Nadir Jump Point
Star System Designate Kilo-343
2032 Light Years Coreward of Terra
24 August 2785
He was a relatively old man, not a hair on his head, which glinted in the overhead illumination. Worry and frown lines dotted his hale face and he wore an especially grim expression as he surveyed the main holotank which dominated the circular amphitheatre-like Command and Control centre buried deep within the one point four kilometer superstructure of the SLS Mckenna's Pride. He was walking a seemingly endless circuit of the CIC. Such was his stature and charisma that the relative bustle of the CIC and its officers and crew would quiet down, the men and women would subconsciously sit straighter then relax when he left. He rarely sat in his designated station with its variety of displays, not unless they were under acceleration or at combat stations.
A younger man approached, dressed in the beige and grey, utilitarian Star League Defense Force naval uniform with maroon edgings and sporting the rank of Captain displayed on his right shoulder. He was tapping idly on the computer gauntlet on his left arm, before coming to a stop in front of the old man and saluting.
The old man in his rather sparse green uniform, which was only adorned with the necessary indicators of his rank, and showing that he was actually from the less lofty service branch of the Army, returned the salute.
"Captain Galford. How long until we can jump?"
Senior Captain James Galford's reply was crisp. "The Task Force will be ready in six hours, General."
"The mutineer's ships?"
"Secured and back under your command, General. Fleet Security has questioned the crews and it seems that the deserting officers were, with very few exceptions, men and women who had been forced to leave family behind in the Human Sphere."
General Aleksandr Kerensky inwardly winced at that, though didn't betray any of what he felt on his stoic face. He tried not to think of all the officers that he had ordered to be executed for their actions. They had had only the desire to return to their homes, and try to stop the nightmare that had engulfed the Star League. What they had failed to truly take to heart was that the League was no more. The League now only existed in the hearts and minds of the people on the Exodus Fleet. It was something that he thought everyone who had answered his call to leave the Human Sphere had understood. Those officers had let their hearts dictate their actions, not their minds and the reality around them. They would've only returned to fight outnumbered against the accursed Houses, or be forced to side with a House Lord whose social policies they could tolerate and participate in the five way conflict to become the First Lord of the Star League, or in other words, the reins of human destiny.
The desertion of the three Texas class Destroyers and two Jumpships was merely a symptom of a deeper problem that dominated Aleksandr's every waking thought. He had to give the Exodus Fleet and its people a tangible long term goal to strive towards, and in so doing head off any further attempts to split off from the Fleet. Thus far they had been somewhat aimlessly heading galactic northward, into the dense cluster of stars in that direction. His first aim had been to make as much distance as possible from the Sphere, initially taking a north east direction before looping back northward once they were fully in the unknown frontier. He wouldn't put it past the House Lords to send expeditions looking for the Fleet at some point after they got tired of bludgeoning each other for the throne in Unity City. In his mind, they were not far enough yet; perhaps another year of travel would be enough breathing room for the Star League before they could start the search for a new world to call home. There was a problem with that though; morale in the Fleet had been flagging to an all time low before the mutiny incident, fleet cohesion would not last another year.
"Why did it all come to this?"
Captain Galford frowned in confusion. "General?"
"I can see the past with the eyes of memory, I know what led us to this, Captain, but why should every human attempt to bring light and order to their universe eventually fail? It doesn't matter whether it is based on the Imperial, the Feudal, or the Democratic, it seems to eventually always come crashing down around our ears."
Galford shook his head. "Sir, that's something philosophers have been struggling with for millennia."
Aleksandr nodded in understanding his eyes once again looking into the simulated star within the holotank and the six planets surrounding it. There always seemed to be some form of catalyst for the fall of any empire. It would either be the ambition for power of its leader, a revolution when that leader fails to serve his people, or the trusted advisor turned traitor. He felt his fists clench at the mere thought of the latter.
He had met Stefan Amaris personally for the first time over thirty years ago and had heard of him by reputation before that. The Leader of the Rim World Republic, which had been the most powerful Periphery Star Nation in the north west of the Human Sphere, had been a charmer. His genial fair face just seemed to disarm you naturally. How could the fifty one year old newly promoted Commander-in-Chief of the SLDF Aleksandr Kerensky possibly suspect the poison that could flow from that mouth? The poison of paranoia and fear that the Usurper had whispered into the ears of the young and inexperienced First Lord of the Star League, Richard Cameron II.
Aleksandr had been the Regent and Protector of the Star League until Richard's majority and he had failed utterly. He had thought he was protecting the young First Lord from his enemies in the Periphery, but the worst enemy of all had already snaked its way into the Court. He was not normally one to entertain fantasy, but if he could somehow speak to his younger self, the first thing out of his mouth would be, "Burn Amaris' brains out with your Laser sidearm. Send the Fleet to smash the Republic."
His eyes narrowed as he came to a sudden decision. He had planned to make a speech to the entire Fleet when the Task Force returned, but now realized that the three weeks it would take would be too long. "Captain, keep our drives charging, but do not jump," he ordered flatly.
Galford's eyes widened in surprise, "Yes, sir.' and promptly repeated the order aloud for the entire CIC to hear, tapping it into his computer gauntlet as well. "General?"
"Contact the Simon Bolivar via HPG, instruct them to open a com circuit back to the Fleet. I want my words to reach every man, woman and child. Notify me when you've set it up, I'll be in my quarters."
"Yes, sir." Galford saluted and also added, "Attention on deck!" The entire CIC snapped to their feet as Kerensky left.
Aleksandr entered the Flag Admiral's Quarters which had been his home ever since the Exodus began. He palmed the lights up and crossed to his desk, resolutely refusing to let the knee-to-ceiling displayscreen showing an optical feed of the starfield off the Pride's starboard side, distract him until he finished composing the vague idea he'd had for a speech.
He'd barely switched on the terminal on the desk when a ship's steward appeared carrying a very precious mug of steaming coffee. Aleksandr didn't really approve of this luxury the crew was bestowing him. They'd left the Sphere with all the seedlings for crop growing plants taken from not only Terra, but a variety of worlds along the way, not to mention gene resequencers to help the plants adapt to any near-Terran environment they might settle on one day. The Fleet had enough supplies for three years in space with rationing, and they had the option to begin hydroponics if their journey lasted longer than that, but this coffee was grown and roasted on Terra, there'd never be more like it for them.
"Thank you, Grayson."
"You're welcome, sir." The steward vanished through the adjoining door that led to the decidedly smaller quarters reserved for him.
The instant the screen of the terminal flashed into life, he was assaulted with new messages from the various ship captains in the Fleet flashing for his attention. There was also a general ship status summary of the Mckenna's Pride, showing the near readiness of the Jump Drive, the LF Battery charge at one hundred percent, which would enable another thirty light year FTL jump to be completed within a half hour. With a few efficient keystrokes the messages were all relegated to be dealt with later and he brought up a word processor program. He paused in thought before typing the main ideas he'd had in rough bullet points. That was easy part, now he had to finesse them into a coherent speech.
He also realized that there would soon come a time when they had to get around to building a proper civilization. That was something that couldn't only rest on his shoulders. He honestly had no clue where to begin. 'One thing at a time, Aleksandr.' As he was writing his speech he sincerely wished that he was back in his old Orion battlemech with a simple straight forward enemy in his sights. Now his enemy was human nature itself.
A chime from his terminal alerted him to an incoming communication. Gelford's voice intruded into his quarters. "General, we have an HPG link established to the fleet. I've slaved the link to your terminal and you can use it at your leisure."
"Thank you, Captain." Aleksandr saw the visual icon representing the HPG link appear on the screen, but ignored it for the moment. How does one conquer human nature? Surely there was a weapon he could use. He picked up his cup of coffee and stared thoughtfully into its depths before taking a sip. His right hand quickly tapped on the terminal, and just like that, his voice could be beamed across lightyears via the onboard Hyperpulse generator, aimed at the position of another ship, which would relay the signal via its own HPG to the next ship. In this manner, his voice crossed the one hundred and fifty light years to the six million men, women and children on board the one thousand three hundred and forty nine Jumpships with a further five thousand Dropships attached to them and the four hundred dedicated warships of the Fleet.
He coughed to clear his throat of the coffee. "People of the Exodus Fleet, of the Star League, this is General Kerensky. Return to the Inner Sphere is impossible for us. Our heritage and our convictions are different from those we left behind. The greed of the five Great Houses and the Council Lords is a disease that can only be burned away by the passing of decades, even centuries. And though the fighting may seem to slow, or even cease, it will erupt again as long as there are powerful men to covet one another's wealth. We shall live apart, conserving all the good of the Star League and ridding ourselves of the bad, so that when we return, and return we shall, our shining moral character will be as much our shield as our, Battleships, BattleMechs and fighters.
"Now we must, for the moment, look to ourselves and plan for the immediate future. Many have asked where we are going, and I have not answered. The simple fact is we must first ensure our security from the Great Houses, and sheer distance will be that shield. Therefore our first goal is to at least put another three thousand light years between us and in the Inner Sphere or slightly less than another year of travel time. Only then can we begin to search the stars we encounter there for a new home."
We will maintain military chain of command for the remainder of the journey, though I will call for a congress of ship captains in one month to discuss what we can do once we make planetfall on a suitable world. The civilization we establish must build on the good of the Star League and make it even better, to such a degree that our memories of the League will be overshadowed by the new society. I also ask every scientist and engineer in the Fleet to put away the old mindset in the use of our technology and come up with new, fresh, and even radical ideas. No more are we in the safe and secure cradles of planets and civilization. We are in the wild and raw unknown and we must be able to meet the challenges that await us."
I will now speak of one particular challenge, an enemy that we cannot face with Laser, Gauss, Particle Cannon or missile. It is this enemy that always seeks to undo what civilization has built. This enemy we see every morning when we look in the mirror - it is us. It is our greed for power and worse, our desire to keep it at all costs. It is human nature. We must therefore conquer our own nature, to do this we must use both our resolve and will, but also our science. Ever since the days of the Terran Alliance and Hegemony we have conquered genetic diseases and cancer through careful engineering of the human genome. Our lifespans barring injury and disease were extended to average just over a century. Since then the Cameron's have kept a strict moratorium on any further genetic engineering, as we would've ceased to be human, but rather something both more and less. Humanity on the other hand can no longer afford to be stuck in the past, on that way lays only more ruination. We must move on in the most fundamental way possible."
I thank you for your faith in joining me on this exodus. Now we must move forward. Kerensky, out."
'This is your five minute warning…Jump in five minutes.'
Aleksandr was seated at his Flag Officer station in the CIC, strapped in securely and keeping an eye on all the feeds and readouts that surrounded him. The internal grav decks had stopped their rotation, meaning the entire Mckenna's Pride was now in zero gee. The Hyperdrive cores of all the ships in Task Force were still registering in the green. All dropships were snugly secure in their collars on both warship and jumpship. The fighter and small craft bays were secure and locked down.
The Astrogator, a man with a Commander's insignia on his shoulder spoke from his nearby station. "Captain, the Task Force reports successful coordinate assignments across the board."
"Thank you, Commander, proceed," Galford nodded.
Aleksandr disliked FTL Jumps, though he couldn't think of anyone who enjoyed the feeling. He was extremely grateful though that he didn't suffer from TDS or Transition Disorientation Syndrome; involuntarily emptying out your stomach, a chronic feeling of vertigo or agoraphobia, and headaches were the most common debilitating symptoms that TDS victims suffer. A human was a being of four dimensions, length, width, height and time. An FTL Jump relatively briefly added a fifth dimension – colloquially called 'Hyperspace' to that, and not everyone reacted well.
'One minute to Jump.'
He recalled his old mech instructor at Sandhurst Military Academy, Captain Stadler, who had a rather nasty version of TDS. Every jump he would go into the equivalent of an epileptic fit. The hardass bastard hadn't let it stop him from being one of most travelled and seasoned Mechwarriors within the SLDF.
The world around him was plunged into a perpetual dark, flashes of incomprehensible color and shapes. Sounds seemed to stretch into infinity. Just as quickly the world was back and Aleksandr saw the CIC stretch impossibly far, just as he himself felt as if he was pulled in every direction simultaneously. Like a baker flattening a piece of bread dough. Then with an abrupt snap reality resumed normal function to his senses and sound reached his ears normally.
He had to do a breathing and mental exercise to calm his protesting body, before turning to the Captain with a questioning look.
"All Task Force ships have arrived safely and are accounted for. Astrogator?"
"Astrosensors confirm. We are at Nadir point of System designate Lima-543."
Aleksandr frowned at hearing that. "Commander, I distinctly recall that the system before our intercept of the mutineers was Lima-599."
"Yes, sir. I determined that coming to this system would allow us to use our second jump to enter a system with an A-Class Star."
He smiled at the man knowingly. "Ah, eager to rejoin the fleet, are we Commander?" The use of the much more radiant star would allow the massive Solar Sails that interstellar vessels carried to gather more energy and would allow them to shave a day or two off the standard seven day Hyperspace core recharge time.
The Astrogator shifted uncomfortably. "Just doing my job, sir."
"Your wife is halfway through her second Trimester, Commander Anderson. We'll get there with time to spare."
"Lithium Fusion Batteries beginning discharge, General," Captain Gelford reported, the corners of his mouth twitching.
Fifteen minutes later, Drive engineers confirmed that the core was charged and the Task Force flung themselves into Hyperspace again. They emerged where they expected, at the Nadir jump point of a bright white A-class star. Maneuvering thrusters were fired to orient the ships with their bows facing it, and engineers on all the ships began the delicate process of unfurling the energy collecting sails. It was disgustingly easy to tear the sails so the process took half an hour. Thrusters came to life, keeping the ships stationary relative to the star and in the safe zone. Finally the grav decks were started up again and the moment centrifugal gravity returned, Aleksandr unhooked his straps and stood, stretching awkwardly and hearing his back click into place.
"Report to the Fleet that we are safely at station and recharging. I'm going to stretch my legs with a walk around the ship."
Aleksandr had hardly passed the main bulkhead leading out of CIC when a startled exclamation of alarm and amazement reverberated around the room. He whirled around and quickly found the source of noise. A young Lieutenant in the Astrogation Department was working furiously at his station and gesturing animatedly at his screen. Commander Anderson strode over with disapproval before also looking into the screens. The commotion spread throughout the Department as everyone apparently saw the same thing.
"Quiet down!" snapped Anderson and everyone obeyed instantly. "Jensen, do a diagnostic on the array." The rest of the CIC watched with interest and curiosity as Astrogation did their jobs. They knew better than to intrude or try to barge in on the computers and sensors of another Department, to find out what had lit such a fire under them.
Jensen nodded his head. "Astrosensor array diagnostic reports no errors and one hundred percent functional."
Anderson nodded still staring at the feeds. "Put it in the main holotank."
Aleksandr watched as the extrapolated form of the solar system they were hovering over began to appear. First was the large white star of Lima-543. Then a small terrestrial planet appeared in the first orbital band. It was only partially complete in the holotank, due to the fact that they could only see one side of the planet from their position. Two larger planets appeared in wider orbital bands and an asteroid belt. These planets were rather exotic colors indicating that it was unlikely they could support human life. Then a Jovian gas giant with a ring system appeared in the tank.
So far it was looking normal and there was no indication of what had caused the ruckus.
Then it appeared. Aleksandr blinked for a moment, thinking that perhaps he needed to get his eyes checked, but nothing changed. Nature had not made this. It was small on the current scale of the holotank, but the data window next to it indicated it was forty four kilometers in length. Once again they could only see a part of it, but the computers made a fairly good extrapolation. The thing had two long 'arms' set apart from each other but which ran perfectly parallel. These arms curved at one end forming a vague circle before they finally merged. Inside this circle were two smaller metal circles that slowly and endlessly spun within each other. In the very centre of this something was emitting bright blue light.
That someone was pulling a hoax by playing with the computers did briefly occur to him before he dismissed it. Captain Gelford ran the Fleet's flagship tightly and while he was fair, he didn't brook nonsense from his crew. Aleksandr was back at his station by now so gave the order to clear that possibility up, however remote. "Confirm this with the rest of the Task Force, now!"
It took five minutes but he forgave them. History was being made, after all. "It's confirmed, General Kerensky. They're seeing the same thing. Something odd though."
Aleksandr grinned wryly, "Besides the fact that we're looking at the first sign of alien intelligence encountered by the human race."
"Uh, yes General," Gelford coughed his throat clear, "we're only registering that…construct…optically. It might as well not be there according to IR and its emitting no detectable radiation besides the photons that allows us to see it."
"Null Sig on something that large!" Aleksandr was chagrinned to find that his mouth gaping open stupidly, but quickly rectified that. The Null Signature System was used on SLDF Battlemechs which cloaked their heat output and electronic emission from detection. It did this with special heat baffles added onto the normal heat sinks. The downside was that it couldn't be constantly on as it interfered with heat dissipation and your mech would quickly overheat. Its use in space was possible, but just not practical on something the size of a battleship or jumpship, and even if it happened the ship would need to vent heat at some point, which would be like lighting a flare up in the night when you were trying to hide.
"It seems so."
"So is there anything else in the system, Commander Anderson?"
"Nothing that we can detect from this range optically."
The Senior Lieutenant in charge of passive and active sensors quickly reported. "Neutrino detector's got no active fusion plants present in the system, General. We could start radar sweeps, see if anything reflects back at us."
"The light and EM radiation of our jump arrival will reach them soon enough anyway, do it," Aleksandr nodded. "Have the Captain of our Intruder dropship meet me in my quarters. I also want preliminary reports from all relevant departments ready within the hour on that construct. Facts and conclusions, not fanciful theories. Also if that thing so much as twitches in our direction I want to know." The entire CIC was filled with low chatter as they sprang to work as he left.
It was a rather nervous Captain of the Intruder Class Dropship Reliant, who approached the doors which led to the Commander of the Fleet. Captain Theresa Livingston smoothed out her form fitting naval uniform and checked that her long red hair was tied to regulation. Unlike the male uniform it had a white stripe running down the right, and when not on ship her cap would be white as well.
She pressed on the chime keypad next to the door.
The doors hissed open and revealed General Kerensky standing behind his desk, framed by the large viewscreen behind him. It was showing the gigantic alien construct magnified in all its glory. Theresa was still somewhat in shock at the mere idea. Humanity had been travelling the stars nearly six centuries, and had not seen any evidence of alien intelligence amongst all the worlds it had set foot upon and terraformed. Admittedly the Human sphere only stretched five hundred light years out from Terra in every direction, a relative miniscule piece of the Galaxy. She shook herself out of her reverie and stood at attention. "Captain Livingston reporting as ordered."
"At ease, Captain," Kerensky clasped his hands behind his back, staring at the alien construct as its inner rings slowly moved, "I had been prepared for us to encounter many problems and potential disasters out here. This, I admit, had not even gotten on the list."
"It is somewhat outside of context, General," Theresa admitted. "The SLDF hasn't really had a chance for proper exploration beyond the Periphery."
Kerensky nodded. "Even when we had brought the Periphery into the League fold, we then had to keep the peace between feuding Houses, which was a rather full time occupation. Can you believe that I had to go back to the days of the Terran Alliance in the database to find the theoretical protocols for this?" She nodded. It made sense, the Kearny Fuchida Jump Drive had been in its infancy then and she was sure that there had been many bright eyed people on Terra looking up at the stars wondering if intelligent life was just a jump away. General Kerensky pulled an optical data cube from his pocket and handed it to her. "That holds all the specifics. You'll be joined by four people, the best we can find amongst the Task Force in the fields of physics, mathematics, biology and psychology. Once they're on board the Reliant, do a leisurely burn towards the construct. You're to keep your weapons offline and pointed away from it. On that data cube is a program that you'll broadcast to the construct as you approach."
Theresa felt her heart begin to race as the gravity of the situation hit home. "If there are…aliens, General…"
"Use your best judgment, Captain. That's all anyone can do. No one is qualified for this. Study the protocols to your satisfaction, and launch when you are ready. We're not going anywhere for another five days, and depending on what you find we might be here longer."
Theresa swallowed heavily, steeled herself and saluted. "I'll do it, Sir."
A/N: No I don't own Mass Effect or Battletech. After a couple of requests I'm publishing this here as well, and not keeping it exclusive to SB.