The Now is what the ancients would call “year 3126.” We do not call it that anymore. It is pointless to cite large numbers that remind us how far we had come, and how far we have fallen. Since we do not even know where Old Earth is anymore, and cannot reach it – we use a new way of telling time, the sector cycle. In our sector of space, it is cycle 206.
Not much is known about the ancient past. What we know is what survivors recorded or told us. They described a vast galactic nation – the Domain of Man. Spanning hundreds of thousands of worlds in the Milky Way, ruled by the Ecumenical Benevolent Council, with its seat at Old Earth… It is told that one could travel the stars in the blink of an eye through gates constructed by the men of the Domain. Resources were nearly limitless, growth was not bound. Our sector was relatively new on the scene. Some worlds in it had only been settled for 20 or so cycles before the great calamity. The populations of the planets in our sector were still giddy with the initial excitement that every new venture brings. The sector was truly a heaven that we can now only dream of, hoping we go to a place like it when we die.
No one knows for sure what caused the end of this paradise. The records and stories only tell us bits and pieces. Exactly 206 cycles ago, all gates in our sector went dead at once. All communication links to the Domain were severed. Initially, there was no great disturbance in the daily lives of the colonists, it was assumed the gates would be reopened by the Domain, and communications reestablished. So they waited. But the gates were silent.
The conflict that almost consumed the entire sector began as a simple resource fight. Most of the colonies that were already established at the time were not yet self sufficient in their food production. It was Domain policy that one in five settled worlds should become a farming world, given time and proper terraforming. However, the vast technological superiority of the Domain meant that even a planet considered a barren rock by men today, could be nurtured to become such a breadbasket. The new colonies were picked almost at random, as the Domain had confidence that their great industry and logistics could deliver the required biomass to the sector as it was needed. Sadly, most of the settled worlds were nowhere near autonomy from this logistical juggernaut when the calamity struck. Only a few of the worlds had received the necessary shipments of soil nanites. Fewer still had actual farms producing foodstuffs.
Within a week of the Collapse, as it was now being called, colonies sent supply ships to the dead gates. Their intent was simply to be first to go through and resupply, if the gates miraculously opened. Some colonies sent their own patrol craft in order to maintain order. Tensions rose and the inevitable occurred – a patrol craft attempting to place warning shots instead found its mark, and blood was spilled. Others immediately avenged their losses. The sites of the dead gates became the first battlefields of a conflict that few yet dared call war.
The strife quickly migrated to the home fronts. As colonies had no planetary defense installations, commando raids for supplies became commonplace. Crafty spaceborne pillagers would wait for the marines to do their work, and ambush their transports on the way back from successful raids. The resulting chaos spread and brought famine to all colonies.
The only way colonies could build new war materiel was to rely on autofactories programmed with the correct blueprints. Orbital docks worked in a similar fashion to the ground factories and they too were limited in this fashion. Very few of the colonists were knowledgeable enough to even activate these massively complicated devices, and they lacked the precious blueprints that were the input of the machines. Everyone knew what they wanted built – a tractor, a rifle, a ship’s engine. But no one knew how to build these things. A priori knowledge of concepts helped the colonists make progress, but they lacked many of the blueprints used all over the Domain to build everything from utensils to spaceships.
A blueprint consists of a factory control program stored on a Universal Access Chip. Most are also augmented with custom circuitry, and decades of corporate competition ensured that the chips are nearly impossible to duplicate, leaving companies with a tight hold on their manufacture. Before the Collapse blueprints of all items made in the Domain had been available from their makers, but not many such blueprints had found their way into the sector. The few functioning autofactories had them on hand, while the rest belonged to armchair historians, tinkers, and the insatiably curious. Overnight, these devices had become the most valuable commodity in the entire sector. The people that had access to the chips were rarely able to benefit from this value, as others, a more cunning and ruthless lot, were quick to ‘liberate’ the UACs from their rightful owners. Whether it was a forced barter, a theft, or worse, the chips quickly found their way into the hands of the highest bidder, no questions asked. Seeing this, many owners hid their UACs where ever they could, in the hopes of being able to recover them at a later time. Some were buried, others launched into low orbit, hidden in asteroid fields, frozen within glaciers on icy moons or simply jettisoned out the nearest airlock, lest they fall into the hands of those that did not deserve them.
Of course, not all colonists were so wicked. Some were able to band together – the Hegemony of today was the result of such an alliance, one of necessity between the military, farmers and workers. About three months after the Collapse, a Domain task force emerged from hyperspace in the sector. It was named Strike Force Pollux, and consisted of elements of the 14th Domain Naval Battle Group. The ships were running on full automation, as it was sent many years ago with the objective of studying the effect of long term cryo-sleep on human beings. Soldiers from the disgraced 200th Legion constituted the bulk of the test subjects. As the officers and crew of the task force were awakened, they quickly recognized the small colonial community was on the brink of collapse.
The task force could not be matched in battle in space or planetside, but they lacked crucial supplies. They sought to annex worlds that needed their protection, and that could also feed the tens of thousands of their soldiers and crew. The farmers of Verdaria II, and the men who maintained the works in an industrial autoworld of Hastaeus Prime were annexed first to secure basic provisions and repair facilities for the fleet. They were followed by the fledgling colony of Itos II, highly sought for the rare resources found there. These three core worlds and the men and women of the Domain task force were the foundation of the Hegemony.
Others tried to emulate the organizational success of the Hegemony, but were never able to match it. Worlds that allied themselves were either too far apart to help one another, or too close to a precious resource they would have to share. In the cases that was not true, they simply could not use what little industrial capacity they had to build an army quickly enough, before their enemies struck and eliminated any progress. One such alliance was formed by the only real marines in the sector at the time of the Collapse. A detachment sent by the Domain pre-Collapse, as matter of policy, they were hardly an elite unit. However, they had the equipment and the mentality to be fighters. The name of the unit was the 465th Legion, and their settled world remains Selenius IV, in the Selenius system. They banded together with those they considered their fighting equals in space – a patrol wing of the Naval Colonial Security Forces, based off the asteroid belt in the Sanguinar Major system. Neither one of the units accepted the control of Task Force Pollux and fought for the independence of their planets. They fought not only the Hegemony, but pirates and corsairs, warlords, Ludii and other small time alliances.
And so, time passed, as we were locked in a constant struggle with one another. In the 206 cycles since the Collapse, many factions and alliances have vied for control of the slowly diminishing industrial capacity of the sector. None have been able to dislodge the Hegemony from their high seat. With available resources, but with fewer and fewer functioning industrial facilities and ships, it may be only a matter of time before it is toppled. When that will happen, none of us can say. Neither can anyone predict how our fates will change should that come to pass.