2946-10-02: Tales from the Inbox: KR-179

KR-179 calling station, please respond.”

The crackling voice erupting out of the operations deck speakers startled Fulton so completely that he nearly dropped his freshly-dispensed coffee, and was saved from making a shameful mess only by the fact that he’d thought to put a spill-proof lid on the beverage before returning to his terminal. Hurrying to take his seat, Fulton cursed the timing – he was the only one on duty, with all of Kistler Junction’s senior officers on their rest cycles. The quiet space around the refueling outpost had been empty and silent for the first three hours of his shift, as it almost always was, and the moment he had stolen away to the food processor banks, an incoming vessel had appeared.

Setting the hot coffee aside and pulling up the telemetry readouts, Fulton was surprised to find nothing on the display except an estimated position and the designation KR-179, which was included in the voice message. Normally, the moment an incoming crew got a comms laser fix on the station, the computers aboard their starship and on Kistler Junction exchanged a wealth of telemetry and statistics, and that information filtered up to operations for the duty crew. KR-179, apparently, had sent nothing. A quick review of the system logs revealed that the voice he’d heard had been delivered the old-fashioned way – an analog radio broadcast, rather than a high-bandwidth comms laser.

“Incoming vessel KR-179, this is station Kistler Junction.” Fulton sent, knowing the computer would automatically reply in the same manner. No ship voluntarily resorted to analog transmissions unless it had suffered a total loss of its standard comms equipment, so he assumed the distant voice was nursing a crippled ship into the nearest port after some sort of accident. “What’s your status?”

The signal took almost a minute to reach KR-179, so Fulton sat back and sipped his coffee while he waited. A little excitement was rare on his shift, but it wasn’t time to wake up his superiors yet. The interaction was being recorded, of course; if it proved non-emergency, Lieutenant Commander Alberts would be just as happy to review the logs in the morning.

“Status?” Despite significant static, Fulton thought he detected confusion in the response. Just as he was about to put down his coffee and send another reply, the voice continued. “We appear to be off-course,  Kistler Junction. We’re not picking up any navbeacon signals.”

Fulton frowned. Stray civilian vessels did occasionally stumble into the Kistler system, but he’d never heard of one doing it by accident. Kistler A was a small, reddish star, but its companion was an uncommonly large neutron mass with a gravity shadow some stellar clusters would be envious of. The monthly Navy resupply ship spent almost a week and a half slow-boating in-system from the jump limit. A civilian vessel with lower acceleration happening to fix a jump on Kistler by mistake would realize its error as soon as it arrived so far out from the barren, planet-less binary.

What was more, the voice had mentioned navbeacons. Most of the old Terran Sphere navbeacon relays were still active, of course, but they had never been built this far out on the Coreward Frontier in any case. Only the oldest starships still relied on them; the spatial flux pulses they transmitted were a notoriously inaccurate way to calculate a star drive jump. Any self-respecting spacer had long since retrofitted his ship with more modern systems.

Fulton stared hard at the lack of information on his terminal for several seconds before punching the button to wake the station commander. “KR-179, there are no navbeacons within twenty ly of this star system.” He replied cautiously. “Do you need assistance?”

“Junction, we appear to have suffered a nav breakdown.” As the voice’s two minutes’ delayed response crackled into the compartment, the doors behind Fulton hissed open, and the heavy tread of boots told him that the big, square-jawed master of Kistler Junction had arrived. “Requesting permission to dock and attempt repairs.”

“Hell of a breakdown. Any idea what sort of ship it is?” Commander Alberts’s rough voice muttered over Fulton’s shoulder.

“Negative. The designation KR-179 does not appear in our registration database, and I have no telemetry. I didn’t even have her on the plot until she started broadcasting.”

“I sure don’t buy it.” The big man muttered, pacing away across the deck and past the other dozen-odd consoles, all unmanned and idle. “Stall him."

Fulton shrugged and keyed the transmit-reply button. “KR-179, this station has limited berth facilities. If you can’t get telemetry online, please transmit technical statistics of your vessel.” It was true, of course. Kistler Junction was only a naval research outpost, and it didn’t even have a full-sized, universal docking umbilical. If KR-179 was old enough to need the navbeacons, it almost certainly couldn’t establish an atmosphere seal with the station.

Somewhere behind Fulton, Commander Alberts grunted approval as he signed onto another console. The silence as the transmission winged its way across the void seemed all the more uncomfortably lengthy now that he had company.

“Station, main communications gear is not functional. Our emergency backup has very limited power and is not able to connect at this range.”

“I am sorry, as per Naval traffic policy, I must instruct you not to come within thirty lisecs until telemetry has been exchanged. Please bleed velocity to preserve this distance if you need time to make repairs.” Technically, that policy was waived for ships in distress, Fulton knew, but KR-179 had not explicitly said it was in distress; the voice of its commander had seemed only confused.

“Naval traffic policy?” The voice from KR-179 replied, redoubling its apparent confusion. “What sort of navy?”

Fulton turned around to share a confused look with his commander before replying. “Kistler junction is a research station operated by the Confederated Navy, KR-179. There are no hospitality facilities aboard.” Except, of course, the brig, Fulton knew; as far as he knew, none of its three cells had ever been used as anything but a drunk tank.

“Got him on scopes.” Alberts crowed, sending a fuzzy image to the main display.

Unfortunately, visual light and infrared telescopes didn’t provide much; the vessel was the size and shape of a large yacht, being long and thin with a pair of bulbous pods protruding amidships which probably housed drive projector nodes. In visual light, its hull had an odd bluish color. Other than possessing high levels of reactor heat bleed for its size, the ship was unremarkable. Though the image was grainy and poor, Fulton saw no signs of external damage.

“Kistler Junction, our apologies, we did not know this was a military outpost.” The voice returned, suddenly sounding rushed and conciliatory. Something about the ship commander’s voice struck Fulton as odd, but he couldn’t place exactly what it was. “If you could calculate a nav solution for the nearest civilian port for us, we can make our repairs there.”

“Sure as hell I’m not letting these joyriders dock unless they give us some telemetry.” Alberts grumbled. The big officer made no secret how suspicious he was of the incoming vessel, despite its small size. “Plot them their solution, then send them packing.”

“Gladly.” Fulton agreed, already looking up a nearby port to send the suspicious ship to. “Not that I think they’ll go where we send them, sir.”

“They won’t.” Alberts agreed. “But that’s not our problem.”

One of the first accounts featured on Tales from the Inbox was Tales from the Inbox: KR-122, an account of a small civilian vessel in a frontier-bound convoy having an odd interaction with a stray vessel that disappeared from its sensors shortly thereafter. Shortly after that account was published, a number of members of the audience sent in accounts of what they believed to be the same ship, or similar ships. Most of these accounts were frankly a bit dubious, and a few others were quite credible but did not feature vessels which simply disappeared; most of these were probably pirates hunting convoy stragglers.

Today, however, we have an account of another suspicious vessel using the odd "KR" numbered designation, and it comes along with a reader's research into this designation. Fulton B. was until recently a junior officer aboard the naval research outpost in the remote frontier system of Kistler, which is notable only because Kistler B is one of the largest neutron bodies in explored space. Apparently, this account describes events which took place in mid-2941, when he had only been on the station about six months. Since he is now posted to the Home Fleet in Sol, Fulton found a little time to do some investigation, attempting to find out what KR-179 was doing when it blundered into Kistler.

The files Fulton sent along with his account indicate that KR-XXX was a designation scheme which was used between 2803 and 2831 by the Kresmir Rally, an odd public-private hybrid organization of the sort the waning yeard of the Terran Sphere regime were notorious for. This organization was essentially an attempt to build a spacers' club for young adults who might otherwise be unable to break into the interstellar industry, and Fulton also uncovered some period news articles suggesting it was active in the highly factional political environment of the period. Vessels chartered with KR numbers were vessels owned by the organization directly; it also assisted young adults with financing their own purchases, and those ships would have names rather than KR numbers.

This connection might be a coincidence, of course. Fulton has established no direct proof that links KR-122 and KR-179 to the Kresmir Rally; he hasn't even found documents that establish that the Rally owned ships with those hull numbers.

If any in this audience have additional information about this topic, feel free to send it in. Do be aware that I will clear with Naval Intelligence every submission that, like Fulton's account, refers to events that took place during naval service; only if our representative Simona Durand has no objections with your story will it make the text feed.