~Table of Contents~
POINTY STICK ERA OF SPACEFLIGHT (1969—2145)
Colonisation of Mars by corporate missions, chemical rockets.
Even the hardware left by missions without a mandate to colonise is often pressed into service by early colonists looking to extend their habitats.
2036: Foothold Station founded, first groundwork laid for the Orbital Federation.
Foothold Station, an early example of the Wet Workshop Movement, is thought to have been established around 2036. The existence of even these limited orbital habitats preceded the foundation of the Orbital Federation.
Early Nuclear Thermal Rockets (NTRs) are developed and deployed.
Electric and Hydrogen-cell vehicles now outnumber fossil fuel-powered cars two to one. Most of these vehicles now include self-driving modes, with a variety of responses — some regions have banned self-driving vehicles, others allow them only for private vehicles, and yet others have had to face the rising spectre of automation wiping out jobs everywhere from delivery drivers to taxicabbers to warehouses.
Early atomic rockets, including VASIMIR and MiniMag Orion designs.
Orbital Federation declared among the privately-owned space stations in Earth Orbit. Though a number of individual nations recognise either the sovereignty of the Federation or of individual habitats under its banner, the UN at large is unable to ratify an agreement — main opponents being the Chinese and India.
2054: North American Laser Launch Array built.
The NALLA, also known as Tall Nally, is built in Tallgate, Tx. This opens up orbital space both to many private corporations, and to smaller startup business interests.
2059: Atomic Rocket Wins Big Race article published.
First privately-built MiniMag Orion spacecraft, manufactured by Chung Atomics, wins a race against a leading chemical rocket competitor.
First manned mining of the Asteroid Belt brings a 100-metre diameter asteroid back to Earth, which causes a depression in the market for precious metals.
First longevity treatments become available to the public, at first for exorbitant costs but soon at much more affordable prices. Life expectancy in the developed world rises to 150 years, though in practice most people will live much longer than that as life extension medicine improves.
First commercial deuterium-deuterium fusion power plants.
Mars is settled increasingly by independent colonists, especially with early nuclear-powered liners slowly crossing the space between Earth and the Red Planet. Though Mars remains under the control of Earth (in the form both of the UN, and of the various companies and nation states which founded settlements) and each colony is largely independent, all of them are represented by the Union of Ares.
The Ares Union is told in unambiguous terms that as long as Martians purchase CHON shipped from Earth and leave Deimos to be mined exclusively by Earth interests, they will be allowed limited sovereignty.
Early forebears of the Terraforming Service begin work on Mars, using genetically engineered plants and oxygen-producing machines.
Despite the already-significant effects of the climate crisis on Earth, during the early 2070s it becomes clear that climate change feedback loops are in full gear. The rate of warming begins to increase rapidly, and with it the severity of extreme weather, flooding, and ecological disruption. The largest migrant crisis on Earth begins, fueling both the development of groundside arcologies and orbital space habitats.
Most food on Earth is produced by urban vertical farming and lab grown meat.
First Aldrin Cyclers to Mars are built, though with less than a thousand passengers these are mostly proof-of-concept vehicles motivated by the refugee crisis on Earth.
First Lunar ‘cities’ established during this period, including Tycho Base.
Orbital Federation recognised by the UN as Earth’s first extraterrestrial nation. Mostly its income comes from space tourism, microgravity manufacturing, and its status as a tax and data haven.
2072: Orbital Federation recognised by the UN as Earth’s first legitimate extraterrestrial nation.
With nuclear propulsion becoming increasingly available to labour cooperatives and even private citizens, the first generation of Belters use nuclear-thermal rockets to light out for the Asteroid Belt’s vast riches. Pallas is the first major rock of the Belt settled, home to refineries, ore processing, and the first major habitats.
Eros, Vesta and Ceres follow in the years to come, and a number of spin-stations begin to be built, though very little of the Asteroid Belt’s total volume has even been explored, let alone settled.
With Earth’s ecology in freefall, tensions begin to brew between China and the European Union. This fuels military posturing both on Earth and in space.
Work on Orion-Drive pulse-propulsion powered warships begins by major world powers, but faces strict competition from Nuclear Saltwater Rockets.
First manned missions to the Outer System are sponsored by corporations and space agencies, primarily to the Jovian System, including the first mission to Europa. All of these are performed by VASIMIR nuclear rockets.
Orbital Federation grows in power and influence and, despite having no military or naval forces, wields considerable soft power in the form of their lucrative position, both due to economics and international politics.
2108: JMC Hijacking.
The Hijacking of the Twelve, in which twelve Jupiter Mining Corporation spacecraft are hijacked by disgruntled workers, leads to the first colonies among the Jovian moons. Though the United Nations isn’t pleased, it’s willing to let the burgeoning Circum-Jovian culture live out of fear of the political ramifications of acting against the colonists, especially with the colonies on Mars chafing under Earth’s imperialism.
Bulky, low-thrust Deuterium-Deuterium fusion-drive spacecraft developed for the first time, mostly employed in missions to the Outer System and further settling and developing Mars.
The Cold War between the EU and China sets into high gear, leading to a militarisation of both powers, military posturing on Earth and in space, and granstanding on the world stage.
The nascent East-African Federation takes advantage of this situation to grow into a world superpower.
The “Second Generation” of Belters flock to the Asteroid Belt with the development of cheaper D-D fusion ships.
Proxy conflicts fought between colonies loyal to the EU and China — in orbital space, on Luna and Mars, and among the Asteroid Belt — dominate the news cycle this decade.
First large scale ‘clanking’ self-replicators revolutionise some areas of manufacturing, though control issues become a concern. Similarly, genetically-engineered life filling the same role becomes common around this time. These competing technologies, and the ideologies behind their use, drive much innovation and art for the next few decades.
First commercial brain-computer interfaces become available around this time, though construction and installation are both very costly due to the fact they have to be made-to-measure for the end user. Rise of groups like the two-tees, and of early work with backups.
Floating habitat New Lichtenstein founded among Venus’ cloud decks, a glorified tax haven for the ultra-wealthy well away from the baying masses of Earth.
Genetic engineering grows into a mature field. While Earth’s governments are broadly conservative when it comes to human gene modification, both the Orbital Federation and the Ares Union pursue genetic engineering in order to produce healthier populations adapted to low-gravity. New Lichtenstein also allows human genetic engineering, though primarily because there is demand among the rich and powerful for ‘test-tube babies.’
In light of human genetic engineering and ‘test-tube babies,’ many among the general population fear a wealth gap as the rich seek to reshape themselves and their children for longer lives, higher intelligence, and greater charisma. While these fears fuel the conservatives among the United Nations, who promptly introduce international law sanctioning many forms of gene therapy deemed anything but strictly medical, these laws don’t apply to Venus or any of the colonies, where the rich and powerful — among them many members of the UN General Assembly — continue to exploit genetic engineering.
2145: the mining ferry Prydwen goes missing.
EARLY INTERPLANETARY AGE (2145—2298)
2151: VASIMIR-drive spacecraft Loch Lomond departs for Saturn carrying Anders Buchanan and his infant son Teller Buchanan, as well as many of the Buchanan Space Industries company employees.
2155: First shipments of Helium-Three mined from Saturn’s atmosphere, aneutronic fusion a reality for the first time.
Orion-Drive warships deployed all over the Solar System as the Cold War between the EU and the Chinese grows warmer in the late 2160s, including a contingent deployed to the Buchanan settlements around Saturn to secure the He3 supplies Earth has begun to rely on, which raises tensions among both Belter colonies and the burgeoning Ares Union.
Anders Buchanan leverages the monopoly Buchanan Space Industries holds over He3 to maintain Saturn’s independence from Earth, going on to found the Confederacy of Saturn.
EUSS Spirit of Halifax and PRCS Shichang fight in high orbit around Iapetus.
Deuterium-Tritium z-pinch fusion drive developed, which allows brachistochrone trajectories of up to 0.01g. This allows much faster transits to and from Mars, as well as regular traffic to Jupiter — for those who can afford it.
First so-called ‘Gene Wizards’.
2163: Anchorpoint Station constructed, first Terran Space Elevator.
First generation of ‘Deontologists,’ a human genetic engineering black project by the Terraforming Service, gestate on mars. Though their existence doesn’t become public knowledge for several decades, this makes them the first ‘clade’ of transhumans.
The exact motive for their creation is unclear, though hypotheses suggest that Deontologists were originally meant to be day-to-day overseers of the terraforming of Mars, and may have served as a testbed for improving their own intelligence. They may also have been a way to study artificial womb and decanting processes.
Kings of Mercury establish large-scale solar arrays and particle accelerators to produce small quantities of antimatter.
China suffers an economic crisis following the end of the Cold War, eventually entering into union with Japan, Unified Korea and multiple South-East Asian nation states to form the Pacific Community.
2173: Orbital Federation disbands. Many later political groups claim to be its ‘true’ successors.
Buchanan Space Industries develop the first inertial-confinement fusion drive. Initial accelerations are a mere order of magnitude better than z-pinch drives, but within a decade true torchships (.5g through to 2.3g) are possible. Teller Buchanan, already one of the wealthiest people in the Solar System, soon wields incredible political and economic influence, becoming the face of the opulent Outer System free from UN interference, much to the consternation of Earth’s various governments.
Io power tether project completed, freeing the Jovian moons from their dependence on imported fusion reactors, which causes much anger within some quarters in the UN. Power tether and the microwave beams it supplies provide power for as much as ninety percent of the Jupiter System’s fifty million or more inhabitants.
Titan now home to five million people, while the number of bubble habitats inside Saturn’s atmosphere is also on the up.
The Ares Union begins work on a fleet of armed spacecraft, which they argue are technically legal under the terms of the UN’s imperialism because these vessels are meant to police Martian orbital space. Some nations, notably the Chinese and the East-African Federation support this development, going so far as to provide covert funds to this end, perhaps hoping to spark a war between Earth and Mars, or even to undermine the UN.
Mars gains independence not through a revolutionary war, but rather a game of interplanetary chicken.
After the Ares Union suddenly ordered all CHON mining operations on Deimos brought to an end, their ‘policing’ vessels and the UN’s Deimos-guarding warships shadowed one another’s orbital maneuvers over the course of several tense weeks, the United Nations blinked first — withdrawing their fleet from Mars and recognising the Ares Union as a legitimate political power.
Martian independence sets a precedent all over the Solar System, proving to Earth’s various daughter colonies that the UN, for all its imperialism, couldn’t maintain control over the System.
2196: First ships depart Luna, Mars and the Asteroid Belt for the outer Outer System, meaning the ice giants Neptune and Uranus, with plans to send further follow up missions to colonise the Oort Cloud.
2198: Centauri Dreams.
Belter torchships Magellan, Aldrin, Amundsen and Zhang Qian depart for Alpha Centauri, Barnard’s Star, Wolf 359 and Lalande 21185 respectively, at ~6.3%c, due to arrive in about 70 years.
First commercial nanotechnology, mostly in the form of bio-nanotechnology, vacuum organisms, and increasingly reliable longevity treatments. These technologies place Earth’s ecosystem on life support, slowly halting the long ecological crisis of the climate change era.
2212: First Vesta Crisis
2215: tau Ceti founders flee the solar system in the wake of the Vesta Crisis.
Using a stolen supply of antimatter, they modify common fusion torches to instead use antimatter to catalyse the reaction. This allows a top speed of slightly over .1c, though given the century-long journey to tau Ceti and the poor quality of cryostasis during this period, mortality rates of up to 45% are expected.
Due to accidental and, in some cases deliberate, cross-contamination, feral vacuum organisms are now widespread in the Asteroid Belt and Outer System, forming strange, self-evolving ecologies. Infection with Construction Coral and other common forms of modified or synthetic life is increasingly seen as a disease of poverty, much like leprosy and venereal infections were in the past.
First acts of ‘nanoterrorism’ on Earth, mostly in the form of non-contagious retroviruses which release hormones, neurotransmitters, and other disruptive chemicals into the body over long periods. In one famous case, an estrogen-producing engineered virus was used on an Iranian Islamofascist known for misogynist views, which brought his career to an end and forced a shift in attitudes among the ruling class.
Both direct acts of ‘nanoterrorism’ and the release of faulty engineered lifeforms leads some groups to call for a moratorium on new self-replicating technologies and products, also citing the vacuum organism contagion of the Outer System as evidence.
2223: First Superbrights.
With direct neural interfacing becoming increasingly viable, economically, experiments on Luna create the Superbrights. Despite common perceptions, Superbrights aren’t purely intellectual — though they struggle to understand or relate to most baseline humans, Superbrights experience a high degree of emotional intelligence within their own communities, and their neural interfaces also permit them a limited ‘cooperative sense’ — a form of subconscious telepathy. There is much controversy about what the Superbrights mean for the future of baseline humanity, and the initial panic (fueled by conspiracy theories about Superbrights secretly replacing humans) led to furious rioting especially among unemployed populations.
2226: Deontologists revealed to the world.
Though most considered their existence to be the product of rumours and nothing more, conspiracy theories have been swirling for the better part of half a century about the Deontologists, aiming to explain a handful of possible sightings and encounters reported to the public. Many possible creators and motives were considered, ranging from soldiers for the UN Security Council, to accidental creations of the Orbital Federation — even including the notion that they may be alien in origin. Most people considered these beliefs to be spurious at best, though they maintained a cult following in most communities.
However, with the work of an investigative journalist on Mars who managed to infiltrate both the computer networks and physical infrastructure of the Terraforming Service exposed the Deontologists to the light of day. That they were a product not of nefarious experiments by the UN but, apparently, of efforts to manage the nascent Martian ecosystem comes as a shock to many. Despite this, the recent reveal of the Superbrights has softened most people to the idea of transhumans, limiting panic and anxiety about the Deontologists.
While extraterrestrial colonies grow ever more diverse, Earth tries to consolidate in the face of rising superpowers in the Solar System at large.
2234: The first prototype of a Drexleran Assembler is stolen by agents of the Confederacy of Saturn, which promptly declares independence from Earth following the precedent Mars set forty years earlier. UN Security Council is called into session, and promptly declares Saturn a security threat.
2237: Treaty Organisation founded.
The Stockholm Treaty Organisation is founded, a successor to the United Nations, whose stated goal is to maintain member nations’ economic and political interests throughout the Solar System. While no major world powers refuse membership, many individual nations do, fearing this to be nothing more than a covert form of modern imperialism. Most serious political analysts see the Treaty Org as a temporary salve for a much more fundamental problem, and criticise it for failing to address mounting tensions between Earth’s superpowers.
2239: previously-unknown terror group calling themselves the Suzerainty of the Trues destroy the Olympus Mons space elevator in a bombing, killing several hundred people.
War in Heaven: the Treaty Org declares war on the Saturn Confederacy following a botched assassination attempt on Teller Buchanan by an agent of Earth. In response, Saturn completely cuts off He3 supplies to all members of the Treaty Org, leading to rolling brownouts, blackouts, and even riots on Earth. In response, warships burn for Saturn and her harem of moons.
‘Scratcher’ religious cult begins to preach that a war between the Outer System and the Treaty Org will spell disaster of Biblical proportions for humanity. Over the course of this decade, they flee the Solar System in enormous ice-hulled spacecraft — bound for tau Ceti.
Despite major blows to their industry, the Confederacy of Saturn manage to survive the opening overtures of their war with Earth; the same can hardly be said for the Treaty Org’s warfleet, which faces substantial losses. Nano and bioterrorism reach a new high on Earth in the wake of this disastrous first conflict, while Saturn faces pressing and immediate material shortages following the fight. With neither side confident they’ll survive a war, Saturn’s true independence is ratified by the Treaty Organisation — with the provision that Earth must receive a guaranteed twenty percent of all He3 exported from Saturn.
A small contingent of Deontologists now live and work among the native population of Mars, acting as diplomats for their clade. Initially Martian communities were wary of their presence, but most have accepted Deontologists willingly. Some, however, view the transhumans with fear, suspicion, and even hatred, fueling the rise of the Trues.
Attempted coup against the Ares Union by the neo-fascist Suzerainty of the Trues leads to the death of several hundred so-called Belter sympathisers living in communities within the Mariner Valley, following the destruction of the Olympus Mons space elevator not long before. Despite the deaths of many members of the local Mariner Valley government, and despite the violence revealing deep political divides within Martian communities, the coup is unsuccessful. Despite this, a period known as the Rust Terror begins — during which an increasingly desperate Ares Union takes increasingly desperate measures to quell True terrorism.
Deontologists come to dominate Martian politics, both because their greater grasp on Mars’ anemic ecology and terraforming programme marks them as superior policymakers, and because of a working coalition between the Deontologists and the Ares Union to quell True insurrection. This, however, only drives political divides within Martian society deeper, broadening the base of the Trues, who feel repulsed by and afraid of the Deontologists.
Without an external threat to bind them, the Treaty Org balances on a tightrope trying to keep its various members from starting wars with one another. Increasingly corporate influence begins to dominate the Treaty Organisation’s politics — Earth almost as a whole is on the fast track towards late stage neoliberal capitalism.
Adelaide Sinclair, a physicist with an extensive neural interface, employed by the Treaty Organisation to study dangerous and experimental science at Venus’ trailing Lagrange Point, begins to study wormhole physics. After several years working for the Treaty Organisation, she stages an elaborate escape from the confinements of the quarantined science stations of Venus and heads to Europa to continue her research. By the end of the decade, she has become a recluse radically experimenting on her own genetic code and bodyplan from within a habitat carved into a small, unused moon of Jupiter she’d had maneuvered into orbit around Europa.
With the Treaty Org breathing down her neck, Sinclair makes a deal which relies on both extortion and cooperation — if killed, Sinclair’s agents will release all of her work to both the public and many of the Treaty Org’s rivals, including her research on wormhole theory which, while still in its infancy, shows great promise. In exchange, Sinclair agrees to develop exotic weapons for the Treaty Org, including foam-phase metallic-hydrogen bombs.
First matter compilers, a form of advanced Drexleran Assemblers, are installed on Earth. Their size, poor throughput, and reliance on purified feedstocks still allows traditional manufacturing techniques to compete, but compilers see similar use to early 3D Printers, employed in construction, rapid prototyping, and producing individual replaceable parts for machines.
First Ram-Augmented Interstellar Rockets (RAIRs) begin development in this era, though these early designs aren’t expected to exceed .4c. This project is bankrolled primarily by many of Earth’s groundside governments and the Treaty Organisation as a whole, who view extrasolar colonies as an ideal insurance policy against existential threats.
The Terraforming Service also expresses interest, but are refused access to the project because of distrust among members of the Treaty Org. They fund their own parallel project, but without the inner system’s significant resources find themselves unable to replicate the promising early results.
2269: Magellan reaches Alpha Centauri
Belter torchship Magellan uses a magnetic brake to decelerate down to interplanetary speeds in the Alpha Centauri system. Though many of the crew did not survive primitive cryostasis, enough remain to establish a modest colony in the new system.
Prototype RAIR ship Demodamus is completed overdue and over budget. According to the engineers managing the project, Demodamus can reach a maximum velocity of .45c. Despite this, this particular ship only ever sees use in-system, mainly in the form of various shakedown operations for the engineers and scientists to better understand the practicalities of running a RAIR ship.
Work on several more interstellar-class RAIR ships — the Archias, the Colaeus, the Eudoxus, the Euthymenes, the Hippalus, and the Patrocles — begins during this decade, with the speculative goal of reaching fifty-five percent of lightspeed, funded entirely by the Treaty Organisation.
First recorded Blight infestation on Earth is discovered, after spreading spores across a large area of South America. Within five years, the Amazon Rainforest is devastated moreso by efforts to contain the Blight than the infestation itself, bringing the Brazilian government to its knees. Despite enforcing those brutal anti-contamination efforts, the Treaty Organisation refuses to provide financial aid meant to recover from the damage they did. This shakes confidence in the Treaty Org both among the public, and among the governments of member nations, leading to a string of terror attacks and increasing public support for bringing the Stockholm Treaty to an end.
Conflict brews between Deontologists and Superbrights after the latter accuse the former of turning the Ares Union into a puppet state, further reinforcing True propaganda. Deontologists counter-claim that the Superbrights intend to disrupt the Terraforming project itself.
Following this escalation, Mars enters into a period of renewed conflict. The Union of Ares grows increasingly draconian in its approach to Trues and other proscribed groups, which further emboldens the Suzerainty of the Trues itself, who launch a number of terror attacks against government installations, a number of which threaten Terraforming Service infrastructure.
With confidence in the Treaty Organisation at an all-time low, individual nations begin work on RAIR colony ships of their own, though without the ability to marshall all of Earth’s economic might these projects are expected to take between ten and fifteen years. The increasing availability of ramscoop technology, and the willingness of disgruntled Earthside nations to work against the Treaty Org both allow the Ares Union, the Belt, and the Outer Planets to develop RAIR ships of their own.
Increasingly radical elements within the Ares Union itself ride a wave of popular support to office, leading to the civil rights of Martians being effectively stripped in order to properly ‘contain’ the Trues. In response, the Trues begin a guerrilla campaign against the Union of Ares which leads to three years of brutal violence on both sides before Deontologist forces suddenly seize Innis City, capitol of the Ares Union, as well as the new space elevator connecting Olympus Mons to Martian orbit.
This action is denounced not only by Solar System powers at large, but also by both the Superbrights and the Terraforming Service itself — nevertheless, Deontologists refuse to back down, instead claiming that the future of Mars’ ecosphere cannot be trusted in the hands of warring human factions. Superbright forces counter the Deontologist occupation of Mars by landing parties in the Mariner Valley and a number of key locations among the former citystates of the Olympus Mons Caldera. With superhuman intellects turning their talents to a slow-brewing Cold War, the Treaty Organisation on Earth sees renewed support from the public and announces work on a new joint naval fleet to counter ‘transhuman threats.’
2286: RAIR colony ships Watney, Draper and Carpenter are dispatched to 61 Cygni by the Union of Ares at .45c, arriving in 2337.
2289: RAIR colony ships Y Que and Pournelle are dispatched to Procyon by a wealthy Belter cooperative out of Ceres, arriving in 2340.
The Martian Cold War escalates rapidly in the opening months of 2291, culminating in street-by-street fighting in the thoroughfares of Innis City between Superbright and Deontologist forces, with neither side seeming especially worried about either civilian casualties or the destruction of infrastructure. Ironically, Trues and Union forces are unified in the face of the transhuman threat, often fighting against both forces as they retreated to the relative safety of the habitats beyond Innis.
Following this, the new joint naval fleet of the Treaty Org is diverted from its shakedown cruise to instead approach Mars, with a mission brief to act as impartial observers, protect and evacuate civilian populations caught in the fighting, and report intelligence back to the bigwigs at Dar es Salaam.
While politicians publicly claimed neutrality, it quickly became clear that the Superbrights were the more stable and rational of the two factions, though the Deontologists clearly have an advantage considering their ability both to manipulate much of Mars’ nascent ecology, and to hijack Terraforming Service technology itself to create storms and other environmental hazards. Under orders from military intelligence, the Treaty Org’s joint navy begins covertly offering intelligence and materiel to Superbright forces.
Over time, this covert support gradually mutates into open, active military support. Soon, Treaty Org naval ships rain metallic hydrogen bombs and kinetic weapons on Deontologist holdings. In response, Deontologist forces go ‘underground’ — literally, tunneling into the skin of Mars itself, relying on hit-and-run tactics. Around this time, evidence of widespread human experimentation on of prisoners of war — both Superbrights and Treaty Org soldiers — is discovered, which shocks the Solar System.
The Martian War ends in 2295 with the so-called Hammerfall.
During a Deontologist attack on the city Sirr’s Hammer, which used magnetic levitation to hang in the sky, Treaty Org forces deployed ship-to-ship railgun weapons which crippled Sirr, driving the million-tonne city into the ground. Following enormous public backlash on Earth, politicians try to place blame on the ‘mutinous admirals’ of the Treaty Org’s naval fleet, despite the fact that they were following the orders they were given, demanding that naval officials return to Earth to face court-marshalling.
Predictably, a large fraction of the Treaty Org’s fleet either breaks away from command outright, aiming to become pirate warlords in the Asteroid Belt, or else refuses to obey this command and remains, for the time being, in Martian orbit.
2293: RAIR starships Archias, Eudoxus and Patrocles are stolen from the Treaty Organisation by agents of the Terraforming Service alongside a large shipment of antimatter. By modifying the designs of these ships into antimatter-boosted RAIR, these Terraforming Service spacecraft were able to reach speeds of .65c.
Given the ongoing Martian War, the exact destinations of the Archias, Eudoxus and Patrocles are a matter largely of archaeological debate, as scientists argue as to which of the earliest examples of the Terraforming Service’s garden worlds is the oldest. What is known is that each of these ships had been fitted with extensive manufacturing capabilities, which allowed the Terraforming Service to produce large fleets of antimatter-boosted RAIR gardener ships, explaining the wealth of habitable worlds discovered by later colonists.
2295: RAIR colony ships Dresden, Berlin and Munich depart for Neubeginn, orbiting Epsilon Indi at .45c, arriving in 2347.
2297: RAIR colony ships Pax Americana, Enterprise, and Niven depart for Andrew’s World, 82 G Eridani at .45c, arriving in 2388.
2298: Terrorism decapitates the Treaty Org.
Dar es Salaam, capitol of the East African Federation and a major administrative hub of the Treaty Organisation, is destroyed by a small nuclear device smuggled into the city by an unknown terror group. Alone, this would have been devastating but manageable. However, an apparently artificial parasite known as Blight begins to ravage Earth’s fragile ecosystem, managing to infest even highly reliable vertical farming centres.
With no cohesive governing body to stop them and accusations flying wildly, it’s hardly a surprise when what had been simmering conflicts escalate to a furious boil — the doomsday clock hits midnight, and the Starving Years begin.
2299: With the Treaty Org in collapse, refugees from Earth steal the RAIR ships Demodamus and Hippalus and make a break for Alpha Centauri. Though the Demodamus, which was undergoing a full refit when stolen, suffers a catastrophic failure which destroys its entire drive system, the Hippalus manages to escape the Solar System at .45c. The Demodamus, travelling at merely interplanetary velocities, eventually ends up in orbit around Neptune.
THE STARVING YEARS (2300—2332)
2302: Tensions between Pakistan and India escalate into a limited nuclear exchange, which kills several million people. The Pan-American Republic descends into martial law, a precursor to the civil war to come.
2305: Cold Dawn.
With the Treaty Org in shambles, three large asteroids painted with radar-absorbent coatings are redirected towards the Earth-Moon System on rapid intercept trajectories. One is destroyed outright, while the second strikes Copernicus City on Luna, and the third strikes the East Coast of Eurasia. Death toll unknown, but estimated to be in the range of over two billion.
2309: RAIR ship Hippalus arrives at Alpha Centauri, bringing news of the Treaty Organisation’s collapse.
2310: Tall Nally destroyed during Operation Screaming Fist.
2311: Outer Worlds Community is founded in response to Treaty Org warlords raiding in the Belt.
2313: The Rock War.
The Rock War, between the fledgling Outer Worlds Community in charge of Ceres, and the Treaty Org warlords, leaves the bulk of breakaway Treaty Org naval forces reeling. This war is pivotal in pushing the Treaty Org permanently out of the Inner System. Because Earth’s collapse has damaged both the economy and the flow of trade in the Solar System, most Treaty Org warlord forces enter into cryostasis for the next few decades.
2316: Last Contact.
With the Pan-American Civil War reaching a fiery climax and the burgeoning threat of nuclear fallout going from a decade of inconvenience to generations of winter, contact is largely lost between Earth and her interplanetary holdings, radio signals blocked by radioactive ash, impact fallout from the Cold Dawn, and continuous radio interference between fighting powers.
It is clear, however, that conditions on Earth range from grueling and punishing at best, to outright inhospitable at worst. What few reports reach orbit speak of mass starvation, genocide on a scale unseen since the Twentieth Century, and a complete failure of infrastructure across most of the world.
Shortages of fissionables from Earth and Luna, as well as a breakdown in supplies of fusion fuel from Saturn cripple the Asteroid Belt’s economy and cultural cohesion. Solar Moths rise in popularity during this period.
2326: Birth of an Empire.
With the support of Teller Buchanan, Lysander is crowned the first Emperox of the Terran Empire in 2326. Forged in the flames of the Starving Years, Lysander decides that Earth must be united, whatever the cost, in order to save both the ecology and planetary civilisation from collapse. Even as the Empire consolidates its hold over North Africa, Western Europe and parts of Southeast Asia through gunboat diplomacy and outright conquest, Lysander publishes On the Imperial Humanity, a manifesto which lays out both the founding legal charter of the Terran Empire and broader policy goals, which include an eventual transition from a wartime economy to a form of social-democracy.
2330: Jupiter refugees arrive at tau Ceti.
2332: Earth largely under Imperial control, though holdouts in some regions continue to cost lives and materiel. The Terran Empire now looks to expand.
MIDDLE INTERPLANETARY AGE (2332—2447)
Imperial forces begin to expand beyond Earth’s atmosphere, consolidating economic, political and cultural links between the surface and orbital habitats, mainly by leveraging Earth’s supplies of complex organics. Over the course of just a few months, the Empire’s territory grows from most of Earth to almost the entirety of Cislunar space.
Running almost in parallel, the fledgling Outer Worlds Community works to seize the Asteroid Belt’s considerable resources, materiel and industrial infrastructure — similarly to the Empire on and around Earth, this process is mostly peaceful, though annexing uncooperative habitats is not unheard of. One big limiter to the Community’s expansion is the speed of their ships — without access to Helium-3, the Belt is forced to rely on a mixture of Solar-Thermal propulsion and ancient z-pinch deuterium-tritium spacecraft. To combat this, the Outer Worlds Community also begins the construction of the first beam-propulsion network outside of Cislunar space.
Meanwhile, the Confederacy of Saturn fights to rebuild the prosperous fusion trade dating back to before the Starving Years, knowing that without the Treaty Organisation to dictate terms they can grow even more rich and influential than before. Similarly, the Kings of Mercury begin to increase the scope of their antimatter production for the first time in almost a century.
2334: Posthuman Sinclair
In orbit around Europa, Adelaide Sinclair’s captured moonlet has spent the past fifteen years furiously shedding waste heat, the thermal emissions from furious action deep within. Now, she reveals herself — not a single woman but a small ecosystem-mind, an intelligence written into the fabric of her asteroid itself, a living garden. Sinclair summons the most senior political figures in the Solar System, including Emperox Lysander and Teller Buchanan, to meet with her in person, three years hence.
2337: Sinclair’s Stargates
The ecosystem-mind Adelaide Sinclair’s long awaited meeting of the minds takes place. Among the attendees are Teller Buchanan, Emperox Lysander, and many major figures within the Ceres Guberniya of the Outer Worlds Community.
Following this, Sinclair releases her comprehensive theory of wormhole physics to the Solar System at large. Though much of this theoretical work is more or less incomprehensible to most contemporary scientists, included within this synthesis are trailheads which will allow baseline humans to grasp a working knowledge of wormhole engineering and physics.
Following this, Sinclair’s moonlet home takes on a large supply of resources and begins to accelerate out of the Solar System at a milligee, apparently employing some kind of highly-efficient mass driver.
Early work exploring wormhole physics begins. Despite extensive funding by most major powers, however, it takes most of a decade to even produce a detectable wormhole, which exists for less than one tenth of a second.
Breakaway Treaty Org warlords, having mostly spent the past three decades in cryostasis, begin to expand their piracy operations in the Outer Solar System. The recovering nations orbiting Jupiter and Saturn capture their interest especially, though most Treaty Org warlords seem unwilling to approach either the Asteroid Belt, fearing the Outer Worlds Community, or the Oort Cloud, apparently because of a superstitious fear of the ‘eeries’ and ‘haloers’ who live out there.
Thanks both to studying relics of Sinclair’s own bionanotech ‘ecosystem’ and feral vacuum organisms, humanity’s understanding of nanotechnology in general leaps forward. While the Outer Worlds Community is conservative when it comes to these new technologies, remembering the horrors of the Starving Years, when technologies once thought reliable could no longer be repaired, replaced or recycled, the Empire sees the ‘Second Nanotech Bloom,’ as it comes to be known, as a great opportunity. With the production of a neural lace in-situ finally possible, direct neural interfacing as a basic human right finally becomes economically viable for most if not all Imperial citizens.
With the rise of this powerful technology comes a renewed interest in ideas of ‘post-mortality’ and backups, and soon owning at least one cloned body into which one’s personality can be transferred after death becomes a symbol not of wealth but of the Empire’s rapidly growing middle class.
First RAIR ships in the Mistral series are built by the Terran Empire during this period, being the first antimatter-boosted starships built by anyone but the Terraforming Service.
2345: Imperial RAIR ship Mistral Zero arrives at Alpha Centauri.
First communications-gauge wormhole, massing 200 billion tonnes, is built between Alpha Centauri and the Solar System. Though its bitrate and throughput are both poor, this gate serves as a strong test-bed for communications-gauge wormhole technology. Within the decade, while hardly mass-produced, several gates will link the Solar System to its nearest neighbours. Media dubs this the ‘Age of the Ansible,’ though the cost of transferring data from one system to another remains prohibitive. Similarly, while comms-gauge wormholes revolutionise interstellar civilisation, because of their instability and prohibitive mass, commlink wormholes are relegated to the outer gas giants in a given Star System.
Interstellar travel is performed in large part by antimatter-boosted RAIR vessels, though most of the work is in recontacting established colonies rather than expanding further. The Barker-Kavelin Corporation, one of the only surviving vestiges of the world before the Starving Years, is largely responsible for building RAIR ships for both the Empire and the Outer Worlds, but also begins to branch out into interstellar trade in its own right, visiting systems like Epsilon Indi which, for a variety of reasons, aren’t likely to be connected up to the network of commlink wormholes in the near future.
2351: Scratchers arrive at tau Ceti, leading to the Battle for Bellona.
With interstellar, communications-gauge wormholes becoming a key resource among the new worlds, the Ansible Wars begin. Mostly these wars are fought not between the Empire, the Outer Worlds, or even the local colonists but often between various corporations.
2363: Quinquereme, a RAIR tradeship built by the Barker-Kavelin Corporation, arrives at Neubeginn, Epsilon Indi, and trades trinkets, high technology, and news with the locals before departing for the Martian colonies at 61 Cygni.
2368: Mistral Three arrives at tau Ceti, though with the Battle for Bellona an event still etched into living memory relations are frosty to say the least. That said, the commlink wormhole that Mistral carries is vital enough to the colonists’ culture and technology that they’re willing to join the nascent Terran Empire.
Breakaway Treaty Org piracy continues to plague trade and transport in the Outer Solar System
Barker-Kavelin trading ships become the dominant interstellar traffic.
2372: Mistral Four arrives at Barnard’s Star, finding the Belter culture there particularly well-developed given over one hundred years of colonisation. After extensive negotiations, the commlink wormhole is expanded in the trailing Lagrange point of Barnard’s sole gas giant, Shepherd.
Breakaway Treaty Org Warlords are largely defeated by a joint Imperial-Outer Worlds military action, though not without wreaking havoc over both the joint fleet and the moons of Jupiter. Though the work of rebuilding the Jovian system begins in earnest, with both major Solar System powers providing aid, relief and modern technologies to what remains of the local governments on Callisto, Europa and Ganymede, the consequences of the piracy and the war which followed scar many communities irrepairably.
This trauma drives a new generation of interstellar colonists, not only those traveling in hibernation aboard RAIR ships, but — at least for those who join the Empire — also those willing to experiment with interstellar mind transfer using neural interfaces.
2382: Imperial RAIR Mistral Six and Outer Worlds RAIR Singular Dream arrive at Epsilon Eridani, each carrying a commlink wormhole, following reports of a colony being established there. On approach, it becomes readily apparent that if anyone had colonised the Epsilon Eri system, they had either died out or moved on decades earlier. Following their arrival, the two RAIR ships part ways — Singular Dream remains in orbit around Epsilon Eri, while Mistral Six lights out for LP 944-20 in or around the 2390s, carrying her commlink with her.
Fearing that their rivalry with the Empire may one day grow serious, the Outer Worlds Community uses their commlink to Singular Dream to rapidly industrialise the Epsilon Eridani system, as a sort of redux strategy in the event of a war between the Empire and the Outies. Relying on data harvested from Terraforming Service machines discovered in other star systems, work begins on making the planet Jejudo, a rocky inner world smaller than Earth, habitable.
2385: Outer Worlds RAIR colony ship New Ceres departs for Epsilon Eridani, packed with colonists in cryogenic hibernation. By the time they arrive, the Outer Worlds Community plans to have terraformed Jejudo almost entirely.
Greater research into Sinclair’s treatise of wormhole physics finds that Stargates traversable by physical matter and not mere light are possible, though progress in this direction is expected to take decades at the minimum.
2406: New Ceres arrives at Epsilon Eri to find the world Jejudo almost fully terraformed.
Sol–Alpha Cen communications wormhole is expanded to almost one kilometre in diameter, requiring no net increase in mass but extensive restructuring on both sides of the link. Within only a few years, all the communications-gauge wormholes already constructed will be traversable.
2421: Imperial RAIR ship Mistral Eight arrives at Epsilon Indi carrying a wormhole.
Canyon City — the City of Ten Thousand Banners — is reconnected to mainstream humanity after almost a century in relative isolation.
2438: Emperox Lysander I is assassinated by radical fringe elements on Earth. Her daughter, Cyress I, ascends to the throne.
Modern Imperial parliamentary system implemented. Although the Emperox has power of veto on any laws passed and gets to act as tiebreaker on legislation stuck in parliament, the Empire is effectively a democratic republic. However, the precedent set — that the Emperox stands above the parliamentary system — eventually leads to the civil war, and the end of the First Terran Empire.
With most of the interplanetary-era colonies now recontacted, humanity once again turns outward. New colonies funded primarily by corporate or independent interests form a new frontier which races forward as fast as the most rapid RAIR ships, often finding worlds already terraformed and ready for human colonists.
Many groups seeking a quite life away from mainstream civilisation send out RAIR missions to brown dwarves, which are unlikely to be connected up to the Stargate Nexus.
2447: Radio emissions from the Heptapods are discovered, marking first contact with a living alien civilisation by humanity.
FIRST AGE OF STARFLIGHT (2447—2900)
Discovery of the Heptapods leads to both a cultural renaissance and mass panic.
Bishop Ring New Ceres completed in the Epsilon Eridani System, which will house the Epsilon Eri Guberniya of the Outer Worlds Community — forming a Stolitska or Capitol — of the Outer Worlds.
2565: Emperox Cathail I modernises the Imperial Stargate Nexus
2660: It ain’t like dusting crops, boy.
Two stargates in the 61 Virginis system undergo a catastrophic failure which devastates the majority of human habitats in the system, clustered around the gas giant Hadrian. Despite thorough investigation by both the Terran Empire, and the Outer Worlds Community, no findings are made public. Survivors of the catastrophe are contacted by the Dyson Tree gene wizard cooperative about a possible alternative to purely mechanical space habitats, of which they had grown both suspicious and resentful.
2680: First Hawking’s Knot.
The first Hawking’s Knot is constructed in orbit around Neptune. This device uses a low-mass black hole to convert conventional matter into antimatter, but despite promising a bright future, building more Knots is economically unfeasible.
2650: Migrator Madness
First contact with the Migrators by radio, whose wormhole-building fleet will pass through Human Space in a little under two hundred years.
2670: Meeting of the Minds
Alien species commonly referred to as the Heptapods meet human representatives for the first time. Their large but relatively thin wormhole network is mated to the human stargate nexus shortly after.
2710: Hermes Launch System
The Antimatter Kings of Mercury, facing an end to their half-millennium economic monopoly on commercial antimatter production, decided that the inner world’s vast solar fields could be used for something new: beam production. By using their access to vast reserves of energy, they propose to overhaul the Asteroid Belt’s beamrider network, creating a mature interplanetary transport network relying on Mercury’s solar fields. As part of this overhaul, the Hermes Launch System itself will be built — an interstellar launch array meant to boost RAIR ships carrying wormholes or colonists up to their effective cruising velocity.
All of this will fund the expansion of mothballed infrastructure in the Sun’s photosphere to create a stellaser grid, which will further expand the beamrider network’s reach and coordination. Plans are also put in place between the Kings and the Empire to construct a Dyson Swarm around Sol.
2773: Ryker’s Hiders
First contact with the species now known as Ryker’s Hiders, an ancient, enigmatic alien civilisation discovered beneath the clouds of a brown dwarf known widely as Ryker Survey Eight. The Dawn Hunter Conjecture, sometimes known as the Inhibitor Conjecture, based on Hider cultural beliefs about the so-called Dawn Hunters, becomes a popular answer to the Fermi Paradox, though it soon falls out of favour.
2790: Refuge Dyson Grove
The Refuge Dyson Grove, established by refugees from the 61 Virginis catastrophe two hundred years earlier in the Alpha Circini system, is now a minor civilisation in its own right, home to almost a billion people. It has inspired widespread imitators, insuring that the Dyson Tree design is proliferated across Human Space — and making the cooperative of gene wizards who designed it for the 61 Virginis Refugees very rich indeed.
2813: First Non-Orientable Wormhole.
Scientists probing new physics using ouroborus colliders — linear particle accelerators with small wormholes fixed to either end, allowing arbitrarily high energy collisions — discover new physics when the first of these machines is damaged only weeks after activation. Research later allows the capture and inflation of the first Non-Orientable Wormholes — spacetime constructs which convert matter into antimatter and vice versa. An age of radical energy abundance lies ahead — for those who can afford it.
2820: Meet the Migrators!
With the Migrators finally making their long-awaited contact with Human Space, a vast chunk of the Galaxy is suddenly opened up to immediate colonisation by the various factions of Human Space. This brings new wonders, and terrors, into contact with humanity; many blame some of the strange new technologies discovered among the Migrator Nexus for carrying the Glitter Plague back to the very heart of Human Space, crippling nanotechnology for centuries.
2832–2900: The Glitter Plague
Outbreak of the Glitter Plague, which sets back technological development back hundreds of years. The Glitter Plague cripples most forms of commercial nanotechnology, causing a collapse in most civilised systems’ economies, a reduction in the quality of life most citizens of the Inner Sphere enjoyed, and the deaths of several hundred million at least. Some call this period the “Great Sundering”; human endeavour takes the better part of a century and a quarter to recover from the plague, as developing countermeasures is an incredibly complex task even for posthuman factions.
This period foreshadows both the Long Night following the Empire’s collapse, eight hundred years later, and the massive splintering of political groups during the Long Night — many colonies break away from distant, centralised powers and their economic or political control during the Sundering, recognising that their relatively primitive economies and reliance on only simple, rugged nanotech if any at all puts them at an advantage to great star nations like the Terran Empire and the Outer Worlds Community.
DECLINE AND FALL (2900—3650)
While the Glitter Plague plays a major role in this period of prolonged, drawn-out decline, the truth is that many of the Inner Sphere polities (but most noticeably the Empire) are seeing mass disenfranchisement. The imperialist powers of Humanity’s heartlands — the Empire and the Outer Worlds Community alike — have overextended themselves, now civilisation is beginning at last to wither at the very fringes of Human Space.
Infrastructure collapse is the most stark symptom. When the local taxman stopped showing up a few years ago, it hadn’t seemed quite so serious — but now there’s not much of a government around to fix aging space elevators, maintain cities, or even support ancient Stargate links.
2943: The Minefield
The Minefield in the σ Leonis System, apparently built by alien hands, is accidentally triggered by the Outer Worlds Community ship Society of Consent, killing all onboard. This is the first use of a “superradiance bomb” in Human Space — the use of a rotating black hole’s ergosphere as a weapon.
3230: Archipelago Settled
Garden World known as Archipelago settled in the Spinward Reaches. Widespread evidence of an extinct alien civilisation — the Archipelago Vanished Aliens — is discovered.
Though Q-Balls were first theorised as far back as the Information Age, and first proven to exist from high-energy emissions in the Galaxy back in the 2300s, Q-Balls were finally synthesised in 3507. Despite this step forward for physics, it’s unclear whether they will ever be practical for matter to antimatter conversion.
3541–3580: Core Wars
A series of limited exchange conflicts between the Terran Empire and the Outer Worlds Community, often fought over or within client states and allied polities.
3630: Alisayne II undermines parliamentary authority
During a brief conflict with the Outer Worlds, which seemed likely to escalate into a full-blown war, Alisayne II reduced the Imperial Parliament from a legislative power into nothing more than an advisory body. Though this was not without precedent, after the conflict was resolved, Alisayne II used her newfound power to push for what she saw as vital reforms, and showed no signs of returning the parliament to power.
3647: Emperox Alisayne II dies
Emperox Alisayne II is assassinated by parties unknown without an heir apparent, triggering a crisis of succession. With three children and none of them heir apparent, conflict between different factions quietly escalated. With each prospective Emperox consolidating their forces (both civil and military) a civil war seemed imminent. But cooler heads prevailed, and the Empire collectively breathed a sigh of relief as a fragile peace was established.
THE IMPERIAL CIVIL WAR, COLLAPSE (3650—3675)
As any student of history can tell you, no Kingdom truly falls for want of a nail. Rather, every collapse is preceded by a cluster of causes — some systemic, some environmental, and some which are matters of chance, politics or human action. It was the interaction of all these factors which brought an end both to the First Age of Starflight and, with it, the lion’s share of Starflight-Era polities.
Later historians would consider this period — known at the time first as the Antares Crisis, and then as the Imperial Civil War — a direct corollary to the Bronze Age Collapse of 1,200BCE (approximately 4,800 years prior). Both were preceded by abrupt shifts in the environment, and both also followed a devastating loss of resilience on the part of society at the time, mainly brought on by increasing technological complexity and a shift in the political climate.
Following the detonation of Antares and the severing of several dozen Core World systems from the wormhole network, the situation both within and between the great powers began to degrade rather quickly. The three children of Alisayne II began to consolidate various loyal naval fleets under their control, and in a gradually escalating series of skirmishes, the Imperial Civil War broke out. Uncertainty tanked the interstellar economy, devastating both the Freestates Alliance and the Empire, leaving the Outer Worlds Community — whose prospects had been soured since the Core Wars — as the last of the great powers standing.
In perfect position to play kingmaker, the Outies chose to covertly support Alisayne’s son, Bastille — a skilled warrior and tactician who had wiped the floor with the Outer Worlds Community’s fleets during the Core War, though hardly a man suited to rule. They had hoped, it seems, to place on the Imperial throne an Emperox who would be indebted to the Outer Worlds Community, one who would win the civil war promptly and rely on Outie support to rebuild the Empire.
This, in retrospect, was almost certainly a mistake.
Under the firm hand of his mother, during the Core Wars, Bastille’s bloodiest and most brutal impulses were tempered. But now, there was no-one to answer to — not even his sponsors among the Outer Worlds Community. When his forces seized two wormhole-carrying RAIR ships and burned hard for the void between the stars, no-one understood either Bastille’s tactical masterstroke, or his sheer cruelty.
Eighteen months later, the first of those starships crossed a complicated threshold and vanished in an eruption of light and fire — the wormhole mouth it was carrying had, through time dilation and crossing physical space, very nearly created a closed-timelike curve — a time machine. This, as evidenced by the fact that causality still exists, can’t happen — and so instead, a built-in feature of wormhole metrics known as a Visser Collapse took place instead. Seventy percent of the wormhole’s rest mass was converted into energy, the other thirty percent into a short-lived microscopic black hole.
Like any tunnel, this wormhole didn’t just have one mouth. Its partner, the other end of that shortcut through space-time, had been surreptitiously placed in low orbit around a key piece of wormhole infrastructure, a high-mass stargate in a star system where many branches of the wormhole network meet.
The chain reaction was devastating. When Bastille’s wormhole bomb detonated, it caused a critical failure in the systems making sure the much larger wormhole it orbited was stable, which subsequently collapsed, releasing enough energy to crack a planet. Soon, every wormhole in the same star system — all tightly-packed, to ensure the absolute minimum delay in the flow of information and physical goods between the stars — had failed. Like a repeat rendition of the Antares supernova, star systems were cleaved from the wormhole network. This time, however, it wasn’t dozens of worlds which were lost in the night — it was hundreds.
Two months later, the other starship Bastille seized induced a similar collapse — and in one fell swoop, the wormhole network was divided into two, uneven halves. On one side of that divide lay the majority of the wealthy Core Worlds, and on the other, the seat of power of one of Bastille’s sisters. To keep her out of the Civil War, he had torn apart the known world — opening the Glittergulf, a gap in the wormhole network forty light-years across at its widest point.
The Galaxy would never be the same.
It was this crime which convinced the other interstellar powers that they had no choice but to act. The Outer Worlds Community and Bastille’s remaining sister, Lysander III, formed an uneasy alliance to combat him. But alone, they wouldn’t be able to defeat Bastille. The Outer Worlds’ military forces had been crippled by the Core Wars and was yet to recover, and Lysander had been the weakest of Alisayne’s children throughout the Imperial Civil War.
Luckily, the alliance wouldn’t be fighting Bastille alone. Mercenaries and for-profit armies flocked from the bickering ruins of the Freestates Alliance to join the fray, as did fleets from the lesser powers of the Galaxy, many of them orphaned from their homeworlds by Bastille’s opening of the Glittergulf.
But even as the fleet of fleets was being assembled, Bastille was making a mad dash for Earth, his ships burning at fifteen gees for the Empire’s throneworld. Common history would have you believe that Lysander III was caught off guard, the majority of her fleets on the far side of the Solar System, and this is true, if incomplete — some estimates place Bastille’s casualties at forty percent as his ships tore through the Inner System. Some fell to the Lightways and Propulsion Particle Beams under the control of the Mercury Kings, obeying their ancient pledge to defend the Earth and the Empire. Others were stricken down by asteroid miners, colonists, and even commercial vessels, acting to defend the homeworld.
But Bastille still struck Earth, and he did so without mercy. The homeworld’s defences, famous though they were, only invited brutal recriminations. Over Cairo, the sky burned like tinder as particle beams tore through miles of air to smite the vast laser grid built around the Nile. Each of the brooding arcologies of the Moscow Economic Zone were bombed to smouldering, mile-deep craters of glass and ash. The vast, interconnected seasteads of the Pacific were broken.
In orbit, the laserstars defending the homeworld were reduced to glowing slag. The world’s defensive railguns and mass drivers were declawed, their radiators shattered by pinpoint fire.
When Lysander III refused to cede the Empire’s throne, Bastille poured fire on orbital habitats. Tens of millions died. When she remained indignant, he destroyed two of Earth’s space elevators, and began to level cities. He’d killed three billion people by the time the Alliance fleet began to brake towards the homeworld, teeth bared and guns blazing. Unable to retreat, Bastille’s insurgents made a desperate last stand. Bastille himself died less than a month later, his capital ship shattered by particle beams and railgun rounds. The ruined ship, its crew dead or dying, fired a few parting shots, crippling dozens of Alliance vessels before breaking into several hundred pieces, falling like glitter.
When the dust settled, fifteen billion lay dead on Earth, killed either by Bastille’s attacks directly, or by the devastating environmental impact of them. The picture in orbit was similarly dire. And yet, things were starting to look up. What few markets were still trading leveled out, their freefall ending, and interplanetary and interstellar trade began to flow, albeit tentatively.
With the great powers now joined at the hip and the lesser powers treated as equal parties, it looked like the Alliance might form an overarching government to run the Civilised Galaxy, bringing an end to the interminable brushfire wars and economic conflicts which had defined the Age of Starflight so far. The work to restore Earth became paramount — ships from across known space flocked to the aid of humanity’s homeworld, bringing food and resources and industrial equipment to the savaged planet.
This brave new world lasted less than three months.
By the time anyone noticed it, it was too late.
Reports vary. Some say it was an overworked sensor technician, scrubbing through the logs of the Bastille–Alliance battle in Earth orbit, who first noticed the spores. Others say it was a freighter, somewhere in the Spinward Reaches, which fell victim to the glitter first, much of its interior reduced to shining grey slurry by the nanoagent. Still others claim that it was a salvage party, searching one of the wrecks from the orbital battle, who found the first signs of it.
Whatever the case may be, it was months before anyone saw the larger picture. Mostly these first cases were confined to the outer fringes of civilised space, among poorer communities and marginalised systems. Where the glitter spread, it was blamed on poor quarantining protocols, local corruption, or even simple misfortune. What no-one knew was that this was far from the glitter of yore, a threat which while malign could be contained, controlled and cured. It had been engineered, made cunning and cruel. Some spores could lie dormant for months, years, decades. Others followed cyclical patterns, feigning death when discovered and cleared only to compromise the same systems again soon after.
It was only once the first glitter spread on Earth that this new plague was taken seriously. The nanofacturies, vacuum organisms and general assemblers keeping refugees fed, clothed and watered began to fail, and soon so did the communications networks, the power grids. Soon the glitter was spreading like wildfire, not merely between industrial machines but also among people. Those with implants began to fall ill, some with fevers, others with brain damage, yet more simply crying tears of metallic rot and dropping dead.
By now, it was everywhere. It had been found in a dozen places throughout the Bishop ring New Ceres, Stolitska of the Outer Worlds Community, crippling mass transit and resource distribution alike throughout the ring’s extent. Habitats failed by their millions, artificially-balanced ecosystems falling to rot or overgrowth. Bastille’s revenge, a spiteful, hateful act, brought civilisation throughout the Galaxy to its knees.
What wasn’t crippled by plague was contested through war, which only further spread glitter to what few pieces of industry hadn’t already been infected. These conflicts, while lacking the grandeur of either the Imperial Civil War or the Core Wars, what with the ongoing technological collapse, were nonetheless devastating. Nuclear conflict, biological warfare, information attacks — nothing was off the table.
While groups like the Autonomous Municipalities, a collection of mutual-aid anarchist communes dusted throughout the Civilised Galaxy, were able to survive mostly thanks to their decentralised nature and their reliance on resilient, if crude, technologies, they were in large part the exception, rather than the norm.
Within a quarter century, the population had been decimated. The population on the Earth’s surface had dropped from half a trillion souls before the civil war to a scant few billion, and this decline showed little sign of stopping as refugees either fled humanity’s homeworld via space elevators and private shuttles, fell to the plague or starved in their droves. Unable to achieve any stability with the glitter crippling any hope of a modern economy, the Empire dissolved following Lysander III’s death by the same plague which had killed so many of her subjects, ending with some finality a line almost 1,200 years long.
The pristine, natural landscape of New Ceres had been reshaped by wars which followed the glitter, the land chewed up and broken down into vast fields of unkempt mud and soil which stank of human decomposition. By some miracle, the superstructure remained intact — but the heartlands of the Outer Worlds were devastated.
By 3675, whole swathes of the Galaxy were without access to even basic life extension treatments. The economy, where it hadn’t been simply erased, was a resource in equal parts coveted and guarded jealously.
Across the Glittergulf, a name which had taken on a new meaning in the wake of the civil war, prospects were only marginally better. There, technology regressed not due to an outbreak of the glitter, but because those groups who had been amputated from their parent governments by the Glittergulf’s opening collapsed under their own weight, finding a new, stable equilibrium to occupy.
On both sides of the divide, humanity stepped blinking into the sunlight, all the previous certainties and power structures stripped away.
The world had been broken and remade.