Very purposely placed as precisely as possible halfway between the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies is what would look very much like a space station if one could see it in the utter darkness there.

You have to bring your own lights to what is one of the great mysteries of the late 23rd century. With transdimensional shifting making travel through the stars themselves available for about two generations and no longer a closely guarded secret, it was at best a mere oddity, a curiosity that has no practical purpose for a multi-culture society that can travel from star to star in seconds.

The question wasn't who did it so much as why they did it. For a number of years, once the archives of a lost civilization were found on a planet in the Delta Quadrant, was that there was no such artifice and if there was, how could one find it and why would one want to? There were way too many billions of unexplored stars in this galaxy even discounting ones lacking candidate planets to imagine going to Andromeda without a clear purpose, not that some people considered this a drawback.

With hoominz being nosy and somebody always wanting to be first, not many citizens were surprised when United Commonwealth of Planets Jerzy Ringbaum made an announcement to deal with some rumors. Other races had harsher words than curiosity for mankind's affliction and scoffed at the idea of anything worthwhile happening so long ago that it was well before they were civilized.

Now his words were broadcast live in real time to every member planet and to almost anyone who had the proper equipment, another fairly recent development also using the stars themselves. Space stations had their uses, almost all of them tied to the planets or moons they orbited.

All CW leaders so far had Earth ancestry, for the simple reason most members did. The current one was no different as he simply spoke at his desk, introducing himself before getting to it.

"As you know, about thirteen years ago the remains of an ancient civilization were found on a planet roughly 50,000 light years from here. There has been much speculation about just how advanced they were. So far, we have learned little new, although it seems they may have achieved our level of scientific achievement, depending on who does the translating. As part of this argument, three and a half years ago I quietly authorized a mission wherein a hundred and twenty probes were sent out to see if a document recovered had any basis in reality. One of these unmanned scouts has just returned with evidence that there is an object where it was expected to be, if real. All of this was paid for by private donors, as is the research explorer Benjamin Franklin, a lightcruiser straight off the history pages and recommissioned by the Galactic Union of Concerned Scientists to go take a look. Our allies are quite willing to let us waste our time and money as long as we share our findings and some non-humans are going along to be sure, not that keeping anything a secret is likely in this day and age. You will have questions, but all my possible answers are already posted on the Outernet, which is why this is not a news conference held for the press. You will know the results when I do. Good luck to us all."

Being a seasoned politician, Ringbaum was not about to say more until he knew more.

#

"Beautiful, is it not?" Ina was holding up a sketch she had made herself to her longtime partner.

Tilal looked around nervously, even though they were alone in her private office with no visitors scheduled soon. Her problem was that this was in her very public Magisterial Library. She had only gotten a glimpse of it, enough to make out the habitat ring and central spire, more information than she cared to share at this moment. "Put that away. Now is not the time and place."

Ina was dismayed, having hoped her confidant would partake in her joy at this sign of progress. The real reason she had rushed over was not a picture. Pledges had been made to finance this dream.

"Oh, it is just a drawing. We discussed much more serious matters when I was your Chief of Staff, including and very importantly our star expanding. That can cover our talks."

Tilal's voice was very low. "Our work relationship is different here. Leave now and we can meet later. Say no more of this until then. To anyone."

Ina reluctantly did as told. She would not even contact her backers again until given permission now. After all, there was a reason she was the aide and Tilal the head of state, an arrangement that had survived some rather intense scrutiny thanks to extreme care taken.

#

It took a little over a year for the Franklin to reach the artifact. It had traveled alone despite going a million light years from anywhere since the deal was that a Spacecraft Carrier would be sent after them if the ship did not return in three years. Two probes had been sent home and two others encountered in route were already returning. All of them would report the Franklin's position and lack of problems. The ship had supplies for at least ten years even with a platoon of Aerospace Commandos aboard. The vessel carried all the armaments a Fleet lightcruiser did. It was a tough galaxy.

What the ship found was basically very much like what an early effort by a fledgling society on the brink of space travel would look like. Pictures taken by the probe proved to be disappointingly accurate. The lone habitat ring was a tube just under five meters in diameter, attached at midpoint to a central shaft about four meters in diameter with six spokes just over two meters wide. The whole thing was fifty meters from edge to edge and forty meters long.

Too small to be useful except as a starter kit. Where it was positioned hardly qualified for that.

#

"You have the funding lined up? Already? How did you manage that?" And keep it a secret was Tilal's unspoken, tacitly understood follow.

They were in an open park. The retired executives always had guards, who were used to seeing these two meeting out in public places and kept a respectful distance away. None of them had any idea of the true nature of their relationship. No untoward behavior had ever been observed. If there had been, it would have been reported.

Ina smiled. "There is more interest than we thought possible. Some deep pockets involved are taking a huge risk. The real trick will be to make these contributions in secret. A little here, a little there as the station is built."

"And just who will do that?"

"I can not say. I am the only one who knows. It is possible."

Tilal simply shook her head, then smiled at her loyal longtime bodyguard to reassure him all was okay. Ina saw this and tried to allay her too close a friend's fears.

"It will not take so much time. The point is that it can be done. Remember, the real limit we have is shining down on us now. That bright circle in the sky." She pointed overhead.

Tilal did not bother to look up. She would be long dead before their world was fried. What troubled her was the tricky nature of the coming revelation, but she would not back out now.

Time for a change was long overdue.

#

The Franklin spent an entire shipcycle circling the motionless artifact, making minute observations that told them absolutely nothing good. The shell was practically perfect, no damage to be seen. There were no docking ports on either end, a bit strange and puzzling. Then again, this was not a problem for entering the structure. All the scientists wanted to zip over, only a handful would, after two commandos had checked the place out.

They found absolutely nothing other than a section of wall to which had seemingly been something attached near the middle of the shaft. It could only be where the power source had been located. The problem was that there was no cables, outlets, fixtures, furniture or anything else present.

Nothing but airless, empty space. It did not take long for the scientists to conclude that the station had never even once been used. Original guesstimates of it being at least a million years old based on the time it would take to stop spinning from a rotational speed needed to create one G of force on the outer rim came into serious question now, since there was no evidence of inhabitation.

There were several theories posited as to why, if so.

Only one came close.

#

The construct had been in place less than a planetary revolution when a task force showed up to arrest the deviants who built it for the sole purpose of doing their perversions far from prying eyes.

It was quite a shock to find the place deserted. No drunken orgies, no forbidden alliances.

Nothing. Even the power drive, the key to the whole thing, had been removed. As expected, it had been impossible to build such a minimal structure without its 'true' purpose finally being revealed. Someone would say something that would alert the authorities, inadvertent or not.

Tilal, Ina and their backers were counting on it. The existence of the station was never meant to be kept secret since the power source used to move it was a prototype of the kind of technology needed to move the entire planet to a safely distant star.

The allegations that this had been done by deviants caused extreme turmoil in the excessively homophobic society. Just as the ex-Magistrate had hoped. The fact that the crooks had seemingly outsmarted the straights did not go over well at all.

Tilal's husband could not be made to testify against her. He absolutely refused to give even a hint as to whether he had known or suspected. His career was in the garbage either way, so he simply declined comment, publicly and privately.

When Tilal was exiled to a tropical island after her perversion trial, he took his government pension and went with her. To some hardliners, this spoke volumes.

For some more reasonable types, it made them wonder.

Ina went to work in a reformatory for the rest of her life. A widow, she had never remarried after her husband died in a plane crash many years earlier. She never knew that he suspected and was about to do something about it on his return. At her trial, she emphasized the concept, her conception, that the location was not just intended to demonstrate the possibility or to be so far away as to be not found. Hey, we went halfway, so can you. If you're smart enough.

These actions did not alter prejudices overnight, but even the most intolerant societies do eventually change. Only Ina knew names and figures. Rampant witchhunts trying to ferret out the conspirators were not taken lightly by the accused and backfired badly.

When the time came to activate the escape plan, the records that were secured in case something went wrong and the lifeforms did not survive the unprecedented journey included Ina's sketch. No special mention was made of past politics by the much more tolerant race that made a huge gamble. If smaller expeditions had been dispatched to preserve the race, those records had not yet been found.

#

The Franklin made its disappointing report to Commonwealth Headquarters in due course. In time, archaeologists and technicians would come across clues as to what happened. The best theory held that the race had had two options. One was to take the long route, through interstellar space, the safer option although it meant centuries in cryosleep. The other was to fly into the sun. This was theoretically possible. A vessel had to mass at least two million metric tons to transit through a star. No one knew the upper limit and no one was going to test a whole planet to find out.

The lack of bodies argued that most of the citizens had shipped out beforehand. It appeared as if they chose the quick route. It could be that unless their ancestors show up one year, they picked wrong. Even now, the galaxy had plenty of room for them.

Politics mattered little next to survival.

end

 


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