Mooka stared at the readouts on the console in front of her, re-reading the values again and again in an effort to distract herself. The readouts told her that the Asp Explorer ‘Sanctimonious’ was running at the most efficient she’d ever seen it. However, those reassuring figures on the screens did nothing to ease the dry taste in her mouth or the knot in her stomach.
‘Any contacts?’ asked Commander Duncan ‘Mac’ MacTaggart.
‘I’ve got nothing,’ replied David ‘Davie’ Thornton, yelling up from the lower bridge section.
‘Scopes are clear here too,’ Mooka replied.
Of course, it was Mac who had suggested that they sign up for rescue operations out of Oracle Station. Even though the Sanctimonious’ crew had managed to avoid having any contact with these new alien ships so far, they all agreed that, this was a way they could help.
The mysterious Thargoids had been attacking convoys in the Pleiades sector for at least a month now. Reports of escape pods being taken by these alien ships had been widely circulated and were beginning to make the population close to or in the Pleiades, panic.
From what Mooka had seen from the recordings made by other commanders, the Sanctimonious would not be able to take on a Thargoid vessel in a one on one dogfight. However, she guessed, with all its recent modifications, they should be able to evade long enough to get any escape pods. Hopefully, they’d get out before they took significant damage.
Sanctimonious was almost unrecognisable from when she first came aboard, rescued from a slave transport, almost two years ago. Since then the ASP had gained top of the line shields and weapons, Professor Palin had upgraded their engines and Farseer had updated their Frameshift drive. They’d spent a fortune on weapons and equipment from these mysterious AEGIS people.
Even though, it didn’t reassure her. They had a plan, or more likely a vague idea, of how they were going to do this. Mac was flying and would be responsible for evading and picking up pods. Davie would be creating covering fire using the newly installed flack cannon and missiles. All she had to do was monitor the situation and fire the EMP countermeasure if they needed it.
Thargoid vessels could fire off an EMP pulse which would disable any ships within range. This included the capital ships of the superpowers. Mooka shuddered at the memory of when the Sanctimonious was involved in recovering the beacon which had revealed proof of the Thargoids return. The image of two burning federal battlecruisers, with alien weapons eating the huge ships from the inside out, had seared itself into her mind.
AEGIS had developed an EMP countermeasure but it’s range was so limited, only smaller ships could use it. It was the fact that she would have to time it just right, so that the countermeasure would cancel out the EMP pulse. That had her worried. If she got it wrong then the Sanctimonious would suffer the same fate as those battlecruisers.
‘I have a contact!’ Davie cried out. ‘Bearing 160 by 25.’
‘Locked in,’ confirmed Mac.
Mooka focused the scanners, feeling that knot in her stomach kick when the results came back.
‘We have a Non-Human contact,’ she announced. ‘The computer estimates a level 5 threat level.’
‘Wow!’ said Davie, “What was the highest we had before?’
‘That would have been the threat level 4,’ Mac sarcastically replied. ‘When you thought it was a good idea to fly between an Imperial interdictor and a Federal Battlecruiser.’
‘Ah,’ Davie sounded sheepish. ‘I hoped you would have forgotten that.’
‘Don’t think the port engine has forgotten either.’
’25 light seconds,’ Mooka declared. ‘ETA 7 seconds.’
Not being in the mood to handle the usual bantering between her two adoptive fathers, she started to call out the distance.
As the Asp Explorer approached the target, the Frameshift drive decelerated the ship, keeping the time to target at a constant 7 seconds. The irony was not lost on Mooka. One of the quirks of how the Frameshift Drive, metaphorically, takes the laws of physics and breaks them over the head of Albert Einstein while yelling ‘I told you so!’ The familiar blue navigation lock appeared on everyone’s Head’s up Display.
‘Ready?’ called Mac.
‘Aye Aye,’ Replied Davie in a Jovial tone.
‘Yes,’ Mooka found herself saying in a flat tone.
The Sanctimonious shuddered as the frameshift switched back to standard drive. Mooka looked out past Mac in the pilot’s seat. Four large Imperial Cutters hung in what looked like a cloud of green vapor. Their sleek white hulls had been broken by green puncture wounds as they burned like the battle cruisers. Then she noticed the large spiral of a Thargoid ship. It was squatting in the middle of the vapor, like a spider in the centre of its web. Her hand darted over to the countermeasure control.
‘Not yet,’ Mac whispered. ‘It will fly over to us first to scan us. Are there any escape pods?’
Mooka checked the scanners
‘Yes,’ she whispered back. ‘Looks like four intact pods and one damaged one.’
‘Guys?’ They both heard Davie joining in their quiet conversation over the comms.
‘What?’ Mac hissed back at him.
‘Why are we whispering?’ Dave said a lot louder. ‘It’s Space. They can’t fluxing hear us!’
Any sarcastic reply Mac could have made was lost when the sensors let out a loud bass sound. Mooka felt her throat tighten as the alien ship seemed to glow green and turned towards them. It had eight glowing leaves wrapped around a central eye, which is why AEGIS had designated them as Cyclops interceptors. Other commanders just called them flower ships.
As the Thargoid got closer, Mooka could make out more detail on it. Were those veins or blood vessels of some kind pulsing though the petals? She couldn’t tell. Maybe flower was not a bad comparison, this thing looked as if had been grown not built. It stopped, approximately 200 meters in front of the ASP.
‘Here comes the scan,’ Davie announced.
‘Let’s hope it’s just a scan,’ Mac muttered.
Mooka looked at him in surprise; there was a catch in his voice. She’d never seen him this nervous before. Yellow and green light jumped out from the central eye of the Alien Ship, making the sensors scream in various high pitch sounds.
‘Now!’ Mac yelled, firing the Sanctimonious’ boosters.
Mooka felt herself pressed into her chair as the ASP burnt past the Thargoid. She called up the external camera, to see the alien ship spin and start to come after them. It’s petals starting to flash red as it shrank into the distance. The sensors let out another roar of sound, it almost sounded angry.
‘I guess they think we’re rude if we run away when they’re trying to talk to us,’ yelled Davie above the noise.
A bleep from the scanner demanded Mooka’s attention. It was showing that the alien was launching something, or rather somethings.
‘It’s launched Thargons,’ she yelled.
Small little drones which could act as either missiles or mini fighters. Her hands shook as she tried to focus the scanners again. She’d seen records of swarms of these things practically eat ships they were fired at.
‘I’m on it.’ Davie shouted back from the gunnery chair.
‘Davie, only use that flak cannon,’ ordered Mac. ‘We’ll keep the missiles for the Cyclops. Mooka, highlight the closest escape pod.’
Mooka quickly searched the contact list and highlighted the nearest escape pod. It had been damaged quite badly and she didn’t know if its occupants were still alive. She returned to the external view to check the on Thargoids, keeping her hand hovering over the countermeasure button.
The Sanctimonious shuddered as Davie fired the flack cannon at the Thargon swarm. It was a simple enough weapon. Pull the trigger and hold to launch a shell; release the trigger and the shell explodes. It did significant damage to everything in the blast radius. Davie must have timed it right because the first shell exploded right in the middle of the swarm, knocking down their numbers substantially.
‘Flip and Burn in 5.’ warned Mac.
A ‘Flip and Burn’ was a trick that Mac used to rapidly slow the ship down. Instead of pulling the throttle back and let the fly by wire system slow the ship down; he would disable the fly by wire system and manually flip the ship 180 degrees. Then, while flying backwards, fire the boosters again to bring the ship to a dead stop.
She counted down, bracing herself again. The starfield shifted rapidly while the G-forces of the manoeuvre made it feel as if an elephant was tapdancing on her chest. Darkness crept in around her peripheral vision for a couple of seconds then it stopped. She shook her head to clear it and took in the scanner readings, breathing heavily.
The Thargoid was 6 km away, the swarm about 4km. Davie fired the flak again, while the Sanctimonious lined up with the first escape pod. The rest of the swarm disappeared from the scanner.
‘Easy, Easy, Easy!’ Davie was chanting.
The Asp moved in on the capsule, opened the cargo scoop and swallowed it whole.
‘Get me the next one.’ Ordered Mac.
Mooka selected the next capsule, which was only a couple of hundred meters away, and watched as Mac expertly scooped it and moved onto the next. She was trying to ignore the fact that the Thargoid was closing fast. The scanner blipped again and she had to force down whatever her frightened stomach had kicked up into her throat.
‘It’s launched another swarm.’ She yelled, while her throat was on fire.
Sanctimonious shuddered again, as both the flack cannon fired and another escape pod was brought on board. The Thargoids had closed to weapon’s range. Yellow lights blossomed from the little ships in the swarm while red lights stabbed out from the central eye of their flower-like mothership.
She was thrown back into her seat as Mac fired the lateral thrusters in an attempt to evade. The Asp shuddered as the alien weapons hit. Mooka cried out in alarm. She saw the shield indicator turn completely red. Even worse, there was something hitting the hull. Some of the Thargoid weapons were bypassing the shields.
‘Shields at about 30 percent,’ She reported. ‘Hull integrity down to about 80.’
‘Think we can get the last pod?’ asked Mac, who was constantly firing the boosters to increase the distance.
‘As long as we don’t get hit like that again.’ She said.
‘Good Plan,’ agreed Davie.
There was another flash and a second Thargoid vessel appeared less than a kilometre from the Sanctimonious.
‘Bad Plan!!’’ Davie cried out.
‘Prepare for jump!’ Mac ordered.
Mooka noticed this new Thargoid ship was displaying a different colour pattern. She quickly hit the EMP countermeasure button, just as a green wave of energy was emitted from the Alien ship. A similar pulse emanated from the Sanctimonious, which seemed to cancel each other out.
‘Jump in 5, 4, 3…’ the shipboard computer counted down.
Seconds later they saw the familiar tunnel of hyperspace and Mooka sagged back into her seat. Her hands shaking as she tried to place them on the arm rests. Mac had slumped forward in relief in the pilot’s chair. There was a long pause.
‘Well,’ Davie interrupted the awkward silence. ‘I suppose 4 out of 5 isn’t too bad.’
‘Where are the escape pods from?’ asked Mac.
Mooka examined the records stored on the escape pods.
‘They were passengers on those ships.’ reported Mooka. ‘The convoy was hired by Cowell and Mgrath.’
There was another awkward pause.
‘You mean,’ said Mac with an exasperated tone ‘We just risked our lives for some Lawyers?’
‘We could always give them back?’ Mooka said with a slight smile.
‘Hell! No,’ said Davie. ‘I think the Thargoids are angry enough with us already.’
I'm quite happy with this one. It was based on the rescue escape pod community goal, which was quite enjoyable, dispite the bugs. I'm hoping that this kind of gameplay as added to the standard mission list at some point. This story itself was came third in the Frontier's Fiction Compitition in November 2017, which I won a couple of Elite Dangerous Books.