by Max Barry

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by Cbg palisade. . 32 reads.

Some Much-Needed Context (OOC)

This dispatch is very much intended to be viewed in dark mode. Please allow time before scrolling down for the images to load!
The layout for this dispatch was largely inspired by Leskya's here. He did it better, of course, but I bet I'll finish mine before he ever does his.


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(2050 2230)

Theme: ⠀LinkApollo Lost

    To comprehend how humanity found itself struggling for an existence both in space and on Earth, one must first understand how it was pushed to reach for the sky in the first place- motivated by struggle, necessity, and opportunity at every turn. The old world, the world of oil and of coal and of life on a single world and of Western hegemony over the developing world, passed away with both a bang and a whimper, the chaos of its wounding overshadowing its pale, pathetic death. In fact, at the time many were not aware it had passed away at all- after all, its collapse ended five hundred years' precedent, and such a collapse hardly ever goes quietly. But, all things considered, global war and Balkanization of nearly every hegemonic power in the old world order was the best outcome.

    The first signs that collapse might be imminent came in the 2050s with the exhaustion of oil reserves on a global scale- first the middle-eastern mainstays of the Gulf monarchies, then Russia's old fields, then the Great Plains, those reserves that had drawn so many old prospectors west finally drained. The markets shook, but recovered; after all, it was a wake-up call that could be slept through- like all the others had been. There were more reserves to extract, more oil to drain. This was no true issue. But there were other issues that could not be ignored- halfhearted efforts to reduce emissions across the world had done nothing to prevent the continual melting of the ice caps, the opening of new holes in the ozone layer, and the deforestation of equatorial rain-forests as the world continued to develop- in 2061, Beijing issued an advisory that all citizens in the greater metropolitan area were to wear filtration masks on outdoor incursions over thirty minutes in length, and in 2063 the United States looked on in horror as the majority of central California and the northern portion of the Mojave burned completely, a deadlocked Congress unable to coordinate an effective response to a problem even regional efforts could not address. But the crises of oncoming climate change were not enough to wake the old beast to the hunter at its throat, and growing demand for smart devices and the creation of the smart home had led to both the hegemonic America and its allies and a rising People's Republic of China wishing to safeguard its future turning to Africa and the rare earth deposits most easily found there even more than the former half of the 21st Century had pushed them to- and the foundations of the new order were laid.

    Despite the hints of an impending climate catastrophe looming on the horizon, there was little in the way of action on the part of the governments of the world, and the pressures of an overgrown tech industry led to pushes for America to combat China's attempt at expanding its sphere of influence outside of its local region- effectively countered in the south by India and in the north by Russia and its new proxy state Mongolia, the still-developing African continent seemed ever the more appealing target for the PRC to expand its dominance. Despite having surpassed America in the 2030s as the world's largest economy it remained per-capita far weaker than that state even into the 2060s, and it was well aware that it seemed to be faltering as its resources began to be depleted. The African continent had never truly entered into its prime as predicted at the turn of the century, its growth handicapped by the economic measures of the developed world to counter climate change making industrialization a difficult prospect. The PRC promised to solve that. However, its seemingly continual expansion brought it once more to the attention of the hegemony, and thus in 2069 ensued the second Scramble for Africa- the foundations of Chinese interests in the region laid since the 1990s coming into conflict with a vast outpouring of American and European wealth into a select few "bastions of democracy" in the region willing to accept Western aid. Continual strife throughout the early 21st century had been beginning to settle, with Nigeria, South Africa, and Algeria especially presenting targets roughly aligned with American and European interests, thanks to their (comparatively) stronger democratic traditions that solidified in the 2040s into the African Free Trade League, largely a puppet of Western interests.

    Central Africa would come to be the crux of this new conflict, the "Chinese Rhodesias" of southeastern Africa (particularly Kenya) and the Congo built up with nuclear and hydroelectric power plants and the third-largest dam in the world spanning the headwaters of the Nile -manned by the PRC's technicians. The outdated militaries of Central Africa, too, were built up with Chinese hardware and fifth-generation aircraft replacing aging, outdated fleets, thus creating a dependency on Chinese suppliers to keep these units running. Western efforts to dissuade this increased attempt at expansion were largely futile, as the PRC was capable of bringing to bear its significant weight against their interests in the region, particularly Taiwan and to a certain extent South Korea and a flagging Japan. The North Korean state, absorbed into China along with portions of outer Mongolia in the 2070s, provided them excellent staging grounds to back up these threats that the West was unable to counter. After all, the disadvantage of hegemony is that one's hand is stuck in every pot, and thus threats to one can be used to pressure the other. But what could not be stopped was the strengthening of those assets favorable to the United States and its allies throughout the 2070s and the insertion of vast amounts of capital into Western and Southern Africa. Occasional proxy wars throughout this new scramble would see destabilized Sudanese and Egyptian territories "annexed" into the new, far harder soft-power bloc, the Republic happy to bring its aid to those states that it had previously strangled with dams across their major rivers' headwaters and economic sanctions for "disturbing the peace". A Russia that had grown increasingly isolationist and state-capitalist in the wake of Vladimir Putin's death in 2038 and the solidification of his political dynasty watched on in bemusement as tensions began to escalate in the region, confident in its own hegemony over the Middle-East solidified after US departure in the 2030s and 2040s.

    It was ironic, then, that given this massive outpouring of capital over decades and the wealth generated in this scramble for dominance over the largest remaining portion of the developing world, the collapse of the old would begin in Central Africa directly- with the opening of a proxy war far closer to the masters than any in the past. The Democratic Republic of the Congo would in 2078 come into open war with Nigeria and Cameroon over the Congo delta. As the war dragged on first one year and then another, Congo's economy soon completely devastated, the United States Congress began to debate becoming involved officially, as opposed to through "advisers" supporting Nigerian and coalition forces. The motion was vastly opposed by the rather stupidly-named Patriot Party, a right-wing movement that oscillated between hawkishness and isolationism when the mood struck it, and supported by the Democratic Party, which after the collapse of the Republican Party in the 2030s had moved rightward to become a big-tent for business interests and vaguely centrist politicians alike, both of which felt threatened by the prospect of the war proceeding without US intervention. The disaffected left-wing elements of the party, reformed into a variety of scattered socialist, social-democratic, and communist elements loathed by the PP and disdained by the Democrats, opposed it, but were unable to form a large enough base to gain any real traction after fifty years of being forced out of any sort of power by Democratic interests propped up by big tech and big manufacturing. But they were very much able to oppose it in other ways.

    2080 would be the year that saw the collapse of the hegemonic United States. A perfect storm motivated the change- years of economic mismanagement by the sort of hegemonic party that American democracy flagged under, increasingly radicalized right-wing elements opposing the hegemony, a disaffected left-wing forced underground by a lack of popular support and constant demonization by the right, and the underlying, steady cancers of a gridlock growing anew and climate change respectively. America was significantly in debt, its industries were troubled to say the least, and a disagreement on involvement in a foreign war that promised to irk both sides of the aisle but which was nonetheless supported by industry as an opportunity to prop up the nation's economy proved to lay incredibly bare that American democracy had progressed to wholesale oligarchy and abandoning their African interests to Europe America began to tear apart at the seams. Secessionist movements launched in the Pacific Northwest, the Rust Belt, and the southeast grew in traction, and in 2081 a vote at the state level passed for Washington State, along with Oregon, to propose its intent to secede. It was quickly shot down by a Democratic Congress, but the motion was out in the open, and the flagrant perceived violation of the state's right to self-determination riled the north incredibly. In 2082 the Guard was dispatched to quell a pan-Pacific movement to leave the Union, and in response the Northeast and the deep South chose to launch similar motions. Eventually the pressure from both sides of the aisle grew too great and from 2083 to 2084 America splintered into over a dozen warring factions and independent states.

    The chaos would be incredibly and swiftly pronounced. European and Indian markets, along with the AFTL, were thrown into a downward spiral that they would not in their present state recover from. The North American continent was wracked by civil war and could hardly render aid. Chinese attempts to capitalize on the confusion were hampered by two things: One, it was despite being opposed to the West the primary trade supplier of the United States for a number of goods, and the deprivation of its export market led to a massive economic downswing. Secondly, in 2089 the Three Gorges Dam, plagued by technical problems as it aged with no real way to be replaced, underwent a catastrophic failure and collapsed, leading to a costly disaster in its heartland that would quite literally claim millions of lives in the course a few days. While it would not admit it, the Russian intelligence apparatus had been responsible for the disaster, Spetsnaz operatives inserted by long-range stealth penetration aircraft detonating a series of two- and three-kilogram C4 charges within the interior of the dam that exacerbated existing faults within the structure the agents had been made aware of by a disgruntled engineer bribed with offers of alcohol. One of the Spetsnaz was additionally rumored to have left "банда денг продолжает побеждать" carved on a structural support left intact after the blast, but this was never confirmed. In the wake of this... unfortunate... accident... China, too, was forced to depart the Congolese theatre and a war it had yet to really finish. It would not return in the same shape- the ensuing crisis within the CCP led to the People's Republic of China, too, splintering. Xinjiang took the opportunity to seek out Russian protection as opposed to the PRC's decades-long efforts to repress Uighur populations and Islam in the region, the devastated provinces protested a bungled response to the dam's failure, and the somehow still-undersized PLA was not able to quell the fires raging nationwide in time to prevent its fall. China would not collapse nearly as hard as the United States did: a southern Chinese state facing climate change head-on would suffer immensely in coming years, Tibet would be absorbed by a flagging, nationalistic India to attempt and stabilize itself, North Korea would seek to rejoin the South, and the northwest of the nation would be swept up by a steadily growing Russia and puppeted, but Beijing and its surrounding environs would remain relatively stable. Its erstwhile allies in Central Africa would fare rather similarly; Chinese exclusivity over the support infrastructure it had given so freely meant that suddenly power plants were deprived of skilled technicians, military and infrastructural equipment of much-needed repairs, and the puppets of their resented master. The Western-aligned African states would find themselves somehow better off than the Chinese experiment, as central Africa faced economic devastation with a lack of investment and, funnily enough, Kenya and the surrounding regions became a refuge for fleeing agents of the PRC who came to establish themselves as far more direct rulers of their old puppets.

    Western Europe, its hegemonic partner fallen, was the last to feel the strain of the collapse- and it ended its dominance on a far softer note than the warring American successors or the foundering Chinese states. The European Union, largely ceremonial since the phasing-out of the Euro in the 2060s, became Europe's sacrificial lamb, finally disbanded in 2104- with the exception of the creation of a successor to the Schengen Zone much lessened in scope - in order to provide its members' people with the impression that the increasingly isolationist majority sentiment in the face of seemingly endless war and chaos abroad was being catered to. Europe for Europeans, it was said, as the most developed portion of the world began to struggle in the face of deprivation of its foreign suppliers, and even as store shelves went unstocked and factories began once more to shutter the sentiment remained. States once considered institutions would begin to crack apart; by the end of it all, Germany was partitioned as its economy collapsed, the southern Mediterranean states began to suffer severely from desertification and an increasingly arid environment, and France was rendered impoverished but kept afloat by seizing as much as it could from other failing states. The British Isles, well... islands didn't fare so well in the coming years, and as Scotland left the Union England's standard of living fell sharply as it was forced to devote more and more resources to not becoming a swamp. Europe's North American partner Canada would be rendered a crippled state as France pressured it into granting Quebec "independence" and British Columbia and Alberta left to join with a new Cascadian state, bottlenecking Canada's remaining industrial centers between southern warring polities and a northern puppet ruled by masters intent on using it as a way to expand their coffers. The only real European superpower remaining was Russia, which had thanks to seizures of opportunity managed to actually grow its economy rather than shrink it, its primary challenge being a coming oil shortage it had delayed by moving economic interests into the Middle-East in the void left behind by an isolationist America.

    Oddly enough South America was left largely unscathed by the ravages of this collapse, though the next would prove just as damaging- deforestation of the Amazon invited desertification of once-fertile land and global warming rendered swathes of Central America adverse to human habitation as the average ambient temperature rose to the point where during summers the human body was unable to cool itself at midday. The cleared forests would turn to arid plain and the ensuing crop failures would cripple Brazil, Central America, and the Guyanas; Argentina, Chile, and their neighbors would as more southern states not suffer so fiercely and manage to ride out the wave of northern instability with only moderate stress on their institutions. But the continent still remained underdeveloped compared to even the Northern hemisphere cut down at the knees and the African continent, and with little incentive for greater investment in the region the far south of the world would begin a slide into irrelevance.

    The world would be throughout the 22nd century wracked by the scars incurred in the 19th, 20th, and 21st- Earth had been so thoroughly exploited that the only thing preventing a worst-case climate collapse was the efforts of the remaining powers to completely and thoroughly reach carbon-neutrality or carbon-negativity by 2150, a benchmark very few of them would in fact meet until 2200 or later- warlordism and strife were rampant in the remnants of the old hegemonic powers, and climate change had already gotten too far out of hand to ever be truly stopped. The Sahara, the Gobi, the Mojave, and deserts across the world would swell as high desert and scrubland dried out, mass coral die-outs and the warming of the oceans led to the extinction of a majority of oceangoing life, and the total number of unique species on Earth is estimated to have decreased by approximately seventy percent. The already devastated Yangtze region would suffer further as the squabbling governments attempting to establish control over the area failed to take any sort of action to prevent its flooding. The Gulf Coast, the Amazon basin, and the Congolese delta too would begin to be lost to the waves, and Southeast Asia alone would contribute over 29 million climate refugees to the ultimate total of three hundred million worldwide- but where would they go? There was no place left.

    The great powers were impoverished now, torn apart by a war they'd started and never finished. The new ones rising to take their places were hardly any better. South Africa and the Russian Federation were traumatized powers, broken by the wars they'd been forced to pick up after. Though developed, Kenya was a surveillance state only moderately better than the warlords to the west. The Manchurian State? Swamped both figuratively and literally with refugees and barely holding itself together. Cascadia posed some opportunity, its borders most certainly open, but it was more concerned with the warring powers to its south- and for most refugees was either a choked, strangled ocean or a scorching, shifting desert away. Europe was a continent largely shattered and steadily coming under Russian dominion. Though most of the world's powers were able to eventually rebuild after the century of death, struggle and strife, it was only to an extent, and at great cost of life. The Enlightenment's ideals were dead, as was the time of industrialization. It could not be achieved again with Earth's resources alone. Humanity was forever crippled, or so it would seem.

    But in the 2230s the idea was posed- perhaps it did not have to be. There was an entire cosmos out there, after all, ripe for the taking by those who would only dare. Humanity had finally gathered to itself the will, the... authority... to do just that. Not for prestige, but for survival. There was only one way to go from here- out. And now, at long last, humanity was ready to reach for the stars.

    Finally it was time for things to get interesting.


(2230 2400)

Theme: ⠀LinkOne Way to Go

    In 2236, the Cascadian Republic hosted a trade conference in Vancouver, the New Venice of the North (figuratively and literally). It was a simple enough event; speeches were to be given about the mistakes of the fathers, committees were to speak on progress and rebuilding and initiatives to heal the world through free and sustainable exchange of goods, and deals were to be made to ensure the lines on the graph continued upward. But one slot of the speaking time was devoted to a group of idealists, or more accurately, dreamers- to present on their new concept for an agency that would serve to dedicate resources to the colonization of space, with the intent of eventually correcting the shortage of plastics and means for generating power on Earth. Nominally such an idea would've been laughed out of the conference- in fact it should have. But the conference happened to coincide with a wave of shortages as yet-increasing scarcity compromised Cascadian supply chains once again. The budget was fine, but the ability to acquire material with that budget was absent. Coupled with an aging satellite fleet in orbit, the fact that modern states tended far more towards the authoritarian than those of the past and were thus more empowered to act on such concepts, and the general spirit of hopefulness permeating a world that despite the hardships rippling across its surface still seemed to be moving in a better direction, the speech fell on multinational and eager ears- and several dozen diplomatic meetings and under-the-table bribes later the Colonial Authority had been officially formed. By 2240 enough details about its structure had been bashed out that its founding agents- the Russian Federation, a coalition of European powers, South Africa, Manchuria, Newfoundland, the Pennsylvanian Republic, and, of course, Cascadia- were confident in offering it a blank cheque. Its initial objective was to be determining how to somehow rebuild what infrastructure in space had been placed there by powers and private entities past in the heady early 21st century, and after that its goals became twofold- to ensure its self-sufficiency and to permit humanity's outward Expansion, at any cost.

    Those, at least, were goals it could reach- with some investment, of course. Its blank cheques were put to good use; the early Authority, upon modernizing older designs like the Ariane, Falcon, and New Glenn boosters and constructing the necessary infrastructure south of Shenyang and at Milton Beach was able to manage a launch rate of two per month, an impressive rate for states that struggled to produce the fuel needed to launch the vehicles. Unlike space programs of the past the Authority's sights were immediately set on the Moon, then looking outwards to Deimos and finally to the asteroid belt. Its path had been laid and it was dead-set on following it to the letter. First it would use Lunar ice to fuel great ships built in orbit, then it would send those to Deimos; the tiny moon over the red planet would become a hub for the exploration of the asteroid belt. Once there yet more fueling hubs would be established, and then it was on to Jupiter, Saturn, and more importantly, Enceladus, Europa, and Triton. The first two would be the great stores of fuel to supply the colonization of the gems of the Solar system, the gas giants, and the last would be the solution to Earth's dearth of plastics, or so the planners hoped- they were confident some means of shipping raw materials to Earth on an economical scale would present itself, even if they knew that was likely an empty hope. The early Authority trusted that with a resilient organizational hierarchy, a self-sufficient structure, and a strong will, it could do anything- time would not drive humanity down to dust again.

    By 2248 they seemed to be well on the path to meeting their goals- in only three years' planning and five years more of spaceflight they had returned humans to the moon and begun pre-launching components for a Mars expedition and a lunar colony at the South Pole. The older designs they'd used as a quick and dirty fix for their lack of orbital infrastructure were beginning to be complimented by newer craft- lifters, transfer stages, satellites, landers, and exoatmospheric boosters, all of the Authority's own making. Old blueprints for NERVA motors, plans for fusion engines never built, and ideas previously destined to only fly into some intern's trash bin began to circulate the Authority's offices in Moscow, Pretoria, and Vancouver. Progress was being made. Humanity was beginning to move ever outwards. 2250 saw its astronautical corps grow from a mere twenty crewmen to two hundred, and in 2251 over thirteen thousand called its recruitment offices to sign on aboard colony ships only theoretical at the time. A series of publicity campaigns, made by propaganda officers drawn from five nations' media corps, had been successful in igniting the fervor for space in a population already excited about the future- in South Africa, and across the Northern Hemisphere, things seemed to be going well for once. Centuries of death and bloodshed were in the minds of the Authority signatories finally beginning to pass, the world settling into familiarity and rote living once more. In the shell of the old hegemony there looked to be a new one growing, albeit one far more stellar in its aspirations.

    Beyond Earth, the Authority's chess-pieces were beginning to move. In 2254 it began construction of vast ships intended to carry NEO asteroids back to Earth and there establish great orbital manufacturing facilities in which it could construct even vaster ships, and in 2255 human boots crunched down into the soil of the red planet for the first time- along with the instruments by which a later mission might be aided in establishing a Martian settlement. No nation's flag was planted there; rather, the Authority's banner- a nondescript globe representing humanity, a single North Star cresting its horizon guiding that humanity, and a series of four stripes on its far right field evoking forward motion- was impaled into the ruddy, oxidized regolith of the dead little world. Throughout the 2260s humanity was sent ever outward, and in 2268 Tsiolkovsky, Elysium Planitia, Mars, population 202 was incorporated as the first settled possession outside of Earth's gravitational sphere of influence. A year later it would be joined by Victory Bay, Deimos, population 68, and Goddard, Shackleton Crater, Luna, population 193- each administered by a committee and a new bureaucratic subdivision of the Authority itself, the Martian Colonial Authority the former two and the Lunar Colonial Authority the latter. These three colonies, each seeded by a purpose-built hauler vehicle constructed in LEO primarily from asteroids mined by Authority ships, would serve as the model for any future growth it would undergo- the creation of a new Authority empowered in local rule, ideally later to govern as an independent power, with sustainability and expansion of its own colony at any cost. However, unlike later subdivisions, the majority of early Authorities- primarily those in the Solar System- would be organized on the scale of a single planet or moon rather than a whole star system.

    The Authority, though, here began to first show signs of... sub-optimal practices. While it was cracked down on heavily, and no word of it ever reached Earth and the funding powers the Authority was so dependent on, in 2275 one of Tsiolkovsky's governing board was shoved into an airlock and spaced after sexually harassing one of his crew members. Without any means of recourse to voice a grievance with a member of an autocratic leadership staff on a station too small to have any real law enforcement, the crew member's family was forced to take matters into their own hands- and were in turn censured for it. The committee member's death was reported as the result of a previously-undetected cancer- and thanks to the fact that his body was by code cremated, and the Martian Authority controlled all transmissions back to Earth, no alternate report could get out. This sort of mistreatment, while not in scale or severity oft-replicated in the Authority's early years, would in lesser incidents crop up time and time again, as given the colonies' physical distance from each other it was impossible for the Authority to maintain direct control over their practices to a standard that Earth would approve of. Thus it was forced to distance its operations from Earth to maintain its now-sacrosanct task of outward expansion from the mother planet, in 2284 moving its official headquarters to an enlarged Goddard and relegating its Vancouver, Moscow, and Pretoria offices to the role of middlemen- between the Earth it was meant to serve and the stellar governments it was becoming ever more preoccupied with managing.

    But not all was ill for the Authority, as its steady expansion was most certainly proceeding apace. 2279 saw a hub station opened between the orbits of Ganymede and Callisto in Jupiter's orbit, intended to establish expeditions to the Trojans and expand the number of viable transfer-windows to climb out of the Sun's gravity well with fuel depots and refueling infrastructure. In 2284, the same year the Authority's headquarters would move to Luna, a similar craft reached Saturn- powered by a fusion motor capable of constant slow acceleration on its journey from Earth. This vessel, the Barton, would serve as the model for the Colonial Authority's later brachistochrone freighters that would form the backbone of its infrastructure and its interstellar trade lanes. The Authority, heady with its successes, set 2300 as the year in which it would have settled every major body from Earth's Moon to Ceres to Neptune. While it would miss this goal by eight years, it nonetheless was progressing at an exceptionally fast pace, thanks to its bureaucratic structure being oriented wholly around outward expansion. Contrary to its stated goals in the 2230s of sending plastics and hydrocarbons to the mother planet, it was instead fueling its own expansion with nearly the entirety of its gathered resources, the inner colonies' productivity devoted almost entirely to sending the fruits of their labor outwards to the outer ones. And this pace was about to become much, much faster, as in 2304 an entirely tangential project came to fruition. In a lab in Moscow labeled "мы все здесь идиоты", a something had been opened, a hole in space not quite a wormhole leading to something not quite un-space no more than a few atoms of U-235 in diameter. It led to, so the scientists had projected, a lab table partitioned from the apparatus two meters away- and when a whiff of krypton was injected into it, a spectrometer detected a similar mass of the gas over the partitioned table. Less than a month later and the thing had been paired to another, and despite requiring constant input power could be carried quite a long distance away without losing coherency- and still permitted instantaneous travel through a space that technically had no distance. Humanity had the means to finally leave the solar system, if only the new device could be scaled to a practical size.

    And scaled up it would be. The Authority would advance its projections, its timetables, and its construction schedules, its first brachistochrone ships deployed in 2308 and far larger vessels termed "superhaulers" not long after. The purpose for these craft would be to carry what had been dubbed "transit gates", massive vessels wrapped about cores of steel, rare-earth metals, coiled particle accelerators, and at the heart of their structure hollow nests for further apparatuses to be placed. These "gates" were the largest monolithic structures humanity had yet envisioned, spanning five to six kilometers in diameter when extended with their apparatuses active, a "mere" eight hundred meters when compacted into the spiky balls attached to the rears of purpose-built haulers. They massed in the kilotons, and these superhaulers would by necessity mass similarly- whereas the rest of the Authority's new brachistochrone fleet was far less concerned with the masses they carried than ships of seventy years past, superhaulers were engineered to exacting tolerances, every rivet measured out, the paint used to coat their hulls chosen because it massed a few grams less on average than its competitors. When the first was completed it took weeks to fuel, and when it opened its aperture in 2310, followed shortly thereafter by a compacted gate tied to a hauler slung across spacetime to α Centauri, it came online to great fanfare- a fanfare dwarfed by the establishment of a paired gate light-years away in another star system entirely. Humanity had become an interstellar species at long last, and as predicted by the pulpits of the old order, it had been forced to bend physics to its will to do so. The recruitment drives of the 2240s, the products of which were beginning to age in their new homes among the planets, were dwarfed by those that followed the Centauri Gate's opening. Over two hundred thousand queued up to join with the Authority, most turned away by a lack of space for new recruits. The ships prepared for the day flew into the new system by the dozen, their crews practically fanatical for the cause- they would colonize Centauri and bring it under the Authority's control, and they would do so in short order, as they had determined to. Not unexpectedly the system lacked any habitable planets, as the thirty-two-meter aperture observatory operating just outside Venus' orbit had shown the Authority prior to this point. As planned the central hub for the new colony would be an update on the Barton station framework called Miranda-1, a massive comet dragged to its waiting refineries to serve as its fuel supply, rather than any planet or moon. Self-sufficiency mandated that humanity lose its ties to gravity just as it would lose its ties to Earth, and thus in the name of Expansion and keeping to the Timetable it would be so.

    Time went on, and the Authority began to fall into a monotony on a stellar scale. The wheels of bureaucracy ensured that it would; with the velvet gloves of a gently guided economy and controlled production goals and the iron fists of the Authority's grip on life-support and its new corps of armed astronauts, the espatiers, it ensured that for each new Gate it opened, each new station flung to some foreign system, there was always a selection of material available to construct the next. There was another factor, too; one far more Earthly in nature: Since the 2200s, the concepts of liberal democracy and to a certain extent individualism had been disparaged on a vast scale- after all, it was liberal democracy that permitted the order that destroyed the Earth to arise, and it was liberal democracy that ensured that no steps could be taken to address the issue before it grew out of hand. As such, there was sufficient precedent for the degree of control the Authority was choosing to exert over the territories it controlled to justify its practices. And further yet, the Authority's own unique brand of bureaucratic rule, even more extreme than its earthbound masters, was beginning to be considered the best model a spacefaring society could follow. In 2321, with over eighty years of spacefaring existence to its name, the Authority announced that for the first time there were more humans living in space born there than taken from mother Earth. These people had only known life under what amounted to an overgrown space agency, and with no conception of anything else but as dusty history told by a government more interested in preparing them for engineering tracks or work as dockhands and haulers than imparting philosophy. And the Authority, after all, remained very good at propagandizing, and very good at meeting peoples' needs. Those sub-optimal practices of the 2280s where by the 2330s no longer considered bugs but features; so what if frontier justice was more practical than trial by jury? So what? If things began to slip then the enforcers could ensure the gears kept turning. The people, after all, were ruled on a local enough scale; the planetary and stellar Authorities were nominally meant to enforce the peace, even if they ultimately deferred to Goddard on the matter. They were well aware that if they did fail to keep the peace it would be their heads on the line, not their masters, and that was motive enough to keep the gears of supply turning.

    And turn they did- the Authority from 2321 to 2400 did not see a single year where net productivity decreased below the level it had been at the year prior. Primarily this was due to the frantic pace at which it was constructing Gates; despite the massive investment needed to make the things, the Authority still managed to throughout the 2300s bring at least one or two new systems under its control each year, extending humanity's reach five and six light-years at a time. Then, of course the process would begin anew; a new flag would be raised, a new sub-Authority created, and the resources of the new system almost instantly turned to first establishing self-sufficiency and next making new Gates. Miranda-1 in Centauri was soon complimented by Miranda-18, Miranda-22, Miranda-58, Miranda-195, and on and on until the framework grew too large to remain practical. And so, in the name of simplifying the Bureaucracy and hastening the Timetable, stations stopped being designated in such a rigid scheme- the locals could handle that. It didn't matter. Establishing targets didn't matter, communicating with Goddard didn't matter, none of it mattered- only the Timetable. Benchmarks were met so that further benchmarks could be met. There was a purpose for all of this, for sure, but the Authority did not know how to express it, even to itself. Clearly they were preparing to supply Earth- but a system a hundred light-years away was months removed from that planet even with the Gate network in play. Why, then, it began to ask, was it even bothering?

    The Authority would come to reach a turning point at the turn of the 25th Century- it found that it had met its goal. All the sacrifices it made, all the pain it had undergone, the humanity it had stripped from itself in the name of Expansion and meeting the Timetable had paid off. It no longer needed Earth. Even phosphorus it now had enough of to keep itself sustained for thousands of years, if properly distributed, and none of it sourced from Earth. The mother planet, doting in her old age, turned to her children in the stars and asked for her promised boon- the plastics that in 2230 it had set out for. But the Authority had nothing to give; in its planning, it hadn't stopped to consider its second objective. The Solar System could ship goods to Earth, sure, but only a paltry sum; the society the Authority supported dwarfed its own population over a hundredfold. Ten billion on one world, barely a hundred million in hundreds of other systems- it simply didn't compute. It could not hope to meet that demand. All it could do was support itself. And when the economic planners turned over new pages in their notebooks, pages that read 2400, spacefaring humanity turned its back on those left behind in the cradle. They had not adapted, they had not made the leap. They deserved what came next.

    No matter that they were meant to have been that adaptation. When Earth called, the Authority did not answer. It had met the timetable- but there was always more Expansion to be done, and more Consumption of goods. Their distribution had to be determined, their extractors selected, the vessels to carry them constructed- the calculus of exploring space went on. Earth, however, no longer figured in that calculus.

(2400 2650)

Theme: ⠀LinkThe Mass-Driver Engineer

    The Authority's decoupling from Earth would mark its apogee- not for a lack of material support it no longer needed to sustain its growth, but for a lack of... enthusiasm... in the cause. During its early outward years there had always been some novelty to exploration; new worlds would present themselves, new systems ripe and fertile for the harvest, but as time went on even the opening of the cosmos became in the public perception rather rote. For a state that worked its laborers so hard this constituted an incredibly bothersome issue: the inner systems no longer felt the pressure to expand outwards, and the outer systems were- more readily listening to the inner systems than their Authority masters- following suit in an entirely new form of "sub-optimal practices", dissent, demonstration, and rarely, revolution. They no longer saw the need for meeting the Timetable anymore, not when there was no goal to meet and no justification for performing backbreaking work up to sixteen hours a day merely to send the products of their labor light-years away. The system the Authority had grown was dependent on it being able to explain its transgresses to a population fervent for its goals, and without that fervor prevailing in the Authority's laboring class it was unable to effectively coordinate its expansion- and was faced with the far harsher reality that it had created something inherently unsustainable.

    The early 2400s would see a new, budding revolutionary sentiment spawned in the innermost portions of the Authority's zone of control, a unique strain of fringe anarcho-syndicalism that would have been laughed out of any Earthly discussion finding root and adaptation in the void. Its chiefest tenant was that the progression of history had, through this severing of the earthly tether, finally enabled humanity to live in a theoretical state completely free of the worst aspects of statism. The habitat as the primary mode of spacefaring living played a key role in its development, as did the advent of "homesteading spacers", people who by moving to the fringes of the Authority's control or taking up root in bypassed systems would be able to live completely independent of both Earth and the Authority's rule- these two factors combined to significantly mitigate the issue of "revolutions cannot exist in a vacuum"- quite literally- and the problem of outside interference. This movement, far more promising than the "state-capitalist" Authority's practices in terms of what it offered the working man, grew in strength incredibly swiftly, demonstrations spreading even as far inwards as Saturn- as evidenced the 2430 dock-worker riots around Enceladus, which brought the system's fuel transit to a halt. To Goddard this would serve as a wake-up call, as Saturn was regarded as the crown jewel of the Authority's development, its well-oiled mechanisms a perfect microcosm of the Authority's larger workings. If Saturn could grind to a stop- even if only for a moment, as it was a simple matter to quell the riots by threatening station LSS- then anywhere could, and it would be up to local Authorities, not Goddard, to stop them. What if the local governments failed, they asked? The economic planning computers coughed up an answer- the Timetable would be crippled.

    Such a threat could not stand. During the 2440s and 2450s the Authority in a unique show of top-down governance institute extreme reforms that would see its expansion timetable completely overhauled, its espatier force massively expanded, and in a unique doctrinal consideration, the beginning of the militarization of space. The Authority would slow its pace of expansion and 200 years after its foundation finally become a true government, issuing policy, legislation, and legal mandates on a regional scale, and would formalize its upper command cadres as actual leaders, rather than administrators and committee heads. It would require the institution of the Three Eights standard throughout its area of control by de-jure rather than de-facto legislation, defining the work, flexible, and sleep cycles as eight hours each in measure and law. It would establish boards of review for espatiers and mandate the creation of new cutter-type vessels intended to conduct anti-piracy actions, rather than to simply police ports of call, and would develop coilguns and railguns suitable for space combat and escort actions. And finally, it would begin the process of transitioning the inner systems into more independent societies, despite their existence at the heart of the Authority's tendrils. Jupiter would be the first world to become an independent Authority in 2464, its new founding charter requiring it to fulfill its trading obligations to other Authorities but entrusting to it self-determination in its government, as part of an initiative to ensure the demands of workers for more effective local rule, and to cut support out from underneath revolutionary labor movements.

    The Authority was, of course, willingly kneecapping itself by instituting these reforms, and to the bemoaning of many an economic planner at Goddard the lines on the graphs went down for the first time in decades. But a diminished productivity was nothing compared to the Authority's having saved itself from imminent collapse, and as it would see in the coming years, it had managed to extend its lifespan significantly. The apogee it had reached in 2400 would never be reached again, but its downward trend would become a far smoother one, even often imperceptible, thanks to its adjustments. The one exception to this trend was in the far frontiers of its territory, where thanks to the difficulty of prompt communication from star to star even with Gates, reforms could not be immediately enforced. It would take years for a reformed espatier corps to be fully deployed to far colonial space, and it remains questionable whether Three Eights was ever fully implemented- it was simple enough for "flexible" time to be designated as merely more work hours, after all. TBA TBA TBA

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(2650 2750)

Theme: ⠀LinkLegends

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(2750 2995)

Theme: ⠀LinkThe Moon-Miners

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