Contrary to what many had expected only a few decades earlier, humanity was doing very well in the mid-21st century: While global tensions never completely seized and commercial interests continued to dominate politics, strong economic ties across national borders caused most of the large remaining conflicts to be resolved peacefully.
In this environment, great progress in areas like medicine, energy, technology and agriculture was achieved, leading to an unprecedented level of global wealth. The world population had not grown for quite some time and remained stable at around 9 billion people. All in all there was little reason for colonizing space.
Yet just at this time, the planet killer was discovered: An asteroid that would hit the Earth 100 years later and destroy the planet including all life on it.
The general feeling of panic caused by the announcement was brief. After all, the majority of the world’s population would not live to see the impact. Yet all over the world, work commenced on a plan B for humanity. Or better: For a select few elites and lucky individuals.
While the world’s most powerful nations viewed the escape from Earth as a logical extension to their territorial claims and hoped to live on in the new worlds, the large multinational corporations saw it as a welcome opportunity to rake in massive profits: The construction of the generation ships that would ferry a few hundred thousand people to the exoplanets several centuries away would soon become the largest industrial project in human history and reach an unimaginable global scale.
Despite a strong drive on part of the elites that could afford a seat on board of one of the ships, it quickly became apparent that no country and no corporation could tackle this task alone. Research and development, planning, supply chains and production, personnel and materials: All of this had to be coordinated between thousands of parties. This need for coordination fueled the development of A.P.E.X., the “Advanced system for the facilitation of Production and Exchange for the eXodus of mankind”, a central information and trading system which made global cooperation in production, transport and trade of materials as fast and easy as never before.
After the generation ships had left orbit and received the final signals from earth, the passengers continued to engage in intensive research and development to increase their chances of reaching their destination, but also to prepare for the challenges they would face in the new worlds. A.P.E.X. was of use during this phase as well, mostly to share blueprints and scientific findings between the ships. Since different countries, corporations and other groups had sent their ships to different star systems, some messages took years to reach the whole fleet. Contact to some ships was lost completely. Despite such setbacks, some groundbreaking theoretical discoveries were made, among which was a viable theory for a propulsion system that would allow faster-than-light travel.
After the arrival it took many decades and great losses to gain a foothold on the new planets, but the settlers succeeded in establishing at least ten stable colonies, some of which had grown large enough to realize the technological discoveries they had made during their travels. With the development of the first working tunnel drive the colonies opened a new chapter in human history: Once bound to a single planet, mankind not only made several new worlds their home, but they were also able to travel between them at will.
And humans did, what they had always done: They started to trade again.