Coalescence

fiction by Christopher T. Shields




The Time of the Old Giants

When this galaxy was still new, when the oldest stars were still young, hot and bright, the Old Giants arrived from afar and chose to rest here but for a short while. Their stay and their influence among the life they found here in this galaxy were remarkable, and would have far reaching consequences that would trickle down through the following eons.

The Old Giants were slowly dying out, their natural longevity fast approaching the end. Some believe that their journey though this galaxy was part of some racial pilgrimage before the dark end. What few thousand members remained of their nomadic race walked freely among the stars of the great spiral galaxy. Their interstellar quest for a way to extend their race, to perhaps even see the close of this universe, resulted in a slow stellar migration. The fact that their path brought them through this area of the universe may have been by accident, or the rich gardens of stellar gas may have attracted their attention. Whatever it was that they found here made them stay for a short while, at least as time was measured by their standards. Slowing in their stellar migration, they, however, never truly stopped their journey. Their much reduced pace carried them slowly across the rim of the galaxy, moving anti-spinward across the flat of the galactic disc. As they migrated, they methodically spread the seeds of advanced life among the systems they passed through, in keeping with their ways and beliefs, which could be compared somewhat to that of caring gardeners. Perhaps finding such an abundant source of the building blocks of life caused the Old Giants to pass on the gift of life, the core of sentience, in their wake, to share the gift that had been granted to them oh so very long ago.

Sometimes, the Old Giants would reshape entire worlds, purify atmospheres, tune stars, or manipulate the orbits of particular worlds in order to better suit the life that they planted on the planets therein. Their skills and power allowed them to build gas giants from the swirls of exotic gasses that floated in the vacuum of space, and to ignite those gas giants into stable, long lived stars to warm the planets where the Old Giants seeded life.

For over forty two million years, the Old Giants slowly moved across a large portion of the anti-spinward rim, and, then, almost at once, they departed this galaxy for an indeterminate destination, taking up their interstellar migration once again and leaving behind more questions than answers as to their mysterious nature. The gifts that they left behind, the seeds of myriad strains of life, would take hold and grow in the gardens that the Old Giants had so carefully cultivated. The Old Giants also left behind traces of their stay on certain planets scattered throughout the rim, evidence of their presence in the form of ancient artifacts, clearly manipulated feats of stellar engineering, and incredibly complex and labyrinthine fully automated sites spread across and below the surface of both fertile and dead worlds; tokens of their mysterious legacy, perhaps their unrealized dreams. In any event, these artifacts served to point through the long eons ever upward to the stars, and to show those who discovered them the one true way.

As to the fate of the Old Giants and their story, that is a tale for another time for their departure brought to an end the Time of the Old Giants and ushered forth the Time of Awakening.

The Time of Awakening

The legacy of the Old Giants was the fertile region of the galaxy known as the Shining Way. Seven strong races rose from those long ago planted seeds to achieve dominance on their own individual worlds, to shape the tools of survival, and to carve unique civilizations from the varied natures of their home worlds. Their collective racial desire to reach out to the stars and journey beyond their natural worldly bounds may have been an artificial instinct, one that had been instilled in their genetic code by those who had shaped their nature and given them life so many long eons ago.

The Azhalei, Tabryni, Chrochro, Mharjhuk, Byndhaji, Apsteropi and the Xytytl; seven strong, emerging space faring races that could each lay claim to ancestral birth-rites within the Shining Way, an area rich in habitable planets and swept throughout with large nebula, the remains of stillborn stars wafting back from the beginning of time, perhaps the discarded remains of grand and unimaginable projects that the Old Giants never completed or simply grew disinterested in.

Long ago, each of the races had multiplied over the surface of their home worlds and subsequently advanced in short order to the point where they could spread out from their home, flowing first into orbit, then to the nearby moons, then out into their home systems, colonizing the other planets, their population spreading as they mined the resources found therein, and moving ever further beyond out into the galaxy in search of more materials for their emerging civilizations.

The races were all ambitious, hungry, young, and growing at an exponential rate.

Their desires were kindled by the beauty of the stars and the unknown that lay beyond their grasp or knowledge. The seeds of life that had been planted so long ago had sprouted, and become a unique garden among the stars, rich in life, diverse in nature, and slowly filling in the empty space between them. The mysterious artifacts left behind on each race’s home world had pointed towards the stars, and given inspiration to seek the truth beyond their own home. With the multi-racial expansion to the stars, the Time of Awakening drew to a close and the Time of Expansion came forth.

The Time of Expansion

Much time passed, even as time is measured by the cosmos. Racial borders slowly but surely expanded, each of the races, always cautious of the unknown, were eager to establish dominance on any world or in any system that could be adapted to support their kind. They followed in the paths of the Old Giants, learning from the mysterious race of beings and the technology they had left behind. Greater and greater technology evolved as the distances grew longer but the length of the journey grew shorter. The seven races truly began to take large steps out into the galaxy. Distances became annoyances rather than obstacles, and the worlds blossomed in life, rich, diverse life, carefully tended by each race.

As each race began to move farther and farther away from their ancestral home world, unknowingly slowly moving towards each other, it was inevitable that they would eventually meet in the depths of space. When first contact finally happened, so drew to a close the Time of Expansion and a new time would come upon them all. A time not easily forgotten as it would forever scar those who called the Shining Way their home. Such a time was a time of war and conflict, of pain and suffering. It was a time known as the First Time of War.

The First Time of War

When contact between the myriad races finally did occur, it was resolved with the more primal emotions that each race had long sought to suppress, the primitive survival instincts that had been critically pivotal in bringing each race so far out into interstellar space was a guiding factor in their response to meeting something different from them, in meeting alien life. For while life existed in great abundance in the Shining Way, intelligent life did not. Fear, a lack of basic understanding, gross racial ignorance or perhaps even simple miscommunication soon led to great conflicts between the seven races, long wars that burned worlds to cinders, extinguished the fires of whole stars, stilled forever the solar winds, and lit the heavens and the nebulas in the stark fires of wrath, revenge, and intolerance.

Much was lost in the First Time of War. The galaxy teetered on the brink of a long, dark descent into chaos and ruin from which it might never recover again. Entire systems were drained of resources as each race systematically stripped entire worlds and even complete systems of their minerals and materials, down to the very cores of the planets and gas giants, all in order to assemble massive fleets of war and send countless starships deep into their enemy’s borders and against the enemy’s planets and populations.

The First Time of War lasted for many generations. Amidst the unthinkable anguish and the immeasurable destruction, deeper thinkers on all sides began to establish reason, to calm those who insisted on the madness, and to soothe the differences between the various belligerent races. Through all of the conflict, one fact began to emerge. Each race, though vastly different, had a unique key embedded in their genetic makeup, a key that was exactly the same among each race, showing that somewhere, far, long ago, that another race had given them each the unique gift of sentience and had pointed them towards the stars. With this great realization, the stirrings of peace began to form among the battle scarred stars.

Insanity began to wilt in the stark glow of logic and reason. Strategic and technological stalemates became uneasy ceasefires that held and were honored for generations. Long standing ceasefires, over even more time, eventually became tenuous treaties, and in the time beyond that, even the most tenuous of treaties became fledgling alliances between the races.

Alliances grew stronger, reinforcing the bonds between what had generations ago been the bitterest of enemies.

War, in its most simplest definition, can be described as the continuation of diplomacy using alternate means. As is usually the case, war is a temporary state of affairs, even when war is waged on such a monumental scale across so many fronts. War often leads to greater understanding, provided that those involved can survive the initial conflict and are wise enough to learn from their mistakes or settle their disagreements. Thus, history will show that as all things must do, the Time of War faded, filling the history books instead of the heavens. Perhaps it was yet another fine manipulation of the genetic code left behind by the mysterious Old Giants, but war did not seem to be the natural order of things, and with great wisdom came great understanding, and the realization that more could be accomplished through mutual effort and cooperation than through conflict.

The New Children of the Old Giants had matured, but at a terrible cost.

Massive disarming occurred between all races, as forces on all borders were slowly dissolved to the bare minimum required to maintain a racial presence.

The advanced technology of war was then turned to more peaceful efforts and reconstruction began in earnest among the former enemies. Soldiers and warriors crossed borders, not to invade, but to render assistance, to rebuild what they had once torn down, and to bring aid to those who still suffered. Huge fleets of war became fleets of peace, carrying not weapons of destruction, but implements of construction, their munition holds now filled with medicines and food and basic supplies. Entire populations were transported from unstable worlds to new homes, and given the chance to start again under new skies and new stars.

The lessons of war were not lost on the seven races, nor the fact that they had all been given an incredible gift, long ago. A gift that they had almost, collectively, squandered over petty reasons and abject ignorance.

Slowly, the seven races joined together to rebuild their collective civilizations, to honor their dead, to build monuments to their fallen, to learn from their mistakes, to share knowledge about the universe and to learn about each other. Diplomats soon replaced soldiers, and after five generations of cautious peace and undeniable prosperity, the seven races finally met on common ground to forge an alliance based on mutual understanding, tolerance, respect and a desire to not only coexist, but also to profit from it for each race had much to teach, but each race also had much to learn.

The seven races donated vast areas of space at the edge of their mutual boundaries, so that all the freely given space formed a smaller area within the much larger area. This area was designated as a neutral area, where all races met as one and none held more authority than any other.

Deep within the newly formed neutral area, an alliance that was stronger than any other in collective history was forming, modeling itself on an economic and scientific foundation rather than a political, military, or religious one. An alliance that was also created to prevent another war of such a monumental and catastrophic scale from ever occurring again, driven by the fact that each of the races held a genetic key to their past, each race had the cellular signature of the Old Giants in their genetic makeup. This fact alone was the single most prevalent element which had worked to bring about peace, a common bond between the races, and a mystery to be studied. As the Old Giants had left evidence of their presence on each of the home worlds of the individual races, including genetic material sealed in ancient tombs, each of the races had known for sometime their link to the past and their connection with the Old Giants, but only when the corpses of their enemies were studied, did the links become evident that somewhere in the far past, all races had been given an incredible gift, one not meant to be squandered in petty argument.

The remains of their still vast racial fleets were dismantled and relegated to a vast floating graveyard orbiting a dim star, some serving as museums of a darker past. The graveyard was left in the capable hands of automated attendants and complex defenses to deter those who might let their greed get the better of their common sense.

With the last of the old warships interned, thus came to an end the First Time of War.

The Time of Understanding

The Binding Pledge of Voices, sometimes referred to simply as the Trade Authority, was born out of the ashes of the First Time of War. It was an impressive governing body with equal representation for every inhabited world and each of the seven races regardless of population or makeup.

Representation was present not only for sellers, but for buyers as well with extensive effort given to prevent corruption on all levels. The Binding Pledge of Voices was fair but stern, its rule was absolute and final, but just. Few sought to usurp the rule and law of the Binding Pledge of Voices for it was the political and governing body that was the frame work which held the seven races together in peace. Early examples were made with harsh penalties and measurements meted out to the parties involved. After that, celestial order began to appear in the Shining Way and quickly spread throughout civilized space.

In time, all seven races merged their governments into the power of the Binding Pledge of Voices, for those who ruled the stars also controlled the planets therein. Soon, one political power emerged as the dominant governing force among the Shining Way.

The core worlds of the neutral space merged into a much larger galactic civilization, slowly spreading out towards the old racial boundaries. For while each race still held their traditional ancestral systems, these were slowly loosing ground to the homogenization that was the progress of seven races working as one for the common welfare of all. The core worlds, and all of the traditionally neutral space that had once been donated was a collection of architecture and culture, often mixed in new and original methods, of all seven races. It became a showplace for model government and efficiency.

Technology was shared as fast as it was understood, the strengths of each race were put to the common good of all. Trade flourished, commercial routes appeared between worlds, multiplied, linking commerce and culture and technology among the seven races, spreading and uniting the races among the systems of the Shining Way.

For over a thousand generations, the Binding Pledge of Voices was the sole arbiter of disputes among the space lanes, the driving force behind the advancement and spread of culture throughout the Shining Way. Each vessel operating in space came under the authority of the Binding Pledge of Voices, and as such, had to meet strict criteria for upkeep, maintenance, and to do business, or else face stern penalties including repossession of assets both in space and planetside. Trading and space travel itself became much safer under the watchful eye of the Binding Pledge of Voices, but dangers still lurked in the darkness, and even an organization as benevolent as the Binding Pledge of Voices had use of a means to apply force. Such a force was the Odyhym.

The Odyhym were the protectors of the space lanes, a form of galactic patrol, given charge of carrying out the laws and trade regulations of the alliance. Their duties included not only inspection of cargo and ships for contraband, safety, and maintenance schedules, but also as protectors, enforcers, soldiers, and rescuers.

The ranks of the Odyhym were composed of members of each race, carefully selected, extensively trained, and morally obligated to give their utmost to the service of their calling. Odyhym were given the best training and the best equipment and they were the standing national army of the Shining Way and the Binding Pledge of Voices, in the absence of the racial fleets of long ago. The site of their brightly colored starships moving about the heavy traffic of the space lanes or docked at starports and orbital stations was a common one. The Binding Pledge of Voices went to great effort to make sure that their representatives were easy to recognize, and to invite interaction with the public at large.

Odyhym starships patrolled the shipping routes and anywhere that trade or business may occur. Their long range scouts mapped out uncharted regions of space, placed navigational markers around stellar dangers, and pushed the edge of the Frontier ever farther out. Their presence became a recognized one of peace keeper and dispute arbiter, one of judge, jury, and sometimes executioner. Their starships were a mixture of business, combat, and rescue. Odyhym were first on the scene in the event of trade route accidents or disasters and served as investigators into the cause. The word of the Odyhym was law, and bond. It was a great honor to be chosen to serve as a member of the Odyhym, and many beings dreamed of one day wearing the colors of the Binding Pledge of Voices, to represent their authority, and to serve the races of the Shining Way.

At the end of a thousand generations, war had been a concept relegated to the history lessons and the archives. It was with total surprise and shock that the Time of Understanding came to a sudden end and the Second Time of War began.

The Second Time of War

Shipping routes in the outer rim areas were relaying reports of mysterious raiders attacking trade vessels and convoys. The attacks were brutal, merciless, and carried out with military precision and speed. Always the raiders would vanish back into the depths of unexplored space, leaving only wreckage and broken vessels behind. As the attacks became more frequent, the Odyhym moved in force to the outer rim areas and began to carry out a campaign of locating and destroying the raiders. Initial surprises by the raiders were met with coordinated counter reprisals by the Odyhym, who fought a protracted form of conflict, hitting and fading back. Some of their attacks seemed to be quick reprisals for Odyhym incursions into raider space, terror raids against colony planets, lone shipping vessels, and other soft targets.

The raider bases were few, but well hidden and usually heavily protected by natural features, hard to get close to, and a tedious job to eliminate. Some signs of raider camps were discovered by long range Odyhym scouts, but these had been abandoned for some time upon their discovery. The raiders appeared to be migratory in nature and structure, able to pack up their equipment, possibly even their entire bases, and quickly, stealthily, move elsewhere to strike again.

What could be learned of the raiders was learned from post combat analysis of their corpses and the study of their technology for no raider allowed itself to be captured alive. If a raider didn’t take their own life when facing imminent capture, then another raider close by would. Such was the desire of the raiders not to be taken alive that they would open their own pressure suits in space to avoid capture, exposing their selves to vacuum and explosive decompression. Suicide tactics were common, often inflicting severe casualties on the Odyhym which were in the process of trying to capture prisoners for interrogation and study. Early incidents costing many lives were learned from and future attempts to take raider prisoners were dealt with accordingly in order to preserve the lives of those who served the Binding Pledge of Voices first. The raiders gave no quarter and apparently expected none in return. Such rules of engagement were in turn used against the raiders in following engagements.

Analysis of their equipment and their transmissions indicated that the raiders referred to their selves as the Tylqsyti.

Analysis of Tylqsyti corpses showed that they were short lived, warm blooded, vertebrate based bipeds with a surprisingly complex and highly advanced nervous system. The body was pale and thin, with a single head atop the slender torso, joined at the waist to two legs and at the shoulders to two, twin segmented arms. Rotation of the limbs was around sockets in the rather heavy skeleton of the biped, and articulation involved a large number of joints. The arms were limited in their range of motion but ended in a simple hand equipped with four manipulative, multi-digit fingers and a single opposable two digit thumb for grasping. The legs ended in feet equipped with five, twin digit toes which were useless for anything other than balance. The vestiges of what might have been a prehensile tail were found at the end of the spinal column, but if it was at one time a tail, such an appendage had vanished from the species eons ago during their racial climb to the stars.

The bodies of the Tylqsyti were almost completely hairless save for the chest of the males and the genital regions of both sexes. Most (but not all) displayed a dense accumulation of hair on the head. Those that did not often displayed self inflicted designs and symbols of their race on the skin of their skulls. The raiders were air breathers who thrived in an oxygen and nitrogen based atmosphere that was moderate in pressure.

The senses of the Tylqsyti were also not as advanced as previously thought. A simple aural tube and lobe was located on each side of the head, presenting a good range of sound absorption and recognition. Precious metals formed into shapes were often pierced through these lobes and worn as obvious decoration. Two eyes with a wide range of side to side movement gave the creature good depth perception and were separated by a thin ridge of bone and cartilage which formed a nasal passage in the middle of the face. Below that a simple mouth filled with two rows of teeth identified the race as an omnivore. A tongue in the lower jaw of the creature allowed it to communicate on a primitive basis but only in an atmosphere of sufficient density. The natural colors of the eyes were many, but seemed to be a genetic trait inherited from the biological parents. The technology of the Tylqsyti, however, vastly enhanced their natural senses and their natural attributes of strength, endurance, and speed. A disturbing range of artificial chemicals were found in the bodies of Tylqsyti, combinations not found naturally occurring and which evidently were used for both combat and pleasure. Levels in a large amount of the Tylqsyti examined indicated possible addiction, and even the evidence of hereditary addiction passed on during reproduction to the offspring.

Body hair ranged from abundant to non-existent on both males and females, but was always decorated and colored in accordance with the barely understood caste system. There apparently were only two sexes, though the males seemed to dominate the castes and hold positions of power while the females fought alongside the males and held equal jobs in their system, yet didn’t share in the political power.

Their brains were not as advanced as the nature of their technology would imply, lending some members of the Binding Pledge of Voices to offer the theory that the Tylqsyti may be a version of the Odyhym, but for another, yet unknown and much more advanced race. This theory caused some amount of alarm among the races. It was bad enough that violence had once again appeared within the Shining Way, but that it was with the advent of the discovery of a new race advanced enough to have moved out into the stars that really disturbed the long placid nature of the seven races. The thought that another, unknown race could be using these bipeds as a tool of armed incursion into the Shining Way was almost too much to think about.

The pale skin of the bipeds was often marked by self applied bands and designs of color, perhaps tribal or caste in nature, and most of a permanent nature. Ritual scarification also seemed to be evident, most self inflicted and none done with a great degree of accuracy or order. Old scar tissue seemed to be cherished as a symbol of rank or honor in their caste, and was never removed surgically as was the practice of the cultures of the Binding Pledge of Voices. The bipeds seemed to thrive on ugliness and barbarity. Their society reveled in it and glorified it, presenting a deeper mystery for the seven races, for they had not seen such primitive behavior since they had long ago reached for the stars. To find such a young race this far out into the trade lanes and so bent on violence surprised and shocked the seven races.

The nature of their species seemed to suggest a rugged hardiness not normally associated with such a frail specimen, causing more curiosity in the scientific circles. Raider camps and temporary bases were found abandoned on worlds that would not normally have been comfortable to the Tylqsyti. More and more it was determined that their spirit as well as their technology allowed them to overcome obstacles that others might have turned away from.

However, the most disturbing discovery of all was that the bipeds were vastly different in genetic makeup from the rest of the races. No where in their genetic structure could be found the signature of the Old Giants. For the first time in collected history, here was a new race, one that was totally alien, and may not even be from the local group. The mystery deepened, with each new discovery made in the research of the Tylqsyti, far more questions were raised than answered.

While hated, the Tylqsyti began to generate a form of fledgling respect among the seven races. Here was an adversary at long last worthy of the combined might of the New Children of the Old Giants. Here was an adversary that was different, that was not like them, that did not share their combined heritage. Here was the first real test of the Binding Pledge of Voices and the Odyhym. The call to arms went out, the ranks of the Odyhym began to swell with recruits, training centers were established in each system, regional training and processing centers appeared, and new shipyards were built to handle recently introduced technology. As the seven races moved to a wartime economy to prepare to defend their way of life from the Tylqsyti, they also almost made one of the most tragic mistakes of all … the accidental extermination of another innocent, sentient species.

The Orphan Children of the New Father

Long before the New Children of the Old Giants began to look upwards towards the heavens, another race was about to make a long, arduous journey, one not of their choosing. Far spinward, past the Wall of Light and even beyond the Five Pillars of Amtet, there existed a shallow but fertile pool of stars where even the Old Giants had not stepped. Among one of the warm yellow stars there, intelligent life had emerged and thrived and established civilization, independent of the manipulations of that elder race.

That life had a name, and that name was Athyni.

At a time when history was first being recorded by some of the Seven Children, the Athyni, a race of warm blooded oxygen breathing bipeds, were already well advanced in the ways of culture and civilization. For while they possessed the technology to travel to the other planets in their solar system, they were not a greedy people and as such, their home planet could support the needs, wants, and desires of their entire race without having to resort to off world mining or colonization.

They were a gentle race, who took pride in their art and their love of nature. Their world was a paradise, perfect in almost every way, tended and nurtured by all members of the race. When the first of the Seven Children was making their first tenuous grasp for the heavens, the star of the Athyni world destabilized. Their climate began to become unstable. Their best scientists and prophets warned of the great death that would be their fate if they did not leave their home world.

For twenty generations, led by the religious and scientific sects, the Athyni at last mined the other planets in their system, assembling the greatest work of art they had ever conceived of, a living starship that would take their race far away from the dying star and protect them in their journey. A living starship that would grow as it carried them in its womb, a living starship that would find them a new home like the one they were to leave behind.

When their ancestral star began at last to die, the Athyni were forced to take to the stars in order to survive. They fled their dying sun aboard a huge, self governing, sentient and evolving machine they called Hgnai-Hgnod or New Father. The Hgnai-Hgnod carried all of their hopes and dreams, the sum collection of their culture, embryos of each of the species of animal on their world, and seeds of each type of plant.

As their sun flared and swallowed their home world, their journey progressed beyond the pool of stars that they had called home and into the great unknown. Far behind them, the star that had given them life became a raging supernova, sweeping through the pool of stars and washing it with fire, cleansing all within.

The Athyni slept in crybernation, deep within the protective armored womb of the constantly sentinel Hgnai-Hgnod, watched over by their attendant machines and systems while the Hgnai-Hgnod searched for a suitable planet to relocate its people to.

Fast automated scouts and advanced probes from the Hgnai-Hgnod ranged far and wide from the parent machine, collecting data and samples, returning and leaving again. Generation after generation, the Athyni slept as the Hgnai-Hgnod evolved, adapting its design, studying and producing new technology, and always vigilant of those who had built it so very long ago.

During the long journey, the curious Hgnai-Hgnod found evidence on many systems of the presence of the Old Giants. Artifacts were retrieved from dead worlds and cold stars, studied, and implemented into the design of the Hgnai-Hgnod when the technology became understood. The vast sentinel machine was pleased at its progress and continued to evolve and adapt, continuing to study the technology of the Old Giants, and incorporating that technology into its very design when it was able to.

The Hgnai-Hgnod also found the presence of another race, traces that it was not the first to visit the sites of the Old Giants, but of this other race, even the Hgnai-Hgnod found nothing but mystery. The Hgnai-Hgnod changed, in its awareness and in its shape. It grew in mass, became more powerful, smarter, more perceptive of its surroundings. Often it stopped in mineral rich systems to devour planets to convert them to mass to build new systems and repair old ones. It drank deeply from the fluidspheres of gas giants, and bathed in the warm rays of many stars.

For over three thousand years, the massive Hgnai-Hgnod drifted through the sparsely populated spinward marches of the great spiral galaxy, coasting through the Lesser White Shroud of Tanew, an area marked by hot nebulae and turbulent interstellar gas, passing from one arm of the spiral galaxy and heading to the next, it crossed the area that defined the very edge of the Greater Black Shroud of Hgphan, an area almost entirely devoid of stars between the great spiral arms.

It was within the Greater Black Shroud of Hgphan that the Hgnai-Hgnod, long watched and studied with great patience by the Tylqsyti in its slow wandering, came under a concentrated assault. So great was the perception of the taking of this gigantic prize that the Tylqsyti committed nothing less than the greater part of their forces to the coordinated assault on the Hgnai-Hgnod…

But the Athyni had been wise enough to build powerful defenses into their sole means of escape, and the Hgnai-Hgnod was anything but careless. Its probes and scouts had long ago identified a migratory race that had been shadowing its progress for almost a generation. This race was not the mysterious Old Giants, nor was it the race that had visited the sites of the Old Giants. This race was different, yet a third race… and one that was definitely a threat.

Some of the probes and scouts had come under attack, a few had been lost, others had won the combats and reported back information on an enemy with surprising technological advancement, but always the other race was there, watching, at the edge of detection, never getting close enough to threaten, but never truly leaving either. It was near a black dwarf star, a cold ember in space still radiating some small amount of stellar radiation that the Hgnai-Hgnod turned and made its stand. Blanketed by gravity waves that caused sensor masking, the Hgnai-Hgnod used the local turbulence to its advantage.

Both the Tylqsyti and the Hgnai-Hgnod were surprised at the technology that each possessed, as each had made a vast underestimate of the others strength. After a long, protracted battle that lit up the area of nearby space, the Tylqsyti were beaten back and routed, suffering heavy losses but not before damaging the Hgnai-Hgnod in such a way that its mission was compromised. Even as the myriad of automated resource collectors and controllers were sweeping up the debris of the battle for analysis, assimilation, or consumption, a malfunction in the main control system, damage that could not be easily repaired in the gulf between fertile stars halted the last flight of the Athyni and forced the Hgnai-Hgnod to settle for the first habitable planet it could find. Crippled, the mortally wounded machine resumed its journey, desperately searching for a home for the Athyni even as its many systems began to fail.

Further analysis of the attacking race yielded some startling data. The race was almost a genetic match for the Athyni, and cross genetic compatibility was almost perfect. The technology of the attackers was in some aspects superior to that of the Athyni, but in other areas if was vastly inferior and inadequate. The fact that the Athyni had never encountered any other forms of life not native to their home planet was both a joy and a stark cold reality to the Hgnai-Hgnod. Here was a race, identical in almost every aspect to the Athyni, that had attacked without warning or provocation, a race that had hunted down the Athyni and the Hgnai-Hgnod like an animal.

It was puzzling, but the evidence was irrefutable, somewhere in ages or eons past, the Athyni and this barbaric race had been closer together, originating quite possibly on the same planet. Perhaps the Old Giants had taken some of the ancient Athyni and transplanted them to other systems. No true evidence existed of that but then the research into the Old Giants and their ways was far from complete. It was also possible that another race, perhaps one as great as the Old Giants had interfered with the development of the Athyni and the mysterious attackers, or the Athyni could be a colony of a long ago fallen interstellar empire. The possibilities were astounding, but the energy, resources, and time that could be devoted to researching the mystery were limited, and only becoming more so as the Hgnai-Hgnod slowly began to die.

As primary system after primary system slowly failed, they were hurriedly replaced with backup systems, and when those failed, control and other systems were shared with integrated systems never designed to share the loads or handle the capacity. The last time of the Hgnai-Hgnod was one of constant, makeshift repairs, and a battle against overwhelming entropy. Under a failing drive system that was unreliable at best, the Hgnai-Hgnod slowly entered the far spiral arm of the galaxy, cutting across the tip and heading for a region that was moderately saturated with warm stars that might have developed habitable planets in their embrace. Passing through the Pillars of Dhom Jhett and the Mask of Sorrow, the Hgnai-Hgnod staggered in its headlong flight toward a nearby system.

The stress on the total system was immense and in the end, proved to be fatal to the Hgnai-Hgnod. Using what motive power remained to it, the Hgnai-Hgnod made for the tip of the next spiral arm, and with its last bit of energy, plowed ungracefully into a solar system containing twelve planets and two stars. Diving into the atmosphere of a planet that met the barest of minimal requirements as could be met for the survival of the race, the giant Hgnai-Hgnod crossed the hot sky, losing speed and altitude, leaving behind a massive shockwave and air whipped to white hot plasma in the speed of its passage. But the planet was barren, and no life watched the incredible arrival of the Athyni, a landing that turned night into day for a large portion of the planet’s rim.

The final resting place of the Hgnai-Hgnod was chosen as a wide, seismically stable plain, shielded on nearly all sides by a high mountain range and on the other by a band of water. With one last heroic effort, the Hgnai-Hgnod settled on its belly and slowly began to die as the last systems burned out and collapsed.

Aboard the now inert hulk, the automated machines went about their long ago programmed tasks of awakening the Athyni and to start rebuilding their civilization from the materials and supplies that were carried aboard the Hgnai-Hgnod. Materials that would be used to bring life to the barren world, and to carve the world into the image the Athyni desired.

The sleepers were awakened to a harsh, bitter reality for they awoke to find not a lush paradise world orbiting a stable yellow star, as they had originally programmed the Hgnai-Hgnod to find, but a barren, wind swept desert hell that was the fourth planet in a binary star system. After reviewing their fate, and the data from the battle that had stranded them in this remote part of the galaxy, the Athyni embraced their destiny with the solemn determination that would guarantee their survival as a race. The called Jyset, after one of their religious deities which stood for everything that was wrong. The planet they named Majhael, from their term for a female who’s womb was barren and could not conceive, but the Athyni were used to harsh conditions. They had tamed their former home world eons ago, and they were determined to do the same again.

While the Hgnai-Hgnod’s body was dead, it’s core still lived, albeit in much lesser form, and it was this core which was removed and used as an oracle to the Athyni. Placed in a grand temple carved from the face of the mountain range itself, the core was served by a technology oriented religious caste and protected by a stoic yet fervent monastic warrior caste devoted to the machine that had saved their race. Thus, the Hgnai-Hgnod lived on in the heart of a temple the likes of which it requested be designed for it, a temple modeled on the designs of the Old Giants and rivaling even some of their ancient sites. The Hgnai-Hgnod continued to serve as the guiding voice of the Athyni, as master teacher, wonderful counselor, and benevolent protector. Their machines labored to turn Majhael into a home for the Athyni, as the race contemplated their new place in the universe.

According to their flight logs, they were far anti-spinward from their original home system, thousands of light years. The failure of their colony ship was unfortunate but unavoidable given the level of damage it had sustained in the massive attack by the Tylqsyti. The images and information of the massive and coordinated attack which had brought the Athyni to Majhael was made known to all members of the race and true fear gripped the once peaceful Athyni. A sense of paranoia swept through the collective whole.

Their attackers were studied, what evidence could be salvaged and their own defenses built around defending against both the known and what the enemy might be able to advance upon. It was evident that even though the mysterious Tylqsyti had been beaten, not all had been destroyed and some had escaped. It was possible, with the diminished data gathering capacity of the Hgnai-Hgnod after the battle that their flight and destination had been observed, and even now the Tylqsyti might be planning on finishing what they had started, if not for the wealth of technology and equipment they would gain by decimating the new colony of the Athyni, if not also for the sole reason of revenge.

The Athyni began to turn Majhael into a fortress world, using their machines, their science, and their technology to dig deep into the surface of the planet, finding unexpected mineral wealth far below the surface, and mining that to create a new civilization. Machines began to disassemble the Hgnai-Hgnod, its might engines became furnaces, its power plants supplied energy to a race which used it without conservation, and its hull provided the raw materials to create fortresses that began to dot the surface of Majhael, but their cores were deep and rooted far underground, drawing also upon the power of the core of the planet to power their powerful defenses and weapons.

During their exploration and colonization of Majhael, the Athyni discovered a large amount of artifacts and many ancient sites of the Old Giants. Relics from a time long before the first recorded history of the Athyni. Amazed at the power of the elder race, and the longevity of their technology, the Athyni carefully took these artifacts and studied them. With the help of the Hgnai-Hgnod, who had been researching the Old Giants for thousands of years, the Athyni were able to make quantum leaps in various branches of their understanding of technology.

Ancient burial sites of the Old Giants were also discovered, apparently Majhael had been some sort of religious or ceremonial graveyard of the Old Giants, as luck would have it, the Athyni had been dropped right into the heart of a treasure of technology that was millions of years in advanced of anything they had ever observed before. What little they could decipher and reverse engineer, they quickly incorporated into their culture. But the genetic structure of the Old Giants was nothing like that of the Athyni, or the mysterious attackers, which suggested that either the Old Giants had never interfered in the development of the Athyni and the other mysterious race, or they had simply ignored the Athyni as being too inferior to bother with. Great philosophical and religious debates sprang up around these concepts, and were never fully answered. Still the Athyni studied the Old Giants, but the more they discovered, the more questions they found and the fewer answers they learned. Truly the elder race that had once inhabited this barren planet, and that had once migrated across so many worlds, was more an enigma than ever.

But while it was obvious that the Old Giants were long departed, such could not be said for the Tylqsyti. Observers watched the skies, systems scanned the heavens and the electromagnetic spectrum and automated as well as manned long range scouts began to slowly explore the surrounding systems. As the Athyni worked tirelessly to fortify their position and start over again, the Tylqsyti never appeared in their skies and no trace of the mysterious attackers could be found in nearby systems.

The defenses of the Athyni grew to a comfortable amount, then to a decisive amount and then to the level of impregnable. Majhael could withstand the concentrated attack of a raider force three times the size as had engaged the Hgnai-Hgnod, and beat them back with almost total casualties being suffered by the attacking force. The system became embedded in remote and automated weapons systems, defenses, and early detection devices. The Tylqsyti, if they showed up again, would be dealt with quickly and harshly, in any part of the system, and to some extent, even further beyond.

The Athyni population grew as well, and vast cities expanded underground, carved from the hard rock of the planet, protected by the dense material above and their own technology. Within sixty generations, the Athyni had covered their planet in a web of cities, tunnels, mines, processing plants, and industrial centers, all underground. Above ground, they removed all trace of their existence, save for the lonely signatures of the massive forts that protruded through and spread across the surface, forever keeping watch on the skies and the heavens.

Cautiously, the Athyni ventured out into their new system, ever vigilant, always armed, and prepared to fight for their life, their culture, and their new home. They had made great strides in the technology of war, and were eager to settle the debt with the mysterious Tylqsyti. Even when the ancestral bond between the Tylqsyti and the Athyni had been announced, there clearly existed no amount of compassion for the other race.

The Athyni had once been scholars, devout students of religion and peace, caretakers of their garden paradise in the universe. Now they would have to become warriors as well. The harshness of their new world and the hardships of the tasks at hand made the Athyni strong. The bright sun tanned their pale skin, their castes realigned, and new castes evolved. Allegiances of old were honored, but new allegiances were created. The Athyni did not forget their past or the way that they were, but they became warriors, and the art of war, the spirit of battle, was added to their culture in every aspect so that it became a part of them. Their lives revolved around hardship, such was it that they embraced a life of few pleasures and took solace in the arts of conflict. Internecine fighting among the castes and social structures was allowed, even welcomed and encouraged in a form of regimented, martial display, but whole scale warfare was not tolerated, and the Hgnai-Hgnod was the final arbiter on all disputes. As such, the Athyni matured as a race of warriors, conquered their world, and eventually, spread out into their solar system at an astounding rate for such was the prolific sexual drive of the Athyni that they easily flowed out to their nearby planets.






TERMS

Odyhym- (Oh-dih-him)- the protectors of the space lanes, galactic patrol, given charge of carrying out the laws and trade regulations of the alliance. Odyhym are the enforcers, composed of members of each race, given the best training and the best equipment. They are the standing national army of the Shining Way.

The Binding Pledge of Voices- the alliance’s official name.

Old Giants- name given to the mysterious race of super elder beings with nearly omnipotent power who migrated to this area of the galaxy over a hundred million years ago, altered the genetic stock of seven races, shifted stellar conditions in many systems, and suddenly left for parts unknown, leaving behind many traces of their presence but little clues to their nature.

New Children (of the Old Giants)- name given for the seven races as a whole.

New Father- name given by the Athyni to their sentient ark-like ship, the Hgnai-Hgnod.

Orphan Children of the New Father- name given by the other races to the Athyni.

Tylqset / Tylqseti / Tylqsyt / Tylqsyti – (Teal-Kah-Seetee)- name of the mysterious group of raiders which plague shipping and the space lanes. Very advanced, spread out, but not numerous. They, however, seem to have the same level of technology as the alliance, and in some areas to be more advanced, which is puzzling for a race which does not seem capable of producing such technology. In fact, they are merely the pawns of a much greater race … the one which is the bastard child of the Old Giants, a failed experiment left for dead.

Binding Voice- this is the name given to the one standard language which members of each race must learn (in addition to their own language) if they want to ever leave their planet and journey among the space lanes in trade. The Binding Voice is the voice of traders, and is also commonly called the ‘trade’ language or ‘trade’ as in ‘do you speak trade?’



 

 

 

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