"Approaching Arcturus. Disengaging FTL drive core."
Rear Admiral Jon Grissom of the Alliance, the most famous man on Earth and its three fledgling interstellar colonies, glanced up briefly as the voice of the SSV New Delhi's helmsman came over the shipboard intercom. A second later he felt the unmistakable deceleration surge as the vessel's mass effect field generators wound down and the New Delhi dropped from faster-than-light travel into speeds more acceptable to an Einsteinian universe.
The ghostly illumination of the familiar red-shifted universe spilled in through the cabin's tiny viewport, gradually cooling to more normal hues as they decelerated.
Grissom hated the viewports; Alliance ships were purely instrument driventhey required no visual references of any kind. But all vessels were designed with several tiny ports and at least one main viewing window, typically on the bridge, as a concession to antiquated romantic ideals of space travel.
The Alliance worked hard to maintain these romantic idealsthey were good for recruitment. To people back on Earth, the unexplored vastness of space was still a wonder. Humanity's expansion across the stars was a glorious adventure of discovery, and the mysteries of the galaxy were just waiting to be revealed.
Grissom knew the truth was much more complex. He had seen firsthand just how beautifully cold the galaxy could be. It was both magnificent and terrifying, and he knew there were some things humanity was not yet ready to face. The classified transmission he had received that morning from the base at Shanxi was proof of that.
In many ways humanity was like a child: naïve and sheltered. Not that this was surprising. In the whole of humanity's long history it was only in the last two centuries that they had broken the bonds of Earth and ventured into the cold vacuum of space beyond. And true interstellar travelthe ability to journey to destinations beyond their own solar systemhad only been made possible in the last decade. Less than a decade, in fact.
It was in 2148, a mere nine years ago, that the mining team on Mars had unearthed the remains of a long-abandoned alien research station deep beneath the planet's surface. It was heralded as the most significant discovery in human history, a singular event that changed everything forever.
For the first time, humanity was faced with indisputable, incontrovertible proof that they were not alone in the universe. Every media outlet across the world had jumped on the story. Who were these mysterious aliens? Where were they now? Were they extinct? Would they return? What impact did they have on humanity's past evolution? What impact would they have on humanity's future? In those first few months, philosophers, scientists, and self-appointed experts endlessly debated the significance of the discovery on the news vids and across the info nets, vehemently and sometimes even violently.