Most Senior High Executive Permanent Most High Executor in Command Stu'ukmo'o sat as his lavishly decorated desk, staring at the hologram that was projected above his desk. It was a simple one, one that he had glanced at now and then without really caring that much for all of his three hundred years of life. A great field of stars, taking up the majority of the base of the galactic spur, all Lanaktallan controlled worlds. Farming worlds, manufacturing worlds, herd worlds, defensive worlds.
He watched as it fast forwarded through various parts of the Lanaktallans hundred million years of history. Different races rose up, usually toward the wasteland of the gulf between the arm and the spur, less frequently in the Great Gulf in the middle of the spur, and occassionally from one of the few planets outside of Lanaktallan control and supervision.
Every time the worst any enemy had done was destroy the ecosystem of a planet, perhaps even glassed it, and maybe taken a few dozen systems. The Great Herd had never been threatened, had slowly spread out as the slowly growing, carefully curated, population slowly expanded to different planets. Even vigorous and energetic species had been gentled and, through the use of various techniques, convinced to draw back to only a few systems. Usually the species thought that it was their own idea, their own race slowly dwindling, that resulted in them slowly retreating to their home system and awaiting either recycling by the Great Collectors or slow extinction.
The map was dormant for nearly a million years, only the fast expansion of a few races that were repressed almost before they could take more than a handful of systems that appeared as brief sparks on the map.
Then came the time to test the edges of the Great Gulf, to examine whether or not there were new species to worry about and to see if the ancient machines of death and destruction still lived. It was nothing new, something done every thousand generations.
The map suddenly slowed.
A blip here, a sparkle there. He slowed the map, looking at the icons. TERRAN MARTIAL LAW
kept appearing. SYSTEM OWNERSHIP IN DISPUTE
appeared on others.
Stu'ukmo'o knew that Lanaktallan corporations had screamed that the Terrans needed to turn over the systems and pay for all the damage caused by fighting the Precursors.
One system in particular caught his eye. Owned by the Kistmet Corporation, the Precursors had not only been dealt a severe defeat, but the Terrans had convinced neo-sapients to fight next to them, had led the combined forces to victory over the Precursors. There, that was the start of it all
, he mused. He examined the data.
A known criminal of such power and reach that he was forced to use the Terran language to describe him: Mobster. Lah Coastal Nostril.
A criminal that became a folk hero in Terran fictional historical dramatizations.
Stu'ukmo'o opened up a window and examined a report from the Executor Progranda Ministry bemoaning the effectiveness of the Terran propaganda machine. The EPM couldn't explain how a 'dramatization' what was 'based' on true events managed to get the true word out and be so beloved by those who partook of the media.
One picture popped up in the window of a Lanaktallan with a single burning cyber-eye wearing a warmech control helmet. The text said: "Nobody cared who I was before I drove the mech" and even as Stu'ukmo'o watched it was shared ten thousand times.
Stu'ukmo'o had carefully researched that image, that propaganda memetic warfare image. It obliquely referred to a fictional story that had been told and told and retold over thousands of years.
"The Tragedy of Darth Bane and the Algol Collapse" the most recent one was called.
Stu'ukmo'o watched the dramatization and nodded along. Yes, yes, very exciting. Full of violent action, explosions, tragedy, drama, emotional content. Darth Bane was the bad guy, but also the central character, but also had motives that even Stu'ukmo'o could empathize with.
He just wanted to make his world a better place, return control of the star system to the people rather than the tyranny of the Jedi Council of the Children of Flying Mammal Man. He perished, undone by his own hubris, by the infamous Warborg of Purity, after an exhilarating vehicle chase that culminated in a laser sword battle on top of a burning bridge during a thunder storm where Darth Bane plunged into the icy ammonia river and vanished.
Stu'ukmo'o also paid attention to something his peers and subordinates rarely examined. The long part after the ending.
He found that nearly thirteen thousand beings and two hundred corporations worked on the fictional narrative. The fiction had taken six years of production and Stu'ukmo'o opened a window to do quick calculations. He weighed the resources used, the manpower, then weighed it against how much profit the movie made for the studio and the corporations, how much it made for the viewing corporations, how much it made in products, then sat back and nodded.
It created more wealth than the value of the resources it had consumed.
Shaking his head, Stu'ukmo'o went back to watching the star systems change color.
Unlike many others, he had access to exactly what had happened on those worlds. The routing of the Kistimet Corporation, the fact that the Executors and the Military were destroyed by the Precursors at every engagement.
He injected a mood stabilizer and opened four windows. The first was a group of neo-sapients led by Lanaktallan Overseers against Precursors. They broke under fire, most of them dying as they fled in a panic. The second was Lanaktallan against the Precursors. Most of the force died from the Precursor's psychic assault, the rest were routed and slaughtered.
Stu'ukmo'o tabbed up another mood stabilizer and looked at the third window.
"YOUR FAMILIES ARE BEHIND US! JOIN ME TO FIGHT! NOT ONE STEP BACK! I FIGHT FOR YOUR FAMILIES, CAN YOU DO ANY LESS?" a Terran roared out, standing up in front of the neo-sapients huddled in the protections. Two lasers and a kinetic round bounced off the Terran's body armor. "SMASH THESE METAL MOTHER FUCKERS INTO JUNK!" the Terran bellowed, her eyes a bright furious red who's glow completely obscured his eye sockets.
According to every other video the neo-sapients should have started screaming and panicking, fleeing the battlefield.
Instead first one, then another, then like a dam breaking, the rest joined in firing back at the Precursors. They all lifted their voices shrieking out a single word.
He watched neo-sapients shrug off wounds that killed them in other recordings, snarling and spitting and yowling and fighting.
The fact that the helmets all had psychic protection put to rest the suggestion by Stu'ukmo'o's peers that the Terrans were using psychic abilities to make the neo-sapients fight.
Video after video after report after witness statement all agreed, a single Terran leading a thousand neo-sapients could turn a battle.
In the one he watched, the Terran was killed by a tank round that would have gutted a starship, the Terran staggering forward and firing until she collapsed.
The neo-sapients went berserk. Some of them resorting to beating on a Precursor machine with debris, screaming and spitting.
Examining the lexicon Stu'ukmo'o found it.
Valor. Bravery. Sacrifice. Duty.
The definitions were different, but close enough to the same to be understood.
They made Stu'ukmo'o shake his head and take another dose. Just reading the words seemed to fill Stu'ukmo'o with a burning desire to do more, to exercise the power of his office to benefit all
people, not just his own. That it was his obligation
rather than his privilege to have the power he possessed and wield it. Human thought is infectious, like a disease,
he thought to himself.
He tore himself away from watching those fascinating video clips and started the playback again.
Systems kept flashing icon for being attacked by Precursors. He watched the force levels of Lanaktallan forces, be they Corporate, Executor, Military, or even LawSec, dwindle rapidly.
Each time the icon for the Terrans appeared and it was the Precursors who began to dwindle. In over three-quarters of the systems the amount of local
military forces increased.
Each time the Terrans prevailed.
Four times the Lanaktallan forces in the system defected to the Terrans. All four of them joined together to form "The Warsteel Herd" and were armed by the Terrans themselves.
The members of that paramilitary arm were all wanted by the Executors, all with death sentences now.
He looked at an image of the leader. Two legs and part of one flank replaced by cybernetics, two of his arms and his arm pectorals replaced by gleaming black chrome. The Lanaktallan wore body armor as if he had been poured into it and had in his mouth one of those smoke stick that the insectiod Treana'ad always possessed.
That was how many systems the Warsteel Herd protected against any who would attempt to take away "The Right to Graze Free and Speak How You Will" from not only the Lanaktallan of the system but the neo-sapients who had all been released from debt bondage, many of them armed and trained by the Terrans.
A quick video showed a grouping of twelve Lanaktallan facing off against the Great Gatherers. Their warcry of "We are the warsteel hooves of liberty!" shook the camera as the dozen infantrymen destroyed one of the largest Great Gatherer organisms.
He ran a check of "Warsteel Hooves of Liberty" and found millions of results.
One animated graphic showed a Lanaktallan clad in Executor armor pushing his hooves on the face of a Lanaktallan foal, obviously laughing. Hooves shod with black warsteel entered the frame, kicking the Lanaktallan in the face hard enough the Lanaktallan flew off frame with the words "LIBERTY!" appearing. The two legs attached to the hooves had words on them. "FREEDOM" and "FIREPOWER."
A quick check showed that the memetic warfare propaganda image had a 83% engagement and approval rate among Lanaktallan who viewed it. In over two thousand systems just viewing the image was enough for summary execution.
That made Stu'ukmo'o shake his head. That was stupid. All that would ensure was that it was spread around even more.
Graffiti had been sprayed as deep as the Core Worlds of a black hoofshoe with wings made of overlapping blades on each side of the crescent, with the words "WE FIGHT IN YOUR NAME" arcing over the hoofshoe with "FREEDOM" and "LIBERTY" underneath.
Then the annotation flashed up that the Great Gatherers had arrived in the Neo-Sapient Systems in the Outer Rim Worlds as well as the attempted assassination of the Terran diplomat stacked on top of the arrival of the First Wave in Terran Confederate Space.
More and more worlds began switching color.
Stu'ukmo'o nodded. This was to be expected. Each world would put a drain upon the Terran resources, straining their logistics chains, depleting their manpower, absorbing war material.
Projection lines were drawn for the maximum depth the Terran Confederacy would be able to conquer. There had been some estimations of deep strikes, but instead the Confederacy just made a steady advance. True, deep strikes had occurred, but always upon systems completely controlled by the Executor Council or automated factory systems.
Those systems had been left denuded of everything but a star. Even the Oort Cloud had been stripped away.
Stu'ukmo'o opened a window and examined what a probe had found in a system completely destroyed months ago. It was only a few weeks old, the probe moving through jumpspace in a region mathematically proven to be inhospitable to living beings to return quickly with the data.
The system was populated with planets. Gas giants, solid worlds, and three worlds in the Green/Yellow Zone for habitation. The probe had gotten a look at the fourth planet, which sat in the middle of the Green Zone, doing a fast scan and an atmospheric cruise to survey the world and the life.
He paused the scan's results and opened up yet another window. He ran a search on the data. While the search ran he got up and trotted to the window, looking out at the Central Unified Council City beyond.
He had a suspicion.
The data he was searching was millions of years old. The Terrans had captured so many facilities it was logically assumed they had managed to capture a datacore possessing system surveys for the last hundred million years, managing to break the intimidating Executor eight-bit encryption and the eight digit password.
His system beeped and he pulled himself away from staring at the skyline, trotting back behind his desk and settling down on the couch.
The system had been discovered seventy million years ago, then converted to a slow extraction systems, then to a infrastructure system, then to a military system.
The system had been reverted to the same type of life forms as the original survey, the same planetary configuration even though the two gas giants and the asteroid belt had been mined away.
It was as if the Lanaktallan had never discovered it.
He checked the data against nearly twenty other systems.
All of them returned the same results.
The life forms, planetary configuration, atmospheres, all matched the initial survey the Lanaktallan had performed before converting the system to little more than a military base.
As if the Lanaktallan had never existed.
The sight made his stomachs clench and he felt vaguely ill.
His office had trillions of images mined off of the Terran's SolNet before it had been supposedly disconnected from GalNet, although Stu'ukmo'o knew that over a dozen grey nodes existed to access the Terran's interconnected computer systems.
He ran a search for matter creation.
There was a picture of a Lanaktallan saying "You cannot create matter. Entropy will take it all!" and a Terran laughing and spilling star systems from his hands saying "Singers in the Darkness sing LALALALA!"
A search for Singers in the Darkness returned almost nothing, except for a few images here and there.
One had a caption.
"Watched some Singers in the Darkness finish their chorus. Awe inspiring! Sing against the Darkness!" with emojis. There were two pictures. One of a nearly depleted red giant with no planets that weren't scorched and burnt. The next was an energetic yellow star, eleven planets, thirty moons, a gas giant with a ring around it, and three worlds lush with life.
Part of him insisted the two images were of two different systems. He ran a stellar location check.
They were both the same system according to star positions.
Could it be a fake? Absolutely.
But it was in with 'vacation pictures' which showed a young bipedal saurian with gray skin flexing an impressive amount of muscles in different locations, gazing adoringly at large fat birds with shiny brown feathers, and holding intoxicants while surrounded by friends.
There would be no need for an adolescent Rigellian to put up a fake picture to impress her friends.
Stu'ukmo'o knew that an analyst must consider the psychology of a subject.
Unlike the huge vast unending amount of analysts available to the Executors, he felt he knew something about the Terrans that the others did not.
They did not think like a gentled species, so trying to assume motivations and desires based on the beings of the Unified Civilized Council was a waste of time.
He opened another window and brought up the report by a field agent who had spent over a year embedded with the Terran military unit "First Cavalry Division", who had pretended to be a mental defective with the intellect of a child.
He read the report three times.
He unpaused the system display of the Unified Civilized Council territory and watched.
The Terrans hit the outer systems, the pushed inward even as they moved to the sides. New fleet identifiers popped up in system after system. Three months after the Great Gatherers landed on the first planets in neo-sapient territory, the Terrans had completely taken all the systems on the edge of the Great Herd's territory.
Instead of spearing for the central core, like every other race, the Terrans concentrated on the neo-sapient worlds, wresting them from the control of corporations and the Lanaktallan Councils.
Then they started pushing inward, sliding around the 'bottom', 'top', and 'sides' of Lanaktallan space even further.
Six months ago the Terrans managed to completely envelope the Unified Civilized Council worlds, strip away all the species but the neo-sapients of the Core Worlds and the Inner Systems.
Three months ago and they had taken over a quarter of the Council's territory.
A month ago, they had taken a third
of the Council's territory and all of the neo-sapient territory outside of the Inner Systems.
Stu'ukmo'o noted that most of his peers thought that now the Terrans would have to slow down, that their supply chains had to be overburdened.
Stu'ukmo'o saw the same thing he had seen when it had dawned on him and horrified him.
The Terrans were squeezing the Great Herd. They could keep advancing at the same rate because the front line, the amount of planets they were actually taking, had decreased as the radius around the Central Herd Systems decreased.
They were on the edge of all
the Inner Systems. Not just a spearhead driving toward the Central Herd Systems or the decoy of the Unified Civilized Council Systems. They were squeezing the entire
Now Herd Home had ceased sending food and materials to the Inner Systems.
He sighed and closed the images, bringing up other images. In one a Lanaktallan Military Most High was speaking, his tendrils drooping, his jowls just hanging, his eyes haunted.
Stu'ukmo'o turned up the volume.
"No, no, no. We didn't fight out way free. They didn't let us disengage at the twenty-percent mark. They destroyed all but 20%. They allowed
us to leave and let us know it," the Most High was saying. "We'd jump to a new system and either they would be waiting for us or arrive right with us."
"Are you sure it wasn't Terran forces that had taken that system?" an offscreen voice asked.
"My scanner technicians know how to ID a drive system and profile," the Most High snapped, his tendrils curling with anger. "The exact same Terran commanders would appear on my screen to taunt me, to laugh at me, to let me know there was nowhere I could run that they could not find me."
The Most High paused.
"They even chased us in jumpspace, somehow broadcasting messages urging us to run and laughing at us," the Most High said after a moment. He closed all but his front facing eyes and shuddered. "It was horrible, and they take glee in it. They did terrible things to us. Horrible things."
"Such as?" the questioner asked.
The Most High shuddered. "One of their electronic warfare intelligences got aboard the ship. It was horrible."
Stu'ukmo'o touched the reference file and opened it up.
It showed the Most High, trembling from exhaustion, his crew displaying signs of long term stress. The bridge was damaged, many Lanaktallan were wounded, and the feeling of defeat and despair was strong enough that Stu'ukmo'o could feel it through the image.
"Ask the ship's VI why we dropped out here," the Most High ordered.
The ship's VI appeared in the bridge holodeck.
"He made me," the VI said. It looked like it was going to weep. "It... it made me."
you? Don't talk nonsense. You're the ship's..." the Most High started to say.
A holographic hand, much clearer and higher resolution, came out from behind the representation of the VI, the hand closing the VI's mouth. A Terran made of light stepped up behind the VI's representation.
"I did," it said. It plunged its hand into the VI and began ripping out chunks of code even as its jaws got larger and full of meat tearing teeth and began ripping at the hologram, which writhed and screamed like a living being in agony. The VI shattered and the bridge went dark. After a second the holotank came back on. The Terran's head was projected into the tank and it looked around. Its mouth was bloody and strings of code ran down its chin.
"I left your backup of him alone. Just, he'll know what I did to him, what I can do at any time to him. You'll need to reload him if you want to pilot this scrap-heap again, but he'll remember me and what I can do to him at any time," the Terran said, then dissolved into sparkled.
The scene had been horrifying but Stu'ukmo'o had looked at enough records of conflicts against the Terrans to not be surprised.
"They let us escape," the Most High said, and began weeping. "They let
Stu'ukmo'o closed the windows and opened back up the hologram of the systems.
The Inner Systems burned brightly, the color of the Unified Civilized Council and the Great Herd.
Stu'ukmo'o wondered for how much longer.