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 The Gate

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Arya Astra
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PostSubject: The Gate   Tue Jan 26, 2010 9:20 am

The Gate

As the Bulk Hauler Celeres dropped out of warp, it took only a few seconds for Numeri Trinnis Den to figure out something went wrong. Figuring out why the brown dwarf Ganjandona was nowhere to be seen would be a different matter altogether.

“Uh, Captain,” the bridge officer began hesitantly, “it looks like we missed our destination.”

Legionary Iron Lungs was almost asleep in his command chair. Picking up a batch of iron from the middle of nowhere wasn’t exactly the most exciting work, and didn’t require his full attention. The confusing statement from his navigation officer drew him immediately out of his near slumber, although for a moment he wondered if he had began dreaming. “What are you talking about Numeri Den?”

“Well, our jump is completed, but we aren’t where we’re supposed to be,” explained the young bridge officer.

“How is that possible? Never mind, figure out where the hell we are, then we will figure out how we got here.” After rubbing the drowsiness from his eyes, he looked out the viewscreen, but it was completely black. That was not unexpected, one of the disconcerting things about being on the galactic rim was the lack of stars. The dim light from distant galaxies was not visible to the naked eye.

After a few uncomfortably silent moments, Den reported, “It looks like we overshot Ganjandona by a couple light years. I have a fix on the star, but it is behind us.”

Baffled by the report, but relieved that at least they knew where they were, Iron Lungs wondered out loud, “What could cause us to do that? The nav comp was recalibrated last time we were at station.”

“I believe we locked on to an uncharted energy source, instead of the star. I’m getting some unusual readings. It looks like there is some sort of structure in front of us.”

Seeing nothing but blackness on the viewscreen, Iron began cycling through the lens filters to see if he could get a visual on the structure. The civilian cargo vessel had limited sensor equipment, so there weren’t too many options for trying to get a better look at the anomaly. He eventually settled on an infrared setting, which showed the dim outline of a massive circular construction. “Numeri, what does that look like to you?”

“It’s much bigger then any man made object I’ve seen before, and I’ve been to the shipyards at Soltela. If I were to have to guess, it almost reminds me of a stargate,” offered Trinnis Den.

“I was thinking the same thing. Comms, get me Legionary Cincinnatus. We are overdue for our rendezvous.” The third bridge officer, who served as communications, yeoman, and stock clerk for the cargo vessel, had been staring out the viewscreen with his jaw open. Numeri Pasirta T’Kar snapped to attention and fired up the subspace communication systems, sending a signal back to the brown dwarf two light years to aft.

A speaker installed in the command chair crackled to life. “This is Lucius here, where are you guys? Do you want to be refueled or not?”

“Lucius, we are transmitting our coordinates to you now. We had a navigational error.” The captain inquired, “Say, your explorator, is it fitted for max scan?”

“Uh, sure, why?” replied Iron Lung’s counterpart, “What is going on?”

“Just get out here as quick as you can, we are going to need you to take a look at something. Celeres out.” After signing off the line, Legionary Lungs turned again to T’Kar, “Open a channel to Imperator Astra. She is going to want to see this.”

* * * *

Back at Laucae Station, the command officers of Res Publica poured over a collection of sensor readings, historical data, engineering and physics texts, and a couple science fiction novels. So far, they had come up with lots of questions, and few answers. Imperator Arya Astra stood up, “Alright, let’s start at the top. So what do we know?”

Legionary Talon Milam piped up first, “Based on our scans, the structure is well over a thousand years old. That means it is not of human construction. It is still generating considerable power. It does indeed resemble a stargate, but very different then the gates of Cinnhil design.”

Astra pursed her lips thoughtfully, “Any records of anything like this ever having been reported before?”

“Nothing at all like it. Ever since the invention of the jump drive, there have been rumors of alien artifacts being found, but no one has definitive evidence. Popular culture usually attributes this to a Grand Council cover up,” offered Cincinnatus.

“I don’t usually buy in to those sort of conspiracy theories. Let’s contact the University of Aurlinfinn, they have better capabilities then us to investigate this.” After giving the order, she sensed some reservation from Iron Lungs, “Mr. Lungs, you look concerned?”

“What if it still works?” As the suggestion sunk in to everyone around the table, the command staff’s faces portrayed a mix of puzzlement, disbelief, and excitement.

“Excuse me, Legionary? This artifact is over a thousand years old,” replied the Imperator.

“It still has power! We know nothing about this thing, but since it is still generating power, something is still working.” Iron Lungs stood up as he grew more excited about the prospect.

“Just because it is still putting off power doesn’t mean it is still functioning.” Arya Astra looked at her officer with disbelief.

“But how do we know? This could possibly be the most important discovery mankind has ever made. If this still functions, it could lead anywhere. We could be looking at the gateway to a new region of space with who knows what type of resources, or first contact with an alien race! If the Grand Council finds out about this now, they will claim it, and we will be left out in the cold.” Realizing he was losing his composure, Iron collected himself and sat back down.

“He’s right, Miss Astra,” agreed Talon Milam. “This could be the most valuable gate in Nyridion.”

“Point taken. Alright men, I’m raising this project to top security clearance only. I want a complete communications lockdown, only our most trusted pilots can know anything about this. Detain the crew of the Celeres for the time being. Lets set up a blockade at the gate, I want all four of our interceptors out there.” She paused while mentally reviewing the reliability of her available personnel, “Let’s bring in Auxillias Sheik and Golfer, we will need them in explorators to fuel the main fleet, we don’t have the range to get out their otherwise. Golfer will be assigned to myself and Lungs, Sheik will support Milam and Cincinnatus.”

Talon Milam seemed alarmed, “We are deploying the entire fleet? What if IGF decides to make another push for Laucae?”

The Imperator was unwavering, “The ceasefire has been holding for a couple weeks, that’s a risk I am willing to take. Besides, recent intelligence reports indicate they are working on establishing a starbase in the Telalaer system, I expect they will be keeping their fleet in a defensive stance until construction is complete. Nonetheless, I will contact Barranis and put him on call. Also, load your cargo full of nuclear charges.”

“Nukes! What are you considering, Imperator?” Once again, Legionary Lungs stood up, clearly agitated.

“If the gate does work, and if we do make first contact, we do not know what their intentions might be. If things go poorly, I will not have Res Publica as the beach head for an alien invasion. We must be prepared to destroy the gate. You have your orders. Dismissed.”

* * * *

Velites, Turmae, Basher, and their flagship, Caesar, were in formation a hundred kilometers from the monolithic construction. A series of explosive charges had been attached around the structure, and their detonators were linked to the command deck of Imperator Astra’s ship, the Caesar. A small explorator class ship, looking quite insignificant in comparison to the stargate, was in the center of the massive metal ring that comprised the bulk of the artifact. The science vessel Inquisitar released a two meter long cylinder from its cargo hold, and approached the fleet.

On the command deck of the Caesar, Arya Astra received a message from Auxilia Golfer’s ship. The transmission was made using a close range radio signal, encrypted to prevent interception from any unwanted observers. “The probe is in position, Imperator.”

“Everyone, back up three hundred klicks from the gate. Inquisitar, once we are in position, transmit the activation signal.” Then, to her bridge crew, “Let’s see how good our science team evaluated the activation sequence.”

After the fleet reformed, with the smaller science vessel taking the lead, Auxilia Golfer began transmitting a signal to the probe, which in turn relayed it to the gate. For a few moments nothing happened. “Looks like we are going to be disappointed,” as she nearly finished her thought, the stargate emitted a blinding burst of white light. The viewscreen polarized in response, but the spectacle was still impressive. “Woah, what happened? Is the probe still there?”

“Negative, Imperator,” replied her science officer, Numeri Norr, “It appears that we have had a successful gate activation.” Arya smiled, as her crew burst in to a raucous round of applause. The communications panel lit up, as signals from rest of the fleet poured in.

“Did ya get a look at that?” “I’ve never seen a gate burst like that!” “I can’t believe it actually worked!”

“OK, comms discipline here. Transmit all your sensor data to the Inquisitar, lets see if we can triangulate a fix on the destination.” After feeding their collective data in to the science vessel, Imperator Astra gave them a half hour before requesting a report. “So, Auxilia Golfer, what do you make of it?”

“I can confirm that was a genuine gate activation, but I have no idea where the probe went. This device is just too different then any known stargate. No report from the probe, but that isn’t surprising, due to the limited range of its broadcaster,” explained Golfer.

Arya Astra frowned. She knew all along that it might come to this, but it still didn’t make things any easier. The unspoken question that had been on everyone’s mind during the investigation who would be jumping first in to an unknown destination? “Numeri, patch all captains in the fleet in for holo-conference. I will be in my ready room, you have the con.”

* * * *

A series of small holographic emitters circled the conference table, and projecting a shimmering image of the ship commanders. Imperator Astra sat at the head of the table with a worried look on her face. “I am sure that you have all considered this, but lets talk about our next step here.”

Legionary Lungs interrupted, “I volunteer.”

“What? Uh wait a moment, lets not be hasty,” Astra was clearly caught off guard.

“We know someone has to do it. This is my discovery, and I want to be the first to go through.” Iron Lungs was emphatic, “What other choice do we have?”

Talon Milam, not one to be outdone, stepped up as well, “I’m the junior Legionary here, I should be the one to take the risk.”

“No Talon, I want this. Even if by a stroke of luck, I earned it,” insisted Iron.

“He’s right. Someone has to do it. It is his discovery, so if he really wants to be the one,” her voice trailed off. She was beginning to have a bad feeling about this. “Transfer the bulk of your crew to the other ships, pick a skeleton crew only. Take volunteers, I only want people who are willing to take this risk to go.”

“Understood, I’ll talk to my crew. Is that all?” Iron Lungs was clearly anxious to go. There would be no discouraging him now.

“Iron, I want to be sure you know what you are doing. We don’t know what is on the other side, or even if it will take you anywhere. The probe could have been disintegrated, we don’t really know,” Astra cautioned. “The activation signal might not work on the other side, you could be starting from scratch.” Seeing that the Legionary was undeterred, and she did need someone to do it, “Jump in, take a few scans, then jump back. For now, we just need to know that it works both ways.”

“I’ll be careful. Hey, don’t worry, I’ll see you all soon!” Despite his enthusiasm, a sense of dread was continuing to grow in the young Empress.

* * * *

As time crawled by since the Turmae had made the jump, the seconds seemed like minutes, the minutes seemed like hours, and the hours seemed like days. Imperator Astra had a readout displayed on her viewscreen, it now read just over 12 Cinnhil hours since the jump. The Imperator and her crew were quite fatigued, but she was hesitant to have them stand down from a state of readiness, in case something happened. At eight hours she had began rotating the crew on two hour off shifts, so that they could grab a brief nap, not wanting everyone to be completely fatigued. Arya had ordered the Velites and the Basher to do the same, but she had not left the bridge. Briefly she entertained the thought of taking some stimulants to keep herself awake, but dismissed the idea. She had not indulged since proclaiming herself Imperator, and the memories of the withdrawal were not pleasant.

At twelve hours and thirty seven minutes since the jump, the gate emitted a blinding burst of light. “Imperator, we have gate activation!” exclaimed Numeri Norr.

The Turmae was now visible in the center of the gate, or at least what was left of it. One of the two forward gun pylons had been sheared completely off, the other was twisted at an impossible angle. The ship was visibly shorter, as if it had been compressed by some great pressure. It was venting oxygen and plasma in to the open space of the jump ring. “Open a channel to the Turmae!” After achieving a static filled connection with the crippled vessel, Arya Astra began excitedly, “Legionary Lungs, report. . . report . . . Iron, can you hear me?”

A secondary viewscreen displayed the shattered remains of the interceptor’s bridge. Sparks and smoke filled the air behind the image of the Legionary. Most distressing of all was the appearance of the officer himself. His hair had gone completely white. His face was disfigured, half of it appeared to be burned off, exposing portions of his skull. The features on the other half of his face were distorted, twisted upwards at angles that no normal injury could account for. It was amazing that he was still alive, “My Gods, Iron, what happened?”

“The stars! The stars! They want us! They want our souls! You must not let them through!” babbled the mutilated Legionary Iron Lungs. “The crew, most of them are dead. They kept the dead, Arya! They kept the dead!”

Although the incoherent ramblings made little sense to Arya, one thing was clear. She would not be sending another ship through that gate, “Velites, approach the Turmae and attach tow cables, get her out of range of the gate.”

“Imperator!” interrupted her science officer, “I’m detecting a power build up in the gate, I think it may be recharging for another activation!”

The Imperator hesitated for a split second, studying the shattered visage of Iron Lungs. She could hesitate no more, “Belay that order, all ships, pull away from the gate, all ships, pull away from the gate. Numeri, as soon as the main fleet is 350 klicks away, send the detonation signal.”

“But the Turmae will still be in the blast radius,” protested Numeri Norr.

“You have your orders,” recognizing from her tone that she had made up her mind, as soon as the fleet had gained the required distance from the stargate, Numeri Norr transmitted the detonation codes. A series of flashes of light erupted across the jump ring. As the explosions died down, the gate was still visible on the viewscreen, with the crippled interceptor tumbling inside the ring. The smaller display that previously showed the interior of the damaged ship flashed and went blank as the communication link cut out.

“Imperator,” Norr shouted, “it wasn’t enough, the gate is still charging up!”

“All ships, open fire on the gate! Concentrate your fire on the power source,” then, to her own crew, “As soon as the Turmae is about to pass outside of the jump ring, target all fire on its plasma thrusters. We must detonate the ship as well.” Astra realized she was standing on her feet, and she collapsed back in to her command chair.

A score of beam weapons struck out against the alien stargate, lighting up the surface of the structure. Chunks of metal began vaporizing as the beams drilled in to the construct. As the crippled vessel drifted towards the side of the ring, the weapons officer of the Caesar reluctantly switched his targeting to the engines of the interceptor. In its damage state the Turmae burst in to a ball of fire. The shattered hulk of the ship collided in to the interior of the jump ring, causing it to fracture.

At that moment, the power source of the stargate discharged in to the jump ring, but in its damage state, it could not complete the gate activation. The ring broke apart as a massive surge of energy crackled through the gate. The remaining ships of the Res Publica fleet were buffeted back by a wave of energy, but their shields held. As the explosions subsided, all that was left was a debris field drifting apart from the shattered gate. Nothing remained of the Turmae.

* * * *

Imperator Arya Astra’s explorator, Deep Black, settled in to a low orbit around Aurlinfinn I before beginning its decent. She had been reluctant to make the trip, but there still had questions to be answered, even though she suspected the deranged mind of Legionary Iron Lungs would be unable to give her the answers. Nonetheless, he was her closest friend, the first pilot to rally behind her cause, and she could not ignore him forever.

They landed on the roof of a hospital complex in the capital city. Due to her status, she did not have to go through the usual customs clearance that would have necessitated passing through the starport first. Instead she was able to head directly to her destination. Arya regretted having to move Iron here, but Laucae did not have the facilities or staff to give her retired Legionary the care he needed.

As she walked through the stark corridors of the sterile facility, her mind raced. What did they see out there? Why did the disaster he endured poison his remaining clones? When she made the decision to fire on the Turmae she thought it was an act of mercy, that Iron Lungs, his body a wreck, would be better off assuming his latest clone. Nobody knew why the madness he suffered carried on to his next clone as well, and the one that was activated after his suicide on Laucae station. It was as if the tragedy transcended time itself, rippling back to every previous copy of his consciousness.

When she reached the door of his hospital room, she paused. “You don’t have to do this,” she lied to herself, but she knew she did. He deserved as much, even though the thought of seeing him in his current state disturbed her, made her skin crawl. She pressed the button on the side of the doorway, and it slid open.

Iron Lungs sat on the floor of a spacious room, with painted papers scattered about him. He was finger-painting, and the paint still covered his hands. He did not look up when she came in, but continued with his task. As had happened during his previous clone’s awakening, his hair again had gone completely white. Arya stepped through the door, and it closed behind her silently.

She stood behind him for a few minutes, watching, but he continued, apparently unaware of her presence. She began picking up papers, looking at the bizarre images, and setting them back down. She thought they were just abstract nonsense, but in one she saw what looked like an interceptor class starship in the grips of . . . something indescribable. Eventually, she cleared her throat, and began speaking to her lost friend.

“Iron. Iron, do you know who I am?” At that he turned to her, smiled blankly, than returned to his painting.

“Arya. Arya, Arya, Arya,” he repeated, “Are you hear to kill me again?”

She crouched down and put her hand on his knee. “No, no, Iron. I am so sorry about what happened.”

“I wish you were going to kill me. I don’t like seeing them. They are still here, pushing on the boundaries of our galaxy. Trying to find a way in, searching, searching.” She took his hands from the picture, smearing paint on her own. She held the hands of her first Legionary.

“Who are they? What are they?” she asked.

“Stars. They are stars, but not our stars. Different. From beyond. Would you like some pudding, the pudding is good here? You did what you had to do, but how is it that you are still here?” For an instant, there was a clarity in his eyes. Then it was gone. He pulled his hands away, and returned to his painting.

“I just got here. I will always be here for you, Iron,” Arya tried to be sympathetic, although seeing the man in this state was distressing. She wasn’t sure how long she could stand to be in his presence.

“No, I mean how is anything still here? I was gone for eons,” Iron Lungs replied cryptically. “Eons. Eons. Eons.”

“You were gone for just over twelve hours,” she tried to explain.

“That wasn’t twelve hours. It was millennia,” his voice was growing agitated, and he turned his back to Arya.

She crawled in front of him, smearing paint on her flight suit on the way, “Iron. I need to know what you saw on the other side?”

“Hell, Arya. I saw hell.”

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Alpha Bennett



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PostSubject: Re: The Gate   Tue Jan 26, 2010 4:53 pm

Creepy!
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Lucius Cincinnatus



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PostSubject: Re: The Gate   Wed Jan 27, 2010 12:18 am

That was awesome!!!!
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