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War has again come to the Solar System.

Thirty years ago Sol's only jump node collapsed and mankind turned frightened eyes to the unknown skies. As time passed with no new Shivan assault, the fear turned inward. The face of the Alien Enemy slowly changed from Shivan to Vasudan.

Elements of the Vasudan Third and Fifth Fleets undergoing repair had been trapped in Solar orbit and thousands of Vasudan support personnel were on Earth and Mars. Nine years after the collapse, xenophobic crowds destroyed the first few Vasudan surface compounds. Skirmishes with alien-hating human captains caused the Vasudan commander, Admiral Ptahaten, to move his ships to the outer system to avoid further bloodshed. Eventually, the new United Terran System government allowed the Vasudan fleet the exclusive use of Leonard Station (and its construction yards) in geocentric Plutonian orbit. The remaining Vasudans on Earth were required to relocate to protected camps or to travel to Leonard.

Admiral Ptahaten not only offered a place to any Vasudan from the inner worlds but also sanctuary to any dissident human who wished to distance himself from the oppressive Terran government.

This uneasy situation lasted until Admiral Natenalik succeeded Ptahaten as commander of the Vasudan fleet. Admiral Natenalik considered himself a Vasudan patriot and dreamed fiery dreams of a new Vasudan homeworld. He made it clear to his captains that any Terran government ship that ventured beyond Neptune was to be considered a target of opportunity. He also restated Ptahaten's policy of accepting like-minded humans into his fleet, but now he expected those humans to arrive in control of a warship.

The human-Vasudan battles remained inconsequential until Rear Admiral Albert Hiller and three battered warships arrived with a Terran task force in close pursuit. The Vasudans counter-attacked the government ships and destroyed several before the Terrans broke off. Adm. Hiller, charismatic and visionary, was warmly welcomed and soon became the de facto leader of the pro-Vasudan humans.

And in Sol's photosphere two of the Starborn gracefully floated, sending their thoughts to the very limits of the Solar System. The next round of the Great Game was underway.


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