By the year 2060, several industrial accidents had caused severe environmental damage across the earth. Scientists, worried about continued environmental degradation, began to look for solutions to the problem.
A prototype Ion drive managed to accelerate a probe to one tenth the speed of light in the year 2069. Then in 2085, the first prototype Orion drive accelerated a probe to one quarter the speed of light. Finally, in 2099, the Galaxy Explorer Program launched eight unmanned deep space probes, equipped with updated Orion drives, towards nearby stars. A permanent colony was established on Mars ten years later. Research on terra-forming led to the first attempt to transform Mars' atmosphere.
In 2140 Galaxy Explorer Seven arrived in the Gliese 876 Solar System, 15 light years away, and began to transmit information back to earth. Fifteen years later, images from Gliese 876 reached Earth, showing a multiple star system with three G-Class stars with four Earth-like planets around each and a total of 58 Mars-like planets along with several gas giants around each star, each with at least two dozen moons that could be terra-formed and given an earth-like gravity field using Orbital Gravity Control satellites. The Destiny Program sent a manned mission towards Gliese in 2181. Destiny arrived at the Gliese system in 2215 then and set up a colony on one of the Earth-like planets.
Terra-forming was completed on Mars in 2216. Images of humans on the planet Sihnon in the Gliese system reached the Sol System in 2230. With the earth continuing to decay, enthusiasm for travel to the new system exploded. Three years later, the United Worlds, the successor to the United Nations, was formed.
Earth's moon was finally terra-formed in 2245. Then from 2250 to 2270 "The First Leap Outward" took place, during which several huge colony ships were launched towards Gliese.
In 2253, Jupiter's moon Europa was terra-formed. Finally, in 2275 scientists determined that without a massive effort, Earth would be uninhabitable in less than 150 years. A huge debate erupted between Expansionists who wanted to focus all of Earth's resources on the new system, and Homesteaders who wanted to focus on making Earth viable in the long run.
The first wave of millions of colonists arrived in the Gliese system from 2280 to 2300. These new colonies were set up on three of the Earth-like worlds (Sihnon, Londinium, and Ariel). More than a billion people left the Sol system for Gliese from 2310 to 2320 during "The Second Leap Outward". They settled the other nine Earth-like planets. From 2340 to 2350 "The Third Leap Outward" took place. By this time Earth's population had dropped to less than two billion, with the rest of the population either now living on Mars or on their way to the Gliese system.
An asteroid struck Mars in 2341, killing several million people. Conspiracy theorists said that the expansionists let the asteroid strike the world, to encourage people to abandon the Sol system for Gliese. Whatever the truth, after the asteroid strike the population of the Sol system for the first time dropped below that of the Gliese system.
By the year 2370, with the population of the Gliese system exploding, the colonists who had been on the planets for decades began to resent the newcomers. The Blue Sun mega-corporation won the contract to begin terra-forming the scores of smaller planets and moons in the system. Blue Sun would employ a special greenhouse gas that traps the heat in a planet or moon's atmosphere making the place warm enough to sustain life even at far distances from the sun. That would be combined with the gravity-control satellites, nanomachines released into the atmosphere, genetically engineered bacteria and algae, soil, and water, plus some industrial sized atmospheric processors along with gigantic orbital mirrors for extra heat and light. The orbital mirrors would be used to focus light on each moon or planet, thus little problem with sunlight and distance.
Many colonists were upset when they arrived in the system, expecting to live on one of the lush central planets, only to be forced to colonize one of the marginal worlds out on the rim. This was mostly because they knew that while terra-forming would make those planets and moons very similar to Earth, they would never be as lush or comfortable as the twelve Core Worlds on account of being so far away from the suns.
In 2374, China and the United States, two leading powers in the Expansionist movement, withdrew from the United Worlds. The new Anglo-Sino Alliance, which controlled many of the worlds and corporations in Gliese, became the de facto main governing body of the system. With the two biggest superpowers out of the United Worlds, attempts to restore the Earth's environment collapsed in 2380 and the planet was officially declared uninhabitable.
A few years after this, prostitution was universally legalized in the form of the Companion Guild, whose registered Companions would eventually have great social status conferred upon them--to the point that some colonies would not even let a ship dock without a Companion onboard.
The United Worlds was officially dissolved in 2391. While there were still viable colonies on Mars, Europa and Luna, the Sol system suffered under a boycott from the Alliance. Many of the few who remain in the Sol system gave up and headed for Gliese. The last colony ship arrived in the Gliese System from Earth in the year 2429. Radio contact with the handful of people left in the Sol system soon broke off. It is unknown if there are still colonies there.
Terra-forming continued to push the human colonies further out into the system by 2440. Almost all the worlds other than the Core Worlds were officially declared colonies (whatever their populations), which meant they had no voting rights in the Alliance. All those planets and moons terra-formed towards the end of colonization were much more primitive than those that were settled early (the Core Planets) because they hadn't had ample opportunity to establish new levels of high technology the central worlds have.
As humanity pushes out further, some men go savage on the edge of Alliance space after being too long removed from civilization, becoming merciless cannibalistic killers known as Reavers. They have no philosophy, having forgotten how to be men, and some believe that they became nothingness itself when confronted with the nothing at the edge of the solar system. However, Reavers are only the stuff of campfire stories to most people, and many do not believe they really exist. Legend has it that if Reavers take a ship, they will rape its crew to death, eat their flesh, and sew their skins into their clothing--and if the crew is very, very lucky, they will do it in that order.
As the Alliance terraformed its border moons, settlers were dumped there with nothing but blankets, hatchets, and maybe a herd. Some of those moons managed to make it, but others ended up in bad shape, suffering plagues and famine--though some of the reports of such suffering were exaggerated.
In 2485, the border moon Calembel experienced extreme weather patters due to poor terra-forming. More than a million people died in floods, tornadoes, and earthquakes. Official Alliance response was slow, and it was more than three weeks before relief ships arrived. Many border planets were angered by the slow response, and the phrase "Remember Calembel!" became a rallying cry among the anti-Alliance forces. "The Freedom Petition" was issued in 2493. In it 49 border worlds signed the petition demanding increased representation in the Alliance. The Alliance responded by arresting the leaders of the movement and instituting martial law.
From 2493 to 2506, terrorist activity against Alliance targets grew on the border worlds. The Alliance responded, often brutally. In 2506, the Alliance tax offices on Shadow were burned to the ground by an angry mob, and all Alliance officials were kicked off the world. The Cruiser Munch was dispatched to the moon in order to restore order. When the captain of the Munch refused an order to bombard the colony, another Alliance Cruiser, the Kelp, was sent to the moon. The Kelp was destroyed by the Munch, in what is considered the first act of the Civil War that would come to be known as the War to Unite the Planets.
One by one, the various moons and planets on the rim declared themselves pro-Independence. Some Alliance military forces joined the rebels, but the majority remained loyal. The war was long and bloody, with the Independents also known as Browncoats generally worse off. Forces of the so called "Union of Allied Planets" slowly pushed their way out in the system.
In late May of 2511, Alliance and Independent forces met in battle in a place called Serenity Valley. Located on Hera, the valley was considered a key position by both sides, and was bitterly fought over. The Independent Faction, with sixteen brigades and twenty air-tank squads, held the valley against Alliance forces for almost two months, until superior numbers and a brilliant deep- flank strategy by General Richard Wilkins led to an Alliance victory in what would become the most devastating and decisive battle of the war. Nearly half a million people lay dead on that field at day's end, about a third of them "winners". With the strategically important planet of Hera fallen into Alliance hands, the Independents began to accept terms of surrender.
Those who had fought for independence and so bloodily lost had no choice but to live by the laws of the new "Universal Alliance". Some never would, and those few 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 lived by a simple creed: Any job, anywhere. The motto of the few remaining disorganized Independents is "We Shall Rise Again".
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 (Cantonese and Mandarin), dress (Chinese styles often worn by women), newspapers, etc. The other culture influencing the Gliese 876 system 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.
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. 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.