Delta Gate

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"I've been informed that the Delta Gate is now operational." Captain Rolland Barron stood tall on the command deck of the Excalibur, facing the crew on deck as he spoke. An open comm channel ensured that his voice would be heard by the rest of the crew elsewhere on the ship. "In a few moments, we'll make our jump through the gate to the Apex. From there, we proceed through neutral territory on our way to the Clarion colony in Caldwell 57. The shortest route will take us through several unclaimed wormholes."

Rolland looked over the faces on the command deck -over a dozen respected officers that he'd helped select for his crew on the Excalibur: men and women who had shown themselves to be brave, dedicated, accomplished, technically adept, and who fit the psychological profile necessary for long, dangerous missions away from home.

On deck was Sergeant Riona Namarra, Technical Sergeant Eduard Titus, Corporal Keenan Benedikt, Communications Specialist Catrina Rennard, Head Secretary Calvin Campbell, Weapons Specialist Katherine Fisher, Chief Engineer Pippa Knox, First Helmsman Brandon Hamilton, ECLS Head Technician Joshua Marshall, SCFC Technician Victor Underwood, Chief Navigator Megan MacLeod, and Petty Officers Justin Parr, Alicia Manning, and Nathalie Mathis. Also among the group was Jordan Rattan, the bookish Compliance Officer who'd been posted for the mission, and Erin Locke, the temporary Ambassador, whose common sense and skeptical attitude Rolland had recently come to appreciate.

"For many of you, this will be your first time out of the galaxy." Rolland paced slowly as he spoke. "You're probably well aware that this assignment is a little more risky than the usual jamming runs and patrol duty we're all used to -we'll be passing through unexplored space and neutral territory, alongside alien races, to make first contact with a potentially dangerous human faction -'Jehovah's Catechumen'. This group may have amassed a robotic army. We know for certain that their ships have apocalypse class weapon systems -and they're willing to use them."

"It is our duty, the Excalibur's duty, to take the risks that need to be taken. I have tremendous respect for all of you -for the lifetime of work that led you to find yourselves here, as part of this crew. Two of the noblest professions are the soldier, and the explorer. The soldier risks their lives for the safety of others. The explorer confronts the unknown, expanding our collective knowledge for the benefit of all humankind." Rolland turned and stood to face the viewscreen, his back now to the crew. The Delta Gate on the screen formed a massive backdrop, into which Rolland now stared. "When we pass through that Gate," Rolland motioned to the screen, "we are both -soldier and explorer. We confront dangers, known and unknown. We accept the risk. We take on the challenge. We are a sword in the hands of the Sol Federation. That's what it means to be crew on the Excalibur."

Rolland turned back to face his crew, "Now -who's ready for an adventure?" There was a healthy round of applause, and the crew all returned to their stations. "Message the Avalon and the Gate -let them know we're ready," Rolland said, "and take us in."

The Excalibur pointed itself towards the Delta Gate, and slowly accelerated towards it. The gate was a technological and architectural marvel, easier to appreciate as they approached. The outer edges were massive, curved structures, several kilometers apart, comprising a partially enclosed ring -wide enough for a fleet of battleships to fly through the center. The gate's components housed fully enclosed, self-sufficient living spaces, home to thousands.

As they drew closer, the edges of the gate expanded in their view, before ultimately disappearing beyond the edges of their front viewscreen. They were now positioned inside the massive ring. A tingling sensation ran through their bodies as a tunneling field was generated between the outer structures. The energy pushed the Excalibur into the invisible wormhole, penetrating the fabric of space and time. Their reality rippled and contorted into a psychedelic, melting rainbow, and then, just as quickly, hardened into the blackness of space and the command room of the Excalibur. The gate was gone. They were alone on the other end of the wormhole.

Through the viewscreen, the crew looked out at an unfamiliar and total darkness -devoid of the familiar twinkling of nearby celestial objects. If the jump was successful, they would be somewhere near the Apex, more than a thousand light years from the closest galaxy. They were now well outside of their native galaxy, in the cold and utter blackness of empty space, deep within the vast expanse of nothingness that stretches for so long it takes light itself hundreds of thousands of years to cross to the nearest galaxy -beams of light that left before the dawn of humanity are still crawling across that vast chasm. Rolland stood facing the viewscreen. He stared through the ocean of a blackness that stretched to infinity, and wondered what incredible worlds must lie in its depths -in a universe with more galaxies than humans who ever lived, and more stars than seconds since the dawn of time.

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