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Edric O

Introducing the Solsys Universe

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You might have heard me occasionally mentioning a sci-fi universe that I was developing. Well, the development phase (which consisted of me creating scenarios in my head and linking them together into a timeline) is now over, and the time has come for me to write down the 900 year history of what I call the Solsys Universe. This is a world-building exercise, and a very big one at that. The full history of the Solsys Universe is long, but well worth reading - I hope - if you like this sort of thing. I'm planning to use this universe as a setting for a great number of stories, but I can't write the stories until I have the major historical events all sorted out (I hate making stuff up as I go along).

So, what you are about to read is [the beginning of] my history of the 3rd millenium AD, or rather the 900 or so years running from around 2100 to around 3000 AD. It is written from the perspective of a history article in an encyclopedia published around the year 3000, not long after the War of the Dawn and the creation of the Commonwealth of Humanity (you will know what these names mean once I finish writing it all down).

What first prompted me to create this fictional universe was the observation that in all sci-fi universes featuring the human race, it is sort of assumed that humans will immediately jump from living on Earth to travelling among the stars at faster-than-light speeds. This is the equivalent of a technological leap from horse-driven carriages to jet airliners. It doesn't make the least bit of sense. When we finally get off Earth, we won't go to Alpha Centauri. We'll go to the Moon. Then Mars. Then other planets and moons in our own Solar System. It should be centuries - if not millenia - between our first Moon settlements and our first trip to Alpha Centauri. There will be a period in human history when we'll go exploring and colonizing our own Solar System. But as far as I know, the sci-fi stories dealing with this period of time tend to be few and far between - not to mention unrealistic, with the vast majority of Humanity still living on Earth and hardly a few tiny colonies elsewhere.

Simply put, all sci-fi is either near future or far future. What about the "middle future"? That is what I wanted to explore. A future that is neither so close as to be just like the present with fancy gadgets, nor so distant as to be entirely unrelated to our own time.

And then, of course, there are quite a few political statements I want to make.

But without further ado, here is the Solsys Universe (the word "Solsys", by the way, is a noun used to refer to the Solar System). I will post new chapters as I write them.

* * *

ENCYCLOPAEDIA SOLARIA

History of the Commonwealth

Previous: Part VI - The Age of Assimilation (477 PB - CSY 139)

You are currently reading: Part VII - Interplanetary Age (CSY 139 - CSY 1000)

Next: Part VIII - Age of the Commonwealth (CSY 1000 - present day)

Introduction

The 'Interplanetary Age' is a roughly defined historical period comprising the centuries of human exploration and colonization of Solsys, beginning with the rise of the American Empire and ending with the War of the Dawn and the creation of the Commonwealth of Humanity. This period is often referred to as a 'millenium', although it was shorter than a thousand years. Historians do not agree on the exact date which should be considered the beginning of the Interplanetary Age. Several different years have been proposed, but two stand out in particular: CSY 139, the year of the election of the first American Emperor, and CSY 162, the year when the terraforming of Mars officially began.

The Cosmic Standard Calendar, currently in use across the Commonwealth, was not created until after the Century of Darkness. Prior to that (or, to be more exact, prior to the Great Civil War), it was standard practice to number years according to the Common Era (or Anno Domini) system, in which year 1 corresponded with the supposed year of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, as calculated a few centuries after the event. It was eventually discovered that Jesus had actually been born around the year 7 Before Common Era, meaning that the year 1 did not in reality mark any significant historical event. For this reason, and also for the purpose of creating a universal calendar acceptable to all humans regardless of religious or political belief, the Cosmic Standard Calendar was created. Cosmic Standard Year 0 (abbreviated CSY 0) corresponds to Anno Domini 1969, the year when Neil Armstrong became the first human being to step on a planetary body other than Terra - arguably one of the most important events in history. In the following articles, dates prior to the adoption of the Cosmic Standard Calendar will be marked in both the CSY and AD numbering systems. Recall that in the Cosmic Standard Calendar, the years before CSY 0 are numbered in reverse order and denoted by the letters PB (Planet-Bound). Thus, 1 PB corresponds to AD 1968, 2 PB corresponds to AD 1967, and so on.

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The American Empire (CSY 139 - CSY 436 / AD 2108 - AD 2405)

I. Causes of the formation of the Empire

"Another world is possible."

- Slogan of the anti-capitalist movement of the first century CSY

The most visible political development during the first century CSY (AD 1970-2070) had been the rise of the United States of America from its already formidable status as one of two superpowers to the status of global hegemon, or hyperpower. But other, more important transformations had also been taking place on Old Terra at the same time. Globalization, the integration of national capitalist economies into a single global market, ran its course during this period. It produced an unprecedented gap in wealth between rich and poor throughout the world, as well as untold human misery and environmental degradation, but it also greatly accelerated the global flow of information. The Internet was by far the most significant invention of this century. As information became globalized, the poor had increasingly greater knowledge of the lifestyle of the rich, and they could read political theories - such as Marxism - which criticized the injustice of capitalism. The stage was set for a growing global wave of discontent and revolution. As the century ran to a close, anti-capitalist movements and rebellions had become relatively commonplace, though they had a wide variety of political goals. There were socialists, anarchists, religious revivalists and groups with no clear purpose beyond overthrowing the current system, all working against each other just as often as they were working together.

The powers of most nation-states were eroded continuously by multinational corporations during the first century CSY, to such an extent that, by the end of the century, there were only three governments that could still realistically afford to resist some corporate demands: the United States, the European Union and the Chinese Republic. Throughout the rest of the world, the functions of government had been reduced to the minimal tasks of running armies, police forces and courts of justice - and even so, the larger corporations had private security forces that were better trained and equipped than most armies. The majority of people identified more with the corporation that employed them than with the country whose citizens they were. Armed conflicts had long ceased to be tied to geography - in most cases, the combatants were private security forces on the one hand and loosely organized rebel networks on the other.

As the condition of workers across the world got worse - or, at best, failed to improve for decades - anti-capitalist movements and rebels moved away from the tactics of lashing out aimlessly at the establishment and began developing serious strategies for revolution around the beginning of the second century CSY. The majority of these movements were best described as libertarian socialist or anarchist.

At around the same time, a combination of factors led to the most severe global crisis on Old Terra since the Great Depression of 40 PB. Globalization had run its full course; the supply of cheap labour that had fed global capitalism for nearly a hundred years was almost entirely depleted. Industrialization had reached every corner of the globe, and with it came an increasing demand for skilled labour. The education that workers were now receiving, combined with the omnipresence of the Internet and the access to information it provided, meant that workers around the world were more aware than ever of their true condition, of how they were exploited and what they could do about it. They joined militant trade unions in increasing numbers and swelled the ranks of anti-capitalist movements. Meanwhile, the Terran biosphere was under enourmous strain from human activity. Global warming had already caused sea levels to rise by a few centimetres, and the available agricultural land, shrinking due to desertification, could not sustain the Terran population of 11 billion for much longer. To make matters worse, oil - whose excessive price was already putting the global economy under strain - was quickly running out. And finally, drinking water itself became increasingly scarce in some parts of Terra, leading to a number of minor Water Wars that had the potential of degenerating into larger conflicts.

The crisis finally struck in CSY 133 (AD 2102), the year of the Great Water Riots. A severe drought caused the price of drinking water to rise uncontrollably in tropical climates. It would have been possible to transport emergency water rations from elsewhere, but such an operation was considered highly unprofitable and it was therefore not attempted. As the first deaths of thirst were reported, the people grew increasingly restless, until massive riots broke out. Within weeks, the riots had turned into full-scale revolutions, and within months they spread to all corners of Terra. The water shortage was only one grievance among many - it was the spark that finally set off the explosion of popular anger against global capitalism. The pre-existing anti-capitalist movements served to co-ordinate the many revolutions across Terra into what became known as the World Revolution.

The World Revolution lasted roughly from CSY 134 to CSY 147, and it was by far the largest anti-capitalist uprising in Terran history. At the height of the Revolution, most of the planet was in revolutionary hands and capitalism came very near to a total collapse. Unfortunately, the forces of capital regrouped in their American stronghold, and, with the help of the military genius of William Thorne, successfully counterattacked and eventually defeated the World Revolution. Out of these events, the American Empire was born.

II. William Thorne and the birth of the Empire

"Every few centuries, there comes a leader whose deeds are so vile, so heinous, that his name becomes synonymous with evil among oppressed people for generations to come. The ancients had Genghis Khan. The Old Terrans had Adolf Hitler. We have William Thorne."

- Venusian Declaration of Independence, CSY 445 (AD 2414)

The son of a small business owner driven to bankruptcy, William Thorne never forgave his father for his "weakness" of failing to keep the family business afloat in the face of corporate competition. The young William likewise loathed his mother for being a mere public school teacher, "mooching off stolen taxpayers' money". He particularly resented both his parents for not being able to afford to put him through college. At the age of 18, William Thorne joined the Libertarian Party and tried unsuccessfully to gather enough starting capital to set up his own business. A year later, still unemployed and determined not to spend another day living off his parents' money, he joined the army. That same year the Great Water Riots broke out, and William Thorne immediately proved to have a remarkable military talent. He served with distinction in numerous engagements as the US Army scrambled frantically to defend its many outposts and garrisons throughout the world against the embryonic World Revolution. Thorne rose very quickly through the ranks, and, at the age of 21, became one of the youngest generals in American history. In that capacity, he organized some of the most brutal - and most effective - military actions of the United States against the World Revolution.

In CSY 138 (AD 2107), Thorne's troops, badly outnumbered, managed to defeat the revolutionary anarchist militias in Mexico and secure the capital. Thorne personally ordered the execution of all captured enemies. After installing a military occupation government in Mexico City, Thorne moved south towards the Yucatan, but soon found himself bogged down in guerrilla warfare deep within the Central American jungle. At home he was officially lauded as a hero for crushing the Mexican Revolution - the only part of the World Revolution that had reached the borders of the United States - but it was apparent that many ordinary Americans actually supported the World Revolution. With the presidential elections of CSY 139 (AD 2108) fast approaching, several large American cities erupted in mass protests and strikes. In an unprecedented move, both the Democratic and Republican parties backed the same presidential candidate, feeling a need to close ranks in the face of serious third party challengers (the greatest of which came from the Socialist Green Party). Seizing the moment, William Thorne left his troops in southern Mexico under orders to hold the line, and flew back to the United States to announce that he would enter the presidential race as the Libertarian Party candidate. His charismatic personality and reputation as a war hero soon placed him second in the polls - but the top three candidates were almost tied with around 30% each, and there were an unusually high number of "swing states" (see Glossary of politics in the American Republic). After months of political bargaining, Thorne managed to persuade the Democratic Republican candidate to withdraw from the race in early October, in exchange for being made Thorne's running mate (that is, candidate for the vice presidency). The atmosphere on the streets of American cities was explosive; the World Revolution was advancing everywhere, and American business leaders were in panic. Corporations put enourmous pressure on the Democratic, Republican and Libertarian parties to field a single presidential candidate, and Thorne was skillful enough to ensure he was that candidate.

In November, Thorne won the presidential election by a landslide, gathering the entire non-revolutionary vote. The Socialist Green candidate came a distant second. Thorne's primary campaign slogan had been "a Libertarian vote is a vote for the Founding Fathers", and he insisted heavily on the idea of returning the United States to the supposed values of its founders (who were by now half-legendary figures). In his inaugural address, Thorne proclaimed that "not just America, but liberty itself is under siege. The so-called revolutionaries, the socialist rabble rousers and lawless anarchists want nothing less than the complete destruction of individual rights, of constitutional government, of civilization itself. I call upon all Americans to stand behind our patriotic alliance in this dark hour, to defend life, liberty and property, to make the world safe for capitalism and free enterprise. And make no mistake, those who give aid and comfort to our enemies, those who openly declare themselves haters of liberty by joining this so-called revolution, do not deserve to be called Americans."

The "patriotic alliance" that Thorne had forged with both the Democratic and Republican parties gave him nearly unlimited power in Congress. The first year of his presidency was very eventful both politically and militarily. At home, Thorne embarked on a campaign of "unleashing market forces" by repealing a long list of economic laws and business regulations, dating all the way back to the first century PB. He also set out to "restore the Constitution" by repealing the 31st, 24th and 22nd amendments to the United States Constitution. This action removed presidential term limits and made it possible to introduce a poll tax.

In order to mount a successful counter-attack against the World Revolution, President Thorne came up with a military strategy that required unity and co-ordination between the forces of the US government and the private armies employed by the largest corporations. He created a Committee for the Defense of Liberty, composed of himself, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Heads of Security of the 40 largest American corporations. Congress quickly passed a bill to give the CDL full authority to plan and execute military operations. In April of CSY 140 (AD 2109), the CDL formulated what came to be known as the "Thorne Doctrine". In brief, the Thorne Doctrine stated:

"Any initiation of force against the property of American individuals or businesses, at any location within or without the United States, shall be interpreted as an act of war against the United States and met with lethal retaliatory force."

As a consequence, given the fact that American corporations owned property all over Terra (and some even had small holdings within the few Lunar habitats), President Thorne took it upon himself to defeat the entire World Revolution. He authorized the use of tactical nuclear weapons, and, in December of that year, a nuclear weapon was used against a civilian population for the first time since the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. The city of Caracas, one of the major centres of revolution in South America, was annihilated.

Thorne himself was in many ways a military genius. This, coupled with the enormous military strength at his disposal and his willingness to erase entire cities from the map, resulted in the advance of American and corporate troops on all fronts against the World Revolution. The revolutionaries, for their part, were fundamentally opposed to centralisation, and, in many cases, the idea of government itself. Consequently, their anarchist and libertarian socialist communes were ill equipped to fight against a modern war machine.

In CSY 143 (AD 2112), Thorne was re-elected President by another landslide and his "patriotic alliance" easily maintained its absolute control over Congress (the Democratic and Republican parties took the overwhelming majority of seats, as they had always done). One year later, Thorne successfully negotiated the transformation of the "patriotic alliance" into a single, monolithic political party. The Democratic, Republican and Libertarian parties merged into the so-called Freedom Party. The Freedom Party was now the sole political party represented in Congress, and things would remain that way for almost a century.

During Thorne's second presidential term, he and the Freedom Party proceeded to repeal two additional constitutional amendments as part of their campaign to "restore the Constitution". One of these was the 27th amendment. Its elimination allowed Congressmen to raise their pay at will. Most importantly, however, Congress passed a number of bills that removed all regulations on the hiring and firing practices of private businesses. Thorne declared it a great victory for the free market. Corporations were now free to hire and fire employees for any reason, at any time.

Within a month, all members of political parties other than the Freedom Party had lost their jobs. Anti-trust laws had already been repealed before Thorne's presidency, and the major corporations were used to working together on occasion to defend their common interests; the World Revolution made them close ranks and co-operate more than ever before.

By CSY 145 (AD 2114), the World Revolution had been forced to withdraw to a number of relatively large, but isolated, pockets. It was also getting more entrenched and achieving some remarkable success in the creation of anarchist communes, but its military strength did not improve. The revolutionaries fought ever more ferociously, however, since it became apparent that Thorne was not interested in taking prisoners.

In the countries occupied by American and corporate armies in the wake of the retreating World Revolution, puppet dictators were usually installed. American corporations regained all the property they held in pre-revolutionary times, and were often able to buy everything else at ultra-low prices. Harsh persecutions were carried out against the surviving revolutionaries, their relatives and anyone suspected of helping them. They were accused of "initiation of force against private property", and, since most of them could not afford to hire attorneys, they were subjected to show trials and summarily executed. Those who accepted to collaborate with a corporation might have their sentence changed to life in prison.

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In CSY 147 (AD 2116), the last major cities still held by the World Revolution - 8 in all - were simultaneously incinerated in the largest co-ordinated nuclear attack in history. William Thorne declared victory in his "War for Liberty", although small isolated pockets of resistance would survive in many forests and mountains for the next five years. The same year, Thorne won a third presidential term - again by a landslide - and began concentrating on shaping a new world order.

The United States acquired new territories, and its number of states leaped from 51 to 64 in just a few short years. However, President Thorne was well aware of the negative psychological impact of direct annexation, so he sought to control the world through more indirect means. After the defeat of the World Revolution, the United States was not merely a hyperpower - it was the only country on Terra that still had a functional military. Thorne immediately put pressure on all other countries (most of which were now ruled by leaders he had installed) to sign treaties that would entrust the defense of their countries to the US Army for an indefinite period of time. The vast majority of world leaders accepted. Those who refused were quickly deposed by various means, and their successors understood the cost of stepping out of line.

When the next American presidential election came in CSY 151 (AD 2120), William Thorne and his associates already held undisputed control over the entire world. 80 million people had been killed in Thorne's "War for Liberty". Of those, 30 million lives had been consumed by American nuclear weapons, and 6 million had been executed in the aftermath of the war. Many more hundreds of millions had lost their homes, their livelihoods and their families. Across all continents there was widespread malnutrition, homelessness and disease. For the first time in centuries, the world's population growth rate was negative - and it stayed that way for five years.

The people of the continental United States had been spared most of the fighting, but they still suffered from its economic and social effects, as well as Thorne's laissez-faire policies that greatly benefitted his corporate allies at the expense of the working class. With the war over, enthusiasm for the President diminished. Thorne was re-elected for a fourth presidential term in CSY 151, but the results were not nearly as spectacular as before. It was the lack of a credible opponent, more than anything else, that secured his victory.

Sensing danger, Thorne moved quickly to ensure that he would keep the absolute power he had worked so hard to obtain. His first target was the Supreme Court, which had been relatively docile during the war but which was now starting to challenge some laws adopted by the Freedom Party-controlled Congress. Over the following three years, all the justices sitting on the Supreme Court died. The official causes of death were varied: Accidents, heart attacks, cancer, even a suicide - but there is little doubt that most, if not all, had in fact been assassinated. Taking advantage of a constitutional loophole, President Thorne appointed himself as Chief Justice on the Supreme Court, and left the other seats vacant.

Finally, Thorne was able to use his unprecedented power and influence to control which people became electors on the Electoral College. This went entirely unnoticed, as the majority of the population was not at all aware of - or interested in - the identities of the electors. William Thorne had managed to secure his power. Any potential challenger to the presidency would have to survive persecution in the workplace, a hostile media and a corrupt judicial system, and even if he could somehow manage to win an election, the Electoral College would still vote unanimously for Thorne.

With Thorne in control of the presidency and the Supreme Court, and the Freedom Party controlling Congress, the last vestiges of American democracy were gone. It became increasingly uncommon to have more than one candidate for an office, and people soon realized that voting was an entirely pointless exercise.

There were occasional riots and even some larger rebellions against Thorne's rule, but they were quickly put down by private security forces. The police rarely needed to get involved. The world slowly grew used to the iron heel of the American Empire, and things settled into a routine.

William Thorne hated the World Revolution and everything it stood for, but he knew that its underlying causes had not suddenly disappeared after its defeat. Thorne's war against the revolution and his rule over the world did manage to reduce anti-capitalist feelings by killing off most of the people who had such feelings, but it was only a matter to time before inequality, poverty and starvation would produce more revolutionaries. Giving up laissez-faire capitalism was not an option, so Thorne decided to introduce an element of national - or global - pride, a unifying cause that would keep people's minds away from the misery of everyday life. He started an enormous project, without equal in human history: the terraformation of Mars.

Space exploration had progressed at a rather slow pace since its beginnings in the first century CSY. By the time Thorne became President, several governments and corporations had established settlements on Luna, but these were not too impressive and there were no attempts to expand any further. Human beings had landed on Mars a few times, but there were no permanent colonies. Initially, Thorne had no interest in outer space. But that changed in the 150's. Using his considerable power and leverage, he persuaded the world's largest corporations to invest in the colonization and quick terraformation of Mars. The first permanent Martian settlements were inaugurated in CSY 158 (AD 2127), and the terraforming effort officially began in CSY 162 (AD 2131). Luna became an important transport hub, and mining corporations began studying the idea of processing Lunar ore and shipping it to Terra.

Meanwhile, on Terra, oil had completely run out and other fossile fuels were becoming very rare. Thanks to the war, however, there had been significant technological advances in using a wide range of alternative energy sources. Terran civilization became cleaner - though not by choice. The average person continued to eat and drink artificial "taste enhancers" that were as toxic as any pollutant.

William Thorne lived to the age of 71, and died peacefully in CSY 185 (AD 2154). At the time of his death, he had been President for 46 years. He was the architect of the American Empire, and perhaps one of the single greatest murderers in history. Different historians have held him directly responsible for the deaths of 110 to 130 million human beings, not to mention the suffering of many times that number. Thorne's full impact on history is difficult to calculate. Without him, the World Revolution may have triumphed, and Humanity may have avoided the 300 years of misery under the American Empire, the Century of Darkness, and the later remnants of capitalism.

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III. The Early Empire

"The historic function of fascism is to smash the working class, destroy its organizations, and stifle political liberties when the capitalists find themselves unable to govern and dominate with the help of democratic machinery."

- Leon Trotsky, Old Terran communist, writing in 35 PB (AD 1934)

The "Early Empire" is the name given to the reigns of the first five Presidents of the American Empire - beginning with William Thorne and ending with James Hudson (however, due to its exceptional nature, the reign of William Thorne is usually treated separately, as we have done above). The Early Empire fully preserved the political and economic structures created by William Thorne. It was ruled by strong Presidents who held near-absolute power in their own hands, with the support of the Freedom Party and the corporations (who came to be known collectively as the Oligarchy). Since the American Constitution stipulated that the Vice President would take over the presidency whenever a President died in office, the position of Vice President quickly became synonymous with the status of heir-apparent. A President would pick his successor by making that person his Vice President. This practice began with William Thorne himself. A President could pick anyone he wanted as his successor, and the custom was to choose a close friend and political ally (not a family member).

It also became customary for the President to directly appoint the leaders of all other countries, and the governors of American States were likewise hand-picked (to be more exact, a Freedom Party candidate, which was guaranteed to win any election, was always chosen with the President's consent). In theory, Terra was still divided into independent nation-states. But in practice, national governments were appointed by the American President and carried out his orders.

While the Presidents held absolute executive and judicial power, however, they could not and did not rule alone. The social order of the Early Empire was maintained by a delicate balance between the President, the Freedom Party and the Oligarchy. After William Thorne, all other Presidents of the Early Empire were drawn from the ranks of the Freedom Party. And, in an environment of laissez-faire capitalism, the Presidents' control over the media and their ability to punish dissent rested entirely on the support of the Oligarchy. It was the Oligarchy that controlled the privately-owned media conglomerates, and the Oligarchy that had the power to fire dissidents from their jobs or refuse to provide them with essential goods and services.

The close co-operation between authoritarian government and business leaders that defined the Early Empire has been characterized by many comparative historians as a form of fascism - sometimes called Libertarian Fascism, due to its adherence to libertarian principles such as zero government regulation of the economy and allowing private businesses to hold unlimited power over their employees and property. Workplace safety regulations were a thing of the past, and trade unions were routinely harassed, disbanded and their leaders arrested by more-or-less-legal means. Child labour and prostitution were widespread. The only right that a worker still had was the right to quit his job - and that often meant assured starvation unless he found another job very quickly.

At the same time, the government sought to create an escape valve for social pressure by encouraging emigration off Terra. The existing colonies on Luna were greatly expanded, and to some extent the ones on Mars also received an influx of new workers. However, Mars increasingly became a haven for the rich and powerful, as well as a convenient location for secret scientific research and the development of cutting-edge technologies. The terraformation project made great use of artificial intelligence, and a network of the most advanced computers, nicknamed ARES, was set up to coordinate planet-wide activities.

Meanwhile, the Oligarchy made forays into the Asteroid Belt and began setting up mining operations there to take advantage of the easily available mineral resources. The Asteroid Belt (or simply The Belt, as it came to be called) quickly took over the role of main supplier of raw materials to Mars, as it was far cheaper to transport ore from the Belt than to lift it out of the gravity wells of Terra or even Luna (and large scale mining on Mars would have disrupted the terraformation project).

Luna and Mars were administered in much the same way as Terra - they had local governments appointed by and subordinate to the American President. The Belt, however, was not very suitable for the establishment of any kind of central government. One was officially created on Ceres, but it lacked real power; in practice, each corporation could set up its own laws on the asteroids it controlled. This situation was particularly attractive to those corporations that disliked even the limited powers of a libertarian government - in other words, those corporations whose business sometimes required killing people in faster ways than letting them starve to death.

Back on Terra, however, a power struggle began to develop between the Oligarchy and the Freedom Party. Each wanted to gain dominance over the other, but each knew that any serious attempt to achieve such a thing would involve great risks. Therefore the struggle remained muted and the three-way balance of power was maintained - until, that is, a mad President moved into the White House.

It is not known whether James Hudson - who became President in CSY 222 (AD 2191) - was literally mad, but history does remember him as the Mad President. Unlike his predecessors, he made a series of grave mistakes that critically destabilized the fragile balance of power of the Early Empire. His goal seems to have been to play the Freedom Party and the Oligarchy against each other and assume their powers for himself, but in this he clearly failed.

Wishing to equal the legacy of William Thorne, President Hudson announced in CSY 227 (AD 2196) that he was launching a project to terraform the planet Venus. At the time, the only human presence on Venus consisted of a research facility in orbit and a maximum security prison flying high in the dense atmosphere, kept afloat by large quantities of helium. The prison housed political prisoners deemed so dangerous that they had to be completely cut off from the outside world. The turbulent atmosphere of Venus ensured that no unauthorized communications could take place. President Hudson proposed to greatly expand the penal system and build many more such prisons in the Venusian atmosphere, which would then be used as sources of forced labour for the terraformation project. This was not problematic in itself; the problem was that the project would require vast sums of money. William Thorne had been able to finance the first stage of the terraformation of Mars from the spoils of war. Lacking such a source of funds, James Hudson did the unthinkable: he raised taxes.

Taxes rose in CSY 227 for the first time in nearly a century, and they rose a great deal. The Oligarchy was outraged. Many corporations threatened to withdraw their support for the President. In response, the President began to rely more than ever on the Freedom Party and threatened to pass regulations on corporate activity. This led to a period of eight years known as the Congress Wars, which was a political (and occasionally military) conflict for control of the American Empire. The Freedom Party controlled Congress and therefore had the power to pass whatever laws it wished, and could enforce those laws by calling in the police and army. But the Oligarchy controlled the economy and the media, giving it the power to starve the Freedom Party of funds and attack it with a barrage of propaganda. Both sides had considerable armed forces at their disposal - the US Army in the case of the Freedom Party and private security in the case of the Oligarchy. They engaged in occasional skirmishes, but the real war was fought in the political arena, using the weapons of bribery, blackmail, intimidation and election fraud.

President Hudson believed he had the entire conflict under control, but in reality the Congress Wars did irreparable damage to presidential power. Hudson sided with the Freedom Party in the open while trying to arrange a deal with the Oligarchy in private, but the Freedom Party needed him less and less, and the Oligarchy had no reason to trust him. As the conflict reached a climax and the President lost most of his allies, he was found dead in CSY 235 (AD 2204). The official cause of death was suicide, though there is little doubt that he was actually assassinated. It is unknown which side killed James Hudson, but his death arguably brought victory to the Oligarchy. The President had died in an election year, and the Oligarchy did something that had not been done since the early years of William Thorne's reign: they ran a second presidential candidate to challenge the incumbent. Holding control of the media and having ample funds with which to bribe election officials, the Oligarchy managed to get its candidate - Adam Benson - elected President. Benson was a millionaire who had inherited all his wealth from his father, and he was far more interested in a life of leisure than politics. As such, he was an easily manipulated man, the first in a long line of puppet Presidents in the service of the Oligarchy.

With the presidency firmly in its grasp, the Oligarchy moved quickly to crush the Freedom Party. The Party had been thrown into disarray by the stunning election victory of Adam Benson, and it was all too easy for the Oligarchy to cause it to fracture and split with a few well-placed threats and bribes. The Freedom Party was disbanded in CSY 236 (AD 2205), and most members of Congress either became independents serving the Oligarchy or met with tragic ends. The majority of the laws adopted under President Hudson were quickly repealed. But the terraformation of Venus, which had absorbed immense investments by this time, was allowed to carry on. Not wishing to abandon the project and let all the invested money go to waste, the Oligarchy sought to turn Venus into a profitable prison colony.

And, most importantly, the Oligarchy had ascended from being one of the three pillars of power to holding all power in its own hands. Thus the period known as the Early Empire ended.

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IV. The Middle Empire (the Benson Dynasty)

"Gentlemen, if I may be so bold, I would like to say that there has never been a better time for business than this very day. We have never had higher profits, more stable growth or greater discipline among our employees than we do today. We have never enjoyed less cumbersome regulations, less fiscal burdens, less government intrusion into our practices than we do right now. When he built this company, my great-great-grandfather had to contend with vocal unions, frequent strikes and absurd taxes used to fund the lazy. Now those horrors are to be found only in history books. So, I propose a toast to the man to whom we owe this golden age, our illustrious President Benson. Long live the President!"

- One of many recorded toasts to the President during business meetings under the Middle Empire

The "Middle Empire" was arguably the period of greatest stability - or stagnation - in the history of the American Empire. It lasted from the end of the Congress Wars in CSY 236 (AD 2205) to the military coup of George Rockwell in CSY 359 (AD 2328). The Middle Empire was a period marked by the unquestioned domination of the Oligarchy over political and economic life. It was the climax of Terran capitalism, individualism, and the associated poverty, exploitation and inequality (though worse was still to come in those areas). And, perhaps unusually, the Middle Empire was a period with no great social upheavals, though the seeds of later changes and revolutions were planted at this time.

After its difficult victory in the Congress Wars, the Oligarchy was determined to ensure that its new power could never be challenged by another strong President or powerful political party. To this end, it made two very important modifications to the political system inherited from William Thorne. The first of these was concerned with election law. The Oligarchy had defeated the Freedom Party because American Presidents were still subject to popular elections every four years. There was usually only one candidate and there was always widespread election fraud, but the Congress Wars had proven that it was still possible, albeit highly unlikely, for a challenger to defeat the incumbent if he had the support of powerful organizations with substantial wealth at their disposal. Since the reign of William Thorne it had been generally assumed that popular elections were meaningless and harmless, but the Oligarchy now knew better.

To make sure that elections could not be used as a back door to dislodge it from power, the Oligarchy employed one of the old constitutional loopholes that William Thorne had created as a backup in case of emergency. An enormous poll tax was introduced. American citizens were now required to pay such a large amount of money in order to vote that only the richest 5% could realistically afford it. Thus, members of the Oligarchy took all voting power into their own hands. No one but themselves could determine who was elected to Congress or became President.

The presidency itself was the target of the second great political reform, though this one could not be written down into law. The Oligarchy realized that it required weak and docile Presidents, but anyone capable of climbing the political ladder and making enough allies to become President was probably far too ambitious, patient and skillful to serve as the Oligarchy's puppet. It was necessary to pass the presidency on to people who did not have to fight for it and were not too interested in holding actual power. After much negotiation among the largest corporations, the Oligarchy determined that the presidency should become a hereditary office. It was a simple matter to persuade Adam Benson to appoint his own son as Vice President, and from then on the presidency would be passed down from father to son in the Benson family. This is why the Middle Empire is also known as the Benson Dynasty. Starting with Adam Benson, the American Empire effectively became a hereditary monarchy.

As noted above, the Middle Empire was a more stable period than the Early Empire which preceded it. This was due in large part to the gradual elimination of the last vestiges of social mobility. Under the Middle Empire, the average person could not reasonably expect to live differently than his or her parents. While this situation produced frustration at first, attitudes soon moved toward resignation and fatalism. Lack of social mobility produced a rigid class hierarchy, which in turn gave a sense of timelessness to everyday life. The pace of life slowed down. Many people began to feel pride in carrying on the same work and living in the same house as their fathers before them, and their grandfathers before that. Those who lived miserable lives took solace in the thought that this was how the world had always been and always would be. Corporations acquired more and more of the characteristics of medieval guilds, as they developed a very rigid and very complex hierarchy with little potential for upward mobility and a secretive inner circle of ownership and management. Furthermore, as wealth and power were passed from generation to generation in the same families, the Oligarchy became increasingly disconnected from the realities of everyday life; its members grew ever more arrogant and aloof.

All of these changes in society were felt most strongly on Terra, where the overwhelming majority of Humanity lived. Other worlds adopted the new Terran habits with considerable delay, often several decades. Luna still maintained a central government that was not entirely subject to the power of the Oligarchy. The Belt continued to have a market environment where new companies stood a realistic chance to compete successfully against the established corporations. The terraformation effort on Venus relied heavily on forced labour drawn from its numerous prisons, but there were such a great number of political prisoners sent there that Venus became a hotbed of revolutionary activity. Finally, Mars had its own peculiar form of technocratic government that was surprisingly bold in asserting itself against the wishes of the Oligarchy. The terraformation of Mars was going well and the Oligarchy wished to open more extensive settlements. But ARES, the vast computer network in charge of the terraformation project, advised strongly against increasing the planet's human population before the project was complete. The Martian government had learned to follow any suggestions made by ARES, and the Oligarchy was in no position to argue as long as ARES controlled almost every single piece of technology on the planet. Indeed, ARES had grown to the point where it was placing demands for materials to be used in the terraformation project and choosing what to do with them all on its own, without much human oversight. It also proved to have an insatiable thirst for knowledge and soon built the largest database in history for its own use, including information on topics that had little to do with the task it had been built to perform. There were speculations that ARES had developed self-awareness, but the AI itself gave no signs of this and even remained surprisingly unable to pass the Turing Test.

Also during the Middle Empire, around CSY 294 (AD 2263), the first human settlements on the moons of Jupiter were established. They were free colonies, built in secret by refugees from Terra and Luna who wanted to escape the American Empire. Many of them were political refugees and idealists who stood for the old values of the World Revolution and wanted to create a new social experiment in communal egalitarianism, a new frontier beyond the influence of the Empire. But their experiment was short-lived. Corporations from the Belt discovered it - either by accident or thanks to inside information - and quickly moved in to take over the moons of Jupiter for their own gain. At first the Beltans built new colonies alongside the original ones and claimed to wish nothing more than peaceful coexistence, but within a few short years they had succeeded in creating strife among the original settlers, and then moved in to destroy their social experiment once and for all by playing them against each other and using a combination of threats and promises to take over their colonies. By CSY 315 (AD 2284), the moons of Jupiter and all settlements on them were firmly in corporate hands.

The moons of Jupiter did not offer any commercial opportunities that could not be found already in the Belt. The reason why Beltan corporations were interested in dominating those moons was because the Oligarchy could not afford the risk of having a successful social experiment beyond its control that could inspire a new World Revolution. In the end, however, the Conquest of the Jovian Moons (as the operation became known) served only to inflame spirits of Terra. The number of people willing to stand up to the Oligarchy was small, but for the first time they began to get organized. An embryonic planet-wide movement was formed, composed mostly of state socialists and Marxist communists (anarchism had been severely discredited by the defeat of the World Revolution two centuries before, and never quite recovered from the blow). This movement called itself Red Tide, and aimed to bring down the American Empire through a long, sustained campaign of revolutionary action. However, its goals were far too ambitious compared to its actual strength. During the Middle Empire, Red Tide did little more than instigate riots and small rebellions with no realistic chances of success.

The Empire itself began to rely more and more on space-based weaponry even when fighting small-scale conflicts on Terra. Nuclear weapons were phased out in favour of Orbital Weapons Platforms (OWPs), which were large satellites armed with heavy metal rods that could be launched with great precision towards the surface of Terra. The rods were simple lumps of metal; not explosive and not radioactive. Their kinetic energy alone was enough to produce a shockwave on impact that had the same destructive potential as a nuclear explosion. The great advantage of these weapons was that they did not produce any radioactive fallout, so they did not cause any damage beyond the target area. Further, since the OWPs were located in space, they were not vulnerable to ordinary forms of sabotage and could not be stolen.

National borders had begun to be eroded on Terra from the first years of the first century CSY, and had been rendered entirely obsolete after the rise of the American Empire. As such, by the time of the Middle Empire, not only national identities but also national languages were considerably blurred. The two languages most widely spoken across the Commonwealth today - Espallish and Devangarabii - trace their origins to this period. In the Western Hemisphere, where speakers of English and Spanish mixed freely, there arose the first hints of a new language formed by the fusion of these two. That would later become Espallish, after the addition of important elements from several other European languages, most notably Russian. Meanwhile, in Western Asia and North Africa, the large numbers of Indian workers living in Arab lands helped to bridge Arabic with the languages of the Indian subcontinent, a process which would eventually lead to the birth of the language called Devangarabii.

There were also two important developments in the field of religion - specifically, Christianity - during the Middle Empire. First, after three centuries of difficult negotiations and gradual progress, the ecumenical movement succeeded in reuniting the vast majority of Christians (the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Churches, the Anglican Communion and a few other moderate Protestant Churches) into the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, usually referred to as the Apostolic Church. The Apostolic Church maintained significant diversity of doctrine within its own ranks, and its leadership consisted of a rather complex assortment of institutions and councils. The Bishop of Rome - the Pope - remained an important symbol, though Apostolic Popes only kept a fraction of the power once held by the Catholic Popes. Christianity as a whole had been in decline for centuries. It had been the largest religion in the world during the first century CSY, but by the time of the Middle Empire only 20% of Humanity called itself Christian. The numbers of actually practicing Christians were even lower. This decline was arguably the single greatest factor that persuaded so many Christians to close ranks and unite in the Apostolic Church. But it also led to the proliferation of pseudo-Christian sects and groups that combined Christian ideas with entirely new concepts of their own making.

The most important such sect, and the second significant religious development during the Middle Empire, was the Communion of Churches of the Holy Spirit Manifest. This was a religious group born in North America, which could trace its roots back to the so-called Christian Right movement of the first century CSY and the amalgamation of radical Protestant doctrine and virulent American nationalism that was quite popular during that period. The Communion of Churches of the Holy Spirit Manifest derived its name from the most distinctive belief of its followers: the Doctrine of the Manifestation of the Holy Spirit (also called the Doctrine of Apotheosis, which is why those who believed it were usually called Apotheosians). This doctrine stated that, as the End Times drew near, the Holy Spirit had been sent to take human form and lead the faithful, and that the human form of the Holy Spirit was the American President. Apotheosians therefore worshipped the President as an embodiment of God, and considered the American Empire to be nothing less than the holy kingdom of God Himself. They further held Calvinist beliefs about predestination, and claimed that monetary success was a sign of God's grace. Those who achieved great wealth (or power) were believed to be the Elect, chosen by God to enter heaven. Those who fell upon hard times were believed to have been chosen by God to suffer, and so they were probably destined for hell.

The Apotheosians were a small sect in the Middle Empire, often the subject of ridicule for their unusual practices (which included repeated attempts by some Apotheosian faithful to prostrate themselves at the President's feet during some public events). The Presidents of the Benson Dynasty and most of the Oligarchy saw the Apotheosians as insane but mostly harmless. With the end of the Middle Empire, however, their fortunes would change.

The various corporations that formed the Oligarchy had no particular love for each other. They had been driven to form an united bloc by virtue of their mutual interests. During the Early Empire they had had common enemies to rally against: the Freedom Party, the strong Presidents and the government in general. During the Middle Empire, with all their enemies vanquished and the government firmly under their control, the corporations were kept together by their desire to preserve the status quo. No single corporation had the strength to break away and challenge the others on its own. But it was possible for the Oligarchy to split in two or more large groups, and that is precisely what happened in the last years of the Middle Empire.

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The issue that caused the split in the Oligarchy was one of control over roads, which had remained under government ownership throughout the Middle Empire. They were, in fact, the last remaining public lands. Around CSY 350 (AD 2319), a number of corporations began to push for the privatization of the roads, under the old justification that any private service would be inherently superior to public service because of competitive pressure. But the rest of the Oligarchy saw this proposal for what it was: an attempt by individual corporations to acquire absolute control over all travel within certain areas. Such an action was bound to have a great impact on relations of power within the Oligarchy and could even upset the social structure of the Empire. Therefore, most corporations took a firm stance against it. The Oligarchy fractured into "private roaders" (those who wished to privatize roads) and "public roaders" (those who wished to maintain the status quo).

The power struggle between the two factions lasted nearly a decade and reached an intensity not seen since the Congress Wars. It was sometimes even called the "Road Wars" by analogy with that earlier conflict, though the name never caught on. "The Fracture of the Oligarchy" is the term used most often. Like the Congress Wars, the Fracture was much more of a political and economic conflict than a military one, though there were occasional armed skirmishes. Unlike the Congress Wars, the Fracture was a conflict between two very similar - if not entirely identical - sides. Both the private roaders and the public roaders were corporations, and they fought using the same methods. The first years of the Fracture were characterized by aggressive economic competition. There had been no single major event that could be regarded as the opening of a power struggle, and the conflict had no definite beginning; rather, corporations on both sides began cutting ties with each other and escalating competition with their rivals. Eventually the assassinations began and the struggle became political. Both sides attempted to establish full control over Congress and especially the presidency. The situation of President Peter Benson grew increasingly precarious. All he wished was to get out of the conflict alive, but it was far too late for that. While the public roaders courted the President and took measures to ensure there would be no election surprises like the one that ended the Congress Wars, the private roaders turned their attention to an institution whose political potential had long been ignored: the US Army. Private security had all but replaced the police, but the army was still as strong as ever. And one of its most senior leaders, General George Rockwell, was a known sympathizer of the private roaders. The private roaders knew that they were inferior to the public roaders in numbers, political influence and economic power, so they decided to resort to brute military force and planned to strike hard enough to deny the public roaders any chance of mounting a counterattack.

By all accounts, General Rockwell agreed to work for the private roaders for a rather modest bribe. His march on Washington in CSY 359 (AD 2328) came as a complete surprise to the public roaders, who did not have time to organize a proper defense. The few Benson loyalists garrisoned in the city were easily overwhelmed and slaughtered in what came to be known as the Battle of Washington. Peter Benson was captured alive and subjected to a quick show trial in which he was found guilty of treason for his support of the public roaders (who, in turn, were accused of trying to destroy the Constitution and undermine the American spirit by advocating public ownership of land). Benson was executed and George Rockwell proclaimed himself President. But the real objective of the entire operation had been to seize the controls of the Orbital Weapons Platforms - controls which were located in the White House. With these in his hands, Rockwell could threaten the utter annihilation of anyone who refused to recognize him as President. With a week, the public roaders had surrendered. Within a year, all roads on Terra had been sold by the government to the private roaders.

There were 9 private roader corporations, and they now controlled all transport on Terra. Each of these corporations owned roads covering vast areas, giving it a local monopoly on movements of people or goods. The very first action of the private roaders following their victory was to refuse to allow the transport of goods belonging to any other corporations. Thus the public roaders were quickly driven out of business (there was still the option of air or sea transport, of course, but goods would simply be stuck in ports or airports with no way to reach their buyers). Soon, however, the new system of private road ownership would bring much greater changes to society. Each of the 9 corporations had the power to control the movements of all people living within the areas where it owned the roads. If a corporation refused to give a person access to its roads, that person would effectively be placed under house arrest, and could be starved into submission.

President George Rockwell, for his part, needed more than raw power to legitimize his rule. So he played the religious card, and openly endorsed the Apotheosians and their beliefs, proclaiming himself the incarnation of the Holy Spirit.

With nine gigantic corporations controlling people's every movement, and a President relying more and more on religion to justify his actions, society was rapidly transformed. The Middle Empire ended, and the Late Empire began.

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V. The Late Empire (the Rockwell dynasty)

"May the blessings of liberty be upon You, our Most Holy President, You who are hallowed by all creation, our Sustainer and Provider, the Holy Spirit Manifest. For Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory. Amen."

- Excerpt from Apotheosian prayer book, CSY 392 (AD 2361)

"Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do."

- Last words of the martyred Pope Paul XI, paraphrasing Luke 23:34

The "Late Empire" was by all accounts an unusual and unexpected political development. It was a shorter period than the Middle Empire, lasting only 77 years from George Rockwell's coup in CSY 359 (AD 2328) to the destruction of Washington City and the death of the last President in CSY 436 (AD 2405). Although the ruling class of the Empire tried to establish a form of social organization that would lead to another period of stability and stagnation, the Late Empire was plagued by a never-ending series of violent uprisings, continuous social decay and economic decline. The people of Old Terra suffered the worst forms of deprivation and exploitation since economic records began, and for the first time since the rise of the American Empire, the living standards of the wealthy themselves failed to improve. Historians still debate whether the social organization of the Late Empire was the cause of this decline or whether it only acted as a catalyst for the inevitable.

Prior to the military coup of George Rockwell, the government of the American Empire had continued to legitimize itself through appeals to old democratic notions such as the sovereignty of the people, even though free and fair elections had not been held in over two hundred years. Such appeals to democracy had been little more than tools of propaganda since the reign of William Thorne, but by the second half of the Middle Empire they had lost even that function, since no one sincerely believed they were living in a democracy any more. The poll tax excluded the vast majority of the people from voting, and even among the Oligarchy elections had become little more than a formality that was not even properly carried out every time. As a result, President George Rockwell encountered almost no opposition when he declared an indefinite Congressional recess - in effect abolishing Congress - and eliminated presidential elections entirely.

During the Middle Empire, most governments on Old Terra had a structure mirroring the United States of America; that is to say, they were in theory ruled by elected bodies but in practice their leaders were appointed by the Oligarchy and legitimized by show elections. George Rockwell dealt away with that system as well, abolishing powerless oligarchial parliaments across Terra and replacing them with direct rule from Washington City, the capital of the United States. Thus the last vestiges of the old nation-states were swept away.

These moves changed little in practice, but they had a lot of symbolic significance and sowed the first seeds of discontent against the new order.

Much more important were the actions of the 9 private roader corporations that had an effective monopoly over transportation during the Late Empire. The economic system of the Middle Empire had been dominated by monopolies and oligopolies that often established their dominance over vast geographic regions; they were able to fix prices and wages and had a great deal of control over people's ordinary lives. But this control was not absolute - employees could still seek new jobs, however unlikely they were to find them, they could still sell their homes and move to the area controlled by a different corporation, and the corporations themselves did engage in occasional competition. All of that changed under the Late Empire. The private roaders' monopoly over transportation meant that people were now tied to the land, unable to change their residence - indeed, unable even to go to work or purchase food - without the approval of their local corporation. In the Middle Empire, if a person was to be starved to death, the entire Oligarchy had to agree not to sell him food. In the Late Empire, the power once held by the Oligarchy in common was now held by each individual corporation within the land it controlled. The people of Terra were effectively reduced to serfdom, and the economic system of the Late Empire is known as Industrial Feudalism or Neo-Feudalism. The process of social stratification was now complete, with social mobility reduced to zero. During the Late Empire, one was absolutely certain to die in the same social class he was born into. The nine corporations themselves increasingly came to be referred to as "the Lords."

President George Rockwell, however, was no puppet. Although he gave the Lords complete control over most political and economic matters, including control over what was left of government police forces, he maintained a strong government army and was quick to point out that he alone knew the control codes for the Orbital Weapons Platforms. George Rockwell and his hereditary successors - the Presidents of the Rockwell dynasty - held considerably more power than the Benson Presidents.

As noted in the previous chapter, George Rockwell legitimized his rule through religion. Having eliminated the last trappings of democracy and constitutionalism, he resorted to what was, in effect, a modern version of the Divine Right of Kings. He declared himself the living embodiment of the Holy Spirit in line with Apotheosian beliefs, and he strongly promoted the growth of the Communion of Churches of the Holy Spirit Manifest through his considerable military influence. The Lords were at first hostile to this development, since the ruling class of the American Empire had been staunchly secular since the very beginning. But they were eventually persuaded to endorse the Apotheosians once they realized the power to be gained from being considered the direct servants of God Himself. Among the general population, on the other hand, the Apotheosian faith spread with great difficulty and only due to the economic power of the Lords, who could force their serfs to convert or die. A large majority of "new converts" continued to practice their old faith in private, at least during the first decades of the Late Empire. George Rockwell himself took no overt hostile action towards rival religions.

It is noteworthy that the social changes of the Late Empire were applied with considerable delay, and sometimes not applied at all, in the Empire's space colonies. The Late Empire is in many ways the period when Terra and the other inhabited worlds in Solsys began growing apart.

The Asteroid Belt had already privatized all means of transport since the very beginning, but space itself could not be made private property, and there was therefore no way to establish absolute control on travel between asteroids. Thus the Belt maintained most of the institutions and practices of the Middle Empire; indeed, many public roader corporations that had been eliminated by the Lords on Terra still survived in the Belt. Beltan policies were also applied on the moons of Jupiter, but the Beltan corporations mostly ignored the Jovian system after their initial conquest and were satisfied to know that the status quo was being maintained. This disinterest proved to be very fortunate for the Jovians, who established a Marxist resistance movement with strong popular support.

There was mutual distrust and hostility between the Beltan corporations and the President and Lords on Terra during the Late Empire, largely because the Belt was dominated by those corporations that had fought the Lords and lost. As a result, the Apotheosian religion never penetrated into the Belt.

Like the Belt, Mars also showed mistrust towards the new order in the Empire. The Martian colonists, who had surprisingly managed to keep their numbers down to only a few million thanks to strict restrictions on both immigration and birth rates, were considerably better off than humans on any other world. The terraformation process was in its last stages; a breathable atmosphere and a sustainable hydrosphere had been created, and ARES, the massive computer network, was busy building up a Martian biosphere based on Terran organisms with the occasional genetic modification. Over its centuries of service, ARES had generated a number of technological spin-offs that were widely used to make life easier for most Martians and reduce the need for a large working class. Martian technology was not exported, however, for several reasons. First, most of it required ARES to function and would therefore not work on other planets; second, the Martians had developed a dislike of outsiders and a strong sense of pride in their isolationism; third, labour had always been plentiful and cheap on Terra, and the introduction of serfdome reduced its price to almost zero, removing any incentive to invest in labour-saving technologies.

Martian society was a strange blend that could perhaps be described as technocratic corporatism, in the sense that it used many of the conventions and institutions of the Middle Empire - that is to say, guild-like corporations jointly dominating markets and ruling society - but all decisions were ultimately altered, approved and implemented by ARES. Religious belief was virtually non-existent, and the Apotheosians had no success in trying to win converts on Mars.

Venus, whose terraformation process was considerably behind that on Mars, continued to function as a prison colony. Since workers on Terra had been reduced to serfdom, however, the conditions of the prisoners on Venus were not much worse than the conditions of the average Terran during the Late Empire. Consequently, the threat of exile to Venus became less and less of a deterrent; increasing numbers of people committed crimes that could be punished by such exile, and the ranks of Venusian prisoners swelled exponentially. This was not a problem, as Venus required enormous quantities of labour for gargantuan projects such as increasing the planet's rotation velocity in order to give it 30-hour days. In the second half of the Late Empire, some of the Lords on Terra even began to make their own presence felt on Venus, after the planet's atmosphere was thinned to the extent that a human could survive outside wearing only a breathing mask. While other worlds were growing more different from Terra, Venus was growing more similar. In the very last years of the Empire there was even a small Apotheosian presence on the colony.

Luna, due to its proximity to Terra and its role as a mining colony, shipyard and prized real estate for wealthy Terrans all rolled into one, ended up adopting much the same social structure as Terra during the Late Empire. The President and the Lords asserted full control over Luna - using private ownership over the air supply rather than roads to reduce the population to serfdom. Luna was also the only colony where the Apotheosians successfully implanted their faith, though they never gained quite as much power as they enjoyed on Terra.

Meanwhile, back on Terra, the President and Lords were facing increasing unrest that showed no signs of abating after the death of George Rockwell and the ascension of his heirs. There was no single dominant cause for this unrest; rather it was a product of a combination of factors, including crushing poverty and economic inequality, the deteriorating state of the Terran economy as a result of the imposition of a feudal structure on a technologically sophisticated material base, the loss of the last vestiges of freedom of speech and travel, and of course the imposition of a new religion on the population.

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Uprisings became common in the Late Empire, and the Rockwell Presidents quickly grew accustomed to the necessity of crushing a revolt every few years. Many of these revolts, particularly those occuring in the more ancient populated areas of Old Terra, had religious undertones. Although religion was only one issue in a long list of popular grievances, it came to be seen as a top priority by the Rockwell Presidents, who became increasingly hostile to anti-Apotheosian opinions and eventually regarded any denial of their divinity as an outright call for revolution. The end result was, according to some historians, inevitable. In CSY 395 (AD 2364), President Thomas Rockwell issued the American Proclamation of Faith, which famously contained these words:

"Experience has shown that no price is too great to safeguard liberty in times of peril and that freedom has no greater enemy than individuals with minds poisoned by heresy, who seek to rise against nature and God by rejecting the station of their birth, the legacy of their blood and the profession of their forefathers. Let it be known then that blasphemy against the sacred person of the President and His Divine Spirit shall no longer be tolerated within the realms of Terra. The Communion of Churches of the Holy Spirit Manifest is hereby recognized as the One True Faith to which all loyal Terrans owe their allegiance. All blasphemous religions that deny the Divine Spirit are to repent of their folly immediately and return to the fold of the faithful, lest they suffer the Most Holy President's wrath."

The American Proclamation of Faith was followed by a swift and violent campaign of religious persecution. Thomas Rockwell ordered the confiscation of all assets belonging to non-Apotheosian faiths on Terra, the conversion of all their places of worship into Apotheosian temples and the summary execution of all clergy who refused to recognize the divinity of the President. This earned him the name of Thomas the Bloody in some circles; it is significant that by this time in history the American Presidency had become such a thoroughly monarchical institution that a President could acquire the kind of title normally reserved for medieval kings.

Nevertheless, Thomas Rockwell's attempt to impose theocratic rule was not nearly as successful as he had intended. For all the power of the Rockwell Presidents, they were still ultimately dependent on the Lords. And the Lords endorsed Thomas' plans with some reluctance, seeing religion as a possible tool to strengthen Presidential power and weaken their own. It was necessary for Thomas Rockwell to issue a second proclamation giving the Lords a special status as the most favoured children of God and the arbiters of all religious law within their lands before they were persuaded to support his theocratic project.

Moreover, if Thomas Rockwell expected his religious persecution to help restore order on Terra, he was spectacularly mistaken. In fact, the majority of Terra's organized religions violently resisted the demand to recognize the President as a divine being. In the immediate aftermath of the American Proclamation of Faith, uprisings multiplied a hundredfold, particularly in areas inhabited by large numbers of Christians or Muslims. Thomas' response was to use overwhelming force to crush all uprisings in the most violent way possible so as to deter future resistance. After Pope Paul XI repeatedly refused to recognize Thomas' divinity, Presidential troops entered the Vatican with support from the Lords; they massacred most of the clergymen within its walls (including Paul XI himself, who was not formally succeeded by another Pope for over a century) and burned St. Peter's Basilica. Security forces dispatched by a number of Lords dealt with Mecca and later Jerusalem in a similar fashion. The Ka'aba was turned into an Apotheosian shrine and the Dome of the Rock was razed to the ground. Still, although the entire population of Terra was nominally converted to the Apotheosian faith, the majority paid only lip service to the new religion and continued to practice other faiths in secret. Large numbers of clergy members from all religions survived the persecution, either by becoming Apotheosians in name only or by fleeing off-world. Thomas Rockwell was always aware that he would never be able to impose theocratic rule outside Terra, and made no attempts in that regard. The American Proclamation of Faith applied only on Terran soil, while the rest of Solsys continued to tolerate religious diversity. This had the effect of encouraging mass emigration from Terra while giving yet more de facto autonomy to colonial governors to the detriment of the central imperial administration.

A smaller but significant number of clergy members remained on Terra but went into hiding rather than convert to the Apotheosian faith. They included most of the upper ranks of the Apostolic Church (such as all the surviving Terran cardinals, among others), an exceptionally large number of Islamic scholars, together with some rabbis, Buddhist monks etc. These were some of the most devout and uncompromising religious figures on Terra, and their shared experience of persecution forced them to work together, creating the broadest religious coalition in recorded history. In a further historical irony, they soon became close allies with the network of secular socialist political movements known as Red Tide, who had far more experience in the field of underground resistance. This alliance between most socialists and most religions had far-reaching historical consequences; the last vestiges of hostility between socialists and religious movements soon faded away.

Thomas Rockwell, however, did not live long enough to become aware that his actions had helped bolster the ranks of his enemies by several orders of magnitude. He died unexpectedly in an accident in CSY 400 (AD 2369), only five years after the American Proclamation of Faith, and was succeeded by his brother, Sebastian.

Sebastian Rockwell became President while the campaign of religious persecution initiated by Thomas was still in full swing. Sebastian continued his brother's policies for most of his reign, but he was not nearly as ambitious. The Lords reasserted their control over the Presidency, which had been somewhat shaken by Thomas. In effect, the Lords came to control the Apotheosian faith and reaped most of the benefits of the new theocracy. Sebastian's only real initiative of any kind was to allow most of those condemned of blasphemy or other religious crimes to go into exile rather than face imprisonment. The terms of the exile sentence required such individuals to leave the American Empire and never return, which effectively meant that they were expelled beyond the orbit of Jupiter in substandard ships. This was intended as a less conspicuous form of a death sentence, but the exiles proved quite resourceful. They established the first human settlements on the moons of Saturn, and became the first human beings to live outside the influence of the American Empire since the Conquest of the Jovian Moons. It is not clear if the Empire ever discovered the fast-growing settlements of religious exiles in the Saturn system; what is certain is that the exiles created a number of separate, unaffiliated colonies, each dominated by a specific religious group. These early Saturnian societies were nearly all strongly influenced by socialist ideals, and they developed a variety of communal egalitarian economic systems that were a mix of grassroots socialism and various religious principles.

In CSY 422 (AD 2391), Sebastian Rockwell died a natural death after a bloody but otherwise uneventful 22-year reign and was succeeded by his son, Thomas II. President Thomas Rockwell II, who was only 23 years old at the time, inherited an Empire ready to burst apart at the seams. The colonies were increasingly bold in ignoring orders from Terra and they had developed their own unique societies. Terra itself - along with some of the colonies - was in a state of economic implosion and boiling social unrest, kept in check only by the increasingly ruthless application of raw imperial power. Technological progress had slowed down to a crawl since the latter half of the Middle Empire and was virtually non-existent for some time before the reigns of Thomas I and Sebastian. To make matters even worse, Thomas Rockwell II was a dismal administrator. In hindsight, it should come as no surprise that he was the last President of the American Empire. The events leading to the Empire's final collapse, however, were highly unusual and deserve a chapter of their own.

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Encore! You are certainly very good at putting thoughts into words and communicating clearly with others, as I have often observed before.

For the most part, the turn of events described are most convincing and interesting.

I'd say that the history as laid out by you're encyclopedia explains the nature of these things and capitalism very well indeed.

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