In the first half of the twenty-first century, corporate greed delayed the switch away from fossil fuels, and the resulting changes in global climate put the world on the brink of disaster. In Russia, the exploited workforce rebeled, killing the criminal corporate oligarchs. In America, a growing discontent among younger adults, the mythical 18-to-45s figured out that no amount of gerrymandering could stop overwhelming numbers of voters for every seat in every election. China took advantage of a recession in the West caused by outrageous American tariffs. They invested heavily on infrastructure and renewable energy, becoming the supplier of solar panels and wind turbines to the world. In all three superpowers more liberal governments resulted. Facing ecological disaster, the consensus of world leaders was that the United Nations should be granted increased power to solve the carbon crisis. Carbon emissions were reduced and tiny particles of sulfer were dispersed in the stratosphere by airplanes, which raised the Earth’s albedo to 0.40 (up from 0.39). This small increase in the amount of solar energy reflected into space, along with the reduction in carbon, stopped the global climate crisis. There was still considerable damage from flooding.

In the last half of the 21st century, the United Nations had transformed into something similar to the European Union, where nations retained sovereignty but ceded some power to the UN to enforce human rights and environmental standards. The Solar System was being explored, permanent bases existed on the Moon and Mars, and mining the asteroids had started.

This came with a few technological breakthroughs. Research into Dark Energy and the Higgs Boson, also called the God Particle, resulted in gravity manipulation, and eventually artificial gravity. Transportation was transformed. This also led to huge advances in fusion technology, once the fusing gas could be contained with gravity instead of magnetic fields.

At this time a scientific breakthrough resulted from research into M-Theory (which combined all superstring theories into a reasonably coherent whole). An odd two-dimensional space was discovered that could be traversed to shorten space travel, and the technology was developed to jump a ship into this dimension and make it pop back into our universe. This technology was called the Jump Drive.

The limitation on the Jump Drive was that a ship could only travel 1 parsec and it had to have a gravity well on the other side to exit. Since the nearest star from Earth was Proxima Centauri at 1.3 parsecs, the closest stars were still shut off from us. Not to be stymied, scientists looked for another solution. Perhaps there was a rogue planet in interstellar space. A search began. What they found was a very cool brown dwarf, only 16 times larger than Jupiter at nearly one parsec and also within one parsec of Alpha Centauri as well as Barnard’s Star. Brown dwarfs are stars too small to fuse hydrogen and only radiate heat, so they are very hard to find unless they are in a system with a visible star.

As luck would have it, Alpha Centauri and Barnard’s Star contained Earthlike planets with robust ecosystems. Thus was a new age of exploration begun.

Within the next 40 years, a fueling and repair outpost was built on the large moon of one of the two gas giants in the brown dwarf system (now called Hel after the cold Scandinavian underworld) and colonies were begun in the other two systems. Several more systems that could be reached with 1-parsec jumps were surveyed.

Then disaster struck: a star went supernova just 13 parsecs away toward the core of the galaxy. The gamma-ray wave damaged Earth’s ecosystem and made space travel dangerous for over a decade.

It’s been four years since the scientists gave the all clear that space travel was safe. The facilities in the Solar System were revisited and refurbished. The moon colony survived pretty well since it had been designed to be self-sufficient, but the Mars colony was nearly dead with only a thousand colonists still alive because part of their water system had failed.

Scientists have developed a 2 parsec Jump Drive, and you have been selected as the maiden crew of the first interstellar exploration ship since the supernova. Your mission is to visit the colonies and provide what assistance you can, and then explore the rest of the planets in the nearby area, especially those that couldn’t be reached by a Jump-1 ship.