Authors: Aer-Ki Jyr
The Gnar knew not to trifle with them, but since there were only a few ammonia-based atmospheres in the galaxy it made no sense not for them to allow Paget’s people to colonize them! No other race could breathe the air, and aside from returning their original homeworld to them, Star Force was keeping the Gnar out of all the others…including two that used to be their own possessions!
The rest of the territory that the Gnar had lost to the lizards were worlds where they had to wear armor and live indoors, much like here. They didn’t even own the full planet, only 3/8ths of it, and it was what was known as an ‘Alliance World.’ The Gnar had fled to several worlds like this within the ADZ long before Paget had been born, then negotiated, traded, or bought other regions to expand their territorial base while constantly having to live under Star Force mandates. Technically they didn’t run the Gnar’s territory, but they were meddlesome whenever one of their rules was being violated.
As it was, only the Gnar homeworld was free of their stench, which was located in the occupation zone and that meant that all the surrounding systems were off limits to further colonization! How could they grow again if Star Force wouldn’t let them have any of the worlds that they weren’t using? What right did they have to dictate to the Gnar what they could or could not do!
Paget had argued this and many other points to no avail. The Star Force city in the border zone between planetary regions was where he had just come from, sitting there like a watchdog over the Gnar and the other races on this planet, and few people actually liked going there. He had gone out of duty, but the obstinate behavior of their representatives was intolerable! Yes, they defeated the lizards and good for them for doing so. The Gnar were willing to pay to acquire one of the ammonia worlds, even some of the inhabitable ones nearby their homeworld. Damn it all, they were even willing to pay to reclaim some of their former colonies on non-ammonia worlds that the lizards had taken from them, but Star Force would not sell to them.
This wasn’t uncommon, for most other races were in the same position. Homeworlds had been returned to most, without charge, but everything else Star Force was holding on to save for those races that were playing by their rules and ingratiating themselves whenever possible. The Reen were the worst offenders and to date had acquired 13 star systems in what had used to be Calavari territory!
Paget kicked aside a datapad lying on his floor in frustration, seeing it bounce off a wall and spin around on the smooth, hard floor for a few seconds before becoming still. The sound brought his broodmates running, but he calmed them down with a twitch of his lumpy head and headed for his private room, not interested in talking with any of them or his children, though he did request they send him some food.
While they ran off to work on that he sealed himself away from the noise of his growing family and sat down behind his comm terminal. While he was a high ranking official within the Gnar and one of the most senior on this planet, room here was scarce and even his ‘luxurious’ domicile was small compared to what his station deserved. He had 6 broodmates and 38 offspring at this point, but for a Gnar that was barely a good start at a proper family. Try as they might, the old traditions were hard to maintain on this cramped world and Yavit, his homeworld, was not much better off.
Those living there were maintaining the old traditions, but every city that had been rebuilt was full to capacity and new constructions were consuming up the available landspace as fast as the population was growing…leaving no room to repatriate Gnar from offworld. Paget was here because he was assigned to function as an intermediary with Star Force, who would not be allowed a foothold on Yavit for an embassy even if they asked, which they hadn’t.
Paget’s duty was here…and here he would stay until he completed it. If he failed he wasn’t going to the homeworld and he’d be forced to live out his remaining days cramped up here as the Gnar population had to be forcefully restricted. That was a huge insult to his people, but logistics were finite. He’d arranged several land purchases in his career over the past 73 years, one region on this world and some bits and pieces on others. It had been costly, but those bargains had given the Gnar a little more breathing room…which they quickly consumed.
He knew everyone was having population growth problems, save for Star Force, but it made no sense why they couldn’t expand to the
worlds the lizards had left behind. No sense at all!
And it wasn’t an issue of price. Star Force wasn’t entertaining any bargains unless a race impressed them, and the Gnar had long been an adversary. It was true, they relied on Star Force markets more heavily than he wanted to admit, but the Gnar were mostly independent with their own economy and industry. Trade with other races was fair to heavy, but with all prices concerned they had to use the Star Force transit network for most of their shipping.
They had not allied themselves with Star Force though. No formal trade deals or bargains of any kind. What business they did with them was simply as customers…aside from the deals Paget was trying to strike now. He was trying every angle he could to get a hold on another planet, let alone a system. If and when he did he could move there and live like a king or go back to his homeworld and live far better there than he was here, though most Gnar on Mothere had to make due with far less.
Paget logged into his secure system and filed his report. Failure again, though it wasn’t a surprise to anyone. Star Force could not be manipulated, they’d learned long ago. They held to their own reasoning, and while somewhat unfair they were at least notoriously consistent. It was said it was just a matter of finding that special deal that would suit both parties, but even when the Gnar were willing to pay a ransom for a single planet Star Force would not even discuss the matter other than to politely say ‘no’…and that cocky politeness was infuriating on its own.
Paget found something on his desk to grab and throw into a wall, not caring what it was. He hated Star Force, as well as his inability to find a way to give them what they wanted in exchange. For it seemed they wanted nothing at all, and had the military power to hang onto those empty worlds for as long as they chose.
Some would say they deserved it for doing the impossible, but that didn’t help Paget. The ADZ was packed full of people, with the Gnar only being a small sliver of that whole. They had to expand at some point, whether Star Force liked it or not, else there would be a catastrophe in the making…or a revolution, if only that were possible. Paget would have pursued that agenda if possible, desperately wanting to, but he knew as well as everyone else how dominant they were. There was no way to beat them, militarily, economic, or otherwise, and the few small groups that had been so arrogant as to try had been quickly and hilariously slapped down.
That was where Gnar had gotten one of his small territorial acquisitions from. The Traxloni had openly rebelled, and as a result had a third of their territory confiscated. They’d been lucky that Star Force hadn’t outright annexed them as they had done others, but they were so small and pathetic it probably hadn’t been worth their time.
And they could do the same thing to the Gnar in the ADZ too if they chose, but Paget knew them well enough to not have to worry about that. Don’t cross them and there was no danger, but he had to find some way to get his people, or at least himself, out of this population time bomb.
By the time his food was ready he hadn’t had any epiphanies as to how to do that, so he ate with that not improving his mood much, but at least his stomach was no longer empty.
Two weeks later he traveled back to the neutral zone between regions and to a different Star Force city, against his liking, but he needed to meet with a contact that preferred to operate out of the Star Force facilities, citing they were ‘cleaner.’ Paget almost blew him off for that reason, but at this point any leads on available new territory were too important to pass up so he accepted the solicitation and went to meet with him in one of the many public courtyards.
His contact was a Critel, but one not working for their government. He identified himself as Crojack and requested a less public location to talk within, with the pair agreeing to relocate to nearby restaurant where they could get a private booth. Crojack ordered an expensive beverage but Paget declined, not wanting to bother with adjusting his mask to accept liquids, and he wasn’t here for social niceties anyway.
“What it is that you have to offer?” Paget asked directly, and in English, given that that was annoyingly the widely accepted trade language within the ADZ. His version included a synthesizer in his mask that gave his words a more intimidating resonance that was by no means an accident of technology.
“A large financial risk with potentially great reward…in the way of new territory to colonize.”
“Such things are hard to come by in the ADZ,” Paget floated warily, expecting to get nothing out of this, but having to pursue all leads regardless, “and Star Force is locking down all former lizard territories aside from those going to their allies and pets.”
The Critel inclined his head dubiously. “They did give the Gnar not only a world, but a full system.”
“That was ours to begin with,” Paget all but hissed.
“The lizards may have never colonized it, but they did drive you from it and you never returned on your own.”
“We couldn’t until they were gone.”
“Then the lizards possessed it by defacto. Star Force took it from them and gave it to you.”
“If you’re here to sound the trumpet to the generosity of those hoarders then this conversation is already over.”
Crojack held up a hand to forego any such theatrics. “I merely point out the truth. We work with Star Force well, so long as we remember their motivations. They deal fairly, without exception, though it does take some thinking to be able to see that in all cases.”
“Who are ‘you’ exactly?”
“We are an organization of…entrepreneurs who have a host of business acquisitions. We collectively call ourselves the Hradeiti. Perhaps you’ve heard of us.”
“Vaguely,” Paget said, remembering a few rumors of a powerful faction that had been working through shadow corporations and across many different races’ borders.
“We like to keep a low profile, but we’ve had some up front dealings with Star Force in the past. Including acquiring a single world in a system they control in what used to be Nestafar space. From there we’ve been doing a great deal of scouting, particularly along the lizard border that oddly Star Force won’t touch. We haven’t been able to determine why, though we have asked them directly…and received a direct reply.”
“They won’t go any further coreward,” Paget said, already having heard that.
“Yes, odd as that is. Perhaps they’re being prudent and not trying to expand too fast, but they have assured us that that border is essentially fixed and they do not intend to go any further. Not even if they should be able to conquer every lizard system from here to the rim.”
“I highly doubt the truth of that.”
Crojack shrugged. “Perhaps, perhaps not. The indication is clear that they’re not pushing in that direction any time soon, but will keep the lizards from encroaching on this side of it…and all without charging us denizens for that protection, I’ll remind you.”
“Do you have a point in this?”
“Yes, I do. My organization is building an army and navy and require financial and material backers. We’re not asking the Gnar devote soldiers or ships, though if you were of a mind to we could have a different discussion. No, we’re seeking financial assistance to build up a significant enough force that we can take a system away from the lizards.”
It was a good thing Paget hadn’t gotten a drink, for he would have choked on it at hearing that.
“Are you insane?”
“Savvy, we think. We’re gathering the resources and personnel to do just that, costly and risky as it will be. But if we succeed we will have access to new worlds that will be divvied up amongst our investors.”
A server came to their boost and dinged, with Crojack opening the privacy door and accepting his drink. He took a sip and closed the translucent panel again.
“The lizards are technologically stronger than ever before. How do you expect to take a system from them now?”
“We have cleansing beams.”
Paget was taken aback. “How?”
Crojack shook his head. “You don’t need to know that. But I can assure you we have the blueprints and are currently producing said weapons to outfit our new ships with.”
“And you think Star Force will let you use them?”
“Actually, we’ve already informed them and got their blessing.”
Crojack nodded. “We acquired the designs through a, shall we say, black marketer and developed them to an adequate level with our own prototypes, at which point we reported the transaction to Star Force, showed them what we’d built, and asked for their counsel. With our information they tracked down the technological leak and sealed it off. That’s beside the point, but while they are still adamant about no one getting that technology from them or their allies they gave us an opening. It was a gamble, but we had hoped for as much.”