"Off we go, into the wild blue yonder!" /United States// Air Force Song./
Indeed, the solar system had come a long way in five hundred years. The technology for terraforming had finally been perfected, and the time had come for spreading out amongst the worlds. There were a couple of issues, in that the planet Mercury, Titania, (Uranus' largest satellite,) and Pluto could not be terraformed. Mercury was far too close to the sun for anything to come up. The atmosphere on Mercury would have to be thin in order to keep things from getting too hot, and that would expose it to dangerous rays from the sun beyond the violet in the spectrum. Besides all that, even if the atmosphere was thick, the ozone layer would have to be so massive to block the massive amounts of those waves that the planet received on a regular basis, and that would cause things to become too hot without all that to sustain life anyway. It was hot enough, but that kind of an atmosphere would have heated up the planet further in the same way that the planet Venus had once been. Titania was on its side like its host planet, and thus only one side of the world could be exposed to the sun at one time, and then the other over the decades that it took for Uranus to go one orbit around the sun. Pluto was too far away to have the same kind of effect that the mirrored arrays did around the closer worlds.
Despite the efforts, there were some interesting things that happened. Triton,(Neptune's satellite,) was a world that was like the state of Alaska on Earth on a constant basis. Thus, the animal life placed there was that which would thrive in that kind of environment. Ganymede ranged from the sub-artic to Canadian weather. The exception was Titan. Considering the thick atmosphere it already had, all that happened was that the atmosphere was made more like aclass M world, and the arrays were then placed. With the geothermal effects, all the worlds were made habitable. However, the wildlife took interesting turns. The humans normally had an artificial gravity set to one G so that they could be about that as much as possible. The reason for this was that people could go from Earth to other worlds and back and suffer no ill effects. Yet, the animals did not have that privilege unless they were pets. As a result, abit of microevolution took place as the animals adapted to their new environs. What they were when they were introduced were not what they became by this point. Thus, they all became unique to their worlds, and they would not have been able to make it elsewhere outside of a zoo, where the conditions could be adjusted to fit each animal's needs. Each world thus became beautiful and unique in their own rights. Another interesting thing was that, on the worlds with the arrays, people and creatures alike had to get used to never having total darkness. The sun-side of things made it seem like everything was in twilight, but when things spun to the mirrored arrays, it seemed like two suns in the sky, and they were just as bright. Thus, children were taught never to stare into the arrays in the same way that the inner three's children were taught not to stare into the sun.
Triton became the place where winter sports were held regularly, with things established in the competition areas to mimic Earth conditions. It also became the place for extreme sportsmen to brave the wilds of that world. Triton's main export was the freshest water in the system as the ice in the poles were cut, thawed, filtered for debris, and sent all over the solar system. Titian was a watery world. It had land, but an amount of oceans proportional to what one would find on Earth. Thus, on this world, many water sports and recreation was done, as well as seafood exportation. Ganymede became a woodsman's paradise, where hunting and camping was abundant, and it's major export was lumber. However, the amount of lumber needed was not as much as it had once been on Earth, as other materials had been found to actually make wood obsolete in some areas. Yet, there were some things that were needed, and so lumbering was big on that world, considering the forests that sprouted there, and due to the massive size and height of the trees due to the low gravity. Therefore, enough went out to provide a sustainable economy, but not so much as to ravage the forest. There was even the policy to plant one tree for every taken. Mars and the Moon became much like Earth, and they were versatile in what they provided. They became the commercial and industrial centers of the system, able to take their own raw materials, as well as those from the other worlds, and make the things that people wanted and needed. Venus, due to its pleasant weather and tropical conditions, (a far cry from what it had been,) was the home of tourism, and many resorts of many flavors dotted the planet's surface.
The whole system was a monarchial federated republic. Each world enjoyed semi-sovereignty and a republican system not too dissimilar from the old Roman Republic, except for the royal heads. The government of the system was mirrored by each world that had a population, save for the noted exceptions, and the government of the whole federation was three-branched, with the inclusion of the crowned heads being a part of the system. The two houses were a house of commons, and ahouse of lords, but each world only had two nobles to represent it, selected by the congresses of each world. The house of commons was filled by direct election, but only commoners could run, and no noble could vote for them, as they represented the will of the common man. They were also elected proportionally to the populations of the respective worlds. However, they way it was designed provided for a check and balance between the houses. The rest of the government was modeled after the United States Constitution with some interesting additions. The judicial branch could be made up of nobility or commoners, and it made for some interesting twists when it came time to replace a justice. It became something not too dissimilar to how the parties in the old United States tried to pack the court with people more favorable to their points of view. Yet, just because they put someone there did not necessarily mean that they would always issue jurisprudence in the way that that party had thought they would. Thus, the courts never got out of hand. The executive branch had both a prime minister and the monarchy. Normally, the monarchy would be hereditary, but since they lived forever, that was not going to happen. However, everyone knew that Queen Serenity was benevolent as a ruler, and never feared her abusing her power against them. The prime minister was elected in an Electoral College system to make the voices of the people on each world equally weighty, preventing the most populated areas from constantly deciding things politically.
Legislation was like the United States Constitution, but the passing of laws had an extra step. The prime minister had veto power first, and like before, two-thirds of the legislators of both houses could override that veto, but the royalty could not. They were represented by the House of Lords, so if they overrode, they did so in the name of the crown. This kept the office of prime minister from becoming a puppet of the crown. If the veto was overridden, or the prime minister signed it, it was sent to the king and queen for final approval. It would take both of them agreeing to sign it, or else it would be vetoed by default. (This made for some interesting spats in the palace!) If that happened, or they both vetoed it, then it would take three-fourths of both houses to override the veto. Once that happened, or both the prime minister and the crown signed it, it was law. There was another way that things could end up law, and that was by either executive order or royal proclamation. If there was no challenge from the congress, then it became law, for silence was affirmation in that regard. However, if a majority of both houses stepped in, they could reverse the order. If it was a royal proclamation, it would take two-thirds of each house to reverse the proclamation. This became the law of the system, and similarly on the lower levels of each world respectively.
Each one of the original scouts-inner and outer-was considered princesses, despite the fact that Mercury, Uranus, and Pluto did not have any populations to rule. However, they had direct control over every military installation on their worlds where they lived if they were not working on Earth, or with the fleet. Everywhere else, similar systems had been established. As a result, afree and efficient system of planets was enjoyed by all that dwelt there. This time between the Cataclysm and now became known as the Silver Crystal Millennium's golden era. (For those who wonder, it is not that the whole thing was only going to last a thousand years, but it was the name of the republic, paying homage to the original Moon Kingdom's Silver Millennium, where peace had reigned that long before Queen Beryl's War.) This was a time of peace and growth, and now they sat on the verge of further growth, as they prepared for the exploration of the galaxy.
Meanwhile, back on Skretch, (the home world of the Gnarl, named for a famous warrior of their history, and the same one for which the constellation was named,) the scientists there were pouring over the data that the probes had returned. The fact that they could world shape was evidence that they were dealing with a system as sophisticated as their own. Another concern was the size of the fleet. Since they had never combated them, they could not know how strong they were in that regard. By their count, there were nine battleships, nine fighter carriers, 54 heavy cruisers, (the missile cruisers,) 108 destroyers, 54 light cruisers, (the CT cruisers,) but an unknown count of fighters. By any standards, this was a formidable interstellar fleet. What worried them was the seeming capability of each flotilla being able to land planet side and continue operation, whereas their vessels, though they could enter the atmosphere, there was only so far that they could penetrate it without losing control of the craft. By the count of bases, their army also had to be massive. They could only guess this, because, beyond the land bases, they could use the logic of knowing that the population of any group has the capability of putting into an effective fighting force one-twenty-fifth of its population. By their estimates, the world that seemed to act as the capitol held about six billion people, the second and fourth worlds from the host star held about three billion and one billion respectively. That did not account for the other worlds, but even without them, the armies that could produce would be massive. If they failed in their bid for invasion, the counterstrike would have been disaster for the Gnarl. They also had several worlds occupied in their system, but the scientists and generals wondered if they could muster enough of amilitary to counter them. With this, they went to the royalty to tell them of what they had found, and their misgivings about any kind of military action.
The royal couple sat on their thrones, both contemplating what they had been told, with Grenj looking troubled, but Squila looking annoyed and bored at the whole thing. Once they were done, Grenj said, "Well, they are strong, and what you say concerns me. I wonder if we have finally encountered a race of being equal to ourselves. Perhaps it would be better to sue them for peace and come to an alliance before it gets to a war?"
Squila took one of her cushions on her throne and hurled it at her husband, angrily saying, "Silence, you wishy-washy weakling! It may seem bad, but we are the superior creatures of the galaxy. Our power structure is great. We already have about seven star systems under our heel, serving our every need, and some were twice their size!"
"Pardon me, your majesty," said her head scientist, "Do remember that they were barely a space-faring race when we found them, and they did not have ordinance on par with our technology. This is different."
"THIS IS NO DIFFERENT!" she thundered as she stood to her feet, "We are the superior, and we are the stronger! We will just have to test them somehow, and then come up with a plan from there. By your data, it seems that that system is rich in resources, perfect for what the Gnarl System needs to survive. There is only so long the other systems can sustain us, and the more we have the longer things last. We cannot take a chance at taking something so developed. Now, GET MORE INFORMATION, YOU BOOBS, AND FIGURE OUT A WAY TO DESTROY THEIR ABILITY TO RESIST!"
The bowed quickly and started to scurry out of there, lest she become more upset and demand their heads on a charger. Grenj wanted to say something, but he knew better. His power only stemmed from her, and he knew where the true power lay. At the same time, he always wondered why they had to conquer rather than just ask for help. It boggled his mind. Nonetheless, his wife was determined, and he dared not resist her, lest she divorce him and leave him in the cold.
About a week later, on earth, the UES Artemis was preparing to leave again, but this time for an extended trip. This one would be a solo trip due to the mission. The main task was to explore, find inhabitable worlds, and make alliances, if possible. Instead of commanding their individual branches throughout the fleet, the inner scouts and General Ceres were on board to head their departments directly. The only difference would be that Queen Serenity would be in command of the vessel. Normally, this would fall to Admiral Venus, but she gave her full respect to the queen, knowing her place. She took up position as the first officer, with Mr. MacFarlane acting directly under her and aiding her in the task. Jupiter as head of the Greenbacks, (the security,)Ceres over the Marines, Mercury over the engineering and medical, (seeing she specialized in both,) and Mars in charge of the SEALs. In reality, Serenity knew that Venus was really running things, considering she knew the ship best, and her crew, and had to admit that Venus only let her borrow it from time to time. Both cats were there as well, while Endymion was left to run the show with the aid of the outer scouts. The king and queen both held each other on the gangway, neither wanting to let go. "Honey, do you have to go?" asked Endymion, "Can't the others handle this?"
"Sometimes I have to be queen, and sometimes I have to be one of the scouts,"she answered, "Considering that this is the first time in a while the whole team has been together, I could not pass this up. It could be that we might need to act in that regard and all of us being together could really do some damage."
He smiled and laughed a bit, saying, "You really have matured. Centuries ago, you would have balked at doing something like this. You were such a crybaby."
She smiled but also glared at him, giving him a playful shove, and then embraced him again. She said, "Sometimes, I'm still a bit of one. There are times that I am the queen, and then there are times when I am just good ol' Usagi-chan. Sometimes I wonder if two people don't live up here in my head. I mean, Istill cannot use Kanji characters-that I even need to now-and I only got through school with a C average. I still don't like work and study, and would rather be having fun. Yet, the queen in me wants me to serve and lead, and even be a scout from time to time."
"I do say, you do look sharp in that outfit, Captain Hornblower."
"I don't think I could even match up to that character, but I would say, as he would, that this is indeed a ship of the line."
"Because of what you were, are, and what you have become, that all makes me love you that much more."
With that, they kissed passionately just as the boatswain's whistle blew with the announcement of, "All ashore that's going ashore."
They parted, but staying forehead to forehead as they held hands, staring into each other's eyes, as they heard Mars shout, "Come on, your Majesty, daylight's wasting!"
Mars was the only one to be able to get away with talking to her like that in public because, although they still bickered from time to time as they had in the past, Serenity knew that Mars had been there all those years, taking care of her beloved princess, seeing that she was always safe. Serenity owed her much. Endymion then let go and said, "Go, and be the woman I love so much. My love for you can only grow while you are away."
He bowed and headed his way. Serenity took one moment to look at him as he parted, and she then headed to the conning platform with the rest.
This trip was going to be different. This trip would consist of visiting four star systems: Lalande 21185, Epsilon Eridani, 61 Cygni alpha and beta, and Tau Ceti. These four worlds hold the best chance for life around them, though not all yellow dwarfs. It was initially thought that there were no planets or intelligent life there, but now that things had advanced, they found planets about these stars. The orange dwarves and the one red dwarf were as such that could sustain life giving planets depending on how things went. The biggest surprise was when it was discovered that the binary system in the constellation Cygnus had planets. Normally, a binary system would not permit the formation of planets, considering that the orbits of the stars are normally elliptic in nature, getting close to each other as they pass around a central point in sort of a dance-like move. That kind of action would destroy anything trying to form. However, this binary system was spread out enough as to where this would not happen, and it normally takes 700 years for an orbit to complete, being 81 AU apart at their closest. This could allow for things to form, and this was what they sought to find out.
The ship prepared for their launch into space, pulling away from the dock at one eighth impulse power to much fanfare. Serenity took her seat in the chair and, after having cleared the harbor, called for one eight impulse power, and then called for full power as they readied for launch. Luna sat curled up on her lap, watching through the window as the ship rushed faster and faster. Artemis was around Venus' neck and said to Luna, "So, are you nervous?"
"Why should I be?" she responded, "This is perfectly safe."
She then stiffened as the ship rose up out of the water and began to sway as the impulse engine began to gimble to keep her steady. Serenity squealed as Luna sunk in her claws out of instinct, and she pushed the cat off her. "Luna, what was that all about!" she demanded.
"Sorry," she said, "I...uh..." she stopped herself, knowing that Artemis was watching her, seeing if her bravery was as strong as she had claimed. It was then that the inner scouts began to laugh a bit, and Jupiter then said, "Luna, you haven't changed a bit!"
Luna just lifted her head with a bit of hurt pride and went to curl up in acorner somewhere.
Just as they broke the atmosphere, Mercury stated, "A small group of fighters are approaching-about five of them."
Mr. Mambazo then said, "They are hailing us."
"Hi, Mom!" shouted a voice over the subspace radio, "We just came to see you off!"
It was Usagi with the Amazoness Quartet, who acted as her wingmen. Serenity normally would have taken offense at the informality, considering this situation would have called for more decorum. However, due to some of the nerves on board, this seemed to lighten the mood, and she let it go. "Good to hear from you again," said Serenity, "It's been a long week."
"We had training to do," said Usagi, "You know that the mission has to go through."
"I know, baby," she said, "Just take care of daddy while I'm gone."
"You know I always do!" she said with a giggle.
At about that moment, the five approached the ship, with Mercury saying, "We now have a visual of you."
They were in a wide wedge shape, and as the got near, JunJun pulled her fighter up and away from the group in a Missing Man formation as a salute to the crew. The others shot quickly over the ship as closely as they could safely, and it was heard from CreCre, "Clear skies, UES Artemis, and as the Arabs say, 'May Allah grant you find food and water, and may Allah grant you find nothing more.'"
Mr. Mambazo, knowing the saying, answered, "Thank you for the well wishes, and clear skies to you as well."
With that, the communication, and Lieutenant Kim-Soo-Lee then said, "Course, your Majesty?"
"Lalande is first on the list, so make it so," said Serenity, with all the grace of a military commander. However, Mars looked at her and said, "You are such a Jekyll and Hyde."
She smiled at, and glared at, Mars and said, "Don't you have your team to tend to?"
Mars gave a sly smile and said, "As you wish, your Majesty."
She bowed and headed out, as did the others to tend to their departments. However, once alone, she heaved a sigh of relief. This was the first time she had taken military command of something this big, and she said to herself,"Come on, Dumpling Head, you can do this. You have handled it for five hundred years; you can handle it for a few months in this."
Luna could not help but detect the nerves in Serenity and came over to rub on Serenity's leg, purring all the way. Serenity picked her up as Luna said,"Relax, because you are going to do well. You have changed so much. When Ifirst met you, you could not fight your way out of a wet paper sack. Now look at you: you are the pillar of strength."
"I'm only that way with you and my friends," she said as she hugged Luna, and Luna purred contentedly. It was going to be a good trip.