(All years given in Earth orbits.)
The Colonisation of Fram: 2084-2093CE
We came to Alpha Centauri and made Planetfall upon Fram in 2084; in the following years, we explored farther and farther afield, and as we did so, our Colony grew.
Shortly after the first Foundation Day, we discovered evidence of methane ice aquifers. The basic human need for water drove prospecting for purer sources of water ice, and technical advances in aeronautics and spaceplanes drove these prospectors farther from the colony. Propelled by the need for resources in situ, the most intrepid of explorers circumnavigated the equator and reached the poles.
The first mission to the north pole of Fram, mounted in our second year, embraced the tradition of Fram, that ship after which we had named our world and which in centuries past bore the explorers Amundsen, Nansen, Sverdrup, Wisting as they explored the poles of our Homeworld. Those who stood at Fram’s north pole watched the complex auroras of two main sequence stars.
We established small-scale, automated mines far from the colonies: some to excavate metals, but most to recover clathrates from the underground aquifers. These mines processed the clathrates, burned away the methane, and stored the water ices for transport back to the colonies. By releasing that trapped methane into the atmosphere, we began the slow process of heating our world.
Exploration was not limited to the surface of Fram. Driven by the mysterious results of a gamma-ray survey in our first year, our scientists took advantage of the noiseless skies and through radio and infrared astronomy watched the heavens in many wavelengths. The surface of Amundsen was mapped and biologists further examined the fossilised remains of methanogens found on that moon. And, if only in the spirit of the age of exploration, small missions were sent to the shepherd moons of Sverdrup and Nansen.
Work began on refitting the wreck of the Quoqasi, so terribly damaged during the Texas Crisis. Most of the drive section had been salvaged, which was fortunate in that the engines were the most important and most difficult to manufacture parts of the ship. The construction of a new fusion reactor was beyond the capabilities of the colony, and so, with some difficulty, we removed the reactor from the Mayflower and installed it in Quoqasi. A new habitat section was constructed – much smaller, and lacking the extensive protection necessary for an interstellar starship – and two orbiters were mated to the ship. After four years of construction and refitting, the ship was christened as Quoqasi II, the first of Fram’s system ships. Never again would she sail across interstellar distances, but she could travel through the solar system as our orbiters could not.
Five years after Planetfall, Quoqasi II and a crew of one hundred left on a two year, round-trip mission to explore the planets of Maud and Belgica, orbiting Alpha Centauri A, over twenty astronomical units from Fram.
While the colonies were busy preparing the Quoqasi II for her voyage and expanding infrastructure across the globe, Earth received the first of our messages, tight-beamed back to Sol upon our Planetfall. These messages confirmed that the Quoqasi and Mayflower had safely arrived and that a colony had been established; with that information, the United Nations dispatched the Second Fleet.
Nine years after Planetfall, the Second Fleet arrived. First came the colony ship Alexander, and almost immediately we knew something was wrong. Alexander was of the same design as Quoqasi, and bore four colony pods each with a thousand colonists aboard; however, while in transit between Sol and Alpha Centauri, one of these pods had suffered a critical life support failure. We welcomed only three thousand new colonists to Fram, and, ninety days later, the cargo ship Charlotte.
The surviving colony pods of the Alexander settled, with carefully planned descents, in the same crater as those of the Quoqasi. These pods formed a sparse city, with colonists moving cautiously from pressurised space to pressurised space – and from this city we projected human habitation upon Fram. The city was like the artist’s brush, a concentrated point of ingenuity and creativity, from which an image was painted upon the canvas of Fram’s landscape.
In the year following the arrival of the Second Fleet, the failed colony pod of the Alexander was repaired and refurbished. The pod was settled near the Wisting Base on Amundsen, and, with this improved infrastructure, Wisting grew into its own colony. Together, Wisting and Port Mayflower grew into twin colonies criss-crossed by the traffic of orbiters, shuttles and spaceplanes, and grew also into the gateway between the surface of Fram and the solar system.
Fleets from Earth bearing migrants across the stars arrived every five years. The Third Fleet, of the colony ship Constantine and the cargo ship Justinian, made landing fourteen years after Planetfall; while the Fourth Fleet, of the colony ship Zheng He and the cargo ship Suleiman the Magnificent, made landing nineteen years after Planetfall.
With the landing of the colony pods of the Zheng He, a total of fifteen pods were settled in the same crater. As the colony grew, structures grew up around the dominating bulk of the pods, and, over the course of years, a connected settlement developed. Construction began on a great dome that, anchored on the apron of the crater, would encase the colony pods in a large, pressurised and warmed space, and allow the collection of structures to become a single city. Construction of The Dome took two years, and was completed twenty-one years after Planetfall, and the settlement was inaugurated as the city of Junction.
Yet, these years of progress were not sustained. The completion of a series of great projects in the years after the construction of The Dome raised questions of corruption in the governing Presidium. Dissatisfaction curdled in the government of Junction City until sparked by the contentious contract for the construction of a cracking plant; public objection led to a constitutional crisis and the collapse of the Presidium in popular revolution. Two Consuls and a Senate replaced the Presidium and the Central Committee that had governed the colony of Fram since Planetfall.
And so it was a brave, young Republic of Fram that welcomed the Fourth Fleet to Alpha Centauri, twenty-four years after Planetfall.
The Years of Kohrism: 2108-2120CE
A consequence of the establishment of the Republic was that several members of the Kohrist party suddenly came to enjoy political power. The Kohrists, born of the immigration from Earth, had existed in the years before the revolution, but had been seen less as a political force than a philosophical perspective. They were believers in the writing of Leopold Kohr, and contested the ideas of continued economic growth and ‘the cult of bigness,’ and so too rejected the benefits of unmitigated migration from Earth. The arrival of the Cato and Victoria in the months after the revolution was thus met with growing scepticism in the government of Fram.
The Kohrists might have remained a marginalised ideology. But, while the colonists of the Fourth Fleet were still establishing a second city and the Republic adapting to government beyond the walls of Junction, a journal paper was published estimating that easily accessible and easily refinable aquifers of water ice might be exhausted within fifty years. Limited water restrictions were introduced, and missions to the scattered disc were planned, where astronomers had discovered countless cold, icy objects and dwarf planets.
And then, only two months later, astronomers detected the fusion drive of another colony ship from Earth as it swung about to decelerate – two years ahead of schedule.
The United Nations had dramatically accelerated emigration from our overpopulated Homeworld. The Fifth Fleet arrived only three years after the Fourth – twenty-seven years after Planetfall – and it bore many more colonists than previous fleets. The colony ship Armstrong was of a new, larger design, with capacity for 12,000 colonists.
Tragically, in the rush to flee the population pressures of Sol, poor construction had left the colonists of the Armstrong insufficiently shielded from the ship’s engines and reactor. Almost thirty percent of the crew had died on the journey to Alpha Centauri, and the survivors suffered to varying degrees from prolonged radiation sickness. This ship of the sickly and the dead, limping through the last years of its interstellar journey in appalling conditions, conveyed to Fram eight and a half thousand persons entirely dependent upon the almost twenty-five thousand citizens of Fram. The delayed arrival of the cargo ship Aldrin barely counterbalanced this immense drain on the Colony’s resources.
With the threat to Fram’s aquifers of clathrates and the pressures of growing population, the Kohrists rose in popularity. The election of Consuls in that year, the first election since the revolution, saw the appointment of two prominent Kohrists. With this shift in the political wind came changes to the cultural climate: survivors of the Fifth Fleet were no longer called ‘immigrants’ but ‘refugees,’ and the citizenry grasped for humane solutions to the crisis.
Twenty-seven years after Planetfall, we sent a message to Earth detailing the fate of the Armstrong and requesting that migration be slowed. That message would not reach Sol for four and a half years.
In that time, the Sixth Fleet arrived; in mercifully better condition that that which preceded it. Its colonists settled with those of the Fourth and diminished Fifth Fleets and together formed the city of Lacaille, hundreds of kilometres to the west. Lacaille too had its own space elevator, connected to Port Victoria.
Fram’s population had doubled in less than six years, and now approached fifty thousand.
Earth received our request to slow migration some time in Planetfall +31; it had by then already dispatched the Seventh Fleet, which arrived two years later. The Senate permitted these colonists to settle a new city far to the east of Junction, but internal tensions in the polity were intensified by the arrival of the Eighth Fleet in Planetfall +36. This last fleet had clearly departed Sol after Earth had received Fram’s request, demonstrating the United Nations’ disregard for its extrasolar colony. Senate elections in that year gave a supermajority to the Kohrists.
Among the established citizenry of the early fleets, in the planet’s media and in the chambers of the Senate, vitriol directed against Earth was plainly evident. But this anger was not unanimous. Among the most recent of colonists, those derisively termed ‘refugees’ by those who had come to Fram earlier, there was a nascent loyalty to Earth. The massive numbers of the loyalists – clustered as they were in the young cities of Lacaille and al-Zulmān – were, however, offset by the politically enfranchised separatists, who were concentrated in the capital and enjoyed representation in the Senate.
The Senate and Consuls of the Republic of Fram voted overwhelmingly to secede from the United Nations, and, thirty-six years after our arrival on Fram, we sent a message to Earth declaring our independence and denying entry to any further ships bearing immigrants from Sol.
The Years of Independence: 2120-2145CE
Following secession, Fram looked inward. Development of the colony was focussed in two dimensions: assimilating those colonists who had arrived in the last decade, and further developing water resources. Between the arrival of the Seventh and Eighth Fleets, a mission was launched to the scattered disc; in the first year of independence, this mission arrived at the icy dwarf planet Volumnia.
AI drones constructed mines across one hemisphere of Volumnia: these mines refined water ices into deuterium isotopes, amassed this deuterium into packets, and then installed these packets at points on Volumnia’s surface. These deuterium devices were bombarded by high-density neutrons and achieved thermonuclear fusion. Thus, fusion bombs of tens of gigatons were detonated on Volumnia, and, with each detonation, its orbit was gradually altered.
An entire generation grew up on Fram watching these flashes in the sky, knowing that they were of human design, and that these human hands were shaping the solar system. Volumnia would eventually settle into a close orbit of Alpha Centauri B, would warm and melt, fashioning a watery world close to our own.
This process would take centuries. In the meantime, automated drones headed out into the inner Oort Cloud, and propelled comets into the inner system on looping, centuries-long orbits. System ships darted about the inner system to catch these comets and shift them to refineries at Port Mayflower above Junction, Port Victoria above Lacaille, and Port Golden Horn above al-Zulmān.
A few months after we had declared our independence from Earth, astronomers detected the fusion drive of another colony ship as it began its deceleration. Thirty-nine years after Planetfall, the Ninth Fleet arrived – dispatched from Sol before we had even announced secession, and, of course, received without enthusiasm. These colonists settled in a world very different from that they had anticipated. They related also tales of the effects of population pressures in overcrowded Sol.
The emigration to Alpha Centauri made a negligible difference to the population of Sol. More than eleven billion people crowded the surface of Earth, and another billion lived on the colonies of Luna, Mars and the Galilean moons. The emigration of twelve thousand people every three years to the extrasolar colony barely offset a few hours of solar population growth. But for many of those living on Earth, looking dimly through the glow of light pollution at the brightest stars above, it seemed that the natural direction of these teeming billions was upwards, and that the colonisation of the heavens was manifest destiny.
Many of Fram shared that belief, but many more believed that so negligible a difference to those billions – but so magnified an effect upon Fram – argued rationally against the intensified immigration Fram had experienced.
Earth received our declaration of independence in the year following the arrival of the Ninth Fleet.
The fortieth Foundation Day was marred by strikes and work stoppages in the city of al-Zulmān, which soon spread to sympathetic colonists in Lacaille. While these strikers continued to contribute to the colony those services necessary for survival, many of these essential services were nonetheless affected. Hydroponic crop yields diminished in Lacaille and many crops failed entirely in al-Zulmān. This sudden supply shock, combined with rolling work stoppages outside the capital and the ongoing public costs of the missions in the scattered disc, led to a sharp downturn in productivity. The colonies went on rations for the first time since the Bottleneck. Unemployment rose. The Republic of Fram slipped into a steep, U-shaped recession from which it would not completely emerge for three years.
The recession was an inauspicious beginning to the independence of the Republic. It began also as much a social crisis as a financial one. The established colonists of the capital blamed the strikes in the other cities for the crisis, and resented the distribution of Junction’s crops to feed the starving of al-Zulmān; while the loyalist colonists in the regional centres suspected that the separatists had sabotaged their hydroponic facilities to weaken the pro-Earth power base.
But, instead of driving the centre against the periphery and cleaving the Colony along established lines, the deepening of the recession banded these disparate camps together. By the third consecutive quarter of contracted growth – and the growing risk of Lacaille and al-Zulmān dragging the entire Colony down into a narrowing of the bottleneck – a sense of cooperation pervaded the colonies. Living standards declined, foremost in al-Zulmān where they had never been as high as the capital, but starvation and poverty were avoided. There were a bumpy series of small jumps in growth before the bottom of the recession; at its depth, the Senate voted to expand the Consulship to include a third Consul, and this reform enfranchised each of the cities in a manner they had not previously enjoyed.
No fleet from Earth arrived during the recession. It seemed that our declaration of independence was received with more concern than our earlier request to slow immigration. Over the next five years, astronomers detected bursts of gamma rays in the vast spaces between Sol and other stars in the neighbourhood: first Wolf 359, then Barnard’s Star, then Lalande 21185. These bursts were from starships ploughing through the interstellar medium, impacting dust particles at significant fractions of the speed of light. It seemed that the United Nations had begun to colonise other stars.
What we did not detect was the approach of a series of reconnaissance drones from Earth. These drones did not decelerate as they neared the system, meaning that we were unable to observe their fusion drives as they turned to face their destination; we detected them only when they swung around Proxima and angled into the Alpha Centauri system. There were three drones that fanned out across the Solar System, and, travelling at a velocity close to 80% the speed of light, they shot through the system in under a fortnight. The drones rapidly tight-beamed intelligence data back to Earth as they receded away in the direction of the constellation Circinus.
That data reached Earth some fifty-five years after Planetfall, and, with a certainty our astronomers had not felt since they turned their instruments toward Sol to search for signs of the earliest fleets, the emissions of a decelerating fusion drive were detected four years later.
This ship, however, aimed not for Alpha Centauri B and Fram but for Alpha Centauri A and the twin worlds of Maud and Belgica. The ship disappeared behind the ultraviolet glow of Alpha A while Maud was at superior conjunction from Fram. It did not reply to any of our messages.
And so Earth established a beachhead in our solar system.
The War with Earth: 2145-2156CE
In the following year – the sixty-first of the Fram colony and the twenty-fifth of an independent Republic of Fram – United Nations mining ships spread out from Maud and moved into the debris of asteroids and failed planets of the solar system. The polity regarded these mining ships with suspicion and with resentment and with debate: loyalist and separatist alike considered the resources of the solar system more Fram’s than Earth’s, but there was no consensus for a course of action; the impasse was broached when high-quality images of the Maud colony from our missions in the scattered disc suggested that much of it was automated – certainly the mining ships, and possibly even the base itself. The removal of considerations of human life simplified the debate and rendered it unambiguous: the Senate advised the Consuls to launch a pre-emptive strike.
Republic system ships and AI drones engaged the United Nations’ mining ships across the system, often fighting over ranges of many AUs. Flashes of fusion fire dotted the skies of Fram over the next eighteen months as the mining ships and their refineries were one by one destroyed. The drones then converged on the Maud base; however, MKVs and ASAT missiles dismantled the Republic attack with ease.
Fram’s response was dramatic. The drive sections of ten colony ships were installed on the surface of a large piece of the disintegrating Amundsen, some eight kilometres in diameter. The impactor was propelled up and out of the gravity well of Fram, slingshot around Alpha B, and fired across the solar system at Maud. As it crossed the barycentre the impactor was peppered with missiles from Maud, and this string of medium-yield detonations traced the trajectory of the impactor as it pressed on to its target.
It took three years for the impactor to cover the more than twenty AUs to its target. The impact briefly outshone Alpha Centauri A, then hanging low on the horizon as seen from Junction and Lacaille. That point of light flared and grew in brightness, diminishing only after several hours. Alpha A had fallen below the horizon in the city of al-Zulmān, but the moons and the ring were brightened in the light of the impact. The energy of the impact was estimated at tens of teratons; the surface of Maud was devastated for a second time in its history.
Fram spent the next years studying the Maud impact – and preparing for Earth’s response. We made efforts to catch up with the technical developments evident in Earth’s use of ASAT weapons and kinetic interceptors. We seeded spy satellites and anti-ship warheads around Belgica and the molten, cooling Maud. And our system ships hurled small asteroids along the path between Sol and Alpha Centauri – these latter on the infinitesimal chance that an incoming ship would strike an object at a velocity of hundreds of kilometres a second.
The Colony also grew. The quiet years of the war were years of growth and prosperity, as the united cities pursued a common agenda and substantial public spending drove the Colony. Vast shipyards were constructed in orbit, suspended in a web of traffic from the space elevators and Wisting. From these orbital shipyards, our eight remaining system ships came and went on their missions around the solar system, or were docked for resupply or refitting. These tremendous vessels – kilometres in length, adapted from the colony ships that bore us to Fram – were balanced between a lattice of connected girders and beams, and surrounded by tugs and repair bots. Observers on Fram’s surface could hold a hand to the glare of Alpha B and watch the system ships in the orbital shipyards.
Fram’s was a sky full of wonders, striated as it was at most times by dozens of slow-moving comets. These were sent looping into the inner system by the automated drones in the scattered disc and were chased down by manned system ships. The comets were refined in Wisting, our space city, and, with the low escape velocity from Amundsen, water and hydrocarbons were easily shipped to the Ports and then down to the cities of the surface of Fram.
Shortly before the seventieth Foundation Day, astronomers detected the deceleration of a number of starships from Sol. The celebration of our seventieth year on Fram was thus subdued as we prepared for the coming storm. The system ships slipped their moors and spread out in a cordon across the system; the shipyards appeared as empty and delicate as the wings of a dragonfly without a body.
The Republic of Fram lost three system ships before the taskforce from Earth had passed the orbit of Proxima. While at the peak velocity of their interstellar journey, the Earth ships had fired relativistic missiles ahead of them – moving so close to the speed of light, these warheads were almost impossible to detect or avoid. The remaining system ships began high-gee manoeuvres and squadrons of drones swept the space around them; a fourth ship was nonetheless crippled and left adrift near the barycentre.
AI drones from both sides engaged one another in a battle that spread across hundreds of AU and lasted nine months. The Earth drones gained the upper hand, and one by one Fram’s AI drones were destroyed. Our surviving system ships were heavily damaged or scattered and beaten back, and the Earth taskforce bypassed Alpha A and speared directly toward Fram.
The battle of Alpha Centauri became the battle of Fram, and it was a rapid and spectacular affair. The ships of the Earth taskforce laid down blankets of thermonuclear explosions ahead of them, and the x-rays and gamma rays produced in these explosions reflected the acquisition radars of Fram’s ASAT and MKV weapons. The confused radars were then bombarded with decoys and penetration aids. Kinetic interceptors managed to take out a pair of escort ships, but the main troop ships easily got through Fram’s defences. And then they were suddenly in orbit of Fram, deploying dropships to the surface, and those troops rapidly encircled the capital.
The Consuls of the Republic surrendered Junction to the United Nations, and the other cities capitulated thereafter. Seventy-two years after Planetfall, and thirty-six years after secession, the Republic of Fram was annexed by Earth.
After the Storm, the Sun: 2156-2167CE
There were troops in the streets of the cities and there was increased surveillance of the citizenry – but life on occupied Fram was not immediately different from life beforehand. The surviving system ships stood down and returned to Fram, or commenced operations to assist the ships from both sides damaged and adrift throughout the system. The Senate was dissolved and power transferred to a Governor, but society functioned along lines almost the same as years past.
We learned that Alpha Centauri was important to Earth as a springboard to further expansion into the spiral arm. The limit of endurance for both ships and crew of interstellar voyages was roughly ten light years, and there were approximately as many systems within ten light years of Alpha Centauri as there were from Sol. Immigration to Fram would resume, but, the Governor promised, this might be offset by emigration of the generations born on Fram farther out into other star systems.
The Governor spoke on behalf of a government four and a half light years away. That distance imposed limits on administration, just as the distance between Moscow and Siberia, or between London and Australia, did upon colonies in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Directives from Earth arrived half a decade after they were issued, and many were redundant by the time they arrived. Moreover, Fram could be selective in its obeisance to Earth’s dictates – protected by that same distance that lightened the heavy foot of interstellar government.
Like the refugee generation that settled in the cities of Lacaille and al-Zulmān, the occupiers gradually came to be assimilated into a self-determined polity of Fram, as was the manner of humans mutually reliant on one another for survival and for progress. New cities were settled as immigration increased, and, eventually, natural, native population growth matched the numbers of migrants from Sol.
Eventually, Volumnia settled into orbit of Alpha Centauri B, and was bombarded with comets from the inner Oort Cloud. This small water world became an oasis in a cold and dark desert, and fuelled by this bounty of water, our colony grew from Fram to the moons and eventually to the other planets of the system.
Eighty-three years after Planetfall, the last of the colonists of the Quoqasi passed away. Xu Sze Leng was one of the first humans to dig her gloved hands into the regolith of Fram. She was 112 years old when she died, and her passing was a sombre and solemn occasion. Those who had founded the Colony, struggled through the Bottleneck, explored the world and its moons, and received each of the subsequent colony ships, had at last passed from their world, and left it to their heirs.
Fram’s experience was not unique.
Within the lifetime of the first Quoqasi colonists, humanity had migrated across the space between stars and continued to grow outwards into the galaxy. That small bubble of colonisation stretched ten light years in all directions from Sol, with colony ships on their way to Sirius, Tau Ceti and Epsilon Indi. But the limits imposed by the speed of light upon both travel and communications between these stars, isolated as they were by unimaginable distances, disconnected the colonies from one another. This isolation encouraged an affection of independence in the young colonies that usually preceded secession. The nations of Earth imposed their will upon these colonies only with an implicit, if deferred, military threat; they were obliged to exercise this threat on many occasions, and each time the weight of her numbers and her vast economy made Earth victorious.
The colonies of these stars grew independently from one another, and would in time expand farther into the Orion Arm. Some went to war with one another, most cooperated; all existed as tiny points of light suspended in an infinite night.
The vast imperfections of the Universe made life harsh for the colonists. Around every star, the habitability of planets and their moons was determined by the vagaries of orbital tilting, eccentricity, atmosphere, magnetosphere, the dim infrared glow of red dwarfs. Another Earth was not found in this tiny bubble around Sol, and existence was always eked out of the best of a hardscrabble selection.
And so the human mind, evolved on the most habitable and exceedingly rare planet in local space, spread out into that space – and in so doing brought the purpose of that mind to a mindless cosmos and the dance of its blind energies…
Farewell, Fram, and thanks for all the fun. AC and DB.