18:30 | 27/09/3303 | Patocuda System

“RogueCmdr, Delaine is leaving Coney Gateway and 8th Dragon command personnel remain present on the station,” reported the Andromeda.

“Ugh, I missed another meeting again!” grunted the ship’s commander, switching off the tactical view on his visor. “Andromeda, stand down from attack protocol alpha one and request docking from Coney Gateway.”

“Standing down. Requesting docking clearance,” the ship responded. 

RogueCmdr awaited confirmation and looked out past the bow of his new Python. “Every time I get here,” he muttered, “Everyone is off getting drunk and only a few of us if any are out on patrol.  It’s a no wonder the Kumo Crew had no trouble smashing the defenses.”

“Throttle to 50%” Andromeda announced. 

“NO! Stupid AI! I am going to replace you with Orion or Eli. At least they had a personality matrix. You’re just a reprogrammed Astra System. You’re a sad excuse for the real Andromeda! Throttle to 10% and deploy the landing gear.”

RogueCmdr ignored the words of protest from the AI and settled the ship onto pad 11, entering the command codes required to authorize the landing. 

“Between Delaine showing up, no reports from Dragon HQ and the rise in Thargoid incidents, how am I supposed to get this ship to mission spec?” He asked, to no one in particular. “How am I gonna make enough credits to lead a wing? I feel as if I’m in that old earth sci fi classic, Star Trek.” he joked. 

“I am not Spock and you are not Captain Kirk,” responded Andromeda.” 

Annoyed at the AI, Rogue stood up from the command chair and walked toward the aft door. “Nevermind,” he said quietly.  “Ancient history. Time to find out what is going on here.” 

He reached for his credit chit. “Time to loosen some lips. And time to make a difference in this sector.”

***

17:34 | 28/09/3303, | Beta Caeli System

An alarm blared loudly in the cabin of the Andromeda’s Venom.

“Incoming Mission Update!”

At the time, the ship’s pilot, RogueCmdr, was still asleep in his bunk and pulled his thermo blanket over his head.  A rare bottle of Captain Morgan’s Cannon Blast spiced rum slid off the mattress and onto the floor. The drink had become the pilot’s favorite tipple, its flavor enhanced by the fact that he had paid very little for it, finding the liquid fire within a shipment of Eranin Pearl Whisky he picked up last year from Azeban City with the intent to sell. The dock master, with a serious lack of care, had mistakenly updated the manifest with two crates of the stuff. Unfortunately, the majority of the bottles were damaged – possibly exposed to the vacuum of space – and the liquid was flash frozen.

“Incoming Mission Update!” repeated the Andromeda, followed by more alarms.

“Blast! I’m up! I’m up!”  RogueCmdr responded angrily.  He sat up quickly, only to slam his head into a light panel above the bunk.  “Frack!”

“Sir, you have several new messages and three critical updates,” Andromeda reported.

“Fine! On comms!” RogueCmdr said, wincing with pain. The comm screen appeared and he cycled the display to show the latest messages.

“Damn it!” he yelled, glaring at the screen. Three of his contracts had been terminated due to timing issues.

“Andromeda, Why did you not remind me we still had outstanding jobs while we were in the Eurebya system?”.

“I notified you several times while you were on board, commander.  You disabled the comms while you were storing the contraband goods we are currently carrying,” Andromeda responded. “‘Better to be safe than sorry, you said’.”

Perplexed, RogueCmdr switched the display to check which contracts were still outstanding. He was still nursing a hangover – a typical after-effect of spending time with other members of the Dragon Squadron – and one which was gained trying to pry information out of his merc brothers on Coney Gateway. All he had learned however, was that the Thargoid threat was far worse than anyone had feared.

Yes, the aliens had returned.  They had appeared in great numbers and – more importantly – seemed immune to conventional weapons. Rogue had recently studied the visual recording from the Aegis Initiative; a stupid name that referenced a defunct group from years past.  During the attack, the Aegis group, considered to be humanity’s first line of defense, and who researched new technologies to oppose the Thargoid threat, soon reported several of their pilots missing; presumed dead.  The recording showed two wings of spacecraft in an unknown system somewhere near the Pleiades nebula. Approaching an atypical vessel of Thargoid origin which had allegedly been interdicting vessels for the past year, the alien ship could be seen to release an EMP burst which effectively disabled the Aegis ships. Despite the newly developed Aegis counter measures and brand new missile systems, the human ships were lost.

Closing the system panel, RogueCmdr barked his orders.  “Andromeda, systems check, prepare ship for launch!”

“Performing system diagnostic,” the Andromeda replied.

There were still a couple of contracts remaining with payouts totalling nearly five million credits. Rogue rubbed the swollen bump on his head as he stomped through the doors to the cockpit and glanced at his dataslate, lying face up on the deck by he co-pilots seat, still displaying the latest Aegis intel.

“I need to make some money here to get you equipped with Military grade hull plating and a top of the line power plant,” he addressed to the ship’s holographic avatar. “We also need new thrusters and a better power distributor if we are ever going to survive this new threat.”

Sighing at the prospect of having to destroy three surface based power generators without an SRV, he decided that taking out the buildings from the ship would be just as easy – except that it flew like a brick in realspace.

“We also gotta visit some specialized engineers to see if we can acquire some experimental technology upgrades for our systems before we can even think about venturing to the Pleiades.” .

Considering his options , he studied his contract logs. The Aegis Initiative had been developing weapons and technologies to address the rising Thargoid threat and while some were dismayed to see Aegis shift towards a military focus, the general consensus was that the move was a necessary evil. RogueCmdr had learned of a secret project called Project Parity through a fellow merc, a mission to develop what is known as the AG-0003, said to be a new type of kinetic anti Thargoid weapon. Chelbin Service Station, of Wolf 397, were now offering good rewards to pilots like himself to deliver shipments of tantalum, alien tissue samples and CMM composites.

“Either we run these shipments to Wolf 397 or deliver rare liquors to Zander Dock in the HIP 110028 system,” Rogue said out loud.  “Power to engines, retract landing gear.” 

Approaching the exit, the Andromeda’s alarm sounded once again.”Proximity Alarm, Collision imminent!”

“Fracking Orca pilots!” screamed RogueCmdr over the comms. “Pull your head out of your arse! Get a pilot’s license if your going to freaking fly that junk heap!”

A bright, scarlet red passenger vessel designated Delicate Heart, unexpectedly fired its thrusters and boosted out of the bay causing several other incoming ships to slam stop. It was a reckless, selfish maneuver.

“Bloody hell, why don’t we just arm all these Saud Kruger pilots with anti-Thargoid weapons and send them into the Pleiades nebula. Accomplish two deeds at once. Solve the alien problem and get rid of these idiot pilots!

“Sir, we have departed the no fire zone. Preparing hyperdrive,” the Andromeda reported.

“Engage!” RogueCmdr commanded with authority, gesturing forward with his hand, fingers pointing outward.

“Entering hyperspace, in 4, 3, 2, 1”

The ship launched forward leaving a cloud of engine exhaust that lingered for several minutes.

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