This portfolio originally appeared in Jump Point 8.11.
In the nascent days of the Human and Xi’an cold war, Imperator Ivar Messer poured billions into developing a new military long-range scanner codenamed the TKL-2900. He boasted that the technology could find and track targets at significantly greater distances than the current generation of Human scanners and that it would surpass those used by the Xi’an. Despite the time and expense of the project, the actual scanner fell short of Messer’s boastful claims when initially tested. Engineer Martha Agrawal, a notorious Messer supporter, was made the new lead in an effort to salvage the project. She quickly asserted that the issues could be remedied with a few modifications. Once the changes were complete, Imperator Messer received Agrawal’s guarantee that it would work before ordering the TKL-2900 to be deployed to Hadur. Other scientists and engineers on the project begged for more field testing before its deployment, but Agrawal dismissed their concerns and made it abundantly clear that anyone opposed to the decision would regret it both professionally and personally.
Imperator Messer pushed for the quick deployment of the TKL-2900 because he believed the scanner would provide the UEE a clear technological advantage in guarding the fledgling Empire against the burgeoning Xi’an threat. Intelligence reports from along the Perry Line, the buffer zone between Human and Xi’an controlled systems established in 2542 by the UPE Tribunal, were scarce at best and that lack of clarity into Xi’an military movements deeply worried Messer. Still fresh from the aftermath of the First Tevarin War, he believed that the Xi’an would not waste time in striking while Humanity was still recovering from one military conflict. Desperate to reestablish military dominance and with Agrawal’s guarantee of superior performance, the scanner was delivered to the Perry Line unproven and untested.
An Unexpected Explosion
On November 7, 2550, the Navy placed a TKL-2900 long-range scanner in Hadur near the jump to Baker. Upon activation, the experimental reactor powering the TKL-2900 suffered a sudden critical failure and triggered a massive explosion that lit up scanners across the system. The first Navy patrol on the scene found several Xi’an ships already scanning the debris. Their arrival drew no fire but also didn’t deter the Xi’an from their scans, as their ships remained singularly focused. When warning measures and bullying flybys yielded no reaction, Lieutenant Commander Polina Balmont fired warning shots to make their intentions abundantly clear. The Xi’an ships immediately disengaged. Balmont instructed her team to establish a perimeter and wait for the other Navy patrols to arrive. Then she made the jump to Baker to comm Admiral Hireche of the UEE Kennelly and leader of the battle group that the TKL-2900 had exploded and Xi’an ships were spotted at the scene.
Hireche relayed the message to Naval Command and then ordered UEE Kennelly to Hadur. Before making the jump, he instructed his entire fleet to converge on the Baker-Hadur jump point and await further instructions. UEE Kennelly arrived at the massive debris field in Hadur to find all the Navy patrols accounted for and policing the perimeter. He dispatched a ship to Baker to retrieve additional forces and lead engineer Martha Agrawal to help diagnose what caused the explosion. He also spoke with Lieutenant Commander Balmont and extracted a moment-by-moment account of her actions. While he deemed the firing of warning shots to be justified and expertly executed, he worried it would prompt a Xi’an response. And, not long after his arrival on scene, scout ships in Hadur began registering heavy activity in Xi’an sectors.
Admiral Hireche knew time was limited and feared any further engagements would only make matters worse. Despite Agrawal’s insistence that Xi’an forces were to blame for the TKL-2900’s failure, Admiral Hireche wanted irrefutable proof before making the claim to Naval Command. He ordered a grid search of the debris field to find any surviving data recorders. Then he requested that every ship in his fleet still stationed in Baker join the action in Hadur.
The order gave his crew pause as their fleet included a new Aegis Nautilus-class minelayer ship that had not yet been authorized for field operations in Perry Line systems. The ship had been assigned to Admiral Hireche’s fleet to be put through a series of simulations around a Xi’an incursion into Baker. Naval Command wanted to perfect its use protecting UEE systems before putting it into play on the Perry Line and announcing its arrival to the Xi’an. Seeing scans of a significant Xi’an force assembling across the system, Admiral Hireche knew his fleet would soon be outnumbered before reinforcements could ever arrive, so he disregarded the usage edict and confirmed his order to bring the Nautilus into Hadur. If he couldn’t have the numbers advantage, then he would take the tactical one.
With his entire fleet in Hadur, Admiral Hireche ordered the Nautilus to reinforce their perimeter by strategically laying mines to funnel Xi’an ships into a limited number of approach angles. Then he positioned his forces to defend these flight lanes. Admiral Hireche had hoped the Nautilus could lay the mines and return to Baker before the Xi’an arrived, but it was not to be. A massive Xi’an force appeared near the UEE perimeter as the Nautilus crew rushed to complete its objective. Yet, instead of engaging, the Xi’an force halted and held their position. A few of their ships that Admiral Hireche assumed contained their most advanced scanning tech followed from a safe distance, carefully observing the Nautilus. Once the mines were laid, Admiral Hireche ordered the Nautilus back to Baker to restock and potentially repeat the process on the other side of the jump.
Meanwhile, a tense standoff between UEE and Xi’an forces lasted until the grid search of the wreckage was complete and two data recorders were found intact. As Martha Agrawal began to analyze the data, Admiral Hireche organized a swift and safe withdrawal from the debris field and returned his fleet to Baker. No Xi’an ships stalked their retreat, but a subsequent investigation of scans from a nearby UEE station showed a small team of Xi’an ships inspecting the debris field before their forces vacated the area.
Back in Baker, Admiral Hireche commed Naval Command to disclose his use of the Nautilus as a deterrence. Admiral Hireche and engineer Martha Agrawal were ordered back to headquarters to provide a full account of the incident. Initially incensed over the use of the Nautilus, Imperator Messer would eventually praise Admiral Hireche’s swift and decisive actions once analysis of the data recorders revealed the explosion to be a critical system failure and not a secret Xi’an attack. While engineer Agrawal fell out of favor with Imperator Messer for her failure to deliver on her promises for the TKL-2900 and attempts to blame the Xi’an, Admiral Hireche became a trusted confidant, who would eventually be elevated to oversee all forces along the Perry Line. When asked about what he believed was the highlight to his Navy career, Admiral Hireche referenced the Hadur standoff, saying “one of the toughest decisions a commander can make is when to walk away from a fight.”