No one born in the twentieth century, the century of global war and global warming, could have imagined that the twenty-first would be anything but the tragic final chapter in the history of humanity. How long before our relentless population growth finally succeeded in poisoning, polluting, or otherwise annihilating the environment beyond its capacity for regeneration? Before the end of the century, surely.
And yet, we and the environment survived. Growing incomes and productivity lifted millions out of subsistence poverty in the twenty-first century. Richer, smarter, and more united than ever, humanity tackled every scourge: diplomats and shareholders united to end wars; restricted emissions and active scrubbers re-balanced the carbon cycle; and a free and fair exchange of consumables and info-goods ended famine and illiteracy from Harlem to Pyong Yang. When the population crested at eight billion souls, the Malthusian catastrophe dissipated, like the memory of a ghost story in broad daylight.
Of course, problems remained. Governments and corporations found it difficult to provide all the energy and raw materials that the world demanded. The Earth had little left to give and no one wanted to wrest any more from her—but space still held limitless resources. The conquest of space began out of those needs and proceeded through slow but consistent milestones: the first asteroid mining company was founded in 2057; the first orbital power station came online in 2062; and by 2081 there were more than a thousand men and women living and working in space. So common were these space-firsts that no one was particularly surprised when the Earth Industries Conglomerate announced in 2083 the birth of Celeste Cabrillo, the first human born in space.
The twenty-first century essayist Michael Arenas was 93 years old in the year that Celeste was born and it is possible that he alone captured the significance of the event. He wrote, “Even in the age of digital history the old among us function as sirens, warning of the wrenching chaos unleashed whenever the comfortable present too quickly transforms into the uncertain future.” Indeed, the comfortable present was soon to be only a memory.
Fifteen years later, the first mission to the Kuiper Anomaly, a strange object beyond Pluto's orbit, captivated the imagination of the entire human race. What was once thought to be an odd metallic asteroid was revealed to be an alien structure—the first evidence of intelligent life beyond Earth. It was a discovery that was soon surpassed: the alien structure, now known as the Kuiper Stargate, opened up the Galaxy.
Once upon a time we walked out of Africa to colonize the entire surface of a small blue planet. Now, clad in metal starships, we hurtled out of the solar system to reach the stars.
With more and more people living and dying in space, there was more and more demand for genetic modifications to adapt humans to the environment. At the start of the Gene Crisis, Earth governments enforced a ban on germ-line genetic engineering with armed ships. NEO colonist resisted the ban and retaliated with economic boycotts and sabotage of Earth installations. A few years later, the two sides reached an agreement: The colonies would enforce a ban on genetic modification but would otherwise be independent of Earth govermnents. This was the start of the Commonwealth.
But not all colonists were happy. Some of those committed to germ-line engineering started their own colony on Mars. Others traveled further still, through the network of alien stargates.
In 2124, a Commonwealth ship exploring the stargate network reached St. Katharine's Star System and discovered a habitable (but uninhabited) world—the first ever visited by humans. The discovery spurred a new wave of colonization; in a few decades the Commonwealth's center of gravity shifted from Sol to St. Katharine's Star. Other colonies formed around the new world and the New Beyond expanded. Rigel Aurelius was colonized in 2140. And in 2176, the Commonwealth founded the Starton Eridani colony.
The Order of the Sisters of Domina was founded early in the century. Ever since humans moved out into space, there have been people who believe that they are in contact with hyper-intelligences out in space. Domina is one of the most powerful entities that people commune with. There is much controversy over the nature of these alien intelligences, but there is no doubt that they exist.
The Commonwealth grew and prospered throughout the 23rd century. Meanwhile, the Martian colonists who fled the genetic engineering ban formed the Syrtis Conclave—an almost utopian civilization with genetically engineered neo-humans living on the Martian surface. In 2243, however, guided by what they believe to be a divine intelligence in the Galactic Core, the Syrtis Conclave decided to annihilate Earth.
The war left the Solar System in ruins and it was only with the help of the Commonwealth that the Syrtis were defeated. Most of the martians left Sol as refugees, for Mars was left uninhabitable, and today Syrtis refugees are found in many systems. The Syrtis leadership, however, escaped into deep space and they formed the Ares Orthodoxy out beyond Jiang's Star. The old Commonwealth Fleet fights them still, but few people in St. Katharine's System (far from the fighting) believe that they are a threat.
Centuries after the discovery of the Kuiper Stargate, the first alien of the Ancient Races visited Human Space. The Iocrym, in their gigantic ships visited St. Katharine's Star System and began a long and complicated dialog.
After much effort, we learned that the Iocrym had visited the Solar System more than 250 million years ago. When they detected complex, multi-cellular life on Earth, they shut down all the stargates in the region and designated the whole area as a nature preserve.
The Ancient Races welcomed Humanity as a new member of the Galactic Community and offered future visits to begin a process of integration. But there was one mystery to resolve: How had the Kuiper Stargate been activated? The Iocrym seemed very concerned about this point and examined the gate with great care.
The Iocrym left St. Katharine's System and promised to return.
A few decades later, Humans found that the entire volume of Human Space had been quarantined. Today we know that the Iocrym guard all stargates leading out into the rest of the Galaxy. The only explanation that the Iocrym will give is that humans have been quarantined until further notice because of an unspecified threat.
11 April 2020