Chapter 1: back story
It was a time of rising tension across the galaxy as the Central Government (CG) of the United Planetary Systems sabre rattled and postured its position to browbeat the High Command (HC) of the Combined Space Military. The HC was responsible for all land, sea, air and space military units and had no wish to hand over elements of its command to the system governors. The HC also charged a raft of fees to anyone who wanted use of military assets for protection, exploration or colonization.
It was the opinion of the HC that handing over any units would lessen the effectiveness of the military while possibly creating petty dictators or warlords of the governors. The governors could use the military assets to suppress the democratic rights of a planets citizens, prop up unpopular officials and levy unjust taxes all in the name of peace.
It had been specifically written into the "Charter of Foundation" for the uniting of the planetary systems under one government that the military would always remain a separate entity from the government to prevent exactly what the HC saw was about to happen. The CG wanted to regain control the military, it said, to better police the vast network of space, protect valuable trade routes but without paying the associated costs for dealing with the HC. All this powder keg needed was a flashpoint and at that precise moment in time the match was sitting at an orbital station near Jupiter.
The Colony Command vessel (CCV) Olympus, the Colony Transport vessel Everest (CTV) and the Colony Supply vessel Warehouse (CSV) were under going final loading in preparation for departure to a recently classified colony planet.
Normally the military would commit an escort vessel as well as support and combat troops but due to the current situation only a mixed unit of 100 specialty ground troops were to accompany the colonists. Adding to the tension was the order that the military commander was designated as the mission leader until landfall had been achieved "AND" no threat by hostiles was evident.
The big bulk ore carrying transports regularly used slave technology to link all vessels in a convoy to a command vessel. The Olympus had a crew of 12 and this would be the first time that a colony transfer would use the technology. Close to 20,000 people and animals would make the trip in cryo-sleep to ease pressure on the ship systems.
Arriving at the jump point the transit team made the final preparations for launch and it is believed that at this time the sabotage was performed. The transit team left the Olympus for the space dock as the jump gate was activated. As the ships were approaching the gate on automatic control and about to pass the event horizon into the nether world of the hyper-space void the Olympus fired its attitude jets to bring its nose up, the slaved vessels also changed their approach vector and crossed from real space on the wrong course.
Then it hit the fan.
A series of explosions ripped apart the jump gate before it had been deactivated taking with it all data that could have been used to track the Olympus. Then the shuttle carrying the transit team exploded killing everyone on board who could have been questioned about the final minutes before launch.
In the zero time it takes for rumours and conspiracies to hit the net both sides were being painted as the bad guys. The military had planned it, which was why it didn't supply an escort vessel. The Government had sanctioned it to put pressure on the military and to bring in a raft of legislation to counter terrorism on a number of volatile worlds.
Immediately the HC began a strategic redeployment of military assets away from hostile worlds to reinforce friendly systems and secure rest and refit facilities at a number of sites. The CG enacted emergency legislation including the farcical Emergency Standing Order 181 banning the use of jump gates to military craft. Any jump station supervisor faced with a fully armed warship never obeyed this order.
Soon the unsubstantiated stories of military action against civilians and the crackdown by the government on demonstrators began to surface. The military claimed it had been forced to fight its way to evac points on several worlds. The government countered with stories of military supporters destroying key infrastructure and disruptions to the lives of average citizens.
Finally the unthinkable happened and the government was able to take over a military vessel while it was docked in space. With one ship in its possession the CG was able to use it to capture other vessels. This led to strike and counter strike in a galactic wide game of tit-for-tat that quickly escalated from one on one encounters to planetary bombardment, damaging of the comms net, suppression of the news media and in a few extreme cases disabling of jump gates.
Entire systems were effectively isolated and panic gripped the populous. Supplies ran short, people rioted, and the local government hired private security to deal with maintaining order. Some systems were so vulnerable that when contact was re-established barely enough people remained to make the planet viable again. The loss of the Olympus had chilled a lot of people's enthusiasm for becoming colonists.
And while the galaxy descended into a chaos that would rage for years and entire populations came close to extinction the board of enquiry into the Olympus incident quietly packed up and slipped away without ever issuing any type of official verdict. As for the ships themselves they entered folklore along side the Flying Dutchman and the Titanic but who really knows what happens in the void that is hyperspace.
The ships sailed on into the void. Passing through the jump gate had activated the transit and elapsed time clocks on the command deck of the Olympus and the computer AI continued its programmed routine performing each function as the elapsed journey time passed another mark. As elapsed time climbed towards transit time the ship had to use its supposedly advanced intelligence as the first sign of potential trouble appeared.
No repeater signal was being received from the jump gate so the ship could not accurately calculate its position. At first the AI ran the standard protocols for this situation but its results did not match the sensor readings. Repeat and check, again and again the computer crunched the numbers but there was still an error so the AI thought outside the box as directed by its core program.
If input is correct and answer is error then logic dictated that input data is in fact in error.
The computer searched its systems, its back up systems and even the redundant third layer of systems until in an auto deleted file in a flight sub routine it found the lines of added coding the fired the attitude thrusters. Recalling sensor data for entry point and conducting a new crunch of the data the AI finally completed a match for external sensor readings.
The ships were way off course and each passing minute steered them further from known space. The AI enacted emergency procedures and shut down main engines, activated magnetic locks to the Everest and Warehouse to prevent them veering away and being lost. It set off an emergency locater beacon and then began a ship wide audit of all systems to determine which could be safely powered down without harm befalling the colonists. When all of these functions had been performed it gave the signal to awaken the mission commander, the crew chief and the colony leader.
Accessing the knowledge of these individuals along with its own programming would elicit a viable response to the current situation. When trouble comes it comes in bucket loads. The cryo sleep units for the three would not respond and the AI could not issue a specific activation for anyone else and a general activation would wake up every colonist and the ship was not capable of supporting so many individuals at once.
As per the laws of physics even with the engines shut down the ships continued along their flight path and unless the AI fired the braking thrusters they would continue until acted upon by some outside force. Now the AI was about to gamble on its programming and its choices were slim. Bring the ships to a halt in vacant space and then waiting for rescue or continue on until its sensors found a suitable place to land the colonists.
Rescue and recovery was a faint chance due to the divergence from their original course and the empty nature of the surrounding region. Finding a planet to support the colonists was also a long shot but by projecting its current course into unmapped space the ship theorised that a planet could exist and as its core objective was to safely transport people to colonise a new world then forward was better then standing still.
Time is irrelevant to a computer. Nothing more then a series of numbers that link events so the computer was oblivious of the effect of real time. Real time drained power that could not be replenished in space. Real time degraded circuits. Real time caused systems to respond slower than expected. Materials for repairs became sparse and the ship began to cannibalise itself to maintain running order.
On and on the trio of ships sailed, ever deeper into uncharted space, time and distance loosing all meaning. Priority for the available power was always the colonists; secondary was keeping the little fleet together. External lighting was blacked out; sensor sweeps were conducted at widening intervals and for less duration. Hydroponics was the first major system to go, as there was no one to tend and harvest the plants. Water and oxygen were stored for later use. Seed banks were sealed.
Power to third layer systems was cut. Internal life support went. Eventually even the computer rationed power to itself to prolong power to the cryo sleep units. Soon though the decision would have to be made to jettison either the Everest or Warehouse as the power the mag locks would have to be cut.
The elapsed time clock had long since maxed out and been shut down the ship had no need of time. Without any fixed point of reference the calculation of distance was meaningless so was the knowledge of how long the ships had been traversing the hyperspace void.
Finally power use reached critical and the ship was forced to make a decision its programming rated as extremely minimal. The designers had covered nearly every possible scenario and the ship extrapolated data and applied it to every situation. At last the ship admitted defeat. It would not be possible to bring all the colonists to a safe destination based on current data so again the AI thought outside the box.
It bought the fleet to a standstill, severed the mag locks to the other vessels and using that power fired an intense, high beam, burst signal out into space. It maximised the power of the transmission by shortening the message to the bare minimum, one word, "HELP". It then powered everything down including itself leaving only the cryo sleep units running but unless something extra ordinary happened the colonists would never wake to discover their fate.
How long the ship was offline was unknown but rising levels of power had initiated a system restart. The ship verified all colonists were still alive and that all three ships were moving, propelled by some external presence. The ship tried to scan the immediate area for the presence but while it could trace the incoming power it could find nothing in the space around that point.
The ship transmitted several messages of peace to the point in space and was greeted with a response in a computer code. Soon the ship detected scans being conducted on itself as well as the accessing of data banks. Something was interested in who they were so the ship put together a message outlining what was needed by the colonists to survive.
The ship waited and suddenly a wave of unknown energy enveloped all three ships. Systems automatically repaired and came back online. The hydroponics labs were cleared of debris and plants began to bloom. The water-recycling unit powered up and began cleaning the water stored in the onboard tanks. Everything was happening at an accelerated speed and the ship was now aware of new information being added to its data banks.
Then all three ships dropped out of hyperspace and were in orbit around a blue/green world. Two moons hung in the blackness of space and a yellow/white sun gleamed in the distance. All systems were now active and the ship began to conduct various scans and searches before deciding if the planet was safe to wake the colonists and commence landing.
This time the order to awaken the mission commander, the crew chief and the colony leader proved successful and soon all three men were reading the ship reports of all that had transpired. Immediately this caused conflict as the crew were meant to return with the ships after landing but now they were marooned along with everyone else at an unknown planet. The military commander was to assume control of the situation until the colonists had landed and no hostile presence had developed. The colony leader was not happy about landing on an unknown world and being isolated from the CG.
Eventually the crew chief sided with the military commander and preparations were begun to establish the colony and then investigate how to contact the CG. All reports looked good. No large cities or advanced technology had been found in the scans. More essential personnel were woken up and the ships made ready to land.
It was decided to put the Everest down first to allow the colonists time to get organised for the arrival of the Warehouse. The Warehouse contained prefab buildings and construction equipment. This would be required to build enough housing to accommodate all the remaining colonists from the Olympus.
Controlled from the Olympus, the Everest made a textbook landing in the designated landing zone (LZ). The Everest contained settlers, animals and some lighter building equipment. The colonists used the lighter equipment on board to prepare for the arrival of the Warehouse. Next the Warehouse entered the atmosphere and it was on its final approach when the sensors onboard the Olympus detected a power build up on the planets surface. Only great flying by the crew and the solid construction of the ship prevented it being blown out of the sky. Energy beams whizzed around it but failed to prevent it making planet fall.
Then the military jumped in pushing its authority because now they had signs of hostiles in the area. This whole operation would now be under military command until the hostiles had been suppressed and this would cause friction for years to come.
The Olympus stayed in orbit for several days conducting sensor sweeps for any more information on the energy beams. The ship provided a possible reason for the shooting of an unmanned ship instead of the Everest. Included in the Warehouse was a sealed compartment housing most of the military equipment. The Olympus also housed several aerospace vehicles and it was decided to man them and fly to the surface separately to the Olympus. This proved successful as no hostile activity was detected.
At last the Olympus was bought down to a safe landing and every colonist was allowed to roam their new home. While most were happy to have arrived anywhere there were those who carried the seeds of discontent. Troubles would be many and the issue of hostiles was a constant source of friction between the military and the settler's leadership.
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