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Story in the form of an all-ages mystery themed graphic novel that plays on the theme of a conspiracy, with an emphasis on showing through illustration rather than telling through dialog.

A group of children on a colony on a distant planet have built a secret clubhouse in an old service tunnel that they found near the landing site of their original colony ship. It's in an area that they're forbidden to go because it's supposedly dangerous.

The children are exploring and they find some of the machines used to construct the colony. In one of them there is an old toolbox containing the picture of a family that none of them recognize. The family is from a minority background, with a distinct name (written on the back of the picture). So everyone is certain that would have heard of them (Nobody knows what Korea is as there are no Koreans on the colony, and the language is unknown to the characters).

They explore further and find an old rest area filled with lockers. The lockers contain more personal effects from people that nobody has ever heard of.

The children search the colony's archives and find that there are inconsistencies when they compare the computer records to old paper journals and log books in the museum. Dates don't match up, people are mentioned in relation to events that happened before they were born, or years after they died. And the number of colonists doesn't match the apparent birth rate. There should be a lot more people than there actually are.

The children conclude that an event that nobody wants to talk about when the colony was first established was actually some kind of terrible accident that was covered up. Hundreds of people must have died. And that the council of the time faked the records so that Earth wouldn't find out and replace them.

The twist at the end is that the colony isn't a young colony set up by their grandparents in readiness for settlers from Earth, it's actually fully established and is hundreds of years old. The new settlers from Earth that they're waiting for actually arrived hundreds of years ago, and are ancestors.

Every coupe of generations the council have been sending colonists out to found new colonies all over the planet in order to keep the numbers down, and to prevent people from collecting too many records, and that rather than being a few hundred humans on the planet there are about a million people in dozens of colonies, each thinking that that their colony and the main one were the only two outposts.

The question is why would the council do this?

I'm looking for something that doesn't involve aliens or time travel, or some kind of disaster having happened (The twist is that there was no disaster to be covered up).

Earth is perfectly OK, and the final scene is revealing that rather than this being our near future and the issues being discussed being about our time, it's actually very very far in the future, and they're discussing things that are are a running theme throughout human history.

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    $\begingroup$ "Why would the council do this?" Because reasons. The specific reasons are called "plot", and it's your job, as the creative author, to come up with the plot. For inspiration, consider that governments habitually lie to the people. The Russians are being told that the operation to conquer Ukraine is actually a sort of altruistic peace-keeping mission. The Americans were told that the operation to destroy Irak was actually a sort of international effort to prevent a loathsome dictator from using weapons of mass destruction. The English were told that the EU was somehow oppressing England. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    May 28 at 19:02
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    $\begingroup$ My problem with this set-up isn't so much the counsel but the other colonists. How does the counsel prevent this from being remembered informally? The first and second generations after each wave have to be convinced to each not tell their own children. $\endgroup$ May 28 at 20:02
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP, You really can't compare the invasion of Iraq to Brexit. $\endgroup$ May 28 at 20:09
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    $\begingroup$ @AaarghZombies I voted to close because we lack the intentions of your world. Is it a dark themed one or happy cloudy? Shall the council be seen as evil or good intentionned? Are there things you'd like more to see (a social reason, biological...)? This with the quite big and story-shaped context makes it hard to not see as "casually" looking for ideas and opinions, rather than solving a blocking point of your story :). $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    May 28 at 22:00
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    $\begingroup$ @AaarghZombies I don't think that's enough yet, as you describe your novel more as a whole, not the conspiracy itself. Let me explain, an all-age, mystery story can mean a lot of things ^^'; It can be your Scooby-doo conspiracy, very naive in the antagonists' motives. Or it can hide some very serious, dictatorship stuff like the album for kids The Composition. Both are all-age and have an air of mystery, but they're a "little" different in nature ^^. $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    May 29 at 11:36

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raison d'etre

A person's or organization's raison d'etre is the most important reason for them existing in the way that they do.

The colony has a purpose. It is to get ready for the new folks! That goal and sense of urgency unifies the people. Unity is good. It keeps people from questioning the authorities, and keeps them from finding reason to fight one another over trivialities.

Authorities create enemies and pick fights to unify their people. They identify subgroups as the hated Other and persecute them, to unify their people. They do whatever they can think of to unify their people. It needs doing. It is hard to do.

What a wonderful way to unify a people: that your tough minded hardworking people must work together to get a hostile alien world ready for the newcomers! I hope the kids dont tell the secret.

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  • $\begingroup$ You know what, I hadn't even considered that "motivation" might be a reasons. So simple. $\endgroup$ May 28 at 20:11
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    $\begingroup$ Selected as an answer because it's simple and elegant, and doesn't need any new story elements to be added. The colony is always "New" because it motivates the people to push forward and to prepare for the future, rather than sitting back and being complacent. $\endgroup$ May 29 at 10:49
  • $\begingroup$ It is all about the goals. You want to "conquer" as much of a planet as possible. So your goal is not to have a single city and a lot of barely settled "empty" land around it, just supporting it. You want many cities, each with a carved piece of land that is ready to spread to it at the moment's notice if new colonists arrive. One huge city on "the good landing spot" is easy. Moving to slightly less hospitable part of the planet is hard. You want people to do the hard things too, not just the easy ones. +1 vote for this answer. $\endgroup$
    – jo1storm
    May 29 at 18:43
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The colony planet is a living ossuary.

  • Earth needs to continually reduce population to avoid ecological collapse or inconvenience for its upper classes.
  • The chosen means to do this is colonization - send the unwanted people to a fresh colony on a new world with endless potential.
  • Problem: they can't do that. Perhaps they had to sign a bad treaty with powerful colonies that rebelled, ceding almost all of Space to them. Or maybe they put down rebellions in several colonies, but now realize that starting new space colonies that can come back with a mass comet attack is simply too dangerous.
  • Solution: they send colonists to a planet that is widely seeded with a plague. To be humane, the plague does not kill or noticeably sicken, but it reduces fertility to near zero. Each colony will grow for a little while, track back the virus, then die out by old age.
  • Because so many colonists have to be sent, the colonies have to operate like a European graveyard. Each colony fills a slot, catches its plague, and after it dies out, top men clear out the visible traces before another colony lands.
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    $\begingroup$ this is a very cool idea. The kids have not found relics from their colony. They have found relics from the prior colony on this site. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    May 29 at 0:39
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If I understand you correctly, whenever the colony reaches a certain size it is split in two or more parts, with one part retaining the original site and the other(s) moving out. Almost like a beehive. Except that they're lying to the colonists who remain about what happened.

  • They are being persecuted for some reason, or they just think they are. So whenever the colonly is large enough to make that viable, they form an independent daughter colony which goes to a classified location. In fact, even that such a daughter colony exist must remain secret, or the persecutors would hunt the daughter colonies once they eradicate the main site. Every colony must believe that it is the last/only one to protect the others.
  • The people who organized the colony thought about viable social and economic systems for their colony, and dismissed capitalism for the early stages at least. Hard to find a fair market price when there is no competition for many specialists. But other plans, some sort of communist/collectivist system, ran into Dunbar's number. The greater the community, the harder it is to relate to all of them, and their system would be undermined by black markets, etc. So whenever the colony reaches a certain size, they should transition, but instead the entrenched leadership engineers a split. Again knowledge of the others would defeat the purpose.
  • The ecology of the planet cannot support large concentrations of humans. So they must be spread out. Yet the leaders of the first colony stage found that people tend to bunch and congegrate. So someone had the 'clever' idea to send half the colony to the other side of the planet. This caused something like a civil war, atrocities were done, and that was covered up. And when the original colony got up to size again, the leaders with the classified archives followed a proven pattern.
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Why lie?

There's a cruel game played in 21st century American corporate life called "the performance review". Companies increase their prices by the posted inflation rate, and increase their salary budgets by the posted inflation rate. Yet : at the line level, employees are required to do this elaborate dance of goal setting, soul-searching, laying bare their independent evaluations of their strengths and weaknesses, attempting to sell themselves, make promises to try harder, and quarterly psycho-analysis... all so that they can get the predefined percentage that the C-suite decided would be made available at the beginning of the year; which is almost always nothing but last year's salary at the valuation of this year's money; and sometimes less.

Why lie?

Like line managers deceiving employees annually, your "home" colony might be following unpleasant orders from "the top", and going through the deception because they think it's the easiest way to avoid the bad news. Maybe the sub-settlements were promised medicine, technology, and resources "once they got started" that is never coming. Or, the homesteaders were promised rich payouts for taming the land that are never coming. Or, the colonists were promised legal rights, representatives government back on Earth.... the list can be quite long.

The deception gives the "home" colony an unlimited number of convenient excuses to not do what a reasonable person would think and hope the "home" colony would do.

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The current colonists are pirates and the children of pirates. The pirates killed the original colonists and took over, and are lying to their kids and Earth since if Earth finds out, they'll send troops to wipe them out and replace them with legitimate colonists... and everyone knows that kids can't keep their mouths shut. Kids who mature into idealistic adults.

The trouble is that Earth is run by hard-liners, who won't hesitate to kill the innocent and guilty alike just for being on the planet without authorization. So, the pirates in charge are trying to cover up their crimes and expand the population as fast as possible to make it look like they're the descendants of the original colonists so that by the time that Earth sends people to look, everything will look normal enough that the authorities won't look more closely.

Being overlooked won't happen if questions come up to the authorities from the pirate-descended colonists about the original colonists... so best to keep it all 'Need to know'.

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Taxation

Colonies are expected to pay a tax to their patron corporation or nation on the Earth.

Failing that, they are either re-colonized with more loyal people or micro-managed into regular payments (eventually suppressing the local economy and/or freedoms).

Younger colonies are expected to pay less - allowing for some initial growth and preventing the colonies becoming powerful enough to think about independence.

This is why the local governments sometimes fake the colony failure, extinction and, after a while, re-establishment.

This requires a great deal of conspiracy, a cooperation with another (officially unfriendly) colony and even a bit of luck, but light years away from Earth it is not impossible.

As a side effect: populations between the cooperating colonies do mix to an extent and the minority groups sometimes fail to return to their fatherland. E.g. the colony governments sometimes trade them in order to extinguish an ethno-religious conflict.

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