Space travel had been picking up by fits and starts all throughout Earth’s 21st and 22nd centuries. Travel to the moon was commonplace, and early efforts at terraforming the surface of Mars began as early as 2105 AD, but all in all, space-focused projects seemed more like a novelty for the rich than any true solution to ever-growing economic and pollution problems on the planet.
After the collapse of the United States in the Free Zone Rebellions of 2186, even the original Mars Colony failed, and it seemed that mankind was ultimately doomed to live out its days on a planet with dwindling resources under smog-filled skies.
In 2201, that destiny was rewritten when an Indian physics professor at the University of Mumbai named Abhilasha Mullur discovered a theorem that would eventually lead to the creation of the world’s first Slipstream Engine – a device capable of utilizing a subspace network of pathways that enabled faster than light travel.
The space race was back on for the first time since the 20th century, with every country clamoring and pouring massive resources into labor for renewed rocketry programs, eager to be the first ones to explore the galaxy network that would ultimately come to be known as the Cluster.
By 2236, survey teams were bringing back word of other Earth-like planets out in the far reaches of the Milky Way, suitable for human life. It would not take much longer after that for countries, and even individual organizations with sufficient wealth, to begin staking their claims to these planets and sending out massive colonization expeditions.
The Sol Council was founded in 2245 to administrate these far-flung colonies, a European Union-like confederation of sovereign states that could provide logistical support and some modicum of unifying law to the far reaches of the Cluster.
That, of course, would not last— with the resources that many of these new star systems drew on, populations in the more successful colonies exploded, and in 2330 AD the Katabania System would be the first to formally break all ties to any form of Earth government, declaring itself a sovereign state.
Most of the other colonies followed in waves after that, and by 2450 AD, the Sol System was cut off politically from all of its children.
The period that followed was somewhat chaotic, as a number of wars broke out amongst the former colonies to establish dominance in their systems. The New Eden system was among the most fraught — with more than 8 habitable planets and more than thirty distinct colonies within range of Slipstream technology, among them the so-called “Super-Earth” of Eden 5, violence had reached a feverish pitch even before the outbreak of the Nine States War of 2561.
Ultimately, it would be a shared faith that brought the system out of the nuclear hell of that conflict— Catholocism, while not an official religion in all of the colonies, was a shared common fixture in all but a few of them. An armistice agreement brokered in 2568 officially invited the Pope to leave the Vatican and come to New Eden to serve as a spiritual and political arbiter to prevent violence from reaching such a scale again.
Pope Pius XII agreed to the proposal, and over the next 40 years, the New Eden system gradually ceded more and more temporal authority to the Church until it became the modern, unified system that it is today.
The 2600s were largely calm, by comparison, with successful colonies emerging from the wilderness to take up their places against the backdrop of international Cluster politics. Among the greatest success stories outside of New Eden would be the confederates of the Maenali Sytem. Modeled on a European Union style of largely autonomous parliamentary government, the Maenali came together through shared interests and technological collaboration rather than through faith. While their population was dwarfed by the much larger New Eden, they quickly became a comparable power in their own right with continuing scientific advancements that stunned their neighbors. While Slipstream technology may have been born on Earth, it is the Maenali who truly first mastered it.
By the dawn of the 2700s, it was clear to everyone who the two superpowers in the Cluster were. Their relations were cordial, and popular sentiment was that mankind had embarked upon a new golden age, with faith and scientific progress linked hand in hand on their way into an ever-brighter future.
In 2715, the two powers were poised on the precipice of an international agreement that would have linked them in free trade, open borders, and might ultimately have led to a merger between the two systems into one massive democratically-led government.
Radical elements in the Maenali Parliament put a stop to that. Many details of how, precisely, the conflict began have been lost, shrouded in propaganda on both sides, but what is understood is that a militant nationalist party within the Maenali Government saw the Vatican Talks as an existential threat, and were willing to take any steps possible to stop it.
They succeeded beyond their wildest dreams when they orchestrated and successfully carried out the assassination of Pope Clemens in 2716. The talks were scuttled. Relations rapidly soured. By the end of the month, war had broken out between the two powers.
Six years later, 750 million people would be dead, and at least one entire planet rendered uninhabitable by radiation.
The armistice agreement was an essential white peace— neither side had won the war. Both had lost much. Neither trusted one another, no differences had been resolved— they simply no longer had the capacity to keep up the fight as they had.
Since then, it has been a staring match between the two of them, with the rest of the Cluster caught up in it.