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Once the true nature of the threat became clear the Collective had fully switched to a war footing. It had put far more resources and efforts into the battle, but it had been hamstrung by the very principles it wished to uphold. The citizens of its worlds didn’t truly understand the danger, didn’t realise they were approaching a fork in the road and just how dark one path would be. They were willing to sacrifice time and comfort for the war effort, but only to a point.
Maybe if the Collective had been able to drive its citizens harder, to force them into near-slavery sooner, they could have driven the Federation back. Or maybe it was already too late.
No one will ever know. The Collective stuck to its principles, as much as it could while waging a war. The Federation made huge gains in a short period of time. In just ten years it had captured more than a quarter of the worlds of the Collective, which more than tripled the size of the Federation.
Even after those setbacks the Collective had far more worlds, but the Federation was exploiting both its worlds and its people far more efficiently. They were turning out hundreds of war machines and warships for every dozen the Collective created.
At that time things looked particularly dark. The Federation was expanding aggressively and the Collective had nowhere near the force needed to withstand it. Many predicated that the Collective would be overrun and completely defeated within a generation.
Others predicted it would collapse in much less time as each world sought to protect itself, keeping the vast majority of what they could churn out from joining the central fleets.
Force of arms wasn’t sufficient to slow the Federation, but the brightest minds of the Collective were. They turned their attention to research that would help the war effort, especially weaponry, shielding, and better warships.
While the Federation’s industrial basis left the Collective far behind, the reverse was true in terms of research. The Federation had a relatively small number of people who were not slaves. That gave a very small pool to draw on when it came to research staff.
To make things worse, such people were treated with distrust, constantly monitored and closely managed. Free thinkers were the last thing the Federation wanted, but were essential to research projects.
In a relatively short time the Collective managed to get many advances in weaponry, shielding, engines, and more onto their ships. It wasn’t enough to turn the tide of the war, but it was enough to slow the Federation’s progress to a near halt.
For several years battles raged on the border between the two empires, but no real progress was made by either side. Sometimes the Federation would take a world, sometimes the Collective would, but there was no consistent pattern.
Then, slowly but surely, the Collective started to edge ahead in the battles and to regain ground. It was progress, but their scientists continued to develop newer and more dangerous technologies. They needed to end the threat of the Federation while they had the chance.
The Federation responded by throwing ever more resources into producing warships. When that wasn’t enough they engineered a group of slaves specifically designed to advance the Federation’s scientific knowledge.
Their efforts were doomed to failure. If the slaves were not intelligent enough they were useless for research. Those that were intelligent enough had no desire to serve their masters, and in some cases developed technologies to actively fight for their own freedom.
The next two decades became known as the golden time in the collective. They were pushing the Federation back, regaining a number of planets, though that came with it its own set of problems. The planets themselves were trashed from the Collective’s point of view. Any oceans were overrun with toxic sludge, the land had been strip mined or ripped apart by intensive farming.
But worst of all were the billions upon billions of slaves who were left behind. Slaves who couldn’t understand the practicalities of freedom and if anything seemed even unhappier if given any autonomy than they had been when working for their old Masters.
The fate of those slaves prompted much debate. Some argued the Collective might as well make use of the slaves while they still lived, though even they stopped short of suggested breeding more slaves.
Most of the Collective disagreed. When rehabilitation failed time after time they eventually settled on euthanasia, on putting the poor Federation slaves out of their misery.
It meant that every world regained came with a sense of loss, both for the state of the planet itself and for the billions of beings who had to be killed.
Even so, those were the golden times… especially compared with what was to come.
* * *
When the Federation’s attempts at encouraging research failed dismally they took another route to gain new technology. While the Collective now had ships which were significantly more powerful than those of the Federation, they were far from invulnerable. Especially when overwhelmed by superior numbers. Collective ships were still being beaten and destroyed, though not before inflicting horrific losses on the Federation.
The Federation collected the scraps and remains of those Collective ships and bred a class of slave intelligent enough to unravel the workings of the Collective’s new technologies while still docile enough not to turn on their masters. Slowly, oh so slowly, the Federation’s technological level began to climb.
That wouldn’t have been enough to turn tide of the war on its own, but the Collective had become complacent. The huge gap between their ships and weapons and the Federations, and the steady conquest of enemy planets, had led them to slow the pace of their own research.
Feeding into the slowdown was the fact they were reaching the limits of the imaginations of their current generation of scientists, and that the costs of the research were rapidly increasing. The Collective saw no need to pour so much money into new research when they already had such an advantage over the Federation.
The golden times lasted a generation. Progress and eventual victory seemed assured. As the next generation took on the fight they believed things would always be that way.
Realisation of their mistake began to dawn when the Federation started using all the technology it had gathered at once, rather than drip-feeding it into use as each piece was deciphered. The Federation had collected all the new technologies, developed them, tested them, then implement them in the ships of a special fleet. That fleet was kept in reserve, hidden away from the Collective.
By the end of the golden times the Collective had regained roughly a third of the worlds they had lost and expected to reclaim many more in the years to come.
That’s when the Federation unleashed what became known as the Nemesis fleet. It was a large fleet even by the Federation’s standards, but it didn’t worry the commanders on the Collective ships. The enemy had a two-to-one advantage in numbers but they knew their weaponry far more than countered such a disadvantage. They knew the Federation forces would be overwhelmed easily.
They were wrong. The sides engaged, the Federation going for all-out attack as it most often did and the Collective favouring a more defensive approach which allowed them to concentrate firepower and reinforce each other where necessary.
It was a tactic that had worked for the Collective many times before. If a Collective ship was in danger of being overwhelmed it could fall back into the centre of the formation and be protected by its fellows until it could return to the fray
This battle seemed no different. The first wave of Federation ships engulfed the vanguard of Collective ships, but they didn’t receive the slow pounding of their shields which they were used to. Instead urgent alarms flared to life across the ships as their shields were smashed down, collapsing in just a few seconds under the sheer number of attacks and the strength of them.
The vanguard was lost and the next layer of Collective ships attacked before anyone even began to understand what was happening. That layer was decimated as well, and it was only as the third layer was engaged that the fleet’s analysts started to understand what was happening.
They’d been puzzling over what was wrong, assuming they had sensor problems or the Federation was using some form of sensor blocking technology. They wasted far too much time on those assumptions, trying to recalibrate and work out what was wrong within their own systems. The second layer of ships was lost because they were so slow to respond.
When the third layer was under attack one analyst, a junior less used to assuming the enemy were inferior, suddenly understood what was happening. Somehow the Federation was attacking with weaponry which was close to being the equal of the Collective’s.
He told the other analysts, who tried to argue him down. They insisted there was no way the Federation could possibly have such weaponry without anyone having noticed sooner. Those arguments gave the Federation time to wipe out the third layer of ships.
At that point the Admiral himself appeared in the tactical room, demanding to know what was going on. Before any of the more senior analysts could put forward their ideas, the youngster shouted his out the Admiral. He was immediately shouted down by those around him, but the Admiral had heard, and realised immediately that this was the missing piece of the jigsaw. This waswhat was happening.
He told the rest of the analysts in no uncertain terms what he thought of them, to stop ignoring the obvious, and find a way out.
They lost three more layers of the fleet before the Admiral finally ordered the retreat. By that point the Admiral had lost more than seventy percent of his forces. In return they had inflicted only limited damage on the Nemesis fleet, destroying less than ten percent of the enemy ships.
When they limped home with the terrible news everyone expected the Nemesis fleet to arrive soon after to finish the job. Every part of every fleet that could be spared was drawn in to counter the danger…
But it didn’t come. For some reason, a reason unknown to the Collective, the Federation didn’t seek to deliver an immediate death blow. Instead they proceeded to rapidly recapture the planets they had lost. Within a year they’d taken every planet which had been painfully wrenched from their control over the previous two decades and were already capturing new planets.
The collective were not idle during that time. New technologies which had been in development were rushed into production. The new technologies were not enough to turn the tide of war this time, but they did slow the Federation’s advance.
There were no celebrations, especially as they lost ships in those hard-fought battles. They now knew the Federation would learn from the lost ships. With every loss the Federation would be studying the latest technology, learning to use it so it could be turned back against its creators.
So began the period known as the arms race. A period that lasted hundreds of years. The Collective kept developing better and better technology, but was constantly seeing the Federation working to close the gap again. The Collective took care to ensure defeated ships self-destructed and took their secrets with them, but sometimes that failed and the Federation had its chance to catch up again.
Over time the weaponry developed by the Collective became more powerful and more destructive. The technologies used ever deeper understandings of the nature of the universe. The arms race went on… and on… and on.
Until now. The Collective’s scientists had developed what they said would be the ultimate weapon. It was mounted on the Dawnblade, Admiral Callum’s flagship, which was now positioned at the front of the fleet.
The weapon was so powerful it had never been tested. Some scientists worried that using it might ignite a chain reaction, one that would spread to destroy the entire universe. Others wrote that off as a theoretical risk, or simply a sign that the models they used weren’t completely correct.
Despite the worries of some scientists, the go-ahead had been given to develop the weapon, and now to use it. Most believed that it wouldn’t destroy the universe, and a few even believed that seeing the universe destroyed might be better than seeing a universe ruled over by the Federation.
The ships forming the Collective strike force had driven deep into enemy territory, striking for the home world of the Federation. That was its weak point. Despite its immense size, the Federation did have a home world and it was a central hub where most of those who ran the Federation were based. Destroying the Federation home world would come close to ending the war.
The Collective had ensured their plans were leaked, which had guaranteed a vast proportion of the Federation’s forces were there to defend their home world.
But this wasn’t just about destroying ships or the hive-like cities covering the world. If the weapon functioned correctly it would destroy the very world. With the heart of the Federation destroyed the rest would surely fall apart, or at least become far easier to deal with. That single blow wouldn’t end the war, but it would make victory for the Collective possible.
Admiral Callum watched as the enemy ships accelerated towards his fleet, moving swiftly using technology which had been developed by his own people. He wasn’t religious but he said a prayer anyway. With a weapon as powerful as the one he was about to unleash, any divine guidance was worth requesting.
He took a breath to steady himself, closing his eyes for a moment, then turned a steely gaze on the enemy homeworld.
“It’s time to cleanse this world,” he said. “Fire the weapon.”
There was no pause, no build up of power. The weapon fired immediately, unleashing an unimaginable quantity of power… and shattering the universe. The Admiral barely had time to understand that the scientists worst fears had been confirmed before his ship and every other in the fleet was torn apart, along with all those of the enemy.
The universe wasn’t destroyed. It was shattered. Split into an uncountable number of splinters from the tiny to the huge, but it wasn’t destroyed. And, somehow, life managed to survive on many of those shards.
That is the story of how the Dawnblade shattered the world, and it is the truth.