Khartoum and the Star of Refuge

[like 25% of this is now deprecated; my thoughts on Khartoum, the Confederation, and the long war have changed; but this is still the longest thing i've actually written for other people and not as a worldbuilder talking amongst themselves ;> ]

A frontier star system with a nickel-iron planet suitable for domestication. The system became a destination for refugees at the end of the war between the Confederation and Meretrix-Miskatauntaun. Some ships had been in flight for just over 300 years, with children and youth of the third generation born in the evacuation.

The refugee fleet selected Khartoum for their final destination because it was at that time still undeveloped, of no military interest beyond the common resources of metal, hydrogen, ice, available in systems with infrastructure. Miskatauntaun had for centuries lacked the power or will to slaughter Terhume populations out of mere inferiority and contempt, nor harvest and digest biomass without strategic need. Khartoum was decaparsecs from any hostilities, with much to occupy the enemy in between. The system was at that time a cul-de-sac at the end of a safe route between yellow stars, with nothing of interest beyond, but Khartoum's stellar neighborhood is rich in M and low K stars. Confederation policy ignored "rubies" and "tabbies" in favor of G, F, and high K stars; Miskatauntaun developed stellar giants, neutron stars, white dwarves, and main sequence stars of O and B exclusively, unless metabolizing Confederation assets. If Miskatauntaun should ever reach Khartoum, the fleet would evacuate to the uncharted R and K systems, and from there, escape routes ramified beyond any conceivable pursuit.

Other refugee fleets existed; their stars of exile are unknown, and no Confederation successor state or colony has violated war-rules radio silence, nor engaged in slipstream manipulation detectable beyond the local entanglement of direct neighbors: no one is rebuilding the destroyed and booby-trapped routes, no one is expanding the nexus, but neither is any route under attack.

In the decades and centuries of privation, flight, defeat, crisis, overcrowding, and boredom aboard their ships, refugees had little to do except think and entertain themselves between emergencies. Music and historical theory predominated, along with thriving theater, dance puppetry, and other dramatic forms; the eldest refugees created a school of highly personal and confessional literature; and the fleet forged a communal identity through public remembrancing of all they had lost. Exchanges of population and visits between ships were necessary; even so, hoarding, vandalism, assault, murder and sabotage persisted as long as the fleet's population were restricted to their ships.

Antisocial violence had killed 18% of the fleet over the centuries. All were witness to brutality, recklessness, despair, and the trauma marked the fleet. The Confederation had not been able to protect them; the Disciplines and the Tutelary Lineages were no use against beings of tungsten and diamond fiber; the Disciplines address the tensions of Terhume life within a recognizable Terhumene society: Attack from without, by beings for whom the tender human heart was a weak organ, a sign of the inadequacy of nature and thus a host for parasitic weakness: compassion, kindness, intuition, sincerity. Century after century, the awakened, wise, civic-minded and spiritual peoples of the Confederation contemplated their enemy's utter destruction, adapted Meretricious technologies and strategies, and, by the end of the war, destroyed dozens of planets, a score of suns, and a host of asteronds and habs died as mere kinetic weapon payloads. They had lost the certainties of life in which the Confederation had practiced the Disciplines, and without abundance, freedom, resources, novelty, and the assumption of public safety, the Disciplines were no civic or personal safety net, except among those adepts who knew their wealth and safety had never been the conditions of civilization.

Opinion hardened: the Confederation had failed, we Feds and Ex-Feds were the weaker of the two galaxian parties. Miskatauntaun threatened the Disciplines by their very existence, much less their direct and unrelenting assault on the hated Swine Happy in Their Filth. The Confederation, its values, knowledge, products, skills, were no existential threat: Miskatuantuan gloried in their defeat of soft tissue, the Cleansing of the Slime; a human-crewed starship or a residential hab with gardens and markets? Disgusting compromises to an inefficient and flabby universe, but orders of magnitude more offensive than a beast body because of the great time and energy squandered. A starship, to the Meretricious mentality, is an obscene boast of inferiority. The knowledge that any of the vermin might gad about the universe, ANYWHERE, is a problem for Miskatauntaun's long range plans for this galaxy, its neighbors, and all their volume of space.

The Confederation did not defeat Miskatauntaun; Confederation bodies in Confederation machines of war destroyed every Miskatauntaun body, every Miskatauntaun world, and every interstellar link across their former sphere of influence. The Confederation was the weaker of the two modes, and deserved its collapse and ruin, because its ideals and self-understanding were no match for the ferocity of the enemy. The Confederation taught itself to put on the flesh of metal and to raise up new and resistless weapons, while repeating the lie that our warriors and leaders were still good and kind people; that when the war is over at last, our terrible fleets can fall into ruin, the perverse polymorphose Wyrm will revert to non-sentience, the strategite composites of cetacean, homonid, avian and pachyderm will find some place out of site to die, and the warcats, the titans, the warriors without organs and the ship-brains cloned in teeming millions bear no grudge. The Confederation made its monsters not from perversity or ambition -- no, our first warriors carried elegant, precise weapons, and theirs threw an inhabited moon into an inhabited planet, and the relativistic debris took out 89% of ships, habs, and facilities in the inner system.

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