Hammer's Star Exploration
Verge exploration reached its peak by the end of the 2330s and started to decline. After only two and a half decades, the great expansion of the interbellum was ending. In short, the time had come for the stellar nations to stockpile their re-sources for war, and none of them could afford to waste the time, effort or driveships to explore the unknown reaches of space.
For the independent explorers who made their living through contracted investigation of the Verge and other frontiers, it was the end of an era. Spes Research Association (SRA) was one such organization of trailblazers. The SRA had already sent out a dozen expeditions into the Verge-including an expedition that discovered and explored the Hathorn star system for the stellar nation Utopia Now. By 2339, exploration had slowed so much that the SRA was forced to solicit funding from all of the 24 nations then in existence. Even though the Pit lay only 35 light-years from the SRA’s last exploration of Hathorn, Utopia Now and the other stellar nations declined any support. Prospects looked grim for the SRA.
Of course, not everyone saw the coming conflict as clearly. The Borealis Republic continued to fund explorations into the unknown, heedless of what violence the future would bring. It might be more accurate to say that the Republic, still celebrating its revolution and rebirth, stubbornly refused to look ahead and see the possibility of a Second Galactic War.
Still, securing a grant from the Borealis Republic was no easy task. Dozens of corporations and hundreds of private individuals were competing and soliciting for shrinking research budgets. The Spes Association offered numerous incentives to its funding sources-including an offer to berth representatives of each supporting stellar nation on board its Orlamu-built vessel, the Lightbringer, so that they could witness the SRA explorations firsthand. The SRA also surrendered part of its ‘traditional" rights to name planets and moons discovered during the journey. Ultimately, these offers didn’t secure the funds necessary for the expedition, and in 2340 the Spes Association cobbled together a desperate, final proposal to split the funding equally between the Orlamu Theocracy and the Borealis Republic. Both nations agreed.
Joined with their national observers, the SRA’s expedition left the Stellar Ring and arrived in Tendril to begin its explorations. A 10-system tour at the distant edge of the Verge led the Lightbringer on a meandering course right toward its singular goal- the Pit. In February 2341, with rumors of an interstellar war chasing them all the way, the multinational force arrived in the [[Hammer’s Star]] system and discovered its four planets. The Spes Research Association, as leader of the expedition, named the first planet, which was also the ninth and last Class 1 world discovered in the Verge. The world, called Spes, was an Earthlike planet home to abundant single-celled life. The Orlamus and Borealins on board the Lightbringer christened the other three planets and the system’s asteroid belts.
Trouble occurred not long after. The Borealin contingent wanted to spend months devoted to the investigation of Spes, as it promised its own unique discoveries and wonders. The Borealins also wanted to enjoy planetary living after enduring months of cramped conditions on the Lightbringer. The Orlamus, meanwhile, demanded that the expedition’s leaders press on to The Pit, which was the reason that the Theocracy agreed to fund the effort in the first place. The black hole, with its accretion disk easily visible from Spes orbit, produced energy in frequencies that no one had predicted, and the curious Orlamus wanted answers.
The crew of the Lightbringer decided to split their efforts. The Borealins and a few SRA officers remained on Spes with some shuttles to continue their work, while the Orlamus traveled to a point not far from the Pit. Fifteen days later, the Borealins on the planet received a radio signal from the Pit. The communications officer of the Lightbringer reported that the ship had been damaged and couldn’t escape the singularity’s gravity well. A month passed on Spes before the supplies of food and water ran out. Unfortunately for the Borealins, Spes required some terraforming before it could produce food edible to humans. The Borealins surmised that the black hole’s tidal farces destroyed the Lightbringer when the vessel approached too close to the Pit, and they included this information in their planetary logs. Without food they could safely eat, the planet-bound expedition didn’t expect to survive for long. They were right.