This article was reprinted in the October 2012 issue of Freelance Traveller.
The author writes, in part...
...At the time, I was the GM for a group of players who were slowly drifting away from the game. Real Life had a lot to do with this, but a marked distaste for the course of events in the OTU figured into it also. I tried to come up with an alternate timeline to keep things together, but Real Life won out in the end.
In this timeline, Strephon does not flee to Usdiki after he receives the news of the murders in the Throne Room, Dulinor's rebellion, and Lucan's ascension. Instead, he slowly works his way back to the Capital, proving his bona fides and rallying support among the nobility and Navy. He returns to the Throne, but not before Lucan's horrific fleet orders have gone out and the Imperium is under assault from within and without.
I called this alternate timeline "The Wounded Colossus".
Editor's Note: In comparisons between events of the official Traveller timeline and those of the "Wounded Colossus" timeline, ATL refers to the "Wounded Colossus" alternate timeline; OTL refers to the official Traveller timeline.
The Setting - an introduction
In this alternate timeline, Strephon moves to oust Lucan and regain the Iridium Throne after receiving news of the Assassination. While there is some military action in his campaign to return to the Throne, Strephon would rely more on political and propaganda efforts. Eventually, he convinces enough people that he is the real Emperor, Lucan is arrested, and Strephon returns to the Capital.
Strephon's problems are only beginning. He is faced with a Domain sized rebellion, another Domain cut off from the Imperial Core and under assault, a war with the Solomani, sector sized invasions by the Vargr and the forceful incursions of the Alsan ihatei. His Imperium has lost entire Domains and more than three sectors to these combined forces.
He is also unsure as to whether the Imperium can rally and win through its current problems. Even before these events, Strephon was concerned that the Imperium was no longer a cohesive whole, that the commons and nobility cared more for local matters than the Imperium as a whole. The Ilelish Rebellion is proof that his fears were correct for at least one Imperial Domain. Will they prove correct for the rest?
So, Strephon is faced with immediate dilemmas; the Rebellion, the Second Solomani Rim War, and the Alien Incursions. But there are also several long standing, systemic problems with the Imperium too. He will need to address those problems as well as fighting his several wars.
The Emperor will be forced to walk a very fine line indeed. He will be prosecuting wars on several fronts while making the reforms necessary to heal and strengthen the Imperium. He must be careful that neither of these two great tasks adversely affects the other.
The Return to the Iridium Throne
Strephon hears of the assassinations and his supposed death at Depot/Lishun on 181-1116. Further couriers bring news of Dulinor's rebellion and Lucan's assumption of the Imperial mantle. It seems every courier that arrives brings more bad news. The Imperium is disintegrating before Strephon's eyes. He and his entourage begin to travel back towards Capital, but have no real plans. Factions arise among his advisors, some wish him to flee to a place of safety, still others feel he should return to the Capital as quickly as possible, and others yet want him to await more news before making any decisions. Shocked and grief stricken, Strephon cannot decide and provides no direction.
Then, Lt. Windhook arrives.
Windhook's story of Lucan's brutal murder of Varian is confirmed by the psionicists on Strephon's staff. This simple piece of information causes a transformation in the Emperor. Orders are given, plans drawn up, and the return to the Iridium Throne is underway.
Strephon announces his existence at Depot/Corridor on 204-1116. Windhook's story is part of the Emperor's speech. While at the Depot, Strephon proves his bona fides to the IN commanders and local nobility. This should be a relatively easy task given the trappings of office he would have carried with him, even during a secret trip to Longbow. Couriers are dispatched throughout the region carrying the news of Strephon's existence and Windhook's testimony.
It is also at Depot/Corridor that Strephon learns of Lucan's first disastrous fleet redeployment orders. While he could countermand those orders with the command codes and ciphers he traveled with, he realizes that such an action would cause even more confusion. Confusion that would only benefit Dulinor. Besides, Lucan's directives are already far ahead of any counter commands Strephon could dispatch. The Emperor grimly accepts he cannot undo this latest piece of Lucan's folly and instead adds another series of charges to the indictment against his nephew.
After a month, Strephon departs the Depot to rally the rest of the sector to him. What follows is a cat and mouse game between him and an increasingly desperate Lucan. Everywhere Strephon goes, Lucan's agents and minions try to intercept him. Everywhere Strephon goes, another world, another fleet, another group of nobles is informed of the Emperor's existence and Lucan's true nature.
At first, Strephon must move stealthily among the systems. Lucan has been informed of his presence and has denounced him as an imposter. Agents and squadrons are scouring the sector for Strephon on Lucan's orders. Strephon and his entourage know that capture means death. More than once, Strephon and his group barely escape capture, and more than once, Strephon convinces those pursuing him to switch their allegiance.
There are armed clashes between Strephon's supporters and Lucan's people. The Emperor tries to keep them at a minimum, citing the need for those resources to fight Dulinor. That policy increase Strephon's support even further.
Delegations from surrounding sectors begin to enter Core looking for Strephon and requesting audiences. The nobles scattered when Lucan dissolved the Moot flock to him. Then, the very forces Lucan has dispatched to hunt down the "Imposter" begin to defect to Strephon.
When all these converts ask how they can help his cause, Strephon tells his questioners to fight for the Imperium. Whether that means they should fight Dulinor or Lucan is left up to the listener. Strephon merely calls upon them to do their duty.
Finally, in the first half of 1117, a fast courier arrives in the system where Strephon is currently based. Aboard it is a video from the Capital. There has been a coup and Lucan has been arrested. The coup's leaders respectfully request that Strephon return to the Capital and resume the Throne. Strephon and his horde of supporters travel to Sylea aboard a nearby naval squadron.
By mid-1117, Strephon is back on the Iridium Throne, Lucan has been defenestrated from the Moot Spire, and the Third Imperium is in for an era of very interesting times.
Strephon the Kinless is back on his throne and his Imperium is in disarray. An entire Domain is in rebellion against him and another has been cut off from the Imperial core. Three sectors are in the hands of alien invaders. The Solomani have taken another sector and are hammering on two more.
What is to be done? The answer is summed up in one word: Fight.
As sorely pressed and set upon as the Imperium is, it is still a polity of awesome power and capabilities. Things may look bleak to the casual observer, but the latent strength of the Imperium can prevail - if someone can rouse that strength.
This is Strephon's major task; rally the nobility and commons to the Imperium's defense. Take immediate action to show that all is not lost. If Strephon can stop the Imperium from descending into despair, than it will win through.
Strephon should take immediate steps to reverse or modify Lucan's panicky fleet redeployment orders. Corridor and Lishun are already lost to the Vargr and the Solomani have taken the Old Expanses, but the portions of the fleets removed from those regions can be returned home. They will be a welcome addition to the defenders of the Imperium's new borders and a glad sight for those worlds who saw them leave.
The victories of the Vargr and Solomani in the ATL will not be as great as in the OTL. The territories they have wrested from the Imperium will be less than those in the OTL. The Imperium will have forces at hand for raiding and local counter offensives. The Vargr and Solomani will be forced to fight harder for the territories they wish to win. Any delay will be a victory for Strephon the Kinless.
The war presenting the most immediate danger to the Imperium is the one launched by Dulinor. It is occurring at the empire's heart, just a few tens of parsecs from the Capital itself. Yet, this war may prove the easiest to handle.
True, Dulinor and his cabal of traitors have planned their actions for years, but they didn't quite plan on fighting a prolonged civil war, especially a war against a man who was supposed to be dead before it all started.
They had planned on a coup de main, Dulinor murdering the Imperial family and then mounting the Throne to stay. The Ilelish traitors had been caught as much off guard by Dulinor's craven flight back to Dlan as the Imperium had been by the Assassination itself. The fleets and armies of Ilelish had been prepared to support an Emperor already sitting on the Iridium Throne and not to fight their way back into the Core Sector to place him there.
From a planning standpoint, Dulinor and his cabal are just as unready for this war as Strephon is. Barring major multiple disasters, the Imperium should be able to thwart Dulinor's drive on the Captial. Once the strategic initiative passes to the Imperium, the failure of Dulinor's drive on Sylea would signal this, time will work for the Imperium and against the rebels.
While Strephon will take forceful miltary actions against Ilelish, once again his primary weapon will be propaganda. The rallying cry of "Do the Imperium no further harm", used so successfully against Lucan, will work equally well against Dulinor. The defections from Ilelish should begin almost immediately after news of Strephon's survival arrives.
The Rebellion Sourcebook talks about the people of the Imperium forced to make choices, which faction to follow, which story to believe. None of the choices presented them are clear. In the ATL, the choice is clear. The Emperor is still on the Throne. Others have brought wrack and ruin to the Imperium. Do no more harm and help him save the Imperium.
The commons of Ilelish and the majority of the nobility there did not choose rebellion. They were not asked or polled by Dulinor and his cabal about their opinions. Rebellion was chosen for them and they can choose not to rebel. Strephon is in a near unassailable position to support that choice. He sits on the Throne, legal Emperor of the Imperium. He can release recordings of Dulinor murdering four sophonts in cold blood. He can richly reward those in Ilelish who spurn Dulinor and the traitors.
One of Strephon's first acts upon resuming the Throne would be to strip all known rebel nobles of their fiefs. The resulting bonanza of fiefs, patents, lands, sinecures, and the like will provide Strephon with a vast number of ways to reward his supporters. Nobles unable to decide whether to support Dulinor or Strephon could be swayed in this manner. Even nobles who waffle in their support for Dulinor help Strephon's cause.
Strephon will also have a number of Ilelish nobility at the Capital. There would have been those sitting in the Moot, unaware and uninformed as to Dulinor's plans. Unless they immediately fled back to Ilelish with Dulinor, they are now fief-less. Every one of them is a potential weapon in Strephon's hands. he can promise them the fiefs of the traitors in return for their knowledge of and contacts in the rebellious Domain.
There will be nobles within Ilelish unaware of Dulinor's choice for them until news of the Assassination arrived. If they swing their support to Strephon upon news of his survival, the Imperium will have a ready-made fifth column in rebel territory.
Dulinor's domain is not a monolith. He will not be able to prevent news of Strephon's survival from reaching the commons and nobility. Besides, Strephon will make disseminating that news a top priority. In the OTL, Dulinor faced rebellion and defection among his fleets and systems. In the ATL, those events will occur more rapidly and extensively. In the OTL, Dulinor's opponent was a deranged princeling who had murdered his own brother. Dulinor was a better choice than Lucan. In the ATL, Dulinor faces the real Emperor, a man whose family Dulinor has murdered. Dulinor will find it impossible to hold his domain together.
As the forces of the Imperium patiently work their way towards Dlan, more and more systems and nobles will defect from Dulinor's cause or escape his grasp. There will be a feedback effect in all of this, each defection will cause more defections. Every system and noble racing the other, trying to work out the best deal for their readmission to the Imperium. The systemic reforms Strephon will be making across the Imperium will also help this process. Dulinor's domain, aside from the few true believers, will melt away under his feet.
Sometime within four years of the Assassination, Dulinor will die by his own hand. His forces will have been slowly sqeezed into a tight pocket, perhaps centered on Dlan, perhaps not. His cause will be universally discredited, his vision for the Imperium lost. Only those who know they would not get anything from the Imperium other than the rope will have remained with him. The Ilelish Rebellion will have collapsed, the majority of the people of Ilelish having chose not to support it.
While the war against Dulinor took primacy in the Imperium's eyes, the wars against the other three foes still sputtered on. Dealing with the Vargr and Aslan will require an effort lasting generations, but now that Dulinor has been dealt with, the Solomani take center stage.
For the last four years, the Imperium has been on the strategic defensive along the Solomani front. Daibei and Sol have defended themselves as best they could, some Imperial resources have been sent their way. The Domain of Gateway, acting as a strategic reserve for both the Ilelish and Solomani fronts, has conducted limited offensives in the Old Expanses. This has forestalled any further major gains by the Solomani.
Defense against the Solomani has been aided by the fact that most worlds in the Rim remember Solomani rule. There may be billions of people eagerly awaiting the return of the Confederation, but the are many times more equally dreading it. Resistance along the front and in systems already taken by the Confederation will be fierce. The Imperium will support that resistance as much as possible. In the OTL, the Solomani bogged down in these captured territories, which led to political strife within the Confederation. In the ATL, the Solomani will bog down too and perhaps with fewer gains than they acquired in the OTL. This too will lead to political strife and factionalism within the Confederation.
Then the collapse in Ilelish frees up a huge amount of Imperial power and the hammer swings towards the Rim. While conquering and garrisoning the entire Confederation is impossible; the front should be pushed many more parsecs rimward of Terra.
Strephon and the Imperium should hammer the Confederation until the Solomani sue for peace. This time there should be no cease fire leading to a de facto border. There should be treaty, outlining the obligations of both sides. The government and peoples of the Confederation should know they lost, and lost badly, to the Imperium. This is not to say that a 57th century treaty of Versailles should be crafted, but that the Confederation should be forced to sue for peace, to acknowledge their defeat.
The Imperium should also take advantge of the fractious nature of the Confederation. Ever effort should be made to encourage to surrender of planetary and multi-system forces apart from those of the Confederation as a whole. Ideally, the Imperium should set up a multi-parsec thick buffer region between the two states filled with small polities. This type of buffer region works along the borders in Dark Nebula and Foreven Sectors and should be applied along the Rim.
Good fences make good neighbors.
The war against the Solomani should be over within 3 to 4 years of the Ilelish rebellion's collapse. The First Solomani Rim War saw the Imperium starting much further inside its own territory and taking Terra within three years. The Second Solomani Rim War should not last much longer, especially with Imperial starting positions in Daibei, Sol, and the Vegan Autonomous Region so much closer to the border.
With the new Imperial border 10 to 15 parsecs rimward of Sol, and an equally wide buffer region of client states beyond that, both side will be able to divert their energies to more important tasks instead of constantly sniping at each other. The Imperium can slowly absorb and de-radicalize the Solomani worlds and movements within it and the Confederation can turn it's energies towards exploring an settling the Rim.
Eight years after his return to the Throne, Strephon has put down the Ilelish Rebellion and laid the foundations for a lasting peace with the Solomani Confederation. He still must deal with the Alien Incursions (actually he's been dealing with them in the same time frame), institute reforms to strengthen the Imperium and, hopefully, prevent any recurrence of the factors leading up to all this.
Fighting these two wars, especially the Second Rim War, will require the nobles and commons to be rallied to the Imperial cause. Strephon and his advisors will need to keep a close eye on the mood of the high population worlds and nobility during all this time. War weariness, especially away from the fronts where the danger isn't immediately present, will set in. Every effort must be made to present these wars as part and parcel of restoring and rebuilding the Imperium.
The idea of renewing the Imperium, refashioning it, rebuilding it, must be kept in the forefront of the commons' and nobles' minds.
The Alien Incursions
Strephon has returned to the Throne and is prosecuting wars against the Imperium's human enemies. The campaign against human opponent, the Ilelish rebels, will be relatively easily. The campaign against the other, the Solomani Confederation, will be a drawn out affair. But, we must not forget, the Usurper left Strephon two additional wars as reminders of his time on the Throne. How will the Imperium deal with the incursions by these two interlopers, the Vargr and Aslan? Both species present very different and long term problems for the Imperium. While military operations should and would begin against them immediately, the Imperium will need to employ other methods also.
The Vargr pose the most immediate threat of the two interlopers, thanks to their presence across a greater front and their occupation of more territory than the Aslan. The Vargr are pressing on the coreward borders of four sectors; the Spinward Marches, Deneb, Vland, and Antares, and have occupied two more; Lishun and Corridor. The occupation of that last sector has actually cut off the Domain of Deneb from the Imperium as a whole. It is evident that dealing with the Vargr requires a greater urgency than dealing with the Aslan.
Lucan's fleet transfer orders were the proximate cause for the fall of Corridor and Lishun. After Strephon's return to the Iridium Throne, he and IN command will attempt to reverse the worst excesses of those orders. While some of the IN assets arriving from Corridor and Lishun will be retained for use against the Ilelish rebels, a good portion will be directed back "home" to begin the campaign against the Vargr.
Additional orders will go out to the sectors still resisting the Vargr assault directing them to assist in clearing the occupied sectors. The assistance each sector will be able to provide will depend heavily upon its current situation. Antares, hardly touched by the current troubles, will do most of the work clearing Lishun. The Spinward Marches however, pressed coreward and rimward by Vargr and Aslan, and with the Zhodani watching, will do well enough simply to stay afloat at first. Deneb and Vland, assisted by portions of the Corridor sector fleet, will do most of the work clearing Corridor. Deneb will also have to send forces into the Trojan Reach to deal with the Aslan, but that will be detailed in the proper section.
Operations against the Vargr will be difficult. The Corridor Pacification campaign in the early days of the Imperium took 138 years, but those campaigns may have included the eviction of entire populations of planet-bound Vargr. In only a few years of occupation, the Vargr have not had enough time to move masses of settlers into their new territories.
For a variety of reasons, the Vargr forces in the occupied territories will be formidable, but fragile. It is obvious that no clutch of corsairs undertook the major Vargr assaults and subsequent occupations. Corsairs may have led the way, but major naval assets were needed to beat down the Imperium's colonial forces in the now occupied regions. Either naval formations from the bordering Vargr polities were dispatched or the same forces mutinied and arrived on their own. However they arrived, their lines of supply for the specialized items every warships needs will be tenuous and thus open to Imperial raiding. The Vargr occupiers will be able to extort or confiscate simple supplies, food and the like, but the spare parts, repairs, and other specialty items their warships require are only available in the Extents. The Imperium will have a field day disrupting Vargr supply lines and smashing Vargr merchant convoys.
The Imperium will also enjoy an immediate technological and an eventual numerical advantage over the Vargr occupation forces. Ship for ship, the Imperium will be better than the Vargr opposing them. Once Imperial war production ramps up, the Imperium will also outnumber the Vargr.
Another factor to remember is that in this campaign the roles have been reversed. The Vargr will be forced to either defend their conquests or retreat from them, both of these decisions means victory for the Imperium. Rather than the Imperium trying to chase down will-o'-the-wisp Vargr corsairs skulking in backwater systems, the Vargr will be found trying to defend the systems they've occupied. This means the Imperial hammer will have something to hit, a rarity when dealing with the Vargr.
This period when the Imperium muscles the Vargr out of their occupied territories will be a very dangerous one for the local human populations. They will be little more than hostages for a species that has no compuctions regarding mass murder, as the Sack of Gashikan showed. Despite all of the Imperium's efforts, there will be scattered incidents of genocide committed by both sides. Some worlds may end up looking like they did at the end of the Official Timeline's Viral Era.
While evicting the Vargr occupation forces will prove to be relatively easy, cleaning up the sectors after the main Vargr forces have been removed will be very hard. Once the border is re-established and the major Vargr assets either destroyed or chased back across, the old roles reassert themselves, with the Vargr as raiders and the Imperium as chasers. This is where the Imperium's long term Vargr strategy must be overhauled.
When dealing with Vargr corsairs there is no central territory to take the fight to. Sure, fleets and squadrons belonging to the Vargr polities can be identifed and those polities dealt with, but, given the nature of Vargr society, the polities that dispatched those forces into the Imperium will no longer be in power when the reckoning comes due. Imperial forces will once again find themselves chasing the same chimeras they did in the pre-war era.
One solution that is sure to be tried in the establishment of a DMZ of sorts. The Imperium simply would not tolerate any starport in any system within a certain number of parsecs of it's official border. There may be Imperial controlled starports in this zone, but any facility that may conceivably aid or abet corsairs would be either destroyed or occupied.
This option will entail a great amount of spending and an even greater number of forces. The Imperial presence will even further exacerbate Vargr public opinion across the Extents. Might there be another way to go about it? It seems there may be one after all; look at the Julian Protectorate.
That interstellar state has managed to live with the Vargr both within and without for millennia. While the Imperium spends trillions on fleets and fences, the Julians somehow do without either. How does the Protectorate do it? Unfortunately, I have no idea.
Despite being only one of two states to have fought the Imperium to a standstill, the other being the Zhodani Conuslate, and being the largest "Vargr" power in known space, the Julian Protectorate is the least detailed major power in the OTU. We know how it came into being and we know how it kept itself out of the Imperium, but we have only the slightest of clues as to how it is actually run or of it's internal policies.
It would do the Imperium no end of good to study the Protectorate and identify just how it deals with the Vargr. The Imperium has just the sophont to head such a project, the Archduke Brzk. While Imperial forces clear Corridor and Lishun and hunt down the swarm of corsairs left behind, the Archduke of Antares can begin this extremely long term project.
Whatever the results and findings of the Archduke's efforts, it is clear that the benefits won't be felt immediately. This project is a gift Strephon will be giving to his heirs and the future subjects of the Imperium, but he'd be wise to start on it now.
The Aslan incursions present the Imperium with an entirely different set of problems. Fotunately, they also can be handled in several different ways.
The ihatei are simply migrating. Rather than occupying systems as a gaggle of pirates like the Vargr, the Aslan want to actually settle there. They bring along both noncombatants and nonmilitary equipment. The presence of both of these makes the ihatei fleets much more easy to deal with when compared to the Vargr.
The Imperium's first order of business should be the reassertion of the pre-war border. IN elements operating in the Trojan Reaches should occupy the border region as soon as practical. Any ihatei migratory fleets should be contacted upon crossing that border. Please note, I did not say engaged or turned back, the forces the Imperium has in the region may not be enough to do either of those things at first. Instead, the ihatei should be contacted and warned that they are violating Imperial space and will be subject to attack at any moment as they move deeper into Imperial territory.
The Aslan are big on formalities, providing them with a warning will be seen by them as both natural and correct on the Imperium's part. Then, when their military vessels are destroyed and their noncombatants escorted back into Aslan space, there will be fewer hard feelings and fewer reasons to try and "correct" any dishonorable Imperial behavior.
The campaign against the Aslan will take three forms. There will be ihatei that are destroyed, there will be ihatei that are co-opted, and there will be ihatei that are accepted. Striking a balance between these three options will be the Imperium's hardest task.
The majority of ihatei settlements will be evicted, especially those in strategic systems. Their military forces will be engaged and destroyed, then the Aslan that surrendered and all noncombatants will be escorted out of the Imperium. As with the Vargr, the Imperium will enjoy an immediate technological edge in this fighting and an eventual numerical edge when war production ramps up. The Imperium will also be able to use the fractured nature of Aslan society, Imperial forces will be able to concentrate on each "pocket" of ihatei separately without much fear of other ihatei joining the fight.
Some ihatei will be co-opted. Particularly tough fleets or those with long standing feuds against other ihatei will be suborned, but the overall number handled this way will be few. The Imperium would be foolish not to exploit the factions and fissures in Aslan society. "Hiring" one ihatei fleet to destroy another in return for land could be a common tactic. The "hired" ihatei could merely take over the other faction's settlement. This tactic has the bonus of setting a precedent among the "hired" ihatei, they have now worked for the Imperium. Having taken Strephon's shilling, they'll be more likely to do so in the future.
A few ihatei fleets may be simply accepted. Small groups of ihatei squatting in backwater systems will be good candidates for this. Small ihatei fleets intercepted deep in Imperial territory before they can settle somewhere will be good too.
These ihatei may acquiesce Imperial overlordship and swear fealty to Strephon in return for their land, as many Aslan in the Imperium already do.
Or they may desire to do the Imperium a service and earn their land, such as fighting the Vargr and settling along the Imperium's rimward borders. Ihatei that may balk at fighting other Aslan would willingly take on the Vargr. A series of Imperial-supported ihatei settlements along the border with the Extents would make setting and patrolling the proposed DMZ much easier.
Finally, ihatei remaining in the Imperium will be subject to the same cosmopolitan social forces that the previously settled Imperial and Darrian Aslan are. Unlike the Vargr, Aslan behavior is cultural, not genetic. Canon has many references to how differently Darrian and Imperial Aslan behave, compared to their brothers in the Hierate. It will take generations, but the Aslan will be eventually absorbed.
A final Imperial strategy may be to search out the Aslan fleet dispatcher and challenge him to battle. The fleet dispatcher has been what passes for a co-ordinator of the ihatei incursion and is thus the most "senior" Aslan in the region. Dealing with him successfully may bring most of the incursions to a halt. The Imperium did this once before in the Dark Nebula sector. They fought a "duel" war against the most powerful Aslan in the area, won that war, and have enjoyed a stable border region ever since. Winning a similar duel against the Trojan Reach fleet dispatcher would bring about a similar result.
In clearing the Trojan Reach of ihatei, the Imperium will enjoy one luxury that they don't when dealing with the Vargr. As long as the Imperium takes care not target or harm ihatei noncombatants, Imperial civilians will be safe. The ihatei will not slag the worlds they are forced from or kill civilians out of hand the way the Vargr will. Such behavior is beneath them.
Both the campaign against the Vargr and the one against the Aslan will take time. The Vargr will be evicted relatively quickly from the regions they occupy, but cleaning up the mess left behind will take decades. The Aslan will have to be pried out of every system they're found squatting in. However, once beaten, each ihatei faction will "honor" their defeat and cause the Imperium no further trouble.
Strephon, using the natural strengths of the Third Imperium and not falling into despair and panicking as Lucan did, should be able to see most of the Imperium's wars settled within a decade.
The Ilelish Rebellion, although presenting the most immediate danger, will come to an end first. The weight of the Imperium, the failings of Dulinor's leadership and that of his faction, and the promise of amnesty and reform will cause the Rebellion to collapse both within and without.
The Second Solomani Rim War will grind on for most of this period, the stated goal of the Imperium; forcing the Solomani to sue for peace, will ensure this. Eventually, the Imperium's superior technology and superior numbers will begin to tell on the Confederation. The Confederation, a prison house of nations much like the pre-WW1 Austro-Hungarian Empire, will fracture into it's separate components. Regimes and regions closer to the pre-war Imperial border will break away and sign their own peace accords with the Imperium. The hard-line racist rump of this fascist Confederation, the part that never was part of the Third Imperium, will be forced to give up the fight. The Imperium and Confederation will now be separated by several parsecs of neutral and client states. A better border should lead to a better peace.
The Vargr will be driven from the sectors they occupy. Like the barbarians of old, they are merely a thin crust of military forces lording it over the mass of society. Although the occupations forces will be beaten easily, Vargr rading will be a large problem fro some time to come. However, if there is to be a lasting peace along the rimward border, the Third Imperium will need to examine relations with the Vargr very carefully and try to apply some of the lessons it may learn from the Julian Protectorate.
The Aslan may prove the lest trouble of all. Some ihatei will be destroyed and forced out of Imperial space. Others may be turned into Imperial lackeys or subjects. If approached and handled correctly, the Aslan fleet dispatcher himself may prove to the Imperium's best friend along the Trojan Reach border.
Fighting all these wars will require the nobles and commons to be first rallied, then held, to the cause. Strephon and his adivsors will need to keep an eye on the mood within the Imperium, especially on the high population worlds where most Imperial subjects live. War weariness will set in, even away from the fighting fronts. Every effort must be made to be seen as restoring and rebuilding the Imperium. Those tasks and those goals must be kept in the forefront of the nobles' and commons' minds.
Strephon must place these wars in a larger context, one in which the Imperium becomes a better place for all it's inhabitants, "the broad, sunlit, uplands" of Churchill's prose. There must an ultimate goal held before nobility and commons alike, one that they are all striving towards. That goal should be the reform of the Imperial system as a whole. If the Imperium is worth fighting for, it's worth fixing too.
The Imperium, which was revealed to have major systemic problems by the Assassination, requires reform. Strephon's reintroduction of the Domains was an attempt at reform, Dulinor's rebellion was another, albeit disastrous. Before the murders in the Throne Room, Strephon was restrained by societal inertia, custom, and a host of other factors. His recreation of the Domains illustrates that fact. Now, during this decade long time of crisis, those strictures have been loosened. Strephon will be able to make changes that seemed inconceivable only a few years before.
The Strephonic Reforms
Prior to the Assassination and subsequent Rebellion and Invasions, Strephon was a reformer. He expressed concern about the rise of discontent within the Imperium and the malaise that seemed to have sapped its strength. He chairs a conference of psychohistorians, held in secret, to address the problems he sees within his realm. Against the the advice of the Moot, he reestablishes the Domains and recreates the Archdukes as a pathway for reform.
Whether his efforts would have ever prevailed over the entrenched interests, societal inertia, and restraints of custom cannot be known. Dulinor's killed more than just Strephon's family, he also killed Strephon's first, small attempts at reform.
But, the Assassination, Rebellion, and Invasions will also provide Strephon with an incredible opportunity for sweeping changes in the fabric of the Imperium. The Imperium is in flux, the constraints that hobbled Strephon's earlier reforms are now either removed or changed. The Emperor will grasp this chance readily. If he can succeed and make the fundamental changes to strengthen the Imperium, then all the lives lost to war, rapine, and rebellion may not have been for naught.
His gift to the millions of dead, his way of honoring their sacrifices, will be the reform and refounding of the Imperium.
Reforms in communications
One of Strephon's immediate reforms must be of the Imperium's communication net. That net, primarily comprised of jump4 X-boats, is technologically backward and operates over irrational, suboptimal routes. Reform will have to deal with both of these problems.
The jump4 technology used by the X-boat system made sense at the time of that system's creation in 624, nearly five centuries ago. As technology improved and higher jump numbers could be achieved, upgrading the network was always put off. There were good reasons for this; the cost would be great, only a few worlds could produce the necessary components, Imperial technological inertia, and so on. However, the real reason behind the decision not to upgrade the system lay in the use to which the system had evolved. The X-boat system was no longer used for communication. Instead it was now used for control.
Those in power, whether in government or business, had access to a jump6 system of couriers. They received and sent information among themselves at a far greater speed then that available to the common herd. They used this ability to help them control and rule the Imperium.
This dirty little secret was obvious to anyone who bothered to think about it. The Assassination and subsequent events simply brought it to more peoples' attention. That in itself will be a cause of discontent among Imperial subjects.
Also, the fact that the Imperium uses two "nervous systems"; one fast and secret, one slow and public, means that the Imperium is less nimble or agile than any of it's opponents, be they foreign or domestic. News of an opponent's actions may reach the nobility via jump6 couriers with public notification arriving much later at jump4, as did news of Dulinor's murders in the Throne Room. The news received may require immediate attention, but those in power must ensure their actions do not revel the existence of the secret jump6 system. That alone limits the options available to them.
Not just the equipment used by the X-boat system requires upgrade, the routes flown must be upgraded too. Look at the X-boat route between Mora and Regina, for example; why should it swing through the Lanth subsector at all? The secret jump6 couriers do not travel by that route, so why should the public X-boats?
The idea that the X-boat system follows major trade routes has been proven false. Discounting random generation of these routes, the X-boat routes must have been set up along lines of patronage. Worlds and nobles with enough "pull" influenced the flight paths. This must be corrected. Adding a few weeks communication time between important worlds just because the Marquis want an X-boat link in his current mistress' home system cannot be tolerated anymore.
So, by way of reform, Strephon must direct the eventual upgrade of the X-boat system to a jump6 capability and rationalize the routes flown by the system. The equipment upgrades will require decades, especially with the demands placed on the Imperium's industrial base by the several ongoing wars.
The rationalization of routes can happen much faster and will pay immediate dividends. At a minimum, every sector and subsector capital, every high population world, every naval depot, and every strategic system would be linked together by the existing jump4 equipment along a short a route as possible. Weeks could be shaved off the Mora-Regina route alone. All the weeks saved along the new, rational routes would add up, so that the further you are from Capital, the more time you save.
As the jump6 equipment comes on line, the surplus jump4 boats can be used elsewhere. The new X-boat network will resemble the US air traffic system in some ways. There will be "hubs" linked by fast jump6 craft, jump4 vessels radiating out from these along "spokes", and jump2 Suleimans filling in the gaps.
One final improvement in communication specifically deals with the Domain of Deneb. The incursion of the Vargr into Corridor cut an entire Domain off from the Imperium. If the Zhodani had decided to strike, the Domain could have no longer been Imperial territory. Other communication routes across the Rift must be arranged and regularized.
This could involve large numbers of deep space fuel depots (TNE's calibration points) or the annexation of the Islands Cluster. Being a noted Islands crank, I'll only discuss that option.
Speculations as to why the Islands are not already part of the Imperium are rife. While the real reason lies in the fact that we're dealing with a game and not reality, you can make some near plausible arguments for the Islands continued independence up to the Rebellion era. Those arguments don't amount to much after that however.
Whatever the Imperium's reason were for leaving the Islands alone was, it didn't hold water for the Regency. That polity easily annexes and garrisions the Islands across a mulit-parsec gap. Strephon's Imperium can undoubtedly do the same.
Two deep space refueling depots give the Imperium a route between the Core and Deneb that is beyond the reach of the Vargr, although the Aslan could prove troublesome on the Denebian end of the route. The annexation, or conquest, or other approach to the Islands will have to wait until Dulinor has been dealt with. While Norris could begin operations along the Islands route from his "side" of the Rift, the link up with the Imperial Core will have to wait until Ilelish is returned to the Imperial fold.
Strephon's reform of the Imperial communication systems will allow information to flow more rapidly and be shared more equably. The Third Imperium simply cannot afford to have communication between its components parts artificially slowed. This new speed and equability of communications should help the far-flung portions of the Imperium feel a new closeness with one another, besides allowing Imperial governance to react more quickly to any events.
Reforms in political structures
Strephon has an entire Domain, Ilelish, in rebellion. Another, Sol, is under attack and partially occupied where an entire sector, the Old Expanses, cravenly surrendered to the enemy. In addition, if you choose to believe it, the Vargr have overrun two sectors and the Aslan yet another.
The Emperor is asking the Imperial people to enter into a very long, very hard struggle to reverse this list of calamities. The Imperial will be at war internally and along its borders for decades at the very least. So, how will Strephon rally the people, a people he has feared were becoming discontented and apathetic, to this sustained effort? Part of the answer can be found where most of the Imperium lives.
High population worlds are the living heart of the Imperium. A tiny portion of Imperial worlds happen to hold the majority of Imperial subjects.
Any attempts to rally, restructure, and reform the Imperium must take these worlds in account. What would these worlds want from Strephon? What levers will he be able to use on them. An answer to that question may lie in how well those worlds have been treated by the Imperium. More specifically, how have those worlds been treated by the emblems of the Imperium those worlds deal with everyday, the Imperial nobility who live there.
If the dukes, counts, marquis, and barons, holding fiefs on a world have done their job correctly, then the world would have no discontent with the Imperium. Because there is discontent, those nobles must have drifted away from the goal of "nobility obliges" to a more selfish one. Strephon can remedy that little problem rather quickly.
Towards the end of Europe's Middle Ages, kings found themselves in a struggle for power with their own nobles. One way these kings created and improved on their power base was to grant charters to towns and cities freeing them from any claims the nobility may have on them. Strephon can imitate this practice.
In return for swearing fealty directly to him, Strephon can free worlds from their Imperial nobility. Doing so will be awkward and the Emperor will have to walk a very fine line indeed. Freeing too many worlds will anger the remaining nobility and granting too few charters will keep many disgruntled high population worlds aloof.
Many of the worlds freed from fiefs in this manner may in be regions "abandoned" by the Imperial nobility. Ilelish, whose rebellious nobles no longer owe fealty to Strephon, and the Old Expanses, whose nobility surrendered to the Solomani, would be places to start this practice. Although those regions are currently held by opponents to the Imperium, Strephon could let it be known that certain worlds would be reincorporated into the Imperium without being part of any noble's fief. This news alone should instigate a few counter-rebellions in the rebel held territories.
Another option Strephon can explore is giving high population worlds a greater role in the Imperium at large. As it currently stands, the only role a world has in the Imperium is the role that the Imperial nobility living there happens to have. This could be easily changed.
Strephon need only create subsector and sector wide Moots. The New Moots (or Senates, or Assemblies, or Things, etc.) would give worlds a route of Imperial representation outside of that of the nobility. They would provide both the worlds and the Imperium with many benefits.
The worlds would now be able to access or petition the Imperium power structure directly, rather than relying on the ability or political savvy of their nobles. The worlds would now have a feeling of involvement witin the Imperial system outside the system of the nobility. Committees within the New Moots could oversee, but not direct, the Imperial bureaucracy in their area. Policy suggestions could also be made and forwarded by these New Moots in much the same way they are made by the Imperial Moot at Capital.
The Imperium would gain the benefit of having another path for reporting local conditions. During the long planning stage of their plot, Dulinor and his conspirators were abel to either suborn or fool an entire Domain of Imperial nobility. With several subsector and sector sized New Moots in operation, keeping such a plot quiet and hidden would have been much more difficult.
While the work done by these New Moots would be similar across the Imperium, the structure of each, the name of each, and the method for selection of their members would depend heavily on local mores, customs, and sensibilities. A New Moot could consist of one or several houses, meet, deliberate, and vote in different ways, whatever seems right to the inhabitants of that region. The process by which New Moot members are selected would vary from world to world, region to region. Many members of the New Moots may be the Imperial nobles form that region. After all, they've got the necessary experience.
Representation within these New Moots would most certainly be proportional. In that way, high population worlds will not dominate the New Moots as easily as they might.
Strephon will not be instituting these reforms because he's some crypto-democrat masquerading as the Emperor of 11,000 Worlds. The Emperor is a consummate pragmatist however, just like his ancestor Arbellatra. In an attempt to shake the Imperium out of its malaise, he reestablished the Domains in the teeth of noble opposition. He can and will do the same with the "New Moots" program.
Sharing out a little bit of his power in return for restoring and strengthening the Imperium will not seem costly to him. Strephon has an abiding faith in the people, read his writings in the "Survival Margin". While his trust in the nobility may be shaken, he should have few qualms about engaging the general populace in the business of the Imperium.
Also, these reforms may not be mandated Imperium-wide at first. Obviously, those areas in rebellion or occupied will not receive them. There may be subsectors who do not wish to participate in the program for various reasons. But a network of lesser Moots, all engaged in oversight of the Imperial bureaucracy and local nobility will become part of the fabric of the Imperium. Hopefully, the New Moots will provide the Imperium with a set of checks and balances on the activities on the nobility.
Strephon's reforms to the Imperium's political institutions should help draw the mass of the Imperial population closer to the Throne. Freeing some worlds from their Imperial fiefs will allow them to interact with the Imperium directly and not through a layer of potentially self-serving aristocrats. Giving both the high population worlds and other systems a greater say in local affairs via the New Moots should engender a "stakeholder" feeling among the commons. Furthermore, the political reforms will give the Imperium an additional route of reporting, monitoring, and oversight. This series of new institutions will provide additional checks and balances within the Imperium's interstellar feudal system.
Reform of the Imperial nobility
By any measure, a good portion of the nobility has failed the Imperium completely. The nobility of an entire Domain is in rebellion. The nobility of an entire sector has surrendered to the Solomani. The mass of nobility comprising the Imperial Moot meekly knuckled under to Lucan and ushered him onto the Throne.
However, other portions of the nobility have served the Imperium admirably. Nobles are leading the fight against the Imperium's enemies on many fronts. Others helped Strephon regain the Throne. An Imperial nobility is an obvious idea, a polity the size of the Third Imperium could not be governed without them.
There needs to be some sort of a fix though. How can the Imperium hold the nobility to their tasks? How can the selfish, the rank incompetents, the wastrels be weeded out? The short answer is that, barring some major change in human psyches and behavior, none of that can be done perfectly.
Strephon can however raise the bar a bit.
One way would be to make the inheritance of noble titles slightly less automatic. Another would be to make stripping titles from nobles slightly more easy. This would require information and reports regarding the abilities and personalities of the nobility in question to reach the Emperor's attention. That job would be perfect for the New Moots.
As an alternate reporting structure, the New Moots could provide the Imperium with fitness reports regarding the local nobility. Nobles newly elevated to their positions could be more carefully scrutinized during their first few years on the job. Nobles about whom the New Moots have received complaints could be investigated too. In this way, the New Moots would hopefully act as tribunes for the Imperium as a whole.
The New Moots would give the Emperor, or dukes, or Archdukes another viewpoint to consider when confirming inherited titles or granting new ones.
The old boys network of local nobility would have to work much harder to cover up the deficiencies of a new heir with the New moots watching. The major peccadilloes of that baron just tapped for advancement would be much harder to conceal. Unfit candidates, self-serving hacks, the occasional monster, and incompetents could still get through the process, but no where near as often as they have in the past.
The handling of proxy votes in the Imperial Moot would be another area for reform. As it stands now, many nobles sitting in the Moot have been there for years, if not generations. The deals that granted them the proxies they hold were arranged as equally far in the past. Because of their long term stays at the Moot, these nobles are completely insulated from the very regions they purport to represent. No amount of tri-dee reports, agent summaries, and cyber memorandum can substitute for actual, on the spot visits.
This distance and insulation proved near fatal for the Imperium. There were nobles from the Domain of Ilelish sitting in the Moot who were as surprised by Dulinor's treason as anyone else. Not having been back to their fiefs in years and relying on bogus reports sent by traitorous underlings, these nobles suddenly found themselves in the dark. Everything they thought they knew about their fiefs was now a lie. Any noble who questioned the wisdom of visiting one's fiefs on a regular basis only needed to look at the fief-less nobles of Ilelish.
Procedures regarding proxies in the Moot should be changed. Whether Strephon can order these changes or merely suggest them is unknown. Lucan did disband that body for one year, so Emperors have some control over the Moot. Another way Strephon could initiate his reforms to the proxy system would be to make them part of every new nobles' oath of fealty.
As for the reforms themselves, multi-year sittings and generation-long proxies are right out. The nobles forming the Moot, theoretically all those in the Imperium, must make regular visits back to their fiefs. One way to encourage this would be to limit the amount of time proxies are good for and to forbid proxies being granted outside of the grantee's fief. For a count to receive a baron's proxy, the count must be his county. Yes, there will be ways to get around this, no system is human proof, but it should force the nobles rooted at the Imperial Moot to actually visit their fiefs once in a while.
All these reforms will create ire among many portions of the nobility. They will take umbrage at any questions regarding their fealty or work ethic. The nobles who complain the most about these reforms will be the ones who are most effected by them, i.e. the stiff necks, the wastrels, the selfish, and the incompetents. The nobles who actually perform their jobs, who believe that "nobility obliges", will take the reforms in stride. They have nothing to fear from increased scrutiny from their peers or the New Moots because they are already doing their jobs to the best of their ability.
The Imperial nobility will still wield great power in the future, but they will also be more scrutinized. While this scrutiny might fail or be subverted in some way, it can only help the Imperium as a whole.
The Pace of Reform
How quickly will the Strephonic Reforms take root within the Imperium and how extensive will they be? The short answer remains, as always, it depends!
You would have noticed that I divided the reforms into three major blocs, even though some of the details of each reform may have belonged to another. One example would be the New Moots' oversight of the nobility, it is mentioned in under the reforms to the nobility and not with the political reforms.
My dividing the reforms into these rough blocs did have follow a method of sorts. The reforms are discussed in order of their acceptance; the reforms in communications will be easier than the political reforms, which will be easier in turn than the reforms to the nobility.
The extensiveness of each bloc of reforms would follow this same hierarchy. Jump6 communications would be seen Imperium-wide relatively quickly, followed by the set-up of the New Moots. Some areas may choose not to take part in the New Moots program, but would still be tied into the jump6 x-boat net. Finally, the reforms to the nobility would lag behind the other two, largely depending on how the local nobility views the Emperor's policies. There could be areas in which the nobility fight or delay any reform to their powers as well as others that quickly accept Strephon's policies.
One good rule of thumb would be to both accelerate the pace of the reforms and increase the area of their acceptance wherever the Imperium has had to recover it's territory. With the damage done to the institutions there, Strephon would have a free hand to appoint new, and more tractable, officials.
Ironically enough, Ilelish, whose treason started this all, would be reformed more rapidly and more extensively than any other region of the Imperium. Another area that would see great changes would be the Old Expanses. Most of the Imperial nobility there surrendered to the Solomani and would have been purged, thus giving Strephon a clean slate on which work.
Just as the Imperium is not a seamless monolith, the Strephonic Reforms will not applied as such. There will be areas that, for reasons of politics or for cultural reasons, do not wish to participate.
The Imperial Heir
Strephon is nearly 70 years old when he returns to the Throne. He will have many immediate problems, but the one closest to him is also one of the most pressing. He needs an Heir, a designated successor, and he needs one quickly.
Strephon's father, Paulo III, lived into his nineties, so the Emperor may have another two decades on the Throne. The pressures of ruling the post-Assassination Imperium may shorten that however. The line of succession to the Throne needs to be cleared up soon.
There are several ways Strephon can go about finding an heir. He could marry again and produce the Heir, he could simply designate one of his living relatives as the Heir, he could adopt a likely prospect as the Heir, or he could create the Heir by other means. After looking at these options, I believe he has only one real choice, creating an Heir by other means.
An Imperial marriage would kick off a round of infighting among the major families of the realm that neither Strephon or the Imperium can ill afford. Each group would want the next Empress and next Heir to come from their bloodline. The machinations, backbiting, and palace intrigues that an Imperial bridal hunt would engender could do nothing but harm to the Imperium at this stage. A new Empress is not the answer.
Adopting an Heir or designating a living relative as one would be equally risky. Both would mean bringing an adult into the most private councils of the Imperium. Whether Strephon and the Heir wished it or not, factions would develop overnight between those who believed themselves to be following one or the other. Once again, the Imperial leadership would be seen as a bunch of squabbling ninnies, too busy fighting over their own perks and perceived slights to be bothered with saving the Imperium.
While creating an Heir, via in vitro fertilization and whatever surrogates, human or mechanical, are available in the 57th century has its own problems, they are least put off until the Heir comes of age. We know that the necessary materials are at hand for such a project. Indeed, the materials may be available in many parts of the Imperium. Strephon was able to fashion Avery at Usdiki naming the late Iolanthe as his mother. What's more, Margeret was able to bear twins in her faction capital and announce that Strephon was the father.
The announcement of the birth of the Heir, perhaps a year after Strephon's return to the Throne, will be a cause for great rejoicing among the Imperial people. The news that Strephon and the late Iolanthe again have a child will be seen fitting. The people will know that, like them, the Emperor also has a hostage to the future.
Whether the Wounded Colossus Heir will be male or female, enhanced, as Avery was, or not is entirely up to you. In my notes long ago, I settled the problem of the Heir easily enough, but left the details deliberately murky.
Two problems left for the future of the Wounded Colossus timeline will be the relationship between Strephon and the Heir and the possibility of a regent if Strephon dies early. Both could work against Strephon's legacy. An embittered Heir may come to see Strephon's work as wrong and work to undo it even before taking the Throne. A regent, holding the Throne for an infant Heir, could easily succumb to the lure of power.
Where were you, Strephon?
Sooner or later, most like even before regaining the Throne, Strephon will need to explain why he wasn't in the Throne Room on the day of the Assassination. This "explanation" will be tricky at best.
Strephon and his advisors are most definitely not going to reveal the existence of Longbow and the visions/signals received there. They're asking the people of the Imperium to enter in upon a decades long struggle, revealing that the apocalypse is due around 1200 won't help matters. So, the explanation cannot even hint about Longbow.
Yet, the reason Strephon was away must seem weighty enough. Simply announcing that the Emperor had slipped off to bowl a few frames won't cut it. The Emperor must be seen to be on the job at all times.
I tentatively penciled in the Cymbeline chips as Strephon's excuse for his absence. That was well before TNE used that same lifeform to destroy Traveller as we knew it, however. I thought the "discovery" of a sentient artificial lifeform would be "weighty" enough to pass as a reasonable excuse. Strephon would let it be known that he had been attending a conference regarding the sentience of the Cymbeline chips and leave it at that.
Whether you use the Cymbeline excuse or not is up to you. I'm sure any plausible story will fit into the setting; a secret weapons demonstration, sitting in judgement on a high peer, taking an emergency petition on a critical subject, a meeting insisted upon by an alien ambassador from one of the other Major Races, etc. The plausible explanations easily made.
Strephon the man
After posting the first part of the this flight of fancy, I was stunned to find that people were interested in Strephon as a person, particularily in his personality.
The Strephon the public sees, and to the Emperor everyone is the public, may not be the actually Strephon. The post-Assassination Strephon has become the Imperium's Marble Man. He is the living embodiment of duty and honor. He never shows any strong emotions, he never laughs, never smiles, never cries. His always unfailingly polite, perfectly correct in behavior and actions.
His eyes are his best weapons. When someone complains about the burden they are asked to carry or the size of the problem they must tackle or the impossibility of the task they have been given, Strephon merely looks at them with a stare that seems to bare their souls. The pain, grief, and determination they show can overwhelm even those who work with him daily. He doesn't need to stare at anyone very often.
The Imperial family's quarters in the Palace were destroyed along with the Ilelish Guard. Lucan began a restoration during his brief Usurption, but Strephon has not bothered to complete it. The other parts of the Palace damaged in the fighting have been long repaired and the Palace is still used for every purpose but one, Strephon no longer lives there. He has taken over part of the IN command center below the Palace has his quarters. There, in a suite of a few small rooms, the Emperor leads a very monastic personal life.
What does the Emperor do when he's alone? Only his valet knows, and it's not talking.
Of course, all of this could simply be the "spin" put out by the Emperor's PR men. He could actually be slowly sliding down a path of madness, driven by his grief and anger. After all, Strephon was Lucan's uncle...