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Not worth their time

      To begin, I don't have any answers, and I can't explain anything about their technology or their tactics. I was just a life support tech. I never knew what happened to my family after the war began. I can assume that they died in the bombings of my homeworld. Having that unknown hovering over me wasn't the worst of everything, though; no, it was the survivor's guilt. Every day I've lived since that fateful day, that one that signed our epitaph upon the celestial graveyard, continues to haunt me. I wasn't part of the diplomatic mission that ruined everything for us, not technically. I was no more than a crewperson on one of the escort destroyers. I staffed my post deep in the bowels of the life support systems. I think that's the only reason why I survived. After a decade in the Navy, anyone could tell you that any ship's three most heavily defended areas were the magazine, reactor core, and life support. The first two make sense, of course, but life support? If you can't breathe, nothing else matters. Why not the bridge? We didn't have one; decentralized command made 'removing the head' effectively impossible for our smaller ships.

   But that isn't important; none of that is really important, not the details about the ship or why I lived. What matters is that my ship, the Lightning-Strike, was included in our diplomatic flotilla. And we had gone to entreat with a newly discovered race in the Mid-Rim of the galaxy. Intelligent species are rare, and from what I know, most species expand quickly to get off the world, expanding slowly. Sprawling out from their homeworld to take up all available space is the norm; it's what we did and what most of the other races in the galaxy did. You could always tell when a world was 'newly' colonized; the infrastructure sent out to build it up would be immense, massive armadas of colony ships and construction fleets taking up nearly all available near orbit space in a planet. On the other hand, old colonies would have a minimum of infrastructure remaining in the system as all of the growth happened on the planet. And without relativistic travel, there was no need for a 'removal' fleet to remain in orbit to pry off any extant denizens.

   Our little 'diplomatic flotilla' had detected the signs of early colonization around this star decades ago, and now we were here after their 'builder fleets' had moved on. Easy pickings, just as the ship logs usually said. Decades of travel between the stars and a hold full of rare minerals and ore to show for it.

   So the Admiral opened 'negotiations,' the standard line for any species, a message of mathematics and scientific principles to begin by opening a dialogue and points of reference. Eventually, after about seven or so duty shifts, communication was established, and the resident species was informed that we had launched an asteroid toward their world on a course that would see it cause a catastrophic impact in a half cycle around their star, large enough to cause severe ecological damage and extinction level events.

   We gave them our ultimatum,  'Work or die, provide so many cubic units of various materiel to buy salvation, or be put to the sword now.'  The standard line for a fleet of our size against any species that had no vessels of a military nature in orbit. We gave them five of their planetary rotations to decide.

   It didn't take half that long for us to receive our answer; two duty shifts later, three planetary rotations, we were fired upon. Not just fired upon, but all control in the Lightning-Strike was lost, and from the status panels at my life support control screen, I could tell that the ship was all but destroyed. I don't know what happened to the rest of the flotilla; twenty vessels, from destroyers like mine all the way up to the fleet command ship, were taken apart as if by a surgeon. The species we'd made an enemy of hadn't wasted any ammunition on the most heavily armored parts of our ships, intuiting that if they destroyed all combat capability, what was left wouldn't be a threat.

   I learned this from them. You see, after a half-duty shift trapped in the life support compartment, they came. Tall, bipedal, and in heavily armored suits, they rounded up the few of us that survived. This strange race took me prisoner. All of these things and more were explained to me. This wasn't the first colony of this species that the Imperium had attacked. I didn't even know what their name was, it didn't matter, not to me. I had believed that I'd met my executioners.

   I had met something far worse than a simple executioner that would have been kind. We had angered an implacable foe who didn't care much about why we had done such things or that the way we did things was considered normal for the Imperium, among others. So I was a prisoner of this new race, the Terran Republic, destined to die a prisoner as their warship flew towards their next target. I resigned myself to decades of humiliation. Instead, barely a dozen cycles later, we were in orbit of the Homeworld of the Imperium. I do not know how the negotiations proceeded; I only knew the outcome: refusal and denial.

   The Imperator denied the allegations of the Terran Republic, claiming that they must have been a 'different' reprisal fleet than the one sent to attack the world I did. The Imperator's advisors and military commanders advised these Terrans that my fleet had been sent to strike a world thirty lightyears away, and the Imperium had received no communications. That the Terrans were merely deepsace nomads with Imperium prisoners. So the Imperium fought, and they died by the billions. I know not what weapons the Terrans used or their tactics, merely that the small Terran fleet stood up to the might of the homeworld of the Imperium and blocked the world.

   The Terrans blocked the Imperium homeworld for thirty cycles until we finally received the light beam communications sent by the flagship of my lost fleet many cycles ago. We learned then that everything the Terrans had told us was true, and for thirty cycles, I sat with the shame of truth, thirty cycles for the Imperator to accept what we screamed to be true. The Imperium had thirty cycles of picking up the pieces from a war that devastated our world, only to be told by the Terrans that we were fools and weren't worth their time.

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