Fading Suns and Flaming Heresies
Jumpgates are giant, hoop-shaped artifacts in space, most of them as large or larger than a moon. They are the devices which allow travel between the stars. A starship must have a jumpdrive to use them, and the workings of these complex engines is a closely guarded secret by the guilds.
Each system in the Known Worlds has one working jumpgate through which all traffic must pass. A ship preparing to jump sends system coordinates to the gate, which opens a passage in space to that system. The ship then enters the hoop and exits from another jumpgate in the desired system. Making a jump requires a jumpkey, a small metal cylinder invented during the Second Republic which holds complex, pre-programmed coordinates. Each key usually holds coordinates for one destination, although keys with multiple jumproutes are known. Without the proper coordinates, a jumpgate will not open; anyone passing through its hoop will not leave the system.
The Known Worlds are formed by the jumpweb — the known routes between jumpgates in systems. If one of these routes were to be lost or a system’s gate sealed, that world would be cut off from the rest of space-faring civilization. Most worlds host multiple jumproutes (Byzantium Secundus has nine from its jumpgate), but some have only one known route (Nowhere), making them vulnerable to jumproute loss.
When a ship approaches a jumpgate, the jumpkey to the desired location is inserted into a computer panel, which relays the information to the jumpgate in a series of light transmissions. If the coordinates are correct, the gate opens. The singular nature of each jumpkey makes them valued commodities. The measure of a Charioteer is often the number of jumpkeys she carries. Jumpkeys are a favorite booty of pirates, always seeking new jumproads to plunder.
Only the Charioteers know how to make these keys, and they guard the tech fanatically. A “Chauki stride” in the vacuum of space (i.e., being thrown out of an airlock) is the usual fate of those who try to bootleg jumpkeys, threatening Charioteer hegemony over the jumproads.
The cost of a jumpkey varies radically, since they are not for sale. They are given to Charioteers who earn them by working their way up the ranks of the guild. Assume that a Charioteer character has one jumpkey for each rank he attains past the first (he gets his first jumpkey when he becomes a Chief). These keys hold one jump coordinate each (such as Byzantium Secundus to Pyre).
Nonetheless, the black market does support a trade in these goods, whether stolen or bootlegged. It would be a lucky day to find a common, single route key (Byzantium Secundus to Criticorum) for only 3000 firebirds. Jumpkey traders can smell a client’s desperation from leagues away, and will jack their prices up accordingly. There is obviously no guarantee that a black market key will work or even get the buyer to the promised destination.
Without a jumpkey, it may take hours or days to program the proper jump coordinates into the ship’s Think Machine (a task requiring 18 victory points on a sustained Tech + Think Machine roll, with the Jumproads Lore being complementary). This assumes the rough coordinates are known; most ships do not keep libraries of this data as the Charioteers are highly protective of it, since such lore is their bread and butter. They are the exclusive manufacturers of new jumpkeys, and do not appreciate illegal keys or data files.
What you see through a Jumpgate
The view when a jumpgate opens is a hologram image (from the jumpgate’s data banks) confirming the jumproute keyed in; it is not actually a current view of the system on the other side. So you could not, for example, see an Inquisition Ship waiting for you and decide not to take the journey. You see a view of the system at the time of the last jump made to it through the gate in question.
Jumpgate Reset and Active and Passive Jumps
Using a jumpgate to leave a system is considered an active jump; arriving in another system is considered a passive jump. It takes a jumpgate a varying time to reset itself after an active jump (Anywhere from 1 minute to 1 week). No active jumps can be made while the gate resets itself, although ships can exit from the jumpgate at anytime (passive jumps). For this reason, fleets tend to jump together, synchronized to go through the gate at once, rather than spread out in a long line. The Second Republic engineers solved the problem of gate resetting, but it requires a special key in addition to the destination jumpkey.
These keys are especially rare and held only by a few. Certain Charioteers or Engineers travel from system to system selling the use of their reset keys, and most ships of the Imperial Fleet have them. Some Inquisitors also have them, to the dismay of those trying to escape their fury.
It is not easy to determine the location to which a previous ship may have jumped. This requires experience with jumpgates and their routes (a successful Tech + Jumproads Lore roll). Obviously, if a jumpgate only provides one road out (as is the case with Nowhere, which leads only to Stigmata), it is easy to figure where a previous ship went.