A Ship of the European Research Foundation Visits Interia.
Interia, center and jewel of the empire, origin and power source of the Interian people, cultural capital, scientific lighthouse, industrial teraplex, protector of uncounted races, peace keeper, and for thousands of years the heart of the surrounding 2000 light years.
Early trading partners of humanity tell, that we are all living in the Interian Empire. The empire reigns through its regional centers, they say. Kisor is the regional center. Kisor rules on behalf of Interia. That has always been so.
But no human has ever seen an Interian. There are no Interian fleets roaming the skies. Recent experience even suggests a certain grade of anarchy, although, it is said that Kisor maintains order. There has not been much contact with Kisor with the exception of their trade guilds. Nobody has seen any military. And above all no Interians. Nevertheless the Interian Empire is considered as the authority.
Wanting to solve this mystery the European Research Foundation equips 2 spaceships for the long journey into the heart of the empire over more than 1,000 light years.
Not everyone is happy about this mission. Some fear that a visit may attract the Empire's attention. Perhaps it would be better to keep a low profile. Proponents argue that as Kisor the local center of the Empire is already aware of humanity there might not be much damage done. If there really is this Empire. Some even suspect that this empire is an invention of Kisor, a means to refer to a higher order while enforcing Kisorian interests.
The two ships, Bumblebee and Aegopodium Podagraria, have been built by a highly renowned solar ship yard (Deimos Interstellars Corp., "Building Superluminals for over 200 Years"). For the long journey they are equipped with superluminal engines from Artu and power plants from Thoris. A group of 5 Marui technicians are hired in order to operate these engines. The ships start in 2644 with 80 people, 15 each for the operation of the ship, 22 scientists, 8 employees of the coalition's diplomatic service, the expedition leader and 13 observers from various system powers.
The trip to Interia takes three years. Only two years are actual flying time. The rest of the time is spent on the way to establish contacts, to request the exact coordinates of Interia, to avoid navigation hazards, to fly a wide arc around the Telugu domain, to take three of the Marui to an autodoc because of a contagious disease, and with the ultimately futile attempt to replace a broken reactor.
During the trip the ships are boarded five times. The crew is jailed twice for a short time, but also welcomed once with a ship parade as a new member of the empire. On Puraskar-III the expedition leader Tolu Abani is appointed extraordinary ambassador for the Puraskar system because the Hathrasi of Puraskar also want to know what is actually going on with Interia. Bumblebee has to be abandoned after one year because a new reactor cannot be obtained at a reasonable price. The scrap value for Bumblebee, is enough to pay for the conversion of Podagraria to accommodate additional equipment and the Bumblebee crew. In addition, two more Marui are hired to replace their sick colleagues.
At a distance of 220 light years from its destination Podagraria reaches the Droza system, a major center of the empire. A patrol stops the ship far outside the system. The patrol accompanies Podagraria to the outer system perimeter, where a task force of five war ships takes over. The Droza system is highly industrialized, obviously heavily populated and it has an impressively dense interplanetary traffic.
Podagraria is shut down by the authorities for lack of valid authorization. A tug takes on the ship and carries it to a technical inspection agency in Droza-IX orbit. At least that is what the receipt states.
The crew is transported to the orbital ring of Droza-V. After initial misunderstandings and a few days' questioning in the case "Empire vs. Captain Thor Holland because of operating an interplanetary vessel without imperial pilot's license" the administration of Droza recognizes the ambassador status of the expedition leader. Consequently, Podagraria becomes a diplomatic courier boat and the crew receives immunity from prosecution. It turns out, that the Hathrasi of Puraskar knew what they are doing when they supplied Abani with "old, but probably still valid" imperial diplomatic codes.
Abani asks for safe conduct to Interia. To cut the trip short the Droza administration loads the ship on a freighter, which makes the trip to Interia in just 4 weeks. A frigate accompanies the freighter.
Without further incidents the expedition reaches Interia in August 2648 (1952/83 imperial era). The visit has already been announced over the inner relay network.
Like Droza the Interia system is highly developed. Although only one planet is in the habitable zone of the star there are obviously four planets (Interia II to V) completely inhabited. All four planets are equipped with full orbital rings. Like spokes of a wheel many elevators reach down to the planetary surface. Everywhere in the systems are huge installations, some clearly industrial. There are very large habitats including hundreds of kilometers long cylinders and countless technical structures in the inner system, in interplanetary orbits, at the gas giants and in the outer asteroid belt.
A task force meets Podagraria. The unit is commanded by an interian person. The expedition already knows what this means. Persons are the relevant individuals of the interian society. Persons are head of a nest and mother of millions of Interians.
The nest is the individual. The nest is represented by the primary female. She is the person of the nest. Only the primary female lays eggs. She is the mother of all members of the nest. Interians evolved from a kind of prairie dog with widely distributed underground nests. However, they ceased to live in self-dug earth holes a long time ago. Just as modern humans stopped living in caves.
Individual members of a nest are independently thinking, sentient beings. Yet, they consider themselves not as individuals but as executive hands of the nest, or of the person. Only the person of the nest is a citizen of the empire. The Interia system has a population of 800 billion hands. Overall, about five trillion live in the nest systems of the inner empire. At a typical nest size of one hundred million, the empire has only about 50,000 persons or citizens.
Originally, nests were much smaller. In prehistoric times, a nest had a few thousand hands. There was a total of only a few hundred persons and each of them was in contact with all other persons in the vicinity. In those days only few other persons could be reached within a few hours by courier. Today persons can interact with all 50,000 using genetic upgrades and technical mind extensions.
At the same time technical assistance allowed a massive increase in the reproduction capability of nests and therefore individual power growth. Of course, the growth of power by nest enlargement is much smaller in relative terms, because all nests have grown.
Each person is always aware of all other person's activities. They are informed about other's opinions and motives. Persons discuss and compete constantly with each other. There are no polls or elections. From the constant social struggle emerges a prevailing consensus, all persons essentially know the opinions of all others. Many persons are linked by their opinions. Compatible views and common interests lead to alliance networks. A person's influence entirely depends on her alliances.
The opinion leader in the subject of imperial strategy and policy is the person of the empire, the most powerful person, representative head of state, unifying figure for all 500 billion, in human terms, she is the empress. Her empire is the sovereign nest. The person of the empire embodies the empire. All other persons are hands of the empire.
200 years ago Addaja, the person of the empire, died at the age of over 1200 years. Addaja was the fifth person of the empire in the interstellar era of Interia. Her predecessors had led the empire to its current size. But the resources and the society of Interia had been stretched to the limit by the imperial expansion. Addaja ended the expansion. Her millennial reign was a golden age of stability, but also one of stagnation.
After a period of mourning, the struggle over succession began. The conflict revolves around the question whether Interia should restart the expansion or continue with Addalja's policy. Many factions with changing allegiances take part in the competition. This has been going on for 200 years. The inner empire is occupied by its titanic inner struggle for reputation, economic, cultural and strategic dominance. All persons taking part, they are needed in the inner sphere where they can interact quickly over the relay network. So, the empire has withdrawn its forces to the core and left the fringe uncovered.
The selection of the next empress is taking much too long, longer than ever before. Now the empire is in danger. Regional centers consider themselves independent. Neo-barbarians threaten the borders. They clear out abandoned depots and invade civilization centers.
A few persons do take part in this perpetual social Competition. There are independent persons of different kinds: there are those who resent mainstream thinking and live in small nests of original size. There are hermit like nests without any social intercourse. There are even lawless persons raiding other nests.
Another group of independent persons cares more about the empire than their own social status. They serve the empire even though they cannot participate in the grand social intercourse. They are called preservers. While the others are occupied with choosing the new empress, they continue the strategy of their last empress.
One of these preservers meets the Podagraria. Interia is delighted at the arrival of humanity. A new race starting to explore their interstellar neighborhood. A somewhat civilized race cautiously expanding on their own resources. Quite contrary to neo-barbarians who cause many problems using stolen technology while still having barbarous customs. Experience shows that a race like humanity is a candidate for the future leadership of a regional sector.
But humanity has a problem. Solar colonies were invaded by Kelrecs shortly before the departure of the expedition. A massive attack on the solar system is expected any time soon. Humanity has nothing to oppose the vastly superior technology looted from unguarded Interian depots. Three years have passed and the solar system is in fact already under siege. Humanity is on the brink.
The preservers reactivate the empire's military forces and attack Miro, the Kelrec home planet. The siege is abandoned. It is the last major naval action of the empire.
Humanity barely escapes with a black eye.