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Introduction: The Yldars
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    Yldar Free Traders.jpg

    Introduction: The Yldars

    Basics


    The Yldars are a humanoid species whose basic body plan and size betrays several similarities to Earth based humans. They have four limbs, two legs and two arms, the latter of which end in hands with five digits, four fingers and a thumb. They come in two biological sexes, are warm blooded and omnivorous and are at least ancestrally diurnal. Any hypothetical human meeting a Yldar would be amazed by how close in size and shape they were to his or her own species, and equally amazed and perhaps unsettled by their differences, especially if the human was unlucky enough to have ophidiophobia!

    The Yldar are, bluntly 'snake people'. Their skin is covered with fine scales and though they can hear and see well enough their primary sense is smell, with the portion of the Yldar brain deputised with interpreting odours and scent more than ten times the size of the equivalent area in a human cranium. The average Yldar could easily rival a dog for his ability to track a man by scent or differentiate but the most subtle differences in similar vintages. This trait undoubtedly evolved from their ancestors as a means to hunt prey on their vanished homeworld; even today while Yldar can and do eat much plant matter they favour meat consumed whole and alive with ylirri (delicate rodent like creatures) considered a universal treat.

    Unfortunately for the Yldars these specialised traits have their disadvantages. There are many reasons why Yldars feel uncomfortable outside of an artificial environment (see below) but one of the most important is the sheer overload of unfamiliar scents that bombard them when setting foot in an unfamiliar place. A forest, swamp, even a meadow would all present a olfactory cacophony for the average Yldar. They can master such disorientation - physically Yldars are as resilient as humans and proportionately stronger - but it is a distressing experience for all but the most experienced vagabonds.

    Yldar males and females are similar in size and build, though differ in pitch of voice with males having a notably deeper sound (another eerie similarity for our hypothetical human to ponder.) The most striking differences between the sexes are colouration and ordour, though the second is only really apparent to a Yldar or other species with such a sharp sense of smell. Female Yldars have green (occasionally golden) eyes and silvery grey scales with green markings. Male Yldars are black scaled with purple (occasionally orange) eyes and purple or mauve markings. Both sexes apply comestic facial tattoos with males favouring lighter colouring and females darker.

    Yldar females lay eggs, generally one at a time and Yldars at age at slightly faster than human rate. Reaching the age of eighty or above is rare but not unheard of.

    Society & Culture

    For thousands of years the Yldars have inhabited three giant space habitats in the Cevant system and this at least as much as their biology has shaped them. Each of the habitats collectively known as the Three Daughters - Oros, Pirgak's Freehold and Lastagarvin's Shelter - is a near-identical space station on a titanic scale, akin more to a small moon than 'merely' a city in space. Each habitat is a curious blend of the obviously artificial and the strangely 'planet' like, with countless corridors, rooms and machinery bays blending with vast domed gardens, farms and forests. Yldar lifestyle is certainly urban and living space is expensive but it is not unthinkable for a wealthy merchant prince to own something akin to an estate with a palace surrounded by vegetation and artificial streams all under dome and lit by the refracted starlight from one of the Cevant systems three suns.

    There are notable differences in history and culture between the inhabitants of the Three Daughters and there is a lingering patriotism and rivalry to each but it would be fair to say there is a common Yldar culture. Yldar's tend to be clever and to have a strong sense of individualism and personal drive. Greed, when accompanied by ability, is considered part of a healthy drive at least when not taken out on one's fellows. By human standards many Yldar would also come across as rather vain; their is a strong cultural drive to show off one's success and thus ability and intellect to attract a mate or to impress one's peers. Tempering this very strong sense of self is an innate curiosity. Coming from a very stable, controlled environment Yldars are fascinated by the outer galaxy. They are aware much of it is hostile to their nature but the fascination remains. Though there have been no confirmed contact with alien life originating from beyond the Cevant system most Yldars passionately believe it exists and long to see it.

    In terms of government the Yldar are currently (circa. 2200) ruled by the Yldar Free Traders, an oligarchy of wealthy startraders who elect a chairperson from among themselves. Merchants have long enjoyed a prestige in Yldar society and to a very real extent they are the glue that keeps three independent minded habitats from permanent war with each other (a valid concern - the Three Daughters have clashed numerous times over the centuries, twice erupting into outright war.) Even so the Free Traders rule with a light hand. Individually the different habitats jealously guard their differing histories and privileges and as long as trade continues to flow and smuggling and piracy is kept down the reigning Chairperson and their council is content to let them administer themselves.

    Religion is not a major part of life for most Yldar and especially on Oros, the capital habitat most are agnostic. Nevertheless there are still numerous small faiths practiced in private or small groups throughout Yldar space and the oligarchs are more indifferent to religion to than antithetical to it.

    History

    Three hundred years before the invention of the hyperdrive the the Three Daughters first (?) made contact with each other via primitive spaceships. Indig, then a young space pilot of Oros and later an envoy to Lastagarvin's Shelter wrote down her impressions of the era and noted:


    'All these generations we [of Oros] had known in our blood that the answers to our questions lay in those tiny glimpses of silver we could see through our viewing lenses. Surely they, whoever they were, could unravel the mystery of our history. It never occurred to us they would be looking back hoping likewise.'

    Recorded history on Oros - generally though not universally believed to be the original habitat - stretches back some three thousand years. Beyond that period the habitat's records are either inaccessible or non-existent. Scientists on Oros have long theorised that the exploded remains of the rocky world Oros orbits are the original Yldar homeworld, destroyed in some cataclysm but the truth can never be proven. Whatever happened the Yldar on Oros - and the other habitats - were reduced to barbarism, only slowly and painfully rebuilding their socities and disovering or rediscovering technoloy. In this Oros had the edge. While both Pirgak's Freehold and Lastagarvin's Shelter had and have certain advantages Oros houses the fabled Arcane Replicator, a fantastic machine directly connected with the main reactor which can synthesize elements of almost anything given time. Even after three millenia the finest minds of the Yldars have not even come close to fully understanding the technology. It simply works.

    The majority view among the Yldar is they are the descendants of a planetbound species who successfully retreated to space to avoid the imminent destruction of their planet. A minority view has always pointed to the Arcane Replicator and wondered whether the Yldar might come from somewhere else and have been transplanted to their current abodes by benign aliens, who had also built the habitats in question. This faith in benign and highly advanced 'Outsiders' is probably the largest single 'religion' amongst the Yldars and true believers staunchly hold that they are still out there waiting (more cynical Yldar usuaslly snort in contempt at this point in the conversation.)


    Cevant System.jpg


    The Cevant System.



     
    Part One: Footsteps into the Void (2200 to 2002)
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    Science vessel.jpg


    YSS Hempest the Fearless - the first hyperspace capable exploration vessel.


    Part One: Footsteps into the Void

    The Chairwoman of the Yldar Free Traders had a hologramatic map of the galaxy in her private offices. There floating about her desk was a delicate three dimensional purple blue swirl representing the causes, countless stars glimmering like carelessly tossed diamonds across a shimmersilk canvas. Bemalona was not a romantic and she considered herself beyond weak minded sentimentalism but it was hard not to get at least a little excited looking at that holo. Some day in the far future all those flickering twinkles of white and blue and red and yellow would be known, and it would start during her time in office.

    Bemalona left her chair and glided over to the window - despite her newly exalted position she prided herself on keeping her frame trim. She was representing not (just) herself, but also her people as the first representative from Lastagarvin's Shelter to reach this post. Bemalona flicked her forked tongue out in an unconscious tic of amusement. She could still remember the look of disbelief on the representative from Oros as the votes came in. The male had barely qualified as sapient but he'd expected the post of Chairman to fall into his lap like spoiled fruit from a zynbar tree simply because he was of Oros. No, Belmona had been much more concerned about Governor Rhass, the sleek scaled male from Pirgak's Freehold who actually ran much of the internal administration of the system. Smooth and charming - like herself to be honest - but Belmona couldn't shake the feeling there was something darker there...

    'Focus,' she whispered to herself. 'This is a great day, allow yourself to enjoy it.' She took a deep breath and turned her green eyes to the window. From here she could see much of the starboard side of the Oros habitat curving away like a silvery horizon. And there, perhaps a mile distant, her purple running lights shimmering was the YSS Hempest the Fearless. About to begin her maiden cruise of exploration.

    Yes... Chairwoman Bemalona would have rolled her eyes had you accused her of sentiment, but a tiny part of her envied the brave crew of that ship and dangers and wonders they'd face.

    ~~~~~

    Galaxy Map 2200.jpg


    The known galaxy in 2200.


    The invention of the hyperdrive at the very end of the Twenty Second Century [1] was an astonishing feat of engineering but even more amazing was the fact the Yldars managed to work together to achieve it. There were many brilliant minds among the Three Daughters but unfortunately competition was a far stronger Yldar trait than cooperation and secrecy was a classic virtue. Only a collective desire to actually experience the cosmos and much pressure and credits from the Chairman and the Board of Free Traders was enough to overpower a score of titantic egos and inspire a collective of scientists from every habitat to build a working engine. In some respects the hyperspace project of this era represented the first real show of political 'muscle' by the Free Traders, who hitherto had been content to react rather than act and only step in to enforce contracts and other disputes.

    Yldar space flight was not new. For three centuries the Cevant system had been crisscrossed by ships of various degrees of sophistication from extremely primitive chemical rockets crewed by brave or criminally foolish astronauts to the mining freighters, trade ships and patrol vessels that were everywhere by the year 2200. Once it had taken years to travel from one habitat to another but that was whittled down to months, then weeks. In the middle of the Twenty Second Century the wealthiest merchant princes had begun to invest in luxurious 'star yachts' and from 2167 annual races around the system had become a popular and glamorous affair for the wealthy. Other successful free traders had preferred to pour their credits into private fleets of merchant vessels loyal to individuals, partners or trading dynasties. Below this gilded fraternity lay a vast collection of independent freighters and small time shipping and beneath them lay the criminals - the shipjackers, smugglers and outright pirates that seemed impossible to truly eradicate no matter how much the System Patrol tried.

    What all these ships had in common was they were sublight. Even the fastest yacht or courier vessel could never reach another star system in any useful time frame. It was not until the test flight of Falatir the Wise in 2194 that that changed [2]. Falatir the Wise was no one's idea of a beautiful ship - she was little more than an engine with a cramped cockpit attached and if anything suggested the ancient chemical rockets of the dawn of spaceflight rather than her peers. To universal relief (and not a little surprise) she worked, moving from Pirgak's Freehold to Lastagarvin's Shelter in mere hours without scattering a hazy cloud of debris across the inner system or shattering the time barrier.

    Successful as she was the experimental Falatir the Wise was never going to be a production vessel. Instead that honour went to a generation of advanced starships that had already been taking shape in the design labs. Between 2194 and 2200 the Free Traders financed and built five hyperspace capable ships, including three corvette warships, a specialised construction ship and most importantly a dedicated science vessel.

    The YSS Hempest the Fearless was a marvel of sophistication. She was three hundred meters long, her external hull based on modified designs for the sublight Khaagul-class science ships thar plied the fringes of the Cevant system. While Hemset was slightly larger it was inside her hull that the differences mattered. She boasted the most advanced sensor equipment yet crafted, many internal labs, exploratory sensor pods, a dazzling communications system to keep in touch with home and space, amenities and stores for her crew of four hundred drawn from specialists from across the habitats. That crew represented another step forward for the Free Traders as a governing body. For generations there had been a government payroll and a System Patrol but suddenly the number of ships crew and officers, not to mention engineers and scientists ballooned into the newly consolidated Yldar Star Navy (YSN.) The crème de la crème of the private sector were attracted by juicy wages, the prospect of fame and fortune and the sincere desire to explore alien worlds. This did perhaps mean that a disproportionate proportion of new Star Navy personnel and crew of the
    Hempest in particular were 'Outsiders' - passionate believers that the Yldars had been placed on their habitats by highly advanced and enigmatic aliens, something that would give the YSN a reputation as a bastion of dreamy eyed mystics in later years...

    The official commander of the ship was not a veteran spacer but a scientist. Lathira was a forty three year old academic from Lastagarvin's Shelter who had published many impressive papers on the potential existence of alien life. A graceful silver scaled female with a keen intellect and excellent health she was the first choice for the post, having both the brains for her daunting assignment and sufficient social skills to deal with the crew that would be her constant companions for months, perhaps years.

    On the evening before their departure the senior officers and scientists of the Hempest dined with Chairwoman Bemalona and the other members of the Board in the most exclusive public sector of Oros, a glittering plaza beneath a crystal dome providing a striking view of the purple-blue-white light from Cevant A. Clad in their silk finery the richest males and females in known space mingled with the pioneers. The air was laced with delicate scents, a live mynthra band played softly in the corner and the party wined and dined on the finest food and drink. None of it could match the electric thrill in the room. Fame and fortune!

    The following day YSS Hempest the Fearless turned her prow to the galactic 'west', fired up her sublight drive and then after a glide into open space made her first true hyperspace 'jump'.

    The first star system charted by Lathira and her crew was Roolan, based around a small and angry looking orange dwarf sun. Here on a moon of the second planet while studying a strange crater the Hempest discovered the first tantalising hint that non-Yldar intelligent life existed - or had once existed.


    Ftl Impact.jpg


    The conjectured remains of an alien starship on Roolan IIb.

    Even as news was filtering back home and whole subsectors were being renamed in honour of Lathira and her companions the Free Traders had begun building a second science ship identical to the Hempest. This vessel was launched late in the year with designation YSS Mitgapp the Humble. While most of the crew were of similar background than their brothers and sisters on the earlier vessel the score of scientists aboard had slightly different talents. Whereas Lathira was primarily a biologist the her counterpart on the Mitgapp was an archaeologist named Ketrilla who had worked in researching artifacts from the dim past of the Yldar race. Her appointment to command the Mitgapp spoke volumes about the interest in finding not just alien life but intelligent alien life.

    The Hempest's exploration of the Roolan system revealed so further signs of alien life primitive or advanced, though she did confirm that the planets and asteroids did yield a bounty of mineral wealth and energy sources that delighted the Board. The Cevant system was beginning to run low on untapped mines and the prospect of such resources so close was a tantalizing one. Meanwhile the Mitgapp had followed a hyperspace lane to the galactic 'south east'. While Ketrilla and her crew found some promising radiation readings coming from the white star Loisar that fascinated the physicists on the ship the archaeologist herself found something beyond her wildest dreams in the asteroid belt surrounding the star.


    The Vulaum star assembly.jpg


    The discovery of ancient artifacts of the 'Vultaum Star Assembly'.

    The crash site the Hempest had found in the Roolan system merely suggested the existence of sapient star travelers. The tiny shards of scattered exotic metals surrounding the crater on Roolan IIb had been far too fragmentary to guess at anything other than a rough age. The finds in the Loisar system on the other hand were far more impressive, but posed at least as many questions as answers. The Vultaum were almost certainly extinct given the dating of the artifacts recovered - that so much had been preserved at all was perversely due to the inhospitable nature of the Loisar asteroid belt where archaic research stations and the boneless fossils of the Vultaum themselves had remained untouched by the elements for millions of years. The finds discovered by the Mitgapp would take years if not decades to process.

    For most Yldars the proof of alien life was dizzying enough, even if there was some disappointment that it was seemingly gone. Several of the more far sighted Free Traders had already been drooling over the prospect of trading with exotic alien empires and when both Lathira and Ketrilla separately reported their initial thoughts that there was no sign of existing sapient life in near space the ambitious began to think in terms of collecting alien artifacts instead. Romanticism was fine in its way but credits were almost as good and many Yldars would pay small fortunes to own a genuine piece of xenotech. Seeing the way the solar wind was blowing Bemalona swiftly pushed through an order declaring everything recovered so far government property, sweetening the deal by promising the rapid opening up of the Roolan system for potentially very profitable mining concerns.

    For the 'Outsiders' the swing of emotions was hard to balance. There was the first ecstasy among the true believers that their dreams of intelligent aliens in the cosmos had been proven right. Racing on its heels came the confusion and disappointment over the absence of modern life. The Vultaum had clearly been a very advanced species and some of the artifacts uncovered would continue to be a mystery but they had also (presumably) been gone for far longer than even the oldest estimates of the age of the Three Daughters, and as for the crash site, while more promising in age nothing could be told from the crumbling debris. Still the true believers were strong and confident in their faith and as the original rush of hysteria abated they adopted a wait and see attitude. The great and glorious civilisations were out there somewhere simply waiting for their proteges to find them.

    By the beginning of 2202 both science expeditions had departed to explore new systems and work was ongoing to construct an outpost station orbiting Roolan. All eyes were tracking the progress of the Hempest and Mitgapp and no one could have imagined that alien contact was about to happen with the arrival of xenos in the Cevant system itself...


    Yldar Space 2202.jpg


    Yldar space, 2202.
    Footnotes:

    [1] All years are calculated from the Oros Calender, which itself dates from a period of political unification. Technically each habitat has their own calendar but the influence of Oros has been very strong for two centuries and most now grudgingly agree to 'standard' time measurement.

    [2] Falatir was a famous philosopher of the Ninth Century. Note the universal Yldar practice of naming ships and places after prestigious individuals.
     
    Last edited:
    Part Two: First Contact (2202 to 2204)
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    Caravaners Fleet.jpg



    A caravaners fleet. In ships just like these two different alien races of nomadic merchants visited the Cevant system in early 2202.

    Part Two: First Contact (2202 to 2204)

    The creature before Governor Rhass was bizarre. In shape at least it had the two arms and two legs of a Yldar but that was almost where the similarity ended. The Glost-Werheni, standing perhaps a head and and a half shorter than the average Yldar was covered with auburn fur like a ylirri, a long tail held aloft behind it, swaying and curling in almost hypnotic fashion. A total of four eyes in the being's face blinked at him.

    Oddest
    of all to the Yldar bureaucrat the Glost-Werheni had a strangely pleasant musk. One would think all that fur would smell strong and acrid, but no the mammals had a subtle and rather 'clean' smell. Unconsciously the Yldar flickered his long bluish tongue out to catch the novel scent, only stopping when the alien appeared to grow agitated.

    'So we have a bargain?' the Glost-Werheni said slowly and in strange intonation as if it had only just begun learning the Yldar language - which of course it had.

    'Indeed we do my friend, indeed we do.'

    ~~~~~

    Two standard months into 2202 and a fleet of alien ships was detected coming out of hyperspace into the Cevant system. The confusion and hysteria among the habitats were doubled when a second fleet of slightly different design arrived fresh on the heels of the first. Quite understandably the first reaction of the Free Traders was to order the still small Yldar Star Navy on alert and instruct civilian shipping to seek shelter in the near indestructible bulk of the habitats. The unease lasted mere hours however as the 'invasion fleet' began broadcasting a message in Yldar, suggesting they had been receiving transmissions from the Three Daughters for some time. The message received by the Yldars was at once utterly unexpected and strikingly familiar. The aliens were not here to attack and they were not even here to explore. Rather they had detected hyperspace readings from the Cevant system and come to trade.

    The strange alien fleets (a tautology but a fitting one) were both members of a coalition of nomadic merchant peoples in a distant corner of the galaxy, who operated caravans of trading vessels plying the stars for years on end. Though two different sapient species that arrived were distinct from each other and seemingly in competition they were also in this loose alliance, which was implied to contain even more species. The Numistic Order, who arrived in the Cevant system slightly before their allies/rivals were a religious fraternity whose members were mostly composed of a mammalian species known as the Glost-Werheni. The Vengralian Trium were fungoid peddlers, not so very different from Yldar society though transient rather than living in stable habitats.


    Vengralian Trium.jpg


    A hololog recording of first contact with the Vengralian Trium.

    The Yldars found the Vengralians fascinating in that they were both profoundly different and yet understandable. They were bulbous beings, approximately a meter 'tall' with their eyes, mouth and limbs at the 'bottom'. Seemingly evolved from sapient fungi on a savanna dominated homeworld long forgotten even by themselves the Vengralians were buoyant from internal gas sacks, literally floating in the standard gravity aboard the Yldar habitats and propelled around by expelling (mercifully odourless) gas. Despite the utter strangeness of their physiology they were mentally quite compatible with the Yldar. On Pirgak's Freehold (where their ships docked) the Vengralian party that were escorted were met by a party of Yldar plutocrats who could scarcely retain their steely business sense in their desire to question the Vengralians. Savviness (or greed) won out over naked curiosity but it was a close run thing.

    For their part the Vengralians seemed au fait when dealing with the Yldars, even though the snakelike humanoids were surely as exotic to the fungoids as vice versa. As Chairwoman Bemalona noted in her personal records: 'they may not have encountered us before, but in their long travels they have encountered species like us.'

    Ultimately the business dealings with the Vengralian Trium proved affable but inconclusive. The Vegralians were interested in purchasing a Khaagul-class science ship sans crew, but their offer of an aerosol compound designed to enhance the air quality of a planetary body was of little use to the habitat bound Yldars. In any case while there was a certain warm pride in the interest the technologically advanced Vengralians had in Yldar shipping Chairwoman Bemalona and the others of the Board were not about to surrender control of either Hempest the Fearless or Mitgapp the Humble.


    Numistic Order.jpg


    A hololog recording of first contact with the Numistic Order.

    Of the two the Numistic Order would prove to have the larger impact. The Order worshiped a goddess of trade and fortune named Numa and it was some bemusement that the secular Yldars greeted them when their vessels docked at Lastagarvin's Shelter [1]. The devotees, at least those the Yldars encountered were mammalian vertebrates known as the Glost-Werheni. Of similar build to the Yldar, though slightly shorter and less muscular the Glost-Werheni were very distantly descended from tundra dwelling ape-like beings from a homeworld as lost as that of the Vengralians (and indeed the Yldars.) Though they had some difficulty grasping unfamiliar concepts the Glost-Werheni struck the Yldar representatives as pleasant and curious. Unfortunately before business talks could truly take place two scandals erupted, leading to the rapid withdrawal of the Numistic ships.

    Very soon after first contact the Winds of Fortune, the huge and ornate Numistic flagship had reported engine trouble and requested additional facilities and security. Governor Rhass, the omnipresent chief bureaucrat who actually ran the Three Daughters proved most obliging and for several days a throng of Glost-Werheni wandered the public districts of Lastagarvin's Shelter, drinking Yldar spirits in the cantinas and swaying their tails and heads to the music. The maroon uniformed officers of the Patrol had to escort them, less because of the threat of violence and more because of the rapid explosion of unregulated trade between Yldar petty merchants and hustlers that saw countless 'souvenirs' exchange hands.

    Unfortunately while all this was going on on the surfaces hidden deals were taking place. The exact details would remain mysterious for some time but somehow much valuable material disappeared - and with it the Winds of Fortune and the rest of the Numistic fleet who abruptly broke of negotiations and left the system.


    caravaneers thieves.jpg


    Many facts about the great robbery of 2202 would not be known for years to come.

    The Yldars were still trying to come to terms with what happened when a
    second fleet of Numistic style ships arrived in system and began urgently transmitting towards Lastagarvin's Shelter. This fleet, unlike the sleek and efficient gold and silver merchant vessels that had come before were lumbering star freighters, scarcely spaceworthy and it was a minor miracle (of Numa) that they had survived a hyperspace trip to begin with. Even their holotransmissions were degraded and weak, scarcely receivable even by the powerful equipment available to Bemalona and the Board when the local administrators patched the plea through to Oros.

    The second fleet once contact was established claimed to have no knowledge of their brethren who had just stolen various rare metals and materials. In fact the leader of the vagabond fleet, a young Glost-Werheni female named Soki B'Eren was very clear she and her people had nothing but contempt for the Order:

    'We beg you noble Chairwoman allow us refuge! We are oppressed because we follow a different path to Lady Numa! Grant us sanctuary and we shall devote body and soul to your people! Help us!

    Somehow the crumbling hulks under Soki B'Eren's leadership were crammed full of many millions of the aliens. If the Free Traders agreed to grant refuge they'd be increasing the population of the Three Daughters combined by at least 12% perhaps more, with the aptly named Lastagarvin's Shelter bearing the brunt of the sudden crisis.


    Caravaneers local franchise.jpg


    The sudden alien refugee crisis of 2202.

    For days the plutocrats argued about whether to allow the refugees entry to the habitats. The arguments against were unblemished by sentiment but even those statements sympathetic towards the Glost-Werheni were based in hard headed pragmatism (or at least phrased as such.) The Glost-Werheni were from a slightly more technologically advanced culture than the Yldars, and every little insight helped the advance of science. Though physically unprepossessing all the available data suggested the Glost-Werheni would be hard working and loyal.

    More than that though, however much the Yldars liked to think of themselves as coolly rational and above weak minded emotionalism there was a streak of xenophilia running through them, a burning fascination with the greater universe. In some like the Outsiders this verged on the mystical but even for those who life seemed dominated only by personal success and their credit margin the lure of the exotic, of the alien could almost be tasted. The Glost-Werheni were so fascinating it would be impossible to simply dismiss them entirely.

    This swirl of complex factors - ruthless pragmatism, a patronising but sincere love of the strange and, perhaps, in some a secret flicker of sentiment - proved decisive. On the ninth day of Thirdmonth the Chairwoman officially granted the Glost-Werheni permission to stay. The refugees, who came in even larger numbers than might have been expected, poured in a continuous sapient tide of russet furred mammalians through the airlocks and docking bays into Lastagarvin's Shelter. About half would end up staying there with the other half split between the two other habitats. It would take years to fully understand what the addition of millions of aliens would mean for Yldar culture but in the short term credits were focused on living space and jobs. There was more than enough room on the giant habitats but whole new sections had to be expanded or altered a process which in itself would take many months. The Glost-Werheni had similar oxygen concerns to the Yldars, and were adapted to roughly the same gravity but they preferred cooler temperatures. Like the Yldars they were omnivores but while the reptilian diet consisted mostly of meat with rich spices, fruits and grains to provide flavour, texture and vitamins the Glost-Werheni diet was largely based around fruit and plant fibers with meat forming an important but secondary element. The mammalians also gave birth to live young and lactated, both of which were startling experiences for the first Yldar physicians to observe them.

    The Glost-Werheni were also religious and this was a major difference to mainstream Yldar culture which was firmly materialist - even the Outsiders with their quasi-religious views of highly benign advanced alien progenitiers scoffed at supernatural thinking. The schismatic differences between the schismatic refugees and the main body of the Numistic Order were incomprehensible to most Yldars. However the Yldars were also not aggressively anti-religious so the quiet religious practices of the Glost-Werheni were tolerated. In fact several enterprising Yldar merchants were only too willing start producing 'genuine' alien spiritual trinkets for xenophiles who wanted a piece of exotica on their walls.

    One other aspect of the aliens was harder to quantify and the government did not speak of it openly. Everyone could agree that the Glost-Werheni had a certain charisma to them that went beyond the simple Yldar fascination with the alien. The Vengralians had been even more alien but they had not captured the public fondness the way the Glost-Werheni had. As the aliens found their way into the workforce they ended up in numerous jobs, but the world of entertainment seemed to disproportionately call to them. Whether it be singing, acting, dance or other more arcane practices Yldar audiences seemed spell bound.

    A scientific study in 2203 that was immediately suppressed by order of the Chairwoman suggested a cause. The Glost-Werheni exuded a musk, one so faint that they themselves were not even conciously aware of it. To the hyperadapted Yldar sense of smell the musk was detectable and acted as a mild euphoric on the Yldar brain - essentially the average Yldar was predisposed to like a Glost-Werheni. The effect was not powerful enough to rob a Yldar of his or her senses, cause last damage or be in any way obvious but it was there. In order to prevent a panic Bemalona quietly ordered the study sealed. The last thing she wanted to do was create a panic. She did however authorize the creation of a suppresent that she and other leaders could take. True the Glost-Werheni musk was completely harmless but she far preferred having all her wits about her.


    Glost-Werheni.jpg


    The new Glost-Werheni minority numbered in the hundreds of millions and constituted more than 14% of the entire population of Free Trader space.


    Footnotes:

    [1] The Free Traders had deliberately the alien caravans be quarantined to separate habitats to better deal with one in the event of a crisis.
     
    Part Three: Among the 'Hammerheads' (2204 to 2220)
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    A Kammarian prince wearing his ceremonial court robes.


    Part Three: Among the 'Hammerheads' (2204 to 2220)


    Hannakona sat crouch legged in her personal chambers, breathing slowly in and out through her quartet of nostrils. Though she had no patience with the Glost-Werheni jabbering about their non-existent goddess she was willing to admit they had a certain something when in came to meditation. It really did calm her mind before she stepped outside the embassy walls into the 'open air' as the locals called it. Strange to think she still needed such tactics after half a decade on this rock but remembered all to well how it had been the first time she had set foot on a planet. The anxiety attacks, the low level discomfort of all that endless sky overhead, the bizarre uneveness of the land.

    Being an ambassador was a dirty job but someone had to do it.

    'Of course, there are compensations,' she thought to herself as she took to her feet and glided over to the mirror while one servant readied her shimmersilk robes while another prepared the delicate paints to refresh the dark facial markings on her silver scales. The personal attendants, the guards, the chambers themselves (easily five times the size of her home back on Oros) were pleasant rewards. No Yldar would ever grow to love being stuck on a dirtball but she had to concede planets came with space.

    ~~~~

    Eat or be Eaten.jpg



    The bizarre (and insulting) discovery in the Irriaimun system that led to first contact with the Kammarians.

    In Fifthmonth 2204 YSS Mitgapp the Humble stumbled across an oddity tumbling through an asteroid belt in the Irriaimun system. Scans from the science vessel indicated bizarre metallic compositions, later identified as the remains of a starship of unknown origin. The ship had apparently been the victim of some vast interstellar predator. The wreck was far too shattered to salvage and even her computer systems could barely be recovered but what emerged proved fascinating if nauseating. The original species that owned the vessel (nicknamed the 'Gourmands' by Ketrilla in her report) were unknown to Yldar science and they clearly relished the flesh of other sapients and if the computer records were to be trusted had been behind the mysterious disappearances of an ore freighter in the western systems the year before. The 'Gourmands' had apparently also dined on both Vegralians ('bland yet nourishing') and Glost-Werherni ('tender if gamey') but it was the previously unknown Kammarians that had truly made them salivate. By careful study of the wreck Ketrilla and her crew trace back the path the 'Gourmands' had taken and by adjusting their sensor array managed to detect the faint transmissions of the Centralized Kammarian Systems.

    Under normal circumstances it might have taken decades for the Yldars and the Kammarians to even learn of each other's existence. In galactic terms they were practically neighbours but what seemed so close on the map translated to a gap of hundreds of light years in reality, traversing uncharted hyperlanes. There was some hesitation among the Free Traders about trying to directly contact the Kammarians. Unexplored space could be home to many perils, like the enigmatic star creature that had swallowed and then regurgitated the 'Gourmand' ship. Indeed not long after Ketrilla made her discovery YSS Hempest the Fearless had an encounter with a strange and menacing 'void cloud' the size of a habitat and barely escaped.


    Kammarian and Yldar Space 2204.jpg


    The Yldar Free Traders & the Centralized Kammarian Systems in 2204.

    Bemalona was the decisive figure, pushing for full contact with the aliens. At the very least the Yldar people could hardly remain blind to potential rivals. With greater optimism came the idea of fresh markets and exotic luxuries, rare technologies and all the wealth of interstellar trade.

    It took every technological trick the boffins in the Three Daughters could muster but by the middle of the year the Yldars had managed to achieve contact with the Kammarians. The first stilted conversations transmitted across the void were enlightening and disheartening.

    The Kammarians were a reptilian race native to the planet Kamdor, a world dominated by hazy teal skies and endless savannas of tall sharp rutha grass. The Kammarians had evolved from large herbivorous quadrupeds that had frequented the larger water holes of the eastern subcontinent, though like the Yldars they had become omnivores over the passage of time. They also shrank and were now of similar size to the average Yldar, if a shade taller. The most immediately notable thing about the species were their 'hammer' shaped heads, developed to give the species an evolutionary advantage through their increased range of vision. Kammarian society, as of the Twenty Third Century was ferociously autocratic and caste based with a planetary emperor and his family at the top and billions of slaves at the bottom. They were a proud and war like culture unified under a series of wars a century and half before they reached hyperspace and if their technology lagged slightly behind the Free Traders their warfleet was far more powerful.

    Kammarian Contact.jpg


    Initial contact with the Kammarians, 2204.

    The Emperor Moz I was suspicious in these early negotiations. His people were new to the stars and had yet to encounter other starfaring species (or at least encounter and live to tell about it) and though not xenophobic they were an expansionist civilisation. The distant Yldar represented a sudden unknown blot on an ordered universe. It hardly helped matters that the Yldars were merchants - one of the lowest castes on Kamdor - and seemed more interested in wealth than anything else. The issue of slavery, a vital cornerstone of the Centralized Systems but illegal among the ferociously individualistic Free Traders also proved a volatile subject. As the Emperor's chancellor informed Bemalona in an early exchange:

    'His Luminescent Majesty is interested in any slaves you wish to sell us trader. Nothing else you may offer intrigues us.'
    The Yldars for their part were practiced negotiators and Bemalona had a shrewd instinct that the proud Kammarians were just as curious about the Yldars as vice versa and sooner or later they'd come sniffing around as soon as they managed to convince themselves they were not consorting with riffraff. Even when the aliens haughtily closed their borders to Yldar traffic during Sixthmonth 2204 the Chairwoman kept her cool. The closure of borders was the emptiest of gestures as neither the Yldars nor the Kammarians were capable of sending civilian shipping across such distances.

    As an ambitious young merchant princess Bemalona had become a devotee of the card game known as gann. Great fortunes could be won and lost in some of the casinos in the leisure districts of the habitats but while the Chairwoman had always savoured the credits pushed across the triangular gaming tables in a win she had played more for the skill. It honed her insights into the minds of her opponents. Tellingly, no matter how cool the reaction from Kamdor had been it had never been anti-alien. That was something she could wait out.

    Sure enough the Centralized Kammarian Systems reopened their borders in Ninthmonth 2206. As with the closure it was a symbolic gesture, the tyranny of distance defeating any rush of freighters crossing the inky void. Even so the Free Traders were encouraged and Bemalona who had championed a 'wait and see' approach saw her standing soar among the plutocrats. In Oros debate turned to sending a full envoy to Kamdor and establishing full relations and the Chairwoman had an individual in mind for this epic mission.


    Hannakona.jpg


    Hannakona, the official envoy to the Centralized Kammarian Systems.

    Hannakona was a forty two year old Yldar. With gleaming silver scales and large jade coloured eyes she'd been known as a great beauty in her youth, but her much prized good looks hid a razor sharp brain and the streak of enlightened self interest so admired in Yldar life. She'd made her money in alloys and owned a small yet successful merchant fleet before the boredom of overseeing of every manifest detail made her look for other opportunities. She was not friends precisely with Bemalona but the two certainly respected each other. Briefly the Chairwoman had considered using her influence to help Hannakona take over Governor Rhass's post after his disgrace [1] but she had a feeling that her frenemy was after something with a sip of danger.

    The decision to send an official embassy to Kamdor was not taken lightly. Biologically speaking the Kammarians were surprisingly close to the Yldars (closer indeed than the Glost-Werheni were to either species) so that was not an issue but journey itself was dangerous and long, pushing the boundaries of understood star travel to their limits. Assuming Hannakona and her staff made it to the alien world she still faced the daunting prospect of living on an unstable ball of dirt and rock, tumbling mindlessly through space and vulnerable to all the calamities that threatened a 'natural' planet. For most Yldars even the idea of setting foot on a planet was enough to induce a mild panic attack. The Three Daughters were self contained worlds, their interior spaces and climates calibrated exactly to fit the Yldar species. For a people who depended on sense of smell as much as the Yldar the threat of unfamiliar scents could be terrifying. Then there was the noise, he mud, the parasites, the sheer endless scope of a sky overhead. Before she departed Hannakona undertook a battery of exhausting physical tests and mental conditioning to ensure she could take the strain.

    Arriving on Kamdor Hannakona was relieved to discover the Kammarians had set aside the palace of a minor baron for her, a building of sufficient size for a Yldar to walk around and breath freely even if it took her some time to adjust to the scenic view of the capital from her windows. She swiftly discovered two aspects of Kammarian culture that her extensive study of the official planet history had not told her. The first was that the Kammarians from highest to lowest were every bit as fond of gambling as the Yldars and the charming and witty envoy, with her skillfully applied facial markings and finely polished scales, her daring haute couture combining aspects of Yldar and Kammarian fashion and her surgical ruthlessness in diplomacy soon became a favourite with certain scions of the court. The second thing she discovered was that the despised merchant caste had managed to make themselves quietly indispensable in running the local economy and were happy to make friends.

    The sheer difficulty of travel between the Three Daughters and Kamdor meant that once she arrived on planet Hannakona could expect to remain there indefinitely. There was the occasional courier run to supply her with delicacies from home or documents too valuable to be transmitted through standard frequencies [2]. For the most part Hannakona was stuck with her staff and whatever social circle she managed to build among the aliens.

    She thrived.

    Commercial Pact.jpg


    The commercial pact of 2210, largely negotiated by Hannakona.

    In 2210 after years of exhausting diplomacy by Hannakona the Kammarians suggested a commercial pact with the Yldar Free Traders. This was only the beginning as in the years ahead several other key research and economic treaties would be signed between the two powers. In 2215 the Kammarians offered a non-aggression pact, and in 2217 a full defensive pact. The great distance involved made implementing any of these details tricky but they indicated a remarkable shift by the Kammarian royals and a very promising future for interstellar relations. And by 2220 Hannakona was no longer one of a handful of Yldars onplanet. Not long after the commercial pact was signed an ambitious mining consortium based out of Pirgak's Freehold won a lease on promising ore veins in Kamdor's great polar mountain range. Most of the mining work was done by locals but a score or so of hardy Yldars arrived to oversee mineral extraction and the long trip back home. Naturally they looked to the envoy as their leader and teacher in Kammarian society.

    In 2220 the Emperor Moz I granted Hannakona the honourary title of Lady of the Fifth Chamber. It was the lowest rung of the aristocracy but a commoner reaching such a rank at all was rare indeed. 2220 was the same year in which the role of Chairperson was put to the plutocrats for election and there was some excited buzz in the Three Daughters that Hannakona might be a candidate. The envoy politely demurred from the running, perhaps out of a shrewd appraisal that being absent from home for so long her fame would count for less than those who could keep their eye on politics and business. Perhaps though the charms of Kamdor and her position had made their mark.

    Perhaps she just liked being the best card player in any given solar system.


    Footnotes:

    [1] Of which more later.

    [2] By a strange coincidence most of these courier vessels were piloted by unusually handsome Yldar males willing to spend two or three nights on an alien planet.
     
    Part Four: Smoke and Daggers (2204 to 2220)
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    Yldar Free Traders 2220.jpg


    The Yldar Free Traders, 2220.


    Part Four: Smoke and Daggers (2204 to 2220)

    Bemalona strolled around her office for the last time, tongue flickering in and out as she caught the taste of half remembered scents, fingers running lightly along the polished metal of her desk, pausing her at this window there at that.

    She paused, her golden eyes falling on the desk once more. Perhaps she wouldn't quite miss all the paperwork. Or some of the state robes that made her scales itch even to think about them.

    In a few moments she'd leave this place, have a brief formal meeting with her successor and then be on her way to a well deserved political after life of gambling, making credits, yacht racing and - if she had anything to say about - handsome male admirers with scales so polished she could see her face in their chests. Well, a girl had her wants and her needs and she knew she had done the state some service. Let her enjoy herself for Numa's sake.

    Bemalona found her eyes turning to the grand viewport again. Even if she'd be a little late her successor could wait.

    She'd really miss that view.

    ~~~~


    Rhass corruption.jpg


    The corruption of Governor Rhass that eventually lead to his forced resignation.

    In the same year that contact was made with the Kammarians an ugly scandal that had been bubbling away in the background flared into public consciousness and consumed at least as much political will as the discovery of new and exciting aliens.

    The great thefts of 2202 had seen the Numistic ship the Winds of Fortune depart with resources plundered from Lastagarvin's Shelter. Rare metals, computer parts, luxuries from perfume to wine had vanished into the depths of the caravaneer ship which in turn had vanished into the inky void. So much was known. However there were a few shrewd observers who suspected that not all the thieves has been Glost-Werheni. The raids had been a little too careful and clean, suggesting that a Yldar might have been helping them.

    The Yldar form of government could be both a blessing and a curse. The golden circle of ruling plutocrats, ore barons and merchant princes - the 'Free Traders' themselves - depended at least as much on soft power of credits and influence to achieve things as they did on any hard written powers ascribed to the Board and the Chairperson. The Chairman or Chairwoman was elected by a secret ballot of Board members from among their ranks. Membership of the Board was traditionally by selection and internal vote once a space opened up in the ranks. Each member of the Board served for life, though retirement was allowed and members in poor health were authorised to use proxies in key votes. In normal times there were between five hundred and six hundred Yldars on the Board but the number engaged in active political decisions was far lower.

    For many Yldars the weakness of the official government was precisely what they wanted. Partly this was ideological, a strong cultural impulse than a Yldar had a right to make his or her fortune without excessive interference from the state. However the role of history played a hand, with the Free Traders made up of effectively three fiercely independent worlds. A unified government could only push so far.

    All of these factors perhaps helped Governor Rhass believe he could remain undetected forever. In truth they only added to the number of enemies and rivals ready to take him down. An adaptable charcoal scaled male from Pirgak's Freehold he had become the head of the administration ('Governor') of the Three Daughters. Traditionally reaching the rank of chief administrator was seen as a dead end job, a thankless role involving much paperwork but little authority and less opportunity to make credits. Rhass was unusually capable but not initially seen as very different. Only the exceptionally shrewd and/or paranoid supposed there was something more beneath his bland smile. In fact he was growing very rich from looking the other way for various shady individuals. When the Glost-Werheni had arrived this amateur dabbling in corruption had leapt to outright crime. The administrator had helped set up the circumstances for the alien thieves and pocketed much of the profits. By 2204 he had stepped up his game to working with smugglers and shipjackers. It was the chance arrest of one of the latter who unwisely seized an ore freighter belonging to one of the great merchant princes that ultimately ruined Rhass as the Patrol traced the links back to him.

    Rhass retained enough favours and influence and blackmail material to prevent being sent to a disintergration chamber or even penal service as an asteroid miner but his career was over and after some truly epic bribes he retired to private life with his scales and much of his fortune intact [1]. In his place Board positioned a thirty five year old male from Oros named Jondru. In sharp contrast to his predecessor Jondru was legendary for his incorruptibility having worked as a legal advisor to the Patrol. Lean, serious to the point of humourlessness and austere Jondru was respected but had few friends. He soon proved himself a skilled administrator.

    The first two decades of the the century were a period of political excitement. The opening of other solar systems to mining concerns had made many Yldars rapid fortunes and some of them tried to turn their success into politics. This in turn was resisted by the established merchant princes who attempted to buy out, recruit or squash their burgeoning rivals. The traditional weakness of the government and the peppery individualism of the citizens left to political parties and clubs rising and falling in quick succession but by 2211 four major political factions had unified and challenged each other for influence and wealth.

    Faction system.jpg


    By 2211 four major political factions had emerged among the Yldar Free Traders.

    Governor Jondru had founded the Individual Choice Initiative, a progressive faction looking to press egalitarian reforms, including more of a voice for citizens below the level of the merchant princes. The progressives were not exactly pushing for the Free Traders to reform into a representative democracy but they did seek a new degree of transparency and meritocracy. Ironically they were in some respects calling for a stronger centralised government.

    Vaguely allied with Jondru's progressives and far larger in numbers were the Xeno Rights Organization. Led by a male diplomat named Listhim who had unsuccessfully vied with Hannakona to lead the embassy to the Kammarians the 'xenoist' party was more conservative when it came to political reform but a strong voice for good relations with other aliens species for both economic and cultural reasons. The xenoists championed a multi-species society and while not surprisingly several of their more vocal members were Glost-Werheni and they were the default faction for the 'Outsider' mystics they enjoyed much support among the general Yldar populace.

    Rhass's enforced 'retirement' had not lasted long. The former administrator had forgone the populist and instead joined and subsequently took over the Committee of Technological Mastery a pressure group for scientific and technological research. The technologist faction was composed of some of the foremost scientists in the Three Daughters and perhaps more importantly key industrialists and financiers. Keeping a technological edge was not just vital for the state it was invaluable for private business. The technologists enjoyed an uneasy relationship with the Xeno Rights Organization. On the one hand they were delighted with the research agreement signed with the Kammarians. On the other hand they were notoriously scathing about religion above and beyond the general Yldar secularism which naturally alienated most Glost-Werheni.

    Chairwoman Bemalona had not been blind to the growth of factionalism and was aware of the irony that her own efforts had helped strengthen the government and thus open the field to potential rivals. Having built her name in the days where ideology was far less important than the ability to read a room and hard bargain with her peers the Chairwoman's initial instincts were to remain aloof. Two elements changed her mind. First in the Yldars encountered a bizzare 'void cloud' in the Kenn Hijal system that was apparently some form of dangerous alien lifeform. Second she recieved a report from the security section of the embassy on Kamdor providing details of the powerful Kammarian warfleet.

    War with the Kammarians seemed unlikely and Bemalona herself had pushed for peaceful dealings with the alien empire. Likewise while the 'void creature' was certainly frightening their kind and similar void dwelling predators seemed rare. Still it was enough to lead the Chairwoman and her like-minded colleagues to found the Strength Through Conquest Coalition. The warhawks of the coalition wanted to dramatically expand the Yldar Star Navy to ward off any threat. The coalition had a tentative alliance with the Committee of Technological Mastery, many of whose members had worked on the new generation of hyperdrives, lasers, coilguns, armour and shielding that turned from the design phase to practical concept during this period. A firmer alliance was scotched for the simple reason that Bemalona distrusted Rhass and once admitted to an aide she found it difficult to be in the same room as him without instinctively reaching for a weapon.

    In theory most agreed the trio of twenty year old Damghalla-class corvettes of the YSN should be at least modernised and probably expanded. In practice Bemalona found herself facing opposition even in quarters she might not have expected. Quite bluntly many of the merchant princes distrusted each other. The last major corporate wars between the plutocrats were in living memory and the temptation to rely on privately owned and impeccably loyal armed merchantmen and freighters was very strong. It took all of Bemalona's guile and favours called in to begin construction of more corvettes and the hiring of additional crew. By 2220 the YSN would have a fleet of fourteen modern warships, with more on the drawing board.

    The second decade of the Twenty Third Century was quieter in some ways than the years that had gone before. YSS
    Hempest the Fearless and YSS Mitgapp the Humble continued to chart a gradually expanding sphere of systems around Yldar core space. The science uncovered the debris of various enigmatic alien species including several artifacts from the presumed extinct Vultaum race and the active and belligerent presence of ancient mining robots that thankfully proved too slow to track Hempest with their weapons before the Yldar vessel executed an emergency leap to hyperspace. Non-sapient alien life was identified independently - strange lithovore worm-like creatures inhabiting the asteroid belt of the Craxima system, organic 'sheets' of flora or fauna drifting across the surface of Piddahfir IIIa and most intriguingly a form of electric life on Eswluq I.

    Missing in all this were extant alien sapients [2]. After discovering three sapient alien species within the same number of years the lack of new civilisations dampened the spirits of some in the Xeno Rights Organisation. For others it acted as a spur to further exploration.


    Election 2220.jpg


    The election of 2220.

    Chairpersons of the Yldar Free Traders were elected for twenty year terms and Bemalona's period in office was due to run out in 2220. Despite certain frustrations she was proud of what she had accomplished. The Yldars were a true interstellar civilisation that had navigated their way through the difficult first contact stage of space flight. However she was also aware that she was swimming against the tide in her hopes of winning a second term. At sixty one she was growing older by Yldar standards and there was the disturbing prospect that she would not last the full length of a new term. Ironically it was the presence of another candidate with a similar platform that stopped her simply stepping aside. Rhass was also running on a platform of building up the fleet and the former administrator had enough tame members of the Board under his thumb that he might just win. Bemalona gritted her teeth and began to campaign, less to win and more to prevent Rhass taking power.

    The Xeno Rights Organisation, overwhelmingly the largest faction among the public was handicapped by the fact that their leader Listhim was an amiable non-entity. Instead the power brokers in the faction proposed the explorer Lathira as their candidate. It was a daring strategy. The commander of the YSS Hempest the Fearless was famous and well regarded but she was even older than Bemalona and had spent most of the past two decades in deep space without interacting with any of the other plutocrats.

    Jondru was the dark horse. Even his critics admitted his honesty and hard work but his push for reforms rattled conservatives on the Board. The leader of the progressives had also supported increased defence spending but proposed pouring credits into defensive platforms and space stations. It was a canny move; Jondru deflected any criticism that he was weak on defence while also neatly avoiding appearing hawkish. The xenoists who for obvious reasons favoured a quasi-pacifist stance took notice.

    On the first day of fourthmonth 2220 the results of the vote were announced.


    Chairman Jondru.jpg


    The election of Jondru as Chairman of the Yldar Free Traders, Forthmonth 2220.

    Footnotes:

    [1] The Yldar Free Traders did not practice long term imprisonment which was simply not practical aboard a habitat. Instead lesser crimes were met with fines of increasing severity while greater crimes meant penal service. The very worst crimes merited death by disintegration booth

    [2] A few scientists believed the 'electric life' of Eswluq I to be sapient but there existed no method to prove this thesis.

     
    Part Five: The return of the gods (2220 to 2233)
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    Western Exploration 2234.jpg


    Yldar exploration of the galactic West, 2234.


    Part Five: The return of the gods (2220 to 2233)


    'Very beautiful,' Chairman Jondru said, turning the statuette over in his hand, examining every tiny, perfectly chiseled scale and curve. Heavy and made of some smooth unfamiliar mineral. She, and it was clearly a she, looked both impressively lifelike and like nothing he knew living. It felt strange to be holding this artifact and with great care he set her down on the museum table next to the dark preserving cloth she had been kept in while in storange..

    'Yes sir,' the historian replied proudly. 'Made from sagranite which accounts for the teal sheen. An early depiction of the Benefactress from Pirgak's Freehold. We've dated it to the Second Dynastic Fragmentation Era. Notice her coils? That fits with the primitive mythology of the period that saw the deity as an interstange between forms.'

    Jondru's burgundy eyes dropped to the statuette again, before he looked up at the other male. 'I think mythology may not be the best word to use.'

    The historian's rather smug smile faltered and he looked a little more uncertain - clearly an unfamiliar feeling. 'No sir, perhaps not.'


    ~~~~~

    As one of his first acts as Chairman Jondru won the lasting affection of the Xeno Rights organization by backing the Glost-Werheni leader Soki B'Eren as his replacement in the administration. B'Eren, a russet furred female had won eternal fame as the original spokeswoman of the refugees that had sought sanctuary in the Three Daughters. Since then she had discovered a talent for bureaucracy and had long worked under Jondru. Her rise to a position of authority was greeted with delight by the Glost-Werheni across the habitats.

    The mammalian aliens had quickly carved out a place in the Free Traders society. A disproportionate number worked in the field of entertainment where their sinuous dances and haunting songs enchanted Yldar audiences. Other services like food and alcohol also saw many Glost-Werheni involved and some had joined the Patrol and the YSN. Fewer were found in careers involving heavy physical labour for the ape-like aliens lacked the robustness of their snake-like fellow citizens. Likewise the pursuit of science saw the involvement of fewer Glost-Werheni thantheir numbers suggested. Neurological differences meant that on average the mammalians learned new facts more slowly than Yldars even if their long term memory was perhaps better.

    And of course they had brought their faith. Small shrines to the goddess Numa peppered sections of the habitats and at set hours of the day any listener might have been able to hear the faint trilling of spiral flutes calling the faithful to attend ritual. Most Yldar were nonplussed by religion but took a friendly (if patronising) interest in the Numistic belief system. Even the hardened gamblers who plied their trade in the glittering leisure districts of Oros had to admit the Glost-Werheni who partook of cards and dice seemed to have a sprinkling of luck in their bets, whether begginer’s or divine.

    Yldar ‘religion’ was a very different business from the overtly spiritual worship of Numa. Most Yldars were secular but for the minority who were not there were other options. The ‘Outsiders’ was an umbrella term for several different groups with varying beliefs but united in the idea that benign and advanced alien beings (variously called the 'Originators', the 'Ancients' or the 'Luminous Ones' from a poetic line in an early text) had created the habitats the Yldar lived on and that references in ancient texts to ‘gods’, ‘demons’ and other such beings were in fact surviving cultural memory of these aliens. Some Outsiders viewed the ancient aliens as having simply constructed the Three Daughters and transported the Yldar there so that the species would survive the destruction of their homeworld. These Outsiders tended to take a more moderate view of the ancient aliens, viewing them as figures to admire and a level of development to aspire to but no longer active and perhaps even extinct. Other Outsiders went further in their beliefs, theorising that the ancient aliens had played a hand in creating the Yldar either by modifying the DNA of their non-sapient ancestors or creating them entirely from the DNA up. These more mystical Yldars believed that the ancient aliens still existed out in the greater galaxy and were simply waiting for the Yldars to find them. When that happened the ancient aliens would share the secrets of their technology – including bodily immortality and mind transference. Many a mystical Yldar who shook her head in bemusement at the Glost-Werheni concept of immaterial souls and an afterlife believed passionately that she would live again in a cloned body with her mind and personality recovered and scientifically copied into her new body.

    The explorations of the galaxy continued under Jondru's time in office with a drive towards the galactic South with the idea of eventually meeting the Kammarians. Similar if smaller pushes went on towards the East and the West. It would be in the West that the Hempest would make one of if not the most astonishing discoveries in Yldar history. In 2223 while charting the otherwise unremarkable Naos system the powerful sensor array of the science vessel picked up odd readings from an asteroid that had been partially hollowed out. Lathira and her team investigated their interest gradually giving way to confusion.

    Familiar Shrine.jpg


    The asteroid 'shrine' in the Naos system.

    The Untold was a figure from the very earliest Yldar mythology, said to be the being that had shattered the Yldar homeworld. On Oros he had been seen as a gigantic azure scaled Yldar, on Pirgak's Freehold as a vaguely feminine shadowy figure on Lastagarvin's Shelter as a great star serpent who swallowed worlds and whose body was made of starlight. The shrine in the Naos system bore glyphs and drawing on all three tradition - or rather pre-dating them.

    When the first reports of the discovery in Naos were transmitted back to the Three Daughters the Chairman and the Board were thrown into chaos. After a private session in which key scientists and officials including former Chairwoman Bemalona, Soki B'Eren and even the distrusted but politically powerful Rhass the government decided to pursue this tantalising and eerie strand of investigation. Ultimately more shrines would be discovered, all in the galactic West in systems adjacent to that which held the shrine of the Untold.

    There were other mysteries that demanded resources and time. On Piddahfir B I extensive xenoarchaelogy discovered the remains of a gargantuan egg that had hatched at some point in the distant past leading some scientists to theorise this belonged to the same interstellar predator which had swallowed the 'Gourmand' ship. Less frightening and more thought provoking were discovery of an an alien 'vault' on an unihabited planet in the Poaa system that contained countless black boxes. Further investigation proved these boxes to be databanks.


    Limbo.jpg


    The enigmatic aliens of the Poaa system were at once extinct and persevered.

    The discoveries on Poaa IV in 2225 caused nearly as much philosophical musing back on Oros as the discovery of the shrines. Naturally some scientists supposed they were related, that the unknown aliens of the Poaa system had also been contacted by the ancient aliens that had built the shrines. Certainly they were in close proximity to the shrines. Others felt that the specific link was coincidental but that the fate of the Poaa aliens was intriguing. As discussed before Yldar religion was essentially materialist with no belief in a soul or supernatural after life. There was however a strong mystcal-philosophical interest in the idea of continuity of conscious through brain scanning and uploading into new bodies. The Poaa aliens and the Outsiders had evidently shared the belief that death could be defeated by such advanced science and technology. With a reverence that another culture might have given to the holiest of relics the downloaded brain scans of the Poaa aliens were brought back to the Cevant system for safe keeping and - it was hoped - eventual reconstitution.

    Fittingly the closest shrine to Poaa IV belonged to the Benefactress. Like the Untold this was a deity who had different representations across the three habitats, though unlike the destructive deity she was universally seen as female. In some stories her role had simply been a teacher. In others she was the mother of all Yldar. Regardless of the individual stories and their varations she was a potent benign symbol in Yldar mythology.

    In 2232 the third shrine was discovered in the Terebellum system, to the Undaunted, a warrior personification. Then towards the end of 2233 YSS Mitgapp the Humble discovered the fourth and final shrine in the Thegglan system. The Percipient was a philosopher (on Oros), a poetess (on Pirgak's Freehold) or a prince (on Lastagarvin's Shelter.) The Yldar scientists led by Ketrilla painstakingly sorted through their findings and transmitted results back to the waiting government from the depths of space.

    Long before the full findings could be released the Outsiders had caught wind of whispers in the air. The mystics were not a large portion of Yldar society but they were legal and present in every strata in Yldar society. Even the subgroups that bickered and debated endlessly between themselves were unified by their common devotion to goal of proving the connection to ancient aliens. They also knew that few state secrets could resist the universal language of money and as credits changed hands so did the secrets.

    The final report from the Mitgapp would be endlessly debated but the basic conclusions were impossible to deny: in the ancient past highly advanced beings had intervened in the affairs of the Yldars. and had almost certainly lifted to them to full sapience. The poetic-religious tone of the writings ('the gods found our minds empty and granted us the gift of thought') left the interpretation ambiguous as to whether the proto-Yldar were semi-sapient to begin with or had been mindless animals. They had also constructed the habitats the Yldars now resided in ('...built three great sanctuaries in the heavens...')

    Unthinkably, impossibly, the Outsiders, the endlessly mocked fringe mystics of Yldar life were proven entirely, utterly right.


    On the eighteenth day of Tenthmonth 2233 a visibly emotional Jondru announced the findings in an official broadcast over holo. The reaction was temporary stupefaction among most Yldars and celebration among the Outsiders, especially when during the same speech the Chairman requested a consultation with representatives of all the main Outsider groups to help determine where society - all society - could go on from here. He probably suspected that there would be a wide range of views and a lack of consensus and he was entirely right. He was also relieved at the public response which was startled but free of panic; proof of the 'gods' or not there was little public appetite among the Free Traders into a theocracy. The Outsiders main political demand was more space exploration, which conveniently was something the merchant princes of the Board wanted anyway.

    The vindication of the Outsiders shifted Yldar society into a more 'religious' direction but the variety among the Outsiders themselves and the strong ingrained secular values of the Yldars turned a potential religious revolution into a series of mild reforms. The key point of debate was whether the 'Originators' were still around and waiting for the Yldars to find them or whether they had ultimately left the Yldars to grow unto themselves. Such questions gripped the minds of intellectuals, but for most Yldars they were abstract. As previously mentioned 'Outsider' cosmology was materialist - the Originators if they still existed were not judging the sins of any individual Yldar and were not listening to prayers. The average Yldar merchant, pilot or miner once he absorbed the fact that his species had at least been altered by ancient and mysterious beings might have a differing idea of his place in the universe but it did not impact his day to day existence.

    For the Glost-Werheni aboard the Three Daughters the spiritual turbulence among their fellow citizens was a source of bemusement, sometimes amusement - many a prelate of Numa found themselves nodding along to a Yldar explaining why their belief in the Originators was more scientific and rational than the Glost-Werheni belief in the supernatural goddess of fortune [1]. To their credit whatever their private opinions on superstition most Yldar were prepared to tolerate Glost-Werheni beliefs, including the belief that there was any similarity between their ways of looking at the universe.


    The Old Gods.jpg


    The revelations of the Originators.

    Footnotes:

    [1] Some Yldar intellectuals suggested that 'Numa' was herself an Originator but this was very much a minority viewpoint and unpopular among the Glost-Werheni.

     
    Part Six: Pushing the Frontier (2220 to 2237)
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    YSS Othana the Benign.jpg


    YSS Othana the Benign spirals out of control after a direct hit from a void cloud weapon. The corvette exploded moments later with the loss of all hands.

    Part Six: Pushing the Frontier (2220 to 2237)


    'Admiral the Othana's been hit,' Commander Timaphona yelled, trying to make herself heard over the cacophony of the proximity alarm. All around the crowded 'U' shaped battle bridge of the YSS Esslon the Good officers were checking their stations and calling out reports from across the corvette and urgent holos from the rest of the fleet.

    'I have eyes Commander,' Darmull replied crisply but he couldn't deny the same tremor of shock his subordinate was feeling. There on the main display the Othana was drunkenly rolling out of formation, ripples of interior explosions visible across her hull. The familiar and friendly violet lighting in her viewports had gone dark suggesting a total power failure aboard. That was... had been... Captain Haghonan's ship. Darmull had known him for decades. A sardonic male with a rasp of laugh, a stomach that can handle any alcohol known to intelligent life and a famously awful luck with cards.

    'Any escape pods?' He knew the answer even before the commander shook her head.

    'Negative sir.'

    'Assume pattern Delta, open a channel to all ships,' he said. 'We have the measure of this thing now.'

    After, assuming there was an after, he'd raise a glass of Kammarian kryl to his old friend's memory. Haghonan would appreciate the gesture - he'd lost the bottle to Darmull over the most misguided optimistic hand Darmull had ever seen. As the fleet began its run on the void cloud the Admrial wondered if somewhere he couldn't hear a rasp of laughter...

    ~~~~

    Battle of Kenn Hijal.jpg


    The Yldar Star Navy achieves victory in the Battle of Kenn Hijal, Firstmoth 2225

    As momentous as the revelations about the Originators were the Yldar Free Traders were kept busy with mundane concerns - if contacting new alien species, star battles and the construction of a new habitat could be called 'mundane'.

    Jondru had often spoken about the need to secure the borders. By that he had meant a focus on defensive space stations but with the naval buildup begun by Bemalona still in progress he authorised the construction of corvettes to continue to the original planned twenty. Though still smaller than the warfleet of the Kammarians - if perhaps a shade more advanced - the Yldar Star Navy was a well trained force with high morale. Pay was excellent to lure over the best pilots and crew from the civilian fleets and a savvy recruitment campaign played upon the perceived glamour of command against unknown threats and the chance of lasting fame. Despite being itself a new organization the Navy seemed to offer a reassuring berth for those dizzy from the changes that had crashed upon Yldar society in recent decades.

    The central ship of the Navy was the Damghalla-class corvette. Surprisingly these sleek dagger shaped warships were not a particularly new design. As far back as the middle of the last century the Patrol had been equipped with similar craft that though smaller, less powerful and without hyperdrives had proved influential. The true corvettes had first been constructed in the last decade of the Twenty Second century and while they would undergo many refinements in internal systems the basic shape of the Damghalla-class proved resilient. With a length of two hundred and sixty meters and a crew of less than three hundred there were larger vessels in Yldar space including great bulk freighters but the corvettes were the most powerful. Among other improvements the invention of 'blue' lasers had made them dangerous opponents for any foe.

    First blood for the Navy would come at the Battle of Kenn Hijal in Firstmoth 2225. The Yldar fleet under Admiral Darmull on the YSS Esslon the Good engaged one of the mysterious and powerful 'void cloud' entities. The bizarre being had blocked off a key hyperspace lane along the route to the Kammarians and with no way to communicate with it, or even discover whether it was capable of communication the Free Traders had decided it had to be removed. For the officers and crew of the twenty corvettes their first taste of battle was with a literal monster. The void cloud was hazily understood at best but it was known that it's 'weapons' (if such a term could be used) were powerful. Readings from YSS Mitgapp the Humble, the first ship stumble across the void cloud had suggested an immense buildup of energy. The science ship had successfully fled the field before the creature 'fired' but even the limited data suggested something powerful.

    So it proved. Moments into the battle the corvette Othana the Benign suffered a direct hit from some form of 'cloud lightning' in Admiral Darmull's phrase. Neither shields nor armour seemed to offer any protection and as the other Yldars looked on in horror their brothers and sisters spiralled out of the battle line until the whole corvette exploded from within. The closest ships suffered minor damage from the blast, reporting fried secondary systems, injuries and in a few cases deaths.

    As awful as the first blow was the Othana's sacrifice was not in vain. Aboard the Esslon the Admiral was able to decipher the properties of what he was facing and direct his ships accordingly. Weaving in and out in an agile attack pattern like a school of predatory fish in some alien ocean the Yldar corvettes concentrated their lasers and coilguns on the creature - and won. The menace was no more and if it had come at the cost three hundred and twenty two gallant sailors - all but twenty six aboard the Othana - the Navy could be justly proud. Darmull and his ships returned hope to a rapturous welcome.


    Artisan Troupe.jpg



    First contact with the Artisan Troupe, a collective dominated by the felinoid Aramathi species.

    A far more benign alien encounter, if perhaps at least as unusual took place in 2235 in the Oscum system in the galactic West. This region had been particularly heavily explored both because of the search for the legacy of the Originators but also because it appeared to be a region of great mineral wealth [1]. The Hempest under Ketrilla had discovered a vast alien space station, almost akin to a Yldar haibtat in scale. Intrigued the scientist had established contact with the inhabitants, a mammalian feline species known as the Aramathi who had evolved on a forgotten ocean world. The aliens had established an 'Artisan Troupe - a collective dedicated to the finer arts of civilisation from music and poetry to culinary skills and sculpture.

    In many ways the Aramathi were the ideal aliens for the Yldars to find. They were harmless and welcoming of strangers and produced luxuries that many on the Three Daughters nearly fell over themselves to buy. The fact that they still existed as living species in conditions not unlike the Yldar (or indeed the the Glost-Werheni or Vengralians) was also a welcome surprise and food for thought for some of the more intellectual members of the Free Traders. Their one disadvantages was that they were not exactly great importers and Yldar merchants looking to make credits were best advised to stick to the increasingly explored and safe routes to the Kammarians.

    Of the five living sapient species the Yldars had so far encountered the Kammarians were unique in still being planetbound. The Aramathi, Glost-Werheni, Vengralians and the Vag-Orrosi (a third species involved in the Caravansary Caravan Coalition) were all beings that had made a home for themselves in space [2]. There was a lot of debate among the foremost thinkers of the Free Traders with some advocating the idea that a move into space was part of a natural evolutionary stage for sapient species while others supposed that it was the influence of the Originators [3].

    The idea of habitats and of the void being a destined home for sapients was of particular importance at this time due to a momentous decision by the Chairman. As part of his reforms to strengthen the Free Trader government and help the less fortunate citizens Jondru had long planned the construction of a new habitat. The Three Daughters were immense structures, capable of holding billions between them, but they were not limitless in space or resources and overcrowding and unemployment were both real concerns. The Kammarians had successfully spread to other planets and had shown how colonies could bring greater prosperity to the entire empire.


    Habitat building.jpg


    The resources needed to build a habitat stretched the Free Traders to their limits.

    Even at a period when Yldar society was not trying to absorb the discoveries about the Originators this was an ambitious plan. The Yldars had spent thousands of years studying their habitats and though there were still elements that eluded their science, such as the arcane replicator at the heart of Oros they had developed a sophisticated understanding of their own homes. Habitats were sometimes thought of as simply large space stations and in a manner of speaking that was true. A habitat was an artificial, inhabited structure with its own internal atmosphere and power supply constructed in orbit around an existing planet. The key difference was scale. Even the largest space station did not contain vast 'open' areas to farm crops and animals, lakes to breed fish, entire separate cities. A habitat contained all of these in a metallic shell the size of a small moon. Even aside from their size habitats were built to endure; Oros, Pirgak's Freehold and Lastagarvin's Shelter were millennia old and still functioning perfectly and any new habitat would be expected to endure.

    Jondru knew that building such a structure would require mind boggling resources. The political capital alone he had to spend made the war of attrition his predecessor had waged to build up the Navy look like a petty feud between rival shopkeeps in a trade district. Most of the merchant princes had entrenched power bases in the Three Daughters and the prospect of a fourth habitat - at least theoretically equal to the other three - provoked suspicion. No one wanted extra competition. Jondru also found himself facing opposition from partisans of the individual habitats, frightened at the idea that they would be the ones to lose people and resources while their rivals thrived.

    The Chairman lacked Bemalona's unorthodox and slightly shady skills but he talents and allies of his own. To ambitious merchants below the level of the golden circle of the Board the opportunities offered by a brand new habitat were boundless. To those who were eager to follow the path of the Originators building a new habitat was akin to following in their footsteps. To the more secular xenophiles Jondru's choice of location in the now safe Kenn Hijal system was closer to Kammarian space [4]. Slowly he built up a coalition to force the Board into agreeing to his platform.

    The political battles to establish a fourth habitat fell into insignificance next to the material resources required. Alloy production was diverted for years on end towards the project, slowing down the expansion of Yldar space into potentially rich mining systems. Ambitious plans for (regular) space stations and expanding the Navy had to be put on hold as had a proposed campaign to destroy the ancient and hostile mining drones in the western fringe of Yldar space, though at least this last had the silver lining that more research could be done on the 'enemy' before the shooting started.

    Beginning in 2232 the great construction ship YSS Kaaguul the Righteous was permanently employed in the Kenn Hijal system as the colossal structure slowly took shape in orbit around the molten second planet in the system. For half a decade the work continued, with endless delays, shortages, replacement of key personnel and all the other headaches in doing something no one had tried in millennia. Perhaps surprisingly the greatest task was not even the superstructure itself which was all but identical to the Three Daughters but the interior and specifically the artificial biospheres. In the Three Daughters these were expanses of land beneath domes that were used for farming and to a certain extent were kept as the illusion of 'wilderness' - Oros had forests and mountains, Pirgak's Freehold rolling hills and Lastagarvin's Shelter was famous for its lakes that teemed with marine life. As the new habitat neared completion in late 2237 the Board erupted into an almighty row over whether it should be based on the existing biospheres from the Three Daughters or draw inspiration (and lifeforms) from the Kammarian worlds and various planets known that lacked sapient life but had abundant flora and fauna. Jondru eventually agreed with the traditionalists, feeling that establishing a new colony was quite radical enough without trying to render the habitat even more of a leap for the first inhabitants.

    In Tenthmonth 2337 the last work was completed and the habitat was christened 'Madragon's Stronghold' after a legendary hero of the distant past. A million colonists assembled and mixed from across the Three Daughters boarded the mighty colony vessels and set out for their new home.


    Mandragon's Stronghold.jpg



    The Kenn Hijal Habitat, soon to be named 'Madragon's Stronghold' is completed, Tenthmonth 2237.



    Footnotes:

    [1] The presence of ancient mining droids in this region also encouraged the idea that it was full of riches simply waiting to be plundered.

    [2] The Vag-Orrosi (singular Vag-Oross) were a diminutive reptilian species of arctic origin whose distinctive appearance drew the nickname 'fairy dragons'. To date they had not been seen in the flesh in Yldar space but the Free Traders knew of them as the sapients who actually ran the Caravansary as against the nomadic fleets of traders.

    [3] There was a growing divide between those Yldars who saw their creation by the Originators as marking the Yldars out for special status and those who believed that they were simply one of a multitude who had been visited by the ancient beings.

    [4] Hannakona was one of the strongest supporters of establishing a habitat along the the route to the Kammarian Centralized Systems. The aging envoy would not live to see its completion, passing away at the age of seventy two in 2236. She had spent half her life in a planentary atmosphere, a unique feat for a Yldar.
     
    Part Seven: The Birth of the Galactic Community (2238 to 2246)
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    Galaxy Map 2238.jpg


    The known galaxy, 2238.


    Part Seven: The Birth of the Galactic Community (2238 to 2246)

    Vak B'Eren curled and uncurled his tail in a unconscious habit. The russet furred Glost-Werheni envoy had years of practice in the Free Traders diplomatic corps and until very recently had served as Senator Listhim's aide in his dealings with the Galactic Community. That had been daunting enough being in the Senate Chamber and watching a dozen alien species projected in real-time, life sized holos as they debated, argued and bragged. Even so the distance of light years separating everyone had been oddly comforting.

    Now he (and his mostly Yldar team) would have to negotiate with the Kammarians in the flesh. As proud as he was to be the first Glost-Werheni to reach such a rank in the Free Traders it would be the height of hubris not to be a little nervous. By rights it should have been Timpaphona who together with Chairman Jondru and the Kammarian Emperor had crafted this organisation but the silver scaled female Yldar was still in the embassy on Kamdor.

    Steeling himself the envoy whispered a silent prayer to Numa, stepped through the door, shook the Kammarian envoy's hand and took his seat at the first formal meeting of the Golden Monetary Compact.


    ~~~~~~

    Birth of the Galactic Community.jpg


    The 'Birth of the Galactic Community', 2238.

    In late 2237 the Free Traders picked up the first signs of unidentified vessels on their eastern fringe. This region of the galaxy was less charted by the Yldars but they had long suspected that one or more alien civilisations were present for the simple reason that the Caravaneers had to be trading with someone. Therefore when reports arrived on Oros from the Hempest they were met with excitement but not surprise. That surprise came when it was discovered that more than one civilisation might lie immediately to the galactic east. Many more than one.

    The 'Birth of the Galactic Community' as historians would later term the confused period from 2237 through 2240 when the various galactic powers came into contact with each other was not quite as sudden as it is sometimes made out. Most of the dozen or so major starfaring powers had already had extensive contact with one or more of their neighbours as we have seen with the close relations between the Yldar Free Traders and the Centralized Kammarian Systems. What happened was that this knowledge appeared to have reached a critical mass or tipping point. One civilisation sharing interstellar charts and the all important hyperlanes became aware of at least two others.

    Not including the Caravaneers and other very minor powers a picture emerged of a galaxy dominated by twelve starfaring empires. There was a wide array of species and forms of government but the bulk of the galaxy appeared to belong to peoples of roughly similar technological process, size and living requirements. For some in the Yldar Free Traders this was more than coincidence and suggested that the Originators (or perhaps another similar group of allies or indeed rivals) had seeded the galaxy at certain point in the dim past. Even those sapient species that could claim to evolve naturally, as the Kammarians did could still have been influenced by the enigmatic ancients.

    The actual impetus for setting up the Galactic Community lay with an alliance three powers in the galactic south west. The Glirr Hierarchy, the Pelisimus Free Union and the Haddam Star Confederation. The Glirrs, the most numerous and advanced of these powers were a 'species' of sentient silicon based life. These 'lithoids' hailed from the frozen world of Hjossun and had remarkably evolved in similar patterns to organic life elsewhere, establishing a feudal empire and eventually becoming starfarers. Their neighbours the Haddams from the equally cold planet Allox Haxizabb were bipedial arthropoids of fearsome appearance and military caste, ruled by a longstanding junta who nevertheless conducted themselves according to an exhausting code of honour. The final members of this triumvirate were the plantoid Pelisimians of Pelisimus Primus who had thrived in the bleak tundra landscape of their homeworld and established a military commissariat form of government with a near fanatical zeal for democracy.


    Pact Species.jpg


    The Glirrs, the Haddams & the Pelisimians - the founder species of the 'Mutual Assistance Pact'.

    Very early in their history of spaceflight the Glirrs had made contact with the Haddams and the Pelisimians. Though all three cultures had strong martial traditions they had discovered common ground and during a period when then the first primitive starships might take over a year to reach even the closest stars they had forged a federation: the Mutual Assistance Pact. This organisation had served them well; individually none of the powers were any stronger than the Kammarians or the Yldars - less so in some ways - but collectively they represented an economic and political bloc. Fortunately for their neighbours the three powers were xenophiles so there was scant chance of this galactic union sweeping across the galaxy just yet. What it did give them was experience in multispecies diplomacy. As the initial flurry of first contact excitements and nerves settled it was the emissaries of the Mutual Assistance Pact who proposed a formal conclave of the galactic powers.

    The Galactic Community fell far short of the level of organisation that marked the Mutual Assistance Pact. The Glirrs, Haddams and Pelisimians had been cooperating for over a century, had a certain common culture and were happy to share powers. The states of the Galactic Community had in most cases only the barest knowledge of some power on the other side of the galaxy. They had often vividly different politics and beliefs. However there were still rules that most of the powers could agree to. Piracy, rogue machines and hostile fauna like the void clouds were universal threats. There was also an added incentive to mercantile powers like the Free Traders for some recognition of merchantmen.

    From the start it was realised that intergalactic relations were far too new and far too fragile for a formal 'capital' for the Galactic Community, even assuming a centralised location could be agreed upon which it couldn't. Once again it was the charismatic Glirrs, old hands at this game, who came up with the notion of meetings being held over holo [1]. It was far from perfect with some species like the Yldar, who relied heavily on their sense of smell in negotiations, having to adapt to a strictly aural and visual format. Still it was acceptable to most and by 2240 most of the galactic capitals would have receiving chambers were the delegations of the powers would 'meet'.

    Each of the original powers had specialised envoys or diplomats ('senators') who cast a vote on behalf of their nations. The criteria for choosing these 'senators' was as varied as their backgrounds from being a scion of the royal family, through a career civil servant to an elected politician.

    The Yldar Free Traders were proponents of the Galactic Community but they were not as enthusiastic as the Pact powers. Chairman Jondru and the rest of the Board were intrigued by the opportunities that a known galaxy provided and the Yldar were particularly fascinated by the distant (and annoyingly isolationist) Irenic Kazam Compact who dwelt in a ring world structure which strongly hinted at interference by the Originators [2]. However they mainly saw the Galactic Community in economic terms. The standardization of buzzwords, an early initiative proposed by the Haddams was backed by the Yldars but the most significant proposal put before the Galactic Community was the notion of a Galactic Market and in 2238 that goal seemed far away. The other powers were more focused on (to Yldar eyes) petty bureaucratic issues.

    By this time the Yldar Free Traders and the Centralized Kammarian Systems were firm diplomatic and financial allies and effectively represented a north-western bloc in the Galactic Community. The groundwork for this alliance had been achieved by the much missed Hannakona and her successors in the Yldar embassy on Kamdor but it would be unfair to ignore the work of the Emperor Moz I. The Emperor's long reign had begun immediately before the hyperspace era and in the early years he seemed to embody the unchanging nature of the Kammarian state - autocratic and ferociously traditional. In fact he proved himself much more flexible and imaginative than anyone might have assumed and while the Yldars with their flattery and diplomatic gifts had opened the door Moz was the one who walked through it. Many of the treaties binding the Kammarians and Yldars together came directly from him.

    In traditional Kammarian culture the merchants had occupied a low caste. They were at best seen as social inferiors, held little to no formal political power and faced a vast array of sumptuary laws controlling their displays of wealth, attire and food. None of this had prevented the various merchant 'clubs' (guilds and conglomerates in all but name) becoming absolutely vital to the economy. The Kammarian merchants tended to be feverently pro-Yldar, looking with respect and some envy towards a civilisation where the merchant prince rather than the noble ruled. By 2238 many Kammarians had taken the logical next step and actually emigrated to Yldar space were they formed a fast growing minority, much admired for their ingenuity in business (a trait born out of centuries of working around the stratified Kammarian society.) [3]

    Moz's particular genius had been to find a way to work with the merchants without undermining the rigid constraints of Kammarian life. He was not a radical by any means and was determined to keep his throne and pass it on to his son the Prince Imperial. Rather he saw that a Kamdor that reached out to other powers would be stronger and richer than one that did not. In his final years he even managed to strike up a working relationship with Jondru, the most progressive of Yldar who like his Kammarian opposite could prove surprisingly flexible. It was to be these two, despite their many differences and disagreements who turned the Yldar-Kammarian alliance into a federation.

    Jondru knew he was fighting against time. Though he had won a second twenty-year term as leader in the 2240 election few expected him to live to complete it. Yldars were not a long lived species and the Chairman had been hatched in 2168. He had achieved much in forging a centralised government for the Free Traders and the success of Madragon's Stronghold had proved wrong the grognards among the merchant princes who had questioned the expense of a fourth habitat. From 2240 on Jondru began turning his hard won experience and reputation into a push for an even closer relationship with the Kammarians.

    Though the Mutual Assistance Pact served as a model for his ambitions Jondru neither wanted, nor thought possible a replica of that sort of galactic union. The differences between the laws of Kamdor and the Three Daughters were too wide and the nationalistic sentiment too strong to contemplate a primarily political union. Instead he proposed something far more agreeable, at least to the Yldars: a trade league. The focus of this league was firstly economic and to a secondary degree protective. In effect the unified economies of the Yldars and the Kammarians would become a giant free trade area in the galactic north west. As Jondru explained to the other merchant princes this sort of a federation would build upon the existing treaties without ceding anything more than a shadow of political autonomy (though the possibility of a combined league navy at some future date was raised as a defence against pirates and greedy foreign powers.)

    For the Kammarians the economic benefits were obvious but there was some hesitation in taking the final step into a permanent union with the Yldars and a great deal of diplomacy had to go towards wooing the aristocrats of Kamdor. The death of the Emperor Moz in 2243 almost ended negotiations before they truly began. His son and heir the Prince Imperial Yoz was an unknown quantity to the Yldars, having been kept away from the riff raff during his long apprencticeship. The new monarch was believed to be far more conservative than his late father. Fortunately Yoz proved the pessimists wrong; the new Emperor saw himself as a great patron of arts and science and with the right show of respect merchants could generously be counted under that label. In early 2246 he agreed to Yldar proposals.

    A new federation.jpg


    The Golden Monetary Compact is born, Ninthmonth 2246.

    The negotiations proper took place on Madragon's Stronghold, the closest habitat to Kamdor. In a sign of the times the 'Yldar' envoy was not a biological Yldar at all but a Glost-Werheni male named Vak B'Eren. More predictably the Kammarian envoy was an aristocrat. His aide on the other hand was a humble but very crafty merchant who for one reason or another did most of the work for the Kammarians. Appearances had to be maintained.

    On the tenth day of Ninthmonth 2246 the Golden Monetary Compact was officially signed by Emperor Yoz and Chairman Jondru. It was the crowning achievement of Jondru's career and one of the last. Exhausted by the efforts of trying to steer his dream into existence he died less than three years later in 2249 at the advanced age of eighty one.

    Golden Monetary Compact.jpg


    The Golden Monetary Compact, 2246.

    Footnotes:

    [1] Holographic technology was a widespread though not universal method of faster-than-light communication across the known galaxy.

    [2] The Kazam and other civilisations will be covered shortly.

    [3] The migration treaty between the Free Traders and Centralized Systems applied in both directions but the overwhelming bulk of migrants were Kammarians bound for Yldar space. A Kammarian might find the atmosphere of an enclosed habitat somewhat strange but they could adapt far more easily than a Yldar could to the vast savannas of Kamdor.

     
    Appendix: The Galactic Community in 2238
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    Diplomatic map 2238.jpg


    A diplomatic map of the known galaxy in 2238. The Yldar Free Traders are in blue, the Centralized Kammarian Systems in green, neutral states in grey and unfriendly states in red.


    Appendix: The Galactic Community in 2238


    Northern Powers 2238.jpg


    The Kazams, the Rothakans & the Zelvans.

    The most powerful of the known empires in galaxy, at least measured in population and technology was the Irenic Kazam Compact. The Kazams were a mammalian people standing a little over a meter and a half tall whose biology seemed to indicate an origin on a desert planet or moon but who now inhabited a ringworld orbiting the yellow dwarf star Kaz. The Kazams called their artificial homeworld 'Kazzador' and much like the Yldars they appeared to have always lived inside their metal home. The Kazams were ardent pacifists and lived under benign dictatorship with almost insect like obedience.

    For the Yldars the existence of a ringworld of mysterious origin seemed proof positive that the Originators or beings much like them had been involved in the far past. True the ringworld was a different sort of structure to the three habitats orbiting the Cevant system, but the principle behind the technology seemed so similar how could it be a coincidence? The discovery provoked much excitement among the more mystical and intellectual Yldars who were in two camps; those that believed that the Kazams had been genetically engineered by the Originators and were thus long lost 'brothers' of the Yldars despite their differing physiology and those who believed they had been created by a rival group of ancient aliens and were thus 'competitors'.

    Unfortunately for the Yldar intellectuals - and for the more prosaic politicians, merchants and military officers who saw the Kazams as simply another power to be interacted with - the tyranny of distance and the stance of the Kazam government thwarted the possibility of answering these questions. The Kazam leaders were relatively polite but expressed a horror of the Yldar war policy which was coldly pragmatic. They were also divided from the Yldars by no less than three other empires, many of whom had poor relations with either the Yldars or the Kazams or both. Merchant shipping and scientific visits remained a distant dream.

    The most powerful of the Kazams neighbours and the immediate stumbling block to the Yldars were the Rothak Fire Tribes. The Rothakans were reptilians like the Kammarians, another bipedal race of similar height and build to the Yldars. Their icy homeworld of Rothak had originally been covered by vast oceans and the Rothakans had evolved from giant marine reptiles who had adapted to life on land, shrinking and developing sapience in the process. The Rothakan way of life stressed the importance of the clans and of religion and both the assembly of clans and the spiritists who oversaw the faith tended to be warlike. Under the cosmology of Rothak the universe itself was a goddess - a living, sapient mind - and those who honoured the goddess were reborn as stars. The Rothak word for 'fire' sprang from the same root as the word for 'sun' and the Rothakans saw the only way to honour their deity was to embrace the heat of passion that blazed away within them. If they couldn't bring the faith by word or the sword to the enemy they were happy to quarrel among themselves.

    It was easy to interpret the Rothakans as barbarians but they were as technologically savvy as any other species, and they were capable of diplomacy. Their dealings with the Yldars, intially promising would shift into tension as the frontiers of each power began to brush against each other - and then into an outright cold war in the 2250s and 60s.


    Penthulans.jpg


    The Penthulans, a subject race of the Zelvans.

    Bordering both the Kazams and the Rothakans was the hostile and expansionist Zelvan Interplanetary Empire. The Zelvans were short, stout humanoids, standing only a little over a meter tall that had evolved from forest dwelling primate like creatures. Their homeworld was the 'continental' planet Zelvikanna, known for its unusually rich biosphere. In fact the planet was home to a second unrelated sapient species, the avian Pethulans who had evolved from large diving birds in Zelvikanna's poles. Though sapient the Pethulans had smaller brains than their mammalian neighbours and had been forced into a lower caste for millennia.

    The Zelvans had established a unified planetary monarchy and their empire was warlike, materialistic and xenophobic. They disdained the Rothakans for their alien nature and what they regarded as their foolish spiritualism and most outside observers suspected a Rothakan-Zelvan war was likely in the future.


    Eastern Powers.jpg


    The Uindars, the Glyrrans & the Yaanari.

    The Rothakans, Kazams and Zelvans (and Pethulans) bordered the Uindar Star Hegemony. The Uindars were a tall and impressive looking arthropoid race, physically strong, thrifty and with complex nervous systems that made them naturally fast learners. Unfortunately for them they were poorly adapted for life beyond the lush temperate zones of Uindar (like Zelvikanna a 'contintental' style world.) The Uindars also shared with the Zelvans a pronounced xenophobic streak, glaring out at the galaxy with disdain. Theoretically the Uindar government was constitutional, but in truth the dictator ruled a ruthlessly stratified society with a fist of iron.

    For outsiders the most fascinating thing about the Uindars were the unusually rich number of archaeology sites that dotted their home system and much of the rest of their space. In a real way modern Uindar civilisation stood on the shoulders of giants. The signs suggested strongly that like the Yldars and the Kazams some ancient beings had been involved in their distant past, but unfortunately for the scientists and theologians of other empires the Uindars were not talking to outsiders about their secrets.


    In the galactic south beyond the frontiers of the Kazams and the Unidars the Glyrran Union was shaping up to be the most aggressive power. The Glyrrans were sleek furred mammalians, derived from otter-like ancestors who swam in the frigid lakes and rivers of the tundra dominated planet Glyrra. Fast breeding and adept at agriculture even in the bleak climate in which they lived the Glyrrans had established a planetary civilisation with speed - but Glyrann society was so unruly it took many centuries for a unified government to emerge.

    The Glyrran government was a totalitarian dictatorship, bellicose, anti-thestic and relentlessly suspicious and hostile towards aliens. The Glyrran Union did not want to outright exterminate other sapient species but made no secret of the fact that it saw them as potential rivals and future subjects and slaves.

    Keeping the Glyrrans on a perpetual war footing were their neighbours to the galactic south, the Sovereignty of Yaanus. The Yaanari were reptilian (or more accurately amphibian) beings from Yann, a massive tropical moon orbiting a gas giant. Like their rivals the Glyrrans they had a natural agrarian streak and for most of her history Yaan had been a prosperous and relatively peaceful world. A series of global wars between a (then) powerful theocracy and a coalition of secular states in the Twentieth and Twenty First centuries had broken that consensus and given rise to the current Yaanari culture - fanatically militarist and materialist.


    Primitives.jpg


    The Cyrnians, the Pyoruns & the Ganvids.

    The Sovreignty of Yaanus was unusual in being home to no less than three separate alien species who had yet to reach the stars. In the western fringes of Yaanari space lay the red dwarf star Sheraton and two of the planets orbiting that sun were home to primitive, uncontacted civilisations. Well, perhaps 'primitive' and 'uncontacted ' are the wrong words. The 'Cyzrnians' of Sheraton III and the 'Pyorunans' of Sheraton IV had achieved technological civilisation five or six centuries before the current era. Unfortunately both peoples had gone to war with each other, destroying their civilisations and leaving both planets as irradiated wastes. Miraculously both the Cyzrnians and the Pyorunans and survived this disaster and had somewhat rebuilt their societies to an iron age and bronze age but as neither people had any resources worth speaking of and were far too primitive to be a threat, they were largely ignored by the Yaanri.

    In the far south east of Yaanri species the tropical world Ereness III was home to the fearsome looking, and not much less fearsome acting 'Ganivids'. The Ganvids superficially resembled giant arachnids but they were actually an unusual form of mobile predatory plantoid. The scattered warlike kingdoms on Ereness III had reached a late medieval stage of development and were the focus of much study from orbit by the Yaanari.



    Makaru.jpg


    The Makaru.
    The Yaanari government was a stern military commissariat but in their favour they were at least not fiercely xenophobic, and this allowed them to explore diplomatic relations with their neighbours to the south, the Autocracy of Makaria.

    The Makaru were a visually frightening species for many other sapients to observe. Bipedal fungoid beings they had evolved from the dense undergrowth of the tropical planet Makaria. The Makaru were a paradox. Though their society was famously decadent and often seen as static the individual Makaru was apt to be deviant, rebellious and individualistic by nature. The Makaru imperial family was a centuries old despotate that kept a rigid grip on power even as the Makaru had a fanatical xenophilia that put even the curiosity for the alien of the Yldars to shame.

    Despite (or maybe because of) their decadent society the Makuru made peaceful neighbours. Even their extensive slave owning was more a process of open trade than of raiding and wars.

    The Humans.jpg


    The Humans.

    Makuru space was also home to a primitive species that had yet to enter the galactic stage. These 'Humans' lived on the third planet of the star Sol and had achieved a level of development equivalent to the earliest steps into space via unmanned rockets - perhaps two centuries or so behind the hyperspace powers. The Makuru were fascinated by these primitives and had set up observation posts to study their evolution. Given the pace of human development it was possible they would achieve true interplanetary spaceflight within a century - at which point they would presumably become aware of their neighbours and the Makuru would have to decide what to do with their unwitting proteges.


    Pact members.jpg


    The Glirrs, the Pelsimians & the Haddams.


    To the west of the Autocracy lay the Mutual Assistance Pact - the Glirr Hierarchy, the Pelisimus Free Union and the Haddam Star Confederation.

    As we have already discovered this trio of powers had proven instrumental in opening up the Galactic Community, and though it would be misleading to call any of them truly pacifist they were generally if sometimes begrudgingly considered to be 'good neighbours'. Decades of close cooperation with each other had spurred on the art of diplomacy. Even so the Pact powers were watched with feelings ranging from envy to dismay by their neighbours, which included the Makaru, the Yaanari, the Glyrrans and (to the north) the Kammarians.

    The individual Pact powers, especially the wide ranging Glirrs (who as lithoid beings could live anywhere) and the Pelsimians (who had 'inherited' a strategically favourable position along the galactic rim) would have been significant players in their own right. United in common policy they represented a sprawling 'empire' of great military, scientific and economic power. Even those states which had no quarrel with the policies pursued by the Pact had reason to be a little nervous of quite that much power. Those that fundamentally disagreed with it saw this federation as a sinister, controlling force in galactic affairs.

    Hulfir.jpg


    The symbiotic Hulfirs.

    In recent decades the Pact had grown stronger with the discovery of a subterranean civilisation on the Haddam controlled world of Zalibbac Oxocodoif. The Hulfirs appeared to be a race of stocky mammalian humanoids not unlike the Glost-Werheni in size and build. However they were actually a symbotic species with the sapience coming from the fungal growths attached to the mammalians, not the near brainless mammalians themselves. Despite their rather odd nature many Hulfirs had taken to living on the surface and been integrated into Haddam (and Pact) society.

    The one consoling factor for those worried about the Pact was that their technology level seemed to lag a decade or two behind the galactic standard. Whether through the process of development or lack of competition the Pact powers were rarely at the forefront of technological breakthroughs. That did not conjure away any of the other formidable advantages they enjoyed but it did allow their rivals to breath easier.

    ~~~~~

    While this overview has covered the major powers of the known galaxy it has for reasons of space not discussed the various enclaves and extremely minor or pre-sapient species. It has also, for obvious reasons, not covered the almost half of the galaxy yet to be charted by any known starfaring race. What - or who - waits in the galactic frontier remained a mystery at this point.
     
    Part Eight: Marauders, pirates and other threats (2246 to 2267)
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    Battle of Craxima.jpg


    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 [1]. 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.


    Kobarian first contact.jpg


    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.jpg


    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 [2]. 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.


    Election 2249.jpg


    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.


    Birth of space Piracy.jpg


    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.


    Kobarian Escape Pod.jpg


    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.

    Drifting Fleet.jpg


    The 'Salvaged Fleet' of 2261.
    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 [3]. 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' 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...


    Footnotes:

    [1] Or so it was thought at the time. Many years later other caches of mining droids would be discovered and had to be destroyed.

    [2] 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.

    [3] Excluding strange reports from the Kammarians of an encounter with a mysterious and ancient 'automated dreadnought' in a distant system.
     
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    Part Nine: The Cold War (2267 to 2274)
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    The Golden Monetary Compact and the Rothak Fire Tribes, 2274.


    Part Nine: The Cold War (2267 to 2274)

    Three jumps to out of the way stars. It added weeks to the light freighter's journey but it was the only way to dodge trailing ships and get back to Yldar space intact. Captain Haghonon blinked back the sleep from his eyes and looked up from the navigation computer. Even along well traveled hyperlanes plotting courses could be time consuming. With blind jumps factored in it was ten times longer and a hundred times more stressful.

    'Captain the Vengralians are off,' said the first mate. Sure enough the viewer showed the caravansary priming her engines. As she leapt to lightspeed Haghonon gave the fungoid merchants a mental salute.

    'Stars and credits brothers,' he whispered the traditional send off. Even as he finished saying the proximity alarm blared across the cramped cabin.

    'The Rothakans!'

    Haghonon reminded himself to higher less jittery crew on his next run. His amethyst eyes flicked to the Rothakan corvette that had just dropped out of lightspeed. She was close... but not close enough. 'Engage engines on my mark. Now!'

    As the familiar blur of hyperspace blossomed across the viewer and the independent ship leapt forward to safety Haghonon leaned back in his chair. This was ridiculous, but what could an honest merchant do if he wanted to trade with the galactic east? The borders were closed for reasons a lowly light freighter captain couldn't begin to comprehend. There was good money in the discrete run through Fire Tribe space, but by the Orignators it aged a man.

    ~~~~~


    The existence of the Kobarian Freeholders to the west dominated Yldar foreign and war policy for over a decade after first contact but there was another crisis bubbling in the background. For many years the Yldar Free Traders and the Rothak Fire Tribes had been gnawing away at the unclaimed territory between them. This area was known to the Yldar as Najuggas Veil, a term that technically only applied to the large nebula further to the east but had been taken as shorthand to apply to the entire eastern frontier. This vast expanse was known to be rich in minerals and from the beginning there was competition to claim the choicest systems. By the mid-2250s the east had begun to supersede the west as a focus for exploration and exploitation and diplomatic difficulties with the Fire Tribes intensified.

    Hyperspace, the universal known method of faster than light travel made exploration and competition for resources harder than they might appear when first glancing at a stellar chart. Sometimes systems that were closer in terms of nominal distance in light years were effectively out of range because of the layout out of hyperlanes. This also left particular systems strategically important beyond their mineral, energy and scientific value. There was also always the chance that any given unexplored system might hold an anomaly, anything from rare resources to ancient ruins to a hostile life form. The Yldars had learnt that last one the hard way.

    In 2269 Cognati's term as Chairwoman of the Free Traders came to an end. She had decided to run again and given her relative youth - she was then sixty one - and the economic success of her time in office it might have been thought she'd be re-elected. The Xeno Rights Organization, still the largest faction in Yldar politics supported her. Cognati's opponents were the the administrator Governor Monnobaki; Rhethan, a noted scientist and ship designer and her old rival from the 2249 election Ralpakini. Unfortunately for the sitting Chairwoman most of the merchant princes, the same people who had benefited so much from the influx of credits through the Galactic Market, were not famous for their gratitude. The ever worsening relations with the Rothakans, the spectre of renewed piracy and the fear of the Kobarians deciding mere tribute was insufficient all worked against Cognati. After the behind the scenes bribes, horse trading and occasional sincere conversations finished Rhethan was elected Chairman of the Free Traders.


    Rhethan.jpg


    Rhethan, the newly elected Chairman of the Yldar Free Traders.

    A dusky scaled male of medium height the fifty eight year old Rhethan had made a fortune as an industrialist in the shipbuilding industry but he was better known as a designer than a plutocrat. The new Chairman made no secret of the fact that he thought war with the Rothakans a probability. He was determined to increase the Navy just in case time proved him right.

    Sadly increasing the Navy was easier said than done. After a rapid expansion that lasted until just after the Battle of Craxima the rate of shipbuilding had dramatically slowed. Ships needed alloys and for several years during Cognati's period in office most of that vital material was diverted into the construction of a habitat in the Ostichi system [1]. The discovery of the 'Salvaged Fleet', though welcome had also impacted on ship building as crews were earmarked for the converted ships and the 'saved' alloys were employed elsewhere. Finally the pace of technological development itself was to blame as existing ships needed to be modified with new engines, shield systems or weapons and it was always better and cheaper to upgrade an existing hull than build a new one.

    None of these issues were trivial and even the most bloodthirsty member of the Strength Through Conquest Coalition would agree that modernisation was vital. If needs be alloy could be bought on the private market. A more serious problem that couldn't simply be 'moneyed' away was the lack of shipbuilding facilities. Even in 2269 the Free Traders only had one major military shipyard with the venerable docks in Cevant. Given the lack of threats in the early years of space exploration there had never been quite the drive to get additional shipyards up and running. Rhethan resolved to fix this, but with one thing and another it would be a long time before new shipyards appeared.


    Vultaum system.jpg


    The location of the mysterious Vultaum homeworld proved surprisingly close to Cevant.

    Even as the new government came to grips with the defensive situation exploration had continued. In 2269 the Vultaum home system was located and surprisingly it was close to the Cevant system and well within Yldar space (though the actual system itself had to be charted.) The quest for the ancient annelids had been a key scientific concern in the early hyperspace years but over the decades the trail had run cold. In recent years it had been assumed the Rothakans, whose territory sprawled across the (presumed) territory of the old Vutaum Star Aseembly had uncovered key secrets and were not sharing. Then a minor artifact was found in the private collection of a merchant prince. The fossilised crystal data rod had been misinterpreted as an objet d'art by its owner, who approached the government with an offer just the right side of being unreasonable. Rhethan ignored the rumblings of dissent from some of the more miserly plutocrats and paid the credits.

    The exploration of the extinct species home system took place throughout 2270 and into the beginning of 2271. Aside from the resources provided by the system - which proved very welcome - something of the secrets of the vanished Vultaum were recovered. They made for disturbing reading.


    Vultaum homeworld.jpg


    The grim revelations about the vanished Vultaums.

    Most Yldars were unsettled by the self-chosen destruction of the Vultaum but it went no further than that and they were prepared to write off the Vultaums as delusional. Even the vast majority of 'Spiritualists' saw little link between the Vultaum, extinct for millions of years and the (possibly) still extant Originators. A fringe group of more mystically inclined Yldars saw something more to the Vultaum philosophy, but unlike the aliens they did not see this in distressing terms. The Yldars knew they had been artificially created. Was it so different to the idea that the entire universe was simply a simulation?

    While the expedition to the Vultaum system was being prepared another Yldar expedition had met with disaster. The venerable YSS Hempest the Fearless, the oldest vessel in Yldar service famed for her voyages of discovery was lost with all hands in the Chiminol system in the 'Slice', an unexplored frontier region fiercely contested with the Rothakans. At first many assumed that Captain Timaphon and her crew had met their end in a Rothakan ambush but cooler heads prevailed over the cry for war and it was soon proved that the Hempest had run afoul of ancient automated mining droids. A naval expedition in 2271 easily wiped out this dangerous cluster of renegade machinery.

    The leap to blaming the Rothakans in the absence of evidence revealed how poor relations had grown between the two powers. The Fire Tribes had gone so far as to claim star systems held by the Free Traders and of course they restricted any possibility of merchants traveling to the powers to the east. By the 2270s the rivalry had grown so intense that a state of cold war existed. Far from isolated paranoia Rhethan's prediction of war within the next couple of decades seemed almost innocent.


    Rivalry with the Rothakans.jpg


    By 2272 the cold war daily threatened to turn hot.

    Spirituality, the one element that might have provided a bridge between the Yldars and Rothakans only drove them even further apart. The religions had nothing in common, not helped by the fact that most of the more 'religious' Yldars scoffed at the very idea of gods and spirits.

    This brooding on the border was temporarily set aside by astonishing news from a distant part of the galaxy. A second marauder 'civilisation', very similar in habits and technology to the Kobarians was discovered by Pelsimian explorers along their southern frontier. This was remarkable enough but what shook the Free Traders was the revelation that this species of marauders called themselves the Yldars...


    Yldar Barbarians.jpg


    The southern 'Yldars'.

    Yldar Raiders.jpg


    'Yldar' space, 2274.
    There were only so many sounds a humanoid throat could make and in a galaxy with dozens of sapient species a coincidence was not so impossible. The Pseudo-Yldars were thousands of light years away and in the scheme of things it was highly unlikely they'd ever even enter Free Trader space. And yet to those who had been unsettled by the Kobarians and saw in them a twisted mirror of the Yldars, these Pseudo-Yldars were eerie.

    Adding to their mystery the Pseudo-Yldars bore an uncanny physical resemblance to yet another sapient species - the Cyzrnians of Sheraton III. As far as anyone knew the Cyzrnians had never achieved interstellar flight, having destroyed themselves four hundred years ago in a war with their neighbours the Pyorunans of Sheraton IV. Was this simply another strange coincidence, a quirk of convergent evolution? Some in the Free Traders wondered about that. The controversial theory that there was some connection between the (real) Yldars and the Kobarians was now expanded by its adherents into a link with the Pseudo-Yldars, the Cyzrnians and even the Pyorunans who had some slight resemblance to the Yldars in their scales and other anatomical features.

    Rhethan remained above such abstract thoughts. A scientist himself he was not immune to the Yldar fascination with the diversity of life but he had concrete problems to focus on. By early 2274 he had succeeded in building another four corvettes. It was a paltry number set aside the figures he might have wished for but it was better than nothing and the introduction of advanced combat computers across the Navy made him confident that the Free Traders fleet was at least modern if it was not an armada that would blot out the stars.

    The Chairman also had a force that didn't appear in the Yldar Star Navy rosters: the Golden Monetary Compact Federal Fleet. Kammarian technology, especially in warship design was thought to lag behind their Yldar counterparts and Yldar and Glost-Werheni officers visiting their allies brought back gloomy tales of 'museum ships'. Even accounting for exaggeration and the friendly but intense rivalry between the YSN and their counterparts in the Kammaian Imperial Navy the Yldar Naval Command doubted much could be expected from the 'Imperials' in a war. The Federal Fleet was a different matter. Drawn from the budgets and crew of both the Free Traders and the Centralized Systems the Federal Fleet had been constructed in Kammarian shipyards but with technology and theory supplied by the Yldars. Approximately four in ten of the officers and crew of the Federal Ships were either Yldar or Glost-Werheni [2]. By 2274 it was still smaller than its national counterparts but much was expected from it.

    While relations between the Yldars and the Rothakans had been bad, relations between the Rothakans and the Kammarians were worse if possible. The Kammarians had skirted the galactic core in their own push east and run into the Rothakans pushing the other way. All the same problems that hampered any understanding between Yldar and Rothak were present and the imperious and status conscious Kammarians and the democratic Rothakans could scarcely even attempt diplomacy with each other. Border skirmishes and sabrerattling were even more common than along the Yldar/Rothak frontier.

    In Eightmonth 2274 the inevitable finally happened and the Centralized Kammarian Systems declared war on the Rothak Fire Tribes. As fellow members of the Golden Monetary Compact the Yldars were bound by treaty to join their partners in the war and many greeted this first true interstellar conflict with relief. Rhethan and the merchant princes of the Board were unanimous in their support of the Kammarians...


    Declaration of war.jpg


    The Golden Monetary Compact declares war.

    Footnotes:

    [1] The new habitat, known as 'Irjamma's Treasure' would officially be settled in 2272, easing the threat of overcrowding on the four older habitats.

    [2] The large Kammarian minority in Yldar space supplied many recruits to the Yldar Star Navy. Comparatively few volunteered for the Federal Fleet despite generous pay. Most Kammarians that lived in the Free Traders habitats had emigrated precisely because they couldn't fit in with the society back 'home' and the last thing they were interested in was manning warships alongside and under the command of their Imperial counterparts.
     
    Part Ten: The First Golden Monenary Compact-Rothak War (2274 to 2279)
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    First Battle of Holdebaana.jpg


    Yldar ships attack a Rothak starhold at the First Battle of Holdebaana, 2276.


    Part Ten: The First Golden Monenary Compact-Rothak War (2274 to 2279)

    The bridge was full of smoke and heat and Navigation Officer Rhethana could taste an unfamiliar odour in the air as she flickered her tongue in and out. It took her a moment to realise that it was blood, her blood at that. Her eyes widened as she saw the red gash in her left arm, vivid against her silver scales and the olive of fabric of her uniform. Somehow in the shock and possible concusion when then last missile had hit them she hadn't registered the pain. Until this moment. Rhethana flexed her arm and hissed, instantly regretting it.

    A groan distracted the young officer and Rhethana's golden eyes flicked over to a slumped, furry shape slumped on the deck. 'Admiral!'

    The only other bridge officer still on his feet was a Kammarian ensign whose name her frazzled mind couldn't recall and together with his help Rhethana managed to half-drag, half carry the quasi-conscious Admiral B'Scul towards the nearest escape pod. The Glost-Weherni momentarily regained awareness sufficient to focus four blurry eyes on Rhethana's face.

    'The... battle...?'

    'We're winning sir,' Rhethana replied as she pushed her commander through the open door of the escaped pod then clambered in herself along with the Kammarian ensign. All around them the destroyer gave ominous groans and she could hear explosions on distant decks but as the pod door sealed behind them and the escape pod jettisoned into space and towards safety she fell back against the seat, exhausted and relieved beyond words. 'We're winning.'

    ~~~~~~

    Yldar Rothak frontier.jpg


    The Yldar-Rothak Border, 2274.

    On paper the Golden Monetary Compact enjoyed a more than two to one advantage in numbers of her foes in the Rothakan Fire Tribes in 2274. Yet this nominal disparity was less secure than it seemed. As we have seen previously that save for heavier armour (itself balanced by inferior shields) the Kammarian warships were considered weaker and slower than their Yldar or Rothakan counterparts, and their crew enjoyed a mixed reputation, a legacy of many of the best and brightest being lured away to serve in the Federal Fleet. Those ships were highly regarded, but it was unclear whether the Kammarians, who as head of the Compact at this time controlled the Federal Fleet, would use them to best advantage. There was a suspicion in Oros that even though they had begun the war the Kammarians would prove skittish when it came to fighting.

    The Yldar Free Traders had perhaps the most advanced Navy in the war, but it had still come before Chairman Rhethan's naval program had truly borne fruit. The Yldar Star Navy entered the war with five destroyers, twenty four corvettes and the formidable - if hard to classify - former Kobarian ships which amounted to four 'raiders', two 'frigates' and the imposing if unhandsome YSS Limpok the Baneful, a cruiser and one of the most powerful warships known. These vessels were divided into two fleets of 'armadas'. 'Suthnar's Armada' [1] was composed of the five destroyers and twenty of the corvettes and was under the command of the Glost-Werheni admiral Mak B'Scul. Most of these ships and crews had seen battle before, against the void cloud creature, the ancient mining drones or pirates. They were a well trained and motivated force who knew their ships well.

    The 'Salvaged Fleet' [2] was a different business. Though it had been reinforced by four new Yldar built corvettes the majority of the ships were Kobarian and their crews had yet to see much action in their powerful but unfamiliar craft. The Navy had taken the decision to strengthen the marauder vessels with Yldar designs, but this made for an uneven balance. There was also the fact that the Salvaged Fleet was led by Kesh na-Solpan. The Kobarian admiral obviously knew his people's ships better than anyone, and his military genius was not in doubt but there were understandable nerves about putting a barbarian mercenary in charge of half the Navy.

    Intelligence regarding the Rothakans was scanty thanks to the Fire Tribes ferocious approach to patrolling their own borders that allowed only the most cunning and creative Yldar merchants to slip through the net. It was known that they were engaged in a bitter rivalry with the Zelvan Interplanetary Empire on their far flank but the pacifist yet advanced Irenic Kazam Compact acted as a counterweight to any slide in the balance of power in the region. Neither the Rothakans nor the Zelvans wished to alienate the Kazams so they kept an uneasy peace. This would allow the Rothakans the opportunity to send their entire fleet west, counting on the fact the war would be won or lost before the Zelvans intervened.

    The Yldars struck first. Suthnar's Armada under B'Scul moved against the Rothak border system of Sanach. The Sanach system itself was a mineral and energy rich target but it was even more important for its strategic location at a hyperspace junction. The Free Traders had long coveted Sanach and together with the equally important Holdebaana system to the north it was a prize they wanted to win during the war.

    Admiral Mak B'Scul was an auburn furred Glost-Werheni, the first of his species to reach flag rank in the Navy. As a younger officer - and at forty eight for his rank most would still call his young - he had been famously eager, occasionally to the point of throwing caution to the wind in battle situations. Talkative and clever he was the kind of sapient who was either good friends with his peers or irritated them endlessly. Nevertheless he was popular among his subordinates for his energetic style of leadership. During the war he had his flag aboard the destroyer YSS Kodram the Suave. At the very beginning of 2275 her ships dropped out of hyperspace in the Sanach system and the first shots were fired.


    Suthnar's Armada.jpg


    Suthnar's Armada in 2275.

    The Rothak outpost at Sanach quickly fell to ship bombardment and an assault by Yldar marines with disruptor rifles and nova grenades. It was not a bloodless victory for the Yldar; casualties amounted to three hundred and twenty sailors and marines no ships had been destroyed or even put out of commission but Kodram the Suave and two of her sister destroyers, Khabbash the Furious and Damghalla the Heroic had taken direct hits from Rothakan missiles and with their armour plating cracked B'Scul took the fleet back home for repairs.

    Sanach was a system the Yldars wanted to take but B'Scul's raid was also a tentative attack to see what the enemy were made of. It would not be until the following year that the first significant battle of the war took place at the Holdebaana system. Holdebaana, a blue-white star was protected by a starhold, a space station far larger and more heavily armed than the mere outpost at Sanach. When Suthnar's Armada dropped out of hyperspace in Seventhmonth 2276 B'Scul and her officers knew they would be in for a far tougher fight.

    The Rothak starhold peppered the Yldar ships with UV-laser fire and missiles while it's FTL inhibitor prevented an easy retreat to hyperspace should events go against the Yldars. B'Scul's flagship escaped mostly intact but her other four destroyers bore the brunt of the enemy fire; Dassmath the Fighter lost much of her shielding and armour but the central core of the warship was intact. Khabbash the Furious was in similar shape though her shields and armour plating had failed completely. Hemphanir the Savage and the luckless Damghalla the Heroic were all but floating wrecks but tireless work by their crews prevented their loss and both mangled destroyers would prove spaceworthy enough to travel back to Cevant for repairs. B'Scul's score of corvettes had suffered various stray hits but all remained capable of travel. The Free Traders had suffered about three thousand casualties, which pushed north of five thousand when the marines stormed the battered station.

    The First Battle of Holdebaana was a major victory but it would be overshadowed within days by word that the Rothakans had retaken Sanach. The Yldar garrison had been forced to surrender but not before transmitting chilling data of what the enemy had. The Rothakans had assembled their entire fleet, some thirteen destroyers and forty three corvettes into a single battlegroup and were rolling the dice on knocking the Yldars out of the war with one massive counter-strike.

    Standard naval theory in the Free Traders (and the Kammarian Centralized Systems), first articulated by the late Admiral Darmull held that truly massive agglomerations of warships were impractical. Besides the difficulty in keeping so many vessels coordinated in combat it deprived the naval power of flexibility. The favoured strategy of the Yldars was based on heavy raids, leaving a large force in reserve. In the case of this war that reserve had been the Salvaged Fleet. Naval Command admitted the individual power of the Kobarian ships but wanted to shore up the numbers with Yldar vessels before unleashing them. Until then, Suthnar's Armada would do the raiding. That at least had been the theory and the capture of Holdebaana (not just an outpost but a proper naval base) suggested it was working. Then came the Rothak counteroffensive under the venerable Rothak leader Torba' Malas.

    Admiral Malas was a tough old soldier with a long and adventurous career behind her. She had first entered the military life aboard a system patrol scout in the days before hyperdrives became universal and over her ninety two years had seen almost everything. Age had not fossilised here and if anything she had grown more adaptable. The conduct of the war was in her hands and she would come within an ace of winning.

    The fall of Sanach would be followed a few weeks later by the capture of Irriamun by the Rothakans. Like Sanach, Irriamun was a mere outpost but it was still a rich system and a key point in the routes to the great trading hub at Davassa. It also gave the enemy a beachhead in Yldar space.

    The Free Traders had been caught on the hop. The plan for the second half of 2277 had been for a new offensive against the Rothakans, with the Salvaged Fleet operating from Sanach while the Kammarians advanced on the enemy outposts in the south (the wargoal for the Kamarians conveniently enough.) Now with the enemy across the border in force the Navy was forced to improvise. The badly battered ships of B'Scul's fleet were sped to the Cevant system for emergency repairs while Kesh na-Solpan and his ships trailed Malas as she made her way across Yldar space. The Salvaged Fleet had been greatly reinforced since the beginning of the war with three 'siege destroyers' [3] and eight more corvettes. Even so it did not measure up to great Rothakan battlegroup. For months the Kobarian mercenary would shadow the enemy, unwilling to commit to full battle but trying to restore Yldar control wherever the Rothakans struck.

    The Rothakans and the Yldars were both looking for the decisive naval battle but only on their own terms. Torba' Malas wanted to force the Yldars hands by striking at targets of opportunity, briefly taking a largely evacuated Davassa and then the outposts at Ostichi (terrifying the nearby inhabitants of the Irjamma's Treasure habitat though Malas avoided attacking the moon-sized structure) and Jamor. Kesh na-Solpan refused the bait, staying on his opponent's tail and only swooping to rescue once she had jumped to hyperspace. In time he was joined by the hastily repaired ships of B'Scul's Suthnar's Armada as they chased the cunning Rothakan warrioress.

    It would not be until Ninthmonth 2278 that the great ship to ship clash occurred. Malas had feinted at attacking Mosir, a key Yldar anchorage but instead jumped to Holdebaana. The starhold there, still in Yldar hands after two years blocked an easy return to Rothakan space and if she could retake it before the Yldar fleets caught up she'd be in a strong position to face whatever they threw at her. She nearly managed it too but the exhausted Yldar garrison aboard the starhold were still holding out when B'Scul and Kesh na-Solpan dropped out of hyperspace.


    Second Battle of Holdebaana.jpg


    The Second Battle of Holdebaana, Ninthmonth 2278.

    The Second Battle of Holdebaana would be fought over thirty nine hours and involved a hundred different warships to say nothing of the partially operational starhold itself. Lasers, missiles and railguns scored hit after hit. And when it was all over the Rothakans were the ones who blinked, retreating to hyperspace and abandoning the wrecks of a destroyer and a dozen corvettes. An unknown number of the surviving Rothakan craft, all suffering some sort of damage, would not survive the journey home.

    It was a bloody victory. The Yldars had lost the destroyers Damghalla the Heroic and Kodram the Suave with Mak B'Scul pushed into an escape pod and safety even as the command deck of her flagship buckled around her. Also lost had been two of the four 'raiders' recovered from the Kobarians and five corvettes. Many other ships had wrecked shields, holes in their armour or even severe cracks in their hulls and the Free Traders had suffered perhaps seven thousand casualties across the fleet. But it was a victory, and the Fire Tribes had lost their strategic gamble and with it the war.

    In fact peace did not come immediately. The very last strike of the war took place in Fourthmonth 2279 when Kesh na-Solpan attacked the Rimdur system to the immediate east of Holdebaana. Rimdur station was a mere outpost that surrendered after the first shots were fired but the system was also home to the Rothakan colony of Shi'Pator. The Kobarian admiral lacked the troops to invade the planet but he quickly began to organise a blockade. His ships were still getting into position when arrived from Oros: the war was over.


    Peace with Rothakans.jpg


    The peace with the Rothakans, negotiated in Fifthmonth 2279.

    While the focus of the Yldars and the Rothakans had been on fighting each other the Kammarians had been on the offensive in the south. The Kammarian invasion was limited in scope and their opposition weak with the entire Rothak fleet in the north but they had exchanged shots and taken casualties in a few skirmishes. More importantly they had conquered the border systems they claimed. After Second Holdebaana when it became clear the Fire Tribes could not win negotiations were opened between Emperor Zoz I of the Kammarians and Clan Speaker Hask' Kurnir of the Rothakans. The armistice of Fifthmonth 2279 would eventually see the uninhabited but mineral rich border systems of Obsholla and Keid handed over to the Centralized Kammarian Systems.


    Obsholla and Keid.jpg


    The new Kammarian-Rothak Border with Obsholla and Keid transferred to Kammarian control.

    The diplomacy of 2279 would be subject to much controversy among the Yldars. Zoz represented the Golden Monetary Compact as a whole, not simply the Kammarian Centralized Systems. Under the articles that underpinned the federation this was his right as long as he held the rotating presidency and strictly speaking he went further than the letter of the law insisted by making sure the Yldar representatives to the Compact were part of the negotiating team. Nevertheless there was chagrin among the Free Traders that the Yldars who had very much done the heavy lifting during the fighting received no territorial concessions.

    Chairman Rhethan worked hard to prevent a breach between the two member states of the Golden Monetary Compact. Whatever his private disappointments that the Yldars had not won more in public he championed the peace as a victory for the Golden Monetary Compact. The Emperor Zoz, who was one hundred and one in 2279 had long enjoyed a certain respect from the Yldars for his able management of the Compact and his sheer age gave him a certain gravitas to the comparatively short lived Yldars. Rhethan was able to use this personal popularity to blunt the grumbling among the merchant princes.

    Besides if it was true the Free Traders had won no new territory they had won something even more precious that was less immediately visible on the map. As part of the peace the Rothakans lifted their border restrictions and the road to the galactic east was now open...


    Borders 2279.jpg


    The borders of the Golden Monetary Compact after the peace of 2279.


    Footnotes:

    [1] By long standing tradition Yldar squadrons and fleets tended to be named after great figures of the past, in this case a merchant adventurer.

    [2] Formally designated 'Kesimor's Armada' but the nickname 'Salvaged Fleet' stuck around in all but the most official context, even when the majority of ships in the fleet were of Yldar construction.

    [3] Specialised destroyers with an artillery focus, designed more for bringing down stations and starholds than ship to ship combat.

     
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    Appendix: Warships of the 2270s
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    Fleet in formation.jpg


    Daskall-class destroyers and Damghalla-class corvettes in close formation at Ostichi, 2279.

    Appendix: Warships of the 2270s

    The war between the Golden Monetary Compact and the Rothak Fire Tribes was not first interstellar clash, even in the ‘modern’ era of galactic society but it did see a leap in technology, tactics and scale. Certainly for the powers of the galactic north this was the birth of a new type of warfare.

    The war ended before either side committed to a serious ‘ground’ invasion, be it of a planetary colony or a Yldar habitat. Even so there was significant fighting in close quarters between marines as the Yldars, the Kammarians and the Rothakans were all involved in storming space stations and exchanging laser or disruptor fire with the garrisons. As exciting and important as these firefights were they paled in comparison next to the ship to ship and station to ship combat.

    This study focuses on the warships of the war that captured the public imagination through their heroics, their victories – and their defeats.

    The Yldar Star Navy entered (and exited) the war as the least numerous but most technologically advanced faction. Generally speaking Yldar ships were a little faster, better armed and especially had superior combat computers than their rivals. The one area where they lagged behind the enemy was in armour. The Yldars still used nanocomposite armour while the Rothakans and even the Kammarians had switched to the more advanced ceramo-metal armour. At the beginning of the war the Free Traders authorised the use of 'volatile motes', a rare but valuable resource mined in Yldar space. These motes would help boost many key systems in the Yldar fleet during the war and perhaps proved a decisive edge.



    Mitgapp-class.jpg


    A design model for the Mitgapp-class torpedo corvette.


    Corvettes were by far the most common ships in the war, amounting to approximately two thirds of the total number of warships involved. The label ‘corvette’ was a notoriously vague one, especially in informal use where it might apply to anything from a hundred metre non-hyperspace capable system patrol craft used by police forces to something almost the size of a destroyer. In formal naval designation it was more restrictive; lightly armed fast warships between two hundred and three hundred meters long and with crew up to four hundred strong.

    Corvette crews had a reputation for being black comedy that ranged from the self deprecating to the caustic jokes shared over a case of Kammarian brandy. They were aware they were not the poster boys and girls of the Navy and a disproportionate number were drawn from talent civilian pilots. The majority were Yldars but Glost-Weherni (who were shorter and more slender than their humanoid-reptilian counterparts) featured in greater numbers than their share of the population which added to the different feel of the corvette service.

    The backbone of the Yldar Star Navy in the 2270s was the Damghalla-class corvette, two hundred and sixty metres long and carrying a crew of three hundred. By this point the basic design was not far short of a century old, though the sheer strength of the original ship and constant refinements had kept her competitive. More than any other craft the Damghalla-class epitomised the pre-war Yldar concept of the ‘generalist’ warship. Armed with a mix of railguns and plasma disruptors the Damghalla-class was intended to face almost any opposition, though this also left them weaker against some foes.

    The Free Traders had twenty four of the Damghalla-class at the start of the war and would build two more but there were feelings that a more specialised craft was needed. That was the Mitgapp-class. Slightly shorter and narrower than the older corvettes the Mitgapp-class also carried a railgun turret but their main weaponry were torpedoes. Space torpedoes were new technology in the 2270s and there was a lot of debate in the YSN over their use. Their supporters pointed to their sheer destructive power and their ability to punch through both armour and shields. The anti-torpedo minds in the Navy on the other hand questioned the use of a weapon that even its designers admitted was slow and could be shot down.

    Ultimately the pro-torpedo lobby won enough support to at least try the Mitgapp-class as a ‘siege weapon’ against enemy stations (in contrast to the Damghalla-class which intercepted hostile starships.) Half a dozen were built between 2274 and 2275.

    The corvettes might have had the numbers but to the Free Traders public the face of the war were the destroyers. These powerful yet sleek craft had been in use for some decades at this point but they still retained a certain glamour denied the corvettes. In theory, if less often in practice, a destroyer was far more of an independent ship than a corvette, able to sustain itself in deep space for longer.

    Destroyer crews were famous for their ambition and spit and polish attitude. Like all cliches this wasn't entirely fair - they were still sailors and marines who went bar hopping while in stardock, gambled and visited clubs were consenting adults engaged in often expensive pleasures. Still, this was where the professional careerists in the Navy made made their trade and dreamed of becoming captain of their own vessel.

    The key Yldar destroyer and by far the best known among the public was the four hundred metre long Daskall-class. Like the Damghalla-class corvettes these were ‘generalist’ warships. The bow was built to ‘gunship’ designs with a medium sized railgun as the main turret, supported by smaller railgun and plasma disruptor batteries. The stern was based on the ‘interceptor’ idea and had smaller railgun turrets. The idea was that the destroyer could easily outgun any corvette foolish enough to approach within range while also being able to fire at range herself with her main battery.

    Functionally the five Daskall-class destroyers were used as the main line of battle in clashes with the enemy, which probably accounts for the severe losses even these rugged designs faced, and injuries among their eight hundred men crews accounted for many of the casualties of the war.

    The same voices in the Navy that had suggested moves towards more specialised corvettes were not shy about speaking up about destroyers. The main weapon of the Daskall-class (of the fleet generally) were potent railguns but, as deadly as they were against shields there were always concerns about such guns performed against armour. A theoretical ‘all disruptor’ destroyer never materialised after it was determined that even allowing for disruptor utility against both armour and shields such a ship would grossly underpowered. Much more promising – but ultimately not built at least during the war – was the idea of simply swapping the railguns aboard the Daskall-class for UV-lasers. These ‘variants’ would accompany their standard sisters and used their lasers against enemy armour as the other destroyers stripped away shields.



    Siege Destroyers.jpg


    The three 'siege destroyers' at Rimdur in 2279: YSS Campranar the Pernicious, YSS Yhlat the Saviour & their 'half sister' YSS Nehdaban the Holy.

    In fact the three new destroyers built during the war would only broadly resemble the Daskall-class. After the Battle of Sanach it was recognised that the Yldar fleet was ill-prepared against missiles and also that stations were best taken on at range. The solution were the so-called ‘siege destroyers’: the two ships of the Joddam-class and their ‘half-sister’, the singleton of the Yllmassa-class.

    The two Joddam-class destroyers were YSS Campranar the Pernicious and YSS Yhlat the Saviour, both named after philosopher kings of the Early Transitory Period of Oros history and a sign of the growth of the spiritualist faction in the Free Traders. Abandoning the otherwise ubiquitous railguns in favour of flak batteries on their sterns, the sisters main weapon was derived from the cloud lighting of the void cloud creatures. Weaponised void cloud technology was an oddball, fringe pursuit and quite a few Navy traditionalists were alarmed than such a weapon was being tested at all. The idea behind the lightning weapon was that it could sizzle through both shields and armour.

    The third ‘siege destroyer’ built came after initial tests with the lightning weapon proved mixed. Neither Joddam-class destroyer electrocuted their own crews during their test firing (considered an unlikely possibility but still) but the damage inflicted on the dummy target proved wildly inconsistent. The
    Yllmassa-class had the similar hull layout as her two half-sisters (flak batteries in the stern and an artillery turret in the bow) but instead of the temperamental lightning cannon YSS Nehdaban the Holy had a tried and tested but enlarged railgun.

    Nehdaban the Holy held the sad honour of being the least loved ship in the fleet. To the experimentalists who had pushed for something different she was a lost cause before she slipped out of her shipyard. Even the traditionalists in the Navy who belong to the 'Cult of the Railgun' as some called them found flaws in the vessel. For starters she was sinfully ugly, a lumbering top heavy design that violated every aesthetic principle in Yldar ship building. Her oversized forward turret performed well in tests, but took up as much room inside the hull as it did outside. Those unlucky enough to serve aboard the ship called her 'the prison barge' for her infamously cramped and obstructed bow (and the legendarily terrible food served in her galley.)

    Even if they never quite lived up to their hopes all three 'siege destroyers' made it through the war intact and with relatively few casualties.



    Kobarian ships.png


    Front to rear: YSS Petrobon the Contender, YSS Limathar the Majestic and YSS Limpok the Baneful at Rimdur, 2297.


    The Kobarian ships were part of the YSN and their crews were Navy officers and men but they were always a strange subset of the fleet with advanced weapons and odd features inside and out. Some of their innovations, like plasma drives were being worked on already by Yldar scientists while other arcane systems like their advanced sensors and regenerative hulls remained the stuff of wistful dreams for the shipwrights of Oros. Of the seven re-purposed marauder warships six were roughly equivalent to Yldar made craft. The seventh, the 'cruiser' YSS Limpok the Baneful was like nothing else in civilised space.

    Smallest and most numerous of the Kobarian vessels were the Outrider-class raiders. Sharp and predatory looking and of similar dimensions to standard corvettes - the 'raider' designation was more a recognition of their origin than a difference in scale or purpose - the four Outrider-class ships were armed with the impressive ripper autocannons. Save in shielding they were equal or superior in every respect to the Damghalla- and Mitgapp-class ships and were by some measure the fastest warships in normal space (their hyperdrives were no more advanced than anyone else.)

    The fine features of the Outrider-class raiders did not make them immortal and two of the four were lost during the war at Second Holdebaana.

    If any of the Kobarian ships won the actual affection of their new crews it was the 'twins', the Lancer-class frigates YSS Limathar the Majestic and YSS Nimpac the Observer. Slightly longer and noticeably broader than the Daskall-class destroyers the frigates were armed with similar weapons to the Yldar standard, a large railgun battery and two smaller UV-laser turrets. It was the other refinements common to the Kobarian machines that made them impressive craft and unlike the raiders they were large enough to be comfortably renovated inside for multi-species crews.

    The
    Lancer-class frigates could not really be called conventionally 'pretty', but their strong lines and cobalt blue colouring at least made them striking starships in a good way. The same could not be said for Limpok the Baneful. The huge, eight hundred metre ship resembled no other craft in the Free Trader ranks. She was a Void Champion-class cruiser and carried a mix of weaponry: autocannon, railguns and UV-lasers. Her two thousand strong crew had required extensive training to get used to this flying oddity that in some ways had been less built than found. Much of the hull of the ship consisted of two captive asteroids that had been hollowed out by the Kobarians and fitted with a linking superstructure, bridge, weapons and engines. Limpok the Baneful was an ugly ship but unlike Nehdaban the Holy there was an excotism to her ugliness that offset it. Her sheer toughness and firepower also inspired awe in many who worked on her.

    None of the three larger Kobarian ships were lost during the war and the regenerative hull plating they employed meant they shrugged off much damage before they even returned to port.



    Rothak ships.jpg


    Rothak ships in action at Second Holdebaana: three Trum'Reeken-class corvettes and the Alam'Tannek-class destroyer RFTS Pob'Greefad.


    Finally a brief note should be made of the warships employed by the other two powers in the war: those of the Rothak Fire Tribes and those of the Centralized Kammarian Systems.

    The Rothakans had been prepared for war for at least as long as their neighbours and if they lacked the benefits of a found fleet they had devoted much more of their budget to their Navy than their neighbours. The two main Rothak ships of the war were the Alam'Tannek-class destroyer and the Trum'Reeken-class corvette, both similar in size and role to their Yldar counterparts.

    The Rothak warships had superior armour to their opponents, but similar shielding and hyperdrives and inferior sublight drives and combat computers. In contrast to the Yldars the Rothakans favoured the UV-laser over the railgun and the powerful purple beams were used to devastating effect against Yldar fleets. Perhaps the most impressive quality of the Fire Tribes fleet was their ability to coordinate large ship formations. Even Admiral Kesh na-Solpan commented admiringly on the Rothak discipline and organisation.

    By the end of the war there was a certain grudging respect between the Yldar Star Navy and the Rothak Hallowed Starfleet. National loyalty and religion divided the two sides but they both took prisoners and respected truces - and admired the cunning and resilience of their opponents. This was not a war of extermination and there were certain rules. Perhaps had the war gone longer or had the two sides come to close quarters over a planetary or habitat invasion things would have been different. As it was the two starfaring powers had fought each other and there was now a certain understanding.



    Kammarian ships.jpg


    Kammarian ships on manoeuvres at Obsholla in 2279. Visible are two Zulxari-class destroyers (KSS Dargaxor & KSS Descorax) and their Darbix-class corvette escorts.


    The Kammarian Imperial Fleet did not enjoy a high reputation before, during or after the war. In some ways this is unfair. The Kammarian sailors and marines that saw battle were as brave as anyone. It was simply that while the great battlefleets of the Yldars and the Rothakans were engaged in epic ship-to-ship clashes the Kammarians were left to take over two minor outposts next to their own borders - and were amply rewarded for their efforts.

    Much of the mockery from the Free Traders crews was directed less at the Kammarian crews and more at the ships they flew. Save for armour, where like the Rothakans they were ahead of the Yldars, the Imperial Fleet was positively antiquated, still using second generation 'blue' lasers and coilguns. Had they actually engaged with the main enemy battlegroup the outcome would have been ugly.

    Like the Yldars and the Rothakans the Kammarian fleet was standardised around corvettes and destroyers, respectively the Darbix-class and the Zulxari-class. All too aware that their vessels lagged behind their neighbours the Kammarians had built proportionately more vessels (especially destroyers) and at the end of the war they had twenty destroyers and forty nine corvettes, making them the largest fleet in terms of pure numbers.

    One curiosity of the war was the similarity of the Rothak and Kammarian designs, apparently the result of convergent evolution. Despite their many physiological and cultural differences in some ways both reptilian species were closer to each other than either was to the humanoid Yldars, who despite their own reptilian appearance had many more internal 'mammal-like' traits.

    As the dust settled all three powers licked their wounds, reviewed the performance of their ships and crews and began to put hard earned lessons into practice for the next generation of warships...
     
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    Part Eleven: The Post-War Boom (2280 to 2296)
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    Frontier space 2285.jpg


    Yldar exploration of frontier space, c. 2285.


    Part Eleven: The Post-War Boom (2280 to 2296)

    The spaceport bar at Katz outpost was typical of the kind littered throughout the backwaters of known space heavy with scent of half a dozen different species and alcohol from twice that many civilisations. Hexagonal shaped, with the lavender lighting the Yldars preferred and a score of tables and private booths were the usual mix of honest asteroid miners looking to get honestly drunk, independent merchants looking for a bargain and dubious characters looking to make deals was best not to look too closely at. Katz was also home to a xenoarchaelogical site so an unusual number of scientists could be found among the locals, drinking watered Kammarian kryl at thrice the market price found in civilised space.

    One of the booths was currently home to a private freighter captain who had just made his fortune in some unclaimed system back west. He was going to lose some of that fortune tonight if Othana had anything to say about it. The silver scaled Yldar spaceport harlot (and thief) in the scandalously revealing attire had snuggled up to her mark early in the evening over a glass or six of platinum wine and watched him get more and more moronically drunk. However a strange thing had happened over the past hour; the captain had begun slurring details about 'mystery ships' way out west and despite her dagger sharp cynicism Othana found her thoughts straying from strictly business back to the stories.He seemed
    so convinced he'd seen something.

    'Do you think they could be Originators?' she'd asked, unable to stop herself saying it aloud.

    The reply was an incredulous drunken braying of laughter that made Othana extra resolved to fleece this fool. Even so she made her mind to keep her attention to stories coming out of the unclaimed territories. If there was something out there and it was hostile or even if it wasn't then she might have to consider a new spot to work. There might be a lot of attention here soon...


    ~~~~~~

    The 2280s saw a post-war boom for the Yldar Free Traders. The economy surged, rapid strides were made in technology and space exploration enjoyed one last golden age. The period would draw to a close in the outbreak of another war but for many years the Free Traders enjoyed peace, prosperity, and a spirit of confidence.

    During the war scientists had been working on third generation hyperdrives and sublight plasma drives. The application of these technologies made the Yldar military and civilian ships some of the fastest in the galaxy. With the opening up of borders with the Rothak Fire Tribes many enterprising merchants took advantage of their improved ships to trade with the galactic east. The main port of call for these entrepreneurial adventurers was the Zelvan Interplanetary Empire. The Zelvans were the perpetual rivals of the Rothakans and the gnome-like humanoids were happy to deal with the Golden Monetary Compact. By 2286 these links initially created by individual merchants had extended to a commercial and research pact between the Free Traders and the Empire and the eventual extension of associate member status in the Compact to the Zelvans.

    While some were exploring the markets of the east the last two decades of the century saw one final flurry of true voyages into the unknown along the fringes of Yldar space [1]. By 2280 there remained two sectors of unexplored space open to the Yldars. The Northern Frontier lay to the north and west of the Kobarian Freeholds while the Western Rim lay between the Kobarians and the Kammarian Centralized Systems. A few explorers hoped to uncover living alien civilisations or signs of the Originators in these borderlands but as the years passed and the unknown receded that vision was replaced by the more realistic one of archaeological finds and non-sapient but intriguing plants and animals.

    Much of this activity was in the hands of private citizens, though the line between a successful merchant or industrialist and a political leader was a fine one in the Yldar Free Traders and to a great extent a member of the Board was simply a merchant prince or princess who had decided to dabble in politics among their other pursuits. Chairman Rhethan, a shipping magnate was very typical of the tycoon turned politician, though his personal level of scientific knowledge was uncommonly high (most merchant princes did not themselves design their own ships.) Where the government did step in was in truly large scale projects and matters of national defence.

    Population growth had been building in Yldar space for decades by this point and with the Rothakans no longer an (immediate) threat the Chairman turned his attention to building a new habitat. Earlier successes with Madragons's Stronghold and Irjamma's Treasure had proved encouraging and the ambitious leader could dream of permanently attaching his legacy to a new moon sized station. The choice of location was even more ambitious than the decision to build; the Chiminol system was in the 'Slice', directly bordering the Rothak frontier. Rhethan was determined to send a message to the Fire Tribes that not an inch of Yldar space would be yielded [2].

    Curiously the one thing Rhethan didn't do was leap into a new shipbuilding program. Those vessels damaged in the war were fully repaired and those, like the controversial 'siege destroyers' that had been rushed into combat almost directly out of dock were standardised but no new hulls were constructed. Partly this was because other projects drew so much men and material: building began on the habitat in the Chiminol system only in 2283 as the alloys and specialised engineers were simply not available. Two other reasons were at least as important in the delay. Firstly the early 2280s were a time of rapid technological flux and there was no appetite to build a destroyer that was obsolete before her shakedown cruise. Secondly the Yldar Free Traders was due to assume leadership of the Golden Monetary Compact in 2286 - and with it the Federal Fleet.



    Federal Fleet.jpg


    The Federal Fleet in orbit around Kenn Hijal, 2288.


    The official military force of the GMC the Federal Fleet was by it's very nature a hybrid force. A slight majority of the officers and crew were of Kammarian origin, reflecting the greater population of the Centralized Systems but more than a third were Yldar with Glost-Weherni and a few smaller groups of emigres making up the balance. Pay was excellent and it was a constant source of friction in both the Yldar Star Navy and the Kammarian Imperial Fleet that many a promising cadet was lured over to the Federal Fleet by the glow of credits. The Federals were a smaller organisation than either of the 'national' navies and they had not played any part in the recent war [3]. As a service their primary role was patrolling the spaceways and protecting shipping and they had taken over many of the duties of the old Stellar Patrol.

    Federal ships were built in the shipyards of whichever power held the presidency of the Golden Monetary Compact at the time, meaning all the ships built between 2266 (when the fleet was authorised) and 2286
    looked Kammarian, at least on the outside. Inside it was another story, with integrated components and systems giving the vessels their own feel. That combination of Kammarian and Yldar extended to the culture of the crews. Federal warships observed different holidays, invented their own card games and slang and if fusion Kammarian-Yldar 'cooking' was an acquired taste it had a devoted following. The music and dance of the felinoid Aramathi of the Artisan Troupe, popular throughout Yldar and Kammarian space found some of their best customers of all in performing for the free spending Federal crews - which did little to increase the affection of those in the 'national' navies that many of the most sought after artistes were booked up with Federal credits.

    In Ninthmonth 2286 the presidency of the Golden Monetary Compact passed back to the Yldars and Rhethan ordered the Federal Fleet to the newly built Yldar shipyards at Kenn Hijal to be inspected and if necessary refit. The fleet that eventually assembled included eleven
    Centor-class destroyers and eleven Ethill-class corvettes. This unusual concentration on destroyers had always been a feature of Kammarian shipbuilding which prized power to make up for technological shortcomings. Not the Federal ships suffered from any; they had been built with the combined tech and expertise of the two powers and reflected that. Rhethan was suitably impressed.


    Early Cruisers.jpg


    The Shoshona-class cruisers YSS Goron the Shining (top, closer to the camera) & YSS Petessa the Symbol in 2292. These two were the first purpose-built Yldar cruisers.


    The great advance in shipbuilding that had taken place during the decade was the development of the cruiser. The Yldars already had experience of cruiser-scale warships thanks to unglamorus and unequaled YSS Limpok the Baneful but home built warships of that size and power had proven notoriously difficult to get right. It had not been until 2284 that ship designers working on a next-generation colony ship experimental hull had realised the ideas they had investigated could be applied to cruiser construction. Even then it would not be until 2287 and the creation of an antimatter reactor that the power requirements seemed feasible.

    Rhethan was a firm advocate of cruisers from the beginning but others, even in the Navy were less convinced. Cruisers were expensive ships to build and run and they had the obvious problem that they only be in one place while a brace of destroyers could split up. The destroyers had shown they could support a wide variety of weaponry and tactics. There was also the fact that many destroyer captains and even first officers who had become names during the war were not thrilled about 'their' ships being outshone. One of the most eloquent voices in this regard was Captain Ketrilla of the YSS Hemphanir the Savage who had won much praise for her courage and quick thinking during the war. As she noted in a report to the Chairman: 'A pair of mated rajdons make for a better hunt than a lane otanyx.' It was unanswerable logic, at least if one knew the species in question.

    One event overshadowed every argument and won the day for the cruiser advocates. In 2284, for the third time, the Kobarians demanded tribute and the Yldars swallowed their pride and paid the marauders off. The portion of minerals paid as tribute was trivial next to the vast stores the Free Traders had but it was a great loss of face for the merchant princes. If they were to refuse tribute in future they needed ships that could stand up to the barbarians, and that meant cruisers.



    Jesslur.jpg


    Jesslur is elected Chairman of the Yldar free Traders, 2288.


    In Thirdmonth 2288 Chairman Rhethan suddenly died of natural causes. The Chairman was seventy seven, certainly on the older side for a Yldar male but not so ancient abrupt death might be expected. The Board scrambled an emergency election to replace the late leader. Remarkably one of the candidates who put her name forward was the former Chairwoman Cognati. The indefatigable ex-leader had resumed her career as a scientist, playing a part in numerous breakthroughs. Now at the age of eighty she was prepared for another go. The merchant princes decided that a leader likely to die of sheer old age less than half way through her term decided to look elsewhere and instead elected the young male Jesslur to the office.

    Jesslur was thirty seven years old and being hatched on Madragon's Stronghold was the first Chairperson to hail from outside the Cevant system. He had made his name as an envoy to the Golden Monetary Pact, winning a good reputation with the Kammarians and the support of the powerful Xeno Rights Organization. Despite his youth Jesslur had cannily established deep connections with a variety of merchant princes, all of whom saw him as someone who could achieve things (for them.) In office the new Chairman continued with most of the policies instituted by his predecessor, even silencing one of Rhethan's critics by transferring and promoting the overeager Captain Ketrilla to flag rank and command of the Federal Fleet. Naturally delighted tendrils of gossip swirled about the relationship between the smooth dusky scaled politician and the glamorous silver scaled naval officer, both of whom were of similar age and represented a definite generational shift. But then there was always gossip.



    Ithill refugees.jpg


    Ithill refugees arrive in Yldar space, 2294.


    Jesslur's affinity for alien civilisations helped him maintain the growing relationship with the Zelvans, and smoothed over any cracks when Ithill refugees arrived in Yldar space in 2294 [4].

    The great difficulty that Jesslur and the Yldar Free Traders were about to face had not yet become apparent, though that soon changed. The Azax system in the Northern Frontier had a naturally occurring wormhole, discovered when the system was first charted in the early 2280s. At first the Yldars had paid little interest to this. Natural wormholes were rare but not unprecedented and the Free Traders lacked the technology to traverse them safely. It was only gradually that reports began to circulate of unfamiliar ships sighted in the Northern Frontier.

    At first there was excitement that these mystery ships were from a previously contacted alien civilisation in some hidden corner of fringe space, but with almost all such systems explored (if not claimed) such theories seemed unlikely. Yet still the nature of these vessels baffled the xenologists. It was only once a seasoned hand at Naval Intelligence took a closer look at the 'indecipherable' transmissions intercepted from the mystery ships that he realised that far from an unknown language the aliens were using a (rather simple) code for a known language: Glyrran.



    Glyrran territory in the Northern Frontier.jpg


    Glyrran territory in the Northern Frontier by 2296 (note the wormhole entrance at Azax.)


    The Glyrran Union was fully half a galaxy away from the Yldar Free Traders, so distant that it would take even the fastest vessels years to traverse the intervening void. However the Glyrrans had a wormhole entrance of their own in the Saiph system. They had been studying it for far longer than the Yldars had examined their own wormhole and developed a rudimentary method of stabilising it. Sending ships through they had arrived in the Azax system and begun exploring - and claiming territory.

    Suddenly an entire sector of space the Yldars had assumed to be their's for the taking was being threatened by a hostile power thousands of light years distant. No Free Trader leader, even the xenophiliac Jesslur, could simply have stood back and allow the Glyrrans free reign over the Northern Frontier. By 2293 as the threat became clear the Glyrrans and the Yldars were in a race to claim territory. The all important Azax system with it's wormhole was claimed by the Yldars but not before a sufficient fleet Glyrran science and construction vessels had established a toehold in the western systems.

    The first sightings of the then unknown ships in the Northern Frontier had seen a surge in shipbuilding that only gained pace after it was realised that the the Glyraans were seriously moving into the region. Old fleets were reinforced and a brand new fleet was under construction at Kenn Hijal, centred around four new Shoshona-class cruisers: YSS Goron the Shining, YSS Petessa the Symbol, YSS Haghonon the Watchful and YSS Limathir the Majestic. The powerful new ships had been designed with the Kobarians in mind but by 2296 it was becoming clear they'd fight the Glyrrans first.

    The
    casus belli for the war was the Glyrran closure of the border in Firstmonth 2296. It was a move that meant only the most skilled diplomacy could have averted war and frankly neither side was looking for peace. The Glyrrans wanted to protect their holdings in the Northern frontier and seize the lifeline of the Azax system while the Yldars wished to push this existential threat out of their territory altogether.

    On the seventh day of Secondmonth 2296 the Yldar Free Traders declared war on the Glyrrans.



    war with the gyrrans.jpg


    The Yldar Free Traders declare war on the Gylrran Union, 2296.



    Footnotes:

    [1] The 'Slice', a triangular wedge of unclaimed frontier space stretching from the galactic rim to the Yldar-Rothak border was sometimes considered part of this 'fringe'. Though explored in previous decades it remained somewhat unsettled as the Yldars and the Rothakans pushed against each other to claim mineral rich systems. The 'Slice' was also home to a minor alien civilisation - the arthropoid Multyx, a vaguely slug like race of beings who ran the Curator Order, an apolitical enclave of knowledge brokers, historians and other scientists from their habitat enclave orbiting the black hole Rixikar's Maw.

    [2] This new habitat would eventually be termed 'Yltar's Bulwark' and be completed by the end of the decade.

    [3] As a force themselves that is. Several officers of the Federal Fleet had seen action in either the olive uniform of the YSN or the dark blue of the KIF before transferring over to the Federals and donning their khaki.

    [4] The Ithil were a primitive lithoid species from the tropical world of Samnivik III who had been scattered to the stars after their conquest by the Zelvans. Jesslur like most Yldars sympathised with the Ithils (and were prepared to offer some of them habitation) but were coolly pragmatic about condemning the Zelvans - a business partner and counterweight to the Rothakans.
     
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    Part Twelve: The Golden Monetary Compact-Cosmic Treaty Organisation War (2296 to 2301)
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    First Battle of Azax.jpg


    The openinging shots of the First Battle of Azax, 2298.


    Part Twelve: The Golden Monetary Compact-Cosmic Treaty Organisation War (2296 to 2301)

    The bridge of the KSS Xiad was a rectangle built on two levels with a crew pit and an officer's command deck. It was not so terribly different from a Yldar destroyer but that only served to highlight the myriad of small changes: Yldar ships tended towards ovals and gently sloping curves on the layout of their rooms and corridors, not straight lines as on a Kammarian warship. As a Federal Fleet vessel the Xiad drew from both Yldar and Kammiarian traditions which could leave newcomers confused. Admiral Ketrilla felt a flicker of amusement as she recognised just such confusion on the face of a young, freshscaled Communications Officer as he assumed his station for the first time. She could relate.


    It had taken her days to master the lighting and temperature controls in her private quarters and she'd taken one look at the 'multi-species' shower booth, privately admitted defeat and had it replaced with one from Oros.

    The admiral shook the thought away and resumed her tour of the bridge. Technically speaking Azax was the front line and though they could never know when the enemy would strike they at least knew it would be here.

    '
    Admiral we are reading a surge in sector forty. Probable enemy contacts in five minutes.'

    Five minutes warning that the wormhole was opening was good, better than they had had at the start of this war, but it still cut things too fine for Ketrilla's liking. One day they'd have to find out how the Originator-cursed things worked. But not today.

    'Activate weapons and hail the fleet. Let's greet our guests gentlemen.'

    ~~~~~



    Kammarian Imperial Fleet.jpg


    Ships of the Kammarian 'Swift Star Hunters' battlegroup, on patrol near Poeteur, 2296. These were the first Compact warships to face the enemy.

    The war that broke out in 2296, commonly if inaccurately referred to as the Glyrran-Yldar War [1], was the strangest in recent history. The reasons for war were perfectly understandable, but the fact that the two parties were separated by such vast distances made it unique. For the Glyrrans, control of the wormhole was vital and their one advantage over their opponents was that they could strike at Yldar space without risking their own territory in turn. Much to the frustration of Yldar scientists' knowledge of how to stabilise and navigate a wormhole remained elusive.

    The Golden Monetary Compact began with the advantage that they did control the 'exit' of the wormhole at the start of the war. The Azax system was firmly in Yldar hands and the first goal of the war effort was in keeping this a permanent state of affairs. With the key system secure the rest of the fleet could occupy the sparsely defended Glyrran territory in the Northern Frontier. To achieve this Jesslur could call upon four fleets. Suthnar's Armada and Kesimor's Armada (better known as the 'Salvaged Fleet') remained much as they had been in the previous war, though the ships or at least the Yldar built ones had been modernised and standardised (as ever the Kobarian vessels marched to the beat of a different drum, their alien technology impossible to retrofit without breaking the ships down.) The two fleets retained their old commanders with Admiral Mak B'Scul leading Suthnar's Armada and Kesh na-Solpan leading the Salvaged Fleet.

    In 2274 Kesh na-Solpan had been a quasi-trusted outsider. Many admired his leadership skills and undoubted brilliance but there had been a definite tension about the barbarian pirate king turned loyal admiral. The war against the Rothakans had changed all that, left Kesh na-Solpan wealthy and famous and left him the senior admiral above even his fellow veteran Mak B'Scul. By common consent the Kobarian had assumed overall command of the Yldar military and would be directing the war effort on top of his own command of the the Salvaged Fleet. The ex-marauder knew his old ships the best, though this did not blind him to the other forces at his disposal: the brand new ships of Perek's Armada and the vessels of the Federal Fleet, still bearing their old Kammarian battlegroup name the 'Devouring Star Hunters'. In grand total and counting the Federal ships the Yldar Free Traders began the war with five cruisers (including YSS Limpok the Baneful ), two frigates twenty seven destroyers, two raiders and fifty five corvettes. To this could be added various vessels the Kammarian Imperial Fleet could and would muster.

    The Federal ships were under the command of the newly promoted Admiral Ketrilla and more Yldars had entered the service in the years up to 2296, even if Kammarians still made up a narrow plurality of all ranks. Perek's Armada, home of the potent new
    Shoshana-class cruisers was led by a male Yldar officer named Ralpakin, formally the captain of the destroyer YSS Khabbash the Furious. The ebony scaled, purple eyed Ralpakin was a renowned trickster which was not just a way of saying he played the dirtiest card games in known space, he was also a cunning and resourceful naval tactician. In some ways he made an odd choice to lead a fleet built around cruisers but Kesh na-Solpan persuaded Chairman Jesslur that a wily officer was always better on the attack than one who had memorised the naval textbook by rote.

    As for the ships themselves the corvettes and destroyers had not changed much since the days of the last war. Many individuals ships had actually served in the last war and been modernised in the interim. The Daskall-class destroyers and Damghalla-class corvettes had better armour, shielding, engines and reactors they had before but the weapons had yet to be changed with the railgun still proving the mainstay of the fleet. In fact even the brand new Shoshona-class cruisers relied on the railgun, backed up by plasma thrower batteries. A superior class of laser weaponry had been discovered (the brilliant green hued 'X-Ray lasers') but shortages in rare crystals until after the war left the Yldars relying on their reliable older railguns.

    Predictably there was a swirl of interest, both good and bad in how the cruisers performed. Each vessel was eight hundred meters long, twice that of a destroyer and nearly three times that of a corvette and carried a crew of over two thousand. They were in the admittedly biased opinion of merchant princes who hoarded every half-credit 'ruinously' expensive. Even as the war progressed and before any true conclusion could be reached Jesslur had pushed through plans for another cruiser to be built at Kenn Hijal, though at least this one was bound for the Federal Fleet and would thus come out of the shared budget.



    Battle of Whaskar.jpg


    Suthnar's Armada raid the Glyrran outpost at Whaskar, 2297.

    The early months of the war saw raids against isolated Glyrran outposts. The only significant casualties taken in these operations were at Poeuter where the enemy had an armoured starhold. Here during Twelfthmonth 2296 the Kammarian Imperial Fleet captured the Glyrran station at the cost of over a thousand casualties, more than the KIF had suffered during the entire previous war. For the Imperials, universally regarded as backwards and sometimes as cowards it was a cleansing of old ghosts and the 'death ride at Poeuter' won them great praise from their counterparts in the Yldar Star Navy. Now both navies had their scars of honour.

    Poeuter aside the other Gylrran systems in the Northern Frontier fell with minimal fuss and by early 2298 the war had moved into a different phase. The Golden Monetary Compact had to recall many of their ships for repair, as even with no full losses the sheer wear and tear of a year and half of war had taken its toll. It was in Sixthmonth 2298 that the enemy made their first serious counterstrike. The great fear of the Golden Monetary Compact was that the Glyrrans would strike with the aid of their partners, the Autocracy of Makaria and the Sovereignty of Yaanus. Fortunately that overwhelming combined offensive never materialised but what did was bad enough. Eight Gylrran destroyers and forty Glyrran corvettes emerged abruptly from the Azax wormhole and opened fire.

    The First Battle of Azax was a sprawling, chaotic firefight waged over four days and involving many different fleets. The first to feel the wrath of the Glyrrans was the Swift Star Hunters battlegroup of Kammarian Imperial Fleet. These ships under Admiral Vaxoma had been passing east en-route to repairs when they found themselves in a running battle for their lives. Once again the once mocked Kammarian sailors proved themselves as their elderly and outnumbered destroyers and corvettes held the line until aid could come. They'd pay the price for such heroism with the destruction of the destroyer KSS Xurinzaga and four Imperial corvettes.

    Fortunately both the Federal Fleet and Perek's Armada were within range of the emergency holos and both forces came to Vaxoma's call. The space around the wormhole became a maze of debris as destroyed or damaged hulls drifted into the path of new arrivals and weapons fire systems tried to make sense of scores of potential targets. When it was all over and the enemy fled back through the wormhole where the Yldars and Kammarians could not follow they left the wrecks of eleven corvettes. The Golden Monetary Compact had suffered thousands of casualties and many ships were badly damaged but beyond those lost at the start of the battle when Vaxoma fought alone, all the Compact ships would live to fight another day.



    glyrran cruisers.jpg


    The Glyrran D'Penek-class cruisers, GUN D'Moro and GUN Y'Kanas in the Azax system, 2301.

    The First Battle of Azax gave the advantage to the Compact, but in itself it didn't decide the war. In Thirdmonth 2301 the Glyrrans sent two D'Penek-class cruisers, GUN D'Moro and GUN Y'Kanas through the wormhole, most likely on a 'hit and fade' raid to test Yldar defences before retreating. The D'Penek-class as even the Yldars grudgingly admitted were impressive ships. Of similar size to the Shoshona-class they had an arguably superior armament in a mix of X-Ray lasers and disruptors and comparable shielding and armour (though they had inferior computers and engines.)

    Fine ships or not the Glyrrans had taken a gamble by sending them out on their own. The Federal Fleet under Admiral Ketrilla was on guard at Azax and they had been reinforced the now completed Federal cruiser YSS Takjam the Memorable. The results were predictably gruesome with Y'Kansas exploding under concentrated fire from the Takjam and the destroyers KSS Xiad and KSS Zidinix. The ship's antimatter reactor went critical and though an attempt was made to abandon ship less than a hundred of the Y'Kanas's two thousand crew made it clear to the escape pods to be picked up as prisoners. Her sister ship, a near crippled wreck with two of decks breached and her guns out of action made a desperate jump to lightspeed and a long journey home.

    Whether out of desperation or blind optimism the Glyrrans would make one last try. Four months after the Second Battle of Azax the wormhole was opened a final time and seven destroyers and seventeen corvettes poured out, running straight into the scopes of Perek's Armada. With four cruisers, eight destroyers and ten corvettes Admiral Ralpakin enjoyed a crushing margin of superiority and the result was a slaughter. Four Glyrran destroyers and eleven corvettes were destroyed or scuttled before the ragged survivors retreated home. Yldar casualties were under two hundred and no ship had been lost or even seriously damaged. Ralpakin and everyone under his command knew that the war was over.



    Third Battle of Azax.jpg



    The cruisers, destroyers and corvettes of Perek's Armada cruise among wrecked Gylrran ships after the Third Battle of Azax, 2301.


    The three battles at Azax saw a shift in the way the Free Traders saw the enemy. The first battle, early in the war had been a sharp and closely contested affair. With a little luck on their side the Glyrrans might have won the battle; as it was only the sheer stubbornness of the Kammarians carried the day for the Compact, allowing reinforcements to flow in. First Azax had presented an enemy both cunning and powerful and within weeks work was already began on a series of dramatic holo-thrillers capturing the heroism and sacrifice of the Compact's males and females in uniform. The second battle was a different affair. To Yldar civilians it was a thrilling raid by the enemy, thwarted by the skill and hard work of the federal Fleet. To Naval officers and political leaders it was an inexcusably incompetent risk for the Gylrrans to take and completely erased whatever military mystique the otter-like mammalians had held. Everyone agreed that Third Azax was decisive. By the end the Glyrrans had been thoroughly defanged.

    Alongside shifting views on the enemy the war also changed minds about the Kammarians. Many in the Free Traders had not forgotten or forgiven the previous war where it had seemed like the Yldars had bled so the Centralized Kammarian Systems could reap the reward. Now that sentiment had been turned on its head; the Yldar people were perhaps not known for their warmth but there was a sincere swell of gratitude towards their fellow members of the Golden Monetary Pact. Unanimously the merchant princes of the Board voted their thanks to the Kammarian survivors of the war and a new military decoration - the platinum star - was created specifically for them [2].

    On the seventeenth day of Seventhmonth 2301 the Glyranns officially requested a peace deal via an unarmed and unmanned messenger drone sent through the wormhole. Jesslur agreed and soon after a delegation of the otterlike mammalians arrived in the Azax system to negotiate. As expected the Gylrrans (and by extension the other parties of the Cosmic Treaty Organisation) agreed to cede all claims in the Northern Frontier to the Yldar Free Traders. In return both sides lifted existing restrictions to merchant traffic, a deal which in fact favoured the Glyrrans as the Yldar were still unable to stabilise a wormhole on their own.

    Though it involved far more ships and men than the Rothak war the Yldars had suffered fewer casualties than in the previous clash. Except among the most pacifist elements of the population it had proven a popular war; the Glyrrans, though hardly as well known as the Kobarians or the Rothakans were understood to be an unpleasant and imperialist culture. The existence of an enclave pushing right against the frontiers of Yldar space had been an existential threat.



    Post War border 2301.jpg


    The new Northern Frontier Border, 2301.


    Footnotes:

    [1] Technically speaking the war was between the Golden Monetary Compact (the Yldar Free Traders and the Centralized Kammarian Systems) and the Cosmic Treaty Organisation (the Glyrran Union, the Autocracy of Makaria and the Sovereignty of Yaanus.) In practice neither the Makaru nor the Yaanari directly participated in the fighting.

    [2] The Yldar Star Navy had an existing award system (sapphire star > ruby star > diamond star) as did the Kammarian Imperial Fleet (silver order > gold order > platinum order). The platinum star was a deliberate fusion of Yldar/Kammarian elements.
     
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    Part Thirteen: A brief, yet eventful interlude (2301 to 2309)
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    The galaxy in 2306. The Golden Monetary Compact is bordered in purple, the Mutual Assistance Pact in red and the Cosmic Treaty Organization in gold.

    Part Thirteen: A brief, yet eventful interlude (2301 to 2309)

    Cargo Officer Yndana stood waiting in her overly starched olive naval uniform, her purple-blue tongue flickering in and out in a gesture of nervous excitement. Her's was not normally a glamorous job, nor even a well paid one by the standards of the Navy. Cargo officers of various ranks were often regarded by others as a home for the unambitious and unimaginative. Yndana railed against these stereotypes even as she privately agreed with them and despaired over winning her command.

    Occasionally though there were compensations. Turning to her junior colleague, a male she instructed: 'Signal the Domannans, we're ready whenever they are.'

    There was the now familiar hum and the stacks of black disks in front of them dematerialised in a cerulean swirl of light, leaving behind a cargo hold that was pristine and empty save for the two Yldars.

    Yndana allowed herself a moment of awe before she made her report. This was the third and final transfer of disks to the Domannan vessel and she still found the matter transference technology near-magical. However it worked it was centuries in advance to Yldar technology. Even so that technology paled in comparison to the beings that wielded it. There was no viewport in the cargo hold but she didn't need it to picture the huge and exotic vessel they'd made contact with, or the crew glimpsed only in holo transmissions.

    Originators!


    ~~~~


    The Riggan Commerce Exchange.jpg


    First contact with the Riggan Commerce Exchange, 2304.


    The peace of 2301 would last less than a decade but it still allowed the Golden Monetary Pact a moment to catch their breath. The war had delayed many other efforts and though the citizens of the Yldar Free Traders were proud of their victory there was a palpable sentiment to get back to business. Chairman Jesslur authorised a rapid expansion into the old, unsettled Northern Frontier to avoid any other powers trying to use the same tactics as the Glyrrans but he needn't have bothered; merchants, adventurers, and asteroid miners were heading there anyway. During this boom period contact was established with the Riggan Commerce Exchange, a minor but rich lithoid civilisation based around the artificial enclaves. The merchants of the Exchange would prove valuable economic partners - and sometimes economic rivals.

    As the war unwound one of the key faces of the conflict disappeared. Admiral Kesh na-Solpan, the Kobarian pirate chief who had become the most powerful and influential figure in civilised space died of old age in 2304. Reaching the age of ninety-three was a rare achievement for a Kobarian but he had always been a rare Kobarian, determined to survive and too proud and stubborn to let death claim him. By the time he passed away in his bed the old marauder had outlived all of the rivals who had driven him into exile. That might not have been as satisfying revenge as vaporising them or kicking them out an airlock but it had its charms.

    The passing of Kesh na-Solpan allowed the merchant princes of the Board to claw back a certain authority they'd lost. The Yldar Free Traders was hardly a military dictatorship in 2301 but the traditional lassiez faire form of government took a back seat under the pressures of war. This was the permanent state of tension between a Yldar culture that championed individualism and the entrepreneur and a state that relied on a big navy even in peace time to protect key trade routes and profitable but isolated systems. It was not an issue that ever quite solved, making every budget debate a to-the-death contest between the plutocrats on the Board.

    Revealingly the most popular political faction in the Free Traders had always been the Xeno Rights Organization, which had little to no stance on state economics and government regulation (and therefore defaulted to the traditional libertarianism) but was ferociously in favour of good relations with foreign powers and a generous approach to immigration - opening new markets and importing skilled workers. The Yldars had always had a fascination with xenos and this positive, if sometimes patronising, quality had led to the habitats becoming increasingly diverse. Though 'biological' Yldars still made up a majority of the population the habitats were home to billions of Glost-Weherni, Kammarians and other less numerous groups of aliens. In this melting pot many citizens of different species were culturally Yldar; famously many Kammarians in particular who found the stratified conditions on their homeworld stifling had emigrated to the Free Traders space and adopted the meritocratic and capitalist, if sometimes selfish and ruthless Yldar code.

    It was in this spirit of enlightened self interest that the Yldars were drawing closer to the Zelvan Interplanetary Empire. The Zelvans, a gnome like race hailing from the galactic north east were not in themselves obvious allies of the Yldars. Like the Kammarians they were a hereditary monarchy but the Zelvans embraced a decidedly materialistic and xenophobic view of the universe. They had evolved alongside the avian Pethulans, a less advanced species who occupied the lowest rungs in Zelvan society. Their region of space had also been home to primitive species like the lithoid Ithills of Samnivik III who had been scattered to the stars by the Zelvans after their planet had been conquered by the Empire. The best that could be said of Zelvan treatment of other races was that they didn't eat them or purge them, but the position of non-Zelvans in the Empire was uncomfortable even in good years.

    For many Yldars the Zelvan culture was rather... unpalatable, but there were excellent reasons to pursue a friendship with the squat aliens. Bluntly they were the best market in the north east and profit had always trumped prejudice for most merchant princes (and for the more idealistic plutocrats the prospect of peacefully changing the Zelvan culture from within was a factor.) Then there was the fact that the Zelvans were a counterweight to their common enemy, the Rothak Fire Tribes.

    The Rothakans had recovered from their defeat with frightening speed. With rich resources and drawing almost as many immigrants as the Yldars the Rothakans had once again become the power in the northern galaxy. They had poor relations with all of their neighbours but two of those neighbours - the Zelvans and the Uindar Star Hegemony were clearly weaker than the Fire Tribes and it seemed likely the reptilians would win any clash. The Uindars, deeply isolationist refused to ally with anyone despite being bordered by a hungry great power but the Zelvans were pragmatic enough to swallow their pride and look for friends.

    The possibility of improving relations with the Rothakans themselves occasionally cropped up in meetings of the Board. Truthfully the ideological divide between the Free Traders and the Fire Tribes was not so vast that diplomatic relations would have been impossible The Rothak religion and Yldar veneration of the Originators were very different, especially given the tendency of 'religious' Yldar to disdain the 'supernatural', but the difference was not a major bone of contention between them. During the war the Yldars had gained a reluctant respect for the Rothakans as warriors. Both sides could have made more of an effort. At the end of the day the rivalry between the Golden Monetary Compact and the Fire Tribes was too strong to bridge the gap. Therefore, the Zelvans and even before the war against the Glyrrans the Yldars had been wooing the distant empire.



    Zelvans join the Compact.jpg


    The Zelvan Interplanetary Empire joins the Golden Monetary Compact, 2306.


    While the Golden Monetary Compact was busy fighting the Glyrrans the rivalry between the Rothakans and the Zelvans had turned into outright war. The Zelvans, weaker to begin with and distracted by internal instability of the kind that had seen the expulsion of the Ithills proved inferior combatants to the zealous Rothakans and in a humiliating peace in 2305 had been forced to cede various mineral rich systems. The weakened Zelvans now begged the Yldars to let them enter the Golden Monetary Compact to prevent themselves dwindling away into irrelevance or imploding into civil war.

    At this time the Yldars held the rotating presidency of the Golden Monetary Compact and Chairman Jesslur had excellent relations with the Kammarian Empress. He argued persuasively to let the Zelvans into the Compact, warning that otherwise the Compact would have to face a Rothak hegemony in the east. To his fellow merchant princes he said much the same and floated the idea of establishing a proper merchant branch on Zelvikanna with a dedicated commercial forum. Enlightened self interest carried the day.

    One aspect of the increased ties with the Zelvans was that through them some final pieces of the galactic map fell into place. The Zelvans had knowledge of two highly advanced alien civilisations. To the south of the Centralized Kammarian Systems lay a wedge of unclaimed space bordering the Pelsimius Free Union to the west and the Glirr Hierarchy to the east. This poorly understood region had long been rumoured to contain an uncontacted species. Now it seemed the rumours were true. The Domanna Ancients, as they called themselves were not an easy people to talk too. An impossibly ancient race of cyclopean molluscoids the Domannans were almost wilfully enigmatic, forbidding travel through their star cluster. The distant (from the Yldar perspective) plantoid Lilarobius Watchers were equally mysterious, seemingly uninterested in involving themselves in the greater galaxy.

    The discovery of two millennia old starfaring species thrilled many Yldars. Sheer distance meant the Lilarobians were out of the picture but the Domannans were close enough to provoke hope - and then frustration. Many Yldars wondered if the molluscoids were linked with the fabled Originators, perhaps were the Originators. Unfortunately the aliens proved impervious to attempts to contact them, refusing to answer even the most mundane questions about their history. As disappointing as this was for many some Yldars saw it as more evidence that they had yet to advance to a level that would allow the ancient aliens to recognise them as equals.



    Domanna Ancients request.jpg


    The request from the Domanna Ancients, 2308.

    In Eleventhmonth 2308 the Domanna Ancients finally made official contact with the Yldars over the holo system. Though they proved no more interested in answering questions they did have an intriguing request that the Free Traders were only to happy to oblige them with.

    The resurrection of the long extinct Bothrians, a strange mammalian race that resembled some sort of wingless humanoid bat further strengthened the belief in some quarters that the Domannans were the Originators of old. However further investigation would have to wait until the Domannans deigned to show their interest in other peoples once again.

    That same year had seen a political upheaval in the Yldar Free Traders. Jesslur had been confident that he would win a second term as Chairman. Though he had lost some authority when the presidency of the Golden Monetary Compact had reverted to the Kammarians in 2306 he could count many successes. He had won the war against the Gylrrans, he had brought the Zelvans into the Compact and he had even secured a spot for the Free Traders on the newly formed Galactic Council [1].



    Formation of the Galactic Council.jpg


    The formation of the first Galactic Council in 2308.


    Unfortunately for Jesslur the ever fickle merchant princes, delighting in their recovery of status were disinclined to keep a strong leader around. He might become far too used to his position. In the election of 2308 they turned to Haghonona, a career diplomat who had made her name as one of the Yldar representatives to the Golden Monetary Compact. Haghonona was more militant than the merchant princes might have wished, and not young (she was sixty in 2308) but she had one advantage as far as the plutocrats were concerned: she was popular without actually possessing a power base of her own. Haghonona was liked among xenophiles for her service in the Compact that had involved much travel in Kammarian space and even an exotic furlong to the Zelvan Interplanetary Empire. However all this time away left her with scant opportunity to build her fortune or followers back home. She was the perfect Chairwoman - intelligent and capable but too weak to overrule the Board.

    Jesslur did not immediately disappear into retirement. He was three years younger than his replacement and as bitter as the sting of defeat was he was still personally popular - had the Yldar Free Traders been a democracy rather than an oligarchy he likely would have been swept back to power. As it was the former leader took time to adjust to his retirement before accepting a new position in Haghonona's old position as envoy to the Golden Monetary Compact.

    While all this was going on trouble had returned to the east where the Rothak Fire Tribes and the Irenic Kazam Compact had signed a mutual defence pact and the Rothakans had invaded the Uindar Star Hegemony. The imperial court on Zelvikanna was terrified at the thought of being partitioned between the far stronger powers to their west and south and saw only one hope: go to war while the bulk of the Rothak fleet was distracted. At the beginning of Sixthmonth 2309 the Zelvan Emperor alerted his counterparts in the west that he intended to go to war.

    The ageing Empress Zarax of Kamdor was willing to support the Zelvans to the marrow but the Free Traders were less united. The Yldars were not prepared for war, and certainly not a war that promised to be bloodier and longer than any they had yet experienced. A loud cohort of merchant princes were of a mind to refuse. Chairwoman Haghonona had to remind them that even if the Free Traders stayed aloof the Kammarians and Zelvans would fight - and perhaps lose. Where would the Golden Monetary Compact be then? It was an unaswerable argument.

    For the second time in less than four decades the Yldars found themselves at war with the Rothak Fire Tribes.



    War 2309.jpg


    The beginning of the Second Golden Monetary Compact-Rothak Fire Tribes War, Sixthmonth 2309.

    Footnotes:

    [1] The Galactic Council brought considerable prestige but much like the Galactic Community itself it held less power that might have been apparent at first glance. By the start of the Twenty Fourth Century most of the major galactic powers were part of one of three interstellar federations - the Golden Monetary Compact, the Mutual Assistance Pact and the Cosmic Treaty Organization. The omnipresence of the federations tended to meet most political horse trading and foreign affairs went on at that level rather than in the Galactic Community. Certainly the Yldars felt the Golden Monetary Compact was more important, dedicating two envoys to the federation as against one for the Galactic Community.
     
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    Part Fourteen: The Great Interstellar War - the Early Phase (2309 to 2320)
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    Battle of Zif.jpg


    The Battle of Zif, Sixmonth 2316.

    Part Fourteen: The Great Interstellar War - the Early Phase (2309 to 2320)

    Corporal Campramara gave a hiss of exertion as she climbed over the rocky shoreline. The form fitting combat suit and visor-helm she wore supposedly kept the Yldar soldier free from what her combat sensors told her was a sweltering day on Shi'Pator but even Yldar technology had its limits against the ever present tropical downpours that seemed to be a feature of this planet.

    Had she been alone she might even have considered removing the helmet - the atmosphere was breathable and she trusted her eyes and sense of smell far better than a cramped cage of metal and plastic. However she didn't want to distract the soldiers with her. Like everyone who joined the War Guilds they were
    'planetary conditioned' via extensive training but they were still green and many would still be coming to terms with things like clouds, insects and the sounds of wild animals. Camparamara rather liked the purring sound of the golden furred avian like creatures that flitted through the treetops but then she had been here for a month. In another month she'd probably even like her designated rations.

    'Right, intel says the enemy are over there,' she said to the younger soldier who had accompanied her, gesturing inland to the dense green haze of the treeline. 'Maybe four klicks with a nova cannon emplacement.'


    The soldier blinked his purple eyes at her. 'A nova cannon...? Since when do the Rothakans make those? Or did they loot one of ours?'

    'No, they bought it before the war, much better than the junk they manufacture,' Campramara explained. She smiled ruefully; 'sometimes we're too clever for our own good. Alright you vipers, let's move three!'

    ~~~


    Invasion of Rothak Space.jpg


    The central star sytems of the Rothak Fire Tribes, 2310.


    The Great Interstellar War (also known as the Northern War, the Eighteen Years War and the Second Golden Monetary Compact-Rothak Fire Tribes War) that erupted in 2309 was the largest galactic conflict yet known. On the one side stood the forces of the Golden Monetary Compact; the Yldar Free Traders, the Centralized Kammarian Systems and the Zelvan Interplanetary Empire. On the other side were the Rothak Fire Tribes and their allies the Irenic Kazam Compact. Many historians also assign the Rothak-Uindar War that ran during this period under the umbrella of the greater war. Fully a third of the galaxy would be drawn into the combat.

    The instigators of the war were the Zelvans, looking to regain territory and prestige lost to the Rothakans in their own private war earlier in the decade. The gnome-like Zelvans were not known for forgetting grudges and they immediately launched an invasion of Rothak space while the reptilians were preoccupied crushing the Uindars. Unfortunately this left the Zelvans southern flank exposed to the Kazams who had mobilised their own forces to come to the rescue of their allies.

    The Kazams were something of a mystery to the greater galaxy. Though clearly not an ancient, high technology race like the Domanna Ancients or the Lilarobius Watchers the mammalian Kazams had originated on a ringworld of unknown age and design, a feat of engineering beyond almost anything else known in the cosmos. The Kazams were isolationist and at least historically pacifist but they had tied their star to the Fire Tribes, seeing in them a strong force for stability in interstellar affairs and certainly as a preferable neighbour to the xenophobic Zelvans or Uindars. The Kazam state was untested military power but, but a wealthy, populous and scientifically one too. The Zelvans would have their hands full trying to hold off these forces while pursuing their aims in the west.

    For the Yldars and the Kammarians the early days of the war conjured memories of the last clash with the Rothakans. Raids on border systems led to the capture of fringe outposts like Salluria, easily taken by the Kammarian Imperial Fleet in late 2309. The enemy put up stronger resistance at Holdebaana, the same system that had seen so much conflict in the last war against the Rothakans. It was a Yldar victory but here the enemy bastion and two Pob'Onor-class cruisers cost the Yldars the destroyer YSS Nehdaban the Holy and the frigate YSS Nimpac the Obsever. The loss of the former was regrettable but the latter, one of the 'twins' that had been inherited from the Kobarians was irreplaceable. Instead her position in the battle line would be filled by a Daskall-class destroyer.

    Nimpac's destruction with the loss of over six hundred of her eight hundred strong crew left the Yldar Star Navy reconsidering the 'Salvaged Fleet'. In the 2270s the Kobarian warships had been the most advanced and powerful craft available to either side. More than three decades later and that gap had faded away. Some aspects of the reclaimed vessels remained arcane technology such as their superior sensors and regenerative hulls but in weaponry, armour and engines they had begun to slip behind Yldar designs. The Nimpac was scarcely more powerful than a new Daskall-class destroyer and even the venerable and battle scarred cruiser Limpok the Baneful, once the pride and terror of civilised space was showing her age. When Kesh na-Solpan had lived the wily old Kobarian warlord had been able to make disparate elements work. Without him Yldar commanders found themselves struggling to fit the ungainly frequently slow relics into their battle plans. In early 2315 after the Battle of Uril the decision was finally made to withdraw the Kobarian ships from front line service and return them to Oros as a reserve.

    By this point in the war the early strategy of pinpoint strikes against lonely outposts had given way to something far more ambitious. In late 2310 the Uindars had sued for peace in their private war against the Rothakans and besides the arrival of a stream of Uindar refugees in Yldar space this meant the Rothak fleet was finally freed up to turn east or west. If the Rothak warmachine turned east they and their Kazam colleagues would crush the Zelvans between them.The supreme commander of the Yldar Navy, the ageing Glost-Weherni Admiral Mak B'Scul threw caution to the wind and mounted a grand Yldar-Kammarian offensive into Rothak space.

    The Golden Monetary Pact had little history of such war. The Kammarians were inexperienced at large scale clashes having lived under a planetary monarchy for generations while the Yldars lacked a standing army altogether. The Yldar did possess an existing Star Marine Corps under the overall command of the Navy. These troopers had seen much action in the previous wars and would see even more in this one but by their very nature and training they were useless for ground warfare. In order to bring the war to the enemy worlds the Yldar turned an all but extinct tradition.


    Invasion of Shi'Pator.jpg


    The Yldar War Guilds in orbit around Shi'Pator, Sixthmonth 2311.


    The 'War Guilds' had historically been bands of professional mercenaries and adventurers who had served the various merchant princes. In their heyday during the late Twentieth and early to mid Twenty First centuries they had numbered in the millions, profitably employed in the wars between the Three Daughters. After the unification of all three habitats in the Oros into something approaching a national government the War Guilds had fallen into decline, with talent siphoned off to the Patrol and later the Star Marines. A few surviving companies had continued the legacy as glorified bodyguards but they had dwindled into significance by the time the Great Interstellar War erupted. It took the vision of a minor merchant prince to see ahead of time that the government would need hundreds of thousands if not millions of infantry. Indeed he saw it before the Chairwoman did, taking a gamble and hiring as many Yldars with planetary experience as possible. It made him a fortune and once the government began seeking contracts there was a flood of applicants to the previously moribund War Guilds.

    Small arms training and bravery were a common enough skillset among the staunchly independent traders but the War Guilds required a much rarer mindset. Most Yldars found the idea of setting foot on a non-artificial planet deeply traumatic. This was not a problem limited to 'biological' Yldars; many of the myriad races that made up the populations of the habitats had absorbed similar feelings. A Kammarian hatched on Pirgak's Freehold might look identical to his distant cousin on Kamdor but he probably thought quite differently. As rapidly as the War Guilds recruited they restricted their membership to those who could stand the mental and physical strain of combat and prolonged exposure to an alien atmosphere. Some were so young they'd never even moulted their first adult scales, others were seasoned bodyguards, bounty hunters and other veterans. All had the same unusual mentality.

    Many of the arms and personal body armour used by the Star Marines were also happily adopted by the War Guilds but planetary combat called for heavier gear - artillery, ground attack vehicles, atmospheric attack craft and the like. Even with records available from other cultures it was a hard learning curve as seen in the Battle for Shi'Pator waged over the course of three months in 2311. Shi'Pator was a lush tropical world in the Rimdur system, directly east of Holdebaana. Though ruled by the Rothakans the actual population was largely lithoid Glirrs who had emigrated into Rothak space [1]. Against the x-ray lasers and sonic weaponry of the Yldars (the latter impractical for space warfare but effective in atmosphere) the Rothak-led Glirr defence forces dug in deep among the sweltering jungle dominated low lands and cooler but equally green high lands of the planet's densely inhabited western continent.

    The Yldar War Guilds in operation on Shi'Pator were led by General Hannakon, a wily soldier and adventurer whose strategic genius was second only to his ability to sniff out profit. Despite heavy casualties among his soldiers he orchestrated the capture of the enemy world - and others in the years ahead. Hannakon, a lean and dark gray scaled male from Irjamma's Treasure made great use amphibious attack craft in the shallow seas of Shi'Pator, out manoeuvring the Glirr fortifications rather than committing to direct and bloody frutal assaults. Even so it was a bloody struggle before the enemy surrendered and the First War Guild was so badly mauled it would have to be restarted from scratch before new invasions took place.



    Rothak battlefleet.png


    A long range sensor scan of the Rothak battlefleet in the Atmir system, 2312.


    As important as the planetary battles were the war could only be won or lost in space. Originally the Yldars had kept to the same three fleet structure that had served them in previous wars but with the from 2315 on they relied on combined 'grand fleet' in a tactic borrowed from the enemy. The same reorganisation that saw the Kobarian ships removed from the front lines saw a great force of some seventy warships under the flag of Admiral Rhass. This young male officer, not to be confused with the long dead corrupt administrator of the same name, had been captain of the destroyer Pandack the Wise early in the war. Distinguishing himself for his command of logistics he had been promoted to Vice Admiral at the age of thirty five and with the retirement of Admiral Mak B'Scul due to sheer old age and the death of the septuagenarian Admiral Ralpakin at the beginning of 2316 Rhass found himself effectively running the war.

    Admiral Rhass was not the brash gambler that might have been expected from so rapid a rise. He was exceptionally intelligent but his mind was cautious and subtle. Even before his final promotion he had been involved in the conglomeration of the disparate fleets into one greatly enlarged 'Suthnar's Armada'. Most Naval officers - most Yldars - would have sooner pulled out their own tongue rather than deal with the logistical mess involved but Rhass excelled in this area. When he resumed the offensive in early 2316 he had taken every precaution to make sure his vessels were in trim condition, their weapons, engines and shielding enhanced by the strategic use of volatile motes. It was the best prepared and most powerful Yldar force yet assembled.

    At the Battle of Zif in Sixthmonth 2316 the Yldar and Rothak fleets had their first full scale clash. The Rothakans were past masters of the 'grand fleet' concept and they had also focused far more extensively on large warships than their opponents with eleven cruisers against four for the Yldar Star Navy [2]. The Yldars had the edge on corvettes and the forces were roughly balanced with destroyers. However if the numbers of vessels were close the technology wasn't. The Rothak Pob'Onor-class cruisers were rugged and impressive ships but their weaponry of choice were archaic coilguns and first generation disruptors. Rhass's ships with their railguns, x-ray lasers, plasma accelerator and ion disruptors shredded through their counterparts. The Yldars lost three destroyers and two corvettes while the retreating Rothakans left behind the mangled wreckage of three cruisers, seven destroyers and eight corvettes.

    The Yldars would see more victories through the following years as they pushed across Rothak space to reach the old Zelvan borders where their allies had been in increasingly desperate straights. Here they would find themselves facing Kazam warships, with results similar to those at Zif. None of these battles were bloodless for the victors and a steady stream of freshly built corvettes and destroyers were sent east to replace lost ships in 'Suthnar's Armada' but Rhass always inflicted far worse losses on the Rothakans and the Kazams. By 2320 the war was decisively going the way of the Golden Monetary Pact but the fighting was far from done. There was already talk in some circles that in order to force a peace the Yldars would have to invade the Rothak homeworld itself...



    Mind over Matter.jpg


    During the war several Yldars had reported unusual mental 'peculiarities'. A 2318 study suggested that though rare and poorly understood these peculiarities were very real.


    There was one final unexpected turn in this phase of the war, though it was not courtesy of the enemy, at least not directly. The war had mobilised the Yldar populace on a scale never before seen. Sailors, marines and soldiers had all begun to report certain... peculiarities. Particularly lucky guesses, certain dreams that almost seemed to be coming true and other even less understood phenomenon. A study in 2318 of military personal who reported these oddities concluded that in a small percentage of the population the unthinkable strain of the war had unlocked something not quite understood. The numbers were thought to be low and proper research would have to wait but somehow something had changed.


    Footnotes:

    [1] The Glirrs - charismatic, two meter tall, five eyed, six legged vaguely 'crustacean' looking beings made of silicon - were by this point the most numerous sapient life form in the galaxy. Their great advantage was that as lithoids they could very comfortably live almost anywhere and not just the arctic wastes of their native planet and as their government enjoyed close relations with most of the other galactic powers they migrated freely.

    [2] In 2316 plans were drawn up by the YSN for a scaled up warship, a 'battleship'. One of these mighty vessels would be completed before the end of the war but not soon enough to see service.
     
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    Part Fifteen: The Great Interstellar War - the Late Phase (2320 to 2327)
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    Yldar fleet at Rothak.jpg


    'Suthnar's Armada' blockading the planet Rothak, mid-2325.


    Part Fifteen: The Great Interstellar War - the Late Phase (2320 to 2327)

    At first glance from orbit in daylight Rothak was all one vast blur of white. Ice covered mountains, frozen seas, empty and pristine.

    Only closer in did you appreciate the multihued nature of the place. The glow of cities in the vast underground caverns the Rothakans called home. The pale pastels of the sky in day or at dusk or dawn. The ruby bauble that was the planet's lone moon. The dark waters visible beneath the thawed pack ice in the equtorial band. And the ice itself - not just white but green and blue and yellow in different places and different times. There was a beauty to this world, holo-operator Limathar thought. Then the Yldar blinked and took a hurried step back from the guard rail on the iceskimmer.

    A long reptilian snout broke through the thin layer of sea ice and nostrils flecked in the open air. Limathar caught sight of a long toothy maw and plate sized yellow eyes regarding him - and the Yldar iceskimmer with an emotionless, brainless curiosity and hunger. Then it was gone, the five tons of marine reptile plunging back into the frigid depths. Limatar allowed himself the opportunity to breath again - softly.

    Beautiful but dangerous, and not just from the Rothakans shooting at them. How could anyone live on a non-artificial planet and stay sane?

    ~~~~~


    Zelvan ethics shift.jpg


    Under the strain of the war the traditional stern state atheist of the Zelvans began to weaken as laws against religious organisations and practices were dropped.


    The Zelvans had not enjoyed a good war. Though they had achieved some success against the thinly defended Rothak systems on their western frontier, they themselves were almost overrun by the Kazams and only the efforts of the Yldar Navy restored the territorial integrity of the Interplanentary Empire. Perhaps this miraculous salvation from all but certain doom played a role in the popular shift on Zelvikanna. For centuries the Zelvan monarchy had discouraged all forms of 'superstition' as a distraction from service and duty to the imperial family and the state. In 2322 that attitude of stern materialism, long flaking away crumbled altogether as the Emperor announced new acts reversing all forms of discrimination against religion and other forms of overt spirituality.

    Naturally the Zelvan embrace of spirituality provoked a stir among the Yldar Free Traders with even the least-religious Yldars seeing it as a move away from traditional Zelvan arrogance and chauvinism. Such a wave of affection for the newest members of the Golden Monetary Compact could not have come at a better time as by 2322 the Yldars were growing exhausted by the war. As much as the fighting was going their way it came at a grim cost. Casualties on ground campaigns ran into the hundreds of thousands and twenty five Yldar warships were lost to battle in the first decade of the war more than in every other war combined since the invention of the hyperdrive [1].

    There had always been a streak of ruthlessness to the Yldars, a love of a cunning and confident strike against one's enemies whether in business or in life generally. Even in the Twenty Fourth Century merchant shipping carried weaponry just in case a rival merchant might try a little buccaneering. With the creation of the YSN that regard for the clever and capable star captain had transferred easily to the officers of corvettes and destroyers. The sheer grind of the fighting had worn away at this sentiment and increasingly the government was looking to end the war quickly. The Rothakans and the Kazams were on the retreat but they still possessed sizeable naval assets more than capable of disrupting Compact supply lines.

    The Navy, wary of the new found importance of the War Guilds insisted that victory could only come through space combat. The losses they had already taken meant that the great shipyards at Oros and Kenn Hijal were kept busy simply replacing ships. Nevertheless Admiral Mak B'Scul, now retired from the field to oversee logistics and design back authorised construction of a battleship more powerful than any known conventional design. It was not a choice that met with universal support in the Navy. The divide between those who wanted more small ships and those who backed fewer larger vessels remained sharp with each side drawing on the 'proof' they needed from the war. The destroyer partisans claimed their favoured ships had been in the thick of the fight while the cruiser advocates claimed that their big ships had been vital to keep off the enemy cruisers. That the destroyers had suffered so heavy a casualty rate was itself a weapon to be wielded in this clash - either it spoke of the vulnerability of destroyers or how vital they were if they would see action again and again.

    Even the cruiser advocates grumbled at the construction of the YSS
    Yndan the Strong the first of the mile long Mohl-Vikh-class Battleships. Cruisers, by their very nature were intended to be all purpose ships (they had originally been intended as operating alone or in small squadrons). Battleships had one purpose - to hit very hard - and they were too slow and expensive to be used in any other context. The armament of the proposed vessel changed time again as the designers argued over how she should fight. The standard weapons of the Yldar warships were x-ray lasers, plasma accelerator and ion disruptors but the venerable railguns still found their place, for their lack of expense in nothing else. The launch date was continuously pushed back with last minute changes which included granting the design strike craft capability and by the end of the war the battleship had yet to fire a shot in anger.


    Yldar battleship.jpg


    A design schematic for the Mohl-Vikh-class Battleship, of which one was built before the end of the war.


    Whether or not she actually fought the battleship enthusiasts in the Navy insisted that Yndan the Strong was a vital psychological weapon. The Rothakans and Kazams simply had nothing that could stand against such a vessel.Therefore every credit spent on her was worth far more than the equivalent spent on destroyers or cruisers.

    While (most) of the Navy saw continuous service during this period the War Guilds needed longer to recover between planetary invasions. Every planet was different, with even theoretically similar biospheres having endless variations on scents, sounds and textures. This might have seemed obvious to a planetbound species but to the habitat dwelling Yldars it came as a revelation. Back home each habitat contained differences in architecture and wider differences in culture. A native of Khebb's Domain (the youngest habitat) might have vividly different expressions and tastes in clothing and cuisine than his counterpart in Oros. But none of these differences matched the feel of going from one alien world to next. Four moons or none. Diminutive, teal coloured forests were the 'trees' reached one's chin or vast savannas of pale red grasses taller than an adult Yldar. Even without the fighting it was disorientating.

    The key to the conflict as was becoming increasingly clear was the planet Rothak herself. Located in the Vsem-Klack system Rothak was the third planet out from a yellow-orange sun. By Yldar standards it was an icy and inhospitable planet, home to vast glaciers and icesheets covering deep and dark seas. The Rothakans themselves had evolved from marine reptiles and some of their huge non-sapient cousins still prowled the frigid waves. Yet despite the temperatures and the predatory fauna Rothak was no death world but the civilised capital of a starfaring empire, home to great cities glimmering against the backdrop of the blue-white ice. The Rothakans would fight tooth and nail to defend their capital planet.



    Battle of Fuye.jpg


    The Rothak counteroffensive is halted at the Battle of Fuye, Fifthmonth 2323.


    In Firstmonth 2325 the Yldars made their move. Admiral Rhass and the ships of 'Suthnar's Armada' dropped out of hyperspace - and directly into a barrage of enemy fire. The Rothakans were far from stupid and had been able to see the build up of the enemy fleet in the Cyban system. They had tried to stem the Yldar Navy at the Battles of Fuye (2323) and Ugarasti (2324) and though they inflicted severe casualties on the Yldars this counteroffensive had failed. At the Battle of Vsem-Klack they stubbornly held on, looking to pull off a miracle. Rhass's crews were bone weary, his fleet well below peak strength and for a few hours it seemed as if the Yldars might have to retreat. It was not so. Agonisingly slowly the superior numbers and technology of the Yldars told and finally the surviving Rothakan ships flickered out, their engines making emergency jumps to hyperspace. It was yet another hard fought victory that had cost Rhass another four destroyers and five corvettes (one of the bloodiest naval battles of the entire war) but he was in control of the system.

    While Admiral Rhass was trying to coordinate the war from the bridge of the cruiser YSS Goron the Sagacious he was also in constant contact with events back Oros. On the fourteenth day of Secondmonth 2325 Chairwoman Haghonona had suddenly died at the age of seventy seven. In the emergency election that followed Rhass's name was suggested by some of the merchant princes impressed by his capability in the war and popularity with the civilians. Ultimately though the votes would go to for Elemano, a tall and saturnine male from Khebb's Domain who had represented the Free Traders in the Golden Monetary Compact for many years. The good Admiral was perhaps a little too well regarded for the public as the members of the Board zealously guarded their own power against any over-mighty head of state.

    Elemano was not a dynamic figure but he did enjoy good relations with both the Kammarians and the Zelvans. It was thanks to his influence that the invasion of Rothak became a joint effort, shared between the Yldar War Guilds and the Kammarian Imperial Army [2]. The overall command was under General Hannakon and the crafty Yldar leader wielded his forces with skill and diplomacy. At the start of Ninthmonth the Compact soldiers invaded in good order, landing across the face of the great southern ice sheet and rapidly capturing enemy industrial sites. Brutal lessons learned in the sweltering jungles of Shi'Pator and the cruel mountains of Xandebaan II had left the Yldar and Kammarian soldiers with experience with their weapons and their tactics.

    Despite every disadvantage the Rothkans resisted to the hilt, driven by a mixture of patriotism and religious fervour. Cleverly, Hannakon had feinted attacks towards the Crystal Altars of Y'kan, one of the holiest sites on the entire world. In truth the Yldar general had no intention of seriously attacking the famed cavern-monastery but he knew that the Rothakans would pour every available resource into holding what seemed to be a target. In fact the Yldars and Kammarians resisted the temptation to attack any cultural or spiritual centres. This was not entirely out sympathy for the enemy, rather it was the pragmatic view that they would fight all the harder.

    In three months and at heavy cost the Compact forces overran the major population centres of Rothak and the Aseembly of Clans were forced to surrender. The war proper would drag on for another year and a half with one final space battle at Jasmak in 2326 where Rhass defeated the last Rothak fleet, at the cost of another six warships. It was only in Fifthmonth 2327 that the last Rothak holdouts finally capitulated and the war was officially over.

    At the peace table the Zelvans recovered most of their lost territory from the Rothakans and, despite the advice of the Yldars and Kammarians, insisted on occupying the capital of the Fire Tribes indefinitely. This act left a bad taste in the mouths of many in the Free Traders. It was good to see the powerful Fire Tribes humbled but the Rothakans had fought a clean war and won the considerable respect of many Yldars. In some ways they were seen as more admirable than the Zelvans themselves. Enemies though they were at least the Rothakans had fought with courage and discipline. The immediate aftermath of the war saw a wave of Rothak refugees arrive in Free Trader space, driven off world by their new overlords. Both Admiral Rhass and General Hannakon spoke persuasively and successfully for the recent enemy to be granted sanctuary among the habitats.



    Rothak refugees.jpg


    The arrival of Rothak refugees in Yldar space provoked a wave of ill-feeling - against the Zelvans.


    Zelvan policy may have won them few friends among their allies in the Golden Monetary Compact but neither the Yldar Board nor the Kammarian Emperor could stomach a breach with their allies and an official silence prevailed on Zelvan harshness in the conquered territories. Instead the governments focused on the relief that the war was over. Here at least Chairman Elemano and the merchant princes knew the public was with them. By the most conservative estimates the war had cost the Yldars over a million casualties. The drain on resources had been formidable with vital alloys and other materials funneled away from civilian construction and towards the Navy and the War Guilds, leaving the habitats increasingly cramped and rundown. Most humiliatingly the Kobarians had seized on the distraction offered by the war and successfully extorted several bulk freighters full of minerals. With the fleet halfway across the galaxy there had been nothing to stop the marauders bullying their way into profit.

    The war had brought some compensations. The Fire Tribes had been shattered likely for good leaving the eastern frontier of Yldar space secure. The Kazams as part of the peace had opened up their borders to trade and the Yldar Star Navy was now the most powerful fleet in space [3]. These fruits might have been slim rewards for the war but the traditional Yldar way was to scent out profit and opportunity even in the most dismal circumstances.



    Galaxy Map 2327.jpg


    The known galaxy at the end of 2327 after the Treaty of Rothak.


    Footnotes:

    [1] The Kobarian frigate Nimpac the Obsever, ten destroyers and fourteen corvettes. These figures only cover ships entirely lost, with many 'surviving' ships taking heavy damage and severe casualties. Italso does not cover losses sustained in the last seven years of the war.

    [2] Though this was the first joint operation the Kammarians had fought an honourable and important if unflashy campaign during the war, tying up Rothak and Kazam forces that otherwise might have overwhelmed the Yldar Navy.

    [3] Excluding the battlefleets of the so-called Fallen Empires or the disparate warhosts of the marauders at least.
     
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    Appendix: Old Gods and Ancient Monsters and New Magic- the Yldar view of the galaxy.
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    Partial Map of the Galaxy.jpg


    A partial map of the galaxy in 2327 showing the locations of the Domanna Ancients, the Lilarobius Watchers and the 'leviathans'.


    Appendix: Old Gods, Ancient Monsters and New Magic- the Yldar view of the galaxy.

    The Great Interstellar War preoccupied the Yldar Free Traders for almost two decades with every government resource turned towards that conflict. While civilian life and the civilian economy continued after a fashion the world of the philosophers and the scientists not directly concerned with warships and weaponry seemed to dwindle away into insignificance. Yet these interests in the wider universe did not vanish, not completely. They remained dormant only until a Yldar populace bone weary of war could return to the them.

    The two oldest surviving civilisations in the galaxy were enigmas to the Yldars, the Kammarians, Zelvans and every other member of the Galactic Community. Closest, at least to the Free Traders were the molluscoid Domanna Ancients. Slender grey skinned beings perhaps a head shorter than two meters tall, the Domannans were most notable for their single large red eye in the centre of their faces. Unsettling as this appearance was they seemed no more biologically advanced than any other species (at least as far as could be told from the limited interaction they allowed.) What made them so impressive and, well, spooky was their remarkable technology and sheer longevity as a people.

    The attitude of the Domannans to the 'child races' was blandly superior. They disdained to answer questions despite the desperate curiosity of several Yldar scientists, philosophers and would be envoys. All offers of trade were politely if forcefully refused and Domanna space was closed to hyperspace travel. Thus far the major contact between the fallen empire and the Free Traders had been their request for copies of the memory codes of the extinct Bothrians in 2308 and their subsequent revival of that lost race via scientific wizardry. Since then, nothing.

    Many Yldars were convinced that the Domannans were the fabled Originators and certainly their great understanding of science and willingness to intercede in the business of primitives on their own terms were suggestive. Other scientists and philosophers were less convinced. Yldar space was rich with the debris of alien civilisations and while it was possible some of the archaeological evidence was related to the Domannans there was no clear link. Perhaps many archaic species had lived in the sector between the twilight of the Vultaum and the rise of moderm galactic civilisation. Without direct answers from the Domannans it was impossible to tell.

    On the other side of the galaxy, but of comparable vintage to the Domannans (presumably) where the Lilarobius Watchers. Sapient bipedal plantoids the Lilarobians were bizarre looking entities even by the standards of a diverse galaxy; comparatively the equally plant based Pelsimians appeared far more conventional. If the Domannans were poorly understood the distant Lilarobians were almost the stuff of legend. What little could be said of them was that they were not hostile to the galaxy at large, but nor were they friendly. A few advanced the theory that the Liarobians rather than the Domannans were the true Originators but this belief found little favour among the Yldars. The Lilarobians were too far away and too strange to make them plausible forebears.

    It seemed the more knowledge the Yldars gained of the galaxy the more questions arose, but at least a few of the answers could be found by those who knew were to ask. The Curator Order was an enclave in Yldar space, a habitat-sized space station orbiting the black hole Rixar's Maw. The inhabitants were a curious arthropoid race known as the Multyx who had survived an earlier galactic civilisation and turned their talents to the pursuit and storing of knowledge. Unfortunately they could offer limited insight on the fallen empires save that they had once covered more of the galactic disc between them, but they did have a great understanding of the so-called 'leviathans'. These were strange and unique living relics from previous eras in galactic history.


    Automated Dreadnought.jpg


    The Curator Order's insights on the 'Automated Dreadnought'.

    The closest 'leviathan' to the Yldars was also the most intriguing. An immense starship, far larger even than a battleship and of unknown origin that tirelessly patrolled a deserted system to the south of Yldar space close to the Kammarian borders. It was not a lifeform as such, though debates raged in scientific circles as to whether the Automated Dreadnought was intelligent and driven by a true AI or was following simple and repetitive programming like the archaic mining droids that had once caused so much trouble for Yldar spacefarers. It was generally agreed that the Automated Dreadnought was a warship, if only because its fearsome might had been displayed once or twice against unlucky Kammarian and Rothak explorers. Only after questioning the Curators were some answers unveiled.

    Theoretically an expedition to investigate the Automated Dreadnought was possible, but it was all but certain to be fatal. The leading Free Traders xenoarchaelogist of the era Doctor Zurix, a male Kammarian hatched and raised on Oros summed up such a voyage as 'an excellent first hand opportunity to study the afterlife.' The famously acerbic scientist had similar comments about an expedition to investigate the 'Ether Drake', an immense starfaring dragon-like creature than inhabited a system in the middle of Zelvan space.

    Gigantic space-borne fauna were not unknown to Yldar science. The fossilised remains of great void dwelling organisms had occasionally been recovered and first contact with the Kammarians had come via an indirect encounter with such an animal. Space Amoebas and the Tiyanki Space Whales were known and understood forms of spacefaring creatures though scientific identification Tiyanki took place surprisingly late (though common in a galactic sense the Tiyanki migratory routes were distant from Yldar space.) The Ether Drake was different though. In scale and power it compared with the Automated Dreadnought and like that enigmatic warship it was believed to represent an ancient order of life. Again the Curators proved helpful, revealing that the Ether Drake was the last known remnant of an era of monsters. As with the Automated Dreadnought what had once belonged to multitudes had dwindled through time into a single surviving entity. It was a sobering realisation that the scale of the universe and the passage of years could work on even something so powerful.

    Like the Automated Dreadnought an expedition to contact the Ether Drake was suggested once in a blue moon. It was always refused on the same grounds. Scientific and philosophical discovery was to be applauded but such studies would only have proven an expensive form of suicide in these cases.


    The Ether Drake.jpg


    The Ether Drake.

    There were other leviathans abroad in the galaxy with vague reports of something called the Voidspawn and the mysterious but seeingly non-sentient Asteroid Hiver. Yldar knowledge of these lifeforms was even more threadbare than their knowledge of the Automated Dreadnought and the Ether Drake and for the moment they remained as little more than proof of the weirdness and diversity of the universe.

    While the study of existing civilisations and the leviathans preoccupied many Free Trader intellectuals an alternative view had begun to appear during the third decade of the Twenty Fourth Century. Psionics were a poorly understood field. In the immediate aftermath of the Great Interstellar War when the Board finally had the time and resources to conduct studies of the phenomena the results themselves were maddeningly uncertain. Depending on how one categorised psychic abilities 'talents' could be as rare as one in a billion or as common as one in a million. The difference lay in the wide spectrum of ability shown. Could someone who merely experienced uncontrollable 'lucky feelings' truly be considered similar to someone who could read thoughts, control minds or lift objects via pure willpower? The one thing the study could conclude was that psionics were rare and the more powerful and spectacular forms rarer still.

    The emergence of psionics had been met with a characteristic mixture of pragmatism and awe from the Yldars. For many Yldars psionics were frankly another profitable skill to be employed and within a few years after the end of the war it was a rare prince that lacked a psychic bodyguard or two. The War Guilds had begun recruiting entire psionic divisions, though the sheer expense and difficulty of recruitment inevitably kept such units costly. In 2331 the Chairman had authorised the establishment of the PsiCorps as a legal body to bring some order to this free for all - which it immediately did by turning into a middle man between psionics and the state or individual employers, negotiating luxurious fees for their personal. The Yldar philosophy had neither the need nor the desire to operate a pychic secret police when they could simply make it far more profitable and safe for a talent psychic to work inside the system than outside it.

    This cool and refreshingly greedy approach had many virtues but some Yldars were willing to look at psionics as something more. Everything known about psionics suggested it was a natural if normally dormant development in the Yldar brain with evidence of talents among the many other sapient species in the habitats rare to the point of non-existance. Did that imply that the Originators had 'programmed' this latent ability into the Yldars? Or conversely had they tried to suppress a pre-existing psionic ability in the non-sapient ancestral animals the Yldars had been modified from. Different scientists, philosophers wrestled with the conundrum.



    Ancients and Watchers.jpg


    Two possible Originator civilisations.

    The identification of the Domannans with the Originators was a popular one but the appearance of psionics caused a wrinkle in that theory. For all their preposterously advanced technology the Domannans were not known to have any advanced mental powers. Adding to the confusion the Lilarobians were said to have some psionic abilities, but few believed they had anything to do with the Yldars. The plantoids were too distant and too strange.

    In the wake of the Great Interstellar War two new competing schools arose in Yldar intellectual circles: the 'Realists' and the 'Spiritists'. The first, which in many ways was a throwback to pre-hyperspace beliefs held that the Originators were neither the Domannans nor the Lilarobians but a third advanced species which had gone extinct. There were various artefacts uncovered on different planets that might suggest the existence of unknown or unidentified races. Realists contended that the Yldars had in many respects surpassed their forebears and had to make their own way in the galaxy. In spirit (so to speak) this harkened back to traditional Yldar atheism and Realists tended to speak of psionics in strictly scientific terms.

    Spiritism on the other hand suggested that while the Originators could no longer be physically found in the galaxy they had not gone extinct but rather evolved beyond their biological forms into beings of pure thought. Furthermore the Spiritists believed it was possible for Yldars (both individually and as a species) to survive physical death as a being of pure thought. This was straying far from the traditional Yldar view of the universe as solely materialistic. Even the most metaphyisical Yldar 'theologians' had always seen the 'conquest of death' as being through technology and science. The overt supernaturalism of the Spiritists made some more conservative Yldars nervous, though it was popular with some of the émigré religions such as the Glost-Weherni and the Order of Numa.

    The Spiritists were still Yldar. For all their mysticism they had scant regard for any nonsense about cosmic oneness or serenity. The traditional Yldar virtues of cunning, enlightened self interest and pragmatism all combined to give a unique air to Yldar religion. A Spiritist was essentially trying to outwit the physical 'laws' of the universe, sharpening his or her psionic talents in a way to push further. Spiritists not only saw nothing wrong in using psionic ability for material gain they saw it as key to self improvement. A cloistered aesthetic who spent her days in deep introspection would have seemed shockingly wasteful of marvellous abilities that should be used. Only by doing so could a Yldar prove themselves crafty and strong willed enough to join the Originators in whatever lay beyond the physical universe.

    The Realists and the Spiritists were minority philosophies in Yldar culture, at least in the 2330s. Most of the population still held that the Originators were still physically present in the galaxy and most of those equated them with the Domannans. Nevertheless they represented a new and vigorous streak of thought and attracted a disproportionate number of politically active Yldars and they were heavily represented and championed by the Committee of Technological Mastery and the Council of the High Priesthood respectively.



    Factions 2327.jpg


    The Committee of Technological Mastery and the Council of the High Priesthood were strongholds of the Realists and the Spiritists respectively.
     
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    Part Sixteen: The Long Peace (2327 to 2350)
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    Trade Routes.jpg


    Yldar trade routes in 2350.

    Part Sixteen: The Long Peace (2327 to 2350)

    Chairman Elemano strolled along the garden path. This section of Oros, adjacent to the offices of the Chairman had been sculpted into a small park filled with the blossoms of a score of worlds beneath a transi-plex dome that provided artificial light when needed. The few alien visitors who had been here often commented how much it felt like walking around in a planetary atmosphere which only made the Yldars shake their heads in bemusement. The senses might be tricked but the mind knew - and felt relief - at the superb artificially of it all, the work of scientists, engineers and artists.

    Elemano felt the cool shade of sapphire coloured jaka leaves on his dusky scales. Like most plants in the parks they looked lovely but they had been chosen as much for their scent as their beauty. You needed the full four nostrils of a Yldar to truly enjoy the nuances and the Chairman did just that, sitting on a bench by a pond taking it all in until a chirping from his comm interrupted him. He checked it and sighed.

    The Zelvan ambassador. Of course it was the Zelvans. It was always the Zelvans, no doubt with another whinge about the Rothakans. If they were not such lucrative customers he'd have wished them all to the Ether Drake long ago. Trying to quell his annoyance Elemano walked back towards the door and the thankless world of diplomacy and politics.

    ~~~~~


    'The Long Peace' as the post-war quarter century was called was never an entirely accurate label. Piracy, always at least a small scale problem in Yldar space twice exploded into open war where pirate kings enjoyed exciting if brief careers before being atomised under the guns of the Yldar Star Navy. At Craxima (2328) and Ydria (2343) the pirates were hunted down and scattered or destroyed by a vengeful YSN. In a way even these violent interludes spoke of the wealth and stability of the Free Traders. So much trade was flowing through the hyperlanes that it was bound to attract the greed of others.

    The peace of 2327 had seen whole armadas of reserve shipping sold cheaply to the civilian market. These craft may have lacked the armour or weapons of their civilian cousins but they provided an immediate boost to the many independent traders and companies who had always lacked the capital to compete with the merchant princes. The princes themselves encouraged this glut of civilian ship buying and building, both because they could effectively buy their way in to many an independent via loans to purchase a freighter and because they were uneasy with the idea of a very strong centralised navy - some of the most conservative plutocrats still pined for the days when the Navy had effectively been a collective of armed merchantmen, loyal to the tycoons who bankrolled the fleet.

    This boom also saw the last of the old style expansion into unclaimed star systems. The frontier that had once seemed so infinite was rapidly disappearing and by 2341 it had all been claimed. The Yldar Free Traders were surrounded solely by other powers or the endless void beyond the galactic fringe. Of course for many years after the close of the frontier this last settled segment of space remained rough and tumble, home to diehard romantics and the legally flexible seeking a place as far from the inner systems as possible. While the pirates that plagued the Free Traders operated in more civilised systems like Craxima many had spent their earlier lives out in the backwaters, honing their trades.



    Colonisation of the frontier.jpg


    The claiming of Osseq in 2341 marked an end to the once vast unclaimed frontier.


    Exciting as they were not many wished to live on scattered asteroids and barebones outposts on the fringe. The post-war era was marked by the building of true new habitats. In 2327 the Yldars and the other emigre sapient species that shared their space were settled in seven habitats: the original Three Daughters (Oros, Pirgak's Freehold and Lastagarvin's Shelter) and the four built by the Yldars in recent decades (Madragon's Stronghold, Irjamma's Treasure, Yltar's Bulwark and Khebb's Domain.) All had prospered but that success had led to overcrowding and the undertone of a troubled future. A continent sized space station might hold multitudes but it could not truly rival the near endless available land of a planet. By 2327 all of the habitats were near to bursting.

    Theoretically the Free Traders could have authorised settlement of the dozen or so inhabitable planets within their space. 'Yldar' society had long since ceased to be a mono-species concern and the habitants were now home to billions of Glost-Weherni, Glirrs, Rothakans, Kammarians, Zelvans, Ithil, Uindars, Vengrals and Penthulans. All of these species were more suited by physiology and tradition to living with the dirt beneath their feet and the clouds overhead. The Glirrs - by some margin the most common sapient species in the galaxy - and the Ithil were especially well suited to planetary colonisation as their lithoid state granted them a wide range of climate tolerance.

    In fact there was very little appetite even among the non-biological Yldars for planetary colonisation. Most of the alien species that lived in Free Trader space could be divided into three basic groups. The largest were those whose ancestors had come to the habitats and after generations of living in the artificial, carefully controlled space stations the idea of living in the open air was every bit as distasteful as it was for the biological Yldars. The second major group were recent immigrants. While there was more interest in planetary colonisation there the newcomers were more interested in building their own businesses in the established Yldar society than squandering millions of hard earned credits on a lonely colony cut off from wider society. For many of these recent migrants the chance to live on a habitat, immune from inclement weather, volcanic activity and dangerous wildlife had been one of the attractions about moving to Yldar space.

    The final group of alien species in Free Trader space where the refugees of which the largest group where the Rothakans [1]. These people had the least affinity for living in space and might have considered planetary colonisation but most of them were still pining for their homeworlds and, unfortunately, lacked the credits or political clout to fire up such a project.

    The Yldars were not stupid. They knew as well as anyone that the planets within their space held valuable resources. Occasionally an ambitious merchant prince had suggested funding a penal colony, though those initiatives had yet to succeed. Merchant princes tended to grumble about costs and the unpredictability of biospheres but really this was a rare instance where Yldar cultural values trumped even their finely honed pragmatism. The average Yldar would shiver at even the idea of setting foot on an alien world and though many traders, diplomats, tourists and mercenaries had managed to quash this visceral dislike there was a universe of difference between visiting a planet and staying there indefinitely.

    'Darmull's Lair' and 'Untabb's Sanctum' and' Tiltar's Paace', completed in 2334, 2336 and 2344 respectively were built to take advantage of mineral and energy finds in what until recently had been the unclaimed northern rim of the galaxy. Externally they mirrored the standard design of Yldar habitats in scale and shape but internally they had been planned a little differently to account for the growing cosmopolitanism of the Free Traders. This was the logical conclusion of longstanding trends. Individual habitats were at least as different as individual colonies in other civilisations and each construction rapidly acquired its own lingo, music, cuisine and general entertainment. Oros for instance was known for her proud (others would say arrogant) culture, her distinctive nasal patios, and her rapid pace of life. Madragon's Stronghold on the galactic border with the Rothakans had a subdued, rather martial air disproportionately home to old soldiers and sailors. Irjamma's Treasure was famous for her casinos and nightlife, Khebb's Domain for her sleepy and well behaved industries and Yltar's Bulwark for being a bastion of traditional Yldar materialistic atheism. All of these were stereotypes and glossed over any number of quirks that a habitat with a population in the hundreds of millions if not higher might have but there was a whisper of truth to them. The newest habitats had drawn on these lessons and built up with the understanding they'd house a variety of different species and tastes.

    There was one other singular method of coping with overcrowding as the habitats were being built. In 2331 the Domanna Ancients, that strange and secretive alien civilization that might (or might not) have played a part in the Yldar origin stirred once more.



    Domanna Ancients endangered species.jpg


    The Domanna 'request' of 2331.

    The Domanna request was handled with great delicacy by the Chairman and the Board. One of the key virtues of Yldar culture was the idea of enlightened self interest and no one could deny there was a greedy and ruthless streak to the average Yldar. That meant 'volunteers' (or their families) would have to be bribed. Fortunately there proved a surprising number of Yldars willing to participate in the gilded cage that the Domannans promised; to those who truly believed them to be the fabled Originators the opportunity to join the ancient aliens was too tempting to pass on while to those who simply wished for a life of ease and plenty the grand technology of the fallen empire offered a secular vision of paradise. Millions of Yldars would be transported to Domanna space over the course of the next few years.

    As cosmopolitan as the Free Traders had become the society had also shifted to more insular politics since the war. The Golden Monetary Compact was still strong and prosperous and traders plied the hyperlanes between Oros and Kamdor but there was a distancing of political responsibilities. The Yldars were in no hurry to resume war and suspected, with well honed cynicism that the Zelvans would cause problems in that area.

    One of the strangest consequences of the war had been the arrival of millions of Rothak refugees in Yldar space. This was maybe not quite as surprising as it sounds. Ever since the first Yldar-Rothak War there had always been a grudging admiration of the Rothakans as worthy foes who fought a clean war. The growing shift towards spirituality among the Yldars had erased what had once seemed a vast gulf of understanding between the two cultures. There was too a common feeling that the Zelvans had been too greedy in their demands on the exhausted Fire Tribes. All of this meant that when the Zelvans first began suggesting another war against the Fire Tribes there was a swell of popular opposition against the move. On three separate meetings of the Golden Monetary Compact the Free Traders vetoed any suggestion of war.

    The reluctance to fight the Rothakans yet again was not simply down to distaste at such an idea. The previous clash had benefited the Zelvans greatly, hobbling their greatest rival and bringing them wealth and power. It was not necessarily in the interests of the Golden Monetary Compact that one of their members grow too powerful and it was blindingly obvious that the Zelvans would be the only ones to directly benefit.



    The Drums of War.jpg


    Vikal Mikon.jpg


    The first rumours of the Pseudo-Yldar unification were rapidly followed by the Great Khan's 'broadcast to the galaxy' in 2343.


    There was another reason the Yldars declined an invitation to war. Startling events had occurred on the other side of the galaxy, that though remote from the immediate concerns of the Free Traders demanded their interest. In 2343 the 'Pseudo-Yldars', the alien species that by linguistic coincidence or the amusement of a higher power had such a similar name had unified under a 'Great Khan'. The marauding tribes had consolidated into an armada which invaded the Autocracy of Makaria within the year. The southern fringe of the galaxy which had seen some conflict over the years but had largely escaped the kind of epic warfare that had plagued the galactic north not found itself plunged into crisis.

    As formidable as the Great Khan and his fleets were few among the Golden Monetary Compact citizens were directly concerned. The Pseudo-Yldar barbarians were simply too distant, with too much foreign territory in between to pose a military threat. The real threat was far closer at home: the Kobarian Freeholders. They certainly made unlovely neighbours The local marauders had been a thorn in the side of the Yldars for a century, demanding geld at the most opportune moments. There was scant indication that the Kobarians were close to unification but the news from the distant south made some in the Free Traders wonder. The Kobarians had a very similar society to the Pseudo-Yldars. Was it only a matter of time before they produced a 'Great Khan' of their own?

    The idea of a pre-emptive strike against the barbarians had been mooted for as long as the Yldars had known about them but had never advanced beyond idle musings. By the Twenty Fourth Century Yldar technology had reached and in some ways pulled ahead of the Kobarians. Shortly after the Great Khan made his presence known to the galaxy Chairman Elemano ordered Admiral Rhass to study the idea of a strike against the Kobarians. The Navy report, complied over the course of seven months covered any possible angle of such a war.

    In short Rhass believed a war against the Kobarians was winnable, though he strongly urged strengthening the fleet further before even considering it. Rhass's view was that the marauders were individually very dangerous fighters but that their endless feuding left them incapable of organising effective resistance. Unfortunately that was where the good news ended. A Yldar victory would probably cost as many ships and crew as the entire Great Interstellar War and those losses would come under a far briefer timespan. It was a problem; wait and Yldar weaponry would become more advanced still, but the risk was always there that the Kobarians would unify. Also if war did happen the Navy would have to use every available ship and sailor to achieve victory; abandoning the patrols that kept the pirates in line.

    Throughout the 2340s the Kobarian question was the most delicate yet fiendish problem in Yldar politics with hawks and doves among the merchant princes almost coming to blows over whether to fight or not. As the decade ended without a definite a clear answer an even more important matter brushed the debate aside...



    Galaxy 2350.jpg


    The galaxy in 2350.

    Footnotes:

    [1] The Glost-Weherni the second largest minority species in Yldar space (they had recently been 'lapped' by the Glirrs) were originally refugees but a century of living aboard the habitats had left them culturally very similar to the biological Yldars and equally dismissive of 'dirtballs'.
     
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