HAXCOM OFFICIAL TRANSMISSION TRANSMITTED FROM HAXCOM ACTUAL 3305 15 NOV
November 9, 3305 marked 100 days since the Thargoids retreated from the Bubble. That is 100 days since a new station was attacked. 100 days Operation IDA has been able to affect repairs without new stations being added to the list. 100 days civilians have not been killed or forced to evacuate their homes. I wanted to say thank you to all of the pilots who have helped defend the bubble, evacuate civilians, and repair stations.
Our work is not over, though. Over 70 stations are still in need of repair supplies. Thargoids still sit just outside the bubble in The Pleiades and Witch Head Nebula, plotting their next move. So, what can we do?
Operation IDA can always use more pilots hauling repair supplies to damaged stations. You can find their current repair target at operationida.com and the list of supplies needed in the Thargoid Report on Galnet. Even making a couple deliveries each week can make a big difference if enough Commanders join in.
Remember, stay alert and watch the signal sources. The Thargoid menace could return any day.
“She’s a slippery one, I’ll say that. It’s been hard to pin down a pattern, but I’m thinking her home system may be BU 741.” Vince’s voice was scratchy over the comms, but understandable.
“OK, Vince,” Folco answered. “Let me know if you get any confirmation. By the way, why is your transmission so distorted?”
“I’m bouncing it through several relays to make it hard to trace back. If she gets on to us, I’m going to make it hard to find me.”
“Fair enough. How are Mom and Dad?”
“They’re fine and you should call and ask them yourself. Pretty sure they’ve figured out where you went off to anyway. Any particular reason you went off to pick fights with Thargoids?”
“You know they’re going to be back. Just because they stopped attacking stations doesn’t mean the war is over. This is our chance to take some of the initiative back and to let them know we haven’t stopped watching them. Until the Pilots Federation lifts the Col 70 Sector permit locks, we won’t know where their home worlds are to counter attack, so this is the best we have.”
“Just be careful, Folco. We’re about the only thing standing between Ana and your parents.”
“I know, Vince, but AX pilots are the only thing standing between the Thargoids and humanity. The navies and Aegis have shown they aren’t very effective defense forces, so we’re forced to do what we can. If Thargoids burn our homes, the rest won’t really matter, will it?”
“True, just make sure they don’t burn you, OK?” Folco could hear the concern through the distortions and static.
“Always my top priority out here, Vince. You make sure you keep watching your six. Don’t want Ana sneaking up on you, OK?”
“Always, Folco. I’ll ping you if I get any further info.”
‘End Transmission’ replaced Vince’s static filled face on the comms panel.
Folco turned his attention back to the navigation computer and began paging through the non-human signal sources.
There, a threat 5 signal. We’ll see if that’s a mess of scouts or a Cyclops.
Another ping from the communications system grabbed Folco’s attention over the humming of the mining lasers boring into the rock ahead of the FTM Shadowfax.
Good Galaxy, is she sending me another message already? She’s relentless, I’ll give her that. Let’s see what the demands are this time.
Looking up to the message panel, Folco opened Ana’s most recent message.
Subject: Where are you! Answer me or you’ll pay the consequences! Body: Took, you better respond to this or I’ll send your parent’s info directly to the ISS. There won’t be anywhere in the galaxy they can hide. Bounty hunters will be looking for them and you in every civilized system. Meet me on The Midas in the Zeus system. You have 3 hours to get here before I end our partnership.
Well, guess I better respond. Wouldn’t want anyone doing anything rash after all.
Triggering the response option, Folco tapped out a reply on the keyboard next to the command chair.
Subject: Just Got Your Messages Body: Hi Ana! Sorry I’ve apparently missed your attempts to contact me previously. I’ve been doing a lot of mining and connections to the network in these rings can be tenuous at best. I will be on my way to The Midas in about one hour, just finishing up some mining now.
CMDR Folco Took, For the Mug!
There, that should placate her for a short time. OK, what’s the closest independent station? Yolen Station HR 1737, that will do.
90 minutes later, the traffic controller announcement came over the radio. “Hotel Oscar Tango One Three, this is Midas flight control. Please submit a docking request prior to approach. Thank you.”
“Roger, Flight Control. Hotel Oscar Tango One Three requesting docking,”
A few moments later, the Shadowfax was gear down and locked on the large landing pad. As the pad retracted into the East India Company’s megaship, Folco’s chat panel lit up.
Anastia Regula: Took, I’m at your bay. Open up and let me in as soon as your pad is locked. CMDR Folco Took: No problem, Ana. I’ll be in position here in just a few seconds. Looking forward to seeing you.
Letting out a sigh and practicing his best smile, Folco waited for the pad to complete the 180 degree rotation and then unlocked the boarding lift and rear entry. As he was finishing the shutdown checklist (admittedly taking his time), hard footsteps could be heard getting closer.
“Took! You better have a damn good reason for ghosting me. You’re lucky I haven’t already handed over your parent’s identity to the ISS and put out a contract on you.”
“Ana, I’m shocked. Here I thought we had this wonderful working relationship where you hold a metaphorical gun to my head and I pretend to enjoy running your missions.” Folco let the sarcasm drop from his voice. “I’m here and you’re here, so how about you just tell me what you need done.”
Her face growing more stern, Ana growled. “Listen, you ever pull a stunt like that again and I won’t give you time to regret it. From now on you answer my communications immediately. Is that clear?”
“Fine. First order of business, you’re largely loaded with painite, right?” Folco didn’t answer since Ana certainly knew already. “Well, you sell it here, at The Midas. After what The Code pulled, East India Company needs their stocks replenished. They are paying top dollar right now, so you’ll be fine.”
“That was my plan anyway,”Folco responded evenly, “so definitely not a problem. I’m assuming there is another order to follow?”
“Yes. Some imperial citizens have been kidnapped and I need you to liberate them. They are trapped in escape pods and carried on another ship, so you’ll need to use hatch breakers to get them. And make sure you bring those pods back in one piece. I swear if any of them are hurt in your rescue attempt, our partnership is done and your parents are dead.”
Folco stood up from the command chair, barely holding in the rage. “Ana, I’ll do your dirty work, but I swear to you if any harm comes to my family or friends, I’ll hunt you down anywhere in this galaxy. I’ve lost count of how many killers, pirates, and thargoids I’ve taken out over the years and I promise you I’m not an enemy you want. Now, transfer the mission details to my pad so I can get you off my ship.”
Bringing up her data pad, Ana tapped a few virtual buttons and Folco’s pad buzzed to indicate an incoming message. He spent a few minutes reading over the data, then looked up.
“OK, I see the name of the ship I’m looking for, but no information on escorts. What kind of a fight should I expect.”
“We don’t know.”
“All right, how about the pilot. Do we know their combat rating? Or if they might be open to a bribe and just drop the pods to avoid a fight?”
“Well, if this mission fails you can blame yourself or whoever gave you this intelligence, because it sucks. I have no way of knowing what kind of fight I’m flying into or if there is a probable way to avoid a fight. Or even what kind of ship I’m taking on and whether I need to tank out a fight or get something fast because they might run away.”
“Took, I don’t care what you think of the info, I just need you to get the job done. Don’t fail me.”
“Fine, whatever. I’ve got the info, now get off of my ship.”
Glancing at the chronometer before leaving the bridge, Folco followed as Ana walked away. Pulling his data tablet back out, he sent a quick text and then walked back into the ship.
Thirty minutes later in Mansfield Orbiter, Folco entered the Talbot, and sat in a booth across from Vince.
“You checked the ship for bugs,” he asked.
“Yeah, Vince. Found both the obvious one she planted and the real one she thought I’d miss,” Folco responded. “You got the tracker placed on her ship?”
“Yep. So far it’s still transmitting. We’ll see if she finds it. If it works, we can see what her patterns are and figure out who she’s actually working for.”
“Any problems getting a ride out from Hutton?”
“No, there’s a fair amount of traffic still going through there. Hopped a ride with a new commander flying a hauler. He took a data delivery mission without realizing where it was going to.”
“Ha, he’ll learn. Got to double check when those payouts seem too high. Tell me he didn’t also fall for the whole free anaconda thing.”
“Well, he did seem rather disappointed,” Vince chuckled.
“Anyway,” Folco said, standing to leave. “I need to get Sting prepped for this mission. Vince, thank you.”
“You and your parents are the only family I have. We stick together, always.”
It had been over 2 months and much had happened. HAX Wing had proven its value as an anti-xeno force, and the tide had been turned. The list of systems under Thargoid control no longer grew every week. Humanity had fully turned the tide and no system incursion lasted longer than a few days before the alien forces were beaten back.
Until their home worlds were discovered, the Thargoids still held the initiative, attacking at will, but the war had settled into something of a stalemate. The Thargoids would pop up in a system and the forces of humanity would whack them back down. Suffering the most casualties were the stations, their crews, and residents. Every Thargoid attack left at least one station in flames.
Brave pilots would ferry evacuees from the still-burning stations to nearby rescue ships. Other dedicated commanders were hauling the millions of tons of supplies needed to rebuild all of these stations once the fires subsided. These efforts were helping to stop the bleeding, but new stations were being attacked every week, with no end in sight.
This alone was enough to make a war weary combatant need to take a break. Add to that a near-death experience in Hutton Orbital’s Cubicle 3, and Folco had determined he would take some time away from active combat.
It started with hauling construction materials for Evangeline’s Elite Expeditionary Force. The faction was building a megaship to be used as a mobile base and CMDR Macer, one of their prominent members, was a friend. They had fought side-by-side during The Gnosis Incident and Folco knew the force would use their new mobile base to do good in the bubble.
Now, Folco was on to a new task – re-engineering FTM Sting as a Thargoid hunter. The Anduril was excellent at tanking damage from scouts and clearing them out, but just wasn’t fast enough to take on an interceptor without help. Sting would be able to outrun the interceptors when needed, once the thrusters had been upgraded to grade 5 “dirty” drives. They would be hot as a star and not very efficient, but they would give Folco the speed he needed.
“Folco, hand me that fuser.” Vince was buried deep in the fuel transfer system with a single hand sticking out waiting for the tool.
“Here,” Folco said placing it in his hand. “Vince, can I ask you something?”
“Sure, Folco, what’s on your mind?”
“What actually happened? With Mom and Dad, that is. Why did they run?”
“You mean not being a slave isn’t enough reason for them?”
“Vince, I’m no fan of Imperial slavery either, but didn’t they willingly enter the indenture agreement?”
“Oh, that’s the version they want everyone to believe.Truth is, in the Empire, if you get into real financial trouble, slavery is your only way out. There really isn’t another choice. And for all the talk about how slaves are protected and not mistreated, that isn’t the truth. Yeah, a slave can lodge a complaint about their master, but it’s the word of a debtor slave against the word of a proper citizen. The higher up the social ladder you go, the more the citizen will be believed and it’s the higher ups that generally have the slaves.”
“OK, I get that. Not even surprised by it, but that doesn’t really answer the question. What happened?”
Vince sighed, shifting uncomfortably. “I don’t want to get into specifics, that’s for your parents to tell you, but I’ll say this. Your mom was being… mistreated. This was before your mom and dad were married, of course, but they were very much in love. Your dad knew what was going on, and he decided to do something about it.”
“Next time he had the chance, he confronted your mom’s master about it and was immediately beaten by a bodyguard. Knowing he wouldn’t get anywhere with lodging a complaint or trying to defend your mother himself, he talked to me about it.”
“How did dad know you?”
“Well, the part about your dad being a shuttle pilot was true, and I was one of his regular passengers. We’d struck up a bit of a friendship over time. He confided in me what was happening and I decided I’d help get them out of the Empire.”
“OK, Vince, but how were you able to help them?”
“Back then I was a technician in the ISS. My areas of expertise included altered documentation and digital information insertion.”
Folco interjected, “so, you did forgeries and hacking?”
Chuckling, Vince responded “pretty much, yes. I used that knowledge and access to create new identities for them, a travel itinerary to get them out of Imperial space, and skimmed off funds from various ISS expense accounts to give them a small nest egg. Not enough from any one account to be noticed, but enough all together to get them started.”
“Unfortunately, I was wrong about one thing. It was noticed. There were checks I didn’t know about. I’m still not sure exactly what tripped me up, but I knew I had to go too. I made up my own documents on a different route, but met up with them at the end of the journey.
We then made a few more identity switches, jumped between a few more stations to muddy our trail, and ended up near Sol. Figured being that close to the Fed capital would make us harder to find. Guess it worked for over a couple decades. Sorry it didn’t work longer. Anyway, could you hand me that line analyzer?”
Folco handed him the tool. “So, what are we going to do about it? Running and hiding isn’t a viable option at this point. We need to end this threat for good.”
A smile played across Vince’s lips. He had a plan.
The metallic clang vibrated through the deck plates as the docking clamps locked on to the FTM Landroval’s landing gear. Folco raced through the shutdown sequence, ran out the cockpit airlock, and rode down the lift on the front landing strut. Rushing through the corridors of Mansfield Orbiter, Folco arrived at his parents’ apartment 10 minutes later and keyed the access code into the door lock.
As the door slid open, Folco saw his parents sitting in the living area of the apartment. The smell of coffee filled the air and a sudden realization made Folco check the time.
Great. Didn’t even think about what time it was. Probably should have waited a few more hours, but too late now.
“Folco, is everything OK? Your message,” Sam began to say.
“Just wait,” Folco cut off his father. “Before we say anything else, assume that someone is listening. With everything else they know, this place could easily be bugged.”
Sam and Rosie traded looks, but remained silent.
“I was approached by a person who claims to know your ‘true’ past and she gave me this.” Folco handed the data pad to his mother.
She skimmed through it and then handed it to Sam.
“Folco, I’m sorry.” Rosie was looking below his gaze. “It’s something we should have told you about. First, yes, this is all true, though it’s not the whole story. We didn’t tell you when you were younger because we didn’t want you to accidentally say something that would give us away. And then, when you were old enough to understand, well, it’s hard to tell someone you love you’ve been lying to them.”
“Buddy,” Sam looked up from the pad, “if you haven’t figured it out, this is what I was saying we needed to talk to you about. I… I didn’t…”
“It’s OK,” Folco interrupted. “I understand why. It was a bit of a shock and I really wish you’d told me, but I get it. Right now we have to figure out what we’re going to do, though. This Ana person is telling me that I have to do jobs for her from time to time or she will expose you to the IISS. They couldn’t officially do anything to you since we aren’t in Imperial territory, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t do something unofficial.”
“Well,” spoke Rosie, “we’ll have to get new ID documents made and then figure out where to go. Maybe Colonia?”
“No.” Folco interrupted again. “You’re not going anywhere.”
“Folco, listen,” began Sam,” you have to understand these people are dangerous.”
“Dad, listen to me. This is our home. You aren’t leaving. I’m going to do this job for her, because, well, we don’t really have time to figure out anything else. We’ll play along for a while, find out what’s really going on, and then deal with it. They aren’t going to do anything to you as long as they want me to keep working for them.”
Sam and Rosie looked at each other again.
“Folco,” spoke Rosie, “we’ll go along for now, but tread carefully. Like your Dad said, these kind of people are dangerous.”
“I know, Mom. And they’re going to learn that when you mess with my family, so am I.”
Author’s Note – Apologies to my reader, my writing is now about 5-6 weeks behind Folco’s actual in-game activities. I will probably do a summary story soon to get things caught up.
“Um, Folco? That Cyclops is really close,” Christy’s voice wavered.
“I know, but it’s in ‘scan mode’ or whatever state those things are in when they’re doing this. It won’t get mad until I do something to anger it. Which will happen the moment we scoop up this pod, so get ready.”
The Shadowfax slowly came in over the drifting escape pod just next to the remnants of a Federal Navy Corvette. Folco had dropped into a non-human signal source expecting a swarm of Thargoid scouts, but was greeted by a Cyclops-variant interceptor instead. And a cloud of green haze surrounding the wreck of the corvette.
Just a little closer. Dang, that bug’s coming to tractor it up. Almost there.
“Cargo Acquired” was displayed over the cargo scoop camera feed. Folco hit the cargo scoop toggle, swung the Anaconda-class heavy ship ninety degrees ‘up,’ and hit the engine boost.
Immediately, the Cyclops filled the surrounding space with an EM shout to show its displeasure, and turned to follow.
“Yeah, don’t like it when I take your toys, huh,” shouted Folco.
Thargon probes began swarming around the ship, peppering it with lasers. Some broke through the high-power shields and did minor damage to the hull.
Peaceful coexistence my foot. You don’t shoot ships doing rescue operations. I don’t care what species you are.
“OK, we’re breaking mass lock. Get ready to jump.”
The COVAS counted down the jump and then the Shadowfax was lost in hyperspace.
“So, what’s the plan boss?”
“We’re going to double-back to Wyrd and drop this pod off at Vonaburg. Then it’s back to scout hunting for us.”
The main star for LHS 2887 dominated the view following the drop from hyperspace. As Folco was keying in the jump back to Wyrd, a HAXCOM priority text dropped into the message queue.
“Well I’ll be,” Folco thought out loud as he read the message.
“What is it,” Christy asked.
“We won. Thargoid forces have withdrawn from Wyrd. That cyclops must have been one of the last ones there. So, change of plans. I’m heading back to Mansfield and we can drop our frozen friend off there. Christy, you’re getting some time off.”
“Because I have a promise to keep back in Priviatem. I’m going to be doing some rescue runs at Wilhelm and the Landroval doesn’t carry a fighter.”
“OK. Hey, I’m up for a day off. By the way, I get that Shadowfax was a horse in that book you like so much, but what is a landroval?”
“Who, actually. Landroval was one of the great eagles that rescued Sam and Frodo from Mount Doom at the end of Lord of the Rings, from the book Return of the King. I like to name rescue ships after the eagles since they did a lot of rescuing in Tolkien’s stories.”
“You say those names like they all mean something to me, but I asked so I guess I deserved that,” laughed Christy.
An hour later, Folco was behind the controls of the FTM Landroval, a Krait Mk II fitted for maximum passenger capacity.
The first rescue run to Wilhelm Gateway went as smoothly as station rescues went. Massive heat in the docking barrel cooked the outside of the ship, but heat sinks compensated and kept the internal temperatures within spec. Explosions rocked the ship both on landing and take-off, but the maneuverability of the Krait kept it on course.
Upon landing at the rescue ship, Folco turned off the seat restraint sign and announced over the intercom, “OK, we’re docked and locked. You can disembark now. You’re safe here and the Pilots Federation will take care of your immediate needs.”
Once the passengers were gone, Folco left the ship and walked around it to confirm no real damage had been done by any explosions. As he came back around to the entry lift on the front landing strut, he was greeted by a person he’d hoped never to see again.
“Well, if it isn’t my favorite Trucker. For the record, I am not on your ship without invitation,” replied Ana.
“Good, and you aren’t getting one. Listen, I’m done running your errands. I did my time for the Federation and have my Corvette. So whatever you want me to do, forget it.” Folco started to walk past her and onto the lift. A hand, surprisingly strong, grabbed his arm.
“Oh, I think you’re the one who needs to listen, Commander. And I think you’d prefer it be done in private, so you might reconsider that invitation to come aboard.”
He stood for a moment in thought.
“Fine, you have five minutes to convince me I need to hear you out.”
“I doubt it will take that long to convince you, Took. So, may I come aboard?”
Folco scowled, but agreed, “get on the lift.”
Walking into the command deck, Folco looked at Ana hard.
“OK, five minutes. Go.”
“Well, simply put, your parents aren’t who you think they are.”
“Oh, what, you’re telling me I’m adopted or something?”
“No, no, your parents are your biological parents, but their past is one I doubt they’ve told you about.”
Folco furrowed his brow. “I know they met when my Mom was getting her first advanced degree in history and Dad was a shuttle pilot that happened to do the run from the station to her campus.”
“Yes, that’s what they told you, and it has a kernel of truth as any good lie does. Put simply, they are escaped Imperial slaves. Your dad was flying a shuttle and your mom was a regular passenger, but they were slaves under the control of a wealthy Imperial patron.”
‘There’s something we need to talk about.’ Is this what Dad meant? Surely it can’t be.
“Woman, I have no reason to believe you, and your five minutes are running out.”
“Oh, I don’t expect you to believe me without proof. Here, have a look.” Ana handed over a cheap, ‘burner’ data pad.
As Folco paged through the data, the pit forming in his stomach grew. There was a full history tracing his parents’ time in the empire, their exodus from imperial space, and their time since. Also, Uncle Vince was identified as Vincento, an imperial internal security service technician, someone his parents turned to their side and assisted their escape.
“Keep the pad. That, of course, is a copy. I have the original data. The important thing now is what I do with that data. I could share that information with imperial security or with their former master, but that wouldn’t really get anything for me. The services of a top pilot, though? Now that is useful.”
“What do you want from me, Ana?”
“Well since you’re asking, there is a certain job that I’ve heard needs doing.”
“I’m not going to be blackmailed and I won’t betray HAX Wing or the Truckers…”
“Calm down, Folco,” interrupted Ana. “We have the same goal when it comes to the Thargoids and I’ll never keep you from your duties here. But when times like, well, this come around, I’ll expect you to accept jobs from me. In return, I’ll continue to keep my data pads to myself.”
“Now about that job,” she continued. “Head on over to HIP 296 and talk with the local navy contact there. I believe they have a little problem that needs taking care of. Of course,” she looked around the Landroval,” I’d suggest switching to another ship. Maybe the Sting? You’ll need a combat ship with another seat because you’ll have some company. Someone who can keep an eye on things for me. He’s a fighter pilot, so you might as well make use of him.”
Ana walked out the cockpit airlock and rode down the lift. Folco remained stunned for several minutes, then wrote a text message to his parents and Vince.
Guys, I’m on my way back to Mansfield right now. I’m about 6 jumps out, so won’t be long. When I get there, we need to talk. I just got shown something very serious and I need to know the truth of it.
Independent Commanders of the Pilots Federation, I call out to you in Humanity’s greatest time of need. Thargoid attacks are increasing in scope and strength. More systems are infested each week. More stations are burning. The beacons are lit and the time to act is now.
And yet, so many choose to remain on the sidelines. To turn a blind eye to the suffering of their fellow humans. To deny the threat faced by Humanity. A treacherous few even choose to side with the aliens that seek to destroy us.
Know that this great menace we now face seeks to dominate us and to push us back until we break. The Guardian Codex shows the Thargoids are expansionist in nature and seek conflict without negotiation. In the face of Thargoid invasion, the Guardians initially fell back and chose not to resist. Yet the Thargoids fought on.
The Guardians were masters of linguistics and learned the Thargoid language. They called out to the Thargoids, asked them to talk instead of fight. The Thargoids ignored all pleas for peace and fought on.
Only once the Guardians chose to fight back did the Thargoid advance halt. Only when the Thargoids faced overwhelming strength did they retreat. History shows the only language our enemy understands is strength. Only conflict and conquest guide their actions.
So to those who say we must learn to live with the Thargoids, that if we just stopped our violence against them, that if we just learned to communicate with them, this war would end, I point you to the experience of the Guardians.
To those who say we must fall back, that retreat is our only option, I ask you how far must we fall back? How far must we retreat? To the far side of the bubble? To Colonia? Beyond the core to Beagle Point? And what if we meet an enemy there even more powerful, even more aggressive than this one? No, we stand here. These are our systems. These are our homes. We will fight for each of them.
To those who say these attacks on our stations don’t matter, that the actual numbers attacked are a small percentage of all our stations, I ask you what if it were your home? What if they killed your friends, your family in one of their attacks? What if you were stranded in a burning station? Would it matter to you then? And when the attack does come to your home, do not ask your neighbor to defend you, to rescue you, to help you rebuild if you are not likewise willing to help your neighbor.
Humanity, I call on us all now to act. I call on everyone to take up the struggle against this, the greatest threat we have ever faced. To those who can fight, now is the time to fight. Join us in defending infested systems and defeating the Thargoid invaders. To those who can rescue our neighbors trapped on burning stations, now is your moment. Ferry evacuees to the rescue ships and save their lives. To those who can haul supplies to damaged stations, join the effort to fix those stations now.
Now is the time to act. The shadow of our enemy will continue to spread if we do not raise the lamp of liberty to drive it away. If we do not now stand united against this threat, the day will come when we no longer have the strength to resist. And if that day comes, it will be the first day in the final chapter of human history. Do not let this chapter be written. Stand united. Hold firm. Force back the shadow.
Working together we will prevail. Standing united we will save humanity.
“Good to be back, Mansfield Control. Powering down, Shadowfax out.”
Folco hurried through the shutdown sequence and made his way out of the Anaconda-class ship. Exiting the rear access hatch, he was greeted by Sam Took.
“Have the Hasufel ready to launch, Folco. I take it you’re in a hurry?”
“Thanks, I need to report in at Hutton and wanted to do it in person. Things didn’t go so well in Priviatem and we need to decide the next location we defend.”
The two began walking through the private hangar Folco rented in Mansfield Orbiter.
“OK, well, when you’re back later, and you, uh, have some time, there’s… well, there’s something we need to talk about.”
“Dad, maybe we need to make some time?”
“No, you need to go. What you’re doing is more important. Just know that when you can, we need to get together, you, me, and Mom.”
Arriving at the Python-class FTM Hasufel, they stopped and hugged.
“We’re very proud of you, Folco, your Mother and I. Whether you succeed or not in any mission, you stepped up to do what needed to be done. No one can take that from you.”
“Thanks. Just keep an eye on my messages. You get one that says non-human signal sources are detected in Epsi Indi, you get out that moment. Understood? I have to know you guys are safe to keep a clear head out there.”
“We will Folco, now go. It’s a long flight.”
Just over 90 minutes later, the Hasufel had reverted back to normal space and was landing on pad 3 of Hutton Orbital. As he disembarked, his thoughts were on the carnage in Priviatem.
How many did we lose? How many died at Wilhelm and on LTT-125? Were there still crew and prisoners trapped on the mega-ship? Do we stay there and fight? There’s no stations left to lose, but I want revenge.
As he worked through the narrow corridors of the small outpost, Folco ran into a familiar face.
“Uncle Vince! Hi, didn’t expect to run into you here. I’m off to HAXCOM and HAX Wing briefings, but after I’d love to grab some breakfast with you if you’re free.”
“I’d like that Folco, but I was hoping to run into you on your way in. Glad I did.”
“OK, what’s up?”
“Listen, I heard about Priviatem and I know you’re probably a bit shook up over it. That’s normal. Your first command and the mission isn’t successful. Just remember, a war like this is a marathon, not a sprint. You’re going to have good weeks and bad weeks, but you can’t let them bring you too high or too low. And there are going to be times, like this week, that you have to make some very tough calls.”
“Um, thanks, Vince, but what do you mean ‘like this week’ I’m going to have to make tough calls.”
“I know you, Folco. You want to keep your pilots in Priviatem and drive the Thargoids back out of that system, but you’re going to have to balance that with the needs of the war. There are no large orbital stations left in that system and, so far, the ‘goids have only attacked those large stations, never outposts. There will be other systems with stations still to lose. Do you defend those or quench the desire for payback? That’s the hard choice I think you’ll be making in your next meeting.”
Folco stared at his uncle, trying to take in the information.
“You know, for a body shop mechanic you sure seem to know a lot about this war effort specifically, and strategy in general. What gives?”
I wasn’t always a mechanic, Folco. I’ve done some other jobs in my past.”
“You’ll have to tell me about them, sometime.”
Folco turned and looked at Vince, “what do you mean ‘no.”
“I mean, I can’t tell you about it. Or, at least, I shouldn’t be the one you hear it from. You need to talk with your parents.”
“That’s twice today I’ve heard that,” Folco sighed. “First Dad says the ‘we need to talk’ line and then you grab me and tell me I need to talk to them. What is going on?”
“It really needs to be them who tells you. But it shouldn’t cause you any problems today. Just focus on the job at hand. And Folco, good hunting.”
“Fine, then, you lot can keep your secrets,” Folco smiled and continued walking to the HAXCOM meeting room.
“And stay safe, buddy. I’m afraid Thargoids aren’t the only thing waiting for you out there,” Vince added, after Folco was out of sight.
“Things have to be coming to a head. We’ve been fighting here for almost a week,” Folco said to Christy, the new fighter pilot. “We’ve taken out hundreds of scouts and dozens of interceptors, but who knows if it will be enough. It’s been hard to figure out how Tharg decides which systems to mount a full attack in and which he retreats from.”
“Well, we’ve certainly given him a beating here. Surely it will be enough,” Christy responded from the SLF control station.
“Don’t bet on it. We’ve seen systems with over a thousand kills racked up and Tharg still decided it was worth attacking. OK, approaching the next non-human signal source. It’s a threat 4, so most likely we’ll see about 4 scouts. Get ready to launch the fighter. Reverting to normal space in 3…2…1…”
A thundering boom announced the arrival of the FTM Shadowfax. Four small, octagonal ships turned with incredible agility and began firing.
“Launch fighter. Deploying hard points. Let’s show these bugs they aren’t welcome in our town.”
“Fighter deployed, Commander. What’s the order?”
Even with all she’s seen in the last week, she still needs confidence.
“Same as usual, Christy. Keep moving, give them another target. If you get a chance to shoot one of them, even better.”
“Roger that, evasive maneuvers.”
They quickly worked through the first three scouts. Rapid fire from the multi-cannons of the Shadowfax tore through the small, alien ships.
“OK, Christy, last one is all yours.” She needs this. She has the skills, just needs to believe in herself.
“You heard me,” Folco gave a quick glance over his shoulder and smiled. “The last bugger is all yours. Have fun.”
Folco watched the radar and enemy systems display as the Scout slowly went to zero hull integrity and exploded into a caustic, green cloud.
“I got it,” Christy yelled from the SLF controls.
“Well done. We’ll have you climbing the combat ranks in…” Folco stopped speaking as the communications system flared to life.
“What’s going on?”
“We’re getting multiple distress signals. One is from Wilhelm Gateway!” Folco tuned the system to the coriolis station’s frequency.
“…attack. Fires in all sectors. Require immediate assistance for defense and evacuation. Repeat, Wilhelm Gateway is under Thargoid attack. Fires in all…” The transmission ended suddenly with a blast of static.
Folco had already targeted the station and was turning the Shadowfax toward it. “Engaging frame shift drive.” He gripped the controls tight, impatient as the computer counted down.
Moments later they reverted back to normal space and saw the station. Fires flared out into the void from multiple hull breaches. The toast rack in front of the docking bay airlock was mangled. Green scarring was visible all over the outer structure.
“Commander, we need immediate assistance to evacuate station personnel,” the panicked flight control officer greeted them over the guard frequency.
“Wilhelm control, this is the FTM Shadowfax. I’m not equipped with any evacuation or support facilities. This is a combat vessel. Do you still have any of the attackers on your scopes?”
“Negative, Shadowfax. Attacking ships left moments ago in the direction of LTT-125.”
“Understood, control. I will relay the need for assistance and return when I can with a rescue vessel. Heading to LTT-125 to investigate and assist if I can. Shadowfax out.” Folco cut the communications link and pulled up the Riker class mega ship in the navigation panel.
“Christy, be ready. We may drop right into a nest of interceptors and, quite frankly, we aren’t equipped for that kind of combat in this ship. But if they are attacking LTT-125, we’ll try to draw them away and then high wake to another system. May buy them enough time to jump out too.” It worked at The Gnosis, maybe here too.
“Yes sir,” Christy’s voice trembled.
LTT-125 was also orbiting Priviatem 1, so the trip was very short. Reverting from super cruise, they saw yet another horror. Green haze clung around the ship. Green scarring was seen all along its hull.
“Commander, this is Riker Class Reformatory LTT-125. We have been attacked and need assistance evacuating personnel. Several of our life pod launchers have jammed hatches. We need someone to break them open and then scoop up the life pods as they come out.”
“LTT-125, this is the FTM Shadowfax. This is a combat ship and I am not equipped for those operations. Do you have any Thargoid ships still on your scopes?”
“Negative, Shadowfax. They jumped out just before you got here.”
A new contact warning flashed in Folco’s HUD. He began pulling up the contacts panel to check its identity when a familiar voice came over his comms.
“HAXCOM, this is the Spoiler Warning. Got the distress calls in system. Any enemy targets about?”
“Negative, Wingnut. Looks like the station and mega ship attacks were hit and run. I’m not equipped for support operations here, so I’m going to head back to report the status of the system and relay the need for assistance.”
“Roger that. I’m going to stay on station a while to see what we can do to help.”
“Understood. HAXCOM out.”
Great. ‘Report back.’ Of course, that means report that I failed. That instead of defending Priviatem, it is burning. Will we ever get the upper hand? Or are we on the defensive forever? Always giving ground until there’s no more to give and we reach the end.
“Commander,” Christy’s voice brought Folco out of his morose thoughts. “We’ll get them in the next system. This whole command structure just came into existence a few days ago. Think about how much experience the HAX Wing pilots got here and how much better we’ll be defending the next system.”
Folco sighed. She’s not wrong.
“OK, plotting a course for Mansfield Orbiter. We need to pick up a ship that can dock at Hutton Orbital. This isn’t the briefing I hoped to give, but it’s where we are. We’ll just get them in the next system. We have to.”
“Hutton Orbital Control, you are clear to land on pad 3.”
“Roger, Control. The Gray Haven on final approach.”
Folco stirred from his nap in the co-pilot seat of the restored Cobra Mk III. Turning to his left, he saw the pilot preparing for landing with practiced ease.
“Thanks again for flying out, Dad. Was already well through a night shift rotation when the call came in from Progenitor Wolf.”
“Yeah, the Hutton Run is a great way to catch a nap. Unless you oversleep and wake up .22LY on the other side, that is. So do you know what this is about?”
“Maybe, but the letter was marked ‘secret’ so I probably shouldn’t say until I know more.”
“Fair enough, son. Keep your secrets.” Sam Took looked at his son with a smirk.
Once docked, Sam headed to the Thargoid and Fer de Lance bar while Folco made his way to the Hutton Orbital Truckers Co-operative offices.
This has to be about my anti-xeno unified command proposal. Wonder who they’ll get to head it up? Maybe CMDR Graeme M.K.? He’s already busy with the Political Information Team. CMDR O.B. or Zayn Till? They were already occupied in the war with AXI and Operation IDA. CMDR Wingnut? No one could argue that guy’s dedication to Thargoid hunting.
Folco entered the conference room and saw Progenitor Wolf, CMDR Vingtetun, and his Fluffiness, Lord Alvin.
Oh boy. No pressure.
An hour later, Folco made his way back to the Thargoid and Fer de Lance.
“Hey Dad,” Folco said, finding the table where Sam was sitting.
“Sit down, how did it… Folco, you OK? Haven’t seen that look on your face since your first Pilot’s Federation exam.”
“Yeah, well, here let me start from the beginning. The reason we’re here is that I had submitted a proposal about creating a unified anti-xeno command and got called in to discuss it.”
“So, what happened? Did they agree?”
“Oh, they agreed. I believe the exact response was that we definitely needed to have a leader and then congratulated me on my promotion. Honestly, it happened so fast, it was kind of a blur.”
“Wait, so they put you in charge?”
“Yes. I’m to lead up the HAX Wing and set up a command structure. We’re going with the name HAXCOM.”
“Then we’re in good hands.”
A puzzled look crossed Folco’s face. “What do you mean?”
“Think about it. You’be been flying with me since you were old enough to reach the sticks and your Mom’s been feeding military history into your brain since you were old enough to listen. You’re perfect for the job.”
“If you say so.”
“No, Folco, you have to know it. When you walk into that first briefing, those pilots will be looking to you for leadership. From that first moment they need to believe you know what your’re doing and that you are the right person to make the hard decisions.”
“Now,” Sam continued, “I know you are the right person for the job and I know a lot of others agree. Certainly Hutton’s leadership wouldn’t have put this job to you if they didn’t believe it.”
“Thanks, Dad. I’ve got to go talk with the other members of the leadership team to determine what our first operation will be.”
“No problem. I’m going to stop by the body shop and talk with your uncle.”
“Say ‘hi’ to Vince for me and tell him I’m sorry I couldn’t stop in.”
As Folco walked away another figure came from behind the elder Took.
“Hello, Sam. Been a while.”
“Vince,” responded Sam without turning around. “Have a seat.”
The rough-looking man with thinning, gray hair took a seat at the table.
“He’s a good kid, Sam. He’ll be fine leading HAX Wing.”
Sam raised an eyebrow. “I should be surprised you know already, except it’s you. It’s your job to know these things, right?”
“Hey,” answered the old mechanic, “I’m just a grease monkey. I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Sure, just an honest shop owner fixing cracked superstructure and painting hulls, right?” Sam chuckled.
“Well, I don’t know about honest,” Vince returned. “After all, fixing super cruise wear at a place like Hutton? I mean, your ship’s in a pretty critical state by the time you’re here and where else you going to go?”
“But, Sam, you do bring up a good point and it’s what I wanted to talk to you about. Folco is starting to get a high-enough profile that you know it’s going to attract attention. And not the kind of attention we need.”
Sam shifted in his seat. “Vince, I’m not going to make him pay for our mistakes. He’s succeeded in ways I could only dream of and I’m not going to take that away from him.”
“I’m not saying you should. But you and Rosie need to tell him the truth before someone in the Empire finds a way to use it against him. Or us.”