An Exodus of Ideals

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An Exodus of Ideals

Postby Xveers on Tue 11 May 2021 20:14

One of the biggest "terror" moments in any bit of sci-fi is "Misjump!" The FTL engine, that convenient bit of Einsteinian -cheating technology, has misfired and thrown everything into disarray. Tales of peril and danger usually follow. But such things offer... more than just simple terror.

The drive field offers rapid travel through a star system, and the ability to fly through warp points, blinking across untold lightyears.

In Battletech, KF-drives are dangerous. Capable of hurling millions of tons across space thirty light-years at a time. And potentially across time as well.

Two drive systems, potential two different sides of the same coin. Each in their own universes. Carrying their own freight and fighting their own wars. One flip, the KF Drive; the other, the drive field.

But what happens when the universe calls "edge?"

------------------------------------------------

December 10, 2785
AC/SX-441 System
Beyond the Draconis Drift

General Aleksandr Kerensky stared up at the ceiling of his bunk. It had been five weeks and almost as many jumps since the Bismarck mutiny, and the aftershocks were still rippling through the fleet. General Order 137 had papered over the cracks, but he knew that those cracks were still there. Still spreading. Staring at the ceiling, he realized the light grey bulkhead above his bunk was the problem in miniature. At a distance the paint was a smooth, uniform color. Only when he stared closely did he see the hairline cracks, the spots where the paint was beginning to peel, where it had thinned out due to repeated contact time and time again.

It was the same problem that the fleet had escaped from. A cracking veneer showing bare metal. But the cruel truth was that they hadn't escaped. Those same stresses that existed in the inner sphere were still present in the exodus fleet. Stress. Anger. Violence. Assaults and rapes had been clicking up slowly across the whole fleet. Once unthinkable, even murders were beginning to crop up like the first shoots of a whole crop of troubles. The marines and MPs were trying, but it was a problem they'd never been fully trained for, only exacerbated by the slow pressure cooker that everyone had found themselves in. When hardened and disciplined troops began to crack, and they were, complete collapse was only a matter of time. It was clear to Kerensky that the situation was only going to continue to deteriorate.

But if they could get through the next few weeks, General Order 137 might just hold everyone together. At least long enough to find a few habitable worlds and finally get everyone off ship for longer than a few short hours. So just a little longer, a few more months, perhaps...

------------------------------------------------

CIC, McKenna's Pride

"Sir, we have an incoming misjump in progress."

"What do you mean, incoming misjump?"

"We have a massive jump signature emanating out in deep space, sir. Not at the Zenith or Nadir points, and well clear of any classic pirate point. And the IR pulse is, well. It's wrong, Sir. Multiple bursts, and they're fading in and out instead of building and merging. Should we alert the General?"

"No, not yet. If it's only a misjump, then we don't need to let him know that we're doing SAR work. If it's something else, well, then we'll see what it is. Estimated ETA to arrival?"

"Normally I'd say ten minutes, but with how bad this misjump is looking, I really couldn't say."

"Fair enough. Signal Admiral Costas on Bellerophon that he is to monitor the jump and provide assistance or defend the fleet as required. He is authorized to open fire only if the ships open fire on him or conduct obviously hostile maneuvers. General signal to convoy escorts: Unknown jump in progress, all ships are to take precautions to protect their command. ROE Delta-Five."

------------------------------------------------

0830
December 11, 2785
AC/SX-441 System
Beyond the Draconis Drift

General Kerensky pulled himself into the CIC, saluting Admiral Guildlyn. The grin on his face was half amusement, half utter confusion. Not separated too far apart, in truth.

"So I understand you have a mystery on your hands?"

"Understatement of the week, General. It's supposed to be a misjump. Well, that's what our sensors are telling us. But misjumps don't last for ten hours."

General Kerensky paused a few long moments, thinking. "Could it be the Massanass? Her drive occasionally displayed similar issues."

Admiral Guildlyn shook his head. "Never anything this spectacular, and not for ten hours! It's utter madness. It almost looks like a stable KF-field in local space. When it's stable. When it isn't, our sensors are bloody haywire. If we were closer to the 'sphere, I'd say this is some kind of experimental HRAD defense system. But we'd best hope it stops, whatever it is."

"And why is that, Admiral?"

"The energy spikes are randomly engaging the jump safeties on our KF-drives. Venetzia tried to leave two hours ago on a standard naughty picture run to check the nearby systems, but the automatics scrammed her jump twice. She's burning out-system to try and get clear so she can jump."

"And the jumpships only have station-keeping engines. So they're not able to do that same trick. Until whatever that-" his arm waved towards the primary holotank "is subsides, we're stuck here."


------------------------------------------------

System NK-441
Deep in Arachnid Space
May 12, 2363


"So that's it then, we're screwed."

Survey Squadron Twenty-Three had been dispatched nine months ago from Redwing Fleet Base, running up through Lorelei and into Khanate space, out to survey a new warp line and try to find a new flank to hit the arachnids. Six jumps had been clean and quiet once they had left Khanate space, running down a warp chain that ended in NK-441 when the jaws of an unseen trap had snapped shut.

"Our recon flights confirm it. There's at least twelve SDs sitting on the warp point, and the recon flight saw at least one more emerging from the warp point before they had to pull back."

Commodore van Cleese felt her grimace tighten up even more as she processed the data. The fact that the bugs had let her strike squadron get close enough to see that was... worrying. It showed that they didn't care that Survey Squadron Twenty-Three knew what was going on. Which meant they were going to wait it out.

"So what happened?"

"They probably had one of those cloaked cruisers somewhere back up-chain, and as soon as they saw us, either on entry or exit, they sent a message for reinforcements. We were pretty sneaky, but if they caught a whiff of one of our Huns, well... she's a unique design. Stands out like a sore thumb when you know what to look for. Figure after that they put a trailer on us until we jumped in here."

And here was the other jaw of the problem: NK-441 was a neutron star, pumping out hard radiation through the entire system. It washed out stealth systems (not like those mattered now), and worse yet after the survey ships finished, they confirmed NK-441 only had one warp point in-system. The one that the bug task force was now squatting on.

"Damnit. So we either charge and die. Or sit here and run down our supplies till we starve, and die. Or they come to us and we die. Or we all drive into the neutron star. And die."

"That's the long and the short of it, Commodore."
"Splendid."

Amanda van Cleese leaned back in her chair and looked at her captains over the comm link. "So that's it then, no other options?"

Captain Jefferies, commander of the detachment of Hun-class survey cruisers raised his hand on the comm. He was a quiet sort, more at home with multi-dimensional math than command, but BuPers had managed to fit a round peg into a round hole when he got assigned to survey command. For once.

"Well Ma'am, there is a possibility. A very, very slim possibility."

"Seeing as how every other option is Painful Death, Jeff, let's just say that I'm open to some long shots."

"Well, we've been recomputing the survey data over and over. Neutron stars exert a heavy... drag let's say, on the local fabric of spacetime. This does all kinds of havoc with our survey data, and since we've only surveyed three neutron stars including this one, it took my crew..."

"Jefferies, as much as I appreciate the hyper-physics lessons, can you move us a few paragraphs down the dissertation?"

"Oh, sorry Ma'am. Anyhow, the point is that our intial survey detected an anomaly, but we wrote it off initially as a sensor glitch. But I think our software is wrong. I asked our software to re-analyze the data, and it classified it as data processing error. See, when it sees some weird gravitational distortions that doesn't match the book, it gets confused and kind of runs home to momma."

"Wrote off what, Jefferies?"

"A warp point, Commodore. But you won't like where it is..."


------------------------------------------------

The collection of officers looked over Captain Jefferies navigational data, and a single word could describe the look on all their faces: Grimacing.

"Well you weren't kidding Jeff. How close is that to the star?"

"It's close enough that it's experiencing relativistic drag from the rotation of the neutron star. That's what caused the sensor distortion."

"And you couldn't otherwise see it because it was a type 14."

Type 14s were the single most terrifying warp point. Not because they were any harder to traverse, but because they were normally totally invisible. The only way to find one was to enter it from the opposite side. They were the ultimate defensive breakpoint. Withdraw cleanly behind one and no-one could ever follow. And the flip side was equally true. Every empire trembled at the thought of a type 14 lurking in their capital system, waiting for a hostile power to discover the secret passage straight to the throne.

Captain Tavur glared at the warp point with an especially critical eye. "And because it's deep in the PNR zone of the star. You'll only get one chance to transit it. Miss, and you're going to get crushed into a pebble. Sure, you could probably get a frigate or maybe a light cruiser in no problem, but the Karel Doorman's got the same mass as a heavy cruiser. Fennec masses as much as a battlecruiser. You're going to have to power slide her in."

"And that's ignoring the radiation. Our shielding can't hope to deflect all of it... we're going to be cooking a lot of our crew." Captain Nacht was comparing the Eitel Friedrich's shields to the estimated radiation output, and was seriously disliking the numbers that refused to change.

"Gentlemen, the way I see it, we have only two options. Stay and experience some flavor of certain death, or dive the star and go for the warp point." Everyone stared at Commodore van Cleese. She had, quite possibly, gone completely insane.

"Look, what we have is a binary solution set. We stay, and we're going to get killed. No disagreement, yes? Good. If we run for the warp point we'll get to live to fight another day. So long as one of us makes it back to Alliance space, they'll know where this warp line goes, and that somewhere along the way there's a closed warp point that links back to bug space. That fact alone could save millions. And that's our job. Full stop. So unless anyone has a better plan, this is it."

Her eyes surveyed the rest of her colleagues, and while none of them looked pleased, they all nodded in agreement.

"So that's it then. We dive the star and hope to god almighty it takes us where we need to be."
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Re: An Exodus of Ideals

Postby Xveers on Tue 18 May 2021 00:42

TFNS Procyon
System NK-441
Deep in Arachnid Space
May 13, 2363

"- so that's it. We either jump our we die. I know I'm asking a lot of you, but we all swore an oath to defend the Federation, and if we have any way to continue the fight, to preserve our way of life, we're going to take it."

Commodore van Cleese took a deep breath, hoping that the comm repeater didn't catch that too. "Survey Squadron Twenty-Three, form for in-line warp point transit."

There wasn't much more to say in the end, the squadron obediently dropping into formation, with TFN Koori in the lead. And as tradition dictated, TFN Procyon was there, third in line.

"Open mike from Koori, ma'am."
"Put it on shipboard, and link my feed into this. No secrets."

Captain Jefferies voice was easily understandable, though already one could hear the distortion thanks to the radiation the neutron star was pumping out.

"Flag, this is Koori. We're lined up on the warp point and transmitting telemetry to the squadron. Interference isn't too b-" The transmission melted into static for a moment before clearing up "Nevermind, Flag. All ships, watch out for a grav eddy just past the PNR line. And keep an eye- woah! Yeah, it's rough out here. Redline your engines and power through, it's getting even rou-"

The comm signal abruptly cut out as Koori hit the warp point and jumped clean away.

"Ma'am, Koori has jumped. Bonaventure is on track..."

On track was being generous. The Shokaku-class CVL was being pulled off course thanks to the drag of the neutron star, her drives screaming beyond the red line as she careened deeper into the PNR zone. She was pivoting broadside, quite literally power sliding into the warp point broadside-on.

"Bonaventure here! We've got it! We've go-"
The light carrier vanished from Einsteinian space in a blink.

Commodore van Cleese looked down at her console. Time to go.

"Navigation, ahead full. Engineering, get ready to redline the drives. Let's ride."

------------------------------------------------

McKenna's Pride
AC/SX-441 System
Beyond the Draconis Drift

1210
December 11, 2785

"Status change!"

The yell cut through the chatter in McKenna's Pride's Flag Bridge as heads snapped to look at the central holotank.

"Jump signature is forming up!"

"Are you sure? What's coming through?" Kerensky had been in Flag for almost four hours, listening as the anomaly pulsed, stabilizing and dissipating like a beating heart.

"Confirmed! EM pulses are stable... estimating two dozen point sources. Hard to pick out mass signatures... one contact estimated battlecruiser size. Rest are probably cruisers. Estimating final emergence in ninety seconds."

"Admiral..."

Admiral Guildlyn nodded in understanding. "Captain Pilov, general quarters if you please. Signal the 14th to battle stations and to form on dorsal; 17th on ventral. Half-gee burn until everyone's in their slots, then go to one gee. If these are house units, let's remind them whose space they're in." Guildlyn looked at his officers for a moment as they set to task before turning back to the holotank and his own commanding officer.

"Personally General, I don't think these guys are house forces. They sure as hell aren't rimjobbers. Did HRAD have any experimental task forces out here that might be trying to catch up? Or did someone manage to sneak off while we were dealing with Votok?"

Kerensky shook his head "No. That pizda wasn't that good. He announced his intentions and just sat there hoping he'd get more people to sign on. Idiot. If he'd had the balls to just plot a different jump destination, we wouldn't have noticed him missing for hours. A day, even. Fortunately for us his arrogance let us put those mutineers down."

"And HRAD?"

"No, we did a full sweep of HRAD's files. No secret projects, no experimental testbeds for new KF-drive prototypes. Well, except for Manassas."

"Who is, I remind you, still MIA and now a year overdue."

"No loss there. Cromwell was a glory hound, and I suspect he found 'glory' emerging into a star. A waste of a good ship. But better that he isn't here."

The deckplating vibrated as the McKenna's Pride eased open her drives, pushing up to a comfortable one gee of acceleration.

"Emergence in fifteen seconds."

------------------------------------------------

TFNS Procyon
AC/SX-441 System
Beyond the Draconis Drift

December 11, 2785

"Status report!"

The ride down to the warp point had been as rough as Koori and Bonaventure had suggested it was. Procyon had started off doing better than Bonaventure, but found herself overcorrecting, hitting the warp point almost in reverse before transiting through. And then there was the transit itself. Warp jumps are supposed to be instantaneous affairs, as best as anyone could tell. But this was... wrong. Commodore van Cleese swore she could see the back of her own head, and the rest of her survey group transiting <i>with her<i>. None of that was right. But then this was the first time anyone had used a warp point that close to a neutron star.

Still, being able to demand a status report suggested that they were alive. Or had found themselves adrift on the Cocytus.

"Systems coming back up... jump shock is bad... even worse than a simultaneous transit."

"Well what IS working Alice? And if sensors aren't working, get someone to look out a window!"

The swaying-drunk flag captain was already heaving herself over her console to get to the engineering station to try and get some answers even before van Cleese had asked. "Okay, okay... drives are offline. Main power is running but at standby levels. Passive arrays are on and pulling data, but the processing systems are still rebooting. Comms are..."

"Comm request from Koori, ma'am!"

"Well, put it on! I'm sure that Jefferies will know more than we do." The one advantage of having Survey Command officers along for the ride; the weird and wonderful was something they dealt with before breakfast. The comms came through scratchy, but cleaned up after a few moments as more systems recovered from jump shock.

"This is Koori. I have good news, bad news, and gripping news. What do you want first, Commodore?"

"Koori, this is van Cleese. We're still bringing our own systems up here, so any news you have is more than what we have, so don't keep us waiting."

"Affirmative, Commodore. Good news is that it looks like we're all here. Koori emerged first, about ten seconds before everyone else did in sequence. My guess is the warp point had some compression factor thanks to the gravitational..."

van Cleese actually found herself laughing a bit. Jefferson, and Koori by proxy, weren't in that bad a way if he was lapsing into lecture mode. "Please, Jeff. A few paragraphs down?"

Jeff chuckled in return "Sorry, commodore. Anyhow, good news is we're all here, and from what I can tell we're still in the Milky Way. My guess is we're about six hundred, six hundred fifty light years from Sol. So we're alive. Bad news... " he inhaled before continuing. "Pytor Veliky and Averof might have sustained some damage; their drives flared awful hard when they transited in with the rest of us and you're the first ship who's responded to any hails. The gripping news..."

"Please, Jeff. I don't have time for this." van Cleese grabbed her helmet, instinctually trying to grab her forehead to stop the oncoming headache.

"We're not alone. Optical sensors picked up almost two thousand thermal signatures, all of them around three hundred or so kelvin, give or take. Evenly split between the zenith and nadir points of the star."

An icy pit formed in van Cleese's stomach. The bugs, here?! Had they merely traded death around one nameless star for another?

"Their EM signatures don't match anything we have in the book. Not Terran, not Ophiuchi or Gorm or Orion or Arachnid. Not Theban or Rigellian either. Best I can tell they don't even have a drive field. But they have engines, Amanda. Great big stonking engines. There's a good dozen of them burning towards us at one gee of acceleration. Right on the dot."

"One gee? You're sure?"

"Triple checked the numbers, Amanda. One point zero zero two gee acceleration. At present course and accel, they'll be here in about twelve hours, assuming they flip and begin a deceleration burn in six."

"But one gee..."

"They're either humans, or someone who bootstrapped their tech base off of our standards, commodore. I'll stake my forward sensor array on it."

Commodore van Cleese settled back into her command couch. She'd be taking painkillers as soon as she could get out of her skinsuit, alright.

The snap of charging electronics pulled her attention to her own holographic tank as it began to relay Procyon's own sensor information. Slowly information filed in... a single red star, possible asteroid belt, a particularly noisy gas giant...

And a fleet that seemed to dwarf even the Grand Fleet in Alpha Centauri.

"Where the hell are we? And who are these people?"

------------------------------------------------

McKenna's Pride
AC/SX-441 System
Beyond the Draconis Drift

"Who the hell are these people?"

All eyes turned over to Kerensky, but he only said what everyone else was thinking. He turned, looking at Admiral Guildlyn for answers, who merely looked at the digital representation of the ships in the main holotank. Twenty four hulls hung in a rough formation, the majority of them one or two spheres with a knife like structure sticking out in one direction. Three hulls were entirely made of those long bladed structures, and as the CIC examined them closer, it became clear that the edges of those ships were lined with hatches. Three more were ugly, boxy affairs, a small sphere leading a massive rectangular prism with the engines that looked comical on the aft end.

"Their hulls don't match anything I've ever seen, Sir. Not even theoretical designs. They almost look like gigantic dropships rather than Warships..." Admiral Guildlyn turned his head from side to side, trying to tease out anything before CIC could. "CIC, Flag. What do their emissions look like?"

There was a pregnant pause before CIC responded.

"Fairly standard, Flag. We caught their KF fields collapsing immediately after they jumped. Probably blew their drives out on emergence. Thermal emissions are right on the money for human crewed vessels. Transit drives are cold, and we're not seeing anything looking like active targeting emissions. No jumpsail deployment either, but given how far they are from the primary, that's not too surprising. Plenty of neutrino emissions, so they've got fusion plants... Either they have a lot of them, or they're running hotter than ours can. Over."

Guildlyn probed "Any other kind of emissions?"

"We're catching some scraps. Fairly standard radio links, but their encryption is very different to ours; we haven't even broken the scramble yet. It's binary, at least, but beyond that... uh... standby. We're getting some better pictures. Relaying them up to Flag now. We'll send up anything more as soon as we have it. CIC out."

The holotank shifted to display the picture, inset in the corner of the main display. The image was of a single massive sphere with what looked like a flat wing extending back before flaring out to hold some comically small drive exhausts. Over the curve of the forward hull letters were legible, if only just.

TFNS Pytor Veliky

"Blin! What is... Pytor Veliky? She was lost..."

"SLS Pytor Veliky was lost over Lone Star, Sir."

"Well, whatever she is, and whatever a T-F-N-S is, it isn't ours."

------------------------------------------------

TFNS Procyon
AC/SX-441 System
Beyond the Draconis Drift

"So what's the butcher's bill, Alice?"

Alice Bashuck, TFNS Procyon's flag captain tried to put on a brave face, but it wasn't easy. Commodore Amanda van Cleese might have been her friend, but there was no way to sugar coat the bad news.

"We've got eighty-four casualties, twenty-one of them fatal. The rest should pull through, though some will be on reduced duty for a few weeks. We have some shock damage all down the ship, though we've managed to repair most of it. Frame looks good; just a few buckled secondary bulkheads. Galloway's world built her tough."

Amanda found herself speaking by instinct. "Corpos didn't cut too many corners, then."

Alice ignored her commander's slip of the tongue. The Corporate Worlds had been putting the screws to everyone, and even the blind were beginning to see. "Unfortunately the drive's still offline. Chief thinks it'll work, but he wants to do more stress checks. We blew out a lot of fuses on the jump, and detuning it that hard took a good hundred hours off their clocks. He's probably being overly cautious, but better safe than sorry. The rest of it, well..." Alice took another breath. "We've got comms with the rest of the survey squadron, and they're reporting about the same news. Some light damage, about the same casualties by percentage, and overloaded drives."

"Without our drives we're sitting ducks, Alice."

"Don't I know it. But we need at least seven more days before the Chief says we can bring our drives back online. And he'd prefer if we had double that."

"So what you're telling me, is that you want to buy us two weeks of time with these unknowns."

Alice merely nodded.

"Fine. So, talk to me about them. What do we know?"

Alice smiled broadly "Ah, on that, I have good news. Our passives have been looking them over nice and close, and I can definitely report that they're probably human."

"Probably? I don't like probably, Alice. Probably gets us Thebans."

That still was a bit of a sore point. Misidentification of Theban ships as long-lost Terran vessels had dragged the Terran Federation into a proxy war that came within a cat's tail of lighting off a full-scale interstellar war with the Khanate of Orion. It had been avoided, but only just. The possibility of kicking off another conflict, when the TFN was already hip deep in a war for base existence was most certainly not welcome.

"I'm actually almost certain they're human. The ships approaching us are running under good EMCON. Few snippets of radio comms, but well encrypted. The fleet behind them, however... a good portion of them are civilian, and they're broadcasting in clear. Entertainment programs, music, general civilian comms, you name it. Those comms are 'encrypted', but not really in any serious way. Plenty of different languages being thrown back and forth, but the polyglot leans hard towards English."

"Well, that answers what we're doing next."
"Yes?"
"Comms, send a wideband transmission to the approaching ships on one of their communications frequencies. Keep it simple, just a basic audio signal; no data on the sidebands."

Alice was still standing at ease, wondering what was going on when the channel clicked open.

"Attention unknown ships. This is the Terran Federation Naval Ship Procyon, Commodore Amanda van Cleese commanding Survey Group Twenty Three."
She inhaled, forcing her voice not to tremble.
"We are not hostile, and wish peaceful relations with your government."
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