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Posted: Jan 26 2012, 12:55 AM
This will be a grand adventure.
It was hot and windy, even inside the tarp-covered structure they'd hastily assembled for the event. Shaa was a planet that belonged to desperate people, desert-strewn with temperatures that reached scorching highs during the day and icy lows at night. Everyone was uncomfortable as they crowded the massive space, stewing in their own sweat.
A man stepped up onto the stage, glancing uncomfortably across the crowd before settling behind a podium. Awkwardly, he cleared his throat into the microphone.
"Hello." The man took a moment to take in the full scope of thousands of people, nearly a third of which were soldiers. Inhaling deeply, he continued. "I'm James Hatter, Research Director of the Agricultural Research Facility on Initium. Many of you are probably wondering what's going on. Well... here's what happened."
A Brief History of the Nu System
Earth was in shambles when warring nations began to turn their attention up to the stars. The first people to discover a habitable planet in the Nu System (as it later came to be known) joined forces with their allies on Earth to colonize the place in 2307. They quickly got about terraforming the surrounding planets.
As soon as word got out that there was a habitable system, other governments on Earth quickly assembled their best minds in the first Space Race since the 20th century. Nations who wanted to join the five Inner Planets were quickly assimilated into the Alliance.
The rest were left with the remains of the system, a handful of straggling planets in the further reaches of the orbital arcs. They became known as the Fringe, a nearly-lawless collection of individual governments.
After establishing their rule in the Inner Planets, the Alliance began to struggle for greater control of the Nu System, assimilating smaller colonies and establishing colonies of their own in Fringer space. Although this mounted enough tension to force the governments of the Fringe to work together, the Nu System held a precarious peace for over a century after the initial colonization.
It was bound to fall apart, in the end.
Earth's Destruction, Growing Tension
In 2397, the remaining people of the planet Earth nuked each other into oblivion. If there are any survivors of the catastrophe, none have been able to make contact or they have decided against it. Members of the Nu System, most removed from the wars on Earth for at least a generation, were mostly apathetic to the event that later became termed The Finale.
However, without the support system of resources and information that Earth had held, the Alliance became more determined than ever to gain complete control of the Nu System, to bring order to the Outer Planets and stop a galaxy-wide repeat of Earth's last moments.
Sadly, the Fringe settlements had grown alongside the Alliance and felt just as worthy of retaining their independence. Many would not willingly give themselves over to Alliance control, and the Alliance did not yet have sufficient manpower or technology to force them. So, the peace between the two ideologies became ever more precarious but held.
The Colony of Initium
The colony was founded in 2386 as a research colony. It was publicized as an Agricultural Research Colony, established and funded by the planets Corwin and Hale, to provide agricultural insight into the environment on Hale, which had been struggling to meet the food demands of its own population. It was a nice gesture.
What most people didn't know was that the scientists weren't there to study agriculture. Of course, to maintain the front, many of the scientists were hired to do exactly that and had no idea what was going on behind the scenes. But there was a secretive sect in their own zone that presumably studied microbiological pests and even worked a slight bit of overtime on precisely that so it looked as if that was exactly what they were doing. It wasn't. They couldn't care less about agriculture.
Here's what really happened.
In 2383, a probe sent out from Corwin got lost, and communications to the machine were severed. It was presumed permanently missing until three weeks after its disappearance, when a weak signal came back.
It was nowhere near where it had been when they'd lost track of it. In fact, it wasn't in the Nu System at all. Baffled, scientists struggled to decode what it had managed to send back, and after eight months of working on the weak signals and tapping into what it had managed to record during its missing three weeks, they realized that it had jumped across space in an insanely short amount of time. Backtracking, they found what they believed to be the existence of a wormhole.
That wasn't the best part, though.
A New Planet, A New System
The probe began to send back images of a planet that looked similar to Earth (pre-nuclear fallout), with plenty of green and blue, with the familiar-looking swirl of white clouds. Wanting a chance to study the planet without attracting the attention of the Alliance to it, Corwin set up a false research facility orbiting Hale, under the pretext of friendly concern over the planet's food supply.
The research facility had long been advocated by scientist Marcus Caine, who had proposed it initially as exactly what it later pretended to be. Corwin agreed to the research facility -- and even to the research -- so long as Caine agreed to let the secret research continue unfettered.
Caine agreed, and the facility was built and pulled together. Mr. Caine oversaw the boring agricultural stuff the area surrounding the research facility.
The clandestine research was headed by an aging scientist from Corwin -- Harper Jacks -- who had been a professor at a large University there. The man worked hard to maintain a believable front of agricultural research, essentially dividing the scientists into two groups: People who knew why they were really there and people who didn't.
Eventually a city formed around the research facility, and Initium became a true colony.
When Dr. Jacks died, he specifically requested that he be replaced by a student of his, James Hatter. Dr. Hatter joined the team, was briefed on everything, and had about a week to adjust to his new position before Dr. Jacks left the universe forever on a one-way shuttle to Deadtown.
Marcus Caine, meanwhile, became more of a colony founder and leader of the city at large, becoming slightly more detached from the agricultural research. Dr. Hatter was placed in a position of Research Director for all facets of the ARF, and although Caine still involved himself in the research, it eventually became more important to have him as something of a mayor or governor. However, he and Dr. Hatter worked closely from the beginning, and there was arguably nothing that occurred that Dr. Hatter did not brief Caine on.
Ever paranoid, Dr. Hatter secured the divide between the scientists, and double-encrypted everything in the secret laboratories, "just in case."
Good thing he did.
The Alliance Sticks Their Nose In
Of course, a good thing can't last forever. It wasn't long before someone in the Inner Planets took note of the surprising number of probes and satellites that were launched from Initium, apparently never to be seen again. Suspicious, the Alliance came up with a flimsy excuse to land near the colony on the moon, under suspicion of suspected terrorist activities against the Inner Planets.
They infiltrated the ARF, stationing soldiers throughout the Facility to keep an eye on what everyone was doing. Meanwhile, James Hatter and his team removed all incriminating and encrypted information, stashing it in bits and pieces across their homes, with the majority of it in his own.
It was from his own office, late in the night, that he and his fellow scientists kept tabs on what the probes were sending back, using a shifty triangulation system to keep the Alliance from nabbing the messages.
After much testing, Dr. Hatter felt he'd proved conclusively that the planet was ready for colonization, with no terraforming necessary. It would be easy to plant their own crops and bring their own animals. They'd probably wipe out a few native animals in the process, but the government of Corwin didn't particularly care about that.
Meanwhile, the tension caused by the soldiers on Initium was spreading rapidly to all the Outer Planets, with the governments speaking out against the Alliance's presence there.
The Missing Ship
In early 2412, a ship that had launched from Hale with the "intention" of making contact with an unnamed outer colony disappeared. The news was reported, bounced around for a day or two, and then faded into obscurity.
On Initium, Dr. Hatter and his team stayed alert all hours of every day until a fuzzy transmission came through, some weeks after the ship disappeared. The crew on the ship reported their mission a success: They had proved that human life could go through the wormhole without any noticeable psychological or physiological strain. They reported that they would be heading to the planet to help facilitate the initial colony there.
Corwin began to build a ship off Shaa, the lonely desert planet nobody paid any attention to.
The Alliance Bows Out
Eventually, the governor of Corwin himself came to Initium, under the pretext of reuniting with his daughter. In reality, he was turning the screws on the head of the Battleship Alexandria, letting it be known for the man to report to his superiors that the Fringe was becoming less and less courteous about allowing the soldiers to stay on the colony. It was only a matter of time before the presence of the soldiers incited a war, especially since the soldiers had searched the Facility from top to bottom and found nothing.
After a week of deliberating, the governing heads of the Alliance gave the order to pull out, and the soldiers packed up their shit and boarded the Alexandria, which disappeared into the night sky. That night, the citizens of Initium celebrated.
So did the scientists and the government of Corwin.
Live On Shaa! It's Awesome!
Shortly after, a series of inconspicuous advertisements went out that explained that Shaa was being newly terraformed, and that colonization of the planet would be easier than ever.
It was enough to cause people to ignore the massive amounts of people from all corners of the Fringe to slowly pack up their stuff and leave for the desert planet. Around six thousand in total, many soldiers came as well, disguised as civilians for the trip. People who didn't know what was going on laughed at the desperation of the immigrants: how pathetic did they have to be, that Shaa was their best hope?
Meanwhile, most people who went to Shaa knew, or had family or friends that knew. Some didn't, and were truly desperate. They were welcomed as well.
It was going to be a long trip, and a community needed all sorts.
Dr. James Hatter took a deep breath, and a sip of his water. He paused, wondering if he should say anything else, and then shrugged. "We're boarding in three days," he said, plainly. "Everyone needs to be accounted for before they board the ship. Contact the leader of your temporary living sector -- the people in the red tents -- and figure out your living quarters, your occupation on the ship, and whatever else you've got to figure out. Communications with the outside world are going to be purposefully down. Our secrecy is the only advantage we've got."
He sighed heavily, glad to be done, and then when it looked as though he was going to add something else, he turned and left the stage.
second star on the left and straight on 'til morning