The Void Cavalcade

Photo by Ravvyn Evermore (Used with permission)

Earth isn’t gone. But sometimes, we wish it was.

When all this started, we’d just achieved long-range spaceflight with the Cleave drives – my great-grandparents were on one of the first cruisers out to the Alpha Centauri system. Kind of a big deal, getting to escape the solar system like that. We’d managed to colonize a few worlds in our backyard, but ideal they weren’t; if we could get our ships to cut through interstellar space the way they did in our neighbourhood, we might have a better chance at finding a liveable world.

Terraforming? That’s a fool’s errand. Best you can hope for is to change a series of icy moons into windy dustballs that snow like the devil’s dandruff, or make a bunch of dry rocks into slightly moist ones. ‘Course, other folks in the galaxy might have other notions, but they weren’t around then; it was just humans trying to find a new home in the badlands.

Then the Collapse happened. More literal than I think most folks understand. See, some people didn’t think the Cleave drives were all that great outside our solar system – hell, some didn’t like them beyond ferrying to the moon and back! So they started working on wormholes and faster-than-light drives, still science fiction in an age where we’d grown trees on Mars. And, as tends to happen, somebody slipped up.

Whole chunk of old Earth got swallowed up in a subspace wormhole, sent to who-knows-where, and sent the old girl a’spinnin’ in her orbit. Moon base got peppered like a shotgun – not much left of that. Think some of it even got to Venus. So when people say “Earth’s gone”, they’re usually just trying to forget about it. It’s like a burned-down home; better to leave it in the past, they think. But if we don’t remember Why it happened, well. Might just be someone slips up down the line and makes another Briggand’s Fault.

There’s a stretch – here, let me pull up the map – a big stretch of space that’s all kinds of unruly. Briggand’s Fault, the Briar Patch, the Void Trench; thing’s got as many names as there are species out there. And it’s nearly four thousand lightyears long. Nobody quite knew where it had come from, and with the loss of Earth and the state of flux it put the rest of our home system in, nobody was too keen to spend resources to find out. But over time, after the other races started coming up on our radars, after the Caravans became not only viable but essential, folk started poking around.

Turns out, that’s where that chunk of Earth got to. Somehow, the wormhole opened up way across space, but it cut a path like a jagged knife, and now it’s a pain to try and get around. Most Caravans just skirt it – Cleave drives are sturdy nowadays, but there’s no telling what the Fault will do to them. Or you.

Now, I know there’s plenty of info on us on the Lace, plus every other type of folk out there, but there’s one thing most humans hold true: a real FTL drive is proper science fiction. Can’t happen. But every now and then you’ll hear rumours, hearsay about a new device that can hop over the galaxy like an interstellar rabbit.

Eh? Oh, it’s a – look, it’s just a metaphor. Haven’t had rabbits around for a century or more.

All i’m saying is, if we want to keep exploring, and getting further out, we’re gonna need something faster than Cleaving. ‘Cause even with a Caravan as big as this, it’s still gonna take us the better part of a month to get out to your folks. Yeah, I know it’s only ninety-odd lightyears out, but that’s the limit. We go any faster, we’re liable to make a big line of trash and flash-frozen corpses for the next Caravan to run into. Just sit tight.

Safer here than on your own, at least.

Earth is a broken relic of a time before the Caravans; back then, massive cities were the norm, with small towns and villages surrounding them. It’s been almost two centuries now since the Collapse, and it’s difficult to find a world that will support that kind of growth, let alone enough material and time to build it. Even with the new technologies brought in by the other races, there are no more than a few dozen sheltered cities scattered among the stars, with numerous colonies and asteroid bases between.

Supporting (and in some cases replacing) these are the Caravans – large co-ops of ships, lashing their Cleave drives together to allow speedy travel between the stars. They run on various routes, acting as a home for merchants, passengers, explorers and smugglers alike. Small ferry craft buzz between larger ships like bees, and the greatest Caravans have more population than some planetbound cities do, and just as much economy.

Unlike a city of old, however, they are self-governed; no one group or power holds sway over all Caravans (Though there’s plenty of rumours of a shadow government). Anyone could start their own if they wished (and had enough ships to make it viable), but most simply buy into existing fleets, adding their skills and ship(s) to a growing population. The more ships, the less fuel it costs to fly. This is the beauty of the Cleave drive: much like geese flying in formation, the ships reduce “drag” from spacetime itself, allowing a circumventing of physics without serious incident. The Caravans are the lifeblood of this region of the galaxy, and anyone with a dream or a scheme knows how important they can be.

There’s plenty of work for mercenaries, smugglers, engineers, explorers, to say nothing of artists and diplomats. And if you’re looking to find new horizons, there are a few Caravans that take long arcs out into unexplored space, braced for adventure and bountiful new lands. There’s an Eden out there, somewhere. And whoever finds it first might have the best chance at life on solid ground – or become a sure target for every other scavenger out there.

For the rest of us, well. There’s always signing up with the PAD.

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