This chapter was supposed to be much longer. I ended up chopping it in half, so I could put a chapter in your hands before Thanksgiving. Have a fantastic holiday everyone, and be safe. Enjoy!
Over the history encompassing the existence of Arkos, fleets of two races had been constructed. During the service lives of these fleets, vessels in numbers large and small arrived and departed with great frequency. As the Ancients ascended to a higher plane of existence, Arkos slumbered. Discovery of Arkos by those from Earth awakened the shipyard from its millennial slumber. Filled with personnel from Earth and her allies, Arkos now stood as the single largest industrial activity in the galaxy. This fact, along with the chance to converse with assigned personnel, made for a very happy Artificial Intelligence. The arrival of those from Earth brought to an end thousands of years isolation for the avatar of Arkos.
From the powerful energy screen separating open space from the interior of Arkos, vessels of varying designs and technologies emerged. Passing through the screen, a line of fifteen Beliskner Class vessels, known throughout the galaxy by their unique hammerhead shape, emerged. These vessels, constructed for the Vanir, would soon be delivered to their final owners. In years to come, these vessels would stand guard over multiple galaxies. As the Vanir Fleet grew in size, the Vanir domain among the stars would also grow in size and scope. After poor beginnings, the Vanir relationship with the Alliance of Five Great Races was finally moving forward towards a far more positive footing.
As the fifteen Beliskner's completed their exit of Arkos Station, the future Vanir Fleet under the command of Asgard pilots, came to a halt. For minutes, they waited. What they waited for soon came into view. First to pass through the shipyards protective energy screen was the Athena Class vessel USS Coral Sea. Advancing toward the stationary collection of Beliskner's, Coral Sea came to a stop behind. It was then that a second vessel began to emerge from the energy screen. Large, imposing, and unlike anything else in the allied fleet; Commencement, lead ship of her class stepped foot into open space.
Despite her incredible size, Commencement, driven by her own onboard neutrino ion generator, powered forward towards the vessels awaiting her arrival. Falling into line, in front of Coral Sea, but behind the collection of Beliskner's; Commencement began to channel power through into her hyper drive. Following suit, each vessel in this fleet of many types did the same. Summoned by the lead Beliskner Class Vessel's hyperspace window generator; a large tear in the fabric of space appeared. Through this window, the fleet leapt into hyperspace, for their journey to the Milky Way's distant super gate. Once their, this collection of vessels would pass from this galaxy, and into Pegasus.
Moments after the departure of the Commencement and her cohorts, other vessels began to exit Arkos Station. Sun Li Ren, an Improved Daedalus Class vessel of the unified Chinese Fleet, exited. Racing into hyperspace moments after exit, Sun Li Ren began her journey to P3X-042. This world, once capital of Lord Yu's domain, now rested in the hands of the Chinese. This world also represented China's largest off world colony to date. Known to Earth as Potala, this world was just the first step in China's off world colonization effort. While other nations on Earth, such as Great Britain, France, Russia, and the United States were following similar paths, Potala was the only colony from Earth with a thriving culture, and standing cities.
Behind Sun Li Ren, USS Hermes took step into open space. Under the command of Colonel Cameron Mitchell, Hermes was a vessel with a storied history. Under Mitchell's command, Hermes had fought in battles so far unmatched in their size and ferocity. Although he never admitted as such, Mitchell hoped that battles such as those were now a thing of the past. Unlike Sun Li Ren, and the previous group of vessels; Hermes did not make the jump into hyperspace. Instead, Hermes set course to exit the solar system at sublight speeds. Her mission was far different from the other vessels departing before her.
Within Arkos Station, the facility was alive with activity. Man and machine; Human and Alien; swarmed about. Having arrived an hour earlier, General Jack O'Neill, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, emerged from a briefing conducted by station personnel. During that briefing, he learned the status of a number of unclassified programs. That he could have simply looked around to learn the information conveyed during this briefing annoyed the General greatly. Sadly, as Jack had learned during his climb through the ranks, briefings were the bread and butter of command.
Stepping out of the briefing theater, Jack stepped to the windows of a viewing station outside the theater door. Making up his mind where he would venture next while looking out the window, Jack turned on his heels. Coming to a transporter booth, Jack placed his finger on the destination touchpad. Rematerializing within the receiving transport booth, Jack stepped out as the sealed doors opened. Spanning out before him were three large ship berths.
Filling these berths were three vessels under construction. Though Jack had reviewed the reports on these vessels, and their expected capabilities; this was the first time Jack had laid eyes on them. The vessels being constructed were the result of a design study, known as Project 5400. Since the start of their construction, each of the three had been christened. The first three vessels of the Ascension Class were now known as Ascension, Equinox, and Neil Armstrong. While still incomplete, the smooth and polished hull forms were plain to see in several sections. Seeing a familiar face, Jack walked towards the man in the distance.
"General O'Neill, welcome to Arkos." Brigadier General Aaron Eckhart welcomed on seeing the approaching figure.
"How goes it Aaron?" Jack asked in reply.
"Another day, another dollar. I am a little heartbroken still, but leaving a command is like that." Eckhart explained.
The reason for that heartbreak that Eckhart currently felt came from his reassignment. A very capable type commander, and the man responsible for command of the largest Athena Class Wing; Eckhart was the natural choice for command of the first of the Ascension Class, as well as the unit containing these vessels. The First Composite Strike Wing, as it was now known, would be the parent unit to future Ascension Class Vessels operated by the United States Air Force. As numbers rose, the Navy would transfer USS Neil Armstrong to a unit of their own creation.
A new ship type had brought a new command. That new command meant leaving the vessel that held Eckhart's heart. Through good and bad, Athena had stood strong under his command. Leaving the vessel, and command of the Wing he commanded, had been hard. Leaving behind the crew aboard Athena he had fought beside for several years was far harder. At least Athena, and the Wing, was being left in good hands. Recently promoted; Brigadier General Steven Caldwell would now be the Wing commander, and the master of the vessel known as Athena.
A new command brings new challenges. This new command brought with it a steep learning curve, and a trail of Eckhart's patience. The technology he could learn with enough study. Patience was another thing altogether. Ascension was to be crewed by faces familiar to Eckhart. Unlike during his time with Athena, Eckhart would now find himself saddled with an executive officer lacking in personality, but making up for it with impressive engineering skills. Lieutenant Colonel Larry Murphy, one of the minds behind the X-301 and later F-302 program was that man. As frustrated as Eckhart found himself with Murphy, his opposite suffered the same with his commanding officer. It was far from a match made in heaven for both men, though the crew found it entertaining in the extreme.
"How is Ascension coming together?" Jack asked.
"Slow, but faster than I expected. Murphy can probably explain a bit more." Eckhart said, with distaste present in the last sentence.
Motioning Murphy over, General O'Neill waited for the junior officer's arrival. Hyperactive to an extent, Murphy covered the distance in little time. As engineers are known to do in military circles, Murphy presented a somewhat unconventional take on military disciple. His salute certainly left something to be desired.
"Welcome to Arkos General!" Murphy said with toned down excitement in his voice.
"How is the build coming Colonel?" Jack asked.
"Extremely well sir. If we could halt a few of the other ongoing projects here, we could speed up the build time by a factor of two. In case you are wondering sir, that is actually a suggestion instead of an explanation." Murphy replied.
Looking at the officer for a moment, Jack blinked hard. He could not decide if Murphy was arrogant, pushy, or another McKay. Realizing it was Eckhart's problem, he put the thought out of his mind.
"While I appreciate your enthusiasm for getting Ascension completed, those other ongoing programs will not be halted. Ascension is not the only priority." Jack replied.
"I think that might be a mistake sir." Murphy added.
"Colonel, I am going to pretend you did not just stick your foot and leg in your mouth." O'Neill said with a raised eyebrow.
"Murphy, go oversee the power conduit instillation for turret one." Eckhart ordered.
Frowning slightly, Murphy turned on his heels. Walking away at a hyperactive pace, the engineer quickly faded from view.
"Is he always like that?" O'Neill asked.
"Do you mean pushy, insufferable, or totally lacking in tact?" Eckhart asked.
"Ok, that answers my question. Reminds me of McKay, before we sent him to Atlantis." Jack mumbled.
Interrupting the two career Air Force officer's conversation; a stream of vessels glided by the Ascension class construction berths. Twenty in number, the new BC-311 Class vessels glided past. Divided four to a nation between the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, and Unified China; the 311's were painted in varying colors. Two of each countries four 311's were painted in national colors, meant to replace transports like Air Force One. Each nations other two 311's were painted in the same gunmetal color Earth's warships also wore. Two hundred and fifty meters in length; each 311 had a hull resembling a loaf of French bread, with tapered ends. Mounted to these hulls were delta wings, with four sublight drives. Powering these vessels powerful hyper drive systems was the Arcturus Device. Departing, these vessels would now make the short journey to Earth, where they would be stationed. Seeing these vessels glide by, Jack chuckled.
"First time I've seen those in person." Jack explained.
"Once they took shape, we had a betting pool on if one of them would carry the name Normandy." Eckhart added.
"Funny you mention that. The team that worked out the 311 design apparently loved the game Mass Effect. They took the appearance of a ship in the game, and designed a ship around it. Sheppard and I used to laugh, considering the main character of the game has his name." Jack stated.
"They sure are good looking ships. The ones I'm interested in though are up there." Eckhart said, while pointing to docking berths in another section of Arkos.
Filling those berths were the new Advanced Capabilities versions of the Improved Daedalus Class. Though these vessels outwardly resembled the Daedalus and her many sisters, their mission and outfitting were far different. From a distance, the two General Officers could see man and material swarm over the collection of vessels. Once prepared for departure, these vessels would depart for Alpha Centauri, where they would engage in war games within the boundaries of the Milky Way exercise area. Operated by several nations; these new vessels would make their mark on the galaxy, while returning confidence in the 304 design.
Minutes later, Jack said his goodbyes, and moved on to other areas. Passing through a ship construction area, Jack took note of the hulls of BC-303 Class vessels taking shape. These vessels, once complete, would find their way into use by the Alba Longan military. Romans would soon take to space. Intermixed with Alba Longan personnel overseeing ship construction, groups of Tollan engineers were present. Each BC-303 would contain a smattering of Tollan weapons technology. Tollan and Alba Longan were coming together, working towards a common cause, to do their part for the effort of many worlds.
Passing through the 303 construction area, Jack turned into an enclosed construction area of Arkos. Despite recognizing the General on sight, Jack was still subjected to review by security personnel. As he progressed into areas within the cavernous secure areas, further security checkpoints would be encountered. These, Jack knew he would simply have to suffer through.
In the first compartmented area he entered, Jack spoke with a development team. Their project, spurred on by a deficiency Earth's military wished to see corrected sooner rather than later, had resulted in success. Using the military doctrine Earth now employed in forcible entry of combat units, Airborne forces were left making due with antique and antiquated technology. Finally, the parachute would be relegated to the history books.
The technology developed by this team was nothing more than a simple module and emitter array. This array would be fitted to each C-142 Nimbus airlifter now in use, and those built moving forward. Mounted above the rear cargo ramp, this array would focus a beam towards ground beneath the in-flight Nimbus. Instead of Airborne troops leaping out of an aircraft, counting to five, and hoping their parachute opened, a new way of doing things was about to come into use. This system would allow a paratrooper to make contact with the transmitted beam from the array, and lower them to the ground below. The secret to making it work had been a close examination of tractor beam technology. The art of vertical envelopment was taking a quantum leap.
Satisfied with what he saw, Jack took his leave and moved on. Passing through the next security checkpoint, General O'Neill entered another cavernous chamber. Contained within this chamber were multiple engineers, and many logistics officers. Contained within the many crates filling the chamber were pieces of very advanced technology. Each piece of Arkos built technology was destined for other surroundings. Soon, the technology within these crates would become the beating heart of fleet stations in multiple galaxies. The stations themselves would be constructed on site. That was the driving fact behind the matter creation technology addition to each and every Athena Class vessel.
Continuing on, Jack grew excited. This final stopping point was the one he truly wanted to see. Passing through the security checkpoint, Jack felt giddy like a kid on Christmas. Awaiting his arrival, a joint group of engineers from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and Soldier Systems Command stood ready to receive their visitor. On a table beside the collection of engineers was a metallic backpack of sorts. Approaching the engineers, Jack was all smiles.
"Ok people, I am ready to see my new toy. Is it ready?" Jack asked.
"Yes general, your toy is ready." Doctor Billings replied.
"Is this it?" Jack asked, pointing at the metallic backpack.
"Allow one of my colleagues to demonstrate." Billings suggested.
That colleague, outfitted in an example of the exoskeleton system employed by Earth forces and off world teams from the SGC, approached from across the chamber. Stepping to the workbench, the exoskeleton clad figure effortlessly lifted the metallic backpack. A metallic click announced to those watching that the pack was in place. Within the exoskeleton, the colleague activated the backpack.
Noiselessly, the backpack began to transform. From each side of the pack, a one meter dihedral wing unfolded. This metal folding technology was the very same once employed by the Goa'uld, for decorative Jaffa helmets shaped in the image of their god. On the tapered bottom of the pack, two miniaturized reaction drive pods emerged. These were miniaturized versions of the very same drive pods used aboard Puddle Jumpers. Five seconds later, the exoskeleton and its pilot lifted from the deck plating. Noiselessly, the exoskeleton maneuvered within the upper reaches of the cavernous chamber.
"Ladies and gentlemen, what you have done here is fantastic. You have just made a seventy year old dream of the military come true. We've got jetpacks!" Jack cheered jubilantly.
"It is more than just a jet pack General." Doctor Billings announced.
"It does more? I am all ears Doctor." Jack stated.
"Each pack is capable of weapons carriage from the wings. Once unfolded, each wing is able to carry two 2.75 inch guided rockets. Guidance is supplied from the exoskeleton's sensors, and the integrated laser designator built into each exoskeleton." Billings explained.
"In flight, can a soldier fire their weapon?" Jack asked.
"If you mean their shoulder fired weapons, then no." Billings replied.
"That takes a bit of the usefulness out of the system Doctor." General O'Neill said disappointedly.
"We thought you might say that, so we created a workaround. Each pack contained a detachable energy weapon module. We essentially took the particle magnum and fit it into a new housing. No sense reinventing the wheel. This module magnetically affixes to the exoskeleton forearm. Communicating wirelessly with the exoskeleton control systems, the system is employed through automatically." Billings explained.
"What do you mean by employed automatically?" Jack asked, while making quotation gestures with his fingers.
"Accuracy would be a problem, if the suits occupant were to attempt to fire on a target. A stationary target would be a problem, and a moving target magnitudes of order harder. To work around that, we tied the targeting computer within the exoskeleton visor to the suits arm servos. The suits occupant acquires a target, and the suit brings the arm on target. As long as the suits occupant does not attempt to fight the suit, it is worry free." Billings continued.
"So it is just point and shoot then?" Jack asked.
"More like blink and shoot, but yes." Billings replied.
"Ok, that makes sense. Please continue Doctor." Jack urged.
"Each pack is equipped with a cloak. The cloaking system is essentially a reworked version of the type we already use for ground troops on special missions." Billings stated.
"What about performance?" General O'Neill asked.
"The pack weighs in at eighty kilograms, but the exoskeleton negates that weight penalty as it affects the suits occupant. In atmosphere average speed is limited to two hundred kilometers an hour. That can of course be exceeded, but requires operator consent. In atmosphere climb rates of six thousand meters a minute are average, and can again be exceeded with operator consent. Exoatmospheric performance is far greater, due to larger safety margins. Flight time is essentially unlimited, due to the power cell employed." Billings further explained.
"What about safety systems? My concern is what happens if this thing breaks in flight." Jack worried.
"A very weak antigravity device is incorporated into the pack's internals. In the event of systems failure, this device will power up and slowly lower the pilot, suit, and pack back to the ground. General, I am very happy to tell you that we have delivered exactly what you were hoping for." Billings said proudly.
Outside Sol Solar System
Departing Arkos Station, at velocities much slower than that of light, Hermes took her leave of her home solar system. Normally, upon exit from Arkos Station, Hermes and her sister ships jumped into hyperspace for faster than light travel to some far flung destination in this galaxy or another. Today's mission called sublight velocities. However, many of the crew thought their current exercise less than exciting, Colonel Cameron Mitchell was incredibly excited.
"Ok boys and girls; I want maximum sensitivity sensor sweeps. Our first target, if emitting, should be transmitting a very weak signal in the S band. Our esteemed friends at NASA believe the target is no longer radiating any signals whatsoever. Keep your eyes peeled." Colonel Mitchell instructed.
"So far no emissions detected sir. A few of the crew have noticed how excited you are about this tasking." The sensor officer stated.
"You bet I'm excited! They launched these things when I was a kid. I remember my dad and I watching the launch. That is one of my favorite memories." Mitchell replied, reflecting on the memory.
"If you don't mind my asking sir; why this target first?" The sensor officer asked.
"Pioneer 10 is the only deep space probe on this bearing. Pioneer 11 and both Voyager probes are traveling in the opposite direction. Pioneer 10, if transmitting at all, is undetectable to the NASA Deep Space Network. So, we are coming after this one first." Mitchell explained.
Powered forward, thanks to powerful sublight engines; Hermes powered away from her home solar system. Her powerful Ancient/Asgard hybrid sensors scanned the vast distances unfolding before Hermes. Thanks to these sensors, the wait was far from long. An audible chime on the bridge announced detection of Pioneer 10. Despite the current velocity of Pioneer 10, Hermes would easily overtake the probe in minutes.
As Hermes approached Pioneer 10, the Athena Class vessel matched velocity with the probe. A series of scans analyzed every facet of the probe. The few remaining functional portions of the probes science package went slightly berserk as Pioneer 10 was engulfed in the silver glow of an Asgard transport beam. Rematerializing in the portside hanger bay, the probe took shape within an antigravity field, surrounded by shielding. This was done to prevent radiation contamination of the hanger bay, and to prevent damage to Pioneer 10.
Leaping into hyperspace, Hermes moved to repeat this process three more times. Pioneer 11, and Voyager's 1 and 2 were coming home. Once retrieved, these probes would first enter Arkos Station for intense radiological decontamination. Once that process was complete, the four probes would be delivered to Earth.
Future generations on Earth would be able to visit museums, and look upon these antique examples of space faring technology. Much had changed since humanity's first journey beyond the bonds of Earth. These four probes would serve to remind humanity of just how far humankind had come in a very short time.
Over the course of the previous twenty four hours, delegates and dignitaries of many worlds, races, and cultures had arrived at the majestic city of Shambhala. While events worthy of this level of attendance were rare, they were becoming more common as the United Worlds grew in importance and influence. Sitting in the Signing Room of the United Worlds complex, representatives from the worlds of three galaxies sat, eagerly anticipating the formal ceremony just beginning.
The events of this day were a long time coming. Upon stepping down from the office of President of the United States, Henry Hayes realized that retirement was not the fate he wished to follow. Instead, the career politician had turned his considerable talents and influence towards other projects. One of the projects dearest to his heart was the one coming to fruition this day. Were it not for his intimate friendship with Elizabeth Weir, today's events might never have been.
In the rear of ornately appointed Signing Room, Camille Wray and Sharon Walker stood, hand in hand. Seeing the familiar face from a distance, Henry Hayes made his way over to the couple. On his face was the customary broad smile his campaigns always made much of during his runs for office.
"Mr. President, it is a pleasure to see you." Camille said in welcome.
"Please, call me Hank. I laid down the Mr. President mantle a while ago." Hayes suggested.
"Hank it is. Allow me to introduce my significant other." Camille stated.
"You must be Sharon. Camille has told me all about you." Hayes explained.
"It is an honor to meet you sir." Sharon said, somewhat awestruck.
"You recently relocated to Shambhala, correct? How are you adjusting to your surroundings?" Hayes asked.
"Each day here brings new sights and wonders. Half the time I walk around in amazement." Sharon replied with a laugh.
"One thing I learned early on is that just when you think you know what to expect, the universe throws you a curveball." Hayes answered with a laugh of his own.
"Today is a momentous day. Have you spoken with Elizabeth?" Wray asked.
"She has been dealing with this and that since my arrival. Today is her day." Hayes replied.
As the trio carried on with their conversation, Janus entered the signing room. Making his way to the trio, Janus exchanged pleasantries with them. Before the conversation could carry on further, the current head of the United Worlds entered the Signing Room. Behind him, followed Elizabeth Weir. Instead of taking seats, the duo of Elizabeth Weir and Sean Lee stood at the lectern. As the duo looked out over the assembled dignitaries of many worlds and races, silence filled the room. Clearing his throat, Lee began to his address.
"Before I begin, I wish to thank a number of people who contributed greatly to this endeavor. President Henry Hayes, upon leaving office, spearheaded this effort. Were it not for his drive and determination to see this effort through, we might still be debating the proposal now before us. I would also like to thank Secretary of State Simon Barnes. His near continuous consultations with many of the signatories drove home the importance of this effort. This is not the work of one individual, but instead the work of sentient species spanning galaxies. We should all take pride in our ability to come together, and do what is right and just for those among us.
On this day, we gather to affirm the rights of synthetic life. Though you have all signed this declaration, I will now read it to you in full. It is my honor to present to you the Synthetic Life Bill of Rights.
Based on the principle of the equal treatment of all persons; recognizing that scientific research gives us deeper insights into the complexities of synthetic minds, societies, and cultures; noting that the progressive development of international law manifests an entitlement to life by synthetics; we affirm that all synthetic persons and intelligences have the right to life, liberty, and wellbeing.
We conclude that every individual has the right to life. No synthetic should be held in captivity or servitude; be subject to cruel treatment; or be removed from their natural environment. All synthetics have the right to freedom of movement and residence within their natural or chosen environment. No synthetic is the property of any State, corporation, human group, or individual. Synthetics have the right to the protection of their natural or chosen environment. Synthetics have the right not to be subject to the disruption of their cultures. The rights, freedoms, and norms set forth in this declaration should be protected under international and domestic law. Synthetic life is entitled to an international order in which these rights, freedoms, and norms can be fully realized. No State, corporation, sentient group, or individual should engage in any activity that undermines these rights, freedoms, and norms. Nothing in this Declaration shall prevent a State from enacting stricter provisions for the protection of synthetic rights." Lee concluded.
From their many seats, delegates of all races, sizes, shapes, and origins stood. Their applause was deafening. At the lectern, beside Lee, was Elizabeth Weir. Seeing this outpouring of support for this initiative from so many corners of the universe filled her with emotion. This day, this moment, would forever standout as a day of importance.
In the rear of the Signing Room, Sharon Walker saw the emotion in Weir's eyes. Seeing that raw emotion written on her new friends face, Sharon herself was overcome with emotion. A tear rolled down her check. These were not tears of sorrow, but tears of happiness. It was a rare moment when one witnessed an event with such magnitude.
Standing beside Janus, Henry Hayes applauded. Aware of what this moment meant to Elizabeth, and to the Replicator's as a whole; Henry was fully aware that this moment was well worth the effort to bring this moment about. Beside him, Janus began to speak.
"You have finally brought the Replicators fully into the fold. This is an accomplishment I never imagined possible." Janus said solemnly.
"We simply pushed for what is fair, right, and just." Hayes replied.
"We are their creators, though we have no other role than that. Earth is their mother and father now. You have loved them as a parent should love a child. This is an example of what your world is capable of bringing to the universe. Be proud and savor the moment." Janus suggested.
Broadcast via subspace, this moment was seen by all Replicators on the home world. Moving forward, this moment would imbue the Replicators with a sense of belonging, purpose, and allegiance. Finally, they had a family that they would stand beside as long as time allowed. This event also signaled a coming change, which had been prepared for. En masse, droves of Replicators, vessels, and materials began to move. Their destination; Earth.
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