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There is always a first time.

The first time a random selection of nuclear particles and waves formed a stable, self-replicating pattern, that is, Life; it appeared on the surface of a fiery, inter-dimensional doorway that would someday be called a star.

As Life will, it evolved. After a vast passage of time, the hotlife, the Starborn, became self-aware.

Self-awareness, over time, became true intelligence. Slowly, they learned to manipulate the inferno around them. By force of mind alone, they built mansions of fire, gardens of flame. The star became the home of history. Civilizations rose, flourished and fell. Eventually, one united culture ruled the star.

The Starborn had always been aware of subspace. Now, they started to explore. There were multitudes of other stars which could be reached by traveling though subspace. This regular traveling of the Starborn created lasting Pathways between the stars. By the time the first Lifehome exhausted its nuclear fuel and flashed out of existence, the Starborn were spread far and wide among the spinning matrix of fire that would eventually be called "Starswarm" and "Milky Way".

Eventually, there was another first time. One of the Starborn discovered Life in the icy slurry on one of the rocky spheres that circled the stars. The incredibly small and dense beings were not Starborn, to be sure, but they were Life.

Many of the Starborn were fascinated by this Coldlife, so different from themselves but yet similar in many ways. More and more of the planets were found to have some variety of Life. The Starborn found that there could be no physical contact between Starborn and Coldlife, so for untold millennia they were forced to merely observe the evolving Coldlife.

A need grew among many of the Starborn to prod, to alter, to control the Coldlife. Eventually, one of the Starborn learned that Coldlife could be changed - but only on a molecular level. It was enough. Throughout the galaxy, the Starborn focused their energies and changed molecular structures - structures in the genetic patterns of the Coldlife. It was quite fascinating.

On a small planet near an inter-Arm gap, one of the Starborn was able to change the Coldlife so that they were able to somehow sense the Starborn. With that sensing came influence; with influence, control. The Starborn were finally able to master the Coldlife, individual to individual. The Starborn inserted a similar modification on world after world. Where there was planetary intelligence, there were usually individuals who could sense the desires of the Starborn. The Starborn would guide those sensitives to become leaders of their people, giving the Starborn indirect control large populations.

On a world circling a yellow-white star, the Starborn guided two strong warlords. As an experiment, these leaders were led into direct confrontation. It was the first worldwide war - and the first time the Great Game had been played.

The Great Game quickly became a major amusement among the Starborn. Across the galaxy, planet-wide wars were fought under their control. But war leads either to annihilation or to progress. The Starborn were few enough that they couldn't be everywhere, all the time.

On a blue-green planet in a star cluster that the Starborn had temporarily abandoned, the Coldlife managed to end their wars. The survivors discovered how to leave their world and soon colonized the other planets that circled their star. In time, they discovered the Pathways that the Starborn had created in subspace. Traveling these Pathways, they found other, less advanced, peoples among the stars. They treated these young civilizations with the momentum of their own history; that is, as enemies. They created the first Empire in the galaxy.

When the Starborn again came to the star cluster, they found that first Empire. Moreover, they found that the Imperials were using the Starborn's Pathways with an inefficient technology; a technology that would eventually destabilize and destroy the Pathways. The Starborn removed this inconvenience by tampering with the stars that comprised the Empire. The resulting novae destroyed the Empire - and removed a sizable piece of the Sagittarius Arm of the galaxy.

Determined not to let Coldlife again create instability in the Pathways, a project was undertaken. The Starborn found a type of Coldlife that inhabited a planet that was cold and dark even by planetary standards and changed it. The smooth, shapeless Coldlife were given a hard exterior and five manipulative limbs. Because they were in a hurry, the Starborn bypassed true intelligence and created instead a group mind: one intelligence and a hundred million bodies. The Groupmind was quickly led to discover the technology to travel the Pathways safely and was given an unreasoning and enduring hatred of other intelligent life. The Starborn set the Groupmind to police all of subspace to preserve the Pathways, entering normal space as it would. It took barely four hundred generations.

The Starborn were now able to devote themselves to the Great Game, knowing that any Coldlife that trespassed in subspace would eventually be removed by the Groupmind. On planets all over the galaxy, the Starborn whispered to receptive minds among the Coldlife - receptive minds that would lead their people to incandescent destruction. It was very amusing.

On a wet, warm planet whose star would soon become hotter and dry the world, one of the Starborn changed the patterns of a scavenger that ranged the sandy shores of the warm, shallow seas. Its distant descendants would call their world "Vasuda" and range among the stars.

Another of the Starborn found a planet in the last throes of an ice age. The tool-making bipeds were changed. As the generations passed, their children lost their thick fur and grew both taller and weaker - and able to breed through out the year. Before the ice had melted, the Neanderthals were gone, save as legends of goblin and ogre. Their rapidly multiplying stepchildren spread across the warming land like drought-born wildfire.

Time passed. On one of its sweeps of the Orion Arm, the Groupmind's red and black starships found a second stellar Empire. This second Empire was much larger and more powerful than the first had been. Over thousands of light-years, it fought the Groupmind to a standstill. Noticing this, several of the Starborn utilized a technique that had until then been used only sparingly. They influenced susceptible Imperials to approach the Groupmind with critical information. Using this information, the Groupmind was able to overcome the second Empire, leaving nothing but ruins on hundreds of worlds.

Much later, younger races would search this legacy of ruins and wonder who these Ancients had been and how they had died.

But for the Starborn, something very dangerous had happened: They had planted the seeds of their own mortality and they were totally unaware of it.

There had always been individual enemies that had offered help to the Groupmind, but never so many. For the first time, the Groupmind started to question that which had always been part of its existence. Why would an enemy supply information that would lead to its own defeat? Why would intelligence want to destroy itself?

The questioning became suspicion. Over many generations of the Groupmind's bodies, suspicion turned to certainty. The hurried evolution of the Groupmind had left it able to sense the Starborn, once it knew to look for them. The Groupmind, as its nature dictated, resolved to eliminate these incorporeal beings, as it did all trespassers in subspace.

The Groupmind realized that it would need new weapons. It had never been a great innovator but was very good at incorporating into its arsenal the technologies that it found among its enemies. There would be something useful.

For long and long, the Groupmind observed the Starborn, even as the Starborn watched the wars of the Groupmind. When conditions were right, the Groupmind would surreptitiously try various weapons on those Starborn that it chanced upon, both in sub- and normal space. The weapons had so little effect on the huge and gossamer Starborn that they weren't even aware of the attacks. Eventually, the Groupmind was forced to acknowledge that the Starborn could only be attacked indirectly.

During a scouting mission in a part of space once occupied by the second Empire, the Groupmind discovered a very large number of the Starborn occupying the surface of a golden star. The Groupmind disengaged from the war it was fighting with the local Coldlife and concentrated on perfecting a weapon.

In the catalog of weaponry of the long-defeated second Empire was a powerful device that was meant to be used against stationary installations and the slowest capital ships. The Groupmind calculated that if it could simultaneously attack the golden star with hundreds of these weapons, the surface would be temporarily disrupted and stripped of life.

The Groupmind built a new type of starship to house the weapon and reentered the Pathways near the golden star. The Groupmind would first deal with the local Coldlife, then the Starborn.

As elements of the Groupmind's armada approached the star, the local Coldlife attacked. It took time - the Starborn even supplying the usual number of enemy collaborators - until the GTVA was beaten back and the Pathways to the star were open. The Shivan Groupmind assembled 300 of its new ships one light-minute from golden Capella and brought the new weapons online.

It is unfortunate that the Groupmind did not understand the meaning of "irony"…



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