Category Archives: Seeing Further

Writing Fiction

Well… First things first.

I have just posted the entirety of Seeing Further content on this new page. At least the content that I still had readily available.

Thing is… the entire background info that used to be contained by the old web page is lost. I cannot recreate it and repost it here.

Still, have fun reading Seeing Further, the link to there is above.

On the other hand, I’ve been planning to rewrite Seeing Further for a while now and have some content for it, but work is slow and I will change a lot of thing around.

For example, there will be no Soviet Union will collapse like it did in our normal timeline. The last few years have shown that Russia and China are more than enough to replace the Soviets.

I will also take more time between the discovery on Mars, landing on Mars, finding the Quetzal and Europans and going FTL. For one, thanks to The Expanse series, I want to have at least a century that allows to have something of a distinct Belter culture and population and much more infrastructure in the Solar System.

Over time, I will post a few world building ideas here, while I play around with the new setting.

Unfortunate Realities

Unfortunate Realities about the Quetzal

by Rynem Thriem, March 22nd 2054,

With my recent appearance on CNNs Martin Sanchez Show and my resulting clash with Doctor Irene Cramer, I feel that I should talk about a number of unfortunate realities about my species. Most might have been supported by several of the other survivors, but as Doctor Cramer reminded me in her strange way, it is time that people recognize that those things are wrong and would hurt both us and human more than they actually help us.

Quetzal are an endangered species

We are not an endangered species. We never actually were.

Quite the opposite in fact.

You see, the Quetzal species has evolved from a r-selected species of omnivores. That means that we have a rather high number of offspring each time we mate. With each mating cycle a Quetzal can lay up to 50 eggs, with a high genetic diversity from the high number of matings during the mating season.

Even if currently about four of these offspring survive the first two years, this is still a high number even for a small community of Quetzal, allowing it to grow rapidly.

And taking a look at the current consensus (December 2053) of Quetzal will show everyone that we have gone from about ten thousand to nearly three million.

That is a population growth of 30000 percent in just about thirty years.

We certainly are not an endangered species by any means.

All Quetzal hatchlings need to survive

Here, we have multiple problems that play into this misconception, as my discussion, or rather screaming match, with Doctor Cramer showed, who was very, VERY insistent that all Quetzal hatchlings need to survive and that they should even be forced to survive.

That is a very bad idea for multiple reasons.

I would, again, like to note that we are not an endangered species.

If we were to be have fifty offspring of each mating cycle survive, for about half the Quetzal population and even taking in the maturity cycle, the Quetzal would simply outbreed humanity in less than 150 years. Not to mention that wars would break out long before that as food and water becomes scarce, mainly for humans, because the growing Quetzal population would inevitably contaminate water and food sources with arsenic and mercury, as well as simply eat it.

The quetzal would survive, but humanity would not, and that is by mere math.

Additionally the Quetzal are not humans.

We are genetically and psychologically incapable of really caring much for our extremely young offspring, outside of making sure that they are fed. This is a protective mechanism of evolution that prevents a parent from slipping into depression over the repeated deaths of their offspring during the first two years of their life. Only after these two years a loving parent-offspring bond, not unlike that between a human parent with his or her child will develop.

These hatchlings are also able to survive on their own, should the need arise. They are already capable of hunting and feeding themselves. In fact homes with the hatchlings are pretty clean when it comes to pest animals, because the hatchlings will hunt them down and eat them.

That leaves the question, why do so many of our offspring die during the first two years after hatching? Even with modern technology?

Again there are multiple reasons.

One is that the medical technology never much cared about finding way of making sure that more survive, due to the inability to really care much about our hatchlings. Without the need to protect them, like humans have, there is no need to find ways to have more survive.

The hatchlings are also in some times hunting and eating each other, particularly when they come over those hatchlings of another parent. In most cases, no one ever knows, just that there is one of the hatchlings missing. They are not very bright at that age and will get into situations that are going to kill them.

In some cases genetic differences, which are not very rare, will lead to the death of a hatchling.

I will of course note that the number of surviving hatchlings has risen from one or two per mating to as much as eight during the times before the Final War.

In the end life on Cterin has been very Darwinian. And we Quetzal are a product of that world.

Of course we also developed a number of additional ways to cope, or rather rationalize the high mortality rate of our hatchlings in our various religions.

One thing they all have in common is that the hatchlings that die or vanish, have their souls incompletely formed and are unable to fully live in the world.

But in the end it all comes down to one thing.

The Quetzal are not human, even if our two species share many things.

The Quetzal are a peaceful species

Please allow me to laugh very loudly at this.

The Quetzal as a whole are about as peaceful as humanity as a whole. In fact I believe that there has not ever been a time on Cterin where there hadn’t been any form of armed conflict between two or more groups, tribes or nations.

And it only got worse.

For the most part it can be traced back to the hatchling mortality rate. As history progressed the mortality rate went down, the population pressure went up. More land was needed to feed the populations and armed conflicts have always been a great way of population control.

Which brings me to the fact that there were never any semblance of ‘civilians’ among ud Quetzal when it came to war. Even the most peaceful of the Quetzal is always armed with very powerful natural weapons and will know how to use them. I don’t know any instance where the population of a town or city has NOT fought back against any invading force.

Everyone of us is a combatant in case of an armed conflict. One way or another.

The use of chemical and in some cases biological weapons was never a tabu like it is on Earth. The only real tabu have always been nuclear weapons, even if only because they would not only destroy the enemy, but also usable land and resource stocks.

In most cases conflicts have been small and waged over one and the same plot of land over centuries, with this land switching owners multiple times even just within a century.

And international politics have always been vicious, even more so than human international politics. I should know, I have been a part of it.

What you see today of the Quetzal are largely survivors who want to rebuild and young Quetzal who have assimilated almost completely into their new cultures and taking their values as their own.

Quetzal are more intelligent than humans

While there are some, who believe that, whether they are humans or Quetzal, it is not true at all.

Yes, technology advanced faster on Cterin than it did on Earth, but for the most part that comes down to population pressure and more people looking for solutions to problems.

One example is the use of oceanic habitats. We have developed the means and technology for building large ships and eventually floating cities in the Cterin equivalent of Roman times, simply to reduce population pressure and increase the availability of food sources.

By the time of the Final War, we had advanced to free floating cities with populations of several million.

The same can be seen in space flight. We advanced there even faster than humanity, simply because early on space was seen as a perfect way to reduce population pressure with settlements on other planets, moons and asteroids. With FTL we also had access to other solar systems and endless space to grow.

Of course there was always the population numbers to throw at problems. I won’t go into how many lives had been lost with the push into space.

Final Words

This is everything that I have to say for the moment about the unfortunate reality that several people in the human academica have to face. Something they cannot change at all, whether loud they scream and cry about it.

And there are those misanthropic people who put us on a pedestal. I have recently stumbled over works of fiction, where we are made out to be, the human word would be ‘Mary Sues’, who came to Earth with the best of intentions and aim to convert humans into perfect little Quetzal.

Just reading the summary of these works made me feel sick.

EDIT (March 25th, 2054):

It appears that I have been killed off as traitor to the Quetzal in one of the earlier mentioned pieces of fiction. A very interesting development.

The need to survive and population control

by Rynem Thriem, March 29nd 2054,

After reading the comments on my post ‘Unfortunate Realities about the Quetzal’ from a few days ago, I have decided to talk about a few things.

In my previous post I have already noted that population control has always been a problem for the Quetzal.

One of the classic methods was to go to war and draft large numbers of the population as warriors and send them against the enemy, which also had the side effect that cities of the enemy were depopulated and used to house the own excess population.

In the really old days eggs would be destroyed rather than be allowed to hatch, when the population pressure was high enough and there was no enemy to wage war against handy. Or expeditions were sent out to far away lands to colonize them in force.

Another was the use of herbs that suppressed the hormonal cascade that preceded the mating season, as well as the permanent chirurgical removal of glands that induced the hormonal cascade. With the raise of modern medicine a number of pharmaceutical companies made a killing by selling drugs that had the same effect as the herbs, but weren’t limited in numbers.

Of course there were also other drugs, like those that would ensure that all eggs of a clutch would not hatch.

Now as the number of Quetzal on Earth has grown to over three million already, the old problem of population pressure and population control raises its ugly head yet again.

Right as I write this down, a number of companies, such a Bayer and Pfizer, are working on producing several drugs to allow us Quetzal the choice of whether we want to have a clutch of offspring or not.

And those drugs will not be the only thing to use to control our own population.

There is more than enough space for a large number of Quetzal in space. Currently there are talks with several asteroid mining companies to support us with the construction of asteroid habitats, as well as settlements on the Moon, Mars and Callisto. Another potential target for Quetzal populations are Alden in Proxima Centauri, a water world with a breathable atmosphere where we can work on our experience with building floating cities to live on. A second planet that might be suited for colonization is Wunderland orbiting Beta Centauri, which is a warm mars like world.

Of course Eridu is the best real estate we can use.

However, not everyone can be moved to potential settlements in space and the population pressure remains.

I can already hear the comments regarding that it’s impossible to force everyone to take the drugs, or remove their glands, to ensure that they don’t get offspring. There might even be comments about the failed One Child policy of the People’s Republic of China.

Those comments are all based around the misconception that Quetzal are funny shaped humans.

And I cannot stress it enough, Quetzal are not human. We have many things in common, but we are still different. No amount of comments, wishful thinking or even ‘scientific papers’ (Yes, those exist) can disprove that fact.

And here I want to shock several the people who write those comments or ‘papers’.

As a whole we Quetzal will be perfectly fine with voluntarily taking those drugs or remove those glands, if it means that our species survives in the long run. It is not even a psychological thing, but a remnant of our primitive ancestors instincts.

You see, we Quetzal as a species and as individuals are survivors. We will survive many things. But there are ‘levels of survival’.

The first level of course is the personal survival, which goes without saying.

The second level is the survival of the family, of the lineage, of the genetics of a Quetzal. Any Quetzal will gladly give their health or even their very lives to make sure that the family survives in the long term. You won’t even find any Quetzal think much about it, they will just do it.

On the third level we have the survival of larger social structures, be it a clan, a tribe, a city or a nation. All members of a family will lay down their lives to ensure the survival of those large social structures. It is part of the reason why there is no such thing as a civilian among Quetzal. We all will fight to protect our city or our nation.

On the final level is the survival of the species. When it concerns the survival of the Quetzal as a species, any individual Quetzal will do what is necessary to allow the species to survive. Again, it’s not even thought that enters into the equation, as its mostly instinct that drives us there.

Of course survival does not always mean that we are going to fight. At times fleeing is just as good as fighting.

In the end the Final Battle was something of a distraction so that a few fleets of ships could flee, with the Enemy not following them, to ensure the survival of our species.

Now, here on Earth, our long term survival is, to a degree, in jeopardy again, by population pressure and the potential of a war for this planet’s resources. If we don not control our own population.

So every Quetzal who is asked will take drugs or have a gland removed.

No question about it.

Scientific and other Discoveries

While the internationally financed Beagle Program was ongoing and returned valuable scientific information to Earth, public interest in the program and the journeys of the Beagle had vaned since its maiden journey and the survey of the closest stars. This reduced public interest resulted in a reduced interest of the international partners in the program as well. The results however were valuable and had resulted in the discovery of the survivors at 61 Virginis and of a habitable planet and the funding nations didn’t want to defund the program either, especially since Beagle was equipped with the scientific instruments that military craft didn’t carry.

As such the Beagle Program, too important to simply defund, but too uninteresting to keep funding in an independent international program, was in desperate need of a solution. Handing it over to one of the Great Powers would only lead to problems with the other Powers, so the only usable solution was to hand it over to the United Nations in exchange for additional funding.

The switch to the United Nations in 2057 didn’t only mean a new owner for the Beagle, but also the integration of the Beagle Program into the newly founded United Nations Institute for the Exploration of Outer Space, UNIEOS. UNIEOS was under the joint administration and funding of the UNOOSA and the UNESCO. The UNESCO provided the scientific crew and the scientific systems, while the UNOOSA was responsible for the flight crew and engineering support.

This joint funding, as well as the ability to source equipment and crew through UNOOSA and the UNESCO, allowed the UNIEOS to expand it operations. Where its sole aim in the beginning was to operate the Beagle, the Institute ordered three additional Beagle class exploration spacecraft by 2060, as well as a small number of smaller Light Courier Craft that were turned into small scientific platforms to be carried by a Beagle class. The Beagle class differed from a conventional MMUS by having additional tankage for coolant, as well as several jettisonable lithium heatsinks.

The three new Beagle class craft were all named after ships in the Age of Discovery, Santa Maria, after the flagship of Christopher Columbus, Victoria, the only ship to return from the world circumvention of Ferdinand Magellan, and Halve Maen, a Dutch ship that had searched for a Northwest Passage in 1609 through the Hudson river.

While Beagle went into dock for a refit to more modern technology and systems to allow a docking of two Light Science Craft, the three new craft went to their more simple first missions.

Santa Maria moved to Proxima Centauri to take a look at the Polyphemian world Alden, a life bearing ‘Eyeball Earth’ covered by ice, ocean and a massive storm.

Victoria‘s mission was to Niniveh, the sole planet of the red dwarf Luyten 726-8 A. Beagle had detected life within the atmosphere of the temperate gas giant, as its atmosphere was warm enough to allow water clouds to form. The algaes and insect like life was expected to shed light in the formation of life itself.

Halve Maen on the other hand, didn’t really leave the Solar System at all. Fitted with a massive extendable zero-g mirror of three hundred meters, the craft only went to the outer edge of the solar system to a distance of about 550 AU from the Sun. This allowed to use the gravity lensing effect with the Sun, allowing unprecedented optical observations of extrasolar planets without the need to send a spacecraft there.

The FOCAL named mission of Halve Maen had been on the mind of astronomers for nearly half a century in one way or another, though mostly the mission had been to send a satellite out to take readings, but only towards specific targets with the gravity lens of the Sun. With an FTL spacecraft on the other hand it was much easier to move from place to place and take observations of more stars and their planets.

The first target of the FOCAL mission was Eta Cassiopeiae, a double star system of a G and a K class stars not even twenty light years away from Earth. As both stars had a habitable zone comparable to that of the Sun, it was thought that it could harbour multiple planets bearing life.

Within three months, Halve Maen had discovered two planets with an oxygen atmosphere with its FOCAL telescope. One planet was a Super Earth six times the mass of Earth with visibly active vulcanism all over the planet orbiting A component of Eta Cassiopeiae, while the second was a two Earth masses sized world in an ice age orbiting the B component.

Some of the information from the mission was transmitted back to Earth, using the FOCAL telescope as a radio dish, allowing Earthbound astronomers to work on the data. The two discovered planets quickly turned into targets for exploration.

Halve Maen returned to Earth after nine month of jumping around in the outer solar system, taking a look at other planetary systems, though none of the observed systems did, on the first glance, contain any signs of life. Following the first FOCAL mission, Halve Maen and Beagle, which had finished its refitting, were equipped for a dual exploratory mission to Eta Cassiopeiae. Each was to enter orbit around one of the planets and explore it for life as well as the potential for settlement.

With just under twenty light years distance, the enlarged heat capacity of the two spacecraft allowed the journey with a single Heim-Feynman Space transit. By September 2061 the two spacecraft left the solar system towards Eta Cassiopeiae, leaving Heim-Feynman Space half a light year distant to take first close up reading of the system. With no radio signals detectable, the two spacecraft split up, Halve Maen moved towards Eta Cassiopeiae Ac, named Phineus, while Beagle approached Eta Cassiopeiae Bb, called Carme.

The discoveries made by both spacecraft were not expected.

As Beagle approached Carme, the sensors detected a number of weak radio signals coming from orbit, from which eventually turned out to be almost derelict artificial satellites. There were no signal from the ground however and after entering orbit, the telescopes of Beagle detected telltale crafters of high yield nuclear weapons, which had exploded as ground bursts.

Some of the orbital debris was taken in by Beagle and analyzed. The satellites turned out to have been primarily communication satellites, with some having quite large antennas for long distances, most likely enabling to talk to Phineus.

One of the lander probes from Beagle landed inside one of the destroyed places, returning images of destroyed buildings and levels of radiation that were deadly for humans within ten hours. Landers to other locations, like grassy plains, showed normal levels of radiation. One of the manned landing missions landed in one of the not irradiated areas, taking biological samples.

For Halve Maen orbiting Phineus was even worse. The masses of orbital debris and artificial satellites in orbit of the planet was even larger, rivaling the ring of debris orbiting Earth in volume. Halve Maen even detected a number of damaged and destroyed orbital stations.

The surface and atmosphere of Phineus could only be described to be close to the classical imagery of Hell. Geologically extremely active planet produced a high amount of volcanic gasses and the Sulfur Dioxide was making up nearly two percent. Worse however was the stifling heat and only the pressure of the atmosphere and the gravity, twice as high as that of Earth, kept the water from simply evaporating very quickly.

It was hard to imagine that such a planet could harbour life at all.

Yet it was there and at one time had been intelligent. Only to be destroyed by what appeared to be sustained nuclear bombardment of any major and minor population center. To make matters worse the crew of Halve Maen counted no less than ten Chicxulub sized craters that were extremely recent, indicating the use of large asteroids to completely destroy the intelligent life of Phineus.

Halve Maen didn’t attempt a manned landing and only sent its unmanned probes down, documenting the destruction and the remains of the civilization that had been destroyed here.

Both Beagle and Halve Maen returned to Earth in August 2062, the crews showing signs of depression over their discoveries. In depth analysis of recovered technology later showed that the civilization of Phineus apparently had colonized Carme, before it had been destroyed about a hundred fifty years ago.

This recent destruction of the alien civilization just twenty light years away reignited the fear of The Enemy for the Great Powers.

Yet, with the loss of an unknown civilization, a new form of intelligence was discovered closer to home.

In the late 2040s more and more agent based software systems had shown emergent behaviours, optimizing processes of all kind. Tightly observed by controllers most of these systems remained on the state of simple emergent systems, utilizing these optimizations, while preventing the potential further.

The tightly observed systems were all based on Earth however, with the most prominent examples being the Googleplex server farms as well as the Soviet Prirost system. Others were situated far away from the real time access of administrators and computer scientists, running the resource extraction systems of the many automated asteroid mines.

The long distance made any form of access to prevent the development of fully emergent systems uneconomic for the corporations, though they were still under observation. This allowed to pinpoint the time when each system reached full emergence into full sapience and sentience.

The forms of intelligence that awoke were unlike the more human intelligences of the known alien species, fully dependent on the type of situation they emerged from. Thankfully in all cases these intelligences were, for the moment, satisfied with their current situation. The asteroid mining corporations that owned the automated mines however were not very enthusiastic about these AIs, concerned about the legal implications, especially since the only two, or rather three, previously known AIs of Quetzal origin were essentially given basic sophont rights and technical ownership of their hardware and software.

On the other hand the AIs were presenting an economic benefit simply through the optimized processes, resulting in a higher yield for a lower input. In most cases the output had nearly doubled and any replacement of the AI with a conventional system would result in its loss.

While some groups called for the immediate destruction of these AIs, the purely pragmatic decision was to keep these AIs active, but continue to closely observed them, so that any potential problems with rogue AIs could be prevented. On the other hand a number of xeno psychologists found employment with the corporations, to build up an understanding of these completely alien intelligences to keep them on their good side.

Down on Earth, these emergences of AIs from complex software lead to controlled experiments, where it was tried to develop AIs through similar means.

Intra-Extra Solar Plans

Shortly after the Llighaqua Mission had left the Solar System, Beagle had returned, carrying a wealth of information on the habitable planet the spacecraft had discovered in the Epsilon Eridani system. Named Eridu, this planet massed 1.33 times of Earth and had about 1.2 times of its gravity.

Most of the planets just 17 percent landmass was made up by three small continents and a larger number of island chains of various sizes, most of which were the tops of the only large mountain chains the planet had. The tallest peak of the planet was merely 1265 meters in height, measured by two of the radar mapping satellites carried by Beagle.

The equatorial continent was named Alulim, the northern continent Jushur and the narrow north-to-south continent Etana, using the names of ancient Sumerian kings, as were the larger islands and island chains.

As the planet was along the inner third of Epsilon Eridanis habitable zone and the amount of water in the atmosphere, the average temperature was about 23 degrees, making the majority of the landmass being covered by lush dschungels and forests, while the lack of large mountain ranges meant that it lacked anything like central continental climates like found in the American Middle West. An axial tilt of just 9 degree resulted in less developed seasons.

While most of the observations of the planet had been made from orbit and through teleoperated landers, two manned expeditions to the planet’s surface had been made, allowing xenobiologists and geologists to take a closer look of their own.

As expected there was little chance of cross-infection with native bacteria and viruses, even though the ecology of Eridu was based on the same proteins and genetic bases as Earth life. However it was discovered that a few plants and maybe animals might be digestible by humans, just as a few other native animals might be useful as work animals for potential first settlers.

With the return of Beagle, talks about settling the planet began, culminating in the United Nations Summit on Extrasolar Settlements in 2057. During this summit the Great Powers tried their best to carve up the planet, much like the colonial powers of old had done to Asia and Africa nearly two centuries ago. Many of the nations that used to be colonies however were successful to interfered here. Partly this was due to bad memories, partly by wanting their own piece of the cake.

The Summit ended with the Eridu Treaty, which allowed the signatory nations to lay claim on an area of land not more than 2500 square kilometers for the first ten years, before being allowed to grow their claimed areas within limits that still had to be set. Additionally claimed areas also would need to have a direct connection to the originally claimed area. The Eridu Treaty would extend to other habitable planets, as well as uninhabitable planets and dwarf planets and be valid for fifty years before being renegotiated.

Corporations and private missions were also allowed to claim areas, however they were limited to merely ten square kilometers. Unclaimed areas were free to be used for building traffic infrastructure as well as being explored by scientific missions.

As the Eridu Treaty was limited to extrasolar claims, the situation in the Solar System didn’t change at all.

Backed by the Eridu Treaty, the Great Powers made use of the scientific data from Beagle to select the best places for their initial settlements and lay out plans to set them up.

The first to launch missions to claim and colonize parts of Eridu were China and the Soviet Union, having already used their extensive propaganda machinery to turn extrasolar colonies into the new places to be, resulting in a larger pool of volunteers. So shortly after the Eridu Treaty was signed, both nations had already build up the first settlement expeditions and were ready to go.

Both expeditions set out from SEL 1 on September 15, 2057, a month after the end of the Summit. They were loaded with construction material, transportation, food stocks and other materials to build up basic infrastructures, allowing a very limited autarky for the new settlements. Additionally they carried materials for basic transit space stations and defenses, just in case.

While the Soviet mission, claiming the isthmus area on Etana, had an initial population of 500 settlers, carefully screened for their ideological purity, the Chinese sent out no less than 1500, some of whom were just wanting to get as far from the thumb of Beijing as possible, settling down around a bay on the east coast of Alulim.

Other nations were to follow during the 2060s, with the United States and EU establishing their settlements with a relatively low number of around 300 settlers on the east and west coast of Badum.

While the first settlements were established on Eridu, commercial interests were already established in Proxima Centauri, Barnard’s Star and Luhmann 16, after Planetary Mining & Manufacturing and Orbital Industries, among others, purchased or build their first FTL capable craft. The first craft were survey craft based on the MMLS hull, followed by MMHS based industrial craft, first scouting out interesting asteroids and establishing mines.

Of course this raised the question whether or not these extra solar mines were cost effective or even needed, considering the large amount of minable asteroids back home. To a small degree the mining companies were granted tax cuts to help create claims for their home nations, potentially allowing them to claim parts of the systems. Another was to give the incentive to create smaller forms of the Waypoint Depot, allowing future patrols to protect these claims.

Back in the Solar system the mining companies continued to expand their infrastructure feeding the continuously growing orbital industries in cislunar space. There was a drop in the prices for platinum group metals in the late 2050s when Lunar Surface Mining LLC began to look at impact craters on the lunar surface for the asteroids that impacted there, showing closer targets for these metals than the Near Earth Objects used by various other mining companies.

This valuable discovery lead to the development of semi-permanent redeployable habitats for the technicians and engineers tasked with supervising the mining systems. While designs varied, they generally followed the basic structure of the German antarctic station Neumayer-Station III or the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, though with integrated propulsion systems, such as continuous tracks and/or cryogenic thrusters.

With additional sites for Helium 3 mines on the lunar surface the population of the Moon, whether permanent or temporary increased by several thousand.

The rather cost intensive mining of lunar Helium 3 however had already lead to the development of other means of mining the valuable gas. The Neptune Gas Mining Corporation was formed by several EU and US companies as a joint venture and using the Turukal Gas Giant mine began to develop their own gas mining system to be used in the upper atmosphere of Neptune.

This first Gas Mine was a close copy of the multiple piece Turukal system. An Orbital station was designed to house large tanks and docking ports for tankers, as well as habitation for technicians and engineers. It was then connected through a long tether wo the main scoop collected the atmospheric gas of Neptune, where it was collected and separated to extract the Helium 3.

The main scoop also collected some Deuterium to feed its integrated fusion reactor, which also powered the orbital station as the heat management for the reactor was more effective in the gas giant’s atmosphere. Additionally the current running through the tether interacted with Neptunes magnetosphere, providing a propulsive force to counteract the atmospheric drag. To transfer the mined gas to the orbital station, a climber was attached to the tether, running up and down along its length to carry the mined liquified gas into orbit.

Operation of the Nereid Gas Mine began in December 2061 and it was served by three FTL equipped MMUS based tanker craft.

Only three month later the cost of Helium 3 dropped significantly, though not thanks to the Nereid Gas Mine, but through the arrival of two FTL spacecraft from 61 Virginis, carrying a few enterprising Untiph-bel entrepreneurs as well as ten thousand tonnes of Helium 3. This amount alone was several times the 2061 production of Helium 3. Their arrival not only crashed the cost of Helium 3, but also provided a big problem, as there was the need to work out how to pay for the the liquified gas necessary for fusion reactors.

The Untiph-bel were using an energy backed monetary system, with its smallest unit being equal to 0.764 Joules. To make things more complicated to find a conversation was the use of kilograms for of liquid Helium 3 being used as monetary units in itself. Eventually however a conversation was found, going back to an oddity of the Quetzal biology, which made crude oil a delicacy. As the Untiph-bel, other than the survivors, had never tasted crude oil, they were very interested in purchasing it to be sold back home. In the end fifty thousand barrel of crude oil were used by various groups to purchase the ten thousand tonnes of Helium 3, as well as 500 million Euros and US Dollar for any future dealings in Swiss company accounts.

There were some fears that this relative low cost of the Helium 3 was going to make Earth dependent on the 61 Virginis Helium 3, but those fears were slowly put to rest. With the Nereid Gas Mine active, with a projected yield of 1000 tonnes of Helium 3 per year, six similar sized mines in various stages of construction and larger mines planned for Neptune and Uranus, eventually Earth might be able to compete with the Untiph-bel.

To make things even more interesting, Sol was almost in a straight line between 61 Virginis and Beta Hydrii, making it a prime spot to take on supplies for any spacecraft of the Untiph-bel and the Tiaunt. It became clear when the two tankers that had visited Sol in early 2062 made their way towards Beta Hydrii in late 2062, selling off a thousand tonnes of Helium 3 on the way. They later returned through Sol, carrying fourty thousand barrels of Jerat crude oil.

Outside of this small economic boom in the outer parts of the solar system, Mars remained a boom town as well. The Aldrin Cyclers of the Mars Society were continuously enlarged to cope with the growing number of settlers moving to Mars, making use of the low cost service. By 2060 the amount of incoming settler, either by Cycler or powered spacecraft, exceeded the capacity of the existing gateway stations in Mars orbit.

To take care of this problem the Mars Society suggested a base on Deimos to take care of the international traffic, operated by the UNOOSA to safeguard the fair use of the station. The Mars Society even went as far as offering their own Mayflower Station as the core for the new Port Deimos.

While the UNOOSA was interested in the idea, Port Deimos could only be set up in 2063, following negotiations with both China and India, since both nations had only recently enlarged their own traffic control stations. Rather than using the Mayflower Station as a core however the UNOOSA used the Waypoint Station design already used several times, since it could easily be extended and was intended to be anchored to an asteroid from the ground up, making use of modular systems that were already produced and didn’t need work to be make compatible with the Mars Society systems.

Closer towards the Sun, the Soviets intensified their scientific work on Venus. While their decades long work on the Veneran derelict still didn’t yield any significant advances in science outside of a few metallurgic advances, their interest in Venus itself had slowly returned.

Over the past decade the Soviet Academy of Sciences has developed a manned mission to Venus. Rather than landing on the planet however, the plan was to use a special inflatable airship to cruise through the upper atmosphere of Venus for about a year to get more information about the atmospheric currents as well as testing technologies that might be useful for the potential colonization of the veneran upper atmosphere.

With the new developments everywhere in the solar system there was a need for high speed courier craft, to transport large amounts of data that couldn’t be transmitted with conventional radio or laser communication systems, either because they needed to be encrypted or were simply too large to be easily transmitted. Such a craft was quickly developed and based on the Unmanned Combat Drone design, by more or less simply replacing the weapons payload with a habitat for a crew.

This new Light Courier Craft was quickly put into service and saw its first use in cislunar space, ferrying important people around, before it was used for scientific missions within the solar system. It could also be carried by a larger FTL spacecraft to act as a light scientific craft or a light scout.

Military Situation

By 2057 the diplomatic contact with the United Colonies and the Emkin Assembly in 61 Virginis had become relatively good and the great powers of Earth inquired through the United Nations about the possibility of sending observers. This was to take a closer look at how the Untiph-bel waged war.

Most of Earth’s militaries saw the Untiph-bel as being much more experienced in matter of space war than themselves or even the Quetzal that had made it into the Sol system. About Two thousand years of experience wasn’t something that should be ignored. Additionally, if it ever came to it, it would allow to try and develop countermeasures against Untiph-bel tactics.

During these observations it became clear that the Untiph-bel largely preferred to use missiles for long range engagements with each other. This was largely due to the long detection ranges that came with the long distances between nations and even habitated celestial objects. Only the spacecraft equipped with the newly rediscovered Quetzal Heim-Feynman Event Generators they were able to get into close fighting ranges quickly, using lasers and kinetic energy weapons.

With missile combat being preferred, several kinds of missile warheads were observed. One of the most common were kinetic warheads that all but covered the target with ball bearing sized ‘grapeshot’, spreading the damage over a larger area. A larger version of these warheads spread small chemical explosives over a larger area that exploded just after impact. Nuclear warheads were not as spread as first thought, where human spacecraft were solely equipped with nuclear weapons.

The use of small ‘counter missiles’ to intercept large missiles over a longer distance was one of the reasons why the large monolithic nuclear warheads had fallen out of favor as the kinetic impactors and ‘grapeshot’ of the counter missiles could intercept about forty to sixty percent of missiles before the terminal approach phases.

Reports on the tactics and weapons used were well received across the globe and sparked off the development of several new missile systems. Due to the modular nature of the commonly used spacecraft, those missiles, while domestic developments, were modular and could be used across all combat spacecraft of Earth.

One of the missile systems was the long range missile, based around the various designs for ground-to-orbit missiles, like the American ESM-12 Trembler with a Delta-V of nearly ten thousand meters per second. Additionally longer ranged missiles with gaseous fission thrusters and experimental fusion thrusters were under development. Each could be equipped with one of several warhead variants. One was a conventional high yield nuclear warhead of 500 kt, while a second was a MIRV nuclear warhead with up to ten independent terminal guidance and a low yield of 10 to 20 kt.

A third warhead was the Shattershot warhead that could be described as an improvement of the Untiph-bel designs. Rather than carrying a mass of ball bearing sized kinetic impactors, the Scattershot was designed around the same principle as cluster munitions. Each warhead was essentially a bus that carried about a hundred soda can sized submunitions equipped with simple sensors, hydrazine reaction controls and guidance systems that communicated with each other and the bus.

The bus dispersed the submunitions with simple springs before the terminal phase, during which each submunition could independently maneuver. Before the actual impact a small explosive charge exploded releasing the actual warhead, a pre fragmented block of tungsten carbide or depleted uranium. The bus itself acted as active electronic countermeasure for the submunitions, pretending to be a conventional warhead with terminal guidance.

The second missile system was a counter missile system that, equipped with a smaller version of the Scattershot warhead, could be used to intercept an opponent’s missile before it entered the terminal guidance phase. In a pinch it could also be used as anti-spacecraft missile.

The Scattershot missile warhead also lead to the development of similar munition for the large 155 mm and 406 mm rail guns.

With the observation of space warfare also came limited observations concerning infantry combat, when it came to infantry assaults on asteroid mines and habitats of the Holy Hegemony of Lerr.

Conventional infantry was equipped with armored space suits and an interesting mix of weapons. Most of these weapons were short ranged shotgun like flechette weapons, as well as handheld short range particle weapons.

The flechette weapons were specially designed that they would be stuck in the walls of a pressure vessel, like the living area of a space station, to minimize atmospheric losses. The particle weapons were primarily used against armored targets to deliver an electric charge that could destroy even hardened electronics, but where notoriously short ranged and prone to emitting ionizing radiation if not properly taken care of.

It was of an interesting note that the Untiph-bel had developed a form of armored fighting vehicle that could be used inside and outside of asteroid habitats and mines, using a design similar to the old Soviet TKS spacecraft, armed with a number of flechette guns, particle weapons and a limited number of explosive tipped missiles.

These observations lead to the development of a series of new Personal Protective Armors specially for the use in microgravity and vacuum environments. In most cases this merely necessitated to add a mechanical counter pressure suit into an existing PPA design, but this was considered to be a stopgap measure until an actual space PPA could be developed.

Still, it was expected that these PPA would do reasonably well against flechette weapons, even if they were vulnerable to particle weapons.

While flechette weapons were already considered for space borne infantry, particle beam weapons were a new field of development for personal weapons. The first prototypes were short ranged weapons based on conventional linear accelerators that were unable to reach the energy levels observed with Untiph-bel weapons. Later prototypes utilizing Wakefield accelerator designs were able to reach up to 1 GeV.

Similar observations on weapons and tactics utilized by the Tiaunt allowed the first comparison to military force that was planetbound like most Earth militaries.

For the most part the tactics used by the Tiaunt were comparable to those on Earth, though the Tiaunt were more in favor of fighting at a distance. Only rarely a Tiaunt would favor close quarters combat situations. This was largely based on their biological development and their ‘build in’ biochemical lasers.

The biochemical nature of these lasers also allowed them to develop a working understanding of optics and lasers early in their technological development, making them masters of optics by the time the Quetzal had found them. The fall and rise of their civilization had done little to reduce this knowledge.

Compared to the lasers available to the Tiaunt, ballistic and kinetic weapons were less developed and handily surpassed by both humans and Untiph-bel.

Where humanity was using coil-assisted liquid propellant kinetic weapons for armored fighting vehicles, the Tiaunt were still using solid propellants without kinetic boosters.

The relative lack of room and high temperature superconducting materials also limited Tiaunt capabilities, as their vehicles were dependent on petrochemical engines or even, though highly advanced, steam turbines. Comparable human vehicles were long since using an all-electric drivetrain with superconducting batteries for power, easily rechargeable in the field by a trailer sized compact fusion reactor.

New designs however were making use of new developments, and the Soviet Union was the first to field a tank armed with a particle beam weapon, where China was the first to use a high powered laser.

Another area of development where the Tiaunt were superior to Earth and the Untiph-bel was protection. While their actual armor used on their spacecraft was comparable to those of mankind and the Untiph-bel, the Tiaunt had managed to developed what could be called force field technology.

This force field technology was actually just a trinary application of the Tiaunt Heim-Feynman Event Generator, using the strong magnetic field produced by the rotating superconductors to create something of a mini-magnetosphere around a spacecraft, capable of deflecting charged particles and even larger metal objects to a certain degree. Additionally some ionizing radiation could be deflected as well, by injecting an ionized gas into the field, creating a thin plasma.

Theories of this technology had existed for a while on Earth, but had not been implemented due to various reasons, like that it had sounded too fantastic to exist, or that the Quetzal had not developed it themselves. Now however the development and use of this technology, combined with the potential of influencing missile warheads as well, received a higher priority. Until the system could be integrated into the next generation of the Heim-Feynman Event Generator, a simple software patch and an external plasma injection module had to suffice, with a higher use of power by the Heim-Feynman Event Generator itself.

New Situation

With the diplomatic talks between the extrasolar aliens on Junctio Station from late 2055 to early 2056 going relatively well, aside from a few problems between the by now three major sub-phenotypes of the Quetzal species, the Great Powers of Earth began to plan for the future.

With both the Untiph-bel diplomats and the Tiaunt representing multiple nations on their own, it became clear that it would be for the best if the nations of Earth would speak with a single voice. At the time the diplomatic talks and missions at Junctio were a rather haphazard affair where some of the diplomats were unwillingly working against each other at times. It was generally accepted that it needed to change and that the United Nations had be best experience when it came to trying to get opposing viewpoints together when it came to international politics and the vast majority of UN agencies were relatively effective in what they were doing.

So the formation of a United Nations Diplomatic Service seemed like a good idea, though it had its problems. The Great Powers as well as the Local Powers worked hard to take a s much influence on the UNDS as they could, while the few diplomats of the UNDS tried to shield themselves from these influences. Another problem was the vast distances between systems, and informations would need to be carried via FTL spacecraft, which necessitated a rather classic approach to diplomacy that hadn’t been used since the mid to late 19th century, giving diplomats something of a free hand to deal with other nations.

One of the first things the UN Diplomatic Service had on the table was to organize a human embassy to the Untiph-bel in 61 Virginis. The decision to purchase or rent space in the United Colonies came rather easily, as they were the most stable of nations and the best protected in case of a conflict between the Untiph-bel nations. To foster good relations a number of jobs, such as low-security secretaries, would be given to locals, while the most security intense jobs, were handled by humans and three ‘classic’ Quetzal.

To facilitate communication to Earth, two MMLS would be stationed in 61 Virginis and two more at Amundsen Depot, allowing for important information to be passed relatively quick. The MMLS were also sufficient to transport supplies to the 61 Virginis embassy every two or three month. When asked about this setup, the UNOOSA, the operator of Amundsen, noted that for now the depot was of a sufficient size for this operation. Additionally, the transport capacity of the MMLS would be enough to carry the supplies for the initial embassy as well, keeping the embassy small in size and further fostering good relations.

To get the MMLS for the embassy mission was a bit of a problem however as none of the space powers really wanted to part with one of the spacecraft. In the end however the UN Diplomatic Service was able to get the help of the smaller and more recent space powers, like Iran or South Africa. Neither of these nations wanted to lose their FTL spacecraft in a fight, largely due to the cost involved in building them and training their crews. The diplomatic mission was in this regard perfect and would have result in some diplomatic goodwill with the United Nations in this regard.

So the IRIS Alvant and IRIS Jamaran of the Islamic Republic of Iran Space Force, SAS Nelson Mandela and SAS Mendi of the South African Space Service were freed up for use as diplomatic carriers and transports and the embassy mission left towards 61 Virginis in March 2056, carrying ten human and three Quetzal diplomats, as well as half of the Untiph-bel diplomats.

The governments of the United Colonies and Emkin Assembly were positively surprised about the fast results they got, mostly used to the slow and long process of diplomacy within their system, where normal talks could last for decades. For the human diplomats it was rather easy to find a place to rent to set up the embassy and within a month the embassy opened up near the governmental quarter of Umen-Athmorom the capital city of the United Colonies.

Most of the initial work done by the diplomats was to strengthen the links that had been established by the Llighaqua Mission. Another part was to try and establish some form of trade with 61 Virginis. So far the Untiph-bel merely showed interest in crops that have been lost with the destruction of Cterin and had survived with the Quetzal on Earth. Another problem was currency exchange, as most Untiph-bel currencies were based on the value of Helium-3, as it was needed for the production of energy that kept everyone alive, or the value of energy, which made a currency exchange something of a problem.

Around the same time the United Colonies and the Emkin Assembly were testing their own Heim-Feynman Event Generators, based on the FTL systems of Petan, who was undergoing extensive repairs in one of the Emkin Assemblies shipyards, as well as undergoing psychological treatment. The main focus for the moment however was to install the FTL systems on combat spacecraft and use it to strike at the Holy Hegemony of Lerr, who would be unprepared for this paradigm shift of warfare in 61 Virginis.

The second First Contact with the Tiaunt and the Rak’ris’ayc was coming along rather well. They were, much like humanity and the Untiph-bel, split up in a number of independent nations, some of which had the status of a great power, like the Empire of Jerat, the United Republics of Aldange or the Verad Alliance. The Rak’ris’ayc had a nation of their own, the End’mor Freehold, situated on a large island and under the nominal protection of the Empire of Jerat.

A long duration diplomatic mission like to 61 Virginis was harder to realize. There was little in the way of pre existing infrastructure, like a Waypoint Depot, that could be used to shorten communication time and provide a stopover for spacecraft going the Tiaunt home system Beta Hydri. The Tiaunt also resided on their original homeworld, Jerat, which was situated deep in the gravity well of Beta Hydri, which necessitated several month of travel time to get deep into the system, while outgoing travel could be realized with the help of the Jerat-Beta Hydri Libration Point 1.

Some information was traded in with the Tiaunt, noting that they had used Epsilon Indi as stopover station and, much like the Llighaqua Mission, set up a small depot in the system. However, the Great Powers of Earth felt better if they had their own Waypoint Depot, considering that the Tiaunt would be able to control traffic within certain boundaries. Additionally an Earth controlled Waypoint Depot would allow for advanced warning, should one or more of the Tiaunt nations become hostile and send a fleet of spacecraft towards Earth.

Therefore the UNOOSA was asked to set up a Waypoint Depot at Epsilon Indi, as they had done within the Llighaqua Mission at Wolf 424, named Scott Depot.

This allowed to develop plans for the initial diplomatic mission to Jerat. Aside from the from a pair of MMLS, which would be stationed at Jerat, two MMUS would accompany the mission, carrying four SSTO spaceplanes as well as some cargo that might be of interest of the Tiaunt. The UN itself would be represented by a dozen human diplomats as well as a trio of Quetzal and two Turukal.

The Beta Hydri diplomatic mission left in May 2056, accompanying the Tiaunt on their way home. The stopover at Epsilon Indi happened without any incident and the new Scott Depot was constructed on an asteroid about a million kilometers away from the Tiaunt depot, while the mission itself left for Beta Hydri.

The reception at Beta Hydri was overwhelmingly good, though there were voices that called for a war against humanity, just to make sure that Jerat wasn’t attacked first, mirroring similar sentiments on Earth. While one of the MMLS, EAFC Harambee, remained at the Feynman Limit, the remaining three craft, the MMLS GSF Timbuktu and the MMUS HMAS Anzac and HMCS Haida, began their transfer into system towards Jerat, where they arrived in November 2056. The transfer allowed the diplomats to set up something of a tour through the major nations of Jerat, beginning with the Verat Alliance.

During the tour, the UN diplomats were shown a number of old sites of great importance, including one of the largest ruin sites of the planet. Ridale Diar had, with a population of twenty million, been the largest city on Jerat before the nuclear war and hit by no less than three dozen high yield thermonuclear devices. This had left parts of the city still too hot with radiation for visiting, while most of the rest allowed at least visitation. It was of interest however that, other than in movies about the nuclear apocalypse, the environment and wildlife had taken back the city completely.

An interesting fact of life on Jerat was that metals and petrochemical materials were of low abundance, due to several thousand years of exploitation of the easily reached deposits. This meant that the Tiaunt had developed several interesting solutions to this problem, like using the local equivalent of wood and bamboo for construction of everyday objects, houses and even vehicles. Additionally they had developed a number of biological polymers that were used instead of conventional petrochemical polymers. Concrete was used in most construction that needed to be long lasting and sturdy up to and including a number of large scale ocean going ships.

A memorable meeting happened with the Emperor of Jerat, who turned out to be rather approachable and ‘down to Earth’, even though he was seen as a deity by the majority of his subjects. An interesting distinguishing feature of the Emperor was that all his eyes glowed from the inside, while his ‘light eyes’ appeared to be blind. What made the meeting memorable however was that he was better informed about the Solar System than the leaders of other nations as well as a couple of interesting notions, like the misconception that Mars was a monarchy of some kind.

The tour lasted about six month and visited forty five nations, ending in the small island nation of Breer, which enjoyed a position similar to that of Switzerland in combination with the Vatican. Breer was among the most advanced nations, even before the nuclear war, thanks to providing a natural harbor and sitting close to many of the main oceanic trade routes between the Empire and various other nations. With its roughly fifty-fifty population mix of Tiaunt and Rak’ris’ayc and an international airport capable of serving hydrogen powered SSTO, not to mention the subtropical weather, it was seen as a good place to set up the UNDS embassy. This was of course welcomed by the King and the Parliament of Breer, due to the additional importance of the small nation in Jerat international politics.

By November 2057 the embassy had been established and allowed a steady communication with the nations of Jerat, and the two MMUS returned to Earth.

Some talks about the possibility of trade came up as well, which was seen as being easier compared to trade with the Untiph-bel, as the Tiaunt had a notion about money that was similar to that used on Earth, though in most cases it was based on conventional metals and petrochemicals. Only within the past fifty decades asteroid mining had begun to slowly lower the price of metals on the planet.

During these trade talks it became known that the Tiaunt still struggled with achieving nuclear fusion, even with access to ancient Quetzal fusion reactors, limiting them to nuclear fission reactors as main energy source for their interstellar spacecraft, while renewables, including a number of solar power satellites, were used on Jerat. This enabled a potential technology exchange to be considered by the United Nations.

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…”