The Orion Expanse


The Legend of the Expanse


Every species has myths, rumors and superstitions. It seems to be part of the natural evolution of intelligent beings. There’s a part of the thinking mind that dwells, at least on some level, on the things you can’t see in the dark.

But there are very few places in known space that have ever evoked those emotions in every species. The Orion Expanse is one of them.

The Orion Expanse is the nearly starless gap between the Orion arm of the Milky Way Galaxy and the Sagittarius arm, which is the next arm “inward.” Earth, and most of known space, lies near the edge of the Orion arm close to the Expanse. Of course, there are still thousands and thousands of stars in the gap, but they are dispersed so widely, and those stars tend to be so old, that traveling the Expanse is impractical.

It seems, for reasons that are not quite understood, that the edge of the Orion arm nearest to the Expanse contains some of the oldest stars in the known galaxy. Many of them are red dwarfs or giants which have spent nearly all of their nuclear fuel. This region, just before the Expanse, is known by humans as the Sea of Dead Stars.

So, why are people afraid to go there? Because many of those stars, billions of years older than our own, once had civilizations. Some of those civilizations, utterly alien and incomprehensible, attained incredible levels of power. They have all passed on, either becoming extinct for one reason or another, or, as some suggest, they “ascended” to another plane of existence that the human mind cannot begin to understand.

But some, it is suspected, did not leave or become totally extinct. For eons, alien species, and now humans, brave (or foolish) enough to explore into the Expanse have reported strange readings, attempted contacts by entities beyond fathoming, ghost ships of immense power, and encounters with seemingly intelligent creatures that make the blood run cold.

The general consensus among many different species is that there were a number of races that reached godlike power in the Expanse. They destroyed each other or, for some reason, abandoned the worlds in the Expanse. But they left things behind…machines, servant races, automated vessels, defense systems, etc. These things are totally alien to most known species, do not understand them, and may take intrusions into their old masters’ domains as an attack.

When other races informed humanity about the Expanse, humans found the tales hard to believe. For one thing, old Earth is on the edge of the Expanse. And humanity had no record of anything threatening from beyond the stars. But soon, human explorers had their own experiences, and so did the ships of the Protectorate.


The Terminus Line


About 10 years after the first war with the Arkhon, The Terran Protectorate sent an official expedition into the Expanse. The expedition included a Venture-Class Exploration vessel, a pair of Holstein pinnaces, specially equipped for long-range travel, and a Rama-Class destroyer for defense. What occurred in the Expanse is classified, but only one Holstein came back, with only three survivors. Immediately following the debriefing of the crew and examination of the logs, the Terran Protectorate declared the entire Orion Expanse and the Sea of Dead Stars as off-limits to Protectorate ships, and made it illegal to colonize beyond a line known as the Terminus. Earth itself is on the “wrong” side of the Terminus.

The Terminus line extends across the entire border of the Terran Protectorate that “faces” the Expanse. It stretches from Protectorate territory and between a mostly unexplored region of space between the Free Colonies and the Expanse, all the way to the border of the Xintrin Merchant Guild. The opposite side of the Protectorate from the Free Colonies has so far been devoid of any signs of habitable worlds or archaeological remnants, and is generally disregarded by most species. It is also far away from the Sea of Dead Stars, so there was no need for the Terminus to extend in that direction.

The creation of the Terminus, and the ban on colonization in the Expanse, led to most corporations deciding not to fund colonization even close to the Expanse. This was disastrous for what was then known as the Frontier Systems. All investment in their future dried up and they faced economic collapse. The Frontier Systems, angered and desperate, declared independence from the Protectorate and became known as the Free Colonies.

The Protectorate will not recognize any colony founded beyond the Terminus. Furthermore, the Fleet will not respond to emergency hails from beyond the Terminus, nor will the government approve trade pacts or land rights. This has, effectively, killed growth in that area…as the Protectorate wished.

There was fear that the Free Colonies would ignore the Terminus, but so far they have followed the Terran Protectorate’s lead. But this is not true for everyone.


The Lure of the Expanse

The story of the Orion Expanse does not end with the creation of the Terminus. Not all travel into the Expanse has ended. Despite the dangers, both real and imagined, many travelers and fortune hunters voyage regularly into the Expanse. Why? For the same reasons people fear it. Ancient, powerful civilizations may have left remnants of their society behind. Some of those remnants are extremely valuable. And some of the rarest contain such vast knowledge and power that they could change the face of the galaxy.

Whatever cultures once thrived in the Sea of Dead Stars, it is clear that several did so over a billion years ago. Any artifact that can survive a billion years of the passage of time is obviously constructed of remarkable materials or through incredible techniques. Also, such items seem to have been constructed for very important reasons. Some are weapons. Some contain lost knowledge. Some can be used as ciphers to unravel the mysteries of these ancient civilizations. All are considered virtually priceless. They are known as Deep Time Artifacts.

Enter the treasure hunters. FACE teams, alien (and human) governments, the Starfarers and Novaslayers, xenoarchaeologists, and even pirates and bandits regularly defy the Protectorate and the Xintrin Merchant Guild (who have their own laws against exploration into the Expanse). They are seeking these lost and fantastical treasures for a variety of reasons. Power, riches, or simply knowledge are the most common.

But the Expanse is off limits for a reason. There are not just superstitious myths involved, but real, tangible dangers that could not only threaten explorers, but possibly all of known space as well.

Many, many explorers in the Expanse never return. Some return, haggard and in far too many cases to be explained, insane. But a very few return with treasures, new technology, and experiences that inspire even more adventurers to take the risk.


Confirmed Threats


The Protectorate and other races have confirmed that there are identifiable threats within the Sea of Dead Stars that are quite horrifying by themselves, even if they do not match the scope and scale of the legends that surround the area.

The most well-known are the Berylan. One of the oldest known species, and one of the few that has mastered forcefield technology, they are extremely alien and hyper aggressive. The Berylan have been raiding both the Xintrin and other nearby species throughout known space for centuries. The races of the Empire of Many Suns blame the Xintrin for “waking” the Berylan by expanding too close to the edge of the Expanse, but the Xintrin believe contact with the Berylan was a matter of inevitability.

Eventually, the Xintrin Merchant Guild fought a full-on war with the Berylan, after the Berylan began a concentrated war of genocide against the Xintrin border colonies. The war ends with a Xintrin victory, but one costly enough to seriously deplete the Xintrin military for the foreseeable future. The Berylan’s main fleet was shattered, and the Berylan retreated back into the Sea of Dead Stars to lick their wounds. Try as they might, the Xintrin were never able to find the Berylan home world and end the threat. It is believed that the Berylan will be back, and in recent years there has been a rise in Berylan raider attacks in Xintrin territory and along the Protectorate border.

Another confirmed threat from the Sea of Dead Stars are the Vinali Raiders. Nobody is certain who or what the Vinali are, except that they are from the Sea of Dead Stars and that they are ruthless, vicious killers. Their corvettes sweep down on unarmed colonies, destroying everything. They randomly attack ships along the edge of, and into, the Free Colonies, and have destroyed several outposts. No one knows why they attack and no communications with them have been successful. They are marauders and destroyers, and there seems to be no rhyme or reason to their attacks. The only discernable pattern is that their attacks are increasing as time goes by.


Finally, the last “known” threat are a species called the Jotnaran. The most commonly told tale, from some of the older races, is that the Jotnaran are an ancient servitor race to some long-vanished godlike species. Their power is supposedly unimaginable, though they are a pale shadow of the greatness of their masters. There are, remarkably, no recorded contacts and no visual data on the species itself or its ships. It is believed that they are of giant stature, and their ships are built on a massive scale. The Jotnaran ships, each one unique, are very rarely seen outside of the Sea of Dead Stars, and are only known from early tales of exploration and attempted settlement, before the establishment of the Terminus. Some believe that the Jotnaran somehow know of the creation of the Terminus Line, and are content with the results. However, there is a fear that the continued incursions will one day wake the sleeping giants and be costly for humanity.