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.