An account of the Sequence assault on Draugr in the Serene Sea, ten years ago, which according to Sequence traditions was meant to be the beginning of a region-wide crusade.
The first contact with Sequence attackers occurred at T+0 hours, when the sensors on Draugr orbital bases detected a massive, grouped emission coming from the vicinity of Lich, the second and outermost planet in the system. In hindsight, these emissions corresponded to the collective deceleration burn of the Sequence vanguard albeit at that time, even though Sequence warships were known and already classified as hostile, the emission only created confusion among Algorab personnel. At T+30 minutes, the L1 and L2 stations orbiting Lich were destroyed and lost with all hands. Shortly after, two survey vessels diverted towards the emissions, Eccentric Cycles and Cause of Paperwork, were destroyed as well. In the first opening hour of the attack, Algorab had lost 867 people, the majority of its personnel on Lich. The only vessel to be spared was This Side Up, an USRE messenger vessel that managed to evacuate its berth and leave the system after broadcasting an emergency message. At T+2 hours, Lich was hit by three relativistic kill vehicles (RKVs) which shattered the planet's crust and sealed the fate of the remaining personnel who had not evacuated.
At T+5 hours, Algorab's armed detachment of twenty-seven combat vessels, helmed by Calm and Orderly Fashion under Azches' command, met with the Sequence vanguard halfway to Lich. The following minutes saw three vessels fall victim to UREB (Ultra-relativistic electron beams) weapons before the ships could reorganize and fire back. At T+6 hours and thirty minutes, the first destruction of a Sequence vessel by a human ship was registered as Luciole Interceptor Lightjammer scored two direct missile hits on a Sequence Chapel, shattering its antimatter containment field. A confused battle started to ravage the cold skies, several light-hours from Draugr.
At T+12 hours, Azches was finally capable of assessing the enemy's strength, which made it clear that there was no way the local Algorab units could stem the incoming tide of Sequence ships, even with the advantage conferred by the geometry drive. The IA decided to engage in delaying actions, ordering its ships to stay out of UREB range and perform "drive-by" FTL missile attacks targeted at enemy engines, with the goal of forcing as many ships as possible to miss their final deceleration burn and overshoot Draugr. At T+12 hours and 25 minutes, Starmoth Initiative vessel Don't Look Back was crippled by a glancing Chapel shot, becoming the first human ship to survive a UREB hit.
Between T+15 hours and T+25 hours the battle kept raging on as the Sequence fleet surged towards Draugr at a punishing 9 gees of acceleration. More than fifty RKVs were spotted en route to Draugr: they were all destroyed by direct FTL missile impacts, albeit this successful defensive action further reduced Azches' already half-empty ammunition reserves. Human ships maintained a moving barrier of missiles in front of Sequence vessels, however this form of attrition warfare did not wield tactical results beyond Sequence ship losses. The enemy was still bound to reach Draugr.
At T+27 hours, the last missile was fired by Peace Treaty and Azches ordered her fleet to retreat well behind the planet and towards the neutron star. At this point, the entirety of the Algorab Expeditionary Corps had been scrambled towards Draugr, now the focal point of all military operations in the Serene Sea. Cargo ships were surging towards the system, filled to the brim with every single FTL missile available in the region, while the commune was sending help requests with messenger probes bound towards Communal Space. USRE messenger ship This Side Up had reached its mysterious destination, an unassuming brown dwarf system fifty lightyears away from Draugr.
The planet itself was left defenceless, save from hastily converted mass drivers.
At T+29 hours, the Sequence vanguard entered Draugr's high orbit. A fair share of the fleet had been damaged or destroyed, while several dozen incapacitated ships now drifted in darkness, unable to decelerate, but the remaining firepower was greater than what the entirety of humankind could muster. All stations surrounding Draugr were destroyed within the following hour, and with them almost a thousand people who had not been evacuated yet by lack of available vessels. Bypassing Draugr's moon entirely, the Sequence vessels started attacking the Old Forest directly with kinetic vehicles and UREB artillery, drawing burning glyphs in the planet's worldwide vegetation cover. As soon as the first projectiles hit, Algorab sensors all over the planet detected a massive energy surge caused by the redirection of all sap flows in the planet, followed by the spontaneous digestion of up to 76% of the Old Forest's nodes.
At T+30 hours, the planet screamed. The Old Forest's synapses started emitting a high frequency, all-spectrum pulse that Algorab survivors recall like a "wave that rattled your very mind". While human equipment was merely disturbed by the Wail, as it came to be known later, Sequence ships were downright crippled during the emission, with their seemingly organic hull regeneration systems starting devouring themselves and their synthetic arrays visibly melting in infrared.
In the following twenty minutes, the collective mind of the Sequence vanguard changed its plans and turned its attention towards Draugr's moon, probably in an attempt to acquire a stable firing position whose structure would be impervious to the Wail. Three battle-defining events happened within the following quarter of an hour.
At T+31 hours, Algorab Farseer-class cargo vessel Pointy Bit Towards Thrust evacuated its crew then started to accelerate in deep space. At T+31 hours and 7 minutes, Azches' reinforced fleet launched a two-pronged attack against the Sequence fleet which was focused on burning the moon to the ground with UREB beams, carving deep molten canyons in the crust. Finally, USRE High Fleet Firebase In Your Heart Shall Burn translated in high orbit, completely unannounced, under the cover of the planet. Helmed by a certain Elisabeth Hoyle, it claimed to be responding to a distress call. Azches did not mind. She needed every ship she could muster -- albeit, she thought, there would be some explaining to do after the battle.
At T+34 hours, while the moon had become but a hellish landscape of vitrified glass still populated by a few unlucky souls and automated defence systems, the planet screamed again. Perhaps the Old Forest had realized the strength of its enemy. Perhaps the first scream had been a test run, but the second Wail was devastating. Several human ships reported massive damage to electronics, electrical surges through the hull, geometry drive interference and bouts of temporary madness among their crews, but it was nothing compared to the Sequence ships. Horrified navigators report hearing what sounded like cries of pain in garbled static as many Sequence vessels erupted and melted from the inside, turning into grotesque versions of themselves, metal-organic splatter turned upside down and disassembled in space, like intestines burning under the harsh light of the neutron star.
At T+35 hours, Pointy Bit Towards Thrust stopped accelerating and brutally translated away towards a set of coordinates transmitted by one of the few surviving drones on the moon. The cargo vessel re-emerged a mere ten kilometres away from one of the two Orrery-class Sequence ships leading the assault on the moon. Though it terminal velocity was way lower than that of an FTL missile, its mass and length were several orders of magnitude higher. The cargo ship slammed into the Sequence vessel, whose weakened bio-hull absorbed the blow, then slowly gave away until the Farseer collapsed the antimatter containment systems. Both ships disappeared in a massive implosion which showered the moon with debris -- the first successful, albeit crude, application of suicide burns in the Serene Sea war.
At T+36 hours a third, weaker Wail surged across Draugr's orbit, and for the first time in a day and a half the Sequence vessels turned tail and ran, illuminating the vicinity of the planet with myriads of engine plumes the colour of molten stars. The second Orrery ship, which Algorab suspected to be the personal ship of a Presence (a Sequence mind made of self-conscious baroque representations), slightly lagged behind, covering the retreat of its armada. Azches seized the opportunity.
At T+35 hours and 15 minutes, the last act of the battle opened with a coordinated attack on the Orrery vessel led by five drone Luciole Interceptors. They were promptly cauterized by the Orrery's powerful UREB array, but they were nothing more than decoys. The real offensive was led by In Your Heart Shall Burn, which translated at pointblank range and engaged the Orrery in a knife fight, almost hull against hull. A gratuitous duel, led only to avenge the deaths of Lich, which lasted for more than twenty-seven seconds, an eternity in such an engagement. In Your Heart Shall Burn took three UREB shots in its mainframe, which severed half its radiators from the fuselage, detached its engine section from the rest of the ship and killed half its crew when the third glancing hit melted through the ablative armour. In return, the Firebase showered the Orrery with pointblank railgun fire, which at this range was accurate enough to disable the UREB array and pierce the organic armour through sheer saturation. For a split-second Elisabeth Hoyle held her ship ready to translate away, convinced the Sequence vessel would self-destruct, but the antimatter explosion never came. The Orrery slowly flipped around, dropped its remaining UREB and came to a halt half an hour later. It had surrendered. In Your Heart Shall Burn was recovered two hours later, drifting in space with its railguns molten and still gleaming hot. The rest of the armada pushed its engines to 15 gees to leave the system. Azches, knowing how weakened her own fleet was and fearing a feigned retreat, gave the order not to pursue.
The battle of Draugr was over.
In total, 2,500 human beings, AI included, lost their lives during the battle of Draugr, not even a footnote compared to the great wars of the Sequence. 17 human ships were lost with all hands on board. In return, the Sequence left seventy-two Chapels in the system and two Orreries. The captured vessel was towed around Lich, and though it did not contain a Presence as first expected, its housed something far stranger: a horde of small blob-like creatures, the organic lumpenproletariat of the ship that had devoured its Sequence "crew" and taken control of the vessel in the midst of battle, probably awakened by the initial Wail. Though only sub-sapient, they had enough awareness to recognize humans as an enemy of the Sequence.
Lich was left ravaged, covered in vitrified rock and molten debris and, officially, has not been reoccupied ever since. Algorab's science division would take decades to recover from the attack, which had decapitated its leadership and in many ways it could be argued that it never truly recovered, with Azches' power being reinforced by the battle and Algorab becoming even more focused on battling the Sequence. The surprise attack on Draugr, decades in the making, would be the main motivation behind the construction of Adowa Point and its early warning system. The USRE has made no effort to justify the presence of at least one heavily armed ship on Algorab territory, albeit the raven-bearing organisation, strangely enough, has yet to emit an official complaint.
Draugr would spend nearly a decade recovering from both the UREB-induced destruction and the straining effort endured to create the Wails, a phenomenon which is still ill-understood, though it proved that the Old Forest was no stranger to the Sequence. Had it faced them before? Was it merely territorial, or was it capable of understanding the strategic situation? Was it just defending itself, or defending something else -- for instance, something that would be hidden beneath the distant surface of Draugr?
Regardless, Draugr still stands, and neither Algorab nor the Old Forest have ended their watch.
Starlight Temple on Station Zero as drawn by Elodie Garro using remote sensing data. It is believed to be the origin point of the distress beacon signal.
The Laniakea expedition might be one of the most famous journeys ever carried out by the Starmoth Initiative. This ten thousand lightyear rim-bound travel proved that long-range one-ship expeditions were viable, cast a new light on the Sequence as a civilisation and uncovered an unknown human civilisation.
Thirty-two years ago the Algorab Organisation commissioned a secret expedition to the very edge of the Milky Way, sending a small group of ships nicknamed "Zero Fleet" seeking for what Algorab believed to be the ancient homeworlds of the Sequence. It took Zero Fleet almost a decade to reach its destination. Or rather it should have because contact was lost as the fleet crossed the inter-arm void between the Perseus Arm and the Outer Arm. The fleet's last message, relayed by a series of Von Neumann probes, was a distress signal albeit it was confusing and unclear. Though Algorab's endeavour was only known to a select few, the Starmoth Initiative immediately answered the call. By chance (some would say fate) a Starmoth Initiative expedition was in its last stages of preparation in Mundis when Zero Fleet's message reached settled space. The Initiative changed the expedition's nature on the fly and what should have been a simple inter-arm reconnaissance run turned into a ten thousand lightyears rescue mission carried out by Inyanga class vessel Laniakea.
Laniakea departed Mundis under the supervision of navigator Elodie Garro twenty-one years ago. The Laniakea Expedition had begun.
At that point in time, Laniakea was probably the single most capable starship operated by the Starmoth Initiative. Relying on a highly experienced crew, it had the potential to operate for decades in complete isolation and the Butterfly-class modifications attached to its geometry drive meant that it could cross the inter-arm void at a much faster rate than Zero Fleet without having to compute thousands of blind jumps. However, even for such an advanced vessel, the journey proved to be long and gruelling. Past the surroundings of Mundis Laniakea was operating in completely uncharted territory and had to create its own reference points for jump targets, relying on variable stars that had to be remapped every hundred lightyears. Its geometry drive proved less reliable than anticipated and the ship had to stop for several weeks at a time to perform emergency repairs. Its only means of communication with the rest of human space were courier probes which were in limited supply. Yet it carried on, leaving beacons and time capsules behind to guide future ships on its path if something was to go wrong.
As it reached the Outer Cygnus arm, Laniakea started encountering deep space anomalies. Sequence-built megastructures anchored around stars or floating aimlessly in the interstellar void that would interfere with geometry jumps, blocking them or sending Laniakea in random directions. Elodie Garro and her crew had to improvise new navigation techniques to go around these neutralization fields which slowed Laniakea even further. After a particularly damaging misjump, the ship had to stop by a habitable planet to make extensive repairs to its frame, using the opportunity to found a small self-sustaining relay that would come to be known as Garro's Respite.
Seven years into the expedition Laniakea had yet to find any traces of Zero Fleet. The fleet had deviated from its intended path and had not left any beacons behind which was starting to turn Laniakea's rescue attempt into a fool's errand. Without faster than light communications the ship had no way to contact Zero Fleet...or what remained of it. As the galactic rim closed in interferences became stronger and Laniakea found itself stuck in an all-aspect interdiction field created by a vast network of megastructures the size of solar systems. Determined to push on and reach Zero Fleet's supposed destination, Elodie Garro took the only possible way: up. Laniakea surged towards the galactic roof to climb above the interdiction bubble. Three thousand lightyears above the galactic plane Laniakea finally found a passage that would allow the ship to keep progressing towards the rim. During its descent, Laniakea started picking up strange radio signals emanating from a system at the galactic edge. These signals were indubitably human. More than that, they were carrying human-readable information. The accurate coordinates of Zero Fleet's final resting place.
But it was impossible, surely. These signals had travelled at the speed of light and came from a system one thousand lightyears away, which meant whoever had emitted them was one thousand years old.
When Laniakea finally reached the origin system it found an artificial Sequence ringworld orbiting a K-class star, right along the galactic edge. The habitable megastructure was home to a small indigenous human civilisation that had reached a technological level comparable to 1980s humanity. At the barycenter of the orbital were the battered hulls of Zero Fleet's ships cratered by ten centuries of micrometeorite impacts.
And then it dawned on Elodie Garro and her crew as they went through the few remaining ship logs. Confronted to the same obstacle as Laniakea, Zero Fleet had attempted an extremely long-range translation over more than three thousand lightyears to escape the Sequence megastructures. This translation, paired with Sequence interference, had backfired completely, breaking the safety measures that usually prevented a geometry drive from travelling in time.
Zero Fleet had reached its intended target.
One thousand years in the past.
Confronted to this unprecedented situation, Elodie Garro decided to avoid interfering with the orbital's local civilization, mark the position of the system and come back to Mundis using the same route it had used to reach the galactic edge - a route that would come to be known as the Laniakea Run. Upon re-establishing contact with the Starmoth Initiative she decided to call the orbital "Station Zero" in honour of the Algorab fleet. Later the same year, Laniakea went back to Station Zero with a complete exploration fleet that deployed beacons to formally establish the Laniakea run as an official deep space route and build two permanent observation posts at Station Zero and Garro's Respite. The full implications of the Laniakea expedition - involving the time-travel capacity of the geometry drive and the Sequence's derelict megastructure empire - are still a topic of active research and to a certain extent remain shrouded in mystery by the Initiative.
My name is Marjani.
I feel fine. Focused. Eyes aimed at the sky. Clouds above. Low and grey. There's a bit of snow covering the hills and forests. Down in the valley, the launch towers surge towards the snowy mist and the railways leading to them look like ejecta from an asteroid crater. It's warm inside the train. The world around me is white and grey. Smooth. Devoid of asperities. Serene.
They're speaking all around me, engineers and scientists. I can barely hear them. Eyes aimed at the sky. The wind whispers around me carry my hair in the snow. I feel fine. Focused. Sixty heartbeats per minute. Blood flowing up and down. Warm. I do not feel the cold. My body measures it but I do not feel it. The launcher has achieved its journey towards the pad. It stands here, a white tower in the middle of the valley. Silent.
Through the visor of the helmet, I can see a porthole and through the porthole, I can see the clouds. Eyes aimed at the sky. The capsule is a small spherical coffin and it stands at the top of a massive tower of explosives, but it does not matter. I feel fine. Focused. When the door closed on me, my heartbeat surged a little, from sixty to seventy beats per minute. Now it calmed down. Everything is nominal again. The snow isn't falling anymore. It's pouring. The sky is descending on the plain. The world is white. Silent.
Fire and fury. Seven hundred tons of fuel ignited below me. A bright flame scraping the snow. And suddenly, it moves. The launcher vibrates, trembles, erupts. I feel like the entirety of the sky is pushing against my chest. It does not matter. I feel fine. Focused. Eyes aimed at the sky.
A heavy thump echoes through the launcher. First stage separation. Words on the radio. My lizard brain answers them in a pure reflex. The rest of my consciousness wanders away. The clouds are gone and with them the smoothness of the world. The sky is now blue and sharp. The light is blinding. The air so thin over the curve of the Earth. The weight on my chest is decreasing. Sixty heartbeats per minute. All systems nominal. Eyes aimed at the sky.
A second, lower thump. Second stage separation. Orbital insertion burn. Then something surges through my spine. Something primal. Pure bliss. Weightlessness. Engine thrust set to zero. I feel fine. Focused. The world has become smooth again alongside the thin curve of the high atmosphere, way, way below me. Eyes locked on the horizon. Axial tilt zero.
I open my hand and my pencil floats away. I am falling at several hundred meters per second and everything around me is following me, but the Earth is spherical and I never hit the ground. This is called an orbit. This is all there is to me right now. A long curve around the Earth, four hundred kilometres above the ground. They are asking me questions on the radio. I am answering them, mechanically. Training has taken over. My mind is somewhere else. I feel fine. Focused. Sixty heartbeats per second.
Down below, the ocean, then the continents, then the ocean again. Up above, there are no stars. The light of the sun is blade-sharp. The pencil is coming back towards me. I catch it. Earth below, space above, I am straddling the limit. Suspended in the void. Sixty heartbeats per minute. Weightless.
I was born in the seventeenth year of the fourth century of the Low Age. I am the first human being to reach low earth orbit since the end of the industrial age.
I feel fine. Focused. Alive. Human.
Eyes aimed at the Earth.
"I am always reluctant to talk about the Low Age as a whole as if it had been some kind of unified period in time. It lasted for five hundred years. That's half the duration of the Middle Ages. Some civilizations have lived for less long than that. The industrial one, for instance." -- quote attributed to historian Sybil Masani.
All civilisations are mortal. This idea is prevalent across all of Communal space, yet it wasn't always the case. For about three centuries the thermal-industrial civilisation born out of the industrial revolution assumed it would go on forever: that the future would only be like the present, but more. And then it all collapsed.
Historians still debate upon what exactly caused the industrial civilisation of the mid-21st century to collapse the way it did. Climate change and resource depletion played an obvious role, but they weren't the be-all and end-all of this collapse. The systemic failure of complex technological networks, widespread resource wars and political uprisings did play an equally important role. In reality, the very idea of collapse is not accurate: the apocalypse was more of a slow transition rather than the brutal end of the world. Despite being framed as "the second middle ages" in many history books, the Low Age didn't see the end of modern civilization nor the erasure of a thousand years of technical and social progress. Its first immediate effects were what historians call the "energy drop": with the depletion of many a fossil fuel resource and the need to brutally transition towards nuclear energy and renewables, the overall energy capacity of the human civilisation decreased immensely during the 2050-2100 period, destroying economic and technical systems that weren't meant to go through such restrictions. If the Low Age lasted about three centuries, most of the destruction and loss of knowledge happened during the initial stages of this time period. Computer science, aircraft manufacturing, space technology were the most affected, as well as most things that had to do with fossil fuels. Even in places where knowledge remained, the know-how was lost.
The world, however, didn't fracture into warlord kingdoms and post-apocalyptic raider dominions. With the temporary loss of almost all instantaneous worldwide communications the human civilisation went back to a technological state comparable to the late 17th century, but with modern scientific knowledge and still available renewable and, to a very small extent, nuclear power sources. In that framework, modern states couldn't work anymore, but the disappearance of worldwide markets and the drastic reduction in travel and transport capability led to the rise of local communes and syndicates as the main framework of governance. As time moved on, loose continent-wide communes (the ancestors of present-day USRE or Pacifica) emerged as a way to unite these local initiatives together. Sciences were geared towards immediate concerns of survival in a more hostile world, which led to a relative decline in fundamental sciences, with domains such as agronomy, biology, geography, urban planning and engineering being favoured. In the 2050-2100 time period, conservation of knowledge was deemed paramount and was often handed over to secular or semi-religious groups essentially functioning like monks of the European middle ages when it came to copying and archiving knowledge. Warfare had in many ways gone back to a quasi-medieval logic, with very few groups capable of mounting organized, professional armies. The few still operational nuclear weapons acted as counter-power, cementing the rise of regional and later continental organisations.
"The Low Age - why low? Because it was less technologically advanced than the pre-existing era? Because we temporarily ceased to go to space? Because some of us likened it to the new Middle Ages? The truth is, I have no idea why this name came to be. Perhaps because we all needed to slow down. To go lower, but better." -- quote attributed to Oak-class AI Thot.
By the 2150s, this new world order had achieved a mostly stable state, with the biggest communes and syndicates re-creating continental markets. A mix of technological innovations and re-discovery had enabled worldwide information networks and transportation to reach a degree of capability similar to the mid-19th century. As many a city, especially in developed countries, had been abandoned or severely damaged by infrastructure failures, new cities started emerging from the ruins. By the 2200s, it was clear that Africa, China-India and Europe were the most well-preserved and developed areas: they would form the basis for the USRE and Laniakea in the coming century. By 2257 the Earth had returned to a mid-20th century technological level, albeit mostly devoid of fossil fuel vehicles, and had launched satellites in space again. Most of this technology was operating on centuries-old theories but modern engineering developments.
The 2300s saw the beginning of the end of the Low Age. The first successful experiments on nuclear fusion, based on leftover from research more than two centuries old, opened a path out of the energy conundrum the civilisations of the Low Age were operating on. In 2320 humankind started expanding to the stars again, starting with the moon which, in 2380, gave birth to the fusion engine known as the Moon Drive.
Then, the Geometry Drive was found.
The Low Age had come to an end.