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At the end 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 and for mutual protection. The Solar System is being explored, mining the asteroids has started, and permanent bases exist on the Moon and Mars.

Also at this time a scientific breakthrough resulting 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 decades.

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