The illustration depicts the view from the flag bridge of the cruiser "Pretoria". Visible out the port side are the corvette "Karoo Wind", the cruiser "Majuba", and accompanying aerial scoutcraft, comprising the Squadron Dingaan. This division of the Fleet Republic Vryheid plies the trade routes of the Southern Hemisphere and is depicted off the coast of Tianlong's Rest, a prosperous Diong-Gok archipelago that lies in the shadow of an ancient interstellar wrecksite. The Fleet Republic Vryheid is just one of the many nomadic Berger republics that endlessly cruise over the vast mudflat steppes and flooded alluvial plains that sprawl across the entire surface of Shindai, the second and only inhabitable planet of the Corvus system. Unlike the throngs of Diong-Gok clans who constitute the vast majority of the global population, the far less numerous Bergervolk are extraordinarily recent arrivals on Shindai, their forebears having first set foot on the planet just three centuries before as the ultimate culmination of a tortuous exodus across the stars. When the Dissolution Wars triggered the fragmentary collapse of mankind's spacefaring civilization and the abrupt halt of the interstellar shipping routes, the ancestors of the Bergervolk were stranded far out among the asteroid mining outposts and orbital ore processing stations of Beyers' Reach, a remote and uninhabitable system located on the bleak and empty frontier of deep space. Their very isolation on the fringe of interstellar civilization, however, initially insulated the Afrikander mining crews of Beyers' Reach from the worst excesses of the Dissolution Wars. Signed on for seven year rotations with the ZAMKOR mining conglomerate, the technicians, contractors, tug pilots, security officers, and corporate executives stationed at Beyers' Reach were at first unfazed by the sudden halt of resupply shipments and replacement personnel to their remote system with the outbreak of the Wars. But as the permanent wartime transit blockades in neighboring systems prolonged their isolation, the tension and unrest began simmering among the mining crews of Beyers' Reach as the weeks turned into months, and the months turned into years. The boiling point was reached when a convoy of badly damaged troopships limped into the system, carrying disheartening news of the ongoing wars and a decimated demi-brigade of mutinous Foreign Legionnaires. Bled dry by a decade of torturous campaigning among the primitive backwater worlds of the French nebulary territories, these hardbitten veterans had deposed their officers and, in the confusion of a general retreat, commandeered transports for the long voyage home. With the docking of their battered vessels at the primary ore processing station of Beyers' Reach, the sudden arrival of these war weary men and women and their mutinous mood proved an infectious catalyst for the restless ZAMKOR miners, who followed the Legionnaires' rebellious example. Practically overnight, the ZAMKOR corporate hierarchy was toppled, with the company employees seizing control of the various stations and outposts. The mutineers' self-elected leaders declared, in light of the diminishing ration stockpiles and the vanishingly small likelihood of further resupply, their intent to join the Legionnaires for the long voyage back to inhabited space. Better to make it back to civilization and be charged with breach of contract before a corporate tribunal than to starve and asphyxiate among the airless planetoids and asteroid belts of Beyers' Reach, they reasoned. The Great Exodus began with the loading of all salvageable company goods and property onto the "Springbok", a decommissioned interstellar ore hauler that had been docked in Beyers' Reach since the outbreak of the Wars. One by one, the ZAMKOR outposts and stations of Beyers' Reach were emptied of their crews, who piled aboard the "Springbok", joined by the Legionnaires, whose war weary ships were themselves unlikely to survive any further stresses of interstellar flight. Nevertheless, the cannibalized components and modules of the Legionnaires' ships proved enough to bring the critical systems of the "Springbok" back online, an invaluable contribution without which the exodus could not have proceeded. The ZAMKOR executives and administrators were the last to grudgingly leave their posts and board the "Springbok", still smarting at the employee mutiny and the simultaneous seizure and abandonment of so much valuable company property. At last the entire population of the system and much of its material wealth had been loaded into the cavernous cargo holds and crew quarters of the "Springbok", and with the ignition of the ore hauler's sublight drives, mankind bade a final farewell to the remote desolation of Beyers' Reach. The self-elected leaders of the Great Exodus had plotted a preliminary course back to the nearest inhabited system but on arrival found those worlds utterly devoid of life. Where thriving, prefab frontier settlements had once stood, only blackened ruins and burnt bodies remained. The terraformed atmospheres of these worlds had been burned away, and all around the system drifted the detritus and wreckage of savage orbital battles. Disheartened but not defeated, the miners and Legionnaires salvaged what they could from the smoldering hulks and blasted ruins and moved on. The next system told the same story, as did the following three. Once vibrant hubs of trade and interstellar travel, all turned into ashes and dust by the all-consuming fires of the Dissolution Wars. No survivors, no habitable worlds, only silent skeletal ruins and spacewrecks left for the lonely miners and Legionnaires to pick over for what could be salvaged. Left with the shattering conclusion that perhaps all the Outer Rim territories had been depopulated by the devastating conflagration of the Dissolution Wars, the leaders of the Great Exodus plotted a new course for the Solar territories, the beating heart of mankind's interstellar civilization, following the path of the old Eastern Trade Route and salvaging what they could from the ruined worlds along the way. A voyage that should have taken months at worst on conventional jump drives stretched into years due to the painfully slow sublight drives of the "Springbok", an intrastellar vessel that had never been intended for the longhaul trade routes. Even worse, the ship had been designed with a skeleton crew of just twenty in mind, so there was no chance of the ship's handful of hypersleep chambers accommodating the combined total of 600 Legionnaires and 3000 miners and shielding them from the ravages of time. Thus the ship's inhabitants gradually resigned themselves to the arduous realities of the seemingly endless voyage, and so it came to pass that an entire generation was born and reared aboard the "Springbok". These youths, born of steely Legionnaire blood, hardy Afrikander miner stock, or an admixture of both, knew nothing else but a transient life among the stars. Where their parents saw the shattered spacewrecks and blasted worlds of the Outer Rim as the bonechilling remains of the old world, the youths saw those same wrecks and ruins as romantic reminders of a golden age that they had never known and, besides that, lucrative sources of the invaluable technological relics that were necessary to keep their ship in good repair. Regardless of their parents' origins, be they from the war weary ranks of the Legionnaires, the snobbish elite of ZAMKOR's Kapenaar corporate executives, or the lowly miners and technicians of the company's Boer contractors, the new generation knew only the shared hardships of a life spent salvaging supplies and sustenance from the broken and blasted ruins of an older era, and from that they took their demonym. They called themselves Bergers, meaning "salvagers" in the Afrikander tongue of both miners and the assimilated descendants of Legionnaires, and their entire existence was spent endlessly journeying towards a home out among the stars that they knew only through the distant memories of their parents: a faraway place called Africa from which Kapenaar, Boer, and Legionnaire had all hailed from before the fall of civilization. The Bergers kept these fragile legends and half-remembered memories alive as the keystones of their birthright, gleaning whatever else they could from the fragmentary collections of texts and video archives that their forefathers had brought aboard the "Springbok". But the Great Exodus was brought to a sudden and unexpected halt after 81 shipboard years (three centuries for the outside world, adjusting for time dilation) of near continuous sublight travel, just two weeks after the last living survivor of the pre-Exodus days had breathed her last. Upon reaching the outer limits of the Corvus system, the trusty sublight drives of the "Springbok", perhaps sensing the sorrowful passing of that last loyal companion on their decades' long journey, succumbed for the last time to a critical system failure that the Bergers traced to the battered ore hauler's aging fusion power core. Concerned but unperturbed, the Bergers expended the last reserves of their maneuvering propellant to bring their vessel into high orbit around the second and largest planet of the Corvus system, safely out of reach of the space debris field the Bergers had come to expect from every one of the dead and abandoned worlds they had encountered. But below them lay a world unlike any that they had hithertofore seen. The planet of Shindai was, at a cursory glance, seemingly unmarred by the ravages of the Dissolution Wars that had been the ruin of every other formerly inhabited world of the 23 systems the Bergers had passed on their long journey from Beyers' Reach. Shintai had a breathable atmosphere, abundant amounts of water, nitrogen, carbon, and all the other key ingredients of life. But most shockingly of all, Shindai was marked by unmistakeable signs of active human habitation. Even with their low resolution orbital survey scopes, the Bergers could plainly see the flickering nighttime glow of cooking fires and fuel-burning lamps from the sparse and scrawny settlements clustered about the slopes and foothills of the scattered archipelagos of rock that slightly rose from the flooded plains and mudflat steppe of the northern hemisphere. The southern hemisphere, though clouded and obscurred here and there by the seasonal storms specific to that time of year, also flickered with unmistakeable weblike networks of electric illumination at times. And after the shock of realizing for the first time that they were not alone in the universe had worn off, indeed, it was the southern hemisphere that drew the Bergervolk's greatest attention, for there the orbital survey scans had revealed a veritable treasure trove of riches. Stretching for hundreds of kilometers across the vast mudflat steppes of the southern hemisphere, rusting cyclopean hulks of twisted and burnt spacewreck lay half-buried in the silt and mud, marking the final resting place for the battle fleets of two great interstellar powers that clashed in high orbit above Shindai three centuries before. The battle had been the last suicidal gasp of a dying civilization, and in an earlier war would have rated as only a minor skirmish between frontier patrol squadrons, but it was probably one of the final desperate actions of the Dissolution Wars and undoubtedly the biggest clash of military might that the backwater agricultural world of Shindai had ever seen. Punctured and torn by beam blasts and kinetic projectile impacts, the shattered and fragmentary skeletons of nearly thirty frigates and destroyers littered the southern hemisphere of Shindai in a debris field that stretched from equator to pole, the rusting wreckage further scarred by atmospheric reentry and deformed by planetary impact. Mixed in among this veritable spacewreck graveyard were the remains of a handful of even larger vessels; dreadnoughts, battlecruisers, carriers, and other capital-class ships, in their heyday, perhaps, the flagships of the doomed fleets of Shindai. It was here that the Bergers saw the salvation of their people and the key to their long journey home. Although the delicate jump drives and warp engines of the wrecked battle fleets were unlikely to have survived reentry and planetary impact, there were strong but dispersed residual energy signatures emanating from the all over the southern hemisphere, indicating the survival of at least one or more active reactor cores. These reactor cores, armored with hardened shielding and stabilizers to withstand the worst rigors of battle damage and catastrophic failure, could, once recovered, restore full power to the "Springbok" and complete the Great Exodus. Unfortunately the same shielding that had preserved any surviving reactors from the shock of planetary impact would conceal them from long range scanning, and with thousands of wrecksites dotting the planet, the search for an active reactor core would clearly be the work of years if not decades. In light of the inexorably deteriorating state of the core systems of the "Springbok" now that the vessel was running on emergency power reserves, the Bergervolk realized they had no choice but to land and seek their fortunes among the mudflat steppes of Shindai. In the last final weeks as the emergency power reserves of the "Springbok" drained towards empty, the Bergers frantically launched weather sats, topographical survey scanners, GPS modules, relay comm sats, and every other possible piece of orbital infrastructure they could retrieve from the decades of salvage that had accumulated in the cargo holds of the "Springbok". Aboard the vessel, the cavernous loading decks of the shuttlecraft were filled with every manner of ground and air vehicle that could be scrounged from the various hangars of the "Springbok", chief among them the great surface transports that had once been used as tractor engines for the planetary ore trains. The first landings were not a particularly momentous occasion, given the pressing need to rapidly shuttle all vehicles, supplies, and personnel from orbit to surface before the "Springbok" lost all power. But when the final flight of shuttlecraft arrived at the designated landing zone in the misty equatorial dawn, the Bergervolk were at last able to revel in the sheer magnitude of their feat and the vastness of the desolate mudflat steppe that stretched from horizon to endless horizon. After a generation spent crammed aboard the stifling confines of the "Springbok", the Bergers found the unending openness of the new world a perfect salve to decades of pent-up restlessness and the countless personal disputes and rivalries that had arisen from a lifetime of close-quarters living. The Bergers almost immediately began fracturing along family lines as they organized into the convoys of surface vehicles and prospecting scoutcraft that would carry them across the vast flooded plains of the new world. Without the shared duties and dangers of shipboard life to bind them together, there was nothing the old guard of the Berger leaders could do to prevent the fragmentation of their people into the dozens of family clans and hereditary factions that had survived the long journey across the stars. For though the Bergers had been united in the challenges and travails of their interstellar voyage, they never entirely forgot their disparate origins as Legionnaires divided by unit, corporate administrators divided by pay grade, and mining contractors divided by crew. Nevertheless, recognizing their shared vulnerability on an alien world and their common goal of acquiring an active reactor core with which to complete the Great Exodus begun by their forefathers, the Bergers finally managed to hammer out a loose form of unity under the banner of what they came to call the Vierkleur Konfederasie, the Four Color Confederation, during the last days spent unloading vehicles and supplies at the landing zone. Sharing the same network of communications and survey satellites, the Berger clans all swore to meet on an annual basis to share new findings and to come to one another's aid should the call arise. The eponymous four color flag they agreed to fly from their vehicles recalled the four pre-Exodus tribes of the Bergervolk; orange and blue for the two Boer tribes (Vrystaaters and Vaalpasche respectively), white for the Kapenaars, and green for the Legionnaires, but it was not long before the republican banners and insignia of the splintered families and clans began to wave proudly alongside that of the Four Color Confederation. The roots of their rudimentary alliance and clannish republics thus established, the Berger convoys turned their eyes to the horizon and began dispersing to all corners of the compass. With only a few weeks of meteorological data on hand and thus unable to forecast or predict the paths of the violent seasonal storms that scoured the flooded plains of Shindai, the Bergers valued the mobility granted them by their vehicle-borne convoys, keeping them one step ahead of the storms as they ventured from their equatorial landing sites towards their first confrontations with the old nations of the new world.