining about “the heat”, despite perfectly agreeable 21 degrees – he must have skipped climatic adaptation when leaving the frozen planet –, looked up. “Hmm?”

“What about the mask? Why is nobody telling me anything?”

“Guess it's something about the atmosphere. Theoderic must know, he fought there. I just – I just question if it was all necessary.”

“Whaddaya mean?”

“Leon acts like an alien screwed his wife. I know Her Majesty Yuko is Japanese, but besides being a bad stereotype, no tentacle fetish is strong enough for that. I think alien stuff is fascinating. Whole reason why I'm here. Sometimes, we still dig out Evarite things back home. I like wondering what fascinatingly weird purpose they served. Like this thingy here...”

“You know perfectly well what aliens did to His Majesty, fool. Don't fill the girl's head with nonsense.” Jeanne, the Acrisian farmer who redesigned the masks, interjected harshly. She'd been nothing but a kind, matronly figure during the voyage, leading to Sif wondering what made her so eager to join their motley group. She seemed to have a clear stance towards aliens. That might be the reason. Sif tried to recall what she knew about Acrisia, but drew a blank. Never worried much about history or politics.​

“I must have forgotten. Enlighten me, perhaps?” Túpac waved the Evarite gadget around. Jeanne swiped at it, but barely missed. He swiftly stowed the thing away again before he'd lose it forever.

“You moron! That's critical recent history right there! Disunity Scheme telling you something? Leon's mother was murdered by a coalition of alien assassins!”

“Ohhhh, right. Poor Maria. But does that justi...”

“A mere drop in an ocean of reasons. I'd advise you not to say another word if you want to keep your teeth.”

The Acrisian woman loomed over the Audarician, who raised his hands defensively. “All right, all right. No need for that.”

“Pick up some tentacle-dresser or rock-groomer for your weird fetish if you want, but don't forget what we're here for. Dimitri could just leave you here, and I might signal a cleaning squad to pick you up.”

Túpac waved his hands frantically, anything but that.

Sif wondered what she meant. “Cleaning squad, Jeanne?”

“Oh, you sweet summer child.” She ruffled Sif's hair. “Put on your mask, dearie, you'll see what I mean.” Hers looked just like the most famous picture of Sergia V in her role as Princess Cixila in Taizu, the great classic from the 22nd century even Sif loved. To many, the woman, very much like her mother, had been beauty incarnate.​

Túpac grumbled and put on his mask. Jeanne had surpassed herself once again with his, it looked like an antique golden Inca mask. He mumbled something under his breath. “All this for a personal grudge...”

“Alright, people! You know why we're here! Let's make the trip worth it!” Dimitri's voice rang out over speakers as they made landfall.

Sif still hesitated with the mask, something she instantly regretted as the freighter's landing trap opened. An inhumane stench assaulted her nostrils. Dimitri had landed in a big square, and the sight was hard to stomach. The place was a busy city centre, no doubt about that, and the aliens had kept their daily routines as Harbinger circled over the planet.

The aliens were all dead in an instant when Harbinger fired. Rotting ever since, as bacteria, plants and smaller lifeforms were unaffected. That's where the stench came from. Sif couldn't resist the urge and vomited. “Don't say I didn't warn you, kiddo”, Theoderic said as he stepped out, his boot making a crunching sound as it landed on a Dabbax exoskeleton. “Reminds me of my soldier days.”

“Go ahead. I... I'll be sick.”

Túpac placed a hand on her shoulder in encouragement, then trotted forward, looking at the remains of an Endurgan in rich garb, while Jeanne happily kicked a half-skeletal Aramathi head away from the body. “Feels just as good in reality”, she exclaimed, confidently marching towards what looked like a jeweller's store.

She went through the door, then an alarm went off. A robotic husk crashed through the window, sent flying by the farmer woman. Looked like she found something. Sif made a mental note to herself never to set foot on Acrisia.

She thought about her decision back then. Nanite's Gift was a fairly small planet, and it had been time for her to leave if she wanted to find her future. The old trader's offer sounded perfect for that. Explore space and alien planets, able to just grab whatever you desired. Find enough good stuff, and she could live like a queen one day, even after handing over Dimitri's cut.

Man wanted to act fast. No matter how big a planet is, the best spots would surely be picked clean swiftly. Crew was fairly small in the end, but it would all be worth it. Sif didn't expect to find any trace of the war's fighting. Easy money.

She should have guessed it was too good to be so simple. “Come on, Sif, you can do it! For your future!” Wiping her mouth, she held her breath to put on the mask, a smiling angelic face, complete with halo. She'd get used to it. Just look at Jeanne, who shoved a half-mummified alien out of the way. It truly wasn't difficult. She'd be rich one day.

Then what seemed like a shot resounded, followed by a scream of agony, swiftly cut short. “Automated defences. Dabbax are known for advanced robotics. Miserable fool. Keep your eyes open”, Theoderic exclaimed.

Perhaps not so easy and safe after all. Sif felt like a dirty thief. And what about the “Cleaning Squads” Jeanne mentioned? Theoderic's remark that it might not be exactly legal? Well, no matter. She was here now, had to steel herself – and keep her eyes open.

Though she'd look in exactly the opposite direction to where the shot came from, at least.


<Vana system, 7th December 2381, 17:35 Cherson time – Lieutenants Valerios Tarnent and Konstantinos Makrelogos, Theudis the War Saint>

“Remind me never to question His Majesty ever again, Valerios.”​

“Did I ever have to, Philippos?” Nobody but official records ever called Makrelogos anything but his famous ancestor's name, something he'd grown used to eventually.

“Eh, I knew the War Saint's abilities, but damn.”

“Just like its namesake.”

“How did we Greeks ever think we could resist the Goths? That name alone should make anyone run in fear!”

“A name isn't everything. Sure I don't have to tell you that, Makrelogos.”

“Don't remind me.”

Makrelogos let out a long sigh, and Valerios valiantly struggled against the urge to call his friend Philippos once again. The awkward pause ended when the explorer's descendant continued. “Still, we did good. No wounded here. Any casualties on your end?”

“You know I've got a fighter squadron. Close counters, small ships. Thick of the fight. Malewski and Ræffing didn't make it, Clopans is in med-bay 25. Likely the end of his military career if he ever recovers.”

“May they rest in peace in knowledge of the glorious victory.”

“No better way to go. Though Maria would disagree, of course.”

“Absolutely. How is she? Heard Gregoras took a hit when their flagship made their insane ramming attempt.” A titanic ship like the War Saint was divided into different areas for easier orientation, named after the great Gothic Emperor's children. The ship's command centre and Leon's throne room, for example, were located in Valeria, Theudis VIII's successor after the death of child empress Sergia II – Sergia was the location of the corvette shipyards.

“Perfectly fine, damage in Gregoras is barely more than superficial. She'd been sulking a bit since that worm Chintila keeps bragging, but after today, there's no way she'll let that keep her down any more.”

“True, true. Jinkath in June, Vana now. No matter Harbinger's task, the war is won in space.”

“And no other ship can decimate an entire star nation's fleet on its own, right?”

“None but the War Saint. And with Leon on board, the heart of the Empire.”

Valerios smiled, thinking how that grease-monkey Chintila safely remained in controlled space while he was happily risking his life on the finest ship the galaxy has ever seen. “Nothing can stop us.”

Makrelogos nodded. “Indeed. For the Empire!”

“For great names and even greater deeds!”​

“For the fallen of today!”

“May even greater victories await in the future!”

“Long live His Imperial Majesty, Leon the Fearless Conqueror!”

A rallying shout that went through the entire ship this day. Another great title to add to his list, the High Emperor thought as he gave another order to Harbinger. Not just the Bloody, the Demon of Light – the Fearless Conqueror. Had a nice ring to it.

He laid waste to the entirety of the Gorf spatial military with one ship. One. He had seven far stronger fleets spread across enemy territory.

Victory was just a matter of time, he was certain of it. His name would forever remain amongst the most influential of humanity, synonymous to conquest like this ship's.

The new Galactic Age would come.​

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I really loved this change in style. It's nice to see how everyday people are affected by the big-picture, galactic events.
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That's quite the weapon the Empire has devised. Sure to strike fear into the hearts of aliens everywhere.

Out of curiosity, what has happened with the fallen empires in the galaxy? I remember there being a xenophile one but I'm curious if they're involved in the war too.
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The Humans have almost completely taken over!

They even now have a weapon that can destroy entire planets!
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I really loved this change in style. It's nice to see how everyday people are affected by the big-picture, galactic events.
Thanks :).

That's about the general idea - better than a fairly boring report of a foregone conclusion.
That's quite the weapon the Empire has devised. Sure to strike fear into the hearts of aliens everywhere.

Out of curiosity, what has happened with the fallen empires in the galaxy? I remember there being a xenophile one but I'm curious if they're involved in the war too.
If they do have hearts. One never knows with these aliens. Especially those Half-Evarite monstrosities.

There's a xenophile one, a materialistic, and enigmatic robots. Leon is fine with ignoring them as long as they don't bother him, as he may be genocidal, but still a capable strategist.

Weirdly enough the xenophiles are happily chilling in their space while the Empire purges billions and now does so within seconds. Their only interaction was demanding a Human pop, which was of course declined.
Love the new style. Refreshing. Thank you for updating.
Thanks. Hope it keeps things interesting.
The Humans have almost completely taken over!

They even now have a weapon that can destroy entire planets!
The galaxy will be imperial.

And it remains inhabitable. A triumph of imperial engineering, citizen!

On to the next chapter. Didn't feel like it work out without them, so there are some expletives ahead. Situation warrants that.
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Great Galactic War - II

<crime syndicate leader Moz Tekar, Vurl-Zaldr, 25th November 2381, 8:31 Cherson time>

Tekar slammed down his paw, ending the communication. “Now we're really done for.”​

“It's that bad, eh?”

“I told the Chairman that focusing on small ships was a mistake. We're all paying the price for it. No use having more ships than the enemy if the corvettes and destroyers just get swiped aside. Don't know if their weapons can penetrate an imperial titan's armour at all!

Quantity is nice and all, but if you're losing forty ships per battle while the enemy loses five to ten, destroyers at most, you're not doing great, you're a damned idiot. Especially if the enemy far outnumbers you, too, then your focus on quantity just means that you present yourself on a silver platter. A great bloody cake with “eat me” written on it in bold letters, a knife proudly sticking out. For ease of cutting.

Why not send in unarmed freighters next? Can't do a worse job, that's for sure!

It's like if I had gotten to where I am now by heading up to the police and handing them a few critters to distract them while my boys did drug deals in their cafeteria. Sure, the critter might be cute, but no matter its claws or venom, all the police has to do is put them down and go for my dealers.”

“He should've listened, damn it! I was a border guard! The intel was top-notch and based on the asset protection fleet's own experience!”

“I'll never know why you left that post, Robert. All I had heard of Imperial border guards is that they became rich without doing anything. Can't say it's not a taste for crime either.”​

“I wasn't on Vurl-Zaldr, but in the Empire, damnit! Sorry for the outburst, boss. Here, you've got governor Prakhti in your pocket – is he still clinging to that 0% crime rate lie?”

“He is, not that it does us any good any more. That's how you do it! You don't walk to the station unarmed, you make deals with the government to know what you have to do.

May not work on the Empire, but then again, the Chairman knew what awaited us.”

“I heard from some of my old buddies before leaving. They were posted in Uflao. Imperial inspectors arrived incognito one day, got offered safe passage through the wormhole to the Union. My old friends then had a choice between Redemption Legion or capital punishment. Should have skipped a step as shortly after they were all slaughtered in that gruesome attack on C.A.R.E.

The old Empire took its isolationism seriously. Mind you, that was under Theudis XV, not under that sociopath Leon. He basically encouraged border guards to take bribes, before I got out anyway. Something along the lines of 'whoever is stupid enough to leave Imperial space is free to do so'.

On the other hand, he put a generous price on every shot down intruder ship. A miracle the refugees from the Vailon War got through, guards must have been on coffee break. We should have known what was coming – the Empire leaving its gates wide open was such on obvious trap.

Still, I walked right into it. Can proudly count myself amongst the Empire's dumbest. Yet if I remained there, I'd probably drown myself in booze by now for all the people I condemned to their deaths.”

“Instead, you are partaking in said deaths. How noble. For an idiot.”

“Thanks, boss. Very motivating.”

“Only the best for my loyal second-in-command. Though I have to ask: Any chance your old monarch might call off the attack? That we might... make a deal? We've never had it any better. Save for that whole 'pure-death-looming-in-orbit' thing. We've got a lot to offer.”

“I see your sarcasm is unshakeable as always.”

“Cultural trait, I guess. How'd you Humans call it? Stiff upper lip?”

“Maybe. Never reached us where I'm from, some forgotten town far away from everything.” Robert shook his head. “From a basic imperial citizen's perspective – Leon might rather negotiate with the devil himself than an alien. Hates all of you with a passion.

And me? I'm a damned traitor. He'd rather have his men shoot first than talk.

Lastly, we don't have anything to offer. What we might offer he either already has – or doesn't give a shit. The Traders' fleet is no match for the imperial one, that's all that matters when you have a planet-sized death ray. You could offer him a star made of solid gold or whatever drug strikes his fancy, he'd just sneer as he obliterates you.”

“Thanks for your perspective. Always appreciated your honesty. So, this is it.” Tekar beckoned Robert closer, took out a package from his desk. Red powder... unmistakeably his cartel's top product.
“I might partake then. Enjoy the fruits of my labour, every vice the cartel has to offer. Take a page out of the majority's book, for once. Heh. What do you think about that whole 'unbridled hedonism' thing going on? Other than that it's good for business, obviously.”

“Well, we might have experience with the whole “certain doom at a certain date” thing. Historically. Guy named Roderic Chertans threatened to blow us all up if we didn't join the Empire. He did blow some countries up, too. Crazy nutjob. Took over the place as most hated man of all time from Kyrillos VIII's assassin Pavlos Samaras, who caused the Great War.

History teaches us that public order crumbled nearly everywhere that was threatened until Gothic troops restored order. Took a long time for the Empire to reach a semblance of unity. Resentment has mostly died down by now, just a few hardcore cultural communities left. Probably inbred or dead by now.​

Anyway, turns out Leon loves him. What a surprise. Our near-omnicidal maniac friend inspires himself from history's long-time most reviled character. Only he thinks the whole 'ultimatum' part is just getting in the way of death, so he doesn't give anyone a chance to avert that fate. No order to try and maintain if everyone's lease on life has ended.

So, honestly? The whole unshackled lust for party that's been going on since that thing's appearance is the greatest middle finger we could ever hope to shove in Leon's fucking face, and I'm all here for it. We're going down, but not cowering in a corner crying. Might as well have the time of our life, knowing it'll end soon anyway. We embrace that fate.​

I don't regret leaving that asshole's Empire behind one second.”

“Right. Might even make peace with the Krztbak. If we bundle our resources, we can all have a hell of a time until the end.​

Better than shooting each other for no long-term gain, anyway. Let's show our generous side, go out with a smile.”

Robert's face suddenly lit up. “I've got a brilliant idea! We should send a missile with drugs towards the thing!”​

“The ultimate act of defiance”. Tekar paused. Smiled. “Let's give our governor a call.”


<meeting of the Council of Ascension, Vallgar, 1st January 2384, 02:33 Cherson time>

“We will persevere. The Humans don't know what they are messing with. Good work.” Consul Dack saluted the Council, then left.

Indeed, the Vailon Confederacy had achieved a major breakthrough. Or at least they hoped so. Space Storm Obr-Few had been unleashed. This should slow down the Imperial advance, after they overran the former Figyari territory in a flash, and give the Confederacy more time to prepare. Dabbax and Endurga fleets had already retreated from the Confederacy's space, with their immediate survival being a far more pressing matter.

Firing Harbinger sent ripples through the Shroud that violently resonated within every Vailon. Billions of lives, snuffed out in an instant – of course, the Shroud reverberated. And the Vailons had researched this parallel dimension far more than any other star nation.

The Consul's previous declarations weren't just empty threats. This very Council of Ascension had been created to bring about the species' apotheosis. First steps were already taken. With the powers of the Shroud, Vailon ships were rarely made out of special alloys, but rather appeared hastily cobbled together with minerals, held together with the influence of Vailon psychics.

The first step towards a grand-scale psionic awakening were already taken. All Vailons held that innate potential, though for now, it is but 3% who are active psionics. Enough to give the Confederacy a wide edge. The Council kept a close eye on the Shroud, could gain valuable intel out of it, and use it to hinder its enemies. Like Obr-Few, created by psionic Vailons.

“You don't think the Humans can strike back, do you?”

“No, not at all. Brother Jurg has closely monitored the imperial power level. While intelligence points towards an Imperial population of around 250 billion people, Jurg isolated barely 65.349 individuals tapping into the Shroud, mainly for individual combat purposes, with only two dozen pursuing scientific aims. All that with the assistance of some gadget.”

“And yet, their High Emperor is allegedly a psionic as well.”

“Humans don't really have psionics – reports from the few purge refugees say that they have “wizards”, highly-trained military officers who influence the Shroud to gain an edge in a fight. But it is true – a peculiar signature in the Shroud corresponds to the reported position of the High Emperor, far brighter than the hundred others surrounding it. If it is Leon, than he must massively amplify his power somehow.”

“Can't we evict him from the Shroud?”

“Sister Farg tried. Her mind was fried in the attempt.”

“So that's why she is no longer among us here.”

“Indeed. She can now barely generate enough energy to hold a corvette together.”

“Such a great loss.”

“Obr-Few bought us precious time, but we can't rest on our laurels. Any ideas?”

“We should push through the Aetherophasic Engine. Ascension is our best bet to turn the tables on the Empire. We could harvest Confederacy stars...”

“Impossible. Not only in terms of sacrifice – we couldn't assemble enough dark matter – it would take far too long.”

“We should attempt to isolate ourselves. Or the enemy. Cut the hyperlanes.”

“Now that is a brilliant idea, Brother Lant! Please, elaborate.”

“Hyperlanes lead through the Shroud. If we cut them off, then the Empire would have to employ STL-travel to reach us – and we all know they wouldn't even reach the new border within Leon's lifetime.”

“This might be our greatest hope. I shall present it to the Consul.”


Thorismondi stopped her meditation. She was right to monitor the Shroud, once again going against every other so-called expert's advice. Her highly experimental listening device worked before it vanished somewhere in that dimension.

Though she now experienced severe migraine, like if she had lost a part of herself in the Shroud, undergone some kind of full-body mitosis. A weird feeling, for certain. Sadly enough, it was the part of her that knew how to build the listening device.

It was as her esteemed colleagues often said: “Science explains cause and effect, so you can understand something and repeat it. If science fails, but you really need something done, and just once is enough, ask Thorismondi.”

Heh. She was proud of her reputation. A miracle worker in the good, untainted sense of the word.

In any case – the Vailons didn't know that through a massive effort she led with her late colleague Dragomirov, the Empire had managed to attach Eden's system to the hyperlane network. Their efforts might be doomed, for the whole existing network was already mapped and recreating hyperlanes should be an easier task.

Even for the little number of SPELL-wielders. The Empire had quality.

<personal log of Imperial colonist Sisenando Leonites, equatorial transit station, Earth, 18th February 2384, 12:00 Cherson time>

“A new life awaits you in the colonies.” Huh. That old saying never lost its lustre. Not after soon two centuries of FTL-travel. Not since the Veil was settled. It remains as tempting as ever.

Why else would I be here today, abandoning my little restaurant at Cherson's leisure harbour?

They always say that life in the capital provides everything imaginable. My prospective neighbour asked me why I would leave that behind. She's from Kyrillia, and claimed that she longed to experience what her ancestors found when they discovered the land. Good for her.

Visiting the capital as a tourist as she did is quite different from actually living there. It's crowded. While Earth isn't just one gigantic city like these Dabbax planets, the Endurgan capital Durgassa, or the highly-coveted newly-restored Pallas (for the umpteenth time, no, I am not interested in moving to Pallas! You'd think today's advertising technologies would finally understand, but no), Cherson has expanded far beyond Cherson proper, the old centre behind the Theudisian Walls.

The Jewel of the Empire has sprawled out so far that it reached the statue of Leon Soldaia, the Defender of Gothia's famous stand in the Melting War as Crimea's natural border, before the government decided to forbid further construction. It is sometimes hard to imagine that the medieval Gothic monarchs, despite reaching all the way to China, held the majority of their power thanks to what today is just one city, Cherson.

I long for some peace and quiet. And yes, while the Empire is at war, there's no effect on us common people. Unlike the Sentinel War's great food crisis, the High Emperor is on a complete offensive in this conflict, leaving Imperial worlds untouched – on the contrary, some prices are falling due to an abundance of “salvage” brought in.

So yes, Pallas was no option, damn it! I don't want to trade a big city for an even bigger one covering the whole planet, even if it is relatively empty for now. I've got more than a century left in these bones, I reckon. Time enough for the planet to attract billions of people.

My choice had to be a pristine, untouched world. So not one of the desolate alien planets where the government deployed Harbinger. Sure, it's got the advantage of existing infrastructure – but it is alien existing infrastructure. And I'd have close neighbours soon either way.

Besides, the government mentions that “cleaning is underway”. Who knows how the colussus works? Would be nice if it is as clean as instant vaporization, but I doubt that. That “cleaning” must be a messy affair.

No, Mars was perfect. Humanity's old dream had finally been realized – Mars had been terraformed. A smaller Earth. Peace and quiet as I could open a farm far away from the growing cities. And if I craved the old city again – it wasn't far away.

My own calm place in the heart of the Empire. Worth all the bureaucracy I had to go through to fulfil that dream.


<Sif Gunnarrsson, Dabba Naxan, 12th February 2386, 01:36 Cherson time>

Singh didn't survive the initial mission, the devious automated defence system's shrapnel killing him fairly quickly. Not the last to go. Twelve more fell victim to similar defences over the years.

Gregoras went boom as he tried looting what was obviously a military facility, ignoring Theoderic's warnings.

When she accompanied Túpac to what looked like a wealthy executive's villa, the Audarician got impaled in front of her eyes. While he tried to take some sort of painting.

The owner must have really liked that painting. Probably worth a fortune – but only on the alien market. To human eyes, it was a uniform shade of red. Sif thought it was worthless. Túpac probably agreed, but wanted the thing for himself and his own weird preferences.

He paid for it with his life. Poor guy. Gunnarrsson herself had looked to disable the security system at the time. Since then, she went scavenging on her own.

Scavenging was not in itself dangerous work. But the money was where the danger was. You could spend the whole day going from apartment to apartment and end up with nothing but some baubles and a little jewellery. Or you could tackle places which likely had some defensive system, and grab more there than you'd make in months of tedious apartment-searching.

And with the Imperial advance experiencing its first setback in the Pash system, where the Marshal herself of all people failed to take the station, taking the war to the Vailons seemed to be less and less of a priority, so more Dabbax security systems, prolific throughout Trader space and likely also present, if perhaps less lethal, on Union planets, had to be cracked in the future.

With the boss breathing down your neck and most certainly replacing you for the next trip. There was a lot of money to be made, and the boss had no patience for small-scale gains. Explains how Dimitri, already a wealthy man before, had now retired to a villa on Eden, something he could never have afforded before, leaving his daughter Olga in charge. Olga had expanded to bring two more ships with her, with ever-changing personnel to satisfy her dream of buying and modernizing the old Novgorodian kings' residence. For that, she needed an astronomical sum far higher than the already mind-bogglingly expensive villa of her father.

It was her first expedition. To finance her dream, they had to hit high-value, high-risk targets. Thus they landed on recently neutron-swept Dabba Naxan – the former capital of the Dabbax Traders, where naturally much of its wealth would be centralized, as their managers had likely been the richest aliens of the galaxy. What Olga didn't think about was that these targets were naturally also high priority for the Imperial cleaning squads, not to mention that three ships were less discreet.


Sif's first encounter with a cleaning squad had burnt itself into her memory just like Túpac's last moments. She'd been carrying her latest haul back to the ship, landed at the city's edge, when a group of vehicles came closer. Well-versed in Imperial manufacturers, she recognized the eagle of Lanteric, the Gothic market-leader since the 20th century.

Competition, she thought. Numerous. Well, tough luck for them, best loot's already been taken. Only that they weren't competition. But Imperial soldiers. Weird that they didn't drive any of Lanteric's military models, but rather old civilian ones that had definitely seen better days. There was no time to worry about that, as the soldiers surrounded the ship.

Their leader, introducing himself as Captain Kyrillos Mekanes, asked for Dimitri by name, his vessel swiftly identified. They talked a while. Negotiations, it seemed. Captain Mekanes was sure that they were breaking some kind of Imperial Law while being here, trying to claim imperial spoils of war as their own.​

The old man's attempts to explain their presence were stoically ignored for quite some time. In the meantime, those of the men who weren't needed to surround the ship went to work – heading to the nearest buildings, throwing out corpses, then setting them on fire. Their equipment was reminiscent of the purifiers. Supremely disciplined as expected of the Imperial Army, Sif could only watch in wonder.

Negotiations ended with Dimitri making a generous donation to the war effort – leaving their entire loot behind and paying 75 million Imperillos. Their whole trip was worth nothing that time, and most were glad not to have ended up prisoners.

That's why she didn't like Olga's way. Sure, with the immense amount of ground to cover, the cleaning squads were very thin-spread, and often only with their purifying flamethrower and uniform as only military equipment. But nobody in their right mind would oppose Imperial soldiers, and by now all troops must have been issued their orders concerning private scavengers.

She'd heard that Jeanne had enlisted and joined the cleaning squads after their encounter. The latest military news had pointed out the high ratio of soldiers from Acrisia and praised their spirit in combating the alien, stating that their sacrifices against Finus and Sentinels made them the hardiest people of the Empire.​

She and Theoderic were the last of Dimitri's first crew who were still there. Most of the survivors retired from scavenging swiftly. Profits were good enough that one could do that. Sif herself might even be able to retire to Nanite's Gift again despite the high prices. But she came to enjoy her work – always a new discovery, a new challenging security system. She'd either retire a queen one day, but only when she no longer felt the thrill. Or die in the field. Always possible.

Theoderic became some sort of overseer, guiding the newbies with his wealth of experience. He'd always point to Sif when saying what a few expeditions under your belt would turn you into.

"A loner with a nose for treasure", he joked.

In any case, Dabba Naxan didn't disappoint in terms of wealth. And bloodthirsty security mechanisms. Thanks to their advanced robotics, lethal force was apparently widespread to deal with any criminals. Come to think of it, she'd never seen a Dabbax prison, though there were no doubt many living beyond the law during the Trader's heyday.

She had just hacked out a killerbot's power source when she found it. A mummy. Sure, she had seen a lot of them before, but this one was different. It was a girl. Human, perhaps eight years old. What did she do here?

Of course, she'd heard rumours. Of people leaving the Empire clandestinely. But she never believed them. Yet here was a proof right in front of her eyes. The girl surely didn't leave the Empire on her own. Her only crime was to be born in, or taken to, the wrong place. And she apparently lived in quite the lavish villa.

A good life, cut short far too early. Could it have been her? If roles were reversed, would this girl, or her parents, support the neutron sweep of Earth. Sif was torn and remained still for a while. Some tears rolling down her cheeks.

Only shaken out of her stupor when she was faced with two Imperial soldiers. Oh, shit.

“Incredible. A survivor.” The first guy looked amazed.

“Impossible.” The second soldier was unmoved. He aimed his purifier at her.

“Well, I say she's alive, unlike the other one.” He still looked like a man who had seen a woman for the first time.

“Deserter, then. Or one of these dirty scavengers.” The man sneered at the last word.

“Could have been the mother, though! We haven't see her around!” Guy's optimism was admirable, at least.

“Riiight. We've seen the guardian bot though. And this villa just so happened to be robbed while Harbinger fired.” The two were your typical pair of comedians: the optimist and the sceptic.

“Could happen! Hedonism needs money, too.”

“Give it up, will you? You! Come with us.” Sceptic guy signalled Sif over.

“What if she doesn't speak Goth?”

“Shut up, Ioulianos.”

Sif judged her chances in a fight. Might be able to take them with the element of surprise. Dealing with killerbots made her quite nimble. Optimist certainly doesn't expect it, and Sceptic won't burn his friend. But the rest of their squad was surely nearby. And people stupid enough to attack Imperial soldiers signed their own death warrants. Not an exciting prospect.​

She nodded. Mumbled “just don't burn her.”

“Traitors deserve no other fate.”

“But – she's a child!”

“Dead is dead. Take it to His Imperial Majesty. Organics are to be burned, lithoids to be processed.”

Optimist chimed in, oddly happy. “Purified of sin, just like in the inquisition days.”

“Is that supposed to be comforting? Just shut up already.”

Sif made another attempt. “Listen, I know what you are thinking, but you can't-”

“We can and we will. Now, move. Ioulianos!”

He sighed. “Sure, sure. Way to crush a man's hopes.”

As Sif followed Sceptic, Ioulianos picked up the mummified girl like a bag of trash. The other cleaners of the squad had already amassed some corpses on a bonfire, and the girl ended there too, before Ioulianos sent another flame spewing out of his purifier.

The squad was moving on as Sceptic shoved Sif into his transport and headed back to base. Her scavenging days were likely over. Who knew what the army would do with her?

<Dharbal Vullush, visionary, Starport of the Sorcimax system, former HQ of the galactic market, United Endurga Union, 3rd March 2386, 14:21 Cherson time>

“We are as ready as we will ever be. If we aren't ready now, it's too late.” Dharbal had the worst hangover ever. It felt worth it at the time, but now he really regretted it. Especially with Qull deeply mired in regret.


“No buts! You are free to remain here, of course.” His poor head...

Qull's tentacles went up in protest. “Never! You know that where you go, I go. Only – this is our only chance. We need to make it count.”

“Do you think I don't know that? The Dabbax Traders are as good as history, Imperial fleets keep advancing through Endurga space... it won't be long before they are here.

Dabba Naxan is gone. Durgassa will be gone if they aren't saved by some miracle. This station will soon be nothing more than drifting debris.

We have to leave. Now.”

Ever since refugees from the aftermath of the Spine War had relayed stories of imperial atrocities, their genocidal purges first and foremost, Dharbal had lobbied the Union for his Ark project. He feared that if the Empire took over the Union, it would spell the end for the once-proud Endurgan species – and for the pluralistic society they had built in their second try at space-faring nation.

He proposed a third try. Enormous ark ships, built to flee a possible Imperial advance at STL-speeds, able to sustain themselves for eternity, if well-maintained.​

The Union had laughed it off at first. The Empire had managed a small victory against the Traders. Now they knew which foe to expect and could adequately prepare. The Empire's monolithic structure was a clear disadvantage and they couldn't hope to match the productivity of the Union and the Traders joined together in defence.

After the Javorian War, his idea was waved aside with far less arrogance. But pumping outrageous sums into an ark ship would have been a politically disastrous signal - “look at us, the captains readying themselves to flee the sinking ship before it has even left the harbour”. Nobody wanted to make this decision and save a good number of people at the cost of their career.

Things could always not escalate. High Emperor Leon had deployed the Javorian Pox, which had only been defeated by the combined efforts of Figyari, Dabbax and Endurgan scientists working non-stop. But it had been stopped. Billions of Figyari were sent to work themselves to death in imperial labour camps – but these people were slavers anyway. Might be the imperial sense of irony at work.

Such display of blind hope Dhurbal had not seen since Huggusid's electoral campaign. The deluded squid thought that she'd soon become president despite not even half a percent of the vote. Given out of pity, probably.

He turned to the private sector. A clear net loss was of course not interesting for any company – especially as they'd either all be dead in case the ark ships were needed or wouldn't have any special role in the ships' “government”.

What little donations his initiative collected were far from enough to even start to build one ark ship. Then Leon declared war to the entire galactic community, his intention clear to anyone with half a brain.

Only now it was too late to build an ark ship. Hope prevailed over reason. With the fall of the Durg system, interest in his project was on the rise. Dhurbal suddenly had the required means, but not the required time. His team frantically worked on a second-rate solution, and they refurbished a small freighter fleet as well as possible.

It should be able to cover the needs of a small population, as long as shuttles could travel between the ships, over a few generations at least. Better than nothing. But there were still doubts, and Qull voiced them frequently.

The Union, readying the defences, dismissed the threat's intensity. Understandable if they didn't want the complete collapse of their authority, but misguided. The Ark Initiative organized a private lottery across all safe systems, with 123.450 people as lucky winners.

These people had spent the last few months familiarizing themselves with the fleet, making last arrangements. And now was the time for departure.​

Vullush dreaded the moment to come. He was to give a speech to his hopeful. Sadly, he'd woken up today and wasn't still passed out. He'd keep it brief.

The Sorcimax station had emptied as the ark refugees had taken to their ships. The initiative's founder would give the signal for departure. His voice rang out in every nook of the repurposed freighters.

“Take a good look at Gluggush when we leave. At the Sorcimax Station. Burn that moment into your memory. Etch it into the deepest recesses of your brains. This shall be our burden. Yet also the light we carry into the future.​

Tell me, do you know your last departure from Durgassa, if you had ever been to the capital? Probably not. Either routine, or the end of a more or less enjoyable trip. Nothing extraordinary. And that is a true shame.

The ancestral homeland of the Endurga is not yet lost – but it as well might be. Dabba Naxan is lost. The Imperial advance seems unstoppable. That is why we are all here.​

To prove that it will not succeed. That no matter how hard that maniac Leon tries, he cannot exterminate all “unworthy” life in the galaxy. Think of the memory you are about to make. Of all those you have made before.

All of this shall survive. Even if we are to endlessly drift among stars on the search of a new home, it shall survive. In all of us.

The Empire will not prevail over the Union. The history of all those lost will not be forgotten.

It is time for our new future.”

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Interesting to see all the last-minute plans to attempt to escape utter annihilation. I have my doubts that any of them will succeed with the progress that the Empire is making.
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I don't hold out hope for Vullush's ark-ships or for the psionic's delaying tactics. Leon won't stop until everything is his.

I'm also interested to see Sif's fate if you continue that plot line.
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Quantity doesn't always override Quality.

Psionic powers are good for the Empire's foes, but I fear (or hope?) that the Empire will soon follow. I also don't trust that the aliens won't try something utterly suicidal with psionic powers... like summoning a Shroud-Being.
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Interesting to see all the last-minute plans to attempt to escape utter annihilation. I have my doubts that any of them will succeed with the progress that the Empire is making.
Well, what else is there to do if you can't achieve a military victory? And that's why the plans mostly involve cutting off access - no matter how swiftly imperial ships carve their path through your nation, if you manage to slip out of their reach, you might be safe.
I don't hold out hope for Vullush's ark-ships or for the psionic's delaying tactics. Leon won't stop until everything is his.

I'm also interested to see Sif's fate if you continue that plot line.
Leon's determination clearly is one of his greatest strengths, true.

I can't very well leave her hanging there, can I? She'll return, just like I will revisit some other people's fates ;) .
Quantity doesn't always override Quality.

Psionic powers are good for the Empire's foes, but I fear (or hope?) that the Empire will soon follow. I also don't trust that the aliens won't try something utterly suicidal with psionic powers... like summoning a Shroud-Being.
And when the Empire has overwhelming quantity with a quality at least on par, you better start praying.

It's not like the Vailons weren't dreaming of destroying the galaxy anyway, so it's not that far-fetched. A taking you with me mentality might be likely.
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