On The Brink

January-March, 2184

The early months of 2184 saw a period of suspenseful uncertainty. The issue of evacuating the offworld colonies hovered at an impasse, and no one had any idea how it would break— or if it would.

Commander Warren Armstrong of the military’s Offworld Force began a private journal after his initial meeting with Star City Governor Charles Safreth on December 16, 2183. It appears his initial purpose was only to ensure accuracy when it came time to write official reports: the early entries are simple matter-of-fact notes detailing specific events and activities. Gradually he began to insert more of his personal thoughts into the journal, and to use it as a way of debating with himself over the difficult decisions he faced. As such, his journal has become an invaluable resource for historians of the period.

Charles Safreth kept no such journal, nor did he publish a memoir later in life (normally a staple of politicians’ retirement years), so our understanding of his thinking during this time is limited to what we can gain from official records: minutes of administration meetings, internal memos, communications among the various offworld governments. Safreth had already taken a leadership position among the offworld Colonies, beginning with the failed attempt to create an offworld “continent” in the election of 2182. Now, he led the Colonies in a coordinated response to the Terran government’s demands. The records of conference calls between all Colonial governors show Safreth acting as chairman and at times outright setting policy. Many historians argue he was already the de facto president of the United Offworld Colonies, months before the independence votes.

That the Colonies were coordinating their response was apparent to Warren Armstrong the moment he received initial reports from his company commanders. Matching his unexpected meeting with Charles Safreth on arrival at Star City, he learned that every single governor had paid a visit to the arriving force. All said much the same thing Safreth had told Armstrong: they invited the military officers to use their offices, and made the Colony-wide address system freely available. They articulated the same legal position as Safreth: under the Terran Constitution they could not be compelled to adopt any given policy, including supporting the evacuation, but they would not oppose the lawful attempts of the military to persuade the population to leave.

This passive response was calculated to match the orders given to the Offworld Force. Safreth and Armstrong were both clearly aware of the limitations Armstrong faced. Two hundred troops per Colony were not enough to force the offworld population to comply, and Armstrong’s initial orders specifically prohibited him from using force in any case. His mission was to persuade the offworlders they had to evacuate, but in practice all he could do was try to look menacing. In effect, Armstrong had been sent to rattle the saber but without being given a saber to rattle. Any active interference from the Colonial governments would have provided a pretext for arresting their officials; simply standing to one side left him with no legal option.

Armstrong concluded almost immediately that he had made a serious mistake in not coordinating a strategy among all his companies. The Colonies were as diverse in culture as the continents that sponsored them, and Armstrong’s original idea was to allow each company commander to judge the local situation and freely choose the best approach for each Colony. Armstrong had worked hard to recruit offworld natives to his force and to pair them with their home Colonies wherever possible— and with a Colony of their home continent when not. He thought that would give them the best insight to know how to approach their own people. Now he realized he should have devised a coordinated strategy, and in his journal we can see him examining the pros and cons of various alternatives.

Some historians believe that this was a deliberate error on Armstrong’s part, that from the beginning had decided to undermine his mission. Perhaps that he even anticipated Colonial independence and had designed his Offworld Force to covertly provide each Colony with military units that would switch sides when push came to shove. The entries in his journal clearly show this was not the case. Armstrong disagreed with the evacuation order, but he had been deeply frightened by his personal meeting with President Monroe. His primary concern, early on, was to succeed in his mission before Monroe could take any step that would cost civilian lives.

Armstrong believed that new orders would come as soon as the January 1st deadline for Colonial evacuation passed. His former commander, Admiral Richard Gali, believed the same. The two officers traded almost constant communications in the early weeks after the Offworld Force deployed, as Armstrong asked his mentor for suggestions and advice to complete his mission before new, possibly destructive, orders came.

For their part, Safreth and the other Colonial governors were convinced that Monroe would never take action. Instead, they believed he’d deliberately sent a toothless military force to the Colonies simply in order to support his propaganda campaign against the evil offworlders, and would allow that situation to continue.

As days, then weeks, then months following the deadline passed, it began to seem that Safreth was correct. No fresh orders came. Armstrong and his Offworld Force were left with only their original mission orders: convince the offworlders they must evacuate, but without any power to enforce consequences if they didn’t.

Armstrong had addressed the Colonial population repeatedly during the first weeks of his mission, trying as best he could to make the point, but with very little result. A few weeks after the new year, he ceased his public addresses. With the deadline passed and no action from the Terran government, there was nothing he could say that wouldn’t sound foolish. He continued to meet regularly with Charles Safreth, but with little evidence of progress on either side. His journal shows mounting frustration with the situation.

No records survive of internal communications in President Monroe’s administration. Their public announcements and actions, reported by the news media and broadcast to the Colonies as well as everywhere else, are all we have. What might have come out had the Catastrophe not occurred will forever be a matter of speculation; only offworld databases survived.

We do know that the Terran Federation on Earth was crumbling. President Monroe’s Born To The Earth party had no governing agenda except anti-Colonial hostility, and by all accounts made no effort to respond to the worsening economic crisis on Earth. The irregularity of the Sun, which had triggered the crop failures that brought on the economic collapse, continued to play havoc with Earth’s ecosystems. Food shortages were only the first result. Rival political parties attempted to enact policies through their remaining elected officials, and tried to persuade Earth’s people to place blame on the Monroe administration. Instead Monroe’s popularity only increased, as he retained the skill of directing public anger against his designated villains, the “offworlders in their sky palaces.”

Monroe’s public addresses become more shrill. In the early months of 2184 he began to pepper his standard rhetoric with accusations that the Sun’s irregularity itself was caused by humans living offworld, which he often phrased with cryptic references to a “Red Light and Shadow.” Historians examining these speeches often wonder whether he was merely fanatical— or actually insane. But if Monroe was mad, it seems the population of Earth suffered the same madness, as crowds roared with approval at his every shouted speech.

The governments of the Continental Directorates began to hoard their resources, violating laws dating back to the unification. The Terran Federation, once hailed as bringing the end of war and conflict among Humanity, was coming apart at the seams.

In the midst of all this, Monroe finally got around to issuing fresh orders to the long-idle Offworld Force. In a speech on March first, backed up the next day by fresh orders sent to Warren Armstrong, Monroe declared a new deadline for Colonial evacuation: Monday, May 3rd. The orders Armstrong received from the Chief of Military Operations (CMO) that if the Colonies missed this new deadline, he was “authorized and required to use any force necessary to remove all human residents from any offworld platform.”

Armstrong had two months to figure out how to follow those orders, with a force still far too small to overcome the Colonies, should they choose an equally forceful resistance.

He had the same two months to decide whether to follow his orders.


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