The eighteen years that followed the Capella supernova were not kind to Terran-Vasudan relations. The reasons for this were as much psychological as political.
As the post-Capella economic collapse accelerated, secessionist movements and brush wars sprang up in outlying GTVA systems. Following the pattern established by Rybak’s GTI insurgency and Bosch’s Neo-Terran Front, these conflicts disproportionately targeted Vasudans as symbols and perpetrators of humankind’s economic and ideological disintegration. The reasons were not complex; fringe demagogues and seditious militia leaders saw the Vasudans as an easy way to unite disaffected Terrans. Alliance citizens were often initially unwilling to revolt against their own government, but found it easier to accept passive resistance or armed uprising when their hostility was steered towards the Vasudan elements of the GTVA.
The GTVA response to these brush wars was initially coherent and coordinated. However, the Vasudophobic nature of the conflicts presented new challenges. Terran elements of the GTVA fleet had suffered more casualties than their Vasudan counterparts during the Shivan incursion (despite extensive Vasudan operations in the nebular theater). Moreover, the Vasudan Battlegroup organizational scheme was more flexible and versatile than the Terran Fleet model. This meant that, in many cases, GTVA High Command deployed Vasudan warships to take up patrol and intervention roles that would normally have been filled by Terran ships and crews. Perceived Vasudan ‘meddling’ in border conflicts only deepened Terran fears of the economically prosperous and militarily intact Vasudans, exacerbating growing ideological rifts and prejudices. Meanwhile, Khonsu II’s willingness to put Vasudan ships and aid workers in harm’s way in missions to stamp out Terran brushfires led to some degree of discontent amidst the Vasudan technocrats and politicians of the General Assembly. This tension inevitably began to contaminate relations within the General Assembly, even between Terrans and Vasudans who had once been friends and political partners.
By 2370, these political effects were boiling over. Vasudan warships on peacekeeping missions were frequently targeted for attack, and in at least one incident, a clever separatist ploy led a Terran corvette to assault a Vasudan cruiser in ‘defense’ of what the Terran captain believed to be a innocent refugee convoy. Meanwhile, Terran politicians continued to bicker over the terms of Vasudan aid in post-Capellan reconstruction, unwilling to either accept too much Vasudan aid (for fear of angering anti-Vasudan constituents) or too little (simply because Vasudan aid was necessary and vital). Admiral Petrarch’s drive to devote funding to the return to Sol rather than to reconstruction efforts frustrated Khonsu II, who accused the Admiral of ‘looking to the past instead of to the stars for answers.’ In return, Petrarch – once a staunch advocate of Terran-Vasudan military integration – accused the Emperor of petty jealousy over the prospect of the Terrans regaining their homeworld where the Vasudans never could. Khonsu handled the personal affront better than most Vasudans might have, but the damage was done.
Within the next two years it became apparent that Terran-Vasudan relations were decaying. Political chill crept into the military, and officer exchange programs tapered off. In the Capellan era, the GTVA had been on the verge of becoming a truly integrated society; the ‘frog calls’ of Vasudan intercom chatter were becoming a welcome sound on Terran destroyers, and Vasudan society in general had begun a sharp turn away from ritualized, formulaic protocols and towards a more Terran model. These social changes reversed themselves with startling rapidity, born out of growing Terran pessimism and the (ironically reversed) Vasudan perception that the Terrans had become backwards-looking, superstitious, and hidebound.
On the Vasudan side, animosity towards Terrans grew as they continued to devote resources to their return to Sol. The prosperous, cosmopolitan Vasudans of the post-Capella era looked down on the Terran fixation with their homeworld and resented continued Terran xenophobia towards the Vasudans. In Vasudan eyes, the Terrans were petulant, tribal, fractious, immature, overly focused on a return to their planetary womb, and devoid of the kind of racial pride that the Vasudans felt towards their Emperor.
While Vasudan contractors continued to build warships for the Terrans, and Vasudan engineers and tacticians worked closely with Terran friends on the design of a new generation of warships and weapons to counter the Shivan threat, the GTVA military began to segregate. Khonsu II reinstated the Medjai, a close-knit band of military leaders and admirals who reported directly to him. The Medjai began an ambitious restructuring of the Vasudan military in order to create a totally self-sufficient and powerful force capable of power projection, sustained counter-insurgency operations, and node denial. The Terrans, who were still struggling to get their own new warship program off the ground in the face of massive debt, were not pleased to see themselves so thoroughly eclipsed. Terran elements of the General Assembly accused Khonsu II of planning this move even before Capella, citing the Vasudan insistence on developing and deploying their own Setekh AWACS instead of adopting the superior Terran Charybdis.
Joint Terran-Vasudan military exercises continued in a cursory fashion for the next several years, but only in the form of planned responses to Shivan incursion; no counterinsurgency operations in either Terran or Vasudan space were gamed out. Officer exchange programs did not resume, simply because the political will for such a reconciliation did not exist. The Vasudans had found their place amongst the stars, and the Terrans were busy trying to go home.
The Emperor and the Prophet
While relations between the two species deteriorated, Khonsu II was taking counsel with a new power in the Vasudan court. The demonstration of massive Shivan power that was Capella triggered a resurgence of the dormant Hammer of Light ideology in a number of (variably militant and virulent) forms. Khonsu II moved to discourage this type of thought, seeing in it an echo of the Terran ideological collapse. During this ideological normalization, he encountered a very unusual new figure: the Jester Nabirasul.
The Vasudan species had always taken a different attitude towards mysticism than the Terrans. Vasudan society had, from its earliest days, failed to make a significant distinction between science and religion – not because religion was allowed to dictate scientific findings, but the reverse. Mysticism was simply viewed as a less precise tool for measuring the cosmos, one that blended neatly into science as new discoveries were made.
Terrans often found (and continue to find) this aspect of Vasudan society difficult to understand. In Terran circles, science was viewed as a useful, rigorous, ‘hard’ way to achieve answers and results, whereas mysticism (including the belief in ‘ascended life’ or ‘energy beings’) was simply a form of self-deception combined with coincidence. Vasudan society, however, was built on myths of a powerful ancient race that had visited and touched their homeworld ages ago – myths that were largely substantiated by the discovery of the Ancient civilization. To the Vasudans, the existence of higher powers in the universe had always been a given, and the belief that communication with them might be possible was seen as reasonable rather than mad. The Vasudans did not believe that ‘any sufficiently advanced technology was indistinguishable from magic’; they believed that magic had always been sufficiently advanced technology.
A central part of Vasudan culture was the value of bloodlines. The Vasudan worldview included a nonlinear perception of time with moral and social implications. A Vasudan believed that she existed in the same overall spacetime as her own ancestors and descendants, and therefore, her actions would be judged both by her forefathers and her progeny. This lent both an air of fatalism and a willingness to heed prophecy to Vasudan culture, and it was often credited as a contribution to the Vasudan talent at analytical foresight. The great Vasudan successes in economic and cultural fields were often based on the ability to deprecate near-future gain in favor of long-term planning. Even the tragic loss of Vasuda Prime was cushioned by the belief that distant ancestors remained a living part of Vasudan culture.
No Vasudan mastered the union between the mystical and the secular more completely than Khonsu II. The Emperor took divination and mysticism into consultation as he planned the movements of battlegroups and the regulation of his prosperous economy. Terran scientists flocked to observe this phenomenon and concluded that Vasudan ‘prophecy’ was in fact startlingly reliable – perhaps an inbuilt, powerful form of analysis and intuition, capable of ingesting and synthesizing vast amounts of data in order to determine trends. The Vasudans, however, stubbornly maintained that prophetic abilities amongst their species (including those once claimed by members of the Hammer of Light) were in fact the result of communion with powerful alien beings (The term ‘supernatural’ is never used in Vasudan mythology; the Vasudan view is that anything which occurs is natural and scientific). Ironically, this attitude towards ‘higher powers’ is not dissimilar to that adopted by some factions of the Ubuntu Party Elders.
As Khonsu reined in the briefly renascent Hammer of Light sects, an extraordinary new prophet came to his attention. This so-called ‘Jester’ – Nabirasul, a military analyst and former warship commander, veteran of the nebular campaign, completely unaffiliated with the Hammer of Light – claimed to have achieved a vague sense of communion with the Shivans, foreseen the destruction of Capella, and understood its dread purpose.
Khonsu took this claim seriously and immediately drew the Jester into his confidence. The reasons for this apparently startling move can be traced back to a GTI project unearthed after the failed Hades Rebellion: Project Nagari.