The Aquarian Terran Imperial States had great interest in the remote system of Varal, in the shadow of mighty Angel Nebula since the first days of the Aquarian Empire's establishment. Inheriting that interest from the now semi-defunct United Aquarian Systems; after a military campaign into the Angel Reach to quell the Tiger Sharks had discovered a stellar phenomena believed to be the Shifted Wormhole, and the path to humanity's so-called homeworld of Earth, in the Sol System, far beyond the Great Void, in the Milky Way Galaxy.
Only half a century since its founding, the Imperial States had poured essentially limitless resources and materiel into the Varal System, largely under the radar of public knowledge in the Aquarius System. The affairs of the Imperial Navy were unregulated, often believed to be necessary to counter any potential resurgence of Tiger Shark groups in the region. However, the Fleet's presence in Varal was entirely sanctioned by the highest authority; the ATIS Council had indeed inherited the plans for Operation 'Homecoming', but under the watchful eye of Red Sector, had altered the intention of the operation into something of a military campaign that would gain traction in the coming years, especially after a series of events that took place in Varal around the middle of the 46th century.
The Varal-Sol Gate.
When the fleets of the UAS tracked CEG-funded Tigersharks into the system of Varal, they discoverd a large naval installation surrounding a stellar phenomena now known to be the Shifted Wormhole; the path to Sol. The CEG had used the wormhole for centuries to move resources and supplies into the Angel Reach; funding the Tigershark's brutal campaign against the Old Federation, and eventually culminating in the full-scale invasion of Aquarius by Tiger Sharks after the fall in 4040 A.D. Despite being defeated by the TLA Fleet in the early 42nd Century, the Tigersharks remained a threat to the Aquarian people up until the UAS began a military campaign in 4349 A.D, to rid the threat once and for all. During the transition to the Imperial Era in 4402 A.D, the Aquarian Federal Navy Fleets stationed in Varal began to fly Imperial colours, and the new Aquarian Superpower began a massive military build-up in Varal; its intentions remaining a top-secret affair for some time.
Plans for the Varal-Sol Gate project were already set in motion before the dawn of the Imperial Era; the UAS Navy had already expressed interested in a long-range standing JDA Gate between Aquarius and Sol, and such plans and research were quickly expanded upon by the new Imperial government. By 4440 A.D, the project was almost complete, with the Shifted Wormhole encapsulated within an experimental large-scale Hercules-type Jump Gate. However, the Gate was not functional due to various technical challenges requiring solutions by the Institute for Naval Research; as such, limitless funding was poured into the project and one of the largest military armadas in Aquarian history began forming around the Gate construction site - perhaps in preparation for a full-scale military campaign into Sol.
The Varal-Sol Gate Incident, 4447 A.D.
During the early cycle of 4447 A.D, the Varal-Sol Gate was essentially completed; new, highly advanced power-sources were developed by the INR especially for the project, using X-Supernova technology deployed in many of the modern starship designs of the post-fall Aquarian fleets. These new reactors were assembled externally in a separate complex that would be attached to the gate as the final preparations were made for the first high-mass transition test. The details of the test were at the highest level of secrecy, and only the specially-appointed Varal High Admiralty was aware of the intricacies; not even the Imperial Angel Reach Command knew of it. This, combined with the presence of perhaps the largest ever assembled war-fleet in post-fall Aquarian history garrisoned a mere 500 KM from the site; Imperial Naval commanders in the sector were highly confident of the security from the beginning.
Ghosts in the Nebula.
This sense of security was misplaced, however, as in the mid-cycle of 4447 A.D, Lorentis-date, Imperial Navy Varal-Sol Gate Long-Distance Sensor Probes detected unusual electromagnetic readings from beyond the outer perimeter of the Varal System; such anomalies were unusual in that they had no fixed origin, instead, sensor systems detected sporadic discharges of radiological material across wide areas of space; observed to be converging in a FTL manner not unlike a Subspace transition signature. Despite concern, Imperial Navy intelligence operators ran extensive tests on the system to identify any potential issues with the Sensor Grid, and eventually reported the anomalous readings to the Varal Sector Command as a false-positive from the highly sensitive, cutting edge long-range early warning system deployed in the system. A human mistake of judgement, despite C-AI urges to deploy a recon sortie to investigate, the Imperial Navy Admiralty decided to ignore the anomalous readings and authorised the transition test to proceed without issue.
Two local cycles passed after the report was submitted; no further anomalies were detected, and the Imperial Navy Admiralty was confident that the Fleet was able to deter any potential incursions into the exclusion zone by known enemy vessels. The unpreparedness to deal with an unknown threat (largely due to the Navy's immense presence and arrogance of Imperial Admirals) meant that large elements of the inner exclusion zone's defence fleet were unprepared for combat; including the flagship of the Varal Fleet; the brand new, Premiere Flagship of the Imperial Navy, the Retribution (RT)-class Dreadnought ATS Crimson Prestige. Her presence, a mere 50 kilometres from the Varal-Sol Gate itself, was considered enough to deter conventional attacks on the facility, and indeed; no known threat would have been able to approach the dreadnought without alerting her and allowing her, and her attendant fleet, to get underway; bringing the mighty guns to bear on any and all who oppose the Imperial States.
By the turn of the third local cycle since the anomalous readings, the test was very much underway. The Varal-Sol Gate's reactor complex was towed into positon by a pair of UT-class utility ships and initial start-up of the massive Jump Drive Array had begun. Such activity released enormous amounts of subspace energy into the surrounding space; interfering with the long-range sensors of many of the Imperial Navy ships and installations stationed near the Gate. Despite concerns from Task Group captains and platform commanders, the Imperial Admiralty remained confident in the situation and the Crimson Prestige remained stationary as the ATIS Council representatives viewed the test from her bridge tower.
Before the second stage of the test could get underway; long-range sensors detected the same unusual readings as previously reported; but this time the intensity was orders of magnitude higher and localised within the exclusion zone. Energy readings from SDD and MLADAR platforms on static installations and larger capital ships triangulated what intelligence officers determined to be a forerunner of some form of FTL transition; and an alert was sounded to the Fleet. The C-AI on the Crimson Prestige informed the Admiralty and the dreadnought sounded high alert. However, before she could get underway; almost a dozen unknown, capital and sub-capital-class signatures emerged from Subspace approximately five-hundred kilometres from the Varal-Sol Gate. Within a few minutes they had accelerated to such speeds that the Imperial Navy was unable to track them accurately with long-range weapons such as the IMPAC main-batteries on most of the larger warships; such turrets were unable to rotate into positions quick enough before the attack was fully realised. Due to the unprepared nature of the Fleet, most of the inner exclusion zone's Task Forces were stationary and could not respond in time.
The first stage of the attack targeted the Varal-Sol Gate's primary reactor complex; intense pulses of super-heated plasma hurtled towards the unshielded complex and caused catastrophic damage within seconds. The facility's X-Supernova reactors suffered a critical failure and melted down, releasing enormous amounts of energised radiation into the surrounding space and causing major damage to the Jump Drive Array of the Gate itself; disconnecting the complex and forcing into space as it lost power and drifted from the Gate.
Before any organised reaction could be made, a second series of intense plasma arced from one of the larger unknown signatures and impacted upon the static-shield of the Crimson Prestige; which held under intense bombardment for a few seconds; flaring up into a elliptical 'bubble' of green-tinted energy around the capital ship, however; due to her discharged combat capacitor grid, the shield was underpowered and collapsed moments later.
Emergency reaction protocols had already engaged and the Crimson Prestige 's secondary and tertiary batteries rotated to face the incoming threats, but before the A-type IMPAC batteries could fire, the unknown signatures passed the Dreadnought at high speed, only the B-type Heavy Laser Cannons could return fire; arcing red-tinted pulses of light towards the smaller unknown vessels; their distinctly tall, blade-like silhouettes surrounded by energised shields flaring up to repel the laser weaponry. With her shields down, Crimson Prestige was extremely vulnerable - the larger dreadnought of the Imperial Navy had thinner main-belt armour, instead preferring heavier shields and firepower and advanced alloy compositions and sloping armour over density, but in CQC range, such armour enhancements were ineffective.
As the final contact passed under the dreadnought and the stricken Gate Array, a second unusual subspace transition was detected; and a massive signature alerted nearby Space Density Distortion sensors - a super-capital-class mass signature emerged from FTL a few hundred kilometres from the bow of the Crimson Prestige , looking down upon the 2.7 kilometre warship; and discharging some form of spinal armament directly into the mid-ships of the dreadnought, a short distance ahead of her dorsal main A+ battery, Turret A. The resulting explosion ripped through the eternal armoured belts of her upper deck and mid-ships superstructure, eventually exerting enough stress on the 4 and a half million mass ton warship to sever her in two. A secondary explosion erupted from her midships capacitor hub, causing a catastrophic failure of the A-type main battery capacitor grid; sending shockwaves to the stern and bow - resulting in two more explosions, a smaller one erupted from the lower bow section, blowing out the capacitor banks in her forward A-type battery turrets, and a second, much larger explosion ripped the dreadnought's stern grid apart, taking a huge chunk from the warship and blasting it into a rapidly expanding cloud of superheated debris and twisted hull panels.
Within moments the warship lost power and her port-hole lights and dive arrays flickered out, the two halves drifting apart as lateral stabilisers failed. Within the space of a few moments, the pride of the Imperial Fleet was completely destroyed, a strike to the heart of the Imperial Fleet, right were the Admiralty believed they were untouchable. Despite the loss of the Crimson Prestige and the Gate reactor complex, and major damage to the JDA ring structure, no other losses to the Imperial Fleet were reported. In fact, several RV-class Fleet Cruisers had managed to get underway in short notice and were able to return fire on the assailants for a brief time before the entire "shadow fleet" disappeared back into some form of FTL transition. One of the cruisers reported several direct hits on an unknown vessel from its A-Type IMPAC main battery; causing significant damage to the target and forcing it out of cruise. Although the cruisers were unable to prevent the vessel from fleeing into Subspace, they had caused enough damage that visible debris had been separated from the vessel and was drifting in space.
The Crimson Prestige was completely destroyed with major loss of life to her crew; including two members of the ATIS Council's delegation to the Varal System, and injuring the ship's captain and many of the members of the Varal Sector Command Admiralty due to rapid decompression of the bridge compartment following total power loss. The Gate's advanced power complex was lost, drifting out into space leaving a trail of radioactive material in its wake.
Navy utility cruisers immediately moved into position to assess the damage and begin salvage operations. It was soon clear that the Crimson Prestige was irrecoverable, and such, a major search and rescue operation was launched to recover survivors and equipment from her wreckage. UT-class vessels would then move to physically move the wreckage to nearby Naval installations for dismantling and salvage; and extensive analysis of the first Imperial warship to be destroyed by an unknown threat. Marine rescue teams boarded the wreckage from nearby frigates and began to search her twisted decks and remains, recovering survivors from the compartments that had retained atmospheric pressure. Out of a crew of approximately 1500 personnel, 418 were killed in the attack; mainly in the mid-ships compartment and engineering bays for the A+ type battery, and rear capacitor hub that detonated. Another 759 were wounded, requiring immediate medical treatment, of which 130 were irrecoverable and euthanised by Navy medical staff.
Out of the Command Crew, the Captain survived and was court-marshalled and later executed by Imperial Tribunal for gross negligence and incompetence; along with most of the senior officers of the Varal Sector Command admiralty. Those that were spared execution were imprisoned indefinitely pending the extensive Imperial Naval Intelligence Bureau investigation into the Incident. C-AI logs revealed that, should the Fleet have been prepared, the attack could have been at least partially mitigated; as such, severe punishments to the command of the Varal Sector were set in place. The Imperial Navy's approach would change drastically in the following cycles as more reliance on C-AI-based response systems and moving organic-human officers into a more secondary role during high-priority missions. Further augmentations were made to Command-implants to create hybrid C-AI/Organic reflex processing to augment senior officer's ability to make effective judgement calls.
Though most of the reason as to how the Incident occurred was placed down to a complete lack of intelligence on alien capabilities, it was considered imperative that senior officers of command were made an example of, to show that the Imperial Council doesn't tolerate failure.
Despite being set back many cycles, potentially even decades, the Varal-Sol Gate project was not abandoned and the INR continues to develop the gate, this time a significantly improved defensive operation was implemented based on intelligence gathered during the attack, with Red Sector taking a direct involvement in the security operations - some of the most advanced weapons and sensor technologies on the cutting edge of Aquarian Human arsenal deployed to the sector as the salvage operation slowly dismantled the wreckage of the former AIN flagship; a stark symbol that at no point, humanity's arrogance is well-placed.