Terrans called this spiral shaped star island the Milky Way Galaxy, The Saresii called it Nsorothee and like everything Saresii it sounded refined and melodic but literally translated it meant Giants Sneeze.
Every star faring civilization had their own way to describe this incredibly beautiful spiral wheel. Stars were born and stars died. Black holes slowly rotated through it all, devouring energy and matter alike. It was a seemingly eternal process and yet there was a beginning and an end to everything. In cosmic terms this was a young Universe and this Galaxy had only completed about sixty rotations.
For most living beings it was simply impossible to really comprehend the time of just one such rotation; 225 Million Years was simply a number, something abstract and beyond any understanding.
Compared to that what significance were the 3000 years the Union existed?
Long ago the Uni and the Pree rose and disappeared within one single rotation. And they too were preceded by star empires and galaxy spanning civilizations, their names and their achievements forgotten.
Such time spans meant little to the beings in the shiny cone shaped spaceship that just dropped out of Quasi Space here at the edge of one of the spiral arms. Inaudible to living ears electronic feelers stretched out in all directions testing and scanning the surroundings.
The crew of that pointed metal object measured time in days and hours and the muscular, dashingly dressed ship master was not concerned with galactic time spans, he was more concerned about the here and now. If everything went to plan they would enter what the Kermac called secure space of the Galactic Council
They had travelled further across this Star isle than ever before and had reached space none of his kind has ever entered. The ship was the pride of the Xandrao Empire , bristling with weapons and crewed with the finest and best space warriors the Xandrao Star Academies could produce. There should have been no reason for concern, yet he was a seasoned Shipmaster and like many who were in such a position and regardless of species had developed a sixth sense for conditions that weren’t quite right.
He felt that insubstantial, unexplainable tingling down his spine that told him despite all assurances of sensors and scanners, there was something out there that threatened his ship and mission.
He paced nervously behind the row of the twelve scanner and sensor operators. Each was a highly trained individual from the Royal Academy and they did their jobs well. Xandrao Scanners were incredibly complex systems and required constant calibration.
Behind these Scanner technicians sat the correlator who typed the sensor reports into the Situation Calculator. It was a very demanding position and required much concentration. That this was an unnecessarily complicated way of doing things, especially on a spaceship was not entirely lost to the Ship Master but this was the way it had been done on Xandrao ships for a long time and no one really ever called the Xandrao a very practical race.
With a sigh he noticed Prince Albra step through the access doors and come up to the Command Center area.
The prince was a favorite son of the Emperor and thus it was him who was sent on this perhaps most important mission in Xandrao history.
The prince was no fool and quite intelligent, despite the centuries of inbreeding among the noble houses and approached Ship master Noldra Dorrx .
Compared to the gold and silver glitter laden uniform of the prince the ship masters red and gold trimmed uniform appeared quite plain and subdued.
Albra masterfully swirled his cape and in a theatrical gesture and said with his high tenor voice. “I missed you at the table and had to entertain the Kermac envoys all on my own.”
The Shipmaster bowed slightly as it was required but despite the presence of the prince, he kept his eyes on the readout of the Threat and Situation Calculator. Without making the necessary respectful gesture he said.
“My presence would have not been noticed with you in the room. All eyes are on you, all ears are on you and all attention is given to you alone when you are present.”
The prince looked down at himself and nodded.
“Yes of course and I do look rather dashing tonight if I may say so. The Kermac envoy gifted me this cape. Don’t you think it is fabulous?”
“It will be the envy of all the Beauty Boys at court no doubt.” Noldra hoped the prince would get bored and leave the Command Center.
However instead of the prince leaving, one of the Kermac envoys followed by two of his Dolbarian servants also decided to visit the command center of the ship. Noldra could not suppress the annoyed snort that passed his nostrils. He didn’t like anyone strolling on his Command Center without having business there but there was not much he could do or say. The Prince was in command now and the Kermac were important guests of state and the representatives of a mighty galactic power.
The Kermac who had just arrived was much smaller than even the smallest Xandrao. Unlike the Xandrao he had no fur or hair at all and the Kermac’s skin was snow white.
Noldra was covered with a coarse short brown fur from head to his hoofs. Two massive horns protruded from his forehead just above his fur covered ears. His arms and legs were bulging with rolling muscles. Compared to him the Kermac looked weak and sickly and that envoy did not even have a tail. Again a snort of disdain escaped his flared nostrils. The Ship master was certain the Kermac’s manhood was just a small as the being itself, there was certainly no room for a Xandrao sized penis underneath that flimsy robe. Everything was small and weak about the Kermac, but he knew they were an old species and if you believed their claims they were the undisputed and technically most advanced species in the Universe. That Kermac also demonstrated that he was able to somehow sense the thoughts of others.
The Kermac made a sweeping gesture towards the view screen.
“Why are we not trans-light , what is the meaning of this delay?”
Noldra flared his wide nostrils and curled his lips.
“We just crossed the void between the spiral arms and it taxed our engines to the very limits. We must pause to service them.”
The Kermac somehow managed to look down at the much taller Xandrao and said.
“I forgot how childish primitive your technology is.”
The Prince said.
“Yet your ships seem to be unable to reach Xandr as you came to us aboard a Dolbarian ship and from what I have seen theirs are not superior to our technology. I know our Emperor and my beloved Prince thinks much of you but frankly so far we only seen visuals and recordings about Kermac supreme technology.”
The Kermac’s smooth face was moved by an emotion of anger.
“Your’s is a childish race and you are but a servant tasked with providing conveyance. No explanation should be given to you, but we can not travel in our magnificent ships as this is Freespace, a region where Kermac ships cannot go. I explained that to you.
But you soon will see Kermac might and splendor and you will beg to become a serving member like so many.”
The Prince standing behind his Ship master was used to speak his mind from birth and so he said.
“Then explain to me again why the mighty Kermac cannot travel here. Who would dare to deny you?”
The Shipmaster noticed the thinly veiled and growing anger in the Kermac’s face and the clenching fists.
The white creature hissed. “No one! Kermac are supreme. No explanations are needed, now get this ship moving so I can show you Kermac might indeed.”
With these words the Kermac left but the Dolbarians remained. The Prince actually sat down on the Command Seat, technically reserved for Noldra only, but if it kept the Emperor’s son out of his way it was a good thing.
The Ship master crossed his massive arms and stared through the viewport in the eternal night of interstellar space. As far as Noldra knew, the Kermac were the masters of a huge Star Empire with many member species that served them and in return received the benefit of protection and wise guidance.
The Xandrao were themselves conquered and ruled over a mighty twenty star system empire. Their fleet was feared and respected by the Furze, the Dawn and their immediate Galactic neighbors the Yotenen even conceded a disputed star system to them, without fighting as they knew how dangerous it was to raise Xandrao anger.
Yet he had travelled more than most of his kind and he had seen the ships of the Togar and the Jooltar and he knew just how aggressive the Togar cats could be and how incredibly advance their technology was.
That the Xandrao weren’t the most powerful or most advanced sentient species was a fact that was not lost to the Emperor himself, and so when the Kermac Envoys showed up, he agreed to send this mighty war ship and his favorite son to establish closer contacts with the Kermac.
If it was true what the Kermac had told about an association of many sentient species called the Galactic Council, it was a foregone conclusion the Emperor would decide to join that Galactic Council
Just like the Emperor, Noldra as a high ranking member of the military has seen the intelligence reports on the expansionist Togar and if the reports were correct they ruled over a region of more than hundred sixty star systems and appeared to have technology even more advanced than the Down.
The Xandrao would fall if the Togar decided to expand and this was the real reason the Emperor considered the Kermac proposal.
He moved his spoon shaped ears and they twitched just as the ears of his far distant ancestors did to shake of the flies that had troubled his kind for so long it had become a genetic habit and he said to his Engine Maintainer Chief who appeared on a viewer screen.
“Don’t give me excuses, tell me when will we be able to resume trans light?”
The technician down in the engine room had his horns cut to short nobs as every Xandrao of the working Class was required to do, but he knew about his value and position and said without lowering his head.
“I am not making any excuses, Shipmaster. I am informing you that our engines were strained to the very limit and that I recommend we land at a suitable planet so I can exchange the Main Core with the spare we have along.”
“Your recommendation is noted and dismissed. Will you be able to service them so we can reach Kermac Prime?”
“It is hard to predict, but I assume we should make it.”
“I have your man pieces cut off and make you a field tilling Grox if we don’t. Now tell me how long until we can resume acceleration?”
“If the main core fails before we reach that destination, Ship Master. None of us will have enough pieces left for anything. To answer your question, we should be ready in three hours.”
Noldra cut the transmission knowing that this was actually a very good time, switching injectors and replacing mag shields was a big job and usually took half a day, doing it while in space and in three hours was a testament just how good his Engine Maintainer was.
The Prince on his Command seat had fallen asleep and started to snore, one of the pressed cakes of the finest herb infused grass, the prince liked so much, had rolled out of his hand and across the floor.
He looked at the Dolbarian, neither of the two small beings had said much during the entire visit and now they simply stood there, only their bushy tails twitching.
Noldra had to admit to himself he didn’t like the Kermac much and he found these Dolbarians laughable small, but they had fur and they had tails and that was something positive in Noldra’s opinion of things.
Dolbarian tails were not anything like the thick rope like tails with a paint brush like end all Xandrao had. The Dolbarian tail was fluffy but it was a tail and to him it was easy to decypher the tail language and knew the two were nervous. So he decided to ask and said.
Why are you agitated? “
One of the Dolbarians gestured towards the viewer.
“We arrived in Freespace, big Shipmaster. If we read your charts right we are in a region called the Devil’s Playground.”
“Your masters have not really explained what this Freespace is and why is this called the Devil’s Playground?”
The Dolbarian looked surprised. “You do not know about the Big Four and Freespace?”
The other Dolbarian said. “You Nift, they are from Downward and there is little contact. We are not supposed to tell them about the Big Four or the Union.”
“You are the Nift, as you just did!” snapped the other back.
“You are guests on my ship and guests of my Liege. I can not order you but if you know anything I should know about this region of space then tell me. It is your life too that could be in danger.”
One of the Dolbarians looked towards the door and said. “We are lucky that our Kermac Masters are not of the highest order and their Psionics are mediocre at best.”
The other spread his arms and said.
“This Area is called the Devil’s playground because it is Pirate infested.”
Noldra started to laugh and then he said. “Pirates? Did you just say Pirates? You Dolbarian must be a very meek species indeed. This is the largest most powerful Xandrao ship, we eat Pirates for breakfast .”
The two Dolbarian looked at each other and one of them chirped. “The Xandrao do not know...”
Noldra said. “I can understand if you are small like that, Pirates might be frightening, but they do not attack war ships, only helpless merchants.”
One of the Dolbarian put his small fur covered finger on the map display and said.
“Over here are the Karthanians, more advanced than the Togar you fear, but far less numerous. Here are the Nine Shattered Kingdoms of the Ohgr and their Orkh-Oghr could easily eat you for breakfast so to speak, they fear neither the Togar nor the Karthanians.”
His little paw moved to another spot and moved in a circle that included at least a thousand light years.
“Here are the Nul, a species of brutish warriors that make you look small. They are also very advanced. Not even the Kermac and all their Thrall species would ever want to anger them.” Again his hand encircled a large area.
“This is the space of the Shiss, mortal enemies of the Nul and fighting them for over 3000 years and they are not losing. They too are frightful warriors .”
The other Dolbarian leaned over the map display and pointed with a small needle sharp claw on a single star. “That is where the Holdians are, our distant cousins.”
Again the other Dolbarian scolded the other. “You are the greatest Nift I have ever met. I am trying to tell the ignorant Bovine about the Big Four before our Taskmaster decides to come back and prevent any further education of the ignorant and you tell him about the Holdians, they are insignificant.”
He chirped something sounding very angry, Noldra did not understand and then the Dolbarian used his claw to draw an area that more or less included a quarter of the entire galaxy and then he added a sizeable area of another quadrant and said.
“This, you ignorant Xandrao fool, is the space the Union controls, it is them the Kermac fear like nothing else. The Kermac lost three war against them. Not the Nul, not the Shiss, not the Togar and all I have mentioned together could hope to prevail in a war against the Union. Oh Xandrao Ship Master heed my warning and never anger the Union, they are slow to anger but if they do and Terrans go to war, you will learn that anything you knew before about this most terrible of all exercises is a child’s dream.”
The other Dolbarian said.
“The Union, the Kermac, the Shiss and the Nul are the Big Four and they have signed a treaty that defines a region called Freespace.”
“I don’t believe you. No Empire could be that big. It would take years to travel from one end to the other. Messages would travel for ages , it would be impossible to govern.”
The other Dolbarian was still pointing at the Holdian home system and had paid little attention. “They are not insignificant, they are Union now.”
“I must concur and revise my statement indeed about the Holdians and you Ship Master of the Xandrao, it matters little what you believe now. You will remember our words the first time you face a Union Battle Ship.”
Noldra no longer paid attention to the wild phantasies of these furry aliens as the scanner operators reported. “Unknown ship contact approaching.”