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Star-Crossed Allies

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In the beginning of the universe, all matter and the entire fabric of spacetime expanded from a singularity that had existed in a formless void. Gradually, the stars and planets and galaxies came together. Life was rare, but it flourished where it was able. In one corner of one galaxy among trillions, humans evolved and began to think about the heavens above them. After many tens of millennia, they even began to explore the universe that lay beyond the tiny speck of rock where they were born.

They spread out as far as their technology allowed. Eventually they developed tools that enabled them to exploit the natural wormholes that were scattered here and there between worlds. Many died in the first wave of exploration. They jumped into the unknown, and some never returned. But the humans were undeterred. They began to hopscotch from world to world, building up infrastructure and civilization on the uninhabited worlds they found.

A vast galactic society formed among the colonized planets. The hub of the new civilization still centered on ancestral Earth. The planet was fortunate enough to be connected to all the first six planets discovered in the early days of galactic travel by a single wormhole jump. Together, those seven worlds were the first to master the art and science of wormhole travel, thus becoming wealthy and powerful, the central node of a vast network of worlds that spread from one far corner of the galaxy to another.

Although Earth was at the center—ancient, venerable, well connected—it was growing obsolete and complacent. No one went to Earth for the newest weapons or technology. Its primary industries were finance and tourism. It was left to the newer planets to push the species forward.

Each of the other six planets in the hub around Earth had its own unique chemical composition, which gave each planet a different atmospheric cast and a different specialty. The planet initially designated PO-13 bore a deep purple atmosphere that completely obscured the air outside the domes that encased the cities where the new inhabitants lived. Piyo became responsible for the creation of the newest weapons. SP-45 had a deep blue sky, far deeper than Earth’s native atmosphere, and managed the nexus’s shipping and transportation concerns. RE-37, with a shimmering red atmosphere, focused on food production and terraforming. MI-24, which carried an eerie yellow glow, developed the most cutting-edge computer software and programming. TI-81 developed the most advanced life extension and medical technologies. Finally, SO-62, whose atmosphere was a burnished orange, boasted the greatest patronage of all the arts and humanities.

The chief among the outer planets of this system, beyond the initial seven, was Asgard. The Asgardians had developed their medical arts to such a degree that they lived several times longer than most other humans. Their technology put that of TI-81 to shame. The planet was full of fine architecture, a monument to the Asgardians’ skill and their pride, which they were prepared to enjoy for several hundred years.

On the other side of the nexus stood Sokovia. The discovery of the planet had been a chance occurrence. Terraforming transformed it from unlivable to habitable by humans. However, the planet had been lost to the rest of the galaxy several hundred years ago when an anomaly had caused the only wormhole connecting it to the rest of the system to collapse. It had only been rediscovered in the past ten years when an enterprising jump ship had happened upon a new wormhole. The greater system had been horrified to learn of the strife that had rent the planet into bitter factions. Sokovia was in the middle of a full-on civil war during the period of rediscovery, after the long simmering tensions had peaked. A portion of the population had developed unique abilities, but the rest sought to suppress them. It was only after the ascent to the throne of Empress Wanda, when both sides were weakened enough that it was either truce or total destruction, that peace was re-established throughout the world.

Sadly, that war was only one reminder that no matter how much time passed and how advanced human civilization grew, some things remained the same. Humans had not outgrown their petty hatreds and prejudices. They maintained the will to power over other beings. There were those who distrusted any one who was the least bit different. There were those who would do anything to have their way.

Titan was the planet that epitomized this approach. Its leader, Thanos, had come to power on a platform of convincing the populace that the current galactic prosperity was a scheme to enrich a privileged few, ignoring the facts on the ground. He proclaimed that the entire house of cards would fall apart at the merest upset. In the end, Thanos convinced enough voters that only he could bring about true abundance for everyone. Despite this rhetoric, Thanos pulled Titan back from the wider galactic society, preferring to work toward his true goal in secret. Those who didn’t support him were soon cowed by his gang of thugs. Access to outside news networks was gradually shut down, allowing the rest of the galaxy to forget about Titan. Out of sight, out of mind.

Amid this landscape wandered a lone ship, not the newest or the fastest, but lovingly cared for. Its inhabitants were not welcome anywhere. The ship was one of the old-model colony ships, designed to hold hundreds of individuals for months to years. The synthezoids, descendants of the humans’ attempts to develop the perfect artificial intelligence, who had developed consciousnesses and personalities of their own, had drifted across the galaxy, trying to settle on various worlds. But in the end, they were always pushed out, so they chose to make their way alone, keeping resupplies and contact with human communities to a minimum.

But that all changed once the synthezoids realized that every world was at risk from a cataclysmic threat.