Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Dawn of the Last Age

In the time following the Human invention of the Hyperdrive and the shattering of the interstellar gate network, seven Major Races rose to interstellar prominence. For one year, they expanded into the stars without war, planting the flag upon a hundred virgin worlds. Two races grew thus without any knowledge of the others. The Altarians, a peaceful race with a strange resemblance to humanity, expanded from their homeworld into the surrounding star cluster; the Torians, a former slave race, did likewise. But the star cluster of the Altarians was a small one, surrounded by a terrible void not even the Hyperdrive could readily surpass; so their dominion was equally small, and they found themselves nearly powerless when they encountered the other Major Races; first of which was the newborn Terran Empire. Unlike the Altarians, the star cluster in which the Torians were isolated was vast, and the Torians expanded into a great sphere, many times the size of the Altarian dominion; they found themselves a Great Power when first they encountered the other Major Races, the first of which they met was the Arceans.

The Arceans were a race of Stoics, whose skill at war was already known to be great from the days of the Interstellar Gates; but for the game of interstellar expansion they were not so well prepared. Both they and their neighbors, the Yor, a race of malevolent robots who had exterminated their creators, grew outwards as best they could; but each claimed barely half a dozen stars before they found the rest claimed by another race. The Thalans, last of the residents of that star cluster, had grown faster and further than the Arceans and Yor alike; both were thereby relegated to secondary status, leaving the Thalans to take on the mantle of Power. The Thalans were a strange race; they claimed themselves to be time travellers from an era in which humanity had brought devastation upon all thinking creatures, and although they started on par with the other races technologically, the rate at which they progressed upwards was remarkable, leaving the others hard-pressed to catch-up, even in that first year. Whether or not they were truly from the future was unclear; they certainly showed no evidence of further time travel, but certain artefacts on their homeworld seemed far more advanced than anything the Major Races could produce, and their bias against humanity seemed a strange thing to simply invent.

At last we turn to the last two of the Major Races; humanity, united at last under the Terran Alliance, and their nearest neighbors. The Terrans grew swiftly, building an empire of stars close to that of the Torians and the Thalans; they became the third Power, and though somewhat lesser than the others in size and technology respectively, their diplomatic, manipulative abilities was second to none. Their neighbors, the Korath, were quite the opposite. Limited by the presence of the Terrans, they found themselves relegated to a handful of stars, as were the Yor and Arceans; but unlike those races, there was a malevolent drive within the Korath, whose philosophy called for the ultimate extinction of all other races. They manufactured war-ships as swiftly as any of the Great Powers, despite their smaller size, aided by their willingness to act as brokers for technology trades between the races. By diplomatic means they gained wealth, and spent it just as quickly for quite different purposes; a small armada of warships and troop transports was stealthily assembling itself by the Terran border at the end of that first year, the year of peace.

The Torians had been enslaved by the Korath, once, in the days of the Interstellar Gates; the shattering of that network allowed them to throw off their chains. Now, many times more powerful than the Korath, they struck. Attacking the planet the Korath dubbed "Bloodthorn", the Torians landed with a hundred troop transports and took the planet for their own. Torian warships fluttered about the system, rendering ruin unto Korath troop transports hastily summoned from the Terran border in an attempt to recapture Bloodthorn; the Korath ships, individually superior to their Torian equivalents but strongly outnumbered, were unable to secure the planet. Had the Torians continued the attack into the Korath home system, it seems likely that the Korath would have been crushed.

But they halted; perhaps to consolidate their gains, or to manufacture more troop transports and warships to replace their losses. While their fleets swarmed around Bloodthorn, the Korath ships launched themselves toward the Torian cluster, two months travel away by the best drives the Korath could build. There, they launched an attack on the Torians' greatest weakness: their neighbors.

There were seven Major Races, as has been related previously; these being those sentient races who expanded outwards upon the discovery of the Hyperdrive. Some of them grew to a greater extent, some lesser, but each possessed an empire. But to the attention of the Major Races came also another sort of species, which we will call the Minor Race: a species which, by some quirk of circumstance or disposition, gained the Hyperdrive but remained relegated to their home star. The Torians seemed adept at finding these species; three of the four known were either in or bordering Torian territory. The Minor Races had proven useful for the Korath in the past; they were perpetually technologically backwards, meaning that any innovations they created could be easily bought, and technology traded back to them would fetch a handsome price. But their time was up; the Korath could use their planets better than they could. The Korath struck twice by surprise, wiping the skies clear of any ship before the transports came raining down. Two planets they took, exterminating the inhabiting Minor Races entirely; their manufactoriums the Korath took for their own, setting them to produce warships on the Torian doorstep. With this triumphant momentum they took two Torian worlds in the same brutal way; but then they, too, faltered.

For months no more planets were taken by either side; instead, there was only a battle of brutal attrition. Torian mass cannons pounded against Korath hull armour while plasma lances cut through the Torian warships with disdainful ease. The Korath armada was better designed for the opponent it faced, making one Korath frigate more than a match for two Torian ships of the same size; but the Torians could build three frigates for each Korath one, and did. So the war dragged on, as countless ships were reduced to superheated scrap by ever-slightly-better weapons.

It was a Korath innovation, researched over the course of the long stalemate, that allowed them to break the stall. Troop transports, necessary to conquer planets, were expensive: they cost nearly as much as a frigate of the same generation, and the number of slaves required to fill them to capacity could cripple the economies of smaller worlds required to launch them. (The Torians used volunteers to man their troop transports; the Korath did not.) The expense of troop transports - and their extreme fragility, readily destroyed by even the smallest fighter-craft - had been a large contributor to the stalemate that persisted for most of the length of the war. So the Korath devoted their scientists to finding a better way: and they did. Spore Weapons: small ships, manned by a skeleton crew, that were designed to slip into the atmospheres of enemy planets and attack with a virulent suite of germ weapons. The entire population of the afflicted planet would be wiped out, the atmosphere would be rendered toxic; and the Korath, who had already prepared themselves for such toxic conditions, would be free to take the planet at leisure.

The Torian empire fell. Bloodthorn was the first to be taken; then the Korath struck against the worlds in the Torian sphere, moving from the outside in. As the balance of manufacturing power began to tilt towards the Korath, they gained an ever-greater control of Torian space. With three months of the discovery of Spore Weapons, no ship could venture off the Torian homeworld without facing destruction. The Torians' fair-weather friends, the Terrans and Thalans, opportunistically attacked the defenseless Torian worlds, taking with troop transports any worlds the Korath had not yet reduced to virus-filled wastelands. With a pathetic handful of worlds left from their once-great empire, the Torians surrendered.

To the Thalans.

The Terrans had not been idle in the meanwhile. Midway through the Torian-Korath war, they had launched a surprise attack on the Altarians, winning several battles. They conquered no worlds, seemingly intent on rooting out all armed opposition off-planet before sending vulnerable troop-transports into battle. This state persisted through the end of the Torian-Korath war; at which point the Korath, irritated at Terran opportunism, decided to play the same trick. They sent their now-idle warfleets to Altaria and, once all were in position, attacked at a stroke. By the end of the week, half of the tiny Altarian empire had been virus-bombed and taken by the Korath. Their military was in a shambles. They surrendered.

To the Thalans.

It grew increasingly clear, to Thalan, Terran, and Korath alike, that the newborn peace could not last. The Thalans and Terrans were closely allied; together they controlled two-thirds of Known Space. The Korath, thanks to their recent conquests, held a fifth, much of which had been taken by use of spore weapons. The Terrans and Thalans had no interest in the same happening to them; the Korath knew that they could not oppose both at once. Over the next month and a half, they called their armadas back from the far-away Altarian star-cluster, setting them in a ring about the Terran empire. The Korath planned a surprise attack, as had served them against the Altarians; with the Terrans, if not completely conquered, than certainly reduced in strength, they would be in a much better position when the war came.

The week before the Korath battle preparations would have been complete, both the Thalans and the Terrans declared war.

Known Space might readily be divided into four quarters; not equal in size, but similarly distant from each-other. The first quarter holds only the star-cluster which was the Altarians', and now was split between the Thalans and Korath. It had been an irrelevant backwater for the past three year, and would remain so in the Great War. The second quarter had been the Torians'; now a fifth of it was in Terran hands, with the remainder evenly split between the Thalans and the Terrans. Its worlds had been powerful once; now ruined by warfare, they were unable to contribute to the initial stages of the war. (A notable exception would be the planets of the Minor Races, taken by the Korath before they invented Spore Weapons; their manufacturing might would prove vital for the war to come.) The third quarter was largely in Thalan control, with a few pockets reserved for the Arceans and the Yor (now at war with each-other), as well as isolated Terran and Korath colonies. From the latter the Korath would launch occasional raids, but the Thalan heartland was thickly filled with war-fleets, and the meagre Korath presence could make no impact on them. So we come to the last quarter of Known Space, the major theater for the first part of the war: the cluster split between Korath and Terran.


The Thallasians were armed with a small fleet of 33 capable spacecraft, which they defended their border with adamantine grit and determination. The Korths on the other hand had only a handful of small unimpressive space frigates but their determination to fight to the death would prove a powerful weapon. On the forefront of battle the commander of the Korths forces cried out over the telecommunications, "Prepare to be penetrated like a nubile virgin." The Thallasians, not prepared to withstand such an offense retorted, "That I shall be glad to take it, in any position, at any time, so bring it on." The interchange continued, "You shall be ravaged in every lustful manner known to either of our races" "Come and get me, you muscular cretine". The battle began. Amidst the firing the captains of the main Thallasian spacecraft captured the frigate of the Korenth commander and they proceeded to brawl physically as soon as they saw each other. But then things took a turn for the unexpected as the commander of the Koreth suddenly stripped off the battle armour of the Thalassian captains trousers. Then they embraced and ripped off all of their clothes in full view of the subordinate officers on board. Compelled by this the subordinate officers too joined in and commenced a bacchanalian event of immense magnitude. They remained in each others embrace until such times as the Teran space command took a laser to the space craft and demolished, thus ending a most bloody war.


(Draft written Oct. 20, 2008; conclusion written May 19, 2009.)

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