VO Backstory

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Vendetta Online Background Storyline - Created by Guild Software, Inc.

Storyline written by John Bergman in April of 2002.

Vendetta Online logo by Waylon Brinck.

Character Illustrations by Timmy K Kramp (www.timmykkramp.com)

Landscape Illustrations by Mark Facey.

All content © Copyright 2004 Guild Software, Inc.

All Rights Reseved.

The Chronicles of Exile

Prelude

The following presents a condensed history of the known Galaxy, as pieced together by the monks of Itan. Begun in AD3492 as an educational effort by Erum the Blind, this document continues to be maintained by the Order to this day. It is said that Erum bade all his students read it, that they might understand the frailties and sadness that wrought the universe in which we live.

Jerean Tol, 19th keeper of the Record
Order of Eo, Itan, AD 4430

Section I

The human race is still limited largely to the planet Earth. Sparsely-manned scientific colonies exist on Mars and Luna. After sporadic conflicts and bloodshed in the previous hundred years, Earth now exists mostly in a state of peace. Considerable scientific achievements have been made, especially in the areas of cybernetic implantation and genetic manipulation. Children are born free of birth defects, accident victims often have body parts replaced with newly "grown" parts, derived from their own DNA. People with nerve and brain damage commonly undergo cybernetic augmentation to restore their senses, cure paralysis, and solve many common debilitating brain disorders. A jubilant scientific community celebrates the many contributions their technology has made, allowing humanity to live happier, healthier, longer lives.

At about the same time, various military organizations are secretly researching the possibilities that these technologies may offer them. Among other things, great strides are made in human dermal reinforcement, muscle enhancement, reaction speed and perception enhancement. Test subjects are able to endure harsh environments for long periods of time and perform superhuman feats of strength and speed. Some governments begin testing and producing cloned "drone soldiers", human bodies with no brain, controlled by a small computer implanted in the skull. These soldiers have limited effectiveness when run autonomously, instead being wirelessly linked and controlled via a central computer. Other, more ghastly creations are engineered, strange creatures intended for a multitude of uses, both on and off the battlefield.

Drones begin to be used in terrorist acts and assassinations. Terrorists and unfriendly governments are able to bypass all biometric security protocols using drones developed from the stolen DNA (a hair, a flake of skin) of their intended targets or from other people with high security clearance. The existence of drones and other military experiments are eventually made public. The United Nations and various governments condemn the development and use of such creatures. A popular western politician calls the drones "Terror in the guise of humanity". Further discussion in the mass media eventually causes the term "Guise" to become the general term for the drones. All-out war is eventually sparked between rival nations, with many unorthodox technological creations seeing action against a horrified civilian population. In some areas, entire battlefield control is lost, with creatures running rampant and Guises autonomously targeting anything that moves.

http://images.vendetta-online.com/story/Guise.jpg
All-out war is eventually sparked between rival nations,
with many unorthodox technological creations seeing action against a horrified civilian population.

Space combat becomes an important part of the war. Large vessels are built and launched for the purpose of orbital assault, along with small fighters to escort and defend them. The previously scientific bases on Luna and Mars become military outposts of considerable strategic value. Space tactics and warfare evolve from conflicts over these outposts and the orbiting assault stations. The outposts themselves become storage areas for genetic material and data, in the event of the Earthside war rendering the planet uninhabitable.

After 16 years of constant Earthside and space combat, and with much of the economically and technologically superior areas of the world now in ruin, the war is finally brought to an end. The Guises are destroyed and a frightened population demands a ban on all research and practice of genetic and cybernetic engineering. The scientists formerly responsible for much of the good brought about with those technologies find themselves cast out of society. In some countries they are merely pariahs, in others they are imprisoned or even killed. A formerly fringe movement for a "pure humanity, unsullied by technology" gains strength in the wake of the war's disaster and the economic collapse that follows. Eventually a world government is formed, populated by many of the now-powerful "pure humanists". Peace is maintained and the world economy slowly recovers.

With much of the economy now restored and the world at peace, scientific thought is now bent on exploration of space and finding better peacetime uses for the advances in space travel made during the war. Theories of long-distance travel are postulated and studied. Many now begin favoring the colonization and terraforming of other worlds, such that the human race might survive if another war or equivalent planetary disaster struck the earth. Terraforming experiments begin on Mars, while Luna begins to see civilian colonization. The former sciences of cybernetics and genetic engineering are banned, their technologies no longer taught. The overall population is filled with a nearly religious fear and hatred of those technologies and those who practiced them. Other, related sciences of medicine and computer engineering are quick to publicly distance themselves from the stigma, while the mass media continues to play on the populace's fears in the interest of higher ratings. The former cybernetics and genetic engineers are embittered by the rabid and misdirected fear of the public. Most attempt to keep as low a profile as possible, all the while finding themselves demonized for their former peacetime (and well-intentioned) occupations. Often they secretly instruct their children and family members in their sciences, that the knowledge which wrought so much good (as well as bad) not vanish entirely from human memory.

During scientific exploration of the solar system, an unusual gravitational anomaly is found near the orbital path of Saturn. After some study, it is theorized that within this area it might be possible to open a gateway, or "wormhole" (the existence of which had been postulated some 200 years earlier) to another point in space. Popular interest in exploration brings the wormhole project considerable funding, and experiments begin.

The wormhole consortium achieves the successful opening of a gateway to an unknown destination. Within a month an unmanned probe is sent through and returns successfully, carrying data of an emergence into a solar system almost on the other side of the galaxy. Many additional probes follow, all of which return with newer and more interesting data. Soon, probes containing live animal test subjects traverse the wormhole and return with no ill effects. Studies of the remote system indicate a sun similar to our own, with several planets.

The first human pilot is sent through the wormhole and returns successfully. Further flights follow and the remote system is explored. One of the planets is found to be of similar size and mass to the earth, with a thin atmosphere and a large polar ice cap, ripe for terraforming. The wormhole is considered stable, and scientists theorize that it will continue to be a viable method of transportation to the remote system for the lifetime of our solar system.

The Sol II system colonization project begins in earnest, after 20 years of studies and safety tests by the united earth government. Several thousand colonists volunteer, filled with yearning for exploration and hope for a better life on a distant world. Among those colonists are many of the former geneticists and cybernetic engineers, who, with their families, hope to start a new life far from Earth and the bitterness it holds for them.

Colonization of Terra II proceeds apace. The terraforming processes learned on Mars are applied to considerable, albeit slow, success. A lush, green world with a self-sustaining ecosystem is hoped for within a hundred years. Colonists live out the meantime in self-sufficient domed towns, the use of which had been perfected in the past colonization of Luna and Mars. The population of the world remains peaceful and democratic, a hardworking people who take great joy in seeing the planet slowly come to life around them. Soon, other colonists from Earth join them, until the overall population numbers in the hundreds of thousands.

After considerable exploration of the Sol II system, three other possible wormhole areas are discovered. Exploration and study of these wormholes are begun. All are found to emerge in other solar systems, however none feature planets or moons where terraforming would be possible. The ship-mounted gravitational displacement device is perfected, allowing craft to pass freely between Sol and Sol II without the need of a third party to open a wormhole. Even simultaneous wormholes are now possible, allowing many ships to move back and forth between the respective anomaly areas at once. Collision fears are abated when it's discovered that the wormhole exit points have a natural tendency to be as far from one another as possible, within the limits of the gravitational anomaly area.

A young, little-known scientist publishes a paper after extensive research of the Sol and Sol II wormholes. His paper postulates that the gravitational anomaly areas may cease to become useful for wormhole travel on a regular and periodic basis. The paper goes on to state that the usable lifetime of the area may be determined from a modulation of its gravitational field. His measurements further assert that while the periodic lifetime of all the known wormholes appears to be several million years, the wormhole area between Sol and Sol II may be nearing the end of its usable period. This paper goes against the long standing theory, held in the scientific community and population in general, that wormhole areas will continue to be stable as long as the nearby gravitational body (the Sun) remains. Because of his youth and lack of other published works, the scientific community dismisses his findings and theory. Chastised, he abandons that field of research.

Traffic between Sol and Sol II increases as the terraforming advances on Terra II. The population of the planet remain entirely self-sufficient within their domes, but most of the supplies needed for the terraformation process are shipped in from Sol. The flashing of colorful wormhole activations for the great cargo ships can be seen by telescope from the surface of Terra II.

The wormhole area linking Sol and Sol II suddenly and abruptly ceases to function. Further measurement and study of the wormhole demonstrates a modulation change much like what had been predicted by the young scientist from earth, twenty-two years earlier. All contact and traffic between the systems is cut off. Being millions of light years apart in real space, any communication or travel is impossible. The scientists of Terra II determine that the wormhole area will not become usable again for another two million years. Earth is never heard from again. On Terra II, panic reigns. With the terraforming process at least fifty years from completion (had the schedule with Earth continued), the residents are left in their domed cities and towns. While they are self sufficient as far as producing food and other necessities, many of the consumable items which they had taken for granted (medicine, parts for machinery, etc) were shipped in from factories on earth. Analysis concludes that while the terraforming process can continue, without the supplies from earth it will take much longer, and many hundreds of years will be required before the planet is truly habitable.


http://images.vendetta-online.com/story/Domes.jpg
With the terraforming process at least fifty years from completion
(had the schedule with Earth continued), the residents are left in their domed cities and towns.

Life on Terra II has become difficult. While food and water remain available, much large machinery and equipment begins to break down. Without the necessary parts to properly maintain them, the colonists are forced to inventively adapt parts out of available scrap material. Functional environment suits, for work in the still-hostile atmosphere outside the domes, become scarce. A new black market crops up around the distribution of spare parts. Some attempt is made to manufacture new parts, but with very limited success. Many of the alloys required are difficult to make or work with, while even the simpler materials can be made only from existing (broken) parts. Prospecting and mining for new ore is nearly impossible while environment suits and transportation remain so scarce.

The people are despondent. Their civilization, although made up of settlers who had not expected an easy life, they have nonetheless never been entirely cut off before. Many wonder of their family and friends left behind on Earth. In some areas government and societal structure begin to break down, and crime and dissent increase. About this time, several of the descendents of former genetic and cybernetic engineers come forward, and suggest that they be allowed to use their knowledge to try and revive their society. They tell how, with time and adaptation of some facilities, they could harden themselves against the harsh environment, strengthen their bodies to ease the toil of the hard times ahead, and even create beasts of burden who could exist in the world outside the domes. The response to their proposal is sharply divided. There are those who favor survival at any cost, and see these possibilities merely as a means to that end. Others are reminded of the last war on earth, and how the same technology had run amok to wreak havoc among the people who had created it. They ask if things are really so bad that it is necessary to resort to such means. Eventually these debates became grim and heated.

The genetics and cybernetics debates have reached a stalemate. Most colonists still remain sharply divided, while some are apathetic. Eventually, the scientists and their supporters begin adapting existing labs and computer fabrication facilities to fit their needs, despite political opposition. Relations between the two sides remain strained, but peace is maintained out of shared desire for survival on their new hostile home.

The scientists have made great strides in their work. A new generation of genetically enhanced and cybernetically augmented people are able to do maintenance work in the hostile atmosphere with minimal life support systems or robotic machinery. The pro augmentation group, now calling themselves the Serco (SIR-ko), hails the successes of science. The opposing group, now referred to as the Itani (It-ah-nee), has grown even more suspicious of such technology over the past 76 years of trial and error. There have been enough (albeit few) incidents of humans going berserk from cybernetics bugs, genetic enhancements with outcomes far different from what was intended, and other issues that the Itani believe lend further weight to their concerns. The societies of the two opposing groups begin to drift apart, neighborhoods becoming either all-Serco or all-Itani, while a few populations remain neutral. An uneasy friendship remains between the two factions, but floats on a deep well of disagreement.

The quality of life on Terra II has improved considerably. The Itani have succeeded in repairing and even advancing the machinery they use for maintenance. The Serco have continued to make achievements in their specialized scientific fields, and have even managed to build farms in the still-hostile environment. They have begun to grow special genetically-engineered plants tailored to the new world, which hasten the terraforming process while providing an additional source of food and raw materials. New beasts of burden are developed to help maintain these farms, giant creatures with native armor against the fierce outside world, kept in line with cybernetic brain control systems. The two factions remain separated, often by neighborhood within the same dome, but many of the Itani concerns have been calmed by the last hundred incident-free years. The two groups coexist in friendship, although there are those within each who remain wary of the other. Both view themselves as opposing political parties within a single nation.

An incident occurs on a Serco farm. A cybernetic implant bug, combined with a genetic mutation brought about by extended exposure to the outside environment and radiation, causes the Serco to lose control of a farm creature. The 125-meter-long goliath, standing several stories tall at the shoulder, wanders off the farm in a random direction trailing its Serco masters, who futilely attempt to regain control. While largely docile, the great creature is very dumb and far too large to physically control. After some minutes of aimless wandering, the animal crashes through a small domed town, almost entirely populated by Itani. While the town had a few minutes warning by radio, the time was insufficient to completely evacuate. A number of injuries and a few deaths result from the sudden exposure of the unprotected people to the harsh outside atmosphere. While the incident does not cause great damage or casualties, it rekindles the Itani mistrust of cybernetics and bio-engineering. Anti-Serco hardliners resurface, and call for an end to the abominations created by these technologies. The Serco, who by now are mostly genetically and cybernetically enhanced themselves, take a dim view of the Itani protestors. They also point out that they are now dependent on the food and resources provided by the surface farms, and thus the beasts who help maintain them. The Serco are nonetheless repentant and remorseful over the destruction their creature has caused, and promise to develop safeguards to prevent such things from occurring again. The Itani populace are mollified, but the hardliners within begin to gain followers who murmur against the dangers of Serco science.

Some years have passed since the last incident, without mishap. However, a new "drug" begins to circulate among the Serco youth. Entirely software based, this drug uses loopholes in the most recent series of cybernetic implants to provide feelings of pleasure and euphoria. Highly addictive, the drug has massive demand in the Serco market. Many outspoken opponents to the drug exist within the Serco hierarchy, but since no significant side-effects are seen, most users consider any concerns about the drug to be baseless. However, after about a year of the drug's spread, psychotic episodes begin occurring among users. Drug frenzied Serco begin murdering helpless Itani. Not because of any dislike of the Itani, but mostly because the augmented Serco are comparable to only one another in strength and stamina. Thus, while a random assault by a frenzied Serco on another Serco will end with some injuries to both parties, the same assault on an Itani will often result in the Itani's limbs or head ripped off by the physically powerful Serco. Both the Serco and Itani leaders work diligently to bring an end to the drug, however a frightened Itani populace begins to relocate itself farther from the Serco and the threat of their technology. Anti-Serco hardliners again give voice, and gain still more followers. Domes become entirely Serco or entirely Itani, with a few remaining neutral.

The Itani and Serco now view themselves as separate peoples and nations. While trade continues between the two, relations are strained from fear. The Itani worry that they will bear the brunt of future Serco technological "bugs", while the Serco keep a worried eye on the Itani hardliners who preach Serco destruction. Aside from the tense relations between the two nations, all else goes well. The planet will be fully terraformed within another hundred years, and the outside atmosphere has become much less hostile. The Serco have completely stamped out the drug that plagued them, and patched all future cybernetics against such uses. Alas, this is too little too late for their relations with the Itani. Both sides have advanced technologically. The Serco have made considerable advances in their bioengineered plantlife and in their own augmentations. The Itani have achievements along more "traditional" lines, creating superior mechanized suits for heavy labor outside the domes. Both sides have multiplied and now number several million. Domes have been expanded geographically, with some areas Serco-controlled, and others under the will of the Itani.

A young man named Akan (ah-KAHN), well-spoken, charismatic and educated, begins to gain power in the Itani Senate. Although a known protégé of the anti-Serco hardliners, he keeps his tone moderate and slowly gathers a large following within the Itani populace. His focus on education and social programs are widely respected. While public esteem for him seems only to grow, a few within the Senate remain mistrustful of his blandly unclear agenda, while keeping in mind his hardliner background. However, those doubting few remain silent, not wanting to destroy their own political careers by openly attacking the new golden boy of public opinion.

Several explosions simultaneously occur at outlying Itani domes closest to the Serco. A number of people are killed and injured. Akan, now the most powerful senator and de-facto leader of the Itani, sends hand-picked teams to investigate the explosions and determine their source. After several days of "investigations", the teams report their belief that the explosions were in fact terrorist attacks by the Serco against the Itani people. Several in the Senate voice doubts about these findings, considering the historically peaceful (albeit accident-prone) nature of the Serco. However, these voices are swept away by Akan in a "resolute, yet saddened" speech against the Serco people and their "technology of terror". His speech plays on over 100 years of pent-up fear in the population, and easily sways the Itani to follow his recommendations.

The overall lack of communication and mingling between the Itani and Serco further catalyzes these events. The Itani believe what their leaders (Akan) tell them, and since there is little contact with any Serco, there's no one to tell them otherwise. It has been since theorized that Akan, or an organization under his control, planted the bombs in the interest of polarizing the Itani people against the Serco while furthering their own control of the Itani government. However, little is known one way or the other. The political and cultural climate of the time would certainly not have allowed such possibilities to be mentioned.

Within a month of the "attacks", Akan has closed the "borders" to Serco territory, populating it with many of his more ferverent followers and preventing any contact between the two nations. He also begins construction of an "Itani defense force", adapting mechanized environment suit technology to potential combat applications. Many of these changes are fought by a shrinking minority of the Itani senate, proposals of moderation and at least diplomatic communication with the Serco are ignored. Two of the most powerful senators to openly attack Akan's plans die mysteriously within a week of one another. Public opposition to Akan within the government crumbles. The Serco watch these developments with growing alarm. Their attempts at diplomacy go ignored, and eventually their emissaries begin to vanish entirely. As the creation of the Itani military becomes evident, the Serco begin to think of their own defenses. The Serco populace reacts to the news of the changing Itani with bewilderment.

Akan has consolidated his control of the Itani nation. Strong anti-Serco members of the Itani government are given high ranking positions within the new Itani military. There has been a great public resurgence of interest in the hardliner anti-Serco party and their teachings, especially among the youth. Some Itani begin speaking openly of themselves as the "pure" race, their bodies and minds unsullied by the corruption of biotechnology and cybernetics. Anti-Serco graffiti becomes common, some calling for the Itani to "rise up and cleanse Terra II of the impure".

A new wave of "attacks" strike the Itani. Akan himself appears to be "targeted", however, he manages to escape unharmed. Akan condemns this latest wave of "brutal, cowardly attacks by the Serco against the pure Itani way of life". Additionally, he blames the small size of the Itani Defense Force, and calls for more volunteers to help defend their homeland. Many youthful Itani are willing to follow his lead, their anger simmering against the apparent injustices of the Serco. The ranks of the IDF swell in size, while factories churn out terrifyingly beweaponed mechanized suits. The Itani/Serco border becomes heavily populated by patrols of Itani in mechanized armor.

The Serco, however, have not been idle. News of the buildup and changes within the Itani culture is brought to them by neutral traders. Support for military development gains ground in their government after the failure of diplomacy. Guises are developed again, along with other creatures designed to destroy the armored mechanized infantry that the Serco now find patrolling the edges of their territory. Giant Serco creatures are now seen near the border from time to time.

The few towns which remained neutral during the past Serco/Itani issues now begin to look at relocating further from Serco or Itani territory. Some traders remain in the area, however, taking advantage of the lucrative black-market trade between the two nations.

So began the Colony War, a long, sad war which lasted over ten years. Terra II had been created in an atmosphere of peace and prosperity, the first interstellar colony of mankind. Now, within a few hundred years, a war arose which set the stage for the future interactions of the human Dispossessed (as they came to refer to themselves after the Terra II wormhole phase transition of 2310).

At first the war appeared to favor the Itani. Their advanced mechanized infantry proved quite formidable, and within the first year they held many of the former Serco border towns. Originally, much of the Itani military command had intended to destroy any captured domes and the "unclean" augmented civilians within. However, the Itani infantry, which had largely joined to defend their own people, was unwilling to participate in the murder of thousands of Serco civilians. When this became apparent, the military command then changed tacks and decided instead to occupy the captured cities and prevent their populations from escaping and enlarging the Serco military. Unfortunately for the Itani, the task of maintaining a captive dome full of Serco civilians proved to be far more difficult than merely capturing it. Rebel uprisings required considerable response in terms of troops and firepower to quell the technologically augmented Serco populace. The application of this force usually made the occupied inhabitants that much more resentful, bringing about more rebellions.

While the Itani dealt with the complexities of ruling a rebellious people, the Serco continued to build up their forces. The initial flash of the conflict had resulted in sporadic battles up and down the border. Some Serco heavy antipersonnel creatures had seen action, as had limited numbers of Guises, but both had been relatively few and far between. Within a few days of the initial battle, the Serco retreated to more defensible positions, thereby giving up many of their domes and the towns along the border. Heavy fortifications were constructed, allowing the Serco to repel all further Itani attacks. Analysis of the Serco strategic patterns indicated that they were testing the strength of the Itani invaders, immediately retreating to a secondary position once the Itani forces were found to be too great for their limited defenses.

At the time of the first conflict, it was believed that the Serco, while possessing some devastating weaponry and creatures, did not have a sufficiently sized military to fully repel the Itani invasion. Thus they retreated, fortified, and began their military buildup. Held up by rebellions and unable to pierce the Serco defensive network, the frustrated Itani had little choice but to fortify their own positions within Serco territory. Just over a year after the war had begun, the Serco began to attack the Itani invaders. For the first few months, little occurred other than short-term hit and run attacks. Usually happening at night, the attacks often featured small, fast-moving, bipedal creatures which did gruesome damage to unprepared infantry units. The creatures would usually attack in silence, but sometimes were heard to emit long high-pitched wails before and during large engagements. These attacks, which occurred with increasing frequency, had a demoralizing and psychologically destructive effect on the Itani defenders.

A year and a half into the war, under cover of a cloudy night, the first major Serco offensive was launched. Several hundred thousand troops issued from the Serco defensive line, heralded by the wailing cries of countless interspersed antipersonnel creatures. When the wailing screams were heard, some fearful Itani defenders began deserting their posts, even before the ground began to shake under the footfalls of massive unseen Serco heavy assault creatures. Thousands of semi-autonomous Guises took point in front of the main human Serco infantry, flanked by a menagerie of creatures and their operators. Overall, the Itani defense put up a good fight, but was completely overrun and pushed far back into their own territory. After two days of fierce fighting and giving ground, the Itani managed to rally together after being pushed back to the first Itani border dome. 18 hours of intense fighting finally broke with a Serco retreat, with thousands left dead on both sides, bodies and creature carcasses scattered across the landscape. This was considered the first serious battle of the war, and both sides used data gathered during the conflict to adapt their ground combat strategies and future military development.

http://images.vendetta-online.com/story/Screech.small.jpg
Usually happening at night, the attacks often featured small, fast-moving,
bipedal creatures which did gruesome damage to unprepared infantry units.

Sporadic battles moved back and forth between the Serco and Itani. Both nations largely maintained the integrity of their borders, but with some difficulty. As the Serco began generating large numbers of semiautonomous Guise infantry, the Itani found themselves losing ground once again. The Itani infantry used actual human beings equipped with mechanized suits and weaponry, and while they were often far more battle-effective than the computer-controlled Serco Guise armored infantry, the Guises could be manufactured on demand. Thus a loss of 5 Guise infantry to 1 Itani became a net loss to the Itani.

Meanwhile, however, Itani military technology was still in development. Up until this point the war had remained entirely land-based. Most mechanized equipment and creatures were adaptations of equipment that had been used in the terraforming and survival process of the past few hundred years. However, neither side had forgotten the historical importance of air and space superiority. The Itani were the first to produce usable aircraft, and later short-range spacecraft. High-altitude precision bombing became the standard Itani attack, decimating the invading Serco forces and pushing them back into Serco territory. Serco military establishments soon had to be moved deep underground into hardened bunkers, safe from Itani attack.

Little changed in the war during the next few years. The Itani retained air and space superiority, despite some advanced Serco surface-to-air missile designs. Both sides maintained nearly their original borders. The Itani were unable to crack the Serco defensive bunkers, while the Serco still maintained their advantage on the ground. Thus, aside from continuous sporadic conflicts, the nations remained in stalemate.

During this time, the civilian political climate had changed somewhat. People on both sides were sick of war and strife. Akan, on the other hand, had slowly become more and more publicly outspoken in favor of complete destruction of the Serco and all their people. As he saw his war efforts frustrated and public opinion beginning to turn against him, he became even more rabid in his hatred of the Serco. Finally, early in 2661, he ordered the high altitude saturation bombing of the largest Serco cities. Many in the military were against this, these being wholly civilian targets, but with the help of his close-knit group of followers, Akan managed to wrest enough control to get the bombs to two of their targets. The Serco city of New Shanghai, populated with nearly a million civilians, was reduced to rubble within a few hours. Pacifica, a coastal Serco city and one of the first domes constructed on Terra II, was also heavily damaged, leaving tens of thousands dead or missing. When the news of New Shanghai's destruction reached the Itani military command, a split within the military occurred, with several high-ranking generals rebelling against Akan's authority and the supposed will of the Itani Senate. Pacifica would likely have been destroyed as well, had not the second bomber been forced down by rebel Itani short-range fighters. Chaos reigned within the Itani military in the hours following the attack. Once news broke within the Itani public, the population was aghast. Akan maintained a semblance of control through his loyal military police, but he knew his days were numbered.

Over the past few years, the Serco had been developing their own short-range space combat fighters. With most of their technological base dedicated to more terrestrial (biological and somewhat cybernetic) interests, they found it slower going than the Itani. However, with the capture and reverse-engineering of a few downed Itani air/spacecraft, they soon made good progress. The Serco implemented a completely cybernetic system, as opposed to a manual Itani pilot interface, allowing their test pilots to jack directly into the ship control systems. With this virtually thought-based piloting system, they could perform incredible maneuvers with very fast reaction times. Ten of the craft had been designed and constructed under the utmost secrecy, but had not yet been flight tested due to constant Itani over-flights.

As word of the destruction of New Shanghai and Pacifica spread through the Serco population and government, the people recoiled in shock. Then, as with a single voice, they screamed for bloody vengeance. On the morning of the Day of Death, as both sides came to refer to it, the 10 Serco nightwing fighters launched from their hidden silos. The Serco infantry, which had been largely trapped in hardened bunkers due to Itani air assault, began to mobilize for a massive offensive.

At this point, a number of events happened in rapid succession. The first was the sudden, unforeseen use of five assassination Guises within the Itani government. It has been since theorized that these Guises had been put in position some months previously for use during the eventual Serco invasion. After their activation, they proceeded past all security checkpoints and succeeded in murdering Akan, his senior aide, and two puppet senators with whom he had consolidated control of the Itani senate. They failed to assassinate their fifth target: Markus Vim, head of Akan's secret police and alleged spymaster. After the attempt on his life and the subsequent upheaval, Markus vanished without a trace.

Immediately following the pre-dawn assassinations, Itani air/space recon reported combat contact with a number of craft of unknown origin. Not long after, border sentries began to report a massive mobilization of Serco ground troops. With Akan and most of his senior staff dead or missing, the previously "rebel" half of the military command retained control of the Itani state. After securing their position internally, they began broadcasting messages to the Serco, announcing the coup and asking for peace. Sadly, they received no response. The Itani began to array their defenses for an onslaught. By daybreak, the Itani generals were faced with an unknown aerial assault force, and a border now seething with an enemy more numerous than their most pessimistic estimates had predicted.

As the giant Serco army began crossing the border, the Itani launched eight of their high altitude bombers, with over a hundred fighters flying cover against the unknown threat awaiting them in the skies. The Itani bombers were the pinnacle of their aerospace engineering, a testament to the innovation of the Itani engineers. Huge craft, powered by reactor driven gravitic pulse engines, their range was practically unlimited. However, due to their extraordinary expense and difficulties in manufacturing, the Itani military only possessed ten working spacecraft. When faced with the opposition of a ground force they could not possibly repel, it is understandable that they dedicated 80% of their flightworthy bombers to immediate defense.

And so began the final battle for dominion of Terra II. The Serco crossed the border en masse, and easily overran the Itani defensive positions. Over their heads, a battle for space superiority had begun. Not long after their launch, word began to reach Itani commanders of the sporadic conflicts between the fighter groups and the unknown spacecraft. Within an hour, fully forty of the Itani fighters had been lost, and one bomber had been heavily damaged, with no reports of enemy casualties. The rest of the bombers began what assault they could under the harried conditions, and managed to at least halt the Serco ground forces for a short time. However, the accuracy of their bombing was greatly diminished by the constant attacks from the Serco nightwing fighters.

By midday the remaining Itani fighters had adapted, to some degree, to the tactics of the Serco spacecraft, but the disparity between piloting ability had become painfully evident. The Serco cybernetic interface system had proven to be an unmitigated success. Some mechanical issues related to their flight control systems had become apparent, and two of their fighters had been lost over the course of the battle to such technical difficulties. However, none had been shot down by the Itani. It was all the Itani could do to draw them off and hope to distract them from the bombers, even as they gave their lives doing so. Toward the end of the day it had become apparent to the Itani command that their bid for defense was a lost cause. Only fifteen of their fighters remained, and only two bombers. The main bulk of the Serco ground forces, while they had lost over 30% of their battle-ready forces to Itani bombs, was still so numerous and strong that any significant Itani ground resistance was improbable.

While the Itani ground forces braced for the inevitable, the bombers and fighters over their heads attempted to do what damage they could. The crews of the remaining two bombers, heavily damaged and realizing they had no hope of making it back to base under the intense attacks of the Serco fighters, resolved to ditch their bombers in the most potentially devastating manor possible. Rigging their reactors to reach critical mass, they plunged the giant craft in a headlong dive at the main battlegroup of Serco heavy assault creatures. Seen from the nearest Itani dome, the double airbursts of the massive ships changed the evening sky to the sudden brilliance of noonday. The blasts destroyed every Serco within 20km, and cut huge swaths in the van of the approaching army. While a great victory for the spirits of the defenders, and damaging to the Serco heavy infantry, it did not even slow the Serco assault. They knew they had won. They commanded the skies, and the bombing threat had now been eliminated. It is said that as the massive armies roared towards the first of the Itani border domes, a great dust cloud rose from their passage to obscure the setting sun. Amid the final rays of a dusty twilight, the Serco and Itani armies met for the last time.

A sickly sun dawned over the shattered remnants of the Itani nation. Filled with a self-righteous rage and lust for vengeance, the Serco forces had not simply overrun the Itani domes, they had flattened them. The Itani fought fiercely and bitterly to the end, but they stood no real chance. Whenever the Serco reached a dome, they would stand off at a distance and shell it with heavy artillery, eventually sending in a few thousand of their shrieking antipersonnel creatures for cleanup. Survivors, military or civilian, were few and far between. Pockets of resistance would remain for a time, until the thousands of heavily armed Guises arrived. Soon the broken domes would be eerily silent, as the dust cloud of the Serco infantry faded into the distance, headed for the next Itani town. As it became apparent that the Serco military would settle for nothing less than the complete extinction of the Itani, domes began evacuating their civilians as swiftly as possible. Many civilians took up arms and joined the defenders. Some fled the Itani territory in the hopes of reaching the neutral domes, though few succeeded. Most attempted to reach domes further from the borders. At midnight, the last of the Itani senate, now holed up in the heavily fortified capital of New Panaji, gave the Itani military command a new mandate: provide for the survival of the Itani people, whatever the means. The generals, sadly watching the distant fires of their burning cities, pondered how they might deliver their people from the vengeance of the Serco.

By early morning, two imaginative generals and a top aerospace engineer had come up with a plan. Ten thousand randomly chosen civilians were evacuated to a secret underground base in the southern mountainous region of Itani territory. Designed primarily for the development, construction, and testing of the heavy bombers, the space provided a place where the survivors might last a little longer. Every effort was made to conceal the transportation of the civilians to the base, and somehow, through the chaos of war and poor reconnaissance on the part of the Serco, they succeeded. Every person aware of the project was relocated to the base. The rest of the surviving Itani holed up in the few remaining fortified domes, or fled to the neutral territories.

One week after the bombs had fallen on the Serco cities, the Serco held all that had once been the home of the Itani. Shattered domes, the remains of soldiers, creatures, and battle-armor littered the wasteland. Now recovered from their initial bloodlust, the Serco people began to absorb what had been done. Far to the south, however, the last vestiges of the Itani people still clung to life, veiled within their deeply hidden base. There, construction had begun on a great ship, built from the parts of the two remaining bombers. It had been decided that the Itani would attempt to flee Terra II and try to build a new home beyond one of the unexplored wormholes. The logistics of moving so many civilians were inherently daunting, but were made even more so by the required timeframe. The military command believed it unlikely that their base could remain undiscovered for long, a few months at best. No one knew how the Serco would react if they learned of the base, but the still-smoking remains of the Itani capital cities gave little hope for a peaceful solution. Thus, all the resources of the remaining Itani people were focused on the construction and launch of their ship.

The Ark, as they named it, was most definitely the pinnacle achievement of the early Itani people. Designed and constructed in only fifty three days, it represented every major technological advance and every drop of knowledge the Itani could bring to bear on the project. Most of the population would be cryogenically stored, since no one was certain of how long it would take to find a planet suitable for colonization. The ship would need to not only sustain its passengers during the voyage, but eventually land and provide a usable base at their destination. All the tools and technologies necessary to build a new self-sustaining dome would have to be stored onboard. No one had any illusions of ever returning, or of the greeting they were likely to receive if they tried.

On June the 11th, 2661 (date and month reckoned according to the original Earth date system) the Ark launched from Terra II. Nearly half the mountainside was detonated immediately before launch, exposing the Ark to the morning sky. A few minutes later, all twelve gravitic pulse engines engaged at full power, creating minor earthquakes for a hundred miles and affecting the tides even on the far side of the planet. As the Ark left the atmosphere, the remaining Serco fighters pursued, perhaps believing the ship to be a last-ditch final attack. The Ark had been armored against this eventuality, and the massive reactor driven ship soon passed beyond range of the more conventional Serco short-range fighters. The Ark's course quickly took them beyond the orbital path of Terra II, towards the outer regions of the system, where the two active (and one inactive) wormhole areas resided. Choosing the further of the two, the ten thousand, four hundred, and ninety two heirs of the Itani nation vanished into the unknown, and passed out of all knowledge of the Serco for more than a millennium.

It is important to note that not all the Itani were slaughtered by the Serco armies, or were among those Exiles who left in search of a new home. Some found shelter among the sparse neutral settlements (neither Serco nor Itani) on Terra II. These people survived and prospered and lived largely in peace. The Serco left them alone, and the neutrals developed a strong antiwar sentiment. The Itani among them did remember their roots for many generations, but years of peace with the Serco eventually made them a single, albeit loosely knit, homogenous people.

For many long years the Itani Ark would ply starlit fields of space. After their first jump, they found no usable planets in the nearby system. However, after scanning the system heavily, they detected what appeared to be an additional wormhole area. Probes were launched and successfully returned, telling of another system containing several planets. The crew then took the ship through and spent time investigating the new system. Their search was a disappointment, and no suitable planets were found. Once again, however, another wormhole area was discovered. This continued for many years, systems would be found, some with planets, some without. A few of the planets could have been made habitable, but doing so would have been beyond the means of the people and technology onboard the Ark. Thus, they wandered the stars, most of the Itani still in cryogenic sleep, while the crew began to slowly lose hope of ever finding a new home.

After nineteen years of aimless wandering, hope became a bitter thing to bear among the crew. They had passed through many wormholes and many systems, crisscrossing all over the galaxy. No suitable planet had been found. Some began speaking of returning to Terra II and abandoning their search, arguing that perhaps in the last twenty years the tempers of the Serco might have cooled. All the wormholes through which they had passed would remain stable for millions of years, so the return path was yet open. The Ark's captain, former high command general of the Itani forces and now growing quite old at eighty two, refused to allow them to relinquish their quest. The crew muttered that they would not have to wait long, for the captain was ailing and knew his end was near. His last hope, that he might see a new home for his people before he died.

On February the 11th, 2691, the Ark entered a new system, and proceeded to scan its planets. To their joy, the fourth planet looked perfectly suited to establishing a new colony. Indeed, it was estimated that within a few hundred million years, the planet might begin life on its own. It already had a thin, but stable nitrogen/oxygen atmosphere, as well as liquid water in some places. The crew carefully surveyed the surface, and selected an area of a continent near the equator. With a ponderous groan, the Ark pierced the light clouds and landed without incident. Within a few days, the process of reviving the frozen Itani population had begun. Construction began on the first dome of the new world. Sadly, about a week after the landing, James Armand, Captain of the Ark, passed away. The Itani people pledged to remember that his diligence and faith brought them to their home, naming their new domed city Armand in his honor. The planet would be called Itan, a new world for a hopeful people, forever cut off from their ancient home of Earth, and far from the anguish they had caused and borne on Terra II.

There was a child on board the Ark, an orphan of the war, discovered in a bombed-out Itani settlement by a fleeing family and brought along with them to the underground launch site of the Ark. Barely two at the time, his background was unknown, his parents presumed dead. Raised by the family that found him, he was tested for deafness and speech impediments due to his unwillingness to speak. Although he was named by his foster family, his nickname became "Eo" (AY-oh), as that was the only sound he would make. Marked by his teachers for his apparent intelligence and (silent) enthusiasm, he studied diligently in a school for the disabled. Many of his classmates there were children injured physically or psychologically by the war with the Serco, and this seemed to have a profound affect on his formative years. He learned to read at age four, and thereafter spent many long hours pouring over the computer databases, learning of history and fiction, mathematics and philosophy. The recent history of the Itani was a particular point of study for him, specifically the events which lead to the horrible destruction of the war and eventual exile of the Itani people.

Abruptly, at age twelve, Eo began speaking. His use of language and demeanor were far beyond his years, and he caused quite a stir within his school and community. When asked why he had suddenly began to speak, he responded that he simply hadn't had anything to say before. Now that he had availed himself of the powers of speech, he used it to ply his elders with questions, many of which they could not answer to his satisfaction. He asked why the war had occurred. Why had the Itani people allowed themselves to be ruled by such an evil and misguided man as Akan. Why, above all, they persisted in such hatred of the Serco, who had never truly intended them any harm, and had wished only to share the planet in peace. His teachers and foster family, still fresh from the war and weary with the grief it had brought them, had little to offer him but sadness and regret. Eo pondered, and continued to read.

Fifteen years of labor made quite a difference in the world of the Itani. Their capital city of Armand was now large and stable. Once again completely self-sustaining, they had taken the time to carefully lay out and build their new city, planting tree-lined walkways and creating numerous parks. The idea was to create a new world that recalled the beauty of Earth, now known only from pictures and stories passed down from their ancestors. Terra II, while it had been home, had been largely a place of steel and harsh windswept terrain, a land occasionally broken by a dome or strange Serco-engineered wildlife. Thus, the city of Armand flourished and grew, and the people took solace in the haven they had created. Plans were made to accelerate the terraformation of the rest of the planet. Many advances had been made in this process during the formation of Terra II, and these were put to work on Itan. Large atmospheric processing machinery was constructed in the mountains near Armand. Underground, huge artificially-lit greenhouses were excavated, growing plants and trees for eventual use on the surface. The planet took well to the terraforming process, and change became apparent.

At the age of eighteen, Eo left his foster parents and school to search for answers in the wider world. Taking a job as a surveyor for the terraforming process, he learned to pilot a spaceship and flew around the planet, studying its geology and makeup. This information was then used to make decisions for different steps in the terraforming process, including climatic predictions, where flora and fauna should be distributed, and other tasks related to making their world the growing, green place they desired. Spending much of his time alone aboard his spacecraft, Eo watched the evolution of the planet unfold beneath him, pondering still the fate that had brought them to this place.

The terraforming process on Itan had succeeded beyond all expectations. Although far from completed, the planet had begun to show large sections of green, with even greater success in the introduction of simple undersea life. The atmospheric processors, now scattered across the planet, kept the weather mildly in check while maintaining the balance of the air. It was estimated that sufficient plant life would exist to make the planet wholly self-sustaining within a hundred years. Eo, during this time, had risen to a position of considerable respect among the terraformers, and within the Itani community as a whole. He took to writing long papers lamenting the sad, recent history of the Itani, and suggesting that people learn from their experiences and look positively towards the future. Much of what he wrote struck a chord with the people, allowing them to rest easier with their past, and enjoy more of the time at hand. Among other things, Eo wrote that the pursuit of war and hatred could come to no good, and that only listening clearly to the voice of one's own soul, not one's ego, could provide true guidance. Not long after this, it is believed that Eo began studying ancient literature, stored in the vast computer databases, which discussed meditation and martial training. Combined with his studies of many ancient philosophies, religions, and cultures, he began to create a new philosophy of life and existence.

Itan has begun to flourish in greenery and life. Farms have popped up in many places around Armand. The Ark, resting in its permanent position on the far side of a small river from the city, has had a beautiful park built around it. Small villages have sprouted up here and there as people venture out from beneath the protection of the dome of Armand. Forests have sprouted up in a number of places, and fish and insects begin to appear. Each species is rolled out according to the overall plan of the terraformers, when the world and current balance of life is believed able to sustain the addition of something new. Eo has built a school in the mountains just north of Armand. Here he offers a rigorous monastic life, coupled with study of martial arts, philosophy and meditation, as well as more "standard" arts and sciences. Many men and women come to study and converse with him, now an elder statesman and well-loved thinker of the Itani people. His school produces impressive students, both for their well balanced and good nature as for their keen intellects and imaginations. Eo teaches that martial arts, far from the seeming outwardly combative nature, are merely a path to better understanding of one's self and better functioning as a human being. The common thread of peace and harmony runs through all that is taught within his school.

At age one hundred and four, Eo passes away. On the evening of his death, still fit and of very sound mind, he informs his students that he will no longer be available to teach them. However, he states his belief that they have understood the meaning and spirit of his ideas, and he hopes they will cling to that spirit rather than to the pedantic specifics of his words. With that he thanks them and goes to his meditation chamber. His body was discovered the next morning.

The planet of Itan mourns its gentle hero. His body is interred in a memorial near the Ark, not far from the statue of James Armand. Nine of Eo's ten foremost students leave his mountain school to start new schools in the open-air towns around Armand. The Schools of Eo become the standard by which education is judged, and produce a new generation of fit, happy, wise, and well-adjusted individuals. The people of Itan strive to live in balance with their natural surroundings, which have taken so long to grow.

Itan and its people have flourished in the past few hundred years. The planet is beautiful and green, with much wildlife on the land and in the sea. The people continue to advance technologically, constructing new types of spaceships and exploring the nearby wormhole areas. The schools of Eo have become integrated into the overall social and cultural structure of the people. Everyone participates in them to some extent, most leaving after several years to pursue jobs or technological research elsewhere. Some men and women, however, dedicate their lives to the schools and to the monastic life. These people research and practice internal energy, meditation, and ponder the meaning of life and death. Ancient martial forms, inspired by the animals of Earth, are researched and studied. New martial forms, inspired by the movements of wind and water, are discussed and refined. Much thought is given to the ideal of becoming one with one’s actions, mind and body. Whether applied to ancient swordsmanship forms or modern spaceship piloting, the results are impressive. Prospective pilots that have been taught the advanced meditation techniques are shown to have unusual reflexes and timing. The monastic upper levels of the school see these intriguing results and resolve to further their meditative research.

The culture of Itan progresses apace. The teachers and luminaries of the Schools of Eo become known as brothers or sisters of the Order of Eo. The Order is led by an abbot and a loose democratic organization of the rest of the Order. By this point, the Itani Senate has mostly ceased to exist, and the Itani people are largely guided by the Order. There is no strict governmental hierarchy so much as a group of elected officials from various towns, all of whom look to the Order for overall direction and guidance. Much emphasis is placed on personal responsibility, both to one’s own actions and to one's community. Most community tasks are distributed on a volunteer basis, and the various duties periodically migrate around the community.

Technologically, the Itani continue to advance, mostly perfecting and honing that which they already know, rather than making great leaps forward in knowledge. The efficiency and safety of the fusion power systems and grivitic pulse propulsion are greatly increased, and the Itani begin to explore further into the wormhole areas near them. As the population increases, there is an overall desire to spread out rather than condense in cities. Short-range planetary transportation is not a serious issue, as both energy for transport ships and some short-range matter transference are available. The Order maintains that a certain balance of human population should not be exceeded, lest it begin to damage their delicate and hard-wrought world. Thus, a search begins for new homes of future generations.

The Order themselves continue to delve into the mysteries of the mind, body, and soul. New theories and advances in meditation occur frequently. A certain number of standard practices are common throughout the Order and emulated by much of the rest of the Itani population. These practices of diet, exercise, meditation, and martial study have begun to result in considerably extended lifetimes for the practitioners. It is not uncommon for members of the order, along with other studious and motivated individuals, to reach an age of 150 years or more still in able-bodied health. Additionally, the medical needs of these practitioners are often markedly less than that of those who chose not to practice with regularity. Sickness and disease have become very rare within the Order.

A well-respected member of the Order, Erum the Blind, is given to moments of prophecy and clarity during deep meditation. The accuracy of these prophecies, or at least their common interpretations, is largely uncontested, as he has foretold major unusual events within his lifetime. Towards the end of his span, at age one hundred and thirty nine, he suddenly lapses into a prophetic state while in the midst of a martial demonstration for several upper-level students. He speaks of a hidden evil within the Itani people, of a thread of hatred long held in secret, which could spell the doom of the Itani. So saying, he abruptly expires, to the anguish of his students. His words disturb the Order to its foundations, as Itan has experienced little conflict and few problems in the last five hundred years. The elders ponder the meaning of this new threat, and how (and when) it may affect them.

The Itani begin to investigate a new branch of technology. It is found that sensors can be constructed which can react to the will and energies of a meditatively trained individual. It is even theorized that the technology could be crafted to amplify the energies of a monk, with many possible applications. The Order has long studied the link between thought and action, and many test pilots have been martially trained towards this end. When combined with the new technology, even more impressive results are realized. Sufficiently trained pilots can now fly with mere thought, while "feeling" the response of their ship in great detail. All data recorded by the shipboard computer can be filtered into their consciousness, understood, and acted upon, while in the required meditative state. Training to achieve this state, however, is a long and difficult process. Additionally, in a world of transports which can autopilot from place to place without incident, there is little need for this technology. For now, it is mainly used by the Order to provide displays of aerobatic skill during large festivals.

The Itani have had much success in their colonization projects. A number of planets suitable for colonization and terraforming (now greatly advanced) are found within a few wormhole-jumps of Itan. The planets of Eo and Divinia are founded, and by AD3600 are well terraformed and populated. Temples, seats of the Order of Eo, are constructed on all the new planets, with planet-wide Abbots elected to direct the local affairs of the Order. All temples frequently consult with the home temple for guidance.

A proposal is made to expand exploration in the direction of the wormholes through which the Ark had passed on its fateful journey to Itan. Some are curious to see what has become of their ancient brethren and learn more of their history. Others even dream of perhaps rediscovering a route to that aboriginal home of humankind, Earth. Four hundred years earlier, when the Itani began to explore their spatial surroundings in earnest, the Order had placed a ban on passing beyond the furthest of the known wormhole areas in the direction of Terra II. Past Abbots had asked that explorers remember why their forefathers had fled, risking life to found a new home where their children might live in peace. The Itani have no illusions about their past, or the horrible deeds perpetrated by their ancestors that caused the war and eventually led to the Exile of the Ark. However, the Itani people believe that much has changed in the last thousand years since the Exile, and in many respects they are correct. Itan gives all signs of an ideal human society, where concern for survival is a thing only dimly remembered. The populace instead strives to create works of beauty and thought, only for the delight of creation. Exploring the fringes of their universe and their minds, while cradled in the lush beauty of their planets, the Itani people have forgotten their ancient hatreds. Much historical study is given to the Serco and their ways. Although the idea of melding man with machine, or diverging from the blueprint of nature, holds little personal appeal to the Itani people, it is now considered to be the ways of a different culture, no doubt as unique, beautiful, and interesting as their own.

The exploration proposal meets some resistance in the upper levels of the Order, with those who believe it was unwise to seek the ancient enemy. However, the idea quickly gains ground with many of the more curious and scientifically minded, and is much debated throughout the Itani planets. After several years of discussions, enough pressure has built to cause the Abbot of Itan, with some misgivings, to lift the Ban.

The technology of monitoring and focusing the energy of a meditative monk has been further refined to produce an intriguing device. The so-called "Energy Focus" can be used by a highly trained monk to produce a seemingly impenetrable field, formed from a variety of spiritual life energies. The form of this field is adaptable by the thoughts of the monk, depending on the skill and abilities of the individual. The discovery is hailed as opening a new field of science, but few immediate applications are found. Many of the upper level members of the Order acquire Energy Focus devices for experimentation and as teaching tools, to give form to thought and aid in conceptual description.

Although exploration through the wormholes near Terra II commences immediately after the lifting of the Ban, it is done as discreetly as possible. Reconnaissance information is gathered on the Serco and Terra II in order to develop a cautious plan to make contact with their historical foe. So, for some years, observations of the Serco are made at long range. In the seventh month of 3827, an Itani exploration ship and its crew are captured by the Serco.

Section II

From what can be pieced together from various sources, life did not go well for the Serco after the Exile of the Ark. Following the destruction of the Itani domes, the Serco military came to a halt and considered its next move. News was beginning to sift into public knowledge of the utter decimation of the Itani, civilian or otherwise. Some heralded this as no less than the Itani had deserved, but most considered it a horrible over-reaction on the part of the Serco military leaders. When images of the full extent of the desolation, the shattered domes piled with broken bodies, reached the Serco public, there was an outcry and lament for having utterly destroyed the only other human beings on this side of galaxy. Still, many also recalled the recent images of their own cities, laid waste by Itani bombs. Thus, by the time immediately before the launch of the Ark, the Serco military leaders stood in a very tenuous and politically unstable position. Had the population of the Ark made themselves known to the Serco civilian population at that time, there likely would have been a spontaneous outpouring of mutual regret that might have healed all wounds between the peoples. However, the Itani did not know the Serco political situation, and the Serco were unaware of any Itani who had survived the blood thirst of their military commanders.

The Serco military leaders, on the other hand, had no regret of their actions and considered the war to be a job well done. Their military structure was a rather small, close-knit group of officers, all of whom knew one another well and who shared a similar view when it came to matters of combat. For the Serco, there was no need for a large command structure, as a large percentage of their combat forces were computer controlled beasts and automatons, such as the Guises. Thus, this group of like-minded officers perceived that it was not they who had wronged, indeed, they had justly defended their nation from a great threat; so great that it had extinguished the lives of a sizable percentage of their population. It was their belief that any true soldier, when faced with the defense of one's people, would respond with all possible force, that such a threat might never be marshaled against them again. They presented their people with this view, and were largely rebuffed, to their disgust. Finally, the military leaders conceived a plan to guarantee that their nation would not persist in this weak and divided state, and would become a nation strong enough to withstand the onslaught of any attacker.

On the dawn of the same day that the Ark planned to launch, they prepared their coup d'etat. Ironically, the launch of the Ark, utterly unexpected by the Serco and not fully understood until second contact with the Itani in 3827, played well into the hands of the military commanders. The launch caused shockwaves to rumble across the Serco nation, triggering volcanic activity, quakes, fire and great dust clouds. The cities were left in confusion and chaos, allowing the military to move in and assert their power and control.

AD 2672, Terra II

The Serco military coup was swift and well organized. Given their complete control of the army, arguably the most devastating ground assault force ever created by humankind, the civilian government had little choice but to give up control. Very little blood was shed in the coup, and for a short time, little changed in the Serco culture. However, it was not long before the new government began to impose strict parameters on education, mass media, and other societal communications mediums. No discussions of the Itani demise were permitted. All references to the war had to fit the military commanders' vision of their "glorious victory over the bloodthirsty Itani aggressors," a version of the facts which had enough basis in truth to be convincing to subsequent generations. References to the launch of the Ark were considered a matter of Serco Security and were listed as a "seismic event" in all public databases. At the same time the new government began funding propaganda programs designed to promote nationalism and pride in the Serco culture. Much funding was given to technological research of all kinds, although most was given to those projects with foreseeable wartime applications. Enlistment in the military was encouraged, and military service became a common mark of pride among the youth. Although the Serco were masters of their planet, the memory of the strange giant ship launching from its shattered mountain left a nagging doubt in the minds of the Serco high command. Therefore, military research and presence were maintained, outwardly to "combat any insurgence from terrestrial Neutrals" and to "maintain a strong defense in the event of unforeseen contact from the skies." While the threat of attacks from local pacifists or vague unknown aliens may have seemed improbable to some, the continued military development was favored by most of the population.

Economically and politically the new government was very efficient. Overseen by a triumvirate of three former generals, waste and excess within the government were greatly decreased and the savings funneled into education and social programs. Because of this, within a few years of the takeover, much of the population had come out in favor of the would-be military dictatorship. Changes and curtailments in civil liberties were subtle, as the generals were intelligent enough to avoid imposing any restrictions which would widely affect Serco culture. Thus, for most of the Serco nation, despite the considerable alteration in governmental philosophy, life continued more or less as normal.

AD 2714, Terra II

The neutral towns of Terra II had done their best to keep their heads down during the Itani/Serco war, and since that time had attempted to return to normal. They had always been on reasonable terms with both cultures, and had made every attempt to maintain that, during and after the war. Neutral towns absorbed thousands of Itani refugees, fleeing the merciless advance of the Serco armies. These citizens, unaware of the construction of the Ark, became part of the Neutral Society and brought new skills and technologies with them. The Serco more or less ignored the Neutral towns, although they traded with them from time to time and maintained good relations.

The Neutral areas did not consider themselves a nation in any sense. More a loosely knit cluster of small towns and villages spread out across the less desirable real-estate of Terra II. They had no central government. Each town was governed by an elected mayor, usually with a small committee of elected advisors. However, some towns were run very differently from others, and political corruption was not uncommon. Official communication between towns was usually limited to topics likely to impact many of them, such as the breakdown of Itani/Serco relations, wandering bandits, and the like.

While the neutral territories were a patchwork quilt of small groups of people, they did have a few unifying threads. The most notable was their mutual love of peace. Children were taught from an early age of the various wars of humankind, and invited to look upon the desolation and destruction they had left behind. Largely an agrarian culture, the neutrals had little understanding of the power-mongering ways of the two mighty nations with which they shared their planet. The conflicts and the consequent apparent extinction of the Itani left the neutral people only with a memory of the horrible useless waste of war. Because of this, all Itani refugees who were accepted into Neutral society were required to swear that neither they nor their children would cause, organize, or take part in any hostilities on Terra II. Even after so swearing, the rest of the town usually kept an eye on the refugees, so great was the concern that the Serco might be given an excuse to roll their juggernaut of war over their towns. These measures were understandable, as many of the Itani refugees were enraged at the destruction of their nation and could conceivably have resorted to guerilla warfare against the Serco. As it was, however, those who wished to fight were turned away, and those who remained had to strictly maintain the pacifist principles or risk ejection from neutral society.

The military's takeover of the Serco government had little initial impact on the neutrals. Although it was somewhat disturbing that their incredibly powerful militaristic neighbor was now controlled by those same generals responsible for the Itani civilian massacres, the Serco made no changes in their friendly stance towards neutral towns, and life continued apace. The neutral traders did begin to notice a recurrent theme of pro-Serco nationalism in the younger Serco with whom they interacted. This worried some, but no ill effects had yet surfaced.

Of the three peoples of Terra II, the neutrals had by far the most evenhanded perspective on the use of technology. They saw little that was inherently evil in the science itself, evil sprang entirely from its misuse and was therefore a flaw of humankind. Thus, the neutrals adapted whatever technological advantages they could find to better their lives. For tending their crops, Itani mechanization was generally favored over Serco bioengineered creatures, due to fears of the creatures becoming uncontrollable. However, Serco brain and body implants were not uncommon, although their expense made them much more rare than among the Serco population. Technology was adapted to whatever needs arose, and the Neutral scientific base was made up of hands-on tinkerers and engineers rather than heavy researchers. Lacking a single governmental base or adequate funding, the neutrals had no centers of scientific study or long-term research goals. They simply adapted what they had to solve their problems, often with very imaginative and ingenious results.

AD 2853, Terra II

On the surface, the Serco culture has not changed significantly since the military coup nearly two hundred years earlier. Upon closer examination, however, subtle but important differences become clear. The sense of national pride fostered by the Triumvirate after the takeover has now evolved into a strong belief in Serco "ethnic superiority." This perspective is supported in the schools and preached from the military-controlled mass media. May 20th is mandated a national holiday by the government, in celebration of the "Righteous Serco victory over the evil that was the Itani Nation". Military training is highly prized even in peacetime. The military media sponsors yearly contests of strength, agility, hand to hand combat, and tactical/strategic ability, all of which are broadcast to the public. These contests become very popular, encouraging each new generation of youthful Serco men and women to vie for yearly titles and the honor of being considered part of the "betterment of their nation".

AD 3004, Terra II

The neutral territories have prospered in the last few hundred years, thanks to the final completion of the terraforming process and a good relationship with their Serco neighbors. The system of mechanized farming is now predominately automated, resulting in more free time and a higher standard of living for Neutral people. The advanced technology once required to survive on a harsh planet, now serves to make life easier on the tamed and mild place that their world has become. A small group of restless thinkers forms in one of the larger cities, for the purpose of reviving space travel and exploration. Mostly a haphazard mix of young skyward dreamers and farm-equipment mechanics, they spend much time in study and discourse of old Itani spacecraft plans and papers. Spaceships were never a priority for the Neutral society of farmers, as they had little apparent use to their culture. The few rusted hulks that remain in Neutral territory, dating from the original colonization of Terra II, have mostly been cannibalized and re-used for parts on other, more mundane equipment. Nevertheless, The Propeller Group (taking their name from an archaic Terran method of flight propulsion) begins work on a crude spaceship.

AD 3016, Terra II

After a decade of trial and error, mistakes and education, The Propeller Group (TPG) manages to launch an unmanned, remote-controlled probe into orbit. The successful launch results in celebrations in the neutral territories, and greatly startles the personnel of Serco SkyCommand. After some communications with TPG and internal discussions, the Serco officially congratulate the Group on their accomplishment, much to the Group's collective relief. The probe itself proves quite serviceable, its tiny gravitic pulse engine (a diminutive homage to the great Itani designs on which it was based) propels it out of orbit and even as far as the next planet. Successfully recovered after impact in the ocean, the probe is hailed as bringing in a new era of Neutral space exploration. After recovering their probe, TPG goes on tour, passing through the Neutral towns and cities in search of additional funding for a manned mission.

AD 3252, Terra II

The last two hundred years have been marked with considerable technological advancements in the Neutral Territories. Since their first faltering steps into space, TPG has grown and expanded into a respected spacecraft manufacturing corporation. Their light, relatively inexpensive craft allow the Neutrals to experiment with a space station in orbit of a planet near Terra II. Experiments are conducted in long-term space habitats, yielding discoveries in artificial gravity and other areas. A self-contained biosphere is built on the station, allowing experiments in space-based farming. Best known of all, TPG holds yearly exploration contests among its ship customers. Contestants strive to return with the most useful and interesting data from distant locales, all of which is assembled and judged at the end of the year. Although there are not many individuals who choose to become professional explorers, the few that do are awarded fame, fortune, and corporate sponsorship. The lives of explorers are difficult, however. They often vanish alone into the stars for years at time, perhaps never to return at all. Despite the perils, these "single hander" explorers capture the imagination of their people, and expand the Neutral consciousness of the universe around them.

AD 3419, Terra II

Life has gone relatively well for the Neutrals. The Serco are no longer communicative, and have made it clear that they consider the neutrals’ culture to be inferior. Serco borders have effectively closed, but there is no open hostility. The behavior of the Serco is worrisome to a few Neutral leaders, but the gaze of the population is ever skyward. Exploration has broadened the knowledge of their people to a great extent. A new mineral is discovered in the depths of an asteroid belt, many jumps from Terra II. Named Xithricite, it allows the Neutrals to develop metal alloys with incredible physical characteristics. A mining station is constructed in the center the asteroid field, in order to efficiently harvest the green Xi veins. Over time, this station is added to in a haphazard fashion, eventually resulting a vast complex of interwoven stations, each constructed by a different group for varying purposes. This patchwork quilt of xi-rite steel provides a living shelter for thousands of miners and their families, and becomes the home base of the neutrals in space.

The exploration project also fares well, with much that is strange and new coming to the attention of the neutral peoples. Around this period, a navigational error is made by a neutral explorer charged with mapping systems. This minor error leaves a wormhole area off of neutral charts for nearly a millennia, and likely leads to the long-standing lack of contact between the neutrals and Itani.

AD 3543, Terra II

The Serco have advanced, but many of the tenets of their culture have remained unchanged over the last few hundred years. The military still retains control, and this fact is considered a great source of national pride. The original military coup is considered a great moment in Serco history. The current Triumvirate determines rulings based on interpretation of the recorded long-term wishes of the first Triumvirate. The power, structure, and authority of the Serco people is considered, by them, to be their greatest legacy. It is a nationally held belief that their nation will survive for a thousand generations. Nationalism to the point of arrogance is taught in the schools and upheld by the leaders.

Technologically, while some breakthroughs have been made in computer structure and organic computer design, the Serco have not progressed as swiftly as one might have expected. Given their efficient government and allocation of funding and brilliant researchers, great things might have been achieved. Alas, their culture became so militarily indoctrinated that the more creative and imaginative aspects of their children were often discouraged. Obedience, honor, and skill were the valued assets of the day. All major celebrities within Serco culture were either their leaders or skilled soldiers who gained fame from prowess in the National Games. These Games had grown from the contests and demonstrations of skill of prior generations into the grand-scale events which now entirely occupied the public's attention. Winners of these games were held up as role models for the next generation, and children were encouraged to compete and find their place within the Hall of Warriors.

A number of areas of Serco research basically stagnated within the last few hundred years, most notably their space research division. The Serco have grown to believe themselves unassailable, and this sense of pervasive military arrogance has infused most of their research programs. Their spacecraft have seen many enhancements and design modifications since the original Nighthawks were launched against the Itani, however their basic premise is unchanged. The small fighter remains practically the only ship in service with the Serco. Little need is seen for larger or longer range craft, since the only practical purpose of the Serco Sky Command is to monitor the now-frequent comings and goings of the Neutral Territories ships. The Serco do not gaze skyward. They have little interest in expansion or exploration; their culture only looks inward to their Games and competitions.

The youth of the Serco of this period are clearly products of their culture. Overly proud and arrogant, they begin to go out of their way to taunt the "lower" people of the Neutral Territories. Scions of a militaristic society, they do not comprehend the Neutrals precepts of pacifism. To them the Neutrals seemed merely weak and foolish, a reminder of the original frailty of their species. Filled with a mixture of disgust and boredom, the young Serco harass outlying Neutral homes and peoples, often going so far as to burn fields or assault those unlucky enough to be wandering alone. These events do not escape the attention of the worried Neutral leaders, who have little luck in getting the Serco government to discipline their errant youth.

AD 3609, Terra II

Serco-Neutral relations have gone only downhill. Since the original harassment issues sprang up, the youth have grown to adulthood and brought about full-fledged persecution. Indeed, now new generations carry on the traditions of their parents and grandparents, torturing Neutral people for their amusement. Whole villages are destroyed by laughing Serco and their fearsome "pet" creatures. Most of the Neutrals put up little resistance, fleeing before their oppressors. However, even had they fought, they would have stood little chance against the heavily augmented, militarily enhanced Serco and their frightening creatures. An all-cities meeting is called, including every mayor of every town, to discuss the problem. Refugees of Serco entertainment wait outside the meeting building, hoping that some solution will be forthcoming to alleviate their misery. Within, many options are debated and much information is shared. There has been no luck in contacting the Serco government for help; many of the better-known persecutors are even members of the government. Officially, the Serco Nation chooses to believe that the Neutral Territories do not exist, therefore how can they be oppressed? A few among the Neutrals even propose fighting back, but cooler heads remind them of the immensely powerful war machine with which they share the planet. Eventually, it is concluded that they have little option but to leave Terra II and search for a new home, perhaps surviving in space in the meantime. Their deep space mining and farming stations have proven the idea feasible, but it will take a great deal of time to prepare, time that their people will spend suffering under the heel of the Serco.

AD 3692, Terra II

Preparations have been made, and the Neutrals begin to leave Terra II en masse. Their population is not large, not nearly the scale of the Serco Nation or the Itani at their height, but the undertaking is still quite massive. Its execution requires the Neutrals to form a somewhat more cohesive government, mostly composed of a Senate populated with the former town mayors, along with representatives of the major corporations. Most important of these corporations is TPG Corp, now the large and powerful manufacturer of spacecraft. This new, more organized conglomeration of settlers and corporations is named the Union of Independent Territories. The UIT is born.

The people are understandably bitter about abandoning their towns, homes, and lives. While their imaginations may be captivated by the ever-present unknowns of space, most of them were happy living in their small towns and villages, with little desire to brave the starlit voids themselves. Generations upon generations have lived in those towns, dating back to the early domes of earth colonization. However, the people are happy to be free of the ever-present fright of the marauding Serco, and many look forward to the prospect of starting a new home on a distant planet of their own. It is not widely publicized that no such suitable planet has been found, even after the considerable exploration of the last few hundred years. For the moment, the UIT government and corporations concentrate on expanding their network of stations and rocky outposts to meet the needs of their population.

As a final commentary on the perspective of the Serco as the only inhabitants of Terra II, they decide to rename the planet "Serco Prime" in honor of their nation. The UIT sees this as added reason to vacate the planet as soon as possible.

AD 3827, Serco Prime and Independent Territories

The Neutrals and their newly formed Union have abandoned Serco Prime (Terra II) and the Sol II system entirely, the last of their ships vanishing through the nearer of the two wormholes about fifty years earlier. The Serco let them go with little trouble and a feeling of "good riddance". The UIT have adapted well to life entirely in space, both logistically and culturally. The elders still lament for skies and seas, but the space-born generations consider such things unnecessary markers of a bygone era. Mechanized environment suits, adapted from the ancient farming and war technology of the Itani, are widely employed to allow the frail humans to easily repair and expand their stations. The Serco remain unchanged. Ever focused inward, their culture stagnates even further. That is, until they detect unknown ships entering from the more distant of the two wormhole areas.

Section III

The capture of the Itani research vessel sends shockwaves through Serco High Command. While a few ancient Serco records did mention the possibility that some Itani might have escaped the massacre of 2661, this theory had long since been given up as folly. Indeed, the captured Itani had a hard time convincing their Serco inquisitors that they were speaking the truth. The Triumvirate called a war council to discuss the matter. Three major possibilities were put forth. The first, that their enemy of old had indeed escaped to some distant world and were now beginning their return. The strange configuration of the Itani ship, with no visible controls or connection to the pilot, lent credence to this theory. The second possibility was that this was some strange plot of the Neutrals, perhaps to take revenge for being driven from their homes. The Neutrals were not perceived as a threat, but their many advances in space technology had not escaped Serco notice. Thirdly, that perhaps this was an encounter of a wholly separate nature, a completely new race or species. Perhaps this species sought to lull the Serco into merely viewing this as a minor infraction by a vanquished enemy.

The Itani prisoners, in the meantime, did their best to convince the Serco of the good intentions of the Itani people. Viewed largely with suspicion by the Serco, they made little headway. At best they were seen as the spies of an unknown power, at worst, the van of an approaching armada. Either way, the new potential threat worried the Serco military commanders, prompting them to generate short-term plans for the possibility of interstellar war. A massive propaganda campaign was launched in the Serco cities, painting frightening visions of alien invaders from the skies, and calling for all Serco peoples to help ready their world for battle. A call was put out for volunteers for the newly revitalized SkyCommand and Pilot programs. Work began on modifying the venerable Nighthawk fighters for much longer range, so that a heavily armed reconnaissance group might investigate the closest of the purportedly Itani planets. A watch was set on the further wormhole area and the Itani explorers continued to be detained and closely monitored. For their message of peace to be best understood, the Itani remained docile and made no attempt to escape, hoping that diplomacy might win through after further contact between the governments.

Noting the disappearance of their exploration team, the Itani became concerned. Further missions to monitor the Serco system were suspended, pending the return of the missing team. Within the monastic hierarchy, the next course of action was widely debated. Should a rescue team be sent to discover what happened? If the Serco had indeed captured the explorers, how would they be perceived? Although information on the Serco was incomplete, a picture had begun to emerge of an arrogant, warlike nation, with few interests outside of its own cultural pursuits. If the explorers were perceived as a threat, an additional rescue team might only compound that flawed perspective. If the Serco were alerted and suspicious, it would be impossible to make the wormhole jump into their system unnoticed. Thus it was decided, with some misgivings and concern for their missing comrades, that no rescue team would be sent. A watch would be placed on the near side of the wormhole area, the Itani prepared to wait and hope for the best.

After a week of frantic work, thirty Nighthawk fighters, newly adapted for long range and loaded out to full combat capacity, went into operational readiness. The Itani prisoners gave detailed information on how to reach Eo, the nearest Itani planet. The explorers were hopeful that they might be escorted home by this small Serco fleet, but were rebuffed and placed back under lock and key. As the sun set over the ancient remnants of the Itani home on Terra II, the Nighthawks launched from their bays and sped towards the second wormhole area.

* * *

The Serco fighters flocked through the wormholes, their multitude of jump signatures noted from a distance by the alert Itani recon ship. The Itani waited for them to do their post-jump regroup, to get a thorough count and inspection of the approaching force, then fled before them towards Eo. Easily outdistancing the antiquated Nighthawks, the recon vessel reported the news to the Itani networks several hours before the Serco would arrive. The monastic order wrestled with the problem. There were too many ships approaching for a simple diplomatic contact, but too few for a serious planetary attack. Scans of the ships had not noted any high-yield or organic warheads. By their antiquated reactor design, it was unlikely that the ships even had enough fuel for more than a brief trip to Eo and back, with no excess for the burns required of space combat. Thus, they concluded, this was probably just an investigative and diplomatic mission with considerable defensive capabilities. Despite this conclusion, many worried over the lack of an Itani defensive network. There were a number of monks who trained in the energy-based flight system, but the Itani had no warships and few weapons of any kind. During the last thousand years of peace, there had been little need for such things. Eventually Eilon, the Abbot of the temple on Eo, put forth his thoughts. "I will go", he said, "and meet the Serco in my own transport, that we might confer and deliver our message of peace, without bringing them too close to our planet". Much dissent sprang up against this proposal, no Itani wished to risk such a beloved and well-respected leader in an endeavor with so questionable an outcome. The old monk would not be gainsaid, however, and the Abbot of Itan remained silent. They knew that their representative must be sufficient to honor and hopefully placate the fast-approaching Serco, and few could match Eilon in matters of negotiation or diplomacy. The abbot boarded his transport, accompanied by a small crew, and lifted off, destined for the wormhole region from which the Serco would soon emerge.

The Serco fighters made the final jump into the Eo system, and found the Abbot waiting for them. At over three hundred meters long, the Abbot's personal transport vessel was not a small ship. Sculpted with a flowing natural design and decorated with the black and gold patterns native to Eo, it visually projected the power and authority of the planet's leader. Maintaining position only a few hundred meters from the Serco's wormhole exit points, the Nighthawks were quite startled to be met by the large ship. The Serco had never encountered a ship of that scale, even the largest Neutral transports were still relatively small. As the flustered Serco broke formation and eventually regrouped around the Abbot's ship, the Abbot transmitted his welcome message to his "long lost brethren".

* * *

The communications systems of both the Serco and Itani had advanced in different directions over the past millennium. Both had elected to resort to an ancient analog radio method, that they might be sure of reaching the other side. This also allowed the people of the planet Eo to tune in to the discussions, albeit somewhat delayed by the distance to the wormhole area. The language of both sides had also changed, although not so dramatically that communication was difficult. The Itani had adopted a terse, clipped, precise mode of speech, with a large number of new words that referred to concepts specific to their studious and martial culture. Usually moderate in tone, they enjoyed discussion, but preferred to reach a conclusion (or agreement to disagree) swiftly and succinctly. Negotiation ability was highly prized, and measured by the speed with which one might cut through peripheral matters to reach the core issue that effected both parties. The competitive nature of the Serco showed in their aggressive mode of speech. Filled with confidence, their overriding interest in bending the conversation to their will. Every discussion among the Serco was a battle, with face and caste won or lost depending on the perceived outcome.

And so the discussions began. Eilon welcomed the Serco as guests and ancient family. "Too long has it been since our societies have met, I greet you on behalf of the Itani people", he said. "We are a peaceful folk, and desire only to communicate and share with other cultures to the benefit of all". It was some minutes before a response was forthcoming from the Serco, their matte black ships silently holding position around the transport vessel. Eventually a voice responded, "You have invaded the sovereign dominion of the Serco. Your spies have been captured and your invasion plot exposed. Now you sue for peace? Be thankful we permit you to speak at all". This first exchange set the tone for the rest of the discussion. The Abbot tried time and again to convince the Serco of the Itani's peaceful intentions. The Serco interpreted the lack of aggressive negotiating technique as cowardice, and became even more belligerent and openly contemptuous of the Itani diplomat. After several hours of fruitless argument, the exasperated Abbot informed the Serco that, if they wished it, no further attempts at contact or exploration would be made by the Itani. However, they would appreciate the return of the pilots from the captured exploratory mission. The Serco representative then made a haughty retort, stating that not only would the Itani never see their pilots again ("Enemy spies"), but that they had "begun an event that the Serco would surely finish". At this veiled threat the Abbot simply sighed, thanked the Serco for their time, and disclosed that he would be unable to continue negotiation, but that he hoped they might resume discussion at some point in the future. The transport ship turned about and began its trip back to Eo. Many now believe that this was a calculated attempt by Eilon to shake up the Serco and alleviate the deadlock in negotiations. Others simply believe that the Abbot's impatience and irritation with the belligerent Serco got the better of him. Either way, the outcome was likely not what he desired. The Serco became infuriated by his attempt to leave, calling it an insult that he should attempt to leave the company of his betters without asking permission. When he failed to respond, the Serco perused, firing warning shots across the bow of the transport vessel. It is unclear whether a few of the shots were too close, or if the Serco deliberately fired upon the Abbot's ship, but within a few moments the transport had sustained heavy damage and was calling Eo for help.

The population of Eo listened in stunned silence to the first shots striking the hull of their leader's spacecraft. Even as the echoes of the transport's mayday call faded in the temple, several monks were boarding recreational craft, determined to aid their embattled brother. The light ships were only intended for space-acrobatics demonstrations, and had no offensive weapons of any kind, but the monks hoped they might at least draw off some of the attackers, perhaps even driving off the Serco by physically ramming them. The news of the monks' launch was added to the news broadcast, prompting many of Eo's citizens and spacecraft owners to decide that they too should help their much-beloved leader. Within a few minutes, hundreds of craft were lifting off of pads around Eo and following the monks into space.

The Abbot himself had not been idle. He, like many academics, possessed an energy focus, largely as a teaching aid for rendering geometric concepts. Now, however, he employed it as a shield for his transport. The Serco noticed this unusual field surrounding the ship when one of their fighters collided with it, destroying the Nighthawk and killing the pilot. The angry Serco leader then ordered his squadron to destroy the transport as an example to those who would attack the Serco nation. Concentrating all fire on the large ship, the Serco were baffled by their inability to injure the ship or penetrate its surrounding field. For several minutes this went on, the fighters bombarding the transport with the full extent of their arsenal, to no avail. However, this defense did come at a cost. Very few Itani monks could have even formed a field large enough to encompass the entire transport ship, let alone hold it up under constant attack. The Abbot of Eo, first of his order, and still sprightly at age three hundred and eighty seven, was no mere monk. Even the Abbot of Itan might have been hard pressed to match Eilon's mastery of internal power. Despite his strength, maintaining the field was an incredible drain, and one that could last but a short time. Although his crew and entourage begged him to board one of the small escape pods, he refused. He knew that the Serco might be likely to fire upon any jettisoning pods, and he was unable to break connection with the energy focus without risking their destruction. So it was that with a series of terse commands he ordered everyone to the transport's forward cargo hold, one of the strongest areas of the ship, where they would close all the emergency pressure hatches and hope for rescue. He himself maintained contact with the Focus on the bridge, straining under the load of the shield, now beginning to buckle, giving hope to the Serco that perhaps their quarry was not so indestructible.

Even at top speed the monks couldn't hope to reach the transport in less than fifteen minutes. When the final transmission was received from Eilon's ship, detailing how he was single-handedly holding off twenty nine Serco warships with his energy focus, a great cheer went up from the makeshift rescue fleet. Spacecraft of all shapes and sizes had joined in, from pleasure craft to hundred-year-old battered mining vessels. All converged on the distant transport at maximum speed, still unnoticed by the Serco.

The Serco were intent on their perceived enemy. Volley after volley of pulse weaponry slammed into the faint, translucent field. After five minutes the shield had begun to oscillate and distort, sometimes uncovering areas of the transport. Within ten minutes of the initial attack, it was evident that the field would not last much longer. At eleven minutes, thirty-seven seconds, the Abbot of Eo expired, his last effort an explosion of energy that briefly expanded the shield to twice its size, damaging and destroying several of the harrying Nighthawks. With the final defense now fallen, the Serco wasted little time in eviscerating the remains of the noble vessel, leaving a cloud of burning debris expanding from the few intact sections of the ship. Congratulating themselves on a battle well fought, the Serco began to take stock of their situation, picking up their casualties and preparing to salvage parts of the transport for further study. It was then that they noticed the approaching armada.

During this period, due to the relatively stagnated Serco space program and antiquated ship design, it is believed that the Nighthawks had little in the way of long-range scanning devices. The Serco had never explored, nor had they given a great deal of thought to space combat beyond defense of their own atmosphere. During the first Serco-Itani war, the Nighthawks were guided by land-based scanning arrays, relieving the ships from the necessary complexities of onboard long-range scanners. Thus, it is believed that the Serco first became aware of the makeshift Itani armada when it was close enough to be visible to the naked eye. The monks were the closest, in their small, light aerobatic ships. But it was the inimitable mass of ships behind the monks that would truly have drawn the eye. Finally numbering over four thousand individual spacecraft, the vast cloud would truly have made an impressive sight. Among them, a pair of Divinian heavy transports, each over six thousand meters in length, which had left their positions orbiting Eo's moon to join the rescue effort. Together, their mass alone likely blotted out the sun, a pair of menacing goliaths of a scale never imagined by the Serco, surrounded by a cloud of ships so numerous that they filled half the sky. This vision proved too much for the Serco, who turned and fled for the wormhole.

The Itani did not pursue. They knew how fortunate they were that the Serco had retreated before their toothless wolfpack. The bow section of the Abbot's transport was recovered largely intact, with all members of the Abbot's crew still alive. Eilon's body was also recovered and brought back to Eo for memorial. The Abbot of Itan, deeply shaken by the turn of events, declared a day of mourning and remembrance. A rumble of anger was brewing in the Order. The Itani would never be the same.

* * *

The Serco returned home, informing their commanders of the strange altercation with the Itani. The Triumvirate was understanding of their representative's actions. Some in the high command were not pleased to discover they had gained a new and unknown enemy. The Triumvirate, however, maintained the hard line of "Itani Spies" and "Invasion", and considered their actions justified. Serco Prime buzzed with activity. Rumor of war brought great excitement to the militarily-driven culture. The reports of the Itani spacecraft were disquieting to the high command, however, and they had their engineers embark on the design of a fully modern interstellar armada. After the strange battle near the Itani planet, they expected some sort of retaliation, and began to defensively arrange what forces they had.

The communications networks crackled between Itan, Eo, and Divinia. The monks of Eo were distraught over the loss of Eilon and the aggression of the Serco. Within the monastic order on all three planets there began a loud clamor for vengeance. This highly vocal minority was sudden in its appearance and distressing to the monastic leaders. The Abbot of Itan reminded the monks of the pacifistic teachings of their founder, asking that they recall the horrible folly of war that their ancestors had brought upon themselves, leading to the exodus from Terra II. At this gentle chiding, however, the clamor only became louder. Suddenly there was a scattered lot of respected monks, all over the Itani nation, calling for a fleet to be outfitted with weaponry, that the Itani might rescue forcibly their imprisoned pilots. This suggestion was not abhorrent to many, but it went against the wishes of the monastic elders, who at all costs clung to their peaceful beliefs. After a week of unusually heated argument within the Order, several hundred monks abruptly announced their secession from the Monastic Order of Eo. Such an event was unheard of, and shook the Order to its core. In a thousand years of peaceful study, no monk had ever abandoned the Order. Now, suddenly, over three hundred did exactly that and vanished from all knowledge.

Days of turmoil followed for the Itani. The Abbots of Divinia and Itan, along with the newly accepted Abbot of Eo, met together to discuss the upheaval. There was no question that the secession had been well organized and executed. Upon further study of the profiles of the monks who had left, a pattern slowly began to emerge. The monks had all known one another, had often worked closely together, and came from families who usually lived in the same communities. Brothers and sisters were sent out to question these families, but they returned only with word of abandoned villages. The secessionists and their families, perhaps over a thousand individuals, had disappeared without a trace. The scale of this mysterious conspiracy amazed the Itani. But where had they all gone? And why?

Twenty days after the Serco had destroyed Eilon's cruiser, shipping traffic began to report sightings of unusual craft making jumps from the direction of Divinia. Flat black and free of insignia or planetary color scheme, the ships were clearly Itani, but outfitted strangely and heading at high speed through the systems towards Eo. As they passed Itan they were scanned and shown to be carrying pulse and warhead-based weaponry. This news stunned the Itani leaders, but by the time vessels were scrambled to follow the unusual ships, they had left the sector and proved difficult to locate. In the thousand-year history since the settling of Itan, no serious outbreaks of violence or civic disruption had ever occurred. The Monastic leaders did not seriously believe they might attack an Itani world, but made nervous by recent events, several ships were launched from Eo to watch the wormhole area that led to Itan.

Seventeen matte black ships jumped into the Eo system. Clearly a group of small freighters and performance-built pleasure craft, all retrofitted from combat, the group quickly blew past the waiting sentries and headed for the other wormhole area at maximum speed. As they passed Eo, they broadcast this message: "We are the Order of Akan, descendents of those who remember that evil twisting of technology and nature that yielded the abomination who are the Serco. Mellowed by our years of peace, we have been recently reminded of the cost of our freedom. We will not stand by and allow the arrogant demons of mechanization to destroy that which we hold dear. We will return your pilots to you, though it may cost us our lives". Without a word more, the ships vanished from the sector, speeding to their inevitable collision with the Serco.

* * *

The obsidian fleet flashed into the Sol II system, only to find a pair of Nighthawk sentries lying in wait. The retrofitted Itani fighters made short work of the beleaguered, outclassed Serco, a thousand years of ship development proving its worth in a few minutes. While the Itani had ceased all weapon development after the first Serco-Itani war, the Order of Akan had apparently at least maintained some database of information on weapons design and manufacturing. Overall, the weaponry of the Serco was more advanced, but their ships were slow and far less maneuverable than the state-of-the-art Itani craft. Additionally, the Itani fighters contained two people, one responsible for piloting the ships, while another worked an Energy Focus to defend them. Although the abilities of the focus depended entirely on the abilities of the monk, the spacecraft were small and the shield made a big difference in the unlikely event of a Serco successfully hitting them.

After several short skirmishes, the Order of Akan closed on Serco Prime, heading for the orbiting Serco station, the extraterrestrial wing of Serco SkyCommand. As they approached, they scanned the station and noted three life forms who did not possess any of the standard Serco implants. The defending Serco threw their worst, launching all their remaining space craft and bringing a pair of newly constructed turrets to bear on their enemy. A battle blazed in the skies of Serco Prime for the next two hours, the first large interstellar conflict in the known history of mankind. Both sides took considerable casualties, but the Serco fared the worst by far. Finally, their weapons depleted and their pilots dead, they prepared for the inevitable boarding by the seven remaining Itani vessels. Aware of the location of their pilots, the Itani brought their freighter alongside the station, choosing to burn directly through the hull of the prison section. With the trio of bewildered but thankful pilots safely on the freighter, the Itani retreated to an orbit a few hundred miles higher than the station, and launched two final parting gifts. A brace of small, 20-kiloton nuclear weapons raced to meet the Serco. The first struck the station, disintegrating the light orbital platform and the four hundred people onboard. The second penetrated the atmosphere and detonated a few hundred meters above SkyCommand, reducing it to shattered rubble and making a radioactive wasteland of the immediate area. Approximately ten thousand people were employed by SkyCommand at that time.

Without a word of transmission, the tiny armada vanished into the space from whence they came.

* * *

The three Itani pilots returned home to Eo with burdensome tidings. Arriving in a small shuttle given them by the Order of Akan, they had little to tell of their rescuers, but much to report on their captors. The midnight fleet had vanished immediately after launching their shuttle, and had not returned through the wormholes to Divinia (which were now closely monitored). News of Itani victory over the Serco was met with both horror and jubilation. Everyone was delighted with the return of the pilots. Many were happy to have decidedly defeated the Serco in an interstellar battle, and in some measure believed that justice had been served for the murder of Eilon. Most were aghast at the use of nuclear weaponry and the estimated casualties from the SkyCommand attack. Few, however, grimly recognized the ultimate truth of the attack. The most arrogant of peoples had received a bloody nose and a bruised ego. A nation so militaristically centered, even if technologically stagnant, would never forgive such a transgression. They would be coming. War with the Serco had begun.

For the moment, however, the attention of the Monastic Order of Eo was focused inward. Studies of the mysterious "Order of Akan" had begun to bear fruit. Among the more incredible aspects of the Order's appearance was it's sudden and impressive use of weaponry. No weapons of those types had been manufactured in a millennium, there were few records of their construction even known to exist. It was doubtful that the splinter group had created all their weapons, including at least two thermonuclear devices, in only a week’s time. Not impossible, but still improbable. The footage of the black fleet revealed considerable thought put into their design and modification; this had been no one-week retrofit. If the ships had been in development for longer, what did this imply? Perhaps the Order of Akan had been preparing for war for some time? War with whom? They had shown no signs of aggression towards the Itani.

Then another subtle fact appeared. Of the initial groundswell of support for exploration of the Sol II sector and subsequent possible contact with the Serco, ninety percent of the supportive messages had come from now-defected members of the splinter group. Even their selection of the name "The Order of Akan" was itself unusual. Why name yourselves after a character so vilified in modern Itani history that his very name is spoken with distaste? Eventually a theory emerged. A small core of people onboard the original Ark had sworn vengeance against the Serco, even as they prepared to abandon their planet. Perhaps a few among them were former henchmen of the fallen Akan, and wished that his legacy continue. After the settling of Itan, this group lived on in secret, teaching separate histories and building exclusive communities. Hundreds of years of peace no doubt calmed their desire for vengeance, and for a time their oaths slept. Until, a catalyzing event occurred that spurred the group to suddenly reassert itself and push for new Itani-Serco contact. The nature of this event, as well as many aspects of this theory, were pure conjecture. Still, enough of the conjecture rang true to cause widespread discussion. What motivated the strange Order of Akan, where had they gone, and when would they return?

After the news of the nuclear attack on Serco SkyCommand, a small number of respected Itani monks began recommending the development of defensive weaponry. This did not sit well with many officials of the Order of Eo, calling it an abandonment of the pacifistic teachings for which they stand. "Would you have us become destructive monsters, like the so-called Order of Akan?" they asked. After a heated discussion that followed, it was eventually decided that time would be put into the necessary research, but that no such weaponry would be constructed until "the need is demonstrated." A few muttered that the need would not be fully demonstrated until the Serco rained death upon their heads, and cast worried looks at the sky.

AD 3830, Serco Prime

If the Serco had been a culturally and technologically stagnant people before, they are now a raging torrent of innovation. The Order of Akan's attacks utterly polarized the population into a common thirst for conquest and revenge. Massive resources are directed towards the design and construction of a new high-tech armada, built for no other purpose than to destroy the Itani. Nighthawks are greatly improved with better maneuverability and weapons. Their range can not be significantly enhanced with the limitations of existing technology, so instead the Serco build massive Carrier ships to take them to battle. Planetary bombardment ships, fleet-protection Destroyers, and troop carriers all make the way from the drawing board to the orbit of Serco Prime. The military as a whole undergoes a great reassessment of strategy, rethinking their ancient land-war tactics. Favor is found with small teams of enhanced, smarter Guises, compact enough for interstellar transport and numerous enough to provide a substantial ground force. The new Guises are controlled by an orbiting capital ship. Guise-like artificially controlled fighters are researched, but prove too unstable for short-term combat use. Initial testing of the ground forces goes well, and the Serco people remain stalwart in their call for vengeance.

In the meantime, the Itani continue to argue about the philosophical ramifications of building a military. Thus, little actual building takes place. They do manage to revive their aged weapons technology, and improve on it to some degree, bringing it up to date. Advancements are made in energy studies, monks can now easily fly a ship and control an Energy Focus at the same time. Designers conceptualize next-generation ships featuring modular weapons attachments, but no actual weapons are constructed.

AD 3844, Eo

On the day of the eighteenth anniversary of the attack on Serco Prime, a fleet of forty-four Serco capital ships make the jump to the adjacent system, on their way to Itani territory. The Itani sentries see them and provide a few hours warning to Eo. The Order is shaken by this news, many lamenting their foolish choice to avoid weapons construction. An evacuation of Eo’s population begins. The planet being the most recently settled of the Itani worlds, and the most lightly populated, the evacuation is managed with time to spare. A diplomatic envoy is dispatched to the wormhole area, in a last hope of negotiating with the incoming Serco armada. Negotiation is not considered likely, however, so the envoy also carries a number of highly trained monks to power the energy focus, along with a high yield thermonuclear device as a final option.

As the massive Serco invasion force begins its final jump into Eo's system, the envoy begins broadcasting requests for negotiation. The Serco fleet silently forms in front of the envoy, unresponsive to communications. Eventually, the envoy states that the attack on the Serco people was perpetrated by little-known Itani splinter group, and that the Itani people have no interest in war with the Serco. The sneering Serco commander finally responds, "Of course you have no interest in war, now that you read your demise in our presence". Immediately after, the Serco open fire on the envoy. The Itani diplomatic vessel flees before the pursuing armada, the monks on board hard-pressed to maintain the shield against so great an onslaught. The Itani decide to release their bomb, dropping it behind them in the path of the fleet. It detonates with the sudden brilliance of a new star, taking out several capital ships, including the flagship of the Serco commander. However, the rest of the fleet was spread over too great an area to have received much collective damage. The diplomatic vessel manages to escape in the ensuing confusion, but the loss of their commander has only strengthened the will of the invaders.

In relatively short order the Serco arrive at Eo and begin bombardment. The Guises are landed and start their assaults on the cities, which seem oddly silent and lightly defended. Most of the major cities are destroyed during this rampage, but few living Itani are found, let alone killed. The Serco are perplexed, but soon begin to make pronouncements of occupying the planet "on behalf of the Serco People, whose vengeance will not be soon forgotten". A few thousand Itani are found and killed, on various parts of the planet, those who were unable to evacuate or chose to stay behind. The sparseness of the population only further angers the Serco, who now perceive that the Itani have retreated before them. They have just begun scanning for additional wormhole areas in the sector, to track down the remaining Itani planets, when the Order of Akan abruptly arrives on the scene.

A massive battle rages above the skies of Eo for the next six hours. The Order has made considerable achievements in their defensive shielding, which proves more than a match for the improved Serco weaponry. Despite this fact, the Akanese are severely outnumbered. The day might still have gone badly, if not for the sudden appearance of a large number of fighters from Itan, hurriedly retrofitted with prototype weaponry. Both sides take heavy casualties, until the tide is finally turned with the destruction of the Guise control ship. Perceiving that their hopes for occupation have been dashed, the Serco retreat, taking their twelve remaining capital ships and vanishing through the wormhole towards their home.

The Itani celebrate their hard-won victory. Praised for their prompt arrival, the Order of Akan tersely states that they were simply doing their duty. Not long after, the black fleet vanishes once more.

AD 3845, Eo

The Itani success in the battle of Eo came at great cost. Although the casualties were far fewer than they might have been, a great many had still died, and the surface of the planet was in ruins. With little left of their cities, the refugees returned to the sad task of rebuilding. This put a considerable economic burden on the planets of Divinia and Itan, but they were up to the task. "Eo must be rebuilt," they said "more beautiful than ever." The residents got to work, and were happy to be swiftly recreating their homes. However, this did little to salve their anger at the Serco.

The Order of Eo had made no statements regarding their response to the Serco attack, and continued to weather the heated discussions within their ranks. Many wished to build a great armada, and attack the Serco, wipe out all their ability to make war, and put a permanent military watch on their nation. While this might have succeeded, it was a tenuous chance at best. The Itani knew nothing of the significant defensive measures the Serco had undertaken since SkyCommand had been obliterated. Such an assault would likely have been long and brutal, and probably achieved little aside from the decimation and demoralization of both cultures.

As it was, the suggestions of aggression were roundly rejected the monastic leadership. This caused unusually venomous and heated debate within the hierarchy, and placing a great weight and sadness on the countenance of the Abbot of Itan, to whom most of the Order looked for guidance. He agreed that, from what was known, peaceful negotiation with the Serco was unlikely, although it should be explored at every opportunity. He could not bear to consider aggression against the Serco, and in so doing, irreparably violate the Order's deeply held philosophy. He would, however, mandate the construction of a great military fleet, to be staffed and governed from within the Order, and to protect the Itani people from aggression. The posture of this fleet would be strictly defensive. It would be forbidden to travel beyond the systems claimed by the Itani. It would make no assaults on civilian populations or bombardments of planets inhabited by civilians. This military wing of the Order would be known as the Itani Defensive Corps.

Most of the Order applauded this solution, and immediately set about the organization and construction of this defensive corps. Some were dissatisfied, however, and demanded a more aggressive stance against the Serco. When news of the agreement was broadcast, reaction was similar. On Itan and Divinia, most found the defensive posture acceptable. On Eo, refugees bitterly asked if the Serco will be made to answer at all for their pitiless attack on a peaceable and wholly civilian population. No satisfactory answer was forthcoming.

About a year after the Battle of Eo, the Order of Akan abruptly passed through the Itani sectors, broadcasting a message. "Join with us, brothers and sisters", their repeating message exclaimed, "We fight to avenge our grievous hurts at the hands of the Serco". The message went on to further debase the Serco as "murderers without conscience" and "corruptors of nature". After several passes through the systems, the propaganda fleet was ordered to leave, and swiftly obeyed. Many had listened, however, and several thousand people, including refugees and disillusioned monks from Eo, followed the ships as they left. No attempts were made to discover their destination, and the Abbot of Itan permitted them to leave without rancor or judgment.

Many skirmishes have occurred since the battle Eo. All attempts at peaceful resolution with the Serco have been met with rebuke and retaliation. Analysis of the Serco response implies they feel insulted by the offers of terms, despite many of the terms being greatly favorable to their people. They seem to despise everything Itani, no offers of technology or strategic area interest them. Explanations of the different Orders mean little to them, as they espouse a belief that all Itani are a disease in need of cleansing. They will only accept total surrender, and even then they will guarantee nothing.

The great fleet of the Itani is very successful, defending against incursion after incursion of Serco attackers. The constant skirmishes become nearly a way of life for the two militaries. During this period, the lukewarm war becomes integrated as an accepted part of culture. The altercations are frequent, every few months, but few are injured. Both sides have erected devastating automated defense systems, and neither mount any large assaults. The Itani Defensive Corps are banned from such activity, and the Serco have made no attempts in recent memory.

The Union of Independent Territories (Neutrals) are peripherally aware of the war, although not entirely certain whom the Serco are fighting. UIT-Serco relations are still quite chilly, and for the most part the UIT avoid the Serco systems entirely. The Serco, for their part, have left the Union alone since their original exodus from Sol II.

The Order of Akan, despite their claims of a great campaign against the Serco, have not been heard from for some time.

Exploration of the systems beyond Divinia leads to contact with the UIT. Surprisingly, the wormhole areas form something of a loop, connecting the Itani, UIT, and the Serco together. Itani-UIT relations become friendly, and within a few years the two nations are trading extensively. Historical descriptions of flight of the Union from Serco oppression give the Itani little hope for a peaceful resolution of their war. The UIT are happy to contribute their own technology to the effort, however, providing the Itani with many ingenious but often low-tech, solutions to problems. Among their contributions is their best Xithricite alloy. Light and incredibly strong, it becomes the new metal of choice for spaceship construction.

The UIT themselves have become even more loosely knit over the years, until the term "Nation" could scarcely be applied. The Senate dwindles in power, while the influence of the corporations only grows. By the time of Itani contact, they're almost completely a corporate-driven culture. Some sections are well guarded and crime free, under the auspices of the controlling corporation. Others are wild zones of rampant crime, where the right price can truly buy anything. All sorts of technology filters into these places, sold by shady merchants of questionable background: Serco biomechanical data, cybernetic implantation, weapons of disturbing and unusual design, all available to the highest bidder.

The representatives with whom the Itani interact were themselves of questionable origin. A disconnected league of corporations and powerful individuals control most of the UIT, but are often in competition with one another. Thus, the Itani found themselves flooded with requests by one group or another to purchase exclusive information on advanced technology. The Itani were more interested in sharing their knowledge with any who wished to learn, much to the annoyance of the individual UIT corporations. There were rumors even of small conflicts between forces of various groups and companies, vying with one another for Itani technology. The Energy Focus shield system particularly excited the UIT merchants and corporations, until they learned how many years of study and training were required to even begin to use such a device. After a few interactions, the Itani became somewhat wary of the strange Union, maintaining positive relations, but warning their populace about the potential dangers of visiting or trading there.

Abruptly arriving from an unmapped system, a large fleet from the Order of Akan passes through the Itani systems, headed towards the Serco. Not answering any hails, the armada passes from system to system at high speed. The thirty-odd capital ships are finally halted by the combined might of the Itani Defense Corps, formed in a blockade at the Itani-Serco border (at this time, the last jump to Sol II). The Itani inform the Order of Akan that they will not willingly fire on their estranged family, but they will permit no large-scale aggression against the Serco. Hard words are exchanged, but the Itani remain firm. A tense hour-long standoff follows. Encrypted communications fly back and forth between the remote fleet. Suddenly and without a word, the Akanese fleet turns and return back from whence they came.

The UIT are contacted by the Order of Akan. Asked to remain discreet in all their dealings, the Union begins much fruitful trade with the sect. All exchanges are made in sectors of nondescript space, the UIT are permitted no information on the Akanese home base. Veiled threats are suggested, should any attempt to discover its location. Despite the cloak-and-dagger, relations become quite friendly, the Akanese choosing to interact mostly with a few corporations and merchants with whom they have built trusting relationships.

A massive Serco campaign begins, over two hundred capital ships and carriers making the jump across the well-established "border". The full power of the Itani military is brought to bear on the defense of the sector, along with the activation of all twenty asteroid-based defense cannon. Eighty Itani ships regroup near the defensive perimeter before wading into the fray. The Serco have greatly advanced their weapons technology, but are still hard pressed to break through the Itani focus fields or the xi-rite armor plating beneath. For twelve hours the battle rages, the firestorm leaving scars on the nearby planet and asteroid field that can still be seen to this day. After all twenty of the massive defense cannon are knocked out, the Itani clearly begin to lose ground. Rather than risk being completely wiped out, they begin a strategic retreat to the next sector, sending runners back to Eo and Itan for whatever reinforcements are available. Outnumbered nearly three to one by this point, the Itani are hard pressed, but they make the best use of their speed advantage, flying before the Serco, only to rally at the next tactically sound area. After making the jump to the next sector, they again regroup, hitting the Serco as they follow through the wormholes. The Serco take heavy casualties, both sides have lost thousands of people by this point, but they still press on.

After eighteen hours of strategic retreat and reassembly, the Itani are down to twenty two capital ships of varying types, and a hundred or so fighters. The Serco still wield nearly eighty capital ships, their carriers allowing them to swap out exhausted pilots in the middle of battle. The Itani have never developed carriers, their pilots usually returning to their home planet after a day's work, but no such luxuries can be taken here. Having been pushed back two systems from the border, the Itani are now only a single jump from Eo. Reinforcements have been few and far between, as most of the Itani military has already been expended. Knowing they are not far from the kill, the Serco begin to use their advantage of fighter numbers to harry any reinforcements who arrive. The Itani, battered but not yet beaten, begin the rally they know will be their last. Cap-ship crews prepare to overload their reactors and plunge their ships into the midst of their enemy.

Behind them, the light of Deneb glints off of a vast field of giant ice chunks. Aeron's Icefield (named for the explorer who found it, hundreds of years earlier) is the last physical obstacle before the wormhole-capable area that gives access to Eo's system. Through the icefield the embattled crews see a great chorus of wormholes begin to open, like a hundred glowing flowers. The Akanese Obsidian Armada, numbering nearly ninety capital ships, emerges to wild cheering from the remaining Itani. In their wake follows over two hundred civilian ships, cannibalized and retrofitted for combat. The Battle of Aeron's Icefield only lasted two hours, but it is warmly remembered in the hearts of the Itani people. The Akanese were the deciding factor in the turning the tide, but the courage of the civilians made up for any lack in their equipment or experience. The light, highly maneuverable Itani ships had an increased advantage once the battle began within the icefield proper. As many Serco fighters were destroyed by the ice as were destroyed by their enemies.

The Serco chose suddenly to break off their attack, despite having recently been reinforced by an additional forty capital ships. They passed out of the sector, returning to the adjacent system and remaining there en masse. The Itani chose to not pursue, instead focusing on their casualties and very bedraggled defense force. The Akanese remained for a few hours, before leaving as well. When thanked for their invaluable assistance, they responded simply: "Yes."

Over the next few days, weeks, months, and years, the area around Aeron's Icefield was heavily fortified. Large asteroids were brought through the wormhole to act as bases for defensive batteries. A hundred years later, the three Goliath Cannon (Alecto, Megaera and Tisiphone) were constructed and lent their considerable presence to the defense of the region. The Itani never reclaimed the two lost systems, which were eventually colonized and fortified by the Serco. These borders remain to this day.

The Itani make significant improvements to their, weapons technology, yielding more efficient and more damaging fire. Capital ships can now deliver a withering fullisade of high-energy pulse flares. Additionally, a new Cruiser class is introduced, making the Heavy Cruiser the largest of the Itani cap ships at nearly two thousand meters. Both Heavy and Light Cruisers can carry and sustain a number of smaller craft for long-range support purposes.

Altercations with the Serco have dropped off considerably, since the offensive of 4063. The Itani continue their defensive focus, learning lessons from that greatest of space battles, and further refining and altering their designs and strategies to eliminate perceived flaws.

After nearly a hundred years of complete silence on the Serco-Itani border, the Serco begin what was apparently a small offensive. Forty capital ships jump into the Itani buffer sector. The three ladies, the Goliath Cannon, roar to life for their first combat use since their construction. Spitting their particular form of death, a fifty meter long condensed cloud of excited antimatter particles surrounding a phased singularity, the passage of their "shells" visibly ripples any light (as well as, arguably, space and time). Massive swathes are cut in the enemy fleet with every shot. Within approximately two minutes, the Serco have been reduced to five ships. Another twenty ships jump in, only to immediately jump back out again, once the state of their comrades becomes apparent. At a total of seven minutes, thirty one seconds from start to finish, the incident is recorded as the Seven Minute Battle.

AD 4203, Serco Prime

Sporadic clashes between the Serco and Itani continue for the next few years. Using their newfound spacecraft expertise, the Serco expand beyond the boundaries of Serco Prime, terraforming two new worlds in nearby sectors. This conglomeration of planets becomes known as the Serco Dominion. Culturally, the Serco have mellowed to some degree, their trademark arrogance no longer quite so prevalent. Their view of the Itani remains well entrenched. The Itani are seen as their enemy since time immemorial, eternal combatants against whom the success of their own civilization is measured. Each new generation of Triumvirate hopes that they might be the ones remembered as conquerors. The consolidation of the two adjacent systems in 4063 is marked as the greatest achievement of their people since the original ground-war conquest of 2661. The generals and leaders of that era are hailed as heroes of epic proportion. They do not desire peace, war is now so integrated into their bloodline.

They are bothered, however, by their recent failure to match up against once-comparable Itani forces. The new generation of Itani weaponry is simply too devastating for the Serco ships, despite their best attempts at ingenious design and progressively thicker layers of armor. Without the benefit of Xi-rite alloys or the more efficient Itani reactor designs, their efforts prove futile. This further shames and aggravates their engineers and military, who both lose face with their populace at every loss.

During recent skirmishes, the Itani are surprised to occasionally be contacted by the Serco. Usually only jeering and challenging banter from the fighter pilots, it is nonetheless the first communication with their enemy in over two hundred years. It may be that this period signaled the change in the Serco cultural perception of the Itani, no longer seen as lesser beings deserving only of extermination, but now honorable adversaries against whom the youthful Serco officers judge their own abilities. The Abbot of Itan orders a heavily-shielded peace emissary to jump across the border and attempt formal contact. The mission has limited success, taking fire from the Serco on many occasions, who often seem unable to comprehend the concept of peace with their Itani neighbors. Some worthwhile discussion does come of it, however, paving the way for additional officious communication.

http://images.vendetta-online.com/story/Oernon.small.jpg
Oernon barely stood four feet tall, barefoot and clad in a simple cotton robe, his head shaved in the manner of his Order,
his closely cropped white beard and heavily lined face the only real evidence of his age.

Subsequent exchanges led both sides to a much better understanding of one another. A temporary cease-fire was ordered to lend some stability to the talks. The Serco are fascinated at what they learn about their enemies, unable to reconcile the apparently pacifistic (and therefore, to them, cowardly) civilization with the staunch foes they have met on the field of battle. The brief reports of the Akanese make far more sense to them, better fitting their mental image of the Itani they know and hate. Despite this extraordinary give and take between the rivals, the Serco laugh at all attempts by the Itani to build a lasting peace. It eventually becomes understood that the Triumvirate could never do such a thing, as it would be seen as a cowardly end to the conflict by their people.

The monastic order cogitates on this conundrum. After four hundred years of sporadic war, they would delight in some sort of peaceful compromise. The Itani understanding of the Serco need for competition and conquest has been expanded by their recent talks, and leads to an idea. Oernon, Abbot of Itan, now over half a millennia in age, desires peace more than any other. It was at his reluctant order that the Ban of Serco contact was lifted, much as it was his longtime friend, Eilon of Eo, whose death had ushered in the specter of war. For the better part of his time as guiding leader of the Itani people, he has watched them suffer from the bitter plague of conflict. Even the splintering off of the Akanese, whose hatred could not be contained by the peaceable Itani culture, was a blow to his heart. Nearing the end of his span (longest of any Itani to date), he wishes to see closure before he dies. Therefore, he makes a proposal to the Serco.

Oernon suggests a bout of unarmed single combat between himself and a chosen representative of the Serco. If the outcome of this challenge favored the Itani, the Serco would agree to a one hundred year cease-fire. Should the outcome favor the Serco, the Itani would turn over documentation detailing the construction of high-efficiency reactor cores and advanced armor plating (Xithricite). The Itani were shocked at this proposal, and collectively made every effort to turn their leader from his decision. Even the Order of Akan sent messages of dismay. The Serco at first laughed at the idea, but then after internal discussion and consideration, agreed. The Serco people were excited by notion of such a bout. Similar events took place constantly within the highly competitive, media-driven Serco culture. However, the Serco were, by this point, so genetically and technologically enhanced that they could not conceive of losing a fistfight to a mere unaugmented human. Oernon's age, bearing, and stature among his people did give pause to the wiser Serco, but few counted him as a threat. The populations of both sides awaited the day of the bout, the Serco with eagerness, the Itani with dread.

The Serco selection of a representative to answer the challenge was complex indeed. They had many heroes of single combat from which to choose, but one would be needed who could match Oernon in stature of character. Therefore, a member of the Triumvirate was eventually selected. Karun stood over seven feet tall. His age extended by genetic resequencing, he claimed a three hundred and fifty year history as a veteran of the Serco-Itani conflict. Muscular, dermal, and neural augmentations gave him unsurpassed strength and stamina. With reactions a hundred times faster than that of a normal human being, he could kill an opponent with a dozen well-placed blows before they even became aware that he had struck. Much of his skull, bones and outer skin had been replaced with various lightweight alloys and armoring. Indeed, this competition may have forbidden the use of weapons, but the entire body of the Serco had been crafted for exactly that purpose.

http://images.vendetta-online.com/story/Karun.small.jpg
Much of his skull, bones and outer skin had been replaced with various lightweight alloys and armoring.
Indeed, this competition may have forbidden the use of weapons, but the entire body of the Serco had been crafted for exactly that purpose.

The day of the challenge arrived. It was held onboard a giant Serco container ship (a gesture of goodwill on the part of the Itani), surrounded by both of their fleets. There was no judging, whichever combatant should decline further competition, or lose consciousness (or life) would be the loser. A hundred recording systems from both nations broadcast back to their respective peoples. Hundreds of Serco and Itani military made up the audience, the rowdy Serco cheering wildly as Karun strides onto the mat. A few minutes later, Oernon entered as well, the diminutive Itani leader walking smoothly and purposefully towards the area, belying his five-hundred-odd natural years. The Serco crowd began to jeer at his entrance, but abruptly become quiet and respectful at he passed near, his intense presence and projection of self drawing murmurs of admiration from the Itani. Oernon barely stood four feet tall, barefoot and clad in a simple cotton robe, his head shaved in the manner of his Order, his closely cropped white beard and heavily lined face the only real evidence of his age.

The combatants greeted one another in the center of the fifty-meter-wide white mat constructed for this duel. The booming voice of Karun floated out across the crowd, announcing the terms of the challenge and the implications of defeat. Then each combatant described themselves and their accomplishments, according to the custom of Serco competition. After the Serco had finished, Oernon said only "I am Oernon, I am Itani". The rivals then bowed, and prepared for battle.

At the beginning of the duel it was apparent that Karun expected no real competition, and desired only to draw out the fight for the enjoyment of the Serco viewers. Oernon made no offensive attempts, only defended himself and lightly avoided the blows of his enemy. After a few minutes of this Karun clearly began to lose patience, and started to unleash more of his potential. The motions of the two became an outright blur, the Serco giant firing off long series of skilled attacks towards his adversary, but making contact only with the air. Frustrated, the massive biomechanical man heightened the pace even more, now forcing the Itani to at least block his attacks. The blocks are no more satisfying, however, as blows with enough power to punch through a reinforced steel wall found themselves nulled by an aged pair of human hands. The minutes go by with little change, Karun now a snarling mass of aggression. After twenty minutes of combat, however, Oernon apparently decides it is time to finish. Following a long series of rapid blocks, he strikes the Serco in the torso with a two-handed blow of incredible speed. From recordings, it is not even clear that physical contact was actually made. It may be that for Oernon, such things were no longer necessary. Karun flew back twenty five feet, sliding across the mat on his back before attempting to rise and collapsing.

At this point, a series of confusing events occurred in rapid succession. Several Serco ran out to their fallen leader, and proclaimed him deceased. Oernon denied this, claiming the blow had much power, but would not have killed a child. Various members of the Serco audience then cried out that their leader had been murdered by the dishonorable Itani, who had clearly concealed some sort of weapon on their champion. The audience of both the Itani and Serco rushed onto the mat, and confused weapons fire abruptly appeared. As Oernon struggled through the crowd towards his fallen foe, he was shot several times in the head and chest by an unknown assailant, dying instantly.

* * *

Needless to say, the Serco-Itani peace process did not survive this incident. The events onboard the Serco ship erupted into a full scale battle among the surrounding fleets. Much about the end of the duel is still unknown. It is believed that Karun did die, but whether as a result of his injuries or due to a simultaneous assassination attempt, no one knows. It is now known that Karun himself had brought about much of the interaction with the Itani, perhaps against the wishes of the other Triumvirate members. At that time, many Serco still viewed any negotiation with the Itani as a cowardly and tasteless act. The possibility of a hundred-year cease fire with the Itani might not have appealed to much of the government. Some have suggested that such an agreement would not have been welcomed by the Akanese, either. The sudden appearance of weapons fire onboard and the sudden outbreak of hostilities in general lend credence to the possibility of an assassination or coup. The truth may never be known.

The death of the two leaders revitalized the Serco-Itani border war, resulting in major incursions on both sides. The Itani stay true to their fallen leaders defensive wishes, but begin to pursue fleeing Serco fleets through the wormholes. The Order of Akan again attempts to bring their fleet to bear against the Serco worlds, but are again blocked by the Itani.

To the great surprise of the Union of Independent Territories, the Serco approach and request diplomatic relations. The Serco even go so far as to make symbolic reparations for driving the Union from Terra II. The UIT still look askance at the Serco, but will trade with anyone if it results in their profit. Many Union merchants take great joy in toying with the Serco, negotiating vast sums in exchange for technological documentation, only to turn over flawed or incomplete information. Despite these setbacks, the Serco patiently absorb whatever they can learn from the Union, including (eventually) much of the Itani reactor technology. Now equipped with Xi-rite armored ships and more efficient gravitic pulse engines, the Serco begin to militarily match up with their enemy.

The Serco begin a large-scale incursion into Itani territory. During combat, Itani pilots hear the Serco screaming epithets and demanding vengeance for various atrocities, unusually emotional battlefield behavior for the Serco. A number of long battles follow, many times during which the Itani are hard pressed to push back the invasion, despite the use of the Goliath Cannon.

Communication with Union explorers reveals reports of Itani ships, likely Akanese, having crossed through the Independent Territories into Serco systems. Chilly but civil communications with the Serco follow, and establish that one of their planets was heavily bombarded by a hit-and-run fleet of black Itani battlecruisers, who fled the area before defenders arrived. The Itani deny their involvement, and the likely role of the Order of Akan is brought to light. The Serco request passage through Itani territory to search for and destroy the Akanese home. After some heated internal debate, the Itani deny the request. The Serco respond that protection of a murderer is little better than being a murderer, and discontinue diplomatic relations. Nonetheless, the border becomes quiet for the moment. The Itani attempt to locate the Akanese base with no success. Attempts at contacting the Order of Akan fail. The UIT reports the Akanese have not purchased from them in some time, but make no promise of notifying the Itani, should they appear again.

The UIT brings to the attention of the Itani several attempts by the Serco to bring large fleets through the Independent Territories to Itani space. The UIT politically prevent the Serco from crossing by threatening to relinquish trade agreements, while simultaneously building up their borders with defensive batteries. The Serco back down, for the moment.

The Serco again report bombardment from unknown vessels, near the UIT border. The Union border is now defended well enough to dismay any Serco wishing to pursue the unknown fleet's theoretical course back to Itani space. For their part, the UIT deny permitting passage to any such fleet, suggesting they would have prevented the passage of such ships, rather than jeopardize their now-valuable trade franchise with the Serco. When data is requested on the attacking fleet, the Serco are vague and report difficulties in identifying the ships.

The Serco again report civilian bombardment to the UIT and Itani via diplomatic channels. When both groups respond, once again requesting more data on the incursion, the Serco suddenly clam up and break off discussion. Some suggest that new information may have become available to the Serco, mid-negotiation.

An Itani defensive fleet, undergoing training exercises near the Itani-UIT border, reports contact with multiple Serco fighters of unusual configuration. Attempts at pursuit are thwarted when the enemy vessels seem to "disappear". The Serco government is unresponsive to inquiry. Behavior of the fighters suggests scanning for wormhole areas, perhaps an attempt at locating the Akanese base.

Present Day.

Bibliography

Vendetta Online Background Storyline

http://www.vendetta-online.com

Created by Guild Software, Inc.

Storyline written by John Bergman in April of 2002.

Vendetta Online logo by Waylon Brinck.

Character Illustrations by Timmy K Kramp (www.timmykkramp.com)

Landscape Illustrations by Mark Facey.

All content © Copyright 2004 Guild Software, Inc
All Rights Reseved.