A Brief History of Human Expansion

The need for humans to reach out, to explore, to be a part of something greater; has always been a strong one. However, man had always been limited to his home planet, and with much of it having been explored, new frontiers were sought. The oceans yielded a bountiful array of treasures. Cures for diseases, new discoveries, opportunities for the ever-growing species of mankind to wedge itself into. But even then, the small(relatively small) blue orb known as Earth, was becoming increasingly smaller.

Again, man looked to new horizons. Space, being the only obvious one left, was tackled with more vigor and ambition than any before it had been. Apart from a few flights and moon landings in the 20th century, no real attempt had been made to reach out into the sea of stars. Near the end of the 21st century, most men had been able to put their differences aside and work toward answering the beckoning call of the 'great black'.

After a permanent settlement had been set up on the moon (in 2074), Earth's closest neighbor was targeted. Mars soon became home to a few scattered colonies. Companies grew rich and fat off of the new poineer age, some becoming as large as governments in themselves. In time, Venus too, was seeded with humans. The two new colonies expanded at a steady rate. Mars soon grew to eclipse her mother world in wealth and power, the latter's resources having long since been exhausted.

But through it all, the Martians always thought of Earth as their true home. And even though Mars was independent, Earth retained a close relationship with it's progeny; as well as with Venus, the inhabitants deciding to stay a part of Earth's government.

But humanity was far from done advancing into space. Fueled by greed and lust for power, the mega corporations encouraged more expansion. The asteroid belt was mined, making the already gigantic businesses even larger. It was suggested that the moons of Jupiter be terraformed. The idea would've been quickly abandoned, had it not been for a joint venture by the huge comercial institutions. In one emense operation, the Ort Cloud was sighted. A train of freighters and excavators blasted toward the large store of ice. In a few years, man had all the water they needed for the colonization of Jupiter's four largest moons, and then some.

Our story takes place in the year 2317, a time of political tension and social unrest. The Inner System Alliance (Earth, Mars and Venus) vies for control of the outer colonies in the Frontier region, against the four moons of the Jupiter Consortium. Wanting to avoid an all out conflict that would surely destroy all, the rival governments have been fighting a cold war.

Crooked Space - Episode 1: The Midnight Special

1 year to conjunction

He was there again, looking up at the sky. The stars were brighter than he had remembered. How ironic on a night that had turned out to be so dark. The images, they were always the same, came flooding back to him. An exploding bus, the screams of children, his partner chasing the terrorist into a building that erupted seconds later. He cried out, unable to escape the horror of it all.

The dream ended as he was jolted from sleep by his com system beeping. He lazily turned over to the screen and disregarded the blinking red light. Red was acceptable, green was bad. Or was it the other way around?

"Ah hell." he swore, as he was forced to rise and walk the unreasonable distance of eight feet to the console. He turned the monitor on and sat down in the chair beside it. A messege popped up on the screen. The subject identified it as an emergency transmission. He flipped through the contents, it read Michael, contact me as soon as you can. I need your help. James Lesko.

He didn't even have to read it to know that it was from James Lesko. His former boss was the only person interested in finding him...well, only because those others who might be interested didn't know he was alive. James Lesko was also the only person who had the resources to track him down. And if James Lesko had gone through the trouble of finding Michael Arkin, something was seriously wrong in the Alliance. And as much as he hated the thought of working for the Inner System Defense Agency again, Michael knew that whatever it was that had compelled Lesko to hunt him down, would not go away.

He rose from his station and walked towards the large window in his cabin, pausing momentarily to study his lean and muscular 6'2" frame in the mirror. His head was topped off with a crown of dark brown hair that laid neatly back due to it's length.

"You're not going back." he told the man who returned his gaze. "You're going to ignore James Lesko and let the universe take care of itself for once."

Even he didn't believe it. He knew that, come morning, he would be sitting in Lesko's office on Mars, getting briefed on the situation, getting reindoctrinated with procedures, and rules and directives. He starred at himself for as long as he could. A flash of lightning diverted his attention to the African wilderness outside. Creatures of various shapes and sizes darted through the night, searching for shelter from the fierce storm. The violent display of nature held him for a moment, until finally...

"Son of a bitch." And with that last silent curse, he walked into the ship's cockpit and set a course for Mars.

Michael stood outside of the Inner System Defense Agency's head office. He breifly took in his surroundings. For as big as it was, August City managed to stay fairly clean. The noise level was somehow quieter around the large rectangular building, despite the fact that August City was home to the largest population on Mars. Built in the massive Hellas Basin, it was nearly six miles deep and 1,300 miles across. A ring almost 1.25 miles high, rose above the surroundings. Evenly spaced on it, were the field generators that held in the atmosphere.

Michael squared his shoulders and walked up the enormous stairs in front of the building. Memories came flooding back to him as he entered. People he had worked with, and against. Eavesdropping on the Governer of Europa. Tracking down the K-Star Killer on Neptune. Even the night of his partner's death. They all blended together into a sea of emotion. He hesitated as he grabbed the last thought. Did he really want this? To be back? Back risking his ass on one after another of the Agency's "incredibally-sensitive-yet-vital-to-the-future-of-mandkind" operations?

The answer was, of course, yes. Because no matter how much he hated it, he lived for it. Even after he had left, he had still found a living in the same kind of work. A bounty hunter, a private invesigator, a corporate spy...there was no escaping what he was good at.

He snapped back to reality as he stepped inside. People rushed to and fro. Phones and com systems beeped wildly. Not a whole lot has changed. he thought to himself as he made his way to the front desk. The woman behind it was preoccupied with monitor that seemed to light up every few seconds, demanding her immediate attention.

"Excuse me.." he started.

"Sorry hon, but we don't give handouts." she said without even looking up.

"Wait..." he began but then realized why he had recieved the previous response. His appearance was somewhat less than professional. Dirty black jeans, an old white t-shirt, a blue jacket that had seen more than it's share of brawls and gun fights, a day's growth on his face, and uncombed hair. The toothpick in his mouth didn't help either. "Thanks anyway." he forced out and walked over to the office directory. He scanned it briefly. Lesko's name was at the top. Director James Lesko. Maybe somethings had changed.

At least the building itself had remaind the same. The large garden in the center was still there. It had never failed to impress Michael and the fact that that had never changed was not surprising. It was the size of one city block and it extended up the entire length of the building, ending with a huge skylight. Various platforms were distributed through out and conected by a combination of stairs and bridges. The very first director had insisted on it. As he called it "a creative solution to the problems involved with defending the Alliance."

Opting for the quicker way to Lesko's office, Michael chose the elevator. It hummed quietly as it sped him to the top floor. Upon stepping out, he was met by Lesko's secratary. She was busily typing something on her computer as he walked up.

"Can I help you?" she said without looking up.

"Yeah," he sighed, "you can. I need to talk to Lesko."

She looked up for the first time, flashing blue eyes at him and shaking her back length brown hair. "Well you," her tone was carcastic, "need to make an appointment. The Director of the ISDA is far too busy to be interupted." She spoke with a hint of satisfaction at her own professionalism.

"Right." he said slowly. "Just tell him Michael Arkin is here...please?"

She complied but only grudgingly. "Excuse me Mr. Lesko?" she inquired through the intercom.

"Yes Ms. Brown?" his tired voice answered.

"Forgive the interuption, but there's a Mr. Arkin here to see you."

"Of course, send him in." he replied.

"Well, there you go." she said curtly.

"Yeah, thanks." he answered and strode into Lesko's office. The older man was sitting with his back to the door, looking out his window. It showed an excellent view of Lake August. The man made reservoir shimmered like a jewel under the mid-day sun.

He turned around as Michael approached. "Damn Mike, it's been a while." He stood up and offered his hand.

The other shook it firmly and sat down. "Been about three or four years. Right?"

"Something like that." he agreed. Michael studied him. He had gotten slightly balder than he had been. And even though he must have been near 50 by now, he had managed to keep in great shape. "Sorry about Sarah, she's a little more zealous than I'd like. You look like hell. Bad day?" he asked.

"Oh," Michael chose his words carefuly, "no worse than usual."

"You know we lost track of you for a long time." He merely nodded in response. "My guess was you'd been out in the Frontier."

"Some of the time. I just kept a low profile."

"You changed your ship's transponder codes more often than we could count."

"Like I said, I kept a low profile."

"Until you visited Earth about a six months ago. San Marianas? Ring a bell?"

"The city next to the deepest spot on Earth? Yeah I think I was there." he replied. Visions of the Derilect Tavern popped into his head. A man throwing insults at him, a gun fight, walking away while the other men lay on the floor bleeding. He choked it back. "Yeah, I might have been there."

"You picked a fight with four other guys. You were lucky they didn't kill you." he said.

"No, not luck." Michael's face showed no emotion.

Lesko just chuckled. "That's the same old Michael. Damn you were good."

"Still am."

"Did you know they called you 'The Archangel'?" he asked.

Arkin smiled a little in return. "You didn't just call me back to go over old memories Jim. What's on your mind?"

Lesko starred out the window again. "It's complicated. You know the Consortium is constantly trying to gain the Frontier." Michael nodded. "Hell, they've got as many spies in us as we've got in them."

"We've always had to deal with that."

"Not like this." He tried to hide the concern in his voice but Michael caught it.

"Not like what?" he asked.

"Like I said, it's complicated." He stood up and walked around the desk. "Let's get you cleaned up and updated first."

"Updated?"

Lesko smiled. "It's been three years Mike, there've been quite a few changes."

"I'd noticed." he replied and followed his friend out the door.