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Posted by: Steve Walmsley
« on: June 27, 2007, 11:34:58 AM »

Update: March 2052
In the three months after the incident in the Tiryns/Mukden system, the Commonwealth and Manchurian diplomats agreed that both nations discovered the system approximately seven years previously but could not find a way to verify each other?s claims as to who actually entered the system first. Finally, with the aid of mediation efforts by the United States the two sides agreed that the system should be declared a neutral zone, with neither side allowed to station any warships within it. Instead, each side would position a scout ship at the jump point to their territory in order to provide a warning of approaching ships. The entry of Commonwealth ships into the Manchurian-1 system remained a sore point with the Manchurian Empire but they finally admitted that as the Commonwealth had long regarded Tiryns as one of their systems, it was plausible that they had simply been exploring its jump points. The US intervention in the crisis was probably the primary factor in defusing a potential war. While the United States would probably not have been hugely upset to see its two rivals tear each other apart in a war, all three nations still had the majority of their population and industry on Earth and any war between the Commonwealth and Manchurian Empire could have degenerated into a nuclear exchange on Earth, with devastating consequences for all three powers.

Posted by: Steve Walmsley
« on: June 26, 2007, 03:40:04 PM »

On October 12th 2151, the Commonwealth survey ship HMS Discovery transited a jump point in the Tiryns system, two jumps from Sparta, and appeared five billion kilometers from a G-class sub-giant star orbited by four rocky planets, two of which had oxygen-nitrogen atmospheres. While the oxygen pressure in the atmosphere of the fourth planet was far too high for humans, the second planet was ideal. Gravity was acceptable, albeit lower than Earth, while the surface temperature was on the high side at 42C, but survivable without the need for special infrastructure. Within two days, the gravitational survey ships Vanguard and Beagle joined their sister ship along with the three geological survey ships Prospector, Fortune Hunter and Seeker. While the geosurvey ships headed for the outermost planet and its four moons, the gravsurvey ships began searching for jump points.

By October 29th, HMS Prospector had moved on to the desolate third planet, HMS Fortune Hunter was still surveying the fourth planet and HMS Seeker was mid-way between the two, en route to the second planet. As a geological survey ship, Prospector was equipped with powerful geological survey sensors but only weak passive search sensors and no active search or GPD sensors. Therefore there was considerable consternation on her bridge when three 10,000 ton ships were detected at three million kilometers, closing fast on an intercept course. Commander Adam Nicholson, captain of the Prospector, well aware that none of the six Commonwealth ships in the system had any weapons or defensive systems, ordered his ship to immediately run for the jump point five billion kilometers away, while issuing an alert to the other five ships. Fortunately for Prospector, her top speed of 4000 km/s gave her a slight advantage over the approaching ships, which appeared to have a maximum speed of 3900 km/s.

Upon receiving the alert the senior Commonwealth officer in the system, Captain Poppy Rice of the Discovery, ordered her other ships to head for Tiryns and instructed Commander Nicholson to attempt communication with the unknowns. With little hope that he would be understood, Commander Nicholson broadcast a message explaining that his ship was in the system on a mission of peaceful exploration. His answer was a demand to stand down and surrender in Chinese-accented English. Realising the Commonwealth fleet had inadvertently stumbled on a Manchurian system, Nicholson ordered his comm officer to open a video link. The Manchurian commander accepted the link, introduced himself as Vice Admiral Lu Mei Dan and repeated his surrender demand. Knowing he could not reveal the existence of the other five Commonwealth ships, Nicholson expressed his apologies for entering the system and explained he had not realised it was inhabited and that his ship would withdraw immediately.

Admiral Lu refused to accept a simple withdrawal, claiming that Prospector was on a spying mission and no doubt part of a Commonwealth fleet seeking weaknesses in Manchurian defences. Unfortunately, Commander Nicholson tried to calm the situation by claiming that his ship was alone, unaware that Manchurian sensors had already detected HMS Seeker, which only served to increase the level of distrust and ended any hope of extricating the Commonwealth ships without a major diplomatic incident. When Admiral Lu threatened that unless both Commonwealth vessels surrended immediately, the Manchurian Empire would treat this as an invasion and an act of war, Captain Rice ordered Nicholson to cease communications and ignore any further Manchurian transmissions. As far as she was concerned, the diplomats could sort it out on Earth. Her priority was informing the Commonwealth and getting her crews to safety. As her ships could outrun their Manchurian pursuers, her real concern was any previously undetected Manchurian force cutting off their escape.

Over a period of twelve hours starting on November 6th, the three gravitational survey ships escaped through the jump point to Tirynis without detecting any Manchurians. Captain Rice ordered Beagle to travel through Tiryns and Mycenae into Sparta and alert the Fleet and Vanguard to take up position on the Tiryns ? Mycenae jump point. She took her own ship twelve million kilometers from the jump point to the system temporarily designated as Manchurian-1 so she could monitor any pursuit, as well as watching out for the geosurvey ships following several days in their wake. Seven days later the three Prospector class ships arrived, also without incident, and Captain Rice ordered them to follow Beagle to Sparta.

On November 20th, Beagle arrived in Sparta and raised the alarm. Fleet Admiral McDonald, commander of the Commonwealth Battle Fleet took his ten ships out of Leonidas orbit and headed for the Mycenae jump point. With four Victory class missile cruisers, two Illustrious class jump cruisers and four Agincourt class destroyers escorts, he was confident of his ability to prevent any Manchurian move into Tiryns, assuming they knew the location of the jump point from Manchurian-1. The four ships of the Second Destroyer Squadron remained in Leonidas orbit. An alert was flashed to the First Destroyer Squadron in Earth orbit, comprised of four Tribal class missile destroyers, a Tribal Chief class destroyer leader and an Agincourt class destroyer escort, warning of potential Manchurian retaliation within the Sol system. As far as Commonwealth Intelligence was aware, there were no Manchurian jump gates so any message from Manchurian-1 to Sol would have to be carried by ship, giving the Commonwealth a communications advantage.

A cause for considerable concern within the Commonwealth leadership was the superiority of the Manchurian Navy in the Sol system. The formation identified as the First Battle Squadron was in Earth orbit, which comprised two 10,000 ton Manchu class battlecruisers, a Xian class Area Defence Cruiser and a pair of Luda class destroyer escorts. While the missile batteries on Earth would almost certainly be enough to overwhelm the Manchurian fleet, should the First Battle Squadron choose to move away from Earth and attack Commonwealth shipping, the First Destroyer Squadron would be hard pressed to stop them. The Commonwealth Prime Minister was hopeful the entire situation could be calmed down without further incident but he endorsed Fleet Admiral McDonald?s decision to confront any move into Commonwealth territory by Manchurian forces. In addition, he requested the Commonwealth Navy protect all commercial traffic until the crisis was resolved.

Fortunately, all fifteen Commonwealth freighters were outside Sol anyway, most of them on a mission to pick up the large amount of ore extracted by the Pylos Mining Colony. Two colony fleets, with nine ships between them were in the Sol system, one incoming and one outgoing. As the one heading for Earth was close to its destination, Fleet Admiral McDonald ordered it to pick up new colonists and re-enter Sparta as quickly as possible. Until more was known about Manchurian intentions, he planned to hold all Commonwealth ships, except the destroyers, within the Commonwealth Arm. While he suspected the Manchurian Empire might attempt some type of retaliation within Sol, outside range of Earth, he doubted they would be prepared to send ships through the Sol-Sparta jump gate into an unknown system and against defences of unknown strength. To further discourage them, the ordered the First Destroyer Squadron to take up position on the Sol side of the gate while the Second Destroyer Squadron moved to support them on the Sparta side.

Meanwhile back in Tiryns, Captain Rice and the Discovery remained on guard near the Manchurian-1 jump point. Given the speed of the pursuing Manchurian ships, they should have entered Tiryns not long after the three Prospectors so she began to suspect the Manchurians might not know the location of the jump point, either because they had not yet surveyed the system or the Commonwealth entry point was a rare dormant jump point, which did not become detectable until a ship had travelled through it. Two other possibilities were a conscious decision on the part of the Manchurians to break off pursuit and avoid an incident, which seemed unlikely given their attitude in Manchurian-1, or the lack of a jump ship capable of escorting the large Manchurian ships into the jump point. Captain Rice?s pre-mission briefings on the Manchurian Navy suggested that only their Han class jump cruisers were capable of escorting the Manchus and both known Hans had been identified escorting Manchurian freighters and colony ships into and out of Sol. Perhaps the Manchurians had simply been caught with no immediate way to pursue the Commonwealth ships, which meant they might still be coming through, albeit later than expected.

On December 1st, a Manchurian colony fleet entered the Sol system and headed for Earth to pick up the latest batch of colonists. Within an hour of its transit, the Manchurian First Battle Squadron broke Earth orbit and headed for the jump point to Manchurian territory. Simultaneously, the Manchurian ambassador to the Commonwealth registered a strong protest and demanded that the Commonwealth turn over the two spy ships recently discovered in its territory. The Commonwealth foreign office was ready for the accusation and began strenuous efforts to calm the situation, explaining once again that the Commonwealth survey ships had inadvertently entered Manchurian territory but withdrawn as soon as they realised their mistake. As the diplomatic arguments intensified, the Manchurian warships continued their course out of the inner system, leaving the Commonwealth Admiralty to wonder if this was a simple defensive move to protect the jump point connecting Sol with their extra-solar territories or an attempt to reinforce their fleet before they moved into Tiryns. As a precaution, the four ships of the second destroyer squadron were ordered to leave their position at the Sparta ? Sol jump point and move through Mycenae to Tiryns. As the Manchurian colony fleet moved sunward, its escorting Han class jump cruiser broke away and rendezvoused with the First Battle Squadron, allowing the warships to transit into the Manchurian Arm.

By December 9th, the six cruisers and four destroyers of the Commonwealth Battle Fleet arrived at the jump point leading from Tiryns to Manchurian-1 and took up position one point three million kilometers away. Less than twenty-four hours later, six Manchurian ships entered Tiryns, four of which were 10,000 tons and the other two were 6400 tons each. Commonwealth Intelligence was aware of four Manchurian ship types with a 10,000 displacement; the Manchu class battlecruiser, the Xian class Area Defence Cruiser, the Han class jump cruiser and the Harbin class Fuel Harvester. However, two of these ships had shield strengths of 50 and a third had strength-42 shields, marking them as probably two Manchus and a Xian. The fourth ship appeared to be shieldless, which almost certainly identified it as a Han as none of the other large Manchurian classes were believed to be jump-capable.

Fleet Admiral McDonald hailed the Manchurian fleet and demanded they withdraw from Tiryns as, according to the terms of the Exploration Treaty of 2137, which awarded control of a system to the first power to discover it, Tiryns was a Commonwealth system. McDonald had always privately believed the treaty would last as long as two of the major powers didn?t both discover a system with a habitable planet or extensive resources. In this case however the treaty might well hold as Tiryns comprised a dim K5-V orange star and a solitary Mercury-like world in close orbit. His hopes were immediately dashed when Admiral Lu responded that the Manchurian Empire had long claimed Tirnys and the Commonwealth was guilty of thievery and espionage. If McDonald did not surrender the two spy ships and withdraw his force immediately, the Manchurian Fleet would remove them.

In his many years serving the Commonwealth Navy, Fleet Admiral Peter McDonald had studied both the United States and Manchurian Empire extensively, believing that knowledge of his potential adversaries would serve him well if the peace ever broke down. From what he knew of his immediate opponent, Admiral Lu was a competent and patriotic naval officer and, putting aside the cover of the usual ideological harangue, seemed genuinely angry at the intrusion of the Commonwealth ships. He also noted that Admiral Lu was holding his ships on the jump point and so far had made no attempt to approach the Commonwealth force. Because of McDonald?s desire to appear strong but not immediately threatening, his own ships were holding their engines at full readiness to make them visible to anyone transiting the jump point and were waiting outside weapon range. Therefore he knew Admiral Lu?s sensors would be detecting six 10,000 ton ships and four 5000 ton ships, putting the Manchurians at a serious disadvantage. Unless the Manchurians had some weapon technology that had escaped the attention of Commonwealth Intelligence, it was unlikely Admiral Lu really believed he could carry out his threat.

Admiral McDonald hailed his counterpart once more, apologised for the unintended intrusion into Manchurian-1, repeated his claim that the Commonwealth had known of Tiryns for several years and suggested that it was possible both nations had surveyed the system in the past without encountering each other. To avoid unnecessary bloodshed, he requested that Admiral Lu agree to both fleets holding their position while the diplomats on Earth tried to defuse the situation and determine the status of Tiryns. If no accomodation could be reached, McDonald assured Lu that the Commonwealth would not be coerced into leaving a system which it rightfully owned. Within fifteen minutes, the shieldless Manchurian ship transited into Manchurian-1 and returned an hour later. A curt Admiral Lu informed McDonald that because the Manchurian Empire strongly believed in peaceful coexistence, even when confronted by the aggressive and hostile acts of nations with far less honourable intentions, they would agree to temporarily hold in place while the status of Mukden, known to the Commonwealth as Tiryns, was discussed on Earth.

To be continued...