Stardate 15.2.2200, ZNV Corvette Chimera, Zol Station
Captain Judy Hopps of the newly established Zootopian Navy fidgeted with the epaulets on her newly fitted dress uniform as the lift ascended to her new command. She knew that she had developed quite the reputation over the years as the bunny who saved Zootopia, and couldn’t bear to disappoint her new crew. After what seemed like an eternity the doors opened and she crossed over the docking tube onto the ship’s main deck.
The interior of the corvette looked cramped, and not just because seemingly the entire crew had gathered in there. The entrance was tall enough for a rhino to enter but the largest member of the crew was a tiger, and the majority of them appeared to be small species such as rodents and weasels. Off to the sides Judy could see passages and tunnels designed for smaller mammals and walkways at shoulder height for the larger species present, it seemed like the ship’s designers had intended the craft for individuals of her size. Judy found the captain’s chair, sized for herself but on a telescoping platform that rose so she could maintain eye contact with the taller mammals on the crew. She sat down and found the controls to raise the chair to its maximum height, coming close to the ceiling of the ship’s bridge she began to rotate slowly, surveying the interior of the ship, her ship in fact.
As she turned around in place mammals of all shapes and sizes, wearing all sorts of uniform and insignia, raised their forepaws in salute. The magnitude of what she had agreed to hit her finally, she was in charge of a spaceship full of mammals who looked up to her, and she was taking them into the great unknown. Judy stopped at a viewport looking out of the hangar bay they were docked in, next to them on the port side was Nick’s science vessel, the Vagabond. To starboard was the shipyard, building another corvette to round out the newborn Zootopian Space Navy. Before them was open space, the final, endless, frontier. Pinpricks of light shone out in the distance, not twinkling like they had back when she looked up at the sky in Bunnyburrow, but static. It seemed appropriate given the past five years, now every mammal in Zootopia knew that at least some of those stars held untold dangers.
Judy gave a hefty sigh as she stared out into the blackness. “Twenty years ago,” she began, “I resolved to become a police officer to help make the world a better place.” She slowly started to lower her chair to be at shoulder height for a fox-sized mammal as she spoke. “Six years ago my first case led me to uncover a conspiracy to turn us against one another and destroy the Zootopian dream.” The little bunny lifted her head now to look around at her assorted crew. “I don’t know what you may have heard, but it is a verifiable fact that Dawn Bellwether was not from this world. For whatever reason she was slain by her own kind when they bombed the prison where we held her.” With that, she leapt up in her seat, leaning against the nylon back and facing every member of her crew in turn. “We cannot assume that they are friendly, whoever they are they wiped out nearly a thousand mammals in order to kill half a dozen of their kind. That would imply we are either their enemy or beneath their notice. Whatever the case, the Zootopian Star Republic does not intend to just wait for them to return, that’s why we’re going out there. To find new civilizations, learn their intentions, and secure new resources so we can defend ourselves. With any luck we might find some allies out there even.” Beginning to settle back down, Judy gave her first orders, “Engineering, are we spaceworthy?”
A mouse standing over by the access tunnels sized for mammals her size spoke up, “all lights are green. Just give us time to start up the reactors.”
Judy gave the engineer a nod. “Weapons, are you ready?”
A lynx in a uniform based on the police’s dress uniforms saluted again. “Locked and loaded captain. Gunners are primed for the unexpected.”
The first bunny starship captain turned to the last major division of her crew. “Helm, prepared to take us out?”
A sloth who had been raising his hand to salute since Judy had come on board continued to lift towards his head. “Just… say… the… word… captain… and… we… will… be… ready… to… lift… off…”
Judy rolled her eyes in amusement, if she hadn’t already had experience with sloth’s reflexes she’d have wondered what one was doing flying her ship. For a moment she was brought back to her and Nick’s first official assignment together. As soon as the helms-sloth was done speaking she gave the order to request clearance for take-off.
As the crew scrambled back to their watch stations she could heard the boarding tube disengage from the exterior of her ship, the docking clamps followed one by one with a thunderous rumble. Spotting the Vagabond already leaving the hangar ahead of them, Judy opened a communications channel with the science ship. “ZNV Chimera to Vagabond, come in Captain Wilde.”
The screen that acted as the corvette’s main viewport opened a window displaying a video stream from the other ship, showing its’ vulpine captain laid back casually in his own chair. “Vagabond to Chimera, how’re you liking the taste of command Captain Hopps-Wilde?”
The bunny gave another sigh at her husband’s attitude. “We can have time to discuss personal feelings later. Is your ship prepared to head out into deep space?”
“As ready as we’ll ever be Fluff.” Nick tapped a few keys on his armrest and after some seconds a graphical display started to appear on the screen next to him. A wireframe of the Zol system and its planets coalesced along with numbers indicating various distances and velocities. “The eggheads say it’ll be a week to the jump point though, think you can watch our backs that long?”
“Just imagine what it’ll be like on the other side. See you later fox.” Judy cut the transmission then and turned back to her own crew. “Helm, bring us out.”
“Course…” the corvette began inching out towards the entrance to the bay. “Set…” gradually, the hull outside slid past to eventually fall away and show the inky black of space. “To…” Judy felt a slight increase in pressure holding her back against her seat. “Jump…” Ahead of them, the Vagabond’s afterburners glowed red as it began to speed away from them. “Point.” Chimera’s main sublight drive kicked in and they accelerated after their science vessel mate.
86 hours later:
The two Zootopian vessels circled each other in a delicate dance, matching velocities perfectly. An outside observer would notice a hatch on the Vagabond open for the briefest of moments to disgorge a small shuttle that streaked over to the Chimera, which caught it with a similar vestibule.
Fifteen minutes later the two captains were sharing a meal in Judy’s private quarters. She eating some of the ship’s last fresh greens before they had to switch to frozen rations, him with a tray of fried crickets. The bunny considered that while the cabin was barely larger than her first apartment in Zootopia city, it had seemed unusually spacious for a compartment on this ship. At least until her almost twice her own size husband came to visit.
While they had exchanged video comms every few hours the past couple days, the realization that their face-to-face exchanges would be less and less frequent from now on gnawed at the bunny as they chewed their meals in silence for several minutes, unsure how to start a conversation. Finally, Nick took a large swallow of cricket and worked up the courage to speak up. “Halfway point to the great unknown.”
Judy stared back at him, a chunk of stewed carrot halfway to her mouth. “I still find it hard to believe. Less than four days left before we jump to another star system entirely. Billions of miles crossed just like that.”
“Well,” Nick conceded. “Some of the scientists say that it could take a day or longer to travel the hyperlane, several hours just to charge up the drive before jump.” He stopped and began to tap his finger on the plastic table in thought. “Though some of them insist it should be an instantaneous transition, a few think that there might be some funny thing with time and we’ll experience decades or centuries on board while practically no time passes outside.”
“That’s ridiculous.” The bunny retorted, some slight tinge of nervousness creeping into her voice. “How would the aliens have survived star travel if that happened?”
The fox gave a shrug as he picked up some more crickets. “Who knows? Apparently there were some sort of cryonic freezing chambers on the Xeno ships that most of the Reptilians were kept in, though nobody ever found enough for a whole crew. And then there was this one guy who insisted that something called cyto-revitalization would make aging a thing of the past.”
Judy snorted, she remembered some so-called clinics that offered treatments that they claimed would make you feel ten years younger, ever since she hit thirty they’d started sending flyers on an almost monthly basis. But, with the kind of technology the Xenos had, who knew? “What if they’re right though? Why do you have to go ahead of us?”
“Something about our sensors.” Nick replied. “Apparently we’ve got some gravitic sensors or something on the Vagabond that will allow us to find the right gravity currents to slip into. And it’s so large that the shipyards couldn’t fit both it and the missiles Chimera here has on the same ship frame.”
“But that’s it’s own problem!” Judy retorted. “What if there’s a fleet of Xeno battlecruisers on the other side and it takes us a month to follow you?”
“Then we’ll jump back.” The fox said simply. “Look, a star system is a big place but there’s no place a ship can hide without our sensors detecting them from a million miles away. We’ll be fine.”
“I hope so.” Judy stood, her uniform top draping over her bare legs as she took her tray over to the door for the stewards to retrieve.
Stardate 22.2.2200, Zol system jumppoint Alpha.
Nick stared out the main viewport of the Vagabond at the region of space before them. It looked no different than any other patch of empty space around them in the visible spectrum, but on the gravitational map it looked like the inlet of a channel. On 3d maps it would be shaped almost like a cone, the flared end facing Zol while the point faced the neighboring system. A 2d map would make it look more like an arrowhead or chevron.
“Doesn’t look like much,” Nick commented. “Are you sure this is the right place?”
One of the ship’s scientists, a red squirrel showing some hints of grey fur on the tips of his ears answered, “this was where the Xenos charts indicated the mouth of the hyperlane would be. The gravitic sensors show a spatial channel leading from this location to a corresponding location in another star system. This should be it.”
“Okay, so, how long to charge up the FTL drive? We’re burning starlight here.”
“Oh, the capacitors will take about 18 hours to charge, but there’s readings and measurements we will need to make before we’re ready to jump. That will take considerably more time I’m afraid.”
Nick raised a suspicious eyebrow at that statement. “How much time? It doesn’t have to be exact, but give me a ballpark.”
“Well,” the squirrel looked nervously up at the predator sitting in the captain’s chair. “Maybe, ten days.”
“Ten days!” The fox exclaimed. “And I was looking forward to spending tomorrow evening with my insatiable bunny wife under an alien sun.” He stood up and began to walk off towards the shuttle bay. “Oh well, better go console her.” Nick stopped for a minute at the threshold of the bridge and turned back towards his crew for a second. “You will inform me if there are any more delays now, won’t you?”
The squirrel gave a little twitchy nod as the captain left.
Nine days, 15 hours later:
The comm device by Nick and Judy’s bed chirped impatiently and an orange-furred arm reached out from under the sheets to pick it up. Seeing a call from Dr. Hazel, that antsy squirrel from earlier, Nick almost hit the default accept button before remembering his current state of dress and moving his finger over to the “audio only” key.
“Captain,” the squirrel’s voice came from the small speaker. “We’re about ready to jump now.”
Nick nodded, briefly, to himself, this was good news. He was afraid that they’d be delayed another day or two with how nervous that scientist had been. “Good, make sure everyone’s fully awake, if there’s no further delays we jump in an hour.”
“A-affirmative captain.” The link terminated and Nick slowly staggered out of bed, looking around for his clothes.
A little grey hand stuck out and grabbed at his tail, prompting a brief grin from the fox. “Sorry Carrots, mammals have been waiting on this for weeks.”
“There’s fifteen billion mammals back on Zootopia who don’t even know this mission exists.” Judy retorted. “It can wait a bit longer.”
“Admiral Buffalo Butt knows.” Nick responded. “And I wouldn’t want to disappoint him, now, would you?”
The rabbit sighed and rolled off the bed to her own clothes. “Just speak to me again soon.”
The Vagabond’s hull started to acquire a shimmering golden glow as the hyperdrive charged up, from within the craft Nick saw space distort through the glow and the gravitational currents began to appear in the visual spectrum. “Preparing to jump,” Nick noted. “Almost ready…” Suddenly the pinprick-spotted blackness of normal space vanished and the small vessel found itself careening through a tunnel of blue light. “What just happened?”
“Capacitors reached full charge, released automatically!” The weasel in the pilot’s chair shouted as he fiddled with the controls. “Damn, this is psychedelic.”
“Any idea how long we’ll be in here?” Nick turned to Dr. Hazel, who lunged towards his own instruments.
“Gravitational readings suggest that based on our current velocity, we might reach the end of the hyperlane in about…” He waited anxiously for the calculations to finish. “Forty-two hours.”
“Better tell our second-shift pilot to get some rest then.” The vulpine captain noted as the ship swerved around a black spot in the tunnel.
Three days, seven hours later.
Judy brought up the hyperwave’s comm screen again. As she’d expected, no notifications since the Admiral’s transmission earlier that day for the twice-daily progress report. Nothing from Nick.
The hyperwave had been tested extensively throughout the Zol system since it was reverse-engineered three years previous. It appeared to provide lag-free communication across nearly any distance, but thus far it hadn’t been tested for interstellar distances. The fact that it apparently couldn’t be used to contact a ship in hyperspace led to some troublesome thoughts.
Feeling the latest cup of coffee begin to wear off, she left her chair to recaffeinate. While trying to convince the commissary dispenser to let her exceed the safe levels of caffeine for the third day in a row her comm beeped with a notification from the hyperwave. It was the Vagabond.
A wave of excitement that had nothing to do with stimulants washed over Judy as she flicked on the holographic display and her husband’s visage appeared in mid-air before her. “Hey Carrots, what day is it over there?”
“7th of March, 2200.” She exclaimed. “Why, what does it say on your clocks?”
“Well, dang, I bet on time dilation in the pool. Seems like the same amount of time passed for us as for you.” The fox shrugged, “might have put us a little closer in age.”
“Don’t joke like that!” The bunny shouted back. “Well, what’s over there? Anything dangerous?”
“Charge your drive Fluffbutt, you have got to see this.”