Nadir Jump Point
Solaris VII, Lyran Commonwealth
24 March 3038
The sight of Distant Memory was something that almost took Cera's breath away as she stared out one of Shearling's viewing ports. She'd seen holographs of JumpShips before, but that wasn't even worth mentioning when you saw the real thing with your own eyes. A Tramp class JumpShip is 640 meters long, masses 250,000 tons, has a 140-meter diameter grav deck and two cargo holds. The ship has three docking rings for DropShips to attach to, as well as two small craft bays.
Neatly docked inside those bays were two KR-61 long-range shuttles: Golden Sable and Silver Fox. They were the newest additions to the ship's complement, only ten years old. They were modified to carry less cargo and more passengers than standard KR-61s, and their function was to transport people between the JumpShip and planets if the DropShip wasn't available or it was simply more practical to do so. They could also act as lifeboats in an emergency, though fortunately had never been used as such.
Distant Memory was built in the last few years of the Star League, and the Grosvenor family has kept her scrupulously maintained and out of harm's way ever since. She was still armed with the eight extended-range large lasers and twelve anti-missile systems she'd come with (which had seen service over the centuries protecting the ship and her passengers) and every other piece of Star League-era equipment was equally intact. This included her lithium-fusion battery system, which very likely made Distant Memory the only privately-owned ship of her kind in the Inner Sphere.
"God, she's beautiful," said Cera in awe.
"She is indeed," said Alexandra fondly, and rubbed Cera's shoulder. "She's been my family's saviour and refuge for almost three hundred years. You will find none like her, not anywhere. There are other Tramps in service, but none like Distant Memory."
Ian looked at Alexandra. "From the days of the Star League?"
"She was delivered to Baron John Grosvenor in 2783," said Alexandra, nodding. "He saw that the end of the League had come and knew the Great Houses would be at each other's throats. He took his, our, family and fled to the Periphery. The Grosvenors stayed out of the First and Second Succession Wars, and then we came back to our homeworld of Pencader during the last half of the Third Succession War. We reclaimed our lands, resumed our place among the Lyran Commonwealth's nobility.
"Through it all, Distant Memory has sustained us, protected us, and kept us safely out of harm's way. She was our home and still is, as much as our ancestral estate on Pencader. Now she'll serve the Fusiliers."
"Alexandra, I'm honoured," said Garadun and his tone got everyone's attention. "I promise to do my best to be worthy of such a legacy."
"Same for me, my Lady," said Cera, taking his hand.
"I pledge my honour as a Davion to your cause," said Ian and saluted.
"I pledge my honour as well," said Jimmy, bowing.
"I am honoured to serve, Tono," said Sayuki and bowed deeply.
Alexandra swallowed the sudden lump in her throat. "The honour is mine, truly. A better group of friends and comrades-in-arms I couldn't hope to find."
"I feel just the same," said Ian.
Cera leaned close to the viewing port again. "God, she's so huge."
"She's bigger than an Invader," Alexandra acknowledged. "And almost as long as a Star Lord. Although the latter carries twice as many DropShips. But if you want really big, then you want a Monolith. It's over a hundred meters longer and carries nine DropShips. I think there's less than fifty in all the Successor States."
"Yeah, but they ain't got Distant Memory's class," Garadun remarked.
"Very true," said Alexandra, smiling wide. "But we should be getting back to our quarters. Shearling will be docking soon. Although the Captain has done the manoeuvre more times than I can count, he always wants passengers in their cabins where it's safe, in case of an accident."
"Then we'll go aboard Distant Memory?" said Cera hopefully.
"Of course. She'll be your home while we're in space, not to mention you have to be introduced to Captain Hamilton and the crew."
I just hope I don't have TDS, Cera thought desperately.
The thing about zero gravity (all right, the science-obsessed anal nitpickers will call it microgravity, but sod 'em, normal people call it zero-gee) is that things have a tendency to float around if you let them. Which was why Garadun had secured all his stuff in storage areas before Shearling docked with Distant Memory.
This included his kittens, Wasp and Stinger. Before he'd gone for a look at the JumpShip, he'd gotten their pills into them and they were now fast asleep, cute little balls of fur that they were. They were in their cat carrier and he'd put a big pillow under them to prevent them from drifting more than a few centimeters. Some people might think it funny to watch an animal flail helplessly about in zero-gee, but he wasn't one of them. He was doing his best to keep his beloved cats as safe and trauma-free as possible.
Once the DropShip had successfully docked with the JumpShip, it had immediately become subject to zero gravity. Distant Memory used her attitude thrusters now and then, little bursts to keep her in station, but the ship was otherwise under the influence of zero-gee. Garadun had taken his own pills for motion and jumpsickness. There was a buzz at his door; but when he opened it, it wasn't Cera as he'd expected. It was Alexandra. There were two crewmen he didn't recognise in the corridor behind her.
"Wait here, please," she said.
"Yes, my Lady," said one of the crewmen and the door closed.
"Hey, Alexandra," said Garadun, puzzled. "What's going on?"
"Get your gear together. You're moving to Distant Memory."
"Huh? I thought we were just getting a tour."
"Oh, you'll be shown the ship and we'll be on the bridge when we jump. But I'm having everyone moved to quarters aboard ship. You first."
"Because you have kitties," she said, looking at the cat carrier affectionately. "In addition to mess and recreation facilities, Distant Memory's grav deck has numerous cabins, letting people live comfortably in gravity. Your cats need the safety and health benefits of a comfortable room at one gee. Everyone needs gravity for proper health, but they need it the most. Now pack your things."
"Thanks, Alexandra, I really appreciate this," he said and gave her arm a squeeze. Then he hurried about the task of gathering all his stuff. The crewmen were called in and they helped carry his gear. Alexandra lent a hand as well, holding the box of cat supplies while she led the way through the DropShip down to the docking port that connected it to the JumpShip.
When Garadun passed through the airlock and entered Distant Memory, he found himself dumbfounded by what he saw. He'd only made one other interstellar journey before, when he moved from Terra to Solaris. He'd been aboard a civilian DropShip then, and the transport had been an Invader class JumpShip. He'd thought himself fortunate to have been able to spend time on the Invader and had thought it impressive. He'd been wrong. This was what an impressive starship looked like.
Distant Memory's corridors were clean and immaculate with no sign whatsoever of damage, severe wear and tear, jury-rigged systems or patched repairs. There wasn't even a single flickering lighting panel. As Alexandra led the way he reached out and ran his fingertips along the wall. He was in a ship that was almost three centuries old.
They came to an airlock that was trimmed with black and yellow danger stripes, and clearly marked in large red letters at the top were the words CAUTION: FULL GRAVITY BEYOND THIS POINT. WATCH YOUR STEP. Alexandra activated the doors, and they split open on the diagonal with a soft hiss. She stepped through carefully and Garadun followed in her wake. Even though he'd prepared himself, the sudden pull of gravity almost made him stumble. The crewmen came last, closing the door behind them.
"There, much better," said Alexandra.
"Wow," said Garadun.
The grav deck's floor was covered in durable carpet, and along the interior wall, set in fitted frames, were original paintings. Real oil paintings and watercolours; even a piece from the Draconis Combine done in ink on rice paper. Large windows made of the same material as aerospace fighter canopies were set widely but regularly along the opposite wall, allowing a view of space (although they could be covered with armoured blast shields at a moment's notice, and did so automatically if an alert was sounded).
When they reached their destination, Alexandra activated the door and motioned Garadun inside with a smile. He was further blown away. The cabin had genuine wood panelling on the walls, carpets on the wooden parquet floor, and it was filled with antique wooden furniture. By normal standards it wasn't a very large room at all. By JumpShip standards it was extremely spacious.
"There's even a bed," he said in awe. "A real bed, not a bunk."
"The bathroom and shower are through that door," Alexandra told him, and followed him in to let the crewmen enter and set down his things. She thanked them and they saluted before leaving.
"Alexandra, this is too good for me."
"Nonsense. You deserve it, Garadun. I still don't understand why you took that cabin on Shearling. That was a double-occupancy."
"It was just me in there," he said, shrugging, and set the cat carrier down. "One of the crewmen took me there when we first got on board, so I figured I'd been assigned it. Seemed nice and roomy to me."
Alexandra pursed her lips. "There are single-occupancy cabins for the officers. You were supposed to get one of those. The others did."
"I was fine with it," he said, shrugging again. He knelt and opened the carrier, then carefully took out Wasp and Stinger and laid them on the bed together. They twisted and made little noises, and Stinger yawned, but they remained asleep.
Alexandra cooed helplessly. "Oh God, they're so cute!"
"My girls," he said, smiling as Alexandra stroked them, and got out their toys and spread them around. He put their climbing-scratching post in a corner, their litter box just inside the tiny bathroom, and their food and water dishes in another corner, atop a plastic tray to catch spills. Satisfied, he stroked and kissed them.
"They'll be out for a good while," he explained. "Pills the vet gave me. Helps them sleep and helps the effects of a jump."
"You really love them, don't you?"
"More than anything."
"You're a good man, Garadun," she said warmly. "Right. Let's go get the rest of the team, and then I'll escort you all to the bridge."
"Lady Alexandra on the bridge!" a crewman called, and everyone not strapped to a seat came to attention and saluted.
"Carry on," she said and motioned the rest of the Fusiliers to follow. They stepped onto the bridge one-by-one, staring in amazement. The bridge layout was a model of efficiency, aglow with hovering holograms and data displays by each of the eight bridge stations, with the primary holotank in the centre of the main deck. Apart from ships belonging to ComStar there were few, if any, vessels in the Successor States that had holotanks like it. It was currently displaying Solaris, with icons for every single planet, major asteroid and vessel in the system, each icon tagged with lines of data.
The Captain saluted. "Welcome to the bridge, my Lady."
"Good to be back, Captain," she said, returning his salute. "Captain Hamilton, may I present the Fighting Fusiliers: Garadun Morr, Cera Kuroda, Ian Davion, Jimmy Han, and Sayuki Anzai. Ladies and gentlemen, this is Captain John Hamilton."
"Welcome aboard," said Captain Hamilton, nodding respectfully. He was in his mid-forties, tall, with greying dark brown hair and a spacer's slim build and pale complexion. His brown eyes missed nothing.
"This is the most amazing thing I've ever seen," said Jimmy, overwhelmed.
"Only ComStar has vessels that equal Distant Memory," said Captain Hamilton with great pride. "She has served the Grosvenor family for three centuries."
"It's an honour to be here, Captain," said Ian.
"Damn right it is," Garadun exclaimed, his informal yet genuine agreement making both Captain Hamilton and Alexandra smile.
"Captain Hamilton," said Alexandra. "Shall we be underway?"
"Aye aye, my Lady," he said with another salute, then took his place in the holotank. He clasped his hands behind his back, his presence commanding.
"Mr Calamy, show me our projected route, if you please."
"Aye, Captain," said one of the bridge officers, tapping a few floating holograms. The scene in the holotank vanished, replaced with glowing spheres spaced well apart and connected by thin azure lines. The first was orange and had Solaris VII written beneath it. The second was blue and labelled Zaniah; the third was red, Gacrux; the fourth was yellow-white, Cor Caroli; and lastly was another yellow-white sphere tagged Galatea.
"Our final destination for this trip," he said, pointing to Galatea. Alexandra gave him the go-ahead. "Very good, then. All stations: give me a go no-go for jump." One by one, each officer chimed in and gave a go for jump.
"God, this is exciting," said Cera in an exhilarated whisper, clutching Garadun's arm. He gave her a smile. He was equally thrilled. Being on the bridge for a jump, let alone on a ship like Distant Memory, was a rare privilege.
"Mr Blakney, lock course into the nav computer."
"Aye, Captain, locking course into nav computer."
"Mr Mowett, charge the K-F drive."
"Aye, Captain, charging K-F drive."
"Mr Mathews, are we clear and free to jump?" Captain Hamilton asked.
"Aye, Captain, we're clear and free to jump," said Mathews, who was the ship's First Lieutenant. "Screens are empty of any other vessels."
"Course locked in, Captain," said Blakney, his eyes on his monitors.
"K-F drive charged and on-line, sir," Mowett added seconds later.
"Sir, all systems are on-line," Mathews reported. "The ship is ready to jump."
"Very good, Mr Mathews. Mr Allen, sound the horn." At his command, a loud claxon sounded across the bridge, simultaneously being rung throughout the ship as well as on board Shearling. It was followed by two more bursts of noise. Captain Hamilton put his hands on the railing before him.
"Prepare to jump the ship… Jump!"
"Aye, sir!" said Mathews. "Jumping now!"
Power surged from the JumpShip's batteries and into the Kearny-Fuchida drive's field initiator, which generated an expanding field of energy that spread out in a sphere until it encompassed the entire vessel and the DropShip attached to it. With a massive burst of electromagnetic and tachyon radiation, a rip was torn in the fabric of space-time and the ship was instantly sent through hyperspace to arrive at the nadir jump point of its destination system, Zaniah, almost thirty light-years away.
"Ohmygod!" Cera cried, and had there been gravity she would have fallen to the deck. For a moment it had felt as if every atom in her body had been ripped apart and then gone on a long holiday, possibly with no plans of returning.
Alexandra held her. "Are you all right, Cera?"
"I…I think so," she said, gasping. "That was…damn, I can't describe it."
"I felt the same way my first time," Ian agreed. Sayuki said something in Japanese and almost fainted. He immediately supported her, getting a grateful smile.
"Garadun, Jimmy, you all right?" Alexandra asked.
"I'm fine," said Jimmy, looking none the worse for wear.
Garadun took a few slow breaths. "I'll be okay."
"Status, Mr Allen," said Captain Hamilton.
"All boards are green, sir. No other vessels in the vicinity."
"Thank you, Mr Allen." He turned to Alexandra. "Lady Alexandra, are you sure about this? I believe your team should get some rest first."
Alexandra looked at her friends. "Perhaps he's right. Maybe you should lie down."
"Hai, I think so too," said Sayuki, taking steady breaths.
"What's going on?" Jimmy asked, noticing the way the techs were working.
"As soon as the systems are ready, we're going to jump again," Alexandra replied. "But we'll wait until you're settled."
"Jump again?" said Ian, baffled. "How?"
"Distant Memory is equipped with a lithium-fusion battery system, Mr Davion," Allen informed him. "It holds a second charge for the K-F drive."
Jimmy let out a loud, impressed whistle. "Damn."
"I think I'll go to my cabin then, please," said Cera. She wasn't as nauseous as Sayuki, but a second jump so soon? No thanks. "It's been amazing, Captain, but…"
"I understand, Miss Kuroda. I hope you feel better soon."
"I'll escort Sayuki to her quarters," Ian offered gallantly, which caused Garadun and Jimmy to share a knowing look and roll their eyes humorously.
"I'll take Cera to her cabin before going to mine," said Garadun. "I need to check on my cats anyway. Make sure they're okay."
"Is it all right if I stay?" Jimmy asked. "Jumping doesn't bother me and this place is the most incredible I've ever seen. I mean, a Star League-era ship!"
"You're very welcome to stay," said Alexandra. "Ask any questions you like."
"Thank you, Lady Alexandra."
"Have a good time, Jimmy," said Cera and held Garadun's arm as they left the bridge with Ian and Sayuki behind them. She wiped sweat from her forehead.
"I almost puked," she admitted in a weak, embarrassed voice.
"Hai," said Sayuki, gasping. "Me too."
"Let's get you lying down then," said Ian. "Alexandra told me there's jumpsickness medicine in all our quarters."
"Sounds good to me," said Cera, and had a brief moment of bonding with Sayuki as they exchanged a look of shared suffering. Although neither of the girls had TDS (the symptoms were far worse) what they were experiencing was normal for many people the first time they jumped. Garadun had actually thrown up his first time, and had learned his lesson from the experience: take your medicine before you jump.