After last week’s piece (Tales from the Inbox: KR-451) about a trio of KR ships (or at least ships that claimed to be KR ships) which vanished near Deana’s Rock at the edge of the Frontier, I was contacted by an officer of Naval Intelligence, who must remain anonymous for security reasons. Evidently, some time in March, Navy patrol captured one of these “KR” vessels when it tried to enter restricted space near a Navy installation on the Frontier (he did not say which).

Obviously, I was excited to accept this proposal. Full-capture recordings of this tour will be available on the Cosmic Background datasphere hub, and highlights will appear in a few days on Aston’s flagship vidcast. Apparently the Navy wishes to spread the word that these vessels, apparently those of a Ladeonist sect, are active both on the Frontier and in some parts of the Colonial Reach. Though their iconography and association with counterhuman influences is consistent with the usual Ladeonist behavior pattern, this sect appears to have greater financial resources than most, evidenced by the ability to outfit at least one (perhaps dozens or more if all KR sightings are of these ships).

Unfortunately, the three members of KR-233's crew remain comatose; Naval Intelligence would have learned much more about them if the EMP which had disabled their ship had not also disabled them, probably permanently. Are the Ladeonists really behind the rash of ghost "KR Ship" sightings? Or did they outfit KR-233 as a copycat, after hearing about one of last year's sightings?

Oddly, though their vessels are equipped quite well for stealth and evasion, they are not suited for smuggling or sapient trafficking, and they are not sufficiently armed for piracy. Perhaps KR-233 was meant to ferry Ladeonist magnates to cells on Frontier worlds? If Naval Intelligence has a theory as to the syndicate’s intentions or the equipped purpose of the captured vessel, it was not shared with me.

This week, I am devoting Tales from the Inbox to a unique effort: its narrative is pieced together from my own tour of the vessel and my interview with the crew of the Donald Albring, which captured it. Unlike my contact in Naval Intelligence, the names of the vessel and crew involved in the capture are not secret; this incident is being made public, both through Cosmic Background and through several military spacers’ content networks.

Sergeant K. Vogts disengaged his weapons’ safeties as Albring reeled in its prey. As leader of the three-Marine presence aboard the aging corvette, he hadn’t expected the last year of his last tour with the Marines to feature any action, but he had always prepared as if action was certain.

For all their griping during biweekly drills, the two green privates who he’d been tasked with wet-nursing until they grew up into proper Marines weren’t complaining now that Albring’s captain had a use for the three troopers. Corna and Hase looked a bit pale behind their helmet face-plates, but they moved confidently in their heavy armor-suits, and they carried their weapons like veterans. They were, Vogts decided, ready for the real thing.

The airlock depressurized with a rumble and then yawned open to the void. The snared ship – a quick little thing which had failed to run the local Navy security cordon – had been disabled by a salvo of EMP-loaded missiles, but the crew was probably still alive within.

“You are go for hot insertion, Sergeant Vogts.”

As soon as the calm voice from the bridge had given the order, Vogts stepped forward through the hatch. As he crossed out of the ship’s A-grav influence and became weightless, he activated his mobility pack and thrusted clear of Albring. As soon as he was clear, his cohorts followed.

“ETA one-five-five seconds, control. Any sign of activity?” Vogts found the target against the starfield easily; its hull was illuminated by Albring’s EVA spotlights, along with the tether lines which had been used to tow it close to the larger warship.

“Negative activity.”

“What do you think they’ll do, Sarge?” Hase’s voice trembled; the burly young man sounded uncertain. He’d never been under fire.

“We’re about to find out, Private Hase.”

The remaining seconds of transit passed in silence, and soon the target loomed only meters ahead. Slowing to match its velocity, Vogts marveled at how small the intruder was. Though expensively outfitted for stealth and infiltration with EM-absorbing hull paneling and collapsible “wings” of what appeared to be solar foil, the underlying vessel was had all the graceless, lumpen lines of a civilian vacationer’s yacht.

“Control, what are these panels?” Private Corna jetted closer to one of the collapsed wings.

“Best guess, those are parts of a photokinetic drive.”

“Of all the things to bring when you’re sneaking into a Navy base… Solar sails?” Hase’s muttering, though poor comms discipline, echoed Vogts’s own.

“Let’s get inside. Corna, set up the breacher.”

As Vogt and Hase moved in close to the only visible airlock, Private Corna unhooked a heavy breacher limpet secured to his armor-suit and backed off, pointing it at the pair of Marines and the airlock. As soon as he had it in place, he left it drifting there and joined his compatriots.

Albring, be advised we are beginning our breach.” Vogts turned toward the lock, snapping his railgun into position to receive any trouble that might issue forth in the proper manner. Though not nearly as snappily, the other two pointed their guns in the same direction.

“Acknowledged. Happy hunting, Sarge.”

“Breaching on my mark.” Corna announced without waiting for his superior’s go-ahead. “Three… Two… One…” Though the radio didn’t transmit it, Vogts imagined the nervous gulp that occupied the slightly longer than regulation delay. “Mark.”

On the signal, the automated breaching module fired a curtain of gossamer, which slammed into the intruder’s hull and stuck fast. Though no sound carried through hard vacuum, Vogts knew how loud the breacher limpet’s cycle would be inside the target ship.

Almost as soon as the silky material’s leading edge had adhered to the hull, the limpet blasted its tank of compressed nitrogen into the newly enclosed space. Vogts made sure he was not in a direct line between the limpet and the airlock, and the two privates had already moved as far as they could toward the outwardly-bulging fabric walls.

“We have pressure and seal is holding.” Corna’s voice trembled. “Breaching charge in three… Two… One…”

Vogts didn’t hear the “mark” this time. When Corna keyed his remote, the breacher limpet’s shaped-charge explosive detonated with a thunderous crack in the newly pressurized space, and a white-hot beam bright enough to be visible through auto-dimming faceplates lanced between the limpet and the airlock.

“Go!” Vogts pushed Hase toward the lock, and the private drifted through the jagged, still-glowing remnants of two heavily reinforced pressure doors. Vogts followed as soon as the narrow entrance was clear, his suit-lights automatically coming on.

The Marines found the vessel’s interior surprisingly open. Where most yacht-like vessels were arranged into several sub-divided compartments for privacy and utility, the intruder’s interior was dominated by one large, open compartment, into which the Marines had entered on a balcony-like second semi-deck. Three sets of lights swept the interior for threats, but nothing moved.

“The hell is this thing?” Hase’s question carried through the air, not the radio.

Vogt scanned the jungle-like tangle of machinery bolted to the main deck below. No, he realized, it wasn’t jungle-like – it was an actual jungle. Intermingled with the machines were several overgrown specimens of unfamiliar plant. “A damned mess. Where’s the crew?”

“Over here, Sarge.” Corna pointed his light, and the other two followed the beam to a female human body strapped into a crash-pad chair on the other side of the balcony deck.

“Cover me, I’ll check.” Vogts shouldered his weapon and clambered toward the body. An EMP near-miss shouldn’t have been enough to kill the crew through the hull. Sure enough, his medical scanner found a weak pulse; the woman was comatose, but not dead.

“I’ve got another body!” Hase called, pointing his light down into the tangle on the main deck. “Male. Not moving.”

The scanning equipment found something else. A warning marker bearing the terrifying abbreviation “UNKN NANO” lit up on his faceplate display. “Nanotech.” Nanotechnology was far from uncommon; the fact that the suit systems couldn’t identify the nano-agent was enough to scare even a grizzled Marine. “Counts are off the charts.”

As he searched the unconscious woman for weapons, Vogts suddenly recoiled in horror. One side of her face, from her hairline to her cheekbone, was covered in intricate tracery of metal filament, all winding rootlike out of a metallic device embedded above her ear. “The hell?”

“We see it, Sarge.” The bridge controller seemed just as perturbed as he. “Invasive implant of some kind. If that connects to her brain...” Neither the controller nor Vogts needed medical training to know that it didn’t take much current through a human brain to cause serious damage.

“Sarge, we’ve got a third body in the back.” Corna drifted out into the open space and headed down toward the main deck.

“Everything else is clear.”

“Acknowledge clear.” Vogts drifted back from the strapped-in body. “Control, you’re go to reel us in. Observe nano-contamination protocol.”

“Any ideas, Sarge?” Hase asked, drifting toward one of the other limp forms, then recoiling as he spotted a similar implant there. “Augh! Counterhumans, all the way out here?”

“Not just any counterhumans, boys.” Corna turned his light up against the above bulkhead, and the other two Marines turned to look. Painted lovingly on the only open stretch of paneling in the entire ship was a familiar and sinister insignia: a stylized avian with outstretched wings shedding sun-fire. “Damned Ladeonists.”

2947-04-09 - Tales from the Inbox: KR-451

While there have been a few more notable reports of Sagittarian aggression across the Gap, there’s no major news on that front that hasn’t been covered sufficiently by our vidcast programs in the past few days. Instead, I want to bring to you another story of a KR-X ship – I’ve heard several people tell me about ghost ships seen on the Frontier, but since sightings of this particular class of ghost ship were among the earliest Tales from the Inbox episodes and I regularly field requests to publish more accounts of such encounters, I would be remiss to keep this particular tale from this audience.

As with many recent episodes, this story was created from notes taken during an in-person interview which took place recently here at Håkøya. Interacting with interstellar professionals with stories to tell personally does cut down on my free time considerably, but I think it results in better content.

On most runs between Maribel and remote Deana’s Rock, Henricus never even picked up another star-ship on any of his sensors. Two weeks out and two weeks back without being hailed by passers-by or boarded for random customs inspections suited him fine, compared to the relative bustle of Core Worlds space. When he wasn’t fixing his old Bois Bennette, a ship which whose main disadvantage was that it was designed to be crewed by at least six spacers, he had plenty of time to himself.

As usual, at the end of the final jump, Henricus steered away from the ruddy light of Damnation’s Candle, heading for its distant binary partner, the yellow-white pinprick of Deana. Only when the computer had plotted a course through the chaotic debris rings around the pair of stars did he notice gravitic echo on the plot. There were other ships in the system – three of them, to be precise, all of them quite small and appearing to fly in convoy.

Deana’s Rock being one of the most distant official Confederated colonies, Henricus was at first apprehensive of this presence. Dedicated brigand operations on the Coreward frontier were quite rare, but the hard-luck denizens of unregistered colonies did occasionally resort to space-lanes piracy to survive. Three vessels arriving at such a remote world at the same time as his own regularly scheduled supply run seemed a recipe for trouble.

Three shifts later, this suspicion was reinforced when the ships still hadn’t responded to transponder queries sent in their direction. Henricus sent a query to the diminutive Deana’s Rock orbital station, and received an equally uninformative reply – though the station control center had been in audio-transmission contact with the three small ships, they remained as puzzled as he. The crews of the three claimed to be lost and wanted to dock for full navigation system overhauls, but the always-frosty Deana’s Rock natives had refused until the “lost” ships provided proper IFF transponder signals. These demands had been ignored, and the three ships continued to plod inward, making inefficient maneuvers and generally behaving as if they indeed were operating with bad navcomputers.

Henricus didn’t believe the ships’ excuses for a second, of course. His cargo was only a load of parts and food for the colonists, but a bulk hauler like Bois Bennette was a prize even empty. He continued inward, watching the ships for any sign of aggressive maneuvers; though big, his ship was quick enough in an emergency to outrun most pirates who took it to be as sluggish as its configuration suggested.

After five shifts of awkward silene, Henricus tried to raise the lead stranger on an unencrypted audio channel. “Unidentified vessel, your transponder is off. Advise you re-enable it.”

Several minutes later, he got a reply. “Hauler Bois Bennette, it should be on? We are sorry. Experiencing equipment trouble.” The voice was that of a young woman who couldn’t have been older than twenty T-years, and transmission lag being what it was, he estimated the ship had sat on his message for nearly a minute before sending its response. Most likely, the commander had coached one of his subordinates into sending the reply, perhaps to sell the idea that the vessels were crewed by incompetents.

Henricus, of course, wasn’t buying it. “You know damn well it’s off. Turn it on, or your engine profile goes into the known pirate database when I get back to Maribel.” He was trying to coax the ships – pirates, he had decided – into dropping their cover early, when Bennette’s surprisingly high acceleration would still protect him.

After a delay, again longer than strictly necessary, the young woman’s voice replied again. “This is KR-451, on route from Alipran to Nova Corsica with KR-407 and KR-383 on private business. I can provide any transponder information over audio link if the equipment is still not operating.”

“Alipran?” Henricus knew the place; it was one of the other outermost settlements, but it was one he knew to avoid. Alipran was an unregistered settlement, neither definitely illegal under Confederated law nor sanctioned by its government. As with most like it, the planet was no place to make honest deliveries. It was also halfway across the Frontier, and the listed destination, Nova Corsica, was in the other direction. “Like hell any of that is true. You’re in violation of at least three counts of the Law of the Spacelanes, KR-451. Station control would be in their rights to open fire as soon as you get into range.”

The delay this time was much longer, perhaps long enough for KR-451 to perform some scans of the station and determine what Henricus knew – its secondhand defense network was in no shape to be fighting off three small, agile ships. “I hope that doesn’t happen. Many systems on manual control… They need to let us dock.”

Henricus snorted at the brazen declaration, then recorded a final reply. “They don’t need to do anything, kid. This joyride is over.”

Before he could hit send, however, he looked up at the plot once more, and saw that the three ships had all vanished without a trace. Being close enough to detect them on radar as well as tracing their engines’ gravitic echo, he ran an active scan, but that came up empty – the ships had simply vanished.

“Station control, did you see what happened to those three ships?”

The station replied as quickly as signal delay could allow. “Negative, Bennette. They just up and disappeared. We’re scanning for debris clouds, but nothing yet.”

Henricus shook his head and stared at the plot some more. He’d heard of ghost ships, just like any other spacer, but he had a hunch KR-451 and its compatriots were still out there, somewhere, and he didn’t like it.

2947-04-02 - Tales from the Inbox: Sagittarian Snippets

Those of you who follow other components of the Cosmic Background media suite have heard of the odd reports coming back from the other side of the Gap in far greater detail than this space can provide, but Ning’s account (backed up by shipboard data streams which the Navy has analyzed) is not the only run-in with the odd, cruiser-scale warships which have been combing the far shore of the Gap. Because of where they are being encountered, the name “Sagittarians” appears to have become datasphere canon.

Though quick-moving and aggressively curious about human vessels in the region, the unknown sapients operating these vessels have not yet been involved in any confirmed hostilities with our explorers. That is not to say that they are not deadly; both Survey and private exploration efforts have reported that a large number of their crews are overdue and potentially missing. It’s an unavoidable possibility that these mystery vessels have captured or killed at least one crew.

These incidents have been going on since at least October. Keep in mind that it takes a minimum of five weeks and usually more than seven for a vessel to cross the Gap, and that until the Navy’s Hypercast relay chain across the Gap is complete, we only have what reports vessels which are returning from half-year and year-long tours can carry back.

I have been inundated with requests to provide accounts of these seemingly hostile vessels, and also with obliging spacers’ accounts, credible and otherwise. Rather than dribble them out over several weeks’ Tales from the Inbox entries, I’ve chosen to list the five most credible in brief, in one post. These are not presented in order of when I received them rather than chronological order.

Tutankhamun E. reports seeing a squadron of four of the “Sagittarian” warships operating with a much larger vessel which his instruments suggested was a hauler at the edge of an unnamed star system. This five-vessel flotilla appeared outside the star’s grav shadow and began moving at a fairly slow (for the Sagittarians, anyway) pace toward the life-bearing second planet, which Tut’s crew was surveying. His commander wisely fled with all speed, and the Sagittarians stuck close to their larger charge, suggesting it was of high value.

Lurking at the edge of the system, the survey crew was able to capture a wealth of data broadcast by their planetary orbiter drones before the Sagittarians found and disabled them. This data, later shared with the Confederated Navy, provided clear images of the large hauler-type starship, which, next to the sleek, elegant warships, appears crude and ungainly. It is Tut’s hypothesis that this less advanced vessel was the work of yet another culture working in concert with the Sagittarians – perhaps they, like our own spacers, are the products of a conglomerated society.

Mikkal T., second-in-command of a small Naval Survey Auxiliary vessel, describes seeing the shattered hulk of a Sagittarian warship drifting in a debris field in orbit around a cloud-wreathed planet. His crew moved in to investigate, but an automated orbiter started broadcasting a garbled, unintelligible message. Whether it was a warning or a greeting, the spooked Survey crew fled to the edge of the grav shadow and moved on to the next system. The location of the wreck was handed over to Survey and the Navy, but it has been kept from the public for obvious reasons.

The Sagittarians may have allies, but they also appear to have enemies who can hurt them.

Wilfreda E. counts herself lucky that she went to Sagittarius with a fast ship (a custom-built long-range surveyor). When entering a system to investigate a life-bearing planet, her crew was horrified to see the drive signature of a Sagittarian warship appear in orbit around the system’s outer gas giant behind them. Fortunately, the explorers were able to accelerate into a stellar slingshot maneuver back to the edge of the grav shadow before the pursuing ship got close.

Wilfreda is convinced that the ship was lying in wait, hoping a human exploration vessel would drive in-system to examine a new life-bearing world. Only the high emergency acceleration of the ship saved her crew from this apparent trap.

Sabree I. is the captain of a small ship which, like Ning’s, was forced to ground by the sudden appearance of a much faster Sagittarian warship. Hidden in the tangled rings of a bloated gas giant, his ship would have eventually been found, had the Sagittarians stayed as long as they had in Ning’s case. Fortunately for him, the cruiser hunted for less than ten shifts before it mysteriously left and burned its way to the edge of the grav shadow at a very high rate of acceleration.

Sabree (who only learned of Ning’s encounter after his ship’s return to the near side of the Gap) speculates that, being vessels of a well-organized military (as we must assume they are, given the size and standardization of their vessels), the Sagittarians abandoned their search for him simply because they had orders they couldn’t abandon to chase a curious interloper.

Mari A., a lone-wolf independent explorer, hailed a Sagittarian warship with the standard first-contact program, not having heard any stories of their aggressive behavior before making the Gap crossing. Unlike in other encounters, the big ship made no attempt to pursue her; it continued on its course, sending a garbled reply which seemed to contain a few snatches of audio recording. Most of these were grinding or roaring noises, and are being analyzed as potential sources of xenolinguistic data.

In one of these seconds-long audio segments, one can clearly hear a human-like voice speaking, though its words are marred by static – the most common interpretation of the most intelligible section is that the voice is saying, “now, in the appointed time” but there are other theories as well. The voice has a distinctly pastoral tone, and Mari told me she thinks this is an indication that at least one of the eccentric religious groups which moved whole-sale across the Gap made an impression on the Sagittarians.

I found five well-reported examples of such a migration with a quick datasphere search. This is an optimistic interpretation to be sure, but I have no other explanation for the recording, or for the nonaggressive behavior of this particular Sagittarian vessel.


2947-03-26: Tales from the Inbox: Spacers' Limbo

Ning knew holding his breath was utterly useless, but he held it anyway as the huge unknown vessel swept overhead, as it had done several dozen times already.

The shape silhouetted against the stars on the command deck displays utterly failed to convey the sheer size of the incoming vessel. Its sharp-nosed, graceful outline was the sort of shape a human shipwright would assign to a smaller, more nimble vessel like a racer or a Frontier survey ship, rather than to a behemoth outweighing most Confederated Navy cruisers.

Whatever the alien logic behind its construction, the fact that the unknown ship had responded to Linn Rhee’s regulation first-contact transmission with an intercept course had demonstrated its intent. Now Rhee was pinned down, hurriedly set down in a deep-shadowed crater on the surface of a barren moon, while the stranger orbited patiently, waiting.

“He’s not going anywhere, is he?” Ning hadn’t heard Zhen enter the command deck, so focused was he on the silhouette crossing the sky above. When he turned around, she pressed a cup of steaming shipboard coffee into his hand.

“You were right. He means to wait us out, skipper.” Silently cursing the stammer in his voice, Ning set aside the coffee he’d been given, then duplicated the camera feeds to one of the other stations for the ship’s owner. It was a sign of her fraying nerves that Zhen had forgotten that she was the only member of the crew who could stomach food-processor coffee.

Zhen sat down and watched the shadowy alien ship cross the starfield at what, from the surface, seemed an unhurried pace. “We have time. Let’s see how patient they can afford to be.” Confidence rung in her tone; Rhee had been outfitted for long-range endurance in order to operate across the Gap, and could sit tight in its shadowed refuge for months.

A starship of the alien’s size could likely remain in place at least as long, of course; Ning didn’t relish the idea of sitting around for the better part of a year to see whose supply stowage ran dry first. “They won’t wait around long, will they?”

“I sure as hell hope not.” Zhen shook her head. “You’ve been up here two and a half shifts, Ning. Get below and get something to eat, I’ll keep watching him.”

This was a suggestion, not an order, but Ning knew it would be turned into an order if he refused. Blanking his console, he got up, took the untouched coffee, and got into the lift. At least she hadn’t told him to get some sleep – aside from the obvious contradiction between sleep and the offered stimulant-laced beverage, Ning couldn’t sleep properly knowing a vast ship full of malevolent alien creatures patrolled only a few dozen kilometers overhead.

As the lift descended to the cabin deck, Ning wondered whether this was how the first crews to encounter Imperial Rattanai ships had felt, before they were captured and lost to the anonymity of the Imperial chattel market. Nobody aboard Rhee harbored no doubt the sleek alien vessel was a weapon of war; its outline was vaguely reminiscent of a flattened bird-skull, a shape utterly inefficient for hauling cargo but well suited for giving multiple heavy weapons a clear field of fire forward without presenting a large target to return fire.

When Ning stepped out of the lift into the cramped crew lounge, three grim faces looked up from a game of cards, hoping for good news but seeing immediately that he had none. Ning walked past them with a nod of greeting to the food processor, fed it the still-untouched coffee the skipper had given him, and requested a plate of food instead. As the machine gurgled and wheezed through the process of turning inedible protein and starch pastes into barely-edible synthesized food, Ning stared blankly at the card game, needing a direction in which to direct his unseeing eyes but not really interested in the outcome. Taking his food from the output slot, he retreated into his tiny cabin without a word to his crewmates. What was there to say? The alien menace still loomed large, and the best case outcome was that they would trade weeks or months of tedium for the privilege of living a normal span.

Worst case, of course, involved being killed, captured, or dissected. It wasn’t a pretty thought to dwell on while dining on synthetic spacers’ fare, but Ning gulped down the bland dish of facsimile noodles all the same. Zhen had been right; it had been far too long since he’d eaten.

The door chimed, startling Ning into upending his half-eaten meal into his lap. “Dammit.” He could see on his wrist unit that the person responsible for the noise was Danica. Hurriedly scraping most of the food off the stain-repelling smart-fabric of his uniform and back onto the plate, Ning keyed the remote unlock.

Danica, looking as haggard as Ning felt, ducked into the tiny room, then let the door close behind her before she spoke. “You’ve been up in command since we touched down. Do you think we’ll make it?”

Ning let the businesslike greeting from his long-time crewmate and occasional lover pass by without comment, being simply too weary to risk a dispute. “I don’t know, Danica.” Knowing the ship was doomed would, he decided, be a less stressful alternative – the relief of certainty after two nerve-fraying days under the weight of an uncertain future held its own sort of appeal. “I really don’t know.”

Nodding quietly, Danica flopped down on Ning’s bed and covered her face with her hands. “If this is how we go… We knew the risks.” She chose her words carefully, as if the wrong one might bring the alien menace down on Rhee. “But I always expected the end to be…”

“Quick?” Ning filled in, brushing the last of the food off his trousers.

Danika looked up with a look of relief that he understood. “Yeah.” It was, apparently, all she could say.

Brushing the last scraps of food off his trousers, Ning left the cabin’s card-table-sized desk and sat on the bed next to Danica. Hesitantly, he put an arm around her shoulders. There was nothing to say, of course, and there was nothing more to do. All anyone could do was watch and wait.

The Linn Rhee returned from the far side of the Gap early last week, almost three full months after it had been declared missing, and almost a full year since its departure.The Rhee was one of the more well-prepared private Sagittarius expeditions to depart in 2946, and news of its apparent loss was met with widespread dismay here on the Frontier. The return of the ship and its crew has resulted in a fresh wave of widespread rumors, as the story they brought back - along with instrument recordings to back it up - is quite sensational. There can be no doubt they were pinned onto a desolate moon for several months by a curious or malevolent alien vessel of unknown origin - a clear case of first contact with new xenosapient life, but more than that, with highly advanced xenosapient life capable of projecting some level of modern military force on the spacelanes.

There have been a few other, less definite, sightings of similar ships - their narrow, avian profiles and distinctly bluish hull alloy are common features of these stories, as is the odd aggression demonstrated by the vessels. It is possible there is only one ship which several explorers have encountered, but that is not likely - it's more probable there are several. Several more expeditions and solitary explorers have gone missing on the far side of the Gap in the last year, it is possible that some of these were not as lucky as the Rhee crew.

The Arrowhawk squadron has only just arrived here at Håkøya, but its time-table to cross the Gap has been accelerated by several weeks in reaction to these events. Such rocky starts to interspecies relations are quite common (first contact at famously friendly Cold Refuge was quite hostile, for example), so we have every reason to believe that the Sagittarius starship builders will eventually prove to be good neighbors.

Of course, as Ning made sure to mention in his account to me, first contact with the old Rattanai Imperium was equally troublesome. If you are involved in exploration efforts on the far side of the Gap, be careful out there.