The Elbianian Nebula
The Elbian Nebula lies near the rimward end of the Orion Arm. The remnant of a relatively minor nova, it is small as such stellar objects go, only about three light years across. It would be completely unremarkable, if not for the cult that arose in connection with it, and the carnage that they wreaked. The name of the Elbianian Nebula would become synonymous in galactic history for fanaticism, atrocity, and unprovoked aggression.
The Arrival of the Acolytes
About six hundred years after the end of the Qinglong Wars, a group of starships arrived in the Netus System, about two parsecs from the Elbian Nebula. The masked humans and jerekii aboard the ships, calling themselves Acolytes of the Face, claimed that they bore a message from the Face of The God in the Cloud. They said that a new deity, a superintelligence of near-infinite power, had been born within the Elbian Nebula, and that they were there to bring the people of the Netus System to the Way.
The Way apparently consisted of total subjection to the Acolytes. All inhabitants of the System must be monitored, so that The Face of The God in the Cloud could guide them. Total control of all AI and computer systems and networks was to be handed over to the Acolytes. The cult’s agenda seemed to be less about finding the way to salvation, and more about subjection to a superior intelligence.
As with most such situations, a few of the Netusi accepted, joining the Acolytes willingly. The rest refused, with varying levels of politeness.
For nearly a local year (7,825 hours), the Acolytes simply seemed to accept the state of affairs, and worked with those who had joined them, absorbing them into the new faith. Then, without warning, they launched coordinated strikes from ground and orbit on every bit of infrastructure, government, and defense in the system that was not under their control. The death toll numbered in the hundreds of thousands.
The Acolytes offered the survivors one more chance to submit to The Face of The God in the Cloud. Some accepted. The rest were struck with a gene-tailored bioweapon that killed within sixteen hours of exposure.
The Netus System was only the first target. Even before the first attack, ships of Acolytes had arrived at ten other systems nearby, and the pattern repeated itself. In the case of the Zharankhi System, word reached them of the massacres in the Netus System before the Acolytes there could complete their own preparations, and war broke out.
The Acolytes were far more coordinated than any other organization in that part of the Orion Arm at the time. Before the Zharankhi System’s worlds could mount a truly effective defense, the system was flooded with more starships, these purpose-built warships. The warships bombarded every habitation center that had not already been “converted” to radioactive debris. But word had gotten out.
Resistance and Counterattack
It still took the better part of 40,000 hours, objective, to put together an alliance of the resources and strength to oppose the cultists demanding that everyone worship a purported deity living in the Elbian Nebula. By this time, word was spreading more widely, as the Acolytes repeated their depredations in system after system. Their eagerness to use weapons of mass destruction made them difficult to stop. But the line was finally drawn in the Ypethr System.
A fleet that drew on the strength of two hundred worlds met the Acolyte ships as they entered the Ypethr System. After nearly a hundred systems’ worth of grim history, the fleet did not give the Acolytes a chance to engage, but opened fire at once.
The war in the Ypethr System lasted another 24,000 hours. Wave after wave of Acolyte ships attacked the combined fleet. Only after most of 7,000 hours had gone by without another attack did the counter-offensive begin.
By the time the last of the Acolyte ships were destroyed or driven back to the Elbian Nebula, it had been nearly thirty Old Earth years since the first ship appeared in the Netus System. The Netus System itself, by then nearly unrecognizable, was the last battleground of the war. Nearly six hundred Acolyte starships were destroyed in the Netus System. The alliance that fought against them lost nearly as many.
The remnant fled back toward the Elbian Nebula. The task force that followed them never returned, and no signals ever announced their fate. Any ship since that has tried to enter or pass through the Elbian Nebula has vanished. It has been nearly five hundred Old Earth years since the Terror, but the Elbian Nebula remains a no-go zone. Some believe that the Acolytes are still in there, waiting for another chance. No one really knows. It remains one of the enduring mysteries of galactic history.