Even before the rebellion, the UNM had been investigating other mechanisms by which men and material and information could be moved interstellar distances without having to do it the long, slow way. A research station was established around the furthest star in the Alpha Centauri trinary system to experiment with artificially creating wormholes, although unbeknown to the UNM it had been infiltrated by anti-UN sentiments from the very beginning.
Officially, the station was destroyed in 2102 when a test went horribly wrong, killing all involved. In reality, rebels from Altair managed to sneak aboard the station and with the help of the local sympathisers stole the wormhole generators and destroyed the station with carefully placed explosives. The failure was well publicised and public opinion quickly turned against the project. Within a month the project had been cancelled and mere weeks later, the facility that had been built to construct the wormholes was scheduled for decommissioning. As far as the UNM were concerned, the whole affair was wrapped up neatly. No-one noticed months later when the facility went missing.
One disadvantage of the UNM sanctions and blockade of Altair was that there was very little insight into what happened in the system. It was generally assumed that as there were no sanctioned trade routes to or from the system and a robust program tracking down smugglers, nothing got in or out. In reality there was a large group of ship captains from all walks of life who felt sympathy for the rebels and helped smuggle items in and out of the system. This was how for almost ten years the wormhole fabrication facility managed to produce dozens of wormhole generators and smuggle them out to other rebel or sympathetic systems.
They were hidden in all manner of ways, attached to space stations or scientific satellites, even just hidden in extreme orbits where no-one would think to look. The conspiracy was almost rumbled several times. Pirates stole one wormhole and threatened to tell the UNM, routine patrols stumbled across another. Through luck or bribes or direct action, the project remained secret until December 2109 when the wormhole network was brought online for the first time and the Independent Planet Protection Pact announced its existence to humanity.
Thanks to the lack of superluminal communication it took some time for news of this to reach the UNM headquarters on Earth, who quickly formed a fleet and sent it to Altair expecting to nip this renewed rebellion in the bud. Instead they found two additional technological improvements the IP3 had been hiding. On transiting into the Altair system they saw a little over a hundred ships equipped with early predecessors to the modern railgun, capable of firing larger and faster projectiles than the contemporary gauss cannons mounted on the UNM ships. But also many ships were equipped with primitive nuclear fission engines, giving them significantly higher thrust capability.
Rather than finding a simple skirmish as they had expected, the Second Battle of Altair was a frantic, close knit affair and the first instance of recognisably modern space combat. The fighting was split over three major theatres: the fight for Altair II, the fight for the shipyards around Altair d and the fight for the Wormhole Nexus. Despite a significant numerical advantage, the IP3 ships were a ragtag group and very few were trained to the same degree as their UNM counterparts. Despite this, the IP3 resoundingly won the fight over Altair I and at the Wormhole Nexus. Whilst the UNM managed to cripple the shipyards, it was a pyrrhic victory as less than a third of the initial attack force made it back out of the system, chased down by reinforcements from other IP3 systems that arrived through the wormhole network.
The following decade saw significant skirmishes between the two factions. Whilst the UNM quickly recognised the existence of the IP3, they refused to relinquish key systems. The IP3 were not sat on their laurels either and moved to seize planets and production facilities to feed their growing stellar empire. It wasn’t until 2124 that an uneasy ceasefire was signed around Alpha Centauri with the Treaty of Chiron. Small border conflicts continued but it worked to stave off open conflict for over forty years.
Continue reading A New Life Awaits in the Off-World Colonies.