Conjoiner’s Gullet, Merathy System, Starfall Abysm
The stargate orbited alone, far from its sun; the moil of distorted space that made up its throat constrained around the inner framework, exotic matter holding the passage between stars open, itself embedded in the complex of supporting reactors, processors, antennae, traffic signals, and other support machinery.
This outer framework was almost silent now. The reactors still ran, but the traffic signals were frozen on ”closed”, the antennae silent, since the Leviathan Consciousness had seized the Ancal Drifts. The stars visible through the gate shimmered slightly, symptomatic of the slight instability the wormhole had developed since the gatekeeper intelligence had been severed from its distant partner.
In a globe ten-thousand miles around the stargate, weapons platforms drifted in matching orbits, ever-watchful. Scanning radar and gravitometrics probed the space around the gate, watching for even the smallest probe to emerge. Signal arrays listened for any coherent EM signal that the Consciousness might send. And a million missiles waited in their silos for the word to be given.
Half a million miles from the gate, CS Cíarré’s Bow, the battlecruiser commanding the guardian task force co-orbited, under minimum station-keeping thrust. Eleven Imperial cruisers kept formation with her, along with similar detachments from other polities – spiky Photonic Network war-globes, blocky spindles from the D!grith Association, needle clusters from the Múrast Symbiosis, and a dozen more – even, in a remarkable political concession, a Voniensan cruiser: A picket fleet in the event that the Consciousness should break through the Gullet, to hold the line while covering the escape of the courier that would call for more help from Field Fleet Nadir, five gates away at Anan!t.
And 57 million miles away, Merathy itself. A choice freesoil world of purple skies, rich soil and refreshingly few sophont-devouring predators, inhabited already when the Consciousness took the Ancal Drifts, and still the home of a few million stubborn colonists.
No probes had returned from beyond the gate since the last refugees had emerged, nearly three centuries ago. No signal had emerged for two, since a stolen passenger liner had entered the Drifts at the Unreturn gate – and that signal had carried little but horror, subsumption, and mind-corroding viruses.
And though that signal – purified of its viral side bands – had been broadcast to the Merathy settlers in the fleet’s periodic efforts to remove them, still they stayed.
Purple skies, rich soil, and sitting at the gate of a perversion’s Hell. But if it hadn’t broken through in the last three centuries, there was no reason that it would tomorrow, surely?
Or tomorrow, or tomorrow, or tomorrow…