Author Archives: Warringer

Unannounced Visitors

While the Llighaqua Mission was busy in 61 Virginis, the spacegoing powers of Earth continued to build up their space forces for the protection of Earth, and to a lesser degree Mars.

The very recent discovery that the L1 and L2 Lagrange points had the minimum required spacetime curvature to enter Heim-Feynman Space was welcomed. The ability to rapidly react and deploy fleets of combat spacecraft to the Feynman Limit was heaven sent in the mind of the military planners.

One of the plans drawn up was to place larger space stations in or near the L1 and L2 points of Earth and the Sun, where international task forces could be stationed for rapid deployment. By adapting the design of the Waypoint Depot, like Amundsen Depot, into a free floating station, the construction time could be minimized, especially given that the modules used for the Waypoint Depot were off-the-shelves.

By October 2055 the SEL1 depot, named Bastion Station, came online, capable of servicing 16 spacecraft, and supporting up to 48 spacecraft stationed at SEL1. Around the same time the first two MMHS, the USC Enterprise and the Soviet Moscva, were finished and stationed at Bastion Station.

While the defensive properties of the Lagrange Points were explored, it was also attempted to try and see whether or not it was possible to use the Lagrange Points offensively, by jumping a fleet of spacecraft into one of these points for an attack. There were numerous problems in this area however and the international teams working on this problem ran into them head first.

The theoretic models used showed the problem quite clearly from the beginning. While it was theoretically possible to use a Lagrange point to exit Heim-Feynman space, it was practically impossible as a spacecraft had to take the correct timing into account. This timing was highly dependent on using the minimal distance between the Lagrange Point and the Feynman Limit, while taking into account various N-body problems with perturbations of bodies weighing as little as a million tonnes.

This meant that the offensive use of the Lagrange points was way outside of the human scope, as well as many potential alien species out there, as the computer power needed to do the calculations didn’t simply exist, either practically or theoretically. Therefore the technology level capable of doing these calculations correctly was best described as ‘magic’. Thankfully The Enemy that fought the Quetzal and Turukal 3000 years ago had not shown to be capable of these feats.

These findings made everyone rejoice, as the ability to engage a potential opponent rapidly, while at the same time any opponent would need at least several hundred days to reach the inner solar system would leave ample time to mount a strong defence. This went as far as being able to complete several dozen MMUS and MMLS in orbital docks during an assault.

On November 9, 2055, JSDC Asagiri arrived back at Sol, way ahead of the rest of the Llighaqua Mission, which weres cooling their systems and took on propellant and resupplied for the return journey. They would arrive on November 16, bearing diplomats from several of the 61 Virginis survivor nations.

There was a general emotional high among the Quetzal population, though it was muted with those that had been born and raised on Earth. Due to the enormous success of the Llighaqua Mission to 61 Virginis, the Turukal also began to petition for a similar mission to their homeworld in the Beta Virginis System.

This almost global feeling of euphoria got crushed horribly with news of the arrival of an unknown fleet of twelve spacecraft on November 11 and their discovery by Sky Watch six hours later. All national militaries went to a high state of alert and the standby fleet at Bastion Station made themselves ready to jump past the Feynman Limit and intercept the unknown fleet.

Following an emergency teleconference between the responsible heads of state, it was decided to keep a cool head. A part of the Bastion Station fleet, the 16 spacecraft of Bastion Task Force 1, executed a HF transit past the Feynman Limit into the vicinity of the unknown fleet. This allowed to keep the majority of the fast response fleet to remain in safety, while probing the potential hostile intent of the unknown spacecraft.

With the USC Enterprise being the leading spacecraft of the Bastion Task Force One and the commander, Major Oscar Hughes, officially charged to speak for the United Nations, this allowed a shorter communication time with the unknown as well.

The unknown spacecraft themselves were of a particular design, with a cylindrical shape and a larger diameter than actual height. Around the center of the cylinder was a rotating ring that appeared to be a massive gravity deck, which was flanked on both sides by the rings that would be the superconducting rings of a HF Event generator. What puzzled the analysts most were the rather small radiators of the spacecraft in relations to the size of its four thrusters, at least if those were fusion thrusters as used humans or Quetzal.

Predictably, the arrival of the task force made the unknown fleet hit Bastion Task Force One with massed radar and lidar systems, before beginning the unknowns began with the transmission of a First Contact message based around mathematical principles. This sent a sigh of relief through the Task Force as well as Earth. During the two First Contact situations, communicative procedures had been developed on Earth and those also had worked pretty well on establishing contact with the Untiph-bel and now the unidentified fleet used similar methods to get in touch.

By the time the Llighaqua Mission returned to Sol, the contact with the unknowns had moved from mathematics to simple text based messaging back and forth, as well as relatively low resolution images.

Much like the Llighaqua Mission the unknown fleet was on an exploratory mission, sent out after the aliens had discovered the fusion plumes of the human spacecraft in the Sol system and had decided to take a look at the source. The fleet also consisted of spacecraft from multiple nations, all of which had a certain say in the mission.

The first images from the other side were of an alien species that greatly resembled dragons of western folklore, though they were covered with a sort of fur and possessed a pair of arms additional to wings and four legs. They also had no less than eight eyes, two of which were permanently closed.

These ‘alien fuzzy dragons’, as several western media outlets dubbed them, called themselves Tiaunt. Another big surprise however was the discovery of Quetzal among the crews of the Tiaunt fleet, with one spacecraft being solely manned by Quetzal, hinting at a third surviving population, called Rak’ris’ayc.

The Tiaunt fleet was invited to Junctio Station, where it was much easier to have a proper face-to-face meeting. With the Llighaqua Mission also unloading the Untiph-bel diplomats at Junctio Station, it would result a three way diplomatic meeting. The diplomats that had been sent to Junction to talk to the Untiph-bel, would briefly talk to the Tiaunt as well, before another diplomatic team could be brought in.

The Tiaunt and Bastion Task Force 1 arrived at Junction Station on November 18, after a short HF transit. During the time the reason for the relatively small radiator areas of the Tiaunt spacecraft became apparent. Rather than using nuclear fusion to reach high specific impulses with moderate thrust, like Human and Quetzal thrusters, the Tiaunt craft were using a high thrust, high specific impulse thruster that was purely theoretical on Earth, the Nuclear Saltwater thruster.

The theory was, that by creating a solution of water and enriched Uranium Tetrabromide, merely pumping the propellant into thruster would let the uranium reach critical mass and induce a fission reaction. Since the enriched uranium salt water needed to be stored in boron carbide neutron dampening tubes to keep it from blowing up in the fuel compartments it was deemed to be too dangerous to be of actual use. Additional problems were that any leak would lead to a pooling of the water and potentially having a runaway nuclear reaction with the water.

This meant that rather than allowing the Tiaunt to actually dock with Junctio Station, they were asked to use their parasite craft to ferry crew to Junctio, while their spacecraft were in a position on the other side of the asteroid, just in case one of them had a problem that would lead to an explosion. Not even the assurance that there hadn’t been any major accident with the fuel systems in over fifty years made the command crew of Junctio Station reconsider.

The parasite craft of the Tiaunt were rather large and the first actual meeting explained why, an individual Tiaunt was about the size of a horse, not including the wings, which were actually heat radiators. It was also discovered that the permanently closed eyes were actually apertures to focus bio-chemical lasers. The Rak’ris’ayc on the other hand were about three quarters the size of the known Quetzal and had a less colorful and thicker plumage.

The first meeting of the Rak’ris’ayc with the larger Earth-born Quetzal and the smaller Untiph-bel was interesting and lead to a few discoveries about their history and that of the Tiaunt.

The Tiaunt were actually a post-apocalyptic civilization, after the arrival of Quetzal survivors on their homeworld 3000 years ago, had sparked off a global thermonuclear war over several nuclear powers trying to assert control over the Quetzal technology.

While several measures made sure that the Tiaunt survived , it ultimatively lead to the collapse of the surviving societies and a dark age of about 1500 years, followed by a slow rise back, after the first Emperor of the Tiaunt managed to consolidate his initial Empire and in turn this slowly lead to the raise of other new stable nations, as well as rediscovery and development of technology to defend their claims.

It also showed that some things were not just bound to Earth. Like racism in this case, where the Rak’ris’ayc were the target of hate and even sometimes genocidal campaigns, in a way that uncomfortably reminded humans of how other peoples had been treated in the past centuries on Earth.

While talks with the Tiaunt, Rak’ris’ayc and Untiph-bel were underway, the spacecraft of the Bastion 1 Task Force as well as those of the Llighaqua Mission returned back to Earth.

Journey through the Unknown

The darkness beyond the viewport was disconcerting. A deep and endless void that seemed to change, turn and twist a dozen times with every passing moment.

Just gazing into it made him shiver, trying to come up with answers how a deep and absolute black could change its color to another deep and absolute black. The only thing that aided him with this question was his background as mathematician. There were numerous different forms of infinites and that alone was an enormous ordeal to wrap his brain around.

He knew that he should look away, to concentrate on other, more important issues, but it was just so hard. The longer he stared into it, the more hypnotizing it became.

Suddenly the incomprehensible movement of swirling darkness changed and focussed, forming waves of pure black itina into a mane surrounding a pale face of some description just outside of the viewport.

With a scream he pushed away from the porthole, where the strange face had already disappeared again. His scream suddenly intensified, as he felt a cold hand touching him from behind, scrambling away into yet another direction.

“My, my, aren’t we jumpy today,” a voice noted with amusement.

Staring at the source of the voice, he first tried to keep his hearts from ripping their way out of his body, breathing in deep, plumage spread out like a fan around his head.

“Don’t do that,” he shot back, with more force than he had intended.

Nauyund tilted his head in negation after taking a short glance towards the viewport.

“You shouldn’t look at it for so long, Dynen,” he said and walked over to Dynen, placing a hand on his shoulder. “It isn’t healthy.”

Dynen closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Nauyund’s people perceived the strange space used for faster than light travel differently to his own, due to their eyes and the light spectra they could perceive. For a moment he tried to imagine how they did it, but shivered at the thought of their version of this haunting, maddening darkness.

“I’m trying, but…”

Nauyund shook his head again.

“Just typical Rak’ris’ayc,” he said. “Never listening to anyone.”

Dynen’s plumage bristled at that. But he kept himself under control.

It was not his fault that his people, the Rak’ris’ayc, were the personification of evil in some regions. At least it was not fully known whether they were actually responsible for the Fall and destruction of all Civilization that came before the current one or not. The only place where there was no vilification of the Rak’ris’ayc was Enper-ough.

Even if Nauyund was a Enper-ough, some prejudice still remained.

“Anything new yet?” he asked, trying to divert the discussion to something else.

“Not much,” Nauyund answered with an wiggle of his head. “And its not like we would be able to solve the problem any better than thousands of big chests back home.”

“And its not like they could help in any way even when we get back into normal space.”

“Unfortunately I think that you might be correct. Its a mystery. All the spectral lines indicate the use of water as a propellant, but its lacking any signs of uranium or its fission products. I wonder how they do it?”

Visiting the Ex

The international Llighaqua Mission to 61 Virginis began in earnest in March 2055, once the last two spacecraft of the small task force arrived at Junctio Station. During the planning of the mission no less than ten nations or supranational organizations had demanded to take part.

The six main powers of Earth, the United States, the European Union, the Soviet Union, the Peoples Republic of China, the Republic of India and the Federative Republic of Brazil, each had comitted one MMUS and one MMLS to the mission. The four smaller entities taking part, Canada, the Commonwealth of Australia, Japan and the East African Federation, had each sent one MMLS. The two tankers and three freighters attached to the mission were jointly operated by the United Nations and some of the commercial partners.

Much like the Beagle was commanded by a Quetzal to alleviate international complications, the Llighaqua fleet was commanded by the Quetzal Commodore Achsul Lerale, the former commander of the Quetzal combat spacecraft Pekav Torroth. He was supported by a staff made up by members from the various earth space forces, as well as a few diplomats and scientists.

Initially the Quetzal remnants on Earth had intended to only send Enthat and Pekav Torroth to their old home system, however when the mission prepared to transit to the midway stopover, Wolf 424, the situation became a bit more complicated. The second Quetzal AI spacecraft, Haing, first moved to the Sol-Earth L1 point, before using the sufficiently ‘flat’ space-time of the Libration point to enter Heim-Feynman Space and transfer to Junctio Station.

This unexpected use of the FTL drive within the Feynman Limit was revolutionary in itself and wasn’t even known to the Quetzal themselves. Haing, who was essentially an autistic AI, had developed this technique himself after the first human FTL transit with the Pioneer, based on the human theories about FTL travel and Heim-Feynman Space.

For actual tests, and to make sure that it wasn’t a fluke, Pioneer was pulled out of its mothballs storage at Junctio Station and prepared for a test program.

Haing, who insisted to follow the Llighaqua fleet to 61 Virginis in a very rare moment of active involvement, was allowed to attach himself to the fleet.

March 12, 2055 was the day when the fleet began its transit towards Wolf 424, arriving on March 24. While Heim-Feynman Space would have allowed for longer transits, spacecraft were limited to only using their conventional heat radiators, as the 8 dimensional spacetime made the operation of liquid dropped radiators rather dangerous. Additionally only a much lower amount of waste heat could be radiated even by the conventional radiators, limiting the spacecraft to internal heatsinks until they could return to Einstein Space.

Once arrived the fleet began to radiate away its heat load over a time of about four days, while the time was used to point every sensor into the dual star system of Wolf 424. This lead to the discovery of a small about half Mercury sized Hemerian planet orbiting Wolf 424A, as well as a Kuiper Belt orbiting the barycenter of both red dwarfs at ten to fifteen AU. One of the asteroids of the system, similar in size to Junctio, was selected to set up a supply depot, which was also the first station built by mankind outside of the solar system.

The construction of the Amundsen Depot station began on March 30, after a short FTL transit into the vicinity of the asteroid. An initial analysis showed that the asteroid was a type B, containing a good percentage of volatiles, like water and simple hydrocarbons, as well as iron and silicon, potentially making a later extension of the station easier. Thanks to the use of prefabricated modules designed for the Junctio Project, the construction of the station could be finished within two weeks, followed by moving containers with supplies and fuel to the station.

Two of the auxiliaries, the FSC Tatlinger and TSC Shen Cuo docked with the station. They were joined by the Japanese JSDC Asagiri and the East African EAFC Harambee for defense and potential relay craft.

Following the construction of Amundsen, the Llighaqua fleet left towards 61 Virginis, on April 22 for a fourteen day trip. The return back to normal space happened about a lightyear distant to the system to disperse the waste heat from the trip through Heim-Feynman space. This way it would be made sure that the spacecraft within the fleet had ample heat capacity for a potential fight in system from the moment they returned to normal space inside the system. Additionally it allowed to return into the system from a different vector than one that pointed into the general direction of Sol.

The fleet arrived on May 7, and the following four days of cooling down were used to perform a more detailed observation of 61 Virginis, which did lead to the discovery of several presumed fusion thruster burns, based on spectral analysis of the emissions. The distance to 61 Virginis however made getting more information problematic. All the new information did provide a good starting ground for planning the actual approach.

The outermost planet of 61 Virginis, a CryoJovian named Dran, was far outside the Feynman Limit of 61 Virginis, orbiting its sun at a distance of about 35 AU. The planet itself had 31 moons, of which two had housed small outposts of several Quetzal nations.

Commodore Lerale personally hoped to find some clues on the aftermath of the Last Battle as well as the fate of any potential survivors there, but feared the worst. With the unknown activity in the system, he felt that it was prudent not to approach the planet itself, but rather return back to normal space in the general area of the L4 Trojans of Dran. The collection of asteroids there had been of little interest, compared to the much closer asteroids within the inner system of 61 Virginis.

On May 11, the fleet made the jump over the remaining lightyear returning back to normal space about a tenth AU away from the L4 point of Dren and the sensors of the spacecraft immediately began to observe the sky. Matters instantly became complicated when IS Shankul detected a spacecraft moving into the general direction of the fleet.

The unknown spacecraft did not match any of the designs known to be built by the Quetzal, nor that of any other species known to the Quetzal, including The Enemy. The initial thermal images showed that it was not a derelict, as it ran a surprisingly small radiator at a very high temperature. Only interferometric optical images showed that the spacecraft was heavily damaged, with most of its radiators destroyed and part of the superstructure melted by what appeared to be laser fire. Other signs of damage were caused by kinetic weapons, for instance there were several destroyed propellant tanks and what appeared to be explosively decompressed habitation areas.

A quick and, due to some slight panic, a tense conference began between Commodore Lerale and the commanders of the fleet using tight band laser communication, while hoping not to be detected by the unknown spacecraft. The conference came down with two options on how to continue.

Option one was to leave their position and move to L5 Point of Dran, to keep observing and report back to Earth. Option two on the other hand was to help out their fellow spacefarers that were obviously in dire straits in their heavily damaged spacecraft.

In the end option two won out over option one. Not only because it was reverberating within the spacefarers from Earth, but also because it would allow the fleet to gain information that mere observation could not get.

At first an attempt was made to contact the unknown spacecraft over radio and with laser com, but both attempts did not yield any success, making Commodore Lerale come to the conclusion that the communication systems of the spacecraft had been damaged. As such, USC Independence, EFS Concordia and SSC Chapayev, three of the MMUS, began a burn into an interception course that would allow to rendezvous with the other spacecraft.

The intercept itself needed six days, followed by two days of getting into a rendezvous path. During this time the three MMUS continued to hail the spacecraft. Only when they approached the spacecraft to about a hundred kilometers it was possible to open a communication line, which was via a backup analogue FM frequency.

Information that had been collected by the remaining fleet during the rendezvous, pointed towards the survival of some Quetzal after the Last Battle. To what extent, was not known at that point, but the new design of the spacecraft gave away that they might have done more than merely surviving.

The contact was established using the Che’keli language, which had filled the same spot as Earth English. The problem however was to get the crew of the spacecraft, the Rovite Nerto to accept the offered help. In the end the rupture of another propellant tank was the incentive for the Rovite Nerto crew to change their minds.

The USC Independence was the only craft equipped with something that could be seen as universal docking port, in the form of an inflatable tube glued to an airlock, and managed to dock with the only remaining port of the Rovite Nerto to transfer the surviving crew. Atmosphere adaption was a bit of a problem, as the atmosphere on the other side was slightly different, but that was sorted out relatively quickly.

The first direct contact to the crew of the Rovite Nerto was established at 0943 on May 20, 2055. With it, the silent and almost desperate hope of the Quetzal within the fleet was confirmed as the survivors of the Rovite Nerto were indeed Quetzal, even though they were a little different compared to those that had arrived on Earth. They also referred to themselves as Untiph-bel, Those that Survived.

While the Untiph-bel were wary and nervous, the crew of the USC Independence tried to negate any problems, beginning with taking care of the wounded.

With these sudden patients, the medical personnel of the USC Independence was able to make direct observations of two different phenotypes of Untiph-bel. Both were about half the size of a full grown ‘classic’ Quetzal and had a thicker coverage of feathers, as well as a generally weaker musculature and a higher amount of fatty tissue. Additionally the feathers were generally of a duller color and it appeared that their eyes were better attuned to darker living spaces, at a loss of color vision.

It all lead to the assumption that one of the phenotypes was used to living in gravity, though at a low gravity of about 0.1 to 0.2 times Earth standard. The other seemed to be more geared towards living in microgravity hence the rather long and spindly limbs and longer feathers running along their spines, allowing easy movement in microgravity, akin to that of sea-snakes on Earth.

Lieutenant Andrew Mosenth, of the first Earthborn Quetzal generation, and an engineer on the Independence was asked to attempt and aid in setting the rescued at ease. This however did not go as well as anticipated. Largely this was due to Mosenth being extremely nervous and the Untiph-bel being rather skeptical about the unusually large Quetzal serving amongst aliens. It took Lieutenant Mosenth a while to ease any reservations, allowing him to connect to the survivors.

As it turned out, the Rovite Nerto was a spacecraft of a polity named the United Colonies and had been charged with the protection of an asteroid mine in the L4 Trojans. During their duty had been attacked by spacecraft of a rival nation at war with the main nation of the L4 Trojans. After a fierce battle they managed to destroy the spacecraft, thereby becoming heavily damaged themselves. Due to the nature of the attack they had to inform their government at all cost, but as the asteroid mine was beyond repair, they were forced to fly to the nearest L4 Asteroid mine.

That the Earth fleet had intercepted them was just plain luck for the remaining crew of the Rovite Nerto, as the last remaining radiator was leaking coolant and would have run dry long before they would have managed to get into communication range of their short range backup transmitter.

With several data storage devices recovered from the Rovite Nerto, the three Earth spacecraft began their return to the fleet, allowing command around Commodore Lerale about ten days to come to a decision. The fleet would make radio contact with the Hinsam Mine, allowing the survivors to report their problems, while the fleet would prepare a short ranged Heim-Feynman transit over about fifty million kilometers.

Using the radio systems of the USC Independence, the attempt was made to contact the Hinsam Mine, but for nearly two days it was impossible to hail the mine, with very strong white noise blocking a broad portion of radio bands in the general area of the mine. Eventually, after about three days, just before the three MMUS had returned to the fleet, a faint radio signal was detected, coming from the mine in the form of a distress signal.

Commodore Lerale then noted that he would not let the distress call go unanswered, partially due to bad memories of abandoning similar mines and stations during The Last War. The fleet was brought to combat readiness, even though the commanders of most spacecraft were nervous about it.

In hindsight it was noted that the following Heim-Feynman transit, into the direct vicinity of the mine, was perhaps one of the best things that could have happened, as it eased the opening of diplomatic relations with three of the largest nations in 61 Virginis.

Once leaving Heim-Feynman space, the fleet was met by a gruesome sight, as well as six heavy combat spacecraft of the Holy Hegemony of Lerr, of the L4 trojans. Two heavy and six light Lerr combat spacecraft were near the asteroid mine, with one of the heavies and three of the lights being docked with the mine itself. Several of the airlocks on the surface of the asteroid had been destroyed or damaged and the cadavers of hundreds of Quetzal either lay in the weak gravity of the asterid or were slowly floating away from it and the airlocks still being used to kill more of the asteroids population.

The decision what to do was easy for every commander in the fleet and before the Lerr spacecraft could react, the Earth fleet had painted them with their targeting system and engaged with laser and kinetic bombardment, as well as a number of missiles.

Three Lerr spacecraft were disabled or outright destroyed within the first moments of the engagement, however the Lerr had a few tricks up their sleeves as well. The docked spacecraft undocked remarkably fast, though one of the light spacecraft was damaged at its docking collar and outright destroyed its docking port on leaving and opened parts of the asteroid mine to vacuum.

While the point defenses systems of the MMUS and MMLS proved to be capable of engaging Lerr missiles, their priority was on nuclear tipped weapons, allowing several non nuclear missiles to pass through. About five of these missiles had conventional high explosive warheads, while the remaining had ‘scattershot’ warheads that peppered their target with tungsten shrapnel with a surprising effectivity.

The engagement ended after half an hour, with all Lerr spacecraft being disabled or destroyed, although every Earth spacecraft had endured at least light damage to their armor. HMCC Ottawa, USC Monsoon and CSC Chengdu had sustained the heaviest damage, with Chengdu losing three turrets and two of its conventional radiators, and Ottawa losing some of its armor and having a punctured propellant tank and Monsoon missing the collector of one of its droplet radiators. The damage on Chengdu had to be repaired before she could begin the return trip otherwise she would need to make four Heim-Feynman transits to get back to Earth.

While there were no actual marines aboard the fleet to try and support the population of the asteroid, the extermination of the mines population had stopped after another hour and the asteroid mine opened a connection to the fleet, being thankful for the timely support. As it was however, about one third of the asteroids population had been lost.

Now that the radio white noise was gone, apparently a tactic employed by the Lerr to disrupt radio communication, communication with the United Colonies government was possible again. It was also discovered that the other asteroid mines of the United Colonies in the Runel cluster had come under attack and were lost one after the other, just like the asteroid mines in the Lerr cluster, which were the L4 troyans of Dren.

Slowly the political situation in 61 Virginis became clear and while the Quetzal were glad that there were survivors, the situation was far from ideal. A big war was waged, as the Holy Hegemony of Lerr had declared war against the Runel Association, its traditional enemy, as well as the United Colonies and the Emkin Assembly, the two most powerful nations in 61 Virginis, who held the majority of the Helium-3 mining capabilities in the atmosphere of Dren.

During the communication with the United Colonies, the Llighaqua Mission was invited to the Dren system and the main world of the Colonies, the largest moon of Dren, Cyteby. That the United Colonies asked the fleet to bring the highest ranking surviving members of the Lerr fleet presented something of a problem however, as there was nothing aboard the fleet that could be used as a brig. After some thought the Soviets offered the use of a single habitat module on the SSC Chapayev, noting that the trip would be relatively short. The crew of the Rovite Nerto remained on the USC Independence and were expected to return important intelligence.

On June 5, the Llighaqua fleet made the jump to the edge of the Feynman limit of Dren. Several minutes after emerging into normal space the heavily damaged hull of a Quetzal AI combat spacecraft jumped in as well, drowning all usable radio frequencies in a noise that could only be described as spouting nonsensical babbling in an old Quetzal language. It stopped after about five minutes of communicative chaos, leaving the fleet to believe that the craft had run out of power, until the craft made a more sensical query with the name of the two AI combat craft accompanying the fleet.

The name of the Quetzal AI’s was Petan and he had spent the last 3000 years watching over Cterin, believing himself to be the last survivor and the Quetzal as a species to have been destroyed and began to hunt down and destroying any ‘enemy spacecraft’ that crossed the Feynman Limit.

The news that the Quetzal had not only survived, but also flourished within the outer system, meant that he had destroyed numerous Quetzal spacecraft. It lead to Petan having a mental breakdown. Following the breakdown, Haing began an intense radio communication with Petan, trying to comfort him. This was another first for the Humans and the Quetzal for that matter. Enthat assumed that it was Haings autism that caused this erratic though social behaviour and he expected Haing to empathize with Petan. Added to this was that Petan and Haing were of the same production series.

While six Earth spacecraft remained with Petan, Enthat and Haing, the others made their way past the Dren Feynman Limit to rendezvous with the Achnali Anchorage in orbit around the moon Cyteby to return the crew of the Rovite Nerto and formally opening diplomatic relations to the United Colonies and the Emkin Assembly, as well as several of the smaller nations in the Dren gravity system.

Talks began with a few problems, concerning Petan, who appeared to be a minor god to several of the religious groups among the Untiph-bel. Questions whether or not these Quetzal were real or not, or if they were free or servants of the humans, were asked. Thankfully it was possible to move past these problems however and the United Colonies allowed the Earth fleet to use of the dockyard facilities of the Achnali Anchorage to effect repairs on the Ottawa, Monsoon and Chengdu, which also allowed to observe the dockyard operation of a civilization that had three millennia of experience.

The talks with the local governments were long, but successful and the fleet was able to gather a large amount of information, partially from publically accessible archives, allowing to create a rather good picture of the political situation in 61 Virginis, highlighting the existence of at least eighty sovereign nations and a well developed economy, as well as military.

The military situation was tense however, due to the war with the Lerr and therefore the United Colonies expressed their interest in the human Heim-Feynman Event Generator, one of several technologies that had become lost to the Untiph-bel. The short ranged transits through Heim-Feynman Space had shown a few strategical and tactical implications that would completely change the use of military spacecraft within the outer system of 61 Virginis. Rather than propulsive transfers that needed months or even years to arrive at the target, fully visible to the opponent, the HFE Generator would reduce the travel times to mere minutes, allowing for quick and nearly invisible strikes against a target and withdrawing again.

There was something of a diplomatic incident during one of the meetings, when a delegation from the fleet was invited to the remembrance ceremony for a recently deceased family member of a diplomat. The ceremony turned out to be something of a feast, where the deceased member was eaten by the family and the invited guests. That it was a cultural practice that had developed in some habitats during the times after the Last War and the lack of food and specific elements needed by the Quetzal biology.

The incident was considered minor however and the Llighaqua Mission was able to leave a positive impression, especially in the wake of the timely rescue of the Rovite Nerto and the Hinsam Mine, where the remaining spacecraft of the United Colonies in the Runel Cluster could stage operations against the Lerr. Surprisingly the MREs carried by the fleet in case of emergency were of interest to the Untiph-bel, who were especially keen on the shortbread and hardtack contained within.

The fleet had to leave in early to mid October, as it was expected to return to Earth by the end of 2055. On October 3 the fleet undocked from the Achnali Anchorage, carrying a group of Untiph-bel diplomats and their collected data and began their journey to the Feynman Limit of Dren, where they met up with Enthat, Haing and Petan, as well as the other six vessels that had kept watch.

Upon meeting, Enthat noted that while he would accompany the fleet back to Sol with the fleet, Haing would remain behind with Petan, as Petan was in desperate need of a companion, offering repairs as well as psychological help, both of which would also be provided by the United Colonies and the Emkin Assembly.

The fleet began their return journey on October 11, arriving at Wolf 424 on October 26 and Amundsen Depot on October 28. While the fleet was going to launch to Sol soon after, JSDC Asagiri was sent ahead to deliver some data to the UN and inform Earth about the good news of surviving Quetzal in 61 Virginis and the potential for closer diplomatic talks.

The second and final leg of the return journey started on November 4, to arrive close to Junctio Station on November 16, with EAFC Harambee remaining at Amundsen Depot just in case.

Sights on the War

“Rift’s Shadow!”

Cha-Tan Elsur, Tonser of the United Colonies Armed Forces, cursed loudly as he ripped his headphones from his head and dialed down the volume of the passive radio sensors. From the speakers of the headphones a garbled and stuttering voice speaking in the Old Tongue could still be heard as they drifted away slowly.

“Is there a problem, Tonser Cha-Tan?”

Elsur closed his eyes for a moment, massaging his lower jaw with his lower arms, as his upper arms fished the headphones out of the air and pulled them back to his head. He turned around a little, looking at the faces of the remaining command crew.

Woran Esl-Ter Serdan, the commander of the Rovite Nerto, looked back at his sensory officer, expecting an answer to his question.

“The Elder is screaming again,” he said after swallowing, making Esl-Ter tap a finger of his left upper arm on his lower jaw.

“Now?” he wondered out loud, worry clean in his voice. “That is troubling indeed.”

Elsur could only agree. Every time The Elder screamed incoherently it was heard throughout the entire system. And every time it lead to something happening in the near future. Whether it would be good or bad was only for the oracles had to decide. On top of that the screams were in most cases the reason why the Runel and the Lerr were fighting each other again. Whether the Runel or the Lerr initiated the fighting was up to chance and who happened to be the first to get to the other.

Elsur glanced back at his console. The screams were louder than the last time he had heard them, some Iton ago. Concerning what he had learned during training, this meant that the Elder had left its orbit and moved away from the Old World, closer towards the Edge.

And if the Elder was moving towards the Edge, it was leaving transports to the other side of the system in danger. Over the past San-Iton more and more civilian commanders had dared to cross the Edge into the inner system to shorten their trips to colonies on the other side of the system, but none of them had ever dared to come near the Old World. The Elder simply destroyed anyone who dared to come near.

“Tonser,” Serdan said finally,” keep your eyes and ears open. I want to know any movements of any Association craft we can detect.”

“Of course, Esl-Ter,” Elsur said and his lower hands flickered over the touch sensitive displays in front of him, filtering out much of the Elders screams.

The Rovite Nerto was a medium sized armed unit, not much larger than the Elder, equipped with some of the most advanced sensors and armaments in existence. Of course she wasn’t even remotely a match for the Elder, but she didn’t need to be. All she was to do was to keep an eye out in the Runel asteroid cluster leading in orbit of Dren, reporting any and all movements of Runel Association craft back to base, the defense of the Vuworough Mine and hunt down anyone who thought they could attack the freighters.

If at all, only few would dare to attack a freighter of the United Colonies. If someone did, they would find themselves running out of Helium-3 very quickly and on top of it would have to defend themselves against a punitive expedition. The Aldan League could attest to that; after they had attacked a Helium-3 shipment of the United Colonies out to Bev about two Des-Iton ago. The Aldans had lost most of their military infrastructure and craft, as well as two very valuable mines and were still rebuilding, as well as repaying for the ammunition and nuclear devices that had been used in the punitive expedition.

As Elsur glanced at his displays and listened to the endless stream of carrier signals that were just barely above the hydrogen line, his mind moved to the last time The Elder had screamed.

The Holy Hegemony of Lerr had used the screams to launch an attack on the Runel Association, leading to a large war that had threatened to include a couple of smaller nations. Only when the war had threatened the United Colonies and Emkin Assembly, it had tapered down. No one wanted to wake the sleeping giants that controlled 99 percent of the Helium-3.

He was pulled from his thoughts however as the Elder screamed even louder, managing to temporarily get through the filter.

“Haing… Don’t leave me alone…”

Not-Arrested Development

During the late 2040s and early 2050s Earth saw a new surge of developments in the more classic areas of the military, sparked by the Administration of Republican President Philippe Da Vilcas. While his main focus lay with improvements of the national infrastructure, international politics squared the United States off against China, as the Middle Kingdom expanded its influence into Southeast Asia as well as Africa at an alarming rate, although diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union had largely normalized as far as it was possible concerning the differences between the two superpowers.

With American interests in Africa threatened by China, it was inevitable that the United States started to feel the need to replace aging weapon systems from the 2020s with newer systems. The European Union and the Soviet Union were in second and third place technology wise, while China and India were quickly catching up due to their own arms race with the other three super powers.

During this new armament project Hurtubise Armor Works in Hamilton, Ontario, a subdivision of General Dynamics Land Systems, presented the Aspis M1A1 Personal Protective Armature to the Pentagon and the Canadian Armed Forces. It was the first powered armor design to reach production readiness.

Combining a modern exoskeleton technology with modern non-newtonian ballistic fabric and cermet armor plates, the Aspis overall reached Armor Level IV. While the entire body was protected at least by several layers of ballistic fabric, laminar cermet plates held in place by ballistic fabric gave the torso additional protection up to Armor Level V, or .50 BMG AP. Due to the non-newtonian nature of the ballistic fabric the suit was also stab-proof and capable of surviving small IEDs and most modern anti-personnel mines and grenades.

The head was protected by a full covering cermet helmet with integrated ABC gear and battlefield networking systems. The use of virtual environments and numerous small cameras covering the helmet removed a weak point potentially exploitable by snipers.

The exoskeleton was mostly responsible for carrying the weight of the 200 kg Aspis, but allowed the wearer faster overall movement as well as the ability to turn over a car. This also made carrying and using larger weapons, like the venerated M2 Browning and other heavy squad support weapons.

An intelligent undergarment was responsible for heat management and capable of limited medical assistance, from the release of blood clotting materials to reduce large scale blood loss over the injection of painkillers and other medical drugs to allowing surgeons to prepare for injuries.

China, the European Union and the Soviet Union were relatively quick to present their own Personal Protective Armors.

The European Thales Cuirassier was a jack-of-all-trades design, providing an overall Armor Level IV protection, with a Level V protection of the torso and head areas. Slightly lighter than the Aspis, the Cuirassier was limited in the weight it could support additionally to its own mass, limiting the heavier weapons options. Being cheaper, it was more likely to be spread out through Euroforce and the national militaries.

A heavy version of the PPA was developed by the Soviet Union in form of the LT-2. It provided overall Armor Level V protection on the cost of maneuverability, making it a rather lumbering design. However the overall enhanced protection and the increased strength of the design allowed it to carry heavier weapons then the other designs, going as far as integrating four reloadable RPG-37 carried on the back, capable of vertically launching four conventional or thermobaric rockets.

The Chinese Guījiǎ PPA on the other hand went for an overall light design, with a purely Armor Level IV rating. This made the PPA extremely cheap, but prevented the use of heavy handheld weapons. The overall protection and the low cost however made it possible to equip entire infantry regiments with them.

First tactics developed for the PPA used the additional protection for assaults on hardened urban structures, entrenchments and bunkers. Embedding a PAA into a conventional squad also allowed faster employment of support weaponry, which was the way most armies, besides China, made use of the PAA, before the development of cheaper and lighter PAAs.

The first actual combat that saw the employment of PAA on both sides was the ten day long Golan Conflict of 2050. Here the Israeli variant of the US Aspis, the Iron Armor, faced off against Soviet LT-2 and a few Chinese Guījiǎ on the side of the Syrian Army. Both PAA systems proved their worth in an actual combat situation, especially urban combat within Al Qunaitra, where both sides effectively used PAA squads to clean out their opponents bunkers and fortified positions.

Especially the highly integrated battlefield awareness of the PAA on a personal level allowed for increased effectivity of the PAA armored infantry. PAA also turned out to be effective tank killers if they were equipped with heavy shoulder launched rockets, here the Soviet LT-2 was very effective with its integrated four rocket launchers. Additionally PAA were an effective addition for scouts, allowing them to stay protected and use integrated sensors and stay protected. Here the Chinese Guījiǎ proved to be very effective.

Another area that saw the introduction of new systems were the various air forces of Earth, with the development of the first effective surface to orbit aerospace planes.

In the United States began the Aurora Project, culminating in the choice of the Martin AF-40 Reaper aerospace plane, selected over the Lockheed XF-41 Starfighter II and the McDonnell Douglas XF-39 Skymaster. To arm the Reaper, a variant of the BSM-12 Thrasher ground launched kinetic kill vehicle was developed, with the Reaper carrying four. A pair of 1 MW UVR lasers was included to be used in closer combat situations, as well as to act as point defense if needed.

In Europe the Eurofighter Jagdflugzeug GmBH developed the Hurricane for the same role. Designed along the lines of the Saenger, the Hurricane carried six KKVs and a pair of 1.5 MW UVR lasers. The Soviet produced the MiG-47, which was a lighter design compared to the Reaper or the Hurricane, carrying only two KKVs and a single 1.5 UVR laser. The Chinese Chengdu J-23 was comparable to the Soviet design, but used a more advanced engine system and a 2 MW UVR laser, due to a slightly better understanding of aerospace craft of the Chinese.

Smaller nations either converted civilian SSTO’s or DH-1 reusable spacecraft to serve as their own versions of surface borne space interceptors.

The effectivity of these spacecraft was put into question during the Golan Conflict of 2050. The INS Kidon, which had been hunting down and destroyed several Syrian satellites, was attacked by a number of Syrian armed DH-1 additionally to surface to orbit missiles of Chinese make. While the attack heavily damaged the Israeli MMLS, it destroyed all involved Syrian spacecraft.

In 2047, the Guinean Union experienced the to date largest outbreak of Ebola, with a new variant of the virus which had a longer incubation time. Within a relative short time about twenty thousand people in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria and Togo got infected.

While the medical situation was better by now it had been during previous outbreaks of the virus, the virus itself had a higher survival rate outside the human body. Additionally several sociological factors were responsible for the increased number of infections, as several disease related myths were spread by the few scattered remains of Boko Haram or various witch doctors that still had a high influence in the more rural areas of West Africa.

The WHO and Médecins Sans Frontières reacted relatively quickly to the pandemic, but the new strain made treating the victims very difficult. Taking care of the deceased was just as troublesome, with only few volunteers to spare. The local people were too scared about contracting the disease themselves. After the idea to incinerate deceased came up, the local population reacted negatively to this perceived disrespect for the dead. In a number of cases hospitals and lazarettes were attacked.

This situation became better however when a larger number of Quetzal, most of them Ivesi Fakuxi Shiry from a small settlement near Lagos, volunteered to help taking care of the infected. Both the WHO and Médecins Sans Frontières welcomed this help, as the Quetzal were immune to the virus due to their alien biology and were well respected by the locals.

Indirectly the Ebola Outbreak was also responsible for the collapse of the Saudi Arabian government. The positive involvement of the Quetzal in the Outbreak lead to a growing human following of the Ivesi Fakuxi Shiry and a sort of unofficial recognition of this form of Islam by some of the more liberal muslim groups. When several Ivesi Fakuxi Shiry attempted to do a Hajj, and were once again refused entry into Mecca, a group of fellow pilgrims began to protest this treatment.

Sadly this protest turned violent, with Saudi security personal firing shots at some of the pilgrims, sparking a panic. This response lead to an outcry by other pilgrims, as well as part of the Saudi population. As the Saudi Arabian government had become increasingly oppressive over the past decades, censoring the media and imposing religiously motivated restrictions, this time they attempted to use the incident to impose more restrictions on the pilgrimage to the holy sites in Saudi Arabia.

The new restriction were received poorly by the pilgrims and the general population, directly leading to the first uprisings of students, followed by the Shiites in the area, which were clamped down hard. Eventually several groups of the Saudi Arabian army defected to the rebels, leading to a civil war that lasted about a year, with the rebels receiving covert support from Iran, while the Saudi government received support from China through Pakistan.

During the Arabian Night Revolt, the rebels were able to quickly seize Mecca and Medina and managed to hold them until the end of the war. Following the fall of Riyadh two years into the civil war, the House of Saud was forced into exile in Pakistan, after which the rebels started claiming the war to be over soon.

Aa a result the nation experienced several years of political instability under a provisional government until a democratic government could be elected that was able to stay in power. This new government openly welcomed aliens of muslim belief and was the first to officially recognize the Ivesi Fakuxi Shiry branch of Islam.

The Ebola pandemia wasn’t the only disease-related event that lead to some changes in the political landscape. In the Soviet Union, the melting permafrost released a number of ancient pathogens preserved within the ground and brought to the surface by tilling the newly farmable land. Although most of these pathogens were harmless to humans, two still infected livestock and three grain. The biggest surprise however was one single viral strain that rose along with humanity.

This specific member of the Hantavirus family, quickly named Budushcheye Virus after the first outbreak in that city, had more severe effects on the human body than any previously known Hantavirus and a much higher mortality rate. In most cases death was induced by kidney failure.

The Soviet response was slow, and the Budushcheye Virus was able to infect several tens of thousands people over the course of a mere six weeks until specialists were brought in to treat the patients. In combination with the cattle and pig diseases, Budushcheye was to be quarantined and dependent on food brought in for one year. The quarantine came too late however and several more cities along the Trans Siberian Maglev were also discovered to be infected by the virus and needed to be quarantined as well.

While it seemed possible to create a vaccine against the Budushcheye Virus and develop a treatment, the response by Moscow was seen as headless by the local population. As the ‘City of the Future’ had a history of largely covert dissent, thanks to the dissidents sent to build up the city and keep them from actual positions of power, an underground movement had developed that was based largely on the views introduced by the Quetzal that had settled down in the city after several years in Star City.

This movement slowly pushed into the open, as more and more offices of the city government converted to the mixture of communism, capitalism and anarchy. Again this seemed to be ignored by Moscow, though it later became known that the Politburo wanted to see this new movement fail on its own. Several more Siberian cities along the TransSibMaglev, mostly those affected by the Budushcheye Virus, followed the example of Budushcheye.

By 2052, the Budushcheye Movement had gathered enough confidence and announced the formation of the Siberian Socialistic Republic, which shared a border with China and Mongolia. The response of the Politburo was par for the course. The Red Army crossed into the newly formed SSR, their units moving in along the TransSibMaglev and occupied the maglev stations. By doing so the Red Army linked up with several units that had remained loyal. Unfortunately parts of these units were infected by the Budushcheye Virus and in turn infected the newly arrived units of the Red Army.

While there were several brushes between the Siberian Army and the Red Army, with only a few shots fired, before the Politburo imposed a quarantine over the entire SSR. Red Army units in full NBC gear began to patrol the Maglev to secure it from the Siberians and secure the way into the Soviet Far East. Moscow also made it clear that they would use orbital weapons, should the SSR try to cut off the Maglev.

Food transports into the SSR, needed to feed the majority of the population, were cut off by Moscow, stating that they of course would be willing to talk about a trade agreement, effectively starving the new nation and trying to make it collapse. Officially it was to keep the infection from spreading further.

Moscow didn’t expect China to intervene however.

Much like the Soviet Union, China was long since interested in the vast material wealth of Siberia and was more than willing to trade food and military equipment to the SSR in exchange for metals, petrochemicals and wood. A trade agreement between China and Siberia was quickly made, even with the threat of Soviet orbital and nuclear weapons, but those were countered by China being ‘willing to stand by their new Siberian allies’. An added bonus for the Siberians was that China set their best physicians, bioengineers and immunologists, among them no less than five Nobel Prize holders, to develop a cure for the Budushcheye Virus.

Poland, Czechoslovakia and the Baltic states made use of the distraction of Siberia to separate themselves more from Moscow as well. This in turn brought them a little closer to the European Union, who welcomed their opening to the west and saw it as a first step of these nations into freedom. This acceptance from the European Union was disliked by the Soviet Union, stating that they should not meddle in Soviet Affairs.

The entire situation in Siberia and Eastern Europe lead to the Soviet Union being viewed as being in decline, while China strengthened its global political influence.

This was partially due to China making nice with several Southeast Asian nations that were trying to keep themselves outside of the Chinese Sphere of Influence. In 2049 an 8.0 earthquake near the West Papuan coast lead to a tsunami racing through the Pacific Ocean, hitting the coast of the Philippines, Japan and rolling over several of the smaller Oceanic island nations.

The damages were heavy and China financed the rebuilding process in these areas, partially by sending engineers and helpers into the affected areas, as well as offering discounts and credits to the nations involved. While Indonesia declined and received help from Australia, the Philippines were slowly drawn into the Chinese Sphere of Influence.

In some cases the nations influenced by the Chinese grew a little overconfident, as it was seen in a localized war between the Chinese supported Laos and Vietnam, which was supported by Australia, Korea and Japan. This border conflict was begun by Laos and ended with a draw and an increasing military presence across the border between the two nations.

China was also responsible for importing a new, and at the same time old, wonder material onto Mars, in the form of Phyllostachys edulis, or moso bamboo. At first it was intended only to supplement the diet of the Chinese settlers of Shuǐxīng with bamboo shoots. Eventually however the settlers grew fully sized plants, which under the Martian gravity could reach sizes of up to 60 meters.

Bamboo turned out to be a very versatile material for space that could be used in varied ways. Aside from the bamboo shoots being edible, their fast growth made them very useful to lock up carbon dioxide when used in the life support systems. Bamboo could be turned into fibers for clothing, into paper and used as a material for scaffolding and for building larger structures due to its strength. It could also be easily turned into everyday items such as eating utensils and furnishings.

While it was at first met with ridicule by the other Mars settlements, Bamboo seeds were eventually traded in by New Plymouth for tilapia, allowing a diversification of the Chinese diet, while allowing New Plymouth to grow their own bamboo.

A somewhat worrying trend was becoming visible elsewhere in several places of the solar system, including Earth, as many of the ever more complex computer systems and software showed emergent behaviour. Most of these computer systems ran agent based software that organized in ways they were never intended to by the programmers, making it harder to understand how they worked at all.

One of the most worrying trends was that the software agents of the Soviet Prirost system began to optimize the economic flow in ways unwanted by its controllers, but still eventually turned out to be beneficial in the long run. Sometimes the behaviour of the system could even be described as sentient.

While most of these systems were tightly observed by system administrators and computer scientists, similar systems in deep space were not under such tight control. They were used in the various automated resource extraction facilities of asteroid mines, controlling the flow of energy and deciding what materials and areas to mine and were allowed to run independent of most control inputs from Earth, only using limited bandwidth for status updates as well as being met by repair crews and equally automated transporters.

Surprise, Surprise

While the Beagle was still in transit to Earth, the international scientific community was already plowing through the nearly one exabyte of data the spacecraft had transmitted. The information on the various planets and the direct observation of the stars were parts of the data that were most sought after. Only few astronomers were interested in what was known as the Beagle Whole Sky Survey, the observation of the entire sky from the various systems.The observations had been mostly made to try and discover new stars, brown dwarfs or maybe rogue planets.

Just as the Beagle passed the orbit of Mars, a Chilean team of astronomers shocked the planet by publishing what they had uncovered by comparing images made at Epsilon Eridani, Sirius and Luyten 726-8. Details on these images showed small lights around 61 Virginis, the home system of the Quetzal. The first spectral analysis of those additional lights showed reactions consistent with fusion thrusters or thermonuclear devices. This sent an uproar through the alien population and parts of the human population.

Speculations on potential survivors at 61 Virginis were quick to reappear and the majority of the Quetzal called for a reconnaissance mission to their old homeworld. Rynem, the former Sovereign of Thriem and now the Quetzal representative to the United Nations, was quick to use the political potential of the situation. Having survived the Final War and having been forced to flee from Cterin, he hadn’t appreciated how quick humanity had been to downplay the genocide of his species by the Enemy and was ultimately unsatisfied with the lack of military buildup in space.

Now with the revelation of something happening at 61 Virginis, he very publicly speculated about a survivor civilization near 61 Virginis and its struggle against some enemy, perhaps even the Enemy. He openly questioned the international lack of militarizing space, noting that humanity should not make the same mistake that had cost the Quetzal their homeworld. ‘The Last Battle’, a largely fictional movie account of the final battle of the Quetzal, premiered in June 2050 after three years of post production and it played nicely into Rynem’s hands.

The public, once again charged by the potential of an alien invasion through the movie and Rynem’s rhetoric, was quick to demand more protection in space to defend Earth as well asto find out what was happening at 61 Virginis. The political response to these demands was (predictably) slow, but lead to a renewed International Solar Defense Conference in Geneva by February 2051.

The atmosphere of the Conference was tense and undecided, as political agendas of the various nations and power blocs didn’t always align in a way they had during the first set of ISD conferences during the 2020s and 2030s. Some nations also outright questioned why Earth should reveal itself to a potential alien enemy. Further analysis of the images from 61 Virginis as well as images taken by orbital telescopes had revealed that the unknown activity had increased for several weeks, followed by a number of sudden short flashes and a period of waning activity after that. However, whatever was observed at the time had already happened about 27 years ago and nothing had come out of it concerning potential threats to Earth.

One of the first things decided at the 2051 ISD Conference was to keep observing 61 Virginis and that several orbiting telescopes were to remain directed at the star. This was followed by a decision to actually prepare a reconnaissance mission to the Quetzal home system to find out what exactly had happened and was perhaps still happening. Of course the Turukal representative also demanded a similar mission, but they were willing to wait for the Quetzal mission to finish.

Thanks to international politics the potential quick reconnaissance mission to 61 Virginis was not as easy a it appeared to be. The Beagle was already on the way for an extended mission to Eridu in the Epsilon Eridani system to survey the planet for its settlement potential. Other spacecraft would not be internationally crewed and operated and as such most of the power blocs feared that the others could potentially make a friendly contact with whoever was using nuclear weapons in 61 Virginis.

While a robotic mission was debated, experiences with the Pioneer showed that mankind was currently sorely lacking in any useful control software for such a mission. The first longer duration mission of Pioneer alongside the initial extrasolar trip of the Beagle had involved several occasions where the crew of the Beagle had been forced to remotely reboot the computer system.

So the only politically viable option was an international mission to 61 Virginis with an entire force of spacecraft.

Under these pretenses it became clear that the current existing FTL capable spacecraft were not up to the task of a reconnaissance mission over even 25 light years. While Beagle had made a distance of 74 light years during the Beagle Nearest Star Survey Mission, the spacecraft had been designed for long range scientific missions. All other MMUS spacecraft were mainly military spacecraft that were dependent on nearby resupplying, especially with potential engagements with whoever was exploding nuclear devices at 61 Virginis.

A reconnaissance mission to 61 Virginis would be a military one and as such would require ample resources. This meant a modification of the MMUS design to turn it into bulk cargo carriers, making use of Intermodal Containers, and tankers for propellant and fuel. Any of those modifications were easily done due to the modular design of the MMUS, but they would need some time to be constructed.

Additional to the supplies, the general consensus was, that smaller and faster spacecraft would also be needed to react more swiftly to potential opposing forces. The recently developed MMLS could easily be adapted into a military version and was capable of deploying sufficiently fast to complement the larger MMUS. In a sense the MMLS would be the frigate support to the MMUS cruiser design.

Another proposal made during the 2051 ISD Conference was to provide the reconnaissance mission with an advanced screening element in the form of unmanned semi-autonomous combat vehicles, called Unmanned Combat Drones. Carrying a limited weapon loadout, comparable to a single weapon emplacement used on the MMLS and MMUS, these vehicles would normally be carried by the larger spacecraft,but could be released quickly and with a high thrust to weight ratio, compared to the larger craft, and thus intercept an opposing force quicker.

By the end of the conference, the participants had a relatively rough plan on the 61 Virginis reconnaissance mission. As the mission was expected to possibly come under fire from the unknown parties of 61 Virginis it was going to be a ‘reconnaissance in force’, consisting of six MMUS, a projected ten MMLS, twenty to thirty UCDs, three tankers and two bulk carriers.

Immediately following the Conference, Rynem lobbied for the inclusion of the Quetzal into the mission. He offered to add two of the remaining Quetzal combat spacecraft, Enthat and the Pekav Torroth, to the force, stating that the Enthat and the crew of the Pekav knew the system well.

Once the next new International Solar Defense Conference happened in 2053, also in Geneva, Rynem had managed to persuade the UN Security Council for the inclusion of the Quetzal. The Conference itself was meant to plan out the mission itself, which was proposed to happen in 2055, starting from Junctio Station. Most of the actual planning for Operation Medea, as the mission was named, had been done by the Estévez Group and was a bit more complex than the original assumption.

Due to the limited length of time a spacecraft could remain in Heim-Feynman Space, the spacecraft involved would need to translate back into Normal Space after about 15 days, or 17.7 light years to prevent overheating of the internal systems. Four days would then be needed to radiate the heat away . On the course to 61 Virginis, the system of Wolf 424 was along the way. While not in a straight line to the target system, it was thought as necessary to use the system for a stop over. Potentially the system could be used as a forward base, should more missions to 61 Virginis need to be undertaken.

Following the arrival at 61 Virginis, the spacecraft would then do a number of jumps around the systems Feynman Limit, observing the inner system as well as jumps to Seuwack and Dran, the outer planets of the system, which were situated past the Limit. The commander of the mission, who was still to be determined, would then have the freedom of decision what to do. However, combat with any unknown forces was to be prevented whenever possible.

In the end the Llighaqua Mission, with Llighaqua being the word for reconnaissance in one of the Quetzal languages, was set forth to begin in 2055.

During the second last day of the ISDC, Sky Watch informed the conference participants about additional signs of combat at 61 Virginis, with at least five new large flashes detected. With potential combat activity high within the 61 Virginis system, nervousness rose again, as did concerns about the defense of the solar system and whether or not the MMLS and the MMUS combat variants were sufficient for defense.

Thankfully the modular approach of both spacecraft designs allowed for a decrease of expenses of a standard MMUS compared to the cost of the Beagle. Additionally the materials available from the Moon and Apophis, as well as new construction methods and the intense use of rapid production technologies reduced material costs. The result was a ninety percent decrease in cost for a MMUS compared to the initial cost.

Some nations, like the United States and the Soviet Union, believed their defenses to be insufficient, even with the MMLS and MMUS designs, calling for a heavier combat spacecraft. To satisfy this perceived need, the ISDC proposed a new design, that was much heavier than the MMUS. Where the MMLS would be a frigate equivalent, and the MMUS a cruiser equivalent, the new Multi Mission Heavy Spacecraft, MMHS, was going to be a battle cruiser equivalent. Of course it would use the same modular approach as the other spacecrafts used and shared many of the same parts, additionally it would carry several UCDs in the base variant.

While the MMHS was not going to be used for the Llighaqua Mission, it was hoped that the first units, the American USC Enterprise and the Soviet Moscva, could be put into service by 2056.

Getting to know the Neighborhood

Following its return to Earth, the Beagle docked with Chatham Station where engineers went over the spacecrafts systems with the metaphorical fine comb, checking all systems and structures thoroughly to see if repairs were needed. After the intense examination of the Beagle, nothing was discovered that would indicate that there would be any larger problems with the craft in the future. Only a number of armor panels had to be replaced due to micro debris damage.

However, the Beagle was upgraded with additional stores of spare parts and food, for its next mission. The Beagle Nearest Star Survey Mission was to be a 5 year long mission to the ten nearest star systems, excluding Proxima Centauri and Alpha Centauri, each to be observed for a predetermined time, or passed through with a 200 day fast transit for the systems with confirmed planetary systems.

Additionally the Beagle carried 20 atmospheric probes to be used upon close passes of worlds with atmospheres. These probes were designed to be capable of operations within the atmospheres of Terrestrial as well as Jovian worlds, going as far as being capable of soft landings.

On December 17, 2045 the Beagle departed from Chatham Station on its 200 day trajectory towards the Feynman Limit, reaching it on July 5, 2046. Following two days of receiving a few last orders and doing the last checks on all systems, the Beagle left towards Barnard’s Star, needing 4 days and 17 hours for the transfer of 5.563 lightyears.

Following a two day observation period, the Beagle changed its position for a 200 day trajectory that would pass the star’s two planets. The two planets were relatively close to each other at 0.065 and 0.069 AU distance to their primary. The gravitational interaction between the two worlds was low however as the inner, Icarus, was only about the size and mass of Vesta, while the outer, Daedalus, was comparable to Ceres.

An asteroid belt was closer to Barnard’s Star and within the astronomical community a discussion arose whether or not Icarus and Daedalus were members of this asteroid belt.

After travelling past the Feynman Limit of Barnard’s Star again and after another observation period, the Beagle made a 4 day and 16 hour transit towards Ross 154, 5.53 light years distant to Barnard’s Star and 9.68 light years away from Sol.

Ross 154 had been confirmed to hold a single planet, but shortly after arrival the Beagle discovered a second planet deeper in the system, as well as a wide asteroid belt between the two.

On its 200 day transit through the system the Beagle passed the outer planet, Assur, a nebulous rock world five times the mass of Earth and with a dense hydrogen and helium atmosphere. A single atmospheric probe was launched towards Assur and landed softly on the shore of an ammonia lake, returning large amounts of data for the entire time of Beagle’s stay within the system.

Comparably the inner world, a low mass Selenian rock named Erech, was of little initial interest, as were many of the systems asteroids of its belt and a mere flyby was not going to uncover all its potential secrets.

The next target of the Beagle Nearest Star Survey Mission was Luhman 16, a system of dual brown dwarfs. At a distance of 6.59 light years from Sol and 11.44 light years to Ross 154 the two ‘failed stars’ were the closest of their kind to Earth. The Beagle arrived at Luhman 16 11 days and 11 hours after leaving Ross 154 to begin its 60 day observation period.

As the two brown dwarfs orbited each other at a distance of 3 AU the discovery of a single planet around Luhman 16A was a surprise and the mission plan of Beagle hadn’t taken it into account yet. Luhman 16B on the other side was home to a ring system, not too unlike that of Saturn, making it possible that it used to have one or more planets.

The planet of Luhman 16A was classified as a Hemerian orbiting at a close distance of 0.005 AU, was eventually named Thebes, keeping in line with the IAU naming scheme of using ancient cities as names for planets.

The fourth leg of the survey mission, WISE 0855-0714, 6 light years from Luhman 16 and 7.2 light years from Sol, was reached by the Beagle following a 5 day and 2 hour transit. WISE 0855-0714 was originally believed to be a brown dwarf, but the low surface temperature observed by the Beagle forced the reclassification to a rogue planet, surrounded by an extensive ring system and a small number of shepherd moons. Still, the Beagle kept its observation period of 60 days.

Wolf 359, a planetless star with only a large asteroid belt, was 4.35 light years from WISE 0855-0714 and 7.78 light years away from Sol. Surprisingly, when the Beagle reached the stars Feynman Limit after 3 days and 16 hours, it left Heim-Feynman Space just twenty thousand kilometers away from a cometary body. Named Beagle’s Rest by the crew, the Beagle matched its trajectory and speed with the comet and surveyed much more closely for the 90 days of the observation period. With its trajectory known Beagle’s Rest might be of use later on.

Lalande 21185, much like Wolf 359, lacked a distinct planet, being surrounded by an asteroid belt instead. 5.91 light years from Wolf 359 and 8.29 lightyears from Earth, the Beagle reached it after 5 days and begun its 90 day observation period.

Compared to Wolf 359 and Lalande 21185, Sirius was a much more interesting object on the first glance. 10.9 light year from Lalande 21185 and 8.59 light years from Sol, the Beagle reached it in 9 days and 6 hours. While the star system was of interest to the astronomers astronomers, it lacked any planetary bodies or denser asteroid belts, as the white dwarf had pretty much removed any of them.

Unexpectedly, when the Beagle reached Luyten 726-8, the crew was presented with a very unique sight. 10.24 light years from Sirius and 8.72 light years from Sol, the Luyten 726-8 double star was home to a single gas giant orbiting around Luyten 726-8A. It was 70 times the mass of Earth and orbiting its primary in a distance of 0.048 AU. The interesting part however was that this HydroJovian world had a very distinct dark green color.

Only a spectral analysis of the light from the planet, named Nineveh, revealed the reason for its color as it showed the absorption lines of chlorophyll. Combined with an atmospheric temperature of about 50 degrees celsius meant that it was home to algae-like life.

The Beagle was already on its 200 day trajectory towards the planet, when this information was discovered and the crew of the spacecraft prepared three atmospheric probes for the planet, meaning to take as much data as possible. By chance one of the probes descending Nineveh’s atmosphere passed through a large cloud of what appeared to be ‘sky crill’, winged insectlike creatures floating in the updrafts and showing that the planet had some higher life forms living of the algae analogs.

Epsilon Eridani, the second last leg of the Beagle Nearest Star Survey Mission, was later called the ‘Jackpot’. 10.5 light years from Earth and 5.1 light years from Luyten 716-8, Epsilon Eridani had four planets, two asteroid belts and a larger dust ring. Three of these planets were within the Feynman Limit, with the last being far outside of it.

A brief visit to this outer planet, Uruk, a CryoJovian of 31 Earth masses with a larger system of moons 30 AU from its primary, was followed by a 200 day transit through the system, though it only allowed the flyby of two planets. The innermost planet, a heavy gravity Ferrian world named Lagash and enveloped by a thin helium atmosphere was the only planet not visited.

The largest planet of the system, Babylon, a EuJovian world of 492 Earth Masses, was within one AU of the Feynman Limit and the second to be visited by the Beagle before the spacecraft moved towards the most interesting place in the system.

Eridu, the second planet of Epsilon Eridani was only 0.7 AU away from its primary and close to the inner edge of the green zone of Epsilon Eridani. With 1.33 earth masses it was large enough to keep a thick nitrogen-oxygen atmosphere and a pair of moons, the largest half the size of the Moon. 83 percent of the surface was covered by oceans and the landmass was taken up by smaller continents and large island chains, the topology lacking large mountain chains. This placed the world into the Lacustric classification and would make it very interesting for later settlement. Two probes made a landing on the planets surface, one of them within a dense jungle, while the other splashed down within one of the oceans. Both made a larger number of images and returned them to the Beagle, before the spacecraft left the system.

Ross 248 was the last target of the Beagle on its second mission, a system with three worlds and a single asteroid belt, about 12.65 light years from Epsilon Eridani and 10.3 light years from Sol.

Again the Beagle was able to only make a pass by two of the systems planets on its 200 day trajectory, missing the innermost planet Opis, a Selenian rock only 0.08 AU from its primary, while passing part of the asteroid belt. The first planet to be passed by the Beagle was the outermost EuJovian Susa, a world 522 times as massive as Earth and 2.1 AU distant to Ross 248. It was the target of a pair of atmospheric probes, which returned some interesting data, like a rather high amount of methane in the planets atmosphere.

The middle planet, Sippar, was a cryogenic Titanian world, with a thick nitrogen methane atmosphere and liquid methane oceans covering the surface of the half Earth mass planet. To get good information on the planet, three probes descended into its atmosphere with only one surviving the landing on a large plateau.

The Beagle finally returned to Sol on March 16, 2050, entering the system just a million kilometers away from 319876 Junctio. Following contact with Junctio Station, the Beagle made contact with Earth and began to transfer the majority of its data, before making way towards Junctio as the first FTL spacecraft to dock with the way station.

Later the Beagle returned to Earth, where it arrived in December 2050, to be checked completely once again and determine whether or not the spacecraft had been able to take the stress of its long mission.

Railroad Towns

While the first mission of the Beagle was underway, humanity prepared itself for the step out of the solar system and into the realm of the stars, to become an interstellar species.

As early as 2042 the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, UNOOSA, was asked by the nations involved in the International Centre for Advanced Space Propulsion Technologies, and by extension the spacefaring nations of the UN, to work on plans to build up a transportation hub on 319876 Junctio, which had been selected to become a permanent base station in the near future to facilitate faster and more frequent transportation into and out of the solar system.

At a distance of 5.45 to 5.87 AU from Sol, the 10 kilometer asteroid was the prime candidate for such a station.

It quickly became clear that Junctio Station should only be one in an entire network of similar stations in other potentially settled systems, as well as in the solar system, to make travel a little faster and to provide for a convenient place to refuel, restock and repair spacecraft. To make sure that such a station could function and render its services to everyone, it could hardly be bound to the laws and politics of a single nation and would therefore need to be operated internationally as an extraterritorial place and thus be bound to international laws.

To this end the UNOOSA created the Space Infrastructure Section to operate Junctio Station and the supply networks to support it, approved by the majority of the UN General Assembly and the UN Security Council.

Within the solar system, Junctio Station would need a whole setup of support stations and spacecraft to ferry material, people and fuel to and from the station.

Until the end of 2042 it was possible to develop a plan for the initial development of Junctio Station, also allowing for future growth of the station. The construction of Junctio Station would follow three distinct stages leading to the completion of the initial development phase.

The first stage would be the initial survey of the asteroid 319876 Junctio and setting up a simple infrastructure for a close in-depth survey.

Following the survey, the second stage would be to create the basic systems for Junctio Station, such as basic living quarters for a crew of 20, life support, power systems, basic service systems for spacecraft. To this end Planetary Mining & Manufacturing, Orbital Industries and several smaller asteroid mining companies were asked for their know-how on permanent structures on the surface of an asteroid.

Stage Three would then be to build the complete infrastructure on Junctio itself. This would include mining and processing systems from one or more asteroid mining companies to provide raw materials and refined materials for any unforeseen repairs as well as local construction of expansions. Tank systems for various space propellant would be needed, but also quarters and closed loop life support systems to sustain at least a population of one thousand. This would include a 200 meter gravity deck, as well as international docking ports for 20 spacecraft and repair capacities for 5. Additionally some integrated defenses in the form of laser reactors were discussed.

Jupiter’s moon Callisto was also part of the initial development plans for Junctio Station, as a prime provider for water used as spacecraft propellant; either for fusion thrusters or, split into hydrogen and oxygen, for chemical rockets. Callisto already had a station and a basic infrastructure, so extending it was not expected to be much of a problem. The difficulty would more likely be to move large amounts of water into orbit around Callisto first, store it there and then to Junctio Station.

Most craft of the transport system could be automated and as such the general designs to be developed were automated surface-to-orbit and orbit-to-orbit tankers. For additional development of the space sector, the UNOOSA made a Request for Proposals to commercial and national companies.

To keep with the time constraints put up by the General Assembly, the selection process was aided by the use of advanced simulations for the proposals performance.

DaimlerChrysler was chosen for the surface-to-orbit vehicle with a version of their SERV reusable launch vehicle, the Single-stage Orbital Reusable Vehicle, a design modified to be used on bodies with no or very thin atmospheres. The SORV would be able to launch 500 tonnes into orbit around Callisto, while being able to land about 100 tonnes back on the surface before needing to be refueled.

For the unmanned orbit-to-orbit tanker, the Soviet NPO Energia design bureau won the contest. Their Autonomous Transport Komplex design, the ATK, was little more than a truss, powered by a simple 20 MW thorium fission reactor and propelled by a set of VASIMR thrusters as the delivery of water was not time dependent. The water itself was attached to the truss in the form of a 500 tonne block of ice, protected by a thin layer of polymer foam and actively cooled.

The APK was designed to carry 48 blocks, totaling at 28000 tonnes of water. Once an APK arrived as Junctio Station the blocks of ice would be melted into ice slush over the cooling tubes, using waste heat from the stations fusion reactor, and could be stored at 4 degrees Celsius for future use or electrolysis into hydrogen and oxygen.

Transportation of people and other material between Junctio Station and Earth would be provided by a modified version of the MMUS with a lower number of propellant tanks, additional gravity wheels and storage, as well as external attachment points for larger cargo.

In early 2044 the UNOOSA ordered ten SORVs, six ATKs and three interplanetary MMUSs.

While the Beagle was on its mission to Proxima and Alpha Centauri, the Soviet Alexey Leonov, an unarmed scientific MMUS was on its way towards 319876 Junctio to implement the first stage of the Junctio Station Project by conducting a basic survey.

Following a 200 day fast transit trajectory, the Leonov moved into a slow orbit. The crew initially mapped the asteroid’s surface before using its parasites, a trio of next generation TKS, to survey several areas that had the best potential for initial base setup.

After the initial surveys and geological analysis the asteroid was confirmed to be a carbonaceous type. As such the asteroid contained a larger amount of water and other volatiles as well as organic compounds.

For the UNOOSA this was a good thing, as it meant that Junctio Station could operate partly autonomous if an asteroid mining company would settle down alongside the station to supply it with water, metals and plastics. With these resources the station could expand faster and allowed for a much more efficient use of transports carrying other needed resources or more advanced systems. The organic compounds could also be used for a simple graphene integrated circuit factory.

After sufficient data was acquired, phase one was concluded and it became possible to prepare the second stage of the Junctio Station Project. Orbital Industries was contracted for the use of the Humbolt to construct a stable connection between the future station and the asteroid, while the China Minmetal Corporation received a contract allowing for the initial mining operation for water, metals and organic compounds.

A set of six PM&M Waldo and four Soviet Rabochiy fabricator robots was purchased to construct the station’s structure, as well as the tanks to store large amounts of water, cryogenic oxygen and hydrogen, as well as Helium-3 and Deuterium.

BASF, Mitsubishi Chemical and Dow Chemical provided the chemical plants for the station, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India produced a 100 MW fusion reactor, with the initial habitation and storage volume provided by off-the-shelves inflatable and rigid habitation modules.

For the Callisto base, which was to be named Thetis Station, the UNOOSA ordered another 100 MW thorium fission reactor to melt the ice of Callisto, a large scale distillation system to clean the water, and shaped tanks to freeze the distilled water into blocks of ice that could be transported to Junctio.

By October 2046 the crew and systems needed for the second Stage were completed, about the same time the first interplanetary MMUS, the Great Western, had finished its maiden flight, a 30 day transit to Mars and back. Additionally the Soviet Union had completed two ATKs and DaimlerChrysler five SORVs, which allowed for the preparations of the setup of the initial stage of Thetis Station as well.

The Great Western, Humbolt, USC Independence and PLA-SF Chengdu were loaded with crew and materials and launched towards Junctio on a 300 day trajectory in November 2046. The longer trajectory was chosen due to the Humbolts low acceleration compared to the MMUSs.

The four spacecraft met with the Leonov at Junctio in August 2047 and began to construct the first modules. The Leonov and Great Western subsequently returned to Earth, while Humbolt, Independence and Chengdu remained at Junction to support further construction and provide the construction crew with a way back to Earth, should the need arise.

While the construction of Junctio Station commenced, two ATKs were loaded up with the ice mining equipment and the finished SORVs for Callisto and sent towards Jupiter, where they arrived in December 2047. A construction crew, sent ahead on HMC Sidney, was already waiting on Arcas Station. The SORVs delivered the ice mining modules about 20 kilometers away from the station, where the fusion reactor was erected, as well as the distillation and electrolysis systems. The actual mining was then done another 10 kilometers away from the ice factory.

By September 2048 Thetis Station had produced the first 24 ice blocks, which were transported into orbit and secured to one of the ATKs for transport to Junctio Station. On October 3rd, ATK 1 left orbit around Callisto on a trajectory to Junctio, where it arrived about 190 days later. The ice blocks were unloaded and attached to a simple framework on the surface of Junctio, while the tank systems were still under construction.

In November 2048 the second interplanetary MMUS, the Belorussiya, was completed and made a 30 day voyage to Mars, like its sister ship the Great Western. Meanwhile the Great Western had returned to Earth and underwent minor repairs and both craft launched towards Junction in late February 2049, arriving mid december. The Great Western remained stationed at Junctio after delivering a number of additional factory and refinery modules and three inflatable tanks, each capable of holding up to 20000 tonnes of water, supplementing the existing tanks. The factory modules included a number of fabricator systems that could be used for expanding the station and repair spacecraft.

With the completion of the remaining ATKs and SORVs, as well as the Hainan MMUS, the construction of Junctio Station was going according to schedule. As 2055 rolled around, the first phase of the Junctio Project was concluded successfully.

The Junctio Project also had a, not entirely unexpected, effect on commercial and private space endeavours, as more and more companies saw a growing economic viability, now that entire countries and even the UN were beginning to buy spacecraft and other space structures. The idea of an interplanetary infrastructure, with stations and spacecraft connecting them to each other, found fertile ground, especially among the groups pushing for more extraterrestrial settlements.

In 2043 the Solar Exploration and Settlement Alliance was founded by a number of space advocacy groups, private and national settlement programs and corporations to answer the increasing call for a centralized and independent think tank. The goal of the SESA was to plan the civilian commercial part of the solar systems infrastructure to be as effective, if not more so, than the ‘public side’.

At first this meant to further develop the inner solar system. Cislunar space already had a largely working infrastructure, even though it did need expansion in the form of alarger transport capacity.

Gateway Station in EML2 was already in use as a commercial jumping point for transports to Mars and Near Earth Asteroids and was seen as the logical choice for expansion due to the expected increase of traffic. SESA suggested to enlarge it with a large 200 meter gravity deck, extended docking ports, comparable to the International Orbital Dock and additional tanks for fuel and propellant.

The traffic from Gateway Station largely went towards Mars, which was was almost sorely performed by the Aldrin Cyclers of the Mars Society, Lusitania and Mauretania. Both were by now essential to ferry people and material to Mars, but still limited in capacity. Now and again national spacecraft added to this, but only for the national settlement programs.

The SESA proposed the extension of the Aldrin Cycler system with additional cyclers and the expansion of the existing ones with 100 meter gravity decks, as well as several MMUSs. While the Aldrin Cyclers would provide a basic transport capacity for people and materials, the MMUSs could provide rapid priority transport.

Additionally the SESA noted the lack of other comparably low cost interplanetary transports, where an MMUS was too much to use. To this end, SESA suggested using the MMUS as base of the Multi-Mission Light SpaceCraft, MMLS, using systems of the MMUS to ease its design, production and servicing. Additionally the MMLS was designed to be equipped with a HFE Generator for extrasolar uses. The MMLS design was well received and was quickly adopted.

The other targets of the inner solar system where Near Earth Objects, with about ten of them claimed and mined by commercial and national companies. Most of these mines were completely automated and the SESA suggested to build up small settlements at the mines as supplements. While the automated mines made use of small tugs on trajectories and utilized gravity-assists around the moon that could minimize the needed ∆v, manned mines and settlements would need faster transports for people and material.

Outside of the SESA suggestions and plans, national and private interests saw the extension of lunar settlements and more people settled down permanently on the Moon, bringing the permanent population of the various lunar settlements to ten thousand by 2050, with more than thirty thousand temporary workers.

While most other nations built new smaller stations within cislunar space, India and China began with a new more productive space race, aiming to be the first ones to complete a free floating space settlement.

India started off this race by announcing the Vimana Project of India in 2044. Basing their plans on the Bernal Sphere and O’Neill Island designs from the 1970s, their Vimana design made use of a pair of 500 meters diameter cylinders with a length of 325 meters, connected by a shared spine and counter-rotating to each other. These stuy cylinders were more stable than those of the larger O’Neill designs and covered by solar cells, with a large solar cell system on each end of the central spine. Each cylinder was projected to be able to house five thousand people and provide food for them.

Construction of Vimana One began on June 3, 2045 in L4, with India buying large amounts of Lunar regolith and aluminium alloys for the outer shell of the cylinders from the Soviet Union. By August 2047 the cylinders were completed and sealed, before the solar cells were installed and the atmosphere slowly filled up with lunar oxygen from the Soviets and Apophis nitrogen from Orbital Industries.

On February 15, 2049, Vimana One was completed and the first settlers had moved in by March.

In response to the Indian Vimana Project, China answered with a space settlement project of their own, the Nyuwa Project. Much like the Indian Vimana design, the Nyuwa design was an advanced design based on an old 1970s design, in this case the Stanford Torus. Rather than using a single torus, the Nyuwa used a pair of 100 meter wide rings with a diameter of 1000 meters, connected by the central hub of the settlement. A large pair of solar cell arrays combined with a mirror system provided energy and light for the population of fifteen thousand.

The construction of Qiang Tian Yī began on June 27, 2045 in L5 and despite the larger size of the settlement completed only a one day after Vimana One.

Both China and India learned from the construction of their first free floating space settlements and almost immediately began with the construction of additional settlements. Until 2055 both nations built two more space settlements, Vimana Two and Qiang Tian Èr, while the United States, the Soviet Union and Europe were still in the planning phases of their own space settlements.

The work on the interplanetary transport network brought forth a new potential problem. The use of fusion power on Earth and on the newly constructed spacecraft increased Earths dependency on lunar Helium 3, a resource that was finite and would eventually run out. Therefore a new source of Helium 3 was needed. The most obvious sources were the gas giants of the solar system, each of which contained enough Helium 3 to last a very long time to come.

While Jupiter, the largest gas giant, might have been the prime candidate due to the bases on Callisto, but the high mass and gravity of the giant, as well as the deadly radiation belt forced to look into another direction.

Instead, Uranus was selected as the best world to mine Helium 3 as well as Deuterium from its atmosphere. The atmosphere of Uranus was calm, compared to the other gas giants and mining barges could be held aloft by hot hydrogen balloons heated by the waste heat of the barges reactor. Fusion powered SSTOs could service the automated barges and collect the Helium 3 and Deuterium, transporting it to orbital stations, where it would be loaded into freighters.

With Uranus being outside of the Feynman Limit and the planetary Feynman Limit of 863000 kilometers it was possible to cut years out of the transport by using FTL transports.

Interestingly enough the Turukal and the Quetzal had prior experiences with this kind of resource gathering. It quickly became clear that the Turukal had managed to save a single gas giant mining barge, which had originally been meant to be shipped to one of their own gas giants. To ‘help pay their debt’ the Turukal offered the gas mining barge to the UNOOSA to be taken apart and its plans distributed in the public domain.

With this shortcut available the SESA proposed the construction of a mining base on the innermost moon of Uranus, Cordelia, for any private company willing to mine Helium 3. Orbital Industries and Planetary Mining & Manufacturing were among the first to be very interested in this joint venture, deciding to build up a station sometime before 2060.

To Boldly Go

With the Beagle, humanity finally had its first manned interstellar spacecraft and on January 10, 2044 it left the solar system on a course towards Proxima Centauri, the closest star to Sol. The Beagle was accompanied by the unmanned interstellar spacecraft Pioneer, which had already made the journey once before.

Pioneer had been slightly upgraded prior to the mission, equipping the craft with a powerful radio and laser communication system and was intended to be used as a sort of carrier pigeon for the Beagle as humanity yet had to discover some form of FTL communication. Pioneer could go back to Sol to inform Earth about any problems Beagle would encounter, be they technical or otherwise in nature.

The FTL transit for the 4.24 light years to Proxima Centauri took 3 days and 14 hours and deposited both human spacecraft at a distance of 1.34 AU from the red dwarf, just outside the Feynman Limit at 1.31 AU.

The actual mission of the Beagle was to do a close survey of the system, making use of the small Feynman limit to enter deep into the planetary system of Proxima Centauri and do flybys of the star’s three planets, with the close orbits of the two inner planets allowing a single hyperbolic pass. The Pioneer was to remain at the Feynman Limit and to stay in radio contact with the manned spacecraft.

The first two weeks of the mission were used to do a complete diagnosis of all systems to make sure that every piece of equipment worked correctly, followed by a week of optical and radio observation of Proxima Centauri and its planets from up close.

Before the Beagle mission started, the observed planets of Proxima Centauri were given actual names, instead of simple alphabetic designations. Proxima Centauri a was named Sharpley, after the astronomer who discovered that Proxima Centauri was a flare star. Proxima Centauri b received the name Alden, after the man who first accurately measured the stars parallax. Proxima Centauri c was finally given the name Innes, after the man who had discovered the star.

After confirming the position of each of the three planets, a short FTL transit carried the Beagle to a position 6 AU prograde to reduce the delta-v expended for the hyperbolic flyby. The optimization of the flyby brought the periapsis of the hyperbolic orbit close to Sharpley, while passing Alden at a distance of half a million kilometers and passing Innes at a distance of one million kilometers.

During the mission deep into the Proxima Centauri system, the scientific instruments of the Beagle collected a huge amount of data, part of which was analyzed on site, while other data was sent towards the Pioneer in a compressed data stream for later analysis. The mission also saw the first use of the optical systems of the spacecraft laser weapons as telescopes, allowing the observation of various areas of the space around the craft at the same time.

The crew used the time of the transit through Proxima Centauri to run training-simulations, from emergency to combat drills. The Brazilian command crew member, Manuela Wegener, also used the time to finish her doctoral thesis in aerospace engineering.

The first flyby happened in March 2044. Innes was a MesoJovian planet that orbited its primary at 0.7 AU. With 98 times the mass of Earth and a radius of about 45735 kilometers it was heavier than Saturn, but also smaller. It possessed a ring system similar to that of Saturn and a system of 25 moons that was observed during the flyby, including two moons larger than Luna.

The second flyby took place in late May 2044 and passed Sharpley. This first planet of Proxima Centauri was a Hemerian planet not unlike Mercury, orbiting its primary at a distance of only 0.0064 AU or nearly one billion kilometers and a short orbital period of merely twelve hours.

The flares of Proxima Centauri had scorched the surface of the planet clean, erasing many surface structures on the tidally locked dayside.

The final flyby was of Alden, which happened in mid June 2044. Much like Sharpley, Alden was tidally locked with its primary, but had several large differences. Orbiting its primary at 0.04 AU, or at almost six billion kilometers, Alden was just outside the scorching zone of the star’s flares. With one and a half Earth masses and a diameter of 15510 kilometers the planet had an active molten core, which produced a very strong magnetic field, redirecting most of the star’s charged radiation and the remaining flares away, protecting a thin nitrogen-oxygen atmosphere.

That Proxima Centauri harboured a potentially life bearing planet was the most important discovery of the first Beagle mission, but the planet presented itself as its own problem, as it was classified as a Polyphemian world. As such it was covered by a deep planetary ocean, which in turn was nearly completely enveloped by a thick sheet of ice. Only the areas in the center of this ‘eyeball iceball’ was ice free, however largely hidden by a central hurricane system.

Previous to the discovery of the strong magnetic field, Alden had first been thought to be a world that had been stripped clean of its atmosphere by the flares of Proxima Centauri.

During the remaining trip back past the Feynman Limit, the Beagle had a very close encounter with a 5 kilometer asteroid, passing it by a mere thousand kilometers. Other asteroids were discovered as well. Together with the potentially habitable Alden and the moons of Innes, the Proxima Centauri System became a potential target for the first extrasolar human settlements.

After passing the Feynman Limit, the Beagle circularized its orbit around Proxima Centauri at 1.35 AU. After a week of checks on the HFE Generator, a pair of FTL transits returned the spacecraft to the position of the Pioneer. Once the Beagle had linked back up with the unmanned spacecraft, one of the Beagles Hawk craft, named Snoopy by the crew, was used to physically transfer the entirety of the collected data over, creating a second backup, additional to the data contained in the craft’s computer.

Additionally the systems of the Pioneer were tested as well, both spacecraft prepared for the second part of the mission, taking a two-month observation for each star of the Alpha Centauri dual system.

A short FTL transit over a quarter lightyear brought the two spacecraft to their second target and they settled into a 6 AU orbit around Alpha Centauri A. Half of the Beagles optical systems were directed towards the inner system of Alpha Centauri A, while the remaining were to carry out a survey of the sky.

Halfway into the observation period of Alpha Centauri A, Beagle and Pioneer made use of FTL transits to the other side of the star to observe the entirety of the system.

The monitoring confirmed most of the observations that had been made during the past three decades. Three planets had been discovered in the stable orbits of Alpha Centauri A’s inner system during the 2020s and had received names by the IAU. The Beagle Mission brought the number up to four with a local discovery.

The two inner planets of Alpha Centauri A, the first named Pelham, were Hemerian in nature, with distances of 0.3 and 0.67 AU and the respective masses of 0.00089 and 0.033 Earth masses. The second planet was discovered by the Beagle and two moons were found in it orbit. It was later named Cassida.

The third planet of Alpha Centauri A, Alpha, was an EuArean type planet, a Marslike world, orbiting its primary at 1.4 AU and having a mass of 0.23 Earth masses. Remote observations showed that the atmosphere consisted of CO2 and Nitrogen and was about three times as dense as that of Mars. As Alpha Centauri A was of a slightly higher mass compared to Sol, its luminosity was higher as well, increasing the surface temperature of the planet compared to Mars.

The fourth planet of Alpha Centauri, as the first to be discovered and named Tiber, was a MesoJovian world with a mass of 0.22 Jupiter masses and slightly lighter than Saturn. At 2.1 AU it was closer to its primary compared to Jupiter and light enough not to disturb the orbit of the third planet. Sixteen moons were discovered by the Beagle, with the largest being an Arean world.

Following the observation period of Alpha Centauri A, the two human spacecraft transferred to an orbit around Alpha Centauri B and began another observation period of the second star of the system.

Again, the observation was quick to confirm the two previously discovered worlds, as well as discovering two additional planets. All worlds proved to be extremes in their nature.

The first world, later named Centauri, was a tidally locked Hephaestian world that grazed the star at a mere 0.043 AU, well within reach of the stars coronal mass ejections. Althought the planet was just a little bigger then Earth, it was completely scorched and its surface largely in a liquid state.

The second planet, named Newton, was a Hot Neptune of 18 Earth masses and orbiting at 0.2 AU, which was still closer than Mercury orbited around Sol. Interestingly enough the planet still had three moons, barren rocks that were assaulted by the radiation of Alpha Centauri B.

The third world, called Wunderland by the crew of the Beagle, was an AreanXeric world, a hot dry martian planet, of about 0.4 Earth masses in a 0.6 AU orbit.

The fourth and outermost planet of Alpha Centauri B, Demeter, was a Venus like Cytherean world with close to the mass of Earth and nearly 1 AU distance to its primary. It too had a single moon, which was the size of Earth’s moon and turned out to be an Arean world, with a very thin atmosphere.

Once the observation period was over, the data was once again physically ferried over to the Pioneer, by the second Hawk, craft, named Gromit by the crew, before the preparations for the return journey were made.

Following another thorough check of the HFE Generator, Beagle and Pioneer shifted into Heim-Feynman Space on January 29, 2045. The Alpha Centauri B to Sol transit lasted 3 days and 16 hours and returned the two spacecraft to the edge of the Sol Feynman Limit.

The Beagle first managed to establish radio contact to Arcas Station on Callisto, followed by a directed laser contact to Earth. The Beagle was received with great relief, followed by displays of euphoria as mankind was now essentially an interstellar capable species, which also resulted in a celebrity status for the entire crew of the Beagle.

Following this, Beagle received orders to return to Earth on a 200 day trajectory. Once returned the Beagle would undergo a set of intense tests and examinations to make sure that the HFE transits didn’t induce any minute damages to the spaceframe of the craft.

The first packages of data were beamed to Earth over the first two months of the transit, while the physical backup remained on the Pioneer in case anything else happened to the Beagle.

The recovered data was a treasure trove of knowledge and allowed the first close insights into extrasolar planets, especially from the flybys at Proxima Centauri.

Into the Great Wide Open

Captain Oscar Hughes, US Space Force, looked around in Control and met with faces that were eager and nervous at the same time. Not that he blamed any of them. He felt the same.

It was time, time to write history.

Eager for taking a step into the history books as being among the very first humans to ever leave the solar system and make the journey to another star, light years away. Nervous for it happening in a spacecraft that hadn’t proven itself yet.

Yes, many things had been tested, even out in the field. But still, this was the maiden voyage, who knew what would be awaiting them? Would the craft hold for this long a distance? So many things still could go wrong. If it went wrong out there, home wouldn’t even know it for a long time. Now was not the time to think of that. Oscar shook off the thought.

Oscars glance stopped at the unflappable commander of the Beagle, Turver Inerak, a Quetzal.

Even after almost two years of getting to know him and the other crewmembers and working closely with him during the intense training and preparation for this mission, it still felt strange that it wasn’t a human, but a Quetzal, an alien, who would be in command of humanity’s first interstellar spacecraft. However, Turver was more experienced in commanding an interstellar spacecraft than any human, which was obvious. Also he was a veteran of the Final War, who saw the destruction of the Quetzal and Turukal homeworlds.

The last bit worried Oscar a little. While he had gotten to know the Quetzal a little better, he still wondered if Turver would remain stable and level headed, should they come across armed opposition. Then again Turver had been picked by his superiors as being the best out of a large group of volunteers.

“Final check,” Turver announced and glanced up, his upper arms placed on top of his lower set of displays as he looked around.

Control was a design choice that made use of the experience humanity had made during the past thirty years with larger spacecraft, as well as taking those of the Quetzal and Turukal into account. Control was located on one of the gravity rings and as such moving around and relatively secure. Seven identical control stations were arrayed in a circle around a central volumetric display that showed various general information, while the lower and upper display sets showed the crew the specialized data they needed for their respective tasks.

“Communication.”

Xun Zhen Huang, Captain of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Space Arm, was currently responsible for the communication systems of the Beagle. She was a professional to the core and Oscar didn’t remember having seen her smile even once. Then again, he didn’t remember any Chinese, outside of those living in the US, smile all that much.

“All systems green,” she said, her English without any accent and following the checklist that had been developed by NASA all decades ago. “Communication is go.”

Idly he wondered how she would do once they switched areas of responsibility. Once again a political decision. To prevent the other nations from getting more command experience in one area, the humans in the command crew would switch stations every six months to get some experience as well. He knew as a fact that everyone was writing down reports on their duties, ready to be used in teaching other command crews.

“Guidance.”

Oscar took a deep breath. Guidance was his resort for the next six months and he was determined to do a better job than the others. Just as they were determined to do a better job than him.

He looked at his displays for a few moments. All systems showed status green. The navigation systems were set to their destination. After their FTL transit they were going to return to normal space 6 AU from the star to account for galactic drift.

“All systems green,” he responded. “Course is set. Guidance is go.”

Turver nodded and turned to the next station.

“Life Support.”

Life Support was perhaps the most important station of the entire spacecraft. Without it the mission was a failure and everyone was going to die. At the moment it was under the supervision of Viktor Matveev, a Captain of the Soviet Air Force.

Surprisingly, Oscar got along with him quite nicely. Viktor was, while a rather convinced communist, largely unpolitical. He was also not quite following the stereotype most Americans had of Soviets or Russians. He didn’t like alcohol and while he liked a good laugh, he was more for the subtle humor and quite an optimist when it came to the future.

“All systems show green,” Viktor noted matter of factly. “Life Support is green.”

“Good. And we can always blame it on the Soviet if it turns out otherwise” Oscar added with a grin, trying to break the tense atmosphere, and then continued following Commander Turvers face to the next. At least it got a snort out of Viktor and a crack of a smile from Manuela.

“Payload.”

Payload was dealing with all the systems of the scientific payload, as well as the two Hawk spacecraft the Beagle was carrying for short ranged science missions. Dayaram Bandyopadhyay, a Captain of the Indian Air Force, was in control of that part of the payload right now.

Dayaram looked like he had stepped right off the set of a Bollywood movie. He had a build that made Oscar jealous and, while happily married, was the target of more than one woman in bars dirtside.

He was a nice guy and Oscar could get along with him.

“Hawks are secured. All deployables are secured. Scientific equipment secured. All systems show green. Payload is go.”

“Defense.”

That was something that didn’t sit too well with some part of the politicos back on Earth and the majority of the scientists. Weapons were not good for the image mankind would present if the Beagle managed to run into more aliens, they said.

Not to be able to defend themselves should the need arise was worse. Most of the crew was military personnel, and they rather had something to shoot back at any alien then be forced to run, Oscar included.

“All weapons are in safe mode,” Manuela Wegener, a Brazilian Air Force Captain said. “Nuclear devices are secured. All systems show green. Weapons is go.”

Oscar sighed again. Last thing they needed was a nuke exploding on transit.

“Engineering,” Turver continued and everyone turned towards the last station.

Alex Henri Fabien sat behind it, a Belgian Captain of EuroForce. This was what he was good at. Alex was an engineer and had been involved in the development of the Heim-Feynman Event Generator and only the head engineer knew it better.

This man was a workaholic and there was barely a moment where he didn’t find something to work on or things to look after. If he wasn’t in Control, he was in Engineering, trying to optimize the software or do other tweaks.

“Vibrations of the rings are within nominal parameters. Diversion in radial velocities lower than point zero zero zero rad per second. Magnetic fields stable.”

He rattled down a multitude of informations, most of which went straight over Oscars head.

Turver gave Fabien an annoyed look. Oscar could understand Turver’s annoyance. Fabien was a very annoying individual and got on everyones nerves. And Turver didn’t like the man at all…

“Go or no go,” he asked, just a hint of annoyance in his voice.

Fabien looked up in annoyance of his own.

“Engineering go,” he finally said and Turver nodded.

“Communication,” he continued a moment later. “Message to Earth. All systems are go. We will begin with the FTL transit in five minutes. Also request a command link from Pioneer for the duration of the transfer.”

Xun nodded and typed on her console. Oscar knew that she had already prepared both messages to Earth and the Pioneer and was now only sending them.

“Message sent,” she confirmed after a moment. “Pioneer has opened the command link. We are in control of Pioneer. All systems on Pioneer are go.”

“Very well,” Turver noted as he checked the security harness of his seat again and closed his eyes, most likely to send one last prayer to whatever god he believed in for protection from the human FTL core.

“Now then, let us bring yous species to the stars, shall we?” he said as he opened his eyes again.

Oscar closed his eyes for a moment as well, thinking of what would come next. The computer systems were responsible for the entire FTL transition and the only people who could stop it were Fabien and the head of engineering. Oscar himself could do little.

As he looked at his displays again he only confirmed that everything was green.

The minutes counting down to the FTL transit seemed to drag on for hours as the tension on Control rose.

“Ten,” Fabien finally began to count. “Nine.”

There was a whine that suddenly filled the air and Oscar looked up. Around him the others looked up as well. He had read the report of David Wilkins, the first human to do an FTL transit to the other side of the solar system. Wilkins had reported that the atmosphere had seemed to whine during just before the transition event and for a few seconds afterwards. However the microphones in the cabin hadn’t been able to record it.

No one, not even the Quetzal and Turukal, was exactly sure what the whine was, but it was there. As far as the aliens were concerned, it was a normal part of the operation of the FTL core.

“One.”

The next moment Oscar felt like he was ripped apart and spread into every part of the universe at once, while the whine turned into a loud rumbling noise that threatened to burst his eardrum.

It lasted only for a moment, before everything went back to normal. At least nearly so.

Oscar closed his eyes for a moment, before an eerie feeling of being watched made itself known. He looked around, with only Viktor giving him an inquisitive look after a moment.

Another moment later he felt like his shoulder was touched by a cold hand. His own hand shot up to his shoulder, feeling nothing. He looked around, but there was nothing.

Oscar closed his eyes again and breathed in deep.

Just a hallucination, he told himself. Just a product of his stress. Yes that was it. Only the stress.

He quickly shook his head and then grinned nervously.

“Proxima Centauri, here we come.”