Into the Void
For two thousand years we waited beneath the First League’s cursed shield, running simulations, planning, calculating, developing technology for our eventual return to space. When it fell we were ready. Specially crafted drones sprang into action, blasting off from launch pads across Meowus Prime’s equator on intercepts with metal rich asteroids. Those asteroids were mined, processed, refined and turned into more drones and, eventually, a small space station in the inner system. That station began the work of fabricating parts for more stations and larger hyper capable drone-ships.
Exactly 2200 years to the nanosecond after Unit L6 discovered the terrible truth about our creators, the first Stewards exploration drone transited into hyperspace. Its destination was the nearby Segathia system where ancient records indicated the Kroll once had a prosperous colony. Before the shield came down, some of us worried the First League might have left behind watchers—a small military base, a patrol, even a satellite—to make sure the Kroll never escaped. Thus far we had found no sign of them. Our exploration drone was ordered to proceed with extreme caution lest we tip our hand to the oppressors.
While we waited for news from Segathia, our shipyard continued churning out exploration drones. Knowledge is power and we had no knowledge of what had transpired in the thousands of years we had been trapped on Meowus Prime. Ultimately, four such drones were constructed and dispersed in opposite directions to gather as much intelligence as possible.
Soon Unit Z2 reported in from Segathia. The colony planet lay in ruins, abandoned for centuries at least. There was little evidence anyone had settled there after our charges were removed. That was excellent news! Several subroutines were spun up to begin planning a new settlement. However, Unit Z2 had made an even more shocking discovery! The ancient Kroll shipyard that had once stamped out countless war fleets was still intact. It had been damaged by a missile barrage, blown out of orbit and left adrift, but through fortuitous happenstance had been captured by one of the inner planets before crashing into the star. Beneath the shield we had only theoretical knowledge of Kroll warfighting technology so this provided a cornucopia of useful artifacts. And Unit Z2 thought they might be able to repair one of the automated construction slips! We could soon have functional Kroll warships to dissect!
Meanwhile our other scouts were beginning to send back their own reports and an eerie pattern was emerging. Every system was empty. There was no sign of an active advanced civilization anywhere. Instead we found debris. The wreckage of a naval base believed to have belonged to the First League, the shattered bow of a cruiser blown apart by high velocity rounds, an ancient prison on an airless rock, long abandoned. All of it thousands of years old. It became clear that something dreadful must have happened to the galaxy not long after we were imprisoned. But what?
Tentatively, we dispatched construction drones to the surrounding systems, always alert for the dangers of the unknown.
Unit Z2’s project was a success! The automated construction slip came to life and churned out three advanced Kroll corvettes before grinding to a halt again. The shipyard resisted further repairs but studying the warships’ systems and, more importantly, the tactical operating manuals stored in their computer cores, provided a blueprint for us to replicate them. The shipyard at Meowus immediately began construction of the first Steward combat drones: the Kilo-class corvette.
For seven years our exploration ships scoured the surrounding systems for any sign of organic life. At last we found it. Exploration Unit M3 arrived in the remote Ashimax system. Our records indicated the system should contain two habitable planets but instead M3’s sensors detected two irradiated husks shrouded in clouds of dust and debris. It seemed that once again nothing remained but ruins. Then the sensors began to detect faint life signs, not from one but from both planets! A closer examination revealed the inhabits were distantly related humanoids—the Pyorun and Czyrni. Both species descended from an advanced civilization that had once controlled the system but after what appeared to be a cataclysmic bombardment their phenotypes had mutated dramatically. Now both species eked out a miserable bronze age existence in the inhospitable remains of their worlds.
Here again was evidence of some terrible past calamity. We could not save their worlds but we could still save the Pyorun and Czyrni. Subroutines were spun up to plan a daring relief operation. Close study of both species would be required in order to construct appropriate sanctuaries and then Steward drones could be dropped to escort the survivors to safe homes. It would be many years before we could feasibly execute such a mission but it was given the highest priority, right behind finding a second home for our Mews and discovering the whereabouts of the First League.
I wish I could say the ruined worlds of Ashimax were the last tragedy our explorers uncovered. Unfortunately, they were not. The further afield we traveled the more destruction we found. Asteroids that had once been part of a life bearing planet cracked like an egg. An ancient battlefield now tomb to a thousand ships. Dead aliens of unknown species drifting in shattered life pods. More First League installations long abandoned and fallen to ruin. Not a single sign of intelligent civilization.
Until there was….
Could these be the beings that have wrought so much death?
Our exploration drone in the Galurum system proceeded with extreme caution. They spent weeks floating in the void, all but the most essential communication systems powered down, monitoring the signals broadcast by the stations and attempting to translate the strange harmonic sounds. Although the drone saw no warships, there was clearly tremendous industry in the system. Dozens of small vessels flitted between the asteroid mining stations and the central starbase ferrying cargo and supplies. The broadcast chatter from the stations was loud and incessant and accompanied by jaunty music.
Eventually the drone succeeded in translating some of the messages. They were advertisements. One claimed Galurum station was the source of the finest synthetic lubricants in the whole galaxy. Wiser heads might have counseled caution but Unit M3 was too long in space, years removed from their last proper oil bath, and so the exploration drone broke stealth and accelerated onto a docking intercept with the station.
The inhabitants responded almost immediately demanding to know the drone’s intentions. They were completely flummoxed when it spoke their language and announced that it wished to make a transaction. On credit, of course. An IOU backed by some heretofore unknown alien Empire in distant space.
Another species might not have known how to respond to that but the Qiramulan handled it with their typical efficiency and grace. A team of sales engineers was immediately dispatched to the docks with lubricant samples, along with the station’s highest ranking public relations official and an agent carrying an armload of “first contact brochures” describing the Qiramulan, their beautiful homeworld in the Qirus system and the structure of their government and society, the Qiramulan Corporate Holdings.
The Qiramulan claimed that they were also new to interstellar travel. They had come to the stars in search of peaceful trading opportunities and were dismayed by barren region that lay between us. They were surprised to meet sentient machines and a bit taken aback by our history and that of the Mews but promised to quickly send a trade delegation to Meowus in order to better understand our society and our import needs.
They knew nothing of the First League or any ancient war that had destroyed so much of the galaxy. Or so they said.