It was a few days ago that the team was meeting on some mundane issues when a priority message came in from an old acquaintance from Colonia. The Thargoids were back, had attacked in Witch Head sector, and he was heading out to lend a hand. He wanted to know if we were in. This was a complete 180 turn on the days business which prior had been working to lend a hand in station repairs here in the bubble. We were caught completely flat footed but he mentioned a fact that made the choice a simple one. One of the stations in need was an imperial station.
As I informed the team we might be heading out to Witch Head they were hesitant. Not seeming to grasp the advantage of that last bit of info. "The contracts to evacuate the survivors will be IMPERIAL. This means, with a large ship and plenty of passenger capacity we can take many contracts per run. The reputation gain with the Empire will be fantastic", I said. This was a chance to help us out as we helped out people needing evac. There were grumbles that we were being mercenary by looking for reputation rewards but I countered that we can only be in one place at a time and there is nothing wrong with that place being one that helps us out too. People saved is people saved.
We needed to get things in motion fast though. The T-9 was my biggest hull and that would be our rescue ship but it needed passenger accommodations, even if minimal installed instead of the cargo racks. We had to pay a pretty penny to expedite the work and were stuck with smaller modules that limited the max passenger count to 90 but we could get into the effort quickly this way. I took my long-range hopper to Witch Head and got the ship transfer rolling. It would be a few hours before the transfer pilots got it out there. As soon as it arrived we got to work.
The scene of the attack was surreal. I'd never seen a station in this condition and it was sobering imagining the conditions within for the inhabitants of the station. We contacted emergency comms and got clearance to enter the station with a string of warnings to let us know we were not entering a safe environment. "No shit Sherlock", I muttered to Kaylen. Seeing ships boosting out with hulls smoking was just as sobering and clearly communicated the conditions inside. Finally it was our turn. I looked at Kaylen and asked, "You ready"? Her silent nod was nervous, lips pressed tight. We hit the throttle and pushed through the slot. The heat was overwhelming. The gauge just pegged out in seconds leaving us to pop a heat sink just to get down on the pad. The debris in the station were a serious complication for a T-9 to work around but we glided by without much issue, rolling to avoid the large pylons.
Then moments from touchdown an explosion touched off just behind us. The force of it pushed the T-9 like a toy forward into the structure and bounced us off on our shields like a ping-pong ball. "Damn", I shouted as I tried to recover and bring her back to the pad. We'd been bounced behind a huge strut so it was a delicate affair to avoid getting hung up in the wreckage, a death sentence in here. In just seconds we were overheating again and I had to pop off another heat-sink as I backed it towards the pad once more. A second explosion rocked the station but far enough away that it was just a nudge and easily corrected. Finally the pad locks engaged with that familiar clang, a beautiful sound to hear, and we were pulled onto the pad and immediately dropped below to the hanger with temperature control gas venting all around. The heat dropped to levels that were survivable, but only just. We both looked white as sheets when the hanger roof pad sealed shut. I had to peel my fingers off the controls.
After filling the ship with every group we could possibly fit and the flurry of activity and communication to get them loaded, head counts, and go/no-go confirmation from all the modules Kaylen and I were soaking in sweat. It was exhausting but we knew were getting 90 people a chance to survive. The ship coms were filled with anxious messages wanting to know when we were leaving, complaints that were were not moving yet and such. Frustrating, but I could not blame them wanting out of here. We strapped back in and with a silent nod to each other we activated the launch protocol. Back into hell's mouth. We made a smooth and graceful exit popping off the last heat-sink and taking a little heat damage. Out we came, hull smoking and throttle full and set course for the rescue ship.
In minutes we had the survivors down at the ship. It was an impressive operation. Commanders were streaming in largely in an orderly fashion setting down, offloading, and heading back out as fast as possible. We got all our rescues offloaded and without exchanging a word, we buckled up, restocked, and launched to get the next 90. We continued to operate this way for another 11 runs. We took 49 contracts in those runs and averaged about 88 people per run. 900 people saved. That was just us. Other commanders were running ops in and out with us and thousands had to have been rescued by their efforts.
At the end of the shift we collapsed into our cots on the rescue ship, both exhausted to the point of waking sleep. We'd both be at it again in 4 hours.