08 – Gateway

Varrel, less than two lightyears from Akos, possessed the closest gate hub with the most direct link to the Tribesson border. With Tribesson lying fringeward of Federation space, and Akos inhabiting the coreward volumes of the Federation, traversing the vast Federation would have taken years without the existence of the gates. The gates themselves—artificially-generated and stabilized wormholes—are sustained in clusters known as gate hubs. These hubs are placed in certain systems such that there is no longer than a day’s hyperwarp travel to any one gate hub from any system within the Federation proper. There are many hubs that exist as single gates able to connect to any number of other hubs. Most densely-populated regions of the Federation are serviced by hubs consisting of several gates with permanent connections that are traversed by thousands of ships per day.

     “We made it to Varrel in record time,” Atara noted as the synerdrive wound down. The ever-growing Varrel star slowly slipped to the right due to parallax before the Kelsor converged with the gate hub’s space, stopping completely. “What do you think, Xann?”

     “GreDrive actually did it,” Xannissa thought to the captain. “I’m still marveling at the mediator.”

     “Gate control is halting traffic for us,” Ethis reported in her noticeable accent.

     Atara, standing just behind Naret and flanked by Sesh and Fiori, commanded, “Take us through, lieutenant.”

     “Aye. Accelerating toward the Sol gate.” Naret guided the ship with her neural interface.

     The Kelsor’s gravitics and fusion engines propelled the battlecruiser toward the sphere of warped space. The wormhole—nearly a hundred kilometers in diameter—was surrounded by four stabilizers arranged at the points of an imaginary trigonal pyramid. After burning past the anchored civilian spaceliners and freighters, the Kelsor approached the wormhole’s event horizon through which a distorted white star (Sol) was visible.

     As the Kelsor pierced the horizon, the stars on the Varrel side of the wormhole shrank back as the stars of the Sol side advanced to fill the sky. Those aboard where oblivious to the spatial distortions occurring around the vessel unless they peered outside or found themselves in a sufficiently open space such as a hangar or cargo bay. Soon, the battlecruiser emerged in the heart of Federation space—several hundred lightyears from Akos—on the edge of the Sol system.

     “Status?” asked the captain.

     “All systems reporting nominal,” said a bridge officer.

     “Naret, proceed to the next gate.”

     They were three gates away from exiting Federation space. At each hub, interstellar traffic was briefly halted to let the battlecruiser through, potentially disrupting millions of lives and billions of credits. They moved about with Aesho’s authority, and there was nothing the gate controllers could do.

     Sesh moved a little closer to Atara. Feeling her presence, Atara spoke first in a soft voice that was loud enough for Naret to hear.

     “What have I been missing out on these last thirteen years?”

     “Apart from continued everlasting peace?” As a hobby historian, Sesh was more aware of the magnitude of the relative peace Civilized Space found itself in despite the constant outbreak of minor conflicts here and there. “I’d say little’s changed.”

     “You being such a fine officer, I’m surprised you haven’t attained captain yet.”

     “Actually, I have,” Sesh chuckled, “but I stole a play from your playbook.”

     “You forfeited promotion? But why? I wish we had stayed in touch.”

     “I think it was the right decision. I mean, we’re serving on the same ship again,” and after a pause, Sesh continued softly, “This is where you say ‘I could not have had a finer first officer.’”

     “That goes without saying,” Atara told her, and the two laughed lightly. Naret absorbed every word of their idle chatter as her eyes darted across her lumionic console.

     “But don’t worry about me,” said Sesh. “I’m not going to back down from a command again. Maybe they’ll give me a Kelsor-class of my own.”

     “And then we could start forming our own strike group.”

     “Now you’re talking.”

     Now that the Kelsor was transiting through gateways, the loud hum of the hyperwarp drives had quieted. It was easier to hear distant conversations and footfalls, but slightly more difficult to hear one’s own thoughts. At least, that’s what Xannissa felt as she now leaned over a central table, preparing to dissect the first drive data they obtained. The Elestan found comfort in the persistent noise from heavy machinery and its ability to filter out disruptive sounds such as the voices of others.

     Just then, a lumigraph appeared next to her.

     “Xanni!” said the person imaged.

     “Who is…” Xannissa said, slightly annoyed, and upon looking at the person’s face, continued with a shout of, “Cylenna!”

     “Hi, cutie,” said the smiling, black-haired Elestan pilot.

     “How the hell were you able to reach me?”

     “I’m on this ship, silly.”

     At this, Xannissa sighed. After pausing to collect herself, she said, “At least I can keep an eye on you.”

     “Sure, if that makes you feel better. Say, want to meet up sometime? Give your big sister a little attention?”

     “I’m busy.” Cylenna said nothing. She just stared at her younger sister until Xannissa caved and said, “Fine. But not until after we pass Mirida.”

     Three more transits through wormholes and the Kelsor found itself at a hub in fringeward Federation space that would take the ship into Tribesson territory. With the help of the gateway network, thousands of lightyears worth of travel had been crammed into a timespan of less than a day. With only a few hours until their arrival at Mirida, Atara put out another call for a meeting with the senior officers. Beyond Mirida, extensive gateway networks were next to nonexistent, setting the stage for a great chase that would pit classical hyperwarp against the emerging synerdrives that were bound to engulf the Federation’s sphere of influence in Civilized Space in the coming decades.

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