In Response

News of the Anath depopulation incident reached my father quickly, even before I had heard of it, and I work for the corporation that sent a humanitarian fleet that way, if that tells you anything about how informed my father is. As always, he had no emotional reaction, having grown up in challenging conditions, to say the least, and thanks to some brutal training and exhaustive schooling which had really gotten him in control of his emotions and reactions, at least better than most. Those of us, such as myself, who had grown up with him knew that his lack of any emotional response did not mean he did not care about the hurt people, only that he was assessing the incident very objectively, logically, analytically, thus more likely to come up with and eloquently propose a decent response we could together mount.

For decades, my family built up its network in Aridia, starting with Soliara III, then its neighbor planets, then colonized planets in neighbor systems, and finally our whole constellation and many of the nearby constellations the jump-gates connect us to. We have been working on taking the next step in this expansion of our businesses; we have already started establishing ‘feeler’ relationships and networks outside Aridia. In order to succeed at the complex process of not only keeping a business alive, but many businesses, and making sure they are still profitable in the civilizations, cultures, and bureaucracies across the void of Space, we take our time like this, making sure we have friendships and requests first; we establish rapport and conduct thorough market analyses before taking big steps such as opening up an interplanetary outlet (a.k.a. off-world or extra-solar regional office).

In case you don’t know, every empire is only as strong as the stable businesses that provide all its products and services. No matter how grand the imaginary line is that any nation calls its border, the real nation is only a set of scattered pinpoints (cities and towns) on its paper-thin layer of whatever world or worlds it happens to be sitting upon. Within those scattered pinpoints are even smaller pinpoints; places such as mines and farms where the raw materials are gathered, and places such as factories, warehouses, and offices where those materials are converted, assembled, recorded, and sent from.

No matter how big a land you claim to own, or how many people you have, you are only as strong as your weakest link, and the only thing linking people together is interaction, namely trade, i.e. business transactions, and this is why corporations are prioritized and protected over people, and why people get thrown in jail or killed for revealing trade secrets or other sensitive information that could destabilize economies, jeopardizing the nation. In other words, governments know that they exist to pass laws to protect the corporations that know how to use their land’s resources to keep them comfortable and in power, and to pass laws in most systems… you need to have a talented advertising (some might call it propaganda) ‘machine’ (i.e. the “news”; salesmen armed with broadcast television and radio, plus extensive education and practice in using more clever psychological techniques than you might ever believe, including how to act, how to dress, how to speak, and how to do everything else that is statistically proven to make your target audience think you are familiar, trustworthy, ‘one of them’, thus their best source of factual information and guidance, freeing them from the after-hours chore of thinking). It takes a long time to set something like that up, and to slowly and steadily win the confidence of the usually-temperamental, problematic, erratic masses; the labor demographics you need to keep the corporations your nation and power relies on… running, staffed, alive, believed in.

This is why we don’t just mindlessly assume everything on “the news” is accurate, and why we always set up our own channels and feeds to cross-reference all “news”, ‘reading between the lines’, as it were, figuring out why certain things are reported in certain ways; why the corporations dominating the areas where each news agency is based… are pushing for various things, from time to time, which they apparently need. This is how we are able to impress other businesses out there with offers which the news from their areas hinted at us they are probably desperate for. This is how we draft and secure mutually-agreeable deals --or, at least, deals which seem like godsends to them, and which are as profitable for us as we know we can make them.

Black Operations are those which are too risky or controversial for any mainstream military or law enforcement unit to take them on. Sometimes a Black Op is so sensitive and critical that most of the people involved in it don’t realize they are involved in it; it is kept as compartmentalized as can be, making it virtually impossible even for the vast majority of its participants to mess it up --even if they are determined to. Many Black Ops even have so much misdirection engineered in that they seem like one thing, and pretend to be exposed and shut down, while that ruse either had no effect on them… or was helpful toward the completion of their actual ultra-classified goal/s.

Business is cut-throat in most places. If you do everything in accordance with the law, eventually you will be steamrolled, other businesses will tempt your best employees with slightly higher pay or other benefits, and you will become one of the underpaid menial laborers, kept in financial/debt slavery so that you can never become a business rival again. This is why some businesses lobby their elected representatives, and why some get into Black Operations. Any business that has been around an impressively long time, like generations, has almost invariably at least dabbled in these things --and probably after learning the hard way, nearly going bankrupt and/or being sabotaged, perhaps by a smear campaign on TV --on the “news” --controlled by other, bigger, older, more ruthless businesses.

Do you love your family? Do you like your neighbors and fellow countrymen? Do you want them to be free or enslaved? What about tortured or dying? What about dead and gone, forgotten, your civilization enveloped or erased? Your willingness to not only resort to Black Operations from time to time, but to really study and excel at them, can be what makes that difference. It always comes down to who wins and who dies or gets controlled forever. Honor, then, can be said to include dishonest tactics, such as camouflage, diversion, and illegal operations which save far more lives than authorized ones.

We all appreciate the empire which shields and provides for so many of us, asking only an understandable tithing in return, the amount they need to make their ships and train the personnel which bravely pilot them out across the badguy-riddled Great Unknown, our cluster of the galaxy so constantly strained by unexpected troubles and pulled in every direction. Most of us also probably understand that they are extremely preoccupied dealing with a severe invasion faraway, keeping their presence out our way stretched thin as can be; they are not to blame for tragedies that occur on our side of the cluster. In spite of their amazing technology and best intentions, we are on our own for now… and maybe for a very long time.

Nothing could be a more perfect indicator of this than what happened recently in Anath; the empire wasn’t able to intervene in time, billions got harvested, countless businesses and entire nations were reduced to ruin, wiped out, never to be seen again. An entire planet in Anath may as well have been blown apart, turned into another asteroid field. It will happen again, too; another world… somewhere out here on our side of New Eden… is going to be next, …and then another… and another… and another… until we take matters into our own hands.

“Daughter,” my father’s tone was always polite and loving, hopeful yet patient.

“Yes, father,” I smiled, looking at him through our hypernet-connected screens.

“How are you?” he asked, always opening conversations with some genuine concern, ‘catching up’, a timeless tradition and very effective way of warming things up for much better business in the moments ahead.

I told him honestly, and we chatted about this for a moment, each letting the other take his or her turn to say whatever was on his or her mind. I was doing just fine, as was he, but we both knew something was about to change. Something had to; one of the worlds we had expanded our businesses to had just gotten wiped out, almost to a man, and the empire of trillions had come to the upsetting but understandable conclusion that the millions who had survived the unthinkable almost-genocidal attack… were a statistical anomaly not numerous enough to keep empire assets in their system when entire solar systems elsewhere were falling to the Trig’s.

“How is Luna’?” he then asked, his slight facial-expression changes making it clear that he already had some idea; no one who watches their homeworld get attacked twice in their lifetime is having a great day.

I just looked down a moment and blinked once, my lips pressing together a bit, my dimples showing in that moment, and then looked back up at him. Our hearts were heavy for her.

“Would you like to come home for a bit, maybe help us out with something here?” he asked in a neutral tone, his face so difficult to read, though I had learned over time that his ‘tell’ was not having a tell at all; when he had something on his mind, his expression was as neutral and unreadable as can be; it was when he was pretending to have something on his mind that he exhibited the kind of facial expressions and mannerisms that ‘normal’ people would assume were his tells, a technique he’d used to ‘fit in’ when making in-person observations in various public gathering places.

It took me only a couple seconds to make the connection; he was asking me if I wanted to help with what she had just tried to help with, and he was asking me not to be direct about it. I just blinked once, looking at his eyes on the screen, and nodded, still in a moment of silence for all the people they/she had lost in Anath.

He smiled a bit, glad to see my answer, and simply said, “See you in a bit. I love you, Zedi’.” He would wait for my reply, then disconnect.

“I love you, too, dad. See you soon.” I closed my device, showered, dressed, and went straight to my shuttle. As long as CONCORD was still doing its job well, I would be home within half an hour, light-years away though it was.

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My father had similarly asked numerous others to join us at our family retreat. When I’d arrived from the nearest starport, some 60 miles away from our ranch, it had been an hour and some change since I’d spoken with him via the video call. Already some of the people who’d worked with us on important projects in the past were there, standing outside the main lodge, chatting away in normal tones, just not saying a word about the reason we were all there; it was understood that would happen once we went inside, all in attendance.

The room was in a deep basement, shielded in several ways from any who might try to listen in or happen to hear; there was a form of soundproofing based on a ‘sandwich’ structure, meaning that alternating layers of air and material of different densities prevented any sounds from moving through the walls to the rest of the building or the surrounding terrain. On the inside walls were the kind of soundproofing foam panels you’d see in nuclear submarines or recording studios, trapping and canceling out our voices before their energy even reached those ‘sandwiched’ walls to begin with. There was also an electronic jamming system which would create too much static/jamming for ELDs to get any signals out. A few other related technologies were also in use down there which we will never mention.

Thanking everyone for coming, he began the ritual of taking plenty of time to ask each how he or she had been, how their families were, if they had anything on their mind, and so on. That took a little less than a quarter of an hour. Once we all were satisfied with that warm-up and relaxed, our heads cleared to better focus on the ‘elephant in the room’, the ‘real’ talk began.

Holograms were formed above the center of our boardroom-style table as he and a few others took turns describing what was being shown. All the information we, as major business owners with limited knowledge of Amarr military intel, but with a few former-military employees and advisors, had access to was displayed in sequence, slowly enough to give all people present the time they needed to understand and comment on it all. We discussed historical data about all known Blood Raider strikes, computer-theorized reasons as to why the strikes happened where they had, apparent patterns in the data, weak points (systems the Amarr were not presently patrolling well enough to deter Raider or general pirate activity), likely near-future victim-systems, and on and on.

One person asked an obvious question nagging in everyone’s minds; “Do we really risk poking this beehive?”

“The Raiders attack whether we poke them or not,” someone else politely made that point.

“If we don’t poke back, they, like any bully, will assume we are complacent or weak, a soft target worth continuing to use,” another said.

“We poke them from the side --from where they will suspect it was one of their own,” my father added.

“Are we certain we have an asset capable of such a false flag?” one asked, all of us still steely-calm as we discussed not only starting a war, but an unsanctioned one, including a counter-depopulation attempt to tip the scales back in favor of the empire --or at least in favor of our region of it.

More information was then projected up from our table into hologram form; dossiers and many high-resolution images of the known Blood Raider leadership, ship classes, systems they controlled, systems they likely also maintained a presence in, where they recruited or found the most outsiders to help, and on and on. With the billions of lives and entire worlds they had taken over the generations, a lot of people outside the mainstream military had taken notice and started keeping score. Over time, we had not only figured out where to apply pressure as leverage against some of the people higher up in their chain of command, but what their in-orbit and planet-side capabilities were, what the ranges of motion and stamina of their different ground-troops were, how quickly their technology was being improved, what seemed to trigger them to use more advanced or expensive tools in their arsenal, you name it.

“Their sects are already known for infighting, and we suspect there is much more than what we have confirmed,” another stone-faced meeting member said. “They already suspect their own constantly. It would not take much from us to get them to turn on each other that much more, buying us more time in between their attacks.”

The easiest Raider-occupied systems were projected then, showing clandestine ways through their jump-gate routes, as well as cyno’-bypasses and such. There had been reconnaissance sorties pulled off in many of them --surviving ones; the pilots had made it back to tell the tale. Some had up-to-date reports; we had actionable current figures on the manpower and devices any specialists we might deploy would have to ‘negotiate’ out there.

“We don’t have the ships for direct action with them,” my father admitted --or was that his way of saying that we might, he just wasn’t going to commit them for this campaign? We still kept some secrets even from our closest allies, never putting all our proverbial eggs in one basket, keeping things as compartmentalized as we could. “We’ll start by ‘leaking’ believable rumors where we know their local spies and other agents will hear and relay them, then wait until they’ve had time to reposition some of their forces, further opening up our intended routes.”

We all sat in silence, listening.

He continued, “We’ll launch simultaneous different operations in different regions, none of them critical, all of them capable of destabilizing a significant Raider industry; no matter which succeed or fail, all of them will be designed to cause irreparable stalling, if not actual damage, along the way, and all of them will look convincingly like the work of fellow-Raider insiders betraying them.”

Specific device names and chemical structures were projected over our table at that point, then how they would be used to apply disruptive agents to vulnerable parts of known Raider facilities, all of which was thought to be beyond the ability of those sects’ to stop them in time, and all of which would appear to any forensics teams to have origins in the facilities of their opposing sects. When Raiders had touched down on some Amarr worlds, they had been observed, their traces scrutinized in labs for years, as had the derelicts of their wrecked ships some had managed to gun down or otherwise disable. Raider corpses had also been recovered and studied, giving some insights into bloodlines, modifications, even memories; we had learned a few ways of using their own technology to permanently damage many of them, or how to make our creations have identical signatures to some of their own, such as reactors and fuel made to appear to come from one of their own mines or refineries.

“If they catch on anyway?” one of us asked, still neutral, calm as can be, cool as ice, even though it would be our own necks --and entire worlds-- on the line.

Another chimed in before an answer could be offered, “Too soon after Anath and any Raider would surely suspect this is the counter-attack it is from our own Space.”

“Then we mayday for the empire and shut off our gates until they can come,” was the answer. We could always defend ourselves and isolate. We had our worlds developed enough to not worry about being besieged.

“In the meantime we’ll ramp up and shift some of our production in ways which the spies will assume means we are doing normal business expansion plus a little humanitarian aid ourselves, expected as the previous humanitarian operation winds down out there,” one of the executives with us said. Some details about this were provided and elaborated upon. There were no objections.

“Additionally, we’ll be deploying more miniature observatories in all areas which have reported Raider traffic, and hiring a few more contractors to patrol a changing route between them. They’ll have suicide drones at their disposal, ones which will broadcast scan results along their trajectories, even once they have lodged themselves inside any intruding Raider vessels. We can set the drones to weld themselves into place, spreading contaminants so unimaginable that it will become unthinkable to the Raiders to ever risk being hit by those things again.”

Again, there were no objections; no one cared at all about the law of war or the rules of engagement when entire worlds were being depopulated, those abducted turned into living blood-banks, the survivors often committing suicide. We also enjoyed the luxury of not having to; we were civilians without political ties, and there was always some leniency for war crimes in defense when living so far outside of empire-patrolled Space. If anything, we all knew that some collectives out here only responded to force, so whoever chose to be the most ruthless would be the one able to ‘communicate’ boundaries.

No names of meeting members or their personnel were ever said. No project codename was assigned. Nothing beyond the names of the devices and chemicals chosen for this Black Operation, along with the worlds and facility coordinates of the targeted Raiders, ever would be. It was understood that the only specifics ever to be discussed were the absolute minimum to come to a consensus and execution order.

When our meeting adjourned, we made our way back up to the surface. Those who wished to resume unclassified chatting or grab a bite to eat in our ranch restaurant did. It was neat to see that their orders had been sent out so quietly that it appeared none of them had made calls or texts at all. Businesses across dozens of star systems were already changing how they did things in order to cleverly prepare.

None of us would ever get any credit for this, even if it was pulled off without a hitch. We’d never have any press, or add a medal to our trophyroom. Some of us would have a little more worrying to contend with, ‘looking over our shoulder’ in our various ways for the rest of our lives. Our only reward would be an unconfirmed one; Raider activity in our regions of New Eden might decrease in terms of magnitude or frequency for a time, but how could we ever really know, not being in the Raider chain of command ourselves? We wouldn’t know if we had really bought ourselves more time between their horrors, only getting bits and pieces from our deployed assets telling our own chains of command if they had completed the tasks assigned to them.

A factory worker on one of our worlds would complete a quality assurance inspection on some little product or piece of a product that was wholly innocuous by itself. A pilot somewhere else would think he or she is firing a normal munition toward a common enemy the next time a Raider was detected. A scout or spy in yet another far-flung part of the vast Space we all try to share would not have any idea that his or her instructions had been carefully designed to seem like normal activity to him or her… while also like activity highly suspicious as coming from an enemy-Raider based deeper in Raider Space.

Then, perhaps years later, rumors might start to reach us of the aftermath of one or more of whatever Black Operations we had set in motion. Maybe there would be off-TV news of an industrial disaster on a Raider world, or of two or more Raider fleets turning on each other --or on ships in their own fleet for some reason. Maybe it would just be that a vast debris field in Raider Space would be detected, full, upon closer inspection, of roughly as many Raider corpses as had been lost in Anath.

We didn’t know where they took the people they abducted, or even if any of them had survived the journey, many likely exsanguinated. We didn’t have the firepower to reach them even if we knew, let alone evacuate them. We did have successful businesses and flexible income, though; we still had the means to do something --so long as we did it sneakily, mercilessly, unhesitating, over and over until the point was made; the Raiders could figure out ways around the big, bulky, predictable empire, but they couldn’t know all the little ins and outs of the thousands of lesser ‘empires’ (business alliances) spread farther and wider, and from those lesser empires… far worse hells would begin to flow than anything the mainstream Amarr would ever dare let themselves be known for.

Sitting at one of the tables in our restaurant, the waiters and waitresses quietly busy all around us, serving our guests before they served us, keeping everyone’s glasses topped off, and whispering the names of some of the dishes ordered as they were carried out and carefully set down on fancy placemats beside candlelight, I smiled at my father and rested my hand on his. He smiled back, gently taking hold of my hand and giving it a loving squeeze. We adored each other, and did not mind at all having to make tough decisions like this, knowing perhaps millions of lives or even more than that… on the Raider side… were about to be extinguished. Really, we wouldn’t mind if it turned out to be billions; Anath deserved to be avenged. Anath deserved more than what the empire, caring and daring though it always tried to be, could offer them.

Would the Raiders do something awful in response some day, or in general, like they always had? Of course. Then we would, too, back and forth, for as long as need be, until either a shaky peace, or total oblivion, had been achieved.

“Ooo, thank you,” my father said, eyeing the gorgeous vegan presentation on the rectangular plate carried out and shown to us before it was left in front of him, set precisely between his set of silverware. “That looks wonderful,” his voice was that steady, baritone and bass rumble he’d become known for. “Please give my compliments to the chef.”

The waitress smiled appreciatively and bowed, walking on to tend to her other duties. Another then appeared from the kitchen double doors carrying my own order. A moment later, and after a similar expression of gratitude from me, and we were taking our time marveling at and savoring our meal, sipping on our drinks to cleanse our palates between bites of each flavor combination, our minds no longer on the Anath response at all.

Some might have been wracked with anxiety after discussing such forbidden things, or after sentencing entire fleets and worlds to gruesome retaliatory demise, dreading possible revenge after revenge, but we had grown up making such calls --and having to. We did not appreciate our meal this night more just because it might now be one of our last; we appreciated it because it was a wonderful culinary masterpiece in the cozy atmosphere of one of our ranch buildings it had taken years to save up for and construct. We would have appreciated its qualities to the same degree whether we had just orchestrated a quiet war or not.

“How is it?” my father turned to ask one of our meeting guests seated at a table off to his left side, having dabbed his lips clean via the white napkin now tucked back into his collar.

The people at their table all turned to us and smiled, some raising their glasses, one forming the ‘perfect’ gesture and air-tapping with it a few times, unable to speak, her mouth still full of the latest delicious bite. They were all as happy and relaxed as us. Once they felt full, we’d likely all go horse riding around the crops until the stars started coming out, the faint ring-system and a few of our moons and moonoids also rising into view overhead, the rainclouds on the horizon brightening sporadically with lightning flashes too faraway for us to hear, and some of the much closer wildlife singing their rhythmic songs to whichever moon or other cosmic force triggered them to perform.

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The ship looked like any other mid-sized war-time vessel, nothing special about it at all. It had flown from the Anath system… into one of the nearest Raider-controlled systems a number of jumps away. That was bold (and stupid?), but not for someone who felt he or she had lost everything and had no more reason to hold back.

As one should expect, it was intercepted by a Blood Raider squadron on patrol, ordered to turn back. It ignored them and maintained its heading. They opened fire on each other, a couple Raiders dying in the process, their ships torn apart before the rest of them could disable and board the thing.

Inside, a determined crew made their last stand, killing many of the boarding party before threatening to arm the self-destruct. A negotiation was attempted. Basic questions were asked, all as much to buy precious time as figure out what was going on…

The remaining crew honestly believed they were the survivors of their families which had been nearly wiped out. They also honestly had no sensitive or even useful information, as far as the Raiders decided. Having clone blood made them useful, though, and so they were eventually overwhelmed, the bodies of the living and dead alike… ‘tapped’.

Reporting with relief to their superiors, that squadron thought they had succeeded in preventing a suicide bomber plus acquiring fresh blood for their people. Another ship was sent to tow in what remained of the cratered wreck and collect the blood and POWs. One of them activated a toxic personal suicide device and was quickly quarantined, but the rest had a worse fate.

Upon inspection, they had all the markers of being normal clones with normal memories from life and careers back in Anath. Autopsies revealed only normal clone parts and implants of little value. They’d been carefully made that way; it was meant to look like Anath had finally pitifully started to try to retaliate --as a distraction from the much worse clandestine retaliations already going on in other regions.

Everything the suicidal crew of that captured Anath ship had touched along their way began to seem cursed, however; ‘glitches’ started in the minds and ships of the squadron which had intercepted them, and the ship which had arrived to transport them, and the bloodbank which had taken the survivors in, and then the entire surrounding city, all at random and many weeks after. Some made what appeared to be user errors, some seemed to have unexpected wear and tear, and some developed symptoms similar to those of radiation exposure.

Little by little, day by day, the nanites and other microscopic agents those clones with false memories had been built to get into Raider territory… snuck their way through bodies and devices, infrastructure and communities, executing their program every time they found a valuable person or facility, skipping some and lying dormant for weeks at a time to keep their method as confusing and difficult to track or predict as possible. They were designed to cause different glitches every time, disrupting the nervous system one way in one person, then the bowels another way in the next, and overheating a computer here… while draining power to a cooling unit somewhere else, leaving more and more people feeling awful, being hospitalized, and watching helplessly as their civilization began to slip into an economic recession and even, at least in some scattered pockets, chaos. When they ran diagnostics on each affected body or construct, they found no nanites or other culpits; whatever had caused the issues had moved on.

The weeks turned into months, and a tanker miles away would crash and dump billions of ISK worth of harmful cargo into a major waterway, rendering its fish and other resources unsalvageable, while a power grid failure in another state left thousands without electricity for climate control or food preservation. Disaster after disaster began to chip away at the emergency funds of nations and then multiple worlds. None of it seemed connected, and meddling or overthrow preparations from neighboring Raider sects became angrily suspected more and more, tensions skyrocketing.

Mass recalls of products such as food, medicine, and vehicles started being made. Every expert had looked for different clues, made different assumptions, and demanded different solutions. Some had looked for patterns, or even nanites in particular, but the events were too far apart and unique to ever fully be connected --or anticipated and stopped.

Back out in Space, a jump-gate malfunction left a fleet of their ships adrift deep in a dangerous and un-navigable interstellar storm, what appeared to be rogue drones swarmed and crippled another gate many systems away, and then fake travel advisories and bans started being inserted into some of their networks and broadcasts, causing nightmarishly expensive diverting of entire shipping lanes. Resources had become so strained back on some of their planets that rescue could not be sent as quickly, and many started starving or suffocating to death while they waited. Then someone dusted their massive field of crops in the wrong way, and the starvation began to spread a season later when the expected produce never refilled a hundred grocery stores’ shelves.

No shots had been fired yet, no explosives detonated, no ships crashed into stations, so it did not seem like war. There was no genocide or nuking or plague. There was only ‘accident’ after ‘accident’, the ‘bad luck’ on a rampage.

Riots started breaking out… and were contained, some crushed. Raider authorities had their hands full. Some even got canned, others giving up and resigning before they were jailed or assassinated.

Token ‘attacks’ from Anath kept pestering and peppering nearby Raider borders, keeping the Raiders pissed off but feeling victorious --as well as convinced that Anath was still as crippled and unsupported as when they had ‘raped’ one of its worlds to death and left it. The empire had not retaliated on their behalf. Only news of a humanitarian effort soon wrapped up, and its sorrowful findings, had spread.

Businesses which once had a presence on the ruined Anath world seemed to have sent a little aid but given up, never to re-establish themselves there. All had shifted to continuing their businesses and expansions in other directions. Everyone seemed as scared of being near Raider Space as the Raiders expected them to be.

A few Raiders scouting around for more easy pickings had noticed more listening beacons being left here and there, but that had also been expected and negligible. They had not yet detected the cloaked contractors learning the Raiders’ new movements. It was too late when a suicide drone made it into one of their hulls, releasing molecular acid and then nerve agents which caused hundreds aboard to spasm so hard they broke their own backs.

Now it seemed like vicious attacks were occasionally being mounted or left lying in wait for them, but they had entire worlds teetering on the brink of societal collapse back in their home-systems in multiple regions. Their citizens were starting to abandon their jobs and homes, leaving their cities to go off-grid in their wildernesses. The ‘accidents’ of personal vehicles and personal judgment calls continue to take the lives of many of them.

Who knows how many Raiders/Sani died in the months and years that followed the Anath depopulation? Had thousands? Millions? How many thousands or millions had fallen ill or lost their jobs or starved or become nomadic? How many got stuck in deep Space, too far to ever warp back? How many of their planets had been set back a whole generation or two in terms of industry and development? How many of their bloodbanks had gone offline long enough to cost them big portions of the bodies they were farming within? Had rituals been missed? Had some turned on their own kind for the blood they had grown up accustomed or addicted to?

The Blood Raiders were still a force to be reckoned with. Like any empire, they still controlled gates and regions. They still had billions of citizens. Eventually they managed to recover from the relentless seasons and years of seemingly unrelated local and regional disasters which had befallen so many of them.

Anath at that time still seemed stripped, defeated, furious yet hopeless, lashing out in puny bursts of rage whenever a few of its survivors could, but no longer posing any threat to them. Its neighbors still seemed to be keeping slightly more of an eye out, but still relying on the Amarr to save them if ever the Raiders returned. The Prime family of Soliara seemed like how they always had; a group of aspiring businesses doing their best to avoid any and all conflicts, even working out uneasy protection arrangements with the pirates they could not push out.

Life --and more weeks-apart ‘accidents’ in Raider Space-- went on.

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