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From The Times June 12th, 1885
The Cunard Line has officially posted its Venus bound vessel Etheria as lost after her new drive system caused a massive explosion while leaving Earth orbit. The disastrous failure of the Nikola Tesla designed motors occurred within an instant of their activation and was witnessed by thousands in orbit and on Earth. Rescue vessels reached Etheria’s last known position within hours but so great was the destruction that little wreckage and no survivors have yet been found. It is believed that the entire vessel and all 4,212 souls aboard have been reduced entirely to vapour by the terrible detonation of the Tesla drive.
The first news of the accident received in London was contained in a Reuters message from announcing that the following telegram had been received from Singapore: The Singapore Highport Station reports in a heliograph communication that the liner Etheria has been destroyed in a violent explosion as she engaged her main interplanetary drive. The blast was extremely bright and has caused flash blindness in numerous station personnel but there have been no reports of damage to the station itself. Powerful telescope observation of the area of her last observed position has revealed no debris or lifeboats.
Within hours two vessels made the last known location of Etheria and have confirmed the worst fears. There are no survivors. What little wreckage that has been found may have been refuse jettisoned by Etheria prior to activation of her Tesla Drives.
Even before Earth ships reached Venus the French looked to extend their Empire to that world. In 1877 the Venusian Orbital Station Society (Société des Vénusien Station Orbitale ) was formed as a joint stock company with a headquarters in Paris. It quickly displayed plans for a massive structure to be manufactured at Schneider’s Earth orbital manufactory and shipped in pieces to Venus. The company was capitalized at 50,000,000 £ by 1879. The immense quantity of materials needed drove French space endeavors. Almost 70% of all French space resources, whether measured in terms of money, orbital ferry launches, tonnage or personnel was consumed by this effort.
Although the British used Royal Albert to establish the first Venusian orbital station in 1878 this did not curb enthusiasm for the company and its project. The early portion of the program went smoothly. The hub and the skeletons of the first two rings were in place by 1883. Soon costs began to skyrocket and three attempts to increase capital were met with increasingly disappointing results. By mid-1885 the company was in serious trouble. This compounded with the similar difficulties being encountered in Panama lead to a fiscal collapse and the Anarchist Revolution that nearly destroyed the French Empire.
During the Anarchist Revolution the construction of the station was abandoned. The failing French transportation system also meant that several thousand workers were left stranded. The station was in no way able to support so many individuals. Some were evacuated back to Earth; others were relocated to the British Station or to Venus’ surface. Several hundred were either too stubborn to leave or were simply forgotten. These included a large percentage of Asian laborers from French colonies in Indochina.
There are many on Earth that see another man’s disaster as an opportunity. That same sentiment is expressed in an ancient Venusian proverb “Your failure makes for my success”. And by any measure, Earther or Venusian the station was a failure of disastrous proportions. Sub contractors sought to reclaim parts they had built but for which they had never received payment. Banks and other institutions which had outstanding loans or liens attempted to enforce their claims Being as the original company had operated in numerous nations on Earth, but the station itself was orbiting an alien world there was no certain jurisdiction for their claims. Legal action was filed in seventeen separate countries, often in more than one individual regional jurisdiction. In the United States alone claims were filed in twelve State Courts and a number of Federal courts as well. Some judges wisely decided that their bench had no jurisdiction and dismissed the cases, but others took them up. The various courts and judges that took up the cases awarded various individuals and organizations rights to either the structure, as a whole, or to parts of it. Many of these decisions were contradictory. It was estimated that to the assorted parties involved in the litigations over 15,000% of the station or the total value of the company was awarded. Suites and counter suites dragged on for years and even by 1900 there were still over one hundred active legal cases winding their ways through a vast assortment of legal jurisdictions.
While this was going certain parties felt that possession was nine-tenths of the law and decided that if they occupied the station their legal claim to it would be greatly enhanced. Some groups that boarded the station had never been associated with the original project but were attempting to enforce claims under rights of salvage. During these legal squabbles many people had entirely forgotten that a number of the original workers on the station had remained behind. They had developed their own factions and did not take kindly to any newcomers staking claim to what they considered as their homes. Although open hostilities were rare conflict between these groups simmered at a near boil constantly. The occasional murder in a lonely corridor was not unknown and more than one person simply disappeared, their body nor their fate never discovered.
This situation might have persisted indefinitely; had not a pair of companies with vast resources not taken notice of the opportunity. Spears Ltd and Ewing and Stuart Interplanetary Drives, Ltd had enjoyed an informal and lucrative relationship since 1877. Spears was the Earth’s major supplier of aerolyth and E and S still maintained a monopoly on effective interplanetary spaceship engines. The boards of Directors of both companies realized that if they could wrest control of the station in Venusian orbit it would give them tremendous penetration into markets on that world, as well as a location which would be free from almost all interference from any Earthly government. Spears was particularly keen to increase its presence and leverage on Venus, since another corporation had succeeded in monopolizing Venusian aerolyth. This state of affairs risked Spears earthly success and could not be tolerated.