HUMANITY AND THE AGE OF EXPANSION
By the early 2200’s the Earth groaned under the weight of nearly 13 billion human souls. Crippling overpopulation had finally, as predicted, become a problem of truly monumental proportions. Certain new technologies were keeping the environment from falling into total collapse, but the planet’s non-renewable resources were nearly depleted. Without a vast infusion of raw materials from some outside source, the average citizen of Earth could only look to a future with a steadily declining quality of life.
That outside source was, of course, the Solar System itself. Virtually unlimited wealth lay within plain sight, yet it was seemingly out of reach to earthbound Humanity. As dire as things were, political inertia and sheer short-sightedness kept mankind chained to the ground.
Chained, that is, except for a handful of space probe missions existing on the very dregs of budgetary funding.
On October 24, 2215, International Space Agency scientists made a shocking announcement. Earlier that year, the Prometheus robotic probe had discovered incontrovertible evidence of life at Jupiter. But not just on one of Jupiter’s moons.
On Europa, the long-hypothesized warm ocean theory had proven to be absolutely true. Beneath the moon’s thick crust of ice existed a saltwater ecosystem that rivaled all of Earth in its biodiversity. Some of the most impressive creatures included giant clam-like organisms as big as a groundcar, as well as sinuous, reptilian predators as massive as the largest whales.
While Europa had long been considered a likely candidate for extraterrestrial life, frozen Ganymede had certainly not fallen into the same category. Yet inside vast, frozen caverns kept marginally habitable by vents connected to Ganymede’s hot core, the dominant lifeforms included creatures disturbingly close in appearance to a large, four-legged bird.
Biological samples taken from lifeforms on both moons seemed to indicate a close genetic relationship not just between the lifeforms on each moon, but between the lifeforms of both moons. Yet the most striking revelation was yet to come. There appeared to be a clear genetic relationship to life on Earth itself… a relationship that appeared much, much more recent than some distant microbial ancestor. It was suggested that life on Earth, and indeed in the solar system, may have originated from somewhere else in the universe entirely…
Many on Earth cheered the news that we were not unique in the cosmos. However a number of traditional societal institutions teetered on the brink of chaos as those less open-minded refused to accept the stark reality of the truth. Conspiracy theories abounded, and in many regions rioting and unrest threatened to erupt into all-out war. Eventually, however, the live daily video feeds coming back from Prometheus, particularly those featuring wild, pristine Europa, overcame the doubts of all but the most recalcitrant observers.
As mankind finally acknowledged that he was not truly alone, the world slowly, painfully marshaled the Earth’s remaining resources to build the first fleet of manned, sub-light vessels. The flow of resources from this first generation of mining ships and freighters began as a trickle, but as more and more ships were built, it soon turned into a flood. By the 2400’s mining crews had surveyed virtually every inch of the Sol system.
Although man had conquered the solar system, interstellar travel still seemed like an impossibility, at least from any practical standpoint. Yet on Earth itself, Pandora’s Box was still waiting to be found…
On September 18, 2704, a group of college students on vacation high in the Himalayas detected a weak energy signal emanating from a rarely-visited mountain pass. Against the strong advice of their local guides, who were themselves intelligent, educated men and yet who vehemently insisted that the pass was haunted, the students strode forward. Reaching the site of the signal, the students stood in amazement at the scene before them. A massive avalanche had peeled away the snow, revealing an ancient, half-ruined stone temple built into the side of the mountain. Unwisely, the students entered the temple. Somehow they managed to trigger the structure’s power system, which uses a form of energy that has yet to be identified. As a result, the locator beacon that had led them there was amplified to its full strength.
On October 3, three starships of non-human origin arrived above Earth. Every attempt to hail them was met with silence. They were still ignoring all attempts to hail as they began bombarding the planet. The half-finished construction ship Pride of Sol was the first target. Then they switched to population centers.
We later learned that these ships belonged to a faction of interstellar renegades who called themselves the Vekundur Buccaneers. Earth must have seemed like such a soft, yielding target. Indeed, the popular wisdom of the time stated that any race that could achieve interstellar spaceflight could only survive long enough to do so if it was peaceful. Oh, how wrong that was.
Yet some within the military had planned for the worst-case scenario, and Earth was not totally defenseless. Earth Space Port was a military, not a civilian installation, and fixed upon its hull were no less than 18 Maxos laser blaster arrays. Perhaps the Vekundur pirates did not even realize that our primitive systems were targeting them at all, but they surely noticed when the station’s batteries opened fire on them in full fury. What began then was, perhaps, the most crucial battle in all of human history. Although each enemy ship was no larger than a medium freighter, on a pound-for-pound basis their weapons were hitting much, much harder than anything we had. After an epic firefight lasting several hours, the pirates withdrew with heavy damage, just as the spaceport’s shields were about to fail. One of their ships had been reduced to a burning hulk, slowly rolling end-over-end in view of the station. There was, however, one very important and nearly intact piece of technology that humanity was able to salvage from that wreck: a working hyperdrive.