Author Archives: Warringer

Into the Great Wide Open

Captain Oscar Hughes, US Space Force, looked around in Control and met with faces that were eager and nervous at the same time. Not that he blamed any of them. He felt the same.

It was time, time to write history.

Eager for taking a step into the history books as being among the very first humans to ever leave the solar system and make the journey to another star, light years away. Nervous for it happening in a spacecraft that hadn’t proven itself yet.

Yes, many things had been tested, even out in the field. But still, this was the maiden voyage, who knew what would be awaiting them? Would the craft hold for this long a distance? So many things still could go wrong. If it went wrong out there, home wouldn’t even know it for a long time. Now was not the time to think of that. Oscar shook off the thought.

Oscars glance stopped at the unflappable commander of the Beagle, Turver Inerak, a Quetzal.

Even after almost two years of getting to know him and the other crewmembers and working closely with him during the intense training and preparation for this mission, it still felt strange that it wasn’t a human, but a Quetzal, an alien, who would be in command of humanity’s first interstellar spacecraft. However, Turver was more experienced in commanding an interstellar spacecraft than any human, which was obvious. Also he was a veteran of the Final War, who saw the destruction of the Quetzal and Turukal homeworlds.

The last bit worried Oscar a little. While he had gotten to know the Quetzal a little better, he still wondered if Turver would remain stable and level headed, should they come across armed opposition. Then again Turver had been picked by his superiors as being the best out of a large group of volunteers.

“Final check,” Turver announced and glanced up, his upper arms placed on top of his lower set of displays as he looked around.

Control was a design choice that made use of the experience humanity had made during the past thirty years with larger spacecraft, as well as taking those of the Quetzal and Turukal into account. Control was located on one of the gravity rings and as such moving around and relatively secure. Seven identical control stations were arrayed in a circle around a central volumetric display that showed various general information, while the lower and upper display sets showed the crew the specialized data they needed for their respective tasks.

“Communication.”

Xun Zhen Huang, Captain of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Space Arm, was currently responsible for the communication systems of the Beagle. She was a professional to the core and Oscar didn’t remember having seen her smile even once. Then again, he didn’t remember any Chinese, outside of those living in the US, smile all that much.

“All systems green,” she said, her English without any accent and following the checklist that had been developed by NASA all decades ago. “Communication is go.”

Idly he wondered how she would do once they switched areas of responsibility. Once again a political decision. To prevent the other nations from getting more command experience in one area, the humans in the command crew would switch stations every six months to get some experience as well. He knew as a fact that everyone was writing down reports on their duties, ready to be used in teaching other command crews.

“Guidance.”

Oscar took a deep breath. Guidance was his resort for the next six months and he was determined to do a better job than the others. Just as they were determined to do a better job than him.

He looked at his displays for a few moments. All systems showed status green. The navigation systems were set to their destination. After their FTL transit they were going to return to normal space 6 AU from the star to account for galactic drift.

“All systems green,” he responded. “Course is set. Guidance is go.”

Turver nodded and turned to the next station.

“Life Support.”

Life Support was perhaps the most important station of the entire spacecraft. Without it the mission was a failure and everyone was going to die. At the moment it was under the supervision of Viktor Matveev, a Captain of the Soviet Air Force.

Surprisingly, Oscar got along with him quite nicely. Viktor was, while a rather convinced communist, largely unpolitical. He was also not quite following the stereotype most Americans had of Soviets or Russians. He didn’t like alcohol and while he liked a good laugh, he was more for the subtle humor and quite an optimist when it came to the future.

“All systems show green,” Viktor noted matter of factly. “Life Support is green.”

“Good. And we can always blame it on the Soviet if it turns out otherwise” Oscar added with a grin, trying to break the tense atmosphere, and then continued following Commander Turvers face to the next. At least it got a snort out of Viktor and a crack of a smile from Manuela.

“Payload.”

Payload was dealing with all the systems of the scientific payload, as well as the two Hawk spacecraft the Beagle was carrying for short ranged science missions. Dayaram Bandyopadhyay, a Captain of the Indian Air Force, was in control of that part of the payload right now.

Dayaram looked like he had stepped right off the set of a Bollywood movie. He had a build that made Oscar jealous and, while happily married, was the target of more than one woman in bars dirtside.

He was a nice guy and Oscar could get along with him.

“Hawks are secured. All deployables are secured. Scientific equipment secured. All systems show green. Payload is go.”

“Defense.”

That was something that didn’t sit too well with some part of the politicos back on Earth and the majority of the scientists. Weapons were not good for the image mankind would present if the Beagle managed to run into more aliens, they said.

Not to be able to defend themselves should the need arise was worse. Most of the crew was military personnel, and they rather had something to shoot back at any alien then be forced to run, Oscar included.

“All weapons are in safe mode,” Manuela Wegener, a Brazilian Air Force Captain said. “Nuclear devices are secured. All systems show green. Weapons is go.”

Oscar sighed again. Last thing they needed was a nuke exploding on transit.

“Engineering,” Turver continued and everyone turned towards the last station.

Alex Henri Fabien sat behind it, a Belgian Captain of EuroForce. This was what he was good at. Alex was an engineer and had been involved in the development of the Heim-Feynman Event Generator and only the head engineer knew it better.

This man was a workaholic and there was barely a moment where he didn’t find something to work on or things to look after. If he wasn’t in Control, he was in Engineering, trying to optimize the software or do other tweaks.

“Vibrations of the rings are within nominal parameters. Diversion in radial velocities lower than point zero zero zero rad per second. Magnetic fields stable.”

He rattled down a multitude of informations, most of which went straight over Oscars head.

Turver gave Fabien an annoyed look. Oscar could understand Turver’s annoyance. Fabien was a very annoying individual and got on everyones nerves. And Turver didn’t like the man at all…

“Go or no go,” he asked, just a hint of annoyance in his voice.

Fabien looked up in annoyance of his own.

“Engineering go,” he finally said and Turver nodded.

“Communication,” he continued a moment later. “Message to Earth. All systems are go. We will begin with the FTL transit in five minutes. Also request a command link from Pioneer for the duration of the transfer.”

Xun nodded and typed on her console. Oscar knew that she had already prepared both messages to Earth and the Pioneer and was now only sending them.

“Message sent,” she confirmed after a moment. “Pioneer has opened the command link. We are in control of Pioneer. All systems on Pioneer are go.”

“Very well,” Turver noted as he checked the security harness of his seat again and closed his eyes, most likely to send one last prayer to whatever god he believed in for protection from the human FTL core.

“Now then, let us bring yous species to the stars, shall we?” he said as he opened his eyes again.

Oscar closed his eyes for a moment as well, thinking of what would come next. The computer systems were responsible for the entire FTL transition and the only people who could stop it were Fabien and the head of engineering. Oscar himself could do little.

As he looked at his displays again he only confirmed that everything was green.

The minutes counting down to the FTL transit seemed to drag on for hours as the tension on Control rose.

“Ten,” Fabien finally began to count. “Nine.”

There was a whine that suddenly filled the air and Oscar looked up. Around him the others looked up as well. He had read the report of David Wilkins, the first human to do an FTL transit to the other side of the solar system. Wilkins had reported that the atmosphere had seemed to whine during just before the transition event and for a few seconds afterwards. However the microphones in the cabin hadn’t been able to record it.

No one, not even the Quetzal and Turukal, was exactly sure what the whine was, but it was there. As far as the aliens were concerned, it was a normal part of the operation of the FTL core.

“One.”

The next moment Oscar felt like he was ripped apart and spread into every part of the universe at once, while the whine turned into a loud rumbling noise that threatened to burst his eardrum.

It lasted only for a moment, before everything went back to normal. At least nearly so.

Oscar closed his eyes for a moment, before an eerie feeling of being watched made itself known. He looked around, with only Viktor giving him an inquisitive look after a moment.

Another moment later he felt like his shoulder was touched by a cold hand. His own hand shot up to his shoulder, feeling nothing. He looked around, but there was nothing.

Oscar closed his eyes again and breathed in deep.

Just a hallucination, he told himself. Just a product of his stress. Yes that was it. Only the stress.

He quickly shook his head and then grinned nervously.

“Proxima Centauri, here we come.”

The Great Unknown

Ever since the death of Richard Feynman shortly after his last published work, ‘An attempt to revise a Theory of Everything’ wherein he attempted to answer and solve the kinks within the Heim Theory, human scientists had worked tirelessly to understand his train of thoughts and to use it to develop an actual FTL drive.

First it had only been a theoretical work on designing a counter-grav system as well as a working theory of an FTL drive that needed neither exotic matter nor negative energy to work. The first use of contra-gravity generators by the Chinese on their heavy lift vehicles and SSTO spaceplanes had proven the first part of this wild theory, however proof of an FTL drive was still decades away.

The discovery and the rescue of the Quetzal and Turukal at Titan had greatly helped human science along and with it provided the first actual working examples of an FTL drive, based on the Heim-Feynman Theory. Then, with the disclosure of a potential alien threat to humanity and its new friends, interest in a natively developed FTL drive gained momentum, where it previously had only been on the back burner in favor of other things.

Finally, on December 13, 2024, this resulted in the formation of the International Centre for Advanced Space Propulsion Technologies. ICASPT was formed by UNESCO, the IAEA, CERN and several other research institutes, including Soviet and Chinese ones, with the goal of developing a human FTL drive and other advanced propulsion systems for spacecraft.

The Quetzal and the Turukal both provided their respective theories and plans for working FTL cores, and human scientists were quick to note that both theories and plans differed greatly in design and function, while having the same overall effect.

Similar to the proposal within the human FTL theory, the FTL cores of the Quetzal and the Turukal used a pair of counter rotating superconductors to create a turbulent magnetic field that formed a form of four dimensional transition event around the FTL core that dragged the object encased by the field into the 8 dimensional Heim-Feynman Space. The placement, shape and the actual effects of these rotating superconductors differed however.

The Turukal design was based around a pair of solid cylinders with a radius that was equal to its height, one located in the back of the spacecraft and the other one in the front, both placed along the roll axis. The magnetic fields suspending both cylinders also induced the rotation as well as strong magnetic fields that interacted with each other to generate the dimensional transition event.

The Quetzal design differed from the Turukal design in the way that they used a large pair of superconducting rings, also located along the roll axis and at the same distance to the center of rotation. The design reduced the energy requirements to induce the rotation compared to the Turukal design, and increased the fine control over the field.

Both drive designs had the disadvantage that any spacecraft using them was forced to deactivate its fusion thrusters, as the magnetic fields interacted with the core and destroyed the fragile balance of magnetic forces within the generated field, making it useless for an FTL transition. The Turukal design even made it necessary to deactivate the fusion reactor as well. The only other observed example of the FTL core, that of The Enemy, appeared to neither need to deactivate the fusion thrusters or reactors.

Rather than beginning to work on straight copies of either the Quetzal or the Turukal cores, the scientists and engineers at the ICASPT, began to work on ways to enhance the Quetzal design to allow it to keep the fusion thrusters active during FTL transit, as The Enemy had shown was possible. The lack of that ability had shown to be a tactical weakness and strategic disadvantage from data of the war.

Over the next years up to 2033, simulations of the Quetzal and Turukal FTL cores were used as base for the development of the human FTL core. As simulations got more detailed it was possible to modify them to find a solution to the problem.

In 2033 the breakthrough was finally announced, but immediately became hotly debated.

The suggested new design was based around a pair of large counter rotating superconducting rings arrayed with a mere distance of one meter between each and their placement at the end of the spacecraft, close to the fusion reactor and the fusion thrusters. While the magnetic field of the FTL core expanded forward much like the Quetzal and Turukal cores, the aft section of the core was heavily influenced by the thrusters and more turbulent. By carefully managing the thrusters magnetic fields and using the stable field of the fusion reactor to help, it was possible to generate the the field conditions needed to generate a transition event into Heim-Feynman Space.

After several successful simulations of the newly named Heim-Feynman Event Generator, the construction of an unmanned prototype spacecraft, the Pioneer, fell into the timeframe of the Apophis Crisis and did not get the media attention it deserved, even though CNN covered its launch as breaking news.

The Pioneer was a design originally intended to be the USC Intrepid, a sister craft to the Constitution. But with the ineffectivity of the design as combat spacecraft the nearly completed spacecraft had been given to the ICASPT. The HFE Generator formed a ring around the aft superstructure of the spacecraft and was protected by the same armor type that protected the inner workings of the central superstructure.

One of the restrictions the Heim-Feynman Theory placed on the HFE Generator was a minimum distance from a central body of a gravitational system, such as the solar system, dependent on the strength of the gravity field as well as the magnetic field of the central body. For Sol, the minimum distance was about 5.5 Astronomical Units, or just past the orbit of Jupiter. This limit was named Feynman Limit, as Richard Feynman had discovered it during his work on the H-F Theory.

As such the Pioneer was programmed to make a fast trajectory of two hundred days to a distance of 5.6 AU, enter into a circular heliocentric orbit at that distance and run analysis of the HFE Generator, before attempting an automated transition event into Heim-Feynman Space and return to normal space on the opposite side of the solar system.

The first FTL transit of a human spacecraft happened on October 11, 2035, and while it made the headlines, it faded quickly as there were more pressing concerns. The Apophis Crisis also halted further experiments with the Pioneer until late 2036, when the spacecraft made two more FTL transits just short of the Feynman Limit.

By early 2037, the Marco Polo was sent out towards the Pioneer with a maintenance mission. The mission also included a slight refitting of the Pioneer with several experimentation containers carrying biological samples and a life ape. Some of the fuel of the Marco Polo was used to add some maneuverability to the spacecraft.

While the Marco Polo kept its position about a million kilometers away from the Pioneer, the craft made a run of six FTL transits with biological material.

On July 24, 2037, the first human, the American astronaut David Wilkins, made a pair of FTL transits with the Pioneer.

As scientists were still wary about potential problems for the human body during FTL transit and the effects of the 8 dimensional Heim-Feynman Space, Wilkins and the biological samples were kept under strict observation during the return of the Marco Polo to Earth.

Without any observable short and medium term effects on Wilkins or any othe other biological samples, the member nations of the ICASPT began to consider the possibility of greenlighting the HFE Generator design for general use.

The design of the HFE Generator was an international effort, making the United Nations suggest that the first manned FTL spacecraft to leave the solar system should be an international effort as well. The equally internationally used design of the ‘Multi-Mission Universal Spacecraft’ also had the design features needed to work with the human HFE Generator and international funds were set aside for the construction of the Beagle.

Crewing the Beagle however proved to be a massive political problem. While most positions, like scientists and engineers were given to the most capable people, the command crew was the major reason why the crew selection needed several years. Every nation on the Beagle Project wanted one of their own to be the commanding office of the Beagle, largely for publicity.

The solution for this problem came from an unexpected side. Switzerland, a small European nation that clung to its neutrality and was largely uninvolved in space, aside from two Swiss Air SSTOs, suggested to use a neutral party as the commander of the Beagle, in this case one of the already experienced Quetzal spacecraft commanders.

The suggestion was not taken seriously at first, but potential gains for everyone quickly materialized. The command crew of the Beagle could learn from the experience of a potential Quetzal commander, who was used to operating in another solar system without any contact to the homeworld.

By 2041 the diplomatic problems surrounding the Beagle were largely put aside, with the added benefit of command crew rotation. This rotation would see every member of the command crew rotate through every service station in command, giving them additional experience that could be used to crew up additional spacecraft or train later command crews as well.

While the construction of the Beagle was underway, the Marco Polo undertook another mission for a modification of the Pioneer in 2039. This mission upgraded the command and control systems of the automated spacecraft and the addition of a command expert system just one or two steps below an actual artificial intelligence.

Pioneer’s new mission was to do a number of extrasolar FTL transits to a few selected closeby stars to test the long range performance of the HFE Generator. And while the spacecraft was close to other stars, its new payload of additional scientific equipment was to take an even closer look at the stars and their immediate surroundings.

The Pioneer One Mission launched on June 1, 2040 by the first FTL transit out of the solar system and towards Proxima Centauri. Pioneer remained at Proxima Centauri for one month, before returning, managing to do a pinpoint translation from Heim-Feynman Space to the exact orbital elements it had before launching.

After transmitting its data to Earth, Pioneer made four more FTL transits towards the binary brown dwarf Luhman 16, nearly 7 light years from Sol, the G-class star Tau Ceti, 12 light years distant, the white dwarf Van Maanen’s star, at a distance of 14 light years, and Altair, with a distance of 17 light years. Each time Pioneer returned to its previous position in Sol orbit between transits to the next star.

The Pioneer One mission yielded good data on the HFE Generator parameters and allowed to measure the speed of the spacecraft while in FTL transit, at 431 times the speed of light, about three percent faster than the Quetzal FTL core. Additionally it became clear that the range of the FTL transit was limited to the internal heat capacity of the spacecraft, as the radiator systems effectivity dropped within Heim-Feynman Space.

The scientific data from the five visited stars contained a few surprises for the astronomers. Four of the five stars had a planetary system, with only the space around Van Maanen’s star being devoid of full planetary companions aside from a large number of asteroids. Of these planetary systems two were especially interesting. The binary brown dwarf Luhman 16 had a single planet of Mercury size and mass in orbit around Luhmann 16α, while Tau Ceti had a super Earth orbiting within the habitable zone. Spectral analysis of this super-Earth showed that possessed an atmosphere containing oxygen. The planet was unusable for potential settlement however, as it had twice the gravity of Earth, as well as a percentage of sulfides in the atmosphere.

The accuracy of the FTL translations shown by Pioneer was very welcome to the ICASPT and the spacefaring nations. Due to the presence of the Feynman Limit it was a necessity to move out past Jupiter before an FTL transit could happen. This made operation of spacecraft outside of the solar system a problem as the FTl spacecraft needed to waste propellant and time to move to the Feynman Limit and back to Earth for resupply, maintenance and crew changes.

The obvious answer was to set up one or more bases outside the FTL limit to act as transit hubs for FTL travel, as well as resupply and repair bases. The two potential designs for a transit hub were to either construct a base from scratch, or to use an asteroid in a useful, or a correctable orbit.

With readily available raw materials for manufacturing and refueling, the asteroid became the potential transit hub of choice. The Fondation Besixdouze was asked to identify an asteroid with the needed orbital parameters and provided ten potential asteroids.

The largest of these asteroids, the ten kilometer carbonaceous asteroid 2022 RD25 in an 5.8 AU orbit around the sun with a low eccentricity that meant that its perihelion was never within the Feynman Limit. The asteroid was renamed to 319876 Junctio, with the spacefaring nations deciding to build a joint transport hub on it to ease extrasolar activities until 2055.

On February 3, 2043, the Beagle was finally completed and underwent a set of short flights to Venus and Mars to allow the crew to get used to the slightly different operation of the spacecraft compared to conventional a MMUS and test all systems. Beagle then took on a full fuel load and provisions, as well as probes and landers, before making a 200 day fast transit to the Feynman Limit, joining up with the Pioneer.

Both spacecraft left the solar system on January 10, 2044 for the first manned FTL jump into another system, Proxima Centauri.

Movers and Shakers

During the beginning of the 2032 Elections in the United States of America, it first looked like it would become a relatively easy victory for Republican President Frank Michaelson. However the sudden death of Michaelson from a stroke, triggered by a brain aneurysm, left the Republican Party scrambling to find a new candidate.

Having to rather rapidly organize the primaries, left the Republicans in a chaotic state and with a number of comparably merely average candidates. George P. Bush, former Senator of Texas, was finally elected to run against the Democratic nominee, David Sternberg, who had already run against Michaelson in the 2028 Elections.

Sternberg got elected by a relatively comfortable margin, prepared to leave his own mark on American politics.

Much like pre-implant genetic diagnosis during the first decade of the 21st century, genetic engineering was a hotly debated topic during the Sternberg administration, as Sternberg was in favor of the new methods and the opportunities it presented. The birth of the Nagata Twins in Japan even put the topic to the top of the list for the majority of 2032, prompting hefty discussions about the pro and contra sides.

Fears of supersoldiers, -humans and -diseases were presented by those against, while the cure for cancer and solutions to fight off several genetic diseases and other medical advances were by those in favor.

Although the arrival of Apophis was out of his control, the events following the discovery, up to its capture had a negative impact on the Sternberg administration, as fears arose among the general population in its wake and his administration tried to downplay the situation. They were acting on the suggestions of Sky Watch that eventually proved to be incomplete, and this in turn fell back to Sternberg.

All over the globe Apophis lead to an increased feeling of fear, panic and unsafety within the population, urban and rural alike. While in the beginning signs were weak and humanity was in a ‘we can handle this’-mood, things slowly turned for the worse as the looming threat came closer. The reactions on the Global Web and its effects were afterwards described as the latest and most unreliable factor in terms of panic control.

The entire chain of events gave birth to a new global economic crisis, one that came close to the one spawned by the Wall Street Crash of 1929.

Companies foreclosed, plants shut down. At first only a few, but as the economic equivalent of dominoes continued, soon suppliers and co-contractors went down along. Some closed due to lack of personnel, as qualified people started to quit their jobs willingly. Then there were factories that went bust due to sabotage, as employees destroyed machinery to get laid off.

Things didn’t only happen at the bottom however. There were managers and owners that willingly bankrupted their shops, stores, factories and left with all the belongings, causing their employees to stay behind empty handed and jobless.

The prices for gold, rare earth metals, food, oil and many other resources soared. Immediately this created a rush of people who wanted to get away from Earth, higher than the capacities of the settlements on the Moon and Mars, or the transport capacity.

There was an increased desire to seek shelter, physically as well as mentally, causing traffic jams near bunkers, once built out of fear for the alien and human threats, as well as causing a resurgence of people turning to their faiths. New ‘religions’ arose, preaching stuff like the Apocalypse or the End of Days, some of them armed to the teeth.

Worldwide the death toll caused by suicide increased and the media quickly adopted a name that would be remembered in history “Apophicide”.

Suicide wasn’t the only thing that increased though. Crime rates rose as well as. People either didn’t care for their safety anymore or perhaps it was the only thing they cared for anymore. Looting became a great problem and people got killed while looting. People got killed while protecting their property. People rioted, sometimes outright revolted, demanding more protection.

In the United States, Sternberg was forced to resort to the US Army and the National Guard to try and restore order, having to declare martial law over more than one state, hurting his reputation further.

Among these events, other inquiries of Sternberg had less time in the news. Sternberg was one of the main supporters for the ‘Declaration of Sophont Rights’ within the United States. They had been in place for ten years at the time, but had been harder to push through in parts of the United States.

Sternberg was also responsible for the creation of ‘Alien Relations’ bureau within the Departments of State and the Interior, and had been calling for employing aliens in these bureaus.

Something Sternberg was not involved in, but which still was of great importance to the United States had been the integration of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands into the Union, as the 51st State, Puerto Rico. After every plebiscite of the Puerto Rican population from 2012 on had been in favor of becoming a state of the United States, as opposed to keeping the status quo or independence, Congress decided to grant statehood.

In hindsight, Sternberg was not a bad president at all as he had done what he had to do to lead America throughout the crisis. However the link to Sky Watch politics, the big issues surrounding the Sternberg administration and the firm decisions that had to be made to cope with them hadn’t made him a popular president. The Republicans came out victorious during the 2036 elections, where the Republicans had selected Christopher Shriver Schwarzenegger, Senator of California, who had taken former Puerto Rican Governor Philippe Torre as running mate, granted him a good percentage of the hispanic voters. Additionally it improved relations to the US latin american neighbours.

In 2037, the long awaited ‘Big One’ hit California. With its epicenter right below the city of San Rafael, in the Northern San Francisco Bay area, and having a magnitude of 8.5, it was the strongest recorded quake in the history of California, stronger than even the famous 1906 and 1989 quakes.

The tremors of the quake traveled along the San Andreas fault into the Cascadia Subduction Zone where they triggered a number of smaller submarine landslides. These caused several small tsunamis which combined into a larger one that hit the coast of Washington state, devastating parts of the coast west of Portland, before traveling over the Pacific ocean where the wave hit Hawaii and parts of the East Asian coast, doing relatively little in the way of damage.

Knowing what to expect Schwarzenegger immediately declared a state of emergency in California and sent in the armed forces to support the California National Guard. The quick reaction of both the State and Federal governments to the earthquake, as well as the harsh regulations for new buildings that had been in place since the 1989 quake, resulted in a relatively low count of fatalities and casualties. Damages of several tens of billions dollar however mounted up and the Golden Gate Bridge had to be closed for the following two years to affect repairs, adding to the damages that still lingered from the Apophis Crisis.

The Quetzal in the United States, who had settled down near Monterey, were among the first to help after the quake, with their anatomy allowing them to get into some places where humans were challenged and render first aid to a number of trapped survivors. A few Turukal specialists, working as mining engineers in the Rocky Mountains, also quickly arrived in the Bay area, supporting with large scale excavations and rescues, while orbital surveillance helped to find trapped survivors.

In the aftermath of the ‘Big One’, the San Francisco Bay area slowly rebuilt, as they had done many times before. The California Government passed new, harsher regulations for the construction of buildings and other structures, based on those that had survived the ‘Big One’.

While Schwarzenegger was best known for his quick and proper reaction to the ‘Big One’, his administration also worked more on the international stage, reducing tensions with the Chinese and the Soviets, while taking the last few steps to return to the good relations between the European Union and the United States before the Oil Crisis. Schwarzenegger also tried to shift the United States foreign policy towards the emerging local powers of Africa, especially in the longer aftermath of the ‘War on Terror’ in East and West Africa and the increased attention for the continent by the other major power blocs.

With the first completely ice free North Pole in 2036 and the following years, resources within the Polar regions, especially oil and gas, became more readily available to the United States, Canada, the Soviet Union and North European nations. It resulted in increased tensions concerning these areas over the rights to exploit the resources there and an increased presence of naval units of the interested nations as shows of force.

The European Union expanded in 2033, with the admission of Turkey into full membership, lengthening the border to the Soviet Union as well as giving Europe a more direct involvement in Arabian politics. Turkey had long since developed a native industrial infrastructure that could compete with the other European nations and now it would be further integrated into the greater European trade and infrastructural networks.

The integration of Turkish military units into Euroforce went on relatively smooth, thanks to cooperations between the Turkish military and Euroforce in the decades before, as well as German officers and troops of Turkish ancestry in all sorts of positions within Euroforce.

As genetic engineering, especially on humans, became an issue on the global agenda, the European Union was leaning more towards allowing its use, though there were loud voices speaking out against it. It was largely a personal issue, the majority of the social-democrats and even conservatives supported genetic engineering, while the majority of the greens opposed it.

Only one point was yielded by all involved, genetic engineering had the potential to help many people, but could also lead to a two class society with one class almost literally being better than the other.

The Pope also commented on the issue, surprising many with a stance in favor of genetic engineering. God had given this technology to mankind. So as long as it was used to ease the suffering of the weak and sick, and to provide help to those in need of it. He also noted that he was against the use of genetic engineering to allow parents to ‘tailor make’ their children, describing it as being against Gods will. Genetically engineered super soldiers were also not something that genetic engineering should be used to created.

During the mid 2030s, the EU and China slowly worked on a set of treaties, reducing tariffs on Chinese wares on the European markets, as well as on European wares on the Chinese market. However the relations were strained with the events that lead to the South East Asia Crisis of 2043.

The results of the Apophis Crisis on Europe were downplayed by the various governments, while their involvement in the rescue, through the European company Orbital Industries, was overplayed. The European economy, slightly more robust than in other parts of the world, still took heavy damage and while Spain and France saw heavy riots on the streets, Germany, Britain and Italy appeared to keep relatively calm during these times.

In the aftermath however, Europe needed slightly longer than other parts of the world to recover from the economic crisis in the wake of Apophis.

In the Soviet Union the admission of Turkey into the European Union was seen with a wary eye and a certain discomfort. Turkey was a local power in its own right and had developed a very capable military and was very active in the politics of the region. Turkey also had a direct border to the Soviet Union and could allow a bridgehead into areas important for the Soviets industry, like Kazakhstan and Siberia, should it come to a conventional conflict between the West and the Soviets.

Development in Siberia and in some of the lesser developed soviet republics, like Kazakhstan, the situation of the population improved with an improvement of life standards, as higher levels of technology filtered into these areas.

Interestingly, global warming was seen as a somewhat positive effect by parts of the Politburo, as the melting of the permafrost of Siberia gave way to areas where people could be settled down and build up a larger agrarian industry. It also made exploitation of the resources of Siberia easier for machines and people.

As for the political views of the Quetzal, they were becoming more and more of a problem to the Politburo as they continued to shake up the established politics. While the KGB was doing a decent job of keeping down the Quetzal views to the public eye and influencing their children more towards the Soviet model, personal contacts to the Quetzal lead to scientists and normal workers being enlightened with the differing way of Quetzal communism.

To combat these new ideas, new curriculums were implemented into schools and new forms of political educations were developed for the older population, to highlight the achievements and success of the Soviet model, while clearly emphasizing the similarities to the Quetzal model and at the same time carefully downplaying the differences.

While it was a reasonable success, not everyone was swayed by the new propaganda. In some cases people of dissident position needed to be removed from overly public views, but the Politburo did not want to rely on the methods of earlier times .For most of these people, new arrangements were created in remote places, removing them from the public view. places like the Moon, Mars, Venus or one of the various Soviet space stations were not uncommon to be re-assigned to, although the vast majority would be posted in newly founded cities along the Trans Siberian Maglev.

In Budushcheye, the city of the future, and the presumed model city for the Soviet Future on other planets, the problem of this policy could best be studied. The number of dissidents in the city was rather high and slowly the KGB officers sent in to keep an eye on them became influenced by political views that differed from official Politburo politics. It slowly turned Budushcheye into a melting pot of political discussion, wherein even the KGB officers in the city participated.

From Budushcheye, a covert sense of change and revolution slowly spread along the new cities of the Trans Siberian Maglev, hidden under the transportation hub that was set up to feed the Soviet industries of the west with resources from Siberia.

Siberia was not the only place where problems stirred. In the Eastern European puppet nations of the Soviet Union the prosperity allowed old ideas to resurface and take hold again. Nationalism stirred in many of the young generation, directed against the Soviet Union and the forces that still occupied most of those nations.

In Poland the majority of the population still followed the catholic faith and even decades of communism hadn’t removed the faith from the minds of the people, even though the communist party had tried. That alone drew the aversion of some parts of the Polish population, while at the same time rumors came up along with the growing knowledge about genetic engineering. These rumors spoke of Soviets using Poles and others in their experiments with genetic engineering, often exaggerated by mentioning mutations, abysmal creations and other horrific side effects.

The ever present social networks of the Eastern European networks spread those rumors faster than any other medium in earlier times would have been able to and not even censoring them helped to stop them, it only managed to achieve the opposite. The rumors did their own to the growing contempt against the religious Poles and the comments of the Pope on the subject did not help matters either.

The Apophis Crisis added fuel to the smoldering fires, when additional units of the Soviet Red Army were sent to assist the national militaries in restoring order during the worst of the Crisis. The fact that more national military units opened fire on rioters and looters was largely ignored, and most of the blame for ‘avoidable deaths’ was placed solely on Soviet shoulders.

Only in East Germany the situation remained quite calm during the Apophis Crisis, largely due to West Germany. Where the mood of the West German population remained stable, the East German government proved to be able to get their own people to remain quiet as well, stating that they could not be outdone by ‘class enemy’.

China used the 2030s to further expand its sphere of influence, using its newly established hold on Myanmar and Cambodia to try and drive a wedge into the Asian-Pacific Cooperation Pact and bring more of its nations into the fold.

The aftermath of the Apophis Crisis presented itself with a prime opportunity and China offered support to its southern neighbours, like Laos and Thailand, who gladly took the support offered, while Japan, India and Indonesia were able to do little to prevent that besides sending in diplomats. They were in no position to offer support themselves as they were too occupied internally due to similar troubles.

In posturing of offering support to its southern neighbours however, China chose to partially relocate forces and materiel used to keep order within their own borders. It lead to resurgence of dissidence within the nation, though it dissipated quite quickly, as it became apparent that China did expand its power, feeding the intense national pride of the Chinese people.

Before the Apophis Crisis, China had begun to earnestly fight desertification in the wake of global warming, especially as the desert moved ever closer to Beijing. In a true Chinese tradition, the Central Committee began with a series of massive projects to plant trees within the desert, as well as build new channels and settle new agricultural areas where it had been lost decades earlier. And China had success. It was slow but measurable.

Genetic modification, once the first taboo was broken in Japan, became a matter of personal and national pride, especially in the wake of the One Child Policy. As parents were generally only allowed one child, they began to look into way to make sure that their child was their dream child. Genetic engineering became the method of choice to make sure that their child was getting everything it could. Laws and medical guidelines limited the full extend of gene modification however to make sure that the current generation was not left behind by the newest, but would still make sure that the future would be Chinese. Of course there were also bribes to officials by parents who wanted a little more than what was approved by the Central Committee.

Troubled as it was, the Asian-Pacific Cooperation Pact managed to hold onto its position during the 2030s, but it became clear that the interests of India, Japan and Indonesia were differing more and more, with the Chinese actively working to break up the coalition of nations. For the moment however they managed to keep together, though the Bloc in this form would not survive beyond the 21st century.

At the time, the schism of the APCP was already becoming visible.

For a long time Australia, New Zealand and most of Oceania already formed an association of nations of their own within the APCP, and over time they had set up good relations with South America, while Australia and New Zealand also kept up good relations to most nations of the British Commonwealth.

Australia experienced a period of economic growth, even during the Apophis Crisis, and this did extend to New Zealand and Oceania. Most of the economic growth happened largely thanks to the discovery of the Arckaringa Oil Field near Coober Pedy and a number of other discoveries of natural resources in the Outback. These were mainly made by the Turukal as they searched for new places to set up their burrows, due to their rapid population growth.

Turukal population number had passed 10000 in 2031 and steadily grew to nearly 60000 in 2042. An interesting thing was that most of the Turukal born on Earth readily identified themselves as being Australian, largely due to the good and close friendship between the Turukal and the humans of Coober Pedy and South Australia. The Earthborn generation also quickly developed their own sort of culture, mixing human australian culture with Turukal culture and faiths of the survivors. Humans that grew up and worked alongside the new Turukal generation also adapted this new culture.

The Turukal affinity to applied science and engineering also helped the formation of stereotypes, cementing their status as ‘Australian Space Wombat Dwarfs’, while the entry of ten Turukal into the Australian Armed Forces in 2039 set a precedent for the Quetzal to do the same.

India itself formed another larger faction, together with Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives, with India being the big partner. The rivalry between India and China was well known internationally and the Soviet Union saw it as an opportunity to expand their own sphere of influence, offering their help to India to counter China. As the Soviet Union had already intervened in India’s favor during the last Indo-Pakistani War in the second decade of the 21st century, India was interested in the cooperation.

This stance of India towards the Soviets lead to a decline in relations to the other nations of the British Commonwealth during the 2040s.

The Apophis Crisis hit India hard, disrupting large parts of its industry and forcing the government to use the military to keep the peace as best as they could. The time lead to a resurgence of inter-religious problems, especially in Punjab, where Muslims and Sikhs were targeted by Hindus and in some cases the reverse.

The situation in Punjab nearly descended into another Indo-Pakistani War around the disputed areas between the two nations. It was only prevented by pressure from China and the Soviet Union, as they were uninterested in a local thermonuclear war breaking out between the two nations.

The third faction that formed within the APCP was formed by Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Micronesia, Vietnam and Palau. This bloc managed to keep good relations with the Australian bloc, and tended to focus their own attention more towards South America.

The fourth and last group within the APCP was formed by Japan, the United Republic of Korea and the Philippines. This bloc was formed more out of necessity and being politically close to the United States. During the early 2040s however, they began to improve their relations to Australia and Oceania.

In Syria, the al-Farkh government slid into a heavy crisis following the Apophis Crisis. In the wake of the presumed impact of the asteroid, panic within the population lead to riots, and the government tried to restore order by giving the army carte blanche, after the police failed to keep order, many officers even partaking in the riots.

When images showing the deaths of hundreds of rioters became public, the riots intensified and in several cities people began to take control over the rioters, directing them at the army. Even after the end of the Apophis Crisis, the riots didn’t stop and eventually turned into a rebellion against the government of Nazim al-Farkh, who had kept a hard hand in control of his county, especially as people from neighbouring nations started to cross the borders to aid the oppressed populations.

Israel saw this as an opportunity and the Mossad assassinated a number of high ranking members of the government in an attempt to further destabilize the Syrian government, and remove the pressure from at least one side, as Syria needed to remove army units from the Syrian-Israeli border to fight rebels. Meanwhile the Syrian rebels were supported with weapons by the Israelis through several backdoors.

The Soviet Union on the other side, trying to gain a foothold in the Middle East, supported the al-Farkh government with weapons and advisors, who were also covertly trying to bring the nation into its own Sphere of Influence and removing it from that of Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Nazim al-Farkh, who was in his late sixties and suffered from several chronic diseases, was flown to Moscow to be treated by the best Soviet physicians.

On behalf of the EU, Turkey tried several times to reach a peaceful solution, so did Iran, but over the course of the next years the situation itself became chronic with no solution in sight. At most, it was possible to contain the situation as best as possible and keep it from spreading out into the Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.

Surprisingly the population of Israel kept rather calm during the Apophis Crisis and for the most part it was business as usual. At most more Israelis returned to their faith, and the heads of the various sects of the Jewish faith claimed that the asteroid was another test of faith from God.

In Saudi Arabia, the house of Saud had been having a difficult time to stay in power for the past decade, as the younger generations felt that they did not want to follow the outdated views of those in power.

The situation that finally lead to its downfall was an incident during the 2038 Hadj. Five Quetzal and two Turukal of Islamic faith intended to take part in the Hajj in Mecca and were openly denied access by Saudi Arabian security forces on the airport of Mecca. A group of Western African Muslims, several of whom had been helped by the Ivesi Fakuxi Shiry before the ‘War on Terror’, witnessed the situation and got involved on behalf of the aliens.

The security forces kept denying the aliens access to Mecca, with several openly calling them infidels, drawing in more pilgrims, the majority surprisingly supportive of the aliens. In the end the aliens were still denied access to the Hajj and had to leave Saudi Arabia.

This incident lead to a growth of the feelings of defiance among the younger generations, who were largely influenced by modern media, the mostly positive positive examples set by the aliens, the newly discovered Europans, as well the effects of the ‘War on Terror’ and saw the negative effects of the islamistic influences within the Saudi-Arabian government.

Large parts of the younger generations began with a campaign of civil disobedience, as well as protests, putting pressure on the government.

Following the general chaos of the Apophis Crisis, Africa enjoyed the beginning of a longer period of stability since the decolonization of the continent in the mid 20st century, aside from a few minor disputes and the disruption by the Apophis Crisis, which had relatively low effects on the largely rural population of the continent.

The European humanitarian help program in the Maghreb, lead by European interests to reduce the number of African refugees, lead to several large attempts to reduce the desertification of the areas in the Maghreb. Several key technologies developed for space flight to produce clean water that could be simplified were introduced to give the people an ample supply of water. Modern, yet simple agricultural systems that could be adopted were taught and provided food. These programs in turn also helped with people learning to think more for themselves and not fall in the hands of Boko Haram.

Two giant geoengineering projects were started in North Africa as well. The Sahara Sea Project was undertaken by the European Union and several North African nations, and the Qattara Depression Project of Egypt with the support of China. Both were geoengineering projects that built tunnels and channels from the mediterranean sea deep into the Sahara desert and flooding the depressions with water. Turbines built into the tunnels could even provide large amounts of electricity, while the seas themselves could provide new coastlines and the opportunity to develop the desert itself into land used for agriculture, as well as allowing easier access to minerals that were hidden beneath the desert.

The Guinean Union had pulled through the ‘War on Terror’ and the peacekeeping forces of the United Nations West African Intervention Force allowed the nations of the Union to rebuild in peace. Relations to Europe suffered during the time however, as there were still some people about who again called out that the only reason for the intervention was ‘recolonization’, thanks to the Islamist propaganda. This resulted in politics taking a long, hard look inwards, even up to refusing aid and diplomatic contact for a while.

The return of the Ivesi Fakuxi Shiry to the Guinean Union in the wake of the ‘War on Terror’ and the help they rendered, especially the two survivors of the Boko Haram attack on the first Ivesi Fakuxi Shiry expedition had an interesting effect. There was a sense of shame present in the areas visited by the Quetzal, as it was aliens showing humans how a good Muslim lived and worked, how they helped. Due to this, a good number of muslims converted to the Ivesi Islam, slowly building its number.

The East African Federation had meanwhile stabilized itself after the ‘War on Terror’, with the military intervention in Somalia, with the help of the APCP forces, providing a ‘formation myth’ for the EAF military and a common piece of history. It also left the EAD with close ties to India and Indonesia, which strengthened as China moved in on their direct neighbours.

Somalia had been pacified from decades of civil war and strife, where entire generations had been born knowing nothing else. This meant that a serious effort had to be made to build up something resembling a nation within the borders, where there had been no effective government for decades. EAF military as well as Indian and Indonesian forces were needed to keep things under control, and would likely be needed for at least twenty years. By 2039 however Somalia had something close to a constitution, and in 2041 they held the first actual elections, though those were heavily corrupted by tribe leaders trying to buy themselves into the new government.

In southern Africa, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, South Africa and Botswana had grown closer since the first decade of the 21st century, first by combining their national space programs, then sending a joint support force into the ‘War on Terror’ and by 2037 by adapting closer economic ties by forming a trade union as well as coordinating their external politics, where they tried to remain as neutral as possible, reaching out to any of the major power in the world and actively helping to negotiate between the nations of Africa as best as they could.

During the 2030s, the relations between the South American nations kept improving, with Mercosul slowly consolidating into a powerblok that could become a counterweight to the United States within the Americas. But that was not without setbacks.

The Apophis Crisis and the following economic crisis had a negative effect on the Brazilian and Argentinian economies and for a short time both nations fell back to the military to reestablish order in a number of cities, like Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paolo or Buenos Aires, where mobs of workers and jobless roamed the streets of the inner cities and pillages shops and factories.

As a result the economies in South America needed slightly longer to recuperate compared to the economies of other nations. Cooperation in rebuilding from the economical crisis however helped to improve the relations between the nations. Internationally Mercosul strengthened its bonds to Oceania and parts of Asia.

Maginot Attempt

The 2032 International Solar Defense Conference in Mexico City began with discussing the new discovery on Europa. The first thoughts were of course whether or not the presumed aliens on Europa were a threat to life on Earth. However considering the presumed technological level displayed by the iron and brass sphere it was deemed to be rather unlikely.

The Europans however presented a new challenge for the defenses of Earth, which split the the experts on the conference. One group intended to integrate Europe into the defense of the Solar System, while the other group wanted to keep the main defense concentrated on the inner solar system.

The first group noted that Jupiter was the second biggest gravity well within the solar system and most likely to house human settlements in the near to medium future and that a defense would have to be implemented eventually anyway. Setting it up early to defend aliens, that could very well be native to Europa and therefor brothers of sorts, would only be logical and could be seen as a sign of being good neighbours.

The second group on the other hand brought the natural defenses of Europa into mind. The thick ice shield of Europa was a great cover and could be expected to prevent any actual danger to the ocean beneath, protecting any aliens. If human settlements had to be set up in the Jovian system it would be early enough to set up defenses there.

The conference remained split on the matter, and it was decided to continue this subject in a separate conference as there were other matters that needed to be discussed, like the bad results of the tests for the four big combat spacecraft built by the Big Four. The tests had been rather conclusive and later analysis of the data had revealed several causes for the failures.

The defensive and offensive capabilities of the spacecraft had already been identified as ultimately lacking and it was clear that they had to be increased, by new and larger combat capable spacecraft.

One of the other major problems was the lack of actual communication between the crews of the spacecraft during the simulations. While the US Space Force had talked to Euroforce, communication between them and the Soviets and Chinese was found to be nearly nonexistent.

Another big problem was the wide difference in performance between the four spacecraft, which made it hard to coordinate maneuvers and tactics, even if the crews were actually talking to each other.

Only a few general ideas on how to deal with these and several smaller problems emerged from the following discussion before the end of the Conference.

Before the 2034 ISC Conference, high ranking government officials of the European Union and the United States, met several times to begin a cooperative program for space borne defenses. It was also a new chapter in a now 15 year long effort to rebuild some sort of cooperation following the problems in the 1970s and 1980, when the NATO was reduced to a bare minimum. The meetings were successful and led to the Initiative for Integrated Defence and Orbital Security.

The 2034 ISC Conference was held in Durban, where the Europan Situation was placed on a lower priority as the Arcas Project was already underway and would yield results later on.

Instead the problems considering the lack of defensive power were discussed, as were several potential solutions.

One of the first projects of the IIDOS had been to begin with the design of the ‘Basic Universal Spacecraft System’, using a core spacecraft design as a base for different configurations as combat capable craft. As these spacecraft would have a very similar performance across the board, it would be easier to coordinate tactics and maneuvers. Additionally the construction could be speed up and its cost reduced by using mass production techniques.

The project was heavily discussed and the smaller space powers were very interested in the design, as the low costs would allow them to operate their own combat spacecraft, though the Big Four noted their concern on this. The Chinese and Soviets eventually admitted that the advantages of such a design would outweigh the disadvantages and signalized their approval to taking part in the further development.

The Soviet Union had begun to use their experience in the construction of autonomous defense satellites like the Polyus System, and started with the development of remote operated space combat drones. Such drones could be armed with any weapon used by larger spacecraft and return to their carrier craft to be refueled and rearmed. The first design study of such a drone was equipped with a gaseous core nuclear engine, enabling efficient propulsion.

The software and the communication systems needed to make such a drone viable, were years away from any real completion however. It gave the other nations time to develop their own similar systems.

The 2036 ISD Conference was held in Istanbul and the first subject was that the Enemy of the Quetzal and Turukal still had not shown up and that currently only asteroids were a threat to mankind, one that could be diverted relatively easily as Orbital Industries had shown. Threat levels were low for the moment and especially the democratic nations had hard times to try and explain high defense spendings when there was no visible threat to defend against, to either the public or politicians that were trying to get reelected and wanted to trim budgets. The fact that a decent portion of the aliens on Earth were doing their best to tell everyone that the Enemy could not exist anymore after more than three thousand years had its own influence on the general mood.

The ISD Conference had also lost some of its energy, with only a relative small core of experts coming together to discuss the current situation.

The second topic was the final discoveries on Europa and the aliens there. It had become clear that the aliens would not be a threat to Earth or the rest of the solar system. While there now was a permanent human presence in the Jovian system, without a threat to defend against, outside the chance asteroid, there was no need to build up any defenses that far out in the solar system. The Europans were nice and safe, buried under several tens of kilometers of ice, while the human presence was small and could be protected by the spacecraft stationed at Callisto.

So the programs to defend mankind were scaled down, even though developments continued. The last big advancement that was presented for some time on the ISD Conference was the first prototype design for the ‘Multi-Mission Universal Spacecraft’. Though other than the initial design study of the IIDOS, the MMUS was a design that came in two versions, one military base design and one civilian base design.

The MMUS was a octagonal truss design with a length of 250 meters and a diameter of 35 meters, with two or four dual mode fusion thrusters on one end. Two International Berthing Adaptors were installed into the truss structure about 50 meter behind the front, designating the dorsal and ventral sections of the design. Crew habitats for crews of up to 32, and two grav decks, 30 meter in diameter, were housed within the truss section, as were tanks for 51000 tonnes of water, 260 tonnes of deuterium, as well as nearly 60 tonnes of helium 3 for basic propulsion. Additional tanks could be also attached to the outside of the spacecraft, where four droplet type radiator systems and four smaller conventional radiators took care of the waste heat of the space craft.

The military version of the MMUS was going to be equipped with a thicker armor system on top of the truss section, as well as external weapon stations and sensory systems. The civilian version would lack the armor and had mounting points for other forms of payload, be it cargo, science or industrial equipment. Additionally the MMUS was designed to incorporate the FTL drive system, that was under international development, with only minimal modifications even to already existing MMUS spacecraft.

That the MMUS had a civilian side, and was most likely going to be relatively affordable by corporations as well as nations, was the main point of interest in the design, even though the Big Four as well as Brazil and India were interested in the military designs.

The arrival and capture of Apophis in Earth orbit and the claim of Orbital Industries on the asteroid was something of a sore point for the Big Four and lead to another big discussion at the Conference. Internal politics of Sky Watch had nearly resulted in a great disaster and actually made the efforts made by the organizations look moot in the face of an actual threat of an asteroid.

The public image of Sky Watch and in turn of the nations involved with the organization had been hurt. At the moment many wondered if the Big Four could even be ‘bothered’ to defend Earth against long dead aliens, when they were busy to defend Earth against space rocks.

On the conference this resulted in several different points of view. One side intended to deny the claim of Orbital Industries on the asteroid and use it as a base station for the space forces of the Big Four. The opposite side wanted to confirm OIs claim on Apophis and then hand over the asteroid business to private contractors.

There was no actual result on the subject and the issue slowly faded to the background over the following Conferences.

The ISD Conferences of 2038, 2040 and 2042 were reduced in scope, as the mood on Earth moved away from trying to build up a defense against a threat that still had not materialized, even though it was actively watched for, towards the construction settlements within the solar system as well as exploration of the places that were still unknown.

In late 2040 the first four prototypes of the military version of the MMUS were finished and individually equipped by the Big Four. The craft, named USC Independence, Concordia, Chapayev and Chengdu, were undergoing trials to Mars and Venus, after which they returned to Earth to begin a new series of simulated combat against the same forces that had defeated the first actual combat capable spacecraft of the Big Four. This time the results of the tests were a little better, as 7 out of 10 runs resulted in success, due to better equipped ships and more efficient communication.

In 2041 the construction of the Brazilian Jaceguai, the Indian IS Shankul and the Australian HMC Sydney increased the defenses of Earth, while the construction of several civilian MMUS as well as that of the Beagle, the first FTL equipped spacecraft, delayed the construction of more military MMUS until 2043.

Setting up Shop

It could be said that the expansion of mankind into space really begun to take of during the beginning of the 2030s. Of course there were manned stations on the Moon, on Mars and in orbit around Venus. Yet for the most part creating permanent settlements on Mars was the only really civilian project to make mankind a multi-planetary species.

Interestingly the main focus on plans for further civilian settlements lay on Mars and its moons.

The main driving force behind the settlement of Mars was of course the Mars Society. They had already built up basic parts of an infrastructure to make cheap travel between Earth and Mars possible as well as a basic settlement with 150 settlers in 2031.

The increased interest in Mars however quickly showed that the single pair of Aldrin Cyclers, following their complicated ballet of interplanetary orbits, was not quite enough. Each could transport 25 people to and from Mars in their original design, but by 2031 the Mars Society had more requests for selling places on the Mauretania and Lusitania than they had available for each transit.

Both Cyclers had been designed to be modular and expandable however and by 2033 additional habitat modules had been designed and constructed, ready to be launched to meet up with Lusitania and dock with the Cycler.

The modules meant for each Cycler were easily twice as massive and larger than the original modules of the Cyclers and contained additional solar power arrays, reaction mass tanks for course correction and additional habitation space for 60 people, increasing the capacity to 85 people.

To be able to carry this many people to Mars and meet up with Mayflower Station in Mars orbit, a new passenger-transit craft, the Schiaparelli class, had to be designed and built. To help with the expected future growth of the Cyclers, each vehicle was able to carry 25 people, along with 3 tonnes of cargo. The Schiaparelli had enough delta-v to meet up with a Cycler after launch from Gateway Station in the Earth-Moon L2 point, as well as from Mayflower Station to the return Cycler, after refueling there. An aeroshell protected the vehicle during the aerocapture around Mars and Earth, reducing the amount of fuel needed for each vehicle.

A larger single use cargo vehicle was also designed for the Mars Society, each capable of transporting 25 tonnes to the Martian surface. The design of the Burton class had been selected in such a way that it could be broken apart and recycled on the Martian surface by the settlers.

2037 saw the second expansion of the Mars Society Cyclers with an additional 60 seats for 145 people. Still the Cyclers could not keep up with the demand and various groups and nations started to send their own conventional orbit to orbit missions to Mars.

Mayflower Station, having to deal with more people coming to Mars, most of them to stay, had to expand as well and over the years, the Burton Class had been used to carry additional modules for the station, enabling it to deal with the heavier load of people.

Most of the new settlers for Mars had been selected by the Mars Society for New Plymouth.

The settlement itself had been constructed south of the ruins of Honore City and grew from its humble beginnings. Had it started out with two habitable modules, it now was largely constructed underground. The settlers had used their equipment to dig 20 meters down into the Martian soil, before using a locally produced martian version of concrete to seal off the single rooms against potential leaks for air and water in the soil.

Above ground were a number of chemical and simple industrial plants as well as several large greenhouses. The chemical plants were used to purify water from the martian soil for use as drinking water or to crack it to hydrogen and oxygen to get more oxygen and methane from the atmosphere. Other chemical plants produced iron, titanium, silicone and other materials from the soil, though only in low amounts.

The industrial plants were largely using the raw materials of the chemical plants to produce some of the things needed for the colony. One was the martian concrete, as well as bricks and rockwool-like insulation materials.

The glass houses had been created largely from locally produced glass, bricks and concrete and filled with compressed martian air. Inside a wide variety of plants was grown, from salad and soy, over potatoes, wheat and rice, to apples and grapes. Using aquaponics as a base system for the glasshouses, fish like tilapia and carp were bred to provide additional proteins. In 2036 a Scotsman arrived with a pair of whiskey barrels, which he then used to produce the first Martian Whiskey, as before this most locally produced alcohol had been either vodka or other forms of moonshine.

By 2042 the population of New Plymouth had increased to 624 people, including the first of the first generation of natively born humans, the oldest, Dave Willston, having been born on September 23, 2034.

Additional to New Plymouth the 2030s saw the founding of four more settlements on Mars. One of them, Marineris, was situated near the cliff of the Valles Marineris and founded by a European group of settlers, which had been financed privately. The growth of the settlement was a little lower compared to New Plymouth and between its foundation in 2033 and 2042 it only had a growth to 114 settlers.

The remaining settlements were governmentally funded.

The Chinese had built two large spacecraft, Fenghuang and Fucanglong, propelled by fusion thrusters to set up their own, slightly faster transportation to Mars. After setting up a small station on Phobos, named Jin Chan, as a base for operations on the Martian surface, Chinese engineers began to set up the colony Shuǐxīng, which was situated in the Cydonia region in 2033. Rapid transport with the two spacecraft allowed China to ferry larger amounts of people and material to the colony, intending to set up a model settlement other nations would envy. Between 2033 and 2042 Shuǐxīng grew to a population of 545, consisting only of volunteers, while Jin Chan was crewed by 24.

Shuǐxīng was also the home of the second natively Martian born human, Toa Peng, born on April 3, 2035.

Much like the Chinese, the Soviets used their own transportation to set up a larger settlement, independently from their scientific station in Honore City. Korolevgrad was founded 20 kilometers north of Honore City and supplied by the Moskva, a fusion powered spacecraft. Between 2031 and 2042, Korolevgrad grew more slowly compared to New Plymouth or Shuǐxīng, to a population of 271, with the first Martian Soviet citizen, Irina Peretrova, born on June 2035.

The last governmentally funded settlement on Mars was Mangal, founded in 2035 by the Indian government, using the first natively constructed fusion powered spacecraft, the Annapurna. The settlement grew the slowest of the governmentally supported ones and only had a population of 182 around 2042, as it was harder to find volunteers for Mars that were suitable for the settlement program.

While Mars was in the public focus when it came to creating settlements, largely due to the media presence of the Mars Societies ‘Mars Colony Hour’, the places in space closer to Earth received their own attention.

The Moon was the largest and closest place for mankind to settle down and the major space powers had already built stations on it, followed by several companies, like Planetary Mining & Manufacturing, Orbital Industries, Mitsubishi Space Industries or Vale Espaço. That civilians would come to the Moon was to be expected and thus it lacked much of the ‘Final Frontier’ feeling that accompanied the settlement of Mars.

Instead the main reasons to move to the Moon to live there, came down to a good and steady job and a high salary. Most of these jobs were in resource extraction from lunar regolith and as such most of the people who moved to the moon were either chemical process, mechanical or mining engineers.

The resource most sought after on the Moon was Helium 3 and the Big Four and the ASPC concentrated on mining as much as possible of the material, scraping off the first meter from the lunar regolith to extract the valuable material. What remained, oxygen and various other raw materials, were largely a byproduct that needed to be either stored or could be used in construction.

The corporations however were interested in all the resources lunar regolith could provide and by 2035 they had stripped a good portion around their initial bases down to the lunar bedrock of easily mined and processed regolith.

As work expanded and the need for technicians to service and supervise the robotic systems on the lunar bases increased, the workers followed and by 2035 the entire population of the moon had grown to 5000. Most of them were on the Moon only semi-permanently, working there for a couple of months before returning to Earth, but some of them learned to like the magnificent desolation around them and chose to remain on the Moon. A few even managed to persuade their spouses to settle down on the Moon with them.

The fastest growing base on the Moon, already slowly starting to evolve into a settlement, was Shackleton, where the Shackleton Mining Company had set up shop in 2032. The base was originally intended to mine water ice that had caught within the always dark interior of the Shackleton crater, while using the crater walls, which were always illuminated by the sun, to place solar arrays to power the base.

The water made the Shackleton Mining relatively wealthy and they expanded the base quickly to mine more water. The company knew however that the resources of water were finite and that they needed to expand to other venues to remain profitable outside of water mining. The most obvious was to mine regolith for Helium 3 and other raw materials, as well as limited manufacturing.

In 2036 the heads of the company decided to expand to the rapidly growing field of tourism as well, building the first hotels on the lunar surface under the brand name Lunar Tours.

All of this combined, made Shackleton the largest settlement on the Moon in 2042 with a population of 3000, a full quarter of the entire lunar population. This was not counting the about 5000 tourists per year that visited Shackleton. A very low minority of the tourists returned to the moon on a more permanent base as new settlers, partly creating smaller businesses on the Moon.

The traffic on the Moon, as well as to and from the Moon, made new spacecraft necessary to move people as well as material. While the DH-1, DH-2 lunar stages as well as the landers used by the Big Four were adequate for the most part, there was a definite need for a standardized way of moving cargo.

Most of the companies and nations that could only afford small launch vehicles liked how the Embraer SP-100 Palmira made use of its design feature of being capable of transporting a conventional 45 foot high cube intermodal container, or two smaller 20 foot ones, the container had become something of a standard for moving goods and several smaller companies were already offering containers that had been converted into vacuum tight space station modules with international docking and berthing ports.

For the most part containers were limited for Earth to orbit and interorbital transport as conventional lunar landers were incompatible with them.

In 2032 Northrop Grumman and EuroSpace presented the Hawk, a spacecraft that combined cislunar transport and lunar landing capacity for up to 30 tonnes of a fully loaded 45 foot high cube container. It was equipped with four engines for a landing and enough delta-v to land on the lunar surface from Gateway Station and go back after refueling on the Moon. The cislunar transport capacity was achieved by a pair of VASIMR engines that could get the spacecraft to lunar orbit from low Earth orbit and back.

The Hawk was well received and its low weight and rugged off the shelves technology, as well as the fact that it combined automated and manned flight and landing, sold it to many space companies, as well as NASA, ESA and the APSC. Eventually the Hawk was even used outside of cislunar space as work horse for landing on other smaller celestial bodies. One variant, presented in 2040, was even designed to land on Mars.

Apophis was the second target of settling down in cislunar space after 2036, after Orbital Industries had managed to move the asteroid into Earth orbit. Most of the settlement was for miners however, but it grew much like Shackleton, if not as fast, while the asteroid was slowly consumed for its material riches and partly converted into a habitat. In a rather interesting move, OI sold small claims, and leased larger ones, of the asteroids surface to small mining companies, additionally bolstering its income.

The rest of cislunar space was largely limited to temporary housing in the various existing space stations, even though the number of stations increased with new industrial stations that produced materials for use in space or materials of high purity and highly accurate crystalline growth for use on Earth.

One of the largest new stations was Chatham Station at the Earth Moon L5 point, built to provide all Earth nations and corporations with dockyard capacity to construct large spacecraft. Chatham Station made use of heavy automatization and space based rapid manufacturing methods, such as PM&Ms Waldo series of robots, but still housed about 160 technicians in a rotating wheel section of 200 meter diameter. Most of the raw materials came directly from the Moon and later Apophis, while a good portion of other semi-finished products came from industrial stations in cislunar space.

A number of similar, though smaller rotating wheels stations were constructed in low to medium Earth orbit, acting as tourist attractions and adding to space tourism, creating a destination that saw nearly one million people per year in 2042.

The Near Earth Objects that were targeted by the various space borne industries for raw materials such as rare earth minerals, were the last target of a modest settlement, though like on the Moon, most people who went to a NEO were technicians, supervising and servicing the automated systems that mined those small celestial bodies.

An interesting development was that most of the corporations interested in asteroid mining were employing a few Turukal engineers, who had valuable experience when working on asteroids as well as the technologies needed to refine the minerals into a usable form.

Soviets and Chinese only claimed one asteroid each, settling a limited asteroid mining systems and crews to them to supply themselves with rare earth minerals, independently from the Western corporations.

Venus lay largely forgotten by most, save for the Soviets, who were not much interested in disclosing much of their activity at the Veneran derelict anyway. Thanks to the other big events since the Veneran Crisis, it was not hard to do so, even though the United States had a few satellites observing Soviet activity at Venus.

The derelict itself had proven to be harder to get any useful information from, the technology of it was too advanced for current Soviet science to understand, let alone copy. To get a good amount of scientists to work close to the derelict, the Soviet Union had continued to build up Venera Baza and increased the number of scientific instruments, always using the latest developments whenever possible. By 2032 the station was supplied by the Moskva, whenever the spacecraft was not used to supply operations on Mars, as well as the Vladivostok.

The latest addition to the station was a pair of 100 meter diameter gravity rings used to create a comfortable gravitational environment for the scientists to work and live. This allowed to increase the number of scientists and engineers at Venus to grow to 156.

Human Upgrading

For a long time humans, sometimes more, sometimes less of them, had dreamt about being better than others. In early times this mainly was seen in relation to the difference in class between nobility and peasantry. In later times the difference was more often associated with the gap between being rich and poor. And then there was the ever present difference of origin or skin color.

Parents wanted their children to be better off than themselves, either by money, by knowledge or by power.

With Darwins Theory of Evolution and the discovery of Mendelian Inheritance, thoughts had appeared to actually create a better human. To use modern science to achieve much faster what Mother Nature was doing too slow.

At the same time, fear of those ‘better humans’ raised its head. What if the new humans decided they would no longer want to live alongside regular humans anymore? What if the regular human would become a threat to the improved human? What if normal humans would become obsolete?

These thoughts culminated in the tale of Victor Frankenstein and his Creature. The ‘I told you so’ moment came with the rise of the Third Reich and its ideas about race and ‘better humans’ and the destruction of ‘lesser humans’ burned themselves into the minds of great parts of humanity after World War II. After the end of World War 2 the fears died down again because this would be the last time such ideas would surface, in other words, no human would ever make such mistakes anymore, according to humanity at that time.

The discovery of the DNA and the first fictional appearance of genetic engineering lead to a resurgence of fears and hopes and using genetic engineering to do what nature could not, fears of ‘better humans’ destroying the normals.

During the 1980s and the 1990s bioengineering became a hot topic. The bacteria Escherichia coli was genetically engineered to produce human insulin, making the production of insulin cheaper. In Edinburgh, Ian Wilmut and Keith Campbell, for the first time successfully clone a mammal, the goat Dorothy.

The biggest topics however were related to the law.

Biological patents were a big issue. In the early 1980s the US Supreme Court had, in the case Diamond v. Chakrabarty, whether genetically modified organisms can be patented. The debate among the judges was heated and in the end the decision was 5 to 4 for Diamond, stating that no living creature, whether natural or manufactured was subject to patent laws. This lead to several other cases, including Johnson v. Monsanto in 1995, where the ruling had to be defended by the Supreme Court, with Monsanto losing the case.

Other nations were less effective in keeping living creatures from being patented. The clone goat Dorothy for example and the process to create it, had been patented under British patent laws.

The other big issue was pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, PGD, or genetic profiling of embryos prior to implantation on in vitro fertilization. One side saw it as a way to make sure that children of couples predisposed for specific genetic diseases from getting children without those diseases. It had the potential to make humanity as a whole more healthy. The other side saw it as an covert way of discrimination against people with disabilities and eugenics. What would begin with genetic diseases could be extended to gender, hair or eye color and intelligence.

With the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2002 the discussion became more heated, as the results were used to correlate diseases to specific genes. Other genes were correlated to the risk of cancer, coronary problems or Alzheimers.

PGD remained a hot topic, even when more insight about the human genome was gained. Genetic markers for stronger musculature, quicker reflexes or a more efficient metabolism were found, as were ways to activate those markers.

At the same time therapeutic uses were found to combat various degenerative diseases. Several had practical uses outside of normal medicine. In space astronauts had to fight against muscular dystrophy or osteoporosis, which could be treated. By 2015 artificial gravity and the lower gravity of Moon and Mars were supplemented by the use of drugs, though more than one astronaut voiced the opinion that they wanted a more permanent solution.

With the arrival of the Quetzal and Turukal on Earth, the two groups, in favor of and against genetic engineering on humans, looked at the aliens intending to find out what they thought about genetic engineering. The aliens proved to be of no help, as even the low number of survivors were split on the debate.

By 2025 the technologies gained from the aliens also allowed a faster advance of bioengineering and human genetics. Methods to toggle genetic markers at will were discovered and developed.

In 2029 the Peoples Republic of China noted that they intended to use these methods to make their taikonauts immune to the degenerative effects of microgravity with retroviral treatments. Tests on human volunteers showed a success, but only during the taikonauts stay in space. After returning to Earth the taikonauts were quick to develop a much higher muscle mass and bone strength, with negative effects on their health. Human tests were immediately halted and the methods returned to the laboratories.

Human stem cells were another area of discussion, at least as long as the experiments were made with human embryonic stem cells. From 2015 on, methods to create stem cells from human liver cells allowed better methods of research.

This research lead to the first creation of a human liver in 2022, followed by human kidneys and skin in 2027. A beating heart was grown by 2035, reducing the need for donors for either of these organs, saving the lives of millions of people.

Actual permanent genetic engineering on a human remained a taboo however, though a Japanese geneticist, Dr. Takashi Nagata, and his wife Kimiko, broke it in 2032. After their first daughter, Ren, had been born with the Rett syndrome in 2025, Nagata worked on trying to make sure that none of his future children would get the disease. He also wanted to make sure that they would be more suitable for the future, with mankind’s expansion into space.

Using genetic engineering techniques formerly used on microbiotic life and other mammals, Nagata deactivated the genetic sequence responsible for the Rett syndrome and activated other genetic sequences as well as adding new ones, like from the bacterium Deinococcus radiodurans.

Hikaru and Hoshiko Nagata were born on November 13, 2032 as the first genetically modified humans. The two girls had been designed with defenses against bone and muscle degeneration in place, a theoretically higher intelligence, an immune system that was, also theoretically, better prepared to deal with cancer cells and a higher immunity against ionizing radiation.

The reaction on the birth of the twins was varied. Most were surprised that the girls looked like a normal, rather than like monsters. Some parts of the Japanese society shunned the Nagatas, while other openly embraced them, though reasons varied.

Elsewhere in the world religious groups began with protest against genetic engineering and desecrating the work of God, with a few attacks on companies and hospitals with known genetic labs. France saw open clashes between bioconservatives and post humanists in places and was one of the few nations to put laws into place to limit genetic modification to removing genetic diseases.

One thing was for sure however. The taboo was broken and Hikaru and Hoshiko Nagata would not remain the only genetically engineered humans for very long.

Bioengineering however was not the end to all needs, even if some enthusiasts claimed such. While it was possible to clone complex organs with the use of stem cells, larger and even more complex body parts, such as eyes or limbs could not yet be cloned. Spinal injuries were another area where bioengineering could not help yet.

Prosthetics had become more and more complex and advanced over time and with the 1980s and 1990s a massive increase was seen in the complexity of artificial limbs with advances in the field of bionics, applying biological methods to engineering problems.

Microcontrollers and other microelectronics allowed for the creation artificial legs that could passively mimic the movements of a natural leg. Experiments during the late 1990s showed the potential of using contraction of intact muscles to control the movement of arm prosthesis. By 2016 the field had advanced to implanting small microchips to the intact nerve endings of a severed arm or leg and allow the body to control the prosthesis to a growing degree of effectivity.

In 2031, Sergeant Jonathan Windham of Euroforce, who had lost his legs in Nigeria in 2027, was the first to receive a pair of robotic legs, fully controlled by the intact nerves of his lower body. Within only three months of physical therapy he was able to use his new legs without any problems and took part in the 2033 London Marathon. Windham complained about a lack of feeling within his new legs however, which was another problem altogether.

Windhams surgery, rehabilitation and training for the London Marathon was covered by the news and the BBC made a documentary about him, named ‘The 500.000 Pound Man’. While most of the new coverage was positive, the Sun and other newspapers questioned Windhams choice to run the Marathon. At first they asked whether people with artificial limbs should take part in fair sports events, even going as far as questioning their participation in the Paralympics. As Windham crossed the finishing line on the 231st rank, the Sun went as far as titling ‘Did the Cyborg loose on purpose?’

Humans as a species were dependent on sight and hearing and as such returning sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf was something that had been approached by bionics early on.

Again the microelectronic revolution of the 1980s and 1990s allowed for a massive advance in this field. Cochlear implants were the most visible of advances to allow deaf people to hear, though the technology required that their cochlear nerves were intact. The same was true with early instances of trying to allow blind people to see, using electrodes in the retina to transmit informations into the optic nerves.

There were attempts to use direct neural interfaces with the brain, but all these attempts failed to a certain degree. Only the arrival of the Turukal on Earth, with their own direct neural interface technology, used in their brain-controlled spacecraft, allowed human scientists to develop their own versions, though they were primitive compared to the Turukal technology.

In 2035, Jewgeni Sarakov, was the first human with a direct neural interface. It was implanted into the sight center of his brain, bypassing his heavily damaged optic nerves, which had been destroyed in a work accident. While it did only allowed a low resolution sight, it made his life much easier.

Spinal injuries however proved to be elusive in their treatment. Genetical modification and stem cell therapy yielded little results and tries to bridge the gap of a severed spinal cord were unsuccessful due to the sheer number and complexity of the nerve tissue.

People that had been rendered paraplegic by accidents or for other reasons had little chance to get out of their wheelchairs before 2010, until Ekso Bionics presented the eLEGS system, short for Exoskeleton Lower Extremity Gait System. It was a computer controlled system that allowed paraplegics to stand or walk with crutches or a walker.

The eLEGS were the first primitive system of its kind and heralded an entire wave of powered exoskeletons for paraplegic people and those with other degenerative muscular and bone conditions, like osteogenesis imperfecta.

These systems saw a steady improvement and were also used in other fields, such as allowing workers to carry heavy loads. By 2037 these systems were widespread and showed their versatility in the immediate aftermath of the 8.5 magnitude San Rafael quake, where the use of powered exoskeletons by helpers most likely saved thousands of people.

The military was also interested in powered exoskeletons however, combining them with modern ballistic armor to create the first instances of powered armor.

The application of the exoskeleton in a military role opened the discussion to fears of using the new methods of human augmentation for military purposes. It had the potential to lead to genetically engineered super soldiers that bore an echo of the Third Reich. The use of cybernetic replacement limbs used to replace the limbs and senses of normal soldiers could lead to psychological trauma of losing a perfectly good limb to have it replaced with a weapon of war.

Meeting the new Neighbours

After their launch on June 2033, the spacecraft employed by the Arcas Project arrived at Jupiter only eight months later, in February 2034.

At first Lewis & Clark, Smirnova, Marco Polo and Shyust Vertia kept away from the strong radiation belt of the planet. By early March they began moving towards Callisto, entering orbit around the second largest of the Galilean moons on March 15.

The powerful sensory systems of the three human spacecraft scanned the surface of the moon over the following week, creating a surface map that was more detailed than those of the various international probes and allowing the planning staff on Earth to decide on a good position for Arcas Station.

The tidally locked rotation of Callisto narrowed the choice of the location down to the side that faced away from Jupiter, additionally making use of the moon’s mass as additional radiation shielding from the radiation belt of Jupiter. This made it necessary for the Arcas Project to place a number of communication satellites in orbit around Callisto and Jupiter to keep continuous contact with Europa during the mission.

Smirnova placed a constellation of six communication satellites into Callisto orbit. Based on the Meridian series of communication satellites, the satellites of the Jupiter Communication Network were all powered by large solar panels that theoretically were able to power the satellites for longer than radiothermal generators. They were also considerably cheaper to build.

Lewis & Clarke and Marco Polo carried six landers for Callisto, four of them being unmanned cargo landers and the remaining two manned ones. The Quetzal Shyust Vertia carried the remaining cargo in the form of all the things needed to build up Arcos Station.

The initial landing on Callisto happened on March 24, with one of the two crew landers touching down on the moon to test whether or not the selected location was actually suitable and stable.

Over the following week, the second crew lander touched down, with the automated cargo landers delivering the first modules needed for base construction. The first was the fusion reactor, which was activated with the help of several superconducting capacitors build into the reactor module and precharged in orbit. It was a Deuterium-Deuterium reactor to ease fueling the reactor and a tank with fuel for the reactor was within the second module delivered to the surface.

The third module contained the systems needed to create an airlock on the icy surface and to melt the ice beneath the airlock and create the cavity to hold the actual station. The fourth module finally was a system of inflatable and insulated tanks needed to take in large amounts of liquid water, as well as liquid oxygen and hydrogen needed to refuel the landers. A complicated system of filters was employed to deal with any form of contamination, especially as the water proved to contain a good amount of organic material.

Melting the cavity for the station into the ice and pumping the water into the awaiting tanks took close to three weeks, during which the Europa lander with the Europa Explorer was launched from Smirnova into a trajectory that brought it to Europa.

On April 24, the Europa Explorer entered orbit around Europa, while the automated landers began to carry the first actual modules for Arcas Station to Callisto.

Connection to the Europa Explorer was good through the Jupiter Communication Network and the probe landed near Columbus, only about fifty meters away from the probe and the pair of iron and brass spheres. Had the spheres been largely inactive since December 2032, the larger of the two turned active again, observing the Europa Explorer, as its heated container was set onto the surface and began to slowly melt itself through the ice of Europa. It was expected that the smaller heatsource of the Europa Explorer would need up to a month to melt itself through the ice until it reached clear waters.

Meanwhile the construction of Arcas Station continued until the station consisted of twenty different modules, some of them adapted from conventional space station modules to modules originally intended to expand lunar or Mars stations. Each had an increased insulation against the low temperature of the surrounding ice and the station in its entirety was held in place by anchoring points driven deep into the surrounding ice.

Three of the modules were based on the Soviet MOK modules and each contained an aquaponic system spread over three stories on the inside, allowing the station to at least grow most of their own food. Three modules were conventional laboratories intended to be used for work on samples from Callisto itself as well as the Jovian system at large.

On May 10, Arcas Station began it nominal operation, with an international crew of ten, including Ineorm Lor En’ust, a Quetzal from Diego Garcia who held an academic rank in exopsychology. Lewis & Clarke was the first craft to be placed on station duty over Callisto, while the remaining spacecraft prepared to return back to Earth.

The Europa Explorer had finally melted itself through the relatively thin ice of the lineae, dragging a long cable along behind it to ease communication with the lander. The carrier shell for the submarine robot descended further into the sub-Europan ocean as to not force the robot to collide with the ice if it could be avoided.

On June 19, the carrier shell filled with water and allowed the Europa Explorer to begin its work, analyzing the water with its internal laboratory, while the autonomous systems went through a number of pre-mission tests. The shell opened on June 20, releasing the mini submarine for its mission, oversight provided by Arcus Station.

The submarine almost immediately detected sonic disturbances in deeper water, coming from the free ocean beneath the lineae. It also rapidly found two sets of cables and tubes that appeared to be connected to the pair of iron and brass spheres near the landing spot. They led down towards the free ocean and the cameras were able to detect low magnetic fields coming from cables, while the tubes gave off heat.

Being directed to sink deeper down, alongside the cables, the Europa Explorer kept observing and analyzing the water, detecting high amounts of organic materials within the water as well as high concentrations of minerals.

After following the cables to the spheres for about three kilometers downwards, the water pressure only raising to a pressure of about one kilometer depth on Earth due to the low gravity of Europa, the submarine reached the free ocean and was forced into corrections for its course due to turbulences from a cold water current along the ice shelf above. The submarine nearly lost sight of the cables, but was able to recover and sink deeper, past the current and detected an orange glow coming from the deep about four kilometers along the cables.

A slight warm current was encountered a little deeper and the cameras pointed directly downwards filmed how a massive shape was slowly exposed from the blackness of the surrounding water.

Several crew members of Arcus Station and people on Earth later described the scene as being similar to the arrival of the aliens in the Spielberg movie ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’.

The massive object was irregularly formed, but had the general shape of a sphere, illuminated by a near countless number of orange and white lights, though the orange light sources were more numerous. Openings were everywhere within the sphere and it was surrounded by a massive cloud of life. Creatures that were the Europan equivalent of fish swarmed around the sphere, some of them eating from it, while others ate smaller fish.

The Europa Explorer moved closer towards the object, hovering above its surface and taking close up images and videos, showing that the surface of the object was actually coral like and alive as well, with polyp like creatures feeding on a form of plankton.

The lights were also filmed, turning out to be similar to either early 20th century light bulbs or fluorescent lights. Other images showed that the coral growth had been shaped into specific forms, parts of the corals being neatly cut or chiseled away with tools, while insulated cables and tubes were interwoven with the structure. While alive, the structure showed every sign of being artificial.

Warm water flowed through openings within the coral growth, carrying nutriments and alien fish. Eventually the flow of warm water also carried several cephalopod like creatures out into the open water and they stopped as the caught sight of the Europa Explorer. The autonomous system kept the creatures within sight, while they appeared to be wary and their skins exploded into colors, they also made sounds, appearing to talk to each other..

The creatures themselves were about three meters in length and had the general shape of a cuttlefish, with a pair of shell-like protrusions protecting the dorsal and ventral parts of their mantle. Two pairs of fins stuck out left and right along the shells in a V-shape. They had about twelve arms, which split in half in the last ten centimeter of their length and were covered with suckers. Two intelligent eyes, which looked close to those of Earth cuttlefish, observed the submarine. The skin of their mantles flashed in a multitude of colors from chromatophores, while the shells themselves were covered by a variety of patterns, some of them obviously not natural.

The intelligence of the creatures was not questioned, especially as all of them carried belts of some kind slung around their bodies, with a number of tools hanging from them. It was possible to identify hammers, chisels, pliers and knifes. That two of the four creatures grabbed their tools with their arms and appeared to be ready to use them as weapons also spoke for their intelligence.

The Europa Explorer kept its position, retracting its robotic arms completely and the video screens awoke to life, beginning with a simple first contact protocol, using basic geometric shapes and math to try and open up a communication route.

Following a rapid conversation between the creatures, one darted back into the tunnel it had come from, using a pair of water jets. The Europa Explorer stopped its communication attempts and waited about half an hour until the creature reappeared, with several more aliens close behind, one of them mutilated and missing most of its arms.

The submarine began its first contact protocols again and ran through them twice, before waiting, allowing the aliens to converse between each other.

Over the next two weeks it was possible to come up with a way to communicate with each other, using the video screens and audio system of the submarine.

The reactions to images of the Sun, Earth, humans and the other aliens was hard to measure during the early contact, but it became clear that the Europans were initially sceptical about intelligent creatures not living under water. Eventually however they became rather accepting.

The Europans invited the submarine into the sphere, which turned out to be a floating city, on the tenth day after contact. The interior of the floating city was similar in construction to the outer surface, with light fixtures embedded into the walls, while heated tubes were running everywhere. It was possible to look into several large rooms, discovering that the tubes appeared to be used to transport steam and hot water, as they connected to a variety of engines powered by steam.

The Europa Explorer was directed into a room where one wall was covered in a large number of dials, switches, valves and gauges, with a sort of screen in its center, showing a life image of the Columbus probe on the surface of Europa. In response the submarines video display showed a high quality image of the two spheres.

Communication with the Europans became easier and six months after first contact it was possible to piece together information about the aliens, with the aliens being very eager to provide information and cooperate.

Their civilization was based around the floating cities and cities on the ocean ground around natural hydrothermal vents. At first it was unclear how the floating cities worked, but at the center of the city the scientists discovered a blue glow in the water, as well as an unusually high concentration of heavy isotopes of hydrogen, oxygen and other elements. This implied that the floating cities were powered by a form of fusion or fission reactor, through fusion reactors were more likely, even though the actual civilizatory level was closer to the age of steam. There were also observations of several types of robotic systems servicing a variety of system surrounding the center of the city as well as outlying parts of the steam network.

According to the Europans there were about ten thousand floating cities within the ocean, with an additional twenty thousand ocean floor cities, each with a population of at least five thousand Europans or more, making a combined population of at least 150 million Europans.

It also appeared that the Europans were somewhat religious, going as far as claiming that their floating cities were gods and that the fusion reactors in the center of their city was the heart of the god, with the Europeans themselves being the children of the gods. The notion was somewhat understandable as they had apparently backslid from a higher technology level, capable of building self repairing fusion reactors, to the current steam age level.

While they appeared to have developed a theory of evolution and even said to be following the laws of evolution, they believed that they had been created by the gods, with no other explanation possible to explain the total lack of any fossil record for the Europans older than about 150000 years.

Their easiness in accepting the possibility of alien life, especially life outside of water, was eventually explained by their religiousness as well. To them the various gods of the universe had obviously also created intelligent servents after their own, strange image.

On Earth there was a loud discussion on how to act. The Europans appeared to be rather peaceful, friendly and reasonable and their technology level was more advanced than could have been expected from an aquatic race. There were groups that wanted to uplift the Europans to a higher level of technology, while other groups wanted to employ a form of ‘Prime Directive’ and not interfere with the natural development of the aliens. There were also groups that felt that there were already too many aliens on Earth.

Another discussion was on the Europans origin. The lack of a fossil record of their species until 150000 years ago, seemed to imply that they had simply appeared on Europa, indicating an extrasolar origin. Others suggested that the Europans had been genetically engineered by other aliens to create intelligences, with a lower number of people stating that both the Europans and humanity had been created by aliens around the same time. Either way, it was accepted in academic circles that the current Europans had evolved on Europa and were in a sense siblings to humanity for being ‘born’ in the same solar system.

Missing the Opportunity

As a whole, Asteroid Patrol had been around since the mid 2000s and had built up an impressive database of more than two million known asteroids and their orbital elements. The large number of telescopes in varying Earth orbits had enabled them to find asteroids that had remained undetected previously.

Early on a part of Asteroid Patrols work had been to scout for alien spacecraft in secret. This meant that funding was flowing without problems.

When the unofficial job of Asteroid Patrol became official, it was eventually transferred into a new organization called Sky Watch in 2022. The job of Sky Watch was to survey space for any visible signs of potential alien aggressors, either by using radio telescopes or optical telescopes on Earth and in orbit, which were partly transferred over from Asteroid Patrol.

Asteroid Patrol began to suffer from a lack of funding and equipment and, while alien technology and scientific knowledge had also been a boon to the organization, less and less asteroids were discovered each passing year and replacements for aging telescopes could not be acquired as easily as before. Keeping track of known asteroids also cost time that kept them from looking for new ones.

A side effect of Sky Watch’s operation was the detection of a large number of asteroids. Already by 2026 the number of asteroids detected by Sky Watch surpassed the number discovered by Asteroid Patrol.

Asteroid Patrol had done a great job over the past decades, but now it had come to an end in the eyes of many politicians and was gracefully shut down over the next year. A small percentage of personnel from Asteroid Patrol was transferred to Sky Watch, as was some of the latest equipment. The remaining personnel was given compensation and in some cases good pensions, while the equipment was sold on the open market.

Several of the non-transferred astronomers, who had worked for Asteroid Patrol for over a decade, wanted to keep doing their job of searching the sky for potentially dangerous asteroids.

In November 2026 they founded the non-profit Fondation Besixdouze , with the aim to acquire some of the old orbital telescopes from Asteroid Patrol and begin to watch the skies again.

In late November 2026, six months after its formation, Fondation Besixdouze was approached by Planetary Mining and Manufacturing. The aging chairman of PM&M, Larry Page, wanted to support the Foundation with funding and launch capacity aboard their DH-1, in exchange for limited use of the telescopes now and again for taking a peek at an interesting asteroid.

The Fondation Besixdouze turned out to be very interested in the cooperation, especially in the committed funding. The contract between Fondation Besixdouze and PM&M, allowed the latter to use up to half of the telescopes of the Foundation for one day per month to take a look at interesting objects.

By 2028, Fondation Besixdouze had secured six of these partnerships and was able to expand its operations again to twenty orbiting telescopes in various orbits around Earth and even the Moon. Two of the telescopes were even operating in the L1 and L2 points of Earth and the Sun.

Fondation Besixdouze took part in the 2032 Known Asteroid Survey and detected a new asteroid, 2032 ON237, and observed it for two days to calculate its orbital parameters, but the asteroid disappeared on July 23. An image was taken during the time of its disappearance, coinciding with the Survey taking an image of 99942 Apophis.

On the hunch of one of the astronomers of Fondation Besixdouze, the preliminary orbital parameters of 2032 OM237 were matched with those of 99942 Apophis. Calculations showed the newly discovered asteroid, believed to be a body of about 15 meter in diameter and a mass of 15000 tonnes, had collided with Apophis.

While the impact of the smaller asteroid didn’t change the orbital parameters of Apophis significantly, the higher ups in Fondation Besixdouze still ordered a calculation of the risks of Apophis hitting Earth with the new orbital parameters. This was largely due to the history of Apophis, having been the highest on the Torino impact hazard scale before its 2013 pass through cislunar space.

On July 30, the Fondation believed that Apophis had once again become the highest ranking object on the Torino scale. As such, a close encounter was posing a serious, but still uncertain threat, capable of regional devastation.

They immediately informed the G-12 nations and the UN, as they had been the first to set up Asteroid Patrol and were the ones that were most likely to be able to take care of such a problem.

The UN then asked Sky Watch to confirm the information of the Fondation. Sky Watch moved to observe Apophis for a while, but didn’t come to the same conclusion the Fondation Besixdouze had. Sky Watch felt that the orbit of Apophis had not changed significantly enough to be a danger to Earth, though they officially put his threat rating up to rank 4, on the Torino scale, the rank the asteroid originally held.

The Fondation Besixdouze again observed Apophis for a longer period of time, to try and confirm their own data, enabling them to reduce uncertainties further. The corrected data from the extended observation period, while keeping it within the internally used rank 5, vastly increases the probability of an impact of the asteroid in 2036.

With the reconfirmed information, the Fondation Besixdouze informed the UN and other officials again, but since they expected little response this time, they also chose to send out a press release to many of the worlds news agencies. It did however not have the desired effect as those media that actually picked up the news either only did it marginally or chose to do it in such a way that it would be seen as cheap fearmongering and an attempt to gain media-attention. Several newspapers and channels even had interviews with astronomers to counter the arguments or data Fondation Besixdouze presented. Interviews with astronomers of Sky Watch were used to counter the arguments and data of the Fondation Besixdouze.

Only a single G-12 nation, Brazil, and several private entities were still very interested in the information of the Fondation Besixdouze. People in Brazil still remembered the near impact of Sao Paolo and as such the Brazilian government was more willing to listen. PM&M and Orbital Industries on the other hand saw Apophis as an opportunity.

Backed up by the Brazilian government, OTRAG and Embraer set up the Space Sentinel Meeting in Brasilia in December 2032, inviting various companies and non-profit organizations, including Sky Watch. The Fondation Besixdouze was one of the first speakers of the meeting, presenting the data they had on Apophis.

Sky Watch followed with a presentation of their own data, suggesting that Apophis still didn’t present a threat to Earth. They had set up a second short observation period of the asteroid and were able to refine their data, but the margin of error still suggested that the asteroid wasn’t on a threatening orbital path.

The divergence between the two sets of data sparked off a heated debate, where managers of Sky Watch accused the Fondation Besixdouze of manipulating their data to get into the news for monetary reasons. The people of the Fondation on the other hand criticized the Sky Watch management not to take the threat seriously and to have used too little observation time to refine the orbital data on the asteroid suitably.

Afterwards a number of companies and other organizations presented their solutions to the problem of saving Earth from Apophis. The two biggest companies to present solutions were PM&M and Orbital Industries, while other presentations were done by smaller organizations.

PM&M presented a preliminary plan to prevent Apophis to impact Earth. The Maat Plan basically called for the use of a large spacecraft with a large propellant mass to berth with Apophis and then use its engines to change the asteroids orbit over a longer time, preferably until the asteroid would not pose a threat to Earth again.

Orbital Industries proposed a more ambitious plan, even though they were not fully convinced about the threat Apophis posed. Instead of merely changing the orbit of Apophis, they proposed to change the orbit in such a way that Apophis would be placed into an orbit that made it pass close to the moon in such a way that it would act as a gravity assist to slow down the asteroid, allowing it to be captured by the gravity of Earth and pushed into a stable orbit. Any further adjustments would then be done by nearby spacecraft.

The conclusion of the Space Sentinel Meeting was mixed. Nearly half of those present were on the side of Sky Watch, while only just about a third was on the side of the Fondation Besixdouze.

One week after the end of the Space Sentinel Meeting, Orbital Industries presented a more refined plan during a big press conference in the company’s headquarters in London. Orbital Industries had made use of their allocated time on the telescopes of the Fondation Besixdouze to confirm the information.

As a joint venture between Thyssenkrupp, EuroSpace and Imerys, the company had access to some of the high end technology available to ESA and was already building the Humboldt, the first Asteroid Mining craft of Orbital Industries. Based on the Marco Polo, the Humboldt was designed around a latest generation Z-Pinch fusion engine and was believed to be able to push Apophis into a new course for a capture by the Moon and Earth, rather than impacting on Earth.

For this mission however the Humboldt was not going to carry its mining equipment, but rather additional fuel tanks to be able to push the several billion tonnes of silicate rock. Models of the orbital path of Apophis suggested that the Humboldt needed to do a 10 day long burn, about one month before the encounter with Earth to push the asteroid into a trajectory that made it pass by the Moon in a gravity assist maneuver.

To get to Apophis, the Humboldt needed to be launched in late 2033, and follow a complicated orbital path to be able to meet with the asteroid about two months before the Earth encounter. To save propellant, The Humboldt was going to use Venus for a gravity assist, before grazing the orbit of Mercury and was the closest to the Sun than any other previous manned spacecraft.

After this press conference, the Humboldt became the front page material on all media and the echo was mixed.

PM&M noted that they wished good luck to Orbital Industries and that the plan was indeed sound. When questioned why PM&M wasn’t going to do the same the answer was that the two asteroid mining craft of the company were not able to get back to Earth in time.

A number of experts noted, that based on the numbers of Sky Watch, Apophis was not a threat, but the exercise of Orbital Industries was only going to result in positive feedback for orbital industries as a whole with even easier to reach resources available within cislunar space.

Negative voices called out that Orbital Industries was not going to do it right while others accused them of planning to try and take the world hostage.

Sky Watch confirmed that the plan might work, even though they still weren’t willing to take the threat of Apophis as face value.

Orbital Industries was faced with a number of lawsuits against the Capture Project, but kept working on the Humboldt and on optimizations for the trajectories.

The Humboldt was finished in June 2033 and made a short trip from LEO to the Moon and then to Gateway Station, before returning to LEO, where the spacecraft was equipped for the mission to Apophis and fueled. The spacecraft took on nearly 10000 tonnes of water as propellant, 30 tonnes of deuterium as fuel and about 200 tonnes of reaction mass for the reaction control systems.

On November 13, 2033, only about two weeks after the spacecraft of the Arcas Project had left for Jupiter, the Humboldt left Earth orbit on its trajectory towards Venus with a crew of eight. The spacecraft followed the carefully optimized trajectory nearly perfectly and reached Apophis on January 23, 2036. The only problems during transit happened during the closest approach to the sun, when the cooling system of two habitat modules failed and had to be repaired very quickly.

At first the pair of observation pods of the Humboldt made a number of orbits around the asteroid, taking high resolution images of the surface to help determine if the larger spacecraft was able to connect at a place where it could have the maximum effect of its thrust for an orbital change. During the initial close up observation it was discovered that the asteroid was solid and not a ‘rubble pile’, as some within Orbital Industries had suspected.

Thankfully the optimal docking place was close to the rotational axis of the asteroid and the asteroids ‘day’ of thirty hours could be relatively easily compensated for during the burn.

After the pods returned and the berthing place was selected, he Humboldt moved closer to the asteroid and put itself into position, before firing three harpoons at the asteroid. At the first try only two were able to connect, while the third only firmly connected on the fourth try.

With the harpoons in place, the crew of the Humboldt reeled themselves in to the asteroid, setting down on its surface for about twelve hours. To get a better connection, four massive drills slowly worked themselves into the hard silicate rock of the asteroid. A special polymer was then used to fix the drills into the asteroid, creating a solid connection to the Humboldt and a base for later constructions on the asteroids surface.

As Apophis moved closer towards Earth and Orbital Industries prepared to push at the asteroid, Sky Watch began to observe the operations of the Humboldt on the asteroid, making use of the Goldstone radar system as well as a part of their orbital telescopes.

The closer observation of the asteroid over the next two weeks, as the Humboldt prepared for its burn, lead to repeated corrections of the orbital data by Sky Watch. By February 20, 2036 Sky Watch raised an alarm as the data now was identical with the data of the Fondation Besixdouze that had previously been rejected. On February 21, the threat rating of Apophis was raised to 9, as the impact was only about one month away.

The United Nations and especially the G-12 nations were surprised at the sudden change of reactions to the asteroid and put pressure on the organization to explain why they didn’t confirm the data earlier. Sky Watch was forced to begin an internal investigation to find the culprits, while they had to rapidly plan for a failure of the Orbital Industries plan to divert the asteroid in such a way that it was captured by Earth.

Several politicians, backing up the people in the positions that had kept the observation times short, began to shift the blame to Orbital Industries for the change in the asteroid’s trajectory. Orbital Industries and the entire newly developing space industry came under scrutiny of the news and the public eye.

Lawsuits against Orbital Industries and others like PM&M opened, for reckless endangerment of the planet for uncertain financial gain. The Fondation Besixdouze also became a target of lawsuits by several parties.

Several groups managed to claim injunctions against Orbital Industries to stop the carefully planned burn, only to be fought by the companies well paid lawyers. Over the next week until the burn was planned there were several heated battles in court, while the Humboldt kept ready.

The United Nations meanwhile came up with a quick and dirty plan to try and deal with Apophis. As a solid body, it was more likely to be affected by nuclear weapons than a gravel pile that would simply swallow the force of the detonation and thereby could theoretically be moved by them. So the Big Four prepared themselves to use their nuclear weapons to try and divert the asteroid in the last minute, while hoping that it would never come to it.

On February 28, Humboldt began with an eleven day burn of its Z-Pinch thruster that was visible from Earth, followed by Goldstone and a number of earthbound and orbital telescopes.

At the end of the eleven-day-burn it was clear that the operation had been successful and the asteroid had been moved from its initial trajectory into one that passed the Moon extremely close, with the closest approach to its surface at eight kilometers.

Humboldt had the best orbital data, as they had done the burn on computer control and followed the data provided by Orbital Industries exactly. The spacecraft detached from the initial berthing point and exchanged its drills for new ones, before approaching a second place on the asteroids surface.

Again the four drills of the Humboldt worked themselves into the surface to attach the spacecraft to the asteroid, ready for the three projected capture burns.

Over the following month the lawyers of Orbital Industries were able to prove that their clients had not previously diverted Apophis from it course, ending a number of lawsuits, shifting the blame back towards Sky Watch and their internal politics.

An anonymous internal source within Sky Watch also provided evidence, that management figures had been trying to cover their tracks and those of their associates in politics, to the Washington Post and the London Times, creating a scandal at the worst possible time. Those management figures had cut short the observation times for Apophis after the alarm from the Fondation Besixdouze, leading to incomplete data on the orbital data of the asteroid.

To save face in the public eye Sky Watch was forced to assign blame, quickly shifting it to several of those who were to actually blame as well as some scapegoats. This in turn hurt a few of the politicians as well. It nevertheless also hurt the public image Sky Watch had tried to maintain.

Apophis passed the Moon on March 23 and was deflected into an Earth orbit with a periapsis at 20000 kilometers on March 25. Humboldt’s thruster ignited again at periapsis, finally bringing the asteroid into the gravitational pull of Earth.

The following two burns settled the asteroid into an orbit 125000 kilometers above the surface of Earth.

On March 29, Orbital Industries laid claim on Apophis, Earth’s second moon.

All these Worlds

In the latter half of the 2020s, the Big Four developed a number of powerful scientific probes, meant for in depth research of the outer planets of the solar system, as well as the eyes and ears of humanity to find even more artifacts that could be out there.

The discovery of two alien species hiding out at Saturn only increased humanities desire to get to known their own solar system better.

While the Asteroid Belt was the prime target of manned exploration and a number of mined out asteroids were discovered, Jupiter, the largest planet in the Sol system, was visited for the first time since the Mariner Jupiter-Uranus-Neptune probes in the early 1980s.

Probes of the Big Four entered orbit around Jupiter in 2029 and began with missions of scientific observation and reconnaissance of the planets moons.

The NASA mission to Jupiter, Juno, and the ESA mission, Galileo, launched atmospheric probes into the atmosphere of Jupiter, which returned valuable data that helped scientists understand more about the giant planet.

The Juno Atmospheric Research Probe happened to be the first probe to enter the atmosphere of the planet just inside the Big Red Spot, while Hooke, the European atmospheric probe entered at equatorial attitudes and returned different data.

These two smaller probes were not the only ones to be carried by the larger probes. The Big Four had actually agreed on who would land a probe on any of the Galilean moons.

The Soviet Union, with good experience on radiation shielding and the extreme environments of Venus, were more than willing to prove the superiority of Soviet science to the west and selected Io as their target.

Io 1 landed on the surface in March 2030, managing to avoid most volcanoes on the moon and landing in a seismically unstable region, where it began a battery of scientific tests, before being destroyed three months later during a quake when it was caught in a landslide.

The Chinese had chosen Callisto as their target and their probe, Mù wèi sì, touched down on the moon in June 2030. The readings of the probe discovered that there was a sort of ocean beneath the icy surface of the moon, though it was most likely an icy sludge.

The dark colored surface ice of Callisto contained many organic compounds as well as silicates and other remains of meteorite impacts over the ages. Additionally the probe detected an extremely thin atmosphere of carbon dioxide and even molecular oxygen.

Based on the data of Mù wèi sì, the Estévez Group concluded that the moon was the best place for a permanent human presence in the Jovian system.

Ganymede was the target of the NASA exploration. Marius landed in the Uruk Sulcus region on the moon in April 2030. Much like Callisto, Ganymede had an ocean of warm icy sludge beneath its icy shell. The moon’s atmosphere was slightly thicker than that of Callisto, but still extremely thin.

Radiation from Jupiter turned out to be extremely strong and prohibited surface settlements on the moon, making it unlikely to receive more than a few sporadic visitors in the future.

The smallest of the Galilean moons, Europa, was the target of the European landing mission. Even though plans had been to equip the lander Columbus with a system to drill through the icy mantle of Europa and explore the ocean beneath, the plans had to be scrapped based on the mass budget for the lander.

ESA counted themselves to be lucky however as they managed to detect a fresh lineae on the surface of Europa and decided to try their luck by landing close to it. On May 2030, Columbus landed on Europa, gently settling down on an ice sheet directly on the lineae. One of the legs cracked the surface and showed liquid water pouring through, but freezing immediately.

This marked the most important discovery about Europa to the date. There was an ocean of liquid water beneath the surface of Europa and and to optimize future scientific missions, landings would occur in or near similar lineae to make it easier to get a submarine vehicle to explore the subsurface ocean.

All missions went on nominally near Jupiter, until something remarkable occurred in October 2031. It surprised everyone and caused widespread confusion.

Columbus, programmed to take a panorama image every day to document changes of the surface over time, began returning images showing an unknown object that had broken through the ice near the probe.

The object could only have come from beneath the surface and the probes cameras were ordered to take closer pictures of the unknown object.

The returned high quality images soon surprised scientists all over the world. The object was spherical and appeared to be constructed of iron and brass, with a number of highly artistic inlays on its surface. One lens was also embedded into its surface, with a number of extensions placed near it that moved over the main lens once or twice.

A lower quality video of the sphere showed that something was moving behind the lens with high speed, while the sphere itself released streams of gas in regular intervals. Spectrographic analysis of the gas streams later revealed them to be water steam at about 500 Kelvin.

At first the discovery was kept secret, until the images and connections were verified and the powerful image sensors of Galileo captured the sphere in the same image as Columbus. Based on this image it was possible to measure the sphere at a diameter of about ten meters as well as take several thermal images. Only after this confirmation the information about the sphere was shared with the United States, China and the Soviet Union.

Following a number of talks on how to deal with the discovery, the public was informed about the sphere. It sparked off a massive debate about alien life native to the solar system and whether or not those aliens on Europa couldn’t be refugees like the Turukal and Quetzal, or the remains of a colony like the ruins of Mars.

The sensors of Columbus remained focussed on the sphere, which only released high temperature steam every six hours. An attempt of communication was made, using the robotic arm of Columbus, which had previously been used to collect surface samples for an integrated laboratory, but was soon abandoned as the sphere made no attempt of answering.

There were talks about landing a manned mission on Europa to try and contact the creators of the sphere in person, but these ideas were dropped quickly as the moon was deep within Jupiter’s radiation belt, which could kill a human within a single day of exposure.

On November 5th, the European Union invited everyone to the Europa Conference in Barcelona, to discuss future steps concerning the aliens on Europa.

The Estévez Group used the conference and their Callisto Study of 2030, to suggest the construction of a permanent presence near Jupiter to give humanity the ability to contact the aliens via telepresence. Additionally they suggested that this mission should be carried out internationally, to keep costs down, as well as preventing national interests from getting in the way of contact with the aliens.

The Conference concluded with the formation of the Arcas Project. The goal of the Project was to place a permanently manned station on Callisto, to allow telepresence missions to Europa and opening communication channels to the aliens on the moon.

While the initial planning for Arcas Station began, Lewis & Clark, Marco Polo and Smirnova were recalled from the Asteroid Belt. Additionally the cargo spacecraft Shyust Vertia, berthed at the International Orbital Dock, was rented from the Quetzal for the duration of the mission.

Arcas Station was designed to be placed beneath the surface of Callisto, largely to negate the low radiation from the Io-Jupiter radiation belt that made manned missions to Europa extremely hard.

The heat of a fusion reactor was to be used to melt a large cavity into the ice, about fifty meters beneath the water pumped out. The cavity would then be insulated against the ice with a minimum of temperature bridges into the surrounding ice and a complex of inflatable modules placed inside. A large communication array would be set up on the surface, while a landing site for spacecraft and the fusion reactor were placed about one kilometer away from the actual station.

With the International Orbital Dock and Gateway Station experiences of international cooperation had already been made and many of the problems that had plagued the IOD could already be avoided during the construction of Gateway Station. The Arcas Project made full use of this experience and the actual design and construction of the components, many of which were off the shelves and having been adapted from existing systems, happened relatively quickly.

As Lewis & Clark, Smirnova and Marco Polo returned to Earth in November 2032, the situation on Europa had not changed very much. The sphere was still there and still released jets of steam every six hours.

It changed rapidly on November 20, when Galileo once more passed over the landing site, and a thermal image revealed a new and growing warm spot near the iron and brass sphere.

On November 25 a second sphere broke through the surface of Europa, not far from the first one. Images from Galileo revealed that it was twenty meters in diameter and had molten itself through the surface. The sphere cooled rapidly and showed a certain degree of movement.

The upper part of the second sphere was capable of turning around and housed a number of colored lights on its surface, as well as two lenses and a dark rectangle covered by glass between the lenses.

The rectacle lit up after a while, and the images from Columbus indicated that it showed several blurred images. Only a video of the rectangle showed that the images moved, displaying shaped that somewhat resembled octopods, attempting to communicate with Columbus.

Columbus was not capable of being used for any actual communication with the second sphere and its creators. At best the robotic arm could be used for, was to make simple gestures and movements. Any actual communication could only begin tobe attempted when Arcas Station was completed.

To facilitate an actual communication with the aliens one of three Global Explorer II ROV was acquired from Deep Sea Systems International. The remote controlled submarine was designed for deep sea missions and one of them had been to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. In cooperation with the Big Four, the ROV was refit into the Europa Explorer. Two Stirling Radioisotope Generators would power the vehicle for at least 10 years, while an expert system, programmed by Enthat as well as checked and tested by various oceanographic institutes, controlling it. A number of displays had been placed behind ballistic glass and combined with its cameras, microphones and speakers would allow communication. Communication between the Europa Explorer vehicle and the base station was done wirelessly, using a system that had been developed in the 2000s.

The entire vehicle was cleaned and disinfected to prevent contamination of the Europan water with earth microorganisms and then placed within a heated container filled with an inert nitrogen atmosphere at 50 kPa to prevent any damage from the travel to Europa. The heat would also allow the container to melt through the ice and get the Europa Explorer into free water, as well as act as a receiver station for wireless communication.

The lander itself was an adaption of an unmanned cargo lander used by the Soviets, with an additional communication array and a winch arm to release its payload into the surface of Europa and eventually below it.

By June 2033 the materials and modules of the Arcas Project were complete and the first crew had been selected. The materials were loaded into Lewis & Clark, Smirnova, Marco Polo and Shyust Vertia. Then, by late 2033, they were finally launched towards Jupiter.

Shellshock

Sometimes Ach-delche-age wondered if it was all worth it. Working for the Magister was not an easy task for someone with weak nerves.

‘Ang-kim around me’, he thought, sure to have done something in a past life to anger the goddess.

Next to him, Magister Eld-delgar-cha-ray glanced at the various gauges on the wall, eyes gleaming in the light of the God Lanterns. There was a flash of orange consternation moving around the edge of his dorsal shell as he tapped against one of the gauges with an arm.

The indicator of the pressure gauge sprang to a lower level, with the Magister looking satisfied, his skin turning back to his normal reddish color.

“Ah, much better.” he said and blew some water from his siphon. “We do not want our guest to think that we do not know what we are doing, do we?”

“Of course not, Magister.” Ach said as he glanced at the gauges himself.

He had studied hard to become the apprentice of the Magister and poured his lifeblood into this project, sometimes even literally. The Magister wasn’t the easiest to work with however. Many times it was easy to tell that the Magister had actually wanted to become a Vicar of Ang-kim, before the call of scholarship had reached him. At other times he made his dislike of the many of the Vicars known and openly criticized how their politics made the life of scholars harder than it should be.

Ach was inclined to support the Magister on this. Ever since they had gotten the new High Vicar, Ang-kim had steadily lost her edge compared to others. The longer he was in power, the more likely it was that another god would surpass them in the greater game of powers.

A slightly warm current made itself known as the door opened and Ach turned around, only a moment after the Magister.

“Magister Eld-delgar-cha-ray.” was the first they heard and Ach could see the Magister fighting to keep himself under control.

“Vicar Per-eten-it-dan.” the Magister returned, pointedly not moving forward for an exchange of greeting.

“High Vicar.” Per-eten-it-dan replied, red and orange patterns of dislike moving across the visible mantle.

An uneasy silence filled the room as the two continued to stare at each other for several long moments.

Ach knew the history of the two, since the Magister could not help but tell it again and again and again, especially when he was angry about the High Vicar. The High Vicar was the main reason why the Magister had turned to scholarism, after both had barely survived an expedition to the outside of the Shell more than eighty cycles ago.

While the High Vicar had survived without many injuries, the Magister had been horribly disfigured, losing all but two of his arms and been nearly blinded on one eye, making it hard for him to disconcern the feelings of others. The cold just below the outer edge of the Shell was the most dangerous to life of the upper parts of a Fissure.

To see Per-eten-it-dan rise through the ranks, eventually even becoming the High Vicar, and what was worse, a zealot, had to be the worst the Magister could have imagined.

“That is quite enough,” a third voice interrupted the stand off.

Ach had nearly missed that Administrator Wor-entan-hin was floating next to the High Vicar. Her mantle showed the blue-green flowing patterns of annoyance.

“Might I remind you both, that we are not here for your games,” she said and stared at each of them.

Ach liked the Administrator. No, that was not only because she was a very good looking and sexy female, but also because she was pragmatic in what she wanted. She was something of a stabilizing force between the Magister and the High Vicar, although the High Vicar tried to extend his political power more within the shell of the Goddess Ang-kim than any of the previous High Vicars, and succeeded.

“Of course Administrator Wor-entan-hin” the High Vicar noted, dislike clearly visible,” My apologies. The Magisters little project. A so-called way of making Fissure Expeditions obsolete. The way I see it, it is as much of a waste of precious resources as it is a waste of time for both of us, Administrator.”

Annoyance crossed the Magisters mantle and Ach placed an arm on his scarred upper shell to keep him from exploding. Sometimes being an apprentice meant to be an emotional support as well.

“Perhaps, perhaps not. If we do not try it out, we shall never find out whether it works or not,” the Magister said and glared at the High Vicar.” And do not think that we did not notice your attempts of sabotage.”

At least the High Vicar had the decency to fake being hurt by the accusation, but the little flickers of color around the edges of his dorsal shell showed everyone with a decent observation ability that he was involved somehow.

“I would never…” he said, only to be interrupted by the Administrator.

“Enough,” she said, showing why she had risen through the ranks to become the Administrator. “Now, Magister, if you please…”

The Magister flickered blue around his dorsal shell for a moment, his relief showing that the Administrator wanted the project to continue for the moment, before turning around towards the wall of gauges, lights, dials, switches and the single televisor screen in its center. Behind it was a massive calculatronic engine, the finest the Magister had managed to get his arms on.

“Thank you Administrator…” he said, Warm colors flickering over this remaining arms.

Ach sighed relieved, it was easy to see when his patron was happy and that made him feel good too. In the corner of his eyes he saw the High Vicar scowling, his chromatophores showing obvious signs of opposite emotions.

Suddenly the High Vicar’s fierce gaze met Ach’s, surprising him. Ach quickly walked up to the Magister to assist him. The Magister saw his apprentice feelings and nodded, trying to reassure him.

“Ang-kim around us, be your blessing upon us on this day and on our task,” The Magister intoned very much like a Vicar and closed his eyes for a moment as a myriad of color swirled over his body in prayer and Ach quickly followed him into prayer. It never hurt to have the Goddess on your side.

This was it. The perfect day, the perfect moment to show that it would succeed. Above them was a recently formed crack, only two or three cycles old and it would need at least ten to twenty cycles to close again.

The Goddess was floating directly underneath, a many league long connection of tubes and conductive cords trailing up towards a sphere made of brass and iron. It was stubbed with various feelers, most importantly an artificial eye, the main export of Ang-kim to other gods. Through a long connection it was attached to the televisor, its lens disk standing still for the moment.

“We are nearly there,” the Magister noted and Ach pulled a lever that released the drum with the rest of the tether as well as opening a valve for more aether to steam into the spheres buoyancy bladder.

Many leagues above them the sphere, previously kept in a slow ascent, lost the last of its restraints and shot upwards for several moments before its hard body collided with the hard, yet thin outer shell of the fissure.

The pressure on the upper feelers rose on a spoke of force, only to drop to zero at being exposed to the Outside. Various other gauges dropped to zero, or rose higher, some confused about what to display at all.

The calculatronic engine, connected to the various inputs of feelers from the sphere, began its work, clackering like it had to compute a population count. The gauge of power use shot up and Ach winced as he heard cavitation bubbles forming in some of its wheels from the massive speed. God Aether escaped from tubes and motors here and there within the engine and a flicker in the light of the God Lamps made Ach turn around to the High Vicar and the Administrator.

The Administrator looked shocked, while the High Vicar showed some disdain towards the massive machine. Ach knew that the project needed the engine and that the High Vicar had tried everything to keep it away from the Magister.

“Good to see that this magnificent machine is wasted for something like this,” he shouted over the noise produced by the engine as it ground to a sudden halt, adding in a very sarcastic tone.” And that you have destroyed it, Eld-delgar. Congratulations…”

Strangely enough, Ach noted, the Magister kept his calm, instead focussing at the various gauges and the lights that had switched on and off during the operation of the calculatronic engine.

“I am sorry, Per-eten, but I believe that I have to disappoint you, ” he spoke as he turned around, a mischievous and satisfied color mix playing around his mantle.” Neither is the engine destroyed, nor the project a failure.”

One of his two arms reached out and flicked a switch. The lens disk of the televisor began to rotate, just like the one up in the sphere. Some moments of accelerating to working speeds inside the aether filled glass cube, followed by synchronizing with the artificial eye and the lights of the televisor started to burn.

The God Light in the televisor needed some time to get into sync completely, before showing an image from the beyond the fissure.

The first thing Ach saw was a spherical object hanging above a surface that looked like a groundscape around one of the Chained Gods deep beneath the Shell. The sphere looked at them with a giant eye and caused him to push himself away from the televisor screen in a state of shock. This was the first time he actually saw one of the Outer Gods.

He turned to look back at the two guests.

Normally this should have made a High Vicar as glad as an Administrator, but the reality was that the zealot in the current High Vicar was going to be much more of a problem, especially if he kept to the ‘Sacrifice of Expeditions’ favored by many zealots when it came to pleasing the Outer Gods, and keep them safe from the Evils of the outside.

As expected, the High Vicar had gone strangely silent, while the Administrator looked like she was about to screw someone over with glee. Ach knew the implications all too well. With the sphere and its ability to glance at the Outer Gods and maybe even appease them, Ang-kim suddenly gained a massive political advantage over all other Gods.

His thoughts were cut short by the Magister and the starting clatter of the machine as it began to increase the resolution of the televisor image.

“I wonder what this might be,” he noted and looked closer at the image of the televisor, which was already getting much clearer.

He pointed to a strange object that looked not much unlike an Ackldan Crawler. Four spindly objects kept the body from the surface of the Shell. The image had enough details that Ach could identify tubes and what appeared to be feelers.

Only a moment later, something moved out of the thing on the surface, something that looked very much like an artificial eye, only smaller.

“Well, I believe that this shall fully vindicate my work,” the Magister noted with harsh patterns of satisfaction. “Behold! A creature in service of the Outer Gods.”

Ach breathed in deeply and closed his eyes for a moment. Working for the Magister was not an easy task and certainly not for someone with weak nerves, even on a good day. But to Ach, it was all worth all it.