What happens when a crazy alchemist accidentally blows up a moon?
Alchemy… in… SPAAAAAAACE
The majority of the plot of STARFALL takes place out in the local arm of the Milky Way Galaxy. Space lanes following azothite trails from point-to-point are the most common paths taken due to their natural stability and ease of travel. Ships typically latch themselves to a known trail with a mercury-based engine and hit “go.” The more widely-used the trail is, the quicker the trip–to a point.
It’s possible to travel at hyperlight speeds without following an azothite trail directly, of course; it’s just highly dangerous, unwise, and downright foolish to do so over any significant distance.
For reference, a Terran-built lane is used to traverse the Sol system to and from Terra itself and the asteroid mines. In the lanes, a one-way trip takes a few days–less if you’ve managed to acquire the latest N.E.E. engine; they’re specially attuned to that specific lane, supposedly. Outside of the lanes, the trip could take you weeks; or, just a few minutes.
Zinc-based engines, stardrives lined with gold, phosphorus alloys, or potassium growth wells; all of these work more efficiently than mercury engines reliant on azothite trails. However, without explicit knowledge of the destination, and every possible obstacle in between–no matter how small–the results can be catastrophic.
Like blowing up a moon.
The Europa quarantine zone is a sore point in Terran politics. A lone alchemist from somewhere along the Pacific coast of the North American continent built himself a potassium-based Dart–a single passenger space plane capable of short-distance hops. Then, after proving it worked with a quick round-trip to one of the more remote N.E.E. mines–which his engine-wake destabilized, trapping dozens of prisoner-miners in azothite shafts that slowly encroached upon them with advanced crystal growth–he planned a crazy jump distance to orbit around Jupiter.
Of course, it worked. This isolated alchemist, working with the barest scraps of azothite scavenged from Starfalls in year’s past, since the western part of North America had no access to the supply lines at that time, managed to make the largest jump in a Terran built ship 100% successfully. The energy required, however, overloaded the potassium wells in his ship, necessitating a core dump as he re-entered normal space.
The wells continued to grow and bloom long after the alchemist had perished in the cold of space. About a week after his ill-fated jump, they crash landed on Europa, having increased in mass and energy to have the equivalent force to a small meteor. All of that potassium-driven energy, which is unstable at the best of times, reacted with Europa’s naturally catalyzed underground water sources, resulting in a huge fissure that cracked the moon.
Now, see, the Dart’s core survived the impact and subsequent cataclysm. It’s still burning in the debris field, sending out warped growth energy to everything nearby. As much as every major galactic power would love to get their hands on it to understand what (and how) the alchemist managed to build, they can’t. The broken rocks and released ice and water are so charged with the radiation, to do so would be worse than suicide–you might make it home.
We’ll talk about potassium-alloy azothite poisoning another day.
The Brokers, the Hegemony, and the Grand Fleets of the Aidlean Empire all agreed: leave Europa alone. Measures were taken to safeguard against the rampant energy leaking out further–or affecting Jupiter itself. The alchemist’s identity was never disclosed, but it is well known that the Frontier Nations suffered for his actions.
Once it was all squared away nicely, the ruling powers were left with a dilemma. The N.E.E. was rightfully angry about the destruction of one of their mines–and they had the backing of some smaller nations that they supplied through that mine. Given the total destruction of Europa as well, they had the political clout to ask for universally enforced sovereignty over their space lanes–a blow for the rest of Terra. Then, they requested the Hegemony’s oversight in Terran nations further developing spaceflight technology, thus restricting further advancements without help.
The fact that the N.E.E. had direct access to Aidlean technology was, perhaps, conveniently overlooked in the trauma of Europa.
The trade-off was also a masterstroke of negotiation: extraterrestrial powers were expected to use Terran ships and Terran lanes while within Terran space. Specifically, this meant that the N.E.E. controlled almost all alien movements into and out of the planet proper.
With the launching of the Mercenary Initiative’s first official squadrons, the N.E.E.’s control weakened slightly; the dropships given to captains were the most advanced ships available to Terrans outside the N.E.E., and the Argent Palisades were expected to use them as well. In theory, they should be on an even playing field in terms of movement and deployment.
No short story this week! We’ll pick back up next week by introducing the first member of the Blood of Croatoa and with more details about the specific mechanics of modern alchemy.
I hope you all enjoyed the teaser excerpt from last week. The book isn’t finished just yet, but we’re excited for the first published piece of STARFALL fiction to be available as soon as possible.