In the year 2139, humanity developed a tool that would reach to the stars. An engine that could push a craft through the very fabric of the universe and into universes beyond, allowing for near-instantaneous transit between two points in our universe. It was called the Quantum Tunnelling Drive, or QT.
It took more than another 100 years before humankind developed the will to go along with the ability to travel such distance from our home. When the desire was finally there in great enough measure, the colonization of the stars began. The first ships that went out were small scout ships, slipping easily from universe to universe and charting the worlds and stars nearest to our own Solar System.
On their return, the massive colony ships left, with the first humans who would live on other planets aboard, along with seeds and embryonic livestock enough to make a life on the new worlds. The gargantuan engines of these ships laboured days to push these mammoth ships through the event horizon of the universe hidden in the quantum foam, then days again to revert back to our universe.
There was great rejoicing when the first messages began to come back from the colonies – humanity had reached the stars. Over the years, the planets were developed and the colonies grew. More groups from Earth arrived, eager to make their own marks in these new frontiers-lands. Trade between worlds was possible, but not easy by any means. The colonists got by using mainly their own resources and ingenuity. Knowledge was the only thing easily shared between worlds, by using the same instantaneous pathways that ships took.
After 300 years, the colonies were large enough to send out, in their turn, a new wave of colony ships to ever-further stars. And so it progressed for two thousand years. Humanity spread out in the Milky Way in concentric spheres of colonization. Eventually, the collection of stars where humans made their homes stretched over a third of the galaxy, comprising the Orion Spur, part of the Perseus Arm, most of the Sagittarius Arm on our side of the galactic center, and parts of the Centaurus Arm.
Old Earth, as it was now called, remained the center, geographically, if not politically of the confederacy of human planets. As the number of human planets increased, the importance of each individual world faded, with the exception of Earth. For who could forget that it was on Earth that the human race began, that it was from Earth’s seas that humans had learned navigation, and it was from Earth’s skies that humanity learned to dream of the stars. Earth became a kind of religious relic, a reminder of a darker past and a guidepost to a brighter future. Of those who could afford it, many made a pilgrimage back to the cradle of human life. Those who couldn’t afford it went out and found new planets and claimed them in the name of Old Earth.
Where humans found habitable planets, we colonised. None of the planets we had discovered in two thousand years of exploration contained intelligent life – nothing larger than rodents usually, and so there was no need for conquering – we simply moved in, bringing our own plants and animals to live alongside what was there. It seemed we were alone in the galaxy. From time to time, there was discussion on sending a ship to a nearby galaxy to find out if we were truly alone in the universe, and from time to time, some foolhardy soul set off, never to be heard from again. It wasn’t that there couldn’t be life out there somewhere, but the distances were too great.
It took months to travel across human space – the fastest ships could do it in weeks, but the farthest human planets were only 30,000 light-years apart. The nearest habitable galaxy was estimated to be 1.6 million light-years distant, a journey that would take 15 years one-way, if it was even possible. And that only to reach the outer edge. No, humanity had enough worlds here at home.
The confederacy of human worlds was vast and varied. Trade now comprised a major part of each world’s economy. The amelioration of the QT drive had made this possible within the local groups of worlds.
Each world developed a focus of trade, something they were better at than other worlds. On planets with higher mass, people developed strong bones and muscles, making them ideal labourers. Some, it was said, could do the work of 10 Old-Earthers. Planets with great oceans developed aquaculture and exported food to worlds less blessed with life. People on planets with harsh climates rented themselves out as hardy mercenaries, able to withstand the worst conditions to get a job done. People on planets with lower gravity experimented with fantastical structures and made themselves the designers and architects of the human realm, for no one could match their creativity and sensitivity to the worlds around them. Others developed very different sets of skills…
On the ancient calendar that some still kept, it was now the year 5768, and a change was brewing that would sweep along with it the seven and a half trillion massed souls of the human race, in all their varied forms and manners, on their thousand planets.
The old men gathered in the gloomy room, waiting for the last and greatest of their number to arrive. As they waited in their deeply cushioned chairs, they exchanged significant glances, but no talk. It had come to this. If the ancient calculations were correct, the time was right for their order to take on the mantle of power, or lose it forever. Either way, nothing would be the same again after tonight. If the calculations were correct.
A door creaked open, the light from the hallway spilled in to scatter the darkness to the far corners of the room. A man stepped under the engraved lintel and the atmosphere in the room chilled. Not that this was a frightening man. By every standard of men, he was utterly unremarkable in outward appearance. His features did not cause fear and trembling among the men of the order, but if anyone were to catch a glimpse of the eyes shadowed under hooded brow, they would feel as though the weight of three and a half thousand years of watching were suddenly resting on them. Unprepossessing as this man may appear, those gathered in this room had no doubt that he brought them word of their salvation, or their doom, and they feared the power that his next words would hold. This gathering was well acquainted with words of power, they knew and revered words, and one who could weld powerful words gained their respect, and their fear.
As the man reached the foot of the massive table around which they were seated, he placed his hands on its dark surface, and slid his fingers along the grain of the wood, caressing it like a lover would touch his beloved. The gathered knew that this man held a power over certain aspects of nature, and although truth and speculation intertwined inseparably where he was concerned, many present had heard that the table at which they sat was of his making.
He looked up at the men waiting eagerly for his next statement. Two words rang out and they knew that they were on a new path, that the old had passed away. Two words set their course and started them towards their destiny.