Part 10: Shades of Grey
Begin captain's log.
Despite our efforts, PACT's expansion in the Neutral Rim has continued unabated. Six more governments have voluntarily joined PACT and two more have been conquered. Unless something is done, the day when PACT controls the entire Neutral Rim appears to be fast approaching.
Transmission? Where from?
It's from the Solar Alliance. Admiral Harold Grey is interested in speaking to you.
An audience with the Alliance supreme commander, huh? I didn't realize we were so important already. Well, patch him through now.
Admiral. Im Captain Kayto Shields of the Cera Space Force. This is my first officer, Ava Crescentia. What can we do for you?
You must have my condolences for the loss of your great planet. It pains me to hear that another neutral world has fallen to PACT's war machine.
Thank you, admiral. PACT must be stopped at all costs. I am certain of this.
I understand you've been operating as a freelancer since your government's fall. I've got a certain proposal that you might be interested in.
You've got my attention.
An Alliance diplomatic team has been on a mission to the neutral world of Versta to convince its people to join the Alliance. Unfortunately, it does not seem like the mission was successful, and a PACT invasion fleet is rapidly approaching. I need you to go in there and get our team out before the advancing PACT fleet finds them. Of course, I will see to it that you and your crew are rewarded for your efforts.
Why do you need us? Surely, the Alliance must have other ships up to the task.
Unfortunately, because of the breakdown in talks, our military vessels are forbidden to enter Versta space. It is too dangerous to get them out without an armed escort, so we had no choice but to resort to an unaligned vessel like the Sunrider. PACT imprisoning or killing our diplomats would be viewed by my government as an act of war. I've been ordered by President Alythe himself that going to war with PACT over a minor neutral rim world is an unacceptable outcome.
But PACT's going to try and take over the galaxy one way or another, admiral. The Alliance must stop them.
Is there really no hope of getting Versta to join the Alliance?
I'm afraid the last report from our negotiators was grim. Versta's in a state of total panic regarding the approaching PACT invasion fleet and they somehow think we're responsible for it. My government views Versta as a lost cause and just wants the diplomats pulled out before PACT gets their hands on them.
You have a deal, admiral. Any mission against PACT is good in my book.
Good. My staff have already transmitted the details to your first officer. You have your orders, Sunrider. I expect results. Admiral Grey out.
At times like this almost everyone wants a hired gun, especially if that gun happens to be very big. At this rate, we could see a new golden age of privateering.
We might want to swap out your uniform with something more eye catching then. Do you have the Pirate Commander design yet?
Still, it doesn't sound like the admiral is a fan of his own government.
Hmm ... I get the same feeling as well. So far, the president of the Alliance has been avoiding confronting PACT at all costs. But my sense is that the military establishment inside the Alliance is already gearing up for a war.
That makes sense. PACT intends to take over the galaxy one way or another. They can probably see that it's only a matter of time until the Alliance will be forced into the fight.
At this point Ava dumps some exposition on you if you want it. Im going to put it in a quote box to indicate that its not really thread canon that she stands there explaining things the commander of the flagship of a neutral world between two major galactic powers would almost definitely know already.
Whats the Alliance?
The Solar Alliance is the current powerhouse of the galaxy. It's actually a military, economic, and research alliance between the planet of Solaris and numerous other worlds.
It doesn't sound like everyone wants to join the Alliance though.
Some planets simply wish to be left alone. The planets that make up the neutral rim are too far from Solaris and have so far avoided joining the Alliance. Cera was one of those planets.
Still, isn't the Alliance a democracy? What's so bad about it?
A space democracy is a difficult thing to maintain. A single politician might need to represent over a billion citizens. Recently, political deadlock has characterized the Alliance. The United Universalist Party in the Solar Congress wishes to take a hardline stance against PACT. Meanwhile, the Progress Party wishes for a negotiated settlement. Neither party has managed to get anything done because of their irreconcilable differences on this issue. President Alythe has avoided war with PACT at all costs. Even though PACT continues to swallow up most of the Neutral Rim, the Alliance has done nothing about it.
PACT, short for the People's Alliance for Common Treatment, was originally an independence movement which started at New Eden against the New Empire. New Eden is rich in valuable resources. However, the rulers of the New Empire hoarded the planet's riches for themselves, while the masses lived in poverty. Eventually the wealth gap reached a critical point and the people of New Eden rose up.
If they're an independence movement, then why are they trying to take over the galaxy now?
Shortly after PACT overthrew the New Empire, extreme nationalism and paranoia set in. A mysterious figure known as Veniczar Arcadius took power. Much about him is shrouded in mystery. He appears behind a mask at all times and speaks only through a computer. During the revolution he was a heroic figure who freed his people. But after he took power, he became a different man, wielding the nationalism and the paranoia of his people to begin PACT's rapid expansion. Nobody really knows when they're going to stop.
Finally. Also now that Asagas joined we can buy an upgrade for her ryder.
Make note of the mention of the Ryuvian Empire here. Itll come up later.
We've arrived at the Versta system.
Wait a minute ... Alert! Drop point is hot! I'm detecting PACT signatures all around us!
Battle stations! Scramble our ryders!
We're ready at your command, capt'n! Just give the word!
One hell of an entrance ... All right everyone, let's take the enemy out!
Since we didnt do the mission to attack the communications relay, this is actually the first time weve fought PACT forces since the fall of Cera.
A Mook is the same as a pirate Grunt, just painted red.
The cruisers, though, are something new. Larger and tougher than the destroyers and frigates weve faced before now, they have one additional ability:
A shield bubble like the Liberty. That Mook is now shielded.
However, with the Liberty and our new generator, the Sunrider is now double shielded.
We pick off the Mook outside the shield bubble and way overkill a cruiser with a torpedo.
Yeah, theyre not getting through those shields anytime soon.
Contact! An unidentified ryder has just warped in!
A ryder capable of warping ...?
It seems to be using some sort of booster pack ...
Unidentified ... It doesn't match any known designs
For now, treat it as a PACT special unit! Take it down along with the rest of the enemy!
So now we have to deal with this. Its not really an issue though
because I bought two torpedoes.
I think we got it!
No, only the warp booster was destroyed.
Doesnt matter, theyre out of the fight. Asaga rockets the last cruiser to death and we mop up the Mooks with lasers, ending the battle.
We did it! The PACT fleet's history!
Ah ... It looks like we won.
And now the enemy knows we're here. Asaga, Chigara, return to the Sunrider for now.
Captain, I'm still reading the PACT special unit on scanners.
Left behind, huh... I guess it can't go anywhere without its warp booster.
Disable it, and then get the Liberty to haul it to our hangar. I think we have ourselves our first PACT prisoner.
Uu-fufufu ... So ... You gonna interrogate the pilot? Throw 'em out the airlock if they don't spill all their secrets?
Uhhh no, I was actually just planning on asking some questions and then turning him over to the Alliance after this is all done.
Aw, so much for how they do it on the holovision ...
Hmph. Stand back, everyone. This pilot might be dangerous.
Alright, open the ryder's hatch and get our prisoner out.
Is this ... a PACT vessel?
No. I'm Captain Kayto Shields of the Cera Space Force. Youre aboard the CSFS Sunrider.
Cera? I thought you were conquered by PACT.
Not all of us. Who are you?
Were you hired by PACT?
Heh ... Nothing of the sort. Was on a mission. I can't tell you more than that.
You're now our prisoner. Put your hands up and turn over all your weapons.
Have security escort our guest to the brig. We'll continue with our discussion there.
Per protocol, we've scanned her for contraband. We found enough concealed weaponry on her person to topple small governments. I'd say we caught a professional hitman.
Anything identifying who she's working for?
We scanned through the database on her ryder and all of her electronics and found nothing. She's no amateur.
All right. Let's try talking to her.
You don't need to worry about that. Why don't you avoid all this trouble by giving us some info?
Heh, what do you want?
Why'd you attack us? Are you working for PACT?
I already told you, I don't work for those fanatics. Haven't you been listening? I attacked you because I thought you were PACT freelancers. Last I heard, the entire Cera Space Force was impressed into the PACT fleet, and the few survivors became pirates or freelancers. If you haven't noticed, this area of the galaxy's like the Wild West. Plenty of guns for sale have thrown their lots with PACT nowadays, thinking that's the way the galaxy's gonna spin.
Heh, not if I have anything to say about it anyways.
You're no friend of PACT?
No! Hate 'em. I would have busted up their whole fleet back there if it weren't for you smashing up my booster anyways. Ugh...
Well, at least we're on the same side then.
So are you going to tell me what a Cera ships doing here?
We're asking the questions here, not you.
C'mon captain, throw me something here. Aren't we going to work this out together?
All right. We're here on Alliance business. We're doing a bit of freelancing ourselves.
There, you have our secret. How about you tell me yours?
All right. I suppose we could lay off your ryder.
I hope so. You wouldn't happen to have been hired by an Alliance admiral who looked like a grey old statue, would you?
Well, he certainly was grey. In more ways than one.
Hahahaha. That bastard.
You know him?
Know him? I've worked for him for ages.
But you have a crazed criminal on the loose? Then you need my services. Have a sleazy dictator who's been getting too out of hand? I can set that straight too. Ongessite prices too high? I provide the stick, and the Admiral provides the carrots. If you catch my drift.
You're a contract assassin.
Let me guess, you're here about the diplomats on Versta right?
What's a contract assassin like you doing here then? Versta's a rescue mission. Nobody needs to be shot.
Rescue mission? Is that what the Admiral told you?
Not so fast. That little information's gonna cost you. Nothing big, mind you.
You're the one stuck sitting in the brig, not us.
I'm not going to go around revealing client information unless there's security for me. And I'd say you need my help more than ever if you still think you're here on a rescue mission. If I tell you what's going on, you let me outta this cell and give me back my ryder.
All right. If we're both against PACT, I'm interested in hearing what you have to say.
I may be an assassin, but I'm no scoundrel. You can depend on my words, captain. War between the Solar Alliance and PACT is inevitable. Everyone knows that and they're just too scared to admit it. The galaxy's on the brink of an interstellar war on a scale it hasn't seen in one hundred years. There's a certain faction within the Alliance that understands this and wants to intervene before the entire Neutral Rim's PACT's back yard.
The Alliance needs a push. And this crisis is the opportunity everyone's been waiting for to bring the Alliance into this fight.
So you've been hired by this faction to hover around Vesta and make sure that those diplomats are captured by PACT to spark a war. Is that what you're saying?
Now you're catching on. You let me ensure that those diplomats are captured by PACT, and you can bet the Alliance will be brought into your war..
And if they find out I had anything to do with their capture?
Who gives a damn? The Alliance military wants PACT to get those diplomats to get this war started anyways. You'll probably get a shiny medal for saving the Neutral Rim or something.
All right, you've made your point. I'll let you out of your cell, but you'll be confined to quarters for now while we perform our own investigation.
Tsch, that's the best you can do?
It's not like you're going anywhere on your ryder without a booster pack. So enjoy the warm bed.
Fine, just get me outta this cell and bring me something to eat.
She's getting comfortable. About what she said...
Time for a big choice:
She's got a point. Sparking an Alliance-PACT war is the only way we can stop PACT.
She's obviously crazy. We're going to complete our mission and save those diplomats.
This decision isnt final, but it will affect our attitude going forward, so choose wisely. However, while no spoilers are allowed, we dont necessarily have all of the information on this situation yet, so we might revisit this choice.