Fiction Sanctimonious - Ongoing 3306

1st October 3306 – Baal System.

‘You’re a WHAT?’ exclaimed Davie.

The crew of the Krait, Sanctimonious II, were sat around a table outside a restaurant in the Coriolis station. Having spent the last week transporting goods for the funeral of the Late Mad Prince Harold Duval to the Baal system, they had decided to celebrate with an expensive meal. Their waiter’s deferral reaction to Mooka had surprised both Mac and Davie, so much so she had shown her latest ID card update to her adoptive fathers to explain.

‘It’s also expected that when we’re docked at an Imperial port,’ she said, with a mocking high Imperial Accent. ‘One expects that you refer to one’s self by the proper Imperial title!’

‘Do we have to doff our caps to you as well?’ Davie threw his arms up in the air.

Mooka looked over at Mac, who was sniggering behind his hand. It was obvious to her that the commander of the crew found this situation hilarious. In the six years, she had known him, she had never seen Mac laugh like this before.

‘OK, how do we address you now?’ he said between snorts of stifled laughter.

‘Actually, I don’t know,’ she admitted. ‘But, enough of the laughing! I’ve worked hard to get this title.’

Mac stopped laughing as he realised that she was a lot more serious about her Imperial title than he was. She felt a tinge of pride having achieved so much. Since gaining her imperial citizenship, she’d risen in the Imperial Naval Reserve to the rank of Baroness.

‘We’ve missed something here,’ Mac said. ‘How did you get that title so quickly?’

‘Well, I did a lot of work for “The Senator” while you and Davie were frozen in those escape pods,’ She explained. ‘I even got as high as “Knight”.’

‘That’s impressive,’ interrupted Davie. ‘But how were you able to gain rank when you re-joined this crew?’

Mooka looked sheepishly at the floor.

‘I signed the entire ship up when we were rescuing the people off Makenzie Relay during the terrorist attack,’ she said.

‘WHAT!?’ both Mac and Davie cried in unison.

She raised her head and looked at her adoptive fathers with a small embarrassed smile.

‘The Empire thanks you for your service?’ she said, bracing herself for another outburst.

‘I don’t believe this,’ Mac complained. ‘We did hundreds of rescue-runs getting people off that station.’

‘And every time,’ continues Davie. ‘We got people to safety; they promoted us?’

‘Not every time,’ admitted Mooka. ‘Only when we’d run a certain number of missions.’

‘Hang on, did we leave other people behind and only rescued imperial citizens?’ Mac asked, his expression going darker.

‘You chose the missions to run,’ Mooka shot back, trying to head off where this was going. ‘I never chose who we rescued.’

‘Look, it was an Imperial station,’ Davie quickly interjected. ‘It makes sense that most of the people we rescued were Imperial.’

‘I suppose,’ Mac admitted. ‘I’ve been taught to rescue people dependant on their needs, not their politics. I just took the first missions off the top of the board. I hope we didn’t leave anyone behind who should have been a medical priority.’

‘The situation was manic inside those stations,’ Davie tried to reassure Mac. ‘We had to be in and out before the ship fried. You helped rescue thousands. Just take that as a win. Which reminds me…’

Mooka watched Davie as he checked his ID on his wrist terminal. Mac just continued to look at her in shock. She had hoped that they would never find out, especially Mac. He’d retired from the Federal Military having reached ‘Post Captain’ and now he’d just found out he’d been working for the Empire for the last couple of weeks.

‘Hey, I’m a Master,’ exclaimed Davie. ‘That means I can buy one of those sleek Imperial Couriers. Mod those engines and nothing in the sky can catch you!’

Mac slowly checked his details on his wrist terminal.

‘I’m a Knight!’ he said flatly.

‘Does that mean everyone in the Empire has to refer to me as Master Thronton?’ Dave said excitedly.

Turning to look at Mac he asked, ‘So, do we call you Sir Mac or Sir Duncan?’

Mooka saw Mac throw Davie such a dirty look that the tall co-pilot quickly turned back to her.

‘Hang on,’ he said as realisation struck. ‘That means they’ll let you buy an Imperial Clipper! Oh man, I’ve always wanted to fly in one of those.’

It struck Mooka that despite Davie’s height, powerful physique and that glittering smile on a handsome face, he sometimes came across like an excited puppy who was discovering a new squeaky toy. Meanwhile, Mac sat back in his chair, a melancholy smile on his face.

‘Davie, I think we have to accept that our little lady is all grown up now and might be flying solo soon.’

‘No,’ Davie cried. ‘We can’t break up the dream team.’

‘Do you know how much a Clipper costs?’ Mooka tried to reassure Davie. ‘I’ll be years before I can afford one of those. Besides, I’m not ready to break up the Dream Team just yet.’

The waiter arrived with everyone’s food order and everyone was stunned by the quality of the dishes that were placed in front of them. Mooka thought back to her first couple of months on the old Sanctimonious, when she was eating rations out of the old Asp Explorer’s emergency supplies. She never could have imagined she would be eating like this one day.

She picked up a small starter and took a bite, allowing the taste to overwhelm her. A moment which was completely ruined when her comms unit buzzed alert, which was quickly joined by both Davie and Mac’s buzzing as well.

‘Well, your dear Emperor has decided to interrupt our meal,’ Mac sarcastically said, looking up from his comms unit.

Mooka reluctantly put down her cutlery and picked her unit up. There was a call for all imperial pilots to report to Eurybia system.

‘What the hell’s there?’ Davie looked back at the announcement. ‘The system sounds familiar but I can’t place it.’

‘The Empire must be going after Liz Ryder,’ said Mooka flatly.

‘They must think she made those bombs,’ commented Mac, scanning through the summons.

‘So what do we do?’ asked Davie.

‘Well, they’re requesting volunteers,’ stated Mac. ‘So, unless our Ladyship here has a compelling reason, I say we sit this one out. Besides, we know Liz. She’s got no problems making missiles for commanders to blow each other up but attacking stations? She’d never build anything to hit stations. ’

‘Master Thorton agrees with Sir Duncan of MacTaggart,’ Davie announced with a very bad impression of a High Imperial Accent.

‘I wasn’t wanting us to get involved,’ Mooka replied. ‘However, if Master Thorton decides to continue to mock my station, my rank does allow me to have him executed.’

Davie started to laugh but it tailed off when he realised that neither Mooka nor Mac were laughing with him.

‘You are joking?’ he said.

‘It’s one of the laws of the Empire that a higher ranking subject can order a lower-ranking subject’s execution, as long as they have sufficient reason,’ said Mac, in a sombre tone.

Mooka managed to keep a straight face when she saw Mac winked at her when Davie wasn’t looking. Mooka and Mac began to eat their meal while Davie just looked at each of them with a worried expression.

‘Seriously though, she can’t do that,’ he whined. ‘Right?’

Author's Note :- I'm going to try and put all the Sanctimonious Stories which relate to the present plot lines in this thread. Hopefully I'll be able to keep up better than I did with the Interstellar Initiatives.
18th October 3306 – Witch Head’s Nebula

Mac rubbed the sweat from his hands for what felt like the twentieth time. With the distress call signal source getting larger in the view-port, he glanced over the ship’s readouts again.

I can’t believe we’re going to do this,’ came Davie’s voice from the gunnery chair behind him.

Mac didn’t reply, concentrating on the approaching signal source. The ‘Sanctimonious II’, their Kriat, had been equipped with the most advanced weaponry he had ever seen. Davie had control of two plasma chargers and a Flak launcher. Mooka could fly either a Tiapan or a trident fighter, while Mac hoped he’d calibrated the two fixed guardian gauss cannons to the right range.

With a flash, the Krait appeared in realspace in the middle of a large green gas cloud. Ahead, hanging in the centre of the cloud, was a huge survey mega-ship, fires burning along its length.

‘This is the mega-ship – Achilles,’ the ship to ship communicator blared, ‘We’ve been attacked by Thargoids and we have multiple failures across the ship.’

‘Attention Achilles,’ Mac announced into the comms. ‘This is the Sanctimonious II. We stand ready to assist you. We have collection limpets to recover your escape pods.’

‘Thank you Sanctimonious but that isn’t going to help,’ came the panicked voice over the communicator.

‘We can take on survivors,’ Mac responded, slightly puzzled. ‘How’s that not helping?’

The mega-ship didn’t need to respond, as from behind one of the habitation rings, movement caught Mac’s eye. A black shadow emerged from behind the Achilles, forming the shape of a large Thargoid interceptor. The Alien ship was shaped like a flower with eight petals wrapped around a central stem.

It’s black colour, with hints of red all along the petal-like wings, reminded Mac of unhealed scars, of blood clots and open wounds. The Kriat shook as a green beam of light was thrown out by the Alien vessel, a low note of sound reverberated through their ship, as the Thargoid scanned their ship.

‘Oh Flux,’ shouted Davie. ‘It’s a Basilisk.’

The Thargoid didn’t even wait to finish it’s scan when parts of the Alien’s glowed an even deeper red and small fighter like ships emerged in an elliptical pattern from behind. Mac hit the controls to deploy their weapons, while poured power into the engines. He pulled the ship around in an evasive pattern away from the Alien ship.

‘Crap, Crap, Crap, Crap,’ Davie was frantic. ‘We’ve never managed to take out a Cyclops before! What chance do we stand against one of these?’

Fighting down the urge to slap his co-pilot, Mac turned the ship through the cloud of Alien fighters. There were small shudders as their weapons impacted against the shields.

‘Keep it together!’ He snarled, knowing he had to help get Davie’s panic under control. ‘We can do this! We’re not in an Asp anymore. This ship can take it.’

He glanced over his shoulder at the big co-pilot. He seemed to have controlled his nerves.

‘Mooka,’ Mac ordered. ‘Launch the trident and keep the big ship’s attention off us.’

‘Aye Aye Boss!’ She acknowledged.

‘Davie! Use the Flak cannon to take out as many of those Tharglets as possible. ‘

‘Aren’t they called Thargons?’

‘The only thing I want to call them is dead! Get shooting!’

‘Aye Aye Sir!’ Davie replied in a mocking tone.

The starfield span with a sickening motion through the viewport as Mac threw the ship in a desperate attempt to avoid the incoming fire from the cloud of small Alien craft. The Sanctimonious shuddered as hundred of little impacts slammed into the shields. Individually, they were insignificant. However, when there was this many Thargons, even Mac was shocked at how quickly their shields were stripped away.

There was a ker-chuck sound as Davie fired the Flak cannon. Mac was a little concerned but his co-pilot knew what he was doing. Davie triggered the flak shell just as was in the centre of the Thargon swarm. An explosion enveloped the whole swarm in a single shot.

‘Aw, Deadeye!’ exclaimed Davie.

‘I can’t keep the Basilisk off me!’ exclaimed Mooka.

‘I’m on it!’ Davie yelled, aiming the turrets at the flower-like ship.

The plasma turret’s blue bolts slammed into the Alien vessel, gouging deep wounds into the blackened skin. Almost immediately, Mac could see those holes beginning to heal, when a spot on one of the petals of the Alien began to glow brighter and flash like a lighthouse beam.

‘We’ve got a heart exposed,’ yelled Davie.

Mac turned the Krait to face the Thargoid and tried to line up the gauss cannons. With their slow charge up time and the fact you had to be pinpoint accurate with your aim, only experienced pilots could get a gauss cannon shot on target. Ignoring the incoming fire from, Mac focused on that throbbing spot of light and fired once at distance.

He got a glancing hit. The Thargoid continued to advance, this time it’s full attention on the Krait. The two-second recharge for these gauss cannons felt like forever. Mac fired a second shot, this time scoring direct hits with both cannons on the Alien’s heart. As the huge vessel got closer, Mac counted down the seconds and then squeezed the trigger.

‘Heat levels critical,’ announced the computer.

The ship communicator blared an inhuman sound from the Alien. As they passed their enemy, the petal with the glowing heart, broke off. The debris narrowly missing the Sanctimonious’ bridge. Mac was forced into his seat, as he ignited the afterburners to give himself some space. A new blip appeared on the scanner in front of him.

‘More Thargons,’ announced Davie.

‘They’re your target, Davie!’ Mac ordered.

He also noticed the scanners were showing shields around the Alien mothership.

‘Mooka? Status?’

‘The fighter is ok, I’ve taken a couple of hits but I’m still in the fight.’

‘Try and knock its shields down, while we take out this new swarm, ’ Mac commanded. ‘Don’t worry, if you lose a fighter. We have plenty of them in the hangar, just remote link to the next one.’

To Mac, the fighter bays were small engineering marvels. Each bay held a single fighter, which a pilot could remote control by telepresence. Having flown the fighters himself, the telepresence software fooled you into thinking you were actually in the smaller craft. This technology had not used when he was in the military because back then the control signal was too easy to jam. However, these days, the encryption was that good that no-one had been able to break a telepresence link.

The other advantage was if the fighter was lost, the bay would construct a new fighter in just a couple of minutes. Each bay normally had enough spare parts and material to recreate several times. Mac had made sure that the Sanctimonious had the top of the range, double fighter bay fitted. Which meant that a fighter could be launched without having to wait on the rebuild time.

Mac snapped himself back to the present; he noticed the ship’s heat was far too high. That was the problem with these new guardian based weapons, they generated so much heat, it could melt some of the ship's systems if they were used too much.

‘I’m going to drop a heat sink,’ he reported.

There was the now-familiar ‘Ker-chunk’ sound as Davie fired the Flak Cannon again. He swore as the shot appeared to explode outside of the swarm. According to his readouts, Mac noted there were 60 or so of these little ships. A second Flak shot had better luck, taking out a lot of Thargons, but there were at least still 20 left as they made their first pass over the ship.

The Krait shuddered as multiple hits bounced the ship around. The shield indicators dropped to almost zero. The bridge lit up as yellow lightning reached out from the Thargoid mothership and enveloped Mooka’s fighter. A couple of seconds later the small craft disappeared in a small explosion of white and blue.

‘Launching a second fighter,’ she reported.

‘Belay that,’ Mac ordered.

As the heat sink was triggered, All heat from the Sanctimonious’ systems was pulled from the ship’s system. The Thargoid and Its swarm seemed to lose sight of them. Both the Swarm and its mother ship began to perform a search pattern. This gave Mac a few seconds of respite to consider their next move. The yellow shield indicators around the Thargoid had almost gone and their own shields had begun to build up again.

‘What the…?’ He exclaimed in surprise.

Davie looked at him quizzically.

‘It’s the hull integrity estimate,’ Mac quickly pointed at the readout. ‘We’ve lost 15% of our hull.’

‘It’s the Thargoid weaponry,’ explained Mooka. ‘The shields are only stopping seventy per cent of the damage.’

‘Aw Fluxing hell,’ swore Davie. ‘Do you want me to call for help?’

‘They’d never arrive in time,’ replied Mac. ‘This interceptor has to be taken down. Otherwise, no one is getting off that mega-ship.’

Mac looked at the readouts, the heat levels in their ship were beginning to rise again and it won’t be long before the Aliens would detect them again.

‘Same plan as before, ‘ he ordered. ‘Davie, take out the swarm, then concentrate on the Mothership. Mooka, run interference in the fighter. If you get a shot at the heart, you take it.’

There was a roaring sound from the Sanctimonious’ comm unit.

‘I think they’ve spotted us again,’ gulped Davie.

‘Launching fighter,’ reported Mooka.

Mac turned the Krait towards the swarm, hoping to give his co-pilot an easy shot. The Flak cannon, exploded in the centre of the formation of the small craft, wiping out most of them.

‘Concentrate on the Interceptor,’ Mac ordered. ‘It will just launch a new swarm if you wipe all of them out.’

‘Aye Aye Boss!’ Davie Acknowlweded, this time without the mocking tone.

The large plasma turrets on the top of the ship opened up at the misshapen flower-like craft. It shuddered as the blue bolts slammed into it. Mac watched in amazement as he saw the hull readout on the interceptor drop, just as their own heat levels were beginning to rise to dangerous levels again. Suddenly a pulsing glow appeared on another of the petals.

‘We’ve exposed another heart,’ exclaimed Davie.

‘Our heat levels are too high to use the gauss cannons,’ said Mac.

‘I’m on it,’ reported Mooka.

While the interceptor had been focused on the Krait, it had ignored the small blue and white trident fighter. Mooka had found herself in the perfect firing position. The blue plasma bolts from the fighter hit with pinpoint accuracy. Mac watched the readouts of the heart plummet as each of Mooka’s shots hit.

There was another shriek of pain from the ship communicator, as with a small explosion, a second petal flew away from the Thargoid. Mooka, made the fighter dodge aside, avoiding the reams of fire that came from the damaged vessel. Alerts flared all across Mac’s viewscreen.

‘It’s launched Caustic Missiles,’ reported Davie.

Mac immediately threw all available power into the engines and shields, pitched the ship down and activated the afterburners. The Sanctimonious had a point defence turret, which was great at shooting down human missiles and pirate limpets. However, against Thargoid missiles, it was nowhere near effective. The only hope was to avoid and outrun.

Three green streaks flew just above the Krait, quickly turning and realigning to follow. Although the Sanctimonious had built up quite a distance, the missiles all completed their course adjustment and began to chase the human ship. Mac hit the boosters again, keeping the speed of the ship high. He noticed that Mooka was also firing her boosters, to keep the fighter within broadcast range of its mother ship.

The point defence turret had locked on to the closest missile, it’s green bolts of light hitting the missile. However, it was not damaging it or knocking it off course.

‘300 metres,’ Davie reported.

Mac fired the afterburners again.

‘250 metres.’

They could hear the point defence turret run out of ammo, with the familiar clicking noises as the auto reloader tried to replenish its supplies.

‘150 metres.’

Mac gritted his teeth, preparing himself for the impact.

’50 metres.’

Mac tried to activate the afterburners again, but there wasn’t the power left in the capacitors.

‘Brace,’ Mac ordered the crew, pulling the ship up in a high G turn.

However, there was no impact. The missiles, having run out of fuel, carried on in a straight line, unable to turn to continue ther persuit. Allowing himself a momentary sigh of relief, Mac turned the Sanctimonious back to the Thargoid vessel. According to the readouts, it had generated another set of shields and Mac knew that it still had three hearts left.

However, he had a sense that the Alien ship was getting tired. It was hard to expend that level of energy without all its hearts working.

‘Ok, you two. I’m dropping a new sink,’ Mac announced. ‘Let’s go to town on it.’

With new confidence, the Sanctiomious and it’s trident fighter bore down on the damaged vessel. The heat from the plasma turrets and gauss cannons was funnelled straight into the heat sink, so shot after shot hit the enemy craft, without causing the Sanctimonious any problems. The yellow bands of the Alien’s shields quickly vanished from the readouts and again huge wounds appear all over the ship. A third petal started to glow as they passed the Alien vessel.

Mac switched off the flight assist mode and flipped the Sanctimonious 180 degrees, flying backwards at full speed. As the Thargoid began to turn, he fired three full shots from the gauss cannons and yet another petal fell away from the huge vessel. Again the Thargoid screamed and once more, missiles launched from it straight at them.

Mac was ready this time and, using the lateral thrusters, dodged the Krait to the side. The missiles flew past them, So Mac boosted back towards the Alien again, hoping to give his crew another firing pass as they tried to outrun the missiles again.

Mooka’s fighter was darting around the huge ship, avoiding the fire that it was sending her way. It completely ignored the Sanctimnious as Davie fire shot after shot of blue plasma bolts into it. Again the enemy shields collapsed and another heart was exposed. The Alien ship turned to pursue the Sanctimnious again, allowing Mooka to copy Mac’s previous manoeuvre. With the fighter flying backwards, Mooka’s salvo of fire had no trouble taking out the exposed heart and the Alien howled again in agony.

‘It’s doing something different this time,’ reported Davie. ‘There’s some kind of energy build up.’

‘It’s going to EMP,’ Mac said.

He was already flipping through the ship’s loadout of weapons until he found and armed what he was looking for.

‘Unknown energy field detected,’ announced the computer.

Thargoid EMP bursts were the Aliens biggest weapons against human vessels. These EMP fields were known to disable the big capital warships of the Federation and the Empire, leaving them sitting ducks for the caustic missiles and other forms of attack. They’d used with great effect to attack human space stations all over human space.

Mac counted to three and activated the EMP countermeasures. A blue shockwave, spread out from the Thargoid, hitting both the Sanctimonious and the Mega Ship. Protected by the countermeasures, the Sanctimonious was unaffected by the pulse of energy but they could see the lights on the Megaship dim and then switch off.

One of the issues of the countermeasures was it could only block the pulse around a certain radius. There was enough range for ships like the Krait and it could even protect ships as large as the Imperial Cutter or Federal Corvette. However, the radius was too small to protect anything bigger, so in one fell swoop, the Aliens had negated mankind's most destructive weapons.

‘I’ve lost control of the fighter,’ reported Mooka.

‘Stay put,’ replied Mac. ‘Hopefully, they’ll ignore you!’

‘Right, let’s get that last heart,’ Davie said grimly while gripping the controls more tightly.

With the Sanctimonious’ shields barely registering and the ship integrity indicator down to just above 50%, Mac knew this was still going to be a difficult fight. He flipped the ship onto it’s back to get the Thargoid back into view. As the Alien ship appeared in front of them, it launched yet another wave of Thargons.

‘Get the swarm,’ ordered Mac.

Without Davie responding, Mac heard the Flak cannon’s unique sound as the co-pilot engaged the swarm. Mac lined up the gauss cannons and fired shot after shot. The Thargoid tried to close, trying to jink out of the way of the Krait’s shots. Yellow lightning jumped out from the Alien, catching the Sanctimonious and surrounding their ship. The power from the shields dropped and for a second mac though the engines had been lost.

‘Shield’s down,’ reported the computer.

Mac struggled with the controls, as the Thargoid tried to hold them in place. The yellow lightning was draining power from their systems, making it difficult to escape. The capacitors showed just enough power to fire the ship’s afterburners. He clicked the boost command but there was no response. He clicked them again, still no response. He altered the power priority to move from any power from the shields into the manoeuvring system and tried again. He felt himself being pressed back into his seat as the Sanctimonious ripped itself out of the Alien ship’s draining grip.

‘Fighter has power,’ exclaimed Mooka. ‘I’m moving in.’

Davie had abandoned firing at the Thargon swarm and opened up with the plasma cannons into the mothership. It didn’t take to long to expose the final heart. Mooka took full advantage of it and her fighter’s plasma weapons made short work of it. The final petal broke away, leaving the misshapen Alien ship peeling away, obviously in pain.

‘Caustic missile launch,’ reported the computer.

However, there was no time to react properly. Mac threw the ship into a desperate barrel roll. The first missile passed harmlessly above them, the second passed under the right-wing. However, the third struck them amidships on the top of the ship. Red lights appeared all across the dashboard.

‘Caustic damage detected,’ reported the computer.

‘We’ve lost the Flak cannon,’ reported Davie.

‘Never mind that, just get that Basilisk,’ ordered Mac.

Mac turned the ship back to face the Alien ship. The swarm was going to come in for another pass but as they had nothing to counter it, they were going to have to try to finish off the mothership before the swarm would destroy their ship. Blue plasma bolts slammed into the black ship, blowing huge chunks of the Alien into space. Mac fired the gauss cannons, smashing through the centre of the Thargoid’s remaining petals.

He then noticed the caustic missile’s was dissolving the top of their ship. The hull integrity was falling fast.

‘We’re going to overheat,’ exclaimed Davie. ‘We can’t burn the ship out.’

‘Keep firing,’ ordered Mac. ‘We need to take it out.’

‘But what about the heat!’

‘You get that Basilisk,’ Mac shouted. ‘I’m hoping the heat will burn off the thargoid gunk.’

The heat indicator told mac they were close to 120% of the heat capacitors, If they kept firing then some of the ship’s systems would start to shut down. Mac was taking a a chance, he’d never done this overheat trick before but he’d heard about it working for other commanders who’d fought Thargoids. He fired a couple of gauss shots into the Alien, watching the heat levels increase to almost 180%.

He saw the swarm coming back into range. Their shields had gone, the hull integrity showed 30% and dropping fast. Mooka’s fighter had just completed a firing pass, Davie’s last salvo missed due to the Alien dodge to the side again. He lined up the Sanctimonious up and headed straight for the Thargoid in a massive game of chicken. He fired another gauss shot and another, the Thargoid began to crumble and a loud shriek came over the ship communications.

Mac fired the boosters again, just as the Thargoid seemed, for a second, to contract as if it was taking a huge breath and then it vanished in an explosion of green and white light. A green gas cloud expanding from the blackened remains of the enemy vessel. The Thargon swarm was almost on them but the withering array of fire did not arrive. As the swarm passed over them, each of the little ships disappeared in a little flash of green and white light themselves.

‘Caustic substance has burnt off,’ reported Mooka.

The sudden silence after the fight was deafening. Mac looked over at Davie, who smiled back sheepishly at him. Mooka took the transference headset off and grinned like an idiot. Mac turned back to the ship readouts and saw that the ship’s integrity was holding at about 20%. Mac allowed himself a second to relax into the pilot’s chair and then flipped the ship communicator.

‘Sanctimonious to Achilles, you can evacuate. The Thargoid has been neutralised but we can’t stop another one if it turns up.’

‘That’s OK Sanctimonious,’ came the reply over the communicator. ‘We’ll get everyone away before the bugs can come back. By the way, the captain’s authorised a payment to cover all your repair costs.’

‘That’s appreciated Achilles, we’ve got a lot of holes to patch. Sanctimonious Out.’

The mega-ship opened a lot of hatches and a swarm of capsules emerged from the huge vessel. Each of the pods aligned themselves and then started to fly in the direction of the closest safe harbour.

‘Message from the Pilot’s Federation,’ announced the computer.

Mac looked quizzically between his two crew members. Davie just shrugged

‘Play it,’ Mac said.

‘The Pilot’s Federation credits Commander MacTaggart with a Basilisk Thargoid Interceptor kill. We award the Commander a bounty of 6 Million Credits.’

‘Whoa,’ Davie said but Mac waved him quiet.

‘In addition, with the destruction of the Alien vessel, Commander MacTaggart has reached the combat rank of Elite. Right On Commander!’

‘Now you can “Whoa”, ‘ said Mac grinning to both of his crew.

Author's Note :- I know the 'defend/rescue the mega-ship' scenario wasn't available in the Witch Head nebula event but you can find these scenarios in Maia and Kamadhenu (there are others but I don't know where they are). They were left over from the last time the Thargoids had a big offensive and haven't been removed from the game. I would recommend giving them a try because they are a nice twist on the Thargoid fight scenario.
28 January 3307 - Investigation.

‘Oh Man, this is so weird!’

Davie’s voice came out of the communicator’s speakers with a slightly tinny interference. Mooka was sat in the gunnery station on the bridge of the Kriat Mk II ‘Sanctimonious’, monitoring one of her adoptive fathers driving the ship’s SRV. She realised that whatever was out there was still jamming outgoing signals from the massive structure ahead of her.

At least this building is human, she thought to herself.

Although both the Guardian and Thargoid bases had automated drones flying about them, this huge building in front of them just seemed dead. There was no light, no heat and even the reactors for the facilities had gone cold. There was just the occasional blip from the main transmitter as it’s emergency batteries began to die.

‘We’re not getting a thing here,’ Duncan ‘Mac’ McTaggert said into the comm unit.

‘I’m not scared,‘ Davie tried to reassure them over the comms. ‘It’s just weird. What are the readings on the other ships?’

Mooka grimaced. They weren’t the only ship in the vicinity. In fact, there appeared to be about thirty ships parked around the huge building. The lights of many srvs buzzed about like light bugs. The distress signal has been well broadcast across human space when the transmission had been discovered by Commander Elsa Solomon as they travelled through the Swoilz XX-D c1-30 system. A ship or facility called ‘Serene Harbour’ had sent out a distress call with a set of planetary co-ordinates. That, in turn, had sparked a massive search effort until a Cmdr Russet Meles had discovered the location.

‘Everyone seems to be behaving themselves,’ Mac replied.

‘None of the ships appears to have their weapons powered or deployed,’ reported Mooka. ‘I’ll let you know if anything changes.’

‘That’s a relief,’ commented Davie.

The Sanctimonious was one of the first to arrive not long after but it was pretty obvious that the mad dash to help any survivors was in vain. On the barren airless moon of a gas giant in the R CrA Sector AF-A d42, any facility that didn’t have power for life support was doomed. With this system being over 200 light-years from civilised space, no rescue effort would have arrived quickly enough.

‘I’m at the main gate,’ reported Davie. ‘I’m heading in.’

‘Acknowledged,’ replied Mac and he turned to Mooka.

‘You expecting trouble?’ she asked.

‘Not yet,’ he other adoptive father answered. ‘But it won’t be long until someone turns up to cause some trouble.’

The contact board pinged loudly, attracting Mooka’s attention. Massive energy readings were appearing all over the system. She relaxed a little when she realised the new arrivals were privately-owned fleet carriers and not a huge fleet of warships from the Empire or the Federation. However, she knew these fleet carriers could carry hundred of ships and there was bound to be some pirates looking for an easy score amongst them.

‘I think this is a penal colony,’ Davie reported. ‘There are several buildings around here labelled, Cell Block, and then a number.’

‘Are there any communication stations about?’ asked Mac.

There was a pause from the speakers.

‘Yup, I’ve got about four of them on the scanner and a Data Link relay.’

‘Ok, Get them downloaded ASAP,’ Mac ordered. ‘We’ve got a lot of company coming and some of it might not be friendly.’

‘Aye Aye Sir,’ Davie replied in his usual upbeat voice.

Mac hit the disconnect control with an irritated slap. Mooka suppressed a smile at the way Davie was able to get under Mac’s Skin like that. Davie always liked wind Mac up about his time in the Federal Navy. Still, it was a good sign that both her fathers were in a good place since they had been locked in an escape pod cryo sleep for more than a year.

They lapsed into silence for a few minutes, interrupted only when Scanner bleeped. Mooka looked over to see it lighting up with contacts. These were the ships that had arrived with the fleet carriers. She quickly caught her breath and tried to filter through them for any that could have their weapons deployed. She quickly focused in on a wing of a Fer-De-Lances with a couple of Eagles that were pulling ahead of the pack.

‘I think we’ve got some troublemakers,’ she announced. ‘Three incoming far too hot to be landing.’

‘Davie,’ Mac called urgently. ‘Where are you?’

‘I’m at the main gate,’ replied Davie. ‘I’ll be back in a minute.’

‘Get back here faster, those ships will be here in a minute.’

They were 200 light-years from the nearest police or Navy ship. The incoming ships could destroy as many of the landed vessels as they liked and they would never be assigned a bounty or a wanted status. They were too far from any civilised system for the crime to be acknowledged. They could be just hot head pilots, out to give some people a scare. However, as she’d learned long ago, best to assume not.

‘The shields can probably take 1 or maybe two passes,’ Mac commented, powering up the weapons and shields. ‘Can you handle the turrets?’

Mooka nodded and pulled the targeting visor down over her head. It gave her a 360 view of around the Santimonius and allowed the turrets to follow the direction of her gaze. She could see in the distance the three ships she spotted earlier. It looked as if they were going to do a bombing run over the parked ships on the ground, including themselves.

‘I can see you guys,’ came Davie’s voice. ‘Get out of here and pick me up later.’

‘No,’ ordered Mac. ‘I want you aboard now and we’ll make a run for it. I don’t want to hang around here any more than I have to.’

‘Gotcha,’ replied the big co-pilot. ‘Putting power into engines and shields.’

Mooka was already working out the timings in her head, another 45 seconds for the SRV to get into position, another 30 seconds to secure the SRV, Davie to get out and the Bay to be depressurised and another 15 seconds for the engines to perform lift-off. She agreed with Mac’s assessment that these ships would get at least two passes at them. She turned the turrets towards the approaching ship and lined up on one of the eagles, which was trying to hide behind the FDL. However, she would wait until she heard Mac’s order or they opened fire with something.

Something dropped from the underside of the FDL and smashed into a Diamondback Scout. The ship vanished in a ball of orange flame. The Sanctimonious shuddered as it’s automated point defence turret open up on something else dropping from the FDL. The big shark-like vessel was lit up as the mine it was about to drop on them exploded whilst in flight.

Mooka opened fire at the Eagle. Normally, the manoeuvrable fighter would be able to dodge turret fire quite easily. However, it’s pilot wasn’t expecting any resistance from the parked ships and did not attempt to avoid the plasma bolts she threw its way. There was the flash of blue light as the first couple of hits impacted its shields, then the shields collapsed from the constant barrage.

She was surprised to see the ship begin to roll out of control and head towards the ground. It was only as it rolled away from her, she saw that one of the plasma bolts have hit the front of the ship leaving a gaping hole where a canopy should be. The other eagle and FDL suddenly broke off, realising that at least one of the landed ships could fight back.

‘I’m underneath the bay,’ came Davie’s voice over the speakers. ‘I’ve started the retrieval process.’

Both the Eagle and the FDL were completing their turns and coming back at them now. They were going to focus their attention on the only ship that had dared to fire back on them, Mooka reasoned. The FDL line up and unleashed a withering barrage of fire into the Sanctimonious. Their ship’s three shield rings quickly going from blue to red and then to nothing in quick succession.

The returned fire against the other eagle as it began to line up for an attack run. Before it got a chance to shoot, the blue plasma bolts from the Sanctimonious’ two plasma cannons battered the smaller ship around, spoiling its target lock. Both ships passed overhead.

‘I’m on board!’ came Davie’s voice screaming over the comms unit. ‘Take off! Take off!’

Mooka saw her weapon’s power drop as Mac funnelled power from the weapons to the engines and the shields. The launch indicator began to slowly rotate showing how close their engines were till they had enough power to lift off. The shield indicator had managed to gain two blue rings out of three, She didn’t know if it would be enough.

Although she couldn’t fire the guns, she could still track the attacking ships through the gun sights. The Fer-de-Lance had completed its turn and was beginning to line up for another firing pass at them.

‘He’s got a line on us,’ she cried, failing to keep her emotion in check.

‘I know,’ Mac shot back.

It appeared to Mooka that the launch indicator had slowed down, mocking their situation. The Fer-De-Lance fired, four beams began to hit the side of their Krait and she was thrown about in her chair from the impact. The two remaining shield rings began to fade quite rapidly from the hud. There was a ping from the engines.

She was thrown back into her seat as Mac fired the boosters. They were flying about ten metres above the ground. Mac pulled back on the controls narrowly missing out the tower. Mooka tracked the enemy ships through turret sights. She sighed loudly in relief. They were abandoning the chase. The other landed ships were taking off and, judging by the amount of fire aimed at their attackers, were not happy being bombed.

‘Fluxin Psykows!’ She swore.

Mac must have come to the same conclusion and pulled the ship into a level flight about a 1km above the moon’s surface. Davie burst through the door at the rear of the bridge.

‘Are they still after us?’ he panted.

‘No. They’ve got bigger problems to worry about!’

As if to emphasize that point, there was a small explosion in the distance. Mooka checked the scanner.

‘That was the other Eagle,’ she announced. ‘Looks like the FDL is making a run for it.’

‘Any Reason why they attacked?’ Davie asked, with a tone of voice that indicated he suspected he knew the answer.

‘None,’ replied Mac. ‘Probably high on Onionhead.’

‘Well, you’re not going to believe the juicy stuff I got from the Serene Harbour’s Comm logs,’ Davie said as he sat down in the spare seat on the bridge.

A list of communication logs appeared on Mooka’s head’s up display. Both her and Mac took their time reading them. After she’d finished, she relaxed back into the seat to process what she’d just read. Serene Harbour was an Imperial Black Ops Interrogation centre. They’d captured some high ranking Marlonist terrorists and brought them here to extract any information from them but they escaped.

It was how they escaped that worried her. A riot had started amongst the inmates, so reinforcements were called. A transport ship had arrived with all the right security codes but the soldiers who poured out of it killed guard and prisoner alike. Not even the prison administrator was left alive. The only people left were the captured Marloists who walked onto the transport so casually, you’d have thought they’d just been out for a morning stroll.

‘Well, Damn,’ Mac exclaimed.

‘I know, right?’ replied Davie.

‘It means that either the Imperial Intelligence Service codes have been broken,’ observed Mooka. ‘Or there are some Marlonist terrorists high up in the I.I.S.’

‘That doesn’t bode well,’ replied Mac.

‘Especially when this Superpower Summit is due soon,’ observed Davie. ‘I wouldn’t want the Marlonists turning up there.’

‘I’ll pass this onto my contacts in the Federation and I advise you to pass this back to your Senator Mooka,’ Mac said.

‘Probably won’t matter anyway,’ said Davie. ‘This will hit the news networks soon enough.’

‘It’s going to be an interesting few months,’ said Mooka, while hoping that they wouldn’t be.
17th Feb 3307 - Ambush


Mooka started as Mac hissed at both herself and Davie to keep quiet. She knew it would be impossible for sensors to pick up their conversation. However, she knew Mac need silence to concentrate on what they were doing.

The Sanctimonious II was in an asteroid belt in the HIP 54530 system, powered down and hiding next to one of the massive rocks. Their Krait MK II wasn't the only ship hiding. They were part of a squadron of smaller vessels, all of them running at minimum power to hide within the asteroids belt. There were a couple of cobras in their taskforce, a few Eagles and four Federal Gunships, packed with as many fighters as they could carry. Except for the Sanctimonious, all the ships had Federal markings of one sort or another.

The Sanctimonious crew were involved in the Federation sanctioned police action against the Jupiter Division in HIP 54530. The Jupiter Division's leader, Jupiter Rochester, had been implicated in the destruction of the Federal President's Ship - 'Star Ship One'. She was concerned about Mac. He was taking out Jupiter Division ships with almost a religious zeal.

In one of their quieter moments, Davie had explained that Mac felt it was people like Jupier Rochester that had corrupted and perverted the Federation and its ideals. One of the reasons, he quit his high ranking job in the Federal Navy. Usually, the light-hearted co-pilot would want nothing to do with an operation like this, but this was a demon that Mac had on his shoulder for too long. Being involved seemed to be a way to exorcise that demon.

Yesterday, Mac had received a call from one of his old Federal Navy buddies, asking for their assistance for a special op. There had been a quick discussion amongst the crew. Despite the fact the Feds had given them no factual information about the operation, they decided to sign on.

Mooka was a little nervous that they would just be used to draw fire away from the Federal taskforce. However, she had been reassured, not by Mac's constant panderings, but by the mass lock torpedoes which had been fitted to the Sanctimonious for free. Those were not cheap, and the Federation would never waste them on expendable operatives.

A bleep on her scanner interrupted her thought process. Several contacts had appeared at close range. These vessels had been hiding in the asteroid field, just like they were. Now it looked like they were hoping to sneak out of the belt unnoticed. Unfortunately for them, the energy they had used to manoeuvre had just given them away. She focused the scanners and got a readout on each of the sneaking vessels.

'Six contacts about seven klicks out,' she reported in a whisper. 'It looks like there are four Federal Corvettes and a couple of eagles.'

'We can take them easy,' commented David 'Davie' Thronton.

'Not until we have the order…' Mac started to say

There was a triple-click sound from the external communicator.

'… and there we have it,' he finished.

In a flurry of activity, Mac sent power to the Sanctimonious' systems. The influx of energy allowed Mooka to activate the telepresence system, and she found herself sat in the cockpit of one of their fighters. The reality illusion of being in the cockpit of their condor fighter always took her breath away. Every time she launched the tiny, winged craft, she swore she could feel the acceleration.

Scanners showed that their Gunships had launched two fighters each. However, so had the enemy corvettes. The big enemy ships lit their boosters in a blatant attempt to escape them. In the meantime, their escorting eagles broke formation and headed straight for their small fleet of fighters. Analysing the situation, she realised that their strikeforce was outgunned. The Gunships were indeed heavy hitters, but against four Corvettes, their chances of stopping them were very slim indeed.

'Hit the fighters, Mooka,' ordered Mac. 'Leave the eagles to fight it out and stay away from those big ships.'

'Yes, Boss,' she acknowledged the order.

Watching the fighters pair up into wings, she realised that she would be especially vulnerable as a fighter with no wingman. She assumed that the enemy would come after her first, so she prepared herself to go into an evasive flight pattern as soon as the enemy entered the weapon's range. Hopefully, that would give the fighters on her side an opening. The span between the two small fleets plummeted a lot quicker than she expected.

'Incoming fire,' warned the computer.

Mooka threw the controls to the left, spinning the fighter into an evading barrel roll. Beams of light passed through the spot where she'd been. She couldn't believe it; almost half of the fighters and both of the eagles had fired on her. They must have been looking for an easy kill.

She reversed her fighter's turn as a couple of the enemy passed her. She was vaguely aware of a couple of explosions in her peripheral vision, but she didn't know if they had just lost friendlies or not. She continued the turn until one of the enemy eagles came into sight. It was attacking one of their Cobras. A glance at the scanner revealed that no-one was targeting her, so she pushed the throttle to full and closed on the larger craft.

The Eagle was focused on the Cobra and didn't seem to notice Mooka's fighter moving into a firing position. She reduced the throttle, trying to match speed with the enemy as it banked and dived after its target. Her gunsights aligned, and she let the fighter's plasma cannons unleash. She saw the stream of blue bolts repeatedly hit the Eagle, its shields flaring blue with every hit. The larger ships' shields were falling but not as fast as she hoped.

'They’ve got some advanced shielding here,’ she reported on the open channel.

‘Just keep pouring the fire down on them,’ came Mac’s reply. ‘They’re too small to carry shield cells.’

The Eagle wasn’t reacting to Mooka’s attack. It was single-mindedly focusing on the Cobra ahead of it. Giving the scanner another glance, she carried on pummeling the enemy’s shields with plasma bolts. The Eagle’s target was having trouble evading, mainly because the Eagle was much more manoeuvrable. All three ships chased each other around one of the larger asteroids in a deadly game of tag.

‘Target Shield’s Failed,’ announced the fighter’s computer.

‘About time,’ Mooka grunted to herself.

Her plasma bolts had now started to hit the hull of the Eagle. Small plates of armour peeling off with every hit. At this point, the Eagle’s pilot must have realised he was under attack and tried to pull away in a hard right turn. Mooka was ready for that manoeuvre. As the Eagle began to bank away, it exposed the ship’s whole profile to her. She calmly sub-targetted the canopy and fired a salvo of plasma bolts straight into it.

There was a miniature explosion at the front of the ship; the Eagle began to roll uncontrollably and slammed into one of the many floating rocks around them. Mac had always told her, the weakest part of any ship is the pilot. If you get the chance, remove them.

‘Eagle Down,’ she reported with satisfaction.

‘Sanctimonious Fighter! Break right,’ a voice came over the comms unit.

Without hesitation, she pulled on the controls and sent the fighter into a hard right turn. The ship shuddered as a volley of fire hit her rear shields, almost wiping them out. She’d fallen into the same trap that the Eagle had. She was too focused on her target. She reversed her turn, hoping to evade her attacker a second time. She started as laser bolts passed perilously closed to her cockpit, forgetting that she was still safe inside the Sanctimonious’s Bridge.

A Condor fighter, similar to her own, was locked onto her tail. It was as fast and manoeuvrable as hers. She desperately looked around for a way to find cover. There was nothing she couldn’t get to before her fighter would be destroyed. Mac’s lessons popped into her mind; if you can ask for help and ask for it. A proud pilot is often a dead pilot.

‘Sanctimonious Fighter requesting assistance,’ she called. ‘I’ve got a bogie on me tight and can’t shake him.’

‘I’ve got you covered,’ replied the same voice that had warned her before. ‘On my signal, pull a hard left, and I’ll get him before he does you more damage.’

‘Rodger that,’ she called as she evaded yet another burst of fire.

She was trying her best, but this pilot was excellent. Her fighter shuddered as it lost the last of her shields. If the voice didn’t say something soon, then she wouldn’t be around to hear it anyway.

‘Hard Left!’

She threw the controls over as hard as she could, the fighter’s engines whining in complaint. She closed her eyes, half expecting to open them again on the bridge of the Sanctimonious. When she opened them, she was still in the fighter. There was a small debris field behind her. The Cobra she’d saved from the Eagle drew level with her.

‘Guess that makes us even,’ came the voice, which had a southern state drawl to it. ‘Fancy flying on my wing for the next part?’

‘Of course,’ she replied to the Cobra pilot. ‘Back to it?’

‘You read my mind.’

‘Attention Strikeforce. This is Taskforce Actual.’ Came a commanding voice over the comms. ‘We need Corvette One disabled; destroy the rest.’

Letting the Cobra take the lead, Mooka followed the ship round back towards the formation of Corvettes. A quick scan of the area revealed that Corvette’s had lost their fighter screen and both of their eagle escorts. They had a couple of minutes before the enemy could assemble new remote fighters.

She could also see all four gunships were focusing their fire on the enemy designated Corvette four. The enemy ship shields were depleting rapidly under the barrage of fire. The remaining friendly Condors, Cobras, Eagles, and the Sanctimonious were running interference with the other three enemy vessels. Their objectives were simple, keep the Corvettes too busy to escape and not to let them target the Gunships.

‘Boss, ‘ Mooka called to Mac. ‘Where do you need me?’

‘We’re tangling with Corvette One,’ came the reply, as a target flashed blue on the scanner. ‘Just help to get its shields down and then target any point defence, ECM or chaff launchers.’

‘Got it,’ she acknowledged and glanced over at the targeting data on the highlighted ship.

‘Cobra pilot, ‘ she called into the comms. ‘I’ve been instructed to hit Corvette 1. You up for it?’

‘Sure thing,’ the Cobra pilot drawled.

She saw the Cobra adjust its course slightly and fire its boosters to close on the target rapidly. Mooka did the same with her afterburners and pulled in tight behind the Cobra to hide from the Corvettes field of fire. She quickly glanced at the readout on the Sanctimonious. The Krait still had plenty of shields left, meaning she was safe for the moment.

The range closed a lot quicker than she would have liked. The Cobra opened up with its beam lasers, the Corvette’s shields flaring blue where they impacted. She applied a little lateral thrust to peek out behind the Cobra and got a full view of the Corvette. The enemy vessel was covered in turrets and had two of the biggest Burst Lazers she’d ever seen. The familiar bumps of the point defence were noticeable too. They were going to have to be the priority.

Three Beam lasers from the Corvette opened up on the Cobra, diminishing its shields rapidly. The Corvette itself was trying to manoeuvre to bring those massive Burst lasers to bear on the Sanctimonious. She couldn’t let that happen. She opened up with her plasma cannons, emptying half of the magazine into the enemy. She flipped the flight assist computer off, and she turned the ship to keep her guns on target while maintaining the same vector. The rest of the magazine was exhausted. She quickly threw the fighter into an evasive flight pattern to avoid any returning fire.

She allowed herself a smile of satisfaction seeing the enemy’s shields reduced to its last ring of three on the targeting readout. There was an explosion off to her side.

‘We’ve lost Cobra Two,’ one of the Eagles reported. ‘These corvettes are cutting us to ...’

There was another explosion close by, and the reporting Eagle must have destroyed.

As if in reply, there was a third, more enormous explosion glared off to her left. Enemy Corvette Four disintegrated as the Gunships unleashed their big plasma accelerators into it. The flight of four turned to take on Corvette Three. In the meantime, Mooka formed upon Cobra’s wing as they turned back in towards their enemy.

‘Shield Cell,’ the Cobra pilot reported.

Mooka swore to herself. That meant the shields were being reinforced by a unique piece of equipment within the Corvette itself. The targeting showed two rings of protection around the enemy where there only had been one before. The two of them swooped in again and pummelled Corvette One’s shields. Additional fire came from the Sanctimonious’ Turrets. She knew Davie would be making sure that the Corvette would be focused on the ship that could withstand it’s firepower longest. Again, the Corvette readout showed a single shield ring.

‘Incoming fire,’ reported the computer.

Mooka responded by throwing the fighter into a steep dive. High-velocity kinetic rounds caught the back of her shields, the impact throwing the little fighter off course. The fire had come from Corvette Two, obviously trying to help Corvette One escape. The Cobra made another pass at Corvette One, reducing their adversary’s shields so a single thin red line on the readout. With a nudge on the controls, Mooka brought up the subsystems list within Corvette One and highlighted the first point defence turret.

The Sanctimonious and the Cobra again made a pass, knocking out the Corvette’s remaining shields. However, both ships fell into the firing ark or Corvette Two and unleashed a withering barrage. The Cobra took the brunt of it. It’s much weaker shields vanishing under the weight of fire. The smaller ship took hit after hit from the enemies’ main guns and disappeared in a flash of orange and yellow flame.

‘No,’ Mooka breathed.

She forced herself to focus. Corvette One was still ahead of her. She quickly fired a burst from her cannons, reducing the point defence turret to scrap. On the same pass, she managed to target and disable a second point defence turret.

‘Two point-defence turrets down,’ She reported.

‘Great,’ exclaimed Davie. ‘Get the other two, and we can launch these torpedoes.’

She flipped the fighter using the flight Assist off trick she’d seen Mac had use many times and barrelled back in at full throttle. The commander of Corvette One must have guessed what she was doing and open up with what weapons he had available. Mooka saw her shields disappear rapidly.

She reduced the third point defence turret to scrap and attempted to target the last one. It wasn’t to be; one of the massive burst lasers scored a direct hit. Mooka was now back on the bridge after the remote link had vanished when her fighter disintegrated. She quickly called the controls for the second fighter in their fighter bay, A Taipan.

Taipan fighters were slower than the condor but more armoured. The problem was that Mooka’s present fighter’s weapons mainly were set up for fighting Thargoids, not human ships. Still, what choice did she have; it was either that or wait two minutes for another Condor to be assembled. She launched in the new fighter, noticing the Sanctimonious herself was now down to a single red ring of shields.

Requiring Corvette One, she headed straight for the remaining point-defence turret. The Anti-Xeno cannons were hitting it but not doing much damage.

‘Sheilds are down,’ She heard Davie report.

‘Ok, I’m locking the Torpedoes,’ Mac said. ‘Mooka, take that final turret out.’

Mooka knew what she needed to do. She lined up on the position of the last point defence turret and hit the boost button. The Taipan slammed into the large ship. The collision would have done negligible damage to it, but it would have destroyed the last turret. She was back on the bridge while the fighter bay assembled new fighters. There would be nothing she could do but wait and watch. Sanctimonious was taking fire from both Corvette One and Two now. Their hull integrity had already dropped down to seventy-five percent. They were only going to get one chance.

‘Lock achieved,’ reported Mac. ‘Torpedo away.’

Mooka followed the progress of the large projectile. It was slower than a missile, but a Corvette didn’t have the power to weight ratio to avoid it.

‘Hull at sixty-five percent,’ reported Davie.

‘Corvette Three Down,’ came a report over the communicator. ‘Targetting Corvette Two.’

‘That will take some of the heat off us,’ Davie said, sounding relieved.

Mooka ignored him as she followed the progress of the torpedo. Corvette One attempted to turn to evade it. However, that just gave the torpedo a more prominent target profile. The enemy ship shuddered as the torpedo smashed into its side. Mooka noticed the engines at the rear of the vessel flared rainbow colours.

‘That’s his frameshift knocked out, ‘ Davie said with satisfaction. ‘He’s going nowhere.’

‘Targeting the powerplant,’ Mac said matter of factly.

It only took two shots from the Krait’s gauss cannons. Corvette One was dead in space. With the destruction of Corvette Two, a couple of seconds later, the ambush was all over. While Mac and Davie sagged with relief in their flight chairs, Mooka started scanning through the debris. She was looking to see if she could find an escape capsule or remlock alarm from the cobra pilot.

After a couple of minutes of searching, she got a matching ping. Mac manoeuvred the Sanctimonious to pick the escape capsule, while Mooka ran down to the cargo bay to retrieve the pilot. By the time she’d gotten down to the bay, Mac had already scooped the small escape craft. Mooka repressurised the bay, ran over to the coffin-shaped object and started the activation cycle.

A couple of minutes later, a bleary-eyed man sat up from the escape capsule. He looked about fifty, bald with a long white beard.

Oh, my goddess, Mooka thought to herself, Have I just saved Santa Claus?

‘Hi there,’ he said to her.

’Which side were you on?’ he asked pleasantly.

‘Same as yours.’ Mooka replied. ‘Welcome aboard the Santimonous.’

‘Thank you,’ he drawled. ‘You the fighter pilot?’

‘Yes, I am,’ she confirmed.

‘That’s an imperial accent girl,’ He said, looked at her puzzled. ‘What are you doing flying for us, feds?’

‘Oh, that’s because one of my fathers is an ex-Post Captain,’ Mooka said, not wanting to go into the whole complicated story. ‘You’re invited onto the bridge.’

By the time the two of them got to the bridge, the strikeforce leader was giving a debriefing. A Farragut Battlecruiser was due to arrive at any moment to take the custody of Corvette One's crew, and bonus payments would be on their way to all involved. Mac turned in his seat to face the commander they’ve rescued.

‘We bring abord all the escape capsules we can find, but I wanted to thank you for looking after our daughter out there, Cmdr?’

‘Cmdr Jessie. It’s much appreciated. Although it was more a mutual saving out there, ’ their guest admitted.

‘Who do you reckon was on Corvette One?’ Davie asked speculatively.

‘Oh, that had to be that Rochester fella,’ Jessie explained. ‘I kinda heard something I shouldn’t have when being briefed by the Commander.’

‘That makes sense,’ Mac said. ‘Anywhere we can drop you?’

‘The nearest bar,’ he replied. ‘That way, I can buy you all a drink before getting my replacement ship.’

‘Never turn down a free Drink,’ smiled Davie.

‘So how come you’ve got an Imp, A Fed and Alliance all working together here?’ Jessie asked.

‘That story too long to tell here,’ said Mooka. ‘But maybe over that drink?’
12th April 3307 - Dredger

‘What the Flux is that!’

Mooka almost jumped out of her skin as David ‘Davie’ Thornton’s exclamation rang around the bridge of the Sanctimonious II.

‘I don’t believe it,’ breathed Duncan ‘Mac’ McTaggart.

In the seven years that Mooka had known her adoptive fathers, she had never heard Mac sound in awe of something. That even included when they were driving around the Thargoid bases. On the scanner, in the middle of the asteroid cluster they’d arrived in, were two massive ships.

The crew of the Krait MK II had received a tip-off, from their contacts in the Cannon group, that there might be something they’d like to see in the asteroid belts in the Perseus Dark Region KC-V C2-2 B system. However, they hadn’t been specific about what. She studied the sensor readouts.

‘There’s the missing mega-ship, The Hesperus,’ she said.

From what she could see, the Hesperus was the classic design of a massive ball command section linked by a long thin superstructure, a couple of miles long, to massive engines at the rear. She had seen hundreds of mega-ships with that design.

‘However, we can’t seem to identify the other one. It is human-built, but that’s as much as the sensors will tell me.’

At first glance, the second ship looked like a standard bulk cruiser, with two significant differences. Firstly, there were different sections, which looked as if someone had just bolted two vessels together. Secondly, and more importantly, the vessel’s front seemed to have something that looked like an intake or maw. Anything that came close to this opening was sucked in and crushed.

‘That…’ started Davie.

‘… is a Space Dredger,’ finished Mac.

‘Really?’ Mooka asked. ‘I thought they were fairy stories!’

‘I thought they were to,‘ replied Davie. ‘My Pitri would tell my sister and me about how the space dredgers would ‘eat’ stations, and if we weren’t good, they’d eat for us too.’

There was a moment of awkward silence on the bridge as Mooka suddenly realised what Davie had just said. Davie’s father had been on Donaldson station when Theta Seven and the rest of the NMLA terrorists had detonated their bombs a couple of weeks back. The Sanctimonious had rushed to the Alioth to help in rescue operations and evacuate people from the station.

Even though they had helped rescue thousands, Davie’s father was still on the list of the missing. He had searched through the wreckage himself, but neither he, his sister or their family company’s enormous resources had turned up any sign of their father. His mother held the family together in her usual stoic way, but Mooka knew that the unresolved issues between Davie and his father were eating away at the big co-pilot.

It was one of the reasons they were out here. Mac had jumped at the chance to get Davie away from the constant worry and searching through the ruined station. Davie’s sister had promised to let them know as soon as they found anything.

‘Oh, they’re real alright,’ said Mac breaking the tension. ‘Although, that’s the first Dredger which has been seen in more than a hundred years.’

‘In the Federal Navy,’ he continued. ‘We had the occasional exercise to neutralise a Space Dredger if one came into a system. Standing orders were always to assume them to be hostile. There was an incident about four hundred years ago where a Dredger went after a Coriolis station in a remote part of the federation. It destroyed the station, and by the time the navy had got there, it was long gone.’

‘So, it was true?’ Davie asked, amazed.

‘The last one was seen about 100 years ago, just on the outside of Federation space.’ Mac said. ‘But the Dredger headed into deep space as soon as it could.’

‘There must be hundreds of people onboard,’ observed Mooka. ‘just judging by the size.’

‘More like thousands,’ replied Mac. ‘They’re kind of….’

‘Incoming transmission!’ the computer interrupted.

‘Play it,’ ordered Mac.

An automated voice emerged from the communication speakers.

‘This is a message from the Scriveners Clan to all ships arriving in this area,‘ it said. ‘We claim this mega-ship as legitimate salvage. Our scouts have already inspected its interior and taken any useful cargo that remained. Its data drives have been removed and are being incorporated into the Knowledge Core that our people have sustained for decades.’

It continued, ‘The remains will be converted into raw materials for our use. The mega-ship no longer has any value to you or anyone else. Be warned! The Scriveners Clan does not communicate with outsiders. We will not initiate hostile action, but you are cautioned not to interfere with our procedures.’

‘Well, that’s generous of them,’ commented Davie.

‘They’ve got the firepower to back up any threat they make,’ said Mooka, looking up from the scanner. ‘That Dredger is bristling with weapons.’

‘Probably got a good couple of hundred ships onboard too,’ Davie speculated.

‘They probably just want to be left alone,’ observed Mac. ‘If I remember rightly, they’re kind of like living generation ships.’

‘Really?’ asked Mooka incredulously.

‘Yeah, there are thousands of people living on that ship in an enclosed society,’ Mac explained. ‘Travelling the cosmos, scavenging what they find.’

‘Does that thing even have a Hyperdrive?’ asked Davie.

‘I don’t know,‘ replied Mac. ‘But it would explain why they’re so rarely seen. They’d be generations of people living and dying as they flew between the stars.’

‘Sounds awful,’ Mooka said.

The computer bleeped.

‘I’m looking at the Dredger’s uplinks,’ said Mooka. ‘They’re using a protocol so out of date we could easily hack into their data servers, and they’d never know we’d been in there.’

‘We’d have to get close,’ said Davie. ‘But we could find out what they know about the Hesperus.’

Mac looked at both Mooka and Davie, then shrugged, ‘If they find out what we’re doing, we’re going to have to burn hard.’

‘Not a problem,’ said Davie. ‘The Hesperus’ sister ship had some contact with the thargoids. I want to know that this one’s story is.’

‘Ok, we’re going to switch off what we can and go silent running.’

‘Fine by me,’ said Davie.

‘Right, Boss,’ replied Mooka.

Mac turned back to face the viewport and hit a couple of switches. The ship lights switched off, and the Sanctimonious seemed to sigh as the shields switched off, the heat vents were closed, and all non-essential systems powered down.

Mooka remembered how scared she was the first time she’s experienced silent running. They’d been running from the pirates who had kidnapped her from Achenar. Mac had hidden their old Asp explorer amongst some asteroids and put the ship into silent running. She remembered trying to hold her breath as she could see their pursuers flying through the asteroid belt, trying to find them. The fear had gone, but the memory continued to haunt her.

She highlighted the first uplink and watched as Mac moved their Krait on a slow approach. They didn’t move too fast as they didn’t want their heat emissions to give away their position, but it felt like the ship was crawling. She watched the heat gauge; it was building but at a prolonged rate. It wasn’t long until they were practically next to the colossal space dredger and one of the small data uplinks protruding from it.

‘We’re in range,’ announced Davie.

‘Get what you can, Mooka,’ ordered Mac.

‘Yes, Boss,’ Mooka said as she operated the controls to activate the data links.

There were various pings and noises from the console in front of her. After a couple of seconds, she had access.

‘I’m in,’ she said. ‘I’ll do a quick search.’

‘Still all clear,’ reported Davie. ‘There’s doesn’t appear to be any reaction from the Dredger.’

‘I’ve got something,’ Mooka said urgently. ‘Starting to pull them down now.’

‘Contacts!’ said Davie urgently. ‘Four, maybe five small craft. Patrol pattern, I think.’

‘Mooka, How long?’ Mac asked with a tinge of tension in his voice.

‘Files downloaded,’ She reported. ‘Scanning for viruses.’

She felt the ship shift as Mac moved the ship away from the Dredger and away from the other vessels. They drifted away like a leaf being carried on a river current. When the Sanctimonious reached ten km from the Dredger, Mac took the ship out of silent running and turned away from the gigantic vessel. There was a countdown noise from the computer.

‘The files are clear,’ she announced and sent the files to the other two consoles.

Four sets of garbled letters and numbers appeared on their screens. Mooka grimaced as she looked through the files. There were snippets of text here and there that seemed to make sense, but the vast majority of it just looked like random junk.

‘Urgh,’ groaned Davie. ‘That’s going to take a while to crack. It’s not corrupted?’

‘Nope,’ replied Mac. ‘That’s gone through a cypher.’

‘I’d like to have a run at it,’ Mooka announced.

‘Sure, knock yourself out.’ Mac started to say when there was another bleep from the communicator.

‘Incoming message.’

‘We’ve got busy postmen today,’ observed Davie wryly.

Mac scanned the message,

‘Oh!’ he exclaimed in surprise. ‘We’re being offered a 2 million reward from someone called “Salvation”. If we deliver a copy of these files to Hind Mine in T Tauri.’

‘Weird, how did they know we had the files?’ asked Davie, who was also looking at the message.

‘Does it matter?’ said Mooka. ‘It’s still 2 million credits.’

Davie smiled at her. ‘All money to put together for your new ship, eh?’

‘No!’ she denied.

However, Mooka could feel herself blushing. Davie could read her too well.

‘I don’t see the harm,‘ said Mac, looking at her with a slight smile. ‘We might as well try and help out the Mooka Clipper fund.’

They were on jump seventeen when Mooka finally broke the encryption. She’d been in contact with various people over the communications networks who were pooling resources to try and crack the Hesperus files. She came running into the dining area to the surprise of Davie and Mac.

‘Got them,’ she said.

She handed over a data tablet to Mac which had the decrypted files on it.

‘We were right! Hesperus was like its sister ship. The first two logs show it was looking for Aliens, but before it could report its findings, there was sabotage. A rival company organised that. Some of the crew escaped and might have continued to explore the area. They wiped out their attackers by poisoning the Hesperus’ atmosphere.’

‘The last two logs were by an engineer who was outside on a maintenance run. Poor sod found that the atmosphere was deadly, and no escape craft left when he came back onboard.’

‘Oh, the poor fluxer,‘ commented Davie. ‘That must have been terrifying.’

‘The last log entry was found in an empty vac suit,’ Mooka said, pointing to the data slate. ‘He might have managed to find some way to escape.’

‘I guess we’ll never know,’ Mac said. ‘However, at least we now know what happened to poor Junior Engineer O’Neil over 200 hundred years ago.’
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