‘My God! Look at it burn!’ The words were out of David ‘Davie’ Thornton’s mouth before could stop himself.
‘Keep it down,’ warned Duncan ‘Mac’ MacTaggart. ‘I’m going to need to focus!’
‘Right,’ Davie said quietly. ‘Sorry!’
Davie felt himself flushing a little as he should have known better but when he looked ahead at the Coriolis Station ‘Titan’s Daughter’, he felt he should be allowed to express a little bit of emotion. From the gunnery station in the lower bridge of the ASP Explorer ‘Sanctimonious’, he could see the 4 km across Cuboctahedron shaped station, which Davie always thought was just a fancy way of describing a massive cube with the corners shaved off, as it slowly span on its docking bay axis.
The station was covered in an alien green substance, a corrosive material which was eating through the hull and exposing the internal structures to vacuum. The station’s atmosphere was burning, even as it vented into space, taking with it more of the station’s strength, integrity and crew.
It was obvious that the station still had some kind of power because the force fields which kept the atmosphere within the docking bay were still in place. However, even from eight kilometres out, they could see the orange and red flickering light as fires raging through the bay itself. A sharp intake of breath almost made him jump out of the seat.
Somehow Mooka, the third member of the Sanctimonious crew, had managed to walk up next to his chair without him noticing. Despite the fact the she was wearing her magnetic shoes, which loudly clicked as she walked about. He looked over at the thirteen-year-old girl whose face had gone as pale as her platinum blonde hair.
‘Are we flying in there?’ she asked, as her eyes widened.
‘Dunno,’ He replied. ‘Depends if there’s anyone left alive.’
‘Why did they attack?’
‘Brick or Glass?’
‘A Demon bets for your soul and says to win you have to guess if he’s thinking about brick or glass,’ Davie explained. ‘Which would you choose?’
‘Erm. Glass.’ Mooka guessed.
‘Then you’ve just lost your soul.’
‘So, it was brick then?’
‘Nope, you still would have lost!’
Mooka just looked at him confused.
‘He wasn’t thinking about brick or glass.’ Davie explained. ‘He just wanted you to think those were the only options.’
Mooka thought about it for a second. ‘In other words, you don’t know because we don’t know how the Demon or Thargoids think?’
Davie was impressed at her insight. His Dida would always love to tease him with riddles like that and he’d never work them out.
‘You’d better get up to the engineer’s station.’ he said. ‘Mac’s going to need you there.’
She nodded, in the way that an Imperial slave was expected to respond when given an order, and she headed up to the upper bridge. Davie allowed himself a small sigh. Both he and Mac had adopted Mooka to stop her being repatriated into the Imperial slavery system, but even almost after three years of being free, she still had to completely break the Imperial conditioning.
Davie looked over the scanner again when he noticed four blips suddenly flared into life. He grabbed the controls and focused on the new arrived blips. Two Corvettes, escorted by two Gunships. Four of the most powerful ships available from the Federal shipyards. They could rip the Sanctimonious apart if they chose. He activated the comms.
‘I see them,’ The commander replied.
There was a pause.
‘And?’ Davie prompted.
‘I think,’ Mac’s voice caught a little. ‘I know them?’
Davie heard the external comms click.
‘Sanctimonious to The Green Man.’ Mac’s voice was wavering. ‘Harper is that you?’
‘Flux Sake!’ came a female voice with an Irish lilt to it. ‘MaaaaacTaaaaaggeeeerrrrttttt!’
‘Haaarpeeer!’ Mac yelled back into the comms.
Davie was shocked. The normally dour commander was yelling like a drunk football fan on match day. In the six years he’d know Mac, he had never seen him react like this.
‘I haven’t seen you since to 9 years ago,’ The voice continued excitedly.
‘Yeah well,’ Mac quickly returned to his more level speech. ‘Things kind of went to flux after that.’
There was a sigh over the comms.
‘I kind of heard,’ Harper’s voice sounded regretful. ‘If it’s any consolation, I never liked her.’
‘At least you haven’t said “I told you so!”,’ Mac matched her tone.
‘You bug hunting?’ Harper’s voice lifted a little.
‘No!’ Mac’s voice replied. ‘We’re going to be evacuating. Please tell me you’re packing Xeno weapons!’
‘Scanner, Jammer, Flak Cannons, two missiles, two cannons each’ the voice replied. ‘It’s ok Babe! We’ve got your back.’
‘Always appreciated’ Mac sounded strained.
‘Damn right you should.’ Harper signed off.
Davie allowed himself a sly smile.
‘So?’ He asked. ‘Who’s Haaaarrpppeeerrr?’
‘Erm.’ Even over the commlink, Mac’s embarrassment was hilarious to Davie. ‘We were at the Academy together.’
‘Details!’ Davie teased. ‘Spill!’
He was finding it difficult to resist the urge to call out – Mac and Harper sitting in tree. Kay eye ess ess eye eng gee!
‘Another time.’ Mac was beginning to growl.
Davie smiled but then let it go. He knew when he was pushing to far now but still a thought occurred to him.
Davie cleared his throat, this could backfire if he didn’t handle it right.
‘You miss the Navy?’
‘Well, you see that little wing out there. If you’d stayed, you’d be flying something like that. Don’t you want to be part of it?’
‘You ask me that a couple of years ago,’ Mac answered thoughtfully. ‘And I would have said yes. Nowadays? I’m not so sure.’
Davie felt reassured.
‘We’ve got you on our scanners Sanctimonious,’ a voice blared out over the cabin speakers. ‘We’re advising all civilian traffic to stay away from the station. Emergency landing procedures are in effect, if you’re not here to get people off, please stay away.’
The exhaustion and underlying panic was evident in the man’s voice.
‘Attention STC. This is Sanctimonious.’ Mac announced. ‘We’ve got space for 20 if you need us and eight tonnes of medicals for you.’
‘Appreciated Cmdr. I’ll assign you docking bay 7,’ said the STC voice. ‘It’s hot inside the bay; advise you get I and out as quickly as you can.’
‘Everyone ready?’ Mac asked?
Mooka replied a nervous affirmative. He knew the girl’s hand would be hanging over the heat sink release. He looked to the red and orange flaring out of the docking bay. He gritted his teeth to give him resolve while fighting the urge to run to the escape pod.
‘Ready? No!’ He tried to sound flippant. ‘Let’s just get it over with.’
‘Acknowledged STC,’ confirmed Mac. ‘We’re inbound.’
Davie found himself gripping the controls in the gunnery seat. This was testing his courage to the limit. He had to put his complete trust and life into the hands of Mac. Normally, this would be reassuring enough but lately, since the appearance of the Thargoids, he’d noticed a hesitance in his flying style. Sometimes you had to have complete confidence in yourself because the hesitant were the ones that found out how unforgiving the environment of space can be.
Looking into the fire breathing bay entrance, he could make out other ships manoeuvring about. A massive Beluga Liner filled the entire docking slot as it slowly creeped out of the bay. The huge tailfin just sliding through with just metres free of all sides. Flame played along the long sleek hull, as if reluctantly letting the ship go. Once clear, the ‘Free Willie’ fired its boosters, freeing itself from the clutches of the fire.
The ASP closed on the docking bay. Davie could make out the metal structures around the bay that was nicknamed the toast rack. If the structure wasn’t broken, it was bent out of position as it was licked by the occasional flame that made it through the forcefield. The light would have been blinding if it wasn’t for the special cockpit screening but even at this distance you could begin to feel the heat. Something at the bottom of the port caught his attention.
‘Abort Approach!’ He called into the comms.
There was no comment from Mac. The Sanctimonious stopped and quickly retreated from the flaming opening. Nothing was visible but Mac had reinforced the fact he had complete trust in Davie and his judgement. After a few seconds, a huge shape rose up from below the docking window. The huge T-9 freighter rose up and rolled to align itself with opening.
‘I hope he’s got plenty of heatsinks.’ Davie muttered.
As soon as he said it, an explosion ripped out from the left of the docking bay, pushing the T9 away from the exit, while the big ship’s shield flared blue. One of the large steel beams from the toast rack fell across the docking bay, effectively blocking it.
‘Oh, Fluxing Hell.’ He heard Mac say. ‘Davie, can you shoot that out?’
‘Aye Aye Sir.’ Davie replied and deployed the Asp’s Weapons.
The targeting reticule appeared in front of him and he tried to zoom in.
‘Attention STC.’ came Mac’s voice on the comms. ‘We’re firing to clear debris.’
Davie had the shot and let rip with the two beam laser turrets, slicing the broken beam in two and thankfully just missing the T9.
‘This is [AOS] Caroline.’ A different voice over the radio. ‘What the Flux you twunts!!’
‘We’ve just cleared you a path.’ Mac replied irritably, ‘Get out quick if you can.’
The other voice didn’t reply, but the T9 managed to reposition itself into the right position and slowly emerged from the docking bay. They could see spots on the hull beginning to turn red as the armour plates began to melt. As soon as it was clear, it’s engines flared as it lumbered away from front of the station. The T9 could never be called fast. [AOS] Caroline flashed its lights in thanks as it passed them.
‘Right,’ Mac sounded determined. ‘Our Turn!’
Davie took a deep breath. It seemed easier now. The Sanctimonious moved into the bay and he saw the heat indicators begin to climb alarmingly. They were quite lucky, docking pad seven was not far from the entrance but temperature gauges were hitting the red already. Pieces of metal and pieces of people floated in front of them as Mac quickly brought the ship over the docking bay. The heat alarm claxon started to blare across the ship.
‘Drop a sink,’ Mac ordered.
The warning lights vanished as the coolant was flushed, taking the heat with it into the heatsink. replaced with unheated coolant. A white-hot contact appeared on the scanner as it was ejected out the back. The ship shook it settled down on the landing pad.
‘We’re taking you inside the docking bay Cmdr,’ The STC voice was back. ‘It should keep you from the worst of it.’
Another shudder as the landing pad retracted from the docking bay. Davie could feel the heat retreat, the 0.1 g from the station’s rotation and unbuckled from his seat. With Mag Boots enabled, he ran down through the ship to the landing ramp. He looked out into the hanger. Mac must have already delivered the medicines because the automated loading systems were already unloading the cargo canisters.
A door at the far end opened and a people began to run towards the ship, led by someone in a docking uniform. The running person in uniform was female but she was wearing a full flight suit with a tinted helmet, so Davie couldn’t make out any features. The entire hanger bay shuddered as there was a dull thud from the docking bay above them.
‘I’ve got your 21.’ The helmeted figure yelled above the noise.
‘But we’ve only got space for 20!’ Davie yelled but the woman was already running back to the door they had all emerged from.
The people ran straight past him and made him wish that he’d brought down a side arm. Then it became obvious why there was 21. Bringing up the rear was a slight man carrying what looked like a child, about 4 or 5. The child was huddled into his shoulder, but it looked limp, either unconscious or worse. He guided them up to passenger area and quickly assigned them G-couches.
‘Are we good to go?’ Mac’s voice came over the speakers. ‘The heat’s beginning to bleed through.’
There were gasps and cries from the passengers, a couple of them reached for the complaint feedback button on their passenger seats.
‘That’s only going to tick the commander off,’ Davie yelled above them. ‘Too much of that and he’ll put you off the ship.’
With that he took the slight man and his child to his cabin and strapped them both down in the high G bed. The child, a small boy by the looks of it, was alive but he looked very pale. He gave the man a quizzical look. The man mouthed something like vented atmosphere. Davie gave the man what he thought was a reassuring grab of the shoulder and ran, mag boots clacking loudly, back up to the gunnery station.
‘I’m in!’ He yelled as he climbed into the seat.
The Sanctimonious shuddered as the hangar moved the ship to its launch position. As he strapped himself in, he ran his eyes over the heat warning indicators. They were already in the yellow and again were rapidly heading towards red. As the roof of the hangar pulled back, the ship began to shake violently. The heat indicators went off the scale as the ship was lifted into the docking bay.
‘The heat sinks aren’t working.’ Mooka’s voice was quivering.
‘They won’t until they release the docking clamps.’
‘We’re at 130% heat. It’s putting the life support in jeopardy.’
‘STC!’ Mac’s voice came over the speakers. ‘Give us clearance! We’re cooking here!’
The ship lurched up suddenly. Davie felt himself pushed further into his seat.
‘You’re clear Sanctimonious,’ came the voice from the STC. ‘Now, get out of here before it gets worse.’
‘Will do STC,’ Mac replied. ‘Mooka drop a sink.’
As the heatsink dropped the temperature, Davie deployed the weapons and targeted some debris that was close to the docking bay. However, Mac must have thrown the throttle open to full because he let out an involuntary yelp as he was thrown back in his chair, ruining his firing solution in the process. The exit to the docking bay began to loom close and just beyond he saw a type 7 and Python on final approach.
‘Attention Hulk and Hawkeye.’ Davie called into the external comms. ‘This is the Sanctimonious, we’re making a rapid exit! Stand clear!’
He felt the Asp accelerate again as it burst through the atmosphere force field. The other two ships, firing their lateral thrusters to let them through. The Sanctimonious’ boosters carried them free of the burning docking bay. As he ordered the weapons to retract, he found it difficult to keep his hands steady on the controls.
‘That wasn’t too bad,’ He lied over the comms.
‘Really?’ replied Mac. ‘I thought I heard big girlie yell from the gunnery chair and then I remembered Mooka’s up here with me.’
‘Oh, Ha Ha Ha!’ Davie grumbled sarcastically. ‘Look my sides have appeared to have split, someone get me needle and thre…’
‘Attention, jump anomaly detected,’ The computer announced.
Davie’s reply died in his mouth. He immediately redeployed the weapons and watched as the Sanctimonious turned to face the anomaly. It was as if the stars themselves decided to step aside and let something in. He was expecting a Cyclops or Basilisk but what emerged was bigger, darker and spikier than the others. Its shape was unmistakably Thargoid but he’d never seen anything that big outside the bases they’ve visited.
The external comms roared with a deep base growl as the new arrival’s petals of the flower like ship glowed red. As soon as the growl had finished Davie could see more contacts appear on the scanner.
‘It’s launching Thargons!’ came Mooka’s voice. ‘It didn’t even scan us!’
’32… 56… 72 …’ Her voice rising in alarm as the number increased.
’96!‘ She finished unsteadily.
‘Mac?!’ Dave found himself yelling.
The pilot didn’t reply, but the Sanctimonious rolled 90 degrees and pitched violently. He felt his body being yet again pushed into the gunnery seat as the ASP explorer’s engines flared with boost thrust. Davie activated the gunnery view, taking control of the flak cannon and the AX multi-cannon. The swarm turned to match the Asp’s course. He was about to ask for Mac’s permission to fire when light blossomed from the front of the swarm.
He fired the flak Cannon. It was quickly becoming his favourite weapon, hold to fire, release to explode, wipe out thargons. After a couple of shots, he’s managed to whittle down the swarm by a third but it was not going to be enough. 60 of these small ships would rip the Asp apart and they were approaching fast, despite the fact Mac was firing the boosters constantly.
‘Any Suggestions?’ He yelled.
‘Just keep firing.’ Mac yelled back.
Davie let go what he knew was the only shot he was going to get when the whole swarm vanished in a blaze of light. A Federal Corvette flew through the explosions, firing its own flack Cannons back at the large Alien ship, which the targeting computer identified as a Medusa class. Davie was never so relieved to see a federal ship.
‘Told you we had your back.’ came the Irish voice over the comms. ‘Now, get those civivies….’
A blast of lightning came from the central eye of the Thargoid vessel and the Corvette also disappeared in a flash of light.
‘Haaarrppperr!’ Mac’s yell almost blew the speakers out of the internal communications.
The Medusa was already turning away to engage the remaining Federal Corvette and Gunships. Dave felt the shift of the ship as it began to turn towards the Alien vessel.
‘Mac! No!’ yelled Davie, ‘She told us to get the civvies home.’
Sanctimonious continued to turn. Davie knew that once Mac focused on something it was almost impossible to change his mind.
‘It’s Suicide.’ Davie yelled again. ‘We don’t have anything big enough to handle that!’
Ahead one of the gunships disappeared in a flash of light. He quickly glanced over the scanner and spotted something on the scanner. Could it be? Would Mac be too interested in revenge?
‘Escape Pod!’ He yelled. ‘Bearing 25, 180, 45.’
Again, the Asp violently turned and lined up with the small capsule which was accelerating away from the corvettes wreckage. A few seconds later, the ship had scooped the pod and was charging the frameshift. As the Sanctimonious jumped towards the medical ship, Davie looked up the readouts on the Escape Pod. Stable but he wasn’t even sure that it was this Harper person.
He let his shoulders slump, this would change everything.
This was written shortly after the Stations started to be attacked. I've taken a little licence because so far in the game, we haven't been given the opeertunity to defend a base against a thargoid attack and there certainly hasn't been an attack against a rescue operation. There is a theory that the Thargoids are not destroying stations as they appear to take longer to repair than rebuild. At the time this, we have 17 stations under repair and 2 burning. It was originally thought it would be a one off event but the thargoids attack every Thursday knockign down a couple more stations.