If there are no limits to the horizon then there is no limit to growth
|May 31st 2055|
"Why do empires rise and fall? Are the reasons economic, technological, religious, or cultural?"
Peter Chavez contemplated his history lecturer's question, from decades earlier, as he prepped his spacecraft, the Santa Maria, for launch.
The cockpit was spacious by comparison with spaceships from previous eras. But he would fly this ship alone for the test flight. Though in peak physical condition and all muscle and bone and an expert pilot Peter knew he had little to do when the launch came. He would sit there through the immense acceleration and he would live or he would die. He would be a returning hero or a martyr for the cause.
"Houston, pre-flight checks are complete," replied Chavez. All the lights on the console in front of him were green.
"Affirmative, we are go for countdown," replied a bass voice from Houston.
In the silence of the cockpit, Peter looked down at his colorful touchpad controls and screens. This was a moment of wonder, a massive achievement and the fulfillment of so many dreams.
The experimental drive combined anti-matter and anti-gravity technologies, enabling his craft to defy the old laws of physics and travel faster than the speed of light. In effect, he had unlimited energy and an antigravity drive that could reduce the weight of his mass to zero. With unlimited energy and zero weight, it was possible to travel at impossible velocities.
Unmanned trials complete, almost instantaneous travel to every part of the galaxy now seemed possible. Animal testing had demonstrated the need for a dampening field to cocoon life in a protective bubble that could survive the immense turns of speed. Thankfully the chimps had come back alive in the last test. This would be the first manned test flight.
He waited as the countdown approached zero. His thoughts wandered as he contemplated his existence and tried to fit the immense thing he was doing right now into some kind of context and overall perspective. He recalled the history of the Texas Spaceport. Decades before, the first starships had launched there to Mars and a city had been built on that planet. It had prospered and grown as the immense rare earth and lithium resources of Mars were mined for massive profits on Earth. Once there were more than a million people living there it had become self-supporting and people still lived there despite the harsh conditions on the planet.
Chavez's thoughts returned to his history lecturer's question about the rise and fall of empires. The Romans were halted in their expansion by defeat in the German forests, by the barrier of Persia in the east and the Sahara in the south. The Mongols managed to take Asia in its entirety but self-sabotaged with clan rivalries, decimated by natural disasters, including the bubonic plague. The British, with their command of the seas, found empty or half-filled spaces all around the world to expand into. They lost it all because their ideals did not allow them to oppress aspiring nations and peoples and because their victories against tyrannies destroyed their economy.
Now the world was a stagnant place. Population pressure, lack of space and resources and the environmental degradation that was a consequence of overcrowding were all issues. The focus of many nations was on control, stability and the status quo as well as minimizing industry and growth to save the planet. If space travel became easy, of course, all of that changed. Then the horizons became unlimited and the possibilities for growth were endless. This was the reason this flight had to succeed, humanity needed that boundless frontier.
June 20th 2355
The USA never shared the FTL drive that Chavez successfully tested that day. The Chinese and the Russians were earthbound and locked in the boundaries of their planetary states. The US actively prohibited them from accessing anything but near space after it developed a space fleet disarming these nations of all nuclear weapons also. Many of the people there later emigrated to the USA or Europe, with its continual demand for workers resulting from the depopulation pressures of outward emigration to the new colonies. Large numbers of colonists were carried from friendly nations to the vast open spaces of the new worlds every day. Any Chinese or Russian emigrants to the new worlds had to abide by Galactic Republic laws and in the main learn English to qualify for the right to leave Earth. The new Galactic Republic was determined not to export its earthbound rivalries into the new worlds but to maintain unity and open trade across the galaxy instead. This caused a lot of resentment in China and Russia but no one really cared so long as they were contained.
For three hundred years the Galactic Republic added planet after planet to its membership. They discovered no life but many desolate worlds with perfect atmospheres and abundant water at the correct distance from their star. Seed banks from the Earth and starter soils were sent in abundance on heavy cargo ships. A whole new industry of off-world habitats dedicated to the production of soil was developed in fact for export to the new worlds, complete with earthworms and all the tiny bugs needed in a functioning ecosystem. Other habitats developed plants of every kind for every kind of conceivable world. There are 200 terraformed worlds out there, with more discovered every day. With unlimited energy, mineral wealth and space for life to grow, the horizons were boundless. The universe spoke English, was culturally Christian and lived in freedom; the Space Force patrolled the interstellar routes and piracy was rare. Life was good and humanity prospered.
The direct descendant of Peter Chavez, John, sat on his porch on Kepler-Prime in the Kepler-442 star system. In the night sky, he could see the big rocky mass of Kepler-442b and if he turned his head the Sol system was one of those pricks of light in the dark sky. There were no lights nearby except those of the city about twenty miles to the east, and his own family was asleep in the mansion behind him.
Chavez had ten sons and daughters, some now out there on other worlds, others with their own farms and businesses elsewhere on the planet. It was the unmarried ones that had stayed to help with his estate. His wife had died some years before, and the stress of bearing all those children was no doubt a factor. They used robots for a lot of the farm work and an AI controlled multiple tractors plowing the fields. The nearby city was named Chavez City after his pioneer relative and had grown big. This ensured that his farm always had a ready market for its products. The land had grown green with a healthy mix of forests, grassland, farmed land and market garden greenhouses, as well as storage warehouses and food processing plants. Windmills dotted the landscape, as did solar farms and a small hydroelectric dam was also there. He exported his electricity surplus to the city.
Antimatter plants were banned on Kepler-Prime following an explosion on another planet that had proven an extinction-level event for the local colonists. The spaceport was a safe distance from the city now and only small shuttles and cargo vessels were permitted to land there using antigravity for their descents and their antimatter drives only to reenter orbit. Colony ships bringing emigrants from other worlds would dock in a spaceport off-world and then be shuttled down. This was now the practice across the star systems. There were strict protocols controlling the use of antimatter energy, but healthy traffic between worlds continued.
Chavez looked up in wonder at the stars, knowing that he had family on many of them and said a silent prayer directed at each of his children in each of their systems.
October 3rd 2465
It was hundred years ago that the last ship came from Earth. The Great Plague wiped out many worlds and the rest had gone into quarantine. Contact and trade between the worlds withered and many became republics or even kingdoms of their own. Keplar Prime remained a republic, fearful of outsiders. The only way to deal with the plague was isolation and the extermination of anyone who became infected. There was a small outbreak near the spaceport in the early years, but everyone infected had been exterminated right away and so Keplar Prime had managed to survive those years mainly intact. But now population pressures were growing and the people were looking outward again. The restored link with the survivors on Earth was part of that outreach. The meeting would take place on the off-world spaceport now mainly used for mining vessels from within the Keplar-442 system.
"Ambassador Jones, my name is Robert Chavez, welcome to the Keplar system."
"Are you a relative of the great Peter Chavez?" asked the ambassador from Earth.
"Yes, though we are separated by four centuries now." Chavez smiled and pointed to the seats around the conference table. A great window to the side of the conference room on the spaceport provided an excellent view of the blue-green planet below. Like his long-dead relative Chavez was tall dark haired and Hispanic in appearance, he had the same confidence and swagger also, according to those who studied the film of those times.
"How was your journey to Keplar?" asked Chavez.
"We were attacked by pirates, believe it or not. But their ships were mainly pre-plague in design and we were able to destroy those parasites quite easily."
"I noticed some blast marks on your hull. I thought Space Force had piracy under control."
"Space Force was devastated by the plague, leaving empty ships floating in space. The plague was engineered by the Russian and Chinese states, as you know and they then commandeered many of those vessels and have used them for piracy ever since. They succeeded in completely destroying all trade between the worlds in the early years before we found the cure and vaccinated our people. We annexed Russia and China to the Earth Republic and have since built better and stronger ships than the ones we had before. We are hunting down every last one of those pirate vermin. The ambassador spoke with some vehemence and passion on this issue. We are trying to rebuild the Galactic Republic and the trade that once existed between the worlds. But many planets have grown suspicious or have built new alliances of their own. We are hoping to rebuild the links between the planets. We can offer Space Force protection on trade routes and the possibility of renewed expansion. I notice that the size of your cities has grown considerably since we were last here and I suspect you may well be interested in renewed expansion," said Ambassador Jones.
"We only shut the door because of the plague and as you say, our people are now looking outward once more. If you have a vaccine and better ships than the pirates, it seems you are a useful friend to have. What would you want in return?"
"Well, as you know, there is the 3.5% tax to support Space Force and the Galactic government and then support in recapturing the lost worlds also."
"Why bother fighting for these when the horizons are unlimited and we can simply replace them with new worlds?"
"Because some of them are now funding pirate fleets of their own and disrupting intergalactic trade."
"I see. How many worlds are in the Galactic Republic right now?"
"Just 27, well, 28 if you join us. The largest pirate state is called New Russia and consists of seven worlds. They are mainly using hundred-year-old technology, while we have advanced considerably since the plague. The people of these worlds are oppressed by a bunch of vicious Russian-speaking pirates and need liberating."
"My recommendation is that we reconnect with the Earth. I am sure that is what my famous relative would have wanted all those years ago when he discovered this world for the first time," said Chavez.
The ambassador smiled as they shook hands.