Depleted resources, overpopulation, and a compromised ecosystem forced the population to abandon "Earth-That-Was". Amazingly enough, instead of wiping itself out, the human race rose to the challenge of finding a new home for the species. Astronomers searched the heavens and found a small star cluster of five main sequence stars. Seven gas giants large enough to be brown dwarfs and seven Jupiter-sized gas giants were also discovered in the cluster. Also found in the star cluster were dozens of planets and hundreds of moons, almost all of which had enough mass and solidity to be templates for new earths. Through giant atmosphere processing plants, terraforming technologies, gravity regulation and the introduction of every known form of Earth life, each could become habitable for a human population. Every person willing and able to leave the Earth migrated to the new system in a great exodus.
They set out in enormous ships they referred to as "arks." Without "faster-than-light" capability, the journey to a new home was long and taxing. One full generation was born, lived, and died without ever leaving these space ships. The initial excitement of the voyage quickly faded into the monotony of keeping the ships moving, keeping the life-support systems intact, and perfecting the technologies that would give future generations good lives on new worlds. Naturally, some people expected to encounter extraterrestrial life, but the only signals on the scanner were the natural static of the stars. So far as we know, humanity is alone in the universe.
With so many different people of all nationalities and races inside the space ships, the old ethnic and political barriers began to blur. People learned the native languages of their fellow ship dwellers. Subsequent generations would come to speak fluently the two dominant languages, English and Mandarin, and phrases from other cultures.
Not surprising, some people lost hope along the way. There were accidents, malfunctions. If an ark lost life support, thousands died. The arks became their coffins, forever drifting in the cold. But for every person that lost hope, hundreds were there to keep it alive. Each day brought humanity closer to home. And then, one day, there it was.
The five stars of the system are White Sun (Class A0), Red Sun (Class G5), Blue Sun (Class F0), Georgia (Class G0), and Kalidasa (Class F5). Scientists surmised that the system was formed when the four lower gravity stars came within the gravitational influence of the stronger White Sun and formed a rudimentary orbital system where the star systems operate similar to planets orbiting a single star. The system is inherently unstable and it is theorized that it will break apart again in 25,000 to 50,000 years or so. However, that is more than long enough for humanity to use up all the resources on the 215 new worlds.
These new worlds were ready for habitation (despite the odd quirk of nature or miscalculation on a few) and civilization began to rebuild. Even after continued refinement, the process of terraforming a moon or a planet takes decades. Terraforming requires atmospheric processing plants, the regulation of gravity, environmental adaptation and the introduction of creatures great and small brought from Earth-That-Was—everything from algae and bacteria to insects, birds, and mammals. The power to make such changes is still not without its limits. While most all terraformed worlds are suitable for human life, each has its own quirks. A key technology is "helioforming." The process involves using nano-compression technology to compress and ignite a brown dwarf into an artificial sun. This was done to all seven of the brown dwarfs in the Verse. Turning these gas giants into "protostars" in turn made their moons available for terraforming.
The work of terraforming had started on the two largest, most central planets orbiting White Sun, Sihnon and Londinium. On Earth-That-Was, the two ruling powers were the United States and the People's Republic of China. Though these nations remained separate, the two powers worked together throughout the colonization process and as so many had, their cultures melding at many levels. Londinium, named after the Roman name for England's capital (a country long before annexed by the U.S. in a somewhat ironic reversal), represented what was once the United States. Sinon ('SEE-non,' a bastardization of Sino, our word for 'Chinese') was the new China. These two powers, still working in harmony, grew at once into the most populous and advanced civilizations in the new star system. They became the center of culture and business throughout the system. The governments of these two planets took an enlightened view of civilization. They worked to maintain order, but also encouraged diversity of language, ethnicity, religion, and expression of thought.
These were enlightened cultures, with respect for all non-aggressive religious beliefs (though the main religion on both was Buddhism, usually of the Mahayana tradition). Literacy levels were at 94%. Average lifespan was 120. Public Service was not law - it was simply an ingrained part of the people's ethos. Certain social mores had evolved beyond our modern conceptions. As, for example, sex. Prostitution as we understand it had long since been abolished by the legalization and strict federal regulation of the sex trade. 'Companion' houses were set up throughout the central planets. No house could ever be run by a man. No Companion could ever be coerced into accepting a client. Companions trained in all the arts, extremely well schooled. They lived not unlike Nuns, worked not unlike Geishas, and often rose to political or social prominence when they retired. Such was life on the central planets: Ariel, Bernadette, Londinum, Osiris, and Sihnon. On the outer planets, things were a mite different.
They had enough worlds to go around, but not enough resources. And people didn't exactly stop procreating. Despite all the best efforts and intentions of the original founders, the problems of the common man did not go away with the formation of new worlds. Humanity is restless, always looking to find greener pastures somewhere else. Pioneers left the crowded cities and traveled out to the most newly terraformed worlds, hoping to build a better life for themselves. The outer planets, the worlds and moons that hadn't been chosen to house the new civilization - they were the destination for the poorer, more extreme, the pioneers. They traveled out to the nearest planet someone hadn't claimed yet and started turning their rockets into roofs. Building off whatever the land had been shaped to provide them with. Some of these people were brought near to savagery by the conditions they encountered. Some were just hard-working, independent people who didn't want their lives mapped out for them before they'd lived them. Didn't want convenience. Some were orthodox in their beliefs to the point where they were not comfortable among non-believers, and wanted whole worlds where they would not be slowly homogenized into society. And some had reason to avoid the law.
There were troubles. As humanity spread out, they brought with them their usual miseries: greed, corruption, crime. Disagreement over resources, trade, and political influence led to general unrest among the planets. There were famines, there were wars - the human race didn't get better or smarter just because they had made scientific leaps. Things were definitely more peaceful among the Central Planets, but that peace was bought at a price. Nothing resembling totalitarianism, but a certain regulation of existence that would not sit well with some. And even among these planets, conflicts over resources, trade, and political influence strained the civil relations of sister nations. A movement began in the oldest, most stable planets to form a unified parliamentary system of government that would work to regulate such matters and keep the peace. The popular idea was quickly ratified and in an effort to unite and quell this conflict, the Central Planets formed the Alliance, a governing structure that unified them all under one governing body, the Parliament. The few members represented each planet, and worked in genuine harmony to fulfil each planet's various needs, economically and politically. In harmony, and very often, in secrecy.
The Alliance was started out of an idealistic belief that a strong central government that controlled every aspect of a person's life, from cradle to grave, could provide that person a better, safer, and more secure life. Some people in the Alliance truly believed this and they dedicated their lives to bringing this about. Others saw this as a chance to grab power for themselves.
The Parliament formed a military council that acted quickly to quell any unrest among the Core planets and their neighbors. Maintaining order meant keeping tight control over the populace, and that led to the creation of many secret programs. Their hope was to make people obedient, complacent, compliant—"better" by the government's definition. The Parliament ruled over people with fairness and intelligence, but also with a strong army and a wary eye toward any insurrection. The Military Council worked under the Parliament to deliver swift, effective control of any real unrest among them or their neighbors. And even beyond the knowledge of the Military Council were other bodies, secret bodies...human experimentation. Spies. Assassins. Schemes, secret up to the highest level, to get people to behave. To improve.
The Alliance was the protective parent. The Core worlds were model children. But the Alliance had another problem. They feared their "good children" were going to be corrupted by the bad seeds who lived on the wrong side of the system. The worlds on the Border and the Rim were self-governing, outside the limits of Alliance control. Each world had its own set of laws and rules that suited its own particular needs. People living on these frontier planets had been forced to be self-reliant in order to survive, and they had come to be free-thinkers who saw no need for a lot of government meddling. The Alliance considered such independence a threat to civilization. (They also considered that a lot of valuable resources and real estate were outside their control) For the benefit of all people in the system and partially out of a simple imperialistic wish for control and need for resources off-limits to them, the Parliament - and the Allied planets as a whole decided that every planet in the system should come under Alliance rule, whether its people wanted it or not.
Believing that everyone would want to live on a safe and civilized world where people are cared for by their betters, idealistic people of the Core planets thought this was a great idea. The movement for Unification spread like wildfire through dry brush. The leaders on the Core thought they had only to open their arms in a wide embrace and those poor benighted souls on the Rim would come running home to their mothers. Those on the Border did come running. Only problem—they carried guns.
The War for Unification was the most devastating in human history. Outer planets, including Shadow, Persephone, and Hera, mustered forces - more than half volunteers - to stop what they felt to be nothing more than imperialist hegemony and formed an alliance of their own—the Independent Faction (known as "Browncoats," thanks to the brown dusters their soldiers took to wearing). The Parliament of the Alliance instituted a draft to build its forces. They were considerably astonished to learn that more than half of the Independent forces were composed of volunteers. The Alliance (known as the "Purple Bellies" for their style of dress) had the manpower, the ships, and technology to make the result of the war a forgone conclusion—but they never expected the kind of resistance the other planets could provide. They did not expect so many men and women to still consider freedom worth dying for.
The war raged for just over five years, taking place on land, sea, and in the dark of space. The war tore into the planets between the central ones and the rim worlds (fighting never reached such inconsequential moons as Whitefall or Beaumonde, nor did it touch Sihnon and Londinium, except in the odd protest or terrorist act).
The largest space battle in terms of scale and human cost was the Battle of Sturges, one in which countless ships were destroyed, creating a massive graveyard preserved in the vacuum of the black. The largest land battle, the one that brought about the end of the war, was fought on the planet Hera in Serenity Valley. Hera (along with Shadow and Sturges) orbits the protostar Murphy in the Georgia system. Located on the inner edge of the Border, it is an ideal jumping-off point for travelers going to the Core or out to the Rim. In combination with Persephone – which orbits a protostar on the outer edge of the Core – Hera/Persephone form a kind of "airlock" between the Core and the rest of the system, making it a target of great strategic importance. The battle raged on for seven weeks before the Independent High Command surrendered. Even then, some of the Browncoats continued to fight on for two weeks after that. Those soldiers who continued to fight even after being ordered to lay down arms were captured and held in camps for a short time. Ultimately, the Alliance released the soldiers and officers as a peaceful gesture to those outer planets now under its rule. The stain of criminality never left those few thousand - but in some quieter circles, the legend of their tenacity made them heroes.
Since the battles were mostly fought on the Border and the Rim, the Core planets escaped unscathed. To this day, many outer planets still bear terrible scars. Shadow was effectively destroyed, and it remains uninhabitable seven years later. Major cities on Athens were bombed. Several key land battles were fought on Persephone. Moons that had no strategic value, such as Whitefall and Jiangyin, were untouched, but they still suffered as a result of the disruption of trade. Supplies had been hard to get as it was, and the war made it harder. Almost every person living on those planets saw their homes leveled, their businesses fall into ruin, their loved ones killed or maimed—all in the name of making their lives better.
Life has returned to normal—leastways on the surface. In truth, no one has forgotten and few have forgiven. The Alliance now has jurisdiction over every inhabited planet in the system. The Alliances does not fully control everything within its farflung territory. In reality, the Alliance only has full control over the Core planets. On these worlds, the eyes of the Alliance are everywhere. Federal police can be called at a moment's notice, and cameras record every citizen's every move. The Core worlds have the best comforts that money can buy. Of course, every citizen pays for such security and comfort with more than a bit of his freedom.
The outer planets were meant to be kept under the same level of strict control, but the Alliance is short on manpower and ships. They just don't have enough people to keep a proper eye on things. They hire security firms to help enforce their laws and maintain order. And they send their hulking patrol ships out into the black to remind everyone who is in charge. Still, the cracks in the system are large enough to fly a Firefly-class ship through.
Take slavery, for example. Slavery is outlawed by the Alliance government, but it's an open secret that terraforming companies, mine owners and the wealthy on the Rim regularly use slave labor in their operations, and pay big sums for human cargo. Every so often, the Alliance will bust one of these owners and free the slaves—always looks good on the nightly news. But then it's back to business as usual. Same with indentured servants. That's not legal, either, but most people on the Border planets accept indentured servitude as a way of life.
Those who fought for independence and so bloodily lost have no choice but to live by the laws of the new Universal Alliance. Some never will, and those few have found themselves drifting--flying to the furthest reaches of the system, to the border planets, worlds less civilized, some barely settled, where the Alliance might not control their lives. These are hard worlds, and work is where you find it. Those who get buy live by a simple creed: Any job, anywhere.
The culture of 2517 is heavily influenced by the relationship between the West and East embodied in the Alliance. There are many Eastern influences including speech, dress (Chinese styles often worn by women), newspapers, etc. The Central Planets are the home of modern civilization with every imaginable technological achievement on display. Life on the borders of colonized space is very different. The other culture influencing the Verse is the Western Frontiersman. As well as the dialect this is shown again in terms of dress, the lower end of the technology spectrum (coach and horses), etc. Without easy assess to modern conveniences, the sparse populations make due with more antiquated tools. These worlds have come to resemble the old American frontier, in look and attitude. Self-sufficiency and hard work are the rule. Even on those worlds, the "Earth That Was" is not a place people talk about going to.