Stories/Humans2012

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Outset

In the early 23rd century, humanity sent its first ships to the stars. Spurred on by the allure of new frontiers, the pioneers of interstellar travel embarked on massive colony ships by the thousands, certain that they would never see their homeworld again. In these old days of human space travel, transit times to even the nearest stars took several decades, and thus the colonists were kept in suspended animation, to be awoken at their final destination. Some of the more unfortunate volunteers ended up stranded in space, drifting through the endless sea of darkness, while others met a swifter death during collisions with asteroids or planets with powerful gravity wells. Yet, the multitude of ships sent out ensured that some were bound to successfully reach their targets, leading to the first human colonies.

Confronted with barren, rocky wastelands, the first generation of colonists did not stray far from their landed ships, which had taken on the role of providing life support and power generation. Each ship was equipped with sufficient facilities for the nano-manufacture of tools and industrial components that the colonists required, along with a stock of blueprints containing the sum of all human technological knowledge up until the date that the ship was launched. In addition, each ship was stocked with a large complement of sterile, genetically modified clones, along with the means to produce more of them. These clones, created specifically for labor, were crucial to humanity’s expansion through the stars.

With greater strength and resilience than the average human, along with an utter lack of fear and a heightened tolerance for the harsh conditions outside of the early colonial base, the clones tirelessly performed manual labor for the colonists, mining for raw materials and setting up the infrastructure for continued growth. Wearing protective suits and equipped with hand-held devices capable of emitting a directed spray of nano-machines, the clones laid down solar cells and ventilation systems, allowing for the first structures to be built beyond the colony ships. The first crops were grown in the lifeless soil of distant worlds, supported by immense greenhouses and tended by teams of clones.

While many worlds were initially incapable of supporting life, and would not be able to do so until the future introduction of terraforming by later expeditions, a few were gifted with a suitable atmosphere that permitted colonists to step outside with a bare minimum of protection, and for a few hardy plants to grow beyond the immediate attention of humans. These planets were the first to thrive, and would come to attract the most attention from Earth, where newer generations were lured into migration by the first transmitted images of vast grasslands under a distant, setting sun.

Aided by the laborer clones and a wealth of unprocessed minerals, along with a distinct lack of alien life, the earliest pioneers would enter old age amidst the first cities to have been built outside of the ships, with the deactivated ship itself often becoming a monument to the past.

Expansion

In the following centuries, the human presence in space flourished with the introduction of new starship engines that were capable of approaching the speed of light, drastically cutting down on travel times. A journey that originally took decades could now be accomplished in several years, and formerly unreachable worlds on the frontiers of inhabited space could at last be colonized. These new ships set off into the unknown, equipped with the latest lines of laborer clones and expanded nano-production facilities. Entire cities could be constructed in the span of a single generation, and within half a century, many colonies were self-sufficient enough to create and stock their own orbital shipyards.

During this golden age of expansion, humanity as a whole reached new heights, having colonized all worlds within fifty light-years of Sol, and many beyond. With an essentially endless supply of raw materials, new frontiers of science were explored on hundreds of worlds, the scientific progress of countless researchers being transmitted back to Earth, which had now found itself at the head of a growing interstellar empire. The sole constraint being the speed of light itself, the human race grew at an exponential rate.

Amongst the achievements in human science were the efficient containment of plasma, the discovery of instantaneous short-range mass transfer, and the further development of nanotechnology, allowing for the production of far more intricate and advanced devices than previously thought possible. Limited artificial intelligence became far more widespread than in past centuries, although the development of humanoid machines remained an elusive goal.

Contact

Ever since the dawn of colonization, as humans on distant worlds looked into the night skies, they often wondered if they were truly alone. The lack of extraterrestrial life became particularly glaring when even the most distant worlds to receive human visitors were utterly barren and lifeless rocks. Just as the 28th century came to a close, humanity received its response.

On the fringe of human space, where just a handful of recently colonized worlds were eking out a meager existence, an urgent distress signal was transmitted from one of the colonies, with increasingly frantic messages of destruction and chaos leading into complete silence. Far away from the assistance of the human military, and with purestrain human reproduction at a premium, the colonists in the region had but one choice. The labor clones would be the ones to go.

Their protective work suits modified into combat armor, the clones boarded a makeshift warship, the first to have been constructed in a region of space traditionally viewed as a backwater. Equipped with a selection of weaponry and their traditional nano-construction devices, they set off towards the source of the distress signal, only to discover that their cluster of frontier stars was at the forefront of an invasion.

Arriving at the world itself, the skies were black with the smog of burning cities, the conflict still ongoing. Setting up transport links between the warship and the few remaining human outposts, the clones marched single file through the ship’s warp room, materializing on receivers on the ground. They came across scenes of complete destruction, the biomass of the planet itself being consumed by dark, throbbing organic mats. Bizarre alien creatures emerged from the shadows, shrieking multi-limbed beasts with fangs dripping corrosive poison. The beings came in many forms, each adapted to a different role, each a posing a new threat.

Yet, the clones did not back down. Lifting rifles for the first time instead of their familiar construction kits, the precision learned in years of manufacture and machining translated well to their aim. The tireless laborers of humanity took to combat rapidly, holding off the impending threat while the human colonists fled to safer regions towards the core of human space. With the lengthy travel times and the slow communication with the remainder of the empire, the clones have no choice but to continue the fight, for the fate of humanity itself may very well rest in their hands.