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The Adventures of Beer Keg of Science! (Cover)

Chapter 26

The Adventures of the Beer Keg of Science!
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Uncharted Brown Dwarf System, 15 Light-Years from Stettin[]


Primary Bridge, NMS Beer Keg of Science!

Ian Kent sagged at his station. “This keeps getting worse and worse.” he groaned, massaging his temples.

Mo leaned over to him. “What’s wrong?”

“The stars, they’re not right. Well, they’re right…for 3152, not 3158. If this is correct…”

“Let me look.” Mo said gravely. She copied his data over to her science workstation, then reviewed the data, matching the nearest standard candles and other celestial landmarks, as well as the expected spectrum and distance to Niops, versus their observational data. “I wish I could say you were wrong, but it doesn’t look like you are. Mac, can you take a look at this, give us a third opinion?”

{“Stand by…it looks like we made a time machine out of a Beer Keg.”}

“I was afraid of that. Captain,” Mo announced, “we have another problem.”

“Lovely,” Lea replied. “Have I earned enough for a free latte yet?”

“Are we up to ten? I’m not sure.” Mo shrugged. “But we’ve confirmed, Captain, whatever universe this is, it’s 3152, not 3158.”

“Fantastic. We can see our ship before it’s even deployed, or at least this universe’s version of it. We’re going to come up a bit short jumping back to Niops, so we’ll do the same thing we did going to Stettin: jump to within three light-years, gather ELINT, and see what we’re going to be getting ourselves into. The good news is we’ve got two more weeks to firm up our plans and work on contingencies, and work on a plan to get back to our own universe.”


Interplanetary Tracking Station, Niops Militia Headquarters
Niops VII, September 4th, 3152


Lieutenant Joshua Nellis briefly wondered whether it was better to be bored out of his skull, or to have something to do. Given he was carefully monitoring the telescopes and listening devices pointed at the zenith and Nadir Jump Points of the Niops system, as well as some of the better-known pirate points, he decided bored was better. Bad things tended to happen when things got interesting in the Niops system.

And, unfortunately, there were plenty of bad things to go around these days. There was the recent political wrangling that reformed the Free Worlds League, which more than one party tried dragging the Niops Association into, leaving the specter of “annexation” over their heads again. The Marian Hegemony was starting to go on the “conquering Space Romans” path again, with Niops once again a potential target. Farther out, word was the Lyran Commonwealth was on the verge of collapse, and word from passing (fleeing?) merchants was that Clan Wolf had conquered Terra and declared themselves ilClan, declaring themselves the Star League reborn, and wanting to unite everyone under their banner…and boot.

Nellis had no illusions of the ability of the Militia to handle anything serious thrown their way: they were still under the military power levels they were at in the 3060s and 3070s, when civil war, Marian incursions, and Blakist nukings nearly collapsed the Association, the resulting fallout (both figurative and literal) and anarchy of which they dealt with for decades before even beginning to get their crap together in 3097. The last thing Niops needed was another fight on their hands, or any kinds of trouble at all.

[JUMP SIGNAL DETECTED. JUMP CLOCK STARTED.]

Nellis tried to begin his own count as he moved to alert the watch officer, but there simply wasn’t time: the arriving JumpShip took a mere four seconds to emerge from hyperspace over the Niops system’s Zenith Jump Point. “What the…that can’t be right,” he mused out loud.

Normally, jump travel isn’t instantaneous, and the emergence waves of a JumpShip can be seen at the arrival point before the ship ever arrives: the more complicated the field and farther the ship has traveled, the longer the emergence wave would take. The base was a one second for every two light-years traveled, multiplied by the number of DropShips the JumpShip could carry. In the case of an Merchant class JumpShip moving its maximum distance, that would be 30 seconds; one of the FWL’s surviving WarShips, meanwhile, would take twice that at the same distance.

Such a short jump, then, could only mean the arriving ship came from practically no distance away, didn’t have the ability to carry DropShips, or both. No DropShips would be bad news: that normally meant an optimized “cheap” WarShip like a destroyer, optimized for fighting and orbital bombardment.

Training the monitoring telescopes on the arriving vessel, Nellis was able to see a ship that, essentially, looked like a squat cylinder, like beer keg or a barrel of some kind. The warbook only showed two similar vessel types to the ungainly craft out there, both of which had been out of use for centuries: the Conestoga class transport…and the Cruiser class cruiser. And this had way, way too many gun turrets to be a Conestoga.

“Well, crap.” Nellis’ hand immediately slapped down on the alert button. Keeping in mind that the arriving WarShip was 110 million kilometers away, nearly three-quarters of an AU, any message he sent now would take over five minutes to arrive, well after any threats that they might make after their own EM interference cleared.

As Nellis waited for his superiors to file in, though, what he did not expect was the message the arriving ship did send.

{”Niops Control, this is the Niops Militia Ship Beer Keg of Science!,} a female voice announced calmly. {”We, uh, appear to have missed that last turn at Albuquerque, and would appreciate it if we could stop by to talk about our options. Is Zeb Kindarps still Brigadier and Albert Boden-Seif still Director in this universe?”}

Nellis just stared at the speaker for several seconds. “…What.”



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