1876-1879: The Society

"The Society" appeared in the latter half of the 19th Century and, over the next five decades, fed the world new scientific theories, philosophies and other ideas doing so without prejudice or favour... by the end of the nineteenth century, various nations had launched one or more permanently orbiting satellites. Twenty years later, with the launch of the first ever generation ship and the rush of similar ships that followed, humanity finally became a truly spacefaring race.

History: 1876-1879 Over the next two and a half centuries, humanity spread out amongst the nearby stars, terraforming and colonising worlds to suit their needs.

In February, most of the world's major newspapers carried a short article detailing an announcement given by Alexander Graham Bell at the end of the first public demonstration of what he called his "telephone". The announcement introduced The Society for the Promotion of Science and gave a brief statement on their behalf.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, I have been asked to make a short statement on behalf of The Society for the Promotion of Science. The Society has, for some considerable time, been surreptitiously feeding the knowledge for scientific and technological advance into societies around the world... the demonstration I gave today was one as a beneficiary of that knowledge. The Society now believes the time has come to reveal their organisation and to increase that knowledge flow. The Society claims that, from this day on, the world will see scientific and social advancement the like of which no one has heretofore seen."

Bell gave no details of what The Society was, its members or how he fitted into their plan and, as nothing further happened for several weeks, the initially derisive editorials slowly faded.

On the first day of April most of the world's major newspapers carried adverts indicating that, on Mayday, The Society would present the first of these advancements to workers in the field of radio communication at The Albert Hall in London. The adverts stated that on this occasion security services and political representatives would also be allowed to attend but that in future they would not be welcome.

On Mayday, in front of an expectant crowd of inventors and researchers, a relatively unknown worker in the field presented significant new information to his co-workers and, after the presentation, the "guests" were all issued booklets containing detailed information to take back with them to their own countries. The format of the presentation was the one that would be adopted in many future presentations varying only by subject, presenter and venue.

After the presentation, the presenter was quietly arrested and questioned by British agents, observed by representatives of the Russian and American Security Services. He was found to know nothing since he had been contacted by letter and the packs delivered to him the day before the presentation. Despite strenuous efforts on the part of various national security agencies, no one was able to track back from the presenter to his unknown employers. 

Encouraged by The Society, Lodge and Popov cooperated to demonstrate full two-way communication by radio.

The Society invited scientists and workers in the field of rocketry to a demonstration and, following the presentation, attendees were issued with technical briefs to take back with them to their own countries. The various secret services attempted to infiltrate the presentation but disappeared to be found later miles from the venue. The presenter, again no one of any specific repute in the field, was questioned but to no avail.

In 1882, Imperial Russia and Germany (Deutsches Kaiserreich) launched the first multi-stage rockets. This affected the design of all rockets for the next few decades.

The Society, fielding a variety of presenters, held a series of briefs designed to advance the field of rocketry. Although the security services questioned presenters and attendees briefly they realised they would know very little and instead began to place spies in or around their social groups.

Over the next few decades, The Society held weekly presentations covering a wide range of technologies as well as social and religious philosophies.

In 1885, Britain, America and France launched rockets that orbited the Earth before returning. The British and American rockets both carried animals, mice and a Rhesus Monkey respectively. All rockets returned to Earth but the British rocket returned during a massive storm and was lost at sea off the northern coast of Australia.

In 1892, Imperial Russia launched the first unmanned permanently orbiting satellite with America and Britain launched unmanned satellites the following year.

The Society invited scientists and workers in the field of radioactivity to a demonstration of nuclear power generation. In the same year, The Society demonstrated a number of other advanced science technologies in the fields of medicine, printed circuit boards and the basics of electronic computational processing.

In 1895, Germany and France launched the first truly useful permanent satellites carrying optical telescopes for cosmological observation. Russia and America launched more satellites and, by the end of the year, America was perceived as "winning" the "space race" because she had three satellites in stable orbit one of which was rumoured to be a spy satellite.

America signed the 1896 Mutual Defence Treaty with Mexico which would one day inspire an empire. All the major powers and several minor powers launched satellites and several media pundits began to wonder about the crowded skies over the Earth. Two years later, the Hawaiian government agreed to US annexation despite the majority of its population favouring independence. Various nations continued to launch satellites and, in a surprise move, Japan launched its first satellites, a network of six, into high orbit. The move surprises the major space powers but, despite efforts to establish their purpose, no one can figure what the Japanese were planning though it was clear the satellites seemed observation oriented and, unlike so many other nations, were scanning the skies instead of the Earth beneath them.

In the last month of the century, Britain launched the first manned orbital mission with the ship returning to land in Northern Australia twelve hours later.

The Central American Republic, a loose coalition of six nations, signed a treaty of mutual aid with America and Mexico while Chile negotiated with her neighbours to form a mutual aid alliance. America, Russia, China and several European nations launched manned orbital missions with the Russians breaking the record in late December, keeping astronaut Vladimir Obruchev in orbit for seven days. Britain built the first nuclear-based power station at Dungeness in Kent, closely followed by a second at Sellafield in Cumbria.

With the early January press full of reports on how the Americans were losing the space race, America launched the first of a series of rockets designed to create a stable semi-military station in orbit. Not to be outdone Russia started to plan its own station.

In 1901, Queen Victoria died. On the same day, Britain launched an expandable modular station into orbit, HMSS Endeavour, designed for cosmological observation. The five-ton module was revolutionary inasmuch as it was designed for the attachment of additional modules and for docking with spacecraft. The British claim to have designed the first universal module attachment device which, in principle, would allow the ships of any nation to dock with their station.

In 1902, shortly after the formation of their new alliance, with the Central Americas, the United Empire of America completed assembly of their space station UEA01 and launched it to permanent orbit. Weighing in at a massive forty-seven tons and permanently manned by a rotating crew of twelve, the station was built around a large central module that housed the world's smallest nuclear fission power plant. Russia and China launched a cooperative venture designed to build their own station. Britain launched a second module and successfully linked it to the first, the installation had a permanent rotating crew of four.

The Society invited physicists and workers in the field of radio to a demonstration on advanced instantaneous communication. At the end of the presentation, the presenter asked that two of the attendees, James Maxwell and Guglielmo Marconi, join him for a drink during which he told them his employers suggested the two inventors work together. Surprisingly they agreed

In 1904, the Russians and Chinese launched their first space station which was brought online only to suffer a reactor meltdown three weeks later, with the UEA chief suspects even though there was no direct evidence and they protested their innocence. Two of the crew were killed, one was injured and three escaped unharmed but the small Nikolaiev II vehicle attached to the space station was damaged and was determined unlikely to be able to return to Earth safely. Neither the Russians or Chinese had a vehicle ready to launch and the surviving cosmonauts had less than two days air remaining.

Without official permission, the Russian Ambassador to Great Britain approached a British colleague to let him know what had happened and, a few hours later, the British Government tactfully offered assistance to the cosmonauts if they could get their vehicle to HMSS Endeavour. With some reluctance, the Russian and Chinese governments agreed and the small craft, using attitude jets only, slowly made its way to the British space station. Despite the design, the universal module attachment device did not work as intended and a British astronaut spacewalked to the partially attached Sino-Soviet ship, sealing it to the station using a form of expandable foam. The cosmonauts, finally able to board Endeavour, stayed for 36 hours and then were shuttled down to the British, Northern Australian spaceport. The wounded cosmonaut's heart and breathing stopped on the journey down but another cosmonaut kept him alive by rebreathing and heart compressions.

In early 1905, Maxwell & Marconi demonstrated the very first hyper-radio communication between completely opposite points of the globe, without cables or booster units. Late in the year, the pair demonstrated further advances in hyper-radio where they heterodyned photographic information on the signal.

The "space race" continued over the next two decades and primary communications became wireless and networked but remained essentially national with very little communication between nations except at the political level. As a result, the world failed to develop as quickly in a social sense as it did technologically.

Much to the annoyance of the resurgent British Empire, the new United Empire of America and other more powerful nations, The Society continued to feed new scientific developments to all nations and, by 1910, at least fifteen nations had manned satellites in orbit while The British Empire, as well as the American and Sino-Russian alliances, had established fledgling bases on the moon. Other important technologies revealed by The Society revealed the science behind the possible terraforming of other worlds and the ability to communicate in full colour moving images across unlimited distance. The larger nations increased their efforts to find The Society but were only able to establish that it was not a single entity but a committee of scientists, philosophers, entrepreneurs and philanthropists. Public theories were rife with ideas of The Society being based in a "cloaked" spaceship somewhere in orbit, on the moon or even on other solar planets.

In late 1915, the British Empire launched the very first manned mission to Mars whilst the Americans launched another only a few months later towards the moons of Jupiter. The Russians launched an independent mission to Venus and a joint Sino-Indian mission is launched towards the moons of Saturn. The missions carried between eighty and two hundred crews of both sexes and none were expected to return to Earth in their own lifetimes.

Global tensions rose as the third decade opened as Japan, in a further surprise move, built and launched the massive, kilometre long Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi towards Rigil Kentaurus. Very little was known about the mission except that it was a generation ship carrying over two thousand fairly young people as well as banks of flora, fauna, human embryos and terraforming equipment. The Tsurugi was expected to make the trip in about fifty years and, although many of the crew would see the new star close up, the new explorers would be their children and children's children.

Global tensions collapsed as nations refocused on the stars. One UEA presidential candidate went as far as to say that the massive human expansion was a good thing, acting as a safety valve and likely to prevent the massive wars everyone had been expecting to occur. Within a year, most major nations had launched one or more generation ships of their own towards local stars and clusters. With Tsurugi's engine technology based on relatively old technology, the major nations were able to launch ships with faster expected flight times although they still expected to take several generations to reach their destinations.

Six years later, the British Empire launched four twelve hundred metre Britannia class generation ships, Caledonia, Cymru, Hibernia and Britannia. Each ship carried over fifteen hundred crew and huge flora and fauna seedbanks including around ten thousand frozen human embryos.

A year after that, the UEA launched seven generation ships, the eleven hundred metre Audacious class (Audacious, Resolution and Courageous) and thirteen hundred metre Intrepid class (Endeavour, Intrepid, Illustrious and Enterprise). The ship's designers favoured smaller crews and larger seedbanks with over thirty thousand frozen embryos.

As the third decade closed, the Russian Empire, once again allied with the Chinese, launched fifteen converted ships of various classes ranging from the six hundred metre Suiren to the fourteen hundred metre Kirov. Each ship had relatively large crews, large seedbanks but only the three Kirov class ships carried frozen embryos.

All the generation ships were equipped with the latest colonisation technology each nation could afford and targeted at individual stars within small to medium cluster groups. Over the next two decades, almost every nation launched one or more generation ships but, with the major nations targeting the nearer stars, were often forced to destinations more than a hundred light years distant.

A surprising development of New Earth's increasingly space oriented society was the increasing danger of radiation damage and, with increasing numbers of children born and developing in space, mutation.  Many of those children died, developed defects that shortened their lives or were killed by fearful crew members but some developed mutations that gave them enhanced or otherwise useful abilities. With much longer periods spent in space, this effect became even more pronounced on the generation ships headed out to the stars.

The ships arrived at their varied destinations over the next century or so and began to terraform and colonise their worlds but, with journeys as long as they were on the generation ships, there was bound to be unrest. Life aboard some of the starships became rigidly controlled with absolute obedience enforced and, perhaps inevitably, the formation of subversive movements developing for anything from the sharing of banned literature to full blown philosophical and religious movements.

As each ship approached its destination it would analyse the system for planets that could be terraformed. If none existed the ship would automatically select the next best available candidate and continue towards it. Of the eighty-nine generation ships initially sent from Earth only seven were lost but, as each of the ships arrived at their final destination, they started the work of terraforming the planets found and reporting back to their parent nations as they did.

Depending on the level of terraforming required, anything from one to twenty years, permanent colonists were transferred down, initially to semi-permanent sealed work domes, later to permanent open housing.

Arriving at Rigil Kentaurus forty-seven years after Tsurugi's departure from Earth orbit, the primary star, Kentaurus A, was renamed Akatsu (Dawn) by its Japanese colonists. The system, already established as at least binary, was confirmed as trinary with Kentaurus B orbiting some twelve AU from the primary and Kentaurus C almost a quarter of a light year away. Akatsu's companion stars were named Kodomo ("Child") and Akago ("Baby"). The system had six planets, four considered terraformable. The two large rocky planets orbiting close to Akatsuki and a binary pair of planets comprising a water world, almost fifty percent larger than Earth, and a relatively low water world orbiting around a common orbital locus. The two large planets were named Honshu and Hokkaido after major Japanese islands whilst the water world was named Hiroshi and the rock world Hayashi.

Ten years later, in 1977, the Tsurugi arrived at the Kodomo system which had two more planets. The Earth-like Hattori, a cool and temperate world, which was deemed suitable for immediate colonisation. The much larger Higuchi, closer to Kodomo, required fairly extreme terraforming. Throughout the Akatsu systems, the new colonists started to call themselves Akatsu rather than Japanese.

A year after the Tsurugi reached Kodomo, a year before the ship was deliberately crash-landed on Higuchi, the building of what would one day become the new Akatsu capital city-state, Edo, was started on Hiroshi. Edo was open (non-domed) since terraforming of the planet was progressing well and the planet considered relatively stable, unlike Higuchi which required bombardment with several very large ice asteroids before colonisation could even be considered.

More cities began to be built on various Akatsu worlds and, once the ice bombardment was complete, on Higuchi. Higuchi's first domed communities, where the city-state of HakkĊ would eventually be sited, were built in 1995 and the terraforming workers moved into them. The first truly habitable city would not be built on Hyashi for a further ten years and a truly Earth-like, if very cold, environment wouldn't be reached for another fifteen, over thirty years after the arrival of the Tsurugi `and would have to be "maintained". With gravity almost twice that of Earth, Higuchi became home to a breed of Japanese people that even their neighbours considered strange.

Over the next two centuries, more systems were reached and planets progressively terraformed and colonised. As terraforming was completed communities began to extend out from the city walls and the domes were dismantled. On some planets, some of the larger domes, such as the one covering Austen on American colonised Faculty (Research system), were kept intact to be converted into specialist research, military or manufacturing facilities. Populations of the new colonies began to grow and, by the start of the twenty-third century with specialist government programmes encouraging large families and the independent ZYGOTE initiative, had increased massively, in some cases by as much as tenfold; despite that, with (at best) less than a million inhabitants on a single planet, the population remained low. Even so, many of the new colonists had begun eyeing other star systems. Communications were maintained with their governments on Earth but, over time, the fledgeling nations began to consider themselves independent. They were, after all, pioneers just like their ancestors, weren't they?

Meanwhile back on Earth, with their fledgeling nations so distant and irrelevant to everyday life, tensions began to rise again and the planet seethed as local grievances and resource shortages took priority. A world war was considered likely within the next decade and, if so, looked likely to spill over into interplanetary conflict. In an effort to avoid the seemingly inevitable, a joint British and Canadian lunar base was donated, extended and modified as a forum for discussion. Almost every nation sent representatives to it as few nations wanted or could afford war. The city-sized underground complex, called Negotiate, became the seat of the multi-national council known as the League of Empires.


Fiction is about stuff that's screwed up.

Nancy Kress

Send A Message...