And so we embarked on the trip between Colonia and the Bubble, going back to civilisation for one last pass of engineering, reputation grind, money-making and mining overdose before finally settling in Jaques' self-contained fragment of human society.
The Colonia Connection Highway! 22,000 lightyears between Jaques Station and the Mammon asteroid stations, between the two points of a formidable route that stretches across half the Milky Way, swirling between nebulae, neutron stars, and the stations of the Colonia Connection themselves - Kashyapa, Rohini, Polo Harbor, Gagarin Gate, and many others, isolated fragments of civilisation in the void. Yesterday we arrived at Mammon with our trusty Diamondback Explorer, about a quarter hundred thousand lightyears behind us and more than two hundred jumps.
It was very, very boring. At first we decided to use the marvelous tool that is the Neutron plotter, and while it does wonders in neutron-dense regions, more than halving the amount of jumps between two destinations, it also had a strange side-effect : while neutron hopping was at first a nice change of pace, as time passed we started longing for "regular" jumps, for simple honk and scooop sequences and we ended up reverting to the normal method for the last 5,000 lightyears of the journey.
It seems that this road to Colonia - this "highway" - has left a certain imprint in people's memories. The first ones to get to Colonia in its early days remember the long journey from before the highway was charted. "After a long journey through the unknown stars I finally approached what was reported as Jaques Station and can confirm that it was in a sorry state with hull breaches all over the place and most systems offline, soon as news travelled to the community of explorers and the rest of the galaxy, more and more ships started arriving." remembers CMDR Wishblend. Many at the time found the journey harrowing, even after the establishment of the first planet-based outposts. "It took me 30 days to reach Colonia in my Asp" says CMDR Hanna Hunter. "I stopped at every outpost alongside the way to refuel and repair. Once I got spooked by a commander who was seemingly about to shoot people wanting to land." Some people remember how the early Highways were sometimes used for...amusing purposes. "Back then the prospect to journey to Colonia was a bit far-fetched to me alone. And it was shortly after that i stumbled upon the Danksgiving expedition (Nov-Dec 3304), a project aiming to deliver goods of the intoxicating nature (mainly Lavian Brandy and Onion Heads), while exploring "the High-route", a less used way to get to Colonia counting many nebulae and neutron stars clusters." Says CMDR BastiWandeR. Exploration was still present in commander's minds, even when they went alongside the highway : "I was hooked." says CMDR Von Bhoen. "With minor refits and nary a look back, I set off on the Colonia Connection Highway making sure to visit every outpost even penal colony along the way. Here's what I did different though: before I charted my course to the next CCH stop I went off a few hundred lightyears to the side. That way, I was almost always in new worlds."
It is interesting, this word - "highway". There are lots of highways in the galaxy. The titular Colonia Connection Highway. The neutron highway, which overlaps with the former but not completely (technically neutron highways can be found anywhere : but there is a well-mapped Bubble-Colonia-Sagittarius A* neutron highway, so the term applies). In pure technical terms, what's a highway? There's a simple definition that would say it's just a route that enables you to go fast. This is true, to a certain extent, but there can be a more detailed, and more interesting, definition of a highway. A highway is an infrastructure. In pure geographical terms, it is the combination of three things : cartographical knowledge, physical infrastructure and traffic. Physical infrastructure first : the highways of old were long strings of concrete and asphalt, dotted with rest areas and fuel stations along the way. Sure, the asphalt doesn't exist in space, and only the former element is taken by the stations of the Colonia Connection Highway. This is because a highway is also, and perhaps foremost, a sum of knowledge. The Neutron Plotter is the best example of that : it can only draw routes with stars that have already been discovered and relayed by other commanders. This is the true deep space infrastructure we've been building. Not the stations - in the end, those are pretty inconsequential - but the knowledge. Stars with commander names attached to them : this is what our highways rest upon.
Infrastructure and knowledge. And with it, safety. Travelling alongside the Colonia Connection Highway is not dangerous. Modern exploration ships are almost entirely self-sufficient : with AFMUs, repair drones and SRVs, a small Diamondback can operate alone in the void for months, the only thing capable of stopping it being a catastrophic power generator failure. Allied with our highways of knowledge, this has created a strange state, where deep space travel has become normal.
No, not normal. There's a better word.
Going from Colonia to the Bubble, and the other way, is certainly not "normal" (most commanders won't go alongside that route on a regular basis) but it is mundane. Unremarkable. There is no feeling of adventure, there is no anticipation but the expectation of what we are going to do upon arrival. Like people going on the highway to their holyday vacation, pilots on the Colonia-Bubble transit find themselves in this weird situation where an uneventful journey is not an exception but what is expected. Once, those who travelled that route were explorers. Now they're truckers, or bus drivers. "As time passed, the amount of jumps I needed went down, and the journey became faster." recalls CMDR Hanna Hunter.
The moment we started stepping outside the Bubble, the moment Jaques made his fateful long-range jump that led him to create a new human Bubble, 22,000 lightyears away from the original one, this was meant to happen. This extension of knowledge, the fact that the uncharted becomes known, that the extraordinary becomes mundane, that the paths become highways, is probably inevitable, for the better and for the worst.
It's just called civilisation.
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