The European Long Range Colony Mission
Early in the space-faring history of Terra, a long-range programme of interstellar colonisation was begun, only to be abandoned with the discovery of the jump drive. Before that abandonment, however, several large colony expeditions were launched. The most ambitious such effort was launched in 2050AD by the European Space Agency, in cooperation with the French ONeil colony and Beltmetallfabrikant AG. Three large asteroids were hollowed out and fitted with reaction drives, becoming the colonisation ships Voyageur, Marinus van der Lubbe, and C-Jammer. Each was filled with a thousand crew, none of whom would live to see the end (or much more than the very beginning) of the voyage. Flight time was projected at two-thousand years. Despite this, there was no shortage of volunteers for the crew, many of whom were already living in artificial space colonies: one colony was much like another, and this one was going somewhere interesting. Space was provided for a tenfold population increase during the trip.
Each ship also carried 100,000 additional colonists in cold sleep. During the voyage, each colonist was awakened for a five-year work period; at any one time there were 750 of them awake, and thus the culture of te ships maintained its contact with 21st Century society, and each new shipboard generation was reminded of its mission by some of those who had begun the trip.
The system worked well: although some unavoidable cultural gulfs developed between the crew and the sleepers, nothing jeopardised the mission.
The Islands Clusters
The ships computers ultimately found, and locked onto, a suitable group of worlds and designated them the mission destination. That destination proved to be the Islands Clusters, located in the centre of what is now the Reft Sector, in a low stellar density branch of the Great Rift. Their trip took over two-thousand years.
The three ships separated near the beginning of the deceleration period and each eventually took up orbit around hospitable planets, C-Jammer around New Home, Voyageur around Amondiage, and van der Lubbe around Neubayern. Colonists were awakened and ferried down. An unexpected development was that most of the crews of the three ships refused to land, preferring life in space to the unknown and unsettling surface of a world. Together with a few of the more adventurous colonists they set off to explore the rest of the cluster. C-Jammer eventually found and settled Serendip Belt. Van der Lubbe and Voyageur, after several hundred years of wandering, returned to the colonies and served as ferries, transporting new colonists to the worlds they had discovered around other suns.
Meanwhile, the three original colonies quickly grew in population and somewhat more slowly gained an industrial base. New Home was the first to construct an interstellar spaceship, a scaled-down version of the originals. In 4788AD it launched an expedition to colonise Colchis. A second ship was built in 4810AD and launched towards Esperanza. Amondiage followed suit with a fleet that eventually rose to four ships; in the 4800s and for the next 400 years colonisation of the Clusters continued as fast as allowed by the slow sublight drives available. St. Denis, Acadie, Quichotte, Sansterre, and Joyeuse were settled from Amondiage; St. Hilaire and Besançon from Joyeuse; Topas, Herzenlust, and Berlichingen from Neubayern; New Colchis from Colchis; Elyséeacute;e and Gloire from Besançon. Zuflucht was settled by refugees from a civil war on Topas; Voyageur happened to arrive in-system ooking for colonists just as the war was ending. In all their journeys, only one ship was lost: Infinité, from Amondiage, made a forced landing on Sturgeons Law with a load of colonists from New Home. Crew and colonists were forced to settle on this uninviting planet and were cut off from the outside for hundreds of years. It was fortunate for them that they landed in the planets single sea: the plant-forms growing on the land surface metabolise metal and human protoplasm with equal ease.
This was the state of the Clusters 130 years ago; nearly thirty independent planets almost isolated from each other, connected only by the slow wanderings of the seven working interstellar ships. Then, during the Third Frontier War, the Clusters were inadvertently contacted by an Imperial strike cruiser which had misjumped as a result of battle damage. It sought help (at Serendip Belt) and succeeded in repairing its jump drives; through the use of auxiliary tanks, it then returned to the Imperium. With the end of the war, the Imperial Interstellar Scout Service followed up on the Navys report and dispatched a survey team to establish relations. Upon their arival, they found that the Serendip Belters had already duplicated the jump drives they had seen (and helped repair) and were themselves in the process of establishing control over the entire cluster. The survey team carefully distributed jump drive technology to seven other systems and helped reestablish a balance of power within the region.
In the years since the introduction of jump drive, little further colonisation has occurred, since most of the hospitable worlds were settled already. Achille was colonised by a utopian group from Sansterre; although the original fervour has waned, they are still there. An even smaller band of wealthy recluses has claimed St. Geneviève; so far no one has disturbed them. Some planets have established bases in previously uninhabited systems to exploit their resources: Neubayern at Schlesien Belt, Esperanza at Wellington. Most of the emigration, however, has been from the high population worlds to others already occupied but less crowded. Sometimes the new residents have taken political control away from the original inhabitants; New Colchis gained its colony of Herzenlust in this manner. Other transfers of power have been by direct military conquest, as in Serendip Belts takeover of Gloire, or economic domination, as in Sansterres acquisition of St. Denis. There was even one case of voluntary union, when Quichotte became a province of Joyeuse. By whatever means, the most populous and technologically advanced planets of the Clusters have all gained vassal worlds and are now looking for more (with the single exception of New Home, understandably content with the most hospitable world and the highest standard of living in the Clusters). Military budgets and interstellar tensions have grown considerably in the last few years. Informed diplomatic circles agree that war in inevitable eventually, but no one can say when or how.
Meanwhile, a shakey balance is maintained by shifting alliances among the major powers of New Home, Neubayern, Amondiage, Sansterre, Joyeuse, New Colchis, Serendip Belt and Esperanza. When one planet has grown too powerful, the others have allied to bring pressure to stop it, as happened to Serendip Belt in 5542AD, when it was forced to give up control of Topas, Elysée, and Besançon.
The Clusters, being in the centre of the Great Rift, are cut off from the denser, more populated regions beyond its confines. Travel beyond the Clusters requires jump-6 (or auxiliary tanks and jump-3); operations on this level are impractical at present, and the attention of the Clusters systems is turned inward, at least for the moment.