A lot of people feel it, or dimly suspect it; they know there's something deeply wrong with the world but they can't figure out what it is. Some people think they know it -- drunks mumble-blurting wild stories about service in a military that doesn't sound like any Movie of the week, asking for spare change, wild-eyed, talking about events and places that don't show up on any map of Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iraq (again!) or even that Caribbean island nobody remembers? Those guys, they probably know. The guy at the flea market, with the rack of smudgily-printed flyers warning of the Roman Occupation Government, giving tips on burying guns in your backyard (do they sprout?), fretting over flying-saucer overlords, commie Russian plots and the dangers of fluoridated vaccinations? He probably knows and doesn't even realize he knows amid all the other noise.
And that's just how it's supposed to work. See, they've lied to you, lied to you all your life, lied since long before you were born. Our "precious blue marble? It's just one of dozens. First, yes; best, well, certainly the most biodiverse; only? Nope.
Interstellar travel has been around for a lifetime. "Really fast" (if somewhat inaccurate) space travel is even older, and that's where things went wrong: when the United States undertook what turned out to be the second Moon base in the 1950s, the scientists, engineers,soldiers and technicians they sent to build it decided they didn't want to be in a position to bomb the one and only Earth (then) and skipped out. Families and all. The decision may have been influenced by their finding the remains of the first Moon base, the one von Braun would have given his eyeteeth -- and more saliently, the eyeteeth of a whole factory full of forced laborers -- to know about.
There's the dusty history lesson. In more recent events, a Lukewarm War between the furtive ex-Moon crew brewed up, gave birth to an entire goofy UFO craze (and official debunking, unofficial PsyOps, etc. etc.) and finally fizzled out in the Agreement of 1989. Now there's a handful of "Far Edge" worlds (and stranger set-ups) where the writ of NATO does not run, a smaller handful of worlds where it does, a string of weird Russian worlds, some kind of French something, and a (rumored) set of earnest little Chinese settlements they can't even be asked about without letting them know that we know that they know. Oh -- and fleets of smugglers: the Far Edge still has an edge on us when it comes to the Stardrive and their "independent traders" come and go as they please, Agreement of 1989 notwithstanding.
With me so far? We have interstellar travel. For the Good Guys (that's us, right?), it not precisely exciting; it was aggressively civilianzed after 1989, but it still resembles being locked in a big, rundown, 1960s-futuristic apartment building with no windows, an air-conditioning system designed by paranoid geniuses and maintained by surly experts, with a management composed of retired Air Force officers, while three physics labs run dangerous experiments in the basement and an entire university Mathematics Department tries to figure out what's next. At any given moment, you're both bored to tears and under imminent threat of lurid death -- trapped in Nowhere, flashed into superheated plasma smeared across a distant solar system any one of three different ways, or drowned under a mass of amateur bureaucrats.
It's where I work, and I love it. Me, I'm a "peace dividend" beneficiary, it says so right here, trained up right out of High School by the United States Space Force despite having originally enlisted in the Air Force, taught everything there is to know about the maintenance, repair and proper operation of ever model of Stardrive our side ever flew, drilled, tested, qualified -- and then it was 1989. I had been the third female to get all the way through Stardrive tech training and I was out of job. Well, I never much liked saluting anyway.
There was still some work, and it's not like USSF was going to let anyone go home; trips to and from the "good, green Earth" were few and far between, so we and the Russians could mutually pretend they didn't happen at all. I got work; it turned out I had a knack for it.
These days, I'm the Chief Operator and Lead Stardrive Tech of USAS Lupine, a massive "exploratory recon/carrier" turned freight-and-passenger starship over five miles long -- the bigger you are, the faster you go -- a career like living locked in a basement with an amazing view of the Universe. It's not an adventure, it's just a job--