Before your worlds there were others. Before your star there were others. Your world and star once belonged to them, before they were scattered and reformed in a different place and a different time. Like moths to flames, stars brought them to life but in a single brilliant flash their homeworlds were destroyed, turning them to flames themselves. Their dust then swirled around your own star, rocks falling down to build your worlds. It was then we arrived…
“Traveler be praised.” We braced ourselves for what was to come.
4 billion years ago we watched over your space, we cared for it as we had many times before. We watched as your Sun grew brighter and worlds coalesced, the heat from a thousand impacts creating rocky planets with molten metal cores on the inner worlds, ejecting ice-rich volatiles outward to create giant gaseous bodies. With every impact, we witnessed new deliveries to those inner worlds from impacts… water from a rouge comet, organic molecules, and eventually, life. On each planet life would spark, like watching lightning strikes from above the clouds, but that spark would go out in an instant as the planets were too turbulent to sustain such tenuous lifeforms. But, with time, Earth became a garden.
It could have happened no other way with this Sun and with these planets. There is always a safe haven.
And, with that… we left. We had seen this process many times before, and it was best for us to leave, it always was. Our search would go on elsewhere. We did not expect to be back just three billion years later, but the Traveler found you in ruin. He saw what you discovered, what had been done, and he knew what you’d become. For all our time, we thought life was the key and in its greatness we would find the answer. We did not know the world itself would rip apart and reveal its secrets.
Now, this small piece of land, your solar system, will be the desire of many.
The Traveler will protect you, but he will not save you. That task is left to your Guardians.
It wasn’t one single discovery that led to the expansion of the human race throughout our solar system. Nor was it a single individual. It was the slow and steady march of progress, first with manned space travel, then commercialization, and within a half century the eventual success of mining corporations on near-Earth asteroids. The initial payouts for deliveries of platinum and other rare-earth elements were meager, but as companies started seeing more profits they improved upon existing technologies, which enabled them to bring back larger and larger quantities of precious resources. Innovative companies found ways to sustain their businesses in space by producing cheap, highly efficient nuclear and solar power, by recycling many of their materials, and by finding ways to grow their own food in space. Within several hundred years, humans were able to live on both mining stations in heliocentric orbit as well as on asteroids, and mankind found itself as a permanent resident in outer space. Colonizing planets, then, was simply a matter of moving facilities established for asteroid mining to the surfaces of larger worlds. Atmosphere wasn’t a problem, as humans had been dealing with a lack of suitable natural air for some time, but having so much available land area was simply too tempting of a proposition. Eventually humans ventured out beyond the confines of their small, terraformed habitats. Many of these first-world colonizers were employed by the mining corporations, paid to prospect for resources that might one day be profitable. The solar system was eventually populated in this way, albeit scattered at first, … a steel refinery on Mars to make use of the vast quantities of iron, followed by the discovery of towering layers of rocks exposed near Mars’ crustal dichotomy found to be rich in sulfur and gypsum. The first prospectors on Europa discovered their own sulfur-rich deposits on its Io-facing side which is periodically blanketed in volcanic gas ejected from the myriad of volcanos on Io’s surface. Europa also provided a continual supply of water to the colonists from both above and below the surface. Deep beneath Europa, volcanic emissions released gases rich in volatiles into the water, resulting in a supersaturated salt water ocean. It was this key that turned Europa from an important resource for human expansion into our solar system, into the hub of human society in space. Europan water was so rich in salt, that even a small radio frequency generator could be used to desalinate the water and release enough energy to meet power needs. This technology was only made possible through hundreds of years of research and innovation. Closer to Earth, atmospheric skimming jets brought containers rich in carbon dioxide and sulfuric acid from Venus while highly efficient solar panels powered gas and mineral refining stations on Mercury. Eventually, mankind was bathed in resources and riches. Humanity had entered the Golden Age.
With such abundant wealth on Earth, corporations established research outposts in hopes of discovering a viable path out of our solar system and onward to more riches. One such stellar observation facility was built on the northern pole of Triton, as Triton’s rotational axis was so tilted (nearly 90 degrees) with respect to its orbit around Neptune that the pole provided a unique location from which to study the stars. Telescopes based here could continually monitor our galaxy by looking directly outward and away from Neptune throughout the year. It was on Triton that a stellar cartographer discovered a curious increase in the frequency of novae emitted from the nearby pulsar. A brief report sent to Europa documented her observations. She noted, “the interval between novae suggests the pulsar might now be part of a binary system which has resulted in increased mass accretion onto the pulsar.” She suggested increased observations from terrestrial telescopes, however, maintained that the novae should not result in any imminent threat to our solar system.
Ten years later all the moths had come and humanity’s presence in our solar system was reduced to one City underneath the Traveler.
Carefully stepping over a dead tree, cradling his carbine with one finger on the trigger, the Guardian looked up at the gently sloping mountain in the distance. He could just make out the cliffs at the base of the gently sloped, yet titanic, mountain from his vantage point to the southeast. Olympus Mons, the tallest volcano on any planet in the solar system, is so massive that it literally cracked Mars’ surface around it, breaking the ground and exposing layers of ancient rocks. The Guardian had come to Ulysses Fossae, one of those cracks surrounding Olympus Mons, to look for clues to humanity’s Golden Age buried in the layers of rocks and mud. He took a quick survey of the horizon for Cabal search parties, then started his traverse into the canyon. The Cabal had been a persistent force on Mars for as long as he could remember and, like much of the solar system, remained a mystery to him while he was raised in the protective confines of the City. He had learned about the Cabal originally from his father, a librarian, who mostly maintained a variety of modern works written from within the City. Occasionally, though, he talked about a few, much older, texts with other collectors. One such manuscript, titled “On Stellar Alignment” was published in the Outer Planets Journal of Astrophysical Theory and dated back several hundred years ago. He wasn’t much of an astronomer, but if he understood correctly, the theory indicated that there are “vibrational modes” within our galaxy that occur on the order of every 4-5 billion years. The author postulated that since our galaxy consists of many solar systems all orbiting a central mass and that those solar systems are themselves composed of smaller bodies which orbit central masses of their own, there must exist a state in which all the planets in those systems and all the individual systems could align in such a way that our galaxy would achieve a state of “resonance”. The author did not state the implications of this resonance, but the Guardian’s father had routinely discussed this theory with friends who had their own small collections from the Golden Age. One such relict was a brief transcript regarding a nearby pulsar emitting at an irregular frequency, which several scholars believed was related to the resonance. Others indicated that the Traveler was drawn to us by a blinding light. Still others suggested that the resonance ripped our worlds apart, burying our greatest achievements and laying others in ruin, while simultaneously lighting a flame that brought the Cabal and all the other moths to us. Surrounded by these stories in his youth, the Guardian knew that some answers must lie buried in the ruins of humanity scattered throughout the solar system. One transcript described a steel factory on Mars near Ulysses Fossae which provided building materials and resources to the outer worlds, namely Triton, where it was believed that humanity first learned of the resonance. If he could find a name or even an organization, he could go back to the City to help piece together the lost time and understand what became of humanity’s great empire.
He looked up at the layered outcrop beside him and noticed a thin band of rock much darker than the rest. He touched it… smooth, translucent, like glass. Embedded in the rock just below the glass was a steel beam. Just as he reached for it he heard the crack of a sniper rifle, a brilliant flash, and rocks falling around him. He reached for his carbine as he knelt to the ground, spotting two Cabal above him on either side of the canyon walls.
“Traveler be praised.” Bracing himself for what was to come, he fired two quick shots and watched the lifeless Cabal fall into the canyon below.
In the life and death of stars, we have seen the creation of new worlds and new stars. And in between, the same patterns repeat themselves again and again.
But the resonance creates a window of opportunity, a brief time to control your own fate, your own destiny. Your worlds will be ripped apart, left changed and unfamiliar. The moths will come. Some will have seen this before, wielding power to bend time and space. There is a key that they seek, a way out, but it is hidden from all. The resonance has revealed it, if you know where to look.
We were fortunate to escape.
“Traveler be praised.”