The Malevolent Laughter of Hegemony by Magnitudes

Date: 1,988,612 A.D. (Gregorian), P.W. 337 (Shango), N.A. 34 (Qareen)
Location: outer edges of NGC4038

1

Skirting around the outer edges of the galaxy, the Stoppan ship Vehicular Array for a Spring Day (39) had a crew who were, collectively, in a buoyant mood. It was only too justifiable, too; this was the furthest in the galaxy that the Stoppan race as a whole had ever reached, and it was the perhaps the most detailed self-survey of the area they had. Of course, the Shango Federation had been most generous with their own data, with all the confidence of a civilisation that knew it wouldn’t be surpassed soon, but the Stoppan were not ones to take such information for granted, however benignly it was offered. As such, the Vehicular Array was one of those particular designated ships dispatched with an almost completely open mission: go forth, and discover whatever needs discovering, and take years to do so if necessary.

The journey had already thrown up plenty. Amongst dozens of planets, they had found the ruins of dead civilisations, and struck a particular hit as they found one that the Shango didn’t know about; on the northern hemisphere of an uninhabited planet five hundred parsecs out and twenty down from the safety zone of Stoppan space. Of course, transgalactic diplomacy was not a competition, but to score a point against the Federation was something to celebrate nonetheless; having met only one alien race in their lifetime, and never fought a war with them, this was the closest to any sort of glorious victory-in-battle that they were going to receive.

Yet the journey took a turn for the stranger five years in. On that day, the ship had already reached one planet, and made another discovery, albeit one the Shango quickly confirmed their awareness of. This always blunted the joy of discovery a little, but it was no matter; the ship left orbit again, and headed along its planned route near the galactic edge, hoping to sweep in increments back into the ‘thick’ of the galaxy, away from the dusty domain they found themselves in. It was then that the ship flashed in with almost cartoon-like speed, slamming to a rapid stop and hanging ominously in their path. It was alien, for sure. It was beyond anything they had seen. Was it Shango? Was it hostile?

2

The captain examined the ship, and its sharp, jagged contours. Certainly it looked hostile, but then again, the Shango’s bluff, brutal designs were similarly aggressive to the uninformed. Aesthetics were no guide to potential action. Still, the colour and that exploded, shattered shape combined to form an uneasy image; the detailing that a zoomed picture revealed suggested a ship designed with immense but casual complexity out of possibility rather than necessity.

Then again, who was he to judge an alien race?

“Working on a message, captain,” the comms and data officer said, “standard greeting?”

“Standard greeting.”

On the ship’s holographic 3D view in the centre of the bridge, itself in the centre of the ship, the mysterious vessel hung motionless in the centre of all centres, poised as if a weapon held in the invisible hand of a cosmic hunter. For several minutes it stayed, and finally, a message returned.

“Congratulations,” the data officer read out, “if we have judged correctly, you must be a Stoppan vessel located outside of normal space. Indeed, if we have judged correctly, you should be able to read this message. You have come into contact with representatives from the Dharan Republic, whose jurisdiction extends across this galaxy and others. We have suspected the existence of the Stoppan people for some time, due to our contact with the Shango Federation, but it is a pleasure to receive potential confirmation, and we are happy to open diplomatic relations, if you care to respond.”

“Captain, your thoughts?”

There was a lengthy pause, during which the captain pushed buttons on a nearby console, relaying the message across the ship. As he did so, he thought carefully. Such a ship could potentially eliminate theirs with ease, Sensor data revealed that the ship had crossed through a distance in space in one second that the Vehicular Array on a Spring Day (39) typically managed in a day and a half. They were like ants bowing down to giants, and he wondered if such a thing could ever amount to diplomacy.

“They would appear to be friendly. Their technology is far more advanced, judging from the ship, and it would be unwise to brush them aside if they ask for an audience. Official diplomacy, though? We cannot take on that capacity. Not for all of Stoppan civilisation. Send a message to state as such.”

The crew murmured their agreement. There was tension on that bridge, but the captain knew what the rest of them surely did: maybe the second biggest ever moment of Stoppan history was approaching.

3

The Dharans beamed onto the Stoppan ship, apparently wishing to maintain secrecy over their technology. It was perhaps understandable; for all their relative primitivism, the Stoppans could almost certainly scan and extract data from much of the ship, although an attempt to do this externally failed. The captain reckoned that no Shango had ever seen the inside of a Dharan ship either.

The Dharans themselves, a relatively tall race of people, at least to Stoppan eyes, twice the height of them, with five fingers to a hand, two eyes to a face. The captain welcomed them warmly, and they were similarly polite, although he inevitably noticed their subconcious expressions of mild shock and distaste. They knew they were in a less advanced environment, and despite everything, struggled to conceal it. As they toured the ship, they feigned interest in technology they doubtless regarded as archaic, and the captain couldn’t help but feel that if only they had, for example, brought some damn musicians or artists on board, they would have something to show.

“We must nonetheless meet some of your leaders. Your higher-ups,” the lead Dharan explained.

The captain explained that the ship had taken years to reach the place it had, and would potentially take months to get back.

“It’s no problem. We can tractor beam it, if you give us the co-ordinates.”

4

“Report.”

“The Shango have finally got back to us, captain, from Darkworld Franklin itself. They seem legit, everything we’ve sent is confirmed and corroborated.”

Of course, the captain had that brief flash of thought in the back of his mind, sensing conspiracy. Even if it was true, though, how was he to know? He reasoned that he could not, and to blame him for unwittingly bringing about a Stoppan downfall, just as the Republic approached greatness, would have been harsh in the extreme.

Still, as he sat at his chair, behind the ring shaped table skirting around the whole bridge, looking to the holographic projection in the centre of the room, he couldn’t help but notice how the dot of the Dharan ship, with the Vehicular Array (39) in tow, was visibly moving across a screen that was showing the whole of the galaxy. Officers around the perimeter could only scan the ship in puzzlement; the spatial-temporal forces on it had to be immense, unbearable, by rights smashing the ship into subatomic splinters with an instantaneous reaction to make the Planck era an apparent eternity.

Whatever was protecting it, however, was nonetheless keeping it completely intact.

There was little to really do now. The mission had started as an open one, and only the vaguest of plans were to be set up, but now that the ship was clearly heading back to Stoppan space, the captain felt a slight sense of hopelessness – or was it just a feeling of restriction? Either way, there was a determinism afoot that he wasn’t sure he liked.

He decided to stop staring at the projection, which stated that the journey would take three more minutes, and head towards the ship’s exit teleporters, positioned towards the rear of the ship. Down the corridors, making his way past scurrying members of his own crew and occasionally around hunched Dharans attempting to cope with the low ceilings, he reached the sparsely-furnished teleporter rooms, with its two crew members on opposite consoles on the other side of the circular room.

“Sir, we’ll be arriving shortly,” the one nearest the door said.

“I know. I’ve informed the government on Res 33 already.”

The thirty-third planet of the Stoppan Republic was the one that nominally controlled the others, although in truth, it only really served as a site for a representative government in times like this; it was also chosen for being the centre, or the closest planet to the centre, of the subsequent Republic that spanned some three hundred planets across two hundred systems.

“Do they know all about the situation we have?”

“They should do, although my message was vague. If nothing else, they will soon. How long until we reach 33?”

“Seconds, sir. We’re practically there.”

The captain nodded. “Beam me directly to Central Government Headquarters. I’ve got important news to deliver.”

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