The Twilight of the Known Worlds
JumpGates and the JumpWeb
There is a maxim of our species, more ancient even than the words of the Prophet: “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” One need but look about in these discordant times, when nobles spread fire and strife, the better that they and they alone be allowed to look after the welfare of all, to evince the veracity of this statement.
Nothing is simple and true; all things have become a maze of mirrors within mirrors, and the very h’naa-lizard that devours the Karangian ass is also the dray animal bearing medicine to the provinces.
And so what to make of the jumpgates? Beloved of the Prophet; waystations of the Barbarians and Symbiots. Windows to a thousand paradises and gates whereby demons can emerge from nighted hells. Tools built by unknown hands, bearing the virtues of Zebulon and the vices of Leagueheim indiscriminately.
Much has been written of these structures since their discovery in the dim eras before the Diaspora. Nobles, priests and Guilders alike have acted, if for no other common purpose, to understand these artifacts, at once utterly enigmatic and completely essential. And yet all Urth’s collective efforts have gone for naught; the gates are as much of a conundrum now as they were millennia ago. Who created them? For what purpose? What logic behind the intricate web of stellar leaps? Ah well, perhaps it is the Pancreator’s will that they should remain a riddle.
The gates themselves hover in the astral night at the fringes of certain solar systems, evidently those which the Pancreator desired us to claim for Him. However, just as the Pancreator requires His servants to prove their devotion through earthly works before He deigns to allow His angels to bear their soul- sparks to salvation, those who would dare the jumpgates must first free themselves of their planetary ties, traveling to the fringes of their solar systems through the harnessing of often recalcitrant spacecraft. This journey to the gate itself can take as long as a fortnight, during which the travelers are at the mercy of pirates, rival houses, Void Krakens and a host of other horrors. One indeed needs the favor of the Pancreator even to attempt such a trek.
Perhaps the gates are indeed the work of the Pancreator, simultaneously allowing humanity to carry His message to the stars and instilling Everyman with a much-needed sense of humility; for I personally aver that it is impossible to approach one of these structures without a sense of awe evoking itself in the witness. Certes the approaching traveler, viewing the vast metallic ring, hovering in the void like a hollow moon, and I use this simile deliberately, for many jumpgates are indeed of lunar proportions, becomes consumed with a profound sense of humility, as she can do naught but tremble before one of the universe’s greatest works and most fundamental mysteries. Nor is this wonder diminished when, awakened by the call of the star-pilot, the gate begins to throb and pulse, and luminescent orbs play up and down the arcs of the metal hoop, and the entirety of the inner circumference is litten with a lambent radiance, as if a sun had erupted new-formed from the abyss.
And so the gate, newly roused from slumber amid the silence of the void, awaits its passengers as the leviathan anticipates its meal of krill. Of the gates’ inner workings, few know much save the heathen Charioteers. Of their operation more is understood. These gates mystically connect disparate tapestries of space, allowing a traveler to enter the glowing portal at the heart of the jumpgate ring and thereby “leap” across vast cosmic distances in a matter of moments.
The time of travel remains the subject of heated conjecture; most travelers agree that a jump, while not precisely instantaneous, transports the users across vast gulfs over a period of mere seconds at most. What, then, transpires during those moments of bodilessness, adrift in an incorporeal state? Those of learning will recall the suppressed Sathra heresy of the early Diaspora. The devotees of this cult, jumpgate pilots all, claimed to be elevated into ecstasy by passage through the gates, and to have heard disembodied voices bearing messages of paradise.
Ever seeking further enlightenment, Sathraists indulged in frivolous cosmic jaunts and all manner of dangerous practices, until they came to seem less like mystics and more like addicts. The early Church, recognizing the Sathraists as foolish degenerates likely deluded by demons, put a swift end to these false revelations, and prevented further experimentation by ordaining the installations of wards dampening the astral narcosis: wards which still grace spacecraft to this day. A few Sathraist rants yet survive in the depths of the Church archives, but offer less insight concerning the jumpgates than about the addled brains of the authors.
More enlightening are the epistles of our Most Holy Zebulon, who himself was a student of the jumpgates, but toward a nobler end than the unfocused rapture of the Sathraists. In his writings he often speaks of the peculiar “ephemeral” state of the jump, and about its relationship to both the Pancreator’s Empyrean and those hells housing the dwellers that wait between the known cosmic gulfs and the Outer Darkness (which is to the void we know as the dinosaur is to the gecko).
In the end there is little more that can be explained, and so the jumpgates remain as they have always been: monuments to powers greater than we can hope to explain. I add only that vigilance is critical; for the jumpgates are the bridges to celestial and infernal powers alike, and in this treacherous age it would serve us well to monitor closely what sorts of beings travel freely in our midst.
Physically, jumpgates are giant, hoop-shaped artifacts in space, most of them as large or larger than a moon. They are the devices which allow travel between the stars. A starship must have a jumpdrive to use them, and the workings of these complex engines is a closely guarded secret by the guilds.
Each system in the Known Worlds has one working jumpgate through which all traffic must pass. A ship preparing to jump sends system coordinates to the gate, which opens a passage in space to that system. The ship then enters the hoop and exits from another jumpgate in the desired system. Making a jump requires a jumpkey, a small metal cylinder invented during the Second Republic which holds complex, pre-programmed coordinates. Each key usually holds coordinates for one destination, although keys with multiple jumproutes are known. Without the proper coordinates, a jumpgate will not open; anyone passing through its hoop will not leave the system.
The Known Worlds are formed by the jumpweb — the known routes between jumpgates in systems. If one of these routes were to be lost or a system’s gate sealed, that world would be cut off from the rest of space-faring civilization. Most worlds host multiple jumproutes (Byzantium Secundus has nine from its jumpgate), but some have only one known route (Nowhere), making them vulnerable to jumproute loss.
When a ship approaches a jumpgate, the jumpkey to the desired location is inserted into a computer panel, which relays the information to the jumpgate in a series of light transmissions. If the coordinates are correct, the gate opens. The singular nature of each jumpkey makes them valued commodities. The measure of a Charioteer is often the number of jumpkeys she carries. Jumpkeys are a favorite booty of pirates, always seeking new jumproads to plunder.
Only the Charioteers know how to make these keys, and they guard the tech fanatically. A “Chauki stride” in the vacuum of space (i.e., being thrown out of an airlock) is the usual fate of those who try to bootleg jumpkeys, threatening Charioteer hegemony over the jumproads.
The cost of a jumpkey varies radically, since they are not for sale. They are given to Charioteers who earn them by working their way up the ranks of the guild. Assume that a Charioteer character has one jumpkey for each rank he attains past the first (he gets his first jumpkey when he becomes a Chief). These keys hold one jump coordinate each (such as Byzantium Secundus to Pyre).
Nonetheless, the black market does support a trade in these goods, whether stolen or bootlegged. It would be a lucky day to find a common, single route key (Byzantium Secundus to Criticorum) for only 3000 firebirds. Jumpkey traders can smell a client’s desperation from leagues away, and will jack their prices up accordingly. There is obviously no guarantee that a black market key will work or even get the buyer to the promised destination.
Without a jumpkey, it may take hours or days to program the proper jump coordinates into the ship’s Think Machine (a task requiring 18 victory points on a sustained Tech + Think Machine roll, with the Jumproads Lore being complementary). This assumes the rough coordinates are known; most ships do not keep libraries of this data as the Charioteers are highly protective of it, since such lore is their bread and butter. They are the exclusive manufacturers of new jumpkeys, and do not appreciate illegal keys or data files.
What you see through a Jumpgate
The view when a jumpgate opens is a hologram image (from the jumpgate’s data banks) confirming the jumproute keyed in; it is not actually a current view of the system on the other side. So you could not, for example, see an Inquisition Ship waiting for you and decide not to take the journey. You see a view of the system at the time of the last jump made to it through the gate in question.
Jumpgate Reset and Active and Passive Jumps
Using a jumpgate to leave a system is considered an active jump; arriving in another system is considered a passive jump. It takes a jumpgate a varying time to reset itself after an active jump (Anywhere from 1 minute to 1 week). No active jumps can be made while the gate resets itself, although ships can exit from the jumpgate at anytime (passive jumps). For this reason, fleets tend to jump together, synchronized to go through the gate at once, rather than spread out in a long line. The Second Republic engineers solved the problem of gate resetting, but it requires a special key in addition to the destination jumpkey.
These keys are especially rare and held only by a few. Certain Charioteers or Engineers travel from system to system selling the use of their reset keys, and most ships of the Imperial Fleet have them. Some Inquisitors also have them, to the dismay of those trying to escape their fury.
It is not easy to determine the location to which a previous ship may have jumped. This requires experience with jumpgates and their routes (a successful Tech + Jumproads Lore roll). Obviously, if a jumpgate only provides one road out (as is the case with Nowhere, which leads only to Stigmata), it is easy to figure where a previous ship went.
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