Certainly the most significant event in recent human history, and perhaps all human history, the Tech Plague remains shrouded in mystery and conjecture. This is all the more curious when we consider that it took place in an era of pervasive digital recordkeeping. Yet many key details remain a mystery.
What do we know? In standard year 2651, contact was lost with the recently established Zhengnez colony. In those chaotic times of rapid expansion, it took a couple of months for the overstretched SpaceGuard to send a cutter, the Vostok, to investigate. The cutter found a nightmarish scene. All members of the colony were dead — some from violence, some from starvation, and some from what appeared to be a viral infection. Strangely, most of the colony’s computer systems had been destroyed — by the colonies themselves. One environmental control network was still functioning, but strangely, and did not respond to manual intervention. Following standard procedure, the Vostok‘s captain collected some of the corpses, and uploaded the environmental control network to be investigated further by the regional SpaceGuard station.
By the time the Vostok reached its base, it had also gone silent. Justifiably fearing some kind of outbreak, the station commander had the cutter towed into orbit around an uninhabited moon. Yet within twenty-four hours, the station’s operating systems began acting strangely, and shortly thereafter crew members began collapsing, bodies being consumed from within. At least according to the commander, who managed to send about 45 seconds of description before the transmission was abruptly terminated.
Four days later, a similar incident took place in another new colony, dozens of light years and multiple wormhole gates away. Two days later, another incident in a different system.
Like a wildfire, the Tech Plague spread through the Confederation, devastating both humans and their technological devices. Nothing stopped its progress. It progressed unchecked, heading inexorably towards the oldest colonies, the heart of humanity.
Mass panic rippled through the Confederation. Riots broke out amid the most advanced colonies. People demanded a leader who could address the crisis. And one arose. Drastic action was taken. The Firebreak policy was implemented, cutting off the thirty oldest colonies (the so-called “Core Worlds”) from the rest of the Confederation. Transport of people or goods, and transmission of any information, was banned. If wormhole gates could have been safely unhooked, they likely would have been. Since they could not, SpaceGuard rigorously enforced the ban. The hundreds of colonies outside the “Core Worlds” were abandoned to their fate. Their cries for help went unheeded. Even wormhole travel between the various Core Worlds was suspended for a decade.
Across the Core Worlds, people waited anxiously, but the Firebreak held, against all hope. The Tech Plague disappeared as quickly as it had appeared. Despite various false alarms induced by mass hysteria, no case of Tech Plague has ever been seen inside the Firebreak. Indeed, as the centuries passed, SpaceGuard risked patrols through wormhole gates beyond the Firebreak and found no extant evidence of the Plague.
Of course, even today, with a thousand years of further advancement, we do not know what the Plague was or how it worked. This is something that the radicals who advocate lowering the Firebreak would do well to remember.