Authors: Ivan Kal
But now, with years of reflection, he knew that it wouldn’t have worked out between them. She had been in love with a person that was only a small part of what Adrian was. That did not diminish his love for her, though. At the time, it had been real. But he kept the picture there as a reminder that there probably would never be anyone who could understand who he truly was. Someone who could be with him even when they knew that he would sacrifice them in order to defeat his enemies.
He forced himself to look away and focus on the reports. It was going to be a long night.
Three days later, Adrian stepped into the control room again, as the drone they’d sent through the first trans-lane had reached its destination.
“What do we have, Gotu?” Adrian asked as he was approaching.
“The drone is some thirty-six light years away. We should be getting its sensor readings back any moment now,” Gotu answered.
Together, they watched the holo and waited. Then the information started pouring in. Both of them read it as it was arriving, and at about the same time turned to one look at one another.
“Well, that is interesting,” Adrian said.
“Very much so,” Gotu said as they watched images and readings from the system depicting a small station orbiting a small, rocky planet.
“Can you analyze it, Iris?” Adrian asked, and a human-sized hologram of Iris appeared in front of them. While on Veritas, she was connected with the onboard system and could use any projector on the ship.
“The tech does not appear Ra’a’zani in nature. Energy readings are different,” Iris said as she manipulated the holo. “Hmm...We have a match for the architecture and a partial on the energy readings.”
“Really?” Adrian asked, surprised.
“Yes, from the Union ship’s databases. The Union encountered this race in their explorations. They had limited contact, as their territory was too far away for any kind of relationship between the Union and this race, but we have a translation of their language,” she said. “There is very little else, only a mention that they were technologically inferior to the Union, but that was a couple thousand of years ago. And that they appeared peaceful. The race’s name is Sorvani, and that is all that we know.”
Gotu looked thoughtfully at the holo. “Hm...They don’t appear to have any defenses in system except that station. That could suggest that they don’t really have anything to fear in this area of space. Which, if it is true, means that we are on a wrong path. I’m sure that if the Ra’a’zani were anywhere close to here, they wouldn’t be so careless,” Gotu said. “Do we know how what they look like?”
“No. The Union exploration ship encountered a single Sorvani ship at the outer edge of their explored space. They only exchanged the basics, no visual contact. That was...on the other side of the galactic core. The Union territory was—or still is—in the Perseus arm. They encountered the Sorvani at the inner edge of the Sagittarius arm, only on their side of the galactic core. About thirty thousand light years from here,” Iris answered.
Gotu looked thoughtful. “That could mean that they are a race that holds a big chunk of territory. Or, and I think that this is more likely, the Sorvani ship was also an explorer.”
Adrian scratched his head. “Whatever may be true, they are, as far as we know, our closest neighbors in this area of space. I think that we should go and introduce ourselves. Who knows, we might even get some information about this area of space that can narrow our search.”
“As you wish, Lord Sentinel. We can depart immediately,” Gotu said.
“Yes, but leave a relay probe here so that we can receive data from the other drone once it passes through its trans-lane.”
About a day later, Veritas exited the trans-lane and dropped into the Sorvani system. Adrian, Gotu, and Björn Borg—another master from Warpath, with the focus on cultural interactions—watched as their prerecorded greeting message was sent to the Sorvani station. The first thing they used was the normal space FTL comms, and the Sorvani acknowledged and responded in the same way.
“Well, they have some advanced tech,” Björn said.
In front of Adrian, the holo screen turned on and he could see a bright red alien. It was a biped with fur. It wore a harness of some sort and nothing else, and had two arms, only at the elbow they split into two, which technically made it have four arms, with three fingers on each. Its face was flat, with no pronounced snout or a nose, three eyes arranged one above the other, and only a slit where a human nose would have been. Adrian wasn’t sure that it was a nose, though, and he was proven right when the orifice opened and the being started speaking through it in a whispering voice.
Adrian already had their language loaded into his implant, so as the being spoke, he heard the translation in his head.
“Greetings. Your first message said that you have not met my people before, and yet it came in our language—an old dialect, but still understandable,”
the Sorvani said.
“That is right,” Adrian said. “We haven’t met with your people before, but we have had contact with someone who has. Although that was a long time ago. We are exploring our neighborhood in search of a race called the Ra’a’zani, who should be inhabiting this area of space. We would appreciate any help in that regard, and of course, if you wish, we may open relations between our peoples.”
“I have not heard of this race that you speak of, but then again, I am not interested in those things much. My team and I are scientists conducting experiments on this world; we have little contact with the rest of the Erasi, save for supply ships that arrive once every few years.”
While tilting its head from side to side, the Sorvani added,
“If you wish to open relationship with the Erasi, you will need to go to one of the larger worlds where such things are done. You might even find the information you seek; there are information brokers on these worlds.”
“The Erasi?” Adrian repeated the unfamiliar word. “I thought that your race was called Sorvani?”
“It is. Your translation software must not be perfect, or you don’t have a word for that. The Erasi is a trading group, several races living together; we still govern ourselves, but trade is free and our territories open to companies from all,”
the Sorvani explained.
“Ahh...I understand. You said that these information brokers might help us in finding more about this area of space?”
“Yes. My team is away from the Erasi territory, but the information brokers know things beyond Erasi.”
“Would you be able to provide us with the coordinates of one such world we can visit? One that is closest?”
The Sorvani turned slightly and reached with its arms to a console to the side.
“The closest hub world that would have up-to-date information is Tarabat. It is close enough, but how long your trip would be depends on your technology. I am sending you the coordinates now,”
the Sorvani said.
Adrian gestured to Gotu as they received the information. “Thank you. I must say that I am surprised that you gave us this information so freely.”
“Sorvani and the Erasi survive on trade with each other and races outside of our territory. Your ship looks impressive, but you would be foolish to try anything against Tarabat; the Erasi have not survived for so long without being able to protect their interests. And the Erasi always looks for new races, as such things bring more opportunities,”
the Sorvani said.
“Well we don’t have any ulterior motives aside from establishing a good relationship with our neighbors and finding information about the Ra’a’zani,” Adrian said. “Also, do you know if there are any dangers in this area, races that we should be careful around?”
“As I said, my team and I are scientists; we don’t really follow the news all that much. But before we arrived here, we did conduct an investigation of the area around this system, and they found nothing. Pirates might be a problem, but we have nothing of value; our research is of no concern to them. And most of the races that deal with the Erasi know better than to attack our interests.”
“Thank you again for your openness and help,” Adrian said, and the Sorvani started blinking its eyes in a rapid sequence that Adrian took as an elaborate goodbye. Then it closed the channel.
“Where is that system?” Adrian asked.
“About one hundred and ten light years from here,” Iris said as she reappeared.
“That close?” Adrian said. “Does that mean that their territory now stretches from the Sagittarius arm all the way into Orion, or were they always here?”
“No way of knowing without going there and learning for ourselves,” she responded.
“We don’t have a trans-lane route, and I don’t want to spend time trying to find it. Using hyperspace, we could get there in about month and a half,” Adrian mused. “Alright, we are obviously not going to find the Ra’a’zani on our own like this. We are already in the wrong area. We might find something to point us in the right direction there.” He nodded, making a decision. “Let’s skim to the hyperspace barrier and get underway.”
April; Year 54 of the Empire – Former Ra’a’zani system
Anessa, Dai Sha of the First Legion, sat in her meeting chamber on board her warship the Bloodbringer, frustrated, and listened to the report of her subordinate. And she was not content; the news was the same as it had been the last time. They had yet to find the Ra’a’zani, which meant that she was still no closer to finding Humans and continuing her true mission. Her ships had been scouring the space around the Ra’a’zani systems that they had already taken, but she had a limited number of ships that she could send to look, and the volume of space that they had to search through was large, with no lanes explored.
The Ra’a’zani had spread their territory instead of choosing to keep it dense, which meant that the distance between one of their worlds and another could be as far as a hundred light years. And since they did not use trans-travel, the locations of their worlds could be anywhere. And the Ra’a’zani had been thorough in denying the Shara Daim any information about the locations of their other clans. Each clan she had destroyed she had found on her own. And now the last three of their clans had proven that much harder to find.
They hadn’t even found their homeworld yet. And the more time that passed, the more they rebuilt. Contrary to what the results of her war on the Ra’a’zani looked like, the Ra’a’zani technology was not that far behind that of the Shara Daim, at least regarding their weapons and ships. Their void transport technology lacked in every area. The reason why she was winning was because the Shara Daim were better at war, and because they had much better void transport technology; she could outmaneuver them easily, even though the Ra’a’zani had had more ships than her Legion ever since the beginning of the war. Spilling blood was her calling as Dai Sha, her Legion bred for a single purpose: to conquer.
“Dai Sha,” said one of her subordinates, of the rank of Do Sun, bringing her attention back to the Va Sun that had finished her report.
“You have done well, Va Sun,” Anessa said, and then with a gesture dismissed her, leaving her alone in the room with Arisak Do Sun.
“I think that it is time we consider other avenues, Dai Sha,” Arisak said.
“What do you suggest?” Anessa asked.
“The Ra’a’zani have obviously hidden well; they know that they need time in order to match us, so they are lying low. We need more ships if we are to search so big of an area effectively.” He paused, then hesitantly added, “Perhaps we might consider calling on another Legion?”
Anessa turned to look at him slowly, making him wither under her icy gaze. “The Ra’a’zani killed people in my sector, the blood protected by my Legion. You would have me lose even more face by calling another Legion?”
“Of course not, Dai Sha,” he answered quickly, not meeting her eyes. “But there is nothing else that we can do.”
Anessa turned away, thinking. She needed to find the Ra’a’zani. Or rather, she needed to find Ra’a’zani that had Human slaves. The Human homeworld was under the rule of the Ra’a’zani; she had the data on it, but no location. The Ra’a’zani were her only clue. Using the Sha, she keyed the telepathic interface on her table and brought up the map showing this sector of space.
The middle of the spur of their galactic arm in this area of space belonged to the Shara Daim. The first Ra’a’zani worlds they’d found were further towards the spur’s inner edge—coreward. She had been focusing her search there, along the edge of the spur. She glanced at the map and the icons there; the outer rimward edge of the spur was where the Erasi had a presence. Their territory was large and stretched from the closest galactic arm to this spur of the arm where the Shara Daim were. Their territory was bigger than that of the Shara Daim, but not by much. The Shara Daim held the remainder of the spur, back to the point where their galactic arm split.
The Shara Daim didn’t care about other races as long as they didn’t get in their way. The Erasi, on the other hand, were far too big and powerful to be ignored. So the Shara Daim had a cordial if somewhat tense relationship with them that included trade, but that would not be forever. The Shara Daim were the heirs to the Galaxy. Competition was not tolerated. She glanced at the closest hub world of the Erasi, their center of trade in this sector, and an idea struck her.
“We are going to the Erasi,” Anessa said.
“Why go to them?” Arisak asked, taken aback.
“Because they might give us a lead as to where the remaining Ra’a’zani worlds are,” Anessa answered.
“But Dai Sha,” he said slowly, respectfully, “didn’t we encounter the Ra’a’zani first? Didn’t the Erasi learn about them from us?”
Anessa snorted. “That is what they made us believe when we told them about the Ra’a’zani. But the Erasi are schemers and hoarders. Even if they learned about them from us, they would have sent their exploration fleets to find, learn, and record everything about the Ra’a’zani. Information is a resource, and the Erasi rule through trade of everything that can be bought or sold. But the more likely thing is that they knew about the Ra’a’zani all along.” She gazed at the holographic map in front of her. “They probably found them before the Ra’a’zani even left their homeworld. The Erasi have thrived for a long time.”
“Why wouldn’t they say anything, then?” Arisak asked.
“There was no profit in it for them,” Anessa answered.
“Where are we going? Their information brokers are only on their major worlds, and those are not close.”
Anessa pointed at the star system on the map. “Their hub for this sector, Tarabat,” she said resolutely.
“We can’t take the entire Legion; the Erasi would see it as an act of war. Ever since the incident, and under our new agreement, we can have only three military vessels in their major systems at a time. We can send word back home, have them send a few civilian ships,” Arisak suggested.
“We are not going to wait, we are going there on the Bloodbringer. The rest of the Legion can keep looking,” Anessa said.
“There is no need for you to go, Dai Sha; we can send another smaller and faster ship.”
“No. The Elders gave me a task, and in order to complete it, I need to find the Ra’a’zani. It is my duty to see it through. It is my blood call,” Anessa said calmly.
“As you wish, Dai Sha,” Arisak said. “Will we have enough to trade with? This is not a merchant vessel; we have very little in the way of things that they would want.”
“I have a bit of wealth set aside. And I want us to set up supply convoys from the Erasi for the Legion. Our own supply lines are too slow, and once we know where the Ra’a’zani are, I intend on ending them swiftly.”
“Very well, Dai Sha. I’ll instruct the crew and have them chart a course,” Arisak said, and left the chamber.
Anessa turned her attention to the map again. Tarabat was three hundred and sixty light years away from her Legion’s position, but her people had a route already explored close by. It wouldn’t take them long to get there.