With three simultaneously-earned doctorates in xenobiology, cultural anthropology, and linguistics, Henry Briggs was undoubtedly one of the most formidable minds on Earth even at the young age of 27. Despite this obvious fact, however, Briggs’ lifelong battle with asperger syndrome left him with few willing to consider hiring him, as his bitter, condescending, and often over-corrective tone made him unpleasant if not impossible to work with. He worked a string of odd jobs that were more befitting an undergraduate than a PhD holder for nearly two years before accepting a vague “willing to travel” translator position offered by an enigmatic letter from an unnamed politician in March of 2631.
To his great surprise, he had been hired by famous explorer and newly retired Terran Republic President Tom Connery. When Briggs was introduced to Connery on his first day, Connery’s intentions were made clear: He had hired him discreetly to accompany him on his return mission to the Moon Belt, which he had discovered fifteen years earlier, in an effort to investigate a rhythmic signal he had detected but been unable to investigate on his first visit. The former President not only knew of Briggs’ condition, but was relying on it—Connery was convinced after reading Henry’s dissertations, research papers, and blog posts that he was not constrained to the modes of thinking that so many scientists of his time were. Threatened that one misstep in his behavior would have him sent back to Earth without hesitation, Briggs accepted Connery’s offer to join him in making the discovery of a lifetime.
Eighteen months later, Henry Briggs stood beside Connery in a small cave located in a half-mile-long moon fragment, looking down at what would prove to be the first alien artifact discovered by humanity. Seemingly hypnotized by the delicate carvings rhythmic pulse, Briggs, heedless of Connery’s warnings, reached out and touched the idol. When he did so, he received a vision; he saw his past and future laid out before him, and the effects his aloof and distant nature had had on those in his life who had cared for him most. When Connery freed his hand and he snapped back to reality, Henry was left with only a single word ringing in his ears: Vanu. From that day on, Vanu would be his private obsession—the seemingly endless puzzle for which he longed to find the solution.
After receiving the vision from the artifact, Briggs was given leave to study it in detail during the fifteen-month trip back to Earth. During this time, he and Connery discussed Vanu—which Henry had decided was the name of whatever divine presence he had felt in his vision—and speculated on what his people and culture might have been like. All the while, Briggs was finding himself changed; he no longer disliked this socialization and his formerly narrow focus on his interests was widening and offering him additional clarity. He found himself able to better relate to others. Within a few short years, the new Henry Briggs was almost an entirely different person. And in Henry’s mind, every one of these positive changes was directly attributable to the amazing power of Vanu.
In 2636, Connery stated his intention to mount an expedition through a mysterious wormhole that opened in the solar system for several weeks every 98.3 years. Briggs, who had maintained close ties with Connery since their discovery of the artifact, was quick to volunteer for the mission and accompanied the Wormhole Expedition through the mysterious rift in October of 2640. The trip was not without incident, however: The stress of the fleet on the unstable wormhole caused it to collapse, taking the lives of almost a third of the 150,000 man expedition and stranding the remaining 100,000—Henry included—in uncharted space. It wasn’t long before growing dissent aboard the stranded fleet gave birth to an insurgency movement, most of which was attributed to an entrepreneurial group aboard the fleet known as the New Conglomerate. The movement grew more violent with each passing month, and Henry watched as Connery, whom he had known to value personal freedoms above all else, resignedly instituted strict curfews and military patrols in response.
All Connery’s efforts proved to be for naught. In January of 2642 a team of insurgents struck at the Terran Republic military cruiser Explorer-5, first taking the weapons depot and then the bridge, killing the military leadership there before they themselves were killed or captured. His hand forced, Connery set up a diplomacy meeting between himself, the remaining military leadership, and insurgency representatives. While aboard the civilian ship Discovery-7 for the meeting, Connery and 591 others were killed when a bomb was detonated, utterly destroying the ship and everyone on board.
Henry Briggs lost his closest friend that day, but never gave up on the ideals Tom Connery had stood for: Freedom from oppression, and being true to one’s beliefs. With Connery dead, the fleet fell under military control; what few liberties remained were voted away by frightened crewmembers in favor of greater security. Though the bombing was never officially traced back to the New Conglomerate, they and the Terran Republic military grew increasingly at odds over the incident, polarizing much of the crew against one another. It was Briggs and his associates—scientists, engineers, experts in every theoretical field—that kept themselves aloof of the warmongering among the rest of the fleet, instead devoting their time to speculation about alien life and technology rather than petty conflicts and politics. The impending storm was ultimately calmed by the discovery of a moon, tentatively dubbed “New Earth”, that was nonetheless ideal for terraforming.
The world proved to be a xenobiologist’s paradise, covered with surprisingly Earthlike life and dotted with alien ruins ripe for exploration. It was not without its problems, however. Incredibly high concentrations of sulfurous compounds and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would kill any human who made the mistake of breathing it. Briggs was finally able to put his education to use, working on the Biolab project; its goal: to understand New Earth’s’ biosphere, modify it, and conform it to Earthlike atmospheric conditions. His research took him to every corner of their new home, from the dense jungles of Hossin and its impossibly large trees to deep-sea expeditions off the coast of Indar to study the undersea ecosystem built around vents of hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide.
On November 6, 2650, Briggs was descending deep into the crust to investigate the source of these vents- later discovered to be fractures from a growing auraxium core- when his spelunking team happened upon a vast cavern. Enormous supports ran along its towering walls, pulsing with the same energy as the mysterious warpgates on the surface. Briggs experienced the same urge he had felt on the Moonbelt asteroid. Impulses beyond his control drew him into the cathedral-like superstructures anchored all along the luminous supports. Even in his trance, he noticed that the ruins were bare yet intact. There wasn’t a control panel or wall interface to be seen, nor were there any doors obstructing any of the tall, thin entryways he passed through on his way to a central chamber. There, resting neatly on a pedestal, was a second artifact, identical to the one he and Connery discovered over fifteen years earlier in 2634. This time, when Briggs touched it, he was struck by another vision accompanied by the voice of Vanu. With images and ideas rather than words, it bestowed upon him complete knowledge of the nature of organic life and the destiny of mankind. He realized that Vanu was not just an individual, but the name of a collective race; that surpassed its mortal biological form through advanced technology- a path that humanity must follow. This was the event that sparked his rise to the leader of a group devoted to the study of the Vanu and their technology, more of which would be found on the planet throughout the following centuries.
However, for all of his newfound passion for Vanu, there was still the issue of New Earth’s -dubbed Auraxis in 2651- terraforming to deal with. Working tirelessly, he juggled Vanu research with genetically engineering more efficient chemosynthesis in native life. By 2657, the atmosphere had been cleansed of deadly sulfurous compounds with little detriment to Auraxis’ chemosynthetic life, which fed directly from the source. Auraxis’ photosynthetic life, however, accustomed to a ubiquitous glut of carbon dioxide, began to die off. Sequestration plants had to be shut down to avert mass extinction. Terraforming efforts ground to a halt. Briggs and his team, taking a page out of Vanu philosophy, began work on a specialized implant based on an organ present in all Auraxian aerobes that he had been studying for years. These regulators absorb excess carbon dioxide from each lungful of air with specialized proteins that release it upon exhale. Not all of it is absorbed, however, as the gas is critical for pH regulation. On June 12th, 2658, Briggs himself became the first person to test the implant outside of a lab environment. He stepped out of an airlock, took a few breaths, and proclaimed that it was much preferable to stale habitat air. With the entire planet opened up to them by a swift operation, the people of Auraxis were free to thrive, and Briggs was free to pursue Vanu research exclusively.
In 2660, exactly ten years after the historic discovery of the subterranean artifact, Briggs injected himself with a combination of sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide, and potassium chloride. He died peacefully on a diagnostic bed in his lab, hands draped over the Moonbelt artifact resting on his chest, where he was discovered the following day. He was buried outside of the lab on Indar, accompanied by a eulogy from President Waterson himself. The artifacts in his possession were confiscated by the TR and put into storage.
“I was thrown into purgatory, for nearly two centuries, I’m told. There was no concept of time. I didn’t age… never became hungry or tired… I merely existed. I was aware of myself, though, my environment of total sensory deprivation. I could still think. My first thoughts were panicked. I had made a mistake. This is death. I will remain here for all eternity in this nothingness.
If the human mind is good for anything, it’s creating something out of nothing. Random patterns of noise resolved themselves into images depicting my fondest memories in one instant and my greatest fears the next. Some were so real I could hear them, even feel them. Initially, I told myself they were just hallucinations. The harder I tried to ignore them, however, the more vibrant and alien they would become, visions similar to those I experienced upon touching past artifacts, only infinitely more intense. I barely had time to process one before another would take its place. Galaxies, atoms, ships, cell division, primates, black holes, and supernovae were among the comprehensible, though the vast majority was not. I felt like an insect being lectured on the finer points of organic chemistry. I’m still struggling to interpret what was revealed to me to this day.
I distinctly remember the last thing I saw. It was an arm, reaching down to me from the midst of a blinding light, offering a three-digited hand. Though I lacked form, I reached out to it. The light grew brighter. A sensation like hundreds of searing needles burned across my suddenly present body. The light ceased and I found myself looking through a blue fluid at the face of Dr. Stewart Waites. Then, a less active yet more substantial form of nothingness: sleep.”
Adding another first to his name, Briggs was the first human to ever be successfully rebirthed on October 12th of 2840 at Subterranean Nanite Analysis, a lab dedicated to the advancement of TR military power using reverse-engineered Vanu technology. His existence represented immortality: something the scientists working in forced secrecy on the rebirthing project concluded the TR could not have.
To learn more about Henry Briggs’ rebirth, we advise you to read The first Rebirth.