Why does the delegate from Rebrin continue to insist on local autonomy inside of whatever government we settle on? He asserts that local polities must be respected, but are we not here to build a society that rises above our petty tribal identities? Have we forgotten where the vailons stood, just a few years ago, within the lifetimes of many people here gathered? It seems I must remind everyone of our purpose in assembling here: first, to establish a unified state which can ensure tranquil civic life; second, to build a system in which all citizens are treated equally, able to realize their natural abilities…
-Seklir den Vilim, during the Long Debate, May 12, 40
… It is left to us, then, to take the next step, into that great unknown. We are but a speck of dust in the vast emptiness of the cosmos, a speck of dust that contains all the hopes and dreams, all the conflict and turmoil, that vailons have ever experienced. Yet we strive to give our existence meaning, to take up the mantle of living not just on our planet, but in this galaxy…
-Raldirm den Vakor, excerpted from her Inaugural Address, January 1, 200
Hello! And welcome to my first ever AAR. I've been a Stellaris player since late 2017, and only more recently discovered the AAR community. Inspired by several excellent examples in the forums, I have decided to try my hand at it. I plan on proceeding with the primary narrative in a historybook style, interspersed with more personal stories to provide depth and context. I have made a custom-designed species, the vailon of the Tebazed Unified Governance; it is a society of discourse and debate.
Later today I will post the first of three introductory pieces. This one will be largely descriptive, covering a variety of topics of concern for vailon society. Over the weekend I will post a general history of vailon civilization.  Finally, there will be a short post detailing the game parameters and other meta items of note.
After those are up, I will begin the playthrough. Never having done a project like this before, I can't really give an estimate as to how often chapters will be completed; my aim is to complete one a week.
Thanks for giving me a shot! I hope you all enjoy.
 I may have gone slightly overboard with these, as combined they run to 7500 words. I'll be using spoiler tags which should make it easier to read.
Having posted Chapter Eight, I made several corrections to earlier chapters, including removing the 'den' from vailon names (when not referring to full names) in the first few chapters, following a syntax decision I made later one, and correcting missing footnotes in chapters three and four.
Tebazed is a rocky planet orbiting the K-type main sequence star Tebza. It is by standard reckoning the third body from the star, though inside of the first orbit lies an asteroid belt, believed by most astronomers to be the remnants of a large planet impacted by some alien body. It remains a constant reminder of the fragility of life in the cold expanse of space.
With about 60% of the planet covered by water, five continents make up the vast majority of the landmass of Tebazed. Small volcanic islands dot the oceans, but are generally uninhabited. Each continent contains a range of biomes, though vast grassland plains account for a large plurality of the land coverage.
The five continents, in order of size, are Molag (containing 35% of the landmass of the planet), Mastadar (27%), Hemberar (23%), Hasar (9%), and Lopinira (5%). Mastadar and Hasar share a land border comprised of the largest mountain range on the planet, while Molag and Lopinira are separated only by a narrow body of water. Hemberar sits in the far north of the planet, and contains the North Pole; only its southern extremities are habitable.
The vailon (pl. vailons, adj. vailon) is a sapient bipedal species whose outward appearance bears some resemblance to Earth-based ungulates.  The average height for a vailon is 1.6 meters, the average weight 120 kilos. The species is sexually dimorphic; males average about 10% larger and stronger than females, though natural variation leads to much overlap in the distributions of the two genders. Outwardly, males and females are easily identified by the size and shape of their horns (those of males tend to be larger and curlier). These horns developed primarily as a tool for pre-sapient competition; since developing societies, vailons have preferred the less physically dangerous outlet of debate as the primary method of social competition. Vailon diets are omnivorous, with approximately 90% of food consumption plant-based.
At the turn of the 2nd century, approximately 21 billion vailon live on Tebazed, most within the loosely defined borders of the Tebazed Unified Governance. About 75% of the population live within the sprawling cities that vailon favor; because of their stocky physiology, it is less efficient to build upwards than than it is to build outwards. 9.5 billion individuals live on Molag, the traditional center of the unified governance structure. 8 billion live on Mastadar, 2 billion on heavily urbanized Lopinira (home of several true megalopolises) and 1.5 billion on Hasar. Scattered settlements and science stations dot the landscape of isolated Hemberar.
The capital of the TUG, home to the three branches of the political triad as well as most senior bureaucratic offices, is Sedrin. Prior to The Collapse, Sedrin had been a minor provincial city in the temperate region of southern Molag. Isolated from the interior of the continent by a small mountain range, it emerged from the crisis relatively unscathed, and parlayed its natural harbor into becoming a major center for the resumption of intercontinental trade. Sedrin played host to the constitutional convention that defined the Molag Unified Governance, and after the Accord was agreed to and signed, most of the apparatuses of government were located there, where they have stayed ever since. At the dawn of the Space Age, Sedrin is home to about 30 million people, most of whom work either within the bureaucracy or in the still thriving ports of the city.
Due west of Sedrin, and 3000 kilometers across an ocean, is the city of Muntadar. Muntadar sits at the mouth of the River Munt, the largest river on Tebazed. It is an old city; archaeological digs put the date of the first habitation of the area approximately 4500 years prior to the present day. Some scholars theorize that this location is among the earliest permanent vailon settlements, as the marshy delta region would have been unsuitable for roaming herds, and scant evidence of other settlements at that date exists. In more recent times, Muntadar was the center of the anti-Molagi reform movement around the turn of the 2nd century, and remains to this day the heart of a Mastadar identity independent of the dominant culture emanating from Sedrin.
Several megalopolises occupy the heavily urbanized continent of Lopinira. The largest of these, Bessemar, covers the southernmost reaches of the landmass, and is just a short 500 kilometer hop across the Inland Sea to Molag and Sedrin. The union of six separate cities into one urban agglomerization turned the region into an economic powerhouse, a position strengthened by its location astride the main trade route between Mastadar and Molag. Bessemar now contains upwards of 300 million vailons within its city limits, and is the home of several major industries, including heavy manufacturing and computing.
A mere 100 kilometers inland from Sedrin lies Rebrin, a city of 22 million vailons. Lying just on the far side of a mountain range from the capital, in many ways it is both a twin of and the chief rival to Sedrin. It survived The Collapse by holing up within its mountainous fortresses and cutting itself off from the rest of the continent. This era has come to define Rebrin’s later politics, as a strong belief in independence and isolationism took root among its citizens. As the MUG, and later the TUG, expanded, Rebrin held out, ruling over a small fiefdom that was one of the last regions to be integrated into the superstate, only about 50 years prior to the present day. Even now, it remains a haven for dissidents of all kinds; though there is no political persecution of any kind among the vailon, those with radically opposing political philosophies often find themselves shunned in wider society, and many have collected themselves in this sister city.
Tebza and Tebazed.
The Tebazed Unified Governance is a unitary state based around a triad of political institutions, democratic if at a remove, and a large-scale bureaucracy to manage the day-to-day functions of economic and social relations. It is the successor to the Molag Unified Governance, established by the convention of the Long Debate in the year 40.
Assembly for Policy and Debate  - Debate has always been a foundation of vailon culture, and this is reflected in the Assembly, the representative branch of government. Its Members are responsible for guiding the macro policies of the state, through debate and argumentation. MAs are elected by constituent districts every two years; in 200, there were approximately 10,000 representatives in the body. Formal political parties were considered anathema, as they were by their nature hierarchical institutions committed to particular ideological goals rather than the process of debating issues. Instead, informal coalitions with fluid memberships usually ran proceedings on a particular issue, and then were reconstituted once another issue was tabled. While the body had no official legislative or executive authority, its resolutions were taken as strong recommendations by most Directors-General. In some eras, the Assembly was de facto sovereign, as some DGs were unwilling or unable to defy their directions. At other times, the executive was ascendant, and the Assembly did little more than rubber-stamp her decisions.
Director-General – The office of the director-general was enshrined in the original Accord of the MUG as the manager of the bureaucratic apparatus of government. She was to be selected by the College for ten-year terms,  during the course of which she would simply oversee the operations of the bureaucracy. Over time, the idealized decentralized bureaucratic governance that the founders foresaw proved untenable; too many policy decisions needed to be made by a central government and then propagated outwards to ensure the good organization of society. The directors-general surged to the fore as this dynamic evolved; they became the focal points around which the rest of the political system operated. The only criteria for running for the office was service in the Assembly; any current MA could submit her name for the selection. After engaging in private debates for the College and public debates for the citizens of the TUG, candidates would await the College as it made its decision. Once in office, virtually all power was vested in the office; as chief executive and overseer of the bureaucracy, DGs were given the sole discretion to both make all policy decisions and implement them once formulated. Only strong cultural norms surrounding debate and advice-seeking prevented descents into authoritarianism.
College of Magisterial Rank – The College is an independent branch of government which has the functions of both an independent judiciary and the sovereign institution of state. It is the court of last appeal for all private quarrels and the final arbiter for all political disputes. It manages elections for the Assembly and is vested with the sole power to select new directors-general. The number of magisters can vary from year to year, but typically the body stands at 100 members. Most magisters are appointed by directors-general to life terms; they tend to be elder statesmen, often having been MAs for long periods of time and participated in many grand debates. The executives themselves are given honorary memberships in the College after their terms in office are completed. Very rarely, a magister can be stripped of their rank via a plebiscite, though this action is reserved only for the most appalling scandals or deep crises. While the College performs many behind-the-scenes functions, their most public-facing responsibility is selecting new directors-general. These selections are closer to auditions than elections; candidates who submit their names must argue before the magisters why they should be chosen, much as they would do for any position in the economy. The College then polls itself, successively until one candidate can reach a majority. Though debilitating deadlocks are possible, in the nearly 200-year history of the system the DG selection has always been resolved in the constitutionally-approved time period (currently three months). 
Directorate – The vast bureaucracy of the TUG is colloquially referred to as a single entity, the Directorate, though the various sections in fact operate completely independently of each other. The Directorate, or rather the several directories, also operates outside of the auspices of politics. Whatever oversight is required is enshrined directly in the powers of the Director-General, who is in charge of each directorate (though most often she will appoint an expert in the particular field for day-to-day management). As constituted, the Directorate is responsible for virtually all economic organization in the state. Vailons, upon coming of age and graduation, advocate for postings to the Directorate; some requests are honored, others are not, as those in charge of particular sectors decide what labor is needed where. It is somewhat ironic that the Directorate is by far the largest employer on the planet; approximately one out of four vailons have roles within the bureaucracy.
Diplomacy and military
The vailon have little predisposition towards physical aggression, preferring competition through the non-lethal means of debate. As such, armed conflict is rare in their history, the most recent outbreak occurring 200 years prior to the current date. Instead, in keeping with their orientation towards openness and debate, vailon societies have a rich tradition of diplomacy and peaceful interactivity. In recent times, with global consolidation into a single unitary state, ‘foreign relations’ have all but disappeared,  but vailons still think of diplomacy as a core attribute of any state. By 200, with few opportunities to practice the high art, there are few skilled diplomats in the high levels of government, though some individuals look to the beginning of the spacefaring age with hope, as an opportunity to seek out other species that they can partner with to discover the galaxy.
The workings of firearms are not unknown to the vailon, though they have very little experience in their practical applications. Aside from the several decades surrounding the Collapse, Tebazed has been a peaceful planet for a millennium. What armed forces there were, prior to the Collapse, existed primarily to keep the peace, and looked more like a civil militia or a police force. Since the Collapse, and with the rise of the TUG, armed conflict, or the threat thereof, has been dispensed with entirely. There are no military forces at present on the planet; police and local militias bear no weapons. While there is no ban on their manufacture, guns are unheard of outside museums; crime rates are extremely low and vailons are not hunters. Some expect this to change as the vailon explore space, though most are hopeful that diplomatic means will be all that is necessary, should the vailon prove not to be alone among the stars.
It is sometimes joked that the Tebazed Unified Governance is a system of government designed to raise the young and instill them with true meritocratic values; every other activity is simply meant to ensure they don’t go homeless or starve when they come of age.  One of the founding principles of the state is the strong belief that its citizens should be permitted to contribute to society purely based on the merit of their abilities, and not on social constructs that can impede progress and even prove fatal to the fabric of society.  After The Collapse and the breakdown of the old global structure, many of the new statelets experimented with different methods of social organization. The cohort system was one of these experiments, and proved to be tremendously successful at creating a level playing field, so that natural talents could be the sole determinant of societal contributions.
The guiding philosophy of the cohort system is creating an equal upbringing for every child. Nobody should be prevented from making the maximal use of their abilities because of external factors. The system has thus taken on an all-encompassing role in raising the young of vailon society. Babies are taken from their biological mothers at birth to prevent even a vestige of familial connection.  Until the age of two, they are cared for collectively in nursing facilities; school proper begins at age three. Between three and five children are taught in comingled groups of all ages. At age six, the children are separated into proper cohorts of about 200 individuals; these groups will stay together for the next fourteen years. The curriculum is designed and overseen by a central education directorate, with a focus on critical analysis and rhetoric alongside the fundamentals of math and science. Classroom time is split between large lectures for the entire cohort and smaller sections intended to advance the students’ abilities to argue and debate. Individual disciplines are taught throughout the educational cycle, though some highly specialized classes are not available until the cohort reaches the latter years of their schooling. By the time of graduation, at age 20, each student should have received nearly identical educations that have imparted a basic level of skills as well as a strong sense of meritocratic values.
This system relies on high-quality, high-skilled professionals both to raise each cohort and to educate them properly. While young children, below the age of five, live in large groups and are cared for communally, each cohort has a set of dedicated teachers assigned to them,  who remain with them until they graduate. These educators are trained in an intensive seven-year program to build the skills and knowledge necessary to effectuate the massive fifteen-year curriculum. Upon completion of the program, the educators are assigned to the cohorts with whom they will stay for an entire education cycle. They live with the cohorts, and teach individual disciplines in addition to general societal values. After the cohort graduates, the educators have a mandatory two-year vacation period before they can reapply to join a new cohort. 
Gender and social relations
Modern vailon society has very little differentiation between male and female roles and statuses. Gender splits in most professions is slightly weighted towards females, while a smaller number of sectors have significant majorities of males.  General aptitude is considered equivalent between the two sexes, and those few vailon civilizations based on patriarchal or matriarchal hierarchies have long since disappeared. Social circles at all ages cross gender lines; a vailon would find it exceptionally strange to be in a gathering with only one or the other gender represented. Sexual relations are fluid among the vailon, with a majority of the population being bisexual.  Monogamous, long-term relationships are very rare. Most pairings are short-lived, purely existing for the immediate gratifications of intercourse before the individuals move on to other partners.
Reproduction is considered a necessary evil, an inconvenience for the females who carry the fetuses but a civic duty that must be completed should one become pregnant. Gestation periods average 300 days – ten months. Pregnant vailon will usually continue with their daily lives for the first seven months, receiving only an extra subsidy from the government to ensure that the fetus is properly cared for. Starting in month eight, the females are typically moved into dedicated pregnancy care centers, which supervise the health of the mother through the moment of birth. Post-pregnancy complications are rare, and recent mothers reenter the workforce soon after giving birth. Within moments of birth, the newborns are removed from the care of their birth mothers and moved into dedicated post-natal centers, where they reside for two weeks before being sent to their regional nursing center. Lineages are recorded, to prevent accidental in-breeding, but biological relations have almost no contacts with each other; most vailon wouldn’t know their mothers if they were speaking to them.
Social relations emerge organically from the educational system. A vailon’s cohort is their family; fellow students are their brothers and sisters, and the educators their parents. After graduation, they will form the core of social circles among adults. Vailons often live with others from their cohort for the rest of their lives, as housing is usually shared by several people with close bonds. Friendships form outside of these groups, through postings or shared social interests in local neighborhoods.
Food culture is tremendously important for vailon relations; eating is considered an inherently social activity, and meals are always shared, whether among close friends or with strangers in public cafeterias. There are as many cuisines as there are villages in the countryside and neighborhoods in the cities, and vailons pride themselves on having sampled as many as possible. Meals are taken three times a day (after rising, around midday and in the evening), with occasional light snacking in between mealtimes. Food defines almost all social interations, with formal occasions always centered around a meal and even simple meetings requiring some form of sustenance to be provided by the host.
Social status, while weak, is defined by one’s posting. In ages past, discrimination would have been rampant as one descended the ladder of occupations, from elite intellectuals all the way down to the humble farm laborer (who may well have been enslaved in such eras). In contemporary society such feelings and actions are taboo, when not outlawed directly by the meritocratic state. The last vestiges of such hierarchies remain for formal occasions, when it is considered proper to signify one’s place with a brooch or a sash indicating one’s current posting. Formal occasions being few in the TUG,  the social structure is emphasized in such a way only very rarely.
As with the political structure of the TUG, the economic structure is built around debate. At a high level, the economy functions via the oversight and guidance of the largest of the directories. The Labor Directory is responsible for assigning work postings to citizens. Upon graduation, each member of a cohort applies for a posting, and then makes an argument to the Directory explaining why they should be given that posting. If the assignment is granted, they can enter their positions immediately; if they are denied, they can apply for other assignments. This application process can take up to six months, though typically graduates are settled within a month. If none of the requested assignments are granted, the Directory will make an assignment for the individual, usually to a menial role such as agricultural or mining work. Vailons are expected to remain in postings for at least two years before they can apply for a new posting.
Resources are owned by the state and are “rented” to citizens; those citizens are given discretion in their work to employ them however they wish. Large businesses are rare; most citizens seek to optimize their work for their particular community. For instance, a shopkeeper may request additional resources to expand her store, so that she can better serve her neighborhood, but would not think of opening a second branch in a different neighborhood. Each major sector of the economy has a dedicated Directory, responsible for allocating resources among various competing uses. These are typically divided into two sections: an allocation section, which decides where to commit resources, and a regulatory section, which sets rules for use of resources and ensures that the resources are not put to bad use.
Vailons are not risk-takers or profit-seekers; instead, productivity growth and economic expansion has always come via top-down simultaneous implementation of new technologies and techniques on a broad basis. These technologies have generally been developed by state-run scientific groups; for the last century, this has been under the auspices of the Consumption section of the Science Directory, charged with translating the theoretical research of the other science directories into practical applications.
Most vailons would say, if asked, that they lived in a perfect, classless meritocracy. While there would be much truth in that statement, it also ignores a very real facet of the structure set up by the TUG. The class divide falls along a well-defined line, the distinction between those who perform menial work and those who do not. Because self-advocacy is central to the TUG’s economic model, its citizens generally believe that this distinction reflects something real in the acumen of the individual in question, and this attitude is reflected, albeit weakly, in social customs. However, because the strata are so fluid (anyone in a menial job can apply for a higher-status posting), class consciousness is not a big factor in vailon society.
The Science Directory oversees all scientific activity in the TUG. For the first few decades of the state, research efforts were haphazard and disorganized, as the founding generation was more concerned with political and social stability than great leaps of knowledge. Subsequent reforms centralized the scientific establishment, eventually resulting in the singular department within the executive. For the first few years of its existence, the newly organized Directory was able to generate several major breakthroughs in a variety of fields, but as a bureaucratic mentality set in these became rarer and rarer. The period from 110 to 190 saw virtually no changes in the way vailons understood the universe. This stagnation was broken by the accidental discovery of the hyperlane network by the physics section, and the ensuing energetic activity by the state to become a spacefaring civilization.
In 192, the Science Directory was reorganized, outfitting it to streamline its efforts in the race to the stars. There are currently nine sections; in order from largest to smallest in terms of personnel, they are Consumption, Philosophy, Engineering, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Sociology, Space, and Archaeology. Consumption, responsible for converting the research of all of the other sections into practical applications, is by far the largest. The Space Directory, initially tiny due to a lack of widespread expertise in the area, has grown rapidly in the intervening years, and is expected to continue to expand at a fast rate for the foreseeable future.
In all of recorded history, only once has a religion become an organizing force for vailon society. That the occurrence involved an apocalyptic cult that nearly wiped out civilization explains why modern vailons are extremely skeptical of organized religions. Spirituality is considered a private matter in the TUG; all public forms of worship are outlawed. Most vailons do adhere to one or another recognizable religious system, but these are organized strictly at a local level, and there are no larger organizatons formalizing doctrines. About 40% of vailons, forming a plurality, consider themselves strictly secular and observe no religion. Of the rest, 35% adhere to a traditional animist faith, 20% belong to a few loosely organized religions based around a deity or deities, and the remainder observe various forms of folk shamanism or ancestral worship.
Arts and entertainment
The earliest known works of art by the vailon are oral tales handed down through generations of pre-sedentary herds. Though vailon art has grown to include a wide variety of forms, the narrative structure predominates in contemporary culture. This narrative tradition has lent a figurative bent to other media; though abstraction waxes and wanes in artistic circles, figurative works are always valued for their expressiveness. Media varies widely by era, though for the last century three-dimensional moving images have been the dominant form of consumption by vailons in their daily lives.
The arts have a rich history of being an acceptable outlet for dissenting, or even deviant, viewpoints and social activities. Actions that are considered taboo in most situations, such as monosexuality or private resource accumulation, are often fodder for popular stories. Visual and narrative arts are common vehicles for political protests, while performance art is often employed to examine societal norms. Taken together, these are considered safe ways to explore topics that the vailon have deemed off-limits; art serves as a safe ground to expand the boundaries of normality, without forcing any commitment from those in society who do not wish to partake.
 Their distinctive facial and horn structure is most similar to the bighorn sheep.
 This is a simplified translation from the original Laggish. Acknowledging the limits of literal translations across linguistic cultures, here is a close approximation: An Assembly of Representatives for the Understanding of Issues and the Making of Debate Regarding Those Policies of the Public Interest.
 Term lengths were extended to twenty years in 104.
 Since the selection period was expanded from one month to three in 97, the College has only approached the deadline once. One of the Armok reforms of the early 2nd century extended the terms of directors-general to twenty years, giving the executive true long-term leadership over the direction of the TUG; however, this was not to take effect until after den Armok left office, due to the obvious concerns about even the appearance of power-grabbing. Instead, vailon politics were left to grapple with a profound power vacuum after her term ended in 114; the final vote was taken only one day before the deadline for selection.
 There are a few small states which have chosen to remain outside the TUG fold, but they are essentially satellites of the global hegemon. Some communities have committed to a true isolation deep in the mountains of Hasar, but the number of individuals who choose to live in such groups is tiny.
 The joke is better in the original Laggish.
 This is, of course, directly informed by the religious and tribal factionalism that descended into war and chaos during the events of The Collapse 200 years ago.
 Familial bonds are relatively inconsequential in an evolutionary context, as compared to that of Earth mammals. Nevertheless, the system is set up to minimize any risks.
 Usually one per ten children in the cohort.
 This serves two purposes. First, the education profession is incredibly demanding and allows for almost no breaks from the work. The two years off forces educators to relax; all of their needs are covered by the state and they are, uniquely among the vailon, not required to work. Second, it loosens the bonds between the educators and the prior cohort, allowing them to form new bonds when they are assigned to their new group.
 These are the “heavy lift” sectors, those that require individual physical strength as a labor input. The mining sector, the second-largest by the number of people employed (after agriculture), is 70% male.
 65% of the population are bisexual; 27% are heterosexual and 8% are homosexual. The monosexual minority of the population are collectively referred to as ‘unis’. Traditional societies have considered unis to be oddballs and ascetics who do not understand how to experience pleasure; though this type of conservatism is frowned upon in contemporary culture the outlook still exists in some of the more hedonistic circles.
 Vailons have never built societies heavily reliant on rituals, opting instead for the inclusivity of debate as a method for binding people together in an organized collective. The few ceremonial occasions they do observe revolve around life events (in the current era, this only includes graduation and death) and political events. In these cases, the dignity of the event is accorded respect and formality is considered proper.
The vailon species is descended from quadrupedal ungulates that roamed the plains of Tebazed in vast herds. Emergent sapience saw the dissolution of these massive groupings; early tribes were organized around herds ranging from 200 to 1000 individuals. Two competing species emerged, one that maintained the quadrupedal form of their common ancestors (known today as vailars), and a second that developed into bipedal species (modern vailons) with what a human would recognize as hands on the two “upper” limbs. As opposable thumbs proved to be effective weapons against the large felines that stalked herds, it was the vailon that came to dominate the ecological niche; their four-legged cousins died out within a few millennia, as their common predators learned that vailar made for much more tempting targets.
The home of the vailon.
Vailon societies made rapid progress after the development of tools. Sedentary communities formed quickly, largely based around foraging and common protection against predators. These herds were largely pacifist, cooperating with each other as necessary but rarely accumulating foodstuffs or other goods in any quantity worth seizing. Early, honor-based social structures (often ritual combat using the ornate horns of male vailons) were quickly supplanted by oral traditions and civil societies centered around debate. Centralizing states with accumulative tendencies would await the development of writing, which allowed for organization on a scale previously unknown to the small groups living in villages.
Records are sparse, relative to humanity’s abundance of documentation, for the middle period of vailon history, the development from early city-states to an industrial society. Civilizations seem to have followed a peaceful and meritocratic structure, based around robust public debate and control of resources; vailons pride themselves on their ability to recognize, and acquiesce to, superior arguments no matter their source. At their most extreme, states were animated by large debate guilds, which could claim to control all the organs of civic life and governmental functions. Slavery was known in a few eras, primarily for those sorted into groups of lower intellectual acumen who were forced to labor on farms or in mines. However, the institution disappeared centuries before the modern age.
Organized religion has been rare for vailon civilizations. Vailons have tended to be distrustful of hierarchical organizations that rely on blind faith and obedience for support. Most prominent in vailon societies were forms of animism, generally linked by an all-powerful, benevolent force that at times resembled a monotheistic god, at others the Tao that animates certain Earth religions. On one occasion, an organized religion grew to dominate a vailon society. This occurrence is responsible for the great cleavage that defines modern vailon history, known today as The Collapse.
Approximately 250 years ago, a divergent sect of one of the few mainstream religions began recruiting followers in the provincial regions of the powerful state of Valsul. This group, devoted to an outwardly spiritual and rigidly devotional society, was led by a mysterious figure known only as The Preacher. Over the next several decades, he transformed from an itinerant, charismatic proselytizer into a quasi-divine warlord, enforcing his will upon the entire globe. As he amassed devotees and expanded his reach, he turned his flock into legions of the word, establishing with might what he could not convince some to adopt willingly. These legions conquered lands, upon which the Preacher instituted strict religious orthodoxy as law. Cities that resisted the call were wiped off the map; states capitulated or were destroyed.
As quickly as this theocratic regime rose, it fell again. Within years of completing its conquests, it was beginning to buckle under the concurrent pressures of failing harvests, internal dissent and crackdowns that provoked further dissent, elites more focused on their individual ranks than good governance, and, perhaps most importantly, an inability to integrate, or indoctrinate, most vailon into their way of life. The Preacher, having smoothed over these issues in years past with sheer force of personality, was now growing aged and infirm, incapable of maintaining the same levels of activity and intervention. When the end came, things fell apart very quickly. Large scale food riots turned into full-blown revolts and armed insurrections. Rival elites began warring against each other to maintain their fiefdoms, turning into little more than petty warlords. Economic integration dissolved as fighting spread to every region. The Preacher, declining to go out fighting, led his most devoted followers in a mass suicide, the shock of which signaled the final collapse of the old order.
The two decades that followed The Collapse were marked by general anarchy. This era, dubbed the Interregnum, gave birth to modern Tebazed, as contemporary societies emerged out of the ashes of The Collapse. The first several years continued the violence and chaos of the dramatic fall of the Preacher; but the tide of revolution receded, giving way to a peaceful deglobalization that would sweep away the last vestiges of the old order. Recoiling from the events of the recent past, proto-states experimented with radical forms of collective education, completely cutting the ties (already fairly loose by the standards of most species) between parents and children, ensuring that each child was instilled with strong meritocratic and anti-religious values. While methods differed in places, the emergent systems would prove to be remarkably stable and bear a strong resemblance to the cohort system now in place, two centuries later.
By the tenth year after The Collapse, strong, centrally-organized states had been reestablished in several regions. While these states were not close to reaching the glory of their predecessors just a few generations prior, they formed the kernel around which the Tebazed Unified Governance would eventually form. The Interregnum formally came to a close in the 22nd year after the crisis, with the relaunch of the global Holonet. The Holonet allowed for instantaneous communication and information sharing across the planet, and in the ensuing years formed the backbone of a new globalized social structure.
By year 40, several super-states had formed, recreating the general outline of geopolitics from a century prior. This time, there was a real hope that progress, and not apocalypse, would win out. In that same year, the predecessor state to the TUG, the Molag Unified Governance, was founded, following a month-long convention known today as the Long Debate. Already bearing most of the administrative and political structures familiar to contemporary vailon, the MUG expanded rapidly in the decades after its founding, growing by 80 to be the largest state on the planet, with constituent polities on every continent. The tripartite government – a body of elected representatives to debate and inform policy, an executive to execute said policy, and a council of judges to resolve disputes – had demonstrated its effectiveness in implementing policy during these decades, completing the work of reconstruction much more quickly than most other states. At the turn of the century, the people of the MUG were able to turn their attentions to issues of equity and reform, as non-Molagi citizens agitated for access to higher offices in the bureaucracy an end to their junior status in the union. A political crisis ensued, and was resolved peacefully, as the dynamic flexibility of the system was able to absorb the unrest and channel it into progress.
Emerging from this crisis in the early 2nd century, the newly-named TUG came under the guidance of a charismatic politician who would lead the union, first from the post of Director-General and subsequently from the College, overseeing debates and policy decisions from her election in 104 to her retirement in 154. Only the second executive of non-Molagi origin, Pendirm den Armok proved to be the hand the union needed to steady itself and ensure its continued stability. Among all the political figures in TUG history, it is she who inspires the most reverence, even more so than the founding generation. Though vailon societies lack most of the symbology and iconography that is so common in the civic culture of other species, her stature grew over time such that her legacy became synonymous with the successes of the TUG over the subsequent century. Her accomplishments included enacting far-reaching reforms that solidified the meritocracy for all citizens, and building new nutrition and healthcare programs that extended average lifespans by a decade. She launched scientific initiatives that led to breakthroughs in energy management and production methods. All of this resulted in a trajectory towards a truly wealthy society that could, instead of needing to focus on banal practicalities, contemplate making the leap into the beyond.
That decision was still decades off when Armok retired, in 154. Rather, her withdrawal from politics was seized upon by a long-dormant conservatism. Its adherents saw a society wracked by constant upheaval for 200 years, and wished only for a period of relative calm to consolidate all of the gains and ensure that the future would not be risked by another sudden collapse. They laid their groundwork carefully, and when the next director-general selection occurred, they were able to install a pliable candidate before a counter-campaign could be organized. When she proved to be slightly less pliable than they anticipated, the faction forced her to retire, and chose a new, elderly candidate to be the executive. This began a run of so-called caretaker director-generals, partially because they presided over government that did very little except maintain the status-quo, but also because these DGs often were so old that they needed caretakers themselves. Of the next six executives, four died in office; they averaged only two-and-a-half years in office. This was an era dominated by power brokers in the Assembly and the College, who prevented any forward-looking decisions from being made, instead choosing to entrench their own power in the system as much as they could.
By the end of the 180s, the conservative faction seemed entrenched, even embedded, in TUG governance. However, a pair of discoveries by a backwater section of the Science Directory would shatter their grip within just a few years, and set the vailon on the path towards Stellaris. In 189, the nascent space program observed a pre-Collapse artificial satellite in orbit around Tebazed. Most records of space exploration had been lost or forgotten; for the vailons of the late 2nd century, it was a rediscovery of a long-lost heritage. Still, outside of a few young backbenchers in the Assembly, very little notice was taken in elite political circles.
For the next year, interest in both pre-Collapse history and space exploration grew in the wider populace, and it became clear to the few remaining progressives in politics that this could be an issue for which the vailon would break out of their malaise. In 190, they had their chance to make this happen, after the space program announced their discovery of the hyperlane network. This stunning breakthrough in the fundamental science of exploration was received with shock and excitement among the population; many MAs, egged on by their constituents, suddenly reawakened to the possibility of an active politics. While those conservatives who held power generally scoffed at the new ‘movement’, the announcement was received with eagerness in one surprising place: the director-general’s office.
Jorim den Polosch had not been selected for his dynamism; after three decades as an unobtrusive backbencher, he was fully expected to follow the precedent of his recent predecessors. However, he had entered politics during the turbulent decade of the 150s, and had been a vocal participant in many debates of that era. Though everyone else had forgotten, Polosch remembered those times, and had longed for an opportunity to reengage the population in the great project to further vailon civilization. He seized on the new discoveries to make that opportunity. In a major speech, in fact the first from a director-general in decades, he publicly broke from his former backers, and called on the population to reorient society towards space exploration as the next frontier for the vailon. The conservatives, rocked back on their heels by this sudden turn, attempted to fight back, but the faction’s power dissipated by the end of the year.
Instead, Polosch and his new progressive followers restructured the entire apparatus of government towards the explicit goal of accessing the hyperlane network by the end of the next decade. Crewed spaceflights were started in late 190, and a permantly inhabited station in near-orbit was activated early in the following year. With a larger base orbiting the star poised to begin construction shortly thereafter, a new opposition came into focus. The anti-spacers began as an outgrowth of the old conservative movement, but as the latter collapsed the former took its place in hostility to all things progressive. Their message, relentless over the next few years, concentrated on forgoing the massive and speculative waste of resources on space exploration, instead of investing in the future of the vailon on Tebazed. While they did find some traction among the populace, they never received enough support to demonstrate widespread appeal, and never came particularly close to winning a majority in the Assembly. Instead, the pro-space progressives won victory after victory, primarily due to their champion in high office. In 196, permanent deep-space mining stations were established, providing the raw materials to propel further exploration. Additionally, the co-equal headquarters for the space program was completed in orbit around Tebza, as the directorate began targeting a practical test of zero-g hyperlane breaching.
The political fight came to a final confrontation in 198, after the successful demonstration of a prototype engine capable of breaching hyperspace. Polosch immediately proposed building a ship capable of housing this engine, and sending it on an exploratory mission to nearby star systems. Recognizing the massive shift in self-consciousness this would make – advancing from a planet-bound society to an interstellar civilization – he announced a plebiscite on the question. Anti-spacers recognized this as their last chance to halt the advance towards the stars, and mounted a fierce ‘No’ campaign. The central debate focused on intergenerational ethics, a novel concept for the vailon who reckoned their community not in terms of families and tribes that exist linearly through time, but instead as herds existing in a specific moment in time. “What kind of world should we leave to our children?” was a new question, and no easy answers offered themselves up. There was a genuine concern for many, that beginning space exploration now would preclude future valions from making their own decision to be a space-faring species; they would be committed to that course by a decision in which they had no ability to participate. Though this debate was destined to become the groundwork for an entirely new strain of ethics and philosophy, in the politics of the 190s it proved to be merely a rearguard action. The pro-space faction successfully argued that contemporary vailons needed to make decisions for themselves, based on the currently available knowledge; if they attempted to factor in future vailons, they would get stuck in a cycle of indecision. The plebiscite was decided in favor of moving forward with the project, by an overwhelming margin.
The aftermath of the vote saw the collapse of any real opposition to Polosch and the progressives, as the remaining conservatives and anti-spacers conceded the field. This ushered in eighteen months of united support of the director-general and cooperation by all factions, as preparations were made to launch the program. Development of the exploration starship proceeded according to projections, and the date for the start of the mission was set to be January 1, 200, inaugurating the new century with a new commitment by the TUG and all vailons to pursue the advancement of the species through exploration and discovery. There would, however, be a new leader for the society when the time came. On Founding Day (July 23), 199, the aging Polosch announced he would be resigning his office before the end of the year, with the selection timed to allow the new DG to step into the role on the same day as the launch. The future course of the vailon was for the young, as they took this unprecedented step; and so it must fall to a new generation of leaders to make those decisions about how to proceed.
The campaign, which began in October, was greeted with tremendous excitement and anticipation. A record number of candidates participated; the populace, energized by the forthcoming mission, flocked to both the formal debates by the candidates and the numerous informal sessions held among proxies. When polls were conducted in December, in advance of the vote by the College, one candidate emerged above the field, amasing close to thirty percent of the first choice vote  in a 42-person field; and the subsequent selection revealed that the College largely concurred in their judgment. Raldirm den Vakor, a 47-year-old MA representing a portion of the major megalopolis of Bessemar, took 91% of the votes in the College, smashing the previous high of 74%. Previously an unknown figure, she proved herself to be a dynamic debater and exuded the confidence and competency that everyone believed would be the crucial factors as the vailon moved into the interstellar domain. Though older than most of her challengers during the campaign, she embodied the newfound spirit of the vailon: a yearning for the stars, and a belief that now was the time to reach out and touch them.
ISS Jhunustarion, the lead vessel of the Windur class of explorers.
 Or over 65%, once ranked-choice is factored in.
Thank you for all the kind words! I'm looking forward to seeing where I can take this.
I will be playing as the Tebazed Unified Governance, a state defined by its bureaucratic economic management and its commitment to meritocracy. The vailon are an intellectual species, who have taken on debate as the primary method of settling issues. Normally my playstyle is to go wide and wall off as much territory as possible from other empires, but since the vailon are not acquisitive I will try to model their decision-making as best as I can.
I also changed a few of the default policies and rights on the first day of the game, to fit the TUG starting point a little bit better.
I am taking a risk and playing this game on ironman. This will prevent any temptation to go back and try to get a better outcome in the game. The challenge should result in a more organic story.
There will be many occasions where I abstract from game mechanics in a fairly extreme way. One example is the oligarchic authority and the Shadow Council civic. The in-game descriptions don't really match the society I have created, but the mechanics do, so I will depart from the flavor text for these in my storytelling.
A note on dates: as you may have discerned from the prior posts, I will be using the in-game dates for my story, but with the slight change that year 0 is 200 years prior to the beginning of the game, instead of 2200 years prior, just for a little bit of flavor.
Raldirm den Vakor, on the morning of her inauguration.
Raldirm den Vakor was born in 152 in the great agricultural belt that lay in southern Molag. Though educational curriculums are uniform across the planet, students still inevitably take on certain characteristics of the region in which their cohort was raised. For the others in the Vakor cohort, this was a strong tie to the land and an understanding of the importance of nature and of agriculture specifically. But Raldirm never felt comfortable with this conclusion and in fact felt deeply unsettled staying in one place for the first 20 years of her life. She yearned for change, for diversity of sight and sound, things which were conspicuously absent from the vast farmlands on which she was raised.
Vakor chafed under the restrictions of the cohort system; as a result, her aptitude was considered middling by her teachers and fellow students.  Upon graduation, she took a posting as a shopkeeper in a local urban center; two years later, she moved to a role as a roving sales representative for the regional farmer’s association. After wandering the planet for a few years, seeing most of what Tebazed had to offer but making very few deals for her agricultural cooperative, she left that posting and moved to Bessemar. Through the 180s she remained in the megalopolis, working as an officer of the peace, a bus driver, and for one extended stint as an assistant at an architectural firm.
Seemingly set for a life as a drifter, Vakor was instead inspired, like so many other vailons, to reengage with civic society after Jorim den Polosch’s announcement of the space initiative in 190. She requested, and received, a posting to a newly founded local committee raising awareness of the program. Throwing herself into the work, she found that she had a natural talent for communication and organization. More importantly, Vakor realized that she had found her calling. The dream of a spacefaring society sparked a fire in her mind, and she now felt a drive to make the idea a reality. In 193, she became a coordinator for local production facilities in her neighborhood; three years later, she had become the regional coordinator for the entire area and was conducting a successful campaign for a seat in the Assembly, representing a district in northwest Bessemar.
I have roamed this planet; I have spent years rooted here, helping this city run effectively. But it is time for us to put our faith in a dream of something bigger than our day-to-day lives…
- Raldirm den Vakor, quoted during a campaign debate in Bessemar in December, 196
Once in Sedrin, Vakor joined the ranks of the progressive pro-spacers in the Assembly. Over her first year in office, she participated in most of the grand debates of the Assembly; she was rapidly identified as a talented orator and a forceful advocate for the cause. But she went much further than most of her allies were willing to go. In her speeches was the kernel of a radical new conception of their place in the universe. The vailons may have been born on Tebazed, but they were living in the galaxy; traveling to nearby stars was not crossing a threshold, but rather a natural expansion of the space in which the vailons lived, much like the early vailon herds experienced as they became sedentary and began to work the land. Vakor felt that the vision of the other pro-spacers was too limited; they had not reckoned with the vast changes that the transition to an interstellar society would entail. Her speeches, reflecting her idealism and her dissatisfaction with the current debate, were often grandiose, as even her allies in the Assembly were quick to point out. But for many citizens, there was an inspirational quality to them, containing as they did a unifying idea for all vailons to believe in and work towards. Polosch, himself having brought new inspiration to the vailon just a few years prior, understood the power of this reorientation to the stars, and brought Vakor into the planning for the soon-to-be-announced plebiscite on space exploration.
During the campaign, Vakor spent very little time in the capital, instead becoming a key proxy for the Director-General in many regional debates. It is likely that Polosch was already preparing to step down in the near future, and may have been grooming Vakor to be his successor with this deployment of her talents. She traveled the planet, giving speeches and debating with local anti-spacers in public forums. Her arguments generated new enthusiasm and excitement for the space initiative, contributing to the landslide victory at the polls, and setting her up to make a run for the Director-Generalship the following year. In that race, despite the record number of candidates she quickly emerged as the favorite. Her vision of a new philosophy to face the vast unknown was unmatched by her rivals, who mostly stayed within existing lanes of progressive politics. In the end, Vakor took 29% of the first-choice vote in the public poll, an impressive feat when there were 41 other candidates and the runner-up received just 8%. Bowing to this, and probably recognizing her dynamisn in facing the challenges of the new age, the magisters in the College voted for her overwhelmingly on the first ballot.
On the morning of her inauguration, Vakor and the rest of the TUG watched on the Holonet as the first pioneers of interstellar exploration, a fiercely dedicated group of 45 scientists, technicians, and engineers captained by Raldirm den Hullos, boarded the ISS Jhunustarion in orbit around Tebza. The Jhunustarion, the lead ship of the Windur-class of exploratory scientific vessels, had completed her shakedown cruise just three days prior; since arriving back at Starbase Tebza she had been feverishly provisioned and prepared for her commissioning and official launch, scheduled for the early hours of January 1, 200 (Sedrin time). When the day came, all of Tebazed watched as the ship pushed out of dock and fired her thrusters, pointing herself towards the edge of the system and the hyperlane. Having witnessed the ship successfully get under way, Vakor proceeded to give a speech asking all vailons to join together to step into this new age of space exploration, and to embrace their place in the stars. Six weeks later, on February 14, the Jhunustarion reached the estimated breachpoint of the hyperlane to the nearby star Ramman, and activated its hyperdrive. Over the next three days, Tebazed awaited news of the vessel, when the news came, on the 17th, that it had arrived in the Ramman system on time and intact, spontaneous celebrations broke out across the planet. Vailons had successfully travelled to another star.
Raldirm den Hullos, captain of the Jhunustarion, felt no great joy at the accomplishment she and her crew had just completed. The great task of exploring the galaxy was entirely in front of the vailon, and simply directing a ship (without even your own hands on the helm!) was not the least bit thrilling. Born in 160 in Hasar, she felt no love for the mining community in which she was raised, and in fact was deeply depressed by the ground-pounders among whom she grew up. So after she graduated, she applied for and was accepted to flight school. Once in the three-year training program for commercial aviators, she proved to be preternaturally gifted at flying, and was recruited to join the Engineering section of the Science Directory as a test pilot. When the space initiative was announced, she transitioned from atmospheric planes to spacecraft, and led nearly all missions in space over the 190s. This transition proved to be very good for her career, though not very exciting for her personally. After the initial novelty of being an astronaut wore off, she found spaceflight to be somewhat boring, especially after she began to captain larger crewed ships instead of being behind the controls in a single-seat cockpit. Still, nobody had any doubts that, when the time came, she would be the one to lead the first interstellar mission.
As the Jhunustarion arrived over Ramman V, in late March of 200, Hullos was preparing for the away mission to the surface, actually excited for this portion of the overall mission. After some initial scans, on April 9th the shuttle touched down on the planet, a ball of ice and wind light-years from home. Though completely inhospitable to life, the frozen Ramman V was the scene of a momentous occasion for the vailon: when Hullos stepped off the lander, she was the first individual to step foot on an extrasolar body in history. The team of five spent six hours on the surface, taking samples of the ice and making geological readings before heading back to the orbiting explorer. Along with the standard data feed back to Tebazed, one picture was sent along, documenting the first vailon landing on a planet orbiting a distant sun.  This picture (shown below) was broadcast across Tebazed, providing a tangible report of progress to the vailon. The Jhunustarion spent one more day in orbit around Ramman V, before continuing its survey mission in the system. Over the next nine months, surveys were successfully conducted around more bodies in the system, including Ramman II, whose thick atmosphere and toxic surface prevented a landing, and its much more hospitable moon, which despite its lack of atmosphere proved to have several large ore veins in even the cursory scans conducted by the Jhunustarion. The excellent progress and stability of the mission so far prompted the Director-General to order a second Windur-class to be laid down on Jan 1, 201, to continue the mission of exploring the nearby star clusters.
The icy surface of Ramman V greets the first extrasolar vailons. 
ISS Jhunustarion scans Ramman II. The planet’s mineral-rich satellite is in the background.
After a speedy construction cycle, the new explorer ship, the ISS Dargion, launched on March 1. Suldirm den Harak, a 34-year-old native of Sedrin who was a fast-rising star in the Science Directory, was given command of the ship, and assigned to make a survey of the local star cluster, starting with the tiny Glyderrum system. Meanwhile, when the Jhunustarion finished scanning Ramman, it would proceed out of the local cluster and begin scans in the nearby star cluster to the galactic west. In July, both missions reported anomalies in surveys of their assigned stars. While Hullos’ crew was ordered to ignore the barely-perceptible shadow on their scans, Harak was given the go-ahead to investigate. In September, he reported back: the signal interference resembled most of all an auditory arrangement of a mathematical equation, a song in some alien tongue of stunning beauty and complexity, beyond anything the scientist had ever heard. The news shocked the administration on Tebazed. Awe at the incredible musical arrangement mixed with equally stunning fact that there was alien intelligence out there; the vailon were not alone in the galaxy. When the news was announced, several days later, excitement tinged with apprehension filtered through the population of Tebazed; for months this became the only topic of conversation planetside.
The successes of the two missions gave Vakor the leeway to make further investments in the space program. Though most of her day-to-day responsibilities involved governing the 21 billions living planet-bound on Tebazed, she slowly continued her work remodeling the TUG into a spacefaring society. In June of 201, she announced the ‘Map the Stars’ initiative, an ambitious proposal to survey the entirety of the surrounding star clusters by the end of the decade. The Directorate was put into overdrive, encouraging talented vailons to apply for postings in the Science Directory, or adjactent manufacturing sectors, building up a labor base for the push to the stars. The efforts paid off, as applications to the science sections grew 100-fold over the first five years of Vakor’s term. The massive growth and interest in space exploration and scientific discovery was evidence to her that she was not simply pushing vailons into these fields through propaganda; rather, she was tapping into her people’s primal instinct of curiosity about the universe.
In 202, the first murmur of a backlash against her agenda were exposed. Many vailons – including a significant fraction of the Assembly, which despite the newfound enthusiasm in the populace still had a conservative instinct – hoped that the dawn of interstellar travel would lead to a renaissance on Tebazed, as intrepid explorers brought resources and knowledge home to help further the TUG. Instead, a low grumble emerged in some quarters as new resources were plowed into research to further the goal of exploration. Expectations grew as plans to exploit newfound mineral caches in Ramman were set in motion early in the year. In August, when Vakor ordered the construction of a monument to the early vailon pioneers of space travel, several voices rose in loud protest in the Assembly, arguing that the funds should instead be invested in an expansion of consumer manufacturing, ensuring that some material benefit accrued to the people. Though the fight died quickly when Vakor made a vague promise of future investment and went back to ignoring those she considered to be Luddites, it did presage much more difficult policy battles to be fought out in the high levels of the government in the coming years and decades.
For the time being, however, a political truce was had. In October, an outpost around Ramman was completed, which would serve a base of mining operations in the mineral-rich system. In March of the following year, the massive Autochthon complex was completed, beating its schedule by several months due the influx of materials from the nearby star. Meanwhile, the Jhunustarion and the Dargion continued to make incredible discoveries, portending massive changes coming for the vailon. First, having completed its survey of the Ramman system in January, the Jhunustarion moved on to Soval, where it found evidence of an organized political entity that existed in the region some two million year prior to the vailons’ first explorations.  Later that year, the Dargion encounted a planet orbiting the nearby star Bidtox, which scans suggested had a rich oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere. On approach, they were able to confirm: this was not only a habitable planet, but one teeming with life, both fauna and flora, living within a range of climes that matched Tebazed. Bidtox III was a potential new home for vailons.
These discoveries buttressed the support for the administration’s efforts to grow scientific exploration and research in 203. The expansion of spacefaring capabilities led to a renewed interest in zero-g laboratories; it was hoped that experiments conducted outside of gravity wells would lead directly to new breakthroughs in physics and engineering, as well as a better understanding of how the vailon body could withstand the rigors of interstellar travel. Meanwhile, several major mineral deposits in Ramman had proved to be difficult to access for surface mining operations. Several physicists attached to the Engineering section believed that the ores could be dislodged by an acute application of force with a high-speed projectile; they convinced Vakor of the practicality of the design, and resources were given to the group to build their prototype coilgun.
At the same time, in the Soval system, the Jhunustarion’s sensors recorded several anomalous readings in their scans of the red giant star. Subsequent observations showed no irregularities, and most of the crew were ready to chalk it up to a sensor malfunction. The captain disagreed. Hullos clashed with her people, believing her own instincts over the expertise of the various scientists on board. To prevent the argument from boiling over, she agreed with her XO that they would ask for guidance from Tebazed on this issue. In their next ansible wave included a request to investigate the anomaly further, by examing the nearby star Ushminaria which was showing similar readings in deep-space scans. Word came back, giving them the go-ahead to divert from their planned course to survey Ushminaria. A third explorer was ordered and laid down in August of 203, to pick up the slack that the diversion would cause.
Over the next few years, various scientific communities jostled to make their priorities heard by the administration. In the nascent field of xenobiology, researchers urged the administration to focus on finding and surveying other habitable worlds. They believed that their research would be greatly advanced by a cross-section of comparable biospheres, rather than relying on extrapolation from the limited examples (Tebazed and Bidtox III, to this point) they already had. Vakor’s chief advisors agreed, and orders went out to the exploration missions, by now including the ISS Bathradurion, captained by Barim den Adasga, to keep their eyes open for other life-bearing planets. The Bathradurion was at this time (in the waning weeks of 204) investigating a buried structure on Bidtox III that had been discovered in the initial scans by the Dargion. As Adasga led her away team into the structure, they found thousands of remains. Skeletons of metal, further analysis revealed that they had been biological automatons, comprised primarily of organic materials long since rotted away. The design of these bipedal automata fascinated the captain, and left her with a life-spanning interest in industrial applications of organic mimicry.
Adasga’s discovery suggested the possibility of an open-ended research mission being sent to the planet. The Director-General’s vision was somewhat grander, however. Construction of a ship capable of carrying upwards of 10,000 vailons, along with all of the infrastructure they would need to set up a permanent settlement, had already begun in in March. While not a secret as such, no formal announcement had been made of the project or its timeline. Vakor felt that this was the moment to announce the recruitment of volunteers to settle the first off-world colony of the TUG. She made a speech on the floor of the Assembly Hall on March 3, 205, extolling the incredible accomplishments the vailon had made in the last five years, and emphasizing the still-yet-imagined wonders that awaited the spaceborne society. She asked for, “all those ready to take the next step on behalf of your brethren,” to apply for a posting to the colony ship and a new life in another star system. In response to the broadcast, the most-watched in recorded history, the citizens of the TUG gave their enthusiastic support to the administration. 500,000 applied for slots in the initial wave of colonization in the following weeks; just over 2% were selected for the historic mission.
The first settlers making landfall on Bidtox III, founding the colony of Eldetha.
The mission was launched, to much fanfare, on March 30. The journey would take eight months; at the end of it, the specially-outfitted ship would land on the planet and serve as the administrative headquarters of the colony. In the interval, vailons across the planet waited with excitement for the fateful day. It seemed to most that any superfluous business had fallen away; all thoughts were turned towards the 10,000, traveling across the stars to a new home. There was some shock, then, when Vakor made a surprise announcement in late October. Flanked by representatives of the few remaining independent polities on Tebazed,  the Director-General declared to the world that, as of November 3, all vailons would be united under a single government. Secret talks had been ongoing for the last few years to complete the unification of the planet; they were spurred to completion by the imminient colonization project. Perhaps even inspired by Vakor’s vision of a spacefaring society, the leaders of the holdouts finally concluded that integration would happen, one way or another, in the coming years, as the TUG grew its resources by leaps and bounds; they decided to voluntarily submit now, in order to participate in that accomplishment directly. And so it was as a unified species that the vailon turned to the heavens on November 23, waiting to hear news of a successful landing on a planet orbiting a distant star. When the news came in, there was wild celebrations. The vailons had a second home now, in the newly-established colony of Eldetha.
 I have chosen here and elsewhere to represent the cohort system as a school, though there is no true analogue to it in human societies.
 Though the team of scientists on the Jhunustarion are all experts in their fields and do much initial analysis themselves, the Science Directory is eager to gather as much data as possible, as quickly as possible. A burst transmission is sent via ansible back to Tebazed once a day; due to bandwith constraints, pictures are very rarely included.
 Credit to the IRL Cassini-Huygens mission, and specifically to ESA’s Huygens lander, which captured this wonderful image of Titan. Source:
 Early attempts at translating some documents suggested that the polity referred to itself as the “First League”, and the name stuck despite further refinements of the standard language that the cross-cultural entity used.
 Though the TUG was the dominant polity on the planet, and had completed the integration of most other countries by the middle of the second century, a handful of minor states retained a nominal independence into the third century.
Tebazed greeted 206 with an unbridled sense of optimism. Vailons were now established in the colony of Eldetha, orbiting the distant star Bidtox, an achievement any species could be proud of. Explorers continued to push out the boundaries of the known galaxy, and science was flourishing in numerous research labs at home. An expansion of the secondary education system  allowed more vailons to pursue research postings and build on the discoveries made by the Jhunustarion, the Dargion, and the Bathradurion in deep space. The ships and their crews continued to improve their exploratory abilities; in particular, Seldirm den Harak and Barim den Adasga, captaining the Dargion and the Bathradurion respectively, were seen by the Science Directory as having made leaps and bounds in their capabilities. Raldirm den Hullos, on the other hand, was proving to be a true maverick. Having bucked the expert scientists in her crew to go chase a sensor shadow in the Ushminaria system, the ex-aviator was chagrined when months of scans of the A-type star showed nothing irregular. She was forced to admit her error in going with her gut instinct; though she made a commitment to be more thorough in her analysis in the future, the incident left a sour taste in the mouths of some on her ship and in the Science Directory on Tebazed. When the Jhunustarion discovered evidence of First League activity in the Ushminaria system in May, they were ordered to ignore it and continue with their current surveying mission. This time, Hullos agreed.
She would ultimately be very happy with this decision. In December of 206, the Jhunustarion arrived at Sol, a G-type main sequence star on a spur of the local hyperlane cluster. Immediately upon entering the system, the ship’s sensors lit up with radio broadcasts in the clear. From the outer edge of the system, they were able to calculate the source: the third planet orbiting the star. Distant scans indicated that the planet had a breathable oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere, and was very likely similar to Tebazed and Eldetha. As the Jhunustarion moved inwards, more detailed scans revealed several artificial satellites in near-space orbit, at least one of which appeared to be permanently inhabited. There were not any signs of crewed missions beyond the one large moon of the planet, and the xeno theorists on Tebazed believed that they had not yet achieved the capability of longer-range missions. Nevertheless, Hullos had become the first vailon to discover a living alien species, marking a moment when the vailons learned for a fact that they were not alone in the galaxy. The inhabitants of Sol III were a sapient species, and one potentially ready for interactions with the vailons in the near future.
Hullos took the Jhunustarion on its normal survey sweep of the Sol system, careful to avoid accidental detection for fear of unintentionally influencing the course of events for the aliens of Sol III. But just two months later, her mission would become almost an afterthought. On February 22, 207, the Dargion entered the Isius system, and was greeted by a hum of activity. Initial scans indicated a large, artificial structure orbiting the star and a habitable planet that was buzzing with ships. The propulsion emissions and relative lack of radio wave bleeding suggested a technology level similar to that of the vailon. Within minutes, they were sure: they had encountered an active alien empire at roughly the same stage of development to their own.
The alien starbase orbiting Isius.
As Harak and his team evaluated the data, a burst radio transmission was directed towards them from the starbase. The sensors automatically recorded the transmission, which seemed to be intended for them. The beginning of the stream was easily translatable into a few basic mathematical and physical concepts;  the crew understood this to mean that the message was a handshake of sorts, a method of acknowledging the shared intelligence between the two species and providing a way to communicate, eventually. The aliens had clearly thought through the difficulties of meeting other xenos, a problem that the vailon had not considered to a great degree to this point. But Harak felt that a response was required; as the commander on the scene he tasked his team to put together a makeshift handshake of their own to beam back, without waiting for instructions from Tebazed. In two hours they had a package that they thought would be representative of vailon culture and could provide a foundation for future talks. Only after they broadcast it did they send an unscheduled ansible wave back to Tebazed, explaining their encounter and subsequent actions.
At the Science Directory, excitement was tempered by curiosity. A furious effort was put in motion to translate the alien message, led by Pudrig den Vagors, the brilliant and maniacal director of the Sociology section. He and his crack team of linguists estimated that the project would take months, perhaps up to a year, even if things went well. Setting them to work, Raldirm den Vakor met with her executive council, comprised of her chief aides and the heads of the largest Directories, to decide whether to disclose the encounter to the vailons or to wait for formal communications to to be established before revealing any further information. A lengthy and vociferous debate ensued, but one voice emerged above the rest. Valdrig den Vagors, Director of Labor, was rapidly becoming a favorite of the Director-General with his consistent and clear logic, and his righteous belief in the equality of all citizens had won him many allies in the Assembly. Though his smug sense of self-confidence often led to an obnoxious hard-headedness that prevented engagement with others’ arguments, this time he was able to convince Vakor that openness was the only way to demonstrate respect for the people that she governed. When the announcement was made the following day, the support the director-general received from the people seemed to vindicate the decision. The vailons continued to show their confidence in the manner in which Vakor was leading the polity.
In October, the Jhunustarion made its approach towards Sol III. Overshadowed by the potential first contact with a xeno species active in the interstellar domain, Hullos’ mission had been largely forgotten by most of the population of Tebazed. Some in the Science Directory believed this to be beneficial to the mission; a focus on it in the public domain might have pushed the vailons into interfering in this society before either species were ready. As it was, the Jhunustarion steered clear of any sensors facing outwards from the planet, of which there were thankfully few. Close-range scans indicated that these aliens were still largely confined to their single planet, with a civilization fragmented into so-called nation-states. Despite the lack of political development on the planet, their level of scientific advancement indicated that, with sufficient investment, these aliens could begin to expand within their stellar system within a few decades, and potentially discover the hyperlane network by 300 if things broke right for them. Continuing with its survey of the system, the Jhunustarion discovered a dwarf planet in an outlying asteroid belt which was primarily comprised of several types of rare crystalline formations, a valuable find considering their various industrial applications.
Through her first eight years in office, Vakor had presided over an uninterrupted progression of vailon exploration and expansion. Though much of the population attributed these successes to the steady hand of the Director-General, she herself knew that no true test had yet come during her term. That would change in the first weeks of 208. In late January, the Bathradurion entered the Liram system and was greeted by a sight heretofore unknown to the vailon: massive, artificial space stations, surrounding by what were unmistakably powerful weapons platforms. Deeper in the system were also several large fleets, each ship bristling with guns of various types. A message was being broadcast on repeat; though it could not be translated in such a short time, the menacing advance of a detachment of ships told the crew that it was a warning: stay away or be fired upon. The Bathradurion turned and fled, having gathered as much data as possible in the hour it spent inside the system. With Vagors’ team of linguists hard at work on the Isius aliens’ language, translating this message would be depriortized; for the time being, the Liram system was declared off limits. The revelation of hostile aliens in the cold of space abruptly recast the optimism with which the vailons considered the exploration of the galaxy as naiveté. The announcement of the encounter would later be marked as the end of the age of innocence for the vailons on the interstellar stage.
This would be reinforced in June by the exchange of diplomatic protocols with the Mith-Fell Independent Commonwealth. In late May, Vagors informed the director-general that his team had completed a working dictionary of the alien language and were ready to prepare a formal greeting. Mere hours before it was to be broadcast by the Dargion, on June 2, a transmission was sent to them in Laggish – the aliens had beaten them to the punch. The first official contact occurred four days later, at the Isius starbase, with Harak temporarily granted with plenipotentiary powers to serve as ambassador. His opposite number for this historic occasion turned out to be the military commander of the station. A brief exchange was hampered by the limited ability of either side to translate the language of the other in real time, but they were able to formally observe diplomatic protocols and make arrangements for future exchanges. The avian species had a firm commitment to democracy and the equality of all citizens; the administration of government was highly militarized, as force of arms was considered the only way to safeguard the rights of the people. Harak came away from the meeting with a positive outlook for the future relationship of the two species, and with the promise of a formal exchange of ambassadors in the near future. However, the next week saw increasingly heated communications routed through the Dargion between Tebazed and Kan Jukla, the homeworld of the Mith-Fell. The Commissariat  expressed concerns about the vailons’ apparently abhorrent belief in unequal abilities among the citizens of the TUG. The military leadership was insistent that they would not treat with a hierarchical society that did not guarantee equal rights to all citizens. Despite strong protests by the vailon that this was a gross misunderstanding of their society, the Commonwealth broke off communications and closed their borders on June 13. 
The initial diplomatic exchange with the Mith-Fell belied future tensions.
After the breakdown in relations, the Dargion was recalled to Tebazed for a formal debrief of Harak and the rest of the crew. For a month, they met with experts in sociology who were attempting to build a profile of the Mith-Fell and to understand what went wrong. They drew on the recorded knowledge of the diplomatic traditions of the vailon to develop a set of options for Vakor and her advisors to consider. It was immediately decided to keep their own borders open, as a sign of continued goodwill towards their avian neighbors. However, after a protracted debate in the executive council, Vakor ordered preparations to be made to secure the border in the Lyctabon system, anticipating the possibility of future hostilities with the Commonwealth. While the citizens of the TUG were informed of the current state of relations with the Mith-Fell in an address to the Assembly, the discussed militarization of Lyctabon was not disclosed at this time.
The next twelve months passed with little change in the diplomatic situation facing the vailons. However, in July 209 communications were finally established with the Qvefoz tribes of the Romsir system. The terse message from the representative of the warrior clans informed the vailons that they were not to approach any of their space stations, each home to millions of Qvefoz, under pains of being fired upon by the impressive warships of the tribes. If, on the other hand, the TUG was willing to pay an annual tribute, peaceful relations could easily be maintained between the two people. Though Vakor was willing to consider the proposal, within just a few hours of the initial communication another representative claiming to represent the Qvefoz made contact and offered the same arrangement. The Director-General’s advisors reckoned that the pair represented two of what might be dozens of warring clans, which if ever united would constitute a serious threat but in a fragmented state could be ignored. Taking this advice, Vakor did not even attempt to establish a formal relationship, but instead informal contact was made by several lesser representatives of the vailon government.
Despite the lack of successes endured by the vailons on the diplomatic front, their exploratory and research programs continued apace. In March of 209, the Assembly passed a resolution calling for further resources to be directed to the Science Directory; the representatives of the people demonstrated their constituents’ commitment to and faith in the pillars of scienctific research. Harak and the Dargion, tasked after the lengthy debrief to investigate the potential First League artifact on Ushminaria VIIIa, made a pit stop in the Ramman system to chase down an anomalous reading made by the Jhunustarion way back in 201. To their shock, they discovered a ceramic container orbiting the star, and received approval to investigate the jar further before proceeding on to Ushminaria. Meanwhile, still in the massive Sol system, Hullos and the Jhunustarion made a stunning discovery of their own. One of the large moons of the fifth planet (85 natural satellites in total orbited the gas giant) was covered in electrical filaments that responded to external stimuli and was capable of rearranging themselves in an organized fashion; the rock itself seemed to be alive. The captain herself, however, was turning more and more inward. Perhaps becoming frustrated with the monotony of space exploration, stuck for months on end in a small ship with nothing to look out upon except a never-changing field of stars, Hullos was spending much of her time alone in her cabin, only interacting with the crew to issue thorough, if pro-forma, orders.
Near the end of 209, the Director-General set in motion the plans to secure the Lyctabon system and create a controllable border with the Mith-Fell. A new colony ship was begun; its eventual destination was to be the first planet orbiting Lyctabon, a world with remarkably similar characteristics to Tebazed. A new call for colonists was put to the population, and was met with enthusiasm; soon, a waiting list for as-yet-undeclared colonizing missions was set up, ensuring that the TUG was never short of settlers for its newly discovered worlds. Over the following year, the outpost station at Lyctabon was expanded; though now nearly the same size as Starbase Tebza, Starbase Lyctabon would be outfitted with several large coilguns, adapted from their intended use in deep-space mining to become anti-ship weapons, as well as a contingent of basic laser systems. In September of 210, the new colony ship touched down on the surface of Lyctabon I, formally establishing the colony of Varba. That November, Eldetha was deemed self-sufficient, and the stream of resources previously directed there from Tebazed was diverted to the newest vailon colony. Though only a few millions lived on the lush planet in the Bidtox system, they were now capable of forging their own path independent of support from home. It was expected that, within just a few years, the first deep-space vailon colony would be providing a steady stream of ores back to the metropole.
On Tebazed, the first half of 211 would see a sea change in the political situation. For the first half of Vakor’s term, the Director-General faced no internal opposition to her administration. But as challenges mounted, and the TUG expanded its reach to include now six star systems (with all the attendant complexities of a stellar empire), grumbling emerged as to the unrestricted nature of den Vakor’s decision-making. Though she may be a prudent mind in steering the government, it never hurt even the wisest statesperson to listen to alternative viewpoints. In the Assembly, several informal cliques had emerged over the decade of space exploration; after the election of 210 they reached a tipping point, and now began to act like formal political organizations. Three factions commanded the vast majority of the support. The Liberty Now Council was the strongest supporter of Vakor’s administration; it was even believed by many to be secretly guided by the Director-General herself. Adasga, having returned to Tebazed in late 207 to oversee a research project focused on automating deep-space mining, became the face of the Xeno Liberty Initiative; soon, she would supplant the political leaders themselves and take direct charge of the faction, dedicated to building good relations with all alien species. And finally, while Harak was being debriefed on Tebazed in the aftermath of first contact with the Commonwealth, he connected with a few like-minded MAs who felt that Vakor’s plans to counter the Mith-Fell amounted to an escalation, however clandestine the work may be. This group now formally called itself the Peaceful Progress Initiative, and began putting pressure on the administration to reiterate the peaceful stance of the TUG. Going forward, the politics of Tebazed would turn towards contention and competition, as the vailon truly affirmed that their age of innocence was over.
A new politics for a new age.
 The training programs for advanced fields that accept students after they graduate with their cohorts.
 Including binary and a diagram of the hydrogen atom.
 The formal name of the government of the Commonwealth.
 Formal relations would be reestablished in 210, after the founding of the Varba colony in the Lyctabon system. However, diplomatic exchanges would be limited to a pair of space stations located at either end of the hyperlane between Lyctabon and Isius.
The neighbors are... troublesome, to say the least. The vailons hope to improve relations with the Commonwealth over time as the two societies learn more about each other. They do think of themselves as democratic, even if the mith-fell don't understand yet.
A couple of things to note. First, I forgot to mention up top that I am playing on 2.4, but without Megacorp (I have all of the other DLC). In another game I have going I am still getting some features that look like Megacorp, so I'm not sure what is going on with that.
Second, the next post is going to move away from the main narrative and jump into a short story about a border incident in 212. As far as fiction goes, this will be extremely unpolished, like a very rough first draft, but I think it's going to turn out okay. I will pick up with the playthrough in next week's post.
Deep space, near to the breachpoint of the hyperlane to Phargis
July 13, 212
Raldirm den Hullos stood in her quarters. She had been given an hour to pack her belongings. Looking around the room, she saw a closet with three outfits, each with a slight variation on the one she was wearing. A desk was in the corner, topped by a few data printouts and a handheld computer; several books, mostly scientific treatises, lined a shelf overhead. Near the bunk was a small table, which was sometimes used for private meetings but today only held her service commendations and medals of rank. And that was the sum total of her possessions. The mith-fell were clearly struggling to understand how a non-acquisitive culture functioned, Raldirm thought.
She had spent most of the last year in this room. She was tired, after twelve near-continuous years in space, away from the only home vailons had ever known for all but a few weeks. Of course, two colonies had been established in her time on mission, orbiting stars a mere few jumps from Tebza. But, out here, they seemed insubstantial. Line items in a mission brief. Almost inconceivable that, on a hunk of rock not so dissimilar to the ones she routinely stepped foot on during away missions, some airless and barren, others so hot as to melt your fur from seconds of exposure, that on some distant planet like that, there were vailons who were trying to make sustainable habitation possible.
A depression sets in. Most of the original crew had rotated into other postings long before; though several had returned since, Raldirm was the only one to serve continuously for the entire mission. She could have taken any posting she wanted back on Tebazed. But, she was certain that would unavoidably lead to a management or advisory role in the Science Directory. Sitting on a desk planetside seemed to be the worst possible outcome. And so she stayed, as life in the cold expanse became ever more rote and dreary.
Raldirm took her time packing, slowly folding her uniforms before laying them gently in her bag. The fire she had once was now gone. Her 20s were spent in the air, piloting the experimental planes the engineering geeks threw together. The high-performance vehicles were just a perk; the thrill was entirely in the flying itself. That she was good enough to be recruited to do the most difficult flying was of little consequence for her. All she wanted was to be aloft, in the flow of the wind, not thinking but reacting with her entire being. Back then, the rest of the world had seemed to be asleep, but she felt alive in a way that she could never describe. After the rest of the vailons awoke, inspired by the dream of space in the ‘90s, she allowed herself to be swept along with the tide. She joined the first class of astronauts; she flew test flights for all of the new spacecraft, at first short hops in near-orbit, later on extended missions beyond the gravity of Tebazed. Raldirm supposed that was freeing, in its own way, but it lacked something essential for her. The control, the melding with the machine so that you and it felt as one, so it would respond to every touch, every thought. Eventually she was no longer even piloting small ships, but instead captaining larger vessels, and from there the downward spiral was inevitable.
There was a romanticism to being a pioneer. She had felt the pull, first when the space program launched in 190, and then eight years later when she volunteered to captain the Jhunustarion as it began its mission to explore beyond their home star. It was a bold and daring endeavor, and she was herself bold and daring… now, fourteen years on, she no longer understood the pride that she remembered feeling. The first years were exhilarating. The first time she stepped onto extrasolar alien planet was overwhelming. Waves of joy and excitement at her accomplishment; accompanied by what she now recognized was a profound loneliness that would come to color all of her subsequent experiences. Sometimes the loneliness was helpful. She became well-attuned to the emotions of her crew, and was quick to recognize when someone was burned out, even if they didn’t realize it yet. Sending them home at that point was an easy call, and they were always grateful for the push; some even returned years later, refreshed and ready to get to work again. Other times the isolation was the source of problems, a major detriment to the mission. On one occasion, back in 205 if she remembered correctly, she stubbornly insisted that a sensor anomaly was in fact part of a pattern of evidence that suggested that the stars of the galaxy were dying; over the objections of her entire crew, she led them on a wild goose chase to a nearby star to try to confirm her theory, and wound up blowing their entire mission timeline and causing both the researchers on her ship and her superiors on Tebazed to seriously question her judgment.
She was now neatly piling her small collection of books on top of the clothes in her bag. Things had gotten worse recently, though she took pains to conceal it from the Science Directory. Apart from meals, she spent all of her time in her cabin, issuing the few necessary orders via the intercom. Her XO had been the primary commander of the Jhunustarion for nearly a year now, though he always signed his mission reports in her name. She was burned out, but couldn’t bring herself to ask for a new posting. It would have felt a betrayal of herself, the singular vailon pioneer, the hero explorer. She needed a jolt; but in deep space it was very hard to find an external source for a jolt that could shake her loose from her rut.
Four years ago, a sister ship had made initial contact with the aliens known as the mith-fell. Four days ago, the Jhunustarion had finished its survey of the Hiann system, tucked away on a dead-end spur of the hyperlane network, and maneuvered to make the breach. As they charged up their hyperdrive, an automated radio beacon was deployed. It scanned them once; recognizing the vailon hull, it broadcast a message informing them that the Commonwealth had claimed the Phargis system on the other side and was denying them entry. Raldirm was called up to the bridge for the first time in weeks, the crew uncertain if their captain could make any decision at this point, let alone the right one. They weren’t aware that the XO had made a trip to her quarters immediately before. After telling her about the beacon, he saw a glint in her eyes, one that he hadn’t seen in years. Her interest had been piqued; though she wasn’t aware of it yet, life had returned to her soul, with a real judgment of some consequence to make facing her in the near future.
Of course, the crisis, such as it was, would never be resolved by a lowly captain in deep space. The diplomats were on it, in the neutral border stations on either side of the Lyctabon-Isius hyperlane. These were vailons going to work; this was what they were supposed to take pride in, as a society. But for the crew of the Jhunustarion, all they felt was the inherent boredom, waiting for the crisis to proceed to the next stage. On the first day, a meeting was held, led by the captain, with all of her senior staff. Raldirm proposed running the border, reasoning that a newly-built outpost would almost certainly not have the weapons range to reach them at the edge of the system, and any military escort for the construction crews would be deep in the inner system, unlikely to have the legs to reach them before they could make it to the next breachpoint and escape back to TUG space. This “solution” was rejected by the others; even if it worked, it stood a decent chance of inciting a war, which seemed less than ideal. They may have had little faith in the diplomatic corps, who, even if they were steeped in tradition, had minimal experience dealing with alien powers of any kind. But they definitely had no confidence in the military apparatus of their polity, really just a few patrol ships to deter the more acquisitive vailons from turning to piracy to enrich themselves with the newfound wealth of the surrounding systems. They would stand no chance against the Commonwealth Navy, which was coterminous with the state and enjoyed, at the point of a gun, the full support of all mith-fells.
With no other ideas suggesting themselves, they had no choice but to sit tight. Though they could send detailed reports to Tebazed, Tebazed could only send small data packets back; such was the inherent limit to ansible theory. For the next two days, the Jhunustarion received regular updates, but they were bare-bones, and provided almost no illumination of how the negotiations were proceeding, or even what the proposed solutions might be. Raldirm was relaxed, however. There was nothing to be done while the diplomats chattered; it was out of their hands. But the tension and anxiety amongst the rest of the crew revealed itself to be an opportunity for her to reclaim the mantle of leadership, which she had relinquished over the last few years. It felt good to feel responsible for her crew again. She walked around the ship with her horns held high, once more confident in her abilities.
On July 11, a Commonwealth corvette appeared, and maneuvered into formation with the explorer. Its guns and missile launchers were unmistakable and menacing, though they were pointedly not aimed at the Jhunustarion. Raldirm and her staff took this to mean that a diplomatic solution for their release was nearing. A terse conversation ensued with the mith-fell, as they explained the proposal currently being hammered out. The vailons would be allowed to pass through the TK system and return to Tebazed, but their ship would have to be left behind. Official word came over the ansible the next afternoon; they were to use the ship’s shuttles and runabouts to make the transit, shadowed by the military escort. The Jhunustarion would be left behind, ostensibly because such a large ship was a security risk to the Commonwealth, but with the tacit agreement that the mith-fell would pick it over after they departed.
The captain immediately sent a counter-proposal back to Tebazed: they would prepare the ship to be scuttled, and set the charges on a timer so that they would explode only after the mith-fell had escorted them through the hyperlane. Explicit orders came back; they were to follow the letter of the agreement, and perform no actions that would deny the mith-fell access to the ship. Raldirm met with her entire crew to explain the deal. Though they all voiced displeasure, nobody wanted to directly violate the orders given to them by the administration; they understood that there was limited room for negotiations with a powerful and militarized state.
Still, all vailons are steeped in a culture of diplomacy. Despite the tension, Raldirm invited a delegation from the Commonwealth ship to share a meal on the Jhunustarion that evening. Four mith-fell came, in a shuttle with such graceful lines that it seemed to float as it sat in the hangar. The vailon captain supposed that mith-fell design philosophy emphasized this, that they drew no distinction between style and function. In fact, as the Commonwealth liaison was eager to explain, the mith-fell believed that they were one and the same. Aerodynamics was a primary concern and a driver of efficiency for the avian species, unlike for the primitive land-lubbers of their homeworld of Kan Jukla. (Raldirm also supposed that the implicit insult was unintentional, a result of imprecise translation, but she wouldn’t have put a lot of stock in that assumption.) The captain of the mith-fell ship, on the other hand, expressed some appreciation for the achievement of flight by mammalians at all, let alone space travel, given the inherent difficulties in imagining such a possibility without wings.
They took the meal in the mess, which was cleared out for an hour. Raldirm was joined by the XO, the head of the science team, and the best – the only – sociologist they had on board. The Commonwealth was represented by the captain and the ship liaison, of course, as well as the chief of the engineering department and an assistant to the liaison, who served as the translator for the occasion. Raldirm ordered the last of the cured meat to be prepared (they had been overdue for a supply run), along with a sampling of dehydrated fruits and vegetables should their carnivorous guests desire to be adventurous.
The mith-fell were extremely pleased with the offerings. The captain explained, as the liaison swallowed a salted rat down his gullet whole (the others deigned to use utensils), that Commonwealth ships were only stocked with processed foodstuffs that could be easily stored and prepared; real food, even dried out as this meat was, was a rare extravagance in deep space.
Raldirm nodded at this. “Vailons maybe have a broader view of the needs of the individual than your military does,” she suggested.
“What do you mean?” her opposite number asked through the translator.
“We view social needs to be the equal of physical or, ah, political needs. Food is, for us, a social event, not merely a way to intake nutrients. Meals are opportunities to share with our fellow vailons, and this is facilitated by the food we put in front of us. We do bow to the constraints of space travel; I would say about two-thirds of the sustenance we consume comes in the form of nutrient bars, spiced with various seasonings, but this is no substitute for eating and sharing. We are provisioned with only small quantities of actual foods, but these are considered crucial elements of our supply. In our view, the best performance can only come when our minds are fed, same as our bodies.”
A pause for translation. The mith-fell captain and liaison spoke quickly with each other, then the captain turned back to the hosts. “We are certainly grateful to share these delicacies with you as equals,” he said, at which point the liaison interjected. “It is true that in our naval ships we prioritize nutrient efficiency but that does not mean our society is wanting for abundance! On Kan Jukla meals are often celebrations, with tables upon tables of the richest seafoods and meats to be shared by all.”
Raldirm tipped her head to the side, shifting her horns away from the guests in a gesture of reconciliation. “I meant no offense.”
Her XO spoke next. “It’s a shame, really. We used the last of our fish two weeks ago. Otherwise we could have cooked up something truly special for you.”
The mith-fell engineering officer expressed surprise. “At first I thought you were plant-eaters and didn’t eat meat at all. Now you eat fish too!” That seemed to earn a look from the liaison.
“Seafood is not a staple of our diets,” the vailon sociologist explained. “As you say, our primary food source is vegetable plants, but most diets do include a small portion of land-based meats. Animals of the sea have entered our cuisines only in the last couple of millenia, and are considered tremendous luxuries in our society, fit for consumption for celebrations and other occasions.”
More crosstalk from the mith-fell. After a moment, the liaison flapped his vestigial wings at the captain, and the latter fell silent. The liaison then asked, “What occasions do you observe out here in space? My pardon if this is offensive, but I lack some understanding of your culture. Are all your scientists part of the upper class, or is there a particular reason this ship has been given such luxuries?”
After listening to the translation, the XO shook his head, forgetting that the physical gesture would not be understood. “It’s not a matter of class,” he said. “Luxuries are for special occasions, not for special individuals.”
“What he means to say,” the sociologist continued, “is that our society does not restrict access to goods based on primitive status signifiers such as money. What we call ‘luxuries’ are simply those things which are not for everyday use, but instead are used to indicate important events. For instance, as my colleague mentioned, two weeks ago we held a celebration of one of our shipmates’ birthday, and the best chef on board used the last of our store of fish to make a festive meal.”
The liaison replied, “We are meat and fish eaters, of course, but even we would not think to cook with such frivolity just for someone’s hatching-day. All citizens are equal in our society, on every day of the calendar.”
The conversation continued in this manner.
Raldirm was finished packing now. She slung her bag over her shoulder and departed her cabin, her home for the last twelve years and now little more than an empty room in a mostly empty ship. A ship that would suffer from a small reactor destabilization event in a few hours, the captain had agreed with the crew after dinner last night. Returning to the Jhunustarion some weeks later, the mith-fell would discover that an electromagnetic pulse had wiped the ship’s hard drives clean. They had been ordered to hand the ship over to the mith-fell, but they had decided that access to the onboard databanks would be a step too far.
The lounge was a short distance away; even walking slowly, she arrived much faster than she would have liked. Most of the crew were now onboard their shuttles, preparing for departure; only three individuals remained, waiting for the captain.
The Commonwealth liaison was also present, along with his translator and a junior officer armed with a large energy weapon. The group stood in a tense silence, having seen the rest of the vailons off the ship in the last half hour and with nothing left to discuss. Raldirm was disappointed that the captain of the Commonwealth ship had not returned for the official handover, though she understood that the liaison was probably making a deliberate point about the relative power of the two. It was probably for the best; she would have felt much more guilt at impugning the captain’s honor with the ceremony, whereas she had no compunction at impugning the honor of the liaison with the same.
The ceremony was brief, the dialogue having been agreed upon beforehand (it was mostly written by the mith-fell, who had a strong culture of military formality). After the official handover was completed, the vailons were escorted to the runabout, departing the ship for the last time. As they walked the corridors, the liaison approached Raldirm, translator in tow. He ruffled his wings and reached out to run his hand along the exposed metal of the bulkhead. “What kind of explorers are you vailons? Your ships do not speak highly of you. There is no craft, no care applied in their structure. Just cold, hard steel.”
Raldirm did not feel it necessary to point out that the bulkheads were actually comprised of nanocarbon tubing. Instead she replied, “We are curious about the stars. We do not feel the need to show off for them.”