Stay awhile, and listen.
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Invader-class JumpShip Conch Shell
Nadir jump point, Bluford, Federated Suns
August 23rd AD 3070
"All boards read clear, sir."
Reginald Marquette twisted in his restraints to give his first officer a nod. "Glad to hear it, Tabitha," he said, and then twisted back and took a moment to make sure he was still belted in. "Alert the DropShips and initiate jump procedure."
“Aye sir," the woman replied, and then switched her headset to intership. "This is Conch Shell main bridge to attached DropShips," she spoke evenly. "Stand by for jump. Initiating five-minute countdown following the termination of this notice, so if you have any problems you had better air them now."
Marquette listened in on his own headset as the replies came in that all were ready. Not that I don't trust my XO, the civilian captain thought to assuage his temporary guilt as he surreptitiously cut the connection. Just it's nice to know as soon as possible if there will be any issues.
"Attached ships read green, sir," the first officer spoke up. "Initiating jump procedure," she added, and then hit the control to sound the three-tone alert throughout the JumpShip and the parasite vessels.
"Handing off initiator coils to navcomputer," the Conch's engineer added. "KF drive core reading steady at three degrees Kelvin. Realspace engines cold and locked down, primary fusion plant isolated from the KF core and running at five percent."
"Alright," Marquette spoke up after the engineer's report. "It's another day at the office, people," he added, sharing the ship's favorite in-joke with the bridge crew and garnering smiles for it. And a far cry from the holovids which always show every jump as if it were filled with white knuckled tension, Marquette thought. JumpShips had been plying the stars since the 22nd Century, yet many myths remained firmly lodged in the public consciousness. Oh well, that just means it's easier to negotiate contracts if everyone thinks you're some kind of techno-wizard.
Briefly, he mused how that had changed in the last generation with the rediscovery of advanced Star League technology. We can finally build these things again and understand them. I don't mind giving up some of the mystique if it means we don't have to worry about civilization – or our ships - breaking down.
A JumpShip is a spindly thing, consisting mainly of a Kearny-Fuchida drive system with just enough space for a station-keeping drive, crew spaces, and few other sundries. As a result there is little in the way between the delicate core made of titanium and germanium and the vacuum of space, save for several inches of armor-reinforced hull and the core's own tanks of liquid helium. At certain key points, even this protection is almost nonexistent.
It would thus be considered the height of misfortune that just as the Conch Shell's complex hyperspace drive was powering up, a chunk of debris from a space battle some years in the past happened along and slammed into the side of the hull, just over a helium refilling port. The chunk of slagged armor and a portion of the Conch's hull disappeared into vapor from the sheer amount of energy released by the impact, and had it happened anywhere else that would have been the end of it. However, the shockwave from the impact reverberated down the insulated pipework and caused an extreme amount of vibration at the inner seal, which was already being stressed due to the coolant pumps running at maximum to keep the drive core at superconducting temperatures. The savage energy bounding in from outside was more than the seal could handle, and in less than a second it ruptured and liquid helium began to pour out from around the core.
On the bridge, the impact was hardly noticed, yet everyone on board immediately felt a surge of adrenalin as alarms began to sound. "We've lost a seal on the aft coolant tank!" The Conch's engineer reported in a panicked voice. "Drive core is at nine-zero Kelvin and rising fast!"
"Abort jump sequence!" Marquette shouted, talking over his engineer as soon as the other man had said the word 'tank.' Yet even as the merchant captain gave the order, he knew he was too late as the last-second warning of five chimes sounded insistently, and his reality was unmade.
Even after nine centuries of interstellar travel made possible by the Kearny-Fuchida drive, hyperspace was the least understood of all natural phenomena. Discovered by accident by the two scientists whose names graced the field of hyperspace study, the theories and experiments that proved the concept were ignored and derided by a scientific establishment that held Einstein's Relativity in religious sanctity. Hounded out of their research positions, the two men who found humanity's salvation were kept from pursuing their ideas, thus depriving the world of any other discoveries the duo could have made. Their vindication a century later by two independent teams of scientists was too late to accomplish anything more than a journeyman's understanding, and so humanity's best continued to find themselves stumped by the intricacies and mysteries of hyperspace travel.
Chief amongst these mysteries were some of the infamous “misjumps” that interstellar JumpShips sometimes suffered, which would often cause feedback damage to the jump drive and even send the JumpShip wildly off course. Although most misjumps could be and were traced back to improper maintenance, battle damage, or simply a misplaced decimal point, a very rare few resulted in missing ships that were never heard from again. The fates of these ships and their crews had become the fuel of tall tales told late at night in dimly lit bars and other places where spacers gathered, with the most notoriously specious, yet utterly frightening legend being that of the missing ship and its crew being “trapped” in hyperspace for eternity.
Because of these things, captain Marquette felt sheer terror as the suddenly overheated drive core of the Conch Shell snapped open the hyperspace gate and sent the JumpShip and the DropShips that rode it hurtling into the unknown.
The Royal Palace
August 23rd 1023 RC
She yelped in pain as she awoke, feeling the scream of the heavens in her head. Celestia, elder of the royal sisters who ruled over the dominion of Equestria, fought to keep herself from screaming outright as the sensation of something tearing through the very fabric of existence echoed within her being.
She glanced around her room then, looking for anything that might be amiss as her mind struggled to catch up with the sensation that had awakened her. The pain was momentary, and already it was fading fast, though a feeling of unease remained. Luna? She thought, using her magic to reach out to her sister.
I am coming, my sister, came the reply. The haste with which it came and the worried feeling that rode its coattails let Celestia know that her sister had felt the disturbance as well, and more than likely had already been racing back to the palace. Satisfied that at least her sister was safe enough, Celestia stood up from the cushion she often napped on and strode rapidly to the door leading out of her chambers.
A flicker of magic from her unicorn horn made the doors fly open, and on the other side the two guards whose duty was to protect her sanctum startled at the sheer force of their monarch's action. "Your majesty?" One spoke up as the alicorn strode out from her rooms.
"Attend me," Celestia ordered, though she didn't stop to see if it was followed. The two guards, both pegasi, had to fly for a short hop to catch up with the princess, and even then they were hard pressed to keep up on hoof alone. Yet the brilliant white alicorn never slowed as she moved with determination, navigating the palace to reach the closest area open to the sky. Minutes later she was standing in a small garden, and Celestia raised her head to the star-studded night and waited patiently for her sister to arrive.
Princess Luna was fortunately a most punctual pony, and she soared in from her nightly flight at a speed that would normally worry the elder sister. Yet given what they both had felt, Celestia was more than willing to overlook the younger alicorn's reckless approach. Behind and above her, Luna's own escort of pegasus guards struggled in vain to catch up, and despite the situation, Celestia had to force herself from smiling at the flying ponies' noble devotion to their duty, even when it pained them.
All sense of mirth was banished from her mind, however, as Luna finished landing and walked over to meet with her. "I felt it as well," the princess of the night said, and then shivered. "I had almost fallen out of the sky before I regained control of myself. 'Tia," the midnight blue alicorn looked up at her elder then with fear in her eyes. "What was it?"
"I am not quite sure," Celestia admitted, and despite her millenia and more of practiced self-control, she anxiously ruffled her wings a bit. "Whatever it was, I fear it will impact our world in ways we cannot yet imagine."
"Your majesties?" One of the guards asked again, and both of the royal sisters turned to regard him with guarded but curious expressions. "Is there a threat? Should I go inform the rest of the guard?"
Celestia tilted her head to the side for a moment as she thought, but soon she shook her head. "No, Starbuck. Not yet, anyway," she said. "Whatever has us worried, it is far and it will be some time before anything can come of it. Let us not worry everypony before we know what is actually occurring." And if it is what I dread it is, then all of you will need as much rest as possible over the days to come.