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MrReaper182

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Just read all of this great AAR and as you can can probably tell I really enjoyed reading the story. I wish more people could see the beauty of role playing Stellaris.
 
Chapter Twenty-One - The Reforms of Birm den Boknar

eoncommander

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Politics

Birm den Boknar ran a successful campaign to be selected as the 27th Director-General of the Tebazed Unified Governance without ever really defining herself or the type of administration she wanted to lead. If she had had plans, she had kept them to herself. The ambiguity she cultivated was in many ways an asset during the campaign; it left her free to make promises to various groups that might have seemed… contradictory if they had ever been compared in public. With this calculated ambiguity, she was able to sway enough voters in the College to cobble together a majority without the formal backing of any faction or interest group. Among the parties in the Assembly, she was the favorite of none – but she had the grudging acceptance of all, each perhaps believing they could bend her to their own ends.

A coalition comprised of the Xeno Liberty Initiative and the Liberty Now Council had effectively governed the Assembly and, by proxy, the political limits of the TUG for seven decades before Boknar’s rise. On the eve of the selection, the XLI-LNC coalition controlled 85% of the seats in the Assembly; [1] their party heads were the incumbent Director-General (Valdrig den Subir, leader of the LNC) and the leading candidate to succeed her (Galdrig den Piriam, in charge of the XLI). The coalition’s grip on power, however, was slipping, as evidenced by its inability to install its favored candidate to the top job. The perpetual third party of the Governance, the Peaceful Progress Initiative, had faded to irrelevance by the 280s, commanding only 10% of the seats in the Assembly and exerting little influence on the course of events.

Two other small factions emerged in the early 280s, occupying previously neglected segments of the ideological spectrum. [2] The Conclave of Traditional Foundations first arose as an alliance of the various faith groups that were now beginning to be represented in significant quantities in the Governance. Though a majority of xeno immigrants (and especially their descendants) chose assimilation into vailon culture, many opted to retain their own cultural traditions. This often meant the introduction of new faiths and religious practices into the Governance. For historical reasons, many vailons felt uncomfortable at the newfound presence of organized religions, these sorts of institutions being linked with significant episodes of violence and destruction in Tebazed’s not-so-distant past. Still, some vailons were attracted to these imports, while others began to emphasize the need to recognize the traditional faiths of Tebazed as important institutions in their own right. This unlikely faction made an even more improbable choice for its leader – Jargim den Vathrag, the longtime Director of Science under both of the previous Directors-General, who had, if not publicly joined an officially recognized religious denomination, discovered a sort of spirituality in her explorations of the vast unknowns of the galaxy.

Meanwhile, the newly organized Red Legion was much more an association of like-minded elites than a traditional political party. Led by Mtche’ar, [3] governor of The Veil, it consisted of members of the Assembly as well as high-level administration officials who were displeased with Subir’s handling of war policy. As Subir’s time as Director-General and interest in governance dwindled, the group promised to wield their influence in the subsequent administration to ensure that current and future wars were managed with energy and zeal. To underline the necessity of vigorous management, they pointed to the numerous protests that broke out in 284, which echoed the sentiment expressed in the anti-war movement of the Second Varelviv War. For the members of the Red Legion, a growing peace movement only underlined the failures of the Subir administration; they firmly believed that the public would support a war that was being handled well.

NewFactionCommitteeOfTechnologists.jpg

New factions emerged to shake up the political scene in the 280s, including the Committee of Technologists, strong backers of the new Director-General.

Faced with this political landscape, Boknar had few strong allies upon whom she could rely. Those Members of the Assembly who were in her camp banded together to form their own organization, calling themselves the Committee of Technologists. The group could easily be described as eclectic, comprised as it was of individuals from many species and varying backgrounds. What they had in common, besides personal rapport with the Director-General, was a strong commitment to good governance above and beyond any particular ideological commitment. They were most accurately described as technocratic: the best decisions would inevitably be made by subject matter experts, and political considerations ought to be set aside. In this, they mirrored Boknar’s own persuasion – competent management with a focus on utilitarianism. This philosophy was a distinctly minoritarian one, lacking a great base of support in the wider population. Without widespread support or significant institutional backing, Boknar faced a difficult challenge as she began her term.

Reforms

Boknar was the first Director-General in recorded history to come to power in the middle of a major war. Though her inauguration speech focused on the traditional vailon narratives of peace, cooperation, and a welcome to all strangers as friends, [4] the early years of her term were consumed with the problems of war administration. Immediately upon assuming office, Boknar was confronted with the dire state of the economy. Military expenditures were at an all-time high, and the previous regime had made no attempt to reorient revenues or adjust resource allocation to compensate, instead borrowing heavily from several large interstellar financial institutions. [5] The new Director-General threw herself into the problem, issuing new directives nearly every day for months on end. She cast a critical eye on all areas of spending, ranging from shipbuilding practices (exorbitantly wasteful of precious alloys, according to a month-long investigation) to the color of the ink in the writing implements provided to every office location (a shortage of essential blue dyes [6] made black pens much cheaper to produce).

The most important early-term initiative was a new series of production objectives for the Labor Directory’s Industrial section. With the saathids refusing to engage in any sort of negotiated peace, the war dragged on with no foreseeable end date. Even with the administration rolling out new efficiency measures on a regular basis, the amount of war materiel the economy was producing was not sufficient to maintain operational tempos. The Director-General hoped to remedy this by reorienting some of the productive capacity of the Governance from consumer to military goods. Focusing primarily on heavy industry, Boknar instituted a program to assist with the retooling of factories to produce armaments, ship parts, and military-grade electronics. She directed factories to operate on a continuous basis, with extra shifts staffed by workers diverted from non-critical industries. Power plants, usually operated at less than full capacity to maintain safety margins, were granted licenses to run at a minimum of 95% of rated power, boosting energy production significantly. Within a year, the various programs had increased the production of key military goods by 15%, ensuring the Unified Navy had the resources it needed to carry the war to the saathids and resupply the main task force as it operated deep inside enemy space.

The partial militarization of the Governance economy was not achieved without significant sacrifices. One obvious consequence of reorienting production away from civilian manufacturing was a shortfall in the production of consumer goods. Durable goods saw the biggest decrease in output, with consumer electronics and appliances being especially hard-hit. Fixed-path and variable-path roadway construction fell precipitously, as the heavy machinery necessary to pave undeveloped land was diverted to meet military needs. With incomes steady (all the factories were still operating, after all) but the production of private goods declining, a moderate level of inflation set in. The Trade Directory also adjusted quotas for interstellar trading operations to help meet the needs of wartime, with less emphasis on consumer or cultural goods and a renewed focus on new military technologies or pure wealth maximization.

These new requirements are [unprintable]. I already have purchase agreements in place with three contacts, and now I have to go back to them and tell them, “Deal’s off.” You’re supposed to be warning me when the rules are about to be changed. My name’s going to be put out on Cyggia as a flake. I’m going to have to start to pay a premium, a big, 20% markup or something in that range. What a [unprintable] [unprintable].

- Transmission from an unnamed trader to a regional controller, location Cyggia Center, Cyggia, Cyggan Empire, date August 23, 289; provided to the Assembly Select Commission on Wartime Trade Deficits, sitting March to December, 293
The new quotas were met with some friction in the trader community.

So long as the war continued, Boknar was constrained politically as well. Though the XLI-LNC coalition had been weakened by its embarrassing performance in the selection campaign, its leadership had managed to keep the two factions in alignment. Amidst a war, and fearing a potential saathid invasion, the coalition firmly supported all of the Director-General’s measures to strengthen the war economy. Considering the circumstances, Boknar and her aides did not want to rock the boat; with the Assembly fully behind her, Boknar had a measure of security to make decisions about the conduct of the war without having to worry about the political fallout. Attempting to break the coalition might have met with success, but at a cost of jeopardizing her ambitious program to rescue the war effort.

Once the Saathid War concluded in 295, the Director-General was able to stand down the economy to a civilian footing. She did not, however, rescind every wartime directive immediately upon cessation of hostilities. While most converted factories returned to their original production lines, the new trading quotas were largely left in place, and a small number of weapons systems continued to be manufactured for the lucrative export market. With the rapacious demands of war tapering off, Boknar’s reforms meant that a large surplus now existed. Some of that surplus was needed to make up for civilian shortages, which had been a continuous issue for most of the last decade. But with the remainder, Boknar decided that it should be used in the pursuit of her most ambitious domestic project: a major expansion of the social welfare system.

According to the long-standing constitutional principles, every citizen in the Governance had the absolute right to the basic necessities of existence: food, at the state-run cafeterias that were the common eatery for most individuals; housing, in mixed [7] communal dormitories; and medical care, which was socialized for all individuals no matter their circumstances. When these guarantees were introduced in the second century, they were designed to care for the small number of vailons who could not take regular work postings, whether because of physical or mental disability; most vailons still ate in private eateries and owned or rented private homes. By the 280s, however, this balance had flipped; most citizens, whether vailon or xeno, took advantage of the public provisioning of these services, and fewer looked to the private market to fill their needs. Significant disparities still existed, however. Among members of the founding species, 68% lived in communal dorms, and 82% ate at least two meals a day in a cafeteria. For xenos, those figures were only 51% and 61%, respectively. [8] While certain segments of the population chose to devote some portion of their discretionary incomes towards higher-quality housing on the private market, the majority of individuals living outside of public dorms resided in marginal or self-constructed accommodations, often on the edges of urban areas or on settlement frontiers on colonial worlds. Xenos, especially first-generation immigrants and refugees, were more likely to live in segregated areas, to experience high levels of poverty, and to work outside the mainstream economy. These were mutually reinforcing trends; marginalized groups lived in isolated communities, far away from public amenities, which tended to pull them away from the mainstream economy, which further encouraged their isolation, and so on.

The Director-General set out to remedy this state of affairs. With the end of the war, the administration finally had the excess economic capacity to bring these services to many marginalized communities. After months of planning, Boknar announced Project XYZ on July 11, 296, in a speech to the colonial assembly in Vilim, capital of The Veil. The program had three main planks, all falling under the aegis of the Labor Directory. In consultation with Labor, the Interior Directory would begin major upgrades to the aging transportation infrastructure of the Governance. [9] The Migration and Education Directories would collaborate on new assimilation curricula, designed to assist future migrants just arriving at the border as well as those who had already settled in the TUG but had continued to hold on to their original cultures. And, most importantly, the Labor Directory would institute a massive construction program in the regions with the heaviest concentration of isolated communities. Planned in coordination with the transportation improvements, the new public amenities would expand the reach of government services, making them accessible for the first time to billions of individuals.

Infrastructure.jpg

New fixed-path transportation infrastructure on Firintarogga.

Death of a Coalition

Once completed, Project XYZ would be responsible for a large increase in the material well-being of the population of the Governance, with the biggest increases concentrated in the poorest quarter of the residents. The program, which was the locus of domestic policymaking for the second half of Boknar’s term, also marked the end of a political era. The XLI-LNC coalition that had dominated Governance politics for most of the third century finally reached a breaking point over the issue.

Despite their long-standing alliance, the two factions had maintained separate identities, distinct ideologies, and independent party slates. In its infancy, the XLI had espoused a vague enthusiasm for pursuing good relations with the Governance’s immediate neighbors, the Mith-Fell Commonwealth and the Hissma Union, with whom relations had gotten off to something of a rocky start. Over the century, the party had matured into a strong defender of diplomatic approaches to issues of galactic import, while at the same time championing the causes of xeno refugees and minorities within the borders of the TUG. Though ostensibly dedicated to peaceful measures, its members were not completely averse to the use of force when the rights of life and liberty were threatened, and the party was occasionally outright interventionist in its advocacy. [10]

Meanwhile, the LNC had, virtually from the moment of its inception, devoted itself to promoting democracy, equal rights, and equal access to those rights. These core principles had led the faction to focus primarily on issues closer to home, including colonial rights, welfare policy, and migration controls. One might almost liken the old coalition to two wings of a single party: the XLI in charge of foreign policy, and the LNC holding the domestic portfolio. Indeed, this was a common trope for many commentators over the decades, though one that was far more complicated in practice, a complexity which eventually played an important part in the final break. The LNC, for its part, generally supported an interventionist stance in interstellar affairs, but unlike its XLI partners the arch-egalitarians emphasized the role that the Governance could play in actively promoting democracy across the galaxy.

There had, of course, always been disagreements between the two factions, but their iron grip on power and public support had allowed them to paper over their differences easily enough. This was to prove impossible with Project XYZ, not least because Boknar and her allies calibrated their plans, and which aspects of their plans to play up in public, to insert a wedge in the coalition. Of the three planks, the first plank, upgrading the transportation infrastructure, and the third plank, increasing access to entitlements via new construction, were uncontroversial, and deemphasized in the public debate. It was the second plank, the new assimilation programs, that engendered serious conflict and created a split. This part of the program appealed to the egalitarian ethos of the LNC. They were ardent defenders of the meritocratic system of the Governance, and they understood that true equality of opportunity could only emerge when every individual started from the same base, unencumbered by economic inequity or cultural baggage. Those communities that deliberately segregated themselves from the complex social structures that made meritocracy possible were a threat to the vision of liberty that the LNC held so dearly.

By contrast, the assimilation provisions of Project XYZ were anathema to the XLI. The right to self-determination, and the preservation of all xeno cultures, were critical aspects of the ideology of the movement. Forced integration – for that was how the XLI conceived of massive investment in assimilation programs – would inevitably result in the loss of both precious cultural heritage and the fundamental right to self-actualization for all affected individuals. Somewhat ironically, the party was the strongest advocate of liberal refugee and immigration regimes, but the least supportive of assimilationist policies. To the XLI, the benefits of coming to the Governance, and being sheltered from the trials and travails of the rest of the galaxy, were an absolute good, unburdened by any conditionality. To put further demands on migrants, to ask them to sacrifice their own individual expression and join the larger collective, was a crime so horrid as to put into question the moral basis of the vailon project.

The right to self-actualization is sacrosanct. No compromise of this principle is compatible with free and open societies. We must work together to end restrictions on individual choice and allow all individuals to experience true freedom in a meritocratic society.

-From the 295 Xeno Liberty Initiative Party Manifesto
A carefully worded party manifesto in 295 was not enough to heal the breach between the XLI and LNC.

For a time, as negotiations with the administration over the contours of Project XYZ continued behind closed doors, the coalition was able to suppress their internal disagreements. Boknar held firm in these discussions, refusing to concede even a little bit on the assimilation question. The Director-General maintained that this plank was critical to the success of the whole program and to ensuring that no individual living in the Governance would ever be left behind again. In the ranks of the XLI, however, many suspected that Boknar’s statements on the matter were an exaggeration of her true feelings, and that her real interest lay in using the issue to break the coalition apart. Regardless of her true intentions, with no compromise on offer the XLI was eventually forced to announce their opposition to the entire package of reforms in early 297. As the LNC remained supportive of the measures, this amounted to a formal dissolution of the coalition.

Boknar had succeeded in breaking up the alliance that had controlled the Assembly and defined Governance politics for nearly a century. With the political constraints removed, she was now free to pursue her ultimate ambition: the construction of a grand federation to advance Governance interests in interstellar affairs…


Footnotes

[1] The LNC held 45% of the seats and the XLI 40%.
[2] This was another sign of the waning strength of the XLI-LNC coalition. In earlier eras, divergent ideological groups would have subsumed themselves within the existing party structures, in order to exert some influence on decision-makers. That such factions felt strong enough to strike out on their own reflected the shakiness of the governing coalition.
[3] Mtche’ar’s official name was Claw of Cyan.
[4] This was the famous “Free Haven” speech that augured the demographic transition of the Governance over her two decades in office.
[5] The galactic financial market was a decentralized affair, with major hubs located on Mirovandia Prime, Kan Jukla, Khellzakka, and Hythea (though the last had been on the decline since its annexation by the Belmacosa Empire). Subir, while publicly pronouncing the sound health of Governance finances for all to hear, had in fact quietly arranged for lines of credit from a few of the largest mirovandian banks.
[6] The materials were also used in the manufacture of computer interface devices.
[7] I.e. open to individuals who chose to live in such arrangements as well as those in need of government assistance.
[8] Further breakdowns of the xeno population, comparing long-settled communities to more recent arrivals, showed an even starker differential. Of xenos who had lived in the Governance for at least two decades, 63% lived in dorms and 80% used cafeterias regularly, whereas among recent immigrants or refugees it was 43% and 49%.
[9] Access is key to utilization, the administration realized very quickly during the planning stage of XYZ. Resources were devoted to refurbishing old spaceports, constructing new skyways for regional travel, and expanding ground transit outside of urban centers, created a more integrated system that allowed individuals in isolated communities to connect more easily to dense areas and economic hubs.
[10] The XLI strongly supported the Second and Third Varelviv War, as well as the interstellar coalition cobbled together by Valdrig den Subir to address the burgeoning refugee crisis in the 260s.
 
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generalis Julius Caesar

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We have had ups and downs during this update.
 

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This is excellent eon, great world building. With so many militarists and xenophobes the TUG is becoming a refuge for the galaxy's huddled masses.

Just read all of this great AAR and as you can can probably tell I really enjoyed reading the story. I wish more people could see the beauty of role playing Stellaris.
Thank you, both! Always happy to hear from new readers.

We have had ups and downs during this update.
I think of them more as lefts and rights than ups and downs, myself.


Didn't realize this until just now, but Monday was the two-year anniversary of the first post of this project. A major milestone, I suppose.

With this chapter, we've just about reached the end of the first century with our vailon friends - though there will still be several more installments before we officially hit the year 300! I can also inform you that, as of last night, I have completely finished the playthrough, reaching the year 2359 in-game before calling it quits. Which means, two years in, we are actually more than halfway through this AAR (and I can finally update the game past 2.5 and have some fun with recent DLCs).

Doing a quick review, I see that the length of time between updates has been gradually lengthening over the course of this project. I managed to keep to a once-a-week schedule for all of five chapters; now I'm up to every two months. The average length of a post has also increased, but not nearly that dramatically. No promises for the future, but I do expect the next chapter to be on the shorter side, followed by an interlude story which I have mostly written already! All of which is to say: stay tuned.

On a separate note, the 2020 Yearly AARland Year-end AwAARds are still ongoing! Don't mind the deadline in the OP - as of Sunday, the deadline was extended for two weeks, so you have until February 14 to fill out a ballot. I'm planning on doing mine tonight. For those of you who saw the thread and promptly forgot about it, or left a placeholder ballot but never came back to it, let this be a reminder! For others of you who didn't or don't know about the project, now's your chance to participate! Doesn't matter if you're a frequent commenter or a lurker, and it definitely does not matter whether you intend to vote for me or not. It's a valuable part of this community, and I hope you all do get the chance to vote.
 

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Interesting to see a religious third pole in the assembly, if trends continue there might be a need for some interesting compromises.
It seems that the Governance is in a bit of a tight spot, I hope that the Director-General's measures will be as effective as she hopes.
Hmmm, I find myself agreeing with the XLI about assimilation but the Governance has a good track record on dealing with immigrants so hopefully, this new policy won't compromise that.


Congratulations on the two years! I'm looking forward to seeing how it will all end up.
I'm especially excited for the interlude so good luck with the writing and keep up the good work!
 
Interlude - Memorial

eoncommander

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ISS Thuran
Near orbit of Sol IV
Sol System, Tebazed Unified Governance
October 28, 293


“We’re approaching the site,” the pilot informed me.

I nodded. “Very well. Our guests may want to watch.”

The guests were standing in the rear section of the bridge, murmuring amongst themselves. The three humans had very politely greeted us when we docked at their station, but they were a little wary at the thought of stepping foot onto a xeno ship. Even though traveling on a Governance ship was approximately three hundred times less likely to result in loss of life than doing so on an Earth-built spacecraft. (I would know, I had done the study myself.) Perhaps including a rontori in the welcome party had been a mistake – the humans were plenty familiar with the mammalian visage of us vailons, and had seen enough mith-fell on holos to grow accustomed to their forms, but rontori were relatively uncommon even in regular Governance space, and all of the tentacles could certainly be a disconcerting sight to uninitiated eyes.

Still, they had come aboard our little consular vessel for the six-hour trip from the observation post-cum-diplomatic headquarters to the fourth planet of the star system, which is named for a deity of war from the ancient history of the dominant Earth culture. The trio had largely kept to themselves, sitting in a corner of the lounge for most of the journey, declining my repeated invitations for conversation or nourishment. Only in the last half hour had they finally wandered up to the bridge and requested the honor of a formal meal to celebrate the occasion, once the monument was laid. I told them there was no need to be so proper, there were no elaborate rituals to worry about, and we would be happy to put something together after the ceremony. Now I thought I would offer them the opportunity to get a look at the crater from the air as we approached.

They looked at each other, a little uncertain as to their companions’ reactions. “I think I would like that,” one of them offered. The others nodded their agreement.

“Come over here,” I said, gesturing towards a nearby viewscreen. They followed me to the terminal in silence. I typed a command to bring up the external sensor data in the visual spectrum, which for now was a view from a dozen kilometers above the dusty red surface. “We’re descending now – you can see our altitude here,” I narrated for them, pointing to a display in the bottom right corner of the screen. We had preprogrammed all of the computers to use Earth Standard terminology, for their benefit. In fact, most of our operations in the Sol system were conducted using the language which the Earth dwellers called English. The planet, developed to an Early Space Age before first contact, remained politically and linguistically fragmented, with as many as two hundred separate polities and, shockingly, over 5,000 languages in use. We were speaking English, as well, the most common language across the diplomatic institutions and governments with which the TUG was in contact. I had been given a crash course in the language, as well as the myriad customs for the many cultures scattered across the planet, before being assigned to my current posting. “It’ll be a few minutes before the crater comes in sight. I can zoom in if there are any features you want to examine more closely.”

“Is this a live feed only? Can we view a different part of the planet?”

“Uhhh…” I delayed while I clicked through menus. “We don’t have a live sensor feed, but I can bring up our old data… and there we go!” A holo activated, projecting a globe above the terminal. I think one of the humans might have gasped. “What would you like to see?”

One of them volunteered, “The old base in the Acidalia Planitia.”

I rotated the model and zoomed in on the location. “So much dust,” I heard behind me. Several of the buildings looked to have collapsed.

“Amazing detail.”

“What year was it abandoned?”

“‘42, I think.”

“What a mess that was.”

“The desertion or the whole project?”

“Both.”

“That’s entirely fair.”

“I’m just glad they didn’t send us to memorialize that clusterfuck.”

“Yes.”

I had my own thoughts about the Colonization Disaster of 2042 (my briefings had included a full lesson on the history of the human space age) but I kept them to myself, not wishing to stir up any trouble with our guests. With any luck, humanity was on a better path now.

I felt the ship brake, my knees bending subtly to absorb the force. None of the humans seemed to have noticed, perhaps on account of their lower mass, or perhaps because they were only accustomed to the most rudimentary chemical propulsion systems, which invariably caused much more significant g-forces. “We have now touched down in Jezero Crater,” the pilot announced over the PA. “Ceremony attendees, please report to the cargo bay for surface activity preparation.”

“That was a landing?” one of them whispered. “It was so smooth!”

Pretending I hadn’t heard, I deactivated the holo. “Time to suit up,” I said.

Twenty minutes later (the humans had some difficulty getting into our EVA suits, though we had customized them in collaboration with Earth-based engineers), we walked out the airlock, one of the humans guiding a hovercart carrying the memorial plaque, recording equipment, and other sundry supplies. The ship had landed a few hundred meters from the intended site for the plaque – lest we accidentally disturb the area – so we had a short walk across the dusty Martian landscape. The humans were all veterans of missions to various stellar bodies, but they marveled at the flexibility and natural feel of the suits, compared to the bulky fare that had been the height of human technology until the last few months. One of them, apparently a former star of athletic competition, even went for a short sprint before bounding high in the air, just to test her newfound capabilities. I reminded her on the radio that she could still tear the suit, or break a leg, if she landed the wrong way on a rock, but she just let out a whoop in response, to which the others laughed. I couldn’t help but smile, too; her energy was infectious.

Eventually we made it to the coordinates that we had discovered in the archives on Earth. At first, there seemed to be nothing except a few boulders, but we quickly realized that the rover was one of the boulders, having been buried by innumerable dust storms over the decades. I set to work clearing the area, using the portable field generator we had brought to protect the site after our departure, while the others set up the recording equipment. Our suits, and external ship sensors, would record the ceremony in exquisite detail, but they had insisted on using some old-fashioned Earth tech to make their own recording. They positioned their bulky video recording device on a tripod while I removed the caked-on dust.

It took about ten minutes to get everything ready for the ceremony. In the end, they kept it mercifully short. Instead of a long-winded paean to human ingenuity or some other lofty speech, they said only the following words for posterity:

“On this day, December the 12th, 2099, we commemorate the dreams of every human who, looking up at the sky, only saw the endless possibilities of flight.”

“Though there were many false starts, there were great successes, too, accomplishments to inspire us to aim higher.”

“May this memorial stand forever as a reminder of all those who devoted their lives to the exploration of the great unknown, the final frontier.”

With that, they unveiled the plaque and lowered it into place in front of the rover Perseverance, sparkling for the first time in 80 years. Besides the data card embedded in its lower section, which contained numerous files on the history of human spaceflight, it contained only a few lines of text:

FOR PERCY
But the film is a saddening bore
Because I wrote it ten times or more
It’s about to be writ again
As I ask you to focus on
Sailors fighting in the dance hall
Oh man look at the those cavemen go
It’s the freakiest show
Take a look at the lawmen
Beating up the wrong guy
Oh man wonder if he’ll ever know
He’s in the best-selling show
Is there life on Mars?
 
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eoncommander

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Hey all! In honor of the Mars 2020 mission landing (happening tomorrow/today for those across the pond!), I decided to write a short tribute. With humanity set to reenter the narrative very soon, I thought it would also be nice to get a preview of things to come :)

Interesting to see a religious third pole in the assembly, if trends continue there might be a need for some interesting compromises.
It seems that the Governance is in a bit of a tight spot, I hope that the Director-General's measures will be as effective as she hopes.
Hmmm, I find myself agreeing with the XLI about assimilation but the Governance has a good track record on dealing with immigrants so hopefully, this new policy won't compromise that.


Congratulations on the two years! I'm looking forward to seeing how it will all end up.
I'm especially excited for the interlude so good luck with the writing and keep up the good work!

Let's hope the LNC can force through the plan! No citizen left behind.

Were I living in the Governance, I would find my own loyalties painfully divided, I think. Boknar, on the other hand, is not nearly so sentimental.

And thank you for the well-wishes!
 

slothinator

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A great homage to our new robot friend on Mars! I also appreciated the Acidalia Planitia reference ;).
The humans were awfully lucky to find the Vailons in their neck of the woods, I'm curious to see how the relationship will develop!
 

Macavity116

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I love the tribute to Percy. Knowing how sentimental Humans can be, I'm sure we'll do something similar for the other rovers we've grown to love. We've already seen somebody write a song about the Opportunity rover, for instance:

"A year among the stars,
and then our hero hurtled down,
and Mars was quite surprised,
to find the little guy around,
he showed him rocks and mountains
and all the things between
and the little rover wrote us
about all the things he'd seen
the time flew by and soon
his visit reached its final day
but he and Mars got on so well
the rover chose to stay
so off they went together
for adventure they were bound
but he kept on writing letters
about all the things they found

So carry on little rover,
Opportunity awaits"
 
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Chapter Twenty-Two - A Mild War

eoncommander

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A War, Generally

The Tebazed Unified Governance was at war with the Saathid Annihilators for fourteen years, three months, and ten days. During that timeframe, the Unified Navy fought exactly one major engagement with saathid fleets, and the Unified Ground Force was involved in only two significant battles against enemy army units. This was “mild war,” not quite a cold war between rivals but also not a full-blown hot war with persistent combat. It was the apotheosis of modern space warfare, where the vast distances between inhabited regions and shipping lanes tamped down on the tendency for conflicts to escalate. In these wars, victory was less a matter of demonstrating superiority over one’s adversary and more attritional in nature – last one to shed their fur keeps the spoils, as traditional vailon folk wisdom would have it.

At the outset, the Admiralty Board was most concerned with the possibility of a saathid invasion of the home territories. While intelligence was sketchy, it was generally believed that the saathid navy outnumbered the Governance’s own; moreover, the Unified Navy was decades behind its neighbors in military technology. Following battles in the recently concluded Third Varelviv War, Naval Intelligence expended significant resources scavenging debris in an attempt to identify advanced varelviv components and reverse engineer them for the Governance’s own use. Even with this effort, the Admiralty feared that the main fleet would be quickly overwhelmed and the colonies, or Tebazed itself, might suffer from attack.

This threat never materialized. Far from being vulnerable to an invasion of their home territory by a technologically superior and xenocidal empire, the Governance was able to contest the war entirely within saathid space. Task Force Mirasma raided deep into enemy space and seized numerous star systems, plundering vast amounts of unrefined resources for transportation back to the core worlds. Though eventually forced to retreat, the Unified Navy was able to fight their saathid counterparts to a stalemate, leaving Tebazed in control of a liberated colony after the truce of 295. From the narrow perspective of Governance interests, the administration could very well consider this war to be a major success.

That such a successful outcome was possible owed a great deal to the Mith-Fell Independent Commonwealth, which controlled the hyperlanes between the two combatants. The Commonwealth, along with its federation partners, the Hissma Union, had recently been embroiled in a brutal and bloody war with the saathids; they were very eager to assist with any effort to contain the xenociders. The Commissary-General of the Commonwealth let it be known that they would not look kindly upon any saathid forces who attempted to slip past TF Mirasma and attack the vailon core sector via mith-fell-controlled space, warning that such an attempt would be met with hostile force. Additionally, he permitted Admiral Jargim den Vatoris, commanding the Governance task force, to establish a forward operating base on the colony of Tripitit, near the border with the saathids. The new base quickly became the center of an elaborate logistics operation, allowing TF Mirasma to attack systems deep in saathid space without worrying about its supply lines.

TripititDetails.jpg

The mith-fell colony of Tripitit served as a logistics center for Task Force Mirasma during its time operating in saathid space. During the war years, a vailon immigrant to the Commonwealth, Feldirm den Piriam, held the governorship.

RibellanVortex.jpg

A Commonwealth patrol squadron passes Task Force Mirasma, orbiting the Ribellan Vortex, as the Governance fleet refuels and rearms. Nearby, a dormant L-Gate loomed ominously.

With its rear secured, the task force raided as far as the saathids’ own core sector. For three years after breaching enemy space at Kannam, the fleet met no organized resistance, even after it seized the starbase defending a key hyperlane junction at Ashyke. Only once it reached the outer defenses of the capital, Saathurna, did the task force finally detect a saathid counterattack. Sensors indicated the saathids had mobilized a force of ten cruiser-class ships and nearly a hundred support ships. TF Mirasma only included 43 ships in total, and only one cruiser, the Seafallen Cruiser discovered on the ocean floor of Kampira in 274; outnumbered by a two-one margin, the fleet began the years-long retreat back to the safety of mith-fell territory, allowing the saathids to reverse all of the territorial gains made during the initial Governance advance. Admiral Vatoris hoped that the retreat would draw out the saathid fleets and allow her task force to pick off isolated enemy groups.

The saathid fleets remained in close contact with each other, however, leaving TF Mirasma in a tricky position. The admiral could keep her fleet in mith-fell space, wearing down the saathids’ patience until they gave up the war and signed a truce; or she could engage the main saathid fleet and try to win with a single decisive battle. Choosing the latter, the task force reentered saathid space as the enemy fleet moved through the Kannam system. The Battle of Kannam, fought over three days in March of 293, turned out to be the only major naval engagement of the war, though not quite the decisive one for which Admiral Vatoris had hoped. Failing to achieve significant strategic surprise, the task force instead fought a running battle for nearly 60 hours, taking significant losses but dealing out brutal punches of its own. Saathid numbers eventually told, however, and just as a clever maneuver by the enemy forces threatened to split TF Mirasma in two, Admiral Vatoris ordered the fleet to conduct an emergency retreat. Twelve months later, the remnants regrouped in TUG space, having lost thirteen ships in the engagement while only being able to claim eight kills themselves. The admiral’s gambit had failed, and the saathids were free to retake the remaining Governance holdings in the sector.

In the first year of TF Mirasma’s invasion, it had secured the one saathid colony located near the border, in the Uiafladus system. The United Ground Force had deployed three dragoons – a total of fifteen divisions, 225,000 soliders – as a garrison to pacify the planet. After the defeat in the Battle of Kannam, the UGF armies were left without any hope of reinforcement. General Plume of Teal [1] concentrated her divisions near the capital and dug in, waiting for the hammer blow that was sure to come. When it came, finally, in early 295, it proved to be somewhat less than a hammer. Perhaps overextended from decades of multi-front wars, the saathids did not bring to bear an overwhelming force against the UGF defenders. A small fleet harassed the several dragoons from orbit but only minimally impacted the effectiveness of the armies inside their hastily constructed fortifications. The saathids eventually landed approximately forty divisions planetside, but the units were understrength and severely lacking in equipment. [2] Waves of enemies attacked the UGF front lines directly and were repulsed with heavy casualties for their troubles. More complex plans failed equally spectacularly. [3] By mid-March, the drama was over. The saathid armies had taken horrific losses and could no longer stay in the field; one by one, they withdrew by the end of the month. Soon after, Governance forces picked up a transmission in the clear; the saathids were declaring a truce, ceasing all offensive operations against the TUG and allied forces.

The Cost

But to what end the war? For it was a two-front conflict; and though Governance forces found some success in raiding saathid territory, they did not achieve any of their strategic objectives. An alliance with the ragerians of Aeria, who faced an existential threat from the xenociders, had dragged the Governance into the conflict. Ragerian space, far to the north and east of the TUG, was well outside the range at which the Unified Navy could project force. At the outset, it was hoped that friendly pressure on the southern border of the saathids might force them to withdraw forces from the Aerian front, buying time for the ragerians. But despite the best efforts of Admiral Vatoris and TF Mirasma, they proved unable to seize the initiative. The success or failure of their plan was at the mercy of the saathids, and the saathids very rarely showed any mercy. Already by 287, as the Governance fleet first breached saathid space, the enemy had driven deep into allied territory; by early 288, as the UGF mounted its invasion of the saathid colony in the Uiafladus system, the xenocidal fleets were pressing on Aeria’s last lines of defense.

At this point a glimmer of hope appeared for the ragerians. Staring down the total annihilation of his people, the archon approached the Tezhnid Holy Foundation with an offer born of desperation. Previous negotiations with the theocratic regime had all ended quickly, on account of the tezhnids’ continued reluctance to work with what they saw as an unreliable and unstable regime on Aeria. [4] This time, the archon did not even attempt to start a negotiation. Instead, he offered complete, unconditional surrender of all ragerian territory to the tezhnids in exchange for immediate protection from hostile saathid forces. This was an offer the Patriarch of Tezhnar [5] could hardly refuse. Within a week, the Coalition of Aeria Husila had formally ceased to exist, ceding all of its de jure systems [6] to the Holy Foundation; days later, elements of the Holy Navy crossed the border to take up defensive positions alongside their new ragerian subjects. [7]

This brief flash of hope for a reprieve was swiftly extinguished. The leading echelons of the tezhnid navy were still three jumps away when the ragerian defensive line collapsed. Panic ensued. Billions were trapped as the saathids blockaded Aeria. Civilian ships were shot down by the thousand as individuals attempted to flee in whatever crafts they could find. The archon had delayed his own evacuation, whether out of bravery or stupidity, until it was too late; he and his retinue did not depart the government palace until hours after the first enemy bombs landed in the capital. They were never heard from again, assumed by most to have been swept up by an invading army and summarily executed. Most of the population was to suffer the same fate, dispatched by advancing military units or the death squads that patrolled in their wake. [8]

These frightful events could only be observed from afar by the administration on Tebazed. There was, for some, [9] a question of culpability in the ongoing xenocide. In failing to do more, to make decisions faster and act more decisively, in the face of a crisis, these critics pointed to a breakdown of moral authority. If the Governance, and in particular the most recent occupants of the Director-General’s office, wanted to claim the mantle of crusader for the rights to life and liberty for all individuals in the galaxy, then they were creating for themselves a series of commitments to which they would need to be held. In failing to prevent the Ragerian Xenocide, during a war in which they were a major combatant, the administration had demonstrated to the galaxy that these pretensions were hypocritical. The leaders of the Governance needed to undertake a serious program of soul-searching.

The incumbent Director-General, Birm den Boknar, could dismiss such criticisms out of hand. It was under her predecessor that indecisiveness had reigned in Sedrin; after Boknar’s ascension, the administration had developed a plan to assist the ragerians with the saathids, a plan which they believed was the best course of action under the circumstances. They had, in support of that plan, even introduced significant economic reforms to boost military production at the cost of certain civilian industries. Boknar, instead, asked of herself and her administration more philosophical question about the Governance’s engagement with the rest of the galaxy. For all her hard-horned practicality when it came to domestic politics, she could be as romantic as any vailon about the species’ place in the stars and role in interstellar politics. After the fall of Aeria, Boknar began to reexamine the rosy view of galactic affairs to which successive administrations had held.

As the calendar approached the end of the 3rd century, the TUG was no more than a middle-ranked power. The limited successes, and more importantly the failures, of the Saathid War were an ample demonstration of that fact: even when squaring off against an interstellar pariah and a threat to all civilized species, the Governance regime was unable to muster enough military strength on its own, or diplomatic strength to bring in allies, to achieve its goals. Rhetorically, the Governance was on a crusade to eliminate injustice across the galaxy; but, practically, force projection on that scale was impossible even were Admiral Vatoris to borrow a fleet from the bothrians. [10] Short of that – and the vailons were very short of that – the lofty words for which the Director-General often reached were laughable. Boknar could claim that the Governance was, in her own words, “a shining beacon of hope” for the galaxy, but what was the worth of those words when the ideals embedded within them could not be enforced beyond its borders? For the Director-General, this was the question that would, one way or another, define her second decade in office.

UiafladusIIInvasion.jpg

The successful invasion of Uiafladus II in 288 began a decade of military rule on the former norillgan homeworld.

The Norillgan Dilemma

In the immediate future, however, more prosaic questions lingered. After the initial capture of the Uiafladus colony in 288, General Plume of Teal had ordered her forces to put the former norillgan homeworld under martial law. The saathid invasion had been devastating; the subsequent occupation had been worse. Most norrilgans had been wiped out in the first weeks and months of saathid rule. What remained of the pre-war population were confined to labor camps and forced to work to dismantle all traces of the old civilization. According to scans, a few of these camps still existed when the first Governance troops made planetfall, but they were all quickly liquidated once it became clear that the colony was indefensible. The general’s intelligence units suggested that there might have been small pockets of survivors scattered in remote locations on the planet, but she did not have the spare resources to go looking for them. Everything she had was needed to keep the restive saathid population under control.

Seven years passed between the conquest of Uiafladus II and the spectacular defense of the colony by the UGF that brought the war to a close. The UGF occupation of Viverva, the varelviv homeworld, in 283 had lasted for just over nine months, most of that under a truce during treaty negotiations. There the population had been uneasy, but with the varelviv political system in an advanced state of collapse there was little overt resistance to the occupiers. On Uiafladus II, in the midst of an active war and far from friendly forces, the dynamic was much more dangerous. With only two hundred thousand soldiers under her command, General Plume of Teal had to spread her dragoons thinly to cover just the most significant population centers. Insurgent groups began to form all across the planet, targeting the perilously exposed forces in hit-and-run strikes. Attacks were often followed by vicious reprisals, as local commanders reacted to fast-evolving situations without any effective control exerted from central command. This created a tit-for-tat cycle of escalation in many locations, which often only ended with the deployment of overwhelming force to cow local insurgent groups (killing scores of civilians in the process).

Thankfully for General Plume of Teal, the low-level resistance activity never metastasized into a full-blown revolt. By 295, insurgent attacks had dropped off significantly, and though there was a brief resurgence in the first months of the year as the saathid army prepared to invade, the disastrous performance of the saathid regulars left what remained of the rebel groups despondent. Before the year was out, most of the surviving insurgents surrendered to the new Governance authorities. [11] TUG control of Uiafladus II was secured, albeit uneasily. The planet was far from the vailon core worlds and trade networks, and it could not easily be supported. Though a civilian administration was eventually sent from Tebazed to take up nominal authority over the colony, real power remained with the military. Martial law was officially ended in 297, but the UGF garrison continued to be responsible for all aspects of security. The saathid population, numbering four billion individuals, remained uncooperative with the new regime, and the constant threat of military force appeared to be the only thing keeping them in check.

That left the question of what, exactly, to do with the freshly conquered planet. In prior wars, the Governance had seized deep-space mining and research facilities, and occasionally also annexed small colonies living in contested space, but these had rarely been populated by more than a few thousand individuals. An entire planet, with a population in the billions, was another matter entirely. Two camps emerged in Boknar’s cabinet, one advocating for integration into the Unified Governance as a newly created sector and the other for a measure of autonomy as a vassal state. The political factions in the Assembly, focused as they were in the post-war period on the slate of domestic reforms introduced by the administration, were content to let the Director-General decide what to do with the faraway colony of hostile xenociders.

Norillga.jpg

The Norillgan Nonvoting Representative Dov’ace took advantage of his platform to advocate for independence for his species.

“The Uiafladus system is still heavily dependent on supplies provided from the core. I believe it’s 25% of the building material and 42% of food consumption relies on imports from Eldetha and Ferdera. If you do declare independence, what do you expect the future economic relationship with Tebazed to be?”

“Well, look, obviously we are tremendously grateful for all of the work vailons [sic] have done to get us to this point. I, for one, can say with absolute certainty that the Governance is a force for good in this galaxy. They have returned our home to us. But individual autonomy and self-determination is at the core of the meritocratic ideology that the Governance holds to, and we believe very simply that those principles should apply to us as well. According to our modeling, we can make the planet self-sufficient within fifteen years; my aides will be distributing materials to detail that. Until then, yes, we may be dependent on imports, but I fully expect that Director-General Boknar will allow that process to proceed naturally and not cave to the hardliners by imposing restrictions…”

-Excerpt from Norillgan Nonvoting Representative press conference, August 20, 298

As Boknar let her team deliberate, however, a third option emerged from an unexpected corner. A large norillgan émigré community had lived in the borders of the Governance for several decades. Unlike most other refugee groups, they had elected to keep themselves as separate as possible from mainstream vailon society. [12] By holding onto their traditional societal structure, they believed that they could maintain their identity until the day they could triumphantly reclaim their homeworld. As soon as the truce was announced, many thousands of these xenocide survivors began the long journey back to Uiafladus II; by the end of the decade, norillgans would account for a sizeable percentage of the population of the planet once again. Though this migration was initially ignored by the Boknar cabinet, it provided fuel for the norillgan representative to the Assembly to approach the Director-General with a bold proposal: an independent norillgan state on Uiafladus II, allied but not subservient to the TUG. The vailons had sheltered the norillgans after the trauma of the saathid conquest, but now it was time for them to make their own way in the galaxy.

For the time being, Boknar was content to wait before committing to a path forward. The situation on Uiafladus II continued to be unstable. Economically, the colony was dependent on massive shipments of supplies from the core worlds, not least of which was foodstuffs. Any solution to the “norillgan dilemma,” as the press had taken to calling it, would depend on ensuring the safety, security, and prosperity of the inhabitants of the colony. With those problems persisting, it was not clear when, exactly, a permanent solution would be imposed.


Footnotes

[1] Personal name Cwaar.
[2] Intelligence battalions reported that most of the enemy units brought with them only a minimal amount of ground transport vehicles; the saathid soldiers walked from their dropships and shuttles to the front lines. Moreover, there were no significant concentrations of armored fighting vehicles that might outmaneuver or overrun the lightly armed but dug-in defenders.
[3] On February 18th, a twelve-hour bombardment by orbital units was followed up by three simultaneous attacks across two UGF zones. But the bombardment completely missed key UGF targets, including frontline bunkers and logistics corridors, and one of the assaults launched too early, giving the defenders time to transfer reinforcements from other zones to assist in beating back the offensive. On March 1st, the saathids attempted to utilize a creeping barrage to allow their divisions to advance with covering fire, an innovative tactic that showed some initial promise and forced one UGF division to withdraw to a secondary defensive line. However, an apparent miscommunication led the naval barrage to hit positions already captured by the saathids, causing significant friendly fire casualties until the enemy units retreated.
[4] In the first half of the third century, there had been four separate military coups on Aeria, as the ruling junta divided itself into factions again and again. That the current regime had survived in power for two decades was considered by many outside observers to be something of a miracle.
[5] The supreme religious leader of the tezhnids, and the true final authority for all government decisions.
[6] I.e. including the systems currently occupied by saathid forces. If the tezhnids could retake them, they could keep them.
[7] Given the rapidity of events and the collapse of central authority on Aeria, this “invasion” was also resisted in places before word could spread of the new situation. Many ragerians remembered the long conflict with the tezhnids only a few decades in the past and instinctively attacked their old enemy when they were sighted in Aerian space. However, most defensive positions along the border had been stripped of weapons and personnel to aid in the fight with the saathids. Without orders, many outposts surrendered immediately, only to find to their pleasant surprise that the tezhnids were not taking prisoners but instead looking for recruits.
[8] Many other ragerian colonies, it should be noted, suffered the same fate. All told, the death toll of the Ragerian Xenocide was estimated to be 20 billion souls.
[9] Concentrated, in the Assembly at least, amongst disaffected members of the Xeno Liberty Initiative.
[10] The Bothrian Progenitors were one of a trio of so-called “fallen empires,” polities which had once ruled over significant portions of the galaxy but had since retreated from most of their former holdings. It was reputed that a single bothrian battlecruiser could outgun the entire Unified Navy.
[11] Some low-level resistance activities continued for many years, but they never seriously threatened Governance control of the planet.
[12] The norillgan communities in the TUG lived in separate municipalities; they elected their own independent governments and built their own schools; and, aside from a modest subsidy provided by the administration, they maintained a closed economic system.
 
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eoncommander

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A great homage to our new robot friend on Mars! I also appreciated the Acidalia Planitia reference ;).
The humans were awfully lucky to find the Vailons in their neck of the woods, I'm curious to see how the relationship will develop!

I love the tribute to Percy. Knowing how sentimental Humans can be, I'm sure we'll do something similar for the other rovers we've grown to love. We've already seen somebody write a song about the Opportunity rover, for instance:

"A year among the stars,
and then our hero hurtled down,
and Mars was quite surprised,
to find the little guy around,
he showed him rocks and mountains
and all the things between
and the little rover wrote us
about all the things he'd seen
the time flew by and soon
his visit reached its final day
but he and Mars got on so well
the rover chose to stay
so off they went together
for adventure they were bound
but he kept on writing letters
about all the things they found

So carry on little rover,
Opportunity awaits"
Thank you both! I think it was quite fortunate that Sol is in the vailon neighborhood, instead of, say, the saathids.

Next up is another interlude, in which we'll get to see more details of the occupation of Uiafladus II.
 

generalis Julius Caesar

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I would suggest colonizing a planet and naming it "New Viverva" to resettle the Norillgans to.
 

slothinator

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Conflict with the Saathids seems to be a massive drain on Governance morale and materials. Is there no way to neuter these insects like the Varlevivs?
Interesting developments with the Tezhnids, a shame that it could not save the Ragerians, but perhaps the Holy Foundation has plans for its own expansion.
Independence for the Norillgans would take the problem off the Governance's hands but it's just as likely that the Saathids will swoop in and devour the planet while the Vailons are looking elsewhere.
 

eoncommander

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So.... when I said I had already written much of the next installment... that was true! But I didn't realize just how long it had gotten - I was writing in a notebook over the course of several months, and it wound up being over 8000 words! :oops: (For comparison's sake, my already quite long updates average 3500 words.)

Anyway, it took me a bit much longer than expected to push it over the finish line, but I have completed it now. I'm taking a few days to edit it and I should be able to put it up over the weekend. I'm going to break it up into three parts, so it should be more digestible for you folks.

In other news, the Q1 2021 ACAs are open for voting, so go vote! As always, no matter who you're voting for, your participation helps this community stay vibrant and helps writers like me stay invested.

I would suggest colonizing a planet and naming it "New Viverva" to resettle the Norillgans to.
I am all out of colonizable planets by this point but perhaps a habitat in time... perhaps...

Conflict with the Saathids seems to be a massive drain on Governance morale and materials. Is there no way to neuter these insects like the Varlevivs?
Interesting developments with the Tezhnids, a shame that it could not save the Ragerians, but perhaps the Holy Foundation has plans for its own expansion.
Independence for the Norillgans would take the problem off the Governance's hands but it's just as likely that the Saathids will swoop in and devour the planet while the Vailons are looking elsewhere.
The Governance was actually quite lucky to have a buffer in the mith-fell, so the war was not felt as strongly in the home territories.

As for the norillgans, as you correctly point out the administration is caught between conflicting impulses. The sanctity of individuality and self-determination is important, but so is ensuring the safety and securing of as many beings as possible. The dilemma is going to invite a kind of stasis to develop, where everyone is waiting for someone else to change the status quo.

In-game, the tezhnid actually declared war on the ragerians, but failed to capture even a single planet so all of the occupied outposts disappeared when the ragerians collapsed.
 

Macavity116

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So.... when I said I had already written much of the next installment... that was true! But I didn't realize just how long it had gotten - I was writing in a notebook over the course of several months, and it wound up being over 8000 words! :oops: (For comparison's sake, my already quite long updates average 3500 words.)

Anyway, it took me a bit much longer than expected to push it over the finish line, but I have completed it now. I'm taking a few days to edit it and I should be able to put it up over the weekend. I'm going to break it up into three parts, so it should be more digestible for you folks.
The longest chapter I ever posted for any of my Stellaris stories was over 50,000 20,000 (recounted, but still scary) words in length, and it took over three months to assemble and edit. I'll never do that again! o_O

I think you are very wise to break it up into smaller parts, and I'm also pumped for the next update. Can't wait!
 

Nikolai

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Looking forward to the next update! And yes, wise to break it up. For all of @Macavity116 's excellence, opening his AARs were scary. :p
 
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Interlude - Coming Home, Part I

eoncommander

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Onyx Base
Sothhlva Region
Uiafladus III, Tebazed Unified Governance
October 13, 295


The shuttle touched down with a thud, shaking the compartment. The navy pilot had made his attitude about ferrying civilians clear when we boarded. We were lucky, I suppose; he could have instead revealed a particular attitude about ferrying us space slugs instead. As it was, though, he merely gave us a rough ride, with a jolt at the end. Under the circumstances, I’m not sure anybody else on the shuttle even noticed.

I waited in my seat for the other passengers to walk, crawl, or, mostly, slide down the aisle and off the shuttle. Primarily they were fellow norillgans, for whom the latter movement description was generally considered proper (“slithered” was another possibility, though that word was frowned upon for its derogatory connotations), but there was a smattering of vailons and other minorities mixed in. Thinking of the norillgans specifically, I wondered how many of these pilgrims would find what they were looking for. I had interviewed dozens of them during our long stay on Tripitit Station, waiting for the war to end. The Commonwealth authorities might have been very displeased to be hosting us, but they also had little appetite for the mass expulsion of hundreds of thousands of victims of xenocide hoping to return to their former homes at the first available opportunity. Home was, I had found in my interviews, what most of them wanted (at least, among the sample I was able to speak with). Most of the old norillgan civilization had been demolished, swept aside along with the lifeless bodies of billions so that the saathids could have their precious “clean slate,” their terrum novum on which they could write their own vision of a world.

The pilgrims I interviewed hadn’t seemed to understand the scale of the destruction wrought upon their world. Perhaps the scale of the devastation was impossible to comprehend for any individual. They had traveled to Tripitit, and hoped to continue on to our homeworld, retracing the route many of them had used to flee some thirty years ago. They seemed to expect that, in undoing their journeys to refugee camps and, eventually, new homes in the Governance or elsewhere, they would also be undoing the passage of time on their homeworld, that they would be able to return and find everything exactly as it was the day before the first saathid bombs fell. It was inconceivable to them that the world could have changed in their absence.

I shouldn’t have been all that surprised. I knew people like this, grew up around many of them. My parents, thankfully, felt lucky, even blessed, to have escaped the invasion alive. In their old lives, the ones they barely spoke of to me, my father was a writer, my mother an engineer; but when they reached Kampira, they were assigned work as laborers, clear-cutting swaths of virgin jungle because norillgans were theoretically well-suited to tropical environments. My parents had lived in climate-controlled environments within large urban agglomerations for their entire lives up to that point, but I never once heard them complain about their new lives in manual labor or, later on, as small-town shopkeepers. Instead, for my sister and I, the lesson was always that we needed to be grateful for the opportunities afforded to us, when so many others of our species had their lives brutally cut short.

There were others, though, in our little hamlet fifty kilometers and a light-year away from Kampira City, who were not so endlessly grateful. Understandably, they were mistrustful of xenos, ‘aliens’ according to the idiom in old Norillga. Their first contact with intelligent life had traumatized the entire generation in one way or another, left them with scars that would endure for a lifetime. What was less explicable to me was these survivors’ need to pass on their mistrust and their trauma to their children, to hold them apart forever in their new homes. Why should the new generation be forced to carry the burden of the old? All we want to do was live our lives, same as any citizen of the Governance. I am no different than the vailon born on Tebazed, or the mith-fell hatched on Firintarogga, despite my parents’ experiences.

But even as these thoughts bounced around my mind, I knew I was exaggerating my own superiority. I might say that I want to escape from the legacy of xenocide and loss, but there I was, returned to the very place the saathids pursued their unspeakable crimes, with the express purpose of researching and documenting those crimes. Of all the choices I had as a full citizen of the Governance, I had chosen to go back to an imagined homeland too. I was as beholden to the experience of my parents’ generation as were the pilgrims searching for the life they had once known.

It was also true, though, that the pilgrims would have denied my experience as genuine. Framing myself as a fully assimilated citizen of vailon society, as I did a moment ago, was to them a betrayal of the continued existence of the norillgan civilization. To them I was, in a sense, symbolically completing the work that the saathids started. But for the pilgrims it was equally true that those who wished to live apart and keep to the old ways, as well as those who devoted themselves to taking vengeance on the perpetrators, were deeply misguided. When faced with the utter destruction of your species, eternal grief was apparently the only legitimate response. And when they were handed even the faintest glimmer of a chance by their new benefactors to restore something of the old glory, they flocked to the false hope of reconstitution. In this way, they locked themselves behind two lies. First, that they were not survivors looking for their own place in the galaxy, rather that they were the victims of ongoing acts of violence. And second, that returning to their former homes and rebuilding would in some way erase those acts of violence and render them meaningless.

In a sense, I realized as I finally departed the shuttle, I had made my own pilgrimage here in order to demolish those lies, in whatever limited capacity I could contribute.

FernUni.JPG


From the shuttle pad, perched as it was atop a hill in the center of the base, I could see the entire sprawling complex, stretching a kilometer in every direction. In one direction, the military facilities gradually gave way to a civilian town, Jalin; in the other three directions I could see the dense jungle pushing up against the perimeter fence. It is a curious fact that vailons like to build out, not up, in contrast to most known and assumed architectural styles. The spot where I stood was actually the highest point in the entire base, save for the navigation tower guiding air traffic. The admin buildings – headquarters for an entire dragoon with 80,000 soldiers occupying an entire continent – were clustered in the shadow of the town. Even in a small town like this one, the mix of old norillgan and saathid architecture dwarfed the more recent construction by the Governance. Even in dense cities, vailon buildings rarely exceeded five stories; out there, far from the core worlds, I was mildly surprised to see even the handful of multi-story buildings.

Most of the other passengers were descending from the pad to my right, towards the transportation depot. A few were laying flat on the ground as they prayed to the old gods; others were weeping openly at the sight of their former home. I watched them for a moment before I started down the hill myself, in the direction of the admin buildings. On the way, I slid past a polyglot collection of xenos in the middle of the normal daily routine of a military base. Mechanics doing maintenance on vehicles and other equipment. Squad-level units poring over maps. A mess hall. A shooting range. There were mith-fell and hissma, pelx and pithoks. Mirovandians with their stalks towering over their comrades. Even a scattered few sathori, far from their own homeworld in the opposite corner of the galaxy. They were all citizens of the Tebazed Unified Governance, doing their duty for the state, defending the rights and freedoms of their fellow citizens. Despite being born inside the borders of the Governance, I was not quite like them. I was set apart, like all norillgans in the TUG. Most refugees who arrived in vailon space, whether displaced by war or famine or political happenstance/circumstance, were granted a direct path to full-citizen rights within a few years. Crucially, nothing in domestic or interstellar law prevented those migrants from retaining their old citizenship rights alongside their new ones. Not so for the norillgan diaspora. We were in limbo, held there deliberately by a regime of interstellar law that had not foreseen the possibility of a pre-FTL civilization being eradicated, as well as by our own political leadership that continued to insist that the old norillgan polities would be resurrected in some form. When asked to choose between immediate citizen rights in the Governance and the possibility, however remote, of returning to the way things were, of returning to their old status in society, our so-called leaders chose the latter. Thus, even though I was born in the Governance, was educated in a Governance cohort with a vailon teacher and Governance-approved curriculum, even though I was now a member of the Governance’s own Directorate, the sprawling bureaucratic entity that constituted most day-to-day economic and social activity in the state, I was not a proper citizen of the Governance.

After a ten-minute slide through the base, I arrived at Administration E, where I was supposed to meet my guide. A hissma corporal at the desk in the lobby sent me to see a cyggan lieutenant on the second floor, who sent me to a vailon major back on the first, who, after making me wait for three-quarters of a standard hour, told me I needed to see a Major Xabinax, over in Admin H. Another ten-minute slide found me at the correct building, this one humming with activity as many individuals hurried in and out. A short wait and finally I was granted my audience.

The major was a pithok, a relatively rare sight given their communal nature and their tendency to remain close to their families. “Yes, come in,” he said, accompanied by a hand gesture indicating the seat across the desk from him, all without looking up from the document he was reading. This would have been considered incredibly rude in the pre-war norillgan culture, but I wasn’t raised in the old society.

“Major Xabinax, thank you for seeing me.” I said by way of greeting. I did not take the offered seat, as it was designed for bipedal species.

“And you are…” he said slowly, as he finished reading the printout in front of him and turned to his holo display, “Fern-ee.” He stumbled badly over my name.

“I’m sorry, major, but it’s actually ‘Fern’uni,’” I corrected him gently.

“Fern-ooni?”

“Close enough.”

“Okay.” He typed something into his holo-display before finally turning to face me. “Sorry about that. So it says you’re here about obtaining a permit to enter a combat zone, yes?” His voice clicked and buzzed, a common physiological feature of arthropoidal species.

“I actually already have a permit. The Directory issued it to me, with proper approvals, before I left Tripitit Station.” I fetched the document out of my bag to show him.

“Which Directory?”

“Oh, ah, Science. I’m at the First Bessemar Institute of Higher Learning. And I’m only going into a restricted zone, not a combat zone.”

The major took the document from me. “That’s a very good school. What are you studying?”

“Thank you,” I said, to the implicit compliment. “I’m working on the legacy of lost civilizations and generational traumas. Hence my presence here.”

Major Xabinax nodded but didn’t immediately reply, instead turning his eyes back to the form I had given him. “Hmmm. Well, Tebazed can issue whatever cease-fire proclamations they want; on the ground here everywhere beyond the fence is a combat zone.” He held up the document next to his holo-display, evidently comparing the two. “Ah, I see,” he exclaimed, apparently having found the discrepancy. “The district you’re heading to was redesignated as Delta-2 yesterday.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means I’m not supposed to let you go there. Wait,” he said, holding a hand up as I started to object. “I’m not actually going to try to stop you. But you should be aware of the situation before you go.”

This confused me. “Isn’t the war over?”

“Only in the technical sense.”

“I thought they announced a truce.”

“They did.”

“And their armies retreated.”

“Yes, sure.”

“Then I don’t understand.”

The major’s antennae twitched, I believe in a manner to suggest sympathy for my naivete. My interactions with pithoks had been limited in the past. “In the army, we like to talk about ‘facts on the ground.’”

“Okay,” I replied uncertainly.

The major continued. “To a navy, things are easy. If a ship fires on you, it is the enemy and you fire back. If there’s a treaty peace, the enemy ships won’t fire on you anymore and you won’t fire on them. But an individual ship is both too small and too big to go rogue. Too small, because it’ll get destroyed the first time it runs across a patrol squadron; that’s a lot of firepower to lose in a single engagement for an insurgent group. And too big for any but the largest outfits to steal and operate with any effectiveness.”

I could sense him building momentum, so I didn’t interrupt.

“Planetside, it’s a totally different world. Easy enough for a retreating army to leave behind small units to ambush patrols and attack supply lines and generally make it very hard to maintain a peace. Even a few disgruntled civilians can band together, make an occupying force miserable. On the ground, against a hostile population who know the territory better than you, pacification is an ongoing operation, not something decreed with a keystroke. But, as the junior branch, we report up to navy command. The admirals are like easily distracted children: show them a shiny new warship and they’ll forget that there’s a whole planet to be garrisoned.”

I had a lot of questions about the soliloquy, but I pushed them down in my mind so that we could stay focused. “What does that mean for me? Are you saying there’s still active fighting in the area?”

“It’s low-grade stuff but yes. Just yesterday, a sniper wounded a colonel in 3rd infantry, a patrol was ambushed and their exoskeletons taken, and several civilians were shot in Asbe. And it’s small-scale action, not really anything we can actively defend against. My fear is that you’ll make a juicy target for the partisans, both because you represent the civilian government and your, ah, personal status.”

“Have the partisans been targeting pilgrim groups?”

“It’s hard to say for certain. We’ve tried to keep a pretty tight watch on them, because we expect a lot of fury to be directed their way. So attacks on the main pilgrim groups and sites have been rare. But we can only do so many show-of-force exercises, and when your friends wander away from the heavily trafficked areas we have seen them attacked in a way to suggest deliberate targeting.”

“But you’re letting me go anyway.”

“Not alone.” The major leaned over to his intercom. “Would you please have Sergeant Pathir join us?”

“I was told I would be meeting up with a Major Vakor. She was going to be my guide. Where is she?” My frustration was beginning to boil over, but the major’s combination of affability and mild indifference blunted it.

“Yes, well, Major Vakor had to go outside the fence this morning, attending to an incident in Skom. Sergeant Pathir will escort you – ah, yes, come in,” the major said after a knock interrupted him. I turned to see a vailon soldier, presumably this Sergeant Pathir, enter the cramped office. He was tall for a vailon, maybe 1.7 meters, an effect emphasized by his asymmetric horns – his left horn was significantly shorter and looked as if it had been badly damaged in the recent past.

The major continued, indicating each of us in turn with his antennae. “Sergeant Pathir, Fern-ooni. Sergeant, your orders are to take your squad and escort this civilian over the fence, where you are to rendezvous with Major Vakor at Skom. She will have further instructions for you at that time, but anticipate further escort duty.”

Part of me wanted to interject and say it wouldn’t be necessary, but I refrained. Some protection actually sounded like a prudent course of action.

“Transport?” Sergeant Pathir wanted to know. His voice was gravelly, much more so than most vailons.

“You can check out an armored four-wheeler from the motor pool. Authorization code….” The major checked the holo-display again. “Alpha-three-seven-Charlie.”

“Alpha-three-seven-Charlie, thank you, sir,” the sergeant confirmed.

“Alright, sergeant,” the major replied, and the vailon turned to go. I began to follow him, assuming the dismissal was for both of us, but the major stopped me. “Don’t forget this,” he said, holding out my permit, now stamped with the proper approval mark.

I took it from and put in into my bag. “Thank you.”

“When you return, I’d like to sit down with you and have a look at your research, see if there’s anything I can add,” he continued.

I was surprised, having interpreted his indulgent attitude to mean that he wasn’t particularly interested in my work. Of course, he might have actually wanted to sanitize some of my conclusions, but it was hard to tell. “Sure!” was about all I could muster.

His antennae twitched again, but I missed the implication. “And be careful out there. Listen to Sergeant Pathir, and don’t do anything stupid.” I nodded my acknowledgement. “You’ll be fine,” he concluded with an air of finality.
 

eoncommander

First Lieutenant
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Jul 18, 2018
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Part one is up! Parts two and three to come later this week. Full credit for the artwork goes to my wonderful partner, who, in addition to serving as my editor for the whole series, has generously offered to create some illustrations for this story.