Part Eight: Marauders, pirates and other threats (2246 to 2267)
Yldar warships and the Burning Brigands pirates exchange fire at the Battle of Craxima, 2250.
Part Eight: Marauders, pirates and other threats (2246 to 2267)
Gunnery Officer Monnobaki savoured the wave of new scents that greeted her as she stepped through the airlock and into the interior of the YSS Limpok the Baneful. Every new warship had her own sound in the faint vibrations of the engines, her own feel in the smooth touch of the walls, her own taste in whatever culinary warfare the ship's cooks were waging on their captive crew. Most importantly she had her own scent and for a second Monnobaki just stood there, tongue flickering in and out as she tasted the air: Yldars, Glost-Werheni, Kammarians... and something she had never smelled before.
That was probably the admiral.
The officer stepped into the corridor, noting the subtly different size and shape and walked towards her assigned quarters. Tomorrow she'd meet the rest of her crew in the cruiser's aft gunnery station and she wondered if the rest of them were as nervous, proud and excited as she was.
With the Rothak Fire Tribes to their east the Yldar turned their focus back to exploring their western frontier. This was the same region that had held the secrets of the Originator shrines and the prospect of more knowledge - and resources - was too tantalising a prospect for the Free Traders to ignore. In the last years of Jondru's leadership there was a strong push towards the galactic fringe.
The first obstacle in the path of the Yldars were the automated mining droids, but the Navy had defeated them for good back in 2240 at the Battle of Rovannic . The success of that operation had come at a cost with the loss of the corvettes Tetran the Vile, Avathim the Mighty and Elesana the Quick and over six hundred gallant sailors, but it increased the determination of the Yldars to contest the frontiers. The years immediately after Rovannic saw a wave of young officers and crew join the fleet, looking for fame, excitement and good pay. The invention of the disruptor as a practical weapon and the near simultaneous development of the destroyer - a much larger and more powerful warship than the corvette - sent a further boost through the Navy, though it would be some time before these developments were fully realised.
Throughout the 2240s the Free Traders had been receiving vague and conflicting reports of unidentified ships in the west. Initially there had been some hope this was evidence of the Originators or at least another civilisation but the reports of hostile behaviour and the outright disappearance of some freighters in the fringes of known space painted a disturbing picture, though others believed that any number of causes could have resulted in losses without malevolent 'ghost ships'. In 2247 an improved hyperdrive was developed and this allowed the explorers to push a little further and faster. The YSS Mitgapp the Humble, refitted with a second generation hyperdrive finally found the base of the 'ghost ships' in the Esmyke system in Tenthmonth, 2247. The science vessel barely escaped with her hull intact as an entire fleet of hostile vessels powered up against her.
The Yldar had discovered the Kobarian Freeholders.
First contact with the Kobarian Freeholds, 2247.
The Kobarians were a humanoid species, two meters tall and bulky with prominent cranial crests. Their society was nomadic and violent, built around raiding and intimidation making them essentially a brigand kingdom on a galactic scale. Thankfully they feuded with each other, thus sparing the rest of the galaxy and organised invasion but that was more or less the limit of their virtues. Worst of all they were on the Yldars doorstep.
For the Free Traders the existence of the Kobarians was a particularly nasty shock. Marauders were bad enough but somehow, in spite of their eccentric demeanor and barbarous personas these aliens had a level of technology that exceeded the galactic norm. Scans from the Mitgapp revealed weapon signatures, engine readings and armour plating that any shipbuilder in the Cevant system would have given his fangs for. Scientists on Oros theorized that the Kobarians had either created these technologies in a prior age of civilisation or had looted them from now extinct species. Even if this assumption was true the Kobarians could hardly maintain their warships and space stations if they were simply brainless brutes. Plainly they were savvier than they seemed and should not be underestimated.
Kobarian space, 2247.
Another aspect even more disturbing than the presence of marauders so close to Yldar space was their way of life. Many Yldar had always assumed that abandoning planetary existence to live in space was a 'natural' step in evolution. The discovery of the Shrines of the Originators had given a spiritual dimension to this longstanding cultural belief. Yet here were the Kobarians who were anything but highly evolved. For most in the Free Traders this was as far as the implications went but for some of the most enthusiastic about the Originators there was a conclusion that was too distressing to ignore . Could the barbarous Kobarians also be children of the Originators, perhaps even created from the same stock as the Yldars? It was not something that could immediately be proved but for Yldar intellectuals it posed a riddle.
The more prosaic feelings towards the Kobarians were summed up by Admiral Darmull in 2248: 'If we fight now it will be a wonderful defeat. If we wait for half a century it will be a wonderful victory. Wait.' The wily old officer's warning would be heeded in 2251 when the Kobarians first threatened a raid if not given tribute. The merchant princes swallowed their outrage, paid off the marauders in several freighters full of mineral ore and dreamed of the days when they would no longer have to 'Wait'.
By this point the government of the Free Traders had passed to other hands. Jondru's death in 2249 had led to an emergency election, though given the Chairman's age and declining health the 'emergency' aspect had been seen some months in advance. Four candidates had put their names forward for consideration by the Board, including Darmull, though at sixty seven his age told against him. Even older was Senator Listhim the eighty one year old representative of the Free Traders to the Galactic Community. The more youthful candidates were the scientists Ralpakini and Cognati at fifty and forty one respectively.
The Free Traders election of 2249.
As in the previous elections the different candidates received support (overt or otherwise) from the factions. Had he been younger Listhim might have been swept to power as the Xeno Rights Organization which he led remained the largest faction by far among the greater populace, and the most content. Surprisingly the venerable diplomat had focused his agenda on expanding the Navy, in retrospect a wise decision but at the time oddly out of tune with his supporters desires. Listhim believed that not only was a stronger fleet desirable for its own sake but it would also provide a platform for the growing Glost-Werheni and Kammarian minorities to gain broader recognition via the fame and success found in serving. Conversely Admiral Darmull who by default had the support of the conservative/militarist Strength Through Conquest Coalition was more focused on trade. Ralpakini and Cognati who between them split the pro-science Committee of Technological Mastery had also taken unexpectedly conservative stances. Ralpakini pushed for an ambitious foreign policy while Cognati's appeal seemed to rest as much in her positive message for a younger generation and her natural charisma than any firm plans.
One faction that had not existed in any major form in the previous election was the Council of the High Priesthood led by Governor Soki B'Eren, Jondru's old friend and a longstanding advocate of the Glost-Werheni minority. Though it had grown out of secular groups that merged together the modern Council had become overtly spiritual. The faction membership was still largely Glost-Werheni but some Kammarians had also joined as had some of the most mystically inclined Yldars. The Council had friendly links with the Xeno Rights Organization but was at daggers drawn with the Committee of Technological Mastery's over the latter's embrace of robotics. Though comparatively small in numbers the Council represented a key swing 'vote' in deciding the election.
The winner was Cognati. Attractive, with scales so polished they seemed more platinum than silver she had managed the crucial art of making herself everyone's second favourite, and in the murky world that saw the election of a Chairperson having no enemies and few friends could be better than having many friends but even more enemies. She had even managed to win favours from the Council of the High Priesthood by the use of suitably honeyed words.
As Chairwoman Cognati would be known to future generations for the building of a fifth habitat in the Ostichi system (though it was not completed until after her term) and the establishment of the Galactic Market in the Cevant system (rightfully considered an immense win for the Golden Monetary Compact.) But though economically successful and taking place against the backdrop of a population boom, for many inhabitants of the Free Traders alive during this period it would be more familiar as the twilight of the age of exploration and the shadowy threat of interstellar conflict.
The birth of space piracy in 2250.
Less than a year into her term and Cognati was faced with the birth of space piracy in Yldar space. The same economic boom and expansion that would later lead to Oros winning the seat of the Galactic Market attracted all manner of scum. Crime was not new to the Yldars. For over two centuries, from the earliest days of contact between the Three Daughters smuggling had flourished despite the attempts of the Patrol to crush it. Shipjackings were often a problem and until late in the previous century outright feuding between merchant princes had led to battles between armed vessels.
The Burning Brigands were much more dangerous than these suddenly quaint problems. An organised and ambitious band of n'er do wells, some with links to the late and unlamented Governor Rhass had decided to carve out a fiefdom for themselves in the Craxima system, plundering vital trade routes. They felt, rightly, that they were far too powerful for the Patrol. Unfortunately for them they had underestimated the resolve of the supposedly peaceful Chairwoman, who ordered Darmull and the Navy to restore order.
The Battle of Craxima was fought in Ninthmonth 2250. The pirates had ten raiders, modified ships of roughly corvette size that were suprisingly effective for all their rashackle origins. The Navy had twenty corvettes and the brand new destroyers YSS Kodram the Suave and YSS Khabbash the Furious. The Navy deployed their disruptors to formidable effect and utterly destroyed the buccaneers in exchange for moderate damage to their vessels and less than a hundred casualties. Pirate casualties can only be guessed but were likely near three thousand, with the few surving to be taken prisoner mostly coming from the pirate asteroid base who had just wittnessed their entire fleet being wiped out.
Admiral Darmull was able to report a 'satisfactory test' of the destroyers as ships of war.
The rescue of Kesh na-Solpan in 2251.
At the very beginning of 2253 an escape pod drifted into the Durascadon system on the hazy border where Yldar territory faded into Kobarian space. Inside was a forty one year old male Kobarian with a interesting tale to tell. Kesh na-Solpan, as he called himself, was an ex-Kobarian warlord who having lost his flagship to enemy action had lost everything under the unforgiving Kobarian warrior codes. Now he was prepared to offer his rescuers a deal.
'Admiral' Kesh na-Solpan was a cagey mercenary warrior who immediately proved right Darmull's warning that the Kobarians were no fools. The former bandit king was aware of his own value and in return for providing his expertise he wanted a flag commission. The prospect of a life of retirement rather than commanding a fleet from the bridge of a warship was horrifying. There was too a certain mutual fascination; Kesh na-Solpan found a coterie of admirers happy to listen to his tales of his exploits, and those legendary clan leaders he was descended from.
Despite his undoubted ability it would not be until 2261 that he would get his chance to actually lead a fleet. That year, the Durascadon system once more provided a significant haul of interstellar flotsam and jetsam.
While the initial hopes that the vessels could be reverse engineered proved unduly optimistic the Navy was still delighted to find itself in possession of four 'raiders', two 'frigates' and a 'cruiser'. This last ship was renamed the YSS Limpok the Baneful and was immediately seen as the most powerful warship known . Kesh na-Solpan was swiftly granted the flag rank he always desired while Darmull retained overall authority and personal command of the main fleet until his death in 2263 when he was replaced by the Glost-Werheni vice admiral Mak B'Scul. The Kobarian admiral had many admirers but it was a little soon to entrust him with the entire fleet!
The 'Salvaged Fleet' of 2261.
The 'Salvaged Fleet' of 2261.
The 'Salvaged Fleet' would not be the only source of foreign warships in this era, though it would be a long time before the next group of vessels were under Yldar control.
The presidency of the Golden Monetary Compact was based on a twenty year term and in 2267 it officially rotated to the Kammarian emperor. In one of her last official roles as leader of the Compact Cognati had pushed for the creation of a joint fleet under the direct authority of the Compact and serving alongside both 'national navies'. This federation fleet would combine elements of ship design, naval theory, and crew and officers from across Yldar and Kammarian space. As the yet to built ships would be under the control of the President of the Golden Monetary Compact the Free Traders would have to wait until 2287 before they could order 'their' new ships around. On the bright side those ships would be far cheaper to run than the regular Yldar Navy as Cognati pointed out, with their costs split out of a combined budget.
It was this last argument that convinced even the most stubborn merchant princes to support a federation navy. Warships that they didn't have to pay (as much) for were the most exciting strategic decision in years...
 Or so it was thought at the time. Many years later other caches of mining droids would be discovered and had to be destroyed.
 During the 2240s Yldar 'spirituality' was beginning to settle into a set system of belief after the confusion and energy of the previous two decades. A plurality of Yldars were essentially 'Secularists' - almost all now accepted that they had been created by the mysterious Originators but either assumed the Originators themselves were extinct or at least that they were effectively removed from current Yldar development. A large minority were 'Spiritualists' who believed that the Originators had intended a special destiny for the Yldars and were awaiting rediscovery and re-contact once the Yldars had achieved a certain level of development. The 'Spiritualists' tended to bristle at the idea they were "religious" (and much preferred to call themselves 'Proteges'), insisting they believed in a materialist universe without any supernatural elements even as they tended to talk of the "highly evolved" Originators in quasi-mystical terms and looked forward to immortality via superscience. A small minority of Yldars were 'Supernaturalists' who felt that the Originators were in fact explicitly supernatural and that consciousness transcended death. Some of these had converted to the worship of Numa or the various Kammarian folk beliefs.
 Excluding strange reports from the Kammarians of an encounter with a mysterious and ancient 'automated dreadnought' in a distant system.