I launched today to be met with a big surprise. The Thargoids were nowhere to be seen. Even the ominous non-human signal sources that surrounded the Gnosis had disappeared. I redock, and note the emergency procedures that automatically lower ships into the hanger were no longer in place. I descend into the hanger and call on Maurice to ask if he had seen anything.
"No sign at all, it looks like our defence was successful." he said.
"But why would they just go like that? Those Hydras could have made us all mince meat." I queried.
"Your guess is as good as anyone else on this ship. We know so little about them, what their intentions are, why they attack some humans but not others, it's yet another in a long line of mysteries."
"It's still odd. Their strength was not compromised that much that it would warrant a retreat."
"Ah, but you are thinking as if they are human. Who knows what their true intentions were. It has been ascertained that Thargoids have a hive mind, like certain species of insects on Old Earth do. Maybe the constant attacks on their ships inflicted a hurt across the collective, forcing them to retreat. Maybe some of the neighbouring systems will hold some clues."
I go back to the ship, buy a discovery scanner, SRV hanger and some cargo racks from the now reopened outfitting stores, and have a look around. My first port of call are the two landable bodies on this system. All they show me are featureless surfaces like any other airless rock body. Looking around in the SRV shows nothing of interest. I then have a look at two nearby systems, then realise that I am too impatient for all this sciencing, return to the Gnosis, and restore the Ellen Ripley to its former configuration and then head back to the Bubble, wishing Maurice and his team farewell and promising I would let him know of any interesting developments, not that I expect to see him for some time.
I leave the Ellen Ripley at Ross 569, one of the nearest Imperial systems to the Pleiades if you are on a direct route from Achenar. It was pointless having an anti-xeno ship anywhere in the Bubble at present, I didn't want to leave her anywhere that was vulnerable to Thargoid attack and I certainly didn't want to have Aegis snooping around her. Additionally, if anyone had any interest in my whereabouts and my actions I wanted to thwart them as much as possible. So at Pimi Dock I buy a Sidewinder and fit its internals with extended fuel tanks to last me for the journey back into the centre of the bubble without making any refuelling stops. I travel to Shen Terminal, Guuguyni (my former base of operations when I was more into trading), where I sell it, alongside a Hauler that I used in my first exploration adventures (deciding I wanted something that could hold an AMFU and SRV hanger if I ever got the exploration bug again). I then set off in Hercules, a lumbering T9, and head back to what I consider "home" of sorts, Goeppert-Mayer Station in the Xuane system. From there I do a few trade runs, the plan is to hide in plain sight and not do anything to attract attention to myself. However after a few runs the tedium of it all sets in, so I switch to the Destroying Angel, my Vulture kitted out for warzone combat, mainly a work in progress but I have it so I can learn how to use different weapons and not get stung with a hefty rebuy bill should I get hopelessly outgunned. Additionally I don't want to do much travelling in the Ahriman until all the fuss has died down, since it's directly connected with where I bought the Ellen Ripley. Maybe I am overcautious, not to mention having delusions of grandeur since I am still pretty small fry, but that's all part of surviving in my trade.
War had broken out in Alkuyuma between the ruling Federal faction and the Bakas Gold Council, so I rejoin the fray and get to work in the conflict zones. One stay was cut short when a capital ship arrived and started cutting down Bakas Gold Council ships left, right and centre, so I swiftly moved to another conflict zone and soon have a pretty impressive kill list. Unfortunately Vultures only have two hardpoints, so you have to make each count, presently my loadout is a beam laser and a cannon (later switched to a multicannon), and whilst I can hold my own in the fight, that single laser is a major weakness when it comes to ships with shield cell banks. I tally up an impressive kill count, although I eventually find myself returning to Xuane. Alkuyuma's two outposts have no restocking facilities, so I have to go to a neighbouring system when I run low on cannon rounds, heat sinks, or shield cell banks. There was a time I would relish in this, but at present it seems I am fighting over a proverbial patch of dirt, a dump of a system in a dump of a sector. Besides, with our influence still running sky high whilst the Alkuyuma Independents still barely above 7%, I feel that I do not need to concern myself too much with this struggle and victory seems imminent.
I retire to my quarters with lots to think about regarding the past few days. In spite of my high and mighty posturing of the past few days, I feel that trying to rage against the system is a futile gesture. Besides, the Thargoids, although not to be trifled with at all, seem to be much less aggressive than we were meant to believe. Maybe they do only attack when provoked, and maybe, unbeknown to the people on the Gnosis (although maybe known to certain people in high places), their activity did provoke them, I have heard that any ship that carries Guardian technology is considered kill-on-sight to a Thargoid. Also if what Maurice said is true, and attacking an individual Thargoid ship inflicts pain across the whole of their community, then we all may have been going about solving the issues regarding them in entirely the wrong way. There was something in that part of Cone Sector that is highly important to the Thargoids, something dangerous, so dangerous that some mysterious body had made the whole sector off limits, yet failed to warn Canonn about this (or so Canonn would have you believe). Everyone at the Canonn seemed unfazed, I joined up to find out what the latest news was regarding the Gnosis and the only item I saw was that it was due to jump the following week, all other reports are about Canonn activities elsewhere. Now the Thargoids have retreated, no one else in the Bubble seems concerned about them, assuming that the Gnosis is safe and can be repaired and that's about it, in fact the latest galaxy-wide call for pilots is to support the creation of a manatee farm where they will be raised for their meat. Of all the things to call on the pilots community to do, this ranks among one of the most ridiculous. On Old Earth there were people involved in organisations called "animal rights groups", which would have raised utter hell at those who even dared conceive of such a thing, especially since manatees were an endangered species until at least the late 21st century. A lot of them were stir crazy but this whole idea needs to have as much scorn thrown it as possible.
I might go on a sightseeing break for a while, it's not as if I am wanting for credits out here. I am thinking of starting at YZ Canis Minoris, home to the galaxy's very first communist world in the era of interstellar travel. It's not been communist for decades but it inspired several other communist systems throughout the Bubble, although pretty much all of them share at least a few of the faults of all attempts at communism since its origin on Old Earth. Nevertheless, there is a fascinating history to discover about. After then, who knows, maybe I'll find a cause worth fighting for, or some new group of undesirables may make me some offer too good to refuse to test my mettle. Or alternatively, I may just get that exploration vessel, and high wake it all the way to Beagle Point, away from all this madness...