Subsubsection: 29 July 2018 (Distracted by the Loud Bang) Up Subsection: HMS Javelin

19 August 2018 (Relativity Jumping Up and Down)

Gretton has rather a lot to do, starting with testing the repairs to Javelin; the fusion plant is run up to full power, and beyond, and stands up well.
Damage control drills see Gillies checking on a notional overheating in the plasma torch power feeds, which turns out to involve actual fire and toxic gases; it’s not too hard to solve, but the torch still needs a bit of work to solve the problem.
There’s also the Q-ship, Qaṣr ʼAbī Dānis, to look at. Fenton has been doing some work on the Intelligence side, and there’s a fair bit to be learned from what’s left. Neilsen pokes into the computers, finding the Arabic language interface bodged on top of the Japanese one; it’s designed to withstand at least light inspections, with a software reconfiguration to throw the ship into battle mode.
Gretton looks at the plasma torches; the ship also has rather too much ECM for a civilian, and some clips for “freight containers” that would do a good job of holding and releasing several of the small NE-pattern corvettes that have been seen before. Morrish starts analysing the design for weaknesses: quite apart from its lack of armour, there may well be compromises in order to maintain its civilian guise.
Gretton looks into the construction of the ship; although it looks like the usual merchant patch-job with disparate components, isotope analysis suggests it was in fact built all at once.
Keene (still in sickbay) and Entwhistle remember the ship they encountered at Shadbolt, and throw the reports on that into the pool. (Though that was much more of a conventional merchant design.) There are some useful point targets, power cables that run too close to the surface, and so on; Morrish and Entwhistle work on ways of exploiting them.
Neilsen digs further into the ship’s operating system. It doesn’t look much like the Navy’s approach; possibly because of the need for a mode switch, it looks much more like a civilian code base, and staying in battle mode for more than half an hour or so would be likely to lead to systems failures. Of course, these ships aren’t designed to fight, but they do apparently serve a coordination role during a corvette engagement. (Also there might be some way of slipping hardware, or an infectious code patch, into the system during an inspection.)
Another ongoing project is the thing that was found in the shuttle’s hold; it’s clearly something to do with hyperspace physics, and Gretton is the man on the spot who knows something about that, so they want him to poke it and see what it does.
Clearly this is being done with remote handling equipment. The nanotech experts reckon it’s been decontaminated, and even Gretton and Entwhistle can’t find fault with the procedures; Gretton’s able to work out some basics of power and signal feeds, but first the thing is put into a solar orbit, safely away from both planet and jump points, and remote-handle it from a few hundred kilometres away.
With power going through it, there’s an occasional voltage modulation; this turns out, after a bit, to correlate with ships entering and leaving the local jump points, but without a light-speed delay. The modulations aren’t identical, though decoding any information they carry will take a lot of work. This clearly has potential for FTL communications, perhaps a way of suspending jump points, and so on.
Given the time delay between jump points and the current location, Gretton decides to move the experiment site nearer to the Leeuw jump point, using one of the merchants. As they approach, the object starts to get noticeably more active; about a light-minute out, it’s producing its own power rather than requiring a feed. The gate station crew don’t notice anything unusual.
The group approaches, aiming for five light-seconds. Suddenly, the gate station drops out of communication; radar shows a cloud of wreckage, quite spread out.
Gretton and Entwhistle check pulsars and planet locations, and they haven’t changed. The object it put aboard a ship’s boat and pushed a light-minute away, while the crew goes in to check the station (and sends a laser message to Javelin). Gillies does some analysis of the fragments; it looks a lot like laser and explosive damage. By the time she’s done, there’s been time for Javelin to reply from planet V, but no response.
Gretton theorises that the (duplicate?) Aurora Australis may have been related to this nanotech, and to the duplicate Raleigh. Gillies, on comms watch, gets a look at planet V; there appears to be a battle going on, or at least things exploding and using plasma torches.
With more of a look, and analysing flare brightness to work up a rough ship mass, it looks as if there are three big Q-ships and about twelve smaller plasma torches.
Neilsen picks up some comms traffic from planet V: there’s talk about “the war”, no details mentioned, and a call to surrender, though it doesn’t seem to be pointed at the merchant.
The consensus theory is a parallel universe, but it’s all very tentative. The transition seemed to happen between frames of the sensors, roughly half a light-minute out from the jump point. Gretton takes some time to look at system bodies; some of the asteroids don’t match up (particularly ones that have been mined), and the sun’s at the same point in its sunspot cycle, but the sunspots aren’t identical. Gretton logs and seals away the system body records, wanting some definite evidence as well as his own memory.
Neilsen looks at languages and cultural references as more broadcasts come in, seeing if he can spot a departure point. This is still a British colony; the war started a couple of months ago, with a sudden Novaya Europan attack, and communications with the outside have been minimal but they think it’s a general war. The action round the planet looks like the last vestiges of resistance: surface-launched missiles, weather-control satellites, and so on, but without much luck. Javelin was lost to a surprise attack, about the same time as the surprise attack the group remembers.
The group doesn’t have the force to make a major difference to this conflict. Gretton thinks that “two” is an unlikely number of universes; there’s no obvious way to reverse whatever was done before, but trying the same manoeuvre again seems like the best option.
While he’s setting up the approach, Neilsen picks up a fragment of video from the planet; the soundtrack is frantic Japanese shouting along the lines of “what the hell is that”, as something seems to reach up from the planet and swat one of the corvettes. Entwhistle reckons it could well be coming from the dig site.
The object calms down a bit away from the jump point, then becomes lively again. There’s a lack of discontinuity, but the jump point fort reappears without damage. The object is pushed safely away from the jump point, and Gretton queries the station: the merchant just disappeared for about ninety minutes, then reappeared. Javelin is en route to conduct search operations.
Neilsen checks sunspots and asteroids… and the daily crossword… and everything seems to be as it was before they left, allowing for the hour and a half they spent “away”.
Captain Austen puts the nanotech excavation on hold; someone will probably overrule him, but it will take time for the orders to arrive.
Gretton theorises that the new Aurora Australis is from the (or a) parallel universe, perhaps brought here by the nanotech device, and the system where Raleigh met her duplicate should be checked carefully for alien nanotech.