(Main Bridge, BNS Ama-no-Murakumo-no-Tsurugi, Unknown System)
In a system unnamed by any species known to those living in Known Space, the Gateway opened. Forty-five light years away from Nuevo Edo, and a more sobering seventy light years from the Amazon system, this gateway had never before been dialed from one of the known gates, not since any of the races that now resided in Known Space had watched them. From the gate emerged the Black Star Fleet, flying fast as they hoped for the best, and prepared for the worst. Ghost squadron led the way, blasting through the Gateway almost the instant it had opened. Behind them came the rest of the fighters from the fleet, like a cloud of angry hornets ready to break up any defenses that may be in place in front of the gate.
Then the heaviest, most durable ship in the group emerged, the BSN Ama-no-Murakumo-no-Tsurugi leading the fleet as they ventured into the unknown. The entire fleet filed through the gate behind her, every ship ready for action with shields fully charged and weapons at the ready. No one knew what the situation would be, and so everyone was ready for anything. Running straight into an enemy fleet would be bad, but the fighters and the Ama-no-Murakumo would ensure that the little ships would at least survive the transfer, and they would have a chance to fight back.
The other side of the gate contained… nothing. Well, not nothing. There was a star, and planets, and moons, and asteroids, and all that fun stuff, but there weren’t any enemy ships waiting to try and blast them to bits, which made everyone very happy. Of course, not having anything directly in their path meant nothing, since ships could be fairly stealthy.
On the bridge of the Ama-no-Murakumo, I tore my eyes away from the first look at brand new, unexplored space, and looked to the captain. “Captain, coordinate with Shadowdancer and Shifrat Almawt. Tachyon pulses from all three ships on my mark. Let’s get an idea of what we’re dealing with while the light catches up to us.”
“The cruisers report ready, Master.”
Three pulses emitted from the fleet as the battleship and the two cruisers spread out into a defensive line. This separation served more than just allowing for overlapping fire control to defend against incoming attacks. Three pulses, offset from each other in three dimensions, gave us an instant ‘snapshot’ of the system.
“X’thari probe sighted. Firelord Leader responding. Firelord Leader reports that the probe has been destroyed. No signs of other ships in the system.”
That wasn’t a certainty, and everyone knew it. Tachyon pulses were a great (albeit LOUD) way to get a complete read on the masses in a solar system. But no sensor tech was without its flaws. Just like active sonar in the days of submarine warfare, there were ways to hide from the tachyon pulses, if you knew how. Making like you were just another part of an asteroid belt was the simplest. Proximity to planets or moons could throw things off, especially if you were on the far side of the planetary body from the pulse’s origin. And then there were quirks of the ‘weather’, for lack of a better term, that could cause interference based on the structure of space. It was an open secret that every military R&D company in the world wanted to be the one to crack how to have stealth systems be able to actively hide from the pulses. To my knowledge, no one, not even the X’thari, had managed it. Physics didn’t complain too much when you bent a law here or there, but breaking them entirely got difficult, fast.
Slave-Captain Virstina looked over to me. “Preliminary scans of the system show seven planets, Master. Four gas giants in the outer system, and three rocky worlds. Best bet for life would be the second planet. It is in the ‘Goldilocks zone’, so it may be able to support life. We’ll have to do an in-depth study to be certain.”
I nodded. That was what I wanted to hear! “All ships secure from battle stations. Helm, take us towards the second planet, defensive formation Delta Seven. Have gunboat Peru dial the Amazon gate and get the Starborn to join us. Contact Thunderfury, and ensure that the Marines and the scientists are in the loop, so they know conditions of the planet and start looking for landing sites. We will finalize plans for a landing when we get into orbit.”
(Conference Room, BSN Ama-no-Murakumo-no-Tsurugi, orbiting the second planet)
We’d arrived in orbit of the second planet after an easy nine hour cruise, but the work of going over the preliminary scans of the system as a whole, and the more in-depth scans we were able to do as we moved closer to the second planet took time to do properly. We only had one colony ship, and moving the colony once placed would be… problematic, to say the least. Better to take the extra time and do it right, rather than to lose everything because were rushing ahead. After all, we had plenty of time since the only ones who knew we were here were the X’thari, and they wouldn’t know the specifics until much later.
Firelord Leader had done very well with that probe, and it was destroyed before the light of our arrival could get to it. The X’thari didn’t like to place the things too close to inhabited planets or the Gateways, it seemed, since that raised the chances of someone stumbling onto them. But having placed it just over fifteen light minutes from the Gateway, Firelord Leader was able to get to it just before the light of the Gate caught up to it, with an in-system jump. The X’thari would know what it meant, of course, but they would be cautious, especially after the last beating we’d given them.
Of course, once we got the colony established, we would have to work on constructing defenses. I intended to call Third Group out here once the colony was on the ground, and have them start constructing the orbital shipyards and defenses. Hmm. Better add a space station for offloading large freighters that couldn’t land on the surface, like the yards at Nuevo Edo were working on. If my plans for this system went through, then it would be quite a windfall for Black Star.
Why would I want my own planet? Because a ‘company planet’, where everything was owned (directly or indirectly) by Black Star, would allow for all sorts of things to happen. Like Nuevo Edo, it would be a free port, in the sense that none of the interstellar governments would have a say there, but while Nuevo Edo was trying to keep their noses clean, I could offer the same services for those who might not be as legitimate as I was. I was thinking something like Las Vegas, back in the old days, when the mob really ran the place, with shades of Amsterdam. Any vice or service available, for a price, with some very simple rules. Theft, murder, piracy, and the like would not be tolerated. But anything else? As long as the Company got its cut, then they could do what they liked. I imagined we would have a great deal of trade with ‘legal’ smugglers coming through the system to make exchanges.
But that was filed under ‘long term goals’. In the short term, we needed to decide on the site for the colony and get things established before we opened the system up for others to join in the colonization effort. Which is why I was sitting in this conference room now with several scientists and other important people from the fleet, twenty-four hours after our initial incursion into the system. We had to pick a colony site.
Lieutenant Kian Windos, the leader of the Ama-no-Murakumo’s science department, was talking about the scans of the second planet and its two moons. “As you can see, the planet is roughly analogous to Terra in size, being 1% larger than humanity’s homeworld and having 5% higher gravity. Sixty-five percent of the planet’s surface is covered in oceans of water. So far, we are not detecting any lethal radiation or other extreme hazards, other than a few volcanic eruptions in isolated areas. Mineralogy reports will take time to complete of course, as we go exploring in depth. Temperatures range from tropical towards the equator to arctic in the polar regions, as one might expect. We don’t have enough data to talk about weather patterns, but we have noticed one hurricane forming in the middle of one of the oceans.”
I nodded slowly. So far “Would you say that the planet is suitable for colonization, Lieutenant?”
Windos paused, and then nodded his head. “Yes, Admiral, but strict quarantine measures should be in place for anyone heading to the surface. While the atmospheric composition appears breathable, we will need time to analyze filtration reports on the air and water before we can say that it is safe. The last thing we want is for an alien version of some bacteria that is usually harmless mutating to become some kind of super-plague. The galaxy only needs one Twilight system.”
We all gave a collective shudder at that. The Twilight system had been the target of one of the early knelfi colonization efforts. Unfortunately, something on the planet had caused runaway genetic mutations in those exposed. The colonists had suddenly become, for some reason, hemovores, and began attacking each other, spreading the infection until it was too widespread. In addition to physical changes, which included some bizarre crystallization of the skin when exposed to sunlight, were severe psychological changes, resulting in what could basically be summed up as whiny, emo, co-dependent idiots, with a marked rise in sexual deviancy. The Knelfi had quarantined the planet and, after finding that there was no cure, had condemned the planet to be the first world in the galaxy to receive an exterminatus order.
Of course, that was only the worst, most horrible example, but there were plenty of other examples in the early days of interstellar colonization. Thankfully, the ones who came before had thought of such things. Looking to the scientist, I asked, “Do you think the standard protocols will be sufficient, or should we design new protocols for this planet?”
Windos shook his head. “The standard protocols should be sufficient. We will want to enforce the testing regimens to ensure that any incidents remain contained, but the protocols were designed to be adaptive based on the situations on the ground. I believe that, if we follow them, we should be able to significantly reduce the risks to the colonists.”
I nodded. “Very well. Now, to the next point of business. Any signs of previous tenants?”
“Nothing definitive, Admiral. However, there are two points of potential interest. First, we have some energy readings on this continent here that may indicate some kind of previous civilization. The site is centered in a dense jungle, so we are unable to get visuals from above, but it may be worth checking out.”
“Second, and a bit more worrisome, is this impact crater on the southern continent. It appears to be a high-speed impact from a spaceship of some kind. We can see some of the wreckage on scanners, but there is indication of some sort of installation there, like what was reported in several areas of Known Space shortly after the fall of Terra in the Imperial Civil War.”
THAT got my attention, fast. I looked to Major Khan, and said, “Major, the Black Star Marines have a mission. I want you to drop on the crash site and investigate. Full contamination protocols, just in case.”
The Marine nodded grimly, and excused himself to begin planning his deployment. When he was gone, I looked to Windos again. “Transfer your readings on the energy source in the northern continent to Raven for further analysis. If there is a source of Lost Tech on this planet, we need to secure it. I’ll have teams go and check it out as well.”
I looked at everyone remaining in the room. “All right, people, this world appears to be even better than what we were looking for. Of course, it could be a hundred times more dangerous than we’d hoped, but we’ll adapt. I’m officially declaring that the planet and system will be named Star’s Reach. The colony of Starborn will be established on the surface. Now, we just have to find a good spot for it. So let me see the options.”