Watchtowers were scientific outposts established by the first Solar Group at the edge of the Bubble to attempt to understand the physics behind the Limitation. The first one was created as early as 2352, within four years of the start of the Limitation, based on charts provided by the viwodian ambassador who had the delicate job of declaring the new restrictive travel rules.   To begin with, they were hardly more than symbolic tokens to demonstrate that the government of Earth would not just acquiesce to the declaration without seeking to at least question and investigate it. There was little that the watchtowers could actually do, beyond making some simple experiments to measure the performance of flicker drives close to their new operating edge.   The science behind the Flicker Drive Zonal Restriction field which had been wrapped around the Bubble was so far beyond human understanding at the time that there was no real hope of making progress.   The Watchtowers became more interesting places to study the galactic continuity enforcement field after humanity learned to produce protocol two flicker drives in 2381. The research programme began at the Watchtower on the world of Far Keld in 2390 (illustrated at the head of this article). Now it was possible to send remote drones to map the invisible boundary without risking a human crew. This led to a lot of unmanned missions, some of which inevitably resulted in drone loss, but which over time, allowed humanity to verify that the barriers to travel were real and were where the viwodian charts declared them to be. Infuriatingly, there were no measurable discrepencies and by the start of the 26th century, this mapping program was more or less complete and most watchtowers were mothballed.   Although the comprehensive programme had been wound down by 2513, some researchers managed to maintain funding from the Solar Group for occasional measurement runs to check if there had been any variation in the established limits of the Bubble. This is because it had been determined that there was some limited movement in the boundary and it was hoped than a study of the changes might lead to a better understanding of the continuity enforcement field. As a result of one such study, an ill fated mission to the Forbidden Regions was launched in 2985 (see sidebar).   When the Second Solar Group wanted to demonstrate its authority, it chose to reinstate monitoring from the old watchtowers which had lapsed when the Bubble was fragmented. In 3490 it funded a project it called the Bubble Fortress Program, advertised as reinforcing the watchtowers. This kind of language was political smoke and mirrors. The watchtowers had never been fortresses, since they had no military capability either before or after the so called "reinforcement" but there was an appetite for tough language with the Society Of Contemporary Races and the posturing was well received. As it happened, the renewal of border monitoring came at an opportune time, just before the Pyrian Supernova of 3540. This stellar explosion brought about a final end to the Limitation. The calculations to realign the geometry of the continuity enforcement field in the radically different spacial matrix after the supernova were simply too long to be performed within a reasonable time frame. It is also thought likely that the political will to enforce the Limitation within the Society Of Contemporary Races may have faded. At any rate, there was no official announcement but thanks to the watchtowers, humanity found that it was free at last to travel beyond the Bubble and this time the starships that ventured into the Forbidden Regions were not destroyed. The age of the Bubble was over.

The Expedition of the New Conquistador

In 2984, a watchtower close to the outer system of Trolene VII, identified a significant breach in the local boundary of the Bubble. It looked on initial analysis as if the barrier to travel had completely fallen, in this part of the Bubble, at any rate.   At the end of the 3rd millenium CE the fragmentation of the Bubble had progressed to the point where there was no Solar Group and no Republic. The Margrave of Trolene VII had full planetary autonomy and decided to sieze the moment to launch an expedition into the Forbidden Regions, seeking to gain riches and fame. In 2985, the "New Conquistador" did succeed in passing well beyond the declared limits of the Bubble, but unfortunately the change in the physical location of the boundary was only temporary. A shift in the rate of accretion of one of the black holes that the Pthyle engineers were using to maintain the Flicker Drive Zonal Restriction for the Limitation had caused it to expand by twenty light years into the Barren Reaches, but as soon as they were able to modify the inputs to the dimensional knitting engines the former boundaries of the Bubble were restored. The result of this was that when the continuity enforcement field was reapplied, the New Conquistador was suddenly ripped apart as its Flicker Drive suffered a catastrophic failure. It was not until 3471 that the remnants were found by Counter Xarctic Traders on ByRoute 74.

Cover image: Far Keld Watchtower by DMFW


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