A pale blue dot against a sable backdrop terrifying in its depth and intensity, punctuated by impossibly distant white pinpricks that twinkle and die on timescales beyond human understanding.
Humanity's cradle, once our only safe harbour in the cold, unforgiving seas of space – Now, a hazy legend mired in mystery. Like Avalon, a perfect utopia forever beyond the reach of the mortals destined to look from afar with greed and avarice. The gulf of blackness between the shoals of stars that make up the galaxies separate us from mankind's ancestral home. We, the lost colonies of Earth, could only watch that pale blue dot sail through the stars in the grand celestial dance conducted by gravity.
It had been well over a hundred years since the expedition that carried our ancestors far from home, although time had a funny way of bending over such large distances. 2070, by the old calendars, was the year when the groundwork was first laid. A businessman, frustrated at the lack of effort put into human expansion into the stars, used his substantial wealth to fund an expedition out into that unforgiving blackness. They gathered 300 brave souls. The best and the brightest that humanity had to offer. None would ever return.
At the time this was quite the scandal, but it wouldn't hamper humanity's progress into the stars. We had a taste of the wealth, and we wouldn't shy away from it over a few hundred corpses floating somewhere in the void. In secret, that businessman and a number of other interested parties continued their efforts. They would make a ship, grander than the one before, using science barely understood to propel the craft at faster than light speeds. If it worked, it would be a testament to humanity's ingenuity and mastery of the universe.
Scientists from all over the world were gathered to oversee the construction of the ship that would carry humanity to alien stars. No expense was spared. Not only was it large, it was equipped with the most advanced technology of the day, and facilities to allow for the ship to establish permanent human presence on a planet should the worst come to pass, and the ship found itself unable to return. Frozen embryos, databanks containing works of cultural importance, technical documents, and star charts that would hopefully guide the descendants of the crew home. It was to be the Prometheus. The champion of humanity.
By 2100, it was ready. The engine, inspired by the proposals of Alcubierre, would warp space to allow the ship to travel faster than the speed of light, and would carry the crew to Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to Earth (after Sol, of course). Theoretically, the drive would work exactly as intended, though the sheer bulk and cost of the drive prevented any small scale tests. To maintain a bubble of "real" space amidst the warped reality around it required power that a smaller vessel could not provide. The crew were confident, but would announce nothing until they had completed their trip, and could personally vouch that it would work. They hadn't spent significant effort disgusting the ship's true purpose only to stumble at the last hurdle and let the cat out of the bag. After the last disastrous expedition, any governmental scrutiny would delay the project years. That could not be allowed. Better to ask forgiveness than beg permission.
So the Prometheus undertook its maiden voyage, and history repeated itself.
The vessel had vanished. Hundreds of meters of steel and ceramic, thousands of men, and trillions of dollars had just vanished in an instant. The incident was remembered as one of the largest industrial accidents in history. A giant, newly built mining ship was unfortunately struck by an asteroid, and fell into Jupiter. Any government investigation was frustrated through the liberal application of bribery, and no-one even noticed that the ship wasn't even anywhere near Jupiter when it vanished.
In the minds of those that knew of it's true purpose, it was a sign that for all of humanity's combined efforts, some laws of the universe couldn't be breached. All the techs knew was that the ship had been folded away into a pocket of space, and had likely been crushed by the forces, or had sublimated into pure energy. Some held hope that it would return, but after years without any sign of the craft, that hope was abandoned, the Prometheus was forgotten, and the principles used in the drive's construction with it.
Of course, there was just one little problem: The Prometheus wasn't gone, and the drive had worked. If anything, it had worked a little too well. The ship had been slingshotted out of the solar system as though swatted by an angry god. Flung through space, trailing an invisible gravitic wake, the Prometheus blazed far past it's intended target in an instant. In the time it would take for someone to blink, it had crossed a tenth of the galaxy. By the time that any of the crew had even realized what had happened, it was already in intergalactic space. By the time they sent the shutdown command to the drive, the ship had begun inexorably drifting towards the largest nearby gravity well, the momentum having already begun to bleed out.
The crew felt nothing more than a slight tug at their stomach as the ship lurched back into reality, the twisting bubble of space that had shielded them on their journey peeling back and unveiling their surroundings.
A star, some planets, and an alien sky.
I could give some figure to express how extremely lucky the Prometheus was. Fractions expressed in scientific notation would be without passion or poetry, and anything less would understate it, so rather than that, I'll simply say that describing it as an act of divine providence is too weak a phrasing.
They had stumbled across not one, not two, but three planets that, after some relatively minor terraforming, would be habitable. Atmospheres with the correct composition, at a reasonable pressure. Temperatures within the realms of human tolerance. Oceans of liquid water, free of any harmful chemicals or alien lifeforms. A veritable Eden.
But a decision needed to be made. Many wished to return home. That had been the original plan, and even though the possibility that they might be stranded or killed had weighed heavy on their minds, they saw no reason that they should stake a claim and settle in for the long haul now. They had a working ship, and a working drive. If recalibrated, they could potentially sail straight back to Earth and report their wild success. Discovering three new habitable planets, a faster than light drive that carried them all the way to another galaxy would land each and every single member of the crew a place in the history books. They'd accomplished more in moments that any other had accomplished throughout their entire lives. They could return and be heroes!
That was the plan, for a while. The Prometheus hung in orbit around the planet nearest to the star, both as of yet unnamed, for a few days as the engineers checked the drive and the computers, while navigators tried to plot their course and find a way home. With each passing hour, the task seemed more and more impossible. The drive had burnt out from the energy surging through it. Sensitive components were mangled, and could be repaired, but the effect the repairs would have on its operation were unknown. As for their course? It was wildly unpredictable. Using what information they could gather from their journey, they updated their predictions and what they found was disturbing to say the least. The distance they would travel was unpredictable, and the ship was prone to massive, galactic scale drift. Even assuming they could improve the accuracy to the point where they wouldn't just miss the Milky Way entirely, they were exceedingly unlikely to end up anywhere near Earth, and such an effort could take years.
The crew may have wanted so desperately to return home, but they saw the writing on the wall. It might not have been impossible, but it was a risk they weren't willing to take. They would make planetfall, keeping the ship in orbit, and begin to colonize the planet that they orbited, as it had the closest conditions to Earth of all the planets available to them.
Thus, a new era of humanity began. The wayward sons of Earth driving their flags into alien dirt, with ploughs and picks soon to follow.
Names came first, though.
Up until this point, the colonists had simply been referring to the planets by their position in the solar system, and their distance from the star, which had been christened "the star" or "that star". It was dreadfully uninspired, but it worked for the time. If they were to make their homes here, though, "planet 1" wouldn't cut the mustard. No, they needed names with some provenance.
Some offered the names of other members of the crew, or in arrogance so blinding it almost outshone the star, their own. Those were shot down.
Some considered digging through old star maps and trying to find a name or designation, that there might be some continuity. That was shot down too.
Finally, they considered going back to what had worked in the past. All the planets of Sol were named after ancient gods, someone had pointed out, as was the ship. It would be a very uncontroversial and safe decision to tread the road of our ancestors and steal their ideas.
This suggestion was met with apprehension. It was a little uninspired, but they really couldn't keep calling their new home Planet 1. With no better option, they took up the naming scheme of their ship and opted for Greek myth as the inspiration.
So it was that the star and its planets were given the least inspired names in human history. The star became Helios, and the planets Gaia, Hyperion, and Eos. This somewhat confusing arrangement of names was almost entirely disconnected from any logic, save that people just liked the names. Helios and Gaia were the only ones that bore any real relevance, the star being named for the Greek counterpart to the Roman god Sol, who like his cousin was the god of the sun, and Gaia being named for the goddess of the Earth, the planet named such for its similarities to Earth.
With the first trial overcome, the crew of the ship began to settle their new planet. Gaia would be the core of their new civilization, and they must first tame it. Gaia's surface was the only one to bear any extraterrestrial life. Limited to just flora, it was remarkably similar to that of Earths, albeit of millions of years before humans walked upright. Convergent evolution at work, it seemed.
The population on the planet grew as the embryos were unfrozen. Outposts grew to cities, and industry blossomed on the planet, providing for and requiring ever more workers. They were stable, the transition from the ship to the planet having been smooth, carried out according to exacting specifications laid out in emergency plans drawn up long before their fateful voyage.
Nothing could ever last, though. As the population reached the millions, the original colonists numbers were dwarfed by those that had been unfrozen, or those that had been born the… natural way. The few that remembered Earth firsthand, and had been chosen in part for their suitability for such a situation were no longer the majority. Discipline had begun to crumble. The loose, informal democracy that the crew of the ship had employed was woefully under equipped for the numbers it now governed. Change came slowly and cautiously at first, as the new government asserted itself and made the necessary changes to ensure that the transition remained smooth.
As the population swelled and the first generation of colonists passed, the fires of revolution would pass over Gaia. Decades had passed, and the cities of the planet had grown into shining metropolises, and the new Gaian Republic was, for the first time, ready to put significant investment into colonization of the other planets. Small outposts had been established, and the beachheads were forged on Hyperion and Eos after the Prometheus had passed by, but Gaia had been the focus of development. But now, they had the means to support new enterprises.
Political unrest and discontent began to swell among the population. Earth was but a memory now, and the colonists needed a new path to tread. Their survival was all but assured, and any work on returning to Earth was now merely one of many fields of interest, and one that seemed less appealing with each passing year. Questions were asked about how to treat the legacy of Earth. Would they try to emulate the old Earth, with all its flaws and imperfections? Would they leave behind the ties that bound us to that planet, abandon our history to allow us to become something new? Would they remember the lessons learnt, but allow ourselves the freedom to grow and change?
The discussion grew more and more heated, with partisan lines drawn and allegiances declared. It seems petty, looking back, but at the time it seemed so serious. Very "Battle for humanity's soul!" type stuff. The parties only fractured further as they became more entrenched in their beliefs, and things seemed poised to turn violent. Thankfully, the intent to colonize the other planets stopped things before they got any worse. Officially, the Gaian Republic controlled the whole system, but two whole planets lay beyond their realistic means to govern. They were frontiers, ripe for the taking, and those that favoured the Gaian Republic's official stance towards Earth, that being to learn from the mistakes, but not to emulate it, were all too happy to tell their political enemies to try their luck elsewhere.
The lines drawn politically soon became very real, as two new governments formed. The Hyperion Directorate, a collection of the small outposts that would later grow into city states, staked their claim on the eponymous planet, declaring their independence from the Gaian Republic almost as soon as they had the means to roughly support themselves. Hyperion was a rugged, wind blasted planet. Cold and bleak, it supported life only tenuously. The Hyperion stance was to surpass and overcome that which had come before. Earth was not to be emulated, or remembered! It was to be left behind with the rest of the galaxy they fled. They had to look to the future, not the past.
The Terran Continuum fled to Eos. The political party of the Republic most commonly blamed for inciting violence of any kind, the Continuum believed themselves to be the successors of Earth's governments, a claim made somewhat unreasonable by the fact that they had never set foot on Earth, and that none of Earth's governments knew of the expedition at all. The planet they had landed on was the furthest from Helios, and would be colder than Hyperion were it not for a higher concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. It was arboreal. Habitable, like Hyperion, but cold, though the equator provided more Earth like conditions than further up the poles.
For a while, this worked. Gaia stood as first among equals, and the ample elbow room that entire planets afforded them allowed the more extremist elements to avoid any conflict for now.
Things once again returned to stability. The three colonies grew in peace, developing the infrastructure needed to allow for real interplanetary trade. Gaia, with their established population and industry, became the center of trade in the system, with orbital docks and advanced infrastructure needed to launch and recover spacecraft. Technology blossomed, with Hyperion leading the pack as their cavaliere attitude towards safety and their near obsession with progress for progress' sake inspiring a technological renaissance. Culture bloomed, with each different camp espousing their beliefs through myriad works of art, but amongst them all the Terrans stood above all others. The nostalgia that pervaded their culture was a hotbed for heartfelt works and fiery rhetoric.
This was a new golden age, and though it would end, it's remembered today as the height of what we could've been, if we had controlled our baser instincts. I'd like to say that I knew who fired the first shot, but I really don't. No-one does.
The Terrans had fallen to despotism after a famine wracked their planet. The new government promised security, and they had provided it. They halted the famine through careful rationing, but had seized control of most aspects of Terran life in doing so. After the famine, they retained control of the government, though public unrest began to grow. The crisis was over, and they were unhappy that they still maintained the control they had. They needed a new adversary, and so they found two.
Gaia had watched as the Terrans starved. They were the largest producer of food in the system by a wide margin. The two other planets doubtlessly relied on Gaian food shipments to maintain their populations that had swelled to the low billions. For a famine to sweep Eos meant that Gaia had to be complicit. And the Hyperions? They hated the Terrans, clearly, for the two couldn't be more different. The Hyperions thought of the Terrans as the last bastion of Earth's memory that they had gone so far to destroy. With the Gaians under their thrall, they intended to destroy the Terrans once and for all.
That was mostly all lies, of course, but it worked. The Terran people, sufficiently cowed, kneeled to their government. If the charade was to be maintained, they needed to act. Hyperion and Gaia were the enemy, and the enemy needed to be destroyed. In secret, the Terrans built a fleet of warships, the first made in the system, and set out to conquer Hyperion and Gaia in the name of Old Earth.
Hyperion was no stranger to war. Though the other nations were coherent, requiring only enough military force to police themselves, the Hyperion government was a fractious federation of different city states, and had fought small skirmishes in the past, only to be brought to heel by the others. The Gaians had long since suspected Hyperion of plotting war, and the escalating arms race between the Hyperion city states and the Terran Continuum was clearly proof of treacherous intent. This led Gaia to begin imposing embargos on Hyperion and Eos that would hopefully curtail the buildup, but it was already too late. The two outer planets had feared Gaia's economic control, and had sought to render themselves self-sufficient. War seemed inevitable.
As I mentioned, no-one really knew who fired the first shot, because it all kind of happened at once. The Terrans invaded Hyperion, Hyperion launched interplanetary missiles at the Gaians, and a Gaian terrorist group destroyed a Terran naval yard. In short, it was madness. Each faction was at the other's throats, and it became clear that the fate of the system was at risk. It would only take a slight escalation for one of the planets to be rendered uninhabitable. After all, it was thought that an interplanetary war would be industrially and logistically untenable, and that had already been proven wrong. What was stopping them from dropping asteroids on one another but their rapidly fraying morality?
The war was bloody, and brutal, and I will refrain from further elaboration to spare you the sordid details, but Hyperion stood triumphant. The Terran army was shattered on Hyperion, and the Gaians surrendered when the Fleet Admiral Johan Fuchs threatened to drop nuclear warheads on every city until he received an unconditional surrender. The Terrans were last to surrender, following an extensive bombing campaign that reduced the cities of Eos to rubble.
We're still dealing with Terran rebels today.
It's been a hundred years since then. Our calendar no longer syncs up to that of Old Earth. 257 years have passed since we first emerged in the system. I'm not really sure what that is in the old calendar. Roughly the same, I imagine. It took us 257 years to finally make some headway on the drive we recovered from the Prometheus. Between war, strife, and the other immediate concerns of colonization, I think that it's understandable that it hadn't been our focus, but with the system under the control of Hyperion for a century of peace and stability, we are once again chafing at our bounds.
We have tried investigating other methods of faster than light travel, though none have bore fruit. It was probably a fool's errand to even try, given that we already had an example of one working drive, but the scientists shied away from further investigation in that field. Calibration of the drive was no easier now than it was back then, even with the leaps and bounds that we'd made in computing. Even the rudimentary AI we'd produced, and their fully sapient descendants struggled to make it work. Tests were difficult to conduct for the same reason the first journey had to be the one that would carry us all here the first time around: The size. The drive demanded immense power, and the means to project a barrier of a certain size. To do so required a ship of a certain size, and that size was large.
Even centuries down the line, it was not something that could be undertaken easily, but with peace upon us, we could focus on our task. It might be risky, but we are no strangers to risk. We, who forged the path to the future would not so easily surrender at the first sign of difficulty. The Directorate was ascendant, in control of Gaia, and what was left of Eos. This was the last frontier. The last of the riddles left to us by Old Earth. Should we overcome it, we would finally prove our superiority.
No expense was spared. The warship constructed to carry the drive was a symbol of our preeminence, and a sign of our growing paranoia. Armed to the teeth with cutting edge technology, the ship glistened in the pale orange light of Helios, it's armour sparking like lightning. Almost a kilometer long, it was the largest military ship that Hyperion had ever produced, almost as large as the Prometheus, and each and every square inch of the ship was dedicated to its task. The ship war informed by what we knew of space warfare from the previous war, and skirmishes with pirates.
Speed was paramount. Being able to avoid shots before they were fired is a valuable asset. As such, capitalizing on the ships maneuverability by maintaining range was necessary. The weapons that had come to define space warfare were missiles, drones, and the particle lance. Common only to Hyperion prior to the end of the war, the particle lance was a particle weapon that used magnets to accelerate particles to a fraction of the speed of light before sending them cascading into the enemy with unerring accuracy and speed. The holes they left were small, but could easily spear an entire enemy ship from bow to stern. They ranged in size and yield from smaller point defense beams and anti-fighter weapons to brutal spinal mounted cannons that blasted meter wide holes out of anything short of small planetoids. The missiles utilized a variety of payloads, the most dreaded of which was the "Silver Bullet", a nuclear shaped charge that fired a jet of relativistic tungsten into a foe. Drones were common, operated by AI or remotely from a ship, and were standard on most warships. Able to react faster than any human pilot could physically handle, they were used to deliver heavy ordinance to a target or screen heavier craft from missiles at a range that point defense simply couldn't.
Battles, therefore, were decided long before enemies entered visual range. Ships sparred, lancing each other from extreme range while desperately trying to jink to throw off enemy targeting. E-Warfare mostly commonly focused on this careful game, playing an instrumental role in predicting enemy movements or concealing your own. Quantum entanglement communication was common between ships, with flagships serving as a quantum relay for a fleet, and helped to coordinate action without suffering timelag. In space, every second counted, and they'd be shaved off where possible.
Shielding was not uncommon, but it was niche. Magnetic shielding could be used to deflect energy weapons, like particle lances, though needed to be carefully calibrated to certain wavelengths to avoid overheating when struck. Shielding against kinetic attack was rarer, and varied in function. Most used a second layer of magnetic shielding to contain a thin sheet of plasma which could be used to heat up a projectile to incredible temperatures, vaporizing it and deflecting it. This was power hungry, though, and likewise needed to be carefully calibrated should the ship wish to remain cool.
This new dreadnought had all of these features. A massive spinal mounted particle lance with an alternative neutral particle shield piercing mode, secondary particle batteries that would sweep the heavens of smaller craft and missiles, batteries of VLS tubes that bore thousands of missiles, and launch bays for swarms of drones that would sacrifice themselves to protect the ship. The hull was coated in the shimmering white titanium alloy used to deflect energy weapons, with layers of ceramic and steel beneath to absorb kinetic impacts. The first line of defense, however, was a formidable shielding system, multilayered with redundant generators, all powered by a massive fusion reactor that hummed like the heart of a god. Furthermore, it was equipped with the latest suite of communications, electronic warfare equipment, and AI that rendered it all but immune to hostile intrusion, and allowed it to remain in contact with the Directorate at all times. There was no doubt that this ship was the finest produced by Hyperion engineers. That was before considering the drive. It took up most of the engine deck towards the ship's stern, and it radiated an ominous aura that the engineers seemed immune to.
It was to be my ship. They chose me as the captain not because I had a sterling record, or because I was exceptionally skilled, or experienced. I'd spent my life hunting pirates, and had only a scant few years of experience doing that. I had yet to be killed, though that was a low bar to jump. No, the reason they chose me was my last name. Fuchs. You may remember earlier that I mentioned a man with the same name, and that was no coincidence. I am of a venerable line of spacefarers, and that, more than anything else, was why I was given command of this vessel. It was pragmatic, really.
The ship was unlikely to face any serious trouble, and should the worst come to pass for a second time, and the experimental drive launched them outside of their means to return, then the ship was provisioned to survive long enough to communicate what had gone wrong to the Directorate and await rescue. The wonders of quantum entanglement made that possible.
In short, my name would read well on the news, and that's what mattered. My skills were immaterial.
I looked upon the ship from the window of it's drydock, rugged umbilicals snaking around the craft like chains around a dangerous caged animal. With a chuckle, I realized that was pretty much what it was. A dangerous caged animal.
It had a distinctly predatory look to it. Like a shark, if sharks were a kilometer long and swam through space. The engineers said that it was incapable of making planetfall, though it almost seemed designed for atmosphere. When viewed from above, it had a rough triangular shape that narrowed towards the bow, and from the side it was slim, with jagged, knife like protrusions that jutted out diagonally. A pair swept forwards and narrowed the further forward they went forming a prow, while four sprung from the rear, one for each main engine block. In a plane, they would've been control surfaces, but on a spacecraft their purpose was a little more unclear. Only one familiar with spacecraft would be able to tell you that they were concealing radiators, or shielding sensitive components. Atop the ship, behind the telltale protrusions of missile tube hatches, the bridge lay flush against the deck. In combat, the bridge would be evacuated for the CIC, but during normal flight, people liked to be able to see outside.
On the prow, the name of the ship was printed in meter tall lettering: HNC Epimetheus.