The Next Century is one of the retrospective articles prepared by CDN members to illustrate the events and changes that occurred during the year following the Reaper War.
The Next Century
Humanity has set itself at the heart of galactic civilization; what now?
by Gao Yang
Today, as mankind takes a moment to commemorate the anniversary of the end of the Reaper Wars, they might find time to consider another momentous occasion in their history. In 2149, humanity discovered its first mass relay in the depths of Charon, an ice moon in Pluto's orbit. A joint-mission of the European, American and Asian national space agencies dispatched an expedition to enter the relay and discern its destination. The result was Jon Grissom becoming the first known human to leave the Solar System, the foundation of the Systems Alliance, the elevation of humanity as an intergalactic power and the beginning of a series of events that would bring Earth to war with the Turian Hierarchy in 2157 and to membership on the Citadel Council in 2183. In 2184, the Grissom expedition was officially recognized by the Alliance Parliament as "a great milestone marking the advent of the human century".
But the opening of the Charon relay was not as universally celebrated in its time as it was until a year ago. When news of the discovery became widespread, a small but vocal minority urged their governments to seal off the relay. The risk was too great. If man could travel through the relay to beyond the furthest reaches of explored space, then what could travel back? It had only been a year since humanity had uncovered Prothean ruins under the surface of Mars. The thought of an advanced alien species with space-faring technology had elicited gasps of wonder amongst the scientific community, but also fear. If left opened, the Charon relay would offer a direct conduit to the heart of humanity, leaving it vulnerable to whatever inhabited the vast, unknown reaches of galactic space. They found support for their caution in the theories of 21st century physicist Stephen William Hawking, who predicted that first contact between mankind and a technologically superior alien race would end similarly to first contact between the natives of the New World and European colonists: with the utter extinction of the former at the hands of the latter. But they were dismissed as insular naysayers holding back the advancement of human civilization, and the mass relay remained open.
Thirty eight years later, the naysayers seem vindicated. Humanity encountered an enemy from the depths of dark space and almost achieved total annihilation. Earth lies in ruins, having served as the battlefield in a conflict that claimed billions of lives, dozens of colonies and entire fleets of state-of-the-art starships. Victory was claimed, but at only at the eleventh hour, and until that point it seemed that the war against the Reapers could only end with the slate of human history being wiped entirely clean. Mankind was arrogant and overconfident when it threw itself into the galaxy without caution; now, it has been humbled.
It is not just humanity and its homeworld that has bore the brunt of the war; the Alliance of today, forced by circumstances to adapt and expand, is unrecognizable to the Alliance of yesteryear. Chartered in the same year as the discovery of the Charon relay, the Alliance existed as little more than a forum for international cooperation in space exploration and defense until the First Contact War. The ease with which the Turian Hierarchy occupied Shanxi convinced Earth's national governments of the necessity of a strong shield for human expansion. As a result, the Alliance was significantly strengthened. Within three years, it received its own parliament and Prime Minister, and became humanity's de facto representative on the galactic stage. But even as it became more powerful, it could only ever exercise these powers within the parameters of space exploration. The Alliance was intended, as it had always been, to serve humanity's interests only in the sphere of space - and never on Earth.
That old understanding was the first casualty of the Reaper War. The invaders targeted the centres of administration in the first wave of the invasion; none escaped unscathed. From Beijing to Brussels, Earth's political capitals were wiped out before their inhabitants could even be evacuated. The scant survivors were abducted by the Reapers on the pretence of negotiating peace and then brainwashed. By the conflict’s end, the national governments who had first signed the Alliance into being no longer existed. Earth was in anarchy. Without governments and militaries, there was nothing left to uphold order. As the Reapers retreated into space, chaos filled the void that they had left behind.
During the Reaper Wars, human military policy had been dictated by the immediate need of survival. There had been precious little analysis on what to do afterwards, in the unlikely event that humanity prevailed. As such, when victory suddenly presented itself, the Alliance was at a loss on what to do next. There were no contingencies for an emergency of this scale. The Parliament was destroyed; the Prime Minister was dead; and the constituent members of the Alliance charter were consumed by disorder. Action had to be taken, but what? There was no precedent to call upon; no existing emergency measures to provide for the aftermath of such a disaster. The Alliance leadership was paralyzed by indecision. Finding a solution seemed as difficult a task as defeating the Reapers in the first place. In this dark hour, the fate of mankind lay in the hands of Admiral Steven Hackett, who – following the death of Councillor Donnel Udina – was the highest remaining representative of humanity as commander-in-chief of the Alliance Navy.
It was under these circumstances that Admiral Hackett made the decision to announce the military occupation of Earth. For the first time in its history, the Alliance declared martial law. The fleet – at any rate stranded within the Sol system due to the loss of the relays – moved into Earth’s orbit. Marines were dispatched to the surface to secure the remaining human cities. There was little resistance mobilized against the occupation force, not least because there was no one left to resist. The survivors of the Reaper Wars sought only the return of peace and security; Alliance administration offered the best hope for this. Within three months, the occupation was complete and Earth was under direct Alliance administration. The agent of galactic policy had become the arbiter of domestic affairs. It was a traumatic and spontaneous transformation. No one could understand how it had happened, and everyone was at a loss as to what would happen next.
For his part, Admiral Hackett had instituted martial law as a provisional measure to restore order. Without warning, he now found himself as the sole governmental authority on Earth. He knew that the occupation force was all that stood between stability and anarchy, and that as soon as it was withdrawn, Earth would lapse back into chaos. So he decided to press on. At an internal council of the Alliance leadership, Admiral Hackett declared the formation of the Systems Alliance Transitional Administration on Earth (SATAE) to oversee the reconstruction of the homeworld. The occupation was to be formalized into a provisional military government. Cities were reorganized as districts, under the command of an Adjutant; districts were agglomerated into provinces, under a Prefect; provinces were grouped into regions, under an Administrator; regions were subordinate to continental authorities, under a Director; and directors were themselves subordinate to the Director-General of Earth. The latter was based at the new Alliance capital, which had been established within the human embassy on the Citadel.
As the months passed, the Alliance administration consolidated its control over Earth. The devastation of the Reaper War at least funnelled the survivors to the remaining settlements, which greatly facilitated administration. Even so, the occupation force was overstretched. Large swathes of the surface remained ungoverned. Rations provided some relief to men, women and children left without employment or support. Bartering became universal, although the Alliance soon introduced a new credit currency to prevent total economic collapse. Most survivors took to scavenging for valuables from the ashes of fallen cities. Conditions were desperate and dismal, although slowly improving.
By the eighth month of the occupation, something curious occurred. The quality of life on Earth increased – but so did criticism of the Alliance administration. The reopening of the mass relay network aided the economic recovery of Earth. Supplies became more plentiful; want became less wanton. Stability was restored, and life resumed a semblance of normality. But far from being satisfied with Alliance rule, humanity seemed to grow restless. It was on the basis of the immediate threat of anarchy that martial law was declared – a sentiment supported by everyone at the time. But now that this threat had passed, people began to chafe under the occupation. There were calls for the restoration of civilian governance and an end to military rule. For its part, the Alliance leadership reiterated that martial law was a temporary measure that would be lifted as soon as possible. Admiral Hackett himself stated that it would be impossible to abolish the Alliance administration until reconstruction had been fully accomplished. Some agreed that it was too soon to lift martial law when only a year had passed. Others grew sceptical of Alliance intentions.
And as the Alliance sustained criticism at home, it faced new resistance abroad. The reopening of the mass relays restored contact to the human colonies, which had been isolated from the homeworld since the end of the war. The neglected colonies were glad to see the return of the Alliance Navy; they were less enamoured by requests to contribute to the reconstruction of Earth. Months of official neglect had instilled a sense of independence in the lost colonies. Some wanted to negotiate a compact with the Alliance by which they would be granted autonomy in all matters; a small minority advocated complete secession from the Alliance. Federalism, as its advocates styled it, was the only way to preserve the Alliance. This assertion met with little appreciation from Admiral Hackett, who claimed that the colonies were content to exploit Alliance protection but reticent to pay for it. The Alliance had grown accustomed to being in control of human affairs. They were unprepared to suffer the criticism of the colonists, never mind entertain the spectre of separatism.
But this opposition ostensibly poses only a marginal concern to the Alliance. In all other respects, it is at the peak of its powers. Earth is united for the first time under a global government; humanity is situated at the centre of intergalactic trade and immigration; the Citadel lies within its reach. In theory, humanity has never been more significant on the galactic stage, and the Alliance has never been stronger. But in reality, the Alliance administration is supported by tenuous scaffolding. The slightest strain might cause its foundations to crumble. The naysayers may yet have their day.