Story #9: The Locker

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Known to her crew as the I.S.F.O.T.A.C.W.E.F.A.P. Lobster, the ship took its designation from a nebula officially dubbed NGC-6357. When looked at from the right angle, you had to admit that the nebula looked a bit like the crustacean. Of course, there were no such things as Lobsters anymore. Not since all the planets of Sol were burned out by a Gamma burst from Wolf-Rayet 104. Still, though, if you looked carefully at the constellation and then compared it to the images in Encyclopaedia Galactica, Ed. XLIII, you could see the similarities. Lobsters, like Earth, were now part of humanities ancient history. Both the crustacean and the planet were so far in the past, they were barely a footnote in humanities expansion across the void. Most of the historical texts focussed on the pioneers who settled in Barnard's Galaxy (1.16 MLY away), not to be confused with Barnard's Star (6.8 LY away), something completely different.

Yes, there was still a small human presence in the Milky Way, though the human locations were few and far between. The humans of the Milky Way would be found at either political missions or research outposts, sanctioned and permitted by the Eridani Dominion. No human was permitted interstellar travel in the Milky Way unless they were a.) leaving to go to another Galaxy, or b.) arriving from another galaxy. Humans weren't even allowed to go from outpost to outpost. If they wanted to do that, they first had to travel outside the Milky Way galaxy, apply for a new visa, wait for the visa to be approved, and then return to the Milky Way galaxy. It was stupid Customs legalese imposed by the Eridani but imposed it was, so the humans needed to play along. It seemed ridiculous, but it was their way. Who were the humans to argue?

The Eridani, yeah, they were a nice lot. They arrived on Earth not long after the Proto-Gen war. They swooped in and started taking humans for medical experiments and if you believe the old stories, lunch ... and I don't mean as guests, capisce? Those Eridani pecker-heads had exploded across the Milky Way, inhabiting every celestial nook and cranny they could find. Because they had spread through the Milky Way like bed bugs in a hostel, when it came time to find a new home humanity looked towards a new galaxy. The generational ships that took the original four billion migrants travelled for close to 10,000 years to reach Barnard's Galaxy. By the time those ships arrived, humanity was already thriving there. Four hundred years after the last generational ship had departed, human researchers discovered how to fold space. They reduced the transit time to Barnard's Galaxy to a mere fourteen months. This allowed the remaining bulk of the human presence in the Milky Way to pack up and move, arriving almost 9,000 years ahead of the generational ships.

Fast forward another 5,000 years after the arrival of the generational ships, humanity is exceeding the capacity of Barnard's Galaxy. Well, not really. I mean, a galaxy is realy, real, big. Many people would line up in the evenings, on all of the planets, to look through the powerful telescopes; to dream of the Milky Way galaxy they had come from. At some point, humanity decided that it had "had enough" of the Eridani. Many of the politico's and pundits of the inhabited worlds thought that it was time to return to the Milky Way. Not as guests, not as visitors, not as controlled observers. They thought it was time for humanity to return and reclaim what was rightly ours. It was an idea with legs; long, slender, sexy legs. The idea grew like wildfire and soon turned from concept to imperative. Humans wanted to take the Milky Way back. The Eridani ... disagreed. They offered to, metaphorically, meet us out behind the gymnasium after the metaphorical school dance.

So in the best tradition of our redneck heritage (remember, the generational ships took the best and the brightest, it was those that were left behind that actually populated the new galaxy homeworlds ... do the math), so in that tradition, we brung it. The Imperial Space Force Of The Aligned Coalition Worlds Except For Aberghast Planet was formed, the I.S.F.O.T.A.C.W.E.F.A.P. for short.

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