A quick introduction to a written game setting. A story told with friends. -sk

The Strand was communication, and with it came power. The only major communications relay to survive the severing of transplanar travel, the five houses protected it with a savagery and paranoia unmatched. Of course there were others; smaller replicas that allowed interplanetary communications, that could permit some small traffic to carry on for business and critical government operations. It was rumored House Cannalith had stolen plans and begun construction on their own strand as well, somewhere in the Eridnae system. But The Strand was still The Strand. It permitted hyperliminal transmissions to function, and those transmissions invariably found their way through the Rel system. Infinite information, a hub of civilization.

Rel IV was the cultural center of the Core Worlds. A place where all houses were welcome, and neutrality was strictly enforced. Even fragments of House Marudo were permitted to exist in that tentative peace. The Strand resided in the Rel system, but its neutrality was the neutrality of the Council. Anything was permitted that could be plausibly denied. Strength in subtlety, theft, and technology ruled. Open conflict was harshly culled unless the aggressor was decisively and quickly victorious. Thus a truce was maintained. The Great Houses – Geogievich, Cannalith, Abd Din Al-Haddad, Faraday, Xian Zho – had constructed massive habitat structures around the Strand to allow them to reside as close to this nexus as possible. Though they were rarely personally there, except in the most dire of circumstances, the sheer scope of the bureaucracy they had assembled was staggering.

The severing of transplanar travel had come to define the Core Worlds. The war had been blamed on the colonies, and the disaster that threw the entire quadrant of the galaxy out of alignment was also “exclusively of colonial make.” For years travel had been relegated to a crawl, the old empire washed away when the stellar tradeways that were its blood became impassible. Only relatively recently has a solution been found, allowing Naios, Nayas, Hope, Eridnae, Dastova, and the other minor Core Worlds to reconnect with their manifest destiny. However, the wayward settlements would have to follow strict rules to be readmitted – and they were to be judged whether they wished it or not.

Much of the distrust of the colonies came from “genetic drift.” It was a large part of the reason wars had been fought in the first place, or so the history books say. Of course money, power-feuding houses, and overcrowded Core Worlds were far more to blame, but such are the lies often told. In cultivating new worlds, the people of those worlds adapted, changed. Imperceptibly, often with no outside signs, but the genetics did not lie. The Council has deemed excessive drift as a threat to the stability of humanity. When a world is slated for reassimilation, it is to be tested. Those that pass find themselves on the fast track to vassals. Those that fail are given a choice. Eugenics or war. Most choose the first option and a plan is put into place to adjust the inhabitants back onto the “correct path of humanity.” Those that choose war have never won a victory. Many colonies have strong remnants of fleet capacity from the previous conflicts, but the Council’s military might is without peer.

However, from time to time there are blips in the plan. Today is one of those days.

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“Perhaps House Faraday would care to illuminate for us how three-fourths of a scout fleet was lost on a simple first contact mission?”

Guo Wu Tongzhi Zhei watched her opponents from across the vaulted chamber. She was the only member of the Council there in person, though even she was not truly present. The persona-copy of her mind must have cost a sizeable fortune, and were strictly regulated throughout the core worlds. But the esteem and disdain it caused in the other council members was certainly worth the price. House Faraday’s procession of diplomats and functionaries whispered furtively, deciding what to share before returning to the discussion. The answers so far had been unsatisfactory, to say the least.

“Honorable Councilwoman Zhei, we have shared all the information that is available. Further investigation will be-”

“Further investigation?” Vozhd Kira Georgievich spoke up, a simple square, hovering android serving as her vessel as she communicated from Dastova. Kira was brash and quick to prod. A thorn in Tongzhi’s side in most dealings. “Allow me to go over the list again; the Kharkov, the Busan, the Tulwar, and the Zeno destroyed. That’s two battleships, a destroyer and a cruiser. And the Heritage, a supercarrier, severely damaged – and conveniently without communications I am told. That will require more than -”

“The Heritage is returning to Naios at maximum possible speed, Vozhd Georgievich,” the chief diplomat for the Faraday’s assured, “all answers they provide will be given as soon as they are available!”

“This is pointless,” Malik Tariq Abd Din Al-Haddad spoke now, utilizing a holographic projection as was standard procedure. The Al-Haddad were merchants and glad-handers. Tongzhi despised them. “What is most important is sending a new detachment, better armed, and reestablishing connection with Elysium. It’s a valuable colony, by all of the old records.”

“Has the Elysium government responded to communication?” Regulus Vetus Cannalith. Stoic, proud.

Tongzhi shook her head. “They insist they will not be goaded into a relationship that does not benefit their citizens, and will defend themselves if needed. Their resources and military systems are considerable, but certainly not enough to lose a carrier and two battleships…

“Then I recommend we proceed with caution, but swiftly and with force. A full diagnostics fleet, immediately. Elysium is designated for Faraday assignment, but I believe in light of recent failures the Council can agree they should be removed from the position.”

“We strongly protest,” the Faraday official declared.

The Vetus hologram nodded, “So noted. All in favor.” Four ‘yeas’ were digitally recorded with thousands of security checks that made the process last a few seconds, even with the impossible processing power available. “Then it is passed. Because this is a special reconsideration of the situation, our Investigators will have to be chosen from a separate pool, per protocol – no Great Houses. Recommendations?”

Tongzhi waited a moment for decorum, then spoke, “I have been keeping my eye on a few minor houses that could be of value. Certainly Investigator material: strong family ties, intelligent, powerful gifts…”

“I may have an option as well,” Kira’s android politely added, refusing to be outdone.
“Good, good,” Tariq said, “Let us take time to consider these candidates and reconvene when we can speak to them in person. I have other matters to attend.”

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