Sunday, October 11, 2015

History of Alkonost Cluster - Part II

Following Part I, which covered the period from ancient history to the end of the Silence, this second and final part will detail the post-Silence history of my Stars Without Number setting, Alkonost Cluster. See the sector overview and map HERE.

Rise of the New Terran Mandate and the Incunablis Machines - 3054 CE to 3161
Kedesh Orbital Shipyards
The Mandate Bruxelles-class Battlecruiser Mumbai was in deep patrol, with a full marine battalion onboard, when the Scream hit in 2665. With its Psychic navigator instantly killed in the shockwave, it dropped out of Drillspace far outside the Kedesh system in the Alkonost region. Its engines severely damaged by the sudden dimensional shift, and unable to drill back into drillspace, the Mumbai faced 400 years of sublight travel back to the local colony at the minimal remaining thrust. Captain Aharon Durnhal and his crew thus entered cryosleep in hope of surviving the slow, centuries-long creep to settled space.

Meanwhile, the world of Kedesh, a former promising industrial colony on the high frontier, made its own slow climb to recovery following the Scream. In 3054, it launched its first orbital flight, and in 3061, staged landings on its two moons. When Kedeshian radio telescopes picked up a strange radio transmission - the Mumbai's distress beacon - from orbit in 3065, they sent a spacecraft to investigate. Its pilot boarded the enormous, highly advanced ship, and soon inadvertently activated the cryo-revival process. The revived crew and captain were quick to capture and interrogate the low-tech interloper. Soon after they used the ship's many shuttles to land at Kedesh's capital and present themselves as representatives of the long-absent Terran Mandate. Having enough firepower to wipe out anything in their path even with their crippled engines, they quickly installed themselves as Kedesh's new rulers, establishing the New Terran Mandate, with Durnhal as its Director. They used the ship's stockpile of Pretech anagathics to keep the old captain and his command crew alive and young for almost a century and a half. The same Old Mandate officers who took over Kedesh are also in power today, in 3200.

The ship lacked heavy manufacturing equipment or even experts in manufacturing apart from the partial knowledge of the ship's engineers. But with enough hard work and many sacrifices forced upon the Kedeshian population, the New Mandate reached TL4 in 3111. Soon after, Kedesh sent ships across the Sector to start building the new Mandate. The various warlords and petty tyrants of the outlying worlds were relatively easy to subdue, either with token gifts of Pretech origin, or more commonly, by a token demonstration of the New Terran Mandate's Pretech military might, usually by landing a small, but impressive, force of power-armored troops and a few grav tanks on the target world. The typical backwater ruler had no clue that this force was more or less all that the New Mandate actually had in the way of Pretech military hardware - and that the rest of its military was composed of TL3-4 troops of highly variable quality and morale.

So thus was built the New Terran Mandate, composed of a small Core ruled directly by Mandate officials, and a much larger Periphery - in the Shallow Blight - subordinate to it, which was paying the Kedesh administrators an annual tribute. The sleepy, backwater world of Alkonost was one such vassal-world of the New Mandate, its Archdukes subservient to the high-tech interstellar overlords. And so was, after a fashion, the even more backwater world of Laana, where the weak Presidents bowed to whatever bully who showed up in orbit with starship-grade weapons and good bribes, be that the New Terran Mandate or the inhuman Incunablis Machines.

The latter - the Incunablis Machines - reached from their mechanized factory-world to the stars in 3070s, and quickly built their own pocket-empire on the border of the New Terran Mandate, occupying the wolds of Isis, Osiris and Sicarii and exacting tribute in Pretech and in cyborg "volunteers" from several other neighboring worlds, chief among them Laana. Border skirmishes with the New Mandate were relatively frequent, but never escalated into a major war, as both polities were distant enough from each other to prefer to invest in their respective cores rather than risk a head-on confrontation.

Meanwhile, the AI Cores from Incunablis ordered and rebuilt their new colonies along the lines of Incunablis society - that is, a hierarchical system topped by unbreaked and partially-breaked AI Cores, beneath them lesser (breaked) AIs and sentient robots, beyond that cyborgs and at the bottom - "organic" serfs, each tattooed on his forehead with a barcode for easy identification by machines, who toiled at the menial jobs where the limited number of Pretech AIs and robots could not be applied. For, indeed, the post-Scream industrial capabilities of the Incunablis Machines were, and still are, limited, lacking the components and capacity to produce Pretech armatures and create more "proper" AIs, breaked or unbreaked, except for the most rudimentary; so cheap human labor, cyborged or otherwise, was always in high demand in the mechanized, industrialized society of the Incunablis Machine Empire.

The Great Alkonost War - 3161-3169
Alkonost Republic frigate fleet, circa 3163

Old Alkonost, under Archduke Leonid II's rule and de-facto New Terran Mandate domination, was little more than a colony of the New Mandate. Its population toiled in the many factories and fields, suffering poverty while their higher-tech products were either consumed by the aristocracy or shipped away to the distant New Mandate. New Mandate officials walked through the Alkonostan streets like mighty lords, eclipsing even the local nobility in their power and prestige. But by the late 3150's, the local population grew tired of this autocracy and its off-world masters. This resentment gave rise to the Free Alkonost movement, an underground movement initially engaged in agitation against foreign rule and its subservient aristocrats - and later outright clandestine political organization and acts of sabotage. The regime knew well enough how to deal with such dissidents. Countless would-be rebels were gunned down or sent to remote labor camps away from the temperate equatorial zones. So the rulers felt secure - after all, who will dare challenge a centuries-old regime backed by the energy cannons of New Terran Mandate gunships? Or so they thought.

Their mistake became apparent in 3161. No matter how many Free Alkonost activists were jailed or shot, the movement grew to massive proportions with cells in every factory, farm and neighborhood. In September 3161, the movement staged a lightning insurrection, rising up in arms around Alkonost. The overwhelmed Archducal officers found that their supposedly loyal soldiers were mostly won to Free Alkonost as well; the soldiers turned their guns around to face their old masters. The revolt was quick; within three weeks, the entire Archducal regime collapsed and was quickly replaced with a Provisional Government, soon giving way - in turn - to the Alkonost Republic, ruled by a President and a Duma (parliament). Archduke Leonid II himself fled to Kedesh, when he eventually died in 3189. The entire planet celebrated; the hated masters were overthrown, the many riches once held by nobles and off-worlders were quickly broken up and sold to locals, in part, or kept (in part) as state enterprises aimed at serving the people of Alkonost.

But the celebrations were premature. The New Terran Mandate was furious at the loss of its profitable subject-world of Alkonost, and soon sent its fleets to Alkonost and the rebelling Chernobog and Poludnitsa to bring the troublemakers back in line. Because sending outright legions of enforcers to crush such dissent was well beyond the New Mandate's capabilities, what this attack mean in practice was an "intervention" by New Mandate expeditionary forces in support of local Monarchist (pro-Archducal) forces on Alkonost and its neighbors. This war - fought in its main part between the nascent Alkonost Republic and local forces supporting the old order of things (and backed by the New Mandate and its orbital fleets) - consumed much of the 3160's in a haze of hellfire, orbital engagements and the cities of Alkonost, Chernobog and Poludnitsa changing hands multiple times. Eventually, around 2166, the New Mandate-backed forces began to fall back under Alkonost Republican military pressure, firmly clearing the worlds of Novaya Verkuta, Alkonost, Chernobog and Poludnitsa of any pro-Mandate forces.

At this point the war moved to its second phase - that of Alkonostan assault on New Mandate territory proper beyond the subjugated Archduchy of Alkonost. Fighting in the hellish swamps and alien mushroom-forests of Belobog raged for three years, but the Alkonost Republic also backed various anti-Mandate forces on several vassal worlds, hoping to entangle the New Mandate in a multi-front counter-insurgency war it cannot win and thus forcing it into a cease-fire agreement under favourable terms for the Alkonost Republic.

One such world was Laana - in part, a vassal-world of the New Terran Mandate, and in part, open hunting ground for Incunablis cyborgs and robots. The Laanese government was little more than a formality - a weak Federal Government controlling little but the run-down starport and sometimes sending its forces to protect whatever local gentleman from rebelling peasants. Slavers from nearby worlds, as well as Incunablis Machines, plied their nefarious trade and cyborg-raids unhindered. However, some of the Laanese population did resist this state of affairs. The remnants of the Perimeter Agency, members of the old Unity party, and the remains of the Order of the Mind found their way to the crags and caves of the deep south, protected even from orbital sensors by the rough terrain. And there, a new alliance was forged. In 3143, these three groups united into the United Liberation Front (ULF), a unified resistance group fighting against the ineffectual regime, tyrannical gentry, slavers, the New Terran Mandate "traders" and "tax collectors" - and the Incunablis Machines and their nightmare cyborging raids.

Thus the guerrilla war on Laana has begun in the 3150's, in the first years in sporadic sabotage and raids on isolated groups of Incunablis cyborgs or particularly nasty gentry, but later a better-organized campaign. Still, they were restricted to operating in craggy terrain or under the cover of hemisphere-wide dust storms, as the Machines, the slavers and the New Mandate ruled the skies above them with one orbital battle station per hemisphere. But underground, or in deep, shadowed crags, they built their strength, forging new communities of survivors and escapees. One of their best war-leaders was Johar Saleh, a cunning tactician and brave raider, who, in 3155, was elected the Chairman of the United Liberation Front. But the war still went on, harsh and exacting a high price in blood. Here entered the Alkonost Republic.

The greatest strike against the New Mandate and Machine overlords on Laana came in 3168. With help of Alkonost Republic military advisors and special-operations gear, teams of ULF warriors managed to infiltrate both of the orbital battle stations, purchased from the New Mandate at a high cost by the Laanese government and run by Mandate personnel. The raid on the southern hemisphere's station was led by Chairman Saleh himself, who left his young but talented aid, Ameena Miran, to lead the ground-side ULF in his absence. The New Mandate, of course, resisted this incursion with all of its might, but the ULF was victorious although at a terrible price: all of the ULF fighters who have infiltrated the two stations had to sacrifice themselves to destroy the stations, Saleh included. But they were victorious: both stations were destroyed and the New Mandate had to evacuate its presence from Laana.

Forced out of Laana and unable to hold Belobog, the New Terran Mandate finally capitulated in April 3169, signing a long-term ceasefire agreement with the Alkonost Republic, recognizing its independence and vowing to avoid any support of local monarchist forces. This ended the Great Alkonost War, with the Alkonost Republic having the upper hand and the New Mandate left to lick its wounds. While the losses incurred by the war were monumental for both sides, the wave of patriotism released inside the Republic by this victory was powerful enough to stimulate its economy and lend enthusiasm to the Alkonostan population in their reconstruction of their war-ravaged worlds. But soon after the New Terran Mandate was sent packing, a new threat appeared to the embattled Republic - the Incunablis Machine Empire.

The Incunablis Conflict - 3170-3189
Alkonost Republic Hecate-class Frigate, early 3180's
Prior to the Scream, the technologically-advanced world of Incunablis specialized in robot and computer products in general and breaked AIs in particular. There were rumors, however, of illicit research into ubreaked AIs, maltech cybernetics and unsanctioned robotics. Despite Incunablis' planetary government's strong protests, the Perimeter Agency launched several investigations into these suspicions, but found nothing substantial. The rumors, however, were true. The major corporations on Incunablis, backed and supported by the planetary government, were deeply involved in illegal research in the field of robotics, cybernetics and unbreaked AI, and have evaded notice of the Perimeter Agency. Shortly before the Scream, a network of unbreaked AI Cores was set up, its insights greatly speeding up the world's research into cybernetics; following the Scream, these Machines were in power.

By the 3160's, Incunablis controlled its own multi-world empire, under its mighty cybernetic yoke. Imprimatur, Incunablis, Osiris and Sicarii were its worlds, all managed by unbreaked or semi-breaked AI Cores and their legions of "puppet" robots and cyborgs; Laana - while not under direct Incunablis control - was also under strong Incunablis influence. During the latter days of the Great Alkonost War, the Incunablis Machine Empire sensed the weakness of the embattled Alkonost Republic, and began raiding its worlds for resources and potential "candidates" for cyborging. From its bases on Imprimatur and Sicarii, the Machines could easily strike Alkonost, Poludnitsa and Chernobog directly. In late 3169, knowing that the Republic was still recovering from the horrors of the Great Alkonost War, the Machines launched coordinated raids against Republic worlds. Following several waves of raids, the Alkonost Republic had no option but fight back, and it began concentrating its efforts at the weakest link in the Incunablis chain of subjugation - the semi-vassal world of Laana, where the Republic had connection with the local guerrillas from the Gret Alkonost War days.

On Laana, the young, energetic Ameena Miran, 31 years old at the time, was elected the next Chairwoman after Chairman Saleh's death, and very soon proved herself more than capable of leading the ULF. While not as brilliant a tactician as her predecessor, she was - and still is - a highly charismatic leader, capable of moving masses of people with the mighty force of her personality. Under her leadership, unhindered by any consistent Incunablis or New Mandate orbital capability and supported with arms and equipment by the Alkonost Republic, the ULF launched an all-out open war for the liberation of Laana from the AI overlords once and for all. In 3174 they were victorious. The ULF led by Chairwoman Miran entered Laana City under the cover of a massive dust storm and ousted the last President. They were free at last from off-world tyrants and from any organized opposition by the gentry. Celebrations in Laana City - now renamed The Liberated City - as well as in the rest of the world lasted for weeks. But the world was devastated by the prolonged wars and the Laanese were extremely reluctant to use any leftover Incunablis robotic technology, as it reminded them of the horrendous Machines.

Chairperson Miran moved quickly and decisively from leading the war against the New Mandate, the Machines and the Federal government - to leading the campaign for the re-industrialization of Laana. Led by her charismatic vision, the Laanese people willingly put long hours of hard work into rebuilding their world; they personal rewards for this in terms of their quality of life were quite minor, as the majority of economic output went towards industrialization and building a mighty Inter-Stellar Liberation Army (ISLA), but they were free - and worked for forging their own destiny. Analog technology, augmented by the rapidly developing field of psionics and by psionic "Mentants" (Humans trained to replace computers), replaced the Empire's digital technology.

Between 3174 and 3185, the Incunablis Conflict simmered on at a much lower intensity, both sides rebuilding for the inevitable next round of fire. The next target in the prolonged, if lower-key (when compared to the Great Alkonost War) Incunablis Conflict was Sicarii, and unlike Laana it was a world directly under Incunablis rule, its human population kept in line by robots and cyborgs and worked as slaves producing spare parts for the Incunablis machines or more commonly - left in abject poverty and under the constant threat of cyborging raids. As Sicarii served as a base of operations for many raids into the Republic and against Laana, it was the next logical step in the ongoing war against the Machines. It was, however, heavily fortified. This is why the invasion of Sicarii involved three integral parts - Alkonost naval strikes against Incunablis battlestations in Sicarii orbit, landing elite expeditionary troops to engage the Machine forces on the ground, and most importantly - supporting and bolstering the local human resistance (the Human Revolutionary Movement - HRM) which will do the bulk of ground fighting against the local Incunablis-supported "puppet" troops, their supporting robots and their cyborg officers.

The joint Alkonost-Laanese forces together with local HRM rebels launched the Operation Burnt Offering in May 3185. It began with coordinated naval attacks on the two Incunablis battlestations in Sicarii orbit, and once they were neutralized, Alkonostan transport ships landed a ground force mostly composed on Laanese ISLA troops. As these invaders integrated with the HRM locals, they began retaking Sicarii from the Machines, inch by inch. But unseating the Machines required the removal of their AI cores from Starport City, which were heavily defended and fortified underground. Thus, the HRM/ISLA forces executed a daring plan in 3187 - multiple commando raids on the five nuclear 'snuffers' protecting Starport City. These were almost suicide attacks against highly sophisticated mechanized defenses, but the sacrifice of most operatives paid its dividends when Starport City lost its 'snuffer' protection. Before the Machines could reactivate their 'sunffers', the Laanese frigate Harriet Tubman launched several deep-penetrating nuclear missiles into the heart of the Machine Cores, utterly destroying Starport City and thus eliminating any coordinated Machine fighting ability on this world. Within a few months, after repelling several Incunablis naval raids and mopping up the remaining Puppet forces, the Machine Empire had to admit its defeat, and Sicarii was liberated, soon to be integrated into the new "Liberated Worlds" polity headed by Laana.

Defeated, the Incunablis Machine Empire offered the Alkonost Republic a peace treaty beneficial for both sides. This Treaty of 3187 meant an end to all hostilities between the Machines and the Republic, and the Machines giving up any claims to Sicarii and Laana, in return to the Republic giving up any claims to any of the three remaining Incunablis Machine Empire worlds. Furthermore, both sides agreed to set the world of Imprimatur apart as a "treaty port" - a world where Alkonost-registered ships can land and trade raw materials and pretech components for advanced electronics and nanotechnology manufactured by the Machine Empire - far above and beyond anything the Republic could produce. The Republic agreed to deny its citizens access to Incunablis itself or to Osiris. While Alkonost signed this treaty with a sigh of relief, the Liberated Worlds refused to sign it, claiming that this will mean betraying the hopes for liberation of any humans left on the Incunablis worlds. But nonetheless, the Liberated Worlds does honor this treaty (though they did not sign it), at least for now, out of respect for their Alkonostan allies.

Later Developments 3189-3200 (present day)
Alkonostan Stalkers survey a lost world, mid 3190's
Peace finally arrived at the Alkonost Republic, and with it - the new prospect of colonizing new worlds (such as Domovboi) and raiding the various Blight worlds for highly profitable Pretech components to which the growing technological base on Alkonost ahs developed a voracious appetite. Many of the veterans of the last two wars - the Great Alkonost War and the Incunablis Conflict - found new employment as Stalkers, raiders of the Blight who treat on dangerous ground to bring back Pretech components to sell at a fat profit margin back on Alkonost. This is a time of exploration, of expansion and trade; and the Republic flourishes. But there are those who think that its democratic demeanour is a sign of weakness, and that a more authoritarian regime will steel it to face the challenges of the universe; the Psionic Committee and its allies in the Navy officer corps do plot a coup towards this direction, slowly but surely working their plan for regime change.

Meanwhile, the Liberated Worlds saw less peace than the Alkonost Republic. While Laana and Sicarii are undergoing fast-paced industrialization (and some would say, militarization), the Liberated Worlds have recently acquired Apep as well. When the Grand Pharaoh of Apep decided to seize the Laana-registered trader, Song of Moses in 3198 and imprison its crew, little did he predict the firestorm that would follow. When another free trader passed the news of this to Laana, especially with graphic descriptions of the torture and execution of crewmembers, the Laanese public was enraged, and soon enough Chairwoman Miran stepped up to the plate. Soon enough, three battalions of ISLA special forces landed with heavy TL4 arms and air (and orbital) support and spurred the local insurgents - with whom the Liberated Worlds had some dealings in the past - into an all-out assault on Pharaonic forces. When the dust settled, the Pharaoh was on a fast ship en route to Kedesh, and the insurgents were in power. Within a month, the leaders of the Revolutionary Provisional Government of Apep came to visit Laana itself and returned home with a 10 billion credit low-interest loan (usable for purchasing Laanese goods) for industrialization. Thus in early 3199, Apep formally joined the Liberated Worlds.

Both the New Terran Mandate and the Incunablis Machine Empire are still reeling from their recent defeats. Of these two, the New Mandate had had its three decades of recovery, and is now preparing for renewed expansion. In fact, rumor has it that the New Mandate's Harmony Bureau is behind the Luddite insurgency on Sicarii and the Royalist terrorism on Apep. Meanwhile, the Liberated Worlds and the Alkonost Republic are stirring trouble for the New Mandate on Svarog and Chemosh... A proxy war might be brewing, while the Incunablis Machines do seem to be quite as of late.

Interesting times...