16 – Wolves

Thousands of lightyears fringeward of the Kelsor, in an uninhabited star system deep within the Persean Rift, a herd of private refining barges grazed upon the crystals of water ice and dust of a vast planetary ring system orbiting a massive gas giant. The individual members of this thousand-strong herd were so distant from one another as to be invisible by the unaided eye, so they kept track of each other using a combination of optics and sensors. Each vessel used a focused, gravitic tractor system to propel streams of icy debris into a collector where it would be condensed and processed into a military synthevar of Alliance design. This omnium would then be compressed and shipped; destined for use as energy and building material for local Alliance development projects.

     The captain of one of the barges slouched down in his chair in the ventrally-located bridge. His arm dangled from its armrest. Between his fingers rested a smoldering cigarette that he lifted to his mouth periodically, taking a puff—the end glowing orange from the flow of fresh air—and then blowing a stream of smoke between his teeth. To the side of his view through the forward OPEL panels was a lumigraph playing programming carried over subspace, bouncing between transmitters for hundreds of lightyears. Despite being in Civilized Space, the distance from actual civilization was too great for Subnet reception. The program’s fidelity was low, and it muddled the picture and sound, but it was the best the captain had.

     The blue light from the distant star, filtered through the OPEL panels, was the only real illumination the bridge had. This kept the dingy, metal room bright in one half and very dim in the other. If the captain hadn’t been so preoccupied with the show he was watching, he might have noticed a bright sparkling from an object drifting among the field of crystals.

     “Captain,” a crew member said over EM-comms.

     The captain sighed and asked, “What is it, man?”

     “We, uh… we pulled something out of the matter stream. I think you should see this.”

     “Just send me a lume, will ya?” The captain returned to watching his show and took another puff of his cigarette. Two minutes later, a lumigraph appeared next to the captain’s video showing a picture of the metallic object. It appeared to be several meters long. The captain, immediately recognizing its shape, got up from his chair and walked down to matter processing. The object was certainly manmade, and it was none other than a Republic probe.

     Occupying about fifteen percent of the galaxy, Civilized Space is the region directly administered by any formal state government. Put another way, Civilized Space is the volume composed of the maximum extent of the ancient Miridan Empire and its colonial expansions, plus the development since then. Politics within Civilized Space are defined by three superpowers: the Federation, Republic, and Alliance.

     The Orionan Federal Republic occupies the minor arm of Orion and contains all six Sister Worlds. With a culture inspired by the late pre-interstellar and early interstellar Elestan and Zelnaran civilizations, the Federation leans matriarchal. Their government practices a type of hybrid democracy-technocracy, and the pressure of merit adds to the difficulty of an already competitive society. Overall, the Federation seeks knowledge above all and aggressively pursues technological superiority.

     The Peoples’ Interstellar Republic resides within Perseus, the arm of the galaxy fringeward of Orion and separated from the Federation by the relatively-sparse sea known as Thalassia Orionis. Operating under a unitary government, the Republic strives to maintain an egalitarian society presided over by a political oligarchy. Supporting a massive population compared to the other two, the Republic values service and overwhelming manpower.

     Also occupying Perseus, though further downspin from both the Federation and the Republic, is the confederation of states known as the Persean Corporate Alliance. Each “state” within the Alliance is actually a megacorporation that runs semi-independently from the others: performing its own administration, providing its own security, and maintaining its own currency, at least until about two centuries ago. In the current age, the Alliance has truly become a unified entity that desires prosperity and the accumulation of wealth.

     Five-thousand years ago, the Empire of Mirida established itself within modern Tribesson and grew to subsume all of downspin Orion. After the Miridan Civil War—still the costliest and deadliest war in recorded history—the Empire advanced technology and human biology to heights that are still marveled by present-day historians and scholars. The Miridans pioneered significant human life extension, warp, jump, gateways, and lumionics. The Miridan government coordinated wave after wave of expansion into Perseus and the more dangerous and denser Sagittarius. After a thousand years, this very expansion ultimately led to its violent collapse, plunging Civilized Space into an Age of Darkness followed by an Age of Conflict which has yielded to the current Age of Peace. Most academics believe Civilized Space finally surpassed the height of Miridan technology just five-hundred years ago, and leaps and bounds have been made since including REMASS, hyperwarp, VARICOR, and synthevars.

     Stability had been maintained by a mutual, three-way rivalry between the superpowers. Had war been declared by one upon a second, the third would have opportunistically engaged the first. But, when the Alliance ushered in greater unification, it encouraged the Federation and Republic to forge tighter cooperation with each other. Today, Civilized Space is separated by the Great Rift. On the upspin side sits the Federation and Republic; the downspin side the Alliance. The coreward region is referred to as the Orionan Rfit; the fringeward portion as the Persean Rift. Development within the Rift has largely been stifled by the three superpowers and remains backwater territory despite occupying the heart of Civilized Space.

     Feeling bolder against its neighbor as a result of its maturing partnership with the Federation, the Republic Navy engages in a perpetual conflict against the Alliance over claims to star systems within the Persean Rift. This conflict is dubbed the Invisible War for it resembles a formal war in nearly every way save formal declarations. To date, the Invisible War has claimed more lives than any other armed conflict in the Age of Peace.

     A pack of three Republic long-range missile cruisers lurked like hunters in the darkness one-and-a-half lightyears away in interstellar space. The captain of the lead vessel stood out of his seat and discussed the information displayed on two- and three-dimensional lumigraphs with his female first officer. As officers, both were dressed in gray uniforms complete with black neckties and belts, gray peaked hats, pants for males, skirts and black hose for females, gold buttons, gold trim, and endowed in several places with the blue Union Circle emblem of the Republic. Like most Republic vessels, their bridge was located deep within the ship.

     “Rellia,” the captain said. His voice had an accent unique to the Republic. A blue female figure with a striking resemblance to Fiori materialized as a three-dimensional lumigraph.

     “Sir?” Rellia responded. She stood at ease like a soldier.

     The captain paused for a moment to interrogate the lumigraph of the planet’s rings and the refining ships before ordering, “Can you give us a clean sweep of those rings?”

     “Firing solutions already calculated, captain,” Rellia said with a smile. “They account for sharing the targets between all three ships. This is the most efficient firing pattern.” The lumigraph changed to show warhead detonation sites covering most of the ring system. All of the refining vessels would be caught within the explosion radius of at least one missile.

     The captain turned to his first officer and said, “What do you think of this?”

     “Everything looks good,” the executive officer told him. “We should begin preparations immediately.”

     “You heard her, Rellia,” the captain stated.

     “Understood. Beginning launch preparations”

     Missile tube doors opened on the dorsal and ventral surfaces of each ship. There were forty such tubes per cruiser, and from each tube three missiles launched within eight seconds of each other. The ships became blossoming flowers of destruction as they surrounded themselves with rockets driven by plasma engines propelling warheads carefully containing pre-fabricated antimatter reservoirs. Bridge officers monitored the weapons as they more-or-less instantaneously activated their self-contained, miniature jump drives to close their distance to their targets in a matter of seconds. Nearby probes recorded the mass detonation of the warheads that created a halo of light around the planet where the rings had been just moments before. After the explosions subsided many minutes later, the probes showed that giant perforations now existed within the rings.

     “Verify the status of our targets,” the captain ordered.

    “So far,” the commander stated, “none remain.”

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