– 2234 Adele Mundy transfers off-planet for research
In 2234 I was sent on a longer assignment to Carabosse, in the Perrault System. It was a responsibility I was proud of, and a fascinating subject. It was not to last.
– 2235 Paragon: the Rikti invasion. Lt. Rajeev Chakravarthi goes AWOL.
I was still on Carabosse when I heard the news, through Library contacts, of an obscure alien race travelling through Rhea sector. Then it was news of a sighting in Paragon’s solar system, then rumours of an attack. Nothing appeared on official channels. I sent messages home, and received no answer. When I tried contacting the Library again, I got static. I abandoned my research, grabbed my I.D., my Library access card, and my credit chip, and made my way to the spaceport.
Not many people, on hearing that a planet in a distant sector may be under alien attack, are keen to drop their normally profitable business and head towards trouble. I had to make the flight exceptionally profitable. I did. We went. Gadfly was the ship, a small vessel with a crew of four, cramped quarters, a hold whose capacity had been cut down in order to increase fuel capacity and engine power. I did not press for details on how the captain normally made her living, but she assured me it depended on Gadfly being fast.
We weren’t fast enough.
There was no landing on Paragon, by the time we arrived. The planet was blanketed in radioactive ash falling like snow. The closest accessible port was the small science station on the far side of Exemplar, Paragon’s moon (the always-full moon that had never struck me as unusual until I started reading books set on Earth, and then learning the basics of astronomy), where the few would-be rescuers, and the even fewer shuttles and emergency craft that had escaped the final destruction, had gathered. They showed me the transmissions that had been sent during the final days, the waves of bombings from the ships, the increasingly desperate security forces response, the aliens emerging from their light-beam portals, the dying. Even through the static, the interruptions, the white-outs and black-outs of transmissions, the fragmentary data was undeniably dire. Still, some people had managed to take off before the final attack, there were transmissions from fleeing cargo ships, passenger vessels, even shuttles without warp. Some had made it to Exemplar, some, perhaps, had managed to escape the system.
I met Horatio when I walked out of the room where the list of survivors was available, as I decided to go to the hangar yet again, to check in person if, by any chance, anyone I knew was there, and hadn’t been listed. He had just walked through the hangar and was coming to double check the written lists.
People stared at us, realising that we knew each other, and had found each other. I don’t know how many false hopes we raised and how many hearts we broke, just by standing in that crowded metal hallway and whispering each other’s name.
When we were coherent enough, we made our way to Gadfly. Sitting side by side on the bunk in my cramped cabin, we tried to make sense of what had happened. Horatio raged that the TSN had known of the imminent invasion, and had dismissed it. He saw conspiracies of alien races behind it, USFP officials bribed by dark forces plotting against the future of the human race. I looked up information through the Library channels, and could find no hints in that direction. It seemed to me, and it still does, though I haven’t stopped looking, that the Rikti were a small, remote, obscure alien race that had come into contact with a small, remote, obscure USFP colony planet, whose population had a generations-long tendency to hide from the rest of humanity. Their conflict had been local, sudden, and communications had been cut in its early stages.
We argued. He accused me of siding with the aliens, and blaming Paragon for its own fate. He accused the TSN of inertia and wilful negligence. He threw accusations at his senior officers of being in the pay of alien spies. Through all that, I realised that he had not received official permission to leave his post. I expressed my concern, mitigated by the hope that the exceptional circumstances would be a reason for leniency when he returned. He looked at me as if I had taken leave of my senses. How could I expect for one moment that he would ever return to that den of alien sympathisers, who were working for humanity’s downfall? I tried to calm him down. I lost any sense of how long we had been talking.
Eventually, exhaustion slowed us both down. I told him to go to sleep, while I went back out to the station and tried to find some food (supplies were limited, and were being handed out by a small contingent of emergency services personnel) and to arrange with the captain and crew where to go next. I found them in what passed for the mess hall, as they negotiated with desperate fugitives whose shuttle had reached Exemplar, but who had no way to travel further, about adapting Gadfly‘s hold into makeshift living quarters; they were arguing over how much to charge people who had lost everything for taking them to the nearest inhabited planet.
I told the captain she would charge them nothing. I had chartered Gadfly and her crew, and I would take on the passengers at my expense. The crew had agreed to a fee, I had paid half in advance, and they would receive the other half, as agreed, upon completion. She objected that the expenses of converting the hold were not included in our agreement; we entered into a discussion, when all I wanted to do was sleep.
Some kind of disturbance interrupted our negotiation, as what security there was started rushing around. Everyone started asking questions, everyone was afraid of another alien attack. The refugees and would-be rescuers were alarmed, and panic was imminent. Responding to increasingly urgent demands from the crowd to be told what was going on, the station personnel disclosed that a ship had just taken off without authorisation. It was Gadfly.
Horatio had had the grace to gather the crew’s personal possessions, throw them into a couple of crates, and leave them in the hangar. My duffle bag was in there too, and under my change of clothes and my toiletries bag I found a small, roughly cut piece of material, with his TSN Lieutenant and Fighter Squadron Leader badges sewn on. I have it still.
I don’t need to go into detail about the reactions of Gadfly‘s captain and crew; or those of the group of refugees whose hope of asylum had just been taken away. It took some time, and the majority of my immediately available funds, to deal with the consequences.