- Gunner, how is the armor? - Captain Poe shouted over the Helm Console.
- 60%, on average. - came the answer
- Good, okay, awesome… We’ll catch those asses! - he said, enforcing his words by boosting the engines, pushing the ship ever forward.
The NSV Corvus Corax, like the bird it was named after, dashed high and dived straight for it’s foe. The SSV Wordbearer still tried to limp away, but it was clear that the battered frigate won’t hold out for long. Scattered around the system were the remains of it’s squadron, all brought low by the heroic Nanotrasen crew and their ship!
- We have blasted through their armor, one more run should be enough - the bridge officer reported, before his eyebrows climbed up high - Captain, it seems they are… they are jumping away!
- What? I’ve never seen syndies do that… Whatever, we won’t give it a chance to enter bluespace. Ready wea- but before he could finish his orders, the AI interrupted
- Warning! Unknown FTL signatures detected in system!
- It was a trap! - the Captain cried out - How many of them are there, AI?
- Ten… Twenty… Twentyseven signatures found. Entering system in three… two… one.
The DRADIS screen started beeping madly as it lit up like a Christmas Tree. The air froze for a second in the CIC, the crew watching in terror as the new force appeared, rivaling even Earth’s defenses in sheer numbers. The Captain was the first to get out of shock.
- All power to the engines! Prepare to make an emergency FTL translation! Gather the crew at the escape pods, and prepare to jettison the black box!
Three weeks later and many lightyears away, just like a raven diving for it’s food, a hungry NT officer was diving for a free chair in the station’s cafeteria. Luckily for her, such a seat was waiting for her, right across the table from her best friend!
- Oh thank god for you Naeni, I owe you one! - she said, falling into the plastic chair
- Just one, Kit? - the moth asked
- Oh shut it - she said, before taking a big sip of her coffee - Ah, thats better. So, how was your day?
- It was fine, you know, nothing exciting. Certainly not as exciting as your day.
- My days aren’t exciting either, and you know that. Ninety percent of it is just a desk job, like yours. Except that you signed up for a desk job, while I didn’t.
- Supply manifest management is more than just a desk job. And I’m certain that working for Ardata isn’t one either.
- Even if it isn’t, I cannot tell you about it.
- Except what you have already told me - she cut her off
- What do you mean, I never told you anything! - she replied, faking disbelief - And I also wouldn’t want to discuss it in the middle of the station’s most packed cafeteria.
- Oh come on, didn’t you, Ms. Secret Agent, tell me that it is the easiest to hide in the crowd?
As if by divine intervention, with the aim of only disproving Neani, a short man appeared right beside their table, as if out of nowhere.
- Hi Kit, I’m sorry for interrupting, but the new income-and-expenditure forms just came back from Outpost 8, and the Old Man wants them done by the evening. So please, finish your coffee, and come with me - he said, before turning to greet the moth - Also hi Neani!
- Hey Pete! What are you super spies up to these days?
- It’s the dry season, I tell you that. Don’t tell noone, but our budget is being cut, so we have to sift through hundreds of forms and returns, just to find something we can save a buck on. I’d tell you more, but you’d need another cup to stay awake, and I’m no charity for gossiping office ladies.
- Oh I can imagine just how boring it is - she said, with a noticeable touch of sarcasm - Well, I won’t hold you here then, Kit. Have fun! You too Pete.
- Thanks Naeni - she replied - I’ll write later.
- You better - the moth fluttered as the two rushed off, disappearing in the crowd.
- So, why didn’t the Old Man just message me on my PDA? – Kit asked as they cut their way through the crowd
- He feared you wouldn’t notice it
- I would have. And it would have saved you having to come find me directly – and it would have saved them having to speak in codewords, but she didn’t want to say that out loud.
- Well, I’m here now. Anyway, remember the tropical storm on my home planet I told you about a few days ago?
Of course she remembered. The “tropical storm on Pete’s home planet” was the code for the mysterious enemy force that the NSV Corvus Corax reported days ago, before going missing with all hands on deck. It was a bit of a stupid code, considering that Pete was born on a frozen iceworld.
- Yes, you told me it struck some fishing boats out at sea.
- Yes, well now I got word it reached the shoreline.
- It did? Holy hell! – This meant that they had struck again – But where?
- Come, I’ll show you – he said, as he opened a door with his ID, and they entered Ardata’s on station wing, passing between armed cyborg guards.
After passing through a few more secure doors and short-range scans, they entered a darkened office filled with consoles beeping and rattling as their operators worked on them. The lamps were all turned down, with most of the ghastly pale light in the room coming from the massive holographic projector standing in the middle, half-covered by papers, folder and USB sticks. As they entered, a slim figure turned to face them. Being lit up only by the holoprojector, his shadowy figure seemed as if it was made only from sticks, which wasn’t that inaccurate, seeing as he was an IPC.
- Ooh, hello! – Agent Clockwork, referred to as the Old Man greeted them, and turned to Kit – I am sorry Agent Tanis for interrupting your excellent coffee break, but we just got new intel concerning the disappearance of the Corvus Corax, and I didn’t want to send it to your PDA. You know, info-sec and all that – Plus he is a cynical old machine, who is the reason we cannot have nice things, Kit thought to herself.
- And what is this new intel if I may ask, sir?
- You may ask, but I’m afraid you’ll get no answer, as I haven’t read them. So it falls to you. Get to it!
- Will do, sir!
The reports came from Outpost 93 in the Naih system. It is, or was, a mining station, set up to extract ores from the surrounding asteroids, with a recently founded colony right under it on the planet. The enemy appeared out of Bluespace and swiftly surrounded the station, which immediately evacuated it’s crew to the colony. Afterwards, they began bombing the colony, although with little effect, but they did prevent any communication being sent out. All the while they boarded the station, presumably looting it, and destroying it by unknown means, as no detonation of the engine was reported. They left after spending only a dozen hours in orbit, after which the colony sent a jump-drone with a distress call.
This was, more or less, the story told by the survivors, but some things still didn’t add up. If they did destroy the station, why didn’t they bother to finish the job and shoot down the escape pods or bomb the colony to the ground? And if they did destroy the station, why did no debris fall on the planet?
And there still was the question of the ships. The station’s crew described them as small craft, larger then fighters, but not anything like ships they have seen. Despite their size they had their own FTL drives, like a Sabre. And while they were brave attacking the station, they swiftly backed off when the colony’s guns started firing back, meaning they either didn’t have armor, or it was too old to function well. And even though they did overwhelm the station, it was but a mining station with anti-meteor PDCs and light armor. In fact, the miners all made it out with the pods, so maybe the raiders not only didn’t want to, but couldn’t shoot them down, with their lackluster guns. Although this was quite a stretch…
- So they jump into system, make the station go woosh, and just like that, gone with the wind? – Pete asked, between two bites of his sandwich – Crazy shit.
- Pete, your scientific analysis is unrivaled – Kit replied. They were chatting in one of the breakrooms of the station.
- Don’t come at me with that like you have any better idea.
- That’s true – she sighed – I can’t even guess who’s ships they are! Their IFF signatures are completely unrecognized!
- Well, the whole thing may be easier then you think. They could be pirates, who stole these ships by someone and messed with the IFF transponders. Maybe you could figure out who’s these ships were.
- Mhm – she said, also munching on a sandwich. They weren’t pirates, she already checked that, but maybe they were some old rust buckets, stolen from somewhere. And with that, she immediately knew the answer to the next question. Only one fleet manufactures - or had manufactured - this many small, lightly armed and armored ships: the lizards - Say, Pete, do you know where the Draconian’s embassy?
Turns out, Pete knew way more then where the embassy was. He knew the secretary of the ambassador. From basketball games at the Holodeck, he explained. And Kit was happy to accept this lie, as long as Pete helped her go around the maze of bureaucracy she’d need to pass to talk with the ambassador, Speaks-the-Truth.
- Sso, Misss Tanisss, I have five minutes for you and your problem, so keep it quick.
- I will, do not worry. The situation is simple. About a week ago, one of our warships went missing, after being attacked by a massive fleet of small ships. Then this same fleet attacked one of our mining stations.
- And why doesss this concern me? - the ambassador asked, grumpily
- Well, it concerns you, and the Empire, because, though we aren’t certain, these ships are most likely light, atmospheric vessels produced by the Empire.
- But Misss Tanisss, may I remind you, the Empire changed it’ss ship building doctrinesss when it joined the Federation.
- Exactly! We believe these are ships from the civil wars, but were stolen by someone recently. And that is why We are here, to ask you what you did with those old ships.
- We ssscrapped them. All of them.
- Oh - she said, disappointed - And didn’t some go missing, or weren’t there maybe that got stolen?
- No, none at all - he replied swiftly - The Draconian Empire takes good care of it’s ships.
Kit was disheartened when she left. This lead nowhere, and she had no other ideas. She felt the metallic walls closing in around her, as she imagined going back to her office and starting over again. However, she couldn’t know that soon, she’d wish to be back in her comfy office, deep inside a space station, guarded by orbital gun platforms and warships. For suddenly, looking up, she spotted the Old Man coming towards her,with wide strides.
- Agent Kit, what did the ambassador say? - he asked, without even a greeting
- Ah nothing, sir. He didn’t know anything
- Well then, you are lucky enough to get a chance to examine them personally!
- How exactly, sir? - she asked, but she could already guess the answer
- Well, they were spotted in S-0126 recently. This means that we more or less know where they are headed: towards the arms depot in Foothold. The NSV Light Brigade is already there, with the NSV Zhuge Liang and the NSV Rise at Dawn on the way. However, I have saved you a seat on the Rise at Dawn. We need first hand reports of this enemy, so try and keep yourself alive, and if things go south, try and get out of there in a Sabre.
Oh she would get out of there in a Sabre, she thought. She is a good agent, but she has not grown bored of her life. Better people have tried and failed to stand between her and a comfortable retirement, and no rustbucket or mysterious pirate warlord will succeed.