Excerpts from the Plight of the Castes (part 2 of 3) is one of the retrospective articles prepared by CDN members to illustrate the events and changes that occurred during the year following the Reaper War.
See Part 1 of 3.
Excerpts from the Plight of the Castes (part 2 of 3)
Following the Reaper withdrawal, all was quiet on the industrial world of Erszbat. Government cooperation made the depopulation of the once-thriving world easy for the Reapers, and many of the cannibals deployed across the rest of the galaxy had their origins here. Focused as they were on population centers, the hinterlands and slave posts were left to rot. As the galaxy rallied and fought back against the alien menace, the Reaper harvesting programs intensified, leaving the cities of Erszbat nothing but empty shells. Even the complicit government officials were, in the end, harvested as reinforcements for the Reapers, and so as the menace passed it was the farmers and miners, former slaves almost all, who made their way into the empty cities and took for themselves what had never been theirs before. These were not the educated, nor the wealthy, nor even the particularly informed - merely the oppressed citizens of a harsh regime that was nowhere to be found. Their early efforts at organization resembled work gangs more than any kind of government, and when these gangs did begin to unite it was almost always violent. Eventually, to stem the violence that tore through the most inhabitable and pleasant areas of the remaining cities, local gangs established councils wherein members of each were represented. These councils soon made contact with other cities and settlements following similar patterns, and though violence remained commonplace it was at least with a final goal in mind
Much of that changed suddenly with the discovery of a new player
The indoctrinated government had long preached the existence of a rebel element, made up of both anti-Hegemony rebels and StateSec agents that turned traitor soon before the Reapers’ arrival, using them as bogeymen to keep the populace watchful, fearful and obedient. Although none remained to know it, they turned out to be absolutely correct. Such a group did exist, using the knowledge of StateSec secrets and the experience of those who opposed the Hegemony for years to remain hidden from the government’s sight, staying underground (often literally, in forgotten bunkers and bomb shelters), gathering their strength. Taking the name that the indoctrinated government gave them as their own, the Cabal had taken over a number of abandoned manufacturing complexes and hidden military depots, by force if necessary, clearing them of looters or remnants of Reaper forces. Although few in number (some say as low as less than a thousand strong), the group counted amongst its members many experienced soldiers and guerilla fighters, veterans of many battles (often against each other), as well as many skilled workers covertly rescued from the harvesting process. The Cabal’s unrivaled access to high technology gave it an important position on the resurgent Erszbat, even if they chose to stay away from the squabbles and politics of gangs and city-states.
By the time Erszbat made contact with the survivors on other worlds in the Kite’s Nest, it had the beginnings of something resembling a democratic government, and negotiations were handled by a council of leaders representing cities and groups across the planet, though the Cabal’s existence long remained a public secret. The gangs had become political parties of a sort - parties which could never forget their origin in the mines and fields of the former Hegemony. Industry slowly ground back into motion, and the cooperation of the former government had led to most major facilities being spared the destruction visited on planets like Khar’shan. However, with the lack skilled workers to run these facilities, and the Cabal’s small numbers and unwillingness to part with their technology, the industrial recovery on Erszbat remained limited in scope.
Even then, it was enough to ensure a prominent place in the political dynamic of the Kite’s Nest. Even if the planet’s production wasn’t to the level it had been before the war, the mostly-intact infrastructure granted the remaining population significant advantages over their brethren elsewhere. The former slaves now in control of the planet were quick to leverage that potential into concessions from more conservative worlds, and while the caste system remains dominant on many former colonies, those wishing to trade with this relative powerhouse have largely extended the traditional rights of the nobility to those of lower rank. Others, faced with the potential for uprisings and disaster, ceded such rights to their slaves well before making contact with Erszbat. On many worlds, while still symbolically relevant. the castes are now legally and politically equal.
As contact slowly resumed between former Hegemony worlds, most discovered that the governments elsewhere had followed similar paths. Only on a handful of worlds did the governors maintain power, whether by violence or sheer luck, and those with ex-slaves and casteless now in charge had no sense of how to establish the vast bureaucratic machine required to function on an interplanetary scale. Many of these worlds had followed unique paths, whether the crimelords of Camala or the fanatic anti-slaver work gangs on Erszbat, and the only truly common feature was that none of them wanted a new Hegemony. After some tense discussion between varying parties and the acknowledged leaders of numerous factions, most of the newly slave-run worlds took a cue from the major government they knew best besides their own: The Council.
Where some of the colonies declared themselves independent, and some formed the Batarian Council, some of the colonies - most often through violence - held onto the traditional batarian cultural rights, namely the right to own slaves. Their leaders were quick to declare themselves the rightful successors of the Hegemony. When communications were restored, these colonies quickly found themselves surrounded by planets on which government was now handled by former slaves, and when these other colonies refused to recognize their authority, they bonded together to protect their rights from the abolitionists, forming a council of their own consisting of leaders from all the pro-slavery planets.
These colonies - most of them agrarian or hosting otherwise manpower-heavy industries - began a quick reconstruction, alarmed that the hugely outnumbering abolitionists would attack them to set the slaves free.
The inefficiency and instability of the new political system has caused many worlds on which the local government maintained its hold to become even more traditional, seeing Erszbat as proof for their fears of chaos and anarchy. Few in number but quick to band together after the war, these conservative worlds soon took on the moniker of the Na’Hesit in an effort to tie themselves more strongly to heroes of the old Hegemony. Supporters of the ideology colloquially refer to Erszbat as ‘Wastebin’ and Camalans as ‘Scumlords’, arguing that too much freedom leads to chaos, and that the lesser castes are not ready for the burdens of leadership and power. Definitions of ‘ready’ vary planet by planet; the most traditional ones believe that they will never be ready, that the generations of ‘bad blood’ in their veins have made them genetically inferior to upper castes, and that they can never be equal to those above them. Some planets, however, believe that they should begin to educate the lesser castes, then gradually empower them to avoid politically immature populace pushing the society into chaos.
The Na’Hesit worlds were certain that the Batarian Council would invade them immediately, sure that in their new fervor they’d feel a compulsion to completely eradicate slavery from the galaxy, but Na’Hesit were mistaken. Where some of the more radical leaders of the Batarian Council advocated war to destroy the reactionary oppressors, most of the planets were not very keen on waging another war this quickly -- and against their own people. The Batarian Council and the Na’Hesit both recognized the threat of Terminus Systems, which ran now almost completely unchecked by any foreign power, realized that divided they would be much easier for the Terminus to invade.
After much deliberation, the Batarian Council decided to send an envoy to the Na’Hesit to discuss unity. At first, the suspicious Na’Hesit leaders refused to even meet the envoy, refusing to negotiate with abolitionist traitors. But that wasn’t the only reason; the Na’Hesit believed this to be simply a plot to deceive them, and tried to stall as long as possible. The Batarian Council kept trying to contact them, while turning its attention on the neutral colonies simultaneously, beginning to influence the antislavery factions on them.
The Na’Hesit realized that they could not remain isolated and allow its own influence be gnawed away, and finally met the Batarian Council. The negotiations lasted for weeks, both sides storming out several times due to disagreements. At times, it was thought that the only possibility was war, especially after the Na’Hesit threatened to launch an assault to stop abolitionists from gaining power on several neutral colonies. Eventually, however, an uneasy peace was reached, with the leadership of both parties forming something akin to a parliament - the Batarian Confederation was born. Not long after, other factions were given membership - colonies undecided or unaligned with either movement, uneasy protective alliances formed by the crews of remaining spaceworthy ships, as well as representatives of the Khar’Shan theocracy and the Erszbat Cabal, both of which proceeded to quickly leverage their unique positions to gather influence and try to further their own goals.
While an impressive show of post-war unity, the Confederation remained a virtually powerless entity unable to stop border wars even between its own members. Every major decision-making attempt led to a deadlock, with Batarian Council members (collectively known as Ub’Hesit, or anti-slavers) and the Na’Hesit opposing one another even on mutually beneficial proposals. As a result, worlds among both factions tended to their own affairs and effectively ignore the grand pronouncements of their ostensible representatives.
All of which changed when the fleet came home.
The discovery that the galaxy outside the Kite’s Nest had survived, that the Council worlds had survived in better shape than those of the Hegemony and that the final battle had taken place over Earth itself surprised everyone. Despite their past hostility and the enmity between the races, humanity had now contributed something that even the most die-hard Hegemony fanatics couldn’t deny, and so a grudging respect for their old rivals spread throughout the Confederation. Ub’Hesit members saw the relative success of the worlds beyond the Nest as vindication, proof that their approach was the correct one and tried to use it to heighten their influence among the neutral colonies, though with only minor success. This may have led to a gradual waning of Na’Hesit power, had not the fleet brought news from the rest of the galaxy.
Made up of varied elements from across the former Hegemony and fresh from witnessing the final defeat of the Reapers, the batarian fleet was itself a house divided. Upon its return to the Kite’s Nest, only the charisma and influence of Admiral Ka’hairal Balak kept it from splintering along faction lines the way the Hegemony itself had, narrowly avoiding disaster. While the Confederation worlds possessed some basic military forces, mostly militia and transport shuttles, they were nothing compared to the strength and professionalism of even a fragment of the former Hegemony fleet, and so Balak found himself a powerful political figure whether he intended to be or not. To his great credit and in a move which would cement him as one of the first heroes after the Reaper War, Balak did not use his military strength to forge himself an empire or to eradicate either faction within the Confederation - instead, the fleet applied itself to maintaining balance and neutrality between the two sides. This was not an entirely benevolent gesture; without the element zero from Camala and without the industrial base of Erszbat, the fleet would not have long survived the return to the Kite’s Nest, while the traditionally conservative military could not commit itself to the cause of the Ub’Hesit without fracturing along the same lines as the Confederation. Even the otherwise isolationist Cabal took notice of the fleet’s arrival, and after tense, lengthy and secret negotiations, the group reluctantly put their support behind Balak’s fleet, their factories supplying it with desperately needed spare parts and equipment. By maintaining neutrality, Admiral Balak ensured that the fleet would survive, and neatly averted a war between the two deadlocked factions while strengthening the Confederation as a whole. In return, the Confederation incorporated the military as a restricted voting member unto itself, capable of breaking deadlocks. The stabilization provided by the fleet led to the development of an unofficial hierarchy of worlds within the Confederation; while no one world can claim to be the capital, three have risen to similar status: Khar’shan, for its religious and historical significance, Erszbat for its industrial and technological advantages, and Camala as a result of its wealth. While the Na’Hesit worlds initially possessed no similarly influential worlds, their greater unity provided them with the voting influence required, and the reestablishment of communication with Lorek gave them a symbolic if somewhat distant equivalent.
The first act of the Batarian Confederation following the return of the fleet was a blanket amnesty for all Terminus batarians. This surprising move, proposed initially by the Camalans, struck a chord with nearly every political interest in the Confederation: the Na’Hesit saw it as a way to bring the slavers and merchants of the Terminus into their fold; the Ub’Hesit saw it as an opportunity to spite the defunct Hegemony by bringing home political exiles; and the fleet saw a chance to expand its own capabilities by incorporating former pirates into the ranks rather than have them run wild among the ruined systems and worlds of the Confederation.
There was also opposition, however. The more hardline members of Na’Hesit weren’t particularly keen on accepting exiled criminals and other dishonoured batarians, and Ub’Hesit didn’t wish to welcome more supporters of slavery into the Confederacy. Some factions inside the military were also wary of integrating badly-trained and questionably motivated pirates as a part of the military. The supporters of the amnesty overruled the cautious faction, and the agreement was the first in its kind where a substantial number of council members broke the anti-pro slavery party line.
The subsequent influx of refugees was to meet all of these expectations, but soon the amnesty supporters realised that its opponents may have been worth listening to: the slavers of the Terminus systems sometimes proved unwilling to work within the bounds of the law; political exiles brought with them radical new ideas and entire ideologies which often ran contrary to what had been established since the end of the Reaper War; and pirates frequently proved both competent and resistant to military discipline, unwilling to fully incorporate into the Confederation. The only world which saw entirely the expected result was Camala, where the crimelords expanded their influence and brought their surviving pre-war business partners into the Confederation to plant the seeds of an even more powerful Grusto. Nevertheless, despite the new problems it introduced, the amnesty did accomplish its primary goal of rapidly increasing the population of decimated Confederation worlds.
Continue to Part 3 of 3.