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Rise of the Orions

 

Exactly when trade began on the Rigel planets is not clear. RTA (Rigellian Trade Authority) records show cyclical profit trends going back for tens of thousands of years, but never a time when Rigel was not a well-known and well-trafficked. At least 100,000 years ago, Rigel IV was in operation much as it is now, though who came there, what they traded, and from where they came are all mysteries. It is possible that the Rigel planets were in use long before their sun was kindled-though how that might be possible is a subject for only the most fantastic of scientific speculation.

Enough data from Rigel and other sources exists, however, to paint a very complete picture of galactic history following the time of the Preservers. For many tens of thousands of years, including the Preserver Era, Rigel had no defense against the constant warfare of dozens of spacefaring races. Only alliances and short-lived combines claimed the system. The names changed, ruling races came and went, and blockades and battles continued with only occasional and brief pause. The Rigel system passed from hand to hand, usually a planet at a time, becomming a crazy-quilt like mosaic of settlements that were established, destroyed, re-established, and eventually abandoned.

Like all the rest, Botchok (Rigel VIII) had been picked over when it was only a cold-temperate wilderness. Alien narrations give no hint of any sentient life there, nor any sign that the Preservers were present. When primitive sentients first attacked a Yugai colony on Botchok, it was an astonishing discovery. Perhaps the primitives had been planted there, or perhaps they had always been there but were never noticed. After exterminating the attackers and their village, the Yugai commander paid them no more heed. Nevertheless, from that encounter forward, the Orions would always be a factor in alien settlement plans. Dating their first appearance is difficult, but it can be no more than 30,000 years ago.

The first Orions were club- and stone-wielding savages, scarcely into their Neolithic Age-hardly more than a nuisance to warp-driven, laser-armed races used to combat on strange worlds. The aliens captured them, enslaved them, and taught them to tend fields, clear land, hew wood, and draw water. The surviving journals of one P'tak of the Sugg describe the labor and difficulty of capturing alive any useful numbers of future slaves and the satisfactory work they performed once broken to the routine. Although aboriginal Orions were ingenious and hardy warriors, they seemed to grasp the value of learning agriculture. There were always some escapes, but there were also instances of Orions offering themselves for service, and now and again a tribe would trade slaves they themselves had captured for alien goods.

As they made such amenable slaves, they were soon taken offworld to work on other planets. One of the most poignant of all remaining primitive Orion cave-drawings shows a stick-figure spaceship, landing on the plains, with bulky suited stick-figure aliens capturing and carrying away stick figure natives. Such scenes were no doubt frequent, for as soon as the Orions became a valuable commodity, other races besides the Sugg raided Botchok to bear away a few for their own colonies. Because trained slaves were more valuable than Orion 'on the hoof', most raids were against settlements and their slave quarters-slavers stealing from other slavers.

P'tak himself claims to have been one of the first rules to arm his slaves against the raiders. As radical as the notion of arming slaves sounds, it became a nearly universal practice. Low-tech weapons, combined with the fear of being borne away from family, friends, and tribe, made the first Orion slaves their own best protectors-particularly because the raiders could not afford to shoot valuable property in self-defense. Orions were enthusiastic fighters, particularly against slavers.

Soon, Orions everywhere were trained to defend themselves. Not all the training was for self-defense, and not every weapon given them was low-tech. Eventually, the aliens used Orions as slavers, on Botchok and elsewhere, for who should know more about catching Orions, than Orions? Orion janissaries sprang up on other worlds, even in starships, and with much more destructive weapons than slug-throwers. The bloodthirsty Orions enjoyed their sport even if they did not understand its purposes or the arms they used.