Chapter Three - Scary Monsters

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Chapter Three – Scary Monsters

Sometimes, the universe comes knocking to remind even the most brilliant minds that there is no narrative arc. Randomness is not only endemic, it is the dominant force in determining the course of events. In September of 211 Suldirm den Harak and the crew of the Dargion concluded their research into the mysterious ceramic object around Ramman. The end result of two years spent orbiting the star was… nothing. No explanation for its presence suggested itself from the thousands of scans taken with numerous different instruments and filters. The jar was completely unremarkable in every perceivable way. After running every test, the crew could think of, Harak finally surrendered to the absurdity. His penultimate report was a final detailing of their utter lack of any progress over 24 months and asking for permission to move on to other projects. The Science Directory, though loathe to give up after having invested so much time and energy, gave its approval, which prompted one final message from the crew, consisting of a single image of the jar with the caption, “This is not a jar.”

Despite the failure of this research – or, perhaps, thanks to the profound lessons learned – the TUG continued its rapid technological advancement. Tebazed society would have been virtually unrecognizable to someone living a mere two decades earlier. Vailons everywhere looked to the future with a sense of optimism and a belief in progress, their scientific achievements moving forward in time with their cultural achievements. But their faith was not blind; the outside world intruded on occasion. Starting in 212, the outside world began to intrude much more often. Over the next several years, many vailons would look back on their first decade as space explorers and frown at their past selves’ naiveté. Space was full of scary monsters, and sometimes those scary monsters attempted to bite.

In July, the Jhunustarion completed its survey of the Hiann system, on a spur of the hyperlane network. When they attempted to return to the main network, Hullos and the crew discovered that the Commonwealth had laid claim to the Phargis, at the other end of the only exit from Hiann. Over the next few days, delicate negotiations were conducted by the nascent diplomatic corps; the vailons wanted their ship to be given safe passage back to TUG-controlled space, but the mith-fell were concerned that the explorers would use the opportunity to gather intelligence on their activities. A compromise was reached: the crew of the Jhunustarion would be allowed to pass through Commonwealth space, on board their shuttles and escorted by a mith-fell ship, but the Jhunustarion itself would have to be left behind. [1] This did not sit well with the crew, who did not want their years of hard work and scientific research to fall into the hands of the clearly hostile avians. Hullos, awakened from her years-long depression by the circumstances, came up with a plan to create a reactor accident after they abandoned the ship, frying the computers and preventing the mith-fell from accessing any of their data. When the mith-fell returned to the explorer, several weeks later, they found an empty husk from which very little information could be gleaned. Though Hullos, upon her return to Tebazed, was hailed a hero, the Commonwealth leadership was incredibly displeased at having been deceived. Relations between the two states, if they could have ever been considered cordial, steadily worsened over the next year, culminating in a formal denunciation of the TUG in July of the following year.

In the aftermath of the incident, the first real political fight of the new age broke out amongst the factions in the Assembly. Hullos was celebrated by the people on Tebazed and praised in public by leadership in the Assembly and the administration. Privately, however, Director-General Vakor was furious. Diplomacy was difficult enough when faced with an adversary that could call on more direct power to back up its words; the last thing she needed was a rogue agent upsetting a painstakingly negotiated deal. Vakor was trying to build a better relationship with the Commonwealth, and Hullos had undermined years of work with her impulsive actions.

The leaders of the Peaceful Progress Initiative were similarly displeased. [2] They saw Hullos as a loose cannon whose ego overrode any feelings of obligations to the greater good. When she returned to the capital, they assumed that she would be debriefed and then unceremoniously fired for her insubordination and actions that threatened the peace and stability of the TUG. When no such decision was forthcoming, they reacted poorly. Ambushing the parliamentary leaders in the Assembly, their MAs spent an entire day of debate on the floor denouncing the out-of-control explorer and criticizing the Director-General for allowing such personnel to remain in her administration without incurring any consequences. The display may have sobered the public, as many began to consider the consequences of such a blatant provocation of their neighbors, but within the capital all the PPI earned was the enmity of their fellow politicians. Vakor’s allies in the Assembly, acting under the banner of the Liberty Now Council, pushed back against the attacks, calling them an unjustified assault on the prerogative of the Director-General. Vakor herself, politely maintaining her official distance from the fracas, was able to find an acceptable compromise, issuing a public reprimand to the pioneering explorer but also commissioning a new ship for Hullos to command as she continued the surveying mission of the Science Directory. The ISS Cennergion launched in October, and the Assembly moved on to other business; but relations were permanently soured between the two factions. [3]

The delegate from Muntadar would besmirch the intuition of the great pioneer of the vailon space program. Her actions in this case were ingenious and prevented our research from falling into the hands of those who would use it against us. I ask the delegate from Muntadar what would she have done in the same circumstances? I would not have had the courage to act, and I think the same is true of most members of this august body…

-Kunrig den Armok, during debate in the Assembly, August 3, 212

Facing outright hostility from the Commonwealth, the vailons could only hope that other neighbors would prove more friendly. [4] When an alien outpost was identified in the Bihjall system in August of 214, excitement began to bubble to the surface again at the prospect of meeting new xenos. Unfortunately, first contact with the Varelviv Interplanetary Sovereignty [5] revealed them to be a polity fanatically devoted to hierarchical social institutions and a retrograde economic system. The representatives of Overlord Spagruum I laughed at the proposals of cooperation for mutual benefit presented by the vailon envoys; all they saw was a vast horde of new slaves to feed their growth, and they were not shy about saying so to the unarmed diplomatic mission. The VIS immediately closed their borders to all vailons, and within weeks had entirely cut off contact with the TUG. Such a pitiful state was not worth even speaking to.

VISOutpostBihjall.jpg

The VIS outpost encountered by the ISS Bathradurion in the Bihjall system.

FirstContactVarelviv.jpg

The varelviv slavers introduce themselves.
Concern boiled over into low levels of alarm in December, when an envoy was sent from Viverva with a message for Vakor and the administration. Overlord Spagruum I would be disposed to look kindly upon the vailons, the executive council was informed, if they would simply deign to ask for his protection. Surely they would welcome the security a strong state could provide, the envoy continued, especially when the TUG was surrounded by barbaric aggressors like the mith-fell. It went without saying that a dedicated tax would be leveed to compensate the VIS for their efforts. Anticipating the icy reception this proposal would receive, the envoy came armed with a sweetener: a guarantee that the varelviv would not move aggressively against any TUG holdings, and a firm commitment not to enslave any vailon citizens. There was never actually a question of the vailons agreeing to such an arrangement, however, and the envoy was informed within a few hours that the answer would be a firm no. If the VIS wanted their submission, they would have to force it upon them.

More difficult to decide were the choices that now lay in front of Vakor. The situation faced by the TUG was clear, the path forward much less so. They were an unmilitarized state, with virtually no ability to defend itself if confronted with force. A delicate balance would need to be struck. In this they had some advantages. The Commonwealth was, if anything, even more disposed to be hostile towards the VIS. A careful diplomatic approach could stave off aggressive actions by the rival powers; neither would want to see Tebazed in the orbit of, or outright annexed by, the other. The diplomatic corps would be promoted and expanded to meet the new needs of the state; significant resources would need to be applied to building out the infrastructure necessary to implement the new policy. But diplomacy was a vailon heritage, and many looked forward to the challenge with excitement.

Vakor, on the other hand, was painfully aware that the balancing act would work much better if the TUG could offer more than token resistance to an invasion. In the first decade and a half of space exploration, the administration had given no consideration to building a formal military organization. The Director-General believed it was time to change that. At the end of 215, the TUG “navy” stood at three ships strong. The patrol boats were outfitted with basic kinetic and laser guns and used primarily to deter low-grade piracy along the shipping routes between Tebazed and the colonies. Though Vakor could have simply begun the military expansion unilaterally, she felt that it would be important to engage with the Assembly and the vailon public on the question of the use of force. A long and difficult debate ensued, in which the PPI once again butted heads with the allies of the executive. Though the PPI acknowledged the need to deter the hostile neighbors, they felt that the best approach would be through economic expansion; if they came to rely on trade with the vailon, neither the mith-fell nor the varelviv would dare interfere with an important source of income. In a long speech on December 25, Vakor acknowledged that the PPI’s suggestion was a good one; however, she informed the Assembly that the current circumstances must be considered a crisis, and as a consequence some emergency measures would be necessary. The speech, which also outlined the exact threats faced by the vailon, focused the minds of the MAs, who concluded the debate shortly thereafter with a symbolic vote approving of Vakor’s plan. Within the week, construction commenced on expanded defensive infrastructure to control the key hyperlane juncture of Con Viab. Early in the new year, the three patrol boats were retrofitted with state-of-the-art coilguns, and a new corvette design was announced: a dedicated gunboat built around a single large nuclear missile launcher. Together these ships would form the nucleus of the newly formed Unified Navy. The vailons faced an uncertain future, but they were preparing to meet it head-on.

BorderIn216.jpg

The TUG attempts to forge a course between hostile strangers.

Footnotes
[1] The mith-fell planned, of course, to take advantage of the situation by picking over the abandoned vailon explorer. It would be a major coup for their intelligence services.
[2] Though Suldirm den Harak nominally led the faction, his current posting on the Dargion prevented him from directing the organization. Instead, at the current time he served as a symbolic leader and a guiding light.
[3] The formal denunciation of the TUG by the Commonwealth a few months later, while treated very seriously by the administration and the diplomatic corps, did not make any waves in the Assembly or the public discourse. Though it constituted an official severing of relations, the act itself did not change any fundamental factors in the relationship between the two states.
[4] Vailon xenobiologists were now very confident that the galaxy was full of sapient, spacefaring species, given the evident density of life generally and intelligent life specifically in their immediate star cluster.
[5] A translation of Va was completed by the Sociology Section in April, 215.
 
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eoncommander

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Border incidents...

Diplomatic mod?

No mods, just extrapolations from events in the game. I'm aiming to tell stories that are recognizable from game mechanics, but also can mostly stand on their own.

One further note: starting with Chapter Three, I have begun to drop the 'den' from the vailon names. I think it made the individuals hard to identify in the narrative, and that this way should be clearer in the reading.
 

Nikolai

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The mushrooms seem nice enough.
 

Nikolai

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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.”
Haha, wonderful retort by the way. :D
 

eoncommander

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Haha, wonderful retort by the way. :D

Thank you! Personally, I think the avian ship designs are beautiful. I think many vailons would agree, actually, but in this case Raldirm was reacting to the haughtiness of the liaison.

Also, thank you so much for mentioning me in the character writer of the week thread! I am incredibly honored.
 
Chapter Four - The Selection of 220

eoncommander

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Shadows

Over the course of the 210s, a shadow hung over the TUG. First contacts with the Commonwealth and especially the VIS were a shock to the peaceful debaters of Tebazed. Slaving raids by varelvivi ships were a constant threat to outlying systems, particularly in the latter half of the decade. Many in the newly expanded diplomatic corps hoped that the Commonwealth would see reason and form an alliance with the vailons to ensure the security of both countries against encroachment by the slaving fungoids; however, this idea was quickly dashed, as the mith-fell leadership made it abundantly clear that they were more concerned with the ‘menace’ of ideological heresy than with the material safety of their people. The TUG, caught between two overtly hostile powers, would need to fend for itself.

The military buildup, begun in late 215, continued through 218. By the end of the project, the Unified Navy had grown to encompass eight dedicated warships. A formal oversight council was assembled to design and implement an official military doctrine for the fleet; a few years later, veterans of this committee would form the core of the Battle Staff and its successor, the Naval Staff. In September of 218, the Director-General commissioned a panel to study the ground defenses on the colonies and the metropole; finding them lacking, the panel recommended a series of steps to fortify the planets against a variety of assaults.

It was also in this period that vailon archaeologists began to assemble a picture of the First League. The ancient state had once ruled the region of the galaxy the vailons now called home, and even millions of years later many artifacts were still present; they were a testament to the technological advancement of these forerunners and presented a tantalizing look at their civilization. In its heyday, the First League had maintained a naval base in the Ushminaria system, home port to the 28th Outer Rim Patrol Fleet. From there, assuming they had navigated via the same hyperlane network that contemporary spacefarers used, the First League fleet would have been able to range out to the edge of the galaxy in a matter of weeks to offer protection to trade routes lying along the rim of the spiral arm. On the inhospitable Covall I, Hullos and the crew of the Cennergion discovered the ruins of a penal colony, housing convicts from across the territory of the First League: over 50 species were represented in the logs, and more than a dozen were apparent in the fossilized remains the vailons found in the still-standing cells. And in the nearby Turim system, the remnants of an isolated science installation were identified; it had been mostly destroyed in a massive explosion some two millions years ago. Coupled with the remote location, the blast indicated that the studies conducted there were of an extremely dangerous nature. Some in the Science Directory, however, believed that the demise of the station was incidental to the work of the researchers located there, because the Turim system was also home to an incredible deep-space phenomenon.

TurimIIIShrouded.jpg

Turim III during its phased-out cycle.

Suldirm den Harak was not on the bridge when the ISS Dargion first entered the Turim system in January of 214, but he was quickly informed of the unbelievable data coming in from the long-range scanners. The third planet in the system was… habitable, would be one word, but it would not do justice to the stunning visuals that were dsiplayed on the ship. Vast grasslands reminded the crew of the massive Plains of Mastadar back on Tebazed, the birthplace of the vailons. What was more, there seemed to be lush rainforests, blooming oases, and mossy tundras. This was a Gaia world, truly a home to any species that cared to settle there. But just a few days later, to their horror, the perfect planet winked out of existence, replaced by a planet covered in a thick fog, impenetrable to all scans. In the next year, the Dargion witnessed no less than four of these shifts, each occurring exactly 90 days after the previous one. Direct surveys of the planet [1] revealed that it was surrounded by a ‘shimmer’ of what could only be called psionic energy; this envelope was causing the phase-shift to occur on a precise schedule. In order to settle the planet, the phase-shifting would have to be stopped; Harak had a theory about how to accomplish this, but was asked to put it on hold, since the system was very close to the border with the VIS, and the TUG leadership did not yet feel confident about their ability to protect a static target of such high value. Within a few years, however, the Dargion would return, conducting a years-long project to stabilize the planet.

The Run-Up

The Dargion’s mission to stabilize Turim III found it remaining in orbit of the planet for several years, serving as the hub for a large contingent of researchers that were working on the project. The many hands involved meant that Harak’s presence on the ship was superfluous, which worked out well for him: it enabled him to return home in late 218, to start to lay the groundwork for his campaign to become the new Director-General. Vakor’s term was ending in just over a year, and preparations for the selection campaign were beginning to ramp up. Harak, as the leader of the Peaceful Progress Initiative, was widely seen as a leading candidate. His proxies in the Assembly had spent the last few years building a following for a new approach to the difficult situation the TUG found itself in, a focus on economic expansion and investment in research which would allow the vailons to exert passive influence on their neighbors and never have to worry about firing a shot in defense. With Harak’s return, the PPI now had a dynamic public speaker and clever debater at its head, and support for its policies began to increase.

With Vakor slated to leave office, two other potential candidates seemed to offer themselves as a continuation of her administration. From within the Directorate came Valdrig den Vagors, the Director of Labor and a top advisor to the Director-General. Though he could sometimes be overzealous in debate, Vagors was widely considered to be a capable administrator and was viewed as a natural successor to Vakor, should the vailons wish to continue with the latter’s policies. Those who felt Vagors to be more of a stubborn ass than a righteous ox could instead turn to Barim den Adasga, the leader of the Xeno Liberty Initiative. Having wrestled control of the faction from a clique of career MAs, she had been a charismatic presence in Sedrin for years in her dual role as head of the Science Directory [2] and as a forceful advocate for diplomatic outreach and peaceful negotiations with even the hostile neighbors of the vailons. In both positions she had the opportunity to work closely with Vakor, and the two seemed to be of one mind when it came to galactic strategy. It was even rumored in some quarters that the incumbent would prefer Adasga to be her successor rather than her protégé Vagors, who was perhaps not the best candidate to lead a diplomatic initiative.

The Director-General, however, was keeping her actual thoughts to herself. Nineteen years in office had led her to a keen understanding of the rigors of managing the vast bureaucracy of the TUG, and as she looked at the leading candidates, she found they all fell short in some way. Harak was a skilled orator and would not be cowed by the responsibility, but Vakor could not countenance the direction in which he would take the administration. Foregoing a robust diplomatic strategy would simply leave the TUG both friendless and defenseless. Meanwhile, Vagors, while a talented subordinate, was too hard-headed to serve as an effective leader; he was more likely to dismiss those who disagreed with him rather than listen to their arguments. Adasga would be her favorite to succeed her, as they shared similar philosophies on administration and governance, but the brilliant scientist had confided to her friend that she preferred to stay in her current role, which still afforded her the opportunity to be directly involved in research every day. Though Vakor spent months trying to change Adasga’s mind, the answer remained the same. Confronted with this perceived lack of quality options, Vakor began to consider a drastic option: submitting her own name for the selection and attempting to win an unprecedented second term as the leader of Tebazed’s vast executive body.

As the potential candidates were beginning to position themselves, vailons made first contact with another neighboring empire, the Hissma Union. The spore-like hissma were truly a strange sight; they floated in mid-air and their faces were located in their lower extremities. The Union was, similar to the Commonwealth, governed entirely by a military administration, devoted to upholding the individual rights of its citizens and spreading the gospel of egalitarianism. Unlike the proud mith-fell, however, the hissma (or at least those represented in the civil relations department) were more amenable to compromise and cooperation when shared interests were evident. As the Union shared a border with the VIS, there were in fact plenty of shared interests with the TUG. While they rapidly aligned themselves with the Commonwealth, [3] the hissma also treated vailon embassies cordially, and indicated an openness to closer relations over time.

FirstContactHissma.jpg

Relations with the hissma were cordial from the start.

Considering the ever-looming threat of the varelviv, Vakor wanted to develop closer relations as soon as possible. Negotiations in December of 218 (a mere two months after first contact) were fruitful but did not lead to a signed document, just a promise of future meetings. It seemed to some in the diplomatic corps that the hissma were risk-averse; they may have wanted to be cautious with their outreach or simply felt slightly discriminatory towards the ground-bound vailons (it was noted that there was no hesitation to sign accords with the winged, albeit flightless, mith-fell). However, Vakor believed that they were close to an agreement, and just needed a nudge. She decided that a unilateral gesture of goodwill would indicate the trustworthiness of the TUG and help build a working relationship that would be an effective counter to VIS aggressiveness. On January 1, 219, Vakor’s diplomats delivered a note to the three local powers, informing them that any unprovoked attack on the Union would be met with the utmost displeasure from the TUG and lead to war. The surprised hissma were very grateful for the territorial guarantee, and the negotiatiors hammered out a trade deal over the next few weeks further improving between the two neighbors. The Commonwealth was deeply displeased to learn of these actions and sent strongly worded protests to Tebazed and Hissom. Though Vakor ignored the note from the avians, her hissma counterpart took the warning seriously, and declined to move forward with further agreements with the TUG, preventing the vailon delegation from nailing down a mutual defense agreement at this time.

The VIS, meanwhile, provided no official response to the diplomatic activity, but did react violently over the course of the following year. Raiding activity into TUG and Union space picked up in the ensuing months, reaching a peak in June. The continued territorial violations led the TUG to finally and formally shut their borders to varelviv traffic in March, but at the moment they could do little to protect the outlying systems. Instead slaver ships, nominally independent of the VIS navy but with the implicit backing of the government on Viverva, would enter controlled space every few days, seizing cargo ships and their crews. Though the raids never reached a level that they had a significant impact on the TUG economy, the constant attacks were a nuisance, and the thousands of enslaved vailons cried out for a rescue that could not come for some time. In the first half of 219, the raids were split evenly between the TUG and the Union; the Commonwealth, lacking this threat directly on its borders, did not consider it to be a top priority and struggled to understand why the hissma were considering forming an alliance with their heretical neighbors.

SelectionOf220.jpg

Four candidates officially submitted their names for the selection of 220.

The Selection of 220

The ongoing negotiations hung over the selection of 220, slated to begin on January 1. In the months leading up to the campaign, Harak appeared to be the front-runner as he was able to articulate a clear path forward for the TUG. He opposed placating the neighboring powers and campaigned on investing in research and building a stockpile of resources which would secure the vailons through any crisis. With Adasga preparing to announce that she would not be submitting her name, and Vagors not yet committing in public (perhaps having sensed the direction that Vakor was leaning), the field seemed to be cleared for the leader of the PPI. [4] However, for Vakor this was an unacceptable outcome. The delicate interstellar situation self-evidently required thoughtful outreach, not a retreat from the scene. If the vailons weren’t at the table, they would likely be left out in the cold. Since Harak seemed unwilling to acknowledge this reality, and nobody else was capable of stepping up and seizing the mantle, Vakor felt she had no choice but to submit her own name for the selection once again.

This was a momentous step. The office of the director-general had been granted exclusive executive authority by the Governing Charter of 40. The founders, and all subsequent generations, relied on the wisdom of the College to select an executive who would not abuse their power; the only checks on someone in office were informal. Strong norms had been inculcated over the nearly two centuries since the state was founded; they emphasized the traditional vailon philosophy of debate and logic. There was also a fear of backsliding into authoritarianism, and so a limit of one term in office was imposed; though, crucially, it was not written directly into the charter, as everyone assumed the idea of an indefinite term was a complete anathema in the aftermath after the Collapse. Vakor was proposing to violate this age-old norm, and she hoped that her governing ability and fanatical commitment to the other norms would allow the political system to keep functioning.

Vakor’s decision was met with outrage and scorn among the burgeoning opposition in the Assembly. Many members of the PPI spoke in the days and weeks after her announcement, expressing their disappointment and anger that the Director-General was so blatantly executing a power grab. Harak did not address the announcement himself, preferring to let his proxies express fury on his behalf. In private, however, he shared the belief that Vakor’s decision was motivated in large part by personal malice. He had dared to defy her and disagree with her in the past, and now she wished to prevent him from taking her posting and reversing her policies. But he could not express this in public; the backlash for attempting to make a personal attack on his opponent would be greater than any anger directed at his opponent for her perceived pettiness. Instead he continued campaigning on his platform, touring Tebazed giving speeches on the need to focus on economic expansion and resource accumulation.

Vakor, meanwhile, remained extremely popular. She campaigned on continuing her diplomatic outreach and forging closer ties with the hissma as a means of mutual defense. Despite the hostile neighbors that the vailons had encountered, the previous twenty years had been an era of excitement and successes for the TUG as they embarked on their interstellar explorations. Most citizens believed that this was due, at least in some part, to the steady hand of the Director-General. Polls showed that a clear majority were willing to support her for a second term, especially after she announced that she would be backing an amendment to the Charter to introduce formal term limits for holders of the executive office. Though the PPI made the argument that her reselection would on its own rule out further overtures to the hissma and the mith-fell, since they would see Vakor as a would-be dictator, this point gained little traction in the public debates. When Adasga and the Xeno Liberty Initiative announced that they were endorsing the Director-General’s bid for a second term, the last holdouts flocked to Vakor’s side, and massive support for her among the populace was assured.

Harak pinned his final hopes on the senior members of the College, who would be making the final decision. He thought there was a chance that they would recognize the threat of one person serving as the sole leader of the vailons for forty consecutive years, and act to prevent such a destruction of governing norms. Most of the magisters preferred to heed the will of the people, who were demonstrating their overwhelming support for Vakor in every poll. Harak argued that the Director-General’s approach was more likely to lead to disaster, as even if arrangements were made with the Union, the Commonwealth would surely soften their position to win over their ideological allies and force them to abandon the vailons to their fate. Though this made sense to some in the College, not enough were swayed to deny Vakor. She secured her reselection with 70% of the vote, and began her second term on February 19, 220.

Just Rewards

The following year sailed by, with simmering tensions in Sedrin but very little activity to show for it. Harak returned to the Dargion after the campaign, still feeling the sting of defeat but agreeing to continue with his duties as a leading explorer. Within a few months, the mission to stabilize Turim III was completed. A team of astrophysicists had built upon his theory that a specifically tuned energy pulse would break the phase-shift and allow the Gaia planet to remain in this dimension. After weeks of preparation, in August they implemented the procedure and stabilized the psionic energy flowing around the planet. The TUG could now begin its preparations to colonize the perfect biosphere.

The new colony would have to wait, as the VIS stepped up its raiding again at the end of 220. Though they were focusing most of their attacks on Union space, it was still dangerous for lone vailon ships out near the border; several accidentally blundered into varelviv raiding parties and were seized themselves. However, it was the hissma that bore the brunt of the onslaught through the first few months of 221. This culminated in April with a massive raid on the hissma border colony of Thrus-Sanguur. Nearly 50 ships participated, including several with markings indicating they were part of the VIS Navy; a handful landed near a large settlement and captured thousands of colonists, packing them into cramped cargo holds before returning to orbit. A Union fleet launched a counterattack, but the admiral in charge was unwilling to open fire for fear of killing innocent civilians, and the varelviv fleet was allowed to escape back to controlled space.

In the aftermath of the raid, many vailon observers thought that the Union would immediately declare war on the VIS, both to defend their honor and to secure the release of their enslaved citizens. The Admiralty Board, however, was skeptical of the Union fleet’s ability to challenge its foe in open battle; instead they recommended seeking out allies whose combined might could cut the varelviv down to size. So it was in late April that representatives of the Union approached the vailon ambassador on Hissom and proposed a summit between the two neighbors to work out a formal alliance which would serve as a counterweight to the ever-present threat of the slavers. Vakor was ecstatic; this was exactly what she had wanted to achieve for the last three years. She immediately dispatched a delegation to the hissma capital to work out the details in advance of the summit, which was set for mid-June. A similar approach was made simultaneously to the Commonwealth, but the reaction of the mith-fell was not encouraging; they had little interest in working with the vailons. In fact, they would have much preferred to be working with the hissma in an anti-vailon alliance. Commonwealth space was sheltered from varelviv raids by the two other powers, lessening the perceived threat and freeing the mith-fell leadership to focus on other concerns. But for the two powers directly targeted by the raids, this was the overwhelming concern, and the summit proceeded on June 23. That day marked a first in vailon history, as the Director-General herself stepped off a transport ship on the dry steppes of Hissom to greet Nuhloigh, the duly elected Commissar-General of the Union, in person. The next day Vakor attended the signing ceremony, a grand festival thrown in the capital city of Puloss to commemorate the growing friendship between the two species. Returning home to Tebazed, Vakor could claim to have delivered on the promise of her reselection bid, and a new era of peace and security seemed on the horizon for her second term in office.

AllianceWithHissma.jpg

A representative of the Union administration approached the vailon embassy on Hissom in April 221 with an offer of mutual defense.

GalaxyIn222.jpg

The vailons could feel secure in their alliance in early 222.


Footnotes
[1] Or, perhaps, planets; the impenetrability of the shroud made it impossible to tell if it was the same planet at all.
[2] A posting she had risen to in 215.
[3] Within a few months of first contact the fellow commissariats had signed several major treaties, including a non-aggression pact, a commercial pact and a research agreement.
[4] Two other candidates had submitted their names for selection. A group of conservative MAs attempted to seize on the latent popularity of Raldirm den Hullos, stemming from the Hiann incident some eight years earlier, but the explorer had very little interest in the role herself. And a lower-level researcher, Rodrig den Tarrob, was running a quixotic campaign in which the main plank was a drastic increase in resources devoted to military defenses. Neither had significant support and were not considered serious contenders.
 
Last edited:

Vilhelm

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Ah yes, the phasing Gaia world. Always interesting to find.

Also, I like how you represented the tension with the slaving mushrooms in the form of raiding parties. Border tensions are something I feel could be fleshed out in Stellaris (maybe as part of the mythical Diplomacy update?)
 

Nikolai

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The Hissma seem like the best neighbours to have,
 
Chapter Five - Whiplash

eoncommander

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MigrationTreatyHissma.jpg

The Hissma Union and the Tebazed Unified Governance signed a treaty of free movement in 222.
After the formal signing of the Pact of Alliance on Hissom in June of 221, Raldirm den Vakor returned to Tebazed in triumph. She had delivered on the singular promise of her campaign for reselection, eighteen months ago: if she were allowed to serve for another term, she would deliver a diplomatic alliance that would ensure the security of the vailons for the foreseeable future. Further successes followed on the heels of the first. In the second half of the year, relations between the Union and the Commonwealth deteriorated, as the mith-fell refused to associate with betrayers of the true faith of democracy. As the vain avians broke treaty after treaty with the hissma, the vailons were able to step into their place, signing, in rapid succession, accords for mutual trade, reciprocal sharing of research, and finally free migration between the two polities. The Director-General was more popular than ever, and political opposition to her had become practically nil. Though Harak still nursed a grudge, and the PPI formed an official opposition at this point, neither were willing criticize Vakor in public and risk a backlash.

Around this time, vailons established contact with a pair of civilizations which might fairly be said to be relics of an earlier age. Near the outer rim of the galaxy, erstwhile candidate for director-general Rodrig den Tarrob and the Bathradurion encountered a station inhabited by members of a creative collective that called itself the Artisan Troupe. The Savix’Qast Headmaster Su-Bo explained to the visitors that the installation in the Bijh system was one of several scattered throughout the galaxy, each dedicated to pursuing art and music and ensuring that the cultural lineage of the founding species, now long forgotten, continued to develop and expand. Meanwhile, deep in the galactic core the remnants of an ancient empire made its home. The Zeppadroggans were once masters of a vast territory, but their political and cultural life had stagnated thousands of years ago. They had slowly retreated until they occupied only a few well-fortified systems just outside the mass of unnavigable stars that made up the core of the galaxy. Through a series of deep-space listening posts, they observed the progress of the young civilizations just now making their first forays in space exploration; however, their interactions with the ‘upstarts’ were limited in scope. Having seen many species rise and fall in the course of history, the Zeppadroggans’ overriding concern was the preservation of knowledge, and they preferred not involve themselves in the interstellar political situation. Though the vailons made several attempts to establish a formal embassy with the Chroniclers, as the ancient civilization referred to itself, these were dismissed with barely a thought, and the TUG resigned itself to exist under the watchful eye of the fallen empire.

FirstContactArtisans.jpg

First contact with the Artisan Troupe.

ZeppaInteraction.jpg

A typical exchange with the zeppadroggans.

The eighteen months following the Pact of Alliance were otherwise quiet on the diplomatic front. The subsequent year and a half would not be. In August of 223, the Bathradurion stumbled upon the wreckage of a cargo ship in the Enif system. An away team was quickly able to establish that the ship bore the markings of the varelviv merchant guild. This was a concerning development for the administration; the ship was lost many light-years from the border between the TUG and the VIS, and its mission in the volume remained a mystery. This touched off a fierce debate in Vakor’s executive council, about whether to return the cargo to the fungoids or keep the discovery a secret. Vakor opted for the first option, preferring not to accidentally provoke a diplomatic incident. When the discovery was communicated to Viverva via back channels, [1] the varelviv were incredibly thankful, and arranged for a return of the cargo immediately. This reaction from the hostile slavers was somewhat surprising to the diplomatic corps, who spent much effort in the next few months speculating as to why the varelviv would be grateful towards a species they usually thought of as prey.

The answer became obvious in October. With the hissma and the vailons now allied and vigilant against any potential raiding threats, the varelvivi set their sights on an unsuspecting target. A massive slaving fleet had bypassed the fortified frontiers of the neighboring powers, plotting a long course down-spiral around the densely trafficked volumes of TUG space, approaching the wealthy inner systems of the Commonwealth via the unclaimed systems (including Enif) rimward of mith-fell holdings. Falling upon Kan Jukla, the slavers made a similar attack to the one on Thrus-Sanguur two years before, but on a much larger scale. For a week the fleet orbited the homeworld of the mith-fell, randomly raining down bombs on undefended towns and cities. Several cities were sacked, their wealth plundered and their inhabitants seized for the slave auctions on Viverva. What news was relayed from the surface claimed that a thousand ships from hell had descended on the planet; more reliable estimates from government sources put the number of vessels at a still-unimaginable 150. After eight days, the fleet left, returning from whence it came; the mobilized Commonwealth navy arrived a full two weeks later, having been discovered by its civilians to be both toothless and feckless. In the end, the death toll was in the tens of thousands, with a similar number abducted.

The consequences of the Great Raid, as it would come to be known, reverberated for years to come. The most immediate consequence was the fall of the sitting government on Kan Jukla. Though Commissary-General Plume of Khaki stayed in place, [2] a new faction took power behind the scenes, one committed to a new approach to interstellar diplomacy. Having now experienced the terrible threat represented by the VIS, the mith-fell were prepared to deal. Within weeks the new government dispatched communiques to Tebazed and Hissom, revoking previous denunciations of the TUG and requesting a summit to discuss a potential treaty arrangement between the three powers. Both rapidly agreed, and they set a date early in 224 for the meetings, to be held in the hissma capital. In the interim, all three administrations issued guarantees of mutual defense, laying the groundwork for formal cooperation to be discussed at the summit.

In January the three heads of state converged on Hissom to conduct joint negotiations on the future of the relationships between the powers. For the first few weeks things proceeded well; Vakor was able to steer the discussions away from a loose military understanding and towards a stronger cooperative framework. Vakor believed that closer cooperation would allow the TUG to rely on the militarized powers to do most of the heavy lifting in the area of mutual defense, a facet at which the pacifist vailons would never excel. She was not the one to broach the word ‘federation’, however. Instead it was first uttered by the Chief of Civil Relations of the Union, on January 15. From there, events proceeded rapidly, and disastrously for the TUG delegation. Very quickly, the three powers agreed to the formation of the formal political structure that would subsume the current polities in matters of interstellar diplomacy and warmaking, while leaving the individual states with full autonomy to conduct internal affairs. However, when it came time to define the principles of the new organization, a significant gap became apparent between the parties. Commissary-General Plume of Khaki was insistent that the federation retain the ability to declare aggressive war on non-affiliated states for the purpose of regime change; but this Vakor was not willing to countenance. The governing philosophy of the TUG swore off interventionist activity and demanded diplomatic solutions to inter-state problems. This was a long-standing core of vailon political identity, dating back hundreds of years. They would not give up on their own principles so easily. The key decision lay with the hissma, as of yet not committed in either direction. Forced to choose, they opted to partner with their ideological cousins in the Commonwealth; for the Union too did not wish to forswear the possibility of regime change, should they determine it to be in their interests at some point in the future. So Vakor walked away from the table, allowing the two other governments to agree on the formation of the Glorious Axis [3] on January 19, excluding the TUG from the formal protection of its mutual defense clauses.

Though the mith-fell and the hissma delegations agreed to allow them to be official associates of the new organization, the vailons were left in a precarious position after the formation of the federation without the direct participation of the TUG. The member states of the Glorious Axis felt secure in their alliance; their combined military force was a strong deterrent to hostile activity. The TUG could not call on such strength; with a small navy of only ten ships, they would be tempting prey for the varelviv in the near future. Despite friendly relations with the federation, the Axis was unwilling to guarantee the territorial integrity of their neighbors; the two member states preferred to focus on their internal cohesion and the integration of their military infrastructure before contemplating external affairs. The vailons were thus on their own. Many would never forgive the betrayal.

Nevertheless, much blame for the circumstances in which the vailons found themselves was laid at the feet of the Director-General. Her diplomatic initiatives had swiveled from smashing success to utter failure in just a few short years. Though she could (and, for the rest of her life, would) argue that her decision-making was sound and the results were dictated by specific and unforeseeable events outside of her control, this did not absolve her of being the leader at the moment when things broke bad. The negative outcome colored many opinions, and Vakor returned to Tebazed in February amidst significant unease about the state of affairs. Several members of the PPI even called for her resignation in the Assembly, but these arguments went unheeded for the moment.

Vakor, hoping to get on with governing after the disappointments of the summit, proceeded with a long-planned initiative: the uplifting of the human species of Sol III, turning them into a spacefaring society under the protection of the vailons. The Director-General had announced that she was considering such a course of action in 222, allowing time for the Assembly to debate its merits. Opinions varied, from those who believed it would be unethical to interfere in a pre-spaceflight civilization, to those who thought it would be useful for the vailons to have allies who would be grateful for the assistance that had been bestowed upon them. A clear majority eventually emerged in favor of the proposal; most came around to the idea that it was the duty of the vailons to provide enlightenment to societies which had not yet achieved it. These humans, as fractious as their global politics may have been, clearly did have instincts aligned with those of the vailons, and it would be to their benefit if the vailons helped them along a little bit. On April 26, 224, first contact was established with the global governing body, called the United Nations, and several of the larger autonomous members of that organization. Three weeks later, the vailons arranged to have their first ambassadors set foot upon Sol III, which the inhabitants called ‘Earth’.

Barely a month later, the initiative was terminated and the ambassadors were left stranded on the planet, cut off from all contact with the rest of the TUG. War with the varelviv had come. The vailons would be stretched to defend their own planets; Vakor and the Battle Staff believed that the best defense for the humans would be ignorance on the part of the varelvivi. So it was that a bewildered species hunkered down for a war in which they should have had no part but for the rash decisions of an alien empire, who now left them to their own devices and hoped for the best.

DeclarationOfWarVIS224.jpg

The varelviv slavers declared a war of conquest on June 16, 224.


Footnotes
[1] No formal diplomatic relationship existed between the two hostile governments.
[2] The Commonwealth constitution had strict fixed terms for its executive, except in cases of grave misconduct.
[3] Vakor found even greater displeasure in the name that was eventually chosen for the concord; she thought it was be entirely antithetical to the principles of the organization for mutual defense.
 

eoncommander

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Also, I like how you represented the tension with the slaving mushrooms in the form of raiding parties. Border tensions are something I feel could be fleshed out in Stellaris (maybe as part of the mythical Diplomacy update?)

Wouldn't that be nice? I recently started playing EU4, and I wish diplomacy in Stellaris was half as deep as it is there. On the other hand, the relative lack of hard game mechanics in this area does leave openings for storytelling, as you note.

The Hissma seem like the best neighbours to have,

They seem to be practical-minded. Useful allies, as long as they consider you useful as well.

The next post will be another short story, exploring the events of the summit on Hissom. After that I will begin the warmaking, although I have an idea for yet another character interlude that I want to include soon.
 

Nikolai

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They seem to be practical-minded. Useful allies, as long as they consider you useful as well.

The next post will be another short story, exploring the events of the summit on Hissom. After that I will begin the warmaking, although I have an idea for yet another character interlude that I want to include soon.
Looking forward to it - both the interlude and the war. :) What will be your wargoals, I wonder? ;)
 
Interlude - Summit

eoncommander

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Lorgharri Suite, Hotel Baloigh
Puloss capital district
Hissom
January 15, 224


“We will need three malorssa, two khalagambrosha, four sheraserra, and… one gyersho. Oh, and we’ll take seven yorshenga.” Pundar den Galirm told the hissma lieutenant attending to the delegation. The lieutenant waved his left arm – hissma body language very similar to a nod from a vailon – and said, in halting Laggish, “That will be one hour, friend,” before floating out of the suite. Galirm sighed and dropped back onto the couch, across the low-lying table where Raldirm den Vakor had spread out several tablets. “Been here for two weeks and they still weird me out,” he said to Vakor. The Director-General grunted and continued with her note-taking.

After a few minutes of silence, Galirm spoke again. “We need to talk about it.”

Vakor looked up. “We will,” she replied.

Galirm shook his head. “We need to talk about it before any decisions are made. That’s part of how democracy works.”

“But we aren’t a democracy, right? At least, if you ask our new partners we aren’t.”

“We consider ourselves a democracy. And the mith-fell are here at the table now. They got over it.”

“What is it about the hissma that is so unnerving?” Vakor asked her aide.

“Take this seriously,” he scolded her.

“I am. Answer my question.”

Galirm leaned back into the cushions. He was well-acquainted with Vakor’s games, and usually played along. “It’s hard to adjust your eye level to theirs. You instinctively want to look up when you talk to them, because that’s where most of their body mass is. But their face is actually at your eye level. It’s uncanny.”

Vakor nodded. “What else?”

“The way their skin pulses as they breathe, or whatever it is they do to respirate. The faint glow that their lower – upper? – bodies emit. The waving tentacles are more of a distraction at a distance, but their movement is deeply disturbing. I keep thinking there’s a breeze, but I can’t feel any.”

“They are floating gas bags,” the Director-General noted.

“Yes.”

“Can you imagine the reaction that someone would have the first time they saw a hissma floating down the street of Sedrin?”

“They’d be shocked!” Galirm exclaimed. “Only thousands of years of socialization would prevent them from making a rude gesture.”

“Then why do you think holding a referendum would produce any useful result for us?”

Galirm waited a beat before responding. “I’m not sure that it would. But despite your insinuation to the contrary, that is precisely the reason to put the question to the people.”

“Yes. As you said this morning.” They fell silent for a moment.

Vakor spoke next, as if continuing a thought out loud. “This is what the founders wanted. This was the dream. A peaceful state, governing with the broad interests in mind. There is no more fitting fulfilment of that ideal than forming an interstellar federation with our fellow sapients, united in peace against chaos and disintegration.”

“Then you should make that case to the people who supported you for office twice.”

Vakor sighed. Galirm had joined her staff nearly twenty years before, starting out as a grunt summarizing reports from the Directorate. But he quickly became an invaluable advisor, an astute guide for an executive who had little interest in creating political consensuses for her deeply-researched policies. Vakor often found his advice to be incredibly frustrating and limiting, but she knew it was necessary for the long-term success of her administration.

“We are light-years away from Tebazed. We can’t exactly poll the people on each part of the negotiation.” Galirm nodded in agreement. “So how would you do it?”

“I would start with two things,” her aide replied, reaching for one of the tablets. “First, make an announcement. Inform the Assembly that a vote is coming. Second, continue with the negotiations, but make sure that your goals are aligned with what the public supports. I’ve collected some polling here,” he said, showing her the screen with various survey results displayed, “for us to review. We can use that as a starting point in defining what outcomes we want.”

Vakor briefly glanced at the tablet, then put it back on the table. Making a deliberate show of ignoring the data, she looked over her aide’s head and considered how to press her case.

“Whatever these numbers say,” she finally said, “I was chosen twice because the people and the College trust my judgment. The greater public can’t possibly be informed about every issue; that is why we have representative government.”

“You don’t have a mandate to rule by fiat. The idea is to create a consensus behind your ideas, not to ignore the popular will.”

“You win a consensus by convincing individuals that your decision was the correct one.”

“To do that you need to know what actions the public might accept.”

Vakor shook her head but didn’t respond. They fell into silence again.

Another aide, Bolim den Vendiga, chose that moment to wander over to the couch, leaning over its back to speak to Galirm. “You ordered the food?” she asked.

“Should be here in about thirty minutes,” he said. Vakor returned to her tablet, rereading profiles of her hissma and mith-fell counterparts. Though her attention was now elsewhere, she could still overhear her whispering advisors, who were making minimal effort to actually hide their conversation.

“How is she doing?” Vendiga wanted to know.

“Still reviewing the dossiers on the other delegations. I can’t get her to focus on the political question. She keeps dodging.”

“She was really encouraged by the hissma introducing the idea of a formal federation today. That was a major coup.”

“They still won’t agree to her proposal.”

“Complete integration? Not a chance. You told her about the side session this afternoon?”

“I did.” Galirm chuckled. “She didn’t even bat an eye when I told her about General Heedroigh’s statement.”

“‘We, the Union of the hissma peoples, are the people of the Revolution. We are the inheritors of its legacy, and the vanguard of its advancing tide. We cannot accept any solution that concedes sovereignty of the Revolution, for such a solution would be a betrayal of all our people have sacrificed to build and maintain a fair and just society.’” Vendiga read it off the tablet she was carrying.

“In other words, go fuck yourself.”

“In so many words.” They both laughed.

Vakor happened to have General Heedroigh’s file open at that moment. The hissma Chief of Staff was a veteran of the revolution that he was so fond of glorifying, having joined an urban militia company as a youth before fighting in numerous campaigns during the decade of chaos on Hissom. The vailon executive did not doubt that his loyalty to the cause was genuine, though the report in front of her explained that the Union’s revolutionary ideals were more of a religious orthodoxy than a well-considered philosophical foundation. One could not ignore that without facing real consequences.

Yet Vakor was still hopeful. Her mood was not shared by her aides, but she was okay with that. She was perfectly capable of reasoning on her own; she relied on her advisors to convince her when other ideas might be better than hers. The last thing she wanted was a group that would enable her worst ideas and blind her to mistakes. This came at a cost; smart minds were hard to retain when their best ideas were so rarely heeded. Average tenure on her staff was a little more than eighteen months. Only a few had fur thick enough to withstand the constant pressures that pervaded Vakor’s office.

Those who stuck around, like Galirm and Vendiga, seemed to take on a cynical view of the world as a coping mechanism. Perhaps Vakor had a streak of cynicism herself, implicitly encouraging her subordinates to adopt a similar outlook. After twenty-four years on the job, she wasn’t going to allow idealism, or even the uninformed opinions of her constituents, prevent her from doing what was right for the vailons. It was, in her judgment, a marked contrast with hissma politics, in which every action was performatively on behalf of the popular will. This made negotiations very difficult, where even compromises obviously in the interest of both parties needed to be checked against the nebulous ‘values’ of one side.

“I need to get back,” Vendiga was saying, as Vakor returned to the room. “My team needs to wrap up before the food arrives, so we’re ready for the evening briefing.”

“Enjoy.” Galirm turned back to Vakor, who put down the report she was holding. “Vendiga seemed skeptical too.”

“I think most of us are uncertain about integration,” Galirm replied, carefully choosing his words.

“That doesn’t mean we should give up on it.” She paused. “Unless you think it’s a bad idea.”

Her aide didn’t respond immediately. That was unlike him, Vakor thought. He very rarely refrained from telling her exactly why he thought she was wrong.

“I think there is a lot of risk involved,” he said eventually. “It’s such a massive project, to meld even two societies, two species together, and obviously here we’re talking about three. You could say that at first there would be very little mixing of the populations, because of differences in biology and climate and nutritional needs. That could be right, but the full realization of the idea would mean vailons living side by side with mith-fells and hissma. As you pointed out before, even an open, pluralistic society like ours can act with revulsion toward the unknown and the alien. The consequences of integration would be… unpredictable.”

“Sure there are risks,” Vakor replied. “There are risks with every decision. But you haven’t said whether you actually support this path or not.”

“I think it’s a mistake,” he admitted. “I think there is a serious risk of having the whole thing fall apart and us going home with nothing.”

“You might be right, but that wasn’t what I was asking. Do you support integration irrespective of any practical obstacles?”

Before Galirm could respond, Vakor cut him off. “No wait, let me ask a different question. If the mith-fell and the hissma offered us a deal that involved a complete top-to-bottom merging of political institutions, would you accept it?”

Her aide shook his head. “I would counsel against it.”

“Okay. Now we’re getting somewhere.” Galirm snorted. “So what would be the ideal outcome of the summit?”

“An iron-clad treaty that ensures our defense against the varelviv. It would both protect our interests and be broadly supported on Tebazed. That ticks the boxes for me.”

“I agree with you! That would be a great outcome.”

“Then why not do that? We can get an agreement on those terms signed tomorrow and take it home for a referendum that would favor approval by 80%.”

Vakor sighed. “Because that isn’t enough,” she explained. “Vailons are not warriors. This ‘federation’ will be our only defense against being enslaved. To make it stick we need something more than just a legal agreement. It needs to be embedded in the fabric of our societies. Otherwise we’ll be discarded as soon as the immediate threat has dissipated.” Here she paused. More quietly, she continued: “I will not make the survival of our species dependent on the fickleness of a public vote.”

“You don’t trust the judgment of the vailons to see your wisdom?” Galirm asked.

“An individual vailon, I would trust to be reasonable in a debate, to acknowledge the better argument as they come across it. A mass of vailons? Then it’s impossible. Then the motivations are of the group, considering identity and status and emotions. Persuasion is good enough for one, but not for the many.”

“You convinced many to poll for you, twice, even as you violated the Compact.”

“Nobody stood to sacrifice their identity by allowing me another term as Director-General.”

“That’s why this is such a bad idea.” Galirm leaned forward. “Look, you might be correct about forging a permanent union. I think we will win over our mith-fell and hissma friends in the end, but I understand why you think differently. But you don’t have a plan for how to get there, and you don’t have a plan for what comes after signing a treaty. No one in the Directorate has given this any thought, let alone put together a formal plan. I think you need to carefully consider the risks before committing to this path.”

“You don’t think I have?” she responded with vehemence. “You don’t think I’ve been weighing that in my mind for months?”

“You haven’t talked to us about it. How much capacity does a single mind have to solve a problem like this?”

Vakor opened her mouth to reply, but was interrupted by the buzzer. The hissma attendant had returned, leading a hovercart with their meal. Galirm leapt up to thank him and begin laying out the food on the table in the dining room. Vendiga, who, upon hearing the commotion, had poked her head out of the bedroom where her group was working, told the rest of Vakor’s staff that their dinner had arrived. The others emerged from various rooms, chattering excitedly about the meal and the prospect of forgetting their work for even a short while.

Vakor ignored this activity and continued with her notes on the day’s proceeding. Though the others had gathered at the table, as was traditional, Vakor had little desire to be sociable. The negotiations were stressful and tiring, and she preferred to be as prepared as possible. After a few minutes, Galirm came back to the sitting area, bearing a plate of food for the Director-General. Neither said anything as he set it on the coffee table in front of Vakor; she acknowledged the act with a simple nod of thanks before returning to her tablet. He then returned to the communal meal, leaving Vakor alone with her work.
 

eoncommander

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What will be your wargoals, I wonder? ;)

Well I deliberately didn't play ahead so that I was forced to keep plugging away at the story. But I thought about it a bunch... and still haven't decided between humiliation (they are my rival now) and liberation. Leaning towards the latter though.
 

Nikolai

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I would have gone for liberation. :)
 

volksmarschall

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Liberation? Go for humiliation! :p
 

eoncommander

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I would have gone for liberation. :)

Liberation? Go for humiliation! :p

Decided on liberation in the end, as the vailon seem more likely to be liberal interventionists than revenge-minded aggressors.

I've now played through a significant chunk of the war, and decided to split up the narrative into two parts. It's going... okay so far; it's been difficult but no major defeats so far. I should have the next chapter ready over the weekend.
 

volksmarschall

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Decided on liberation in the end, as the vailon seem more likely to be liberal interventionists than revenge-minded aggressors.

I've now played through a significant chunk of the war, and decided to split up the narrative into two parts. It's going... okay so far; it's been difficult but no major defeats so far. I should have the next chapter ready over the weekend.

This just shows you're a good person at heart! I probably would have done the same thing too. Unless I felt like they really deserved it for being a pain and being ungrateful for my leniency in times past.
 
Chapter Six - The Battering Ram

eoncommander

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Phony War

The days and weeks following the declaration of war were full of recriminations aimed at the Director-General and her administration. The military expansion program had ended several years earlier; though the TUG navy now encompassed ten corvettes, enough to maintain anti-piracy patrols along shipping routes, it was dwarfed by the Sovereign Navy of the VIS. In the eyes of many in Sedrin, this was the direct result of the disastrous turn of events at the Hissom Summit, which was laid directly on the horns of Vakor. It was she who had pushed for an interlinking of the three societies; the Glorious Axis was founded on her principles, though in the final negotiations it excluded the vailons entirely, leaving them out in the cold. As the days passed with no further updates from the administration, concerns began to climb. The PPI filled this void with vitriolic speeches denouncing the lack of leadership from Vakor and calling on her to resign in the face of the total collapse of her foreign policy program. Across Tebazed, a low level of discontent emerged, as everyone wondered where Vakor was, or whether there was even a war.

A war was definitely to be had. The communique from Overlord Spagruum I may have been short, but its message was abundantly clear: Submit or be subjected to the terrors of mass enslavement and death. The explicit terms of submission were surprisingly light, consisting of only the transfer of a series of border systems. The consequences of surrendering to the demands were immense, however, going beyond the mere loss of resources. Strategically, the newly acquired territory would allow the varelviv to raid much deeper into vailon space, potentially hitting the colonies and even the capital with ease. And diplomatically, it would broadcast the weakness of the TUG, allowing the VIS or other potential aggressors to return with more significant demands later.

Capitulation was thus unthinkable, but that only left all of the other questions to answer. Most importantly, how would the TUG fight the war, and would they be able to accomplish something with the effort? It was these two questions that Vakor and her administration were busily trying to answer in private, in the weeks following the declaration of war. Her team proceeded along two different paths. One looked to define an ultimate objective and work backwards to figure out how to reach it, while the other analyzed what was possible and attempted to define a reasonable objective under the circumstances. The administration was able to agree upon a pair of war goals, a lesser one and a greater one, that would guide the war effort. A limited victory would allow them to claim several border systems from the VIS, allowing them to secure their border more easily and better prevent slaving raids into vailon territory. If, by some miracle, they were able to impose terms on the varelviv, they would refashion the absolutist government in their own image, and the vailon leadership hoped to use those new institutions to guide the slavers out of their medieval worldview.

To accomplish any of those goals, and to ensure they were not overrun within a year, Vakor set in motion an ambitious project to move the vailon economy onto a war footing. All spare resources were diverted towards military goods; factories originally designed for commercial production were repurposed to output war materiel. The shipyard complex orbiting Tebazed, so often silent in the last decade, began to work nonstop, building new warships, station components, and logistics and supply vessels. The production of advanced alloys doubled in a few months, supplying the nascent war industries with the materials they needed to dramatically increase their output. These steps gave the military the capability of withstanding an invasion; it would be up to the navy to make good on that.

Vailons had very little history of military excellence. Though the TUG formed an institutional navy in 214, since then it had had few opportunities to test its mettle. Still, a formal naval planning committee existed now, and they began to prepare for the war effort. The first item on their list was selecting an officer from their ranks to command the fleet. Prior to the war, the position had been rotated among the senior staff, to give them all some experience at commanding a large force. In the staff’s evaluation, one candidate rose above the rest. Sarim den Piriam had spent most of his adult life in space; born in 178, he had entered the space program immediately after graduation and was serving as a crewmember on an outpost by age 25. Later in his career he commanded the strategically important outpost at Con Viab during its massive expansion in 216 and captained a warship for eighteen months before being promoted to admiral in 223. In training and on planning committees he proved to have an aptitude for naval tactics; in war games he frequently executed complex traps for enemy forces with aplomb. Looking ahead to a conflict in which the vailons could expect to be outnumbered three to one in combat ships, he was a natural choice to lead a defensive, hit and run effort.

Given the disparity in forces and the stellar geography of the border region, the Naval Staff elected to evacuate the outlying cluster of systems nearest to the VIS. Any attacks beyond that point by the enemy would have to go through the hyperlane juncture at Con Viab en route to the core systems. Anticipating this very scenario, the starbase’s facilities had been expanded as a part of the military program in the mid-210s (under the command of the new fleet admiral). As such, the Naval Staff was able to develop their war plans around the bastion. The fleet [1] would be used to lure invading varelviv forces into range of the station, whose massive gun emplacements and missile batteries could then be used to break up the assault. Vakor also authorized the installation of an experimental intelligence program, a communications jammer, on the station, hoping that it could provide a decisive edge in the coming battles. And the executive committed additional resources to the expansion of the fleet, which the admirals planned to double in size in the first few years of the war.

For six months, at least, the vailons were given the space necessary to make these plans. Through the new year, the border with the VIS was silent. All raiding activity had halted with the declaration of war; outposts along the border reported no signs of an impending invasion for days, then weeks, then months. When the calendar flipped to 225, many on Tebazed began to relax, the threat receding in their minds as time passed and the initial shock wore off. Vakor and her staff remained steadfastly focused on the war, but even they began to wonder if they had overreacted.

Invasion

On the morning of January 13, 225, the skeleton crew of Outpost Arrakis reported a hyperlane breach in the system. A few hours later, they confirmed: a VIS fleet was coming. Twelve ships strong, it was roughly equal in fighting power to the main body of the TUG fleet. This reassured those who naively assumed that this was the entire force at Spagruum’s disposal. The Naval Staff knew better, and they set in motion their plan. Task Force Mirasma, now also twelve ships strong, set out for Starport Con Viab. Meanwhile, the remaining crewmembers of the Arrakis station evacuated the facility, leaving the defense systems on automatic as they retreated away from the advancing fleet. Remote sensors monitored the brief battle in March, as the invaders overwhelmed the outpost’s shields in short order and captured the station mostly intact. In April, the story was repeated in the Ushminaria system, and in May in the outlying Orthama system. Over the course of 225, the three fleets carved up the space beyond the Con Viab sytem, capturing all local stations intact. The vailon high command had planned on this, of course, and did not make any effort to contest it. They were content to sit back and watch as outposts fell silent one by one. They knew that the real test of strength would come when the VIS attempted to press further.

VISFleetArrakis.jpg

The initial assault wave arrived seven months after the VIS declared war on the TUG.

One advantage the vailons could make use of was the vastness of space. It took a full year for the VIS to consolidate its position along the invasion routes, enough time for the fleet to prepare its defenses. It wasn’t until May of 226, nearly two full years after declaring war, that the varelviv tested those defenses. Perhaps recognizing the strength of the starbase’s defenses, a lone VIS fleet attempted to bypass the system altogether, charting a long course along the outer edge of the gravity well, away from the guns of the bastion. Admiral Piriam, holding orders to draw the invaders onto the guns, raced his task force to intercept, which they did in the middle of the month. Over the course of several weeks, Piriam and TF Mirasma engaged in hit and run tactics, swooping into range only long enough to loose a few rounds at the enemy before scooting away. Several times, a detachment from the enemy fleet turned and attacked their harassers, causing some damage before the vailon ship could break off. Finally, in June, the entire task force made a coordinated attack on the varelviv fleet, hoping to bait them into chasing the vailons deep into the system. Like a charm, the plan worked, and soon the VIS ships were in a headlong chase to try to catch the task force as it ran towards the starbase. It was at this point that the experimental communication jammer was activated, cutting off the enemy ships from one another and leaving most without any bearings on their locations. The varelvivi were eventually able to burn through the jammer, but by then the fleet had wandered into the range of the starbase’s guns. Before her ships were picked off one by one, the enemy admiral called for a retreat. Though the task force had lost two ships during the last phase of the First Battle of Con Viab, they were able to celebrate a true victory in their first taste of space combat.

The celebration was cut short, however, by the arrival of varelviv reinforcements. TF Mirasma was caught out before it had a chance to complete repairs after the initial phase of combat, and Admiral Piriam was forced to call for an emergency retreat. The ships under his command made blind jumps into hyperspace, and it would be several months before they could regroup at Starbase Tebza. Meanwhile, the VIS failed to press its advantage; the wave of reinforcements retreated to controlled space immediately after forcing the vailon task force to flee, while the third varelviv fleet arrived in Con Viab in October and proceeded to charge straight for the starbase and its guns. What resulted was a bloodbath; the vailon defenders destroyed three enemy corvettes and badly damaged several others, while taking minimal damage to the station. At the end of 226, the Naval Staff’s plan seemed to be working, though only with the help of some apparent varelviv mistakes.

The following year, the VIS finally managed to sneak a fleet past the defenses in Con Viab, attempting to wreak havoc on the lightly defended inner systems. However, by the middle of the year TF Mirasma had been able to repair and refill its ranks, and they intercepted the invaders near Outpost Soval in October. Though the task force was slightly outnumbered, the battle quickly turned into a rout for the vailons, thanks to the innovative tactics of Admiral Piriam. The VIS fleet was shattered, losing six ships in the process, while only two ships under Piriam’s command were badly damaged (they survived the engagement, but were abandoned afterwards). The Battle of Soval was the capstone on a run of stunning victories for the vailons against their aggressors, but the administration knew that even a single defeat could be catastrophic because of the disparity in forces. They would have to remain on the defensive for the foreseeable future.

BattleOfSoval.jpg
Task Force Mirasma smashed an invading varelviv fleet at the Battle of Soval.

At Home

The vailon naval forces had thus far managed to keep the fighting far away from the core worlds, but the war was still being felt at home. The Directory had diverted all of its efforts to providing resources for the incipient war industry, and the economy suffered as a result. Most of the heavy industry was located on Tebazed; with all of the focus on providing materiel for the navy, the colonies suffered from underinvestment. For the first time since The Collapse, now more than two centuries in the past, unemployment returned to vailon society, and with it overcrowding. Though the numbers of nonworking individuals never rose as high as the levels seen in the capitalist economies of the Union and the Commonwealth, it was still a shock for many vailons. This was the end of the long boom that accompanied the first two decades of space exploration. Nevertheless, Vakor and the administration retained popular support; buoyed by the string of victories, most vailons were able to continue on as usual with their daily lives.

The rest of the galaxy also continued on as usual, not taking any special notice of the so-far small border conflict between two minor states. While the members of the Glorious Axis took a keen interest in the goings-on, they remained officially neutral for now. Other known groups remained studiously disinterested, though several new species did make contact in the early period of the conflict. In the very first days of the war, an unknown ship wandered into vailon space from the galactic east, well away from the border with the varelviv, and was nearly blown out of the sky before it broadcast an authenticated letter of introduction from the Commonwealth. This was a trader ship of the XuraCorp, a guild of merchants headquartered in the far north of the galaxy, who heard of the reemergence of what they called “civilized races” in this volume and wished to open up new trade opportunities with the newly spacefaring states in the region. The xuri were disappointed to hear that the hyperlanes routes to the south and west were impassable, and they moved on to hopefully more lucrative star clusters in the north. More xurian ships would follow, however, and within a few years they had established small-scale trading outposts in several cities on Tebazed.

In the subsequent years, two more of the “civilized races” would make contact with the vailons, each resolutely alien in their own way. At the end of 225, the blood court of the Saathid Annihilators announced their presence to the rest of the galaxy. Rabidly xenophobic, the saathids broadcast a message informing all of its recipients that they were scum, fit for nothing more than burning where they stood. No further messages were broadcast, and the vailons, though unnerved to find such homicidal sapients in the galaxy, filed the problem away to worry about another day. A few years later, new and strange ships began to appear in TUG-controlled systems. Vailon representatives who interfaced with the ships were shocked to learn that the crewmembers were not individual entities. They were instead semi-autonomous drones of a hive mind, born on a planet called Mandasura Prime. [2] The idea of a collective consciousness was incredibly foreign to the resolutely individual vailons, and many were unable to grasp the magnitude of the difference between the two species. Still, Mandasura Prime itself acknowledged the gulf [3] and signaled its willingness to follow local regulations and directives as its drones passed through vailon space.

FirstContactSaathid.jpg

FirstContactMandasura.jpg

During the war, the vailons made first contact with several very alien species.

During the first stages of the war, the Science Directory was allowed to continue its operations without interruption. Vakor strongly believed that the basic research the Directory was conducting was the best way for them to contribute to the war effort over the long term, and she refused to give the researchers new orders about how to focus their studies. Thus, when a group of xenobiologists forwarded a request to the upper echelons of the Directory to undertake a project to formally catalog the many newly-discovered species in the volume, the Director-General was not upset and, in fact, directed resources towards beginning the program. [4] Exploration, as well, continued apace during this period. Along the edge of the galactic disc, a group of intrepid traders made a fascinating discovery: a cluster of living crystals, dubbed crystalline entities. These entities, though hostile to any approaching ship, would prove fruitful targets for research in the coming years.

This was also a period of centralization for the TUG, as the Directorate implemented new technologies that allowed for more direct control of the colonies. The fledgling communities on Eldetha and Varba were becoming self-sufficient; many had grown into small cities and were beginning to send resources back to the metropole. The war brought economic hardship as trade slowed, and unemployment hit the colonies especially hard. By 228, however, the TUG war effort was stable enough to allow for some long-term economic planning and investment. New systems were claimed, and mining outposts quickly established, to help fuel war industries. And early in that year, resources were set aside for investment on the colonies, building new infrastructure for opening new mines on Eldetha and unlocking vast agrarian regions on Varba, curbing the economic downturn before it spiraled out of control.

The Door

At the front, Admiral Piriam prepared his task force for a renewed assault as the calendar flipped to 228. The previous year had nearly seen a breakthrough for the varelviv, and the commander of the vailon fleet would do everything in his power to prevent that from happening again. Intensive training kept the crews sharp as they waited for the annual campaign. The varelviv fleet would arrive in April, and TF Mirasma set out to meet it. The Fourth Battle of Con Viab was fierce but swift, as the vailon ships used their knowledge of the local stellar geography to their advantage to take down four ships, losing only one of their own in the process. The Naval Staff began to relax a little, as repeated attempts to bash down the door had so far been unsuccessful; perhaps, a little voice nagged in the back of their heads, the door would never be breached.

Admiral Piriam was less confident. So far, the VIS had only sent single fleets on attacks. Though he was fully confident in his crews and his ships, he knew that they would be hard-pressed to hold the line if the varelviv ever assembled their three known fleets for a unified assault. In 229, some of Piriam’s fears would be borne out. The varelviv, growing smarter about their tactics, first sent a small scouting party into the system. The admiral and his staff judged this to be bait, to draw out the task force so it could be ambushed far away from the protection of the starbase, and they decided to keep the fleet in close orbit for the time being. Two weeks later, they were proven correct when the largest fleet yet seen, comprised of twenty full warships, arrived in-system, expecting to come upon a vulnerable vailon force. When they discovered that the bait had not been taken, the invasion fleet continued on a course to bypass the system completely, which Piriam could not allow. The task force, despite being outnumbered, engaged the enemy, and drew them in towards the starbase. Taking losses, once the enemy fleet was in range of the station’s guns, Piriam withdrew the task force, having put a dent in the invading fleet and softening them up for the mass drivers of the starport. For hours, stretching into days, the starbase’s defenders held the enemy at arm’s length, concentrating fire on any corvettes that attempted to close the distance. Under constant, withering fire, the station held out.

Amidst the battle, a message arrived from Viverva. Spagruum generously offered peace to the vailons, in exchange for the simple transfer of a few border systems to the control of the VIS. This was, of course, identical to the deal that had been on offer five years earlier. What was an unacceptable surrender then was still a surrender now, and a polite decline was sent back to the varelviv capital. Meanwhile, at Con Viab, though the starbase was taking damage to its hull, it was also taking out enemy ships. Several were outright destroyed, others so badly damaged that they were forced to retreat to make repairs. Slowly, the enemy fleet was losing battle effectiveness. After two weeks of trying to find a way through the fields of fire the station was laying down, finally an enemy corvette exploited a gap and landed several direct laser blasts on a main gun turret, putting it out of commission. It was not enough, however. The next day, the remaining turrets took out three ships, leaving only two others still in fighting shape. At this point, the varelviv admiral recognized the inevitable, and retreated back to the safety of controlled space. The Fifth Battle of Con Viab had been carried by the heroic defenders of Starport Con Viab, a victory which would be remembered in the vailon annals for generations.

BattleOfConViab5th.jpg

Starbase Con Viab resolutely holds out against a ferocious assault by a VIS fleet.


Footnotes
[1] Code-named Task Force Mirasma.
[2] In fact, the hive mind continuously described itself as the planet from which it hailed, and it took vailon researchers some time to work out the contradiction.
[3] Perhaps having already had some experiences relating to individualized species before meeting the vailon.
[4] Though several MAs, having caught wind of the study, made speeches decrying Vakor’s waste of resources on pet science projects.
 

eoncommander

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This just shows you're a good person at heart! I probably would have done the same thing too. Unless I felt like they really deserved it for being a pain and being ungrateful for my leniency in times past.

I might very much like to put the varelviv in their place, but sadly the vailons do not have that capacity at the moment. Resolute defending it is.
 
Chapter Seven - Reversals

eoncommander

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Manning the Defenses

As 229 came to a close, it was becoming clear that the TUG had an opportunity to mount a real resistance to the varelviv onslaught. Repeated victories demonstrated that the Unified Navy was capable of withstanding invasions despite the lack of a military heritage. This was well noted by the vailons’ erstwhile allies in the Glorious Axis. The Union and the Commonwealth were still focused on integration, but as that process progressed towards completion, the members began to turn their focus outwards again. The hissma had maintained close ties with the vailons throughout the period, but the Commonwealth had never previously provided material support to their neighbors. That changed after the Fifth Battle of Con Viab, a heroic effort by outnumbered defenders, which greatly impressed its observers, including representatives of the federation stationed on the starbase. Upon reporting back to their respective homeworlds, the observers emphasized both the successes of the vailon navy and the growing martial culture within it, both of which were encouraging for the mith-fell military establishment. In December, the mith-fell ambassador to Tebazed approached the administration with an offer of support for the war effort. Though direct material support was off the table, the Commonwealth was willing to enter into an information sharing arrangement. Within a month, the details were worked out; the two governments would conduct joint research projects and share data. For the vailons, it was a boon for their military technology, which lagged behind the other regional powers, while the mith-fell could hope to increase output in several civilian industries where the vailons had expertise.

The new research agreement, coupled with the earlier one signed with the Union, would lead to a persistent advantage in military technology for the vailons in their war over the long term. In the immediate future, however, there were still yearly campaigns by the VIS that needed to be thrown back. The next wave came in July of 230, a medium-sized fleet that tried to slip, unsuccessfully, the vailon cordon. Task Force Mirasma was able to intercept the attackers before they got deep into the system and force them to retreat. The assault was followed by another peace overture from Viverva. It proposed the same terms as the previous one, and it was rejected in due course. In addition to the prior considerations, the TUG high command had new reason for optimism. Up to this point in the war, going on six years, the vailon shipyards had operated only at a level to replace losses; the Unified Navy had only been able to maintain its numbers, not add to it. Due to a combination of advances in manufacturing techniques and good economic management, after 230 the Unified Navy would be able to grow in strength, doubling in size by the end of the war.

This good news could provide little solace in 231, as the VIS renewed their assault with the largest invasion fleet yet seen. Admiral Piriam faced a difficult decision. Attack, and potentially draw the enemy fleet onto the guns of the starbase again. But attacking might also simply result in a fast, and catastrophic, defeat for the outnumbered and outgunned task force. It might be better for the vailons to hold back, allowing the increased rate of ship production to make good and result in a more even fight down the road. After many meetings with his captains, an intensive twelve-hour session with the starbase’s modeling program, and some hectoring from the Naval Staff, [1] Piriam decided to attack the fleet immediately, trusting his captains and his own tactical acumen to keep losses to a minimum. The ensuing battle would once again confirm his capabilities as a combat commander. Though eventually forced to retreat after losing three ships, the task force destroyed five varelviv corvettes in return, and drew the remainder of the fleet into range of the starbase’s guns. The crew of the station was now very experienced in battle, and the varelviv were once again unimaginative in their own tactics. The result was another bloodbath, as the vailon gunners hit target after target, destroying seven and seriously damaging the rest before the enemy retreated. After this, the Seventh Battle of Con Viab, it seemed to many that the vailons had faced the worst the VIS could throw at them. It was possible to have a little more confidence that the TUG could weather the storm.

A Routine

Space is, by its nature, vast. It took a very, very long time for ships to travel from point to point; a full twelve months, to go from Tebazed to the front. [2] As the conflict dragged on, most ordinary citizens could be forgiven for tuning out the specifics, especially since the next five years did little to shake the growing confidence in the administration’s conduct of the war. This period was defined by a stasis, a routine, that neither side could break out of. The varelviv, consistently and inexplicably, failed to combine their forces in a concentrated assault to overwhelm the vailon defenses; while the vailons suffered just enough in their defensive stands that they were unable to take the initiative themselves.

After the Seventh Battle of Con Viab, TF Mirasma regrouped at Starbase Tebza. The lack of mobile defenses in the border system once again allowed the VIS to bypass the static defenses with a small fleet. A brief engagement with Outpost Soval led to the loss of the station. However, the battle was apparently costly enough for the varelviv fleet that it immediately retreated, allowing the task force to retake the system on its swing back to Con Viab in 232. Later that year, the varelviv renewed their assault on the vailon defenses, continuing to demonstrate the futility of their stagnant strategy. [3] The task force beat off the initial wave in October, but reinforcements followed closely behind, forcing the vailons to jump away once more. This second wave bore straight in on Starbase Con Viab, even though the path around it was unblocked. The futile assault led to the destruction of most of the fleet before their weapons even penetrated the station’s deflectors.

That series of battles would be the last time a VIS attack wave forced the vailon fleet to retreat from the front. Subsequent invasions – two small ones in mid-234, and then three more in the following eighteen months – were all intercepted and destroyed before posing a threat. After a full decade of war, the vailon naval forces were becoming very skilled at their craft. Over the years, TF Mirasma took fewer and fewer casualties with every ensuing engagement; by 236, they were throwing back equivalently sized varelviv fleets with no losses at all. The space in Con Viab’s gravity well was becoming thick with the debris of splintered ships. This became a tactical environment that Admiral Piriam could make use of to great effect, while it also proved to be a huge resource for military scientists on Tebazed. Research vessels assigned to the sites of prior battles collected data on enemy shields, engines, and laser technologies, each of which was more advanced than its equivalent on vailon ships. Putting this data to good use, the Science Directory was able to reverse engineer much of the tech, leading to major breakthroughs in ship design that allowed the TUG to build on their growing advantage in battle.

…My crews are incredibly well-trained. Their battle skills have been honed by repeated tests, and they have never once failed in their mission. The captains under my command are the best the vailon can aspire to be; they work as a cohesive unit but still understand when a little improvisation can swing an engagement. We just threw back an enemy invasion for the eleventh time, and in fact suffered zero casualties ourselves. I am left to wonder: we are now so dominant in combat; does the Naval Staff have a plan to make use of that, and win us this war that we did not ask for?

-Excerpted from the personal journal of Admiral Sarim den Piriam, entry dated October 2, 234

Outside of the war, life in the galaxy continued. Though the conflict had cut off the direct hyperlane route between Tebazed and Hissom, the battles were far away from the border with the Commonwealth, and trade flourished between the TUG and the Glorious Axis along this route. Vailon explorers also made contact with a steady stream of spacefaring civilizations as they explored the regions beyond known space. To the north lay the Obevni Hegemony, a society of honorbound warriors whom, despite their reverence for martial prowess and the traditional ways of their ancestors, the vailon delegation found they liked very much. The obevni, too, were locked in a war, but their circumstances were much direr than that of the vailons, as they were mounting a last-ditched defense against the bloodthirsty hordes of the saathids. It was with great sadness that the envoys parted with their counterparts, not knowing if their stand would be successful, or if the entire species would be annihilated by the genocidal arthropoids.

Those vailon envoys had to be careful as they traversed the nearby space. Avoiding the long-range patrols of the Avarrian Star Hunters was a matter of survival. Much like their neighbors, the saathids, the avarrians were committed to purging the galaxy of all other intelligent life. Their hunter-killer swarms roamed the volume near their empire, attacking any ship that dared to cross their paths. Sometimes, these ships would be destroyed outright, becoming target practice for the avarrians’ guns. In other cases, the raptor-like avians would capture the ships intact, torturing the sapients on board for fun before disposing of their bodies with their trash dumps. [4] The vailons could count themselves lucky; though their explorers in the region needed to be cautious, there were few other reasons for vailons to be there, as most of their interstellar commerce flowed into and out of the Glorious Axis, which served as a kind of shield from the horrors beyond.

Though all hyperlane routes to the west were blocked, [5] the vailons also communicated for the first time with a pair of species on the far side of the VIS in this period, via contacts among the hissma. Sharing a border with the slavers was the Cyggan Galactic Empire. Any hope the vailons might have had that they could use a diplomatic campaign to create a two-front war for the varelviv were quickly dashed, however, as the cyggans had very little interest in providing any assistance. They were, in fact, deeply distrustful of all aliens, but most of all the sebans of the Seban Commonwealth, with whom they were locked in a deadly stalemate of a war. The sebans were only very slightly friendlier than their chief rivals. Instead of demanding reverence and fealty towards the authoritarian Emperor Slugradeb I, as did the cyggans, the sebans simply and curtly informed the vailon delegates that meddling would not be tolerated, and that they would greatly prefer that their affairs were ignored. The search for allies would have to continue, though it now looked as if the vailons could not count on such help coming before the end of the war.

FirstContactCyggan.jpg

FirstContactObevni.jpg

FirstContactSeban.jpg

FirstContactAvarrian.jpg

In the 230s, the TUG began to make contact with the wider galactic community. Despite their diplomatic entreaties, none of the newly discovered empires were in a position to help the beleaguered vailons.

Advance

Despite the fruitless search for friends in the wider galactic community, by 236 Vakor and her administration believed that victory was within grasp. The wartime economic policies had paid off; the shipyards orbiting Tebza had increased their production rates to a point where the navy could replace its losses and increase its overall ship count. New foundries in the industrial heartland of Lopinira doubled the output of advanced alloys over the course of the war, more than covering the increased tempo at the shipyard. The spare materials were used to expand TUG control to the outlying stars along the rim of the galaxy, allowing the Space Directorate to bring in even more raw resources for the war effort.

At the same time, the research complexes scattered across Tebazed were developing new technologies to increase the Unified Navy’s warfighting abilities. Though outmatched in terms of sheer firepower at the outset of the war, the vailons could count on a small tech advantage even in 224, primarily in the field of combat simulators and live battle computing. In the next twelve years, the gap between the two sides would grow, as military researchers made advances in hull plating and corvette design, point defense cannons, and shipboard sensors, while also reverse-engineering varelviv advances in laser and shielding tech. The new gravitic sensors had already shown the decisive edge they could play. A prototype detector was installed on Starbase Con Viab in 235. Able to detect disturbances in the gravitational structure of space from one hyperlane away, it provided advance warning to Admiral Piriam of the next assault wave. The task force set up for an ambush, and the varelviv flotilla was wiped out before it could even radio back to Viverva that it was under attack. Additionally, a working group of war strategists and engineering researchers announced in 236 that they had completed plans for the next generation of vailon warships. The new class would be roughly twice as large as the corvette-sized ships currently in service, and the design would be capable of carrying either a complement of small turrets or a single large gun, capable of putting real hurt on a fortified installation. The first of these destroyers would be launched within the year and join TF Mirasma after it began its counterattack into VIS-held space.

The time for a counterattack had finally arrived. Twelve years of resolute defending left the vailons in control of their core systems, with a growing advantage in battle, if still outclassed in sheer numbers of warships. The VIS navy was reeling from continuously butting its head against the vailon fleet, and the Naval Staff believed that it could be swept aside, with the newly deployed technologies providing a decisive advantage. In July of 235, the high command gave new orders to Admiral Piriam: retake the occupied systems beyond Con Viab; engage any targets of opportunity. The admiral immediately ordered an attack on the Ushminaria system. He hoped to catch the varelviv off-balance and establish a forward operating base in the system. The task force timed its jump so that it came out of hyperspace directly on top of a VIS fleet traversing the system. A lucky shot caught the bridge of the flagship, killing the enemy admiral early in the engagement before the varelvivs could organize a retreat, and the battle quickly descended into a rout. Eleven varelviv ships were destroyed, and only one managed to escape and limp home, while the task force suffered few casualties and no more than minor damage to any ship. After retaking the outpost orbiting the star, the vailons detected another fleet en route to reinforce, this one slightly larger than TF Mirasma. Piriam, never one to fight on even terms if he could help it, had his task force retreat to Con Viab and set up for another ambush. The varelviv never stood a chance; jumping blind into the system, they were immediately set upon by the task force. This time, the varelviv were able to retreat before losing half of their ships, but the road was now open to a vailon attack. The vailons retook Ushminaria in December of 236. Though the VIS assembled a group to attempt a counter-attack, their main fleets had been scattered by the vailons in the preceding year, and the ad-hoc fleet did not have nearly the numbers to dislodge Piriam’s force.

It was in the aftermath of the Second Battle of Ushminaria that Admiral Piriam made the decision that would determine the course of the remainder of the war. The other occupied outposts were now essentially defenseless, and Piriam had the opportunity to spend the next few months retaking those systems as he waited for the new destroyers to join his force. Instead, he assembled his task force for an immediate assault on the varelviv defensive lines. He hoped that the fleet could deliver a knockout blow by taking the starbase orbiting Bihjall. Much like the vailon station at Con Viab, it guarded the entrances to the varelviv core systems and was heavily fortified as a result. Taking it would allow the vailons to invade the central planets of the VIS and likely force them to negotiate an equitable peace. [6]

The invasion commenced in February 237. TF Mirasma arrived in the Bihjall system to find the remnants of two shattered fleets regrouping around the varelviv starbase. Admiral Piriam ordered his ships to engage; he recognized that attempting to outfox the defenders would only give the VIS time to muster reinforcements. The vailon ships swept aside the remaining varelviv corvettes and directed their fire on the enemy station, targeting first its guns and especially its missile launchers. Though the task force contained several ships outfitted with point defense cannons, there were not enough of them to deal with the volume of warheads launched by the station. Over time, the vailons whittled away at the starbase’s defenses, taking down its shield and piercing its armor in numerous places. Several groups of varelviv ships arrived in piecemeal fashion, evidence of the VIS high command throwing every resource it had on hand into the defense of the system. Though the task force dealt with these waves easily, every time the task force broke off to deal with the reinforcements, the starbase’s crew took advantage by conducting emergency repairs. Finally, a large fleet was detected by the flagship’s gravitic sensors in the Prothon system, one jump away. Piriam’s forces had already been depleted by attrition and battle damage; allowing themselves to be pinned against the defenses by the reinforcements would be disastrous. Piriam ordered a retreat, and the task force jumped away, to regroup and fight another day.

BattleOfBihjall1st.jpg

The First Battle of Bihjall turned out to be Admiral Piriam’s one major blunder of the war.

Endgame

The First Battle of Bihjall was not simply the end of the first vailon invasion of varelviv space. Many on Tebazed saw it as a symbol of the TUG’s failure to push back the enemy and reclaim lost territory. The citizenry was feeling the effects of the economic measures taken by the administration, and a sense of weariness was growing in the capital. The war was now more than thirteen years old; during its course it had overwhelmed every other idea Vakor may have wanted to pursue with her historic second term. With a strong sense of unfulfilled promise, her approval ratings plummeted in the second half of the 230s. While the high command saw a difficult war effort well prosecuted, the populace merely saw a stagnant front and no possibility of reclaiming the lost systems and taking the initiative against the aggressors. Though her party in the Assembly, the Liberty Now Council, and its allies still supported the Director-General, the opposition to her administration had grown from a low murmur to a loud buzz. The aborted assault on Starbase Bihjall opened the floodgates, and calls for Vakor’s resignation returned to the public forum for the first time since the onset of the war. This time, the protests, led by the Peaceful Progress Initiative, were joined by many neutral MAs and even a few defectors from the ranks of the LNC. This was a strong enough signal that Vakor was forced to respond. She made a speech to the Assembly on December 18, 237, revealing for the first time that the administration had a standing offer from the VIS government to engage in talks about a peace settlement. The varelviv’s yearly invitations to negotiate had always been framed around their original demands for submission and the handover of the border systems, and so Vakor had always rejected them. Now, though, she recognized that popular unrest was growing; the vailons wanted peace. In her speech, she pledged to direct the Unified Navy to make one final assault on VIS territory, after which she would sit down with the varelviv delegation and come to terms. Victory in this campaign would allow her to negotiate from a position of strength, and hopefully lead to a favorable outcome for the slog that they had all suffered through in the last thirteen-plus years. Though the PPI howled, this argument was acceptable to most; the end was in sight, finally.

In February of 238, TF Mirasma finally reformed at Starbase Tebza, six months after the failed assault on Bihjall. The fleet spent the next three months reequipping and training for the final push, integrating new crewmembers replacing those lost in battle as well as the two brand-new destroyers, fresh off the assembly line at the Tebza shipyard. Meanwhile, Admiral Piriam consulted with the Naval Staff and built a plan for the coming campaign. Preparations were completed in June, and the task force set out on its final mission. In September, as it passed through the Soval system, a small VIS fleet arrived; it had managed to bypass the defenses in Con Viab with no vailon ships around to herd them. Though the enemy raiding party was a sitting duck for the task force, Admiral Piriam ordered his ships to ignore the group and press forward; they had a timeline to keep. The varelviv scouting party would succeed in taking down Outpost Soval, but afterwards they did not attempt to slice deeper into vailon space. TF Mirasma, on the other hand, successfully retook the outpost in the Ushminaria system in early 239, and continued onwards to its main target of Starbase Bihjall. In May, the fleet split, with the main body bearing down on the lynchpin of the VIS defensive line, while a destroyer detachment was tasked with retaking the other outlying systems still in varelviv control, starting with Turim.

If the latter mission could be considered a test of the capabilities of the destroyer platform, then it could fairly be said to have failed spectacularly. Whether by overestimating the efficacy of their weapons systems, or by underestimating the armor and defenses of even lowly outpost installations, the vailon high command was embarrassed by the destroyers’ performance. The assault on the outpost orbiting Turim accomplished very little, as the single large gun the destroyers carried failed to cause enough damage to the station to force it to surrender before the vailon ships broke off the attack in August. At the same time, the main force of corvettes also failed in its task to take down the defenses of the bastion at Bihjall in a sustained, two-month assault. Though the task force crushed two VIS fleets in an initial engagement near the hyperlane exit, the ships were again unable to cause enough damage to the starbase to drive it to surrender. Admiral Piriam, upon receiving the bad news from Turim, recognized the futility of his position, and ordered a full retreat to the TUG lines in Con Viab.

BattleOfBihjall2nd.jpg

Task Force Mirasma embarked on a last-ditched campaign to invade varelviv space and create some leverage for the peace negotiations. The Second Battle of Bihjall, pictured here, put an end to that hope.

The final campaign had failed to accomplish its goals, and Vakor bowed to the inevitable. She arranged to hold talks with a varelviv delegation, to hammer out the details of a peace accord. In the end, the vailons were forced to surrender several of the border systems beyond the Con Viab system, though not the entire volume that the VIS had demanded at the outset of the war. The TUG surrendered three systems, including Turim and the unphased gaia world, to the control of the slavers. The rich Ushminaria system, one jump from Con Viab, remained in vailon control, as did the distant Orthama system. Given the force disparity when war was declared, this was not a terrible outcome, though it was still a bitter pill to swallow for Vakor and the administration. Still, most vailons felt a surge of relief when news of the treaty broke over the airwaves. They had stood and fought, mostly successfully, for a decade and a half; they had finally obtained peace, though on somewhat unfavorable terms. The time had now come to turn to the postwar settlement. A rethinking of the vailons’ place in the galactic community was due, and it would be fought out in the selection that was due to occur in just six months’ time.


Footnotes
[1] The admiralty back in Sedrin was focused on the possibility of allowing a varelviv fleet to actually assault one of the colonies, or in the worst case the homeworld. They put as much pressure as they could, via ansible, on Piriam to make a preventative assault. With the benefit of hindsight, establishing a principle of independent command authority and entrusting that authority to someone with the will to execute it was the most important thing the Naval Staff did during the course of the war.
[2] Or vice versa, should the worst happen and the varelviv break through.
[3] Vailon analysts differ as to their explanations for the phenomenon. Some saw bad decisions by bad commanders; others looked for deeper explanations and found it varyingly in their social structure, their form of government, or in certain biological determinants. No answer was ever settled on conclusively.
[4] This knowledge was gleaned from the occasional prisoners the avarrians released aboard life boats along known trade routes, ostensibly to spread the word.
[5] Corewards, by the varelviv and the war zone; rimwards, by the Qvefoz Marauders, who still had very little interest in the goings-on of their more civilized neighbors.
[6] The Naval Staff also hoped that part of the negotiated settlement would be the handover of the station at Bihjall, and having control of the system when the delegations met would make that much more likely.