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Introduction
  • eoncommander

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    RulerCropped.jpg


    Why does the delegate from Rebrin continue to insist on local autonomy inside of whatever government we settle on? He asserts that local polities must be respected, but are we not here to build a society that rises above our petty tribal identities? Have we forgotten where the vailons stood, just a few years ago, within the lifetimes of many people here gathered? It seems I must remind everyone of our purpose in assembling here: first, to establish a unified state which can ensure tranquil civic life; second, to build a system in which all citizens are treated equally, able to realize their natural abilities…

    -Seklir den Vilim, during the Long Debate, May 12, 40

    … It is left to us, then, to take the next step, into that great unknown. We are but a speck of dust in the vast emptiness of the cosmos, a speck of dust that contains all the hopes and dreams, all the conflict and turmoil, that vailons have ever experienced. Yet we strive to give our existence meaning, to take up the mantle of living not just on our planet, but in this galaxy…

    -Raldirm den Vakor, excerpted from her Inaugural Address, January 1, 200

    ___________

    Hello! And welcome to my first ever AAR. I've been a Stellaris player since late 2017, and only more recently discovered the AAR community. Inspired by several excellent examples in the forums, I have decided to try my hand at it. I plan on proceeding with the primary narrative in a historybook style, interspersed with more personal stories to provide depth and context. I have made a custom-designed species, the vailon of the Tebazed Unified Governance; it is a society of discourse and debate.

    Later today I will post the first of three introductory pieces. This one will be largely descriptive, covering a variety of topics of concern for vailon society. Over the weekend I will post a general history of vailon civilization. [1] Finally, there will be a short post detailing the game parameters and other meta items of note.

    After those are up, I will begin the playthrough. Never having done a project like this before, I can't really give an estimate as to how often chapters will be completed; my aim is to complete one a week.

    Thanks for giving me a shot! I hope you all enjoy.


    Footnotes

    [1] I may have gone slightly overboard with these, as combined they run to 7500 words. I'll be using spoiler tags which should make it easier to read.



    ***UPDATE***
    2019-06-07
    Having posted Chapter Eight, I made several corrections to earlier chapters, including removing the 'den' from vailon names (when not referring to full names) in the first few chapters, following a syntax decision I made later one, and correcting missing footnotes in chapters three and four.
     
    Last edited:
    Chapter 0.1 – The vailon and the TUG
  • eoncommander

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    Stellar and physical geography

    TebzaWithTebazedArrow.jpg

    The Tebza system, with Tebazed highlighted.
    Tebazed is a rocky planet orbiting the K-type main sequence star Tebza. It is by standard reckoning the third body from the star, though inside of the first orbit lies an asteroid belt, believed by most astronomers to be the remnants of a large planet impacted by some alien body. It remains a constant reminder of the fragility of life in the cold expanse of space.

    With about 60% of the planet covered by water, five continents make up the vast majority of the landmass of Tebazed. Small volcanic islands dot the oceans, but are generally uninhabited. Each continent contains a range of biomes, though vast grassland plains account for a large plurality of the land coverage.

    The five continents, in order of size, are Molag (containing 35% of the landmass of the planet), Mastadar (27%), Hemberar (23%), Hasar (9%), and Lopinira (5%). Mastadar and Hasar share a land border comprised of the largest mountain range on the planet, while Molag and Lopinira are separated only by a narrow body of water. Hemberar sits in the far north of the planet, and contains the North Pole; only its southern extremities are habitable.

    Biology

    The vailon (pl. vailons, adj. vailon) is a sapient bipedal species whose outward appearance bears some resemblance to Earth-based ungulates. [1] The average height for a vailon is 1.6 meters, the average weight 120 kilos. The species is sexually dimorphic; males average about 10% larger and stronger than females, though natural variation leads to much overlap in the distributions of the two genders. Outwardly, males and females are easily identified by the size and shape of their horns (those of males tend to be larger and curlier). These horns developed primarily as a tool for pre-sapient competition; since developing societies, vailons have preferred the less physically dangerous outlet of debate as the primary method of social competition. Vailon diets are omnivorous, with approximately 90% of food consumption plant-based.

    Population distribution

    At the turn of the 2nd century, approximately 21 billion vailon live on Tebazed, most within the loosely defined borders of the Tebazed Unified Governance. About 75% of the population live within the sprawling cities that vailon favor; because of their stocky physiology, it is less efficient to build upwards than than it is to build outwards. 9.5 billion individuals live on Molag, the traditional center of the unified governance structure. 8 billion live on Mastadar, 2 billion on heavily urbanized Lopinira (home of several true megalopolises) and 1.5 billion on Hasar. Scattered settlements and science stations dot the landscape of isolated Hemberar.

    The capital of the TUG, home to the three branches of the political triad as well as most senior bureaucratic offices, is Sedrin. Prior to The Collapse, Sedrin had been a minor provincial city in the temperate region of southern Molag. Isolated from the interior of the continent by a small mountain range, it emerged from the crisis relatively unscathed, and parlayed its natural harbor into becoming a major center for the resumption of intercontinental trade. Sedrin played host to the constitutional convention that defined the Molag Unified Governance, and after the Accord was agreed to and signed, most of the apparatuses of government were located there, where they have stayed ever since. At the dawn of the Space Age, Sedrin is home to about 30 million people, most of whom work either within the bureaucracy or in the still thriving ports of the city.

    Due west of Sedrin, and 3000 kilometers across an ocean, is the city of Muntadar. Muntadar sits at the mouth of the River Munt, the largest river on Tebazed. It is an old city; archaeological digs put the date of the first habitation of the area approximately 4500 years prior to the present day. Some scholars theorize that this location is among the earliest permanent vailon settlements, as the marshy delta region would have been unsuitable for roaming herds, and scant evidence of other settlements at that date exists. In more recent times, Muntadar was the center of the anti-Molagi reform movement around the turn of the 2nd century, and remains to this day the heart of a Mastadar identity independent of the dominant culture emanating from Sedrin.

    Several megalopolises occupy the heavily urbanized continent of Lopinira. The largest of these, Bessemar, covers the southernmost reaches of the landmass, and is just a short 500 kilometer hop across the Inland Sea to Molag and Sedrin. The union of six separate cities into one urban agglomerization turned the region into an economic powerhouse, a position strengthened by its location astride the main trade route between Mastadar and Molag. Bessemar now contains upwards of 300 million vailons within its city limits, and is the home of several major industries, including heavy manufacturing and computing.

    A mere 100 kilometers inland from Sedrin lies Rebrin, a city of 22 million vailons. Lying just on the far side of a mountain range from the capital, in many ways it is both a twin of and the chief rival to Sedrin. It survived The Collapse by holing up within its mountainous fortresses and cutting itself off from the rest of the continent. This era has come to define Rebrin’s later politics, as a strong belief in independence and isolationism took root among its citizens. As the MUG, and later the TUG, expanded, Rebrin held out, ruling over a small fiefdom that was one of the last regions to be integrated into the superstate, only about 50 years prior to the present day. Even now, it remains a haven for dissidents of all kinds; though there is no political persecution of any kind among the vailon, those with radically opposing political philosophies often find themselves shunned in wider society, and many have collected themselves in this sister city.

    Government

    Tebazed.jpg

    Tebza and Tebazed.
    The Tebazed Unified Governance is a unitary state based around a triad of political institutions, democratic if at a remove, and a large-scale bureaucracy to manage the day-to-day functions of economic and social relations. It is the successor to the Molag Unified Governance, established by the convention of the Long Debate in the year 40.

    Assembly for Policy and Debate [2] - Debate has always been a foundation of vailon culture, and this is reflected in the Assembly, the representative branch of government. Its Members are responsible for guiding the macro policies of the state, through debate and argumentation. MAs are elected by constituent districts every two years; in 200, there were approximately 10,000 representatives in the body. Formal political parties were considered anathema, as they were by their nature hierarchical institutions committed to particular ideological goals rather than the process of debating issues. Instead, informal coalitions with fluid memberships usually ran proceedings on a particular issue, and then were reconstituted once another issue was tabled. While the body had no official legislative or executive authority, its resolutions were taken as strong recommendations by most Directors-General. In some eras, the Assembly was de facto sovereign, as some DGs were unwilling or unable to defy their directions. At other times, the executive was ascendant, and the Assembly did little more than rubber-stamp her decisions.

    Director-General – The office of the director-general was enshrined in the original Accord of the MUG as the manager of the bureaucratic apparatus of government. She was to be selected by the College for ten-year terms, [3] during the course of which she would simply oversee the operations of the bureaucracy. Over time, the idealized decentralized bureaucratic governance that the founders foresaw proved untenable; too many policy decisions needed to be made by a central government and then propagated outwards to ensure the good organization of society. The directors-general surged to the fore as this dynamic evolved; they became the focal points around which the rest of the political system operated. The only criteria for running for the office was service in the Assembly; any current MA could submit her name for the selection. After engaging in private debates for the College and public debates for the citizens of the TUG, candidates would await the College as it made its decision. Once in office, virtually all power was vested in the office; as chief executive and overseer of the bureaucracy, DGs were given the sole discretion to both make all policy decisions and implement them once formulated. Only strong cultural norms surrounding debate and advice-seeking prevented descents into authoritarianism.

    College of Magisterial Rank – The College is an independent branch of government which has the functions of both an independent judiciary and the sovereign institution of state. It is the court of last appeal for all private quarrels and the final arbiter for all political disputes. It manages elections for the Assembly and is vested with the sole power to select new directors-general. The number of magisters can vary from year to year, but typically the body stands at 100 members. Most magisters are appointed by directors-general to life terms; they tend to be elder statesmen, often having been MAs for long periods of time and participated in many grand debates. The executives themselves are given honorary memberships in the College after their terms in office are completed. Very rarely, a magister can be stripped of their rank via a plebiscite, though this action is reserved only for the most appalling scandals or deep crises. While the College performs many behind-the-scenes functions, their most public-facing responsibility is selecting new directors-general. These selections are closer to auditions than elections; candidates who submit their names must argue before the magisters why they should be chosen, much as they would do for any position in the economy. The College then polls itself, successively until one candidate can reach a majority. Though debilitating deadlocks are possible, in the nearly 200-year history of the system the DG selection has always been resolved in the constitutionally-approved time period (currently three months). [4]

    Directorate – The vast bureaucracy of the TUG is colloquially referred to as a single entity, the Directorate, though the various sections in fact operate completely independently of each other. The Directorate, or rather the several directories, also operates outside of the auspices of politics. Whatever oversight is required is enshrined directly in the powers of the Director-General, who is in charge of each directorate (though most often she will appoint an expert in the particular field for day-to-day management). As constituted, the Directorate is responsible for virtually all economic organization in the state. Vailons, upon coming of age and graduation, advocate for postings to the Directorate; some requests are honored, others are not, as those in charge of particular sectors decide what labor is needed where. It is somewhat ironic that the Directorate is by far the largest employer on the planet; approximately one out of four vailons have roles within the bureaucracy.

    Diplomacy and military

    The vailon have little predisposition towards physical aggression, preferring competition through the non-lethal means of debate. As such, armed conflict is rare in their history, the most recent outbreak occurring 200 years prior to the current date. Instead, in keeping with their orientation towards openness and debate, vailon societies have a rich tradition of diplomacy and peaceful interactivity. In recent times, with global consolidation into a single unitary state, ‘foreign relations’ have all but disappeared, [5] but vailons still think of diplomacy as a core attribute of any state. By 200, with few opportunities to practice the high art, there are few skilled diplomats in the high levels of government, though some individuals look to the beginning of the spacefaring age with hope, as an opportunity to seek out other species that they can partner with to discover the galaxy.

    The workings of firearms are not unknown to the vailon, though they have very little experience in their practical applications. Aside from the several decades surrounding the Collapse, Tebazed has been a peaceful planet for a millennium. What armed forces there were, prior to the Collapse, existed primarily to keep the peace, and looked more like a civil militia or a police force. Since the Collapse, and with the rise of the TUG, armed conflict, or the threat thereof, has been dispensed with entirely. There are no military forces at present on the planet; police and local militias bear no weapons. While there is no ban on their manufacture, guns are unheard of outside museums; crime rates are extremely low and vailons are not hunters. Some expect this to change as the vailon explore space, though most are hopeful that diplomatic means will be all that is necessary, should the vailon prove not to be alone among the stars.

    Education

    It is sometimes joked that the Tebazed Unified Governance is a system of government designed to raise the young and instill them with true meritocratic values; every other activity is simply meant to ensure they don’t go homeless or starve when they come of age. [6] One of the founding principles of the state is the strong belief that its citizens should be permitted to contribute to society purely based on the merit of their abilities, and not on social constructs that can impede progress and even prove fatal to the fabric of society. [7] After The Collapse and the breakdown of the old global structure, many of the new statelets experimented with different methods of social organization. The cohort system was one of these experiments, and proved to be tremendously successful at creating a level playing field, so that natural talents could be the sole determinant of societal contributions.

    The guiding philosophy of the cohort system is creating an equal upbringing for every child. Nobody should be prevented from making the maximal use of their abilities because of external factors. The system has thus taken on an all-encompassing role in raising the young of vailon society. Babies are taken from their biological mothers at birth to prevent even a vestige of familial connection. [8] Until the age of two, they are cared for collectively in nursing facilities; school proper begins at age three. Between three and five children are taught in comingled groups of all ages. At age six, the children are separated into proper cohorts of about 200 individuals; these groups will stay together for the next fourteen years. The curriculum is designed and overseen by a central education directorate, with a focus on critical analysis and rhetoric alongside the fundamentals of math and science. Classroom time is split between large lectures for the entire cohort and smaller sections intended to advance the students’ abilities to argue and debate. Individual disciplines are taught throughout the educational cycle, though some highly specialized classes are not available until the cohort reaches the latter years of their schooling. By the time of graduation, at age 20, each student should have received nearly identical educations that have imparted a basic level of skills as well as a strong sense of meritocratic values.

    This system relies on high-quality, high-skilled professionals both to raise each cohort and to educate them properly. While young children, below the age of five, live in large groups and are cared for communally, each cohort has a set of dedicated teachers assigned to them, [9] who remain with them until they graduate. These educators are trained in an intensive seven-year program to build the skills and knowledge necessary to effectuate the massive fifteen-year curriculum. Upon completion of the program, the educators are assigned to the cohorts with whom they will stay for an entire education cycle. They live with the cohorts, and teach individual disciplines in addition to general societal values. After the cohort graduates, the educators have a mandatory two-year vacation period before they can reapply to join a new cohort. [10]

    Gender and social relations

    Modern vailon society has very little differentiation between male and female roles and statuses. Gender splits in most professions is slightly weighted towards females, while a smaller number of sectors have significant majorities of males. [11] General aptitude is considered equivalent between the two sexes, and those few vailon civilizations based on patriarchal or matriarchal hierarchies have long since disappeared. Social circles at all ages cross gender lines; a vailon would find it exceptionally strange to be in a gathering with only one or the other gender represented. Sexual relations are fluid among the vailon, with a majority of the population being bisexual. [12] Monogamous, long-term relationships are very rare. Most pairings are short-lived, purely existing for the immediate gratifications of intercourse before the individuals move on to other partners.

    Reproduction is considered a necessary evil, an inconvenience for the females who carry the fetuses but a civic duty that must be completed should one become pregnant. Gestation periods average 300 days – ten months. Pregnant vailon will usually continue with their daily lives for the first seven months, receiving only an extra subsidy from the government to ensure that the fetus is properly cared for. Starting in month eight, the females are typically moved into dedicated pregnancy care centers, which supervise the health of the mother through the moment of birth. Post-pregnancy complications are rare, and recent mothers reenter the workforce soon after giving birth. Within moments of birth, the newborns are removed from the care of their birth mothers and moved into dedicated post-natal centers, where they reside for two weeks before being sent to their regional nursing center. Lineages are recorded, to prevent accidental in-breeding, but biological relations have almost no contacts with each other; most vailon wouldn’t know their mothers if they were speaking to them.

    Social relations emerge organically from the educational system. A vailon’s cohort is their family; fellow students are their brothers and sisters, and the educators their parents. After graduation, they will form the core of social circles among adults. Vailons often live with others from their cohort for the rest of their lives, as housing is usually shared by several people with close bonds. Friendships form outside of these groups, through postings or shared social interests in local neighborhoods.

    Food culture is tremendously important for vailon relations; eating is considered an inherently social activity, and meals are always shared, whether among close friends or with strangers in public cafeterias. There are as many cuisines as there are villages in the countryside and neighborhoods in the cities, and vailons pride themselves on having sampled as many as possible. Meals are taken three times a day (after rising, around midday and in the evening), with occasional light snacking in between mealtimes. Food defines almost all social interations, with formal occasions always centered around a meal and even simple meetings requiring some form of sustenance to be provided by the host.

    Social status, while weak, is defined by one’s posting. In ages past, discrimination would have been rampant as one descended the ladder of occupations, from elite intellectuals all the way down to the humble farm laborer (who may well have been enslaved in such eras). In contemporary society such feelings and actions are taboo, when not outlawed directly by the meritocratic state. The last vestiges of such hierarchies remain for formal occasions, when it is considered proper to signify one’s place with a brooch or a sash indicating one’s current posting. Formal occasions being few in the TUG, [13] the social structure is emphasized in such a way only very rarely.

    Economy

    As with the political structure of the TUG, the economic structure is built around debate. At a high level, the economy functions via the oversight and guidance of the largest of the directories. The Labor Directory is responsible for assigning work postings to citizens. Upon graduation, each member of a cohort applies for a posting, and then makes an argument to the Directory explaining why they should be given that posting. If the assignment is granted, they can enter their positions immediately; if they are denied, they can apply for other assignments. This application process can take up to six months, though typically graduates are settled within a month. If none of the requested assignments are granted, the Directory will make an assignment for the individual, usually to a menial role such as agricultural or mining work. Vailons are expected to remain in postings for at least two years before they can apply for a new posting.

    Resources are owned by the state and are “rented” to citizens; those citizens are given discretion in their work to employ them however they wish. Large businesses are rare; most citizens seek to optimize their work for their particular community. For instance, a shopkeeper may request additional resources to expand her store, so that she can better serve her neighborhood, but would not think of opening a second branch in a different neighborhood. Each major sector of the economy has a dedicated Directory, responsible for allocating resources among various competing uses. These are typically divided into two sections: an allocation section, which decides where to commit resources, and a regulatory section, which sets rules for use of resources and ensures that the resources are not put to bad use.

    Vailons are not risk-takers or profit-seekers; instead, productivity growth and economic expansion has always come via top-down simultaneous implementation of new technologies and techniques on a broad basis. These technologies have generally been developed by state-run scientific groups; for the last century, this has been under the auspices of the Consumption section of the Science Directory, charged with translating the theoretical research of the other science directories into practical applications.

    Most vailons would say, if asked, that they lived in a perfect, classless meritocracy. While there would be much truth in that statement, it also ignores a very real facet of the structure set up by the TUG. The class divide falls along a well-defined line, the distinction between those who perform menial work and those who do not. Because self-advocacy is central to the TUG’s economic model, its citizens generally believe that this distinction reflects something real in the acumen of the individual in question, and this attitude is reflected, albeit weakly, in social customs. However, because the strata are so fluid (anyone in a menial job can apply for a higher-status posting), class consciousness is not a big factor in vailon society.

    Science

    The Science Directory oversees all scientific activity in the TUG. For the first few decades of the state, research efforts were haphazard and disorganized, as the founding generation was more concerned with political and social stability than great leaps of knowledge. Subsequent reforms centralized the scientific establishment, eventually resulting in the singular department within the executive. For the first few years of its existence, the newly organized Directory was able to generate several major breakthroughs in a variety of fields, but as a bureaucratic mentality set in these became rarer and rarer. The period from 110 to 190 saw virtually no changes in the way vailons understood the universe. This stagnation was broken by the accidental discovery of the hyperlane network by the physics section, and the ensuing energetic activity by the state to become a spacefaring civilization.

    In 192, the Science Directory was reorganized, outfitting it to streamline its efforts in the race to the stars. There are currently nine sections; in order from largest to smallest in terms of personnel, they are Consumption, Philosophy, Engineering, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Sociology, Space, and Archaeology. Consumption, responsible for converting the research of all of the other sections into practical applications, is by far the largest. The Space Directory, initially tiny due to a lack of widespread expertise in the area, has grown rapidly in the intervening years, and is expected to continue to expand at a fast rate for the foreseeable future.

    Religion

    In all of recorded history, only once has a religion become an organizing force for vailon society. That the occurrence involved an apocalyptic cult that nearly wiped out civilization explains why modern vailons are extremely skeptical of organized religions. Spirituality is considered a private matter in the TUG; all public forms of worship are outlawed. Most vailons do adhere to one or another recognizable religious system, but these are organized strictly at a local level, and there are no larger organizatons formalizing doctrines. About 40% of vailons, forming a plurality, consider themselves strictly secular and observe no religion. Of the rest, 35% adhere to a traditional animist faith, 20% belong to a few loosely organized religions based around a deity or deities, and the remainder observe various forms of folk shamanism or ancestral worship.

    Arts and entertainment

    The earliest known works of art by the vailon are oral tales handed down through generations of pre-sedentary herds. Though vailon art has grown to include a wide variety of forms, the narrative structure predominates in contemporary culture. This narrative tradition has lent a figurative bent to other media; though abstraction waxes and wanes in artistic circles, figurative works are always valued for their expressiveness. Media varies widely by era, though for the last century three-dimensional moving images have been the dominant form of consumption by vailons in their daily lives.

    The arts have a rich history of being an acceptable outlet for dissenting, or even deviant, viewpoints and social activities. Actions that are considered taboo in most situations, such as monosexuality or private resource accumulation, are often fodder for popular stories. Visual and narrative arts are common vehicles for political protests, while performance art is often employed to examine societal norms. Taken together, these are considered safe ways to explore topics that the vailon have deemed off-limits; art serves as a safe ground to expand the boundaries of normality, without forcing any commitment from those in society who do not wish to partake.


    Footnotes
    [1] Their distinctive facial and horn structure is most similar to the bighorn sheep.

    [2] This is a simplified translation from the original Laggish. Acknowledging the limits of literal translations across linguistic cultures, here is a close approximation: An Assembly of Representatives for the Understanding of Issues and the Making of Debate Regarding Those Policies of the Public Interest.

    [3] Term lengths were extended to twenty years in 104.

    [4] Since the selection period was expanded from one month to three in 97, the College has only approached the deadline once. One of the Armok reforms of the early 2nd century extended the terms of directors-general to twenty years, giving the executive true long-term leadership over the direction of the TUG; however, this was not to take effect until after den Armok left office, due to the obvious concerns about even the appearance of power-grabbing. Instead, vailon politics were left to grapple with a profound power vacuum after her term ended in 114; the final vote was taken only one day before the deadline for selection.

    [5] There are a few small states which have chosen to remain outside the TUG fold, but they are essentially satellites of the global hegemon. Some communities have committed to a true isolation deep in the mountains of Hasar, but the number of individuals who choose to live in such groups is tiny.

    [6] The joke is better in the original Laggish.

    [7] This is, of course, directly informed by the religious and tribal factionalism that descended into war and chaos during the events of The Collapse 200 years ago.

    [8] Familial bonds are relatively inconsequential in an evolutionary context, as compared to that of Earth mammals. Nevertheless, the system is set up to minimize any risks.

    [9] Usually one per ten children in the cohort.

    [10] This serves two purposes. First, the education profession is incredibly demanding and allows for almost no breaks from the work. The two years off forces educators to relax; all of their needs are covered by the state and they are, uniquely among the vailon, not required to work. Second, it loosens the bonds between the educators and the prior cohort, allowing them to form new bonds when they are assigned to their new group.

    [11] These are the “heavy lift” sectors, those that require individual physical strength as a labor input. The mining sector, the second-largest by the number of people employed (after agriculture), is 70% male.

    [12] 65% of the population are bisexual; 27% are heterosexual and 8% are homosexual. The monosexual minority of the population are collectively referred to as ‘unis’. Traditional societies have considered unis to be oddballs and ascetics who do not understand how to experience pleasure; though this type of conservatism is frowned upon in contemporary culture the outlook still exists in some of the more hedonistic circles.

    [13] Vailons have never built societies heavily reliant on rituals, opting instead for the inclusivity of debate as a method for binding people together in an organized collective. The few ceremonial occasions they do observe revolve around life events (in the current era, this only includes graduation and death) and political events. In these cases, the dignity of the event is accorded respect and formality is considered proper.
     
    Chapter 0.2 - The history of the vailon
  • eoncommander

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    History

    The vailon species is descended from quadrupedal ungulates that roamed the plains of Tebazed in vast herds. Emergent sapience saw the dissolution of these massive groupings; early tribes were organized around herds ranging from 200 to 1000 individuals. Two competing species emerged, one that maintained the quadrupedal form of their common ancestors (known today as vailars), and a second that developed into bipedal species (modern vailons) with what a human would recognize as hands on the two “upper” limbs. As opposable thumbs proved to be effective weapons against the large felines that stalked herds, it was the vailon that came to dominate the ecological niche; their four-legged cousins died out within a few millennia, as their common predators learned that vailar made for much more tempting targets.

    TebazedClose.jpg

    The home of the vailon.

    Vailon societies made rapid progress after the development of tools. Sedentary communities formed quickly, largely based around foraging and common protection against predators. These herds were largely pacifist, cooperating with each other as necessary but rarely accumulating foodstuffs or other goods in any quantity worth seizing. Early, honor-based social structures (often ritual combat using the ornate horns of male vailons) were quickly supplanted by oral traditions and civil societies centered around debate. Centralizing states with accumulative tendencies would await the development of writing, which allowed for organization on a scale previously unknown to the small groups living in villages.

    Records are sparse, relative to humanity’s abundance of documentation, for the middle period of vailon history, the development from early city-states to an industrial society. Civilizations seem to have followed a peaceful and meritocratic structure, based around robust public debate and control of resources; vailons pride themselves on their ability to recognize, and acquiesce to, superior arguments no matter their source. At their most extreme, states were animated by large debate guilds, which could claim to control all the organs of civic life and governmental functions. Slavery was known in a few eras, primarily for those sorted into groups of lower intellectual acumen who were forced to labor on farms or in mines. However, the institution disappeared centuries before the modern age.

    Organized religion has been rare for vailon civilizations. Vailons have tended to be distrustful of hierarchical organizations that rely on blind faith and obedience for support. Most prominent in vailon societies were forms of animism, generally linked by an all-powerful, benevolent force that at times resembled a monotheistic god, at others the Tao that animates certain Earth religions. On one occasion, an organized religion grew to dominate a vailon society. This occurrence is responsible for the great cleavage that defines modern vailon history, known today as The Collapse.

    Approximately 250 years ago, a divergent sect of one of the few mainstream religions began recruiting followers in the provincial regions of the powerful state of Valsul. This group, devoted to an outwardly spiritual and rigidly devotional society, was led by a mysterious figure known only as The Preacher. Over the next several decades, he transformed from an itinerant, charismatic proselytizer into a quasi-divine warlord, enforcing his will upon the entire globe. As he amassed devotees and expanded his reach, he turned his flock into legions of the word, establishing with might what he could not convince some to adopt willingly. These legions conquered lands, upon which the Preacher instituted strict religious orthodoxy as law. Cities that resisted the call were wiped off the map; states capitulated or were destroyed.

    As quickly as this theocratic regime rose, it fell again. Within years of completing its conquests, it was beginning to buckle under the concurrent pressures of failing harvests, internal dissent and crackdowns that provoked further dissent, elites more focused on their individual ranks than good governance, and, perhaps most importantly, an inability to integrate, or indoctrinate, most vailon into their way of life. The Preacher, having smoothed over these issues in years past with sheer force of personality, was now growing aged and infirm, incapable of maintaining the same levels of activity and intervention. When the end came, things fell apart very quickly. Large scale food riots turned into full-blown revolts and armed insurrections. Rival elites began warring against each other to maintain their fiefdoms, turning into little more than petty warlords. Economic integration dissolved as fighting spread to every region. The Preacher, declining to go out fighting, led his most devoted followers in a mass suicide, the shock of which signaled the final collapse of the old order.

    The two decades that followed The Collapse were marked by general anarchy. This era, dubbed the Interregnum, gave birth to modern Tebazed, as contemporary societies emerged out of the ashes of The Collapse. The first several years continued the violence and chaos of the dramatic fall of the Preacher; but the tide of revolution receded, giving way to a peaceful deglobalization that would sweep away the last vestiges of the old order. Recoiling from the events of the recent past, proto-states experimented with radical forms of collective education, completely cutting the ties (already fairly loose by the standards of most species) between parents and children, ensuring that each child was instilled with strong meritocratic and anti-religious values. While methods differed in places, the emergent systems would prove to be remarkably stable and bear a strong resemblance to the cohort system now in place, two centuries later.

    By the tenth year after The Collapse, strong, centrally-organized states had been reestablished in several regions. While these states were not close to reaching the glory of their predecessors just a few generations prior, they formed the kernel around which the Tebazed Unified Governance would eventually form. The Interregnum formally came to a close in the 22nd year after the crisis, with the relaunch of the global Holonet. The Holonet allowed for instantaneous communication and information sharing across the planet, and in the ensuing years formed the backbone of a new globalized social structure.

    By year 40, several super-states had formed, recreating the general outline of geopolitics from a century prior. This time, there was a real hope that progress, and not apocalypse, would win out. In that same year, the predecessor state to the TUG, the Molag Unified Governance, was founded, following a month-long convention known today as the Long Debate. Already bearing most of the administrative and political structures familiar to contemporary vailon, the MUG expanded rapidly in the decades after its founding, growing by 80 to be the largest state on the planet, with constituent polities on every continent. The tripartite government – a body of elected representatives to debate and inform policy, an executive to execute said policy, and a council of judges to resolve disputes – had demonstrated its effectiveness in implementing policy during these decades, completing the work of reconstruction much more quickly than most other states. At the turn of the century, the people of the MUG were able to turn their attentions to issues of equity and reform, as non-Molagi citizens agitated for access to higher offices in the bureaucracy an end to their junior status in the union. A political crisis ensued, and was resolved peacefully, as the dynamic flexibility of the system was able to absorb the unrest and channel it into progress.

    Emerging from this crisis in the early 2nd century, the newly-named TUG came under the guidance of a charismatic politician who would lead the union, first from the post of Director-General and subsequently from the College, overseeing debates and policy decisions from her election in 104 to her retirement in 154. Only the second executive of non-Molagi origin, Pendirm den Armok proved to be the hand the union needed to steady itself and ensure its continued stability. Among all the political figures in TUG history, it is she who inspires the most reverence, even more so than the founding generation. Though vailon societies lack most of the symbology and iconography that is so common in the civic culture of other species, her stature grew over time such that her legacy became synonymous with the successes of the TUG over the subsequent century. Her accomplishments included enacting far-reaching reforms that solidified the meritocracy for all citizens, and building new nutrition and healthcare programs that extended average lifespans by a decade. She launched scientific initiatives that led to breakthroughs in energy management and production methods. All of this resulted in a trajectory towards a truly wealthy society that could, instead of needing to focus on banal practicalities, contemplate making the leap into the beyond.

    That decision was still decades off when Armok retired, in 154. Rather, her withdrawal from politics was seized upon by a long-dormant conservatism. Its adherents saw a society wracked by constant upheaval for 200 years, and wished only for a period of relative calm to consolidate all of the gains and ensure that the future would not be risked by another sudden collapse. They laid their groundwork carefully, and when the next director-general selection occurred, they were able to install a pliable candidate before a counter-campaign could be organized. When she proved to be slightly less pliable than they anticipated, the faction forced her to retire, and chose a new, elderly candidate to be the executive. This began a run of so-called caretaker director-generals, partially because they presided over government that did very little except maintain the status-quo, but also because these DGs often were so old that they needed caretakers themselves. Of the next six executives, four died in office; they averaged only two-and-a-half years in office. This was an era dominated by power brokers in the Assembly and the College, who prevented any forward-looking decisions from being made, instead choosing to entrench their own power in the system as much as they could.

    By the end of the 180s, the conservative faction seemed entrenched, even embedded, in TUG governance. However, a pair of discoveries by a backwater section of the Science Directory would shatter their grip within just a few years, and set the vailon on the path towards Stellaris. In 189, the nascent space program observed a pre-Collapse artificial satellite in orbit around Tebazed. Most records of space exploration had been lost or forgotten; for the vailons of the late 2nd century, it was a rediscovery of a long-lost heritage. Still, outside of a few young backbenchers in the Assembly, very little notice was taken in elite political circles.

    For the next year, interest in both pre-Collapse history and space exploration grew in the wider populace, and it became clear to the few remaining progressives in politics that this could be an issue for which the vailon would break out of their malaise. In 190, they had their chance to make this happen, after the space program announced their discovery of the hyperlane network. This stunning breakthrough in the fundamental science of exploration was received with shock and excitement among the population; many MAs, egged on by their constituents, suddenly reawakened to the possibility of an active politics. While those conservatives who held power generally scoffed at the new ‘movement’, the announcement was received with eagerness in one surprising place: the director-general’s office.

    Jorim den Polosch had not been selected for his dynamism; after three decades as an unobtrusive backbencher, he was fully expected to follow the precedent of his recent predecessors. However, he had entered politics during the turbulent decade of the 150s, and had been a vocal participant in many debates of that era. Though everyone else had forgotten, Polosch remembered those times, and had longed for an opportunity to reengage the population in the great project to further vailon civilization. He seized on the new discoveries to make that opportunity. In a major speech, in fact the first from a director-general in decades, he publicly broke from his former backers, and called on the population to reorient society towards space exploration as the next frontier for the vailon. The conservatives, rocked back on their heels by this sudden turn, attempted to fight back, but the faction’s power dissipated by the end of the year.

    TebzaStarbase.jpg

    Starbase Tebza.

    Instead, Polosch and his new progressive followers restructured the entire apparatus of government towards the explicit goal of accessing the hyperlane network by the end of the next decade. Crewed spaceflights were started in late 190, and a permantly inhabited station in near-orbit was activated early in the following year. With a larger base orbiting the star poised to begin construction shortly thereafter, a new opposition came into focus. The anti-spacers began as an outgrowth of the old conservative movement, but as the latter collapsed the former took its place in hostility to all things progressive. Their message, relentless over the next few years, concentrated on forgoing the massive and speculative waste of resources on space exploration, instead of investing in the future of the vailon on Tebazed. While they did find some traction among the populace, they never received enough support to demonstrate widespread appeal, and never came particularly close to winning a majority in the Assembly. Instead, the pro-space progressives won victory after victory, primarily due to their champion in high office. In 196, permanent deep-space mining stations were established, providing the raw materials to propel further exploration. Additionally, the co-equal headquarters for the space program was completed in orbit around Tebza, as the directorate began targeting a practical test of zero-g hyperlane breaching.

    The political fight came to a final confrontation in 198, after the successful demonstration of a prototype engine capable of breaching hyperspace. Polosch immediately proposed building a ship capable of housing this engine, and sending it on an exploratory mission to nearby star systems. Recognizing the massive shift in self-consciousness this would make – advancing from a planet-bound society to an interstellar civilization – he announced a plebiscite on the question. Anti-spacers recognized this as their last chance to halt the advance towards the stars, and mounted a fierce ‘No’ campaign. The central debate focused on intergenerational ethics, a novel concept for the vailon who reckoned their community not in terms of families and tribes that exist linearly through time, but instead as herds existing in a specific moment in time. “What kind of world should we leave to our children?” was a new question, and no easy answers offered themselves up. There was a genuine concern for many, that beginning space exploration now would preclude future valions from making their own decision to be a space-faring species; they would be committed to that course by a decision in which they had no ability to participate. Though this debate was destined to become the groundwork for an entirely new strain of ethics and philosophy, in the politics of the 190s it proved to be merely a rearguard action. The pro-space faction successfully argued that contemporary vailons needed to make decisions for themselves, based on the currently available knowledge; if they attempted to factor in future vailons, they would get stuck in a cycle of indecision. The plebiscite was decided in favor of moving forward with the project, by an overwhelming margin.

    The aftermath of the vote saw the collapse of any real opposition to Polosch and the progressives, as the remaining conservatives and anti-spacers conceded the field. This ushered in eighteen months of united support of the director-general and cooperation by all factions, as preparations were made to launch the program. Development of the exploration starship proceeded according to projections, and the date for the start of the mission was set to be January 1, 200, inaugurating the new century with a new commitment by the TUG and all vailons to pursue the advancement of the species through exploration and discovery. There would, however, be a new leader for the society when the time came. On Founding Day (July 23), 199, the aging Polosch announced he would be resigning his office before the end of the year, with the selection timed to allow the new DG to step into the role on the same day as the launch. The future course of the vailon was for the young, as they took this unprecedented step; and so it must fall to a new generation of leaders to make those decisions about how to proceed.

    The campaign, which began in October, was greeted with tremendous excitement and anticipation. A record number of candidates participated; the populace, energized by the forthcoming mission, flocked to both the formal debates by the candidates and the numerous informal sessions held among proxies. When polls were conducted in December, in advance of the vote by the College, one candidate emerged above the field, amasing close to thirty percent of the first choice vote [1] in a 42-person field; and the subsequent selection revealed that the College largely concurred in their judgment. Raldirm den Vakor, a 47-year-old MA representing a portion of the major megalopolis of Bessemar, took 91% of the votes in the College, smashing the previous high of 74%. Previously an unknown figure, she proved herself to be a dynamic debater and exuded the confidence and competency that everyone believed would be the crucial factors as the vailon moved into the interstellar domain. Though older than most of her challengers during the campaign, she embodied the newfound spirit of the vailon: a yearning for the stars, and a belief that now was the time to reach out and touch them.

    ScienceShip.jpg

    ISS Jhunustarion, the lead vessel of the Windur class of explorers.



    Footnotes

    [1] Or over 65%, once ranked-choice is factored in.
     
    Game parameters
  • eoncommander

    First Lieutenant
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    TUGCropped.jpg

    Thank you for all the kind words! I'm looking forward to seeing where I can take this.

    I will be playing as the Tebazed Unified Governance, a state defined by its bureaucratic economic management and its commitment to meritocracy. The vailon are an intellectual species, who have taken on debate as the primary method of settling issues. Normally my playstyle is to go wide and wall off as much territory as possible from other empires, but since the vailon are not acquisitive I will try to model their decision-making as best as I can.

    I also changed a few of the default policies and rights on the first day of the game, to fit the TUG starting point a little bit better.

    InitialPolicies.jpg


    InitialRights.jpg

    I am taking a risk and playing this game on ironman. This will prevent any temptation to go back and try to get a better outcome in the game. The challenge should result in a more organic story.

    GameParams1.jpg


    GameParams2.jpg

    There will be many occasions where I abstract from game mechanics in a fairly extreme way. One example is the oligarchic authority and the Shadow Council civic. The in-game descriptions don't really match the society I have created, but the mechanics do, so I will depart from the flavor text for these in my storytelling.

    A note on dates: as you may have discerned from the prior posts, I will be using the in-game dates for my story, but with the slight change that year 0 is 200 years prior to the beginning of the game, instead of 2200 years prior, just for a little bit of flavor.
     
    Chapter One - The New Generation
  • eoncommander

    First Lieutenant
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    Raldirm den Vakor

    RulerCropped.jpg

    Raldirm den Vakor, on the morning of her inauguration.

    Raldirm den Vakor was born in 152 in the great agricultural belt that lay in southern Molag. Though educational curriculums are uniform across the planet, students still inevitably take on certain characteristics of the region in which their cohort was raised. For the others in the Vakor cohort, this was a strong tie to the land and an understanding of the importance of nature and of agriculture specifically. But Raldirm never felt comfortable with this conclusion and in fact felt deeply unsettled staying in one place for the first 20 years of her life. She yearned for change, for diversity of sight and sound, things which were conspicuously absent from the vast farmlands on which she was raised.

    Vakor chafed under the restrictions of the cohort system; as a result, her aptitude was considered middling by her teachers and fellow students. [1] Upon graduation, she took a posting as a shopkeeper in a local urban center; two years later, she moved to a role as a roving sales representative for the regional farmer’s association. After wandering the planet for a few years, seeing most of what Tebazed had to offer but making very few deals for her agricultural cooperative, she left that posting and moved to Bessemar. Through the 180s she remained in the megalopolis, working as an officer of the peace, a bus driver, and for one extended stint as an assistant at an architectural firm.

    Seemingly set for a life as a drifter, Vakor was instead inspired, like so many other vailons, to reengage with civic society after Jorim den Polosch’s announcement of the space initiative in 190. She requested, and received, a posting to a newly founded local committee raising awareness of the program. Throwing herself into the work, she found that she had a natural talent for communication and organization. More importantly, Vakor realized that she had found her calling. The dream of a spacefaring society sparked a fire in her mind, and she now felt a drive to make the idea a reality. In 193, she became a coordinator for local production facilities in her neighborhood; three years later, she had become the regional coordinator for the entire area and was conducting a successful campaign for a seat in the Assembly, representing a district in northwest Bessemar.
    I have roamed this planet; I have spent years rooted here, helping this city run effectively. But it is time for us to put our faith in a dream of something bigger than our day-to-day lives…

    - Raldirm den Vakor, quoted during a campaign debate in Bessemar in December, 196

    Once in Sedrin, Vakor joined the ranks of the progressive pro-spacers in the Assembly. Over her first year in office, she participated in most of the grand debates of the Assembly; she was rapidly identified as a talented orator and a forceful advocate for the cause. But she went much further than most of her allies were willing to go. In her speeches was the kernel of a radical new conception of their place in the universe. The vailons may have been born on Tebazed, but they were living in the galaxy; traveling to nearby stars was not crossing a threshold, but rather a natural expansion of the space in which the vailons lived, much like the early vailon herds experienced as they became sedentary and began to work the land. Vakor felt that the vision of the other pro-spacers was too limited; they had not reckoned with the vast changes that the transition to an interstellar society would entail. Her speeches, reflecting her idealism and her dissatisfaction with the current debate, were often grandiose, as even her allies in the Assembly were quick to point out. But for many citizens, there was an inspirational quality to them, containing as they did a unifying idea for all vailons to believe in and work towards. Polosch, himself having brought new inspiration to the vailon just a few years prior, understood the power of this reorientation to the stars, and brought Vakor into the planning for the soon-to-be-announced plebiscite on space exploration.

    During the campaign, Vakor spent very little time in the capital, instead becoming a key proxy for the Director-General in many regional debates. It is likely that Polosch was already preparing to step down in the near future, and may have been grooming Vakor to be his successor with this deployment of her talents. She traveled the planet, giving speeches and debating with local anti-spacers in public forums. Her arguments generated new enthusiasm and excitement for the space initiative, contributing to the landslide victory at the polls, and setting her up to make a run for the Director-Generalship the following year. In that race, despite the record number of candidates she quickly emerged as the favorite. Her vision of a new philosophy to face the vast unknown was unmatched by her rivals, who mostly stayed within existing lanes of progressive politics. In the end, Vakor took 29% of the first-choice vote in the public poll, an impressive feat when there were 41 other candidates and the runner-up received just 8%. Bowing to this, and probably recognizing her dynamisn in facing the challenges of the new age, the magisters in the College voted for her overwhelmingly on the first ballot.


    Early Explorations


    On the morning of her inauguration, Vakor and the rest of the TUG watched on the Holonet as the first pioneers of interstellar exploration, a fiercely dedicated group of 45 scientists, technicians, and engineers captained by Raldirm den Hullos, boarded the ISS Jhunustarion in orbit around Tebza. The Jhunustarion, the lead ship of the Windur-class of exploratory scientific vessels, had completed her shakedown cruise just three days prior; since arriving back at Starbase Tebza she had been feverishly provisioned and prepared for her commissioning and official launch, scheduled for the early hours of January 1, 200 (Sedrin time). When the day came, all of Tebazed watched as the ship pushed out of dock and fired her thrusters, pointing herself towards the edge of the system and the hyperlane. Having witnessed the ship successfully get under way, Vakor proceeded to give a speech asking all vailons to join together to step into this new age of space exploration, and to embrace their place in the stars. Six weeks later, on February 14, the Jhunustarion reached the estimated breachpoint of the hyperlane to the nearby star Ramman, and activated its hyperdrive. Over the next three days, Tebazed awaited news of the vessel, when the news came, on the 17th, that it had arrived in the Ramman system on time and intact, spontaneous celebrations broke out across the planet. Vailons had successfully travelled to another star.

    Raldirm den Hullos, captain of the Jhunustarion, felt no great joy at the accomplishment she and her crew had just completed. The great task of exploring the galaxy was entirely in front of the vailon, and simply directing a ship (without even your own hands on the helm!) was not the least bit thrilling. Born in 160 in Hasar, she felt no love for the mining community in which she was raised, and in fact was deeply depressed by the ground-pounders among whom she grew up. So after she graduated, she applied for and was accepted to flight school. Once in the three-year training program for commercial aviators, she proved to be preternaturally gifted at flying, and was recruited to join the Engineering section of the Science Directory as a test pilot. When the space initiative was announced, she transitioned from atmospheric planes to spacecraft, and led nearly all missions in space over the 190s. This transition proved to be very good for her career, though not very exciting for her personally. After the initial novelty of being an astronaut wore off, she found spaceflight to be somewhat boring, especially after she began to captain larger crewed ships instead of being behind the controls in a single-seat cockpit. Still, nobody had any doubts that, when the time came, she would be the one to lead the first interstellar mission.

    As the Jhunustarion arrived over Ramman V, in late March of 200, Hullos was preparing for the away mission to the surface, actually excited for this portion of the overall mission. After some initial scans, on April 9th the shuttle touched down on the planet, a ball of ice and wind light-years from home. Though completely inhospitable to life, the frozen Ramman V was the scene of a momentous occasion for the vailon: when Hullos stepped off the lander, she was the first individual to step foot on an extrasolar body in history. The team of five spent six hours on the surface, taking samples of the ice and making geological readings before heading back to the orbiting explorer. Along with the standard data feed back to Tebazed, one picture was sent along, documenting the first vailon landing on a planet orbiting a distant sun. [2] This picture (shown below) was broadcast across Tebazed, providing a tangible report of progress to the vailon. The Jhunustarion spent one more day in orbit around Ramman V, before continuing its survey mission in the system. Over the next nine months, surveys were successfully conducted around more bodies in the system, including Ramman II, whose thick atmosphere and toxic surface prevented a landing, and its much more hospitable moon, which despite its lack of atmosphere proved to have several large ore veins in even the cursory scans conducted by the Jhunustarion. The excellent progress and stability of the mission so far prompted the Director-General to order a second Windur-class to be laid down on Jan 1, 201, to continue the mission of exploring the nearby star clusters.

    Huygens_surface_color_sr.jpg

    The icy surface of Ramman V greets the first extrasolar vailons. [3]

    ScanningRammanII.jpg

    ISS Jhunustarion scans Ramman II. The planet’s mineral-rich satellite is in the background.
    After a speedy construction cycle, the new explorer ship, the ISS Dargion, launched on March 1. Suldirm den Harak, a 34-year-old native of Sedrin who was a fast-rising star in the Science Directory, was given command of the ship, and assigned to make a survey of the local star cluster, starting with the tiny Glyderrum system. Meanwhile, when the Jhunustarion finished scanning Ramman, it would proceed out of the local cluster and begin scans in the nearby star cluster to the galactic west. In July, both missions reported anomalies in surveys of their assigned stars. While Hullos’ crew was ordered to ignore the barely-perceptible shadow on their scans, Harak was given the go-ahead to investigate. In September, he reported back: the signal interference resembled most of all an auditory arrangement of a mathematical equation, a song in some alien tongue of stunning beauty and complexity, beyond anything the scientist had ever heard. The news shocked the administration on Tebazed. Awe at the incredible musical arrangement mixed with equally stunning fact that there was alien intelligence out there; the vailon were not alone in the galaxy. When the news was announced, several days later, excitement tinged with apprehension filtered through the population of Tebazed; for months this became the only topic of conversation planetside.

    The successes of the two missions gave Vakor the leeway to make further investments in the space program. Though most of her day-to-day responsibilities involved governing the 21 billions living planet-bound on Tebazed, she slowly continued her work remodeling the TUG into a spacefaring society. In June of 201, she announced the ‘Map the Stars’ initiative, an ambitious proposal to survey the entirety of the surrounding star clusters by the end of the decade. The Directorate was put into overdrive, encouraging talented vailons to apply for postings in the Science Directory, or adjactent manufacturing sectors, building up a labor base for the push to the stars. The efforts paid off, as applications to the science sections grew 100-fold over the first five years of Vakor’s term. The massive growth and interest in space exploration and scientific discovery was evidence to her that she was not simply pushing vailons into these fields through propaganda; rather, she was tapping into her people’s primal instinct of curiosity about the universe.


    First Expansions


    In 202, the first murmur of a backlash against her agenda were exposed. Many vailons – including a significant fraction of the Assembly, which despite the newfound enthusiasm in the populace still had a conservative instinct – hoped that the dawn of interstellar travel would lead to a renaissance on Tebazed, as intrepid explorers brought resources and knowledge home to help further the TUG. Instead, a low grumble emerged in some quarters as new resources were plowed into research to further the goal of exploration. Expectations grew as plans to exploit newfound mineral caches in Ramman were set in motion early in the year. In August, when Vakor ordered the construction of a monument to the early vailon pioneers of space travel, several voices rose in loud protest in the Assembly, arguing that the funds should instead be invested in an expansion of consumer manufacturing, ensuring that some material benefit accrued to the people. Though the fight died quickly when Vakor made a vague promise of future investment and went back to ignoring those she considered to be Luddites, it did presage much more difficult policy battles to be fought out in the high levels of the government in the coming years and decades.

    OutpostRamman.jpg

    Outpost Ramman.
    For the time being, however, a political truce was had. In October, an outpost around Ramman was completed, which would serve a base of mining operations in the mineral-rich system. In March of the following year, the massive Autochthon complex was completed, beating its schedule by several months due the influx of materials from the nearby star. Meanwhile, the Jhunustarion and the Dargion continued to make incredible discoveries, portending massive changes coming for the vailon. First, having completed its survey of the Ramman system in January, the Jhunustarion moved on to Soval, where it found evidence of an organized political entity that existed in the region some two million year prior to the vailons’ first explorations. [4] Later that year, the Dargion encounted a planet orbiting the nearby star Bidtox, which scans suggested had a rich oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere. On approach, they were able to confirm: this was not only a habitable planet, but one teeming with life, both fauna and flora, living within a range of climes that matched Tebazed. Bidtox III was a potential new home for vailons.

    These discoveries buttressed the support for the administration’s efforts to grow scientific exploration and research in 203. The expansion of spacefaring capabilities led to a renewed interest in zero-g laboratories; it was hoped that experiments conducted outside of gravity wells would lead directly to new breakthroughs in physics and engineering, as well as a better understanding of how the vailon body could withstand the rigors of interstellar travel. Meanwhile, several major mineral deposits in Ramman had proved to be difficult to access for surface mining operations. Several physicists attached to the Engineering section believed that the ores could be dislodged by an acute application of force with a high-speed projectile; they convinced Vakor of the practicality of the design, and resources were given to the group to build their prototype coilgun.

    At the same time, in the Soval system, the Jhunustarion’s sensors recorded several anomalous readings in their scans of the red giant star. Subsequent observations showed no irregularities, and most of the crew were ready to chalk it up to a sensor malfunction. The captain disagreed. Hullos clashed with her people, believing her own instincts over the expertise of the various scientists on board. To prevent the argument from boiling over, she agreed with her XO that they would ask for guidance from Tebazed on this issue. In their next ansible wave included a request to investigate the anomaly further, by examing the nearby star Ushminaria which was showing similar readings in deep-space scans. Word came back, giving them the go-ahead to divert from their planned course to survey Ushminaria. A third explorer was ordered and laid down in August of 203, to pick up the slack that the diversion would cause.

    Over the next few years, various scientific communities jostled to make their priorities heard by the administration. In the nascent field of xenobiology, researchers urged the administration to focus on finding and surveying other habitable worlds. They believed that their research would be greatly advanced by a cross-section of comparable biospheres, rather than relying on extrapolation from the limited examples (Tebazed and Bidtox III, to this point) they already had. Vakor’s chief advisors agreed, and orders went out to the exploration missions, by now including the ISS Bathradurion, captained by Barim den Adasga, to keep their eyes open for other life-bearing planets. The Bathradurion was at this time (in the waning weeks of 204) investigating a buried structure on Bidtox III that had been discovered in the initial scans by the Dargion. As Adasga led her away team into the structure, they found thousands of remains. Skeletons of metal, further analysis revealed that they had been biological automatons, comprised primarily of organic materials long since rotted away. The design of these bipedal automata fascinated the captain, and left her with a life-spanning interest in industrial applications of organic mimicry.

    Adasga’s discovery suggested the possibility of an open-ended research mission being sent to the planet. The Director-General’s vision was somewhat grander, however. Construction of a ship capable of carrying upwards of 10,000 vailons, along with all of the infrastructure they would need to set up a permanent settlement, had already begun in in March. While not a secret as such, no formal announcement had been made of the project or its timeline. Vakor felt that this was the moment to announce the recruitment of volunteers to settle the first off-world colony of the TUG. She made a speech on the floor of the Assembly Hall on March 3, 205, extolling the incredible accomplishments the vailon had made in the last five years, and emphasizing the still-yet-imagined wonders that awaited the spaceborne society. She asked for, “all those ready to take the next step on behalf of your brethren,” to apply for a posting to the colony ship and a new life in another star system. In response to the broadcast, the most-watched in recorded history, the citizens of the TUG gave their enthusiastic support to the administration. 500,000 applied for slots in the initial wave of colonization in the following weeks; just over 2% were selected for the historic mission.

    ColonizingBidtoxIII.jpg

    The first settlers making landfall on Bidtox III, founding the colony of Eldetha.
    The mission was launched, to much fanfare, on March 30. The journey would take eight months; at the end of it, the specially-outfitted ship would land on the planet and serve as the administrative headquarters of the colony. In the interval, vailons across the planet waited with excitement for the fateful day. It seemed to most that any superfluous business had fallen away; all thoughts were turned towards the 10,000, traveling across the stars to a new home. There was some shock, then, when Vakor made a surprise announcement in late October. Flanked by representatives of the few remaining independent polities on Tebazed, [5] the Director-General declared to the world that, as of November 3, all vailons would be united under a single government. Secret talks had been ongoing for the last few years to complete the unification of the planet; they were spurred to completion by the imminient colonization project. Perhaps even inspired by Vakor’s vision of a spacefaring society, the leaders of the holdouts finally concluded that integration would happen, one way or another, in the coming years, as the TUG grew its resources by leaps and bounds; they decided to voluntarily submit now, in order to participate in that accomplishment directly. And so it was as a unified species that the vailon turned to the heavens on November 23, waiting to hear news of a successful landing on a planet orbiting a distant star. When the news came in, there was wild celebrations. The vailons had a second home now, in the newly-established colony of Eldetha.


    Footnotes

    [1] I have chosen here and elsewhere to represent the cohort system as a school, though there is no true analogue to it in human societies.

    [2] Though the team of scientists on the Jhunustarion are all experts in their fields and do much initial analysis themselves, the Science Directory is eager to gather as much data as possible, as quickly as possible. A burst transmission is sent via ansible back to Tebazed once a day; due to bandwith constraints, pictures are very rarely included.

    [3] Credit to the IRL Cassini-Huygens mission, and specifically to ESA’s Huygens lander, which captured this wonderful image of Titan. Source:
    By ESA/NASA/JPL/University of Arizona; processed by Andrey Pivovarov - Combined the pre-processed raw triplets #773, #931, #948, #961, #985 and #991 taken from http://esamultimedia.esa.int/docs/titanraw/index.htm using PhotoAcute Studio and overlayed the colored image taken from http://www.esa.int/SPECIALS/Cassini-Huygens/SEMC8Q71Y3E_1.html., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5685589

    [4] Early attempts at translating some documents suggested that the polity referred to itself as the “First League”, and the name stuck despite further refinements of the standard language that the cross-cultural entity used.

    [5] Though the TUG was the dominant polity on the planet, and had completed the integration of most other countries by the middle of the second century, a handful of minor states retained a nominal independence into the third century.
     
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    Chapter Two – The End of Innocence
  • eoncommander

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    Joy

    GalaxyIn206.jpg

    TUG expansion to 206.

    Tebazed greeted 206 with an unbridled sense of optimism. Vailons were now established in the colony of Eldetha, orbiting the distant star Bidtox, an achievement any species could be proud of. Explorers continued to push out the boundaries of the known galaxy, and science was flourishing in numerous research labs at home. An expansion of the secondary education system [1] allowed more vailons to pursue research postings and build on the discoveries made by the Jhunustarion, the Dargion, and the Bathradurion in deep space. The ships and their crews continued to improve their exploratory abilities; in particular, Seldirm den Harak and Barim den Adasga, captaining the Dargion and the Bathradurion respectively, were seen by the Science Directory as having made leaps and bounds in their capabilities. Raldirm den Hullos, on the other hand, was proving to be a true maverick. Having bucked the expert scientists in her crew to go chase a sensor shadow in the Ushminaria system, the ex-aviator was chagrined when months of scans of the A-type star showed nothing irregular. She was forced to admit her error in going with her gut instinct; though she made a commitment to be more thorough in her analysis in the future, the incident left a sour taste in the mouths of some on her ship and in the Science Directory on Tebazed. When the Jhunustarion discovered evidence of First League activity in the Ushminaria system in May, they were ordered to ignore it and continue with their current surveying mission. This time, Hullos agreed.

    She would ultimately be very happy with this decision. In December of 206, the Jhunustarion arrived at Sol, a G-type main sequence star on a spur of the local hyperlane cluster. Immediately upon entering the system, the ship’s sensors lit up with radio broadcasts in the clear. From the outer edge of the system, they were able to calculate the source: the third planet orbiting the star. Distant scans indicated that the planet had a breathable oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere, and was very likely similar to Tebazed and Eldetha. As the Jhunustarion moved inwards, more detailed scans revealed several artificial satellites in near-space orbit, at least one of which appeared to be permanently inhabited. There were not any signs of crewed missions beyond the one large moon of the planet, and the xeno theorists on Tebazed believed that they had not yet achieved the capability of longer-range missions. Nevertheless, Hullos had become the first vailon to discover a living alien species, marking a moment when the vailons learned for a fact that they were not alone in the galaxy. The inhabitants of Sol III were a sapient species, and one potentially ready for interactions with the vailons in the near future.

    Hullos took the Jhunustarion on its normal survey sweep of the Sol system, careful to avoid accidental detection for fear of unintentionally influencing the course of events for the aliens of Sol III. But just two months later, her mission would become almost an afterthought. On February 22, 207, the Dargion entered the Isius system, and was greeted by a hum of activity. Initial scans indicated a large, artificial structure orbiting the star and a habitable planet that was buzzing with ships. The propulsion emissions and relative lack of radio wave bleeding suggested a technology level similar to that of the vailon. Within minutes, they were sure: they had encountered an active alien empire at roughly the same stage of development to their own.

    UnkStarbaseIsius.jpg

    The alien starbase orbiting Isius.

    As Harak and his team evaluated the data, a burst radio transmission was directed towards them from the starbase. The sensors automatically recorded the transmission, which seemed to be intended for them. The beginning of the stream was easily translatable into a few basic mathematical and physical concepts; [2] the crew understood this to mean that the message was a handshake of sorts, a method of acknowledging the shared intelligence between the two species and providing a way to communicate, eventually. The aliens had clearly thought through the difficulties of meeting other xenos, a problem that the vailon had not considered to a great degree to this point. But Harak felt that a response was required; as the commander on the scene he tasked his team to put together a makeshift handshake of their own to beam back, without waiting for instructions from Tebazed. In two hours they had a package that they thought would be representative of vailon culture and could provide a foundation for future talks. Only after they broadcast it did they send an unscheduled ansible wave back to Tebazed, explaining their encounter and subsequent actions.

    At the Science Directory, excitement was tempered by curiosity. A furious effort was put in motion to translate the alien message, led by Pudrig den Vagors, the brilliant and maniacal director of the Sociology section. He and his crack team of linguists estimated that the project would take months, perhaps up to a year, even if things went well. Setting them to work, Raldirm den Vakor met with her executive council, comprised of her chief aides and the heads of the largest Directories, to decide whether to disclose the encounter to the vailons or to wait for formal communications to to be established before revealing any further information. A lengthy and vociferous debate ensued, but one voice emerged above the rest. Valdrig den Vagors, Director of Labor, was rapidly becoming a favorite of the Director-General with his consistent and clear logic, and his righteous belief in the equality of all citizens had won him many allies in the Assembly. Though his smug sense of self-confidence often led to an obnoxious hard-headedness that prevented engagement with others’ arguments, this time he was able to convince Vakor that openness was the only way to demonstrate respect for the people that she governed. When the announcement was made the following day, the support the director-general received from the people seemed to vindicate the decision. The vailons continued to show their confidence in the manner in which Vakor was leading the polity.

    In October, the Jhunustarion made its approach towards Sol III. Overshadowed by the potential first contact with a xeno species active in the interstellar domain, Hullos’ mission had been largely forgotten by most of the population of Tebazed. Some in the Science Directory believed this to be beneficial to the mission; a focus on it in the public domain might have pushed the vailons into interfering in this society before either species were ready. As it was, the Jhunustarion steered clear of any sensors facing outwards from the planet, of which there were thankfully few. Close-range scans indicated that these aliens were still largely confined to their single planet, with a civilization fragmented into so-called nation-states. Despite the lack of political development on the planet, their level of scientific advancement indicated that, with sufficient investment, these aliens could begin to expand within their stellar system within a few decades, and potentially discover the hyperlane network by 300 if things broke right for them. Continuing with its survey of the system, the Jhunustarion discovered a dwarf planet in an outlying asteroid belt which was primarily comprised of several types of rare crystalline formations, a valuable find considering their various industrial applications.

    Disappointment

    Through her first eight years in office, Vakor had presided over an uninterrupted progression of vailon exploration and expansion. Though much of the population attributed these successes to the steady hand of the Director-General, she herself knew that no true test had yet come during her term. That would change in the first weeks of 208. In late January, the Bathradurion entered the Liram system and was greeted by a sight heretofore unknown to the vailon: massive, artificial space stations, surrounding by what were unmistakably powerful weapons platforms. Deeper in the system were also several large fleets, each ship bristling with guns of various types. A message was being broadcast on repeat; though it could not be translated in such a short time, the menacing advance of a detachment of ships told the crew that it was a warning: stay away or be fired upon. The Bathradurion turned and fled, having gathered as much data as possible in the hour it spent inside the system. With Vagors’ team of linguists hard at work on the Isius aliens’ language, translating this message would be depriortized; for the time being, the Liram system was declared off limits. The revelation of hostile aliens in the cold of space abruptly recast the optimism with which the vailons considered the exploration of the galaxy as naiveté. The announcement of the encounter would later be marked as the end of the age of innocence for the vailons on the interstellar stage.

    This would be reinforced in June by the exchange of diplomatic protocols with the Mith-Fell Independent Commonwealth. In late May, Vagors informed the director-general that his team had completed a working dictionary of the alien language and were ready to prepare a formal greeting. Mere hours before it was to be broadcast by the Dargion, on June 2, a transmission was sent to them in Laggish – the aliens had beaten them to the punch. The first official contact occurred four days later, at the Isius starbase, with Harak temporarily granted with plenipotentiary powers to serve as ambassador. His opposite number for this historic occasion turned out to be the military commander of the station. A brief exchange was hampered by the limited ability of either side to translate the language of the other in real time, but they were able to formally observe diplomatic protocols and make arrangements for future exchanges. The avian species had a firm commitment to democracy and the equality of all citizens; the administration of government was highly militarized, as force of arms was considered the only way to safeguard the rights of the people. Harak came away from the meeting with a positive outlook for the future relationship of the two species, and with the promise of a formal exchange of ambassadors in the near future. However, the next week saw increasingly heated communications routed through the Dargion between Tebazed and Kan Jukla, the homeworld of the Mith-Fell. The Commissariat [3] expressed concerns about the vailons’ apparently abhorrent belief in unequal abilities among the citizens of the TUG. The military leadership was insistent that they would not treat with a hierarchical society that did not guarantee equal rights to all citizens. Despite strong protests by the vailon that this was a gross misunderstanding of their society, the Commonwealth broke off communications and closed their borders on June 13. [4]

    FirstContactMithFell.jpg

    The initial diplomatic exchange with the Mith-Fell belied future tensions.

    After the breakdown in relations, the Dargion was recalled to Tebazed for a formal debrief of Harak and the rest of the crew. For a month, they met with experts in sociology who were attempting to build a profile of the Mith-Fell and to understand what went wrong. They drew on the recorded knowledge of the diplomatic traditions of the vailon to develop a set of options for Vakor and her advisors to consider. It was immediately decided to keep their own borders open, as a sign of continued goodwill towards their avian neighbors. However, after a protracted debate in the executive council, Vakor ordered preparations to be made to secure the border in the Lyctabon system, anticipating the possibility of future hostilities with the Commonwealth. While the citizens of the TUG were informed of the current state of relations with the Mith-Fell in an address to the Assembly, the discussed militarization of Lyctabon was not disclosed at this time.

    The next twelve months passed with little change in the diplomatic situation facing the vailons. However, in July 209 communications were finally established with the Qvefoz tribes of the Romsir system. The terse message from the representative of the warrior clans informed the vailons that they were not to approach any of their space stations, each home to millions of Qvefoz, under pains of being fired upon by the impressive warships of the tribes. If, on the other hand, the TUG was willing to pay an annual tribute, peaceful relations could easily be maintained between the two people. Though Vakor was willing to consider the proposal, within just a few hours of the initial communication another representative claiming to represent the Qvefoz made contact and offered the same arrangement. The Director-General’s advisors reckoned that the pair represented two of what might be dozens of warring clans, which if ever united would constitute a serious threat but in a fragmented state could be ignored. Taking this advice, Vakor did not even attempt to establish a formal relationship, but instead informal contact was made by several lesser representatives of the vailon government.

    Despite the lack of successes endured by the vailons on the diplomatic front, their exploratory and research programs continued apace. In March of 209, the Assembly passed a resolution calling for further resources to be directed to the Science Directory; the representatives of the people demonstrated their constituents’ commitment to and faith in the pillars of scienctific research. Harak and the Dargion, tasked after the lengthy debrief to investigate the potential First League artifact on Ushminaria VIIIa, made a pit stop in the Ramman system to chase down an anomalous reading made by the Jhunustarion way back in 201. To their shock, they discovered a ceramic container orbiting the star, and received approval to investigate the jar further before proceeding on to Ushminaria. Meanwhile, still in the massive Sol system, Hullos and the Jhunustarion made a stunning discovery of their own. One of the large moons of the fifth planet (85 natural satellites in total orbited the gas giant) was covered in electrical filaments that responded to external stimuli and was capable of rearranging themselves in an organized fashion; the rock itself seemed to be alive. The captain herself, however, was turning more and more inward. Perhaps becoming frustrated with the monotony of space exploration, stuck for months on end in a small ship with nothing to look out upon except a never-changing field of stars, Hullos was spending much of her time alone in her cabin, only interacting with the crew to issue thorough, if pro-forma, orders.

    Near the end of 209, the Director-General set in motion the plans to secure the Lyctabon system and create a controllable border with the Mith-Fell. A new colony ship was begun; its eventual destination was to be the first planet orbiting Lyctabon, a world with remarkably similar characteristics to Tebazed. A new call for colonists was put to the population, and was met with enthusiasm; soon, a waiting list for as-yet-undeclared colonizing missions was set up, ensuring that the TUG was never short of settlers for its newly discovered worlds. Over the following year, the outpost station at Lyctabon was expanded; though now nearly the same size as Starbase Tebza, Starbase Lyctabon would be outfitted with several large coilguns, adapted from their intended use in deep-space mining to become anti-ship weapons, as well as a contingent of basic laser systems. In September of 210, the new colony ship touched down on the surface of Lyctabon I, formally establishing the colony of Varba. That November, Eldetha was deemed self-sufficient, and the stream of resources previously directed there from Tebazed was diverted to the newest vailon colony. Though only a few millions lived on the lush planet in the Bidtox system, they were now capable of forging their own path independent of support from home. It was expected that, within just a few years, the first deep-space vailon colony would be providing a steady stream of ores back to the metropole.

    On Tebazed, the first half of 211 would see a sea change in the political situation. For the first half of Vakor’s term, the Director-General faced no internal opposition to her administration. But as challenges mounted, and the TUG expanded its reach to include now six star systems (with all the attendant complexities of a stellar empire), grumbling emerged as to the unrestricted nature of den Vakor’s decision-making. Though she may be a prudent mind in steering the government, it never hurt even the wisest statesperson to listen to alternative viewpoints. In the Assembly, several informal cliques had emerged over the decade of space exploration; after the election of 210 they reached a tipping point, and now began to act like formal political organizations. Three factions commanded the vast majority of the support. The Liberty Now Council was the strongest supporter of Vakor’s administration; it was even believed by many to be secretly guided by the Director-General herself. Adasga, having returned to Tebazed in late 207 to oversee a research project focused on automating deep-space mining, became the face of the Xeno Liberty Initiative; soon, she would supplant the political leaders themselves and take direct charge of the faction, dedicated to building good relations with all alien species. And finally, while Harak was being debriefed on Tebazed in the aftermath of first contact with the Commonwealth, he connected with a few like-minded MAs who felt that Vakor’s plans to counter the Mith-Fell amounted to an escalation, however clandestine the work may be. This group now formally called itself the Peaceful Progress Initiative, and began putting pressure on the administration to reiterate the peaceful stance of the TUG. Going forward, the politics of Tebazed would turn towards contention and competition, as the vailon truly affirmed that their age of innocence was over.

    Factions211.jpg

    A new politics for a new age.


    Footnotes
    [1] The training programs for advanced fields that accept students after they graduate with their cohorts.
    [2] Including binary and a diagram of the hydrogen atom.
    [3] The formal name of the government of the Commonwealth.
    [4] Formal relations would be reestablished in 210, after the founding of the Varba colony in the Lyctabon system. However, diplomatic exchanges would be limited to a pair of space stations located at either end of the hyperlane between Lyctabon and Isius.
     
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    Interlude - A Diplomatic Incident
  • eoncommander

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    ISS Jhunustarion
    Hiann system
    Deep space, near to the breachpoint of the hyperlane to Phargis
    July 13, 212



    Raldirm den Hullos stood in her quarters. She had been given an hour to pack her belongings. Looking around the room, she saw a closet with three outfits, each with a slight variation on the one she was wearing. A desk was in the corner, topped by a few data printouts and a handheld computer; several books, mostly scientific treatises, lined a shelf overhead. Near the bunk was a small table, which was sometimes used for private meetings but today only held her service commendations and medals of rank. And that was the sum total of her possessions. The mith-fell were clearly struggling to understand how a non-acquisitive culture functioned, Raldirm thought.

    She had spent most of the last year in this room. She was tired, after twelve near-continuous years in space, away from the only home vailons had ever known for all but a few weeks. Of course, two colonies had been established in her time on mission, orbiting stars a mere few jumps from Tebza. But, out here, they seemed insubstantial. Line items in a mission brief. Almost inconceivable that, on a hunk of rock not so dissimilar to the ones she routinely stepped foot on during away missions, some airless and barren, others so hot as to melt your fur from seconds of exposure, that on some distant planet like that, there were vailons who were trying to make sustainable habitation possible.

    A depression sets in. Most of the original crew had rotated into other postings long before; though several had returned since, Raldirm was the only one to serve continuously for the entire mission. She could have taken any posting she wanted back on Tebazed. But, she was certain that would unavoidably lead to a management or advisory role in the Science Directory. Sitting on a desk planetside seemed to be the worst possible outcome. And so she stayed, as life in the cold expanse became ever more rote and dreary.

    Raldirm took her time packing, slowly folding her uniforms before laying them gently in her bag. The fire she had once was now gone. Her 20s were spent in the air, piloting the experimental planes the engineering geeks threw together. The high-performance vehicles were just a perk; the thrill was entirely in the flying itself. That she was good enough to be recruited to do the most difficult flying was of little consequence for her. All she wanted was to be aloft, in the flow of the wind, not thinking but reacting with her entire being. Back then, the rest of the world had seemed to be asleep, but she felt alive in a way that she could never describe. After the rest of the vailons awoke, inspired by the dream of space in the ‘90s, she allowed herself to be swept along with the tide. She joined the first class of astronauts; she flew test flights for all of the new spacecraft, at first short hops in near-orbit, later on extended missions beyond the gravity of Tebazed. Raldirm supposed that was freeing, in its own way, but it lacked something essential for her. The control, the melding with the machine so that you and it felt as one, so it would respond to every touch, every thought. Eventually she was no longer even piloting small ships, but instead captaining larger vessels, and from there the downward spiral was inevitable.

    There was a romanticism to being a pioneer. She had felt the pull, first when the space program launched in 190, and then eight years later when she volunteered to captain the Jhunustarion as it began its mission to explore beyond their home star. It was a bold and daring endeavor, and she was herself bold and daring… now, fourteen years on, she no longer understood the pride that she remembered feeling. The first years were exhilarating. The first time she stepped onto extrasolar alien planet was overwhelming. Waves of joy and excitement at her accomplishment; accompanied by what she now recognized was a profound loneliness that would come to color all of her subsequent experiences. Sometimes the loneliness was helpful. She became well-attuned to the emotions of her crew, and was quick to recognize when someone was burned out, even if they didn’t realize it yet. Sending them home at that point was an easy call, and they were always grateful for the push; some even returned years later, refreshed and ready to get to work again. Other times the isolation was the source of problems, a major detriment to the mission. On one occasion, back in 205 if she remembered correctly, she stubbornly insisted that a sensor anomaly was in fact part of a pattern of evidence that suggested that the stars of the galaxy were dying; over the objections of her entire crew, she led them on a wild goose chase to a nearby star to try to confirm her theory, and wound up blowing their entire mission timeline and causing both the researchers on her ship and her superiors on Tebazed to seriously question her judgment.

    She was now neatly piling her small collection of books on top of the clothes in her bag. Things had gotten worse recently, though she took pains to conceal it from the Science Directory. Apart from meals, she spent all of her time in her cabin, issuing the few necessary orders via the intercom. Her XO had been the primary commander of the Jhunustarion for nearly a year now, though he always signed his mission reports in her name. She was burned out, but couldn’t bring herself to ask for a new posting. It would have felt a betrayal of herself, the singular vailon pioneer, the hero explorer. She needed a jolt; but in deep space it was very hard to find an external source for a jolt that could shake her loose from her rut.

    Four years ago, a sister ship had made initial contact with the aliens known as the mith-fell. Four days ago, the Jhunustarion had finished its survey of the Hiann system, tucked away on a dead-end spur of the hyperlane network, and maneuvered to make the breach. As they charged up their hyperdrive, an automated radio beacon was deployed. It scanned them once; recognizing the vailon hull, it broadcast a message informing them that the Commonwealth had claimed the Phargis system on the other side and was denying them entry. Raldirm was called up to the bridge for the first time in weeks, the crew uncertain if their captain could make any decision at this point, let alone the right one. They weren’t aware that the XO had made a trip to her quarters immediately before. After telling her about the beacon, he saw a glint in her eyes, one that he hadn’t seen in years. Her interest had been piqued; though she wasn’t aware of it yet, life had returned to her soul, with a real judgment of some consequence to make facing her in the near future.

    Of course, the crisis, such as it was, would never be resolved by a lowly captain in deep space. The diplomats were on it, in the neutral border stations on either side of the Lyctabon-Isius hyperlane. These were vailons going to work; this was what they were supposed to take pride in, as a society. But for the crew of the Jhunustarion, all they felt was the inherent boredom, waiting for the crisis to proceed to the next stage. On the first day, a meeting was held, led by the captain, with all of her senior staff. Raldirm proposed running the border, reasoning that a newly-built outpost would almost certainly not have the weapons range to reach them at the edge of the system, and any military escort for the construction crews would be deep in the inner system, unlikely to have the legs to reach them before they could make it to the next breachpoint and escape back to TUG space. This “solution” was rejected by the others; even if it worked, it stood a decent chance of inciting a war, which seemed less than ideal. They may have had little faith in the diplomatic corps, who, even if they were steeped in tradition, had minimal experience dealing with alien powers of any kind. But they definitely had no confidence in the military apparatus of their polity, really just a few patrol ships to deter the more acquisitive vailons from turning to piracy to enrich themselves with the newfound wealth of the surrounding systems. They would stand no chance against the Commonwealth Navy, which was coterminous with the state and enjoyed, at the point of a gun, the full support of all mith-fells.

    With no other ideas suggesting themselves, they had no choice but to sit tight. Though they could send detailed reports to Tebazed, Tebazed could only send small data packets back; such was the inherent limit to ansible theory. For the next two days, the Jhunustarion received regular updates, but they were bare-bones, and provided almost no illumination of how the negotiations were proceeding, or even what the proposed solutions might be. Raldirm was relaxed, however. There was nothing to be done while the diplomats chattered; it was out of their hands. But the tension and anxiety amongst the rest of the crew revealed itself to be an opportunity for her to reclaim the mantle of leadership, which she had relinquished over the last few years. It felt good to feel responsible for her crew again. She walked around the ship with her horns held high, once more confident in her abilities.

    On July 11, a Commonwealth corvette appeared, and maneuvered into formation with the explorer. Its guns and missile launchers were unmistakable and menacing, though they were pointedly not aimed at the Jhunustarion. Raldirm and her staff took this to mean that a diplomatic solution for their release was nearing. A terse conversation ensued with the mith-fell, as they explained the proposal currently being hammered out. The vailons would be allowed to pass through the TK system and return to Tebazed, but their ship would have to be left behind. Official word came over the ansible the next afternoon; they were to use the ship’s shuttles and runabouts to make the transit, shadowed by the military escort. The Jhunustarion would be left behind, ostensibly because such a large ship was a security risk to the Commonwealth, but with the tacit agreement that the mith-fell would pick it over after they departed.

    The captain immediately sent a counter-proposal back to Tebazed: they would prepare the ship to be scuttled, and set the charges on a timer so that they would explode only after the mith-fell had escorted them through the hyperlane. Explicit orders came back; they were to follow the letter of the agreement, and perform no actions that would deny the mith-fell access to the ship. Raldirm met with her entire crew to explain the deal. Though they all voiced displeasure, nobody wanted to directly violate the orders given to them by the administration; they understood that there was limited room for negotiations with a powerful and militarized state.

    Still, all vailons are steeped in a culture of diplomacy. Despite the tension, Raldirm invited a delegation from the Commonwealth ship to share a meal on the Jhunustarion that evening. Four mith-fell came, in a shuttle with such graceful lines that it seemed to float as it sat in the hangar. The vailon captain supposed that mith-fell design philosophy emphasized this, that they drew no distinction between style and function. In fact, as the Commonwealth liaison was eager to explain, the mith-fell believed that they were one and the same. Aerodynamics was a primary concern and a driver of efficiency for the avian species, unlike for the primitive land-lubbers of their homeworld of Kan Jukla. (Raldirm also supposed that the implicit insult was unintentional, a result of imprecise translation, but she wouldn’t have put a lot of stock in that assumption.) The captain of the mith-fell ship, on the other hand, expressed some appreciation for the achievement of flight by mammalians at all, let alone space travel, given the inherent difficulties in imagining such a possibility without wings.

    They took the meal in the mess, which was cleared out for an hour. Raldirm was joined by the XO, the head of the science team, and the best – the only – sociologist they had on board. The Commonwealth was represented by the captain and the ship liaison, of course, as well as the chief of the engineering department and an assistant to the liaison, who served as the translator for the occasion. Raldirm ordered the last of the cured meat to be prepared (they had been overdue for a supply run), along with a sampling of dehydrated fruits and vegetables should their carnivorous guests desire to be adventurous.

    The mith-fell were extremely pleased with the offerings. The captain explained, as the liaison swallowed a salted rat down his gullet whole (the others deigned to use utensils), that Commonwealth ships were only stocked with processed foodstuffs that could be easily stored and prepared; real food, even dried out as this meat was, was a rare extravagance in deep space.

    Raldirm nodded at this. “Vailons maybe have a broader view of the needs of the individual than your military does,” she suggested.

    “What do you mean?” her opposite number asked through the translator.

    “We view social needs to be the equal of physical or, ah, political needs. Food is, for us, a social event, not merely a way to intake nutrients. Meals are opportunities to share with our fellow vailons, and this is facilitated by the food we put in front of us. We do bow to the constraints of space travel; I would say about two-thirds of the sustenance we consume comes in the form of nutrient bars, spiced with various seasonings, but this is no substitute for eating and sharing. We are provisioned with only small quantities of actual foods, but these are considered crucial elements of our supply. In our view, the best performance can only come when our minds are fed, same as our bodies.”

    A pause for translation. The mith-fell captain and liaison spoke quickly with each other, then the captain turned back to the hosts. “We are certainly grateful to share these delicacies with you as equals,” he said, at which point the liaison interjected. “It is true that in our naval ships we prioritize nutrient efficiency but that does not mean our society is wanting for abundance! On Kan Jukla meals are often celebrations, with tables upon tables of the richest seafoods and meats to be shared by all.”

    Raldirm tipped her head to the side, shifting her horns away from the guests in a gesture of reconciliation. “I meant no offense.”

    Her XO spoke next. “It’s a shame, really. We used the last of our fish two weeks ago. Otherwise we could have cooked up something truly special for you.”

    The mith-fell engineering officer expressed surprise. “At first I thought you were plant-eaters and didn’t eat meat at all. Now you eat fish too!” That seemed to earn a look from the liaison.

    “Seafood is not a staple of our diets,” the vailon sociologist explained. “As you say, our primary food source is vegetable plants, but most diets do include a small portion of land-based meats. Animals of the sea have entered our cuisines only in the last couple of millenia, and are considered tremendous luxuries in our society, fit for consumption for celebrations and other occasions.”

    More crosstalk from the mith-fell. After a moment, the liaison flapped his vestigial wings at the captain, and the latter fell silent. The liaison then asked, “What occasions do you observe out here in space? My pardon if this is offensive, but I lack some understanding of your culture. Are all your scientists part of the upper class, or is there a particular reason this ship has been given such luxuries?”

    After listening to the translation, the XO shook his head, forgetting that the physical gesture would not be understood. “It’s not a matter of class,” he said. “Luxuries are for special occasions, not for special individuals.”

    “What he means to say,” the sociologist continued, “is that our society does not restrict access to goods based on primitive status signifiers such as money. What we call ‘luxuries’ are simply those things which are not for everyday use, but instead are used to indicate important events. For instance, as my colleague mentioned, two weeks ago we held a celebration of one of our shipmates’ birthday, and the best chef on board used the last of our store of fish to make a festive meal.”

    The liaison replied, “We are meat and fish eaters, of course, but even we would not think to cook with such frivolity just for someone’s hatching-day. All citizens are equal in our society, on every day of the calendar.”

    The conversation continued in this manner.

    Raldirm was finished packing now. She slung her bag over her shoulder and departed her cabin, her home for the last twelve years and now little more than an empty room in a mostly empty ship. A ship that would suffer from a small reactor destabilization event in a few hours, the captain had agreed with the crew after dinner last night. Returning to the Jhunustarion some weeks later, the mith-fell would discover that an electromagnetic pulse had wiped the ship’s hard drives clean. They had been ordered to hand the ship over to the mith-fell, but they had decided that access to the onboard databanks would be a step too far.

    The lounge was a short distance away; even walking slowly, she arrived much faster than she would have liked. Most of the crew were now onboard their shuttles, preparing for departure; only three individuals remained, waiting for the captain.

    The Commonwealth liaison was also present, along with his translator and a junior officer armed with a large energy weapon. The group stood in a tense silence, having seen the rest of the vailons off the ship in the last half hour and with nothing left to discuss. Raldirm was disappointed that the captain of the Commonwealth ship had not returned for the official handover, though she understood that the liaison was probably making a deliberate point about the relative power of the two. It was probably for the best; she would have felt much more guilt at impugning the captain’s honor with the ceremony, whereas she had no compunction at impugning the honor of the liaison with the same.

    The ceremony was brief, the dialogue having been agreed upon beforehand (it was mostly written by the mith-fell, who had a strong culture of military formality). After the official handover was completed, the vailons were escorted to the runabout, departing the ship for the last time. As they walked the corridors, the liaison approached Raldirm, translator in tow. He ruffled his wings and reached out to run his hand along the exposed metal of the bulkhead. “What kind of explorers are you vailons? Your ships do not speak highly of you. There is no craft, no care applied in their structure. Just cold, hard steel.”

    Raldirm did not feel it necessary to point out that the bulkheads were actually comprised of nanocarbon tubing. Instead she replied, “We are curious about the stars. We do not feel the need to show off for them.”
     
    Chapter Three - Scary Monsters
  • eoncommander

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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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    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.
     
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    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.
     
    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.
     
    Chapter Six - The Battering Ram
  • eoncommander

    First Lieutenant
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    Jul 18, 2018
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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.
     
    Chapter Seven - Reversals
  • eoncommander

    First Lieutenant
    27 Badges
    Jul 18, 2018
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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.
     
    Chapter Eight - Aftermath
  • eoncommander

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    QuadrantIn240.jpg

    The southeastern quadrant of the galaxy in 240.

    After the War

    The TUG emerged from its first interstellar war relatively unscathed. Though the offensive campaigns had largely failed in their objectives, the first decade of the conflict was an uninterrupted string of successes for the Unified Navy. The defensive posture of the primary task force allowed the vailons to fend off repeated attacks by the superior numbers of the VIS fleet. All of the combat was contained within the border region of the two polities. No varelviv force ever threatened the home worlds; the enemy was prevented from cutting the shipping and trade routes that were the lifeblood of the war effort. In the months after the end of the war, the Assembly investigated the administration’s conduct of the war, eventually producing a formal report of their conclusions. Though they found numerous instances of individual mistakes, the Assembly recognized that this was inevitable in such a large and complex undertaking. On the whole, the body concluded that the war plans were sound, and they were effectively carried out; while they made numerous technical recommendations to address minor issues, the Assembly praised the structures currently in place and expressed the belief that those structures would continue to serve the TUG well, should another conflict arise.

    Once the last offensive by TF Mirasma failed, Vakor signed a status quo peace treaty, resigned to the formal surrender of several star systems and grateful that Overlord Spagruum I had not demanded more in the settlement. The treaty left the TUG in control of the Orthama system, isolated from the rest of vailon-controlled space, but the Director-General struck an agreement with the states of the Glorious Axis to allow the resources from Orthama to flow through their shipping networks and take the long route back to the central processing facilities on Tebazed. The accord also included a formal ten-year truce and provisions to prevent incursions by varelviv slave raiders, though nobody on the vailon side of the negotiations truly expected these terms to hold.

    Within days of signing the peace treaty, Vakor returned the TUG to peacetime economic policies. In a speech announcing the changes, she acknowledged that the war had been hard on many vailons, but she also expressed her belief that the vailon people were stronger for having experienced these sacrifices. Factories which had been converted to producing war materiel reverted back to consumer goods production; the administration once more allowed trade to flourish organically, rather than directing it towards specific activities. Internally, the administration had extensive discussions about whether to disband the fleet, now that the war was over. A complete return to the status quo ante bellum for the TUG would have seen the end of the militarization that had occurred over the course of the conflict; vailons had very little interest in aggressive expansion, and many felt that a standing navy would inevitably run counter to this ethic. However, the sudden war had very clearly demonstrated the need for a permanent military; though the vailons might not be interested making war, their neighbors obviously felt very differently. The varelviv were still a very real threat, and Vakor believed that their efforts to enslave the vailons were not over. The administration, without any real public debate, allowed the naval establishment to stay in place. It would serve as the primary defenders of the TUG, but it would also inalienably alter the character of the polity over time, in ways unpredictable to those who made the decision.

    The Galactic Community

    The vailons made contact with several new species during the war; after its end, a much wider galactic community came into evidence. Whereas in the first few decades of space exploration, the vailons viewed their budding relationships, positive or negative, in a bilateral light, each new relationship isolated from the rest, it was rapidly becoming clear that the international stage would require much more complex diplomacy. This was amply demonstrated by an incident that occurred during the war, even though its significance escaped many at the time. In 233, representatives of the Qvefoz clans reached out to a vailon captain at a trading station in the Ussaldon system, on the border with tribal territory, asking him to relay a message to the administration. A particular clan wished to secure safe passage for one of its fleets through TUG space. This clan had been contracted by an unnamed party [1] to conduct a raid on a planet belonging to the Mandasura Prime hive. It was an unexpected request, and Vakor and her staff debated it for several days. Relations with Mandasura Prime were civil, if not exactly friendly, and Vakor had little desire to set a precedent of condoning such actions. However, practicality won out in the end. The vailons had no spare fleet with which to resist a hostile clan; even if they could spare TF Mirasma from the front for a few months, the Naval Staff projected that it would present no threat at all to the marauders’ cruisers and battleships. Vakor agreed to a cease-fire with the clan, and the fleet flew through vailon space in mid-233, striking awe in all who witnessed its passage.

    The incident with the Qvefoz was a preview of the complexities that began to confront the vailons in the second half of the 230s. At the very end of the war, a new species made contact with the Glorious Axis, and through them the TUG. The mirovandians of the Galactic Mirovandia Commonwealth first flowered near the equator of their homeworld, and they kept their societies far away from the harsh tundra climes that had dominated the ecology of the planet until recently. In the last few centuries, the mirovandians expanded outwards, using the new tools of industrialization and digitalization to tame the environment and the many birds and mammals that were their natural predators. This experience led to the general belief that technology, properly guided towards positive aims, would allow them to overcome all obstacles and create a better, more just society. Those who resisted the inevitability of technological utopia were considered fools and either excluded from sharing in the newfound wealth or else forced to submit to the control of the rapidly forming global state. Now in the process of joining the galactic community, the mirovandians brought a similar attitude to negotiations with the federation. The vailon delegates to the summit on Kan Jukla found their plantoid counterparts irritating at best, but the mirovandian outlook had much in common with the crusading ideals of the mith-fell and the hissma. The summit ended with the mirovandians officially considered associates of the Glorious Axis, [2] though the future held the promise of closer cooperation.

    FirstContactMirovandian.jpg

    The Glorious Axis granted association status to the mirovandians in 239.

    Though the vailons and the mirovandians would have their differences, a cordial relationship took hold. In late 239 the two administrations reached an agreement to share communications, putting the TUG in contact with several dozen heretofore unknown spacefaring species from across the galaxy. Many of the empires would play only a peripheral role in TUG politics and diplomacy, but together they created a distinct sense of a galactic community. A few of the new contacts are highlighted below.

    Dabbax Solidarity – The Dabbax Solidarity was born of a successful and (mostly) bloodless revolution by the working classes against their capitalist masters. In its wake, the victorious revolutionaries set up a society of worker collectives, fanatically devoted to the maintenance of an equitable and just distribution of resources among all the people. In the interstellar age, the ruling cadre of the Solidarity firmly believed that their neighbors would inevitably trend towards a capitalist and, finally, a communist system, following the same dialectical progress that their own society had witnessed. Though maintaining friendly relations with those neighbors, the dabbax were known to occasionally give a little push to help foster a fellow society of comrades in revolution.

    Coalition of Aeria Husila – The ragerians of Aeria were ruled by an entrenched elite of military officers, descendants of the victorious party in a decades-long civil war fought between inhabitants of the ragerian homeworld and the pioneers that settled the other planetary bodies of their home star system. The latter, headquartered on the moon of Husila, eventually won the war with a concerted bombing campaign that killed most of the political and military leadership of the Aerians; the current military junta covered up the acts of fire and blood with a constant stream of propaganda glorifying the Coalition and the ruling elites. Though the external appearance of the ragerians was remarkably similar to that of the vailons, DNA analysis conclusively showed that the two species had little in common genetically, and the similarities were simply an (admittedly extreme and unlikely) example of convergent evolution.

    FirstContactDabbax.jpg

    FirstContactAeriaHusila.jpg

    Belmacosa Empire – The Belmacosa Empire formed the fulcrum around which the diplomacy of the northwest quadrant of the galaxy revolved. For millenia, the belmacosans had looked towards the stars and marveled at the expanse. This sky was their birthright; all they had to do was reach out and take it. The empire viewed their neighbors simply as its future dominions, and it had the military might to back that claim. In response, a pair of federations had formed, one purely of a prudential nature, the other with more substantial bonds between the member states.

    FirstContactBelmacosan.jpg

    Propitious League

    Yibrak Council – Yibar Prime was once a thriving world of green and blue, similar to Tebazed in many ways. Sadly, a series of geo-engineering projects gone awry led to collapsed ecosystems and rapid desertification of much of the planet. Many yibrakian societies broke down suddenly and destructively, and the total population fell approximately 50% from its peak. The remaining yibraks coalesced around a spiritual vision of a natural world lost forever, and a fierce determination to never let such a catastrophe befall another biosphere on their watch. Now, a holy tribunal ruled amidst the ashes of their hubristic past, ensuring that the yibraks did not stray from the true path of salvation. Acutely aware of the threat posed by the belmacosans, they agreed to form the Propitious League with their unenlightened neighbors, the Great Caloctora Bloc.

    Great Caloctora Bloc – The Great Caloctora Bloc had a long history of coups and counter-coups, the latest bringing a cabal of military officers to power 60 years prior to first contact with the TUG. This ruling council had survived for decades only by merging the policing apparatus with military forces loyal to the regime and using the constant reminder of the might of the state to keep potentially unruly subjects in line. Despite these upheavals, the caloctoran citizenry remained committed to a fair and just society, governed by a formal system of honor that defined every interaction. Unique among the known species in the galaxy, the caloctorans had almost no visceral reaction to alien races, a testament to their inherent adaptivity. As a result, their empire was becoming known as a free haven for the poor, the persecuted, and the downtrodden; all were welcome with open arms, as long as they too submitted themselves to the honorable principles that gave society its structure. Though the Bloc had little love for the over-zealous yibraks, their relations with the belmacosans were even worse, and they set aside their differences with the arthropoids to form a defensive alliance against the threat the imperialists posed.

    FirstContactYibrak.jpg

    FirstContactCaloctora.jpg


    Favorable Entente

    Sathori Union – The Sathori Union had a pair of distinctive institutions, working together to ensure the stability and prosperity of the realm. Within the formal government lay a disciplined bureaucracy, determined to see the apparatus of the state function efficiently. Its partners in this effort were the major guilds, above all the mining guilds who controlled the natural resource production of Sathoria. Together the institutions dominated sathorian society and guided the Union as it began to explore the nearby regions of the galaxy and expanded in search of new resources to exploit. Upon meeting representatives of the Hythean Alliance, they quickly recognized the opportunity for mutually beneficial cooperation, and immediately began negotiations for commercial agreements and explicit spheres of influence. From these initial talks, the Favorable Entente was born.

    Hythean Alliance – The founding charter of the Hythean Alliance defined two enduring principles for the state: the defense of life is the defense of liberty, and the defense of liberty is the defense of property rights. At times in its history, the Alliance struggled to live up to those ideals, but those ideals endure to the present. Hythean space exploration was driven by the mining guilds that dominated the economy, as they were constantly searching for more wealth and resources to entrench their position. These guilds were the first to encounter their sathori brethren, and they are almost entirely responsible for building and maintaining the relationship between the two neighboring states. Cooperation has only deepened since first contact, and by the 240s there was very little distinction between the hythean and the sathori economies. Savvy observers expected that the distinctions between the two governments would eventually disappear as well, as the brother guilds continued to integrate.

    FirstContactSathori.jpg

    FirstContactHythean.jpg

    A Census

    The end of the war and four decades of exploration made 240 a good time to take stock of the growth of the TUG. The vailons now numbered a little over 28 billion, spread out across three planets and numerous space stations in 24 star systems. The wartime economic policies had slowed growth on Tebazed considerably; the 210s and ‘20s had seen a mini population boom on the planet, as the vailons greatly expanded their resource base through the exploitation of deep-space mining facilities. The settlements on Eldetha and Varba, however, continued their exponential growth through the war, as the war effort generated a tremendous demand for the raw resources produced on the colonies. By 234, the population of Eldetha had grown enough to require a major urban center to support it, and by 238, with the population level hitting 500 million, the administration of the planet had grown to the point of de facto independence from the Colonial Directorate on Tebazed. Varba, meanwhile, was also growing quickly, and looked to be only a few years behind Eldetha on its own trajectory to independent governance. The growth of the colonies led to a previously unasked question: what sort of administration and representation was appropriate for the rapidly maturing colonies? It was a major political question, but as the contemporary political debates were decidedly focused on the metropole, [3] this question was put off for another time.

    While population growth fluctuated, economic growth stayed fairly consistent in this time period. In the first four decades of interstellar expansion, raw resource production had tripled over the production levels the vailons had achieved on Tebazed in 200. At the same time, the production of secondary materials, including the advanced alloys used in deep space construction as well as the consumer goods sectors, had increased fourfold. The exponential growth in the economy had in part been fueled by stellar expansion, as hundreds of new deep space mining and research facilities had been built over the four decades. These operations accounted for approximately 50% of the additional production. The remaining growth had occurred in planetside operations, including both the capital and the two colonial worlds. Looking forward, economists in the Directorate expected most economic growth to be concentrated in planetary expansion, whether from expanded production on already-settled worlds or from the growth of new colonies on the several habitable but unpopulated planets currently within TUG space. The projection was primarily informed by the geopolitical situation of the region: vailons were blocked from further expansion in every direction, [4] and nothing suggested this fact would change in the future. This conclusion led the Directorate to begin making plans for a new round of colonization, starting with the small moon orbiting Daraasta III, located deep in the Shining Pearl Nebula near the galactic rim.

    The Selection of 240

    After the war ended, it shocked many in Sedrin to realize that the next director-general selection was less than a year away. Though the Long War had been fought mostly in the background of everyday life on Tebazed, it was still all-consuming for those involved in the administration of the government. The politics of the TUG had grown stolid, and tired, over the fifteen years of the conflict. The current leadership, including Director-General Vakor and the leaders of the major factions in the Assembly, were old, mostly in their 70s and 80; they had all come of age in the pre-spaceflight era. The war had diverted many young and talented vailons into the military, as the Unified Navy needed to rapidly build out its capabilities. Compared to the previous generation, relatively few found their calling in politics. As a result, the political scene seemed to lack a new generation of dynamic leaders, even as the old generation was aging quickly.

    Compounding this problem, none of the major political factions were prepared for a formal campaign. In fact, they viewed the prospect of a campaign immediately following the sudden end of the war with dread. The post-war settlement had scant time to establish itself before the selection, and the new director-general would inherit a fragile and messy situation for which they would be held accountable even though they played no part in creating it. For her part, Vakor recognized that the next few years would be difficult for anyone sitting in her chair, let alone someone with no executive experience. Though she was now 87 and looking forward to retirement, the other would-be contenders for the office were all older than 70 as well. Everyone seemed to want the status quo to hold; all that remained was figuring out how to maintain it.

    For the first two months of 240, talk of a potential deal floated around the capital, as leaders from the various factions met nearly every day. At the meetings, the parties mooted a power-sharing arrangement, but eventually concluded it would be unworkable. Instead, at the end of February, several weeks after the official end of the Director-General’s second term and the opening of the selection process, they announced a deal to preserve the current situation for the next several years. Vakor would resubmit her name for selection and go unchallenged by the major factions. In exchange, she would pledge to serve for only five years at most, retiring by the end of 244 if not earlier, and she promised to avoid any new policy initiatives. Her short term would be devoted to rebuilding the stability of the TUG, and, hopefully, grooming a new generation of leaders. For six weeks, Vakor toured Tebazed, explaining the deal to the citizenry; in return, polls showed that a majority of the population gave its support to the agreement. In late April, after a brief flirtation with insisting on a real competition, the College assented as well, and Vakor was reinaugurated on April 25, 240, for what would surely be, one way or another, the last time.


    Footnotes
    [1] Though the Qvefoz, in a surprising display of discretion, refused to reveal the name of the group or empire that had hired them, analysts in the diplomacy section were fairly certain it was agents of the Commonwealth who made the arrangements.
    [2] The same status the TUG held.
    [3] This was true both of the contours of the debate and the politicians themselves, all born before the dawn of the current era made offworld colonization a possibility.
    [4] To the northwest (coreward) by the varelviv, to the southwest (rimward) by the Qvefoz, and to the northeast by the Glorious Axis.
     
    Chapter Nine - Transitions
  • eoncommander

    First Lieutenant
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    Goodbyes and Hellos

    Shortly after the Selection of 240, Barim den Adasga retired. Over a long and storied career, she had left her mark as an explorer, a scientist, and a close ally and friend to Raldirm den Vakor. Among the first vailon pioneers to explore the near stellar systems, she captained the ISS Bathradurion during its inaugural mission to chart the rimward stars; in that capacity, she discovered the first extrasolar habitable world, a planet which would eventually become the growing colony of Eldetha. She served ably as the head of the Science Directory for 25 years, and guided the Xeno Liberty Initiative, directly or indirectly, for over three decades. Adasga’s retirement would be the first of many among the old guard in the next ten years. Her replacement as Director of Science was Vabrig den Telnik, a 52-year-old career civil servant, never previously noted for any dynamism or exciting talents. Vakor expected him to serve as an adequate caretaker until a younger generation of leaders could emerge.

    Just before the selection, in February of 240, the Glorious Axis launched a preemptive war against the genocidal saathids. In the previous few years, mith-fell expansion had brought them in close contact with the fanatics to the north. The first attempt to negotiate a truce had also been the last, as the mith-fell delegation had been attacked and destroyed the moment they entered saathid space. The saathids remained resolutely incommunicative, but the mith-fell leadership believed it was only a matter of time before they set their sights on conquest and annihilation. They felt they had no choice but to try to cut down the threat before it materialized to menace all the races of the galaxy. In the sixteen years since the signing of the Treaty of Hissom, the Commonwealth had grown in wealth and strength. Unmistakably the leading power in the region, they dominated the federation and cajoled their nominally equal partners in the hissma into a sudden and unannounced invasion of the saathid border systems.

    CommonwealthRelations240.jpg

    By 240, the Commonwealth had greatly outstripped their neighbors in wealth and military might. They took it upon themselves to protect the region from all threats.

    The onset of war influenced the contours of a growing dynamic in the quadrant. As associates of the Glorious Axis, vailons enjoyed free movement in the member states of the federation, and reciprocal access was granted as well. Throughout the last decade, there had been at first a trickle and then a steady stream of migration in the region. Advances in commercial space travel had only recently made it possible to transport large groups of civilians across the vast gulf between inhabited planets. The number of migrants exploded, reaching the hundreds of thousands annually by the late 230s. With the end of the varelviv-vailon war and the beginning of the mith-fell war on the saathids, the flow of migration changed, from net emigration out of the TUG to net immigration into it. For obvious reasons, few vailons settled in varelviv territory; the vast majority flowed into the Glorious Axis, where the mith-fell had colonized a number of ocean planets which were open to all who wanted to work. Many vailon seekers of fame and fortune, out of step with their own species, took this path.

    The reverse flow grew very quickly in the late 230s and early 240s, as economic pressures in the Commonwealth pushed more and more mith-fell to seek better opportunities. The Commissariat fervently supported a free market economic system, except where the system conflicted with the interests of the mining guilds; a typical working-class citizen could not expect to be well-compensated for their labor. As the mith-fell war effort intensified and drew more resources towards itself, the economy plunged into a recession. While those working in war industries could expect to do very well, civilian industries were very hard hit. Unlike some similar economic systems, the Commonwealth had a very weak social safety net, and many laborers were thrown into poverty and crisis. In such circumstances, moving abroad became a much more attractive option. Some looked to their federation partners; but the biomes settled by the Union tended to be very arid due to hissma physiology, and it was hard for mith-fell to find suitable environments in which to live. On the other hand, the TUG placed a strong emphasis on the welfare of its citizenry, and vailon habitats had many similar characteristics to those found on Kan Jukla. Many mith-fell migrants made the transition into vailon society easily, and significant mith-fell communities cropped up in every region on Tebazed and on each major colony.

    In much smaller numbers came political dissidents, though this community became much more vocal in vailon society, generally being of an outspoken nature. The Commissariat, fearful of calls for civilian governance, kept a tight control on political debate in the Commonwealth. Though not a police state per se, the government did routinely harass opponents of the regime, of which there were plenty. The dawn of the space age created new opportunities for the Commissariat to make problems go away; the loudest dissidents could be driven into true exile, forced to settle in hissma or vailon space where they would no longer be heard by the mostly apolitical Commonwealth citizenry. A small but thriving community of these exiles had grown in Sedrin by 240, granted semi-official status by the vailon administration, but not yet given full citizenship due to the displeasure this would engender in the Commissariat.

    Mith-fell dissidents were not the only highly visible aliens in the capital in the early 240s. A few months after the beginning of Vakor’s third term as Director-General, she finalized an agreement with the Prossnakans of the Curator Order to provide vailon researchers access to a wealth of information in their databanks. The Prossnakans had established the organization in the distant past: as their empire collapsed in a long-forgotten calamity, they tasked the Order with preserving their collective knowledge, with the ultimate goal of rebuilding after the fall. This task, they failed to complete; whether by attempting and failing, or by never attempting at all, they would not reveal. Over the millennia, the Order had kept their databanks, witnessing the rise and fall of many galaxy-spanning civilizations, always watching and never interfering. It had long since turned towards decadence and indulgence, selling access to its computer terminals in exchange for entire cargoholds of gold and luxury goods. Some in the administration believed that paying off such gluttonous and debauched people would inevitably end in disaster. While Vakor acknowledged their concerns, she believed that the data their researchers would gather was priceless and would hopefully secure a permanent technological edge over their erstwhile (and likely future) enemies. By the end of 240, several Prossnakans had established themselves in Sedrin, overseeing the team of scientists interacting with the database and ensuring that they did not overstep the bounds of their contract.

    Vakor had directed the Tebazed Unified Governance effectively alone for 41 years. Now nearing 90, she was visibly aging, and in the first few months of 241 she began to hand off certain responsibilities to subordinates. When the decline came, it came fast. By the middle of the year, Vakor had been confined to bed, and the vailon state prepared for the end. This was an unexpected turn of events for the political world, which had expected to have several years to rebuild itself before throwing itself into another selection. However, out of respect for the executive, an informal truce was implemented; the fight for what came next could wait until after Vakor was gone. Finally, early in the morning on August 2, the Director-General died peacefully in her sleep.

    Raldirm den Vakor oversaw an era of massive change for the vailons. She broke with all precedent by running for, and winning, a second term in office, challenging theoretical norms protecting against authoritarianism. In times of crisis, especially in the early years of the war against the varelviv, she projected calm and strength, creating an aura of confidence that pervaded the administration and indeed the entire populace; it was on this foundation that the vailons warded off a catastrophic collapse when faced with invasion. Her record was not without blemish. Some blamed her for the factionalism that crept into politics during these decades. Others, with much more cause, looked back at the Hissom Summit as a foolish endeavor and the formation of the Glorious Axis as a missed opportunity to secure the vailons from invasion for the foreseeable future. Vakor was never able to fulfill her goal of finding and cementing a stable, long-term ally. Nevertheless, the diplomatic failures are only relevant insofar as the TUG was able to transition into an interstellar state, and the shock of that transition was well managed by Vakor’s administration. This was her most important legacy, and it was justly celebrated by all vailons in the days after her death.

    Out of Nowhere

    Vakor’s death, so soon after the selection, left the various political factions unprepared for a renewed campaign. Her third term was a mere fifteen months in length, not nearly long enough to reset the political field. It had been two years since the end of the war, and the economy was just barely stabilizing at a comfortable peacetime level. Of the leaders of the three major factions in the Assembly, one had retired and one had died in the last year. This might have left Suldirm den Harak as the favorite to be the next DG and the Peaceful Progress Initiative in position to make major gains in popularity, but the distinctively isolationist streak in their philosophy capped their support amongst a citizenry generally in favor of comity and understanding with their alien neighbors. If anyone in the previous governing coalition dissented, they did so in response to the war and the perceived continued threat from the fungoid slavers corewards of the TUG. This left the field open to new challengers from outside the political establishment, challengers who had very different ideas about the direction of the state.

    Four candidates vied for the selection in 241. The famed explorer Raldirm den Hullos emerged from semi-retirement to take over the mantle of the Liberty Now Council; she looked to continue the legacy of her old friend and colleague Vakor, with a focus on building a new generation of leaders from across the political divide to take over the governance in a few years’ time. Rodrig den Tarrob, a persistent nuisance in many quarters, launched his evergreen campaign for high office. This time, however, he had won the backing of Harak and the PPI; Harak, for his part, judged that a fresh face was needed for the PPI’s platform, and he believed that Tarrob would serve as a suitable front to see his ambitions finally fulfilled. The PPI had spent the fifteen years of war arguing for a quick peace and a turn inwards, but when a suitable peace was finally obtained, some vailons realized that a newfound hatred of the varelviv greatly outweighed any practical considerations of maintaining a watchful truce. These revanchists were drawn from all sections of society and all factions, and they channeled their frustrations through the campaign of Feldirm den Sukar, a leading physics researcher who had mostly stayed out of politics until recent events inspired her to speak her mind. This group remained disorganized through the course of the selection, but many sober-minded observers feared their potential to wreak havoc on the state should they grow in strength in the future.

    SelectionOf241.jpg

    The Selection of 241 was the nastiest campaign in living memory.
    The fourth candidate was another unknown, though a much younger one at that. Vabrig den Telnik had only recently been posted to a senior position in the Directory, having taken charge of the Science Directory upon Adasga’s retirement the previous year. He was born in 188 in a small city in Hemberar and grew up as the space age blossomed in the 190s and 200s. In his cohort, he was known as a gifted thinker but not a particularly effective debater, the usual mark of achievement in school. After graduation, he began working as a lab assistant at a facility deep in the Hemberar Ice Sheet researching geothermal power generation. Very quickly, he decided that the researcher’s life was not for him. By 210 he had moved to an administrative posting at the Science Directory in Sedrin. Telnik’s climb through the ranks of the directory was fairly linear, an unusual career path in a species where the most talented individuals can argue their way into any job, no matter how high-ranking. In 233 he found himself in a senior sub-cabinet position, as the head of the Consumption Section of the Science Directory. He remained in that posting for seven years, as his career seemed to stall at the highest level below the political actors at the top of the bureaucracy. His colleagues believed him to be extraordinarily apolitical, with some even whispering questions about whether he voted in the biennial Assembly elections. This reputation earned him one further promotion, to the head of the entire Science Directory in 240 when the organization suddenly found itself in need of a caretaker.

    But despite his reputation, Telnik had plans for his career, and for the TUG. He hid his ambition from all but a small circle of close friends, the only people he had grown to trust and confide in during his life. By some combination of good fortune and good strategy, these friends had themselves all been incredibly talented and uniformly occupied high-ranking positions in the Directorate or the navy. With these individuals backing his campaign and lending it the credibility of serious support, Telnik was able to eschew the now-traditional political jockeying among the various factions. In fact, this may have been a key element of his support; though he refused to explicitly campaign on the growing factionalism of high politics in Sedrin, the implicit rebuke to the existing political organizations attracted many to his platform. This platform was extensive and detailed, and it reflected a unified vision for the future course of the vailons. Major new infrastructure projects, a doubling of the size of the merchant fleet, and, most importantly, the founding of several additional colonies on the habitable worlds in controlled systems, would create vast wealth for Tebazed and provide funding for a massive expansion of warship construction. The expanded fleet would in turn allow the administration to project power for the first time. And though he did not say this out loud, his ultimate goal was renewed war with the varelviv, this time with the vailons taking the initiative. With good planning, the TUG would be able to reclaim lost territory from the previous conflict and push deeper into VIS space; with good planning and some good fortune, they would be able to end the threat completely by overthrowing the government of slavers.

    With such a potent mix of ideologies and personalities, the campaign quickly descended into a free-for-all. No single issue dominated the debate; and without a focal point, the candidates often reached for direct attacks on their opponents’ plans as a way to fill the void. In this new paradigm, the candidates of the traditional factions quickly fell behind. Withering criticism by the other two candidates eroded support for Hullos and Tarrob, while the institutional interests of their backers prevented them from attacking their opponents successfully. Their positive arguments were unable to counter the relentless negations offered by the newcomers, and their poll numbers tanked by September. Meanwhile, Sukar made speech after speech decrying the stagnancy of the current system, which she claimed left vailons everywhere under the acute threat of enslavement by an alien menace. To land her point, she continually emphasized the thousands of vailons captured in varelviv raids since the truce began; these brave individuals, she argued, were languishing in horrendous conditions because of the “prudence” of the Vakor administration. This accusation tainted not only veterans of Vakor’s government but also anyone involved in the political system, including the two candidates backed by major factions. According to Sukar, rescuing their enslaved brethren and taking revenge on the VIS should have been the only priority of any administration. But this line of criticism did not extend to Telnik, and he was able to use his insulated position to win the support of a plurality of the population, not enough to claim a mandate but enough to show that the vailons still were not a martial species and had no wish to be turned into a war machine.

    The race stagnated in this position, with attacks growing increasingly vitriolic as the campaign dragged on. Finally, in early October, the College stepped in. Asserting its authority for the first time in generations, the magisters declared an end to public debates and speeches in the campaign. Though the public input was considered a vital part of their decision-making process, it was never intended to be the sole criteria for selection. Instead the College invited the four main candidates to a private formal debate on October 7, after which the magisters would choose the next DG. Theoretically putting each of the four on equal footing, the debate in fact crystallized Telnik’s advantages over his fellow contenders. He exuded an aura of confidence and competency in sharp contrast to the other three who spent most of their time attacking each other. The magisters only deliberated for one hour after the debate. Telnik was the choice, winning 78 out of 103 votes to become the 25th Director-General. Within just a few years, he had catapulted from a faceless bureaucratic role into the highest office of the TUG.

    Telnik had few friends, even after waging a successful campaign for the selection, but he did have his plans. After Telnik’s inauguration on October 8, he immediately launched his first initiative: a new colonization drive, focused on the ocean world of Grunthirst IIIa, and, on the promise of receiving citizenship in return, recruiting mith-fell from immigrant communities to be the pioneers for the TUG. This proved to be controversial; despite their openness and belief in pluralism, the vailon public had not yet considered the possibility of becoming a multi-racial society. Many were shocked to find this change suddenly thrust upon them, without the public debate that it should have engendered. Though the mith-fell colonists would all be émigrés from the Commonwealth, most vailon individuals still looked upon the neighboring power and its citizens with mistrust. The three major factions, left out in the cold after their resounding defeat in the selection, took this as an opportunity to curb any power Telnik might think of wielding at their expense. They formed a grand coalition in the Assembly, pledging opposition to this initiative without due consideration by the current citizenry of the TUG, whose rights might be diluted by the addition of new members to their society. Moreover, they pointed out that the Commonwealth might feel entitled to assert claims over a planet settled by their own citizens, even if it were nominally controlled by the TUG. These were arguments designed to sway the public, and they did. Polls showed that a majority were opposed to the initiative on prudential and procedural grounds: vailons were not necessarily opposed to having an open society; they just wanted to be able to consider it themselves without it being forced upon them.

    It was much to the political world’s shock, then, when Telnik ignored the debate roiling the Assembly, where his few allies and friends were defending his program. Instead he proceeded directly to implementation, signing up thousands of mith-fell for spots on the colonization ship. Funds were set aside for construction, slated to begin in the new year. As the weeks went by and the program continued apace, three camps emerged. The first, and smallest, was comprised of those who had supported such an initiative in the first place and were happy to see it continue. These were vailons who celebrated openness, and they wanted to extend the vailons’ natural inclusiveness to include all sentient beings. The second camp was united in opposition to Telnik, whether rooted in concerns about the accumulation of power (this applied to most political figures in the capital) or simple uncertainty about the merits of the policy. The third group, however, proved decisive. For many vailons, this was a very abstract problem, not directly connected to their everyday lives. They might have been slightly disposed to lean one way or another, depending on their individual toleration for others, but it wasn’t a critical issue for them. Presented with a fait accompli, they accepted it. Though they would never be vocal supporters of an open society, they helped create an undercurrent of support which allowed the colonization drive to succeed. The keel of the newest colony ship was laid down in orbit around Tebza in February, 242, without so much as a speech in support by the DG.

    Telnik had laid down a marker of how he intended to administer the state, ignoring all political opposition and focusing on the implementation of policy to the detriment of his supposed public duties. After this initial success, he moved quickly to consolidate his executive power, beginning with the upper echelon of Directorate positions. Valdrig den Vagors had been the Director of Labor and a part of Vakor’s inner circle of advisors for the entirety of the previous administration; his institutional knowledge was unparalleled, and most observers expected him to remain in the position for several more years under the new administration while a successor was groomed. The new Director-General had other ideas, however. Telnik did not know Vagors; he did not trust the old guard administrator. So he forced Vagors out in March 242, convincing him to retire in return for being named to the College at the next available opening. It was a soft enough landing for the aged advisor, and it allowed Telnik to name his own Director of Labor, Galdrig den Piriam, a close friend whose judgments and advice he trusted implicitly. There was some feeble protest to the arrangement from the Assembly, but Telnik once again felt free to ignore them. In the course of just a few months, the major factions, so recently defining the course of events for the TUG, had been shown to be very brittle and ineffectual when confronted with a determined outsider not beholden to their interests. Even the venerable Suldirm den Harak, still clinging to power in the PPI, began to pull back from his antagonistic approach, recognizing the waste of energy it represented in the new regime. By mid-242, Telnik was excluding Assembly leaders from even the most routine discussions of executive policy, leaving him to wield extraordinary power in directing the affairs of the vailons.

    DGTelnik.jpg

    Vabrig den Telnik had plans.
    New Worlds

    The colonization drive was in full swing by 244, with the two colonies of Firintarogga, on Grunthirst IIIa, and Ferdera, on Daarasta IIIa, establishing themselves within a few weeks of each other in the middle of the year. Beyond that initiative, Telnik’s administration only prioritized a few long-term infrastructure projects; they were not looking to execute major reforms to the economic system. It was in the diplomatic realm that he looked to make an immediate impact. For three decades prior to his selection, the TUG had worked to forge alliances with its neighbors to counter the threats it faced in the region. It was the view of the new Director-General that this campaign had failed and should be deprioritized, if not abandoned. Tebazed’s immediate neighbors, now ensconced in the Glorious Axis, had proven to be fickle; and once the Commonwealth had roped in a buffer state between themselves and the slavers to its west, it turned its attention to the north, to that “enemy of all races,” the saathids. Whether or not their neighbors were accurate in their assessments of risk, the predicament that the vailons found themselves in was due to the prudence and practicality of their erstwhile allies, and so the vailons must also be prudent and practical in their dealings with other races and other states.

    As Telnik conceived of it, self-sufficiency in defense had three components. First and foremost was economic independence; interstellar trade may have been great for building wealth, but it was critical in times of war to ensure adequate supplies were available, and the best way to do that was to make sure the TUG was making everything it needed itself. Second came the fleet, the centerpiece of modern interstellar militaries. A growing internal economy would help fund the expansion of the fleet, and investments in research would keep it on par in technology with its potential adversaries. The third pillar of Telnik’s plan was projecting diplomatic strength. He had no wish to turn the TUG into a hermit state, focused inwards and ignoring the wider galaxy. Instead, he planned to use the new economic and military strength to take a more active role in galactic affairs. Cementing a strong alliance would be easier, as the vailons would bring more to the table. More favorable commercial deals could be negotiated. And the TUG would be able to counter its rivals more directly, potentially ending threats to Tebazed permanently.

    Telnik had started working on the economic component of his plan from the moment he was elevated to the Director-General’s position. Within the first month of taking office, he ordered an overhaul of the shipping network, currently a hodge-podge of trade routes that, as the TUG expanded, were added one on top of another without any concern for efficiency. At the same time, the administration commenced work on a shipbuilding program, aiming to double the size of the merchant fleet within two years, to take advantage of the newly streamlined shipping lanes. New planetside building projects were also prioritized, both on Tebazed and on the outlying colonies. The colonists on Varba in particular received a major investment to build out the basic infrastructure of the colony, leading to the planet becoming a net exporter of resources by the end of 242.

    These economic investments began to show returns quickly, which allowed the expansion of the naval fleet to continue and even accelerate. Within the first two years of Telnik’s term, the navy had reached its highest ship count ever. The Naval Staff, newly empowered to request resources from the administration, advocated for a fleet size of 40 warships by the end of the decade, judging that this would be sufficient to defend the TUG from varelviv aggression after the ten-year truce expired. The DG agreed, and the shipbuilding continued apace. New techniques in power generation and engine design were integrated into the fleet, and a joint military and Science Directory program began research on the next generation of interlinked point-defense systems to defeat the new class of missiles that varelviv raiders had begun to show off in recent years. Finally, in 244, a team from the Engineering section kicked off a project to greatly enhance vailon capabilities in orbital construction, with the medium-term goal of building major expansions to the deep-space stations orbiting Con Viab and Tebza.

    These years also saw the beginnings of Telnik’s diplomatic strategy taking shape. On the far side of VIS territory, the Cyggan Empire and the Seban Commonwealth had very recently negotiated an end to hostilities that had been ongoing since virtually the moment of first contact between the two states. In the aftermath of the war, the insular cyggans began to look outwards for the first time. The empire established an embassy on Tebazed, as well as on the capitals of several other regional powers. In 242, however, the cyggans suddenly broke off diplomatic relations with the VIS. After the conclusion of the varelviv-vailon war, the slavers began sending an increasing proportion of their raids into imperial space, an intolerable situation for the xenophobic cyggans. Telnik spotted an opening, and he approached the cyggan embassy in Sedrin about the potential for cooperating in anti-varelviv activities. The ambassador was receptive to the overtures; though Emperor Slugradeb I and cyggans in general were mistrustful of all aliens, they acknowledged that practical considerations weighed in favor of coming to a limited agreement. While they were not willing to go so far as to promise to come to the aid of the vailons should the varelviv invade once again, and interstellar distances mitigated against joint anti-slaving operations, the cyggans were willing to sign onto an intelligence-sharing agreement as well as a formal non-aggression pact.

    Meanwhile, the Seban Commonwealth was also beginning to engage with the powers in the southeast quadrant of the galaxy. Their interests, of course, ran directly counter to the interests of their arch-rivals. When the TUG and the Cyggan Empire announced their cooperation pact, the seban diplomatic arm denounced the agreement, and withdrew their embassy from Tebazed in protest. Instead, they turned to other potential partners in the region, looking to sign deals with them before the cyggans had a chance to do so. In 246, they found success in this endeavor, coming to terms with the Union on a commercial pact and a research-sharing agreement. Most importantly for the sebans, the hissma also agreed not to engage in any formal dialogue with the cyggans. At the same time, a large delegation spent many months on Kan Jukla, attempting to work out a similar agreement with the mith-fell, but the Commonwealth preferred to keep their options open, and they did not finalize a deal.

    All the while, tensions between the vailons and the varelvivi remained high. Though the VIS had not yet violated the truce terms of the peace treaty between the two states, provocations were a regular occurrence. Within a year of the ceasefire, Overlord Spagruum I returned to denouncing the vailons regularly in the overlord’s weekly hyperwave addresses. At the same time, slaving raids returned, despite a ten-year moratorium enshrined in the treaty. These were of smaller scale than those seen prior to the war – the TUG defense system had been strengthened and anti-slaving patrol units were becoming more effective with every attempted raid – but still a nuisance and an offense. The varelvivi slavers had turned their primary focus west, towards the Cyggan Empire, but they still opportunistically attacked cargo ships venturing outside the defensive envelope provided by Starbase Con Viab, and occasionally sent raids deeper into vailon space. It was obvious to everyone in the Telnik administration that this would boil over at some point; but there was division over the question of whether to address the impending crisis proactively. A diplomatic offensive was more in keeping with vailon traditions, but the Director-General strongly believed that only a direct approach would be decisive. By the middle of 247, the first stages of his plan were moving forward. The two new colonies of Firintarogga and Ferdera declared themselves self-sufficient within a few weeks of each other. Going forward, they would contribute to the wider TUG economy, rather than being a drain on it. And the diplomatic maneuvers were bearing fruit, as cooperation with the cyggans continued to deepen. All that remained, now, was seeing the remainder of the plan out to its logical conclusion.

    GalaxyIn248.jpg

    Tensions simmered below the surface in 248.

    Footnotes
    [1] Perhaps because of the enforced isolation of such a remote location, though when asked about it during the campaign he said that he preferred the direct activity of the bureaucrat to the very narrow horizons of the scientist.
    [2] The model for this, of course, were the grand debates that took place during the Space Referendum campaign in 198.
    [3] Accounts differ as to whether this was a mutual agreement, or if Vagors was removed against his will and given a magister slot to ensure that his true feelings on the matter were kept out of the public eye.
    [4] VIS raiding activity had picked up in the aftermath of the war, but it remained at a much lower level than prior to the invasion. The varelviv had come to fear the vailon defenses, it seemed, and only small raiding parties attempted to slip past the great bastion of Con Viab with any success. As a result, not since the Great Raid of 223 had any varelviv ships been seen inside of Commonwealth or Union space.
    [5] Though the government on Cyggia referred to itself as the ‘Cyggan Galactic Empire’, this was an audacious claim for a polity that controlled just a handful of star systems and just a few planets, and most non-cyggans referred to them simply as the ‘Cyggan Empire’.
    [6] NB: By convention, the isolated term ‘Commonwealth’ refers specifically to the Mith-Fell Commonwealth, direct neighbors to the TUG and senior partners in the Glorious Axis, while other entities that use that descriptor will always be referred to by the formal name of the polity, a la the ‘Seban Commonwealth’.
     
    Chapter Ten - Paying Tribute
  • eoncommander

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    The Progenitors

    The galactic core was a dense network of stellar masses. So intense were the gravitational forces that hyperspace itself had collapsed, and the region was essentially unnavigable. For those whose technology far outstripped what was currently conceivable to scientists of the younger species, it made for an effective fortress. The remnants of three ancient empires had retreated here and now called it home; collectively, they are referred to as the Elder Races. In the southeast quadrant, close to vailon space, lay the Chroniclers, who kept a watchful eye on the galaxy, gathering as much data as possible before the stars became the forgotten dreams of gods. Northwest of the galactic center was the T’Jell Remnant, militantly isolationist and wishing for nothing more than to be left alone to mourn in the ruins of their once-vast realm. And in the northeast were the star systems of the Bothrian Progenitors, who among the trio of fallen empires were the most active in galactic affairs.

    The bothrians could best be described as enigmatic. Once the holders of a vast empire, covering nearly half of the known galaxy, they now ruled over no more than ten systems. To hear the bothrians tell it, they had voluntarily chosen to withdraw upon realizing that maintaining the bureaucracy necessary for such an expansive empire would be all-consuming and, more to the point, very boring. According to them, from that point on they had simply watched the galaxy turn, civilizations rising and falling, interfering in wider affairs only when such action would substantially promote the diversity of life. Since they consistently refused to explain what “substantially promote the diversity of life” actually meant or how they applied the concept, to the younger species sharing the galactic stage their actions often [1] appeared arbitrary and capricious.

    In May of 244, a bothrian courier arrived at a border station, bearing a message for the administration in Sedrin. A delegation was on its way to TUG space, with urgent business for Director-General Telnik; they would arrive in two weeks and expected to be accorded all proper respect. The message included no stated purpose for the meeting. Telnik would have dearly liked to decline the meeting, but the note, however vaguely, hinted that saying no would be considered a grave insult and greeted with extreme displeasure. There was accordingly very little to do but to prepare for the arrival. The bothrians had certain expectations for civilizations they deigned to grace with a visit, and the administration threw itself into preparation for a formal banquet.

    The delegation arrived at the border with the Commonwealth aboard a diplomatic yacht, escorted by a powerful warship. [2] A brief flurry of messages was exchanged, as the TUG had not expected a military escort to accompany the diplomatic vessel. [3] Eventually, both ships received permission to enter vailon space, though only after the administration had transmitted a formal complaint to the delegation. The bothrians then proceed to travel through the Lyctabon and then the Tebza system. Despite their technological superiority, they traveled at a leisurely speed, seeming to encourage the numerous onlookers to gawk at the majestic sight. And there were many onlookers, ordinary citizens who found their way onto civilian ships; no official estimate exists, but media reports put the number of vailons who witnessed the journey in space in the eight figures. The delegation approached Tebazed with numerous civilian vessels in its wake; on the ground, a massive crowd gathered at the landing field outside the capital, where the diplomatic yacht touched down on May 22 (the escort remained in orbit, a constant reminder of the complete incapacity for any resistance on the part of the hosts). The banquet that evening was the grandest in living memory, with over five hundred administration officials and MAs dining with Telnik and the delegation. Food was flown in from across the planet, ensuring that the visitors could sample a wide variety of cuisines, as was befitting for a vailon ceremonial occasion. [4]

    The day after landing, the delegation met with Telnik and several of his senior advisors. The delegates were smug and supremely confident, traits that did not endear them to the hosts. But their condescension paled in comparison to their shocking, albeit extremely simple, demands. Researchers on Cradle, the planet the bothrians now called home, had determined that the TUG was unlikely to last more than a few centuries, based on extensive AI modeling techniques trained on the thousands of species that had risen and fallen after the bothrians had withdrawn to the core. However, the Progenitors were committed to the preservation of life in all its forms, and they would act to protect the vailon species. They had constructed a special preserve on one of their planets, which they wished to populate with 10,000 vailons. This group would ensure that the species survived after the TUG collapsed. The bothrians would not forcibly abduct any vailons; they maintained their belief in self-determination as the first principle of sentience. If the vailons wanted to risk extermination, that was their right. They would have to decide in just seven days, however; when the time was up, the delegation would leave Tebazed no matter what the final decision was.

    BothrianDemand.jpg

    The Bothrian Progenitors made an extraordinary demand of the vailons.

    Internal deliberations were fierce. The first decision was whether or not to reveal the demand to the public. Throughout history, vailon political institutions had adhered to strong norms of transparency; the open and deliberative nature of society precluded any concept of official government secrets. Telnik, however, was a leader for a new age. Competition and even conflict with alien civilizations had influenced his worldview, and he incorporated into his own governing philosophy many ideas – here, specifically, executive privilege – from other species. Telnik looked at political trends on Tebazed, including a movement away from rational objectivity and towards subjective ideology, and concluded that debating decisions in public would not lead to ideal outcomes. Instead, he shared the contents of the bothrians’ demands with only his inner circle advisors and a few key political leaders whom he believed could be trusted not to immediately go public with the information. This action occasioned the last wave of retirements and resignations of the old guard, those who were left over from Vakor’s time in office and still believed in a vision of open governance. The incumbent Director-General was not sorry to see them go; the entire apparatus of government was finally controlled by his own handpicked officials. He revealed the bothrian demands only to select leaders in the Assembly and the College, asking for their input and in doing so coopting them into keeping the deliberations private. Of the major factions, he only excluded the newly coalescing nationalists; their leaders would not hesitate to use this information to stoke tensions and gather more support behind themselves, and Telnik would not allow that to happen.

    On the merits of the request itself, both Telnik’s advisors and the political leadership were split. Those in favor of honoring the bothrian demands argued that the bothrians, far superior in technology to the vailons, shouldn’t be refused lest the TUG invite their anger. A smaller group actually took the bothrians at their word; it wouldn’t hurt, they argued, to have a contingency plan to ensure the continuity of the species if catastrophe struck. Those against making a deal were aghast at the suggestion that the administration might capitulate. Vailons were not slaves; they entered into the political compact that was the Tebazed Unified Governance of their own free will, and nobody could be removed from the compact against their will. Moreover, there would be no negative consequences from the bothrians if the vailon administration declined the request. To emphasize this, they cited not only the delegation’s promise to allow the vailons to freely choose, but also the numerous times the bothrians had engaged with other species in a similar manner and not done anything in response to being rebuffed. As a rebuttal, those in favor of accepting pointed to other incidents in which states had agreed to the seemingly whimsical demands of the bothrians and were later on rewarded with riches or advanced technologies. The benefits of cooperation with the ancient empire, they pointed out, could be great.

    Telnik himself was disposed to accept the proposal, primarily out of expediency; provoking the bothrians could lead to retaliation, however unlikely, which would definitely upset his plans. Telnik’s inclination was reinforced by the loudest voice arguing for accepting the demands: the Director of Labor, Galdrig den Piriam. Though she was much younger than other administration officials at her level, she had proven herself to be extremely capable, demonstrating a thoughtful, questioning outlook on processes implemented by her predecessors, and she consistently found creative ways to increase economic efficiency and productivity. Born in 211 in Muntadar, after graduating from her cohort [5] Piriam received a posting as an administrative assistant in the Consumption Section of the Science Directory, around the same time that Telnik was being promoted to lead the department. The two developed an unlikely rapport – Telnik was reserved and mistrustful of others, whereas Piriam was outgoing and brash, but the two shared a mutual respect for each other’s abilities. When Telnik ran for director-general, Piriam was a key advisor on his campaign, and within a few months of being selected, Telnik had found a role for Piriam as his Director of Labor, having ousted the aging Vagors. Piriam’s support for agreeing to the bothrians’ demands mirrored Telnik’s own instincts, and it very quickly became clear to the other advisors, and the leadership in the Assembly, which way this decision was going to go.

    Telnik made the formal announcement a few days later, in a speech on the floor of the Assembly simultaneously broadcast to all Holonet receivers. Researchers estimated that 50% of the population, some 20 billion vailons, watched the broadcast live, a record for any event. In the speech, Telnik explained the demands made by the bothrians. Though they were given the opportunity to decline without any consequences, the director-general informed the audience, the administration did not wish to accidentally invite the wrath of the ancient empire, and so they would be accepting the demands. This did not mean, however, that any vailons would be forcibly removed from the TUG. Instead, he called for volunteers: 10,000 individuals who would voluntarily give up all ties in the TUG to go live in the territory set aside by the bothrians. With this concession, Telnik had won the grudging approval of a significant proportion of the political leadership, even among his erstwhile opponents. Most importantly, however, more than 12,000 vailons eventually volunteered for exile. A handful were devoted scientists, hoping to learn as much as possible from the Elder Race; some were disaffected citizens, unhappy with their place in the meritocracy; still others were inveterate wanderers, searching for the final resting place that vailon society seemed unable to offer them. Altogether, they volunteered in sufficient numbers to fulfill the demands of the Progenitors. When the bothrians departed, it was with the promise of future cooperation; there was even a hint of assistance to forestall the purportedly inevitable extinction. What to make of this promise, Telnik was uncertain; however, he had ensured that this still dangerous, if decadent, power would not interfere with his plans, and that was enough for the moment.

    I call on 10,000 vailons, no less brave than those pioneers who first showed us the possibility of living amongst the stars, to make the sacrifice, to give up their position in the Governance and return to this preserve…

    - Vabrig den Telnik, excerpted from his Address to the Assembly, May 26, 244

    The Clans

    Two years after the agreement with the bothrians, Telnik again faced a dilemma forced upon him by an external power. In late 245, rumors from the galactic rim began filtering in to the director-general’s office. The Qvefoz marauders were stirring once again on the southern border; one of the larger tribes, long-range scans suggested, was assembling a raiding fleet. A decade earlier, the TUG had allowed safe passage to a clan fleet planning to attack Mandasura Prime. This time, no such request would be forthcoming. Instead, in January, a representative of the tribes met with the leaders of the new colony of Firintarogga, on the border of clan territory. The marauder informed them that they were preparing for a raid on the vailon homeworld, which would with certainty overwhelm the TUG’s defenses and win plunder and prestige for the clan. He hinted, however, that the clan would be willing to skip the bloodletting altogether, if the TUG was able to offer sufficient tribute up front. After the meeting, the administrators, in a panic as Firintarogga sat directly astride the invasion route, immediately informed the metropole of the situation.

    QvefozTribute.jpg

    A Qvefoz clan attempted to extort the TUG in 246.

    In the capital, Telnik took the news more calmly than anyone could have expected. For him, the calculation was very simple. Pay off the clan, or allow the marauders to conduct a raid that would be costly in vailon lives and treasure and likely result in an even greater loss of resources, derailing his plans for the future. Telnik fully intended to choose the former option. Most of his advisors agreed. The TUG had accumulated a large stockpile of raw minerals in the last five years, which they would be able to dip into for the tribute. The main objection they could foresee was of a practical nature: the Qvefoz were not known to be particularly trustworthy. They were a collection of bloodthirsty and decentralized tribes, not a unified polity likely to sign a formal treaty. However, they had maintained peace with their neighbors for nearly forty years, and they had followed through on an agreement with the TUG in the recent past. Xenoethnologists in the Science Directorate concurred with this view; according to their research, whatever the outside world might think of the Qvefoz, the clans considered themselves honorable. Reneging on an agreement when they had given their word would be considered deeply dishonorable and entail a significant loss of status for any clan that engaged in such behavior.

    In stark contrast to the incident with the bothrians, the public was unaware of the impending raid, and Telnik felt no need to share the information with them. Panic would ensue, and there was no cause to allow that to happen since he was prepared to hand over the tribute that the clan demanded. Telnik did consult with several of the more discreet leaders in the Assembly, making a behind-the-scenes show of inclusion even though everybody involved knew exactly how much the MAs’ input was valued. Even before the Assembly had a chance to deliberate, Telnik had communicated his intention to the Qvefoz to hand over tribute in the form of 50 cargo ships, holds stuffed to capacity with a variety of raw minerals mined from the great ore veins of Hasar.

    But the Director-General miscalculated, and word of the deal leaked. Immediately, individuals in the administration began casting blame on anyone they suspected might have been the source. Some of the more militant enthusiasts of executive power in Telnik’s inner circle pointed to the MAs who had been briefed on the demands. However, more sober-minded advisors, including Piriam, suggested that the various local officials and traders that comprised the backdoor diplomatic network with the tribes were the more likely culprits. Not that the source mattered; the public outcry that ensued was going to be massive no matter how the news spread. As with the controversy over mith-fell colonists at the beginning of Telnik’s term, the outrage was directed not so much at the decision itself (though plenty were mad about the capitulation) as at the process by which the decision was made. If vailon politics were no longer about public deliberation and mutual trust in debate and logic, what would they be about?

    The scandal, for it could be called nothing less, did not dissuade Telnik from pursuing his chosen course of action. He was denounced for wasting precious resources (by the PPI, ever concerned with economic security), and for selling out vailon interests to hostile aliens (by the emergent nationalist faction), but the Director-General did not need to be responsive to their criticisms. He had no political base to keep happy; he was free to do essentially as he pleased. In this case, it was expediency that he prioritized. A large raid would have been a major disruption to his plans, in addition to being very costly in lives and resources. No announcement was made; in fact, Telnik refused ever to acknowledge the payment in public, even years after the fact. 50 cargo ships set out from Tebazed on January 18, en route to the border, and the horde was stayed. Though many individuals were incensed, eventually the anger faded, and the incident fell from the public consciousness.


    Footnotes
    [1] Always.
    [2] The pair of ships did not in fact travel through mith-fell space to reach the border; instead they suddenly appeared in the Isius sytem near the hyperlane to Lyctabon. Analysts concluded that the ships were equipped with the technology to make jumps directly through the hyperspace stratum without needing to use the network of hyperlanes as a guide. Such jumps, while theorized by scientists, were far beyond the capabilities of contemporary vailon hyperdrives.
    [3] Though the bothrians were very secretive about the actual capabilities of their navy, vailon naval analysts believed that the single escort outgunned the entire TUG fleet by a considerable amount.
    [4] The delegates were particularly impressed with a dish from the remote southern coast of Mastadar, a whole roasted frostfish on a bed of violet and crimson tundra berries.
    [5] Coincidentally, she was educated in the same cohort as the great admiral of the varelviv war, Sarim den Piriam, though 35 years after the esteemed commander.
     
    Interlude - Favors
  • eoncommander

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    Sno’s Hub commercial center
    Urytry
    Isius system, Mith-Fell Independent Commonwealth
    March 10, 241


    It was raining, not an unusual occurrence on Urytry. Bakrig den Polosch had taken cover under an awning when his communicator buzzed, but he was still getting dripped on, which was somehow worse than being out in the downpour. He had his mini-tablet out, transmitting the vidcall from his XO on the ship, but the water was giving the screen fits and it kept shorting out. The sound was coming through on the earpiece just fine, though this was small comfort to Bakrig. Seklir only had bad news to give.

    “He called about an hour ago. They can’t deal either, said it would be a waste for us to make the trip out there.”

    “What’s the excuse this time?” Bakrig asked.

    “He said there’s no surplus for us, they slowed production this quarter, plus a few buyers unexpectedly purchased from them on the futures market. But he was lying, of course.” Of course. Bakrig had confirmed the factory was working a double shift just last week.

    “Did you push him?”

    “I called in all of our favors; he wouldn’t budge.”

    “You reminded him about the New Rebrin thing?”

    “I tried! He wouldn’t let me, the bastard.” Someone shouted at Seklir from off-screen; he turned around and shouted back that he was working on it. “Truthfully, that’s to his credit though,” he said, returning to Bakrig. “He told me to save it for another time.”

    “He was always one of the good ones,” Bakrig said regretfully. They fell silent for a moment.

    “We’re going to miss our quota, aren’t we?” Seklir asked.

    “Probably.”

    “It’s because of the war, isn’t it?”

    “Yeah,” Bakrig agreed.

    “Some of the crew are starting to worry. The younger ones, especially. They thought they had made it big, getting to work under you.”

    “I’m not the only one who’s going to miss quota, if it’s this bad out here.”

    “Yeah, but they don’t know that.”

    Bakrig cursed. It wasn’t the crew’s fault that everything had dried up so fast. But they might start to be a problem if this continued. “Look, if we miss quota, we miss it. We’re not going to rot in a cell for it. I’m still meeting with Pit’tse’ar later, and we’ll see what she has for us.”

    “Pit’tse’ar isn’t going to save us,” Seklir replied dubiously.

    “No, she isn’t. But at least she’s taking the meeting. Maybe she’ll have some advice.”

    “Or maybe the Bureau is using her to relay a message.”

    The Security Bureau did like to play their games. It wouldn’t be the first time they used traders as back-door conduits to the TUG administration.

    “We’ll find out soon enough. Keep the crew quiet until I get back.” Bakrig cut off the transmission.

    The trader pushed up the hood of his cloak as he stepped back into the rain. Walking quickly, he emerged from the side street onto the main boulevard, where there was still a lot of foot traffic despite the rain. Mith-fell feathers were exceptional at whisking away water, a necessity on their rain-soaked homeworld; the only concession Bakrig’s fellow travelers would make to the storm was protective covering for the packages they were carrying. The few vailons in the crowd were easily distinguished by the oversized hoods they wore, needing to cover not just their heads but also their horns. Hissma, despite being partners in a grand federation with the mith-fell, were rare on Commonwealth worlds; having evolved in the desert climes of Hissom, the hissma found the waterlogged planets that the mith-fell preferred to be somewhat hostile to their existence. Pressing onward, Bakrig wandered the market streets, sampling wares and negotiating with merchants. The deals he was able to strike were small: twenty kilos of a silk-like material woven by the arachnids native to Urytry; three kilos of mith-fell spices, much prized on Varba; a half-ton of platinum ore. One merchant attempted to sell Bakrig authentic First League artifacts found at a dig site on Trunt IV, but the trader strongly suspected that the trinkets were actually of a recent vintage and manufactured probably not very far from where he stood negotiating with the seller. He arranged to have the purchases dropped off at his ship at the docks, knowing full well that the crew would be disheartened by the limited deliveries. But it was better than returning home empty-handed, which seemed possible given the lack of willing partners.

    Scattered around the market were vailon-owned shops. These merchants were usually selling goods imported directly from the TUG, mostly commonly from the manufactories of Varba, just on the other side of the Isius-Lyctabon hyperlane that served as the border between the two empires. A thriving community of these expat traders had grown on Urytry in the last decade, pursuing a dream of wealth accumulation not available to them in the TUG. Several were friends, or at least acquaintances, of Bakrig, to whom he could talk and listen and gather information. Today, they had very little information to give – very little of use, anyway. They all shared quite similar stories of being approached by Bureau agents who suggested that it might be to their advantage if they built up a significant stockpile of their inventories in the coming weeks. These stories seemed to confirm Bakrig’s theory, which offered scant comfort to the trader.

    Pit’tse’ar’s office was near the center of the commercial district; Bakrig’s meandering path was slowly taking him in the correct direction. He found himself a couple of blocks away from the building with still an hour left to kill, and he decided to stop for his midday meal. He ducked into a small café and sat in a booth near the window, looking out at the street and watching the rain and the crowd walk by. He ordered a plate of phuphu and ate it slowly, passing the time by making a mental inventory of mining outposts in the region to which they could pay a visit if he couldn’t close a deal with Pit’tse’ar. Bakrig found the dish, a mixture of raw and roasted vegetables originating from the southern continent of Urytry, delicious; he chatted with his server, asking about the chef’s inspiration. The server offered a vivid description of rolling hills and lush river valleys, explaining that he and the chef were among the first mith-fell born in the settler communities on the planet. They were themselves helping to define a native cuisine, and they were grateful for the appreciation by an offworlder, especially a vailon. Eventually, Bakrig paid and left, heading back into the storm, which had been at a steady downpour but somehow felt much worse for having dried off, to reach his destination.

    In the lobby, he was recognized by the receptionist, or, more likely, by the security system that scanned everyone who came into the building. After briefly consulting with his terminal, the reception sent Bakrig right up; Pit’tse’ar had not cancelled the meeting in the last couple of hours as Bakrig might have expected, given his luck on this trip. Instead, she was waiting for him in a conference room with another mith-fell whom Bakrig had never met. She flapped her wings in a friendly greeting, and she motioned to the back of the room. Laid out beneath windows overlooking the commercial center and the ocean beyond was a buffet of food from across the Commonwealth. Such a gesture was not the norm among mith-fell hosting vailons, Bakrig had found, though Pit’tse’ar had always taken care to respect vailon customs when she interacted with them. She was more malleable than most; in a few cases, Bakrig was pretty sure she had adopted vailon habits herself. He made a small plate for himself and took it with him to the end of the table, where Pit’tse’ar and her colleague sat. Introductions were exchanged; Pit’tse’ar’s associate was Krr, a special advisor to the executive.

    “Thank you for seeing me,” Bakrig began.

    “Any time you’re planetside. My door is always open,” Pit’tse’ar replied.

    “I’m feeling a little burned by people telling me that but not following through. So I’m grateful.”

    Pit’tse’ar nodded, one of those vailon mannerisms she had adopted as her own. “I’m not surprised to hear that’s the case.” They were speaking Mithian; it was easier for Bakrig to mimic the whistles and clicks of the mith-fell tongue than it was for Pit’tse’ar, or any member of her species, for that matter, to recreate the guttural sounds used in Laggish.

    “In the last month, lots of people I would have called friends have given me the brush-off or agreed to meet only to cancel later on.”

    “You should know that I would never do that to a friend.” That was a lie, but a convenient one under the circumstances. Bakrig let it pass.

    “Look, I want to be direct, and I don’t want to waste your time. I need to make my quota, and to do that I need to buy in bulk. I need to fill a single size three cargo hold; one of your prefab factories outputs enough products to fill that hold in an hour. Can we work something out?”

    Pit’tse’ar’s wings fluttered apologetically. “I’m sorry. I wish I could give you a better answer.”

    The loose knot of frustration in Bakrig’s chest tightened into a ball.

    “We’ve had a huge increase in demand in the last few months,” Krr chimed in. “We’ve put most of our facilities on double shifts and still we can barely keep up. All of our production line for the remainder of the year have been fully pre-ordered.”

    The trader did not like to be patronized. “People cancel orders all the time,” he pointed out, suppressing his annoyance. “Can I jump in on an orphaned shipment?”

    “We started a waiting list,” Krr replied. “All orders are fully accounted for.”

    “I’ll beat any offer by ten percent.”

    “You know we can’t break our word to customers,” Pit’tse’ar said, with a hint of scolding in her voice.

    “What if it were twenty percent, and you can have the pick of my cargo on my return trip?” Bakrig was desperate enough to offer the mith-fell a major concession.

    “That’s not going to happen,” Krr emphasized, which earned him an irritated flap from Pit’tse’ar. She then turned back to the vailon.

    “That was rude of my colleague. I apologize on his behalf.” Krr had the good graces, or the good sense, to look chagrined. “Your friendship is important to me,” Pit’tse’ar continued. “If it was at all in my power, I would help you in any way I could.”

    That much Bakrig believed. They had met on one of his first supply runs during the war. She was just a plant manager then, but they had been introduced by a mutual acquaintance, a smuggler who vouched for her as a reliable source of goods. She had allowed Bakrig to buy a shipment of small arms off of the dock, which the vailons desperately needed as they stared down a potential invasion from the varelviv. Not that Pit’tse’ar was being altruistic at the time; Bakrig had later heard that a half-dozen shipments had been stolen from that particular warehouse. Pit’tse’ar’s had put her proceeds to use by building her own industrial empire, in whose headquarters they now sat.

    But, powerful as she had become, she was unable to come to his aid today. Though expected, it was still disappointing; the final strand of hope had snapped. He stood up and walked to the windows, staring out at the vast waters that stretched out until it met the solid grey sky at the horizon. An old friend had once taught him a breathing exercise, something to use when the world seemed to spiral out of control. Bakrig had scoffed at the time, but in the years since had more than once found the technique helpful in calming his mind. He used it now, knowing that Pit’tse’ar would have the courtesy to wait him out. It came back to the trader that he had a second purpose for arranging the meeting, one which he could yet fulfill. He turned back to the mith-fell, still sitting at the table, though only one patiently. Deciding to be blunt, he asked, “The Bureau instructed you not to sell to any external buyers, didn’t they?”

    Krr squawked and began to object, but Pit’tse’ar cut him off. “Any private buyer, in fact.”

    Bakrig had guessed correctly. He perked up at this thought. “Is the war going that badly?”

    “I don’t know,” Pit’tse’ar replied. “They’ve done a good job preventing the spread of any news, bad or otherwise, from the front.”

    “But one can make an educated guess,” Bakrig said.

    “Yes, one can.” The trader was unsure whether she did in fact know, through her contacts in the Commissariat, or if she was genuinely telling him the truth.

    “They’ve hit everyone I know, and presumably everyone I don’t, too. Some of them make paper products. Some of them make textiles,” Bakrig pointed out. “Why does the Bureau think these industries are crucial to the war effort?”

    “This I can answer. The government will buy just above cost and sell at the market rate, keeping the profit for themselves. In times of emergency, we have often found that direct control is easier to maintain than attempting to levy harsh taxes.”

    Bakrig suspected that the Commissariat was actually acting on the instincts of all militaries everywhere. No matter the nature of the mission, there was always an institutional imperative towards direct control of resources. But there was no reason to contradict his host. Regardless, the Intelligence Directorate would find it interesting.

    “So there’s nothing I can do?” Bakrig asked, returning to his primary concern. He was resigned to returning with an empty hold, but it couldn’t hurt to ask one more time.

    “I didn’t say that,” Pit’tse’ar responded. Krr squawked and ruffled his feathers again, but he didn’t say anything. Pit’tse’ar continued: “I can give you a name. I can’t tell you where he works, but I will tell you that he can assist in getting you a government contract.”

    This was old smuggler code for a contact inside the government, usually looking to place a semi-official order for goods unavailable on the local market. Bakrig had worked extensively on the other side of that type of arrangement during the varelviv war, finding mith-fell traders willing to export military hardware to the TUG. He may not be able to go home with a full hold, but he would have ready cash and what would likely be a very long list of products to acquire on behalf of the Commissariat. “I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to meet with him,” Bakrig said, attempting to conceal the relief that flushed through his body.

    “My friend typically prefers to work with other mith-fell,” Pit’tse’ar explained. “Not as an issue of discrimination, you understand, but as a matter of internal security. When he came to me, I told him you were reliable and trustworthy, and that you would be an effective partner. I hope that remains the case.”

    During the varelviv war, there were a few notorious instances of traders taking information they received from the TUG, and either trading against it or selling it to the VIS. “You know I’ve worn his horns before,” Bakrig replied, accidentally slipping into a Laggish idiom. “I wouldn’t renege on a contract.”

    “Good. I’m risking some credibility here. Don’t throw it away.”

    “I won’t,” Bakrig assured her.

    They ended there, Pit’tse’ar having to rush off to another meeting. She left Krr behind to provide the contact information to Bakrig. Krr handed over a slip of paper with a name and number handwritten on it. This was an indication of the desire for secrecy in this matter, which the trader respected. Krr, on the other hand, indicated that he did not respect Bakrig. As he handed over the note, he said, “I was against making this approach, but I was overruled. If you screw us, you’ll regret it.”

    This probably revealed more than Krr intended. The ‘us’ that Krr was referring to was the Bureau, the vailon was certain, which meant that they were embedding agents directly within private corporations. A troubling sign, he thought, making a mental note of the threat for his report to Intelligence. There was nothing to say in response, so Bakrig said nothing, accepting the note in silence. Krr then escorted him back to the elevators before parting.

    It was still raining when Bakrig stepped back onto the street, but he didn’t really mind anymore. He began the walk back to his ship, ready to give the good news to his crew.
     
    Chapter Eleven – Consultations with an Admiral -- Part I
  • eoncommander

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    Office of the Director-General
    CONFIDENTIAL
    INTERNAL USE ONLY
    DO NOT SHARE

    September 25, 248
    Meeting Summary re: Adm Piriam
    Principals: Director-General Vabrig den Telnik
    Admiral Sarim den Piriam
    Director Galdrig den Piriam​
    Agenda: Varelviv, long-term strategy
    Interstellar situation
    Domestic preparations​
    Notes:
    • Adm Piriam in office with aide Cmdr Hullos
    • Explained intention to prevent the VIS from threatening vailons. Slaving raids growing in size and strength as truce approached end. In order to end substantial threat to vital interests, invasion and eventual regime change necessary
    • Pushback from Cmdr Hullos, who was extremely resistant to idea of aggressive war. Adm Piriam remained quiet as aide attacked plans for being “irresponsible” and “contrary to all reasonable analysis.” This dynamic repeated throughout meeting
    • Presentation detailed astro-strategic position: we are shielded from most threats by powerful mith-fell-hissma alliance, but have no long-term allies. The Commonwealth is regional hegemon, but leadership in the Commissariat not prepared to consider regional stability a vital interest of the state. TUG must be responsible for own security. Only way to ensure safety of people is to preempt threat
    • Cmdr Hullos strongly objected. “Reckless” war likely to lead to substantial casualties. Points to numerous wars around the galaxy for support. Mith-fell total war with saathids went poorly; economy flagged and one colony was captured, resulting in the mass murder of millions of beings. Favorable Entente attacked from all directions, with billions dead from planets captured by djunn. Avarrian fanatics have been making aggressive moves against our commerce and publicly broadcasting threats to our citizenry
      • Pessimism was anticipated; Cmdr Hullos well-known for caution and hesitation when bold action called for. Additionally, Cmdr unaware of continued, fruitful negotiations with cyggans, moving in the direction of a formal alliance. When agreement is finalized, will have partner that will come to our defense should we be attacked. Offers security for us to project power. Obviates concerns about threats. Explained this dynamic in detail.
    • At this point Adm Piriam joined conversation, echoing his aide’s caution. Very recently turned 70, displayed no outward sign of declining faculties. Could simply be a healthy mind and body; or could be evidence of long-rumored ‘anti-aging’ drug regimen. Regardless, force of personality shone through.
    • Meeting devolved into extended exchange over dangers of strategic planning without clear concept of military feasibility. Adm Piriam argued that political goals should be subordinate to strategic planning, instead of other way around. It was a testy conversation, one not much welcome on our end: we invited the admiral in to explain the plan to him, not to have him – or his aide – question it at each turn. Director-General, very generously, acknowledged Adm Piriam’s argument, but insisted that the decision lay with him and had been made already.
    • Meeting wrapped up with discussion of preparations necessary for waging of war. Adm Piriam needs time to develop formal plans, which we of course allowed him. Naval construction proceeding as expected, on track to reach a fleet size of 40 warships by the end of the decade. Expansion of Starbase Con Viab set to begin within weeks. Completion of expanded facilities and additional weapon platforms will ensure core systems are safe from invasion. Agreed with Adm Piriam to coordinate operational planning with Naval Staff in coming months.
     
    Chapter Eleven – Consultations with an Admiral -- Part II
  • eoncommander

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    Log entry re: strategic planning session, December 1, 249

    Met with Admiral Piriam and Commander Hullos today. They had just returned from a simulated naval exercise at Starbase Tebza. The results, apparently, were not good for our strategic planning. In the ten-year simulation, our forces managed to win every battle, but never even threatened the enemy’s core systems! Piriam told us he observed the entire exercise; he assured us that his fleet commanders really did attempt to execute the mission, but they were constantly stymied by swift counterattacks. One OpFor fleet would draw away our force, while another would recapture lost outposts. A frustrating experience, we were told, but an illuminating one. It seems more likely to me that the admiral was attempting to spin a disastrous performance by his personal staff, who were leading the Blue Team for the exercise. I’ve met our OpFor commanders – they are incredibly arrogant, to be sure, but for good reason. The Red Team seems to have run circles around Piriam’s team; maybe they should be promoted in his place. Of course, that’s not really serious – there are very good reasons to keep the admiral around – but I feel like his staff could learn a lot from a training class led by this group.

    The commander presented an alternative plan: instead of delivering a hammer blow, our fleet should be split into two task forces, one of which would capture outposts in the border sector while the other would screen any attempted counterattacks. This would be followed by a combined push on Viverva. The admiral claimed this to be the safer, more prudent course of action, but I am pretty skeptical. The assessment that Intelligence put together was unequivocal: the technology gap, the thing that staved off invasion last time around, has only widened in the last decade. The varelviv navy may still outnumber our fleet, but they continue to rely on missiles, which we know how to exploit. The new destroyers coming off the line are equipped with the most advanced point defense systems in the galaxy. Piriam’s attitude is incredibly frustrating. Our fleet can and should find the varelviv fleet and annihilate it, and then immediately attack their homeworld. There shouldn’t be a need to waste time. A direct strike on the capital will force the Overlord to come to terms with a minimum of civilian casualties.

    A real victory, a total victory, the admiral pointed out, probably requires occupying Viverva with ground forces; we were able to agree on that much. But we differed, once again, on the feasibility. I believe a quick strike to seize the Vagghra Palace and capture Spagruum will allow us to set up a new government more responsive to the varelvivi and put an end to the injustices of slavery. He believes that only a protracted ground campaign will allow us to overthrow the regime and install a friendly government, and only one likely to meet with little support from the populace. I pointed to the massive flows of sathori refugees, fleeing from the advance of the genocidal djunn, as proof that we need to fight for liberty wherever we can; he pointed to the inflow as an example of the only way to ensure a successful regime change, by simply ousting or killing the native population. We were left at an impasse, which Telnik broke, speaking up for the first time during the meeting. He acknowledged that Piriam may be right, but then undercut the admiral by informing him of the new Army Staff which would be handling the planning for the invasion. Piriam was furious, but we were prepared to accept that. It was time to shave back his horns a little bit. There were, once again, no outward signs of drug abuse, but his addiction is pretty much an open secret by now. There are even rumors that he is seeking additional alternative medical care, that the anti-aging regimen was actually making him sick, though nothing is for certain. Regardless, we had decided to take away some of his responsibilities – and there was little reason for a fleet admiral to be in charge of ground armies anyway. For political reasons we cannot fire him altogether, much as we might like to. The hero of the Varelviv War commands a lot of support in the Assembly and the citizenry. More to the point, he is still highly respected within the Unified Navy, and appointing a new admiral would be dangerous for morale. So he gets to stay.

    The rest of the meeting covered various logistical concerns in the preparation for the war. For the last few years, Galdrig den Piriam, in his role as Director of Labor, has been prioritizing wealth creation over cultural endeavors in making postings, ensuring that the necessary resources will be available to fuel the war effort. Superfluous expenditures have been reduced, including allowing our arrangement with the Curator Order to lapse. The expansion of Starbase Con Viab is well underway, and the engineering team expects it to be completed within a year. Unfortunately, the project has required a sizeable proportion of our advanced alloy production, and it has gone over budget in that department. This has resulted in a shortage at the major shipyards, slowing naval construction. The admiral expressed concern about this; only 30 ships are currently available for combat, and only a few more have been laid down. Naval planning had called for 40 ships to be available by the end of the decade. It may not be ideal, but we all agreed that it would still be enough to defeat varelviv fleets. We reviewed topline economic numbers as well. The admiral was primarily concerned with the extremely high consumption of energy – the economy is already running at a deficit, and it would grow worse once the fleet got underway. The data also showed a significant surplus of raw, unprocessed metal ores, which we expect to dip into in order to make up the shortfall. We are also set to announce a new policy priority in postings, emphasizing expanding the workforce in the colonies. We concluded by scheduling monthly planning sessions for the principals, to ensure our continued preparations were effective.
     
    Chapter Eleven – Consultations with an Admiral -- Part III
  • eoncommander

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    Personal journal, subj: touring the fleet with Admiral Piriam, September 1, 250

    I joined Admiral Piriam on an inspection tour of Task Force Mirasma this morning. The fleet just completed a two-week maintenance cycle after six months of intensive exercises. They are now undergoing final preparations to depart for the staging point near Starbase Con Viab. This will be the last time I see the Admiral or his staff before the war, and presumably for years after it begins. I am more melancholy than I would have guessed, given our contentious working relationship over the last few years. We disagreed, often vehemently, on the pursuit of war, and many things resulting from that decision. There was more than one occasion when I tried to get him fired, but the Director-General, much to his credit, overruled me every time. But the Admiral is, at the very least, a very capable naval commander, with the tactical acumen to outwit any enemy he encounters, a fact he proved numerous times with his exemplary service during the first Varelviv War. To win this second war, we will need vailons of his ability.

    Commander Hullos greeted me as I disembarked my shuttle aboard the flagship. Her demeanor was icy, as was mine. I do wonder if this was a deliberate move by the Admiral, to put me off-balance. If so, it definitely worked. However much we disagreed, Piriam himself has always been civil, courteous, and professional. Hullos has very often been extremely direct and discourteous during our meetings. I think she views the world with a deeply conservative, or even paranoid, outlook, and does not have that fundamental trust of others that is so deeply embedded in our psyches. I would not want her anywhere near command; her judgment is so faulty that I fear disaster if that ever comes to pass. Unfortunately, Telnik believes it is important for administrators to be able to pick their own staff, and that extends to flag officers. The Admiral seems to trust Hullos, and so we are stuck with our mutual antipathy.

    I toured the gun deck and the bridge with the Admiral. He spent most of our conversation extensively praising the crew. They largely ignored us as we explored the decks, continuing their work prepping the ship to get underway. It was inspiring, after a fashion, seeing these vailons who had volunteered their lives so that others would not have to. Some of the older crewmembers were veterans of the last war; others were fresh-furred and only recently out of their cohorts. I felt my confidence growing as we toured the ship; I hadn’t even really been fully aware of the anxieties that were being dispelled.

    The Admiral did not share my renewed confidence, he told me as we shared my shuttle on our way to Naval Command on Starbase Tebza. This is not a war likely to go as you think, he said. I asked what he meant; he replied that space is big, that the varelviv supply lines will be much shorter than our own, that our single fleet, no matter how severe a beating it inflicts on the enemy, cannot be in two places at once, whereas the VIS has enough ships to be in three places at the same time. Most of all, he accused the administration of dramatically underestimating the scale of the task in front of us. The political apparatus surrounding Overlord Spagruum was more robust than we gave it credit for. Piriam was an amateur historian, a rare enough hobby to have; his chosen field was, conveniently enough, comparative political philosophy. According to him, slavery and autocracy have deep roots in varelviv culture, much as meritocracy does in ours. Most varelviv are probably content with their lives, and do not want hostile aliens to come and destroy everything they know. Such a project, I was told, would require an extended campaign, both in physical and metaphysical terms. An army of occupation would be needed to root out all resistance, probably in place for many years, with the attending collateral damage and engendered mistrust with the local population; and a species-wide, decades-long educational campaign will convince the varelvivi of the evils of slavery. I joked, somewhat darkly, that he was talking about mass indoctrination, and he acknowledged that I was precisely correct! That this was the fundamental problem with “The Plan”. Telnik, in his hubris, has no understanding that his radical solution necessarily implied radical methods.

    I was somewhat shocked by this open and harsh criticism on the eve of war. I think the Admiral means well; that he sincerely believes the plan is fatally flawed. But it seems to me that he’s lost touch with rationality a bit. Of course the varelvivi masses – certainly the portions of the population that are enslaved, at least – want to overthrow the emperor and the systems of oppression built up around him. Only brutal suppression of dissent prevents their voices from being heard. It is the inevitable course of events that despotic regimes look invulnerable, right up until the moment someone gives it a shove, and the people rise up in revolt. I accept the notion that they would not wish for aliens to rule them in place of the imperial overlord, of course, but that is not our intentions at all! All we want is to help set them on the right course. The Admiral does not see this eventuality.

    I did not raise these points with Piriam on the shuttle; it seemed unwise, or perhaps unbecoming, to debate a point I had already won. The decision to go to war had already been made. Piriam could not change that now; pushing back against him would only be gratuitous. So I let him make his points, shed the extra layer from his horns; he would need to be sharp for the upcoming conflict. At Naval Command, we had a final briefing on fleet readiness – everything was up to spec and on schedule - in the conference room overlooking the two-tiered command deck. Afterwards, we met the watch commander, who gave us a quick tour of the facility. The Admiral, obviously, has been there many times, so it was really a tour for me; either I or someone else in my position would be spending a lot of time here in the future, serving as a liaison to the Naval Staff and the fleet during wartime. We watched a demonstration of the recently installed real-time holographic displays, which I think is more intended to impress me as a civilian rather than be actually useful in communicating information. And then, we were done. He walked with me back to my shuttle, where we parted – the admiral was remaining at HQ to do his last briefing with the Naval Staff before the fleet set out. I offered him both congratulations and luck in the coming conflict, and he did the same to me. We shook hands, as a final sign of respect; his hands were shaking, hard to see beneath his extensive fur but obvious with physical contact. I mentioned this to Telnik upon my return to Sedrin; he was not much impressed by my deduction that Piriam was experiencing serious drawbacks to his rumored drug regimen. His mind is still exceptionally quick, and that is all that matters to the DG. Filing this away for future reference.