So, for those not in the know, I am very much a fan of Stellaris, Paradox's sci-fi grand strategy game. Eagerly anticipating the upcoming Utopia DLC and having reread some Iain M Banks, decided to start a second game of Stellaris, as my first save was reliant on v1.1 of the game. So I've started a game in Kennedy - that's v1.4.
Had enough fun that I was inspired to start a mini-AAR in the universe the game generated - hope the prologue is enjoyable.
Reaver Ironspear, Simtinasca System, Orion Arm, Outer Galactic Rim - Year 3951 [Corsair Calendar]
The frigate-class Reaver “Ironspear” broke hard to the left as it exited the jump lane into the Simtinasca System, expecting an ambush. Redtooth Clan Second Captain Camhail Lodestock deployed the odd scrambler to mask his hyperlane trail, accustomed to the dangers of the Orion Arm, and awaiting the blare of an alarm.
No ambush came, of course. Which was small wonder considering his passenger, a hulking arthropod behemoth around three times the humanoid Camhail's size. Even in the lawless systems of slavers, pirates, corsairs, and deserters that formed what passed for space-faring society in the Arm, there was one simple rule; never refuse, obstruct, or even hinder a Zaxxoid that happens for whatever unfortunate reason to venture beyond the Gamus Veil and into your path. (A lesson taught promptly, brutally, and unforgivingly in the event of ignorance.)
It had therefore been a shock for Camhail Lodestock – a respected, if aged racing pilot of the Hark system long since passed his prime – to not only have been summoned on a mission sanctioned and protected by the six reaver habitats, but to find that the mission involved a subject spoken, squeaked, hissed, and bleeped of in hushed tones for centuries on refuelling stations and trade posts. Rogue Zaxxoid.
The Zaxxoid Remnant
For as long as the various races of the hodgepodge anarchy that was reaver society could remember, the Gamus Veil - a vast nebula that began on the far end of the Orion Arm - had always been Zaxxoid. While Camhail himself was descended from a mix of races who had over time become so adapted to low-g environments as to find the concept of living on planets archaic, the even more ancient inhabitants of the Gamus Veil were still a mystery.
The Zaxxoid had always been in the Veil, despite technological ability bordering on the obscene, far in advance of any other known species. And for reasons never quite clear, they stayed on their planets and habs, while their numbers and ambitions stagnated into decline. Any ship which sought to enter their territory was swiftly ejected or destroyed; and while they generally didn't venture beyond their own systems, an upstart reaver clan trying to settle on their doorstep might temporarily alter the policy (for which read, aforementioned lessons retaught and relearnt).
Practically nothing was known of the Zaxxoid beyond that. They called themselves the Remnant, but of what, noone knew. Their attitude towards less advanced forms of life was much as a corsair might view an insect underneath his boot. Despite the fact that the Zaxxoid did not in any case wear boots, Camhail had no interest in being accidentally squished.
The several dozen systems between the Gamus Veil and the planet-bound species in the Inner Galaxy that was the Orion Arm had remained relatively lawless (and free) in part due to the eradication of any species emerging on the Zaxxoid border. As a result, it was a bastion of anarchic enterprise, with the scum of the galactic sector forming cartels, smuggling rings, slave markets, and primitive hunts.
This was despite the best efforts of various more ordered civilisations. Most recent of these were the Chelgrians, a bunch of superstitious apes from the Inner Galaxy who had but recently discovered space flight. Despite the best efforts of Camhail's compatriots, they had begun mining operations on the edge of corsair space, seeking to bring their own brand of zealotry and religious slavery to the Arm.
Disputed Chelgrian mining operations in the Orion Arm
Rumours persisted however that the Zaxxoid were not as uniformly insular as they made out. Over the centuries, rogue individuals would escape, flee, or be sent beyond their space, meddling among primitive civilisations for a time or searching for long-lost knowledge, before usually being captured and returned by the Remnant for whatever punishment awaited them. The problem was that the Zaxxoid did not like to send their ships on such retrieval missions. Likely because, were the ship lost, whoever salvaged the remains would possess technology with which to conquer half the spiral arm overnight. As such, they preferred to pay less advanced races to deliver their citizens as glorified chauffeurs and prison guards.
And so, Camhail had been ordered by his superiors, unusually and in no uncertain terms, to rendevouz on the edge of Remnant space. He had never seen, let alone met a Zaxxoid – but upon being boarded by four carapaced creatures of varying colour and size he could nonetheless confirm they were more than large enough to squash him with barely an arthropoid afterthought. He was confined to quarters while they refitted the Ironspear to their own needs, before finding himself alone aboard ship with a single remaining Remnant operative, en route to the Starmagg system.
His passenger, partner, captor, or guest, whatever it was, had only left it's quarters twice during the weeks-long voyage since. His own scanners could not penetrate the hold, and nor could they make sense of the creature's biosigns beneath the carapace when it emerged. He didn't even know if it had a name, and it didn't volunteer one either.
But he had at least been given a basic briefing file by the Zaxxoid on his own part in the mission. The rogue individual had apparently travelled with a fairly basic ship, by Remnant standards, to the Starmagg System on the inner rim of the Orion Arm.
Starmagg I, or Bwaakar to the locals
They had not specified which of the two habitable worlds in the system it was; but it seemed likely to him to be Bwaakar, populated by a bunch of primitive plantoids only just mastering atomic theory, and only just recovering from various slaver raids and low-level indigenous warfare. The other planet had little beyond an interesting race-course used by the cyclical betting syndicates, and a long-abandoned duelling arena.
Several days after entering Simtinasca, his engines began charging once more to open the hyperlane into Starmagg. His initial excitement had passed, and now he longed to end this rather dull mission. Obliging the need for false secrecy of an elder race much as a child might oblige a senile grandfather had grown tiring. But it brought a grin to his outer teeth to think of his own grandchildren, and a pang of longing for home.
His passenger came on the bridge for the final jump, the only communication an aside on the primitive nature of hyperlane travel. It was a relief when they successfuly entered the gravity well of Starmagg. Five planets greeted the bridge holoscreen around a single yellow dwarf, with two showing viable biospheres. At least the rogue hasn't blown up the Djuun.
The Starmagg System
The Zaxxoid ended the ominous silence.
"Enter an orbit of Starmagg I, Primitive Officer Lodestone. Sensors indicate low-tier space vessels incoming to the system, but these shall not interfere with retrieval."
"So you'll finally get the guy, huh. What then?"
"You are not privy to such information."
"Fried? Jailed? Eaten? How long has he been on the run for, anyway?"
"He has been absent for sixty-three of your standard orbital cycles."
"Sixty-three years? And you're only just sending someone?"
"There is no need for haste, Primitive Officer Lodestone - as you can see, this planet is no danger to us. Now, we shall enter orbit on the following course."
His presence from thereon in became a formality, the hulking alien steering his ship above the dry and dusty plains. Below, industrial cities belched black smoke into the air of Bwaakar, while the strange plantoid Djuun on the river plains cultivated baser crops as food, and animals as prey. Even a cursory glance confirmed the planet suffered with the worst excesses of industrialisation, and radiation levels were elevated. They entered a geostationary orbit over the largest alien city, while the Zaxxoid activated a cloak over the ship and returned to his quarters without a word.
That should fool any watching Djuun, anyway. He briefly considered trying to hack the cloaking software, but he was now completely locked out of his own ship, bar comms and sensor data. Eventually he returned to his own quarters, dozing off in his bunk, until his ear jolted at the sound of the Zaxxoid several hours later.
"Primitive Officer Lodestone, awaken. I am now departing the ship for the surface. I have identified a Remnant signal within the city and am now proceeding to track down our objective. Please remain ready to depart, and I shall return shortly."
Finding that he could do little else, he entertained himself listening in to Djuun radio broadcasts from his bunk. The music was terrible, but he enjoyed the various theories explainign the disappearance of nearly three million individuals in the Whitecrown Clan's raid a century ago, generally blaming anything from demons to more mortal, planetbound enemies.
What they might give to know their descendants are raised as livestock for those barbarians not a hundred light years from here.
His relaxation ended however, when a single signal started to replace the discussions - and all other station frequencies. Bounding to the bridge, he first feared the Remnant operative had been compromised. Translation software finally kicked in again, however, and the voice - originally broadcast in broken Djuun - echoed through the ship on repeat.
"We come as teachers to the Djuun of Bwaakar. In the beginning was the Untold, and Darkness. Then came the Light of Undaunted, of Percipient, and The Benefactress; and with them Truth. The Chelgrian Confederacy brings light to this darkness, and shall reward those who submit to Ascension. But those who reject Truth and the Path to Enlightenment shall be destroyed. We come as teachers to the Djuun of Bwaakar..."
From the dark side of the planet, a flotilla of large transport ships gradually came into view over the horizon, small landers detaching en route to the surface. With them a thorough bombardment began of the cities, the Djuun forces confused by EMP blasts and signal jamming.
Low-tier space vessels indeed.
It took several more minutes for him to note his own predicament, as collision alarms sounded. Locked out from his own controls by the Zaxxoid systems, and with no means to decloak and avoid doom, the last thing Camhail saw from the bridge of the Ironspear was a Chelgrian troopship coming straight towards him, blind to the obstacle between them and the Djuun city below...