out of range of Earth’s Deep Space Network
this calls for a quote (abbreviated, mind you ;)
The big GSV was already moving, rolling and twisting to point directly upwards out of the system.
It moved off, not especially quickly. Its Displacers had switched to pick rather than put now; in a matter of seconds they had snapped almost its entire fleet of smaller ships out of the system, their genuine yet deceptive delivery missions completed. Only the furthest, most massive vessels were left behind.
The Sleeper Service accelerated smoothly away into the darkness, already well clear of the system. It began to Induct, flittering between inferior and superior hyperspace. Its apparent real-space velocity jumped almost instantly by a factor of exactly twenty-three. Again, the Yawning Angel was comforted to see, spot on. No unpleasant surprises. The superlifter Charitable View raced after the fleeing craft, its engines unstressed, energy expenditure throttled well back, also threading its way between the layers of four-dimensional space. The process had been compared to a flying fish zipping from water to air and back again, except that every second air-jump was into a layer of air beneath the water, not above it, which was where the analogy did rather break down.
Three hours, twenty-six minutes and seventeen seconds after setting off, the General Systems Vehicle Sleeper Service reached its nominal Terminal Acceleration Point. This was where it ought to stop gaining speed, plump for one of the two hyperspatial volumes and just cruise along at a nice steady velocity.
It didn't. Instead it accelerated harder; that .54 figure zoomed quickly to .72, the Plate class's normal design maximum.
The Sleeper Service's acceleration factor had started to increase. Almost at the same time, it had exceeded its normal maximum sustainable velocity.
Fascinated, appalled, terrified, the Yawning Angel listened to a running commentary on the other GSV's progress from its increasingly distant child, even as it started the sequence of actions and commands that would lead to its own near-instant departure. Twelve minutes early, but that couldn't be helped, and if people were pissed off, too bad.
The superlifter's continuous report went on: the Sleeper Service's acceleration kept on increasing slowly but steadily, then it paused, dropping to zero; the craft's velocity remained constant. Could that be it? It was still catchable. Panic over?
Then the fleeing ship's velocity increased again; as did its rate of acceleration. Impossible!
Dear holy shit, if it was all engine even the superlifter wouldn't be able to keep up with it. The average Plate class could sustain about one hundred and four kilolights more or less indefinitely; a good Range class, which was what the Yawning Angel had always been proud to count itself as, could easily beat that by forty kilolights. A Cliff class superlifter was ninety per cent engine; faster even than a Rapid Offensive Unit in short bursts. The Charitable View could hit two-twenty-one flat out, but that was only supposed to be for an hour or two at a time; that was chase speed, catch-up speed, not something it could maintain for long.
The Charitable View's tone had already turned from one of amusement to amazement, then bewilderment. Now it was plain peevish. The Sleeper Service was topping the two-fifteen mark and showing no signs of slowing down. The superlifter would have to break away within minutes if it didn't top-out soon. It asked for instructions.
The Sleeper Service went on accelerating. The superlifter Charitable View gave up the chase at two-twenty. It settled back to a less frenetic two hundred, dropping back all the time; even so it was still not a speed it could maintain for more than a few hours.
The Yawning Angel topped out at one forty-six.
The Sleeper Service finally hit cruise at around two-thirty-three and a half, disappearing ahead into the depths of galactic space. The superlifter reported this but sounded like it couldn't believe it.
The Yawning Angel watched the other GSV race away into the everlasting night between the stars, a sense of hopelessness, of defeat, settled over it.
Two hundred and thirty-three thousand times the speed of light. Dear holy fucking shit. The Yawning Angel thought there was something almost vulgar about such a velocity. Where the hell was it heading for? Andromeda?