2947-01-14 - Tales from the Inbox: The Maribel Torus

This is a story that was submitted late last year at the height of the New Rheims Committee hearings, but which Naval Intelligence requested I not publish until a certain announcement had been made. That announcement was today's big news.

The conversion of the forward naval base at Håkøya into a dedicated Survey Auxiliary installation has been planned since before the New Rheims mess and the Great Purge, but the pundits are still talking about how this is part of the fallout from that incident and the ensuing military-political disputes. To be clear, this effort has been planned in senior Navy circles since at least late August - I heard about it in October, but on condition of not revealing it or this story to the audience until the Navy had made its announcement.

All in all, I think this is a good step. The Navy is open about its intention to expand Survey's reach across the Sagittarius Gap - they plan to have a fairly sizable presence at or neighboring Sagittarius Gate within six months in order to support Survey's exploration of that under-explored region. Given that the travel time across the Gap, even for swift Navy cruisers, is the better part of two months, that's a tight timeline, but it's one I think will be met. The Navy needs a public relations win very badly right now, and the merits of this pre-existing project are self-evident. Don't be surprised if we see the Navy's presence on the other side of the Gap get an unprecedented degree of media coverage. If I had to guess, they'll send their newest ships, as well as their youngest and most photogenic captains.

Today's story was submitted by a Hegemony spacer named Hayyim A., who asked questions about one of the stranger orbital construction projects at Maribel six months ago, and stumbled onto this story. The object in question has since been completed, and it is my understanding that four more like it are nearing completion.

“What about the ring?” Hayyim pressed. It seemed impossible that residents of the station wouldn’t know about the huge construction project – it was visible without magnification outside the habitat’s viewports.

“The ring, yes. Quite the marvel, isn’t it?” As information sources went, the woman across the table from Hayyim seemed an unlikely one, but one he had good reason to trust. Dressed in a riot of color and draped in various polished bangles in gaudy Frontier style, she didn’t even bother to look up from the knitting which occupied her hands. With smart-cloth available nearly for free, knitting was a practically pointless exercise in most places, but in a place like Maribel, which had such a high demand for hand-made heirlooms and keepsakes driven by to the constant flow of colonists heading for the outer Frontier, many had learned the financial advantages of a few hours devoted to such archaic trades. “The rumors about it are quite interesting.”

“Chalice, you know what it is.” If she hadn’t, she would have postponed the meeting. After all, she wouldn’t be paid until Hayyim was satisfied with her answers.

“Hayyim, sometimes what people whisper is more important than the nature of the thing.” Chalice lifted the silver-grey yarnwork from her lap to set it on the table. At a snap of her fingers, a squirrel-sized pet animal hopped out of a concealed pouch in her attire and onto the table, its disturbingly hand-like paws helping her switch to another strand of yarn. “But if the cold, dull facts are all you desire, I will spare you the rumors.”

Hayyim scowled at the tiny critter. He didn’t recognize its species, but it didn’t matter what it was as much as how distasteful its presence in a station dining compartment was. The locals nearby didn’t give the unhygienic little monster a second look – to them, there was no problem. In the Core Worlds, its presence in a place where food was also present would have caused an uproar. “Let’s start with the facts.”

“The ring is a new model of HyperComm relay with increased range.” Chalice shrugged, thanking her pet for its assistance by dropping a few morsels of its food onto the table. It scampered about, collecting each one before eating. It could, apparently, sense Hayyim’s distaste – it kepy one eye warily on him as it devoured its treat. “It’s a Navy project, and it’s not a well-kept secret. Half the shipwrights in Maribel have been hired to build it, and Maribelans have very bad datasphere discipline.”

“Odd that I couldn’t find anything when I searched for it, then.”

“Hayyim, you wouldn’t have asked for my help if you were any good at this game yourself.” Chalice smiled, looking up for the first time. She could be charming when she wasn’t being so damnably enigmatic. “Is the dull truth enough?”

Hayyim pulled the credit-chit he’d stamped with her payment from his coat pocket and set it on the table. Chalice made no attempt to reach for it; he hoped she wouldn’t have her unhygienic pet snatch the money. Even as he moved to pay her, the tantalizing hint Chalice had offered forced him to ask for more. “How much will it cost me to hear about the rumors?”

“No charge. I’m an honest broker, Hayyim. It wouldn’t be right to charge more for what you need, when it’s different than what you asked for.”

“Fine, then. Out with it.”

Chalice smiled, but her attention seemed to be once again on her knitting. “The range of a standard HyperComm relay has been almost constant for two hundred years, you know. Why re-invent such a successful device?”

“It would speed up interstellar data requests.” Hayyim knew that was the wrong answer even as he said it; the Frontier certainly wasn’t clamoring for faster datasphere connections. Even the Core Worlds didn’t think the speed data traveled across explored space was insufficient.

“And why the Navy involvement?”

“They would benefit from faster connections between the Frontier and the Hegemony border.” A threat at one end of sprawling Confederated space might take days to trickle across the HyperComm net tot the other end; the Navy was as dependent on this communication structure as anyone.

“Hayyim…” Chalice laughed quietly. “For a spacer, you don’t think big enough. Where would the range of relays matter most?

All at once, he realized what the informant was getting at. “The Sagittarius Gap.”

Chalice’s pet darted forward and grabbed the credit-chit without any obvious instruction, and Hayyim jumped back as though stung, looking about for a place to wash off any contaminants the critter had left. “That’s the rumor, yes. The Navy is making a move to close the Gap.”