Lost Worlds

Throughout interstellar history, there have been many ways and instances of worlds becoming lost to wider civilization. Terra's first colonies became lost to it after the End of Earth, while the wars at the end of the Second Interstellar Period and ensuing Dark Ages created numerous lost colonies which are still being found in the present day.

Background

One might think it must be hard to lose an entire planet. Every schoolchild knows habitable planets are rare, and new ones can only be created through expensive terraforming, thus surely if contact with one was lost, it would always be easy to find again, right?
  Wrong. As every schoolchild also knows, but has trouble internalizing due to the sheer scale involved, space is vast. The entire Starweb, whose farthest frontiers span maybe two thousand lightyears—a mere fraction of the galaxy's volume—contains millions of star systems. Only a small fraction of these are connected by wormholes, leaving even in modern times large swaths of unexplored space right on civilization's collective doorstep. A lost colony in such a volume can easily go overlooked: what difference would an astronomer note between an oxygen-atmosphere planet which no intelligent being has ever visited and one which hosts a forgotten population of humans regressed to a pre-industrial state? If a planet is settled and later all records of its location or even existence are lost, it may be quite a while before someone stumbles upon it again.

Methods of Isolation

Warfare / Civilizational Catastrophe

Historically, the most common source of lost planets are catastrophic disruptions to civilization, which can lead to the severing of wormhole links and the destruction or loss of records regarding colony worlds. These places often suffered bombardment in the course of battles which left their stargates destroyed. The end of the Second Interstellar Period saw many instances of this, since war was savage then and planetary bombardments carried out as strategic deterrence broke down.

Deliberate Isolation

Perhaps a clear-cut cause of isolation—it's hard for anyone to find a planet they don't know exists! This was seen as far back as the Wormhole Rush, when Ancient America established several Refuge Worlds for the purposes of preserving its socio-cultural essence when it predicted Earthly civilization was on the road to collapse. Here it devised the trick of placing its colonies on worlds selected for extreme conditions (like Eisenhower, regularly bathed in solar flares severe enough to kill unshielded humans), reasoning no one would think to look for humans in such places. This worked, and these locations went on to play major roles in the later American Federation. One Refuge World, Yellowstone, has never been found and is thought to be a Second Interstellar Period fabrication. Still, it remains possible that somewhere out in space, there is a human planet cut off after the Wormhole Rush—before nuclear fusion, alien contact, posthuman engineering, and all the dizzying array of events in the Starweb since then—which may only be found when it reaches out with its own wormholes.
  Deliberately-isolated space colonies were seen again during the Second Interstellar Period, as national backup sites in case of wars or as places for religious groups or political radicals to practice their preferred ideologies without external influence. As the founders of such places are likely to have taken steps to cover their tracks, they are usually only found when a later expedition has cause to revisit their solar system, or civilization there advances to a level where it can be remotely detected.
Eisenhower
Geographic Location | Jul 11, 2021

Eisenhower, an Americanist world rebuilding on its own after devastation in war.

Meridian
World | Jul 2, 2021

The planet Meridian, deliberately isolated by a group which left its human population at pre-industrial technology levels.

Conditions on Lost Colonies

Some lost worlds are completely forsaken, their populations dead from war or breakdown of life-support infrastructure which could not be maintained once contact with outside civilization was lost. The latter is particularly common for planets which were not shirtsleeve-habitable before their isolation, and space habitats in cut-off systems, both of which are dependent on technology to sustain life. (If a planetary population loses its technology, it reverts to primitivism, if a space habitat does, its people die. Intact, functional space habitats are rare in recontacted systems.)
  Beyond that, the inhabitants' condition can range from a stone-age forager state (seen in at least one case where carbon dioxide concentrations on a planet were so high as to cause mental impairment), to technological civilizations which have managed to preserve spaceflight. If high-energy civilization is lost it can be hard to get it back, as terraformed and early-biotic worlds usually lack fossil fuels. This cuts off easy industrialization, rebuilding societies must struggle along with low-energy-density, labor-intensive, or localized power sources such as biofuels, wood, or hydroelectricity, while trying to make the leap to atomic reactors.

Recontact

The recontact of lost worlds shares many similarities with the first contact of alien species, though in most cases the subjects of it are aware that their ancestors used to be members of an interstellar civilization. Still, there are exceptions, and recontact may be difficult if local residents believe their ancestors took up isolation because the outside cosmos was evil. Technological uplift, if the world in question has regressed, is a long and expensive process fraught with unintended consequences which can cause catastrope despite the best of intentions, and is sometimes opposed by rulers whose power would be threatened by change.
  Most modern recontact is usually handled in the initial stages by the Exploration Service, and later on by the Star Patrol, Foreign Directorate of the Stellar Compact, and other interested organizations. (Wealthy Americanist worlds such as Columbia and Jefferson are known to give aid to freshly-rediscovered colonies from the days of the old American Federation.)


Cover image: by 95C

Comments

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Master TimeBender
Unknown User
4 Mar, 2021 20:06

A fascinating article! I find the idea of America creating space colonies on different planets very interesting. Did other countries also do this, or did only America?

~TimeBender~ Here's my main Summer Camp world: Knights
Sage AntimatterNuke
M.J. Tremblay
5 Mar, 2021 04:09

Others did during the Wormhole Rush, though they tended to be big countries (like China) or consortiums of smaller ones since running an interstellar program was expensive. I just dwell more on the American ones because I'm American IRL and "write what you know" is good advice :)

Parastellis, sci-fi with aliens, posthumans, and uplifted raccoons!
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