‘You know why we’re all here boys and girls,’ blared the authoritative voice out of the communication speakers. ‘We can now confirm that both Read’s Rest and Obsidian Orbital have been hit by Thargoid Attacks and we know alien activity in this system is spiking…’
Duncan ‘Mac’ McTaggert shifted uneasily in the flight seat of the Asp Explorer ‘Sanctimonious’. Even when he was in the Federal Military, he hated these kinds of pre-mission pep talks. He could feel the tension on the bridge. David ‘Davie’ Thornton would be sat in the lower bridge gunnery station, probably still grumpy about what they were about to do.
Mooka, Davie and his adopted daughter, was sat behind him at her usual place at the engineer’s station. She was in one of her quiet stoic moods, acting to military standards of professionalism. Mac had come to realise that when she behaved in this way, it wasn’t because she agreed with the course of action, she was following orders. It was part of the imperial slave conditioning that both he and Davie were trying to deprogram. However, at this particular time, he was quite grateful for it and a little part of him hated himself for feeling that.
‘… so we’re going to try and send these Thargoids a message.’
The voice over the comms belonged to Admiral Tanner. As the head of AEGIS, he was responsible for the response to the Aliens but so far, it was not going well. Eleven Stations had been hit and put out of action. Now that Federal, Imperial and Independent stations had also been attacked, AEGIS had put out a call for volunteers to make a strike.
‘I know some of you are hesitant about this operation,’ Tanner continued. ‘But it seems that the Thargoids are only communicating with violence, so we’re going to reply in a manner they’ll understand!’
‘You’ll receive your wing and role assignments in a few moments,’ Tanner paused for a second. ‘Good Hunting Commanders!’
‘Guess we’re in it now.’ Davie’s face appeared on the comms panel on the pilot’s seat. ‘You think we’ll make any difference?’
‘I can’t say.’ Mac replied. ‘I’m wondering if we’re just clutching at straws here.’
‘Look,’ Davie’s voice had taken on a calming tone. ‘I know you’re hurting over what happened to Commander Harper but I’m not going to be able to cope if you’re going to charge in, boosters flaring, every time you see one of those alien fidget spinners.’
‘We’ve only signed up for this week.’ Replied Mac. ‘I’m hoping that we’ll learn how to deal with these things.’
‘Yeah, Well, I’ve already worked them out,’ Davie commented sarcastically. ‘Cyclops : run! Basilisk : run faster! Medusa : Run as fast as you can and don’t look back.’
Mac let a rare wry smile immerge on his face.
‘You know, AEGIS military planners would pay a fortune for that kind of insight.’
‘Oi! Cut the sass!’
It was if a rubber band had just snapped in Davie. This was the closest to being genuinely angry that Mac had ever seen him.
‘I’m only going along with this so you’ll get it out of your system and we can go back to doing what we normally do. Now I’ll follow the orders because you’re know what you’re doing here but if at the end of this operation you still want to bash bugs, I’ll cash out.’
The comms panel blanked out. Mac was left feeling stunned. Ironically, Davie wasn’t far off. Mac estimated this little task force could probably take out a single Cyclops or even a Basilisk. However, multiple Alien ships would be a push and if a Medusa ship turned up, then run would be the best option.
The only successful take down he’d seen of one of those ships had involved over 5 wings. However, he sat there trying to imagine what the Sanctimonious would be like without the big co-pilot when a large bleep from the messaging console broke his brooding. He gave the message a quick scan.
‘OK, Here’s the good news,’ He announced to the crew. ‘We’re the Wing Leader in support group Beta with Commander Artus in the Fed Gunship “The Green Day”, Commander Ulthran in his Vulture “Star Weaver” and the ASP of Commander Sithrak called “The Bolloxed Bard”. Our wing’s main objective is to make sure that the strike wings stay intact and to draw off any smaller threats from a strike wing.’
‘So we’re not going to erm…, ‘ Mooka sounded unsure about the right terminology. ‘… initiate contact?’
‘No.’ Confirmed Mac. ‘That’s for the strike wings to do. Our wing has been assigned to Strike Alpha 3. They’ve got two of those new T-10 Defenders and two Anacondas.’
‘So, in other words,’ Davie reactivated the comms screen. ’We repair them with the limpets and run interference with those Thargons?’
‘Basically yes.’ Mac acknowledged.
‘Well, it’s better than just a head on charge!’ grumbled Davie. ‘Lets just get it over with.’
‘This is Strike Alpha 3,’ The comm’s speaker broke through the silence on the bridge. ‘We have a Thargoid contact, threat level 5. We’re going to engage.’
‘I’ve got a lock on Strike Alpha Three’s low wake,’ announced Mooka.
‘Ok. Set it as the wing nav point.’ Mac replied to her.
He then tapped for external comms.
‘Sanctimonious to Beta Wing. Our first priority is to keep the Strike Alpha Three in the fight and watch each other’s back.’
There were acknowledgements from the other three ships as the Asp turned towards the highlighted marker on the hub. Mac began to slow his breathing, even though he could feel the adrenaline begin to seep into his system. His old flight instructors used to say that to fight in the cold of space you had to keep your attitude matching its temperature. Mac had found that this mental approach had helped keep him alive in his years in space. He was constantly reminded of one academy instructor, of Japanese descent, who’s favourite saying was;
‘If you feel your anger rising, lower your fists. If you have to raise your fists, lower your anger.’
The ship shuddered as the engines switched from super cruise mode to real space. They dropped into a very one-sided battle. A single Thargoid vessel was present and three of the four ships of wing Alpha Strike, where laying reams of fire into it. The fourth ship, an Anaconda called the “Quinquireme Of Ninevah”, was drifting in space not far away.
The Alien vessel had already launched its small swarm of fighters, identified as Thargons, which were making firing passes against the larger ship. The Sanctimonious’ targeting computer identified the Alien vessel as the Cyclops variant. Green with eight legs spiralling out of a central core. It had already taken significant damage with one of its eight ‘legs’ already been severed from the central core.
‘We’ll help the Quinquireme Of Ninevah,’ announced Mac over the ship to ship comms. ’Beta Wing, choose a ship in Alpha Wing and keep it safe.’
He flipped the communications to ship only.
‘Davie, Flack them!’ ordered Mac, highlighting the fleet of Alien fighters on the targeting computer.
Mac scanned the readouts that he was getting from “Quinquireme Of Ninevah”. Its hull was suffering as a substance from an alien caustic missile spread over the big ship’s hull. It was a good job that Mac had equipped the ship with both the caustic decontamination and repair limpets. One would clean the alien substance from it’s victim and the other would repair the damage.
‘Mooka, Launch a decom at that damaged Anaconda.’ Mac ordered. ‘Once it’s clean, send in a couple of repairs.’
‘Yes Boss!’ Mooka acknowledged.
Mac turned the Asp to chase after the swarm of Thargon fighters. He was just about to order Davie to fire, when the ship’s flack cannon opened up. Mac allowed himself an ironic smile. For all Davie’s complaining, the tall co-pilot was a very good shot. The flack shell exploded in the middle of the small fleet of Alien, small explosions rippling through their formation till there were none left.
‘Aw! Shot!’ Mac complimented, obviously impressed.
‘Intended!’ He heard Davie call back.
Mac observed the three limpets attaching themselves to the “Quinquireme Of Ninevah”. The Anaconda will be back in the fight in a couple of minutes and he turned his attention back to the Cyclops. The two Type-10 Defenders, the “Mother of all Invention” and the “Sacrificial Lamb”, were opening fire with their AX-Cannons, while the other Anaconda, the “I Spit on your Grave” fired missile after missile into the Alien vessel.
The Alien vessel spat what looked like yellow lightning over the “Sacrificial Lamb”. The T-10 began to spin away. A quick glance at the readouts on her showed that her crew was in no danger, only the ship was temporarily disabled. The Thargoid seemed to contract a little and then another swarm of Thargon’s appeared at the back of it.
The “I Spit on your Grave” slowed for a second and a bay began to open at the back of the Anaconda. A second later, a Tiapan Fighter bolted from the bay and straight into the cloud of alien ships.
‘Hold Fire on the Thargons.’ Mac ordered.
He suppressed the rising anger at the commander of “I spit on your grave”, he needed to be concentrating all firepower, including that fighter, to hit the Cyclops. It was obvious that the ship’s commander didn’t trust Beta Flight to keep the Thargons off his back.
‘Proximity Alert!’ announced the ship computer.
Instinctively, Mac hit the ventral thrusters, pushing the ASP higher. Two AX missiles from the newly repaired “Quinquireme Of Ninevah” passed underneath the Sanctimonious and straight into the Alien Ship.
'Hey, Watch the Friendly Fire!' yelled Mac.
There was a mumbled apology from Commander Shocken-Orr over the comms but his missiles did find their target. The Thargoid ship seemed to crumple a little and then disappeared into a green flash. The communication channels were overloaded with what sounded like a high pitch scream, which left a ringing in Mac’s Ears.
‘Did that ship just…’ Mooka paused, trying to catch her breath. ‘scream before it exploded?’
Mac nodded, just too stunned to respond.
‘Are the Thargoids living ships then?’ asked Davie.
Mac took a breath, he was wondering the same thing.
‘No Idea,’ He replied, ‘Let’s hope that AEGIS can work that one out.’
The Thargoid had left an expanding ball of gas and various organic components spinning in the void. Mac was sure he could see liquid spray from some of them. It could have been something like they coolant that his own ship would use but Mac was reminded it looked more like blood splatter. He was interrupted by the Gunship “The Green Day” flying straight past them and into the green cloud.
‘Commander Artus, break off,’ Ordered Mac. ‘That mist will eat through your hull faster than hungry trumbles eat grain!’
The Green Day’s commander either didn’t hear or was too interested in retrieving the highly valuable remnants of the Thargoid ship. Mac found himself catching his breath, as he noticed the readouts on the other ship plummet. That green fog must have the same corrosive properties as the Alien missiles.
Commander Artus must had realised the trouble they were in and the Gunship’s engines flared as they tried to escape. Mac realised that the cloud would probably dissolve any limpet he fired after the Green Day. He quickly pitched the Sanctimonious’ nose above the cloud and hit the boosters.
‘Prepare a Decom for that Gunship,’ He ordered. ‘We’re going Newtonian.’
He could hear Mooka tapping at her workstation, he switched off the Flight Assist. The ship continued to fly in a straight line, even as he turned the ship so that the limpet launch tubes would line up with the Green Day’s exit vector. The other’s ship readings were close to redlining as it burst out of the cloud.
‘Launch!’ Mac said. ‘Then prepare a couple of follow up repairs and send them out.’
‘Aye Aye Boss.’
Mac winced at the response from his old navy days. In the Federal Navy, if you were answering a question from a superior officer, then you normally respond with a ‘Yes Sir’ or ‘No Sir’ dependant on the answer. If you were given a direct order, then you responded with an ‘Aye Aye Sir.’ before carrying it out.
If he gave an instruction which Davie didn’t agree with, then the co-pilot would normally respond with a sarcastic ‘Aye Aye Sir’, just to let him know he was unhappy. However, it now appeared that Mooka had picked up on that, but without the sarcasm. Here they were trying to break her Imperial slave conditioning and she’d latched onto something that could reinforced it.
Sighing, he turned his attention back to the Green Day. It’s hull readings had stabilised thanks to the decontamination limpet. With the “Star Weaver” and the “Bolloxed Bard” were both forming up on the wing of the Sanctimonious, while they waited for Gunship to sort itself out.
As far as Alpha wing was concerned; The “Sacrificial Lamb” was still drifting in space, the internal lights flashing on and off. The “I spit on your grave” was recovering its fighter, while the “Quinquireme Of Ninevah” and the “Mother of all Invention” were approaching stricken T-10 to provide extra protection.
‘Sactimonious to Sacrificial Lamb,’ Mac key a transmission over to the T-10 Defender. ‘You needing extra help over there, Commander Lennin?’
There was a pause and Mac was just about to repeat the message when a reply, difficult to hear over the static, came through the commlink.
‘We’re fine,’ A shaky voice said. ‘We’ll be up and running again in a few minutes.’
Mac signed off from the T-10.
‘Well, that was a lot easier than I thought.’ Davie commented over the commlink.
‘Yeah,’ agreed Mac.
He had an uneasy feeling. It would have been too cliché to say out loud that that fight had been too easy.
‘Mac?’ Davie was hesitant.
Davie obviously was feeling the same disquiet that Mac was.
‘Yeah, I know,’ He said aloud. ‘Mooka, keep your hand ready over the EMP Blocker.’
He switched to external comms.
‘Beta Wing. Prepare EMP Blockers, if you’ve got them,’ He ordered.
The Green Day had managed to limped back to the Beta Wing’s formation while Alpha Strike seemed to remain huddled around the drifting T-10. It was a bad tactical formation and Mac was just about to activate the comms to them when the computer interrupted.
‘Multiple Unknown Wakes Detected’ it announced in a cold but clean feminine voice.
‘Alpha Strike. Go Evasive!’ He yelled over the comms.
It was if the curtain of stars had been pulled apart in three locations close to Alpha Wing. Through these openings, three huge Alien vessels appeared. Mac’s breath caught in his throat, 2 Basilisks and a Medusa. They were all similar in design to the Cyclops that had just been destroyed but they were larger, the green replaced with a red and black scale like hull and the Medusa had what looked like large red teeth, protruding from the central hub.
‘EMP Waveform detected.’ The computer announced.
The three Aliens seemed to glow white for a second and spheres of light emanated from each of them. Alpha Flight was caught in the blast radius and all their engines and internal lights just switched off, leaving all of the ships drifting in the void. Mac shouldn’t have worried, Mooka triggered the countermeasure, nullifying the EMP field, leaving Beta Wing unharmed.
He watched on helplessly as three of the four big human ships were hit by red beams of light from the centre of each Thargoid. The “Quinquireme Of Ninevah” was lucky, as the Aliens had been concentrating their fire on its wing-mates. The Anaconda’s engines flared back to life and it accelerated away, launching a fighter to cover its retreat.
The Thargoids launched their Thargons in response and the numbers climbed sharply. Swarms of 64 from each Basilisk and a swarm of 96 from the massive Medusa. The single fighter was quickly destroyed.
A transmission was received from the Sacrificial Lamb.
‘Get Out.’ Commander Lennin was screaming. ‘You’re not going to be able to help...’
The transmission was cut off as all three of the disabled human vessels blew apart in orange balls of flame. The “Quinquireme Of Ninevah” was still pouring power through it’s engines, fleeing the scene as the three alien vessels turned to follow it.
‘Beta Wing!’ Mac Ordered. ‘We are leaving! Set your Nav computers for Astrope and Jump ASAP. We’ll regroup and come back.’
The mass generated by the Alien ships meant that jumping back into frame shift was practically impossible. To escape, Hyperspacing away from the system was the only option. The other three ships matched the Sanctimonious, heading for the new system. Mac saw a flash of light as “Quinquireme Of Ninevah” made it’s escape and noted with alarm that more than 200 Thargons were now headed for his wing.
The hyperdrive began to spool up, building up power to jump. As deploying weapons would abort the jump, he shoved all available power into the shields. The Thargons were going to arrive before they could make the jump. He just hoped that his wing could tough it out. The first wave of fire hit.
Mac felt the Asp shudder as the shields took the brunt of it. Two of the three blue rings indicating shield strength disappeared almost instantly. The readouts on his wingmates showed similar results. The fleet of fighters managed to pull an almost instant 180 degree turn and come back for another pass.
‘Hyperdrive jump in 5,’ The computer announced.
A second barrage hit the Sanctimonious, wiping out the remaining blue circle and making horrible grinding sounds as the hull was struck directly. Mac was putting all his hope in the ship’s armour.
The Thargons dashed passed, avoiding the ships, but then turning for another run.
More fire came in, Mac was having trouble holding the ASP’s course. Red warning lights began to flash all over the hud and the hull integrity indicator fell rapidly.
‘One more pass like that and we’re done for.’ called Davie.
Mac’s viewport was filled with Thargon fighters, as they approached the Sanctimonious from the front. Light began to blossom from the front of each ship, blinding him. There was a massive shudder as the Asp Explorer jumped to hyperspace, a hair’s breath away from incoming fire. The fleet of smaller ships replaced with the familiar swirling star tunnel of hyperspace.
Mac sank back into his seat and glanced at the ship’s status. Hull integrity 18% and most of the ships system running at about 40% capacity. It had been a while since the ship was in that bad a shape.
‘You know,’ Davie’s voice came up from the lower bridge. ‘If I didn’t know better, I would have said that was a trap.’
Mac looked back at Mooka, the young girl’s face was white with fright. All the anger over Harper had gone. He should not be putting his crew through this just to satisfy his desire for revenge. But he’d signed them up for a week of these kind of sorties and he didn’t know if there was a get out clause.
‘Yeah, that was a trap alright.’ He said, grimacing.
‘They’re smart these Thargoids,’ Davie said.
‘We’ll have to be smarter.’ Mac said as the Sanctimonious arrived around the huge white star of Astrope.
‘We’ll have to get a lot smarter.’ He muttered to himself under his breath.
This was besed on one of the AGEIS CGs where you had to blast the bigger Thargoid interceptors. I personally didn't do all that well at it (boy those t-10 rebuys are expensive) but I didn't think the Sanctimonius Crew would take on a big Thargoid inteceptor single handed.It seems Mac is more intelligent than me in that regard.