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Please Note: This document was written by Melissa Cuthill and may not be reproduced without her permission.
Time for change
Early in the 21st Century, mankind found itself in an acute environmental crisis. Centuries of indiscriminate abuse of the natural world – not to mention irresponsible human breeding - finally came home to roost, leaving the offenders with a dramatically overpopulated, poisoned planet. It became clear that in order to avoid extinction at its own hands, humans would have to do two things: make proper planetary stewardship their first priority (above capital gain and international position-jockeying), and lighten the species load on Earth. The first, however, was next to impossible until the second occurred. There was no more room for lateral expansion; clearly the answer was to look upward – towards the stars. It would be a long and difficult process to achieve extraterrestrial colonization, but it was also likely the only chance humans had for survival of the species.
World leaders met to discuss the ramifications of such a project, and at last, government was globalized – though not without an interminable amount of argument. But all of the world’s effort and resources would be required to realize the first of many steps towards intragalactic conquest: establishment of a Moonbase. The now-ubiquitous internet was used, along with an unprecedented degree of encryption and security, to conduct global polling. A World Council and Leader were elected to oversee the distribution of resources and formation of such governing bodies as were necessary to pull off the enormous space venture. Countries were recategorized as provinces of five major Regions – North America, South America, Africa, Eurasia, and Australasia. Propaganda was seeded into popular media, promoting the benefits of cooperation, technological advancement, and globalization. In place of national coinages, a universal credit system was adopted. Knowing that language differences were often one of the greatest barriers to human understanding and cooperation, the World Council commissioned the development of a single worldwide planned language to be learned by all the world’s peoples, with a heavy focus on fluency in the younger generations. If it was going to be fiddling around in space, humankind could not afford the danger and confusion caused by workers’ inability to speak one anothers’ tongues. ‘Terran’ – or, as it was jokingly nicknamed, ‘Galaxese’ - was constructed by the world’s foremost linguists, based on principles gleaned from a variety of world languages, and designed to be easily learned yet endlessly flexible.
The First International Moonbase
Such massive mental and cultural shifts came with innumerable problems, but within record time for any space venture of such proportions, the first International Moonbase was completed. It did little to alleviate the actual crowding problem on Earth, but psychologically it provided a great boost to Terran morale; it was the first step in what was to be a long interstellar journey. Earth’s resources had been stretched to accommodate the base’s requirements, but the speed of technological development now that the National Era had ended was phenomenally accelerated. Space travel became a worldwide obsession. The need for raw materials to build for such travel was soon being met through mining of nearby asteroids, first by transport of the ores back to the increasing number of moonbases, and then through use of orbiting refineries and space domes on the asteroids themselves.
While all of these triumphs provided much-needed mental encouragement, humankind’s true goal – colonization of habitable planets in other solar systems – was yet to be realized. Increasingly good investigative techniques, both planetbound and vehicular, revealed tempting habitable zones in a number of nearby systems. The closest star similar to Sol was the long-speculated-upon Rigel Kentaurus, aka Alpha Centauri, and to the great excitement of Earth’s populace, a planet of Earthlike proportions was positively identified orbiting it. Now the question was how to get there. Close, in a galactic sense, meant 4.3 light years away, and for the kinds of fuel-driven shuttles that were currently in use, that was an insurmountable distance. To get to another solar system, man would need the kind of mythical ‘space drive’ much bandied-about in science fiction – a method of propulsion that doesn’t need any propellant. Not to mention discovering how to approach the speed of light. Minor details.
An equally thorny problem was that which fell to the World Government in terms of balancing priorities and allocating funds. There was only so much money to go around, and if the world’s population was to be expected to *survive* long enough to go to other solar systems, then cleaning up Earth had to be the sinkhole into which the WG’s funds would go. A healthy budget was dedicated to space ventures, but not nearly enough to keep things moving at a respectable pace. And so, for better or for worse, the bulk of research and development costs for interstellar travel was shouldered by super-rich private individuals and corporations.
Breakthroughs in matter-antimatter propulsion – combined with refinement of cryochemistry – eventually made light-speed travel possible, through methods that are much too complicated to go into here. The important thing is, man eventually reached the primary star of the Centaurus system, Rigil Kentaurus. The ships that took first the explorers – the first team ever sent out by the newly-formed Exploration and Evaluation Corps – and, nearly two decades later, the settlers to First Centauri went barely at the speed of light, taking nearly five years to reach their destination, but the art of putting people into and reviving them from cryogenic suspension was by then simple and streamlined. And so homo sapiens settled the habitable planet, creatively dubbed First Centauri - even if they did so under the stranglehold of the so-called First Families and founding corporations, who essentially hand-picked each of the several thousand colonists. The bulk of the colony was made up of the offspring of Moonbase and asteroid-belt miners, who were familiar with the challenges of non-Terran life and had absorbed along with their mothers’ milk the necessary spirit of independence, cooperation, and resourcefulness. The First Colony was an unequivocal success, and within a scant few decades rivaled Earth for culture and technology, and surpassed its overcrowded, overharvested mother planet in quality of life. The extremely large and prestigious First University, with its superb scientific facilities, became renowned for programs in xenology, astrophysics, and microbiology.
After that, man’s expansion into the universe was relatively rapid. More settlements meant more bases for operation, and soon EEC teams were being sent out every which way, discovering and tagging the various solar systems and planets for investigation. Hundreds of such reports were catalogued in an enormous Terran database for future reference. Ships became faster, and multiple systems and planets could eventually be investigated during a single mission. Despite technological advances - and the thrill and glamour of space exploration aside - such expeditions were in fact considered extremely dangerous, and personnel were lost on a regular basis to unexpected planetary mishaps, thus leading to the morbid FSP tradition of naming a planet after the EEC member/s who died there during the surface survey. Many a terrifying, amusing, and bizarre anecdote was added to the annals of human experience – the inexplicable explosion of the Roosevelt Dome, a space-mining facility, which killed 10 000 people; the legendary ‘melting’ of the ship ‘Roma’, whose science officer unwittingly brought on board a metal-devouring organism; of course, encounters with alien species, and with the sometimes dangerous deep-space flotsam and jetsam of such races’ activities – abandoned weapons systems and ancient minefields seeded throughout various galaxies, many of which were just as potent as the day they were created, and some of which were undetectable until you were right in the midst of them. Humankind speedily learned the value of making good interstellar maps with comprehensive notes.
Decades passed, full of industrial growth and expansion: innumerable space habitats, stations, and domes; moonbases orbiting dozens of different planets; mining ventures scattered like seeds throughout the asteroid belts; merchant vessels traveling newly-established interstellar trade routes; and planetary colonization progressing at a cautious but reasonable pace. Planets thus colonized included Ceti III (in the Tau Ceti system, 12 light years away from Earth), Cygnus IV (in the 61 Cygni system, 11.4 ly away), Sirius III (in the Alpha Canis Majoris system 8.6 ly away), Vega IV (in the Alpha Lyrae system 25.3 ly away; this system was already inhabited by the Lyrae, aka the Vegans, but their physiological needs were different from humans’ and the fourth planet in the system was unsuitable to Vegan needs but ideal for those of Terrans), and Altair II (in the Alpha Aquilae system, 16.7 ly away) to name just a few.
From the beginning, independence and resourcefulness of colonies was emphasized. The cost to Earth or First of sending out rescue parties to aid a troubled colony was far too high for anything short of total disaster. To discourage intrepid colonists from sending homing capsules crying to mommy at minor provocation, the human Colonial Authority made a policy of exacting punitive payments from colonies that received assistance. The planet Ceti III, for example, had to wait 50 years for its help to get around to arriving after sending a homing capsule about an emergency, and when that assistance finally showed up, Earth mortgaged the entire planet for generations to pay for it, claiming all the mining rights and most of the arable land. The only exceptions to this were the regulations governing stranded persons and castaways, who had their retrieval fees waived (and were even given a ‘shipwreck allowance’) if they were found by someone other than an official search-and-rescue party. Such strict governance of interstellar aid ensured that only strong, capable, inventive individuals signed on for colonization, and that colonies themselves harbored powerful self-reliant and –sufficient attitudes.
Intelligent Life Found
It was inevitable that humankind’s explorations would bring it into contact with other sentient lifeforms. Indeed, our historical assumption we were the only evolutionary masterpiece of this sort was soon revealed for the ignorant arrogance it was. Intelligent life had evolved and adapted to conditions in a wider variety of star-class systems than man had expected; some species were less technologically advanced than man (for example, the Lyrae, Cancri, and Pyxidis); many were more so (the Eridani, Aquarii, and Hydrae). Thanks to devastating space wars that had been fought in the past between sentient races, by the time man appeared on the interstellar scene, a governing body was already in place to keep the intelligent races well in hand. This body’s name, translated into Terran, was the Federated Sentient Planets, and soon Homo Sapiens had representatives of its species and solar system sitting on the FSP Council. It was a positively wonderful time for xenobiologists, who no doubt nearly caused many an intergalactic incident with their enthusiastic examinations of their newly discovered fellow sentient lifeforms. The Amig especially caused the scientists joy, with their telekinetic/teleportational abilities, which appeared to be unique in the universe, though some alien races demonstrated other psi abilities (such as the empathic/telepathic Beltrae of Eridani).
Encountering other sentient lifeforms was a huge boon for technological development; within FSP member species, information-sharing was strongly encouraged. Corporations drooled at the opening of new trade routes with alien colonies, and fleets of merchant ships lumbered back and forth, trading Terran goods for new and fascinating alien products. Common sense and FSP policy allowed foreign species to build embassies on planets claimed by fellow members, but not full-scale colonies; however, with the improvements to space travel and habitation that were borrowed from alien scientific achievements, it became possible to investigate much more distant stars than humans were previously able. Improved capabilities came at a price; within the FSP, there was frequently much argument between species and syndicates over who got to own a certain planet. Though first dibs went to the lifeform that had discovered it (and secondly to any species whose biology allowed them, and not others, to inhabit it), the bureaucracy involved in setting up a Colonization Expedition was incredible. Most species had, as members of their Colonial Authority, legists and politicians whose sole purpose was to fight with the FSP for colonization rights.
Through the FSP, Terrans met representatives of a highly intelligent race of beings known as the Eridani, who were widely considered to be the greatest masters of genetics in the known universe. Their techniques were accordingly some of the most carefully guarded scientific secrets in existence. Only the most brilliant students from the various FSP species were allowed to study with the Eridani geneticists, and at that, their knowledge was only taught in certain extremely prestigious institutions on the planets in the Eridanites’ home solar system. The strictures against irresponsible use of the Eridani techniques were strenuous, and the punishment for abuse swift and harsh. Mankind, of course, instantly became rabidly interested in these scientific breakthroughs, and hounded the Eridani for information.
Having encountered similar less-evolved species before, the aliens limited humankind’s exposure to their scientific achievements to a slow, careful, easily-digested trickle. Man’s first exposure to the Eridani techniques was the enhancement of animal and then (primarily ex vitro) human fetuses with mentasynth, a compound which caused latent empathic potential to be expressed. This was the most commonly used of the Eridani techniques, and one of the only ones which the FSP permitted to be performed outside of the Eridani homeworlds. Humans and a few other intelligent Terran animals (including cetaceans, primates, elephants and some birds) took well to mentasynth, and the initial distrust of people thus altered quickly gave way to approval when their enhanced empathy with other living things proved very useful (particularly in the healing professions). Mentasynth treatment of unborn children became widespread on human-habited planets, though the ethics of this practice troubled many and the newly-formed Pure Human Life Group eventually forced much stricter controls over the technique. Since mentasynth-enhanced empathy was heritable (albeit as an incompletely dominant trait), though, the effects persisted in the population.
Encouraged by the success with mentasynth, Terrans pressured the Eridani for more advanced teachings, which they were reluctant to give. Not to be deterred, humans formed a mission to establish an embassy on Eridani VI, which was a perfectly normal thing for an alien race to do - except that the main purpose behind the embassy was to dig up as much as possible about the genetic engineering techniques. This homeworld, in the Epsilon Eridani system, was a mere 10.5 light years from Earth, and despite some reluctance on the part of the FSP representatives to grant permission, humankind quickly established a presence there. What they didn’t reveal to the Eridani or FSP was that virtually every member of the mission had extensive biological training in addition to their nominal jobs; only a few people officially presented as biologists and geneticists, in accordance with Eridani stipulation that a scant handful of such scientists could be included in the embassy.
Predictably, once settled on Eridani VI, the humans conspired to break into a section of the aliens’ archives and steal genetic engineering information. They then attempted to use their ill-gotten gains without understanding nearly enough about the processes. The results, the infamous “bio-alts”, were a disaster so repellant that when they arrived back on Earth – all Terrans having been immediately banished from Eridani for their breach of protocol – they sparked several powerful and wealthy individuals to throw their weight behind the Pure Human Life Group (PHLG), a coalition whose crusade was to prevent genetic tinkering with the human genome, with the exception of alterations that had valid, proven medical purposes. With their influence suddenly increased, the PHLG managed to put the Terran-colonized planets into a stranglehold which still existed at the time of the colonization of Pern.
Besides the astronomical FSP fines levied for their actions on Eridani IV, punitive restrictions were placed on the human race’s membership in the FSP, some of which were still in place at the time of the Pern Colonial Expedition. Though nearly two centuries had passed by then, only a single human had ever been allowed back into the Eridani system so far: Kitti Ping, whose genius for genetics convinced the more advanced race to accept her into studies within the great Beltrae Halls of Eridani. It was made thoroughly clear to the humans, however, that even the slightest misuse of the patented skills and information she had learned would result in a complete and permanent ban on Terran application of the Eridani techniques, legal action, possible expulsion of humans from the FSP altogether. It might, they were warned, even be interpreted as an act of war and appropriate retaliatory action taken. In other words, for a good two centuries humankind was in the intergalactic proverbial doghouse.
The Nathi War
The consequences of its own stupid actions aside, membership in the FSP benefited humankind in many ways; yet there were certain quid pro quos to inclusion. One of these was that if a hostile intelligence attacked any FSP element, all Federation species were legally bound to respond to the threat. Not all beings in the universe were friendly, and when one FSP race was endangered, all of the others, scattered throughout space as they were, could just as easily be next. Common sense dictated strength in numbers.
The Shavians were a pacifistic, agrarian race whose handful of colonies occupied some of the farthest reaches of FSP-controlled space. They were completely annihilated in the first rush of attacks by a race so unpleasant in all ways that the name given them by mankind was a play on the word ‘nasty’. The Nathi were an insectile, hive-minded species who refused all attempts at peaceful contact; the destruction of the Shavians and subsequent harvesting of all their planetary resources showed the Nathi to be a ruthless lifeform which supported itself by parasitically strip-mining worlds of all useful resources, then moving on to new targets. Attempts to contact the species’leaders were ignored, as the Nathi moved their considerable forces in to annex the farther-flung FSP elements. Service colonies were attacked and their populations vaporized. The FSP drafted military forces from all its constituents, pushing into active duty the Terran Service Fleet, which up until that time had primarily trained ship and shuttle crews for the various interstellar vehicles, and policed the various space habitats and merchant routes. Now combat training became the number-one priority of the Fleet. Alongside aliens of all descriptions, human troops crossed unimaginable distances to strike at the menace. Thus began the Nathi War, nearly 60 years before the Pern Colony Expedition was launched.
The Nathi were brutal and implacable; during the rare ground engagements, it was standard operating procedure to ‘give mercy’ to one’s own wounded rather than leave them to fall into Nathi hands. Of the Terran colonies, Sirius, Vega, Cygnus and Altair all suffered heavy tolls at Nathi hands; these planets were bombarded for years on end with dirty shells, rendering the surfaces uninhabitable. The populations retreated into underground habitats, and made use of their subterranean entrapment to come up with a number of ingenious technologies, including magma core tapping for heat, and vast improvements in hydroponics agriculture. Altair suffered an involuntary space embargo thanks to the 5-year-long assault the Nathi launched against them. Frustratingly, the FSP was never able to discover exactly where the Nathi came from; no home world was ever found for them. Though the enemy never made it any further into human-inhabited space than Sirius, nearly 9 light years away, news and footage of the war were enough to ensure full support of the war effort from Earth and First. By the last couple of decades of the war, at least one able-bodied member of every family on the Terran homeworlds was subject to the draft, beginning at age 16. As a result of this compulsory service, it was virtually impossible to find a family whom the war had not affected firsthand.
At long last, after fully five decades of conflict, the tide of war was turned against the Nathi in the 70-hour-long Cygni Space Battle, which ended in a victory for the beleaguered FSP. After that, it took another full two years to chase off all remaining Nathi ships from FSP space and destroy the aliens’ entrenched outposts. It wasn’t a moment too soon as far as the paupered Federation was concerned; the cost of the extended war in labour and materials had been phenomenal, and the Federation was more than ready to turn as much as possible of its former military resources to more lucrative industrial purposes.
The Pern Colonial Expedition
After the very last Nathi were finally routed from the reaches of inhabited space, the excitement of the space war began to calm. Discontent, as usual in times lacking an external focus to draw people together in cooperation, began to raise its ugly head, particularly on Earth, which still had a burgeoning population and nowhere to put it. Once again the Luddite subculture, which despised the hyper-technified society that dominated FSP planets, began to make a stir. When some high-profile human war veterans made known their desire to found an agrarian colony in the distant, deserted Rukbat system, the Terran World Council (by this time comprised of senators from Earth, First, several other planets, and a whole heap of moons and space bases) felt it was in everyone’s best interests to grant them the (otherwise useless) third planet and rid themselves of such dissidents. The Pern Colonial Expedition received official FSP ratification of its legal Charter three years after the end of the Nathi War.
The phenomenal amount of credits needed to launch the expedition were raised by so-called Charterers (many of them war orphans with generous compensation packages), who received generous land-stake allotments in return for their investment in the colony. To round out the necessary skills for such a venture, Contractors were hired and granted stakes of their own, though perhaps not quite so generous as the Charterers (thus creating a source of division between the two groups). It took another two years of preparation, recruiting, and credit-raising before the three rather elderly spaceships (Buenos Aires, Bahrain, and Yokohama) at last set off on the 15 year journey to Pern with its complement of over 6000 humans from Earth, First, and the nearby off-world moons and space stations. They carried every conceivable useful animal and plant species from Earth, First, and the other colonized worlds, storing vast supplies of sperm, ova, and seeds from the Reproduction Banks of Terra in cryostorage aboard the ships. Being old, the ships moved at a mere 11 or so light years per year, a rather slow pace compared to the dizzying speeds the newer ship designs (created during the Nathi War) could attain. But like the tortoise in the ancient fable, slow and steady got the job done, and Pern was colonized without incident. The standard ‘successful landing, all clear’ message was sent off on a long journey back to the Colonial Authority headquarters, where it was filed away and the entire colony promptly forgotten about. Far away on Pern, the happy Luddites were just as pleased to be done with the FSP and get down to the business of running their world their way . . . until one fateful day 8 years after Landing . . .
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