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Geographically, From the Cradle takes place on the planet of Epsilon Indi III, better known locally as "Persephone" after the Greek queen of the underworld and consort of Hades. The name was appropriate in an astronomical sense as well: "Persephone" was briefly a fashionable name for a hypothetised tenth Solar planet in the twentieth century. Epsilon Indi itself is one of the nearer stars to humanity's native solar system, and Epsilion Indi III the nearest planet to be even vaguely inhabitable: a natural first step.

However, the planet is not a pleasant world. The atmosphere is choking, riddled with sulfur oxides and nitrogen compounds that are hazardous in the extreme to human health. The air is well-oxygenated but this would not save a human from a choking, agonising death. The planet is lush and beautiful from space, but on the ground the terrain is riddled with craters and chasms from millions of years of intense seismic and volcanic activity. Only a few lucky regions around the poles are safe from the peril of powerful earthquakes or tsunami, and it is in these regions that human habitation concentrates. However, the air pressure is good, the gravity tolerable, and the atmosphere sufficiently endurable that with long sleeves and a respirator a human can work outside all day without ill effect, so long as they don't mind Persephone's below-average temperatures in the inhabited area.

This world is not a good fit for humanity. But it is a good fit for vegetation, and that, too, drew the eyes of mission planners. Most of the planet's landmass, aside from patches of tundra or desert, is thickly forested with great trees reaching dozens of metres into the sky. The wood is almost spectacularly strong and heavy equipment is needed to log them in any great numbers, while the root systems are so tenacious that farmers use more high explosive clearing their plots for the first time than most of Earth's militaries. But this wood doubles as excellent building material and as a main economic force: it is in demand on Earth by the upper classes, who consider it exotic and beautiful.

Trees are not the only form of life native to the planet. There are many small plants that have proven suitable for humans as food crops, even if the taste is usually bitterly unpleasant and food from Earth a rare luxury. Small game and many large-winged birds also roam the area of Persephone where humans dwell, though most of these take in enough sulfides and nitrates in their diet that they are toxic to humans. The Balorim, who are from a sulfuric planet themselves, relish many of these birds as delicacies.

The human year is 2748, and much has changed on Earth. A series of non-nuclear wars led to geographic upheaval, and in 2716 a war between the two major powers of the era (the Republic of China and the Union of Russian Federations) resulted in brief but devestating nuclear exchange. There remain some seventy-seven independant nations across Earth, with some new (Quebec, Chechnya, Kurdistan, and the four British Home Nations all gained their independence, among many others) and some amalgamations of the old (the Republic of China includes present-day China, Taiwan, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, and most of eastern India). The Union of Russian Federations, the European Union (effectively a Swiss-style confederation), and the Blessed Mexican Empire are the major powers in today's Earth, though colonists of course hail from across the globe.

In 2572, humanity first made contact with extraterrestrial life when they received a message, transmitted by radio, from a Boggeid explorer then eight light years away. Humanity now knew what was out there but no communication was possible until 2644 when another Boggeid vessel caught a similar message sent from Earth and dispatched a slower-than-light expedition to make contact from the nearest star system then accessible by faster-than-light travel. But spite of this contact, humanity was long left isolated, as the humans lacked the speed to travel to or communicate with distant systems and no other species had the will to establish faster-than-light contact with that backwater. Over the next several years, "sleeper" ships were dispatched to distant star systems and other alien species made contact, but humanity could reach out only a small distance.

But, all around humanity, the galaxy was raging. The major powers of the galaxy were the Twis'rin, the Balorim, the Captab, and the Doggei, and each of these were developing an increasingly bitter rivalry with each other as their interests increasingly intersected. Jump gate technology, now centuries old, had still not progressed to a point where exploration or inhabitation of the galaxy was fully viable, and these great empires numbered only a few dozen worlds, mostly small and insignificant. Allies with developed worlds became essential if control was to be achieved, and each of the powers began trying to lure the smaller species on their side. In 2708, Captab researchers were dispatched to the Mars colony where they taught humanity the secrets of faster-than-light communication, using a near-infinite number of hidden 'corridors' through the space-time continuum to send messages at unheard-of speeds. Not to be outdone, in 2725, after the last war had died down, the Captab taught the humans how to build large 'jump gates' that would allow humanity to use those conduits to move ships interstellar distances.

At last, humanity could touch the stars.

Almost as soon as the technology was available, faster-than-light ships were manufactuered to explore the spacelanes. Early on, there was about a one-in-ten chance of any given jump leading to the deaths of all aboard, but further refinement soon reduced those odds to a tolerable one-in-one-hundred. Throughout the 2730s, plans were made and construction commenced on Earth's first interstellar colony, a response to both humanity's own expansionist ambitions and the calls of the struggling powers for humanity to develop a colony where they could meet and trade with the humans (since first contact, aliens had been banned from Earth and were only allowed on the small Mars colony under exceptional circumstances). In 2738, an expedition was launched for Epsilion Indi. It successfully arrived, the ships were crashed into the surface and used as prefabricated buildings, and the colony on Persephone began.