In Sector 75B4, located roughly in the space traditionally occupied by the constellation Virgo, there is an unremarkable system of three planets orbiting a blue-green star. Apart from being tangentially involved in the Second Intersystem War, human history has hardly noted this solar system's existence save to catalog it (RRZ 49) and its planets (RRZ 49-I, 49-II, and 49-III).
All three planets were poor candidates for terraforming--the first two were simply out of the proper temperature range, and RRZ 49-III had an actively poisonous atmosphere wrapped around what could only charitably be described as a planet-sized swamp. The vagaries of war and the projected colonization ranking of the planet put it safely out of the interest of human eyes.
It would be strange, then, for an explorer to view the planet from orbit today. Were they to scan the atmosphere of RRZ 49-III, they would find the volatile chemicals mostly absent (or at least bearable), and the swamps...well, the swamps would still be there--more biologically active and lush than even the most optimistic terraforming projections.
On this world, life has begun anew, in many ways...and ancient traditions have been restored.
The sun was making its way to sleep now; it shone a deep blue as it filtered through the thick, heady atmosphere of Home. The torches had been lit some minutes before, though, for the night came quickly, and the 'moons' (Young Sister and Sun-Hunter) were both hiding tonight. A good night to tell the story of the People
, thought Elder Ka'lesh'pa as he took up his cane. Many will come, especially now that they have heard...
Ka'lesh'pa lifted the hanging that covered the door of his traditional hut and gazed at the plaza below him. Many indeed
, he thought; at least several hundred of the Leshi had found places around the Tale--the central space where the history and traditional stories of the People were shared. Usually, there would be many storytellers and dancers in the Tale, singing stories to the young and curious. Tonight, for the most important story of the Leshi, there was only one--and all would watch him raptly as Ka'lesh'pa spun the Tale.
Time to begin
, he thought--only a little regretful that his dancing years had passed him by.
Ka'lesh'pa passed through the hangings and gave an ululating cry of victory. Like many things of the Leshi, this shout of joy was rare, and hearing it brought the raucous crowd to instant, respectful silence; their rounded, wrinkled heads came to bear as one on the young hunter standing at the center of the plaza.
Tall and lithe (for the Leshi, who stooped naturally), this youth wore little but the traditional hunting breeches of his people and a wickedly-barbed spear, clutched tightly in both hands. Ka'lesh'pa nodded, and the hunter brandished his spear before him while the elder sang in the traditional speech:
'Hear me, O People! Hear the Tale of our Home!'
'In ages long past, we lived on our Home;
We were born, and lived, and loved on our Home.
We hunted, and watched our young;
We sung Tales and ever-watched the Sun and stars.'
As Ka'lesh'pa sang, the torches flared more brightly, and thick smoke began to rise from the ground. The hunter made his way around the plaza, spinning and leaping through the air, and as the smoke curled into vaguely bestial shapes before him, his spear would lash out, felling the insubstantial enemies left and right. Behind him, the dying clouds reformed into the shapes of Leshi, gathering in number as the hunter protected his People.
'In ages long past, we sought to seek the Sun and stars;
We set our hunting-boats to the starry waters
and sailed the skies.
Thus in our folly did we seek to tame the heavens.'
The young hunter was in the center of the Plaza once more, kneeling in a low-lying cloud of fog. His spear was astride his hips now, and he used it as an oar, paddling slowly through the thinner smoke to either side of him. The torches dimmed again as he 'sailed' towards the stars, where Ka'lesh'pa stood.
'Thus were we tamed,' sang Ka'lesh'pa, and here the people let out a sigh of distress;
'Thus was the proud Hunter tamed,
Thus were the People tamed,
Thus did the People lose their Home.'
In the Tale, the hunter was suddenly confronted by an amorphous, noxious-looking cloud of green fog. He leapt from his boat, stabbing again and again at the fog-shape, but this time it would not recede. With a ephemeral roar, it leaped forward, swallowing the Leshi whole before moving to engulf the ghost-Leshi behind him. In a matter of moments, the entire Tale was a mass of fog, and silence ruled the Plaza.
Ka'lesh'pa took up his cane and brandished it, setting the smoke to spin away into the sky; on the plaza kneeled the hunter, his spear broken, his body bound. This had been the fate of the Leshi countless centuries ago--taken and enslaved by a race that sought their strength.
'We sailed the stars without joy,
'Dying and striving and giving our children
To our pitiless masters, until the day
That we were delivered...'
Ka'lesh'pa and the people watching the Tale looked up to the sky, where the smoke had coalesced into a tableau of a hundred clashing monsters. At the peak, a six-winged hunting bird struck deep furrows into the back of a slug-like monstrosity, shrieking hatefully as it threw the creature to earth. The mortally wounded apparation fell through the center of the field, crashing over the motionless hunter in a torrent of bilious green while the other fog-monsters scattered to nothingness overhead.
The Plaza fell silent, watching intently. Ka'lesh'pa stepped forward to the edge of the Tale, shaking his cane before him as if to ward away the fog. It complied slowly...reluctantly revealing the hunter, free of his bonds, spear in hand, striking wildly at the sky.
' cried Ka'lesh'pa in his joy.
'Delivered from our torment!
Delivered by our saviors!
Free to sail the skies once more!'
' cried the crowd. 'Delivered! Delivered!
The hunter kneeled down again, making as if to row once more, but this time the boat of fog was the bird of prey, slashing its wings joyously through the Tale; seeing this, the hunter let out a warcry and hefted his spear, pointing up towards the stars. The crowd roared in response, pumping their fists in the air and raising their voices in a repeated chorus: 'Delivered! Delivered!
Ka'lesh'pa's voice held command over the crowd; they quieted themselves almost instantly.
our saviors must be delivered.
must free them from their torment;
must sail the stars to save them--
For they who saved us must not perish!
Ka'lesh'pa gestured with wide arms, and the lights of the Plaza came up, and up, and up...beyond the torchlight, beyond the elder's hut, beyond even the Plaza itself; buildings and towers, roads and solar collectors, and beyond it all the gleaming outlines of floodlights on a ready-to-launch spacecraft.
'We must save them!
And the Leshi cried in one voice:
'Save the humans!
Chapter I: Perspective
13 cycles ago (approx. 3900 Solar years), a party of peaceful Ymich explorers encountered an unknown object moving through their space. This metallic being shone like no asteroid or comet that they had ever seen before; more excitingly, it rode the Black Ocean on an actinic plume of fire. This, mind-spoke the Ymich, seemed to be the fabled proof that they had been looking for—life! Intelligent life! They simply had to make contact with it!
As the creature approached them, they spread their tentacles in a gesture of peace. They rejoiced as they saw how the metal life-form heeded their greeting, drifting slowly amongst them and suffering their clumsy, tentative touches of greeting. They tried to mind-speak, but the ship was silent save for tiny pinpricks of confusion and fear; the Ymich could not understand this. Surely such an advanced creature could communicate to them? Perhaps the connection needed to be stronger!
This well-intentioned thought led the scientists to wrap their tentacles around the ship, seeking a better mental bond. That was also the point where the human research team aboard the Argosy decided that the jellyfish-like creatures’ painful mental probes had crossed the line from ‘interesting’ to ‘life-threatening’. Defensive lasers on the vessel quickly deployed, incinerating the forward Ymich team before they had time to be surprised at the sudden activity.
Shocked by this sudden violence, the remaining Ymich fled back to their homeworld, with the Argosy following at a respectful distance. They warned the people of the horrible creature, and they responded gloriously—soaring in a unified wave from the low gravity of their gaseous planet. How they puffed their tentacles at the metal monster! The interloper, obviously cowed by their strength, spun on its axis and fled like a gas-skitterling as the Ymich cheered and wondered at its flight.
Six weeks later, an Intersystem Fleet battleship jumped into the system, scanned the Ymich homeworld, and ordered a precautionary terraclast deployment.
It would take hundreds of years before the remnants of the Ymich culture recovered enough to flee the shattered gas clouds that used to be their world. They contacted ancient friends among the Denebrai and Shan’ga; from them, they learned the ways of metal and technology. They borrowed and stole (when it suited them); they planned and adapted. Most importantly, they learned the name of those who had ruined them—human. Argosy. This was the name they would assume three thousand years later, as their Man O’ Wars and Sunrays used stolen terraclast technology to systematically purge the colonies of the human infestation. The battles raged from world to world and system to system as the Intersystem Fleets, heretofore unbeaten, found themselves giving ground to suddenly-superior and better-equipped fleets.
Losing an entire colony was rare, but it had happened before—most notably as the precursor to the Thompsonite Conflict in 6300CE (see related article). However, this was no freak accident or stumbling invasion; it was well-orchestrated and researched genocide. And it moved, inexorably, towards the home systems. Colonies hired mercenaries, petitioned for Intersystem Fleet support; all measures proved futile. The number of human worlds continued to shrink from an all-time high of 950 (in 7822CE) to just over fifty in the span of nine hundred years.
It was at this time that the Inter-Colony Government, in combination with the Intersystem Guilds, made the decision that an extinction scenario was not only likely but imminent. The systems left to humanity were more densely guarded, but the Argosy fleets continued to increase; decisive battles would surely be fought, but they would ultimately not end up in humanity’s favor. Instead, a massive pooling of resources and manpower was allocated to the ancient production fields at Barnard’s Star. There, the colonies drew up plans for an Exodus of sorts—they would send a large pool of human colonists into hibernation, assemble them onto a giant colony Ark, and send them (along with a protective fleet of ISF ships) far out along the galactic arm, hopefully well away from the attentions of the Argosy. During the trip and subsequent settlement, they would try to develop countermeasures to defeat their foe.
Construction of the Ark and assembly of the settler population began immediately upon approval of the plan (Month 3, 7823CE). Approximately forty-eight million colonists answered the call to Exodus; as they began the long process of hibernation processing, production arrays began to assemble the kilometers-long fortress that would house their cryo-units and send them to safety. Guild ships of all stripes began plying the trade lanes closer to Earth, too, feeding the growing Ark, supplying its workers, and attempting to keep a watchful eye on the distant skies.
It took almost three hundred years to manufacture, field-test, and load the Ark, all of this done in the highest possible confidence—notwithstanding the fact that every human being knew of the Argosy threat, and that worlds continued to fall as the years ticked by. By 8102CE, the remains of the Inter-Colony Government convened once again to give their final reports--the Ark was prepared to specifications; the settlers were loaded and cleared. It would be as safe as ‘humanly possible’…certainly safer than living on the human worlds, where only three systems now remained free of the Argosy. If the ISF did not launch the Ark soon, there would not be any chance to leave undetected. It was time for humanity to flee the field.