History of the Known Worlds
The Known Worlds are all that remain of the Second Republic, a mighty civilization that at its height spanned hundreds of star systems and attained technologies so advanced that they might as well be deemed magic by the standards of Dark Ages society. For all the progress that humanity achieved during the days of the Second Republic, it could not rise above the baser instincts that had been the ruin of so many previous human civilizations.
Humankind's expansion into the galaxy began at the dawn of the 24th century, at a time when Earth, the cradle of human civilization, was ruled by a global government. This First Republic, labeled the Human Combine Age by later historians, was dominated by mega-corporations known as Zaibatsu, ruling from behind an illusory facade of representative government. In truth, corporate heads made all of the real decisions, and the First Republic was was little more than an oppressive police state in which civil rights were conditional and freedom had been exchanged for peace and stability.
The First Republic colonized the solar system, seeking new frontiers into which to channel the aspirations of a restless population and fresh resources to replace the dwindling reserves of the Earth. After centuries of exploration and development, leading to the settlement of every habitable piece of property in the solar system, the First Republic began to look toward other star systems for further expansion. Their efforts were stymied by the grim realities of relativistic space travel. No slower-than-light colony ships that left the solar system were ever heard from again.
The discovery of the jumpgate marked the beginning of the end for the First Republic, but its death throes spanned two centuries. The first nail in the Republic's coffin was the rise of a religious movement among its space pilots. Sathraism was born in the transcendent moment of ecstasy that the crews of starships experienced during a jump, and named for the curious word left upon all of their lips: Sathra. Convinced that jumpgate travel somehow brought them closer to God, pilots began to rebel against the Zaibatsu, undertaking unauthorized jumps in pursuit of eternal truths ordinarily beyond the reach of mere mortals.
The Zaibatsu tried to suppress the religious movement, and even developed technology that would filter out the Sathra experience. Yet pilots frequently sabotaged these buffers, spurring even more crackdowns by the government. As the persecution mounted, Sathraists began to steal ships, and build their own, and jumped along unknown roads in search of worlds where they could seek enlightenment unhindered by the short-sighted avarice of the Zaibatsu. Yet the Republic continued to hunt them down ruthlessly, determined to wipe out what seemed an intolerable threat to the ruling order.
The First Republic succeeded in crushing the Sathraists, aside from a few renegades who fled to uncharted stars, but the campaign's drain on its resources and manpower had left it vulnerable. During the 26th century, colony worlds began to break away from the Republic, taking advantage of the Zaibatsu's weakness to secure their independence. Some of these worlds prospered, others descended into barbarism. On many planets, charismatic leaders rose to prominence and ruled like princes, giving rise to a new aristocracy. From these humble origins arose noble houses that would survive for millennia.
The Diaspora was a chaotic period, marked by heroic exploration, fierce competition, and greedy exploitation. Colonists on the more civilized worlds enjoyed lives of relative peace and prosperity. Others suffered under the heel of ruthless nobles who grew wealthy off the sweat of their brow. Human beings were not the only ones to suffer such oppression. The horse-like Shantor, first encountered by humanity in 2700, were viciously exploited as slave labor. Across the galaxy, the oppressed cried out for release from the tyranny of poverty and brutality that ruled their pitiful existence.
Age of Miracles
Their cries for justice did not long go unheeded. A man of faith named Zebulon traveled the jumpweb, seeking answers to the spiritual questions that troubled his soul. He was not alone in his quest. The knowledge that the Annunaki had once existed dealt a blow to human pride, undermining the belief that technological progress held all the answers. Humans, searching for meaning in an increasingly hostile universe, turned toward long-dead religions and philosophies, hoping to find enlightenment. Zebulon journeyed from world to world, studying the relics of the Ur to better understand the race that built the jumpgates.
While visiting one such world, in the year 2723, Zebulon was blessed with a vision from God that changed the course of human history. On the planet Yathrib, a world now lost, Zebulon beheld a Holy Flame at the center of creation, a Celestial Sun from which all light and life emanated. This revelation would inspire a new age of exploration, as humanity explored inner and outer space in a quest for enlightenment. Yet Zebulon also received a vision of hell, of demons that lurked in the "dark between the stars," waiting for a chance to snuff out the Holy Flame and allow darkness to consume the universe.
Zebulon, thereafter known as the Prophet, roamed across the frontier, sharing his vision with humanity and proclaiming that there was more to existence than the pursuit of worldly wealth and power. God, whom he called the Pancreator, desired that humans grow as spiritual beings. Humanity was destined for greatness, and that destiny lay out among the stars, waiting for those who were brave enough to go questing for it. He also warned them of the perils they would face, of the demons in the dark, and the dangers in overreliance on technology as a panacea for all of humankind's woes.
The Prophet found a receptive audience in the colonists that toiled for the benefit of cruel masters, elites who lived luxurious lifestyles thanks to high technology beyond the reach of the lower classes. Among the oppressed and outcast, and the ranks of intellectuals and even the privileged who had grown disillusioned with the status quo, his following grew steadily. A religious movement was born, offering hope to those who had thought there was nothing left worth believing in. Humanity, adrift in a vast, uncaring universe, now had a beacon to guide them through the darkness.
End of Innocence
In 2845, humanity had to come to grips with the fact that there was a power in the universe greater than they, and it wasn't Zebulon's Pancreator. When human colonists attempted to settle the planet Apshai and subjugate its indigenous population, they came into direct conflict with an alien star empire called the Vau Hegemony. The Vau, who had themselves conquered Apshai's native inhabitants long ago, handily defeated the military forces defending the planet and wiped out all of the human colonists. They then delivered a warning for humankind to stay away from their worlds or face dire consequences.
Humanity was shaken by this encounter. Fear that the Vau would invade and conquer human space spread like wildfire, leading to widespread unrest and paranoia. The Prophet, by now a very old man but still spry owing to longevity therapy, offered to carry out a peace mission to the Vau. As the Prophet's ship departed for Vau space, it suffered a tragic jumpgate accident that took his life. His martyrdom in the service of humanity would not be forgotten. Palamedes Alecto, one of the Prophet's disciples, assumed the mantle of leadership and set out to forge a church out of Zebulon's teachings. The jumpgate cross became its symbol.
The Vau were not interested in contact with humanity, let alone conquest, and thus proved to be an empty threat. The same was not true of the next alien race that humankind encountered. In 2955, the warlike Ukari seemingly appeared out of nowhere to launch an assault against Earth's colonies, determined to conquer and enslave humanity for the greater glory of the dark pantheon of gods they served. Caught by surprise, humankind found itself on the defensive as Ukar troops captured world after world, made vulnerable by the very isolation that had secured their independence from the First Republic.
The force that finally rallied Earth's scattered children against this new threat was none other than Alecto's Universal Church of the Celestial Sun. Calling upon faithful followers across dozens of worlds, Alecto succeeded in uniting humanity to drive back the vicious Ukar hordes. The Ukari Wars lasted decades, and countless lives were expended in the liberation of the worlds that the Ukari had subjugated. Yet in the end, humanity triumphed, turning the tables on their would-be masters. This victory seemed to validate the Prophet's assertion that humankind was destined for great things within the Pancreator's plan.