And now it comes time to discuss our own species – the Thraad. If it has taken long for me to reach this topic, it is not without reason. We Thraad understand that to know oneself, you must first understand others. If this seems counter-intuitive, give it time. You are young yet.
We are an evolutionary descendant of gastropods, though we are a significantly more complex organism than most common snails or slugs. We have a functioning circulatory system, for instance, and a six-chambered heart. Over the aeons, we have lost the ability to grow thick shells (artificial shells are worn instead, as clothing). Our locomotion is still by means of our single, muscular foot and made easier by the secretion of waste slime to reduce friction. We have two eyes on muscular stalks that can rotate and can even look in two directions at once without distress. Beneath our chins are four tentacles we use for the manipulation of objects, both fine and coarse. We are omnivorous and are hatched from eggs.
By the standards of other species in the Union, we are foul-smelling, slow, and ugly. But they know well enough not to underestimate us. Our home planet, Thraador, is very large by the standards of the Union and we evolved in an environment of extreme gravitational forces. Though we usually stand no more than 150 cm from foot to shell, we are the tallest and largest creatures on our world, which is flat, wet, and hot. Bipeds and quadrapeds never evolved on our world, as standing upright requires too much strength and affords too few advantages. When a fall of a few meters is fatal, walking on two or even four feet is risky. We Thraad are steady on our foot – we seldom falter and we never fall (remember this always, as it speaks not just to our physiology, but to our culture and heritage as well). Furthermore, thanks to the intense environment of our home, we are extremely strong by the standards of the other species. Though slow, we are unstoppable. Though ugly, we have wisdom.
We Thraad are a more unified people than most. Long ago we cast off petty nationalistic rivalries or affiliations of House or Cartel. Introspective by nature, we seek consensus in all things. Perhaps thanks to the harsh environment of our homeworld, we are disinclined to take action unless absolutely needed and not until it has been deeply considered. We are not flighty or given to impulse.
Our government is decentralized and simplistic: a council of elders of no specific size meets to decide things and, should the deliberations be wise, the people follow. This sounds chaotic to other species, but they do not understand our temperament. Wisdom is wisdom, no matter who speaks it. If the elders are wise, and history shows that they are, then they will speak well and we would do well to take their counsel. We are not a species of rebels or petty criminals. In the rare instance that one of our number is committed to folly, they are simply ostracized and cast out of the community. It is that simple.
This, of course, has its disadvantages. Though scientifically curious and always willing to learn, our society changes slowly and our capacity to react to calamity is limited. This makes other species think of us as harmless “armchair academics.” But our anger is no less bright than others. Our weapons, though perhaps not as flashy as those of the Dryth, are no less deadly. History is filled with the plague-ridden corpses of those who underestimated us.
We do not maintain distinct family units, even though we are a sexually reproducing species. Eggs are hatched centrally in any given community. The care of young ones is the equal responsibility of all – hence my speaking to you now. It may be that some of you are my biological children, but we Thraad make no distinctions between such things. If you are young and a Thraad, you are my offspring, to be treated the same as any other. If female, you will one day make periodic visits to the hatchery to lay. If male, you will make periodic visits to fertilize. That is all.
There is a sense among us, I feel, that we are cheated by our nature. Some of us look out from our flat world to gaze with envy upon the doings of the other Great Races – the romance of the Lhassa, the passion of the Dryth, and so on. But, in the end, all Thraad return to Thraador. After some years adventuring in the light gravity of the outside world, we long to return to our swampy homes. We are sensible like that.
Thraad civilization began some 16,000 sidereal years in the past. There is too much to know to sum up in this precis, but suffice to say that we took our time developing our cultures, our technologies, and our knowledge. There were wars, yes, but they were primarily waged by proxy: animals and plants and microbes we had trained or engineered to pursue our interests in one way or another. We are, of course, famed for being the masters of what is called “ecological warfare.” It is a slow way to defeat one’s enemies, yes, but quite effective in the long run.
We sought the stars, as all species do in time, but not because of the damage we had done to our environment (like the Lhassa) or because of our desire for conquest (the Dryth). Rather, we left our planet to learn. To explore. The history of our species is one of slow, gradual exploration – the meticulous building of a body of knowledge. We are a curious people.
Of course, our steps into the stars were not without problems. We warred with other species and lost. We discovered that our technologies and our habits were too slow to compete with the likes of the Dryth and Lhassa and Lorca. By luck, we “met” Skennite, and found in it a kindred spirit. The period of our history known as “the Hastening” began – we discovered the secrets of slipdrive, we expanded our influence. When again war came, we were ready. Our biological and chemical weapons were terrifyingly effective, our well-planned strategies invincible. We made the galaxy tremble. Of course, we are not a warrior people in the manner of the Dryth and we are not so numerous or prolific as the Lhassa, and we in time lost again. But we had secured ourselves a place as one of the Great Races, a privilege we continue to enjoy.
We joined the Union gladly, happy to escape the endless wars that ravaged the stars. Now our role is as diplomats, scientists, and merchants, not warriors. We are happier this way. Let the Lhassa and the Dryth and the others struggle in violence and pain for their pieces of the universe. We Thraad shall stand by, patiently, for the opportunity to squeeze ourselves into somewhere essential, just as we always have.
“History,” say the Dryth, “is made in victory and erased by defeat.” So it is that our history is a Dryth one, and seems to remain so. We Thraad have purchased our existence with our service to the task of maintaining the Dryth’s narrative of themselves and, therefore, of all of us. I say this in my capacity as historian. Let no Dryth Aigythi come to destroy me – I speak the truth, which is protected by the Law. This I swear.
To business, then.
Once there was no Law. There was no Union. This time, by the reckoning of my people, was between six and six-point-five centuries ago (sidereal). Few records of that time remain, though whether this is by accident or the design of some faction or other is beyond my purview to speculate. Suffice to say that this cluster of star systems now known as the Union was in no way unified. We were many peoples – some say over a dozen developed races – just branching into the stars. Making contact with one another, fighting small wars and forging small alliances. We were each a species apart, each proud in our ways.
It is hard to say where the Unification began. It is evident that the great Dryth Houses were mightiest, conquering as they could, absorbing where they could not. The texts of the ancient Dryth epics attests to their courage, their bravado, their pride. There was Harita Khesimett and his Companions; Doorga Wyrm-slayer, the first Solon; Kashima Yan, Great Queen of Stars. Their technology was great, even then. They were the first to develop slipdrive, the first to master quasi-organics, the first to deploy nano-weapons. It is a wonder that they did not simply destroy us all. It seems as though few were able to fight them; those that were perished.
Wars of conquest among the stars were unrestricted things then. The creatures we now call Marshalls were not bound to serve – they roamed freely, preyed on what they wished (even one another), and they were objects of chaos, not order. Invasion via slow-ship was a long process. Such wars happened across generations and took centuries to prosecute. That they happened at all is an indication of our world before the civilizing influence of the Law and its Union; we were ravenous peoples. We devoured our worlds, boiled over the boundaries set by nature. We had to spread or perish. By all accounts, many species did perish, their names and civilizations lost beneath a blaze of thermonuclear fire or a plague of ravenous nanites.
At the center of this were the Dryth Houses – as greedy as the rest, but tempered in fires other civilizations had not borne. It was there that the Unification began – among the Great Houses, whose wars dwarfed those of the ‘lesser’ races. The first Judge, Harongi Hatto, began to teach the virtues of peace and cooperation to a small group of followers on the Crimson Plateau on Odryss, the Dryth homeworld. The Archon of House Fleer, Ghestar, had him executed for cowardice, but others took his place. As is written in the Preamble, Ghestar’s own daughter, then a young Solon named Jaegai, became an adherent of the Law and cast down her father in single combat. House Fleer was no more; all of Fleer’s Housed converted to the Law and fashioned themselves into what we now call the Temphri. Those who refused were forced to commit suicide, via Dryth custom.
The Temphri, led by Jaegai, called for unity among the Dryth, but found no takers. The other Houses saw no advantage in their conversion. Fleer’s ancient holdings were seized, their vassals subsumed, their fleets laid to ruin. Jaegai was forced to find allies outside of her own species. So it was that she set out for sixteen years, travelling from world to world, from people to people, speaking the virtues of the Law. She made many enemies, but more friends. She called them to her cause, and they joined together. Even many of the great star-beasts we know as Marshalls heeded her call. At last, massing at Carthade, the Union was struck, and the time to force the remainder to submit or join was entered.
The Unification Wars were terrible, but incredibly brief by most standards. Battles raged for four years (or so the tales say) on almost every world in what is now the Union (and more besides, no doubt). Billions perished, but from it emerged a new order. The Law was transcendent – each member species was required to adhere, and it was adapted to fit with their gods and their ancestors. Those who would not sign were cast out, their worlds claimed in the name of the Law and given over to the Union’s use. Exhausted by centuries of rapacious slaughter and warfare, the Law set out the Cycles – sixteen sidereal years of enforced peace, lest the wrath of the Marshalls be incurred, four sidereal years of circumscribed war. So it has subsisted, for these 23 cycles and 11 years. So it seems likely to remain.
There is justice here in the Union – that I know – but it is not justice for everyone. Each wartime cycle sees the Dryth Houses conquer more, dominate more widely. There is no resisting them for long. The Marshalls, now massive and unstoppable, treat the assembled races as nothing more than a tantalizing buffet, prepared for their enjoyment at the slightest slip in protocol. And, of course, there are those lesser races, absorbed into the Union in ages past against their will, never fully integrated, who live beneath us as slaves or worse.
But, ah, I grow irritable. It is late and I am old, my great foot aches and my tentacles waver in the glow of the lamp. Perhaps, as the ancient Thraad thinker Kophis theorized, there is a way to fashion a more perfect world. I cannot say that I know how. I count the blessings the Union has given my people, and I choose to be deaf to the cries of those it has stolen from. What more can I do? Who would rip down the world in blood and fire, only to build anew that which cannot be achieved? Not I, not I.
That is a game for the youth, and I am no longer young.
Author’s Note: This is some primer text for a science fiction setting I am currently developing. I hope you enjoyed it.