The Twilight of the Known Worlds
The chronicle of humanity’s history among the stars is a long one, stretching over two millennia. It is not a quiet story. From the greedy planet-grabbing of early colonists to the bloody battles of the Emperor Wars, humans have rarely slept peacefully in the void. They have prospered, suffered defeat, and dared to hope again. And they have not traveled down the paths of history alone; aliens walk among them, with long histories and destinies of their own to complete.
First Republic (2300 – 2500)
Humanity first reached the stars under the auspices of the First Republic, a one-world government run by the “zaibatsu”: greedy mercantile barons whose corporate states replaced the nations of the earth. The zaibatsu colonized the solar system in search of new sources of wealth and mineral resources. At the edge of the solar system they found the jumpgate. This ancient artifact of alien manufacture baffled and awed humanity. It took many years of research to unlock even the most basic secrets of its technology, but its main function was clear: it opened portals to distant star systems. Diligent scientists constructed the first jump drive, an engine installed on a spaceship which could propel the ship through the gate, transporting it instantly into foreign space light years away. The exodus began. At first, the zaibatsu carefully controlled the manufacture and ownership of jump ships and reaped the resources of the new worlds and solar systems. Additionally, they outlawed and suppressed a religious movement which grew around the jump experience, based on a mystical experience common to many jump pilots: the Sathra Effect, so called because of the first words from the lips of ecstatic pilots. The zaibatsu installed dampers on ships which ended the communion and halted the rebellious religion. But such repression was not long suffered. Anarchists leaked the secret of the technology to the public, and nobody could keep back the vast wave of people seeking to escape corporate tyranny and claim worlds of their own. The First Republic collapsed in a civil war over ever-expanding territory and diminishing loyalties.
Diaspora (2500 – 3500)
The new universe of Human Space was made up of fractured, planetary nations, some democratic, some totalitarian. Many of the original rulers of these worlds created dynasties which would last for millennia: the first noble houses to rule the stars. But years of political and social experiments yielded only chaos and strife between worlds. Into this dangerous universe came the Prophet, a man with a vision of Creation he claimed was gifted to him by God, whom he called the Pancreator. The Prophet gathered disciples and followers about him and performed many miracles. A humanity desperate for unity and hope looked to the Prophet for their answers.
During this time, humanity met its first sentient race, the ungulate Shantor. At first, they were thought to be merely clever horselike beings. But it was soon realized how intelligent they were – and how dangerous. Another sentient race, the Ukar, were gifted with psychic powers – powers which they used to goad the Shantor into a bloody revolt. By the time the truth behind the Shantor’s rage was discovered, it was too late to reform the beasts in humanity’s eyes: the “dangerous and uncontrollable” Shantor were enslaved and moved to reservations across the Known Worlds, breaking up their families and culture. The following Ukar War united humanity against another star-faring race, one inimicable to human interests. With the aid of the Ukar’s cousin race, the Obun, humanity gained ground in their galactic war.
Finally, Palamedes Alecto, follower of the Prophet, led the newly-formed Universal Church of the Celestial Sun against the Ukar on their homeworld. Humanity was victorious, and the place of the Church in future politics and martial power was cemented. Humanity marched across new worlds and subjugated the sentients living upon them, most of whom were incapable of star travel and thus considered inferior. Until the Vau. Humanity met more than its match when it subjugated a peaceful race of gardeners known as the G’nesh. When their overlords arrived from unknown worlds in vastly superior starships with devastating energy weapons, humans had no choice but to fall back and go no further. Luckily, the Vau were non-expansionistic, and pursued no vendetta against humanity. As long as they were left alone, they would cause no trouble – or so most humans believed. But enigmatic “gifts” and lore from the Vau over the centuries have been curiously effective at starting conflicts among humans.
The Second Republic (3500 – 4000)
Eventually, with the unity provided by the Church and economic interests heralded by mercantile leaders, the Second Republic was born, a democratic government which eventually spanned all the worlds of Human Space. Under its auspices, an unprecedented era of prosperity and high technology was initiated. It seemed that there were no limits to human development, no secrets which could not be unlocked by the power of the human mind, along with a little ingenuity and grit. But power eventually seems to coalesce into the hands of a few, especially when the people are no longer vigilant. The noble houses of the Diaspora, still rich but now relegated to meaningless roles, hungered for the vast power they once had and plotted against the Republic. They were aided by a new milleniallism and apocalyptic fever, for scientists had discovered a new, dread phenomenon: the suns were fading. The stars grew dim and no one knew why. The government could not calm the fears of all the worlds, and the untimely crash of the welfare computer system caused riots in every major city on every planet. Rebels rose up and with lightning speed, claimed the central government on Byzantium Secundus. The nobles joined together with the Church to free the capital. Victorious, they refused to return power to the senators and instead seized power for themselves. This ushered in a new age for humanity: a Dark Age of feudal lords, fanatic priests and scheming guilds.
New Dark Age (4000 – Present)
The new lords of the Known Worlds quickly began to war upon one another, with only the largest, most cunning or richest houses rising to prominence, while many others were destroyed. In this chaos, the common people were left defenseless. In desperation, many signed generational contracts with the noble houses, swearing fealty to their local lords for themselves and their children to come. At first, the Church fought such indenture, but it eventually adopted such contracts itself when they proved the only reliable means to raise armies against rivals – and the Church was just as combative and martial as the nobles.
The corporations of the Second Republic were left with little of the spoils. With their holdings seized or signed over forcefully, they had little overt power. But a conglomeration of these corporation banded together to form the Merchant League, and rewrote their charters to form guilds rather than corporations. Guilds could more easily control membership and advancement within their ranks. In addition, the League maintained their secret technological patents, often paying for this privilege with the death of many agents charged with wiping such data from computers the universe over lest it fall into the hands of the noble lords. Without the means to repair their starships and high-tech weaponry, the nobles and the Church could not long stand. After a vicious campaign against the guilds failed to free the League’s secrets, the lords had little choice but to admit the merchant guilds into the halls of power.
Even the Church was forced to concede their power, and issued a Patriarchal Bull allowing only them (along with the nobles and priests) to use certain proscribed high-technologies. Once these scientific secrets were kept from the people, the Known Worlds’ descent into a feudal society was complete: only the upper classes moved among the stars; the peasants lived and died on the planets where they were born. But the Known Worlds were not the only words of Human Space. During the Fall of the Second Republic, many planets were lost, their jump coordinates stolen or the jumpgates sealed. After centuries of absence, some of these worlds reappeared, heralded by barbarian hordes who swept into the Known Worlds, wreaking havoc and looting noble lands.
Emperor Wars (4964 – 4995)
Only a powerful coalition of nobles could defend against the scattered barbarian clans, and only a master tactician could form such a coalition. This man was Vladimir, whose campaign against the barbarians propelled him to power. After his victory against the raiders, he declared himself the first Emperor of the Known Worlds. A campaign of pacification convinced the noble houses to accept his rule. But upon his coronation day, when he placed the crown upon his head, he mysteriously died in a sudden conflagration. His coalition fell apart, and house fell upon house, each blaming the others for the death of Vladimir. Eventually, peace was secured again, sealed with Vladimir’s reforms: all the houses, sects and guilds would vote equally to choose a noble to become Regent, to rule until a new Emperor could be decided upon. It would be nearly half a millennium before an Emperor was again chosen, and only after nearly 40 years of violent war.
The Emperor Wars lasted for two generations, and saw a greater rise in technology than any time since the Second Republic. But it was war tech: powerful killing machines, chemical weapons, fusion bombs and other means of destruction. Finally, one man was victorious: Alexius Hawkwood, the new Emperor of the Fading Suns. In his newly forged reign — now but three years old — peace has finally come. The jumproutes are open again, and pilgrims can travel safely to other worlds. Merchants can once more ply the starlanes, selling exotic goods to people who have not seen them within their grandfather’s lifetimes.
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