Part 1: The Long Dark Winter
Jump drives, giving ships the ability to instantaneously shift from one place in space to another, had allowed humankind to explore farther than we’d ever dreamed, at least outside of the realms of fantasists.
But there were limitations. The further the distance, the more power it took – so large vessels were required. Very large vessels. And even they might take dozens of ‘short jumps’, having to recharge between each one, to make the journey to a relatively nearby star, such as Barnard’s Star, Epsilon Eridani or Lalande 21185.
Great projects began – the building of jumpgates. Two huge structures, which allowed small ships to move from gate to gate, but with the huge energy requirements being provided by enormous reactors attached to the gates – not ones needing to be carried by the little freighters and exploration vessels commonly ferrying humans about the clusters.
Of course, to build the gate meant travelling there in the first place. So engineering fleets, bringing tons of rare metals, computers and generators arrived, slowly constructing each gate. The process took years, and it opened up a rather harsh reality for human travelers: that the nearby star systems to us were often barren, with few resources and no habitable planets to make the trip worthwhile.
We were, it seemed, stuck in a backwater – an empty spiral arm of a galaxy largely filled with barren rocks orbiting soulless stars.
“You gotta understand that we tried. We really did. Dozens of jumpgates, spanning light year after light year. So many systems. Everywhere we went, we found ores… but none of the rare stuff,” explained Herschel Markowitz, later a prominent mining magnate. “This isn’t the middle-ages. Iron isn’t enough. It’s ‘rare earth’ metals as we used to call them – or complex materials in the right situations. That’s what mattered, and that’s what we couldn’t find. Floating, useless rock after floating useless rock. And let’s not forget about food. You can grow a lot in pre-fabricated domes, sure… but if you’ve got even a half-useful atmosphere… well let’s just say it was a big deal we didn’t find places like that near Earth.”
Hope came from the great space-based radio-telescopes at Pluto. Seeing further than we’d ever imagined, they gave us clues that there was a place worth visiting. In an adjacent spiral arm of the Milky Way, hundreds and hundreds of light years through dark space entirely devoid of stars, lay the Apollo cluster.
The moon race beginning in the 1960s gave generations hope that our future would not be cut short on Earth; the discovery of the Apollo cluster solidified our idea of what that future might be.
It was a cluster, radio-telescopes said, with dozens of solar systems – many showing signs of atmospheres and metals of great use. But a jumpgate to travel the distance would be an enormous undertaking – the power systems alone to charge the gate would take hundreds of tons of fissile materials, to say nothing about the huge rare metal structures which were needed to shift matter from one gate to the next.
But what if we could surmount that? A project began larger than any other Earth had undertaken. Taking decades of planning and construction, the greatest space-going vessel ever launched, the deep-space colony ship Cassandra, was finally given a send-off worth of a project to send over 700,000 humans on a ten year voyage to travel to Apollo.
“Apollo appears to have what we’d… what we’ll all need to expand and thrive,” said Richard Lansky, an astronomer assigned to the cluster in a worldwide exclusive interview. “We can keep on eking out a living here in our little corner of the galaxy, colonizing one lifeless planet after another scrounging for enough resources to continue this pointless expansion… or we can jump. One big jump. One massive influx of everything we’ll need as a species for decades, possibly even centuries to come!”
“This will be the most dangerous trip humankind has ever undertaken,” said Nandan Bhargava, the Cassandra project lead. “But if these tends people, these exemplars of humanity, can safely get to Apollo and build their end of the gate, we may just craft a new dawn for our species.”
As Cassandra, an enormous, cylindrical structure tens of kilometers long and the biggest man-made structure ever, slowly crawled her way past Mars, Jupiter and Saturn to the outer rim of the solar system, where the lack of gravitational interference would let the biggest mobile jump drive ever created spin up and prepare to take it out of space-time for the first of what would be hundreds upon hundreds of jumps, it passed an early framework of what would become the second-biggest human-made structure: the Apollo Gate.
While Cassandra began her journey, back on Earth the construction on Earth Gate was made priority to connect humanity to the structure in the Apollo Cluster.
A decade of travel followed by a further decade of construction in Apollo itself to build their side of the jumpgate pair would mean that future travel between Earth and the cluster could happen almost instantaneously.
Cassandra was the most carefully-engineered vessel of all time, with the most vetted and analysed crew since the first voyages to Jupiter.
Her captain was Jason Novari, a young, but highly-decorated officer, who had famously saved hundreds of lives during his stint in the Sol Rescue Corps.
The engineering captain, Niklas Lipponen, was one of the greatest industrial engineers to ever work at the Mars Orbital Fleet Yards, and had been heavily involved in the design of both, the Cassandra and Earth Gate.
First officer Gregor Halsey, the only American in the command crew, had a history as one of the most stoic and efficient scout captains in the Earth Astrometrics Corps.
And, finally, Silvia Chang, a uniquely talented Astrobotanist responsible for the design of the “great greenhouse of Sirius”, was named Chief Botanist for the mission.
These four figures, along with several others heading up smaller divisions, rapidly became the most famous figures in human spacefaring history since Neil Armstrong, Xiu Chu or Dr. Declan De Vass.
Her De Vass drive charged, Novari ordered the Cassandra’s first jump and the vessel blinked out of existence in a heartbeat.
Arriving millions of kilometers away without incident, the crew began a job which would become very familiar in the years to come.
First, all system checks were completed – the Cassandra was intact. The largest man-made object in history was now also the fastest-travelling.
Then the dozens of small support crafts, from light freighters to scout ships, began to undock and buzz about the structure, assisting it in unpacking the largest solar panels ever created. For while it was possible to re-charge the ship’s De Vass drive purely using the reactors in the vessel itself, as most of the trip would be near numerous light sources, the engineers figured they could use these to speed up the journey. By using the enormous, 21 km long solar wings, the trip would be reduced from 13 years to just 10.
Days performing system checks and charging, and finally the Cassandra was ready to jump again. The solar wings were packed up, the ships re-docked and once again, the enormous vessel disappeared in the blink of an eye just to re-appear millions of kilometers away.
For years, this went on. Each time, the solar panels would be unpacked and the generator would be charged. Jump after jump, with the 752,452 colonists living life in deep space in a way no people in history ever had before. And each time, the recharge would take longer.
“You know, growing up on the Cassandra wasn’t so bad,” Fernando Salazar, who boarded the Cassandra at the age of 12, said during an interview. “For children, there was a lot to do, and there’s something about the structure of the jumps which were exciting to us. We’d all meet up at school and discuss when the next jump was going to be. Sometimes we heard different things, so we argued. It’s funny, because I heard later there were arguments about the ethics of forcing children to grow up on a prolonged deep-space voyage. But ask any of us – it was a good environment… certainly better than the early years of what came after.”
By nearly five years in, Cassandra had reached almost exactly half way between the two spiral arms of the galaxy, and recharging the jump drive no longer took days; it took weeks. With almost no usable light reaching the solar panels, Cassandra was finally at the place the crew began to dramatically call ‘The Long Dark Winter’. At the precise mid-point, it was announced by First Officer Halsey that they were now at the darkest, longest jump stop – and that from here on, it would only get brighter. This was the happiest day of the entire journey.
He also announced something else – that their number had changed. Despite two accidents and several natural deaths taking the lives of twelve crew-members, the Cassandra, due to births in numerous creches, had now increased the human population of the mission by precisely one thousand souls. This marked the first point in history of humans alive who had never known anything but life aboard a colony ship.
Five years later, these toddlers would, for the first time, lay eyes on a planet – a desolate but beautiful world named Lagrange – in the star system known optimistically as Sagan’s Lights.
Part 2: Lipponen’s Folly
Arriving in the outskirts of the new central solar system of Sagan’s Lights, the Cassandra did something she hadn’t done in ten years – use her enormous conventional propulsion systems. With her support fleet disembarked, her giant RCS suite – each engine easily as large as a normal freighter’s main drive – turned her to face the right direction, and her main drive fired, beginning the slow process of bringing Cassandra into orbit of humanity’s first colony beyond the mythical “ten light-year limit” of human colonization up to that point.
Then, while the first landing robots and a manned expedition landed on the Lagrange, command of the Cassandra was officially and permanently handed over from Novari, the Mission Commander, to Niklas Lipponen, the engineer who would begin the final part of Cassandra’s life: her dismantling. Over two months, as more and more people began to land on Lagrande to prepare the site of the first colony, Meier, Lipponen and his crew began to disassemble Cassandra into its constituent modules. Each one fully self-sustaining, soon the largest ship ever built had instead become twenty-five.
Three months after planetfall, Lipponen began the most dangerous part of the expedition since the first jump – the first attempt to de-orbit a million-ton metal craft safely, without significant structural damage. If this failed, it would spell almost certain doom for a large number of the population.
As the de-orbit burn began, hundreds of thousands of people, now crammed into a space smaller than what they’d had for the long ten-year journey, watched in fear and hope. Four minutes later, great one-use solid-fuel thrusters fired, softening the landing of the first segment of what was once the Cassandra to become a perfectly-engineered pre-built arcology.
Once initial scans showed that the arcology was settled and safe, the first scientific & engineering teams entered the space to ensure it was, indeed, ready to become Lagrange’s first permanent human settlement.
Leading this expedition was Maria Van Der Vat, a young, brilliant scientist who had almost literally just graduated – she had received her PhD in formal science on the Cassandra’s own university several years before planetfall – had been working as a scientific adviser to Captain Jason Navari as the Cassandra ploughed ahead towards her destination.
Van Der Vat would later famously state that it was on this day, in her hazard suit, stepping out of the rainy, stark, gray-tinted landscape of Lagrange and into what was to become Meier, the capital city of the whole cluster, she knew she was in love with Sagan’s Lights, and would do whatever she could to ensure it became a beacon of light – a symbol of what humans could accomplish. Van Der Vat was 28.
“I have to admit, I felt a surge of pride. Ten years of travel to a planet no human eyes had seen, and yet taking off my re-breather as I entered the metal structure… breathing in the stale air… but it was ours,” she said. “We had brought this here. Our technology, and our drive… it was the contrast between this potential-laden but lonely world, and the empty, metal walkways I found myself inspecting for physical defects. Back then, that world and those walls lacked everything. But I knew then we would make them our home.”
The next months, despite what some would later claim, was full of hardship. The process of bringing hundreds of thousands of people from orbit down to Meier was tough – and dangerous. One craft, the Elfan Tsiang, suffered a catastrophic power failure during re-entry and 135 people died as she impacted at over 600 kilometers an hour into the side of a nearby mountain. To this day, the Tsiang Memorial remains a sobering place to visit for anyone interest in the Apollo Cluster’s early days.
Within six months, two of the Cassandra modules had been properly re-fitted under Lipponen’s expert care to become Tyson Station, the first permanent space station in the cluster – and the primary travel point for anyone visiting or leaving the new colony of Meier.
The anniversary of planetfall, marking the beginning of the year known as ‘1a’ – A for Apollo – was also marked by good news: the nearby planet of Kepler turned out to have, to the delight of the colonists, an atmosphere rich in CO2, and early tests proved it was a perfect place to begin growing plants brought from Earth even if humans couldn’t directly breath the atmosphere. The small greenhouses erected on Lagrange worked fine, but had also proven how inefficient it was really going to be to grow food on a large scale without more planets like Kepler.
And so, in a slight change of pace, Lipponen and the botanist, Dr. Silvia Chang, begun a project to do something which had not been intended until several years later – the colonization of a second planet.
With the shipboard greenhouses being re-purposed as part of the colonisation effort, as the second year since planetfall continued, food became slightly more scarce. Rationing grew more extreme, and people began to get disgruntled with the increasingly bland protein bars which made up the majority of their diets.
Geological reports from scouting missions to the nearby clusters of Carruther’s Circle and Tega showed largely barren worlds, with no places ideal for growing food like Kepler. Chang was quick to assure people this was not a problem – after all, Earth alone was enough to feed 12 billion people – one whole planet could easily feed a million, even if it took a while to create the infrastructure. And failing that, there were always the protein bars. This latter comment was not met with much rejoicing.
Towards the end of the year, work on colonising the solar system continued. Two, three, then four more modules landed, with one more on the increasingly-industrial world of Lagrange and the rest becoming the first colonies on Kepler. Within six months, Chang announced, the first plants grown on Kepler would be harvested.
Towards the end of the second year, two pieces of bad news came at once – within a week of each other.
First, the exploratory mines being built across Lagrange had shown up almost entirely negative. While common materials like iron were easy to find, it had begun to appear that the preliminary scans which leant astrogeologists to believe Lagrange was home to the important “rare-Earth” minerals which would be needed to build EarthGate, were quite wrong – Lagrange was a barren rock, with no breathable atmosphere and no precious minerals.
To make the situation more desperate, the final piece of news broke: the scout ship Toulouse, with a complement of geologists, chemists and explorers, had fired off an automated SOS from the cluster of De Vass’ Star. It had been struck by asteroids on entry into the system. De Vass’ Star however, the second ‘most likely location’ for the mineral required for EarthGate, was marked on maps as a ‘red zone’ – too dangerous for ships to approach.
Thirty-five people were lost, nobody would visit De Vass’ Star again for decades… and food was beginning to run low.
Gregor Halsey, still serving as First Office of the mission at this point, would later describe it as the worst year the colony would ever face until the First War, years later. He explained that despite their best efforts to keep hope alive, colonists stuck on the ships above, unsure where they were to be settled and, like most humans, most happy when they had found a villain to blame, had begun to call the Apollo Cluster by another name: Lipponen’s Folly.
Part 3: “Fuck You Novari”
The third year since planetfall may have begun with the second sector-wide memorial for a lost ship including its crew since the cluster was settled, but it very quickly began to improve, at least from the perspective of the great majority of colonists. Mainly because a surprisingly large crop from Kepler was harvested, with numerous vegetables and herbs of kinds most colonists hadn’t seen in a decade or more. Officials then announced that colony modules would soon be leaving for the nearby systems of Tega and Leo, chosen because they were both near to planets ideal for gas mining as well as perfect planets in terms of size, gravity and environment to make the first custom-chosen residential environments.
The colonists would be able to have homes not crammed into huge metal structures, like on Lagrange, or perpetually in fear of being damaged by wind storms, like those the agricultural workers on Kepler had to deal with. And finally, the fruits of another project hit: the In Vitro Meat (IVM) plant which had been under construction on Lagrange for years, produced its first meat – and the colonists were given a care package for their voyages to Tega and Leo which included tons of carefully grown steaks. Halsey, in charge of non-colonial decisions while Lipponen made engineering decisions, would later admit that he personally had fast-tracked the project, and even held off on sending the colonists on their way, despite knowing it would present more technical challenges for them. “Never,” he said, “ask a person to work on an empty stomach.”
Mercifully, the landings on the planets of Garriott in the Tega system and Penitent in the Leo system went smoothly – the first time, Halsey noted, that a human colonization anywhere – had passed its initial phase without the loss of a single human life. With that feather on his cap, it came time for Lipponen to attempt something many higher ups in the mission command team had been encouraging him to do for months – to declare the initial period of martial law concluded, and declare the makeup of the new authority which would become an interim government for the young cluster.
What Lipponen didn’t expect was how much more popular Halsey was: He got voted in to be the inaugural Administrator of the “Apollo-Earth Authority” by all the command-level members of the Cassandra crew. As Maria Van Der Vat would later recall:
“Most of us on Meier knew better than anyone that what really mattered now was a leader who could inspire people – as so much would be asked of them in the coming years. That leader was not Niklas Lipponen.”
The third full year since planetfall saw yet more positives for the young colonies – firstly, three more small colonies were founded: a residential colony in the Magella system, the gas mine on Lago is finished in the Leo system and the first shipyard begins operation in orbit of the low-gravity planet of Zaragoza, and, finally, as his first as Administrator of the AEA, Halsey announces that work would now begin, in orbit of Lagrange, of Earth Gate. In the same year the shipboard University was finally re-settled on Lagrange itself as Cassandra University, before later being renamed Meier University after the colony.
“Humanity isn’t just about survival,” Halsey said at its inauguration. “Humanity is about bettering ourselves. Education and science are the finest way do this. In dedicating this University to all of us who came aboard the Cassandra we are affirming that we will never settle for anything less than a better life for ourselves and our children.”
In the fifth and sixth years since planetfall, the systems of Tega, Leo and Magella continued to grow. By the end of the sixth year, the AEA celebrated that all colonists were now planetside – with the exception of those working on space-platforms, freighters, docking stations and the orbital shipyards of Zaragoza. All humans had, as Halsey dramatically put it, “found a home”.
These two years also marked vitally important steps in the cluster’s development: the opening of two small jumpgates, connecting the Leo system to both Tega and Magella. As a result, small freighters were able to bring whatever goods were required without having to resort to the few jump-capable ships in the sector. The sixth year also marked another milestone. For the first time since planetfall, provisions were put in place to allow people to request a transfer from one colony to another. While not many people did this – family groups had always been allowed to stay together – the sense of freedom this offered many colonists did much to assuage some of the fears which had been growing that there was a hint of a dictatorship about the way Halsey and the AEA were controlling the colonies.
In the year 7a, the first major colonial dispute happened, despite Magella announcing plans at an AEA planning meeting to build a small colony in the nearby sector of Maru years earlier, the Leon mining administrators ignored this and sent the framework to construct the Angoda Giant Gasworks there in 5a.
“You have to understand – this wasn’t an accident. It was the first instance of Apollonian people truly not co-operating. Time and resources were wasted,” Dara Hanabi, a senior Magella industrial planner would later explain. “It was a potential disaster for hundreds of us working on our own Maru settlement project.”
For a month, discussions between the two colonies with Halsey of the AEA as adjudicator listened to the cases made by both parties. Halsey finally reached the unpopular conclusion that Maru should be split between both colonies. This made two firsts: the first time the idea of colonies controlling more than one system had occurred, and the first time the AEA had enforced a decision which affected the day to day runnings of the colonies. As a result of this, amidst further spreading of the colonies, Geraldine Mascot, the newly-returned Governor of the colony of Penitent and staunch capitalist, lead a successful campaign to insist that genuinely allowed free trade between colonies, by forming the first Apollonian Stock Exchange. Despite the problems of transit, by the end of the seventh year, over a dozen large companies were formally floated, and instead of ‘food credits’, the Apollonian Credit became an official currency of the sector.
Unfortunately, Mascot argues, due to lack of foresight on behalf of the AEA administration, the creation of the APSX was the unintentional weight that sunk the AEA as a genuine governing body once and for all. With arguments raging that the Maru decision was not only bad, but unlawful, and progress on the Earth Gate crawling to a halt as arguments about resources, Halsey had no choice but to act. Debate continued until finally, after both Leo and Tega refused to send any more resources for Earth Gate’s construction. With no work on the structure in Sagan’s Lights, the Great Earth Gate Migration occurred in 8a as new labour spread to the outer-most systems in the cluster. New colonies were formed in record time in disparate systems and the AEA was under extreme pressure to rectify the situation.
Halsey, however, bit off more than he could chew, putting in motion plans to attract the now wayward colonists back to Earth Gate and bring the central systems into line. He would use the ample military resources of the AEA to take the resources needed by force. His second term was at an end, and the central system were clamoring for open elections. His plans were enacted before his successor, the former-SS Cassandra captain Jason Novari, would take the reigns and bear the brunt of the unpopularity of the move
The Halsey Conscription, as it became pejoratively known, was a calamitous series of policies designed to force colonists cluster-wide to provide Sagan’s Lights with the resources it needed to complete the Earth Gate project, regardless of the cost. Expansion slowed to a near halt and opportunities for those trying to make a living on their own terms. The poor and the rich alike held such disdain for being held over a barrel in this way that Novari’s new AEA government sank in popularity so fast, that it was all but decided by as soon as 10a that he couldn’t possibly stand for re-election again when his term was up two years later. Naive in politics as he was, however, Novari would stand in 12a. It was no surprise, then, when Novari – now being admonished by the common phrase graffiti’d all over mining colonies in Tega and Leon: Fuck You Novari – failed to be elected, even just as a local representative. He represented everything that was wrong with the clueless leadership of the AEA, and his blind following of Halsey in the implementation of the Conscription would lead to its inevitable downfall and the first serious war the cluster had ever faced.
Part 4: Humanity
“The time has come for the colonies to take their future seriously,” said Maria Van Der Vat in 12a as she made the announcement that the AEA would become an official government, with representation in both a lower and upper house, giving each system the ability to have proper representation. The lower house would get one representative per hundred thousand people in a colony; the upper house would get one representative per colony. As Maria Van Der Vat began her first term as the elected head of the whole Apollo Cluster, one thing started becoming clear to many who followed current events through the various news feeds that had sprung up over the years: the opening of the stock market had resulted in a brutal battle between people of drive and, it is said, self-interest. Dozens of people with some combination of money or power (taken honestly or not as a result of the lowering of martial law) pooled their resources to expand every system which had the resources to make the effort worthwhile. A gold rush mentality was in effect. Gas mines were opened, under-world mining colonies formed, and planets which could – with even a small amount of effort – become agricultural power-houses were settled.
Van Der Vat had a reputation internally for being shrewd and arrogant – but fair. The reputation hadn’t spread far beyond the corridors of Meier at this point, and wouldn’t for a few years. As a result, when she stood up a month into her tenure to announce a sweeping reform of the economy, almost nobody believed that she was actually doing it.
“We are here, in the Apollo Cluster. That has not changed. We must survive. That has not changed. And yet something has changed; something we have for some reason refused to state… we are an economy now. We have industry. We need infrastructure. Must Earth Gate be completed? Yes. Certainly. But in order to function, we need infrastructure; we need to ensure food is plentiful all across the cluster, even in places far from agricultural powerhouses like Kepler.”
It was simple – taxes would be taken to bolster the economy, but they could be offset by sending resources – at a rate declared quarterly – to Sagan’s Lights, so work could continue on Earth Gate, and the various other aspects of the jumpgate network yet to be built. However, Sagan’s Lights itself still had no jumpgate connection to another system. And so, with a system of taxation in place to keep the jumpgate networks being built, expansion continued. Most colonial expansions were run by diverse groups now; Van Der Vat was well aware that her newly-renamed Apollonian Authority lacked the resources to do any real colonization now; they had ceded that when they opened the APSX. And so, colonies and further industrial ventures continued, but these were usually complicated efforts by businesses. Often but not always subsidized by the AA, these colonies were usually run by organisations of people whose only similarity was the systems they hailed from – Tegan and Leonian conglomerates were common, rarely inter-mixing, but always with multiple investors, making the expansion de-centralized. With one major exception: Parssus. A businessman named Sakio Hayashi was almost single-handedly the owner of all the holdings and space platforms in Parssus, and seemed to be pursuing profits above all else at the expense of the people. His detractors were many… and the system was to become the first one to be violently overthrown.
“We had to do it,” explained Charleton Vega, a veteran of the Parsussian Rebellion. “People don’t seem to get that. They think we had some kind of choice. That fucker had us by the balls. I was barely old enough to reach a door and I was put to work. My mother was beaten by cops. Daily. My uncle vanished – a ‘mining accident’. But we all knew. Hayashi? He had no care for us. We figured he earned what was coming to him. Am I sorry? Heck no. Not about what I did, anyway. The only thing I’m sorry about is that we failed.”
Encouraged by how hated Hayashi had become, a group of outsiders led by a gas miner from Pylos named Marcela Caro pooled the resources of miners throughout the system to launch an attack and oust Hayashi from power. Hayashi used his influence and wealth to hire a fleet directly from the Apollonian Authority, and the rebellion was scattered, creating a temporary home base on an unknown moon.
Taxation and the perception of power aside, the Apollonian Authority under Maria Van Der Vat remained the largest single military force in the cluster. Whatever else it had won or lost, the AA still controlled an actual military, albeit a small one relative to the other systems’ combined forces, built from the remains of the support fleet which once accompanied the Cassandra. The threat of colonists banding together against it limited the AA Military’s power severely. Van Der Vat understood her role as the object of ire for the now majority of people who favoured self-sustainability over EarthGate, and took it upon herself to use her position to maintain peace above all else. Tensions between the Magellan and Leon people over the burgeoning system of Maru made adjudication essential. Her attempt to imply that ‘infrastructure’ was the goal didn’t seem that honest to most people – many assumed it was a sentiment to placate the cluster in order to renew EarthGate construction, and many now questioned whether or not it was needed at all.
Van Der Vat did indeed feel that Earth Gate was a requirement – a goal which, if nothing else, bound people together. She wasn’t alone in this belief. Professor Katya Antonov was elected as the governor of Sagan’s Lights for two terms during Van Der Vat’s years as Administrator, and the pair worked tirelessly together to realise the educational and technological aspirations of the system.
As expansion quickened, the power of the Apollonian Authority waned. Polls began to show that people were far more interested in territorial disputes and social progress within their own systems than they were about the affairs of Sagan’s Lights and the Earth Gate project. It was often pointed out that of the jumpgates built to connect the sectors so far, only one had been specifically funded by the AA – the rest had been built by private investors. Maru and Cansa grew, with the latter even expanding to create the first settlement in the gas-rich system of Diwali, and the former quickly descending into a political nightmare of territorial disputes between Magella and Leo.
Six years later, half way through her second term, Van Der Vat appeared to have finally had enough. Criticized, blamed and finding herself fighting argument after argument about economics and logistics which she had little interest in, she stepped down. Elections for a new head of the Apollonian Authority were held in 18a and voter turnout was so low that it was agreed that the cluster’s confidence in a unified government was lost. Self-sufficiency had worn out. Van Der Vat, far from being crushed by the decision to remove the Apollonian Authority entirely in favor of individual systems’ governments, instead gave a rousing speech on Meier about the needs of the people being vastly different in each corner of the cluster; this would later be known as the Van Der Vat Testimony.
Many underestimated the role the Apollonian Authority had in keeping peace at bay. With the AA disbanded and its fleet either merged into merchant fleets from Tega, Leo or Sagan’s Lights, the system was left at the mercy of its individual Governors and their patron corporations to maintain peace. A highly successful mining magnate, Herschel Markowitz, had been consolidating power in Tega through corporate takeovers and manipulating the working class there into thinking that he was the cure for, rather than the cause of, their own oppression. With all opponents vanquished, he created himself as the head of the Tegan Empire, promising a new era of prosperity both within Tega and in other systems.
“Empires endure – they withstand tests of time that no elected government will,” Markowitz famously explained years later. “People trust in stability.”
Meanwhile, in Parssus, the rebels – who knew that Sakio Hayashi’s main support was coming from the Apollonian Authority – chose that moment to strike. Needing to turn to someone, Hayashi beckoned to Anton Karev, Governor of Magella, to provide him with military support. Magella was small, but their ships were stronger than those of Leo or Tega, because no jumpgates had yet been built to Magella. Karev used the opportunity to extort Hayashi for significant amounts of money, but delivered the ships he needed to fight his civil war. Leo saw the temporary weakening of the Magellan fleet with this exchange as an opportunity to solve its territory disputes around Maru once and for all, and invaded the Magellan colonies there. The first Leo-Magella war began…
Part 5: First Blood
“Space battles were… they were just shattering,” explained Harriet Rainger. “I mean, we’d carried weapons aboard our ships for decades. But they were for point defense – mostly for dealing with asteroids. We’d even kept missiles around. But they were something you never thought about using.”
“Back in Sol, you heard of skirmishes. Ships being damaged. But you were never taught about them as anything but academic incidents. Who’d fire first, who had a missile lock, what was the range, et cetera… I don’t think anyone had experienced it like this. Days of travel, glued to your sensors hoping nobody would show up. And then when you finally got a hint that an enemy was there? Just about everyone on deck was simultaneously shitting themselves and just plain glad that finally they had something to do.”
“But you were always left with the question, for those first pivotal moments: did they pick us up first? Even launch a weapon first? In real life, space warfare is hours of dread punctuated by moments of ultimate terror.”
All of Maru had been quickly occupied by Leon military forces. Magella was unable, with its dealings in Parssus, to fight back. Or at least, it was in that system. Magella instead sent its fleet to neighbouring Cansa. Cansa wasn’t a rich system, but was strategically very valuable to Governor Karev. He knew that an occupying force in Cansa would potentially give access to the Diwali system as well as providing a jump point out of their quadrant of the cluster via Galileo – a route which wouldn’t necessitate them risking sending ships through Leon space. It was a decision borne of strategic necessity for the Magellan Empire to survive, but would draw a huge political cost. Cansa had never been an aggressor of any kind, and the flimsy accusations made by Karev prior to engaging that the system was secretly funded by Leo was a hard sell.
“It’s disgusting,” Maria Van Der Vat said in an interview during the earliest days of the war. “Their excuses aren’t worth even repeating. It’s like they think nobody is paying attention.” “Do you think Karev should be ashamed?” the interviewer had asked. “I think Karev should be in a human rights court,” Van Der Vat finished.
Karev wore the bad press and occupied all the colonies in Cansa. Cansa had little military to speak of, but its people now relied upon a humble man named Qimmiq Okpik, who had been in charge of Cansa’s interests in Diwali. He was an exemplary gas mine operator, but was thrust out of his depth as refugees from Cansa poured into Diwalinese space at a terrifying rate. Diwali was a messy system – fraught with asteroid belts, meteorites and gas clouds.
“There were only a few passages safely into or out of our system, really,” Okpik later explained. “So it was here that the Cansan and Diwalinese fleets, meager as they were, made their stand.”
With nothing to lose against such an aggressive force, and with the benefit of intimate knowledge of the system, the Magellan fleet was beaten back to a vantage of blockading the system. Karev, enraged by his failure to take such a weak and remote system, proclaimed that he had been victorious and that Cansa and Diwali were now a part of the Magellan Empire. It was true that Diwali was now at Magella’s mercy with their blockade, but not true that they had ceded victory. Regardless, with such a mess of information and no centralized way to make sense of what was true or not, this was a rare case were saying something almost seemed to make it so. Karev re-directed his efforts to Maru – the real system over which the war was being fought, but with two years of occupation the Leon forces there had grown strong. Neither side had the armaments necessary to dislodge the other, and with life becoming too painful for either side to bear, peace talks were had and an indefinite ceasefire negotiated.
Magella had occupied Cansa, but the Cansan people continued to fight back. A bureaucrat who was completely out of her depth there had fallen in charge of managing the occupied system, and through inexperience quickly resorted to violence, intimidation, torture and executions to maintain control. Refugees continued to be funneled out to Diwali and by the end of 19a, the majority of the Cansan population had become a diaspora. Diwali was still very small, and there was not much work. Qimmiq Okpik was now suddenly in control of a population five times the size it had been, and overpopulation was quickly spiraling the system into decay.
Meanwhile, with the whole cluster distracted as hundreds of people were dying daily – the Parssusian Revolution was won. Thousands had died and 50 ships had been destroyed, but major trade centers were now in rebel control. As the battles subsided in 19a, Hayashi was found in a disabled ship in orbit of the Onega Industrial Facility. Overzealous, bloodthirsty rebels ignored pleas from rebel leaders and showed him no mercy, destroying his vessel where it sat.
Marcela Caro, the rebel leader, was horrified by this action.
“I heard tell amongst people fighting along side me that he had earned his fate. But they failed to realise – what makes us human is that we treat each man as worthy of redemption. Even Hayashi. This was when I knew my fellow socialists had lost their way. That I needed to remind them what it was to be human.”
Marcela Caro was the new rebel leader within a month. She gave a speech in the colony of Shannai where she declared that the system was now owned by the people. She announced the formation of a new Parssus Peoples’ Union, a communist government which would usher in a new era of equitable life for all Parsussians.
No longer in any position to do more than decry the war crimes happening around them, the Van Der Vat and Antonov felt helpless to shape these devastating events which would shape the cluster’s politics for years to come. So they focused inward on making Sagan’s Lights the great system they knew it could be. Antonov had been working on terraforming theory for years, and was granted use of the remnants of the Apollonian Authority still controlled by Sagan’s Lights to begin work on the Cassini Terraforming Project, which was to be a scientific marvel and a sign that Apollo had truly landed as its own legitimate arm of humanity. But the ire that such an impractical use of resources would bring would be costly, very costly, for her and for Sagan’s Lights.
Part 6: Demons in Apollo
Citizens living in the central systems or anywhere in the colonies of Sagan’s Lights, Magella, Tega or Leo had been living for years as pawns in a larger political game. Many bought into the bogeymen their leaders provided to justify their land and power grabs against one another, while many more just pragmatically sought the best ways to profit during the war. As their ideologies and cultures grew, they grew apart. When war was afoot, these distinctions were never more stark.
In 22a, two women named Xiaoli Yu and Tari Nystrom, a pair of pirates preoccupied with sabotaging Magellan war efforts and shipping lanes, boarded a large freighter being run by Zola Sane, a freelance trader from Leo. Sane had been siphoning money out of Magella during war time and had no particular allegiance to the Empire. She had one bargaining chip for dealing with the pirates – knowledge that De Vass’ Star, the system red-flagged years before due to the destruction of the scout ship Toulouse, actually harbored natural wealth. She proposed that the three of them escape the embrace of the central systems and create – using the ample cargo of the ship – a modest colony together – a home base out of which they could launch from nowhere and disappear back to nowhere. Their disappearance was unceremonious and only known to a few, but this mentality of justified violence against central system shipping lanes and bases marked much of the 20s.
At the same time, Tega’s workers were in open revolt; Markowitz was the leader of an empire barely able to function. Leo was taking full advantage of this by generously helping to bail Tega out as necessary, chipping away at Tega’s independence as it did so. Re-building was happening in the major systems of the war between Leo, Magella, Maru and Cansa, while remote outer colonies in systems like Diwali, Galileo and The Two Sisters were going through their maturation phase and needed all the help and resources they could get.
The footprint of perceived corruption left by the Apollonian Authority collapse and the subsequent Leon-Magellan war provided a hotbed for piracy throughout the cluster. Smuggling had become an accepted part of being a merchant, and piracy was beginning to feel like an occupational hazard rather than a problem in urgent need of quashing. Sagan’s Lights had begun to accept its role as an independent system fighting to survive like any other. Its lofty goals of building Earth Gate and terraforming Cassini were becoming harder and harder to manage as its economic position in the cluster weakened. It had lost any legitimate power and authority, and simply couldn’t compete with the ruthless expansionist colonists so eager to eke out a living on their own terms.
There were now 10 star systems in the cluster with their own concerns and worries, not to mention the 11th – the pirate colony of De Vass’ Star which was becoming a more and more common rumor among those who earned their living not in colonies but trading in space. But there were bigger problems. An Adarian entrepreneur in charge of dealing with overpopulation in Diwali named Rinchen Tsering was collapsing under the pressure. Magella may not have been actually occupying Diwali directly, but his hands were tied every turn he took to try and revitalize the Diwalinese economy and account for the number of Cansan refugees. In his desperation he established a floating labor force. He would guarantee work to those who agreed to become a transient workforce for hire which could be shipped around the cluster as needed. The central systems had a lot of work to be done, and his was the only way Tsering could think to get the people back to work and avoid starvation.
“For some of us, you have to remember this actually seemed like a better life than we’d had before,” explained area man Namon Feltz, someone who had spent years working in such a workforce. “We were protected. We could bring our families. We had guaranteed work. After years of war and decades of short supplies before… well, you give up a lot sometimes, for your family.”
But the conditions these people would have to endure was worse than Tsering had imagined. A new slave class was fast becoming real. Qimmiq Okpik, still managing the failing system, blamed Magella.
“If Diwali were truly part of the Magellan Empire, then the Empire was responsible for its starvation and should be condemned,” he accused. “As such, Diwali is, and always has been, an independent republic.”
Dr Afua Ba, then head of the Magellan Empire, saw his opportunity to finish what had been started by Governor Karev several years earlier. Hell once again came to Apollo. Ba declared how enraged he was with this insult from Diwali in 26a, and pompously brought the Magellan fleet to bear on Diwali by way of Cansa. Leo, having repaired itself since the first war and also backed by a culture seeking revenge, sent its fleet to Cansa to stop the Magellan aggression. It arrived to find a fleet not mid-transit but fully prepared for battle and was beaten back to Maru, only to find another Magellan fleet which Ba had sent in.
“They called it the ten-second battle,” said retired Captain Jesserina Po. “I knew men who cried in the bunks that night. Somehow, seeing so much destruction rained upon even our worst enemies felt wrong for many people. They jumped in and within seconds, we had locks and missiles were firing.”
“I heard the first officer of another ship say that so many missiles were fired they literally had no more sensor readings. Nobody could tell what had happened until after all the explosions were done.”
Magella secured a huge victory in Maru, but at the same time, a similarly huge loss in Cansa while their fleet was busy winning the ten second battle.
Cansan rebels re-took colonies in their home system after years of strife and hardship in Diwali, but their victory wasn’t without cost. Magella became even more violent with them for their impudence, and after re-capturing a major colony, renamed one of the brightest and most beloved planets, signifying the beginning of a campaign to strip Cansa of its culture. So many Cansans had left their home behind that those willing to return were few and far between. As it turned out, the second Leon-Magellan war, sparked by a Diwalinese desire for independence, had nothing to do with Diwali and everything to with Maru and a legacy of violence.
When the tide of violence finally broke in 29a, Magella still held parts of both Cansa and Maru. The winners in this was were a class of privileged pirates. People who had been betrayed and left behind by the whims of the powerful in the central systems and had made themselves strong enough to fight back. Piracy operated heavily in most systems, and De Vass’ Star was growing fast. It maintained an anarchistic self-governance, but it was quickly becoming a known force to be reckoned with. The losers in this war were those deemed collateral damage. The Cansan civilians, the Maruvian workers and an almost invisible casualty: the inhabitants of the Two Sisters. The Two Sisters system had been coveted by the Parssus Peoples’ Union for some time, and paper-thin excuses were made to justify an invasion which took place in the shadows of the Second Leon-Magellan War. It was fast and brutal. Parssus’ influence was growing. Marcela Caro, the young woman who had tried to fight for a better life for her people in Parssus, had lost control of the Union and stepped down. As it became a violence and dominant force in the region, she fled to Galileo to start a new chapter.
Part 7: Eyes Sharp
After two major wars, lines were being drawn around the cluster. Faithful adherents to their planets, their system or their nation were to be found in abundance, and the voices of radical true believers became louder and more potent. While the peace talks between Leo and Magella had been more fruitful at a political level than they had been after the first war, their cultures couldn’t be more diametrically opposed:
Leo remained a free market-driven nation, insisting upon a lack of responsibility for its companies’ actions when scrutiny arrived but being suspiciously good at organizing massive fleets or war campaigns at the flick of a switch. Magella’s rhetoric became about fairness – harking back as far as the early days of colonization and the Apollo-Earth Authority and a greater share of aid being bestowed on systems closer to Sagan’s Lights. But they always leaned on one major thing: in the first war, Leo shot first.
The cluster would continue to operate around the political machinations of these two giant Empires. Tega had imploded and become a husk of its former self through in-fighting and protests, and was now thought of as a puppet of Leo. Sagan’s Lights continued its experimental technological projects as it had always wanted for the whole cluster, but hadn’t the economic or political clout to shape major events or even properly fund itself. Still home to the biggest agricultural planet in the cluster, Sagan’s Lights found its economic niche in supplying a very small amount of high-value luxuries, along with high-tech machinery and services as a result of its highly developed research and educational sectors. Maru lay fractured – a hugely-trafficked system and the microcosm in which all Leon and Magellan hatred festered and manifested, with hate crimes in both directions being a normal part of life. The Cansan rebels had re-taken part of their home system, but the wanton vice of Magella was felt so strongly that few of their disparate diaspora wanted to return. Diwali never recovered from the overpopulation problems, nor its reputation for cheap slave labor. Parssus had solidified its power through a reign of terror, and now fully controlled The Two Sisters. It had a culture and politics such that no interaction with the capitalists of the central systems was allowed.
The 30s would bring tensions again between Leo and Magella. Controversial cloning technology, Galilean land rights squabbles and terrorism held enough potential to cause problems. Galileo, now a prosperous agricultural system selling its wares to almost half the cluster, had found hitherto unseen mineral wealth in neighboring Carruther’s Circle, and had been expanding there at a faster pace than the cluster had ever seen before. Leo had fingers in Galilean pies through back-channels, stocks and funding deals, ensuring that it would be taken care of. Magella couldn’t let that happen. The socialist republic of the Galilean Command hadn’t cut its political teeth. It became another pawn in a larger game. Magella demanded fealty. Galileo resisted. Sanctions were in place. War loomed once more – until unexpected events happened to stall it.
In 31a, an unknown party destroyed the Leo-Magella jumpgate; both sides blame each other and to this day nobody knows who really detonated the nuke – or who had provided it. This renewed a focus by the two Empires on one another rather than on Galileo. At least temporarily. And in 32a, a missing ship named the SS Intrepid appeared out of nowhere in Tega and wasn’t responding to hails or beaming out its required IFF beacon, a law which had been passed in most systems after the first great war. Before they could lock the jumpgate down, it was activated and the Intrepid slipped through into Sagan’s Lights. A very quick message from Tega informed Sagan’s Lights of the potential danger, and military vehicles were dispatched, the SMV Aspis and the SMV Cerestes intercept the ship. It was unresponsive on all radio frequencies, and two different tracking stations confirmed it was bound for Earth Gate.
Warnings were issued. The vessel continued to give no response, and so, as it got closer, then-leader of the Sagan’s Lights Defensive Fleet, Admiral Kathryn Bryce, ordered weapons-open.
“You have to understand we had no radiological warnings. We had no idea just how dangerous the vessel was – and so our decision was based on… I’ll just say it: naiveté. We didn’t think anyone cared enough about Earth Gate to attack it, let alone to… it was a mistake. A mistake of hubris we haven’t made sense.”
Missiles from the Aspis and the Ceretes impacted with the Intrepid when it was still quite a distance out, and the hull began to break up. As those watching began to calm down, it happened: multiple nuclear devices stowed in the Intrepid detonated. It was a bomb so large that to this day debate rages as to how so much fissile material was put together by any of the separatist groups blamed for the incident. Regardless, the night sky of Sagan’s Lights was given a temporary second sun.
The cost of Sagan’s Lights’ attempt to siphon resources to the Earth Gate Project had been high – too high for many. But an attack on the gate itself was unfathomable. An allegiance greater than any the cluster had ever seen was formed. The High Trinity, as it was colloquially known, made up of the combined military might of Sagan’s Lights, Tega and the Leon Empire, joined forces to invade De Vass’ Star, find those responsible and bring them to justice. It was the largest cooperative alliance the cluster had known since the days of the AEA. Some even held out hope that it would bring about a second cluster-wide government.
Magella used the fact that it wasn’t included in the alliance as an affront to help foster discontent and justify an invasion of Galileo. It captured several colonies and blockaded the newly-created Carruthers-Sagan jumpgate. All hands which might have been able to lend help were tied; the whole cluster was unified for the first time against a common enemy – and had no interest in the foundering colony of Galileo. What the High Trinity wasn’t prepared for was the viciousness of the De Vass’ Star pirates. Tactics they’d never seen before, the most inhospitable system in the cluster and an erratic informality to their fighting style made it impossible to progress. The largest trading body in De Vass’ Star was the Rolond Consortium, run by a woman named Isabelle Sutherland. She had a vested interest in returning to a status quo for the sake of her business fencing stolen goods captured by her pirate comrades. Also, like her pirate comrades, the affront and necessity for violence in this war wasn’t to defend the people responsible for the attack on Earth Gate, but simple defense of their homeland. These people wanted badly to hurt the central systems, and this was gave them their wish.
Meanwhile, a woman named Pania Laing was hiding out on a moon. She had been running a small feverish group of people who had an almost cult-like adherence to the idea that Earth was going to make Apollo subservient once Earth Gate was built. She and her followers were so certain of this that they wanted it destroyed. High Trinity ships captured her and she was unceremoniously killed, her body dumped into an asteroid belt near a Red Dwarf in an adjacent system. She was denied a place in history as either a martyr or a demon.
After the war, the temporary alliance of three powerful nations quickly dissolved. It had been rocky during the war, and only got worse thereafter. All three were forced to concede that Magella, which had now occupied part of Galileo for several years, was there to stay. It was too powerful, to dogged in its determination that it was right in its expansionist tendencies. It was bargained with instead. The Magellan Empire became an economic and political power on a level it had never reached before as a result. It ended its blockade of the Carruthers-Sagan jumpgate and allowed the whole cluster to enjoy the minerals being mined there – at a price. With its newfound power it was able to complete its cloning program and became the only nation in the cluster to create fully-grown braindead human replicas of people at a cost – a backup should anything happen to their natural bodies. It had no scruples about its work and almost took pride in rebuking the other central systems.
War was and is still talked about often, but the ties between all the major systems are now so great and the fatigue from combat so widespread that support for wars by the people is universally very low. The pirates, more direct and honest than their political counterparts, are now more varied and powerful than ever. They operate with impunity in most systems, but they’re little better than the corrupt captains of ships which bear official national IFF beacons. With so much space out there, who’s to say what really went on in one encounter with a known smuggler or another?
Apollo has become a dog-eat-dog cluster, and another war never seems far away. Hope has faded. Earth Gate is dormant and with each passing year there are fewer people alive who even remember Earth and more people for whom the callousness of everyday life in Apollo is just life. Humans finally explored the galaxy. We came together – a unified crew of Earth’s best. We were chipped away, one principle at a time, one justification at a time, and our new home is now more perilous than our old one ever was.
Welcome to the Apollo cluster. Eyes sharp.