I sat alone in the Gnosis’ recreation area. There was not much call for recreation here amid the raging fury of the Thargoid onslaught, but for now the fighting seemed to have abated, although the next wave could be expected at any time. The bar was shut on the orders of Canonn’s senior executive board, since people were expected to be on high alert should the order come to evacuate, but pilots still indulged in their own private supplies. I stared into my glass of Lavian brandy, sloshing the contents round and round. It was the first real rest I had in three days.
I was pretty shaken, truth be told. A lot of good pilots have not made it back, claimed either by the might of Thargoid weaponry or by accidental friendly fire soliciting a lethal response from the Gnosis’ lasers, or even getting caught in the crossfire as the Gnosis tries desperately to ward off the Thargoids. Those fortunate to eject ended up either in the med bay on the Gnosis or emerged from cryosleep on the prison ship Quarry in the California sector. How ironic, I thought, noting that on Old Earth California was home to one of its most infamous prisons, Alcatraz, which held a place in the human psyche not to dissimilar to Ross 128 today. I too nearly ended up like them, after taking on one bug too many. First my cockpit canopy (a huge target on a Diamondback Explorer) shattered. Even though I had 25 minutes to head for repairs, it meant it was impossible to aim my weapons at the enemy unless he stayed completely still, and no target, human or alien, does that for long unless his vessel is completely crippled. This soon became academic as my hull started falling apart thanks to sustained caustic damage and Thargoid fire. Then multiple systems started failing, including the power distributor and even my sensors. I desperately attempted to reroute systems and try and raise the Gnosis to initiate emergency docking procedures, as I wobbled towards the ship, my hull strength now dangerously low. I make it to the docking pad, only to realise that in my panic I neglected to lower my landing gear, and between them, enemy fire and caustic damage had nearly taken all my hull. I frantically bash the button to lower the landing gear, and can only wait and hope it lowers before the Thargoids come to finish me off. It was with a huge relief that I hear the clunk of the docking mechanism as I am lowered into the hanger. I had made it, with only 3% hull remaining.
I continued to swirl my Lavian brandy as I reflect on my near-brush with the Aftervoid. So far the defence effort has managed to keep the Thargoids at bay, but otherwise the Gnosis remains a sitting duck, with no frame shift capabilities to get her out of danger. What’s more, just beyond the immediate vicinity of the Gnosis are several swarms of ships much deadlier than the Scouts that we have had to contend with. Their names make me shudder: Cyclops, Medusa, Hydra. One pilot, in a DBX with a similar build to mine, went out there to face a dozen of these larger ships alone, and fled when his shield was reduced to barely a single, thin red ring in the space of less then ten seconds. Yesterday a pilot was calling for people to join him in Hydra hunting, and nothing has been seen of him or the volunteers since. I heard talk of advanced weaponry more advanced the rudimentary armaments on my own Ellen Ripley. Talk of Guardian technology, flak and gauss cannons. Such weaponry was beyond my reach, as it would meant having to gather new materials to take to tech brokers, and the grind to build what I have now tested my sanity to its limits. I ponder how effective the standard Aegis issue AX missiles and multicannons would be against the larger ships, assuming I was backed up by fellow pilots who were superior in numbers if not necessarily in weaponry. At present though it is deathly quiet, most combat pilots keep to their ships here, our mindset being very different to the scientists whose skin we signed up to save, and ensuring we are ready to make a hasty escape should the biowaste really go and strike the fan. The scientists tended to confine themselves to their quarters, desperate to get out of this in one piece, and what little combat skills they have being useless against the bugs. So why was I here? I was looking for someone who could tell me if there was any plan beyond spending the next few days splatting the wee bugs, maybe even going to take on the big bugs if there were a few pilots daring enough to do so. Even a plan for repair work would be something, although that would mean doing a 2,000 light year round trip to kit the Ellen Ripley out for cargo runs, and possibly some weapons designed for dealing with vermin of the human variety, because where there’s cargo, there’s always pirates, even as far out as here – the deities almighty, there are stories of pirates trekking out to Hutton Orbital of all places, in fact, if a trading post was set up at Beagle Point, the first pirate attacks would start within a week, mark my words. Then, of course, there are the Far God cultists, mostly a bunch of misguided idiots in my opinion, but I wouldn't put it past the fanatics to cause trouble for those trying to counter the Thargoid threat.
I finish my last swig of Lavian brandy, and am about to head back to the ship to ponder the next move, when I am finally joined by another pilot. He is a diminutive figure, bespectacled (a fashion statement in all but the poorest of worlds in the 34th century thanks to regenerative medical technology) with short, curly hair, and wearing an off-white flight suit that looked like it had seen better days.
“Hello there. Mind if I join you?”
I recognise his voice, an Imperial accent from one of the core worlds, as the Clipper pilot I helped out the other night. “Sure. You got bored with waiting around for the next wave of bugs?”
“I guess so, but be careful what you wish for, there are Hydras out there, they got pushed back but most of my team were blown to smithereens before they even disengaged from the landing pad. Those that survived are still in the med bay now, I’ve just got back from visiting them. We weren’t exactly equipped for this.” he said, sadly.
“I can understand. I don’t think anyone here was prepared for this, although I would have thought that the expedition should have got properly tooled up before heading into Thargoid country.”
“We had it on good authority that they don’t attack unless provoked, and I believed them, we all did, even though there were rumours of Thargoids attacking pilots on sight in several cases across the Pleiades, and that’s before you read the news about the attacks on stations that have been going on for months.”
“Don’t you think that someone high up knew what would happen?”
“It had crossed my mind, although don’t automatically assume a malicious intention for what can be readily explained through incompetence.”
“Fair enough, but I am not ruling it out. If someone set the Gnosis up to fail, they will ensure they can protect themselves with plenty of grounds for plausible deniability, and try and silence anyone who gets too close to the truth. Either way, I want answers.”
“As do I. I have lost a lot of good friends here, some of the greatest minds in the Empire, not combat hardened but still with the courage to defend their colleagues with their lives. It would be a tremendous dishonour to allow those deaths to be in vain.”
“I too fight for the honour of dead friends and family, but they died some time ago, but again in entirely preventable circumstances.”
“I wish you all the best in your fight. By the way, I didn’t get your name. I’m Maurice Hadley, Chief Researcher at Lasersmiths College, University of Achenar, attached to the Canonn Gnosis Division.”
“Bradwell. Seth Bradwell. Assassin, bounty hunter, and space scoundrel for hire. No bug too big, no timeframe too small.” I laughed. “See you out in the black, Commander.”