Category Archives: Seeing Further

Not-Arrested Development

During the late 2040s and early 2050s Earth saw a new surge of developments in the more classic areas of the military, sparked by the Administration of Republican President Philippe Da Vilcas. While his main focus lay with improvements of the national infrastructure, international politics squared the United States off against China, as the Middle Kingdom expanded its influence into Southeast Asia as well as Africa at an alarming rate, although diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union had largely normalized as far as it was possible concerning the differences between the two superpowers.

With American interests in Africa threatened by China, it was inevitable that the United States started to feel the need to replace aging weapon systems from the 2020s with newer systems. The European Union and the Soviet Union were in second and third place technology wise, while China and India were quickly catching up due to their own arms race with the other three super powers.

During this new armament project Hurtubise Armor Works in Hamilton, Ontario, a subdivision of General Dynamics Land Systems, presented the Aspis M1A1 Personal Protective Armature to the Pentagon and the Canadian Armed Forces. It was the first powered armor design to reach production readiness.

Combining a modern exoskeleton technology with modern non-newtonian ballistic fabric and cermet armor plates, the Aspis overall reached Armor Level IV. While the entire body was protected at least by several layers of ballistic fabric, laminar cermet plates held in place by ballistic fabric gave the torso additional protection up to Armor Level V, or .50 BMG AP. Due to the non-newtonian nature of the ballistic fabric the suit was also stab-proof and capable of surviving small IEDs and most modern anti-personnel mines and grenades.

The head was protected by a full covering cermet helmet with integrated ABC gear and battlefield networking systems. The use of virtual environments and numerous small cameras covering the helmet removed a weak point potentially exploitable by snipers.

The exoskeleton was mostly responsible for carrying the weight of the 200 kg Aspis, but allowed the wearer faster overall movement as well as the ability to turn over a car. This also made carrying and using larger weapons, like the venerated M2 Browning and other heavy squad support weapons.

An intelligent undergarment was responsible for heat management and capable of limited medical assistance, from the release of blood clotting materials to reduce large scale blood loss over the injection of painkillers and other medical drugs to allowing surgeons to prepare for injuries.

China, the European Union and the Soviet Union were relatively quick to present their own Personal Protective Armors.

The European Thales Cuirassier was a jack-of-all-trades design, providing an overall Armor Level IV protection, with a Level V protection of the torso and head areas. Slightly lighter than the Aspis, the Cuirassier was limited in the weight it could support additionally to its own mass, limiting the heavier weapons options. Being cheaper, it was more likely to be spread out through Euroforce and the national militaries.

A heavy version of the PPA was developed by the Soviet Union in form of the LT-2. It provided overall Armor Level V protection on the cost of maneuverability, making it a rather lumbering design. However the overall enhanced protection and the increased strength of the design allowed it to carry heavier weapons then the other designs, going as far as integrating four reloadable RPG-37 carried on the back, capable of vertically launching four conventional or thermobaric rockets.

The Chinese Guījiǎ PPA on the other hand went for an overall light design, with a purely Armor Level IV rating. This made the PPA extremely cheap, but prevented the use of heavy handheld weapons. The overall protection and the low cost however made it possible to equip entire infantry regiments with them.

First tactics developed for the PPA used the additional protection for assaults on hardened urban structures, entrenchments and bunkers. Embedding a PAA into a conventional squad also allowed faster employment of support weaponry, which was the way most armies, besides China, made use of the PAA, before the development of cheaper and lighter PAAs.

The first actual combat that saw the employment of PAA on both sides was the ten day long Golan Conflict of 2050. Here the Israeli variant of the US Aspis, the Iron Armor, faced off against Soviet LT-2 and a few Chinese Guījiǎ on the side of the Syrian Army. Both PAA systems proved their worth in an actual combat situation, especially urban combat within Al Qunaitra, where both sides effectively used PAA squads to clean out their opponents bunkers and fortified positions.

Especially the highly integrated battlefield awareness of the PAA on a personal level allowed for increased effectivity of the PAA armored infantry. PAA also turned out to be effective tank killers if they were equipped with heavy shoulder launched rockets, here the Soviet LT-2 was very effective with its integrated four rocket launchers. Additionally PAA were an effective addition for scouts, allowing them to stay protected and use integrated sensors and stay protected. Here the Chinese Guījiǎ proved to be very effective.

Another area that saw the introduction of new systems were the various air forces of Earth, with the development of the first effective surface to orbit aerospace planes.

In the United States began the Aurora Project, culminating in the choice of the Martin AF-40 Reaper aerospace plane, selected over the Lockheed XF-41 Starfighter II and the McDonnell Douglas XF-39 Skymaster. To arm the Reaper, a variant of the BSM-12 Thrasher ground launched kinetic kill vehicle was developed, with the Reaper carrying four. A pair of 1 MW UVR lasers was included to be used in closer combat situations, as well as to act as point defense if needed.

In Europe the Eurofighter Jagdflugzeug GmBH developed the Hurricane for the same role. Designed along the lines of the Saenger, the Hurricane carried six KKVs and a pair of 1.5 MW UVR lasers. The Soviet produced the MiG-47, which was a lighter design compared to the Reaper or the Hurricane, carrying only two KKVs and a single 1.5 UVR laser. The Chinese Chengdu J-23 was comparable to the Soviet design, but used a more advanced engine system and a 2 MW UVR laser, due to a slightly better understanding of aerospace craft of the Chinese.

Smaller nations either converted civilian SSTO’s or DH-1 reusable spacecraft to serve as their own versions of surface borne space interceptors.

The effectivity of these spacecraft was put into question during the Golan Conflict of 2050. The INS Kidon, which had been hunting down and destroyed several Syrian satellites, was attacked by a number of Syrian armed DH-1 additionally to surface to orbit missiles of Chinese make. While the attack heavily damaged the Israeli MMLS, it destroyed all involved Syrian spacecraft.

In 2047, the Guinean Union experienced the to date largest outbreak of Ebola, with a new variant of the virus which had a longer incubation time. Within a relative short time about twenty thousand people in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria and Togo got infected.

While the medical situation was better by now it had been during previous outbreaks of the virus, the virus itself had a higher survival rate outside the human body. Additionally several sociological factors were responsible for the increased number of infections, as several disease related myths were spread by the few scattered remains of Boko Haram or various witch doctors that still had a high influence in the more rural areas of West Africa.

The WHO and Médecins Sans Frontières reacted relatively quickly to the pandemic, but the new strain made treating the victims very difficult. Taking care of the deceased was just as troublesome, with only few volunteers to spare. The local people were too scared about contracting the disease themselves. After the idea to incinerate deceased came up, the local population reacted negatively to this perceived disrespect for the dead. In a number of cases hospitals and lazarettes were attacked.

This situation became better however when a larger number of Quetzal, most of them Ivesi Fakuxi Shiry from a small settlement near Lagos, volunteered to help taking care of the infected. Both the WHO and Médecins Sans Frontières welcomed this help, as the Quetzal were immune to the virus due to their alien biology and were well respected by the locals.

Indirectly the Ebola Outbreak was also responsible for the collapse of the Saudi Arabian government. The positive involvement of the Quetzal in the Outbreak lead to a growing human following of the Ivesi Fakuxi Shiry and a sort of unofficial recognition of this form of Islam by some of the more liberal muslim groups. When several Ivesi Fakuxi Shiry attempted to do a Hajj, and were once again refused entry into Mecca, a group of fellow pilgrims began to protest this treatment.

Sadly this protest turned violent, with Saudi security personal firing shots at some of the pilgrims, sparking a panic. This response lead to an outcry by other pilgrims, as well as part of the Saudi population. As the Saudi Arabian government had become increasingly oppressive over the past decades, censoring the media and imposing religiously motivated restrictions, this time they attempted to use the incident to impose more restrictions on the pilgrimage to the holy sites in Saudi Arabia.

The new restriction were received poorly by the pilgrims and the general population, directly leading to the first uprisings of students, followed by the Shiites in the area, which were clamped down hard. Eventually several groups of the Saudi Arabian army defected to the rebels, leading to a civil war that lasted about a year, with the rebels receiving covert support from Iran, while the Saudi government received support from China through Pakistan.

During the Arabian Night Revolt, the rebels were able to quickly seize Mecca and Medina and managed to hold them until the end of the war. Following the fall of Riyadh two years into the civil war, the House of Saud was forced into exile in Pakistan, after which the rebels started claiming the war to be over soon.

Aa a result the nation experienced several years of political instability under a provisional government until a democratic government could be elected that was able to stay in power. This new government openly welcomed aliens of muslim belief and was the first to officially recognize the Ivesi Fakuxi Shiry branch of Islam.

The Ebola pandemia wasn’t the only disease-related event that lead to some changes in the political landscape. In the Soviet Union, the melting permafrost released a number of ancient pathogens preserved within the ground and brought to the surface by tilling the newly farmable land. Although most of these pathogens were harmless to humans, two still infected livestock and three grain. The biggest surprise however was one single viral strain that rose along with humanity.

This specific member of the Hantavirus family, quickly named Budushcheye Virus after the first outbreak in that city, had more severe effects on the human body than any previously known Hantavirus and a much higher mortality rate. In most cases death was induced by kidney failure.

The Soviet response was slow, and the Budushcheye Virus was able to infect several tens of thousands people over the course of a mere six weeks until specialists were brought in to treat the patients. In combination with the cattle and pig diseases, Budushcheye was to be quarantined and dependent on food brought in for one year. The quarantine came too late however and several more cities along the Trans Siberian Maglev were also discovered to be infected by the virus and needed to be quarantined as well.

While it seemed possible to create a vaccine against the Budushcheye Virus and develop a treatment, the response by Moscow was seen as headless by the local population. As the ‘City of the Future’ had a history of largely covert dissent, thanks to the dissidents sent to build up the city and keep them from actual positions of power, an underground movement had developed that was based largely on the views introduced by the Quetzal that had settled down in the city after several years in Star City.

This movement slowly pushed into the open, as more and more offices of the city government converted to the mixture of communism, capitalism and anarchy. Again this seemed to be ignored by Moscow, though it later became known that the Politburo wanted to see this new movement fail on its own. Several more Siberian cities along the TransSibMaglev, mostly those affected by the Budushcheye Virus, followed the example of Budushcheye.

By 2052, the Budushcheye Movement had gathered enough confidence and announced the formation of the Siberian Socialistic Republic, which shared a border with China and Mongolia. The response of the Politburo was par for the course. The Red Army crossed into the newly formed SSR, their units moving in along the TransSibMaglev and occupied the maglev stations. By doing so the Red Army linked up with several units that had remained loyal. Unfortunately parts of these units were infected by the Budushcheye Virus and in turn infected the newly arrived units of the Red Army.

While there were several brushes between the Siberian Army and the Red Army, with only a few shots fired, before the Politburo imposed a quarantine over the entire SSR. Red Army units in full NBC gear began to patrol the Maglev to secure it from the Siberians and secure the way into the Soviet Far East. Moscow also made it clear that they would use orbital weapons, should the SSR try to cut off the Maglev.

Food transports into the SSR, needed to feed the majority of the population, were cut off by Moscow, stating that they of course would be willing to talk about a trade agreement, effectively starving the new nation and trying to make it collapse. Officially it was to keep the infection from spreading further.

Moscow didn’t expect China to intervene however.

Much like the Soviet Union, China was long since interested in the vast material wealth of Siberia and was more than willing to trade food and military equipment to the SSR in exchange for metals, petrochemicals and wood. A trade agreement between China and Siberia was quickly made, even with the threat of Soviet orbital and nuclear weapons, but those were countered by China being ‘willing to stand by their new Siberian allies’. An added bonus for the Siberians was that China set their best physicians, bioengineers and immunologists, among them no less than five Nobel Prize holders, to develop a cure for the Budushcheye Virus.

Poland, Czechoslovakia and the Baltic states made use of the distraction of Siberia to separate themselves more from Moscow as well. This in turn brought them a little closer to the European Union, who welcomed their opening to the west and saw it as a first step of these nations into freedom. This acceptance from the European Union was disliked by the Soviet Union, stating that they should not meddle in Soviet Affairs.

The entire situation in Siberia and Eastern Europe lead to the Soviet Union being viewed as being in decline, while China strengthened its global political influence.

This was partially due to China making nice with several Southeast Asian nations that were trying to keep themselves outside of the Chinese Sphere of Influence. In 2049 an 8.0 earthquake near the West Papuan coast lead to a tsunami racing through the Pacific Ocean, hitting the coast of the Philippines, Japan and rolling over several of the smaller Oceanic island nations.

The damages were heavy and China financed the rebuilding process in these areas, partially by sending engineers and helpers into the affected areas, as well as offering discounts and credits to the nations involved. While Indonesia declined and received help from Australia, the Philippines were slowly drawn into the Chinese Sphere of Influence.

In some cases the nations influenced by the Chinese grew a little overconfident, as it was seen in a localized war between the Chinese supported Laos and Vietnam, which was supported by Australia, Korea and Japan. This border conflict was begun by Laos and ended with a draw and an increasing military presence across the border between the two nations.

China was also responsible for importing a new, and at the same time old, wonder material onto Mars, in the form of Phyllostachys edulis, or moso bamboo. At first it was intended only to supplement the diet of the Chinese settlers of Shuǐxīng with bamboo shoots. Eventually however the settlers grew fully sized plants, which under the Martian gravity could reach sizes of up to 60 meters.

Bamboo turned out to be a very versatile material for space that could be used in varied ways. Aside from the bamboo shoots being edible, their fast growth made them very useful to lock up carbon dioxide when used in the life support systems. Bamboo could be turned into fibers for clothing, into paper and used as a material for scaffolding and for building larger structures due to its strength. It could also be easily turned into everyday items such as eating utensils and furnishings.

While it was at first met with ridicule by the other Mars settlements, Bamboo seeds were eventually traded in by New Plymouth for tilapia, allowing a diversification of the Chinese diet, while allowing New Plymouth to grow their own bamboo.

A somewhat worrying trend was becoming visible elsewhere in several places of the solar system, including Earth, as many of the ever more complex computer systems and software showed emergent behaviour. Most of these computer systems ran agent based software that organized in ways they were never intended to by the programmers, making it harder to understand how they worked at all.

One of the most worrying trends was that the software agents of the Soviet Prirost system began to optimize the economic flow in ways unwanted by its controllers, but still eventually turned out to be beneficial in the long run. Sometimes the behaviour of the system could even be described as sentient.

While most of these systems were tightly observed by system administrators and computer scientists, similar systems in deep space were not under such tight control. They were used in the various automated resource extraction facilities of asteroid mines, controlling the flow of energy and deciding what materials and areas to mine and were allowed to run independent of most control inputs from Earth, only using limited bandwidth for status updates as well as being met by repair crews and equally automated transporters.

Surprise, Surprise

While the Beagle was still in transit to Earth, the international scientific community was already plowing through the nearly one exabyte of data the spacecraft had transmitted. The information on the various planets and the direct observation of the stars were parts of the data that were most sought after. Only few astronomers were interested in what was known as the Beagle Whole Sky Survey, the observation of the entire sky from the various systems.The observations had been mostly made to try and discover new stars, brown dwarfs or maybe rogue planets.

Just as the Beagle passed the orbit of Mars, a Chilean team of astronomers shocked the planet by publishing what they had uncovered by comparing images made at Epsilon Eridani, Sirius and Luyten 726-8. Details on these images showed small lights around 61 Virginis, the home system of the Quetzal. The first spectral analysis of those additional lights showed reactions consistent with fusion thrusters or thermonuclear devices. This sent an uproar through the alien population and parts of the human population.

Speculations on potential survivors at 61 Virginis were quick to reappear and the majority of the Quetzal called for a reconnaissance mission to their old homeworld. Rynem, the former Sovereign of Thriem and now the Quetzal representative to the United Nations, was quick to use the political potential of the situation. Having survived the Final War and having been forced to flee from Cterin, he hadn’t appreciated how quick humanity had been to downplay the genocide of his species by the Enemy and was ultimately unsatisfied with the lack of military buildup in space.

Now with the revelation of something happening at 61 Virginis, he very publicly speculated about a survivor civilization near 61 Virginis and its struggle against some enemy, perhaps even the Enemy. He openly questioned the international lack of militarizing space, noting that humanity should not make the same mistake that had cost the Quetzal their homeworld. ‘The Last Battle’, a largely fictional movie account of the final battle of the Quetzal, premiered in June 2050 after three years of post production and it played nicely into Rynem’s hands.

The public, once again charged by the potential of an alien invasion through the movie and Rynem’s rhetoric, was quick to demand more protection in space to defend Earth as well asto find out what was happening at 61 Virginis. The political response to these demands was (predictably) slow, but lead to a renewed International Solar Defense Conference in Geneva by February 2051.

The atmosphere of the Conference was tense and undecided, as political agendas of the various nations and power blocs didn’t always align in a way they had during the first set of ISD conferences during the 2020s and 2030s. Some nations also outright questioned why Earth should reveal itself to a potential alien enemy. Further analysis of the images from 61 Virginis as well as images taken by orbital telescopes had revealed that the unknown activity had increased for several weeks, followed by a number of sudden short flashes and a period of waning activity after that. However, whatever was observed at the time had already happened about 27 years ago and nothing had come out of it concerning potential threats to Earth.

One of the first things decided at the 2051 ISD Conference was to keep observing 61 Virginis and that several orbiting telescopes were to remain directed at the star. This was followed by a decision to actually prepare a reconnaissance mission to the Quetzal home system to find out what exactly had happened and was perhaps still happening. Of course the Turukal representative also demanded a similar mission, but they were willing to wait for the Quetzal mission to finish.

Thanks to international politics the potential quick reconnaissance mission to 61 Virginis was not as easy a it appeared to be. The Beagle was already on the way for an extended mission to Eridu in the Epsilon Eridani system to survey the planet for its settlement potential. Other spacecraft would not be internationally crewed and operated and as such most of the power blocs feared that the others could potentially make a friendly contact with whoever was using nuclear weapons in 61 Virginis.

While a robotic mission was debated, experiences with the Pioneer showed that mankind was currently sorely lacking in any useful control software for such a mission. The first longer duration mission of Pioneer alongside the initial extrasolar trip of the Beagle had involved several occasions where the crew of the Beagle had been forced to remotely reboot the computer system.

So the only politically viable option was an international mission to 61 Virginis with an entire force of spacecraft.

Under these pretenses it became clear that the current existing FTL capable spacecraft were not up to the task of a reconnaissance mission over even 25 light years. While Beagle had made a distance of 74 light years during the Beagle Nearest Star Survey Mission, the spacecraft had been designed for long range scientific missions. All other MMUS spacecraft were mainly military spacecraft that were dependent on nearby resupplying, especially with potential engagements with whoever was exploding nuclear devices at 61 Virginis.

A reconnaissance mission to 61 Virginis would be a military one and as such would require ample resources. This meant a modification of the MMUS design to turn it into bulk cargo carriers, making use of Intermodal Containers, and tankers for propellant and fuel. Any of those modifications were easily done due to the modular design of the MMUS, but they would need some time to be constructed.

Additional to the supplies, the general consensus was, that smaller and faster spacecraft would also be needed to react more swiftly to potential opposing forces. The recently developed MMLS could easily be adapted into a military version and was capable of deploying sufficiently fast to complement the larger MMUS. In a sense the MMLS would be the frigate support to the MMUS cruiser design.

Another proposal made during the 2051 ISD Conference was to provide the reconnaissance mission with an advanced screening element in the form of unmanned semi-autonomous combat vehicles, called Unmanned Combat Drones. Carrying a limited weapon loadout, comparable to a single weapon emplacement used on the MMLS and MMUS, these vehicles would normally be carried by the larger spacecraft,but could be released quickly and with a high thrust to weight ratio, compared to the larger craft, and thus intercept an opposing force quicker.

By the end of the conference, the participants had a relatively rough plan on the 61 Virginis reconnaissance mission. As the mission was expected to possibly come under fire from the unknown parties of 61 Virginis it was going to be a ‘reconnaissance in force’, consisting of six MMUS, a projected ten MMLS, twenty to thirty UCDs, three tankers and two bulk carriers.

Immediately following the Conference, Rynem lobbied for the inclusion of the Quetzal into the mission. He offered to add two of the remaining Quetzal combat spacecraft, Enthat and the Pekav Torroth, to the force, stating that the Enthat and the crew of the Pekav knew the system well.

Once the next new International Solar Defense Conference happened in 2053, also in Geneva, Rynem had managed to persuade the UN Security Council for the inclusion of the Quetzal. The Conference itself was meant to plan out the mission itself, which was proposed to happen in 2055, starting from Junctio Station. Most of the actual planning for Operation Medea, as the mission was named, had been done by the Estévez Group and was a bit more complex than the original assumption.

Due to the limited length of time a spacecraft could remain in Heim-Feynman Space, the spacecraft involved would need to translate back into Normal Space after about 15 days, or 17.7 light years to prevent overheating of the internal systems. Four days would then be needed to radiate the heat away . On the course to 61 Virginis, the system of Wolf 424 was along the way. While not in a straight line to the target system, it was thought as necessary to use the system for a stop over. Potentially the system could be used as a forward base, should more missions to 61 Virginis need to be undertaken.

Following the arrival at 61 Virginis, the spacecraft would then do a number of jumps around the systems Feynman Limit, observing the inner system as well as jumps to Seuwack and Dran, the outer planets of the system, which were situated past the Limit. The commander of the mission, who was still to be determined, would then have the freedom of decision what to do. However, combat with any unknown forces was to be prevented whenever possible.

In the end the Llighaqua Mission, with Llighaqua being the word for reconnaissance in one of the Quetzal languages, was set forth to begin in 2055.

During the second last day of the ISDC, Sky Watch informed the conference participants about additional signs of combat at 61 Virginis, with at least five new large flashes detected. With potential combat activity high within the 61 Virginis system, nervousness rose again, as did concerns about the defense of the solar system and whether or not the MMLS and the MMUS combat variants were sufficient for defense.

Thankfully the modular approach of both spacecraft designs allowed for a decrease of expenses of a standard MMUS compared to the cost of the Beagle. Additionally the materials available from the Moon and Apophis, as well as new construction methods and the intense use of rapid production technologies reduced material costs. The result was a ninety percent decrease in cost for a MMUS compared to the initial cost.

Some nations, like the United States and the Soviet Union, believed their defenses to be insufficient, even with the MMLS and MMUS designs, calling for a heavier combat spacecraft. To satisfy this perceived need, the ISDC proposed a new design, that was much heavier than the MMUS. Where the MMLS would be a frigate equivalent, and the MMUS a cruiser equivalent, the new Multi Mission Heavy Spacecraft, MMHS, was going to be a battle cruiser equivalent. Of course it would use the same modular approach as the other spacecrafts used and shared many of the same parts, additionally it would carry several UCDs in the base variant.

While the MMHS was not going to be used for the Llighaqua Mission, it was hoped that the first units, the American USC Enterprise and the Soviet Moscva, could be put into service by 2056.

Getting to know the Neighborhood

Following its return to Earth, the Beagle docked with Chatham Station where engineers went over the spacecrafts systems with the metaphorical fine comb, checking all systems and structures thoroughly to see if repairs were needed. After the intense examination of the Beagle, nothing was discovered that would indicate that there would be any larger problems with the craft in the future. Only a number of armor panels had to be replaced due to micro debris damage.

However, the Beagle was upgraded with additional stores of spare parts and food, for its next mission. The Beagle Nearest Star Survey Mission was to be a 5 year long mission to the ten nearest star systems, excluding Proxima Centauri and Alpha Centauri, each to be observed for a predetermined time, or passed through with a 200 day fast transit for the systems with confirmed planetary systems.

Additionally the Beagle carried 20 atmospheric probes to be used upon close passes of worlds with atmospheres. These probes were designed to be capable of operations within the atmospheres of Terrestrial as well as Jovian worlds, going as far as being capable of soft landings.

On December 17, 2045 the Beagle departed from Chatham Station on its 200 day trajectory towards the Feynman Limit, reaching it on July 5, 2046. Following two days of receiving a few last orders and doing the last checks on all systems, the Beagle left towards Barnard’s Star, needing 4 days and 17 hours for the transfer of 5.563 lightyears.

Following a two day observation period, the Beagle changed its position for a 200 day trajectory that would pass the star’s two planets. The two planets were relatively close to each other at 0.065 and 0.069 AU distance to their primary. The gravitational interaction between the two worlds was low however as the inner, Icarus, was only about the size and mass of Vesta, while the outer, Daedalus, was comparable to Ceres.

An asteroid belt was closer to Barnard’s Star and within the astronomical community a discussion arose whether or not Icarus and Daedalus were members of this asteroid belt.

After travelling past the Feynman Limit of Barnard’s Star again and after another observation period, the Beagle made a 4 day and 16 hour transit towards Ross 154, 5.53 light years distant to Barnard’s Star and 9.68 light years away from Sol.

Ross 154 had been confirmed to hold a single planet, but shortly after arrival the Beagle discovered a second planet deeper in the system, as well as a wide asteroid belt between the two.

On its 200 day transit through the system the Beagle passed the outer planet, Assur, a nebulous rock world five times the mass of Earth and with a dense hydrogen and helium atmosphere. A single atmospheric probe was launched towards Assur and landed softly on the shore of an ammonia lake, returning large amounts of data for the entire time of Beagle’s stay within the system.

Comparably the inner world, a low mass Selenian rock named Erech, was of little initial interest, as were many of the systems asteroids of its belt and a mere flyby was not going to uncover all its potential secrets.

The next target of the Beagle Nearest Star Survey Mission was Luhman 16, a system of dual brown dwarfs. At a distance of 6.59 light years from Sol and 11.44 light years to Ross 154 the two ‘failed stars’ were the closest of their kind to Earth. The Beagle arrived at Luhman 16 11 days and 11 hours after leaving Ross 154 to begin its 60 day observation period.

As the two brown dwarfs orbited each other at a distance of 3 AU the discovery of a single planet around Luhman 16A was a surprise and the mission plan of Beagle hadn’t taken it into account yet. Luhman 16B on the other side was home to a ring system, not too unlike that of Saturn, making it possible that it used to have one or more planets.

The planet of Luhman 16A was classified as a Hemerian orbiting at a close distance of 0.005 AU, was eventually named Thebes, keeping in line with the IAU naming scheme of using ancient cities as names for planets.

The fourth leg of the survey mission, WISE 0855-0714, 6 light years from Luhman 16 and 7.2 light years from Sol, was reached by the Beagle following a 5 day and 2 hour transit. WISE 0855-0714 was originally believed to be a brown dwarf, but the low surface temperature observed by the Beagle forced the reclassification to a rogue planet, surrounded by an extensive ring system and a small number of shepherd moons. Still, the Beagle kept its observation period of 60 days.

Wolf 359, a planetless star with only a large asteroid belt, was 4.35 light years from WISE 0855-0714 and 7.78 light years away from Sol. Surprisingly, when the Beagle reached the stars Feynman Limit after 3 days and 16 hours, it left Heim-Feynman Space just twenty thousand kilometers away from a cometary body. Named Beagle’s Rest by the crew, the Beagle matched its trajectory and speed with the comet and surveyed much more closely for the 90 days of the observation period. With its trajectory known Beagle’s Rest might be of use later on.

Lalande 21185, much like Wolf 359, lacked a distinct planet, being surrounded by an asteroid belt instead. 5.91 light years from Wolf 359 and 8.29 lightyears from Earth, the Beagle reached it after 5 days and begun its 90 day observation period.

Compared to Wolf 359 and Lalande 21185, Sirius was a much more interesting object on the first glance. 10.9 light year from Lalande 21185 and 8.59 light years from Sol, the Beagle reached it in 9 days and 6 hours. While the star system was of interest to the astronomers astronomers, it lacked any planetary bodies or denser asteroid belts, as the white dwarf had pretty much removed any of them.

Unexpectedly, when the Beagle reached Luyten 726-8, the crew was presented with a very unique sight. 10.24 light years from Sirius and 8.72 light years from Sol, the Luyten 726-8 double star was home to a single gas giant orbiting around Luyten 726-8A. It was 70 times the mass of Earth and orbiting its primary in a distance of 0.048 AU. The interesting part however was that this HydroJovian world had a very distinct dark green color.

Only a spectral analysis of the light from the planet, named Nineveh, revealed the reason for its color as it showed the absorption lines of chlorophyll. Combined with an atmospheric temperature of about 50 degrees celsius meant that it was home to algae-like life.

The Beagle was already on its 200 day trajectory towards the planet, when this information was discovered and the crew of the spacecraft prepared three atmospheric probes for the planet, meaning to take as much data as possible. By chance one of the probes descending Nineveh’s atmosphere passed through a large cloud of what appeared to be ‘sky crill’, winged insectlike creatures floating in the updrafts and showing that the planet had some higher life forms living of the algae analogs.

Epsilon Eridani, the second last leg of the Beagle Nearest Star Survey Mission, was later called the ‘Jackpot’. 10.5 light years from Earth and 5.1 light years from Luyten 716-8, Epsilon Eridani had four planets, two asteroid belts and a larger dust ring. Three of these planets were within the Feynman Limit, with the last being far outside of it.

A brief visit to this outer planet, Uruk, a CryoJovian of 31 Earth masses with a larger system of moons 30 AU from its primary, was followed by a 200 day transit through the system, though it only allowed the flyby of two planets. The innermost planet, a heavy gravity Ferrian world named Lagash and enveloped by a thin helium atmosphere was the only planet not visited.

The largest planet of the system, Babylon, a EuJovian world of 492 Earth Masses, was within one AU of the Feynman Limit and the second to be visited by the Beagle before the spacecraft moved towards the most interesting place in the system.

Eridu, the second planet of Epsilon Eridani was only 0.7 AU away from its primary and close to the inner edge of the green zone of Epsilon Eridani. With 1.33 earth masses it was large enough to keep a thick nitrogen-oxygen atmosphere and a pair of moons, the largest half the size of the Moon. 83 percent of the surface was covered by oceans and the landmass was taken up by smaller continents and large island chains, the topology lacking large mountain chains. This placed the world into the Lacustric classification and would make it very interesting for later settlement. Two probes made a landing on the planets surface, one of them within a dense jungle, while the other splashed down within one of the oceans. Both made a larger number of images and returned them to the Beagle, before the spacecraft left the system.

Ross 248 was the last target of the Beagle on its second mission, a system with three worlds and a single asteroid belt, about 12.65 light years from Epsilon Eridani and 10.3 light years from Sol.

Again the Beagle was able to only make a pass by two of the systems planets on its 200 day trajectory, missing the innermost planet Opis, a Selenian rock only 0.08 AU from its primary, while passing part of the asteroid belt. The first planet to be passed by the Beagle was the outermost EuJovian Susa, a world 522 times as massive as Earth and 2.1 AU distant to Ross 248. It was the target of a pair of atmospheric probes, which returned some interesting data, like a rather high amount of methane in the planets atmosphere.

The middle planet, Sippar, was a cryogenic Titanian world, with a thick nitrogen methane atmosphere and liquid methane oceans covering the surface of the half Earth mass planet. To get good information on the planet, three probes descended into its atmosphere with only one surviving the landing on a large plateau.

The Beagle finally returned to Sol on March 16, 2050, entering the system just a million kilometers away from 319876 Junctio. Following contact with Junctio Station, the Beagle made contact with Earth and began to transfer the majority of its data, before making way towards Junctio as the first FTL spacecraft to dock with the way station.

Later the Beagle returned to Earth, where it arrived in December 2050, to be checked completely once again and determine whether or not the spacecraft had been able to take the stress of its long mission.

Railroad Towns

While the first mission of the Beagle was underway, humanity prepared itself for the step out of the solar system and into the realm of the stars, to become an interstellar species.

As early as 2042 the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, UNOOSA, was asked by the nations involved in the International Centre for Advanced Space Propulsion Technologies, and by extension the spacefaring nations of the UN, to work on plans to build up a transportation hub on 319876 Junctio, which had been selected to become a permanent base station in the near future to facilitate faster and more frequent transportation into and out of the solar system.

At a distance of 5.45 to 5.87 AU from Sol, the 10 kilometer asteroid was the prime candidate for such a station.

It quickly became clear that Junctio Station should only be one in an entire network of similar stations in other potentially settled systems, as well as in the solar system, to make travel a little faster and to provide for a convenient place to refuel, restock and repair spacecraft. To make sure that such a station could function and render its services to everyone, it could hardly be bound to the laws and politics of a single nation and would therefore need to be operated internationally as an extraterritorial place and thus be bound to international laws.

To this end the UNOOSA created the Space Infrastructure Section to operate Junctio Station and the supply networks to support it, approved by the majority of the UN General Assembly and the UN Security Council.

Within the solar system, Junctio Station would need a whole setup of support stations and spacecraft to ferry material, people and fuel to and from the station.

Until the end of 2042 it was possible to develop a plan for the initial development of Junctio Station, also allowing for future growth of the station. The construction of Junctio Station would follow three distinct stages leading to the completion of the initial development phase.

The first stage would be the initial survey of the asteroid 319876 Junctio and setting up a simple infrastructure for a close in-depth survey.

Following the survey, the second stage would be to create the basic systems for Junctio Station, such as basic living quarters for a crew of 20, life support, power systems, basic service systems for spacecraft. To this end Planetary Mining & Manufacturing, Orbital Industries and several smaller asteroid mining companies were asked for their know-how on permanent structures on the surface of an asteroid.

Stage Three would then be to build the complete infrastructure on Junctio itself. This would include mining and processing systems from one or more asteroid mining companies to provide raw materials and refined materials for any unforeseen repairs as well as local construction of expansions. Tank systems for various space propellant would be needed, but also quarters and closed loop life support systems to sustain at least a population of one thousand. This would include a 200 meter gravity deck, as well as international docking ports for 20 spacecraft and repair capacities for 5. Additionally some integrated defenses in the form of laser reactors were discussed.

Jupiter’s moon Callisto was also part of the initial development plans for Junctio Station, as a prime provider for water used as spacecraft propellant; either for fusion thrusters or, split into hydrogen and oxygen, for chemical rockets. Callisto already had a station and a basic infrastructure, so extending it was not expected to be much of a problem. The difficulty would more likely be to move large amounts of water into orbit around Callisto first, store it there and then to Junctio Station.

Most craft of the transport system could be automated and as such the general designs to be developed were automated surface-to-orbit and orbit-to-orbit tankers. For additional development of the space sector, the UNOOSA made a Request for Proposals to commercial and national companies.

To keep with the time constraints put up by the General Assembly, the selection process was aided by the use of advanced simulations for the proposals performance.

DaimlerChrysler was chosen for the surface-to-orbit vehicle with a version of their SERV reusable launch vehicle, the Single-stage Orbital Reusable Vehicle, a design modified to be used on bodies with no or very thin atmospheres. The SORV would be able to launch 500 tonnes into orbit around Callisto, while being able to land about 100 tonnes back on the surface before needing to be refueled.

For the unmanned orbit-to-orbit tanker, the Soviet NPO Energia design bureau won the contest. Their Autonomous Transport Komplex design, the ATK, was little more than a truss, powered by a simple 20 MW thorium fission reactor and propelled by a set of VASIMR thrusters as the delivery of water was not time dependent. The water itself was attached to the truss in the form of a 500 tonne block of ice, protected by a thin layer of polymer foam and actively cooled.

The APK was designed to carry 48 blocks, totaling at 28000 tonnes of water. Once an APK arrived as Junctio Station the blocks of ice would be melted into ice slush over the cooling tubes, using waste heat from the stations fusion reactor, and could be stored at 4 degrees Celsius for future use or electrolysis into hydrogen and oxygen.

Transportation of people and other material between Junctio Station and Earth would be provided by a modified version of the MMUS with a lower number of propellant tanks, additional gravity wheels and storage, as well as external attachment points for larger cargo.

In early 2044 the UNOOSA ordered ten SORVs, six ATKs and three interplanetary MMUSs.

While the Beagle was on its mission to Proxima and Alpha Centauri, the Soviet Alexey Leonov, an unarmed scientific MMUS was on its way towards 319876 Junctio to implement the first stage of the Junctio Station Project by conducting a basic survey.

Following a 200 day fast transit trajectory, the Leonov moved into a slow orbit. The crew initially mapped the asteroid’s surface before using its parasites, a trio of next generation TKS, to survey several areas that had the best potential for initial base setup.

After the initial surveys and geological analysis the asteroid was confirmed to be a carbonaceous type. As such the asteroid contained a larger amount of water and other volatiles as well as organic compounds.

For the UNOOSA this was a good thing, as it meant that Junctio Station could operate partly autonomous if an asteroid mining company would settle down alongside the station to supply it with water, metals and plastics. With these resources the station could expand faster and allowed for a much more efficient use of transports carrying other needed resources or more advanced systems. The organic compounds could also be used for a simple graphene integrated circuit factory.

After sufficient data was acquired, phase one was concluded and it became possible to prepare the second stage of the Junctio Station Project. Orbital Industries was contracted for the use of the Humbolt to construct a stable connection between the future station and the asteroid, while the China Minmetal Corporation received a contract allowing for the initial mining operation for water, metals and organic compounds.

A set of six PM&M Waldo and four Soviet Rabochiy fabricator robots was purchased to construct the station’s structure, as well as the tanks to store large amounts of water, cryogenic oxygen and hydrogen, as well as Helium-3 and Deuterium.

BASF, Mitsubishi Chemical and Dow Chemical provided the chemical plants for the station, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India produced a 100 MW fusion reactor, with the initial habitation and storage volume provided by off-the-shelves inflatable and rigid habitation modules.

For the Callisto base, which was to be named Thetis Station, the UNOOSA ordered another 100 MW thorium fission reactor to melt the ice of Callisto, a large scale distillation system to clean the water, and shaped tanks to freeze the distilled water into blocks of ice that could be transported to Junctio.

By October 2046 the crew and systems needed for the second Stage were completed, about the same time the first interplanetary MMUS, the Great Western, had finished its maiden flight, a 30 day transit to Mars and back. Additionally the Soviet Union had completed two ATKs and DaimlerChrysler five SORVs, which allowed for the preparations of the setup of the initial stage of Thetis Station as well.

The Great Western, Humbolt, USC Independence and PLA-SF Chengdu were loaded with crew and materials and launched towards Junctio on a 300 day trajectory in November 2046. The longer trajectory was chosen due to the Humbolts low acceleration compared to the MMUSs.

The four spacecraft met with the Leonov at Junctio in August 2047 and began to construct the first modules. The Leonov and Great Western subsequently returned to Earth, while Humbolt, Independence and Chengdu remained at Junction to support further construction and provide the construction crew with a way back to Earth, should the need arise.

While the construction of Junctio Station commenced, two ATKs were loaded up with the ice mining equipment and the finished SORVs for Callisto and sent towards Jupiter, where they arrived in December 2047. A construction crew, sent ahead on HMC Sidney, was already waiting on Arcas Station. The SORVs delivered the ice mining modules about 20 kilometers away from the station, where the fusion reactor was erected, as well as the distillation and electrolysis systems. The actual mining was then done another 10 kilometers away from the ice factory.

By September 2048 Thetis Station had produced the first 24 ice blocks, which were transported into orbit and secured to one of the ATKs for transport to Junctio Station. On October 3rd, ATK 1 left orbit around Callisto on a trajectory to Junctio, where it arrived about 190 days later. The ice blocks were unloaded and attached to a simple framework on the surface of Junctio, while the tank systems were still under construction.

In November 2048 the second interplanetary MMUS, the Belorussiya, was completed and made a 30 day voyage to Mars, like its sister ship the Great Western. Meanwhile the Great Western had returned to Earth and underwent minor repairs and both craft launched towards Junction in late February 2049, arriving mid december. The Great Western remained stationed at Junctio after delivering a number of additional factory and refinery modules and three inflatable tanks, each capable of holding up to 20000 tonnes of water, supplementing the existing tanks. The factory modules included a number of fabricator systems that could be used for expanding the station and repair spacecraft.

With the completion of the remaining ATKs and SORVs, as well as the Hainan MMUS, the construction of Junctio Station was going according to schedule. As 2055 rolled around, the first phase of the Junctio Project was concluded successfully.

The Junctio Project also had a, not entirely unexpected, effect on commercial and private space endeavours, as more and more companies saw a growing economic viability, now that entire countries and even the UN were beginning to buy spacecraft and other space structures. The idea of an interplanetary infrastructure, with stations and spacecraft connecting them to each other, found fertile ground, especially among the groups pushing for more extraterrestrial settlements.

In 2043 the Solar Exploration and Settlement Alliance was founded by a number of space advocacy groups, private and national settlement programs and corporations to answer the increasing call for a centralized and independent think tank. The goal of the SESA was to plan the civilian commercial part of the solar systems infrastructure to be as effective, if not more so, than the ‘public side’.

At first this meant to further develop the inner solar system. Cislunar space already had a largely working infrastructure, even though it did need expansion in the form of alarger transport capacity.

Gateway Station in EML2 was already in use as a commercial jumping point for transports to Mars and Near Earth Asteroids and was seen as the logical choice for expansion due to the expected increase of traffic. SESA suggested to enlarge it with a large 200 meter gravity deck, extended docking ports, comparable to the International Orbital Dock and additional tanks for fuel and propellant.

The traffic from Gateway Station largely went towards Mars, which was was almost sorely performed by the Aldrin Cyclers of the Mars Society, Lusitania and Mauretania. Both were by now essential to ferry people and material to Mars, but still limited in capacity. Now and again national spacecraft added to this, but only for the national settlement programs.

The SESA proposed the extension of the Aldrin Cycler system with additional cyclers and the expansion of the existing ones with 100 meter gravity decks, as well as several MMUSs. While the Aldrin Cyclers would provide a basic transport capacity for people and materials, the MMUSs could provide rapid priority transport.

Additionally the SESA noted the lack of other comparably low cost interplanetary transports, where an MMUS was too much to use. To this end, SESA suggested using the MMUS as base of the Multi-Mission Light SpaceCraft, MMLS, using systems of the MMUS to ease its design, production and servicing. Additionally the MMLS was designed to be equipped with a HFE Generator for extrasolar uses. The MMLS design was well received and was quickly adopted.

The other targets of the inner solar system where Near Earth Objects, with about ten of them claimed and mined by commercial and national companies. Most of these mines were completely automated and the SESA suggested to build up small settlements at the mines as supplements. While the automated mines made use of small tugs on trajectories and utilized gravity-assists around the moon that could minimize the needed ∆v, manned mines and settlements would need faster transports for people and material.

Outside of the SESA suggestions and plans, national and private interests saw the extension of lunar settlements and more people settled down permanently on the Moon, bringing the permanent population of the various lunar settlements to ten thousand by 2050, with more than thirty thousand temporary workers.

While most other nations built new smaller stations within cislunar space, India and China began with a new more productive space race, aiming to be the first ones to complete a free floating space settlement.

India started off this race by announcing the Vimana Project of India in 2044. Basing their plans on the Bernal Sphere and O’Neill Island designs from the 1970s, their Vimana design made use of a pair of 500 meters diameter cylinders with a length of 325 meters, connected by a shared spine and counter-rotating to each other. These stuy cylinders were more stable than those of the larger O’Neill designs and covered by solar cells, with a large solar cell system on each end of the central spine. Each cylinder was projected to be able to house five thousand people and provide food for them.

Construction of Vimana One began on June 3, 2045 in L4, with India buying large amounts of Lunar regolith and aluminium alloys for the outer shell of the cylinders from the Soviet Union. By August 2047 the cylinders were completed and sealed, before the solar cells were installed and the atmosphere slowly filled up with lunar oxygen from the Soviets and Apophis nitrogen from Orbital Industries.

On February 15, 2049, Vimana One was completed and the first settlers had moved in by March.

In response to the Indian Vimana Project, China answered with a space settlement project of their own, the Nyuwa Project. Much like the Indian Vimana design, the Nyuwa design was an advanced design based on an old 1970s design, in this case the Stanford Torus. Rather than using a single torus, the Nyuwa used a pair of 100 meter wide rings with a diameter of 1000 meters, connected by the central hub of the settlement. A large pair of solar cell arrays combined with a mirror system provided energy and light for the population of fifteen thousand.

The construction of Qiang Tian Yī began on June 27, 2045 in L5 and despite the larger size of the settlement completed only a one day after Vimana One.

Both China and India learned from the construction of their first free floating space settlements and almost immediately began with the construction of additional settlements. Until 2055 both nations built two more space settlements, Vimana Two and Qiang Tian Èr, while the United States, the Soviet Union and Europe were still in the planning phases of their own space settlements.

The work on the interplanetary transport network brought forth a new potential problem. The use of fusion power on Earth and on the newly constructed spacecraft increased Earths dependency on lunar Helium 3, a resource that was finite and would eventually run out. Therefore a new source of Helium 3 was needed. The most obvious sources were the gas giants of the solar system, each of which contained enough Helium 3 to last a very long time to come.

While Jupiter, the largest gas giant, might have been the prime candidate due to the bases on Callisto, but the high mass and gravity of the giant, as well as the deadly radiation belt forced to look into another direction.

Instead, Uranus was selected as the best world to mine Helium 3 as well as Deuterium from its atmosphere. The atmosphere of Uranus was calm, compared to the other gas giants and mining barges could be held aloft by hot hydrogen balloons heated by the waste heat of the barges reactor. Fusion powered SSTOs could service the automated barges and collect the Helium 3 and Deuterium, transporting it to orbital stations, where it would be loaded into freighters.

With Uranus being outside of the Feynman Limit and the planetary Feynman Limit of 863000 kilometers it was possible to cut years out of the transport by using FTL transports.

Interestingly enough the Turukal and the Quetzal had prior experiences with this kind of resource gathering. It quickly became clear that the Turukal had managed to save a single gas giant mining barge, which had originally been meant to be shipped to one of their own gas giants. To ‘help pay their debt’ the Turukal offered the gas mining barge to the UNOOSA to be taken apart and its plans distributed in the public domain.

With this shortcut available the SESA proposed the construction of a mining base on the innermost moon of Uranus, Cordelia, for any private company willing to mine Helium 3. Orbital Industries and Planetary Mining & Manufacturing were among the first to be very interested in this joint venture, deciding to build up a station sometime before 2060.

To Boldly Go

With the Beagle, humanity finally had its first manned interstellar spacecraft and on January 10, 2044 it left the solar system on a course towards Proxima Centauri, the closest star to Sol. The Beagle was accompanied by the unmanned interstellar spacecraft Pioneer, which had already made the journey once before.

Pioneer had been slightly upgraded prior to the mission, equipping the craft with a powerful radio and laser communication system and was intended to be used as a sort of carrier pigeon for the Beagle as humanity yet had to discover some form of FTL communication. Pioneer could go back to Sol to inform Earth about any problems Beagle would encounter, be they technical or otherwise in nature.

The FTL transit for the 4.24 light years to Proxima Centauri took 3 days and 14 hours and deposited both human spacecraft at a distance of 1.34 AU from the red dwarf, just outside the Feynman Limit at 1.31 AU.

The actual mission of the Beagle was to do a close survey of the system, making use of the small Feynman limit to enter deep into the planetary system of Proxima Centauri and do flybys of the star’s three planets, with the close orbits of the two inner planets allowing a single hyperbolic pass. The Pioneer was to remain at the Feynman Limit and to stay in radio contact with the manned spacecraft.

The first two weeks of the mission were used to do a complete diagnosis of all systems to make sure that every piece of equipment worked correctly, followed by a week of optical and radio observation of Proxima Centauri and its planets from up close.

Before the Beagle mission started, the observed planets of Proxima Centauri were given actual names, instead of simple alphabetic designations. Proxima Centauri a was named Sharpley, after the astronomer who discovered that Proxima Centauri was a flare star. Proxima Centauri b received the name Alden, after the man who first accurately measured the stars parallax. Proxima Centauri c was finally given the name Innes, after the man who had discovered the star.

After confirming the position of each of the three planets, a short FTL transit carried the Beagle to a position 6 AU prograde to reduce the delta-v expended for the hyperbolic flyby. The optimization of the flyby brought the periapsis of the hyperbolic orbit close to Sharpley, while passing Alden at a distance of half a million kilometers and passing Innes at a distance of one million kilometers.

During the mission deep into the Proxima Centauri system, the scientific instruments of the Beagle collected a huge amount of data, part of which was analyzed on site, while other data was sent towards the Pioneer in a compressed data stream for later analysis. The mission also saw the first use of the optical systems of the spacecraft laser weapons as telescopes, allowing the observation of various areas of the space around the craft at the same time.

The crew used the time of the transit through Proxima Centauri to run training-simulations, from emergency to combat drills. The Brazilian command crew member, Manuela Wegener, also used the time to finish her doctoral thesis in aerospace engineering.

The first flyby happened in March 2044. Innes was a MesoJovian planet that orbited its primary at 0.7 AU. With 98 times the mass of Earth and a radius of about 45735 kilometers it was heavier than Saturn, but also smaller. It possessed a ring system similar to that of Saturn and a system of 25 moons that was observed during the flyby, including two moons larger than Luna.

The second flyby took place in late May 2044 and passed Sharpley. This first planet of Proxima Centauri was a Hemerian planet not unlike Mercury, orbiting its primary at a distance of only 0.0064 AU or nearly one billion kilometers and a short orbital period of merely twelve hours.

The flares of Proxima Centauri had scorched the surface of the planet clean, erasing many surface structures on the tidally locked dayside.

The final flyby was of Alden, which happened in mid June 2044. Much like Sharpley, Alden was tidally locked with its primary, but had several large differences. Orbiting its primary at 0.04 AU, or at almost six billion kilometers, Alden was just outside the scorching zone of the star’s flares. With one and a half Earth masses and a diameter of 15510 kilometers the planet had an active molten core, which produced a very strong magnetic field, redirecting most of the star’s charged radiation and the remaining flares away, protecting a thin nitrogen-oxygen atmosphere.

That Proxima Centauri harboured a potentially life bearing planet was the most important discovery of the first Beagle mission, but the planet presented itself as its own problem, as it was classified as a Polyphemian world. As such it was covered by a deep planetary ocean, which in turn was nearly completely enveloped by a thick sheet of ice. Only the areas in the center of this ‘eyeball iceball’ was ice free, however largely hidden by a central hurricane system.

Previous to the discovery of the strong magnetic field, Alden had first been thought to be a world that had been stripped clean of its atmosphere by the flares of Proxima Centauri.

During the remaining trip back past the Feynman Limit, the Beagle had a very close encounter with a 5 kilometer asteroid, passing it by a mere thousand kilometers. Other asteroids were discovered as well. Together with the potentially habitable Alden and the moons of Innes, the Proxima Centauri System became a potential target for the first extrasolar human settlements.

After passing the Feynman Limit, the Beagle circularized its orbit around Proxima Centauri at 1.35 AU. After a week of checks on the HFE Generator, a pair of FTL transits returned the spacecraft to the position of the Pioneer. Once the Beagle had linked back up with the unmanned spacecraft, one of the Beagles Hawk craft, named Snoopy by the crew, was used to physically transfer the entirety of the collected data over, creating a second backup, additional to the data contained in the craft’s computer.

Additionally the systems of the Pioneer were tested as well, both spacecraft prepared for the second part of the mission, taking a two-month observation for each star of the Alpha Centauri dual system.

A short FTL transit over a quarter lightyear brought the two spacecraft to their second target and they settled into a 6 AU orbit around Alpha Centauri A. Half of the Beagles optical systems were directed towards the inner system of Alpha Centauri A, while the remaining were to carry out a survey of the sky.

Halfway into the observation period of Alpha Centauri A, Beagle and Pioneer made use of FTL transits to the other side of the star to observe the entirety of the system.

The monitoring confirmed most of the observations that had been made during the past three decades. Three planets had been discovered in the stable orbits of Alpha Centauri A’s inner system during the 2020s and had received names by the IAU. The Beagle Mission brought the number up to four with a local discovery.

The two inner planets of Alpha Centauri A, the first named Pelham, were Hemerian in nature, with distances of 0.3 and 0.67 AU and the respective masses of 0.00089 and 0.033 Earth masses. The second planet was discovered by the Beagle and two moons were found in it orbit. It was later named Cassida.

The third planet of Alpha Centauri A, Alpha, was an EuArean type planet, a Marslike world, orbiting its primary at 1.4 AU and having a mass of 0.23 Earth masses. Remote observations showed that the atmosphere consisted of CO2 and Nitrogen and was about three times as dense as that of Mars. As Alpha Centauri A was of a slightly higher mass compared to Sol, its luminosity was higher as well, increasing the surface temperature of the planet compared to Mars.

The fourth planet of Alpha Centauri, as the first to be discovered and named Tiber, was a MesoJovian world with a mass of 0.22 Jupiter masses and slightly lighter than Saturn. At 2.1 AU it was closer to its primary compared to Jupiter and light enough not to disturb the orbit of the third planet. Sixteen moons were discovered by the Beagle, with the largest being an Arean world.

Following the observation period of Alpha Centauri A, the two human spacecraft transferred to an orbit around Alpha Centauri B and began another observation period of the second star of the system.

Again, the observation was quick to confirm the two previously discovered worlds, as well as discovering two additional planets. All worlds proved to be extremes in their nature.

The first world, later named Centauri, was a tidally locked Hephaestian world that grazed the star at a mere 0.043 AU, well within reach of the stars coronal mass ejections. Althought the planet was just a little bigger then Earth, it was completely scorched and its surface largely in a liquid state.

The second planet, named Newton, was a Hot Neptune of 18 Earth masses and orbiting at 0.2 AU, which was still closer than Mercury orbited around Sol. Interestingly enough the planet still had three moons, barren rocks that were assaulted by the radiation of Alpha Centauri B.

The third world, called Wunderland by the crew of the Beagle, was an AreanXeric world, a hot dry martian planet, of about 0.4 Earth masses in a 0.6 AU orbit.

The fourth and outermost planet of Alpha Centauri B, Demeter, was a Venus like Cytherean world with close to the mass of Earth and nearly 1 AU distance to its primary. It too had a single moon, which was the size of Earth’s moon and turned out to be an Arean world, with a very thin atmosphere.

Once the observation period was over, the data was once again physically ferried over to the Pioneer, by the second Hawk, craft, named Gromit by the crew, before the preparations for the return journey were made.

Following another thorough check of the HFE Generator, Beagle and Pioneer shifted into Heim-Feynman Space on January 29, 2045. The Alpha Centauri B to Sol transit lasted 3 days and 16 hours and returned the two spacecraft to the edge of the Sol Feynman Limit.

The Beagle first managed to establish radio contact to Arcas Station on Callisto, followed by a directed laser contact to Earth. The Beagle was received with great relief, followed by displays of euphoria as mankind was now essentially an interstellar capable species, which also resulted in a celebrity status for the entire crew of the Beagle.

Following this, Beagle received orders to return to Earth on a 200 day trajectory. Once returned the Beagle would undergo a set of intense tests and examinations to make sure that the HFE transits didn’t induce any minute damages to the spaceframe of the craft.

The first packages of data were beamed to Earth over the first two months of the transit, while the physical backup remained on the Pioneer in case anything else happened to the Beagle.

The recovered data was a treasure trove of knowledge and allowed the first close insights into extrasolar planets, especially from the flybys at Proxima Centauri.

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.