A Rats Tales

A Rats Tale

From Bad to Worse​

“It's great to see you, thanks for coming to help me out.”

I had just exited supercruise and before me shining bright and blazing sat a T-Tauri star. If my computer hadn't told me what it was I would have guessed I could scoop from it. No doubt the stranded Commander had thought the same.

“No worries, limpet one and two on the way.” I replied.

The black dagger shape of the Anaconda silhouette floated a little under a kilometre from my position and as I waited for the limpets to travel that distance I loaded and sent the KGBFOAM package from my computer to its.

'Fuel Transfer Complete' flashed on my HUD and I fired number three. The message flashed again and off went number four. As the fourth limpet left the tube I was aware of the “thhummpp” of a ship exiting supercruise. I tried to remember if dispatch had sent a back up just before Betty announced, “Under Attack.”

I'd relaxed after I had dropped at the Condas' wing beacon, I had thought the difficult part was over, the sound of incoming fire on my shields was an unexpected alarm clock.

“Jump. Get the hell out of here.” I screamed over the comms as I manoeuvred trying to keep the attacker between Bullseye and my client.

“What the heck.....”

“Never mind that, jump and get....” I had been about to say “us out of here” when my HUD showed that my wing mate was preparing to jump. A second later my FSD started charging up so I hit the boost trying to get a little distance away from our attacker.

“Shields offline.” Then the sound of an Anaconda jumping out of system, if the DBX I was trapped in just held together for another few seconds. “4, 3, 2, 1, Engage.”

The swirling vortex that was Witchspace had never seemed so welcoming and for what seemed like the first time since I had been fired on, I took a breath, a deep breath.

As I entered the system the client and I had jumped to almost instantly the fuel scoop started to glug down the hydrogen coming from it. Looking at the scanner I was happy to see the light blue rectangle of the client on the opposite side of the star.

“Good to see you drinking your fill. I doubt you would have got far with the three limpets I got to you. How much damage did you take and can you make it to a station?”

“I didn't take any damage, it concentrated on you. I'll make the Coriolis station here. What about you, you seemed to be taking quite a beating?”

“Yeah, hulls at 13% and most of my systems have taken a pasting.” If I sounded concerned it's because I was. Bullseye was going to be in the repair hanger for quite sometime.

“Sorry man, he must have been after a couple of bounties I have. I'll give you some cargo to pay you back.” I of course refused. I wasn't in the habit of taking payment for refuelling and wasn't about to start. The damage? That's just part of being a Rat. If the client had been in the stars exclusion zone and I had to do a TFP I would have sustained damage. Ok not to the degree I had from this rescue but damage for sure.

Thanking me once more the Pirate Anaconda headed in system and the station there in. I thought about doing the same thing but I wanted to get back to Perez Ring. Not so much that they could repair the DBX but more because I had another ship set up for Ratting there.

Five jumps. It took a little longer than usual as I was very careful as I fuel scooped, staying well outside where I would normally dive into scoop. No more sparks from the console, nor smoke but it still felt a relief as Bullseye popped into normal space in front of The Ring.

“It's gonna take awhile to fix this up Aitken. I'll have to get some parts shipped in and with things the way they are, Alliance ships will take priority.” Ambarish Ogra looked like a busy man and since I had a back up in the station I didn't push him.

“Sure mate. I understand.” I did as I glanced around the maintenance hangar. Lances, Vultures, even a DBS were being worked on. It appeared as if a military operation was happening. Ambarish had already started to walk back into heart of the metallic mess so even if I had wanted to ask what was going on I couldn't. None of my business, ask no questions and you have plausible deniability if anything goes wrong. Or even better in this case it would be the truth as I had no clue what The Allies or the Alliance were up to.

As Ambarish went one way I went in the other, he wasn't the only person to have a ship to check over.

A bright yellow cylinder with black lettering and stubby little wings was probably the nicest description of the Orca “Anthem”, my back up ship. It didn't have the range of the DBX or Conda but set up correctly it could still jump 50lys. Another thing I liked about the Orca was that for a ship that needed a large landing pad it was still quite agile.

Since I hadn't used it in the month or so that it had been at The Ring it was in need of a good pre-flight check. It was in good shape inside and so I moved to the exterior. Do you ever get that feeling that you're being watched? You catch a shadow move out the corner of your eye or hear a muffled footfall from the darkness. Well I was getting all that as I checked out the Orcas fuselage. I was happy to feel the weight of the Kamorin Replica handgun in its shoulder holster. I'd started carrying the 45 automatic just after Shoshana and I had returned from our Rares trip. I hadn't used it yet but now seemed like the right time. Yes, I could be wrong, I could be hearing things but why take the risk. I drew the steel pistol out of its resting place and turned to where I thought I had heard the footstep.

“I'm not that good of a shot. In fact if I shoot where I think you are I will probably hit you and that's not what I am trying to do.” I spoke in a normal voice. Even though the hangar was large the acoustics were pretty good so there was no need to shout.

A figure slowly appeared from the shadows. A tall fair haired man in a olive flight suit walked toward me. Once under an overhead light he stopped, his arms outstretched at around 45 degrees from his hips. His flight suit had no insignia, no patches, nothing to indicate what if any faction or superpower he was affiliated with.

“Who are you? Who are you working for? And what are you doing skulking around my ship?” I asked.

“The name's Sugar, Jason Sugar.”

“Sweet.” I quipped.

“Yeah, yuck it up Aitken. Nothing I haven't heard before.” Interesting, he knows my name, so someone sent him. “And a 'friend' sent me to find you.”

The way he said 'friend' narrowed it down to a few. I didn't think Rodger would send someone to find me in the station he controlled, so that narrowed it down to one.

“What does Mr. Smith want with me this time?” A raised eyebrow let me know I had guessed right. It seemed to surprise him that a petty criminal could be perceptive.

“I'm going to reach into my shoulder pocket and take out a small padd.” Clever man.

“Just to let you know, holding this thing makes me a little nervous so no sudden or silly moves.”

“Believe me Aitken, you holding that monstrosity of a gun makes me nervous too. I'll be moving in nearly slow motion.” Clever and careful. A combination I approved of and he was true to his word as he brandished the padd before me. “I'm going to place it on the deck and slide it over ok?”

“Sure but power it up first, I really don't want any surprises.” He made a show of turning it on and followed up by doing exactly as he had described.

“On it you will find the name of a system, a planet and a set of coordinates. Also a list of recommended equipment.” Still keeping the gun trained on Sugar I slowly lowered myself to one knee and picked up the padd. True to his word the text on it told me everything.

“Alright. I know the system, I know what's there, just what am I expected to do?” The unwillingness to go on this errand came through in my tone of voice. Yet again Mr. Smith had chosen a job with all the elements I had not been willing to explore myself.

“You're to meet up with a pilot we already have in the area and assist him in anyway you can. You don't seem to thrilled with the task at hand Aitken.” I had not tried to hide it, so it was no surprise that Sugar pick it up.

“I'm not, that's why. They haven't done anything to me. We have no idea why those structures appeared but everybody seems quite happy to go blundering and plundering in. I had been happy to leave them alone if they did the same to me but now, well now you are giving them a reason to attack me if they appear.”

“Oh they will appear Aitken and the only reason they need to attack you is that you are human. Once again you are being perceptive, yes we are after something from in one of those structures that's why you need the SRV and the Corrosive Resistant Cargo Rack.” He spoke with no regret in his voice, in fact he almost sounded proud.

“I should just plug you right now and pretend you never were here.” I should but of course I wouldn't, damn scruples.

“And you would set our research back, a little. Just until someone else was sent out, maybe not you but someone would go out to help.” With that he turned and started to walk toward the exit.

“Answer me one thing before go Sugar. Was it the Federal Navy or you bunch of shadow manipulators that have got the Thargoids to come back?”

His stride paused, almost a hitch step but he didn't stop or turn round. I guess no answer is as good as any.
A Rats Tale

Looking from the Inside

“You seem lost in thought.”

Shoshana wasn't wrong. I had been given a lot to think about. Not by anyone but by the things I had seen and of course what I was starting to realise about why the Thargoids had returned. What I'd seen?

As soon as Sugar had left I'd not been far behind. The Orca “Anthem” had not taken long to reach Maia, fitting the Corrosive Resistant Cargo Rack had taken longer. The modular construction of the modern ships made it easier than it had been in the past. Easier sure but still time consuming, even with the help of a couple local mechanics.

Blasting into the designated system I let the Orca hug the star as it filled up it's fuel tank. As I listened to the glug, glug of the hydrogen flowing through the fuel scoop I was happy to see a wing beacon glowing on the scanner. A quick glance to the scanners left showed me nothing. Whoever it was and whatever they were flying had some how been blocked.

Tank full I pushed the throttle forward till it wouldn't go and further. At around 150ls from the target planet I hit 75% power and watched the speed tumble down.

“When you get here just land beside me and we'll get this done.” The mystery man said as I entered orbit. I didn't try to hit orbital cruise straight away, we were going way to fast, so I flew over the wing beacon and when I was a couple hundred beyond did a 180 flip and headed back. Once the distance said 120km I pushed the nose down and a few seconds later entered cruise. Blam, I exited that stage of the process a little earlier than I liked and found myself 10km out. Easing the stick a little more down I got my first glimpse of this Thargoid structure. Like a whirlpool the vortex like shapes pulled my eyes to the large central spire and the solid looking mass below it. I had been to a few other sites but this one seemed bigger. As I cleared the last inner ring that seemed to form a wall the enormity of the whole site was reinforced. I dropped the landing gear and started hunting for a place to drop down as close as I could to the menacing Corvette that was already there. It took a little while but eventually Anthems gear struck solid ground or solid something at least.

“Once you are in your SRV follow me.” My anonymous companion announced.

As the bright yellow SRV I was in bounced onto the surface of the planet, I received more comms. “Have you ever been inside one of these structures Aitken?”

“No, I've scouted the perimeter of a few but never been inside.” I answered truthfully. More interested in the fact that my mysterious companion knew my name. It appeared he wished to remain anonymous, so I chose just to let that be.

“Don't tell me you're one of these space hippies that believes we can be friends with the 'Goids'?”

“Friends? Probably not. I usually don't like attacking something until it proves hostile to me. Biting off more than I can chew isn't a life goal of mine.”

“Well that's one of the reasons we're here for. Let's get this stuff and help out the guys with high foreheads to give us something useful to hit back with. Stick close behind me until I say otherwise.” With that his SRV shot off toward the structure. Mashing the throttle I hoped to keep up with him. My mystery partner was a good driver, I struggled a little but did manage to keep a respectable distance from him.

We drove up to what looked like a wall, like two hands with interlaced fingers pulling apart a door opened and in we drove.

“Handy objects this Artifact and Probe but they are eating away at this SRV. We take a left once we clear this slope. Take the first right which will take you down another slope and get the Link. I'll meet you in the main chamber. Don't take too long as I don't want to leave any of this things behind.”

We were nearly at my turn off as he finished his instructions. Again I didn't need to ask any questions and was glad that I had watched a documentary on the Thargoid Structures and knew what to expect.

Once down the slope and in the small chamber I headed straight for the portal in front of me. Right on cue the link dropped down, I'm sure the Links in the other portals did but I was concentrating on the one before me.

Blam, blam blam, blam and the Link dropped to the floor as the Plasma Repeaters did their thing. Cargo Hatch open I drove over it and listened as it was scooped in to the cargo rack in the SRV. A quick three point turn and I was heading back up the ramp. As I negotiated the ramp and turn, heading toward the main chamber I was struck by beauty of the structure around me. It looked organic, which fitted in with the stories I had heard about the 'Goids. What exactly the pulses of light running through what looked like tubes, I could only guess. Veins? And the light was Thargoid blood or electrical nerve impulses carrying signals of who knew what? I speculated that if they were electrical signals being sent to a brain, if it even had one, the pulses were of pain. It looked to me like the giant alien creation was dying or at the very least it was ill. Then again I was no expert in biology and this could be it's normal state.

“Down here.” An impatient voice snapped as I drew alongside the main chambers entrance. “Head toward the center of the room and wait by the 'machine'.”

I ignored everything that was strewn around, just as I had done in the smaller room. I was transfixed by the huge object hanging from the ceiling. I looked like a massive drilling head with each bit glowing with red lights. Below the three glowing objects were what looked like bathing pools, as I drew near a holographic image of a 'Goid object swam into view.

“Get a little closer and look up.” The Vette pilot instructed. For the looking up I activated the turret mode. Since picking up the Link the corrosive technology had been interfering with the HUD and other systems. The turret was affect also but to a lesser degree. Then all thoughts of these problems stopped in my head.

“What the.....” I stammered out as a spectacular light show started above me. A thin trail of lights spiraled their way through the gaps in the machine, the band getting thicker as they traveled in a swirling pattern to the edge of the vast chamber.

“I had to let you see that. Speculation is that it's some kind of star map. Of what we don't know but they'll work it out. What you think, you might hit on something we haven't considered.”

“Yeah I can see the map idea being appealing. Obviously not this galaxy, maybe it is, dunno. A way of conveying a message maybe?” I was still in awe as the points of light started to fade.

“Yeah we had that one too. Well the boffins can try and crack it if it is a code. Come on lets get out of here before these things eat my ride.” With that the other Scarab started heading back the way we had came. Before we got back to the ships I did have one more thought on the light show.

“Thargoid art?” I was surprised by the response.

“Yeah. Won't that be a kick in the pants for the eggheads. Checking all the galaxies, trying to cipher out a code and in the end it's just a 'Goids doddle.”

I was happy to get back to the Orca, the interior of the structure had a strange feeling to it. It could just have been my thoughts on it dying or having an illness, then again I had heard reports that they were growing so what the hell did I know. I couldn't pinpoint were the feeling was coming from, it certainly hadn't come from the multiple Scavengers that were in and around it. What they were doing was anybodies guess but if you left them alone, they did the same right back. Whatever it was making me feel uneasy I'd figure it out later.

“I'm heading for Palins' to fit another CRCR. Once I have that done I'll meet you in front of Obsidian Orbital and we'll get the transfer done.”

Before I could reply the Fderal Corvette started to rise, the undercarriage gracefully folding into the ship and with an agile that belonged to a smaller ship it power toward open space. No matter it's elegant movement it still had terrible range, less than half of the Orca I stood in. I had time to make coffee, pour it into a zero-g mug and still beat the Vette to Maia.

Beat it I did but not by as much as I had anticipated. I had to add in a few extra jumps to lose an unwanted guest that started to tail me. I'm not saying the Python was waiting for me but if it had managed to just stumble upon me in that area I hope he had a ticket for the Wyrd Lottery. I past Maia a couple of times then doubled back using different systems each time. I still wasn't one hundred percent sure if I had shaken him when I saw the bright blue star Maia, so I headed for deep space in system so I had time to run if I had to.

“A heads up for you. I'm heading deeper into Maia. Once your in system we'll wing up and then you can home in on my beacon.” I sent the message to the Vette on a secure channel and settled in for the haul.

“Roger. Do we have a problem?”

“Nope. Just making sure it stays that way.” I replied. A wing request came in as the answer. About 7,000ly out I closed the throttle and dropped to normal space, activated the Orcas beacon and waited.

I had just finished another cup of coffee when I heard the sound of a ship exiting supercruise. A glance at the scanner showed a blue rectangle so I relaxed a little. The transfer went without a hitch. The Vette jumped out heading for who knows where and I returned to The Ring.

“So what's eating at you?” Shoshana said as a follow up.

“This so called 'Goid War.” As well as musing on my recent mission I had also been reading through the Galnet. 'Attacks in the Pleiades' the headlines screamed. 'No need to panic' the Powers and Aegis shouted back. Reports about INRA bases being found and disapproval at their methods but it all seemed scripted. Following the predictable path of a propaganda holo on Gal-Holovision. I voiced my thoughts to Shoshana. An eyebrow arched from the opposite side of the table.

“It could be that they are just using unusual tactics, something we haven't seen before or lulling us into a false sense of security. I don't think they'll succeed with that last one if that's their plan.”

“Nah.” I answered although one of the things she said did get my attention. “Unusual.” I murmured. “Or something they have seen before.”

“I've seen that expression before. What wild idea do you have now”

“It's speculated that they have a hive mind. Thoughts instantly shared, maybe not between them all but certainly a Queen or whatever is central control.” Shoshana nodded, it was the kind of thing most people where talking about. “Ok so if that the case when INRA were experimenting on the captured 'Goids do you think the dying thoughts of those were sent back.”

“If that was the case then they would have known that the attack was coming.”

“Not necessarily.” I replied as the idea grew in my mind. “It was in a cage or a pit, something. It only knew that it was being held captive, injected or fed something, no idea what it was so that info would not have gotten back.”

“Alright I'll give you that one. Where's this leading too?”

“Well, we know that INRA were experimenting on them, except to them it was just humans. So if we can experiment on them and make a super weapon whats stopping them from trying to do the same to us?” I stood up and started walking toward the the hanger.

“Nothing I guess.” Sho answered the question. “Where are you going? And what are you up to?”

“Hangar. There have to be survivors from the Aegis ships being destroyed. I hope I'm wrong but if not I'm going to save some people from being experiment subjects.”
A Rats Tale

Temperature Rising​

“Cleared to land on Pad One Zero, Sisters' Refuge Control out.”

Sister's Refuge in the HIP 16813 was a different kind of station, in more ways than one. It was run by a religious order called the Order of the Seven Bells, what they worshiped and what it all entailed I have no idea. The other thing is that it is a hollowed out asteroid, just a lump of rock with a slot to get in. With clearance given it was that slot that I aimed the bright yellow Orca toward.

Apart from the appearance the asteroid station was just as good as any other space station. As the Orca was lowered into the hangar a group of the Orders members waited for the access port to open so that they could remove the Escape Pods within it's hold.

“So how many this time Brother Aitken.” One of the Sisters asked as Shoshana and I stepped out of the ship.

“Just the twelve this time. Would have been more but one of the Flower Ships got a little upset at us for taking their share of the Pods.”

Now if that sound a little nonchalant it was an act. It wasn't the first time I had seen one and it also wasn't the first time one had fired at me but no matter now many times I had encountered them they always filled with the same feeling. Fear. They scared the snot out of me. Drifting up and scanning you with that yellow green light wasn't that bad but their appearance was so alien (well duh) , maybe fear is too strong a word but they definitely gave me the creeps. It could have been because Shoshana was with me. I had tried to reason with her before we left the Ring but no, as usual she had to have her own way and here we were.

As the Pods were being unloaded I had a word with one of the repair crews supervisors.

“Doesn't look too bad Commander. End of day tomorrow suit you?” The fair haired lady asked me.

“That quick? Sure.” I replied enthusiastically. “You really shouldn't have to do this but that last one was quicker that the others I have encountered, damn good turn of speed.”

“Sounds like you ran into a Basilisk.” She must have saw the blank look I bore. “It's the name Aegis have give this new variant, it's quicker and carries more Thargons than the Cyclops. Anyway time to get on if you want this thing back tomorrow.”

As the mechanic walked away I took Shoshana by the hand and headed into the station. A couple of turns after leaving the hangar I found what I was looking for, a cafe with communication outlets.

Shoshana went to order coffee and something to eat as I grabbed a table and started to hook up the padd I had with me. As much as I had tried to get her to return to the Ring I must admit it had easier with her to help. After retrieving an escape pod Shoshana would go to the hold to check it over and make sure it was stowed safely. While she was doing that I could continue with rescue operations, keep an eye on the Goid or as like the last time, run. The Orca was one of the better ships for the 'Brave Sir Robin' due to it's excellent speed and with the thrusters upgraded by Prof. Palin it was even better.

“Aitken, where have you been for the past two weeks?” Gabe Wyndham sounded relieved as he spoke to me.

“Sorry old man I've been a little busy. Got this crazy idea that the Goids were using humans for experiments. So with them picking up pods I thought it would be a good idea to beat them to the punch.”

“Alright but experimenting on them for what reason?” My Dads old friend asked.

“To do to us what we did to them, make a virus or a plague to hit back at us. Heck now I think about it the Cerberus plague could have been their first attempt. ”

“Again a possibility. Have you voiced your concerns to Aegis?”

“Yeah. They were thinking along the same lines or something similar as they put out a call for pilots to collect and then deliver pods to one of their stations out here.” I took a sip of coffee as Shoshana joined me.

“Hello young lady, didn't think he'd be so stupid to put you at risk.”

“You can't blame Aitken for this Gabe. I wouldn't let him leave me at home.”

“I'm sure he didn't try very hard to dissuade you, anyway. So you've been working for Aegis have you?”

“Just for a couple of days, as soon as I could I got back to delivering here at Sisters' Refugee. I don't trust that Aegis organisation very far. They feel like INRA light to me but with added Alliance for extra conspiracy points.” Gabe kept his face deadpan before his next words.

“I know you have done a little research on INRA so I'll take your word on that but talking about them. The ship that fired the Mycoid missile has been found. A vintage Cobra Mk. III. I have a copy of the logs that I'll send you. Let's just say that it doesn't paint INRA in a good light.”

“Very little does make INRA sound good Gabe.” I paused as the audio logs installed on the padd. “I'll listen to these later. You know, I don't like the way I'm feeling about all this. Something just doesn't sit right.”

“I hear you. Kinda feels like we're all being played.” The old man said nodding. “So many players and pieces in play we probably are missing some things.”

“Yeah, I just wish we knew what those things were.” I answered before taking a bite out of the sandwich Shoshana and brought for us.

“Well if we knew them they won't be missing would they.” Gabe answered matter of factly. I couldn't answer as my mouth was full and because he was right. “Well you listen to those logs when you get the chance and remember to check in now and again. Things are quiet this close to Sol but that could change.” I promised to check in with him on a more regular basis and then he cut the connection.

“They sent him to his death.” Shoshana said after the fourth log faded out. “That INRA, sure sounded like they were evil.”

“Were?” I asked.

“They disbanded, you think they're still around?” It was her turn to ask a question.

“Yup. An organisation that big with the amount of power it held doesn't just disband. I think they just went underground. Slinked into the shadows and waited for the right time.”

“I can see that happening sure. So you think that Aegis is just a front for them?”

“No.” I shook my head as I spoke. “Aegis I think is a honest attempt by the Super Powers to work toward a solution. Aegis are more than likely being used by INRA , played. They're still in the shadows cast by Aegis.”

“Are you guessing or do you have real proof?” A slight hint of concern crept into her voice.

“No proof. I'm just guessing. Adding two and two together and probably coming up with five.” I gave a shrug.

Gabe must've hit my conscience as I spent some of the 18 hours downtime getting in touch with those close to me. Mum was fine. She and Shoshana spent an hour catching up. Emma was now in Imperial space and flying a Python doing honest trading as she called it. Cleo seemed unconcerned about the Goid Threat. Kev and the family were doing well and that only left Robert, who for some reason I could not get a hold of. I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't concerned but knowing who he worked for, it also didn't surprise me. I left a message at his office. All that left me doing in between calls was checking up on the Orca. I made a point of only visiting a couple of times. I have never known a mechanic who enjoyed being checked up on, a couple of times was alright by them but making it a regular habit never went well. So I tried to leave them to it for the most part.

The 18 hours were relaxing, just the break from the frantic scooping and evading we had been doing. So it was two revived humans that entered the hangar to reclaim the newly repaired Orca. The sounds of industry and repair slowly ebbed away to silence as one by one the maintenance crews became aware of the breaking news bulletin that appeared on the few screens in the hangar bays.

“Hades, that's The Oracle!” “Their attacking stations.” “The reactor, their hitting the reactor.”

A few other words filtered through the hushed muttering of those in the hangar area. I just stood watching as the horror unfolded before us. The image cut to a worried looking announcer.

“As you have just witnessed ladies and gentleman the Thargoids have finally shown their true intent. They have sent a new type of Interceptor, codenamed Medusa by Aegis, to cause havoc to three new stations out in the Pleiades. Aegis have sent out a call to all Independent pilots to help evacuate the affected stations. This desperate and cowardly attack will be met....”

“Is this a Federal or Aegis feed?” I asked Shoshana.

“Federal I think.” I nodded and was not the least surprised due to the tone being set by the announcer.

“Come on, I'll pay for the repairs to Anthem and then we'll go.”

She didn't even ask where we were going, she knew as soon as we both had seen the attack where our next stop would be. She did however set off in the direction that we had last saw out mechanic, I hung back still looking at the images of the Medusa that were now being shown. I didn't think it was possible but this latest variant was even uglier and scarier than Basilisks. With one last glance I headed toward the two women standing beside the bright yellow Orca.

The heat was intense I was sweating just standing by the entry door of the Orca. It was more intense on the flight deck above. The heat was creating strange air currents and up-draft thermals that had caused me to sweat for different reasons. A harassed sounding flight controller had granted landing permission and had been warning all inbound craft about the heat. I had even tightened my seat harness but I was still shocked by the fury and power of the explosions that rocked the ship.

“That's us full Aitken.” Shoshana proclaimed from the interior.

I turned to tell the next person in line that they would have to wait for the next ship. Standing there was a young guy holding what looked to be a bunch of rags in his arms. The rags gave a cough and I saw that it was a young girl, she must have been about three or four.

“Don't tell us no mister please. She ain't doin' so well.” I looked into the cabin again. “Please Commander, we lost her mother in the attack and I don't want to lose her too. I need to get her to a doctor soon. I can pay if I need to man, please.”

I thought about asking someone to get off for him but the panic and terror that had shown on most of the faces told me no one would volunteer or be told to do that.

“Listen and listen good. “I told him as I pointed to a jump seat at the back of the cabin. “It's only got a lap belt so hang on to her tight as the flight out of here is going to be bumpy.”

“Thank you, oh thank you.” Once he and his daughter were in I closed the hatch and headed to the pilots chair.

“We're over weight you know.” Shoshana told me as I strapped in. I gave a shrug and started the start up sequence. “That was a sweet thing you did there.”

“Yeah well, we'll see how sweet it was once we hit the air up there.”

“We'll be fine. I hear we have a good pilot.” Her smile and light-hearted tone seemed to take a little of my worry away as the elevator began to move.

“Pffft. He's lucky, dunno about good though.” I replied as we received clearance to lift off.

I had never been so happy to have fitted A grade thrusters than I was at that moment. The rocking and buffeting may even have helped lift the narrow Orca but it still wasn't a smooth ride. In a Beluga, Conda or any other ship with a larger plan profile it must have been worse. Once up to the level of the slot I only opened the throttle half way as a huge piece of the stations superstructure floated past us. Once clear of the debris and with the ships temperature rising I dropped a heat-sink and hit the boost. Anthem rocketed out of the slot and past the toast rack before another thermal could push us off our route. Then once in supercruise I kept the throttle wide open and a few seconds later we were dropping beside the rescue ship.

A medical team were waiting to meet the ship as it descended into the mega-ship and rushed in to help the injured. I watched as the the kid and her father were led away into an uncertain future.

“They'll be fine, she has some smoke inhalation but otherwise she's good.” Sho spoke reassuringly.

“Yeah but growing up with out her mother is going to be tough. That's if she gets to grow up.”

“Those are problems beyond the medical teams responsibility. Beyond ours too. We can only do our best.” A thoughtful expression appeared on her face and I knew that she would be thinking of her own kids.

“I'm sure their fine. Quivira is not in any danger that I know of.” She nodded and gave my hand a squeeze.

“Well Fly Boy we're not helping anyone standing here shooting the breeze are we? C'mon lets get back to The Oracle and get some more survivors.”
A Rats Tale

Wyndham P.I.

'You're taking my cargo and transporting it in that bucket of bolts?”

With each word the tall, blond haired gentleman before me jabbed a dirty(ish) finger in the air. Well the first jab was at me, the second at his merchandise and the third was at the T6 Transporter sitting in the hangar we stood in.

“You'd be surprised at how little that bucket of bolts gets scanned.” I replied, a little put out that my competence was under question. Ok not mine but definitely my ships.

“That's the point, I don't want you to be scanned at all. If you fail to deliver those....” I held up my hand and butted in.

“I don't need to know what the cargo is. Probably best I don't know.”

“Alright. I just need it delivered with no complications. If you fail there will be.....” Once again I held up my hand.

“I'm well aware of the cost of failure but that's not going to happen.” I started to think by his expression that he didn't get interrupted often.

“Make sure it doesn't.” With that threat hanging in the air, he headed toward the group of workers loading the ship.

I'd dropped off Shoshana at the Ring. A few hours later Gabe had got in contact and asked me to get over to Atagat. No hurry he said. That suited me fine as I had been planning on visiting a potential new client, that just happened to be close to the route I would be taking. So I hopped into Horse and set out.

Slough Orbital sat about 440ls from the entry star Vesper-M4. I'd spotted it just before the Pleiades Sector had blown up, well six Aegis stations at least. I liked to keep a lookout for Anarchy systems as they could be quite lucrative, if you didn't mind dealing with shady characters and cargo.

Chief WM Conner and his goods certainly seemed to fit both of those criteria. It would be a short hop as the Othime system was close and the only station there was Levi-Montalcini Dock, that was just under 1000ls in.

“Well done Aitken. If you would like more work drop in when you can.” The unshaven, blond haired holo-image said as the 'goods' were being taken off the ship.

“I might just do that. Do I ask for Bill or William?”

“Chief Conner will do nicely. Thanks for your service. Credit transfer is complete. Till next time Cmdr.” The image winked out and I was left chuckling.

You may have noticed he didn't say anything about the bucket of bolts. A lot of pilots dismiss the T6 as a stepping stone to the next, usually bigger, ship. In their own way they're right but for smuggling loads below 100 tons it excels. Looking like a brick with thrusters is the very reason it doesn't get scanned often. That and the fact that the are prevalent and well, to tell the truth boring to look at. Job done, new contact made, that just left meeting Gabe in Atagat.

“You want me to do what?” I blurted out as I sat in Gabes living quarters.

“You heard. I want the logs from all the INRA bases that have been found. No not copies from the Galnet but originals.”

“That's no small job. From what I've read they're spread out and definitely need an SRV.”

“Yeah, I'd leave that part to you.” That statement got my attention.

“You want to come with me? Whoa when was the last time you left this station?” My mind was scrambling to go that far back.

“June 3272 if I remember it correctly.” A slight smile crossed his lips as a memory breezed through his mind. “I wouldn't leave now but I want to check out those logs before they go through all the connections they need to before I get to them. I also want to see those bases.”

“Alright. Hmm, gimme a little time I will have to arrange a few things as Horse doesn't carry a SRV.” With that I stood up and headed for his computer terminal.

“Good grief young man we don't need anything this grand.” Gabe and I stood on the bridge of the Anaconda 'December'. It had everything and more for his little jaunt. Twin SRV bay, fuel limpet and hull repair limpet controllers, AFMU even though I hardly used it. December was used for long distance exploration usually, so having a small back-up seemed like a good idea. Separate cabins so if one of us need privacy, we had it. Oh and a 50ly plus jump range to make the time a little shorter. Gabe was flicking through the systems like the old pilot he was.

“What armament does it have?” He sounded a little bemused.

“None. Well it has a heatsink launcher, don't think that counts.”

“You're right it doesn't. It'll do I guess.” He gave a small smirk and headed for the cabins. “I'll take the starboard one.”

“Sure. Stow your gear, I'll lay in the course for our first stop. Get some rest we'll leave within the next few hours. I want to check out a few things. This could take a couple of days.” If not more I thought to myself.

“You have clearance to depart December. Follow the greens on your way out.”

“Landing gear retracted.”

Flight control and then Betty, the on board computer, reinforced that the journey was under way.

From Atagat to Hermitage was only a couple of jumps. I was sure that all members of the Pilots Federation had access to the IRNA base locations, if they knew were to look. Both Gabe and I did so having the list of the ten bases, with names and coordinates should have made it easy, well easier. I left the surface navigation to Gabe so I could give all my attention to flying.

Bursting into the system we were greeted by a dirty brown looking star.

“We can't scoop that can we? Will that be a problem?” Gabe sounded a little concerned, showing that it had been a while since he had been out in space.

“No, we're good. Plenty of reserve in the tank.” He gave a small nod with a smirk.

“Planet 4A is our target.” At a little under 1,200ly out it wouldn't take long to get there.

As we got closer Gabes attention remained glued to the read outs the ship was receiving.

“Think we got it. Transferring the data to the forward scanner, it should show up in the nav panel when we hit orbital cruise.”

True to his word as we reached the required distance of the icy body “Hollis Gateway” popped up. We were close to it but travelling over speed to try orbital glide. I watched as the solid dot on the forward scanner morphed into a hollow one. Knowing the Anaconda as I did it was at this point that I started to pull back on the stick. By the time the 180 had been pulled our speed was below safe limits and the base was long behind us, so I start to slowly increase power to the engines. With everything looking good the long snout of the Conda dipped till it was pointing straight at out target. BHAM. When the the speed hit 2.5 a blue haze entered my peripheral. BHAM. The nose eased up a little and we watched the distance figures tumble down until we jarringly exited cruise 14km from the base.

There it sat, surrounded by a small carter in an undulating sea of frozen rock. Right here at this point I started to think I should have taken a smaller ship, but I hadn't and as the landing gear came down 500 meters above the surface the ship icon turned blue. Hmm, maybe it wasn't such a bad idea after all.

“What you're looking for is the Settlement Comms Log Uplinks.” Gabe reminded me for the third time as I headed for the SRV.

“I got it, really I have.” I gave him a mock salute as I left the bridge.

It looked like what it was. Modular housing and labs, horizontal and vertical tanks and the ever present communications towers. I'd seen places like this before but never deserted and never with the IRNA logo covering them. It was eerie. These should have been temporary but for whatever reason then had been left intact, for the most part. As I drove round looking for the uplinks I saw what looked like corrosion on the tanks. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn't and I sure as hell wasn't getting out to check.

I found and scanned the first uplink I came across. The numbering indicated 3 of 4. Ok three more to go. Zipping in and out the alley ways between the structures it didn't take long to recover all four. I left the data untouched as I wanted Gabe to be the first to listen to the logs. It was his idea after all and I didn't want to be the one that ruined it for him. He wanted the original untainted logs. What better way than unopened.

As soon as the SRV was back in the bay the logs were available through the ships computer and so it was not a surprise to see Gabe listening to them as I walk back in.


“So far everything sounds the same. But I'll want to check it all again when I get back to Atagat. My instruments are better suited for the task, more sensitive, no offense.”

“None taken Old Man. This thing isn't built as a spy ship....” That's all I got out as a klaxon type sound and a red light filled the cabin. I saw Gabe go pale and smothered a laugh as I waved at him.

“It's alright Gabe I know what this is.” I reassured him as I stepped toward the comms panel. I checked the destination and called my jumps for the Ratsignal.

“Aitken here Dispatch, 4 jumps out.” As I passed on my position from the stranded pilot the December was already up and tucking it's landing gear away. Gabe was strapped in and watching all that was going on. At 2.2km from the surface the Condas FSD started to charge. With the nose at an angle of 50 degrees and full power pushing the large ship up Betty started her countdown.

At each jump the 7A fuel scoop drank it's fill without slowing down and as soon as the stars hologram icon turned orange the FSD was charging again.

FR+ I told Dispatch to let them know the comms connection was good.

WR+, connection had been established and I was in touch with the client. Dispatch replied to keep him up dated.

“I have the beacon Spatch, 144k out from entry star.” I informed Wollheim Control. A simple “Roger” answered me. All good, all calm. Seven or eight minutes to reach the fuel less pilot.

Then like getting kicked in the pants the mighty Anaconda dropped from supercruise and slowed dramatically. I hoped Gabe had his belts tightened as I targetted the blue rectangle that had shown up on the scanner. Before we had come to a rest two limpets were streaking for the Sidewinder. I sent the KGBFOAM package to his nav computer after calling fuel + to Dispatch. The next few minutes were spent answering questions and giving some helpful advise. The top one being to fit a fuel scoop. A little wiser and with a little more experience the rookie pilot jumped out on his way to his destination.

“That went well.” A voice from behind me piped up. “Does it always go that smooth?”

“By the book and no they don't. The one I did before this was, tricky would be a good description.” He nodded so I continued telling the tale. “I had been out to Sag A, cos I could and to try out a new ship, an Orca. I had planned in heading in the opposite direction but I was closest to the signal so went for it.”

“How close was closest?” Gabe interrupted.

“A little over 3k. That wasn't the tricky part though. I plotted a course to a star close to the client and set off. Reaching my target star I discovered that he was so far 'down' that my star was still 300 or 400ly short and stars down there were sparse. So every 40 to 45ly jump only got me 5ly closer to him. I eventually got to a star 80ly from him after an hour and using jumponium. It worked out in the end.”

“You guys don't sound like you give up easy.” Gabe replied after listening.

“We're in it to save people, whatever it takes.” I gave a grin to show I wasn't being defensive and then asked my question. “Where next?”

“HIP 15329, body A 3 C so a moon of a larger planet or gas giant.” I signalled for Gabe to lay in the course and started to get December moving.

“Is that the reason you delayed the take off? Course laid in.”

“Yeah, I was having 32 limpets loaded in. Only takes four or so light years off our range and as you just saw, worth the wait.”

“Indeed.” The older man remarked.

We started jumping. The rescue had taken us off out intended course but that was all to the good. It allowed Gabe the chance to see more of what modern FSDs were capable of compared to those in his era.

Everything went as it should and as we exited orbital cruise the base was directly in front of us. Stuart Retreat was quite an impressive sight. Not the buildings as they were much the same as Hollis Gateway but it's location atop a plunging cliff face looked rather dramatic. Landing again proved to be uneventful, much to my surprise. I didn't hang around as I collected the logs from each uplink. There was something about the sites that gave me an uneasy feeling, I couldn't pin it down but well, something.

“Hmmm. Again sounds the same. No name give, no form of identity. At least the first ones had a name attached. Not to worry. On to the next one?” I nodded and Gabe lay in the course for HIP 7158. Our final target in that system was another moon A 2 B.

Hogan Depot was a little difficult to find. Not because Gabe didn't find it using sensors but because it was on the dark side of that body. The buildings were similar to the other two sites and again I didn't hang around to sightsee the base. The headlights of the SRV shone on the INRA logo that was everywhere and that was enough to spur me on.

I laid in the course for HIP 59382, 1 B as Gabe listened to the three latest logs. Our jump out point was below the horizon as we roared away from Hogan Depot. We were in no hurry so I held the direction we were travelling in until we completely escaped from the gravitational pull.

As if on cue just as I had lined up with the jump point and activated the FSD the bridge was bathed in a red light and a klaxon sound started to be emitted. As I cancelled the jump I looked over to Gabe, he'd learnt the first time and had no sign of shock at the interruption. I pulled up Galmap and checked the distance to the system given.

“Aitken to Dispatch. Five jumps to Case eight.”

“Roger Aitken, this ones yours. Dispatch out.”

With the course replotted I dipped the nose of the Conda down and to the right and had the new vector lined up just as Betty began her countdown.

“Sorry Cmdr I just lost track of the stars I was jumping into.” With communications established talking to the stranded client was a good sign.

“No worries, it happens. I'll be there in a couple of jumps so hang in there and we have some info that should help you out.” I felt confident that everything should be fine as I jumped into the target system. The bright blue wing beacon showed up immediately, a little close to the star be not in the exclusion zone, so all good. I flicked the nav lock on and we dropped.

I had the ship targeted and four limpets on the way before I switched on the Anacondas lights.

“Geeezzz, what the hell.” A small startled scream came from Gabe. He had just looked up as the lights shone on a purple Federal Corvette. “Sorry, I didn't expect to see that large a ship.”

“Yes, it's not always Sidewinders.” I told him, hoping it was a reassuring tone. I fired off another four limpets and the KGBFOAM package for his nav computer. We chatted for a while and I became convinced that the package with it's guide to setting up route filters would help him out. Gabe and I watched as the Vettes systems came on line and then jumped out.

“HIP 59382 here we come, I hope.” Gabe commented as we started to jump out.

Mayes Chemical Plant was pretty much the same as the other sites, except it seemed to also have missile silos. Why? No idea and there was no one there to ask.

Valasquez Medical Research Center on LP 389-95 7 was next, here I started to see another pattern. All the bases so far were either in a crater or a valley. Hidden but not too well hidden. Happily I was glad to see no silos at this base.

As we touched down on Conn A 3 A the first thing we noticed was the lack of tanks in Almeida Landing. Once I had retrieved the uplink logs it became clear why.

“So this was an engineer base messing around with Thargoid tech.” Gabe informed me as we listened. As the final word from the sixth uplink faded away I turned to Gabe.

“Let's look up the authors of these logs when we get back to Atagat to see what their fates were.”

“You're thinking along the same lines as I am. I will not be at all surprised if there are reports about some of them having an accident.” Gabe grimly reflected. “Come on Alnath A 2 AA is next up.”

Leaving the blue red icy ball felt good. INRA were obviously not the nicest of people. I don't believe it started out that way but power, greed and a sense of desperation had crept in at some point.

Things got even grimmer when we landed by Klatt Enterprises. As I hunted for the uplinks I came across 'The Pit.' It appeared to still have Thargoid parts in it. Ok let me be straight, I'm not pro or anti Thargoid. Sure they've shot at me a few times but I was probably to close and they looked upon me at that time as a threat. I also have no problem with firing back at them, heck we were in a sort of war with them but after listening to the chilling voice in logs I had some sympathy. They had tortured and used them as lab experiments at this site, again INRA was showing itself in a truly horrible light. I know it was a real war back then but this was just a step too far.

We sat in silence as we left the crater, lifting over the lip the only sound was the growl of the thrusters. As Gabe entered our next destination, HIP 12099 popped up on the nav panel. Three jumps later 1A was shown as the target and then Gabe spoke.

“Got the base, it's call 'Stack'.”

Deep in an icy ravine sat the base called 'Stack' and as we glided in I saw a familiar shape with in it.

“We got another Pit Gabe.”

It looked like the same lay out as Klatt Enterprises had been used here. Four octagonal holding pens grouped in twos with a long rectangular building down the middle of them. That building lead to a ramp which led to the Pit. I didn't hang around, I found the uplinks got the logs and got back to the December as quick as I could.

Listening to the logs made our uneasiness worse. Not because they were chilling but because then sounded normal, as if the person recording it was just reading out a grocery list. Perhaps to them they were.

“Sometimes the human race disgusts me. To take a sentient, highly evolved species and subject it to torture and painful experiments.....I don't have the words, I really don't.”

“You'll get no argument from me.” I replied over my shoulder as once again we lifted off. We had known what was in the logs, if they hadn't been altered, before we got to the bases but to actually be in them and listen as we looked over the sites being spoken about brought it home and brought it home hard.

“Thargoids have attacked another three stations. Most of the nine have been Aegis stations. It looks like they might be looking at them as they did INRA.” Gabe must have been reading Galnet. “I'm not sure if they're that evil yet but I don't think the Goids aren't going to let them get that big.”

“Snuffing out Aegis before they become a problem. I'm not convinced that's the answer. I still think INRA is out there. Taking down Aegis might not be such a good move.” I hit the FSD for the first jump of two, HIP 16824 was next.

“So they laid a trap for them here and it blew up in their faces.” At each base since Conn Gabe had become grimmer and grimmer. To tell the truth I think both of us had. Which led to my next remark.

“Maybe it was supposed to.” That produced a questioning look from my older companion. “I didn't hear anything about the Mycoid being used.”

“This could have been before it was developed.” He paused and looked at the read out that went with the logs. “Dammit, didn't these people believe in dating stuff. Not sure it makes much of a difference.”

“Not to us sure, but we weren't here whenever it took place.” I had one last look at Carmichael Point and then started to prep the Conda for take off.

In a crater within a crater, at the end of a dead end valley and hard against a sheer cliff face sat Taylor Keep surrounded by defensive turrets and I mean surrounded. INRA had made sure that nothing that they didn't want to come in could. Not Goids but human ships would be toast if they had not obtained permission to be there. It was a dark and moody setting for the base and the uplink logs did not disappoint that feeling of dread that the place gave off.

Once again I tried to spend as little time as possible in and around the abandoned base. I weirdly found myself slowing down a little as I approached the long dead turrets. I did sit on the landing platform for a little while imagining what the place had looked like in busier times. Lights blazing to guide ships into land, SRVs bustling about, the office windows of the tower block shining as INRA personnel went about their business. December was to big to fit on the pad so we had landed outside the compound. I found the three uplinks, downloaded the logs and scurried on back.

“They sound the same.” Gabe said spinning around in his chair to look at me. “Setting Jameson up doesn't sit well with me.”

The anger we had both felt over the treatment of the captured Thargoids had cooled a little. C'mon it was war and a war mankind was not doing very well in. If you or I were faced with the dilemma of knowing how to defeat a superior foe by questionable methods or allowing the human species to be wiped out. What would you do? Listening to the logs and doing a bit of reading about those not too distant times gave me the impression that the Goids had no such misgivings about wiping out mankind.

“What they did to the Goids was nasty and debatable if necessary but deliberately setting up one of your own.” The old man sat talking to me but also debating with himself. “I don't know Aitken, it's not something I would liked to have been faced with. The whole business is just unsavoury and here we are years later faced with the same dilemma and the same mistakes seem to be happening.”

“That's why I'm happy I'm just a pilot. I'm sure they justified it to themselves. Might even have given themselves a pat on the back. For the Goid stuff sure, it's questionable but I'm sure in their minds it was the best way to deal with them. What they did to Jameson. That's murder.”

We had been sitting talking and listening to the logs for a while and night had fallen. Looking out into the darkness with no outside light we could see nothing.

“I know this is the last base we have listed but I think I know where we should go.” I nodded to the old space pilot. I left the lights off, Taylor Keep remained in the dark so neither one of us saw it as we lifted off.

This was the time when I was sorry I hadn't taken a ship with a smaller footprint. It took a little while but I did manage to set down with the Anacondas lights shining on the downed Cobra Mk. III.

“We're gonna need a smaller boat.” I caught the quietly spoken words from Gabe. They meant nothing to me but I guessed he was trying to lift the gloom he felt. I did pop out in the SRV to get the logs from JJ-386. I know that Gabe sent me the logs, perhaps he didn't trust the source he got them from but we were there so we got them again.

It felt like I was disturbing a grave, even though there was no body left to find. It was a sombre and thoughtful smuggler that returned to the Conda. As Gabe started to listen to the retrieved logs I tuned out. Not that I wasn't sympathetic to Jameson plight but there was only so many times I could stand to listen to it.

“What next for you?” Gabe inquired.

“I'll take you back to Atagat, then head over to Shinrarta. Dust off dads Mk. III and pay my respects back here. After that not sure but I feel we are missing some. What that something is I dunno.”

My thanks to all those Cmdrs that had the time and patience to discover the INRA Bases.
Ground Work – A Rats Tale

“Lookin' for a good time Spacer?”

She was in her early to mid twenties. Two or three inches taller than me, nice figure and good looking. The oldest job known to man or in this case, woman they called it. Prostitution while not exactly legal in Alliance space, it isn't exactly illegal either. A nod, a wink and the right palm greased and it's all good. It also wasn't my cup of tea.

Continues Here
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Smash and Grab

“We've given you a discount this time.”

I was paying for the twenty two units of Kitten Brand Coffee at Kirk Dock, CD-75 661. This was the third stop of three and the station I had decided to have lunch at. Such generosity also led me to as ask a question. Why?

Click here to continue
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