Hello, my name is Malcolm.  Hyperspace is a strange place.  I grew up with it.  I spent my youth traveling to most of the Core Worlds.  I thought I understood it.  But then The War came for us all and I learned that I knew very little about it at all.  It is an alien universe, literally, and we travel its paths with great care.  We must learn more about it, if we are to ever break out of our tiny corner of the galaxy.






When mankind first discovered hyperspace, they found a panoramic view of multicolored rivers of gravity flowing beneath the surface of the normal Einsteinian universe everyone was born in.  Humanity soon discovered that those rivers ran from star to star, linking the galaxy from edge to edge.  And those early explorers learned a secret that brought the stars within reach.  The gravitic currents, and any ship that sailed them, traveled faster than the speed of light itself.  But the rivers were treacherous.

The first ships to Alpha Centauri rode a slow, calm river away from Earth, moving perhaps two or three times the speed of light as those in normalspace measured their progress.  But as they approached the Alpha Centauri trinary star system, the river rushed in at speeds approaching ten times the speed of light.  The ships followed a dangerous series of twists and turns as the currents shot past Proxima Centauri like an ancient slingshot, and then fell into the whirlpool of the binary star system at the heart of Alpha Centauri.  There they found multiple worlds, brimming with life and waiting for us to colonize them.

And they learned why the river between home and Alpha Centauri was so much stronger than any other.  Early scientists assumed it was simply because Alpha Centauri was closer.  But Alpha Centauri’s three suns twisted the gravitic currents of hyperspace more than mankind’s home star, spraying out torrents of gravity far more powerful, and far faster, than any other.  For a hundred years, every ship from Earth sailed to Alpha Centauri, and from there to the stars.

And then the Peloran made Contact.  They brought faster and powerful hyperdrives that could break out of the tiny streams connecting stars, and forge their own path through the true depths of hyperspace.  Normandy and the other starships of the Wolfenheim Project used the best Peloran hyperdrives, built into them by Peloran shipyards, and powered by Peloran reactors.  After months of being ripped apart and put back together by Peloran hands, they were Peloran starships in every way that mattered, built to spend a lifetime in hyperspace.

They’d spent the last thirty-four days traveling across the ninety-four lightyears between New Earth and Sunnydale at a thousand times the speed of light as the outside world measured time and space.  Onboard Normandy, a mere seventeen days passed by, and none of her sisters ever accelerated past a hundred measly kilometers per second by their measurements.  Now Normandy rose up through the multicolored currents of gravity like a shark, watching for enemies.  The giant whale of Wolfenheim’s bulk crested another current nearby far less gracefully.  The colony ship was slow and clumsy compared to the tiny piranhas that surrounded her, ready to kill anything that threatened her as they searched for their destination.

The New Earth-Sunnydale Run had been mapped out for decades, with survey ships scanning every conceivable current in the area.  It was updated every month, as new ships arrived to add their navigational information to the database.  But it was always changing.

And the only way to be sure where you were on the Run was to obtain a solid read on a nearby star.  Most stars could be detected in hyperspace at least a few lighthours away.  Giants could be detected significantly farther out, while main sequence stars like our Sun could be detected ten or twenty lighthours away.

The F1V star named Sunnydale was one of the brightest stars that mankind had colonized, and it had a more “energetic” interaction with hyperspace than most stars.  It could be detected a full two lightdays away, making it an effective Beacon Star for long-range travel.  A ship on the New Earth-Sunnydale Run followed the mapped gravitic currents for seventeen days subjective, across nearly a hundred lightyears, and then spent several hours moving “up” towards the wall in hopes that they could detect the gravitic fingerprint of a single star’s affect on hyperspace.  If they didn’t get thrown off course by a current that wasn’t there the last time a ship came through, and if they calculated the right time dilation factor, they just might find that they arrived in the vicinity of their target.

It was like throwing a dart across the yard, during a windstorm, and trying to hit a dime attached to the fence.  Very few humans had ever shown the natural aptitude it required to do that.  Modern navigational computers usually hit their targets.  Usually.

Malcolm sat at the rear of the bridge, watching as Normandy and her little fleet snuck up into the shallows of hyperspace, scanning for threats as they followed Sunnydale’s scent.  His squadron should be the first arrivals from New Earth since they left.  Through some highly serendipitous events that couldn’t possibly be tracked to him, no couriers had been available at New Earth to warn anyone of their imminent arrival.  And he had reason to believe that Murphy would “just happen” to receive an old hyperspace map when she asked for a cartography update.

But if, despite all the preparations he could swear up and down he had nothing to do with, Murphy’s squadron had managed to make better time than Normandy, they could be lying in wait.  And Olivia was a very careful captain.  She hated surprises, and so they very carefully rose towards the hyperspace wall.

“Contact!” The single word shot through the bridge and Malcolm turned to look at Lieutenant Anton Lee as even more words tumbled out of the man’s lips.  “Contact!  Single ship, directly above at six five zero zero meters.  Designating Bogey One.”

“Does she see us?” Olivia asked, her voice hardening into her captain’s alter ego as she spoke.  On one display, Malcolm glimpsed one of the recon fighters that were always deployed accelerating towards the target.

“Bogey One moving.”  The report came quick, words short and clipped as the officer communicated as rapidly as possible.  Displays flashed on the man’s stations and he tensed.  “Identified Shang scout!  Running.”

“Firing solution?” Wyatt demanded as even Charles’ untrained eyes caught the scout ship beginning to pull away.

“Bravo,” Lee answered without hesitation.

Wyatt hadn’t waited for his word though, having already turned to her tactical officer.  “Guns?” she asked, the moment Lee’s mouth closed.

Malcolm nodded in approval.  It was amazing to see them react so quickly and professionally.  He could see in their training the instincts that must have brought them out of Epsilon Reticuli alive.  But a proper cybernetic intelligence on the other side would have killed them already in the seconds it was taking to respond.  He glanced at Dawn as Lieutenant Thompson confirmed Fire Plan Bravo, and saw the grim smile as she met his eyes.  Yes, she could have fired already.

“Fire,” Wyatt ordered without any hesitation.

Thompson hit the button and missiles poured out of Normandy’s forward bow to streak out after the fleeing scout at the equivalent of point blank range.  Seven more waves of missiles from the other ships of the fleet converged on the scout at the same time, within a second of launching.  It was like tanks firing at ten paces, and the Shang crew had no time to even realize they were under attack.  Only the Shang computers saw the missiles coming in time to react, and if they weren’t cybernetic minds their artificial intelligence was perfectly suited to operating point defense batteries in an emergency.  The scout’s laser clusters came to life without waiting for orders that would never come from the crew, strobing on and off faster than most eyes could register.

Missile after missile ripped apart in less than a second, victim of the scout’s point defense, but there were a dozen more missiles for each one that fell, and they bore in on their victim.  The first to breach the point defense grid exploded outside the scout’s deflection grid, reaching out with talons of focused gravity to rip the focused bands of gravity apart.  Missiles following them sailed through the shredded deflection grid with impunity, though three actually hit sections of the grid still online.  Those missiles disappeared without a trace, twisted and ripped apart by gravitic sheer measured in the thousands of gravities.

The other missiles found their target easy prey though, and erupted into miniature black holes that tore through the scout with impunity.  They only had enough power to maintain their attack for a fraction of a second, but in that time they twisted and tore at the scout and the streams of hyperspace around her without mercy.  Gravity, the very fabric of hyperspace itself, vibrated with the assault, and gravitic whips lashed against both missiles and the nearby scout.

“Firing, Ma’am,” Thompson finished repeating her order, in accordance with standard Navy doctrine, as the missiles tore the scout apart before their eyes.  That particular protocol seemed rather pointless to Malcolm as anybody with working eyes could see they were firing.  But the Navy had their regulations.

“Good job, guns,” Wyatt congratulated and turned to Malcolm with a smile.  “Well.  That was exciting.  Did you enjoy your first hyperspace ambush?”

“It was…quick,” Malcolm responded, holding Dawn’s gaze for another second.  She nodded back without a word.  It could have been them under surprise attack.  Four years of planning, wiped out in seconds by a chance meeting, and he couldn’t have done a thing to stop it.  It was a humbling realization.  “Meeting ships in hyperspace is…dangerous.”

Wyatt nodded very slowly, expression sober.  “It’s incredibly rare.  But yes.  Very dangerous.”  She turned back to her crew with a sigh.  “Lieutenant Lopez.  Bring us up into normalspace now,” she ordered, her voice under complete control.

“Surfacing now, Ma’am,” Jorge Lopez acknowledged and the fabric of hyperspace began to twist around them as Normandy’s hyperdrive flexed her muscles.  Every exterior display blinked out for a moment, and when they came back online an inky darkness filled by pinpricks of light surrounded them.  One by one, the other ships of their fleet flashed into being around them, a rainbow of light radiating from them as they bled off the excess energy of their transit.  In a matter of seconds, every last member of the Wolfenheim Project had arrived at their destination.

Sunnydale was the last major colony short of the Hyades Cluster, the linchpin in a network of military bases that kept pressure on Shang forces holding the cluster.  Malcolm knew that intellectually.  News reports of the brave stand of Sunnydale were legion after all.  But as the massive network of fortifications began to populate the sensor displays, he truly began to realize what it meant.  Most of the stations were mere sensor platforms, scattered throughout the star system to keep track of starship traffic, but many others displayed the symbols of true forts inside jamming bubbles that disrupted hyperspace a lightminute across.  The forts ringed both inhabited planets, protecting the inner system from the sneak attacks the Shang had become famous for.

Normandy and her charges had arrived far outside that cluttered part of the system though, near a single massive gas giant that dominated the view of nearby space.  One display showed a zoomed in view of the world, revealing the bright orange and red storms spiraling around each other that gave it the name Torchdale.  Another display came to life and Malcolm had to suppress a gasp of amazement.  Someone else on the bridge failed to suppress the urge and he couldn’t blame them.

Hundreds of warships from every nation of the Western Alliance orbited the gas giant, icons proudly proclaiming their country of origin.  Entire fleets of British, German, French, and American warships held formation near the fortified moons, ready to respond to any Shang incursion.  Individual squadrons from other countries dotted the edges of the larger formations, and a few single ships held station next to one of the larger forts.  Shuttles and fighters appeared as pinpricks of light, moving around the larger starships in a never-ending dance that betrayed the energy running through the fleet.

Malcolm whistled when he recognized the icon for Columbia, flagship of the American fleet.  Far larger than any of the twenty or so dreadnoughts he could see, she didn’t even have an official class name.  The newsies joked that it was because there was no other ship that could match her, and as one display zoomed in on her Malcolm had to admit they had a point.  The largest warship ever built by America, she dwarfed the “mere” battleships surrounding her in defensive positions.  The scores of cruisers, destroyers, and frigates supporting them looked like mere toys next to her bulk, but reinforced how seriously America took the buildup at Sunnydale.

The display shifted again, this time showing nearly fifty brilliant white spires floating in the darkness.  Malcolm swallowed and licked lips that were suddenly dry.  He’d seen ships like that before, in orbit over Earth, but he’d never seen more than nine at a time.  Nobody this side of Independence had ever seen more than nine.  Aneerin’s single battle squadron had been the symbol of Peloran support of the Alliance for a hundred years.  Now two more battle squadrons floated nearby.  He blinked and reread the display to make sure he understood it.  Yes.  Someone on the other side of The Gateway had shaken loose an actual carrier squadron, and what looked like two escort squadrons as well.

It wasn’t a true battle fleet.  Nothing short of two hundred Peloran warships could ever be a real battle fleet.  But those fifty warships were the most powerful collection of Peloran might seen in Terran space since their Fifth Battle Fleet disappeared into the Hyades Cluster five years before.  Which was what made the fleet assembled here at Sunnydale so very important.  They had to fight an enemy that somehow wiped out two hundred Peloran warships at Hyades with no survivors.  And as if that wasn’t enough to make anyone nervous about The War, that same enemy had destroyed over three hundred Alliance warships at Epsilon Reticuli with almost no survivors.

Malcolm glanced at Captain Wyatt’s taut frame, wondering if she wished she were here to join the fleet.  The very slight quivering of her shoulders that anyone else would have missed answered the question for him.  She was a naval officer, no matter what her superiors said.  No naval officer worth her salt could come in sight of a fleet like this and not want to be part of what they were about to try to do to the Shang.  Even Malcolm felt the allure of at least getting close enough to watch.  But that was a deadly allure, and he didn’t have time for it.  He had a mission.

“Olivia?” he said in a very soft voice.

“Yes?” she asked in a breathless voice as she turned to face him with flushed cheeks.  When her eyes met his, he recognized the lust in them.  Oh yes, she wanted to be in that fleet with every ounce of her being.

He aimed a wry smile at her, doing his absolute best to not sound overly awed by the sight.  He was pretty certain he failed, but one had to make the effort at least.  “Just in case word of our…departure has preceded us, do you think we could keep our distance from…that?” he finished with a wave towards the gas giant and her gaggle of warships.

“Yeah,” Olivia gasped.  She scanned the displays again, taking in the impressive sights, and let out a very long breath.  “I think I can arrange that.

He glanced at Dawn before coming to his feet.  “And Olivia?” he asked and then waited for her eyes to meet his again.  “I know how much you want to be there.”  He waved at the displays showing the fleet again.  “I also know how much I want you here.”  He ran his gaze across the bridge to see the rest of the crew looking back at him.  Some of them exchanged knowing smiles, and he suppressed a sigh.  “All of you,” he added with a firm smile.  “This mission would not be possible without all of you.”  He nodded in emphasis and turned back to Olivia with a far warmer smile.  “I will never forget that,” he finished in the tone of a man giving a solemn oath.

Olivia bestowed a professional smile on him, though a slight amused quirk spoiled its edges.  “On behalf of my crew, I thank you for your kind words.  I’m sure they all appreciate the sentiment,” she finished with a single upraised eyebrow.

“Then my work here is done,” Malcolm said with an answering smile and spread his arms out wide to show he had no ulterior motives to hide.  “Thanks for letting me watch.  It was…enlightening.”

“You’re welcome to come watch anytime you like,” Olivia noted with a genuine smile.

“Thank you for the kind offer.”  Malcolm scanned the bridge again, catching a number of smiles being exchanged.  “Now I suppose I should stop being a distraction and let you get back to work.”  With that, he turned and walked through the hatch.

Dawn stepped out after him and smiled as the guards on either side of the hatch measured them to make certain they weren’t going to go suddenly mad and try to shoot everything in sight.  Upon passing the brief inspection, Malcolm and Dawn stepped into the lift that was the only other entrance to the guardroom.

“That was nice,” Dawn whispered as the lift shot away from the bridge.

Malcolm shrugged.  “They needed to know they were valued.”

“Yeah,” Dawn returned, an amused sound to her voice.  “Have I ever said how much I appreciate the way you care for my entire crew?”

He turned to see a glint in her eye and snorted.  “If I wanted quips from the peanut gallery I’d find one of those nice big peanut mascot outfits for you to wear.”

Dawn rolled her eyes at him and placed both hands on her hips.  “Oh, you wouldn’t dare.”

Malcolm gave her a very long look.  “And why do you think that?”

She gave him a grin the Cheshire cat would be proud of.  “Because I have your baby pictures and I’m not afraid to use them.”

Her threat surprised him so much that he just looked at her, mouth agape.  And when her smile turned sweet, he realized it wasn’t a threat.  It was a promise.  “You are a horrible human being,” he proclaimed moments before the lift opened.

“Yup,” she responded and actually skipped out of the lift, giggling like a schoolgirl.  “Are you coming?” she asked over her shoulder.

He shook his head.  “Do I have a choice?”

“Nope,” she giggled over her shoulder and kept moving.

He sighed and stepped out to follow her down the corridor.  “You know, I seem to remember that you’re supposed to follow my orders, not the other way around,” he noted in a peeved tone.

“Oh no.  I work with you,” she said with a single finger raised in the air and turned a corner.  “The contract is quite clear on that fact.”

“Don’t I own your ship?” he asked as he tried to keep up.

As he turned the corner, he saw her spreading her arms to encompass the ship with an ecstatic smile.  “Actually, Normandy is owned by the Wolfenheim Project, of which you are merely a director.”  She smirked at him.  “Oh.  And what do we have here?  The director’s cabin,” she finished with an elaborate wave of one hand at the hatch next to her.

“You’re trying to get smart with me, aren’t you?” he accused.

“That’s not hard,” she quipped, and then stopped as her head cocked to the side.  Then she smiled at Malcolm.  “Well, well.  What do you know?  Somebody has been expecting our arrival.”

“Really?” he asked, intrigued by her shift in mannerisms.

She waggled her eyebrows at him.  “It seems there is a supply depot with our name on it.  Literally.”  Her fingers actually waggled in the air as she leaned in closer to him.  “Wolfenheim Project in great big letters.  And it’s just outside the jamming zone.”  Her eyes shown bright as she continued.  “You’d think whoever put it there might be wanting us to be able to get out in a hurry if we need to,” she finished with a wink.

Malcolm chuckled at her statement and shook his head.  “Well.  I wonder who might be so considerate?”

“Yeah.”  Dawn aimed a doubtful smile at him.  “There’s such a long list of people wanting to do you favors, isn’t there?”

“Hush, you,” he responded with a snort and stepped towards the hatch.

“Oh.”  Her dark tone stopped him in his tracks.  “Trying to silence me now are you?”  He turned to see her glaring at him, fists on her hips.  “You just be careful or I’ll use those pictures.  Mark my words, I will,” she finished with the wave of a finger at him.

Malcolm shook his head and frowned at her as the hatch opened.  “You are going to be the death of me yet.”

“Oh no,” Dawn answered, her sweet smile back.  “If you died, I’d have to find a new job, and that would be so much work.”

“Ah.  Right.”  Charles sighed and aimed an amused look at her.  “In that case, it is my profound wish that you never be forced to do anything so horrifying.”  He stepped through the hatch and waggled his eyebrows at her.  “But maybe that’s just the great humanitarian in me talking,” he finished and saw her register the clean hit with a single upraised finger as the hatch closed, leaving him alone in his cabin.