This writeup submitted to SciFiQuest 2106.
I didn't know how to respond when they asked me to write this. It's exactly the kind of undertaking I'd always distrusted and been skeptical of. I'd been raised to treat with suspicion anything that claimed to be total or all-encompassing—my parents were professors of Late 20th Century Theory at Moon University. So having this foisted on me was jarring, to say the least. I didn't even really know where to begin. I'd been there at the beginning, but so much had happened in such a short amount of time that I knew it'd be virtually impossible to cover all of it. Besides, I was a journalist, not a historian. All over the universe there were stories happening and bars needing patronage; the last thing I wanted was to be cooped up in a base on the Government frontier writing a colonial history.
Of course, you already know all the basics: how we discovered a simple, inexpensive method of space travel; how we were able to cheaply and easily terraform inhospitable planets. So thankfully I don't have to explain all of that boring stuff. I know it's the details you're really interested in.
The first really interesting thing, of course, was meeting the Tor. For ages mankind had wondered if we were alone in the universe, and finally we had an answer. The thing was, it wasn't the answer most people were expecting. It really, really wasn't.
It was impossible to figure it out at first: their shipyards were running when we got there, with miles of starships lined up in neat little rows waiting for takeoff. When we first met the Tor, it was shocking how much they appeared to be like us: humanoid, an average height of about 5'6", hairless. They also smelled terrible. Their language was foreign to us, but the linguists (now xenolinguists) on the colonial mission found it surprisingly easy to translate. And that's when it started to dawn on us: there's no way these beings could've developed the technology to build spaceships. To put it bluntly, it's amazing they managed to survive at all in the society they were orphaned in.
Their planet, which is still called Z-49 due to a debate about what to name the new settlement, was chosen by the Second Colonial Directorate because, of all the potential choices, it seemed the most similar to Earth—most capable of supporting life with minimal expense. And so it was, and over time we discovered what it was that had happened to these strange, smelly beings.
You see, the Tor hadn't been the only form of life on Z-49. It had also played host to their overlords, which they called the Slor. Once we discovered this basic fact, our archaeological teams were able to discover a great deal of information about this extinct race. The Slor were fearfully advanced, with technology that exceeded even Intelligence R&D's wildest dreams. It offered us untold advances in our own experiments, and today a lot of their technology remains very much under wraps and behind closed doors at New Langley. Eventually we discovered what had happened to them: they had been researching a new weapon, which they'd planned on using to completely wipe out Earth's population so that they could transform it into a prison planet to house what we discovered were their cultural equivalent of pedophiles. A malfunction in the testing process had caused every Slor on Z-49 to be instantly disintegrated, apparently only about a year before we arrived. (How convenient, right?) The Tor, having a different structural makeup than the Slor (who were apparently even more like humans than the Tor), were unaffected by the weapon and thus survived. (The weapon was apparently destroyed after being used, much to the disappointment of Intelligence.)
And this posed a problem, because one of the first observations we were able to make about the Tor, once we could understand them, was this: they are phenomenally, almost incomprehensibly stupid. They were essentially used as slave labor by the Slor, fulfilling a variety of menial capacities that even the Slor were unable to fully automate. That's why the shipyards were still pumping out spacecraft when we arrived: so much of their technology was entirely automated and the Tor didn't know how to turn it off (and possibly didn't even think to do so). Fortunately one of our technicians was able to do so fairly easily; we were shocked to discover how user-friendly Slor technology is, provided you're not a Tor. (Perhaps inevitably, "Tor" emerged as a slur amongst the notoriously combative school children of Mars shortly after first contact.)
We weren't sure how long the relationship between the two races had existed. We still aren't. It'd been centuries though, at the least. It was so totally institutionalized on Z-49 as to be beyond questioning: generations of cultural reinforcement and the Slor's use of genetic engineering had ensured that the Tor would never rise up against them. They essentially kept them smart enough to function and to do their jobs, but stupid enough that they'd never think too far beyond their next meal.
And that's where we came in.
Shortly before liftoff, a warehouse manager near the launch site had discovered a building full of a very strange, lost commodity: a surplus of Gulf War-era chewing gum (no one knows exactly which Gulf War it was from; by that point we'd had so many it was pointless to speculate). With packages bearing tiny pictures of tanks, gas masks, and smiling children, it was charmingly and endearingly retro. The gum had enough preservatives in it to last until the end of time, so many of the crew took some of it with them on board. We had several cases of the stuff in the hold when we landed on Z-49.
Disobeying direct orders, one of the Colonial Marines decided to share some of the gum with an errant Tor. He would've been instantaneously court-martialled if not for the effect the gift had. We discovered that this particular brand of chewing gum was chemically almost identical with the Tor's favorite type of Slor-provided rations, which they were given as a treat on special occasions. The foodstuff was distributed by the Slor very carefully, since it was discovered to be dangerously addictive for the Tor—supposedly it has euphoric qualities not unlike the long-ago Earth drug Ecstasy, provided, again, that you're a Tor. (On Uranus, "Tor" became a mean-spirited slur for drug addict.)
Immediately, the potential of this discovery began to be processed by Command.
After a preliminary testing period in which we determined how safely we could interact with the Tor, we began to put them to use. (It was during this period that we confirmed another fact about them: that their natural body odor is very similar to that of human feces. It was only later that we discovered that the Tor's own feces carried an aroma not unlike Earth roses; an extract of the space dung was later used by a Neptune-based pharmaceutical company to make a ladies' perfume.)
And so legions of the Tor were shuttled off to other colony sites, to serve as cheap labor in exchange for a carefully meted-out supply of the chewing gum stuff, which Command crassly renamed TorFuel. They did turn out to be fantastic menial laborers, and they even seemed to take some amount of joy in the work. Of course, some of the more far-sighted among us started to wonder what would happen now that the strict breeding control practiced by the Slor was no longer in effect.
It was around this point that I was called away from Z-49. I had been asked along as a kind of documentarian, to record the colonization efforts for the Government (and, theoretically, for posterity). I had gladly accepted, but another story was important enough to draw me away, at least for a while. Back on Earth's moon, society seemed to be teetering on the brink of revolution. An uproar had gone up after the discovery of some mis-allocated tax dollars to a highly unpopular Government project: developing a genetically engineered clone of the influential naval theorist and Admiral, Alfred T. Mahan. The Moon population was infuriated at having their money misappropriated to clone someone they'd never heard of. Having been born on the Moon, I felt I had to go home.
The teeming mass of protesters around the central Moon Base were lit up by the glow of the dropship's landing lights as I made planetfall . . .