Sitting comfortably in a synthetic leather chair Admiral Jacob Robyns reread the orders that had been issued to his task force in the peace and quiet of his ready room aboard the Tau'ri Federation starship Achilles. With the gigantic Proteus-class dreadnought and the rest of his forty-one ship strong task force sitting in geostationary orbit of the industrial colony on Sigma Draconis III – as they had been for the last month – there was little else for him to do.
As he carefully read the orders for the umpteenth time he once again felt some of his old youthful wanderlust – that had led him to join the Tau'ri navy in the first place – stir. The orders were for an escort/protection mission, but an escort/protection mission with a difference as it was the kind that didn't come up very often. A mission that would be ready to get underway within the next hour or two at the most – assuming there were no more delays.
His task force had been selected to escort a cityship to its destination and protect the city and the tens of thousands of people within when the destination was reached and the city successfully alighted on a new world. Within mere hours now the cityship Rivendell would leave the artificial lagoon where she had been constructed and begin a long two week hyperspace journey to a newly discovered galaxy. But a galaxy with a difference as it was no ordinary galaxy but something that until recently had been thought to only be an old, obscure scientific theory. They were going to a dark matter galaxy.
Until very recently the existence of dark matter galaxies had never been conclusively proven – it was only through translations of newly unlocked sections of the Ancient database in Atlantis that their existence had been proven. After making some minor adjustments to sensors they had located the first such galaxy and it was relatively close by roughly halfway between the Milky Way and Ida galaxies. Rivendell was going to that dark galaxy to be the base of operations in exploring it and probing its mysteries as the Ancient database had been even less helpful than normal when it came to the rare galaxies and what went on in them.
Putting the pad containing the orders down Jacob leaned back in his chair in thoughtful silence. While the prospect of being one of the first humans to set foot in a new galaxy – especially one so different from the norm – was enough to fill him with excitement, but at the same time he knew that they should be cautious. Expeditions to newly discovered galaxies were always events that weren't to be embarked upon lightly to often in the past his people had done it in a very ad hoc and disorganised fashion and gotten themselves into trouble and encountered enemies they hadn't really been ready to face – enemies like the Wraith and the Ori. Even when they were cautious going into a new galaxy there was always the possibility of encountering a powerful and hostile spacefaring race, it had happened before after all and such encounters didn't always end favourably for either side. Indeed the last time that had happened two centuries ago it had plunged the Tau'ri as a people into a ten year long bloodbath against the forces of the reptilian Theliax.
Thinking about the new galaxy Jacob hoped they wouldn't encounter anyone with hostile intentions. Still he would be prepared for it if they did have a violent encounter with unfriendly natives – between the thirty three ships in his task force and Rivendell's own defences they would hopefully have the firepower to see off any hostile. There was also another factor at play that would reduce the likelihood of encountering anyone with hostile intentions.
A long range exploration ship, the Northern Horizon if he remembered her name correctly, was already holding position off the edge of the dark matter galaxy and launching repeated robotic probes of the outer edge of the galaxy. They were both looking for a suitable planet for Rivendell to land on once they arrived and for any sign of someone who could potentially be hostile to them. If she found the latter the Northern Horizon had orders from both command and the Senate Exploration and Resource Development Committee to immediately inform the Senate back in the Tau'ri capital city of Avalon on Earth via a high powered subspace burst transmission.
From his orders Jacob knew that the Northern Horizon and her captain Taylor Matheson had orders to join up with Rivendell and his task force when they arrived at the dark matter galaxy. They would drop out of hyperspace at the Northern Horizon's coordinates long enough for the other ship to join formation with them before proceeding to the coordinates of the planet that should have been found for them by that time.
That is assuming nothing goes wrong, Jacob thought. We know so little about these kinds of galaxies that we can't even be sure if there are planets and stars as we understand the terms. There maybe nowhere we can land and set up a base. In that instance he knew there was a contingency plan for Rivendell to return to the Milky Way and land on a suitable Tau'ri controlled or allied world. The bulk of his task force would join her while some stayed behind with the Northern Horizon and began a slower exploration of the galaxy the old fashioned way.
A bleep from his desk communications console drew him out of his thoughts with a jolt. "Main bridge to Admiral Robyns," Captain Josephine Owens said as a holographic screen showing her face appeared in front of him.
"Yes captain?" Jacob asked.
"Sir we've just received a notification from Rivendell," Josephine replied. "They report that the last of the expedition members and their families have arrived and are being settled in their quarters. Governor Shepherd also indicates that they are almost finished taking on supplies and will be ready to launch inside of thirty minutes."
"Very good, signal the task force to begin powering up for departure," Jacob ordered. "As soon as Rivendell reaches orbit all ships are to assume escort formation Gamma Two around her."
"Aye sir," Josephine acknowledged before signing off to carry out the orders. The holographic screen vanished into nothingness with all the fuss of a bursting soap bubble leaving Jacob alone in his ready room once again.
Almost time to go, Jacob thought as he turned his attention back to his electronic paperwork, he had a great deal to do – commanding a task force of forty one capital warships and the twenty eight thousand eight hundred men and women in said force was an enormous responsibility and one that generated a considerable amount of paperwork. Paperwork that in his experience never seemed to end as it seemed like no sooner than he finished one pile then another would seemingly materialise out of subspace for him to do. Join the navy and see the universe, that's what the ads on the Starnet say, he thought with a wry smile, pity they don't tell you about the bureaucratic make work that comes with the adventure.
Given the amount of work he had to do Jacob knew that the time between now and departure would fly by, however he had no intention of not being on the flag bridge when the fleet set out for its destination. A quick command to the desk console with one hand set a fifteen minute alarm while his other hand picked up a readiness report from Captain McKenzie of the Jutland and he began the tedious but necessary task of reading through it.
Stargate Operations/Central Control
Rivendell, Twenty Minutes Later
Governor Alison Shepherd looked over from holographic displays floating above her desk when she heard the sound of someone clearing there throat. One of the control room staff stood in the doorway to her office and for a moment she struggled to connect the youthful face to a name, she still hadn't learned the names of all the control room staff. But then again she did have a lot of different things to worry about as the time for departure drew ever closer.
"Yes?" she asked.
"Governor our final checks have been completed," the young man – Jones she now recalled his name to be – replied.
"And," Alison asked bracing herself for the possibility that Rivendell might not be ready for departure, that something had gone wrong with one of the many hundreds of systems the city needed to function not just as a city but as a gigantic spacecraft capable of intergalactic travel. She doubted anything major had gone wrong – the cities A.I Arwen would have immediately informed her if it had – but it was always a possibility. Cityships were the most complex and advanced machines that the Tau'ri knew how to build – even with everything they'd learned from the Ancient database in Atlantis over the last five hundred years, ships like Rivendell pushed there technological abilities to the limit. Compared to building a cityship things like forging new stargates and making zero point modules were child's play.
"All systems read as fully operational ma'am," Jones replied grinning. "All three Zed-PM's are plugged into the cities energy grid and providing power. Secondary power generators are engaged and standing by to compensate for any shortfall. Life support systems are ready to engage as are the shields, sublight drives and the hyperdrive."
"Then we're ready to launch?"
Jones nodded. "We're as ready as we will ever be," he said.
Alison grinned. "Then lets get this show on the road," she answered before tapping a command into her terminal dismissing all the holographic display screens and standing up. With Jones preceding her Alison made the short journey across the mezzanine to the cities main control room.
Alison took a moment to look at all the control room staff, taking in their eager, expectant faces. Though her people were professionals she could see the excitement in there posture, they were as eager as she was to begin their mission. A mission that would if successful massive increase their knowledge of both the universe in general and dark matter galaxies in particular. The latter was so mysterious to them; even the Ancients hadn't appeared to know much about the enigmatic galaxies at least if the lack of any real information on them in the Ancient database in Atlantis was anything to go by.
"Alright people listen up. The time we've been working towards for the last year and a half has finally arrived," she said. "We're ready, ready to begin our mission to expand our knowledge of the universe. With luck once this mission is concluded we will have discovered a whole new kind of space for humanity to explore and possibly colonise.
"The city is ready, so are we and so is our escort group," she continued with a wry smile knowing how happy Admiral Robyns would be to be able to finally be ready to get their mission underway. In all the preparation work that had gone on over the last few weeks and months she'd met him a number of times and gotten to know him quite well. She knew him well enough to see that behind the stiff military façade was a man with an incessant curiosity about the universe around them. His service record also attested to that desire to know about the universe as she recalled that for much of his career he'd served on exploration ships with only a handful of tours on warships before he'd reached commander.
"So let us begin," she finished. "Communications contact the shipyard operations centre and request departure clearance."
"Yes ma'am," the officer at the console in question answered and with a single mental command relayed the request to the shipyards control room. Almost immediately a response came in from shipyard control. "We've been cleared to disengage from the shipyard and move up into orbit."
"Then lets get going then," Alison said. "Disengage the clamps holding us to the shipyard lagoon. Then begin departure sequence."
"Yes ma'am," came the response from a number of locations around the control room. A moment later an alert sounded throughout the city, the distorted and discordant noise of the Ancient-style alarm demanding attention.
"Departure sequence initiated," Arwen's voice said over the citywide PA system. "All personnel secure for departure. Sublight engine start in sixty seconds."
"Inertial dampeners powered and engaged," one of the staff reported. "Anti-gravity wave generators powering, sublight drives active."
"Raising fortress shield, all exterior doors and windows closed and sealed," another added.
"Sublight drive start in thirty seconds," Arwen said calmly, mighty engines set into the piers of the city greedily hoarding power in preparation for task ahead. The whole of the six and a half kilometre wide cityship began to rumble gently, rising on the gentle thrust of the secondary engines and resting on the very surface of the water.
"Sublight drive activation in five, four, three-" The gentle rumble transitioned into a furious shaking, and for a moment it seemed the city might shake itself apart.
"-two, one. Firing." The shaking ceased for the briefest of moments, a moment of calm in the eye of the storm. Then a titanic whoomph seemed to come straight up through the floor and with a faint sensation reminiscent of an old fashioned manual lift the city began a slow but steady rise into the sky.
To the shipyard workers who'd laboured so long to build and outfit Rivendell the view of her launch was spectacular. Standing on various observation decks on the waterfront they watched as the city sat in her lagoon surrounded by the translucent silver-white bubble of its main shield.
For a moment the city remained stationary then small plumes of steam began to appear all around the perimeter of the shield. The steam grew in intensity, becoming hissing jets of boiling water as the city began to rise. Slowly at first then with ever increasing speed the city moved inexorably upwards, soaring into the sky. Sunlight reflected off the shield gave the protective dome a shimmering quality, and the polished metal and crystal of the city towers made it seem to glow in the yellow-orange light of the K0 type sun. A thick mist descended from the base of the rising city as water as the shield was made permeable to the water that sat between the piers. As the sheet of water fell the engines turned it into mist which began a long descent to the surface below. Spectacular rainbows rippled in the falling mist turning the warm water into a riot of glorious colour.
Still the city continued to rise, ascending towards the stars. The last of the trapped water left the city shield and the protective barrier again became fully impermeable and trapped a thick bubble of breathable atmosphere around the gleaming towers. At thirty thousand feet above the surface of the planet the cities massive gravitic sublight engines went to full power, the powerful anti-gravity wave providing the final boost to the city. A rippling shockwave of air and distorted gravity blasted out from the base of the city, tearing apart the lazy clouds surrounding it as the city suddenly shot spaceward at incredible speed, becoming rapidly smaller to the cheering observers below.
The atmosphere thinned and darkened as the great spacecraft passed the majority of the atmosphere and through into space, the cities lights all activating and making it look like a miniature galaxy itself. Finally Rivendell broke free of the final layers of Sigma Draconis III's atmosphere and embraced the void. Immediately her ascent began to slow and eventually she came to a halt, in defiance of gravity as the planet lazily continued its spin beneath her.
"We have achieved altitude, governor," one of the control room staff reported, his voice raising a cheer from all the staff, the security marines guarding the control room and those city residents who'd gathered on the floor of Stargate Operations for the launch.
"Very good," Alison replied smiling and inwardly feeling like joining in with the celebrations at the successful launch. With some small effort she kept herself focused on the task at hand – there would be time to break open a bottle of champagne and celebrate the successful launch later. "Power the hyperdrive," Alison ordered. "Set a course for the rendezvous point with the Northern Horizon. Sensors, where are our escorts?"
"Admiral Robyns task force is approaching at maximum safe orbital velocity, ma'am," the young woman at the sensor station replied.
"Governor we're being hailed by the Achilles," communications added. "Admiral Robyns says his ships are preparing to move into escort position around us. He would like to know our status."
"Advise him that we are powering up our hyperdrive and will be ready to get underway as soon as he is," Alison instructed.
"Yes ma'am." After a moment the comm. chirped again. "The Achilles has acknowledged our transmission and request we link our navigational systems to theirs so the whole fleet can depart together."
"Arwen, set up a link with the Achilles navigational computer," Alison ordered which prompted the holographic avatar of the cities A.I to materialise beside her. Like all A.I's Arwen had been permitted to choose the form her avatar appeared in and had chosen an appearance that matched her namesake. She appeared as a classic elfin princess, beautiful and ageless with porcelain doll features, jet black hair and finely pointed ears while being dressed in a long flowing robe of intricate weave and laced through with runic symbols.
"Setting up the link now, Governor," Arwen replied with a smile even as a part of her vast mind negotiated with the main computer on the Achilles and was permitted through its adaptive firewalls and given a link to the dreadnought's navigational control systems. "Link established."
"Excellent," Alison replied turning to look at the main holographic systems display plate at the back of the control room. Currently it showed a sensor grid of the space immediately around the city with light blue chevrons representing the bulk of Admiral Robyns' destroyers and cruisers moving into escort formation around the blue snowflake symbol that represented the city. The larger chevron representing the Achilles moved around the city taking up station ahead of them with a pair of cruisers flanking her in mutual support formation. In practically no time at all the sensor display confirmed that Rivendell was floating in the centre of a defensive sphere of warships with the mighty dreadnought Achilles and her supporting cruisers holding position directly above the cities main spire.
"Governor, I'm monitoring a transmission from orbital control to the Achilles," Arwen reported then the avatar smiled. "We're being given clearance for departure: all civilian traffic has been cleared from our path. We can leave whenever Admiral Robyns gives the order."
"Then it's Admiral Robyns call now," Alison replied.
"Technically that would be true, Governor Shepherd," Admiral Robyns voice abruptly said from behind her making Alison jump and spin around. To find herself face to face with a life size, three dimensional holographic projection of the admiral.
"I'm sorry to startle you," Robyns said and Alison smiled back to say it was alright. "But I thought it would be fitting if you were the one to give the order to get underway."
Alison's smile widened, she was deeply touched by the ceremonial significance of Admiral Robyns letting her give the order to get underway. "That's very good of you," she said before straightening up and putting as much of the authority that had been vested in her as she could in her tone as she spoke again.
"The word is given, Admiral," she said. "Take us to the Northern Horizon."
Admiral Robyns straitened to attention. "Aye ma'am," he said formally before looking over at someone else on his flag bridge, someone that Alison naturally couldn't see, and giving a small nod before he turned back to her. He gave one final smile then his hologram rippled with rainbow light and vanished as the holographic transmission from the Achilles was closed down from the dreadnoughts side.
Alison stared at the point where the hologram had been for a moment, before moving forward to the front of the control room to look down at the floor of Stargate Operations. As she walked a faint humming whine began to be heard throughout the city as the great spacecraft's massive hyperdrive system reached full power.
For a few moments the sphere of ships remained stationary in space above Sigma Draconis III, the light of the star playing off both the shields of the cityship and the polished silver-grey hulls of the warships making them glow like angels. Then with a perfect coordination that would have made any professional ballet troop in the universe green with envy they began moving, accelerating out of orbit.
For several seconds the massive group of ships continued driving into open space leaving the planet behind them. There hyperdrives came to full strength and under careful direction from the flagship activated – all the subspace fields meshing together seamlessly before applying tremendous pressure to the very structure of space itself.
For a millisecond the universe resisted the inconceivable pressure but then the quantum folds that separated normal space and subspace parted. A truly gargantuan hyperspace window burst into existence with a silent roar of power, spilling subspace energy into normal space as a brilliant greenish-white light. The fleet and cityship paused for a moment before the monstrous tear in space-time they'd created as if in awe of there accomplishment, before in perfect unison leaping forward and vanishing into the window and hyperspace.
No longer being held open by the combined power of the fleet's hyperdrives the energy vortex of the window folded in upon itself before vanishing returning the state of local space time to normal. Even as it closed its makers were already gone from the Sigma Draconis system – driving through hyperspace towards the distant explorer ship Northern Horizon at speeds millions of times that of light.
The Tau'ri mission to the dark matter galaxy had begun.