Where does it end? Every minute of every hour of every day it seems there’s always something out there trying to screw you over and grind you down. If it’s not the damn raiders and pirates intent on attacking the cargo haulers then it’s the central government yet again reminding us how we have to work our fingers to the bone to support the Outworlds. The central government, reminding us once again we have to all do our part to prosper and survive ever since Earth and the Core Worlds abandoned us three centuries ago.
The historians call it The Dark. Not hard to see why really. Though if the lessons they teach in the schools today are anything to go by then we’re a lot better off today than we were when the Aldebaren supergate went loopy and refused to connect with any of the Core World Gates. Back then the Outworlds relied on almost everything from the Core Worlds. Medicines, food, fuel, refined radioactive materials, essential technology, everything. The initial five colonies of the Outworlds before The Dark began got it all from Earth and the Core Worlds.
The biggest problem by far was the fact no one knew what had happened back then. Had we been abandoned? Was it some kind of disaster that had destroyed the gates back in the Core Worlds? War? Truth is no one knew. The sub-space gateways were the only way to travel to the Core Worlds. Unless of course you wanted to spend a few centuries in sus-an as your ship travelled the old fashion way. No one wanted that so we made do with best we could.
Of course there was countless theories as to what had happened, there always is, some half-baked theory from some crackpot that’s spent a few to many hours out under the sun or the clinically paranoid types who see lies everywhere. Humans have loved a good conspiracy theory since forever and The Dark had spawned a fair few of those. Aliens, that old staple from the years before Earth had been planet bound that gem reared its head among certain circles. Of course now they knew we were not alone out here. We’d made contact nearly two centuries ago. But these we not some grey skinned short humanoid creatures at all these were truly alien.
They called themselves something unpronounceable by the human tongue. So we just called them the Polari, after the system Polaris where we encountered them. They don’t seem to mind the moniker we’ve given them, seldom do you hear them refer to themselves by whatever their real name is now. They’re strange things really, not really biological, but more a cyber-organic. There’s fleshy bits for sure we’ve seen them. But mostly the Polari exist as a digital life form. Some highly advanced form of digital conscious transfer. They have this remarkable ability to transfer their consciousness into specially constructed machines, truly remarkable. When they’re not doing things to help us or doing whatever it is Polari do they inhabit their “real” bodies. They’ve adapted these from what they were when we first encountered them. Back then their bodies were like living crystal and you could see the data streams coursing through them like energy, lightning almost. Now they look almost human. They haven’t tried to totally mimic the human form, just made themselves less alien to look upon. They picked up quickly how humans tend to fear anything different, so took steps to make it easier for us to accept them. Despite everything the Polari still make some people nervous, yet we know had we made first contact with them life would be much, much harder if we hadn’t all died out first. The Polari gave us the help when we needed it.
Mind you the whole conspiracy circuit isn’t without its merits. Records do show just a few days before the supergate stopped working a significant number of cargo haulers arrived from Earth. More than we were used to, all full of supplies. The conspiracy nuts claim it was because the Core Worlds knew something was about to happen. Be it them cutting us off or something else altogether, that’s the beauty of a conspiracy the facts can be twisted to fit any story if you try hard enough. However the history books tell a different story. According to the records the second phase expansion of the Outworlds was about to begin. The ships and supplies that were sent were to provide the materials required to push humanity further out into the star. But even then the conspiracists say that the history books have been altered and that it’s not the first time it’s been done. Twisting the facts to fit their ideas.
Truth is no one really knows what happened to the supergrate in the Aldebaren system, chances are no ever will either. At least not in our lifetime. Once the ship they launched around two hundred and fifty years or so ago returns, if it returns of course, we may know but until then we’ll carry on wondering and working as we have done these last three centuries. We all have our jobs and our roles to play, thankfully I have one of the better jobs going. Sure it’s got risk but which job doesn’t, I could have been stuck with a job tending crops or any other dull job working dirt side, least up here I get to sense freedom once in….
“Hey Curtis.” The voice crackled over the communicator making the woman drop the socket driver in her hand. She fumbled quickly to grasp it and closed her fingers around it a little too fast. She didn’t feel the tumbling, but the exterior hull of the Alderbaren supergate moving past her vision told her quickly she’d moved to fast and the motion had send her moving off in an undesirable manner. “Curtis, do you read me?” The voice over her communicator asked.
She muttered under her breath as she watched Aldebaren, a Red Giant star, float past her field of view. She placed the tool carefully into her tool belt before activated the manoeuvring thrusters on her EVA suit and re-orientating herself to the supergate. She activated her communicator “Yes I hear you Mack. What’s up?”
“Radio check. You’re over due by ten minutes.” The voice on the other end of the communicator answered. Mack was one of the staff that worked on the Supergate. Curtis herself, she was one of the senior engineers than made sure the gate worked. Her job had always given her time to think, but that’s when she lost track of the time like she had now. She lifted her arm slowly to look at the small computer display on the arm of her suit. Oxygen reserves were still in the green, 58 percent according to the display.
“Sorry Mack. Miles away out here, it’s so damn relaxing. Anyway I’m just about all done here just need to close up.” Curtis activated the thrusters on her EVA suit again and slowly manoeuvred herself back to where she had been working.
“Understood. You got eyes on the clock out there? Fifteen count till the new drift co-ordinates upload.” Mack informed her. She glanced at the display on her wrist again. He was right there was now less than quarter of an hour till the Aldebaren supergate activated to update its location to the rest of the sub-space gate network. It happened every day at the same time. A nesseccery piece of maintenance to ensure each gate could connect to the network properly due to stellar expansion.
“Yeah I’ll be done in plenty of time.” Curtis replied as she removed the handheld socket drier power tool from her tool belt and resumed work on the exposed panel she had been working on a few minutes earlier. She finished the work she was doing and replaced it into her tool belt. “Done. Closing up now” She said over the communicator.
“Confirmed showing green across the board. Good job Curtis.” Mack answered after a few seconds. “We should be good to go with the update now. Get your ass back inside we’re down to five on the clock.”
“Negative Mack. Going to enjoy the show out here. I’ll chime in after the update.” Curtis answered as she slid the exposed panel cover back into place and locked it using the magnetic latches within.
“Pullman isn’t going to like that Shan.” Mack responded. “You know how he gets about the update.”
“Pullman can bite me Mack. Damned if I’m dragging my ass out into the black with sixty on the clock to fix his cock up and not get something out of it. Besides I’ve got half a tank of O2 and nearly a full tank of fuel.”
Curtis heard a chuckle over the communicator. “Copy that Shannon. Might want to pull away to MSD. Last thing you need is your avionics being fried in the wash when the gate powers up.”
Curtis activated the thrusters on her EVA and rotated herself away from the station and began to thrust away. She stared out across the infinite void towards Aldebaren. The massive K class red giant raged several billion miles away from her location, she glanced downwards and saw Aldebaren D, the forth planet of the system, more commonly known as Aldover. A small planet residing with the outer edge of the habitable region of the Aldebaren system Aldover was the seat of power for the Outworlds Republic. It was one of the first planets colonized my mankind in the Outworlds and one of the more populated ones. Most of its infrastructure was geared towards transporting processed metals and gases to the other colonies thanks in part to the heavy asteroid mining operations closer to the star. However the planet itself was heavily agricultural thanks to its terraformed status.
Humanity had terraformed a few planets and moons here in the Outworlds before The Dark. In the case of Aldover this had meant introducing heavy greenhouse gases to thicken the atmosphere and increase surface temperature. It had taken years but it had been worth it. Aldover quickly became the centre of the Outworlds and served as a template for further terraforming operations that continued to this day on other planets in the Republic. The heavy gases mined from the asteroid belts were shipped out to support other terraforming projects.
Curtis glanced at her wrist display once more just a minute left till the update. She toggled the manoeuvring thruster of her EVA again and slowed down before turning her orientation to face the supergate. From this distance the supergate still appeared large, she had to actually turn her head to see the full length of the gateway. Against it she saw a pair of Banshee fighters fly past and begin a landing operation on the gate’s integrated station facility.
“Attention. Thirty seconds until daily update.” Chirped the automated voice of the station’s computer system. It was the same thing every day. An automated message transmitted to all external receivers, advising them of the imminent activation of the gate and provide an audible warning to vacate the area to avoid any damage to sensitive electronic equipment. Curtis watched the countdown on the small wrist display of her suit and with half an ear heard the computer inform her there was now just 10 seconds till the gate activated. “Ten seconds until daily update. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. Gate activating.”
Lights along the length of the four arms of the station activated and pulsed brightly against the black calmness of space, rows of bright while lights pulsing along the length of the gigantic arms as they opened outwards. With each pulse the lights on the end of the arms grew brighter and brighter, the pulses growing faster and faster until the blinking on and off became impossible to see. The entire arms glowed white for a few seconds then blanked out. At the same instant the blackness of space between the now fully spread arms seemed to tear itself apart in a cavalcade of pure brilliant white light which dimmed to a brilliant purple and blue storm of energy that funnelled down between the arms to some infinite point near the station proper. The communication channel of Curtis’ suit emitted a massive burst of static and white noise it made her wince despite knowing it was coming. It took a few seconds for the suit to filter out the white noise which was replaced with a rapid series of bleeps as the Aldebaren gate transmitted its current spatial drift location to the other gates in the network and received a revised set of co-ordinates from the other gates connected to it.
Curtis had seen it many times before, but it always filled her with a sense of wonder. The majesty of the scene offset by the sheer brutality of the very fabric of space being ripped apart to create the sub-space gateway that allowed starships to travel between systems, so long as there was a connecting gateway at the destination. It was the discovery of the sub-space threshold and technology that had opened the stars to humankind four centuries ago. To Curtis they had only just begun to explore the ever expanding galaxy before The Dark had begun. She often wondered, as she did now as she stared at the sub-space gateway, just how far humanity could have advanced had contact with Earth and the Core Worlds not been lost. She considered this once again as the whirlpool of purple and blue light raged in front of her. Like always she couldn’t fathom how far humanity could have gone or what races they may have encountered. If Humanity existed out here and so did the Polari, then there must surely be other species capable of travelling between the stars, and more just on the cusp of taking those first steps out into the great unending blackness. What would they be like? Would they be like humans or would they be like the Polari? Maybe they were something else entirely.
It occurred to Curtis that the gateway had been open longer than normal, she glanced at the display on her wrist yet again. Three minutes. The Gate was only ever open for ninety seconds during the daily update. This was most irregular. Perhaps there was something wrong. Maybe the Aldebaren gate had not established a connection with one of the other gates. That could happen. Something could have damaged one of the other gates preventing it from making its regular update. However the safety protocols in place on each gateway was supposed to prevent the gates remaining open in the event contact could not be established with another gate. Suddenly the gateway flared and blinked out of existence. The massive arms of the gateway began to close and Curtis realised she’d been holding her breath. She exhaled and active her suit’s communicator.
“Mack. Everything okay over there?” She asked as she activated her EVA and started to thrust her way back towards the station. “I’m heading back in.”
“We’re fine Curtis. Not sure what the problem was. We’re examining the data now.” Mack answered. Curtis continued to advance towards the supergate. After a few moments her radio crackled back to life.
“Curtis hold position.” A new voice spoke over the channel. “Something odd here. There’s a second signal buried underneath the drift update transmission. Massive signal packet. Much bigger than anything we’ve seen before.” She recognised the voice as Owen Pullman the station chief.
“Understood sir. Any indication of the source or content?” Curtis asked as she brought herself to a stop. “Any damage to the station?”
“No idea at the time. No damage to report. It doesn’t seem to have affected any of the operational systems.” Pullman replied. “Hold on. Curtis move away fast as you can. The gate is powering up. I say again the gate is powering up.”
Curtis wasted no time in activated her suit’s thrusters once again and began to move away from the station. She was still several kilometres away when the gate activation sequence began as it had a few minutes ago with the lights on the length of the arms pulsing at an ever increasing rate.
The gateway exploded just as Curtis reached minimum safe distance. She stared at it for what seemed like an eternity. Then from with the heart of the swirling vortex a ship burst into existence. It was unlike anything she had seen. A shrill burst of static from her communicator was replaced with a voice. One she was unfamiliar with.
“Aldor station do you copy? Say again Aldor station do you copy?”
Curtis could only imagine the panic on the command deck of the station as this ship had emerged and began transmitting in the open. She could not hear the response from Pullman over her communicator but the reply from the mysterious ship was all too clear and as amazing as it was terrifying.
“Copy that Aldor station. This is the ESS Pendragon. On behalf of the people of Earth and the AFE we greet you and indeed all the people of the Outworlds we come in the hope re-establishing contact after all these years and extend our hand in friendship and peace.”