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The Starflight Renaissance
When the current interstellar civilizations (such as the Loroi and Umiak) expanded out into the stars roughly a thousand years ago, what they found was a local region jam-packed with other intelligent civilizations at roughly similar stages of development. It quickly became clear that the local region had been dominated in the past by a far-reaching galactic empire, which had suffered some kind of dramatic collapse roughly 275,000 years ago, and that all of the local alien civilizations had been thrown into a technological dark age, from which they were only now recovering. Some of the sentient races had no prior knowledge of this previous precursor civilization, but others had long possessed legends and artifacts of these bygone eras. The surfaces of many of the planets of the local region are littered with ancient ruins, populated by transplanted alien organisms, and scarred with the craters of titanic ancient conflicts. A few species -- notably the Loroi and their apparent relatives, the Barsam and Neridi -- claimed direct descent from these ancient civilizations.
As the researchers of many races exchanged data and explored new sites, it became clearer that there had not been just one precursor empire, but a series of galactic civilizations that had ebbed and flowed across the region over more than a million years.
The territories of ancient empires have been governed to a large extent by the terrain of the galactic arm. Generations of star formation and supernovae have sculpted a complex geography of cloud shells and voids in the interstellar medium. At the boundaries between these "bubbles," the shock waves collide and form nebulae and molecular clouds, out of which new stars form. The density of stars in the boundary regions and the effects of very massive stars and stellar remnants that form in these regions define natural boundaries for interstellar travel that normally contain growing empires. The tunnels between these bubbles constrict movement between them, and the vast galactic distances set limits on the practical size of conventional interstellar societies. The size and shapes of these bubbles change over galactic time scales, but have changed relatively little in the few million years of our local history. Most of the events for which we have any information occurred within the confines of our own Local Bubble, roughly one thousand light-years across.
Bulan Conflicts: 12-16 million years ago
16 million years ago, none of the many species native to our region had yet achieved the civilization and high technology required for starflight. Yet, on many worlds throughout the local bubble, there is geological and fossil evidence of an era of mass extinctions that spans a period from 12-16 million years ago. On these affected worlds, this era is characterized by extensive crater formation and the extinctions of large numbers of land-based species. The cratering is not consistent with natural phenomena such as meteor activity, and so it has been speculated that it was caused by deliberate orbital bombardment. If this is true, then it represents the earliest known evidence of ancient galactic empire in the local region. However, there are no known archaeological remnants of technological civilizations from this era on these worlds. It is not known what civilization was responsible for these bombardments, and they are referred to as the "Bulan," the name of the system in which these phenomena were first recognized.
The prevalent theory to explain these ancient bombardments is that the local region was at that time a frontier territory between one or more distant alien civilizations (or factions thereof) that were in conflict with each other. It is not known who these civilizations were or where they were based, and it's not certain exactly how long these conflicts lasted. It does seem that these were territorial disputes over distant regions that were not directly inhabited, at least in a significant way, by any of the warring parties. The bombardments may have been to destroy outposts, or perhaps to deny access to resources or even native populations to the opposing faction(s).
Fenrias Empires: >1 million years ago
The first ancient civilization that left significant evidence of local habitation was the Fenrias, who were a native local species. The ancestors of the modern Delrias and Morat, the Fenrias evolved on the planet Kabel (currently in the Loroi Mizan sector), developed a technological civilization, and appear to have discovered stardrive on their own. At the time that they expanded out into the stars, none of the other local species were near to having high technology, and so the Fenrias colonized much of the local region unopposed. Whatever entities had been contesting the region in the Bulan era had either collapsed or had given up interest, as there is no evidence that they interfered with Fenrias expansion. The primitive ancestors of today's intelligent species were either ignored or subjugated at the whim of local Fenrias rulers.
Though there was no external opposition to the Fenrias, it seems clear that they frequently warred amongst themselves and split into multiple competing empires. There was significant cultural and even biological drift between the Fenrias inhabiting different regions over the millennia, so it seems likely that the empire fragmented into multiple factions fairly early in their history. Several of these factions went extinct during this era, almost certainly as the result of inter-faction conflict; Kabel itself was depopulated by what appears to have been an orbital bombardment.
Dreiman Empire: <1 million years ago
Roughly one million years ago, evidence of a new precursor empire appears. An alien species now known as the Dreiman invaded the local region, apparently from up-arm (from the spinward direction up the Orion arm of our galaxy), and over a short period of time took over much of the local bubble. The Dreiman were physically very small lapdog-sized creatures, but their technology greatly outclassed that of the Fenrias. The incursion was not peaceful; the Fenrias appear to have offered violent resistance, but were no match for what must have been a vastly superior Dreiman technology, and most Fenrias populations in the area of Dreiman occupation were eradicated. Despite conquering a very large area of the local bubble, the Dreiman appear to have established only a few colonies for their own use; there are few existing remains of planetside Dreiman settlements, but there are extensive remains of large orbital facilities in many systems from that era.
The lasting impact of the Dreiman on the region is not due to their cities or centers of habitation, but rather due to their planetary works of terraforming. Many worlds in the region today still support the descendants of various strains of primitive yet robust yeast-like organisms that first appeared after the Dreiman invasion. It is believed that the Dreiman seeded these organisms as part of a large-scale region-wide terraforming project. There were also great works of planetary engineering, the best-known example being the Maia system, in which a large habitable moon has been artificially placed around a terrestrial world, and both the planet and moon extensively terraformed for optimal habitability. And perhaps even more significant, it seems very likely that the Dreiman engaged in "uplift" experiments with primitive local species. In the era of 500,000 to 1 million years ago, many sub-sentient species on a variety of worlds in the local region made substantial gains toward intelligence and civilization. It is not known what kind of methods might have been used to achieve this, and there is some debate on whether this was done in individual cases by the Dreiman or the later Soia Empire, as the boundary between the two eras on individual words is not always clear. It is also not known why the Dreiman undertook these efforts, though many researchers propose that they were preparing these worlds for later colonization.
The Dreiman conquest of the local bubble was never complete; scattered remnants of the Fenrias empire did persist into this era, holding on at the periphery of Dreiman territory. Two such groups are believed to have eventually led to the modern Delrias and Morat civilizations.
Soia Empire: ~500,000 years ago
Roughly 500,000 years ago, something that is still not well understood ended the Dreiman era. The Dreiman disappeared from the local region, abandoning their colonies, and the Fenrias remnant empires simultaneously collapsed. If there was a conflict, it must have been quick and decisive, as there is little evidence of large-scale planetary bombardments. Somehow a new empire had abruptly taken over, and this was the beginning of what is now referred to as the Soia Era.
There is little direct evidence to suggest exactly who the Soia were or where they came from. Soia technology was noticeably different from and superior to that of the Dreiman, and though Soia-era tools and structures are common throughout the region, these are mostly found in settlements of the native local races. There are a number of planetary ruins of settlements belonging to the various sentient Soia-Liron species (see below), but there is a great deal of confusion as to which (or any) of these represented the leaders of the empire. The first evidence of an archaic form of the written Trade Language also appears at this time, in the planetary settlements of the Soia-Liron and also the local native races who became Soia subjects.
Few texts from the era have survived to the present day, but various semi-historical mythic writings from later periods from many cultures contain a few consistent elements. The Soia were said to be imperial overlords from a distant homeland, who traveled from one system to the next in massive artificial moons (called tonsillat or "dread-stars" in the Loroi tradition). These Laputa-like "flying cities" were vessels of unimaginable power, and from them the Soia exerted total dominion over their surroundings. The Soia imposed and enforced strict control over interstellar travel of their subject species, but within these restrictions, the Soia appear to have shared some of their technologies with their subjects, and technological civilizations blossomed in systems across the local region during this period.
The Soia-Liron Organisms
The Soia also introduced a variety of alien organisms to many worlds in the local region. These species share a common biochemistry, though there is some evidence that many or most of them have been genetically engineered. The Soia-Liron organisms (as they are called by the Loroi) often represent plants and animals that are useful for domestication, such as the super-grain misesa, or the pig-like miros, or the fruit-bearing sibreg. Forests of nagen, a hardy evergreen resembling a cross between a pine and a palm, have become ubiquitous on many worlds. Soia-Liron organisms seem to have been mostly introduced on worlds without advanced native life forms, but on those worlds with such native life where they have been introduced, the Soia-Liron species have mostly displaced any native species competing in the same niche because they are so robust and efficient.
There is also evidence of at least five sentient Soia-Liron species. The first of these known to have set up planetary colonies in the local region were the centauroid Mozeret and the proto-Barsam, who appear in the archaeological record early in the Soia era along with the first Soia-Liron flora and fauna. The Tagid and proto-Neridi appeared on planetary surfaces at later stages of the Soia period, and the Loroi are first seen in the record only at the very end (there is some disagreement over whether the aquatic Pol also count as sentient). The evidence remaining at these ancient Soia-era sites is very sketchy, as these sites suffered the worst of the catastrophes that marked the end of the period and the fall of the Soia dominion; most useful evidence comes not from these sites of Soia-Liron habitation, but rather from the ancient settlements of the native subject races of the Soia. Only about half of these known Soia-Liron races appear to have survived the fall: the Loroi, Barsam and Neridi civilizations that exist today are directly descended from their Soia-era counterparts.
Two of the sentient Soia-Liron species require special note: the Barsam are unusual in that they very closely resemble a natively-evolved local species, the Nibiren. The Loroi are unusual in that they are the only known organisms to possess psionic capabilities.
Fall of the Soia: 275,000 years ago
It is not known what caused the fall of the Soia Empire, but the majority of researchers suspect a devastating internal conflict. Nearly all the starfaring civilizations in the local region were destroyed, and almost every world with any kind of technological settlement (and many without) was subjected to devastating bombardments that humble those of previous epochs. On some worlds this bombardment was so intensive that nearly all life was extinguished, and the crater remnants are still visible from orbit today. Those sentient species that survived this cataclysm lost nearly all high technology, and in some cases civilization failed altogether, with scattered survivors regressing to the most basic subsistence practices. The entire region was plunged into a dark age, from which it is only just recently beginning to recover. Many sentients have had to reinvent their civilizations almost from scratch, and the intense ecological damage of the bombardments often made this climb slow and difficult.
Theories About the Soia
There is much controversy and disagreement over who the Soia were and what their empire represented. One view that gains wide acceptance is that the Soia were some kind of coalition of related sentients, that had perhaps originated on the same world, or even in the same region of space over many millions of years. These "cousin" species may have spread their empire throughout the galaxy over the ages, perhaps evolving or engineering new sub-species as they went. The striking similarity of the Barsam to the local Nibiren is pointed out as evidence that new Soia races may have been created in the image of native species, though it is not clear to what purpose.
Official Loroi doctrine agrees with this theory in basic principle, but the Loroi maintain that their own ancestors (the "true" Soia) were clearly the masters of this coalition, pointing to their unique psionic abilities and the fact that Loroi planetary settlements did not appear until the time of the Fall (tradition asserts that the true Soia lived in space aboard their wandering dread-stars and not in dirt-bound planetside settlements). Some versions of the Loroi history go so far as to infer that the other Soia-Liron sentients were nothing more than servants created at the whim of the Loroi ancestors, though these views are seldom discussed outside Loroi nationalist circles.
The Barsam religion takes a more spiritual view, claiming that the Soia-Liron (and the Dreiman) were acting only as emissaries and servants of angelic creatures from an alternate plane of existence (whom the Barsam call the "Gatherers"), sent to teach peace and brotherhood to the local sentients. The Barsam explanation for the Fall reads a lot like the biblical expulsion from Eden: the "mortal" races turned away from the teaching of the Gatherers and took to warring amongst themselves, abusing the awesome power they had been entrusted with. The result was the catastrophe that ended the Soia era.
The Neridi officially endorse the Loroi view of history, though in private they don't take such matters as seriously as their Loroi and Barsam cousins do. There is a famous Neridi joke that the Soia were really plants, and it's the misesa grains that are their true (and most prolific) descendants, who benefited more than any other organism from the rise and fall of the empire. Delrias humorists have noted that since most of the non-sentient Soia-Liron plant and animal species seem to be intended as food items, perhaps it can be inferred that the Loroi, Barsam and Neridi were also created to be eaten.
See also: Loroi Timeline