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One Giant Leap

I've been meaning to record these thoughts for a few cycles now, but I can't seem to come up with adequate words to describe how truly awesome the experience was. Even "awesome"--in its most literal sense, causing awe--is sadly insufficient. My humblest apologies to posterity.


It was on the Sol Jump Gate, in the Port. I had just disembarked from a local shuttle when I couldn't help but notice a great commotion from Interstellar Shuttles: peculiar noises, muffled shouting, flashes of light, the acrid smell of scorched nanowires. Intrigued, I ambled over, engaging in my usual practice of sticking in my nose where it probably didn't belong and wouldn't be welcome.

An astonishing sight greeted me. Beyond the frantic activity, through the heavy plasteel viewports, I could as usual see the Alpha Centauri Jump Gate and her four silent sisters suspended in the Black. Today, however, one was brightly illuminated, surrounded by tiny reconstruction vessels and crawling with even tinier neutronium 'bots. Klono's Claws, I realized, they're opening a Gate!

A raven-haired woman in a sharp Consortium tech uniform oversaw the chaos, barking orders with a surprising air of calm. Her gaze happened to fall on me, and she automatically motioned to a subordinate and instructed him to "Get rid of the civvy"--but then I saw her eyes narrow as she looked more closely. I began to feel somewhat anxious under her scrutiny, until she nodded to herself and called my name.

"Ser Shadow! You've worked tech here before, haven't you." It wasn't really a question. As soon as I heard her voice, though, I recognized her: Kaitlyn Richter, one of the most competent supervisors under whom I'd ever worked. No wonder she seemed so calm: if anyone could pull this off, she could.

My mouth was half-open to greet her when she steamrolled right over me: "Report to zone three, blue section, on the double. We can use everyone with your skills. Cotner!" she shouted as I turned. "I'm sending over an experienced hand. Put him to use. We've got this!"

A tall, grey-haired Belter (Cotner, I assumed) shoved a datapad in my hand and pointed through the viewport. "See that little yellow-striped ship, ACC-1310? It's working these"--his fingers flew on my screen--"six 'bots. Clear those conduits and get the cold plasma jets working. You can introduce yourself later." He stalked away to yell at some poor smeghead whose labors were sending stray sparks arcing through the oxygen-rich environment (never a great idea).

I closed my mouth and focused on the slate, doing my best to block out the innumerable distractions, and interfaced with the Jump Gate schematics from my CORETECHS. (Good thing I still had those security clearances!) The work was tricky and delicate, and a couple of the 'bots were run-down and less than cooperative. Segments passed. By the time I'd successfully wrestled them into submission and come up for air (figuratively speaking--always an important distinction anywhere in a port), the background hysteria had noticeably diminished. I looked around for Kaitlyn; when I spotted her, she seemed... well, pleased, I think, though that's not a reaction I'd ever tend to associate with her.

"All right, Sers, here we go. This is it," she called, and all activity stopped. "We've got final confirmation. Masters, to your places. Everyone else, back off to a safe distance."

I obligingly backed off, but stayed where I could see the Gate, which was glowing softly. (As if there would be a "safe distance" anywhere on the station if something went wrong with a Jump Gate!) The 'bots had all withdrawn, and the reconstruction ships were moving slowly away. Kaitlyn swiped her fingers through the air--synchronizing with all the Masters' CORETECHS, no doubt--and, with a look of fierce concentration, began unconsciously nodding her head about once per unit. A countdown, I realized.

For roughly forty units, nothing happened.

Then, all across the bay, red lights began to blink simultaneously. Kaitlyn muttered, "Steady... steady..."

One by one, left to right, the indicator lights blinked out. Simultaneously, one by one, going clockwise, blinding beams of light flared to life on the rim of the Jump Gate. Soon there was a blazing circle of illumination surrounded the titanium shielding at the center of the Gate.

Another unit passed. Kaitlyn whispered, "Now."

The entire station vibrated. Somewhere in the distance a klaxon sounded.

A tiny pinpoint of light appeared in the very center of the Gate.

And then, space warped.

The station actually pitched--I could hear the whine of the grav engines struggling to compensate, taxed beyond their limits. I stumbled a bit, but kept my footing; Kaitlyn, of course, remained upright, supremely stable, her gaze locked on the Gate where a maddening riot of impossible colors swirled.

One tech ripped off her earpiece, cursing in pain; we couldn't hear anything from the Jump Gate in here, but the on-site monitors must have been overloaded. A few units later, a brilliant flash from the Gate briefly illuminated the entire system. I braced for another shock wave.

Abruptly, calm.

Wonder.

Awe.

For the first time in cycles, the Jump Gate to Barnard's Star was open.

My God. It's full of stars.