Showing the system authorities the natural consequences of "peaceful" co-existence with the Thargoids had been the first step.
The second was showing them the effects of their denial and negligence - and how adept the pilots of AEGIS Vanguard Division were becoming at bypassing them entirely.
"With or without your help."
Wingnut's message had not fallen on deaf ears.
Slowly, but surely, the population begrudgingly came to accept the Vanguard's presence in Mentor, even if the party line from their leaders continued to publicly disagree with AEGIS' mission.
The rhetoric was the same. "Surely," the pundits argued with anger over sincerity. "The Thargoids have been attracted to AEGIS holdings because of their connection to INRA, and the aliens are certainly not ignoring Megaships anymore.
The Vanguard will only attract trouble directly to Mentor, mark my words."
But in all this vitriolic fervor, something had been lost. Nobody was trying to deny AEGIS' effectiveness anymore.
Wingnut was not done maneuvering yet.
One day, when the Vanguard mission board was clear, the Commander stripped the Serial Peacemaker to its bare bones, packing only a fuel scoop, a cargo rack, and a rack of stellar scanners.
Configured as an explorer, capable of 30+ Ly jumps, he set off for the far end of the Pleiades Nebula to begin scanning.
Titan's Daughter, in the Taygeta system, was the first station to come under attack almost a year ago, and it was where Wingnut had first begun pulling people from the fires of hell.
And so began the story of his controversial three-day survey report; "The State of Pleiades."
With a punch of hydraulics, the hangar pad dislodged from the far ceiling and lowered itself. Aboard was the "Serial Peacemaker," the cargo racks already abuzz with wheeled loading limpets exchanging cargo.
"Being unloaded presently," Wingnut addressed the assembled executives "is approximately sixty tonnes of Mark 23 inflatable survival shelters from Core Dynamics. Twenty-five tonnes of water, two tonnes of advanced medicines, two tonnes of clothing.
The last five tonnes is scrap." The one half of the audience, the ones physically present, recoiled in horror at the pungent waft.
Air filters beeped and went into overdrive.
The scrap in question, was only a small fraction of the spoiled armour plates that had infested Whitelaw Enterprise's HAZMAT hangar. A collective groan went up.
"This is - all of it - from the Tote system market. I want you to let that sink in for a moment, folks.
AEGIS is not in that system, yet the attacks continue. It doesn't take a genius to figure this out - some of you have open requests for this exact same problem.
While you guys are dragging your feet, forcing us to look for support from other systems, people are still losing their ships, their homes, their lives.
Where you are not - AEGIS is helping them."
He stepped away from the caustic pile of pitted metals and melted polymers, and towards the tightly bundled shelter-packs, each unit a fully self-enclosed bubble barely large enough to house a single person with food and oxygen for a comfortable - if very dull - month.
"See, I personally have delivered so far," Wingnut cleared his throat here, pausing for full effect. "around twelve hundred of these units to the Vanguard - in the past three days, from Whitelaw Enterprise in Tote. And demand is still not going down, ladies and gentlemen."
He gave them a moment to do their math. There were uncomfortable expressions exchanged.
"Now imagine around this time next week, each and every single Vanguard Division pilot will be shuttling that much weight - in body bags instead."
"Now being loaded, on the other hand."
Wingnut indicated the bundles of hull plate, engineered here on the Vanguard on an hourly basis. "The AEGIS Vanguard - in case some of you have forgotten" he added in a sardonic tone. "is a combat ship. Expressly, an Anti-Thargoid Megaship."
"As its mission is to deal with an especially toxic adversary, the Vanguard's manufactory is specifically designed to deal with the same problem you all are ignoring.
Since ships are being attacked in your separate territories, they're stopping in for decontamination. Quality of life is going down aboard some stations like Whitelaw Enterprise.
Simple decon services will never pay for the damage this facility incurs on a daily basis, and they have no other source of revenue.
They can not get this material from anywhere else in your systems. Nobody even produces it in the quantities they need.
So I thought to myself - why don't we?
Turns out, it's a real money-maker.
It is because we can provide reactive armor and hull plates on a nearly industrial scale - a Megaship scale, even - that the authorities in Tote are all too happy to trade with us what we need in turn. Everything we can't get from you - which, frankly, has been a lot as of late."
"While you were all trading oxygen over the values of the Empire, those of us working with AEGIS are busy finding solutions, seizing opportunities, opening new horizons, drawing upon the support of your fiercest competitors, and still managing to drive the enemy out.
AEGIS is getting the job done.
WE... are getting the job done.
With or without your help."
"Colonel Jazlynn McDowell, Mentor Movement"
"Senior Executive Daryl Richmond, Silver Bridge Industries of Mentor."
"Senior Executive Edward Morse, Wolf 255 Federal Industry."
"Envoy Aylin Bauer, Union of Mentor Green Party."
"Executive Briza Chapman, Vision Commodities of Mentor."
"Commander Bruce Kerr, League of Mentor Justice Party."
Wingnut stood before the assembled circle, his hands folded smartly behind his back. "Thank you all for coming, ladies and gentlemen. Those of you telepresencing in, your attention is also appreciated.
My name is Commander Wingnut English, an independent pilot working on behalf of the AEGIS Vanguard Division. Within the Federation, I hold the rank of Post Commander.
Critics in the Empire have made it abundantly clear, perhaps among some of you personally, that they feel the people aboard the Vanguard - our people - may not be doing the job you all expect them to.
Those critics demand proof. Proof of our efforts. Proof that AEGIS can justify their presence in your system, that this is not merely a matter of occupation, but of your very survival.
I have invited you all here today, because I have that proof."
Randomly recorded aboard the Serial Peacemaker's bridge on approach to the Vanguard - two days ago.
Wingnut: "Okay, here we go. Don't rush this. First impressions are everything."
HOTBOX: Aegis Megaship Vanguard, This is Lakon Hotel-Oscar-Tango, dash Bravo Oscar X-Ray, commanded by Post Commander Commander Wingnut English Commander commanding commander fuck
GALCORRECT: Post Commander Commander Wingnut English commanding Lakon Tail Number Hotel Oscar Tango, dash, Bravo Oscar X-Ray, you have been recorded expressing language...
Autistic screaming ensues on the channel, soon joined by a Traffic Controller who has no idea what's going on.
General panic ensues.
--: Later :--
When the fire sprinklers finally shut down, the only sound over the ruined hangar pad 07 was that of a small, tinny speaker that refused to be silenced in the inferno, let alone consumed.
"GALCORRECT is a registered susidiary of the Sirius Corporation.
This message will expire in thirty days."
As Wingnut disembarked and connected to the Commodities Market, one eye on the grocery list from AEGIS Vanguard, he caught a whiff and gagged.
Thargoid goo. Again, evoking memories of cat urine and fossil fuel vapors.
Though Whitelaw Enterprise was not declared at risk of coming under attack (AEGIS was situated in the neighboring Mentor system), ships were coming in splattered in the stuff.
An Orca, drabbled in flecks of green, touched down on the neighboring pad and decontamination units went to work. High-pressure hoses atomized the stuff and sent it airborne, where even the starport's highly regulated air filters struggled to remove it all from the atmosphere.
There was not much that could be done about the smell.
Many of these ships could not be thoroughly scrubbed, and Wingnut noted with some curiosity the sheer number of contaminated hullplates being stacked in the corner of one cordoned-off hangar.
Even diluted, there was steam coming from the landing pads and walkways as puddles of the acid pitted and corroded the metal without remorse.
"Mister Vega, tell me about Whitelaw."
"Accessing. One moment, Commander.
Whitelaw Enterprise. Coriolis Starport, orbiting Tote ABC 2. On the moon below us is the Barcelo Installation low-security prison facility, now mostly evacuated after Tote showed signs of extreme solar flare activity.
The station was set up as a refugee shelter to provide protection from the radiation, while evacuation ships arrived from other systems."
"Barcelo?" interjected Wingnut. "Any relation to the Barcelo Penal Colony on Mitterand Hollow?" He still remembered that moon, and the planet that spun through its empty skies at dizzying speeds.
He wasn't quite sure whether the swaying of his chair was from remembering the vertiginous Hollow, or smelling that awful bouquet. Unperturbed as any disembodied voice, Vega replied.
"Same contractor. Privatized jails never quite went out of fashion within the Federation. Whitelaw Enterprise was built under the Barcelo umbrella to evacuate the colony, and since then the prison has not maintained much of a population.
It would be interesting to note that most of the general population of Barcelo Installation did in fact wind up at Barcelo Penal, and reside there even now.
This station, meanwhile, presently serves as an ad hoc decontamination depot for passing ships that encounter Thargoids and their caustic weapons."
Wingnut nodded thoughtfully. "That explains the uncanny surplus of emergency shelters they have on hand. The Vanguard happens to need a -lot- of these. And in turn, the Vanguard has something... that these people need.
Mister Vega... I think I have an idea forming. Pull up the Hutton Helper on HOTPAD-02."
One week ago:
"Commander English, your assignment has come through. Your client will once again be AEGIS Research. You are to liaise with Compatriot Iris Callahan on behalf of the Federation, running logistics and the occasional Thargoid interdiction."
"Thargoid? Where are you sending me this time?"
"You're going to the Maia system in the Pleiades Nebula to meet with the AEGIS Megaship 'Vanguard.' But be warned, there are extraneous factors at play that may influence your mission."
"What kind of factors?"
"it's ... complicated. Callahan will brief you once they've made their jump to the Mentor system. Be sure to get up-to-date on GALNET on your way there. You have two hours before the Vanguard departs for its next stop."
GALNET: Anti-Thargoid Megaships Deployed by Aegis 31 MAR 3304
Aegis has constructed two megaships, the Acropolis and the Vanguard, to help counter the Thargoid threat.
The announcement came from Admiral Aden Tanner, who explained the ships’ purpose:
“It is vital that Aegis has a military presence in the theatre of conflict. These new ships will coordinate anti-Thargoid operations wherever they are deployed, and will support independent pilots.”
“In response to recent Thargoid incursions, the Acropolis has been dispatched to the Lunguni system, while the Vanguard is operating in the Mentor system. However, their key advantage over a starport or base is their mobility, so both will periodically relocate to wherever they can be strategically effective.”
Admiral Tanner went on to stress the importance of the development:
“Constructing these two gigantic vessels was a considerable undertaking for Aegis, but we are convinced the expense and effort is worthwhile. Our remit requires us to occupy a guiding role in the resistance against the Thargoids, and these megaships will bring that into focus."
GALNET: Aisling Duval Criticises Aegis 05 APR 3304
In a public interview, Princess Aisling Duval levelled criticism at Aegis in relation to the ongoing Thargoid conflict.
“The people are scared,” she said. “They fear that their way of life – their very existence – might vanish unless more is done to protect them. I’m not convinced Aegis is capable of doing so. The Empire has invested heavily in the organisation. Are we sure the other powers have done the same?”
“It has taken far too long for Aegis to determine why the Thargoids are attacking, and it’s not clear what their strategy is now. If we are to trust them to defend humanity, we need to see more obvious progress.”
Although Princess Duval has received some support for her viewpoint, The Federal Times offered a sarcastic rebuttal:
“Apart from undertaking scientific research, developing defensive systems, producing anti-Thargoid weaponry, creating the Eagle Eye surveillance network, building two military megaships and actively engaging Thargoid forces in combat…what has Aegis ever done for us?”
A media spokesperson for the Alliance was equally dismissive:
“This is nothing more than public posturing – an attention-seeking gambit from someone who is no longer as newsworthy as she once was. Aegis has made incredible breakthroughs, and is clearly dedicated to ending the Thargoid war.”
"Commander, Compatriot Callahan sends her sincerest regrets concerning your position. AEGIS' influence in the system has been completely overridden.
Interstellar Factors has informed me that this is likely due to the influence of rogue Commanders aligned with Imperial values.
This places us in a very awkward position. Regrettably, you will not be able to complete missions nor collect rewards through the Vanguard operations crew directly.
Instead, you will have to help AEGIS re-establish their independence by working with local system authorities."
Wingnut could not believe what he was hearing. There were Commanders out there, clearly, who were the 34th-century equivalent of social justice warriors, star-spotted Princess-watching snowflakes who clearly disagreed with the steps being taken to protect the human race from the threat of extinction.
They were determined to see AEGIS crippled and powerless, a few seeking a moral high road instead of the survival of the many.
What had this empty-brained mouthpiece ever contributed to those enormous effort to fortify the Bubble?
If the Empire had even one Thargoid kill to its name, one escape pod salvaged from a burning starport, one measly life saved by a rubber tent and bottled water, Princess Aisling Duval could not even take the credit for that.
Wingnut, on the other hand, had defended more than a few Federal Gunships as they came under fire from Scouts, and had even held off a Basilisk long enough for one to escape.
That had cost him at least a year off his life from the scare factor alone. Had the Princess ever known fear, safe in her lofty space palaces and remote vacation planets?
When INRA's research had been discovered, the Princess cried out in protest and sicced the ethics watchdog on the galaxy. Her army of smitten followers rioted, attacking authorities in "pro-human" systems with all of the venom of the extra-galactic invaders and none of the common sense.
When AEGIS had adapted the mycoid fungus research and developed technologies to fight the Thargoids on equal terms, she had wailed about inhumane treatment of the specimens on which these experiments had been conducted.
When the Thargoids first began attacking in the Pleiades, she was the first to withdraw Imperial forces, leaving the Federation with no choice but to do the same.
And as those attacks intensified, the same Princess perched upon her throne, safe in Cubeo, and ignorantly preached the virtues of turning the other cheek.
And when wiser minds patiently tried to explain that those lives would have been lost anyway, her response was; "We don't know that. If AEGIS had simply left the system in peace, the Thargoids would have had absolutely no reason to remain."
He knew. He had seen them. He had killed them.
He had been close enough to smell their ammonia-based blood - helping the ground crew scrub the caustic oils from the hull of the Serial Peacemaker had left a distinct pong of cat urine and diesel fuel in the back of his sinuses, that never quite went away.
Even here in Mentor, only a few scant light-years away from the outskirts of the Bubble, reports of Thargoids of all kinds were coming in from neighboring systems.
The enemy was not just at their door, but doing their best to bang it in - the alien menace was not just going to float away, just because some blue-haired bint in a fancy prom dress said "This is offensive!"
And at the back of Wingnut's head was always the possibility of an attack on Colonia, resulting in a second front from the direction of the Neutron Highway.
That was still a strong possibility, to which many indicators (namely the sudden appearance of AX weapons in the markets of Colonia) still pointed.
And now this - everywhere the Vanguard (and the Serial Peacemaker) went, these anonymous Imperial commanders followed, interfering with its operations and influencing the local system authorities against AEGIS.
All Wingnut could do, aside from the basic grocery run for the Vanguard crew, was stockpile and deliver tonnes of emergency evacuation shelters - as the bodies kept piling up and the refugees kept massing.
All Callahan could do was shrug her shoulders and refer him once again to the Mentor authorities for more pointless busywork. Without their support, AEGIS' presence in Mentor counted for nothing.
Something had to change.
"It's called Leestian Evil Juice. Unlike most forms of alcohol, it completely debilitates your inhibition. Completely. Your moral compass, for a period of about 24 hours, completely evaporates. You give in to rage, hate, all the negative aspects of Man that he works so hard to control and suppress. Highly illegal in most jurisdictions."
Wingnut scowled in regret. "You could have told me that before giving me a sip. How long before it kicks in?"
The wares merchant deliberated. "Five, maybe? No, probably closer to three."
When Wingnut came to, he was no longer in the Leesti system, but at the Combat Bonds office at Balandin Gateway in his new home port of the Rhea system.
Before him, an agent was tallying up. "Let's see - Rhea Labor Party, 24 kills." She paused, perplexed. "And fifteen kills for their enemy, Rhea Interstellar Travel.,." her note became even more strained. "Thirteen cruise liners are no longer among the top 1% - those are for the Rhea Purple Raiders ... ten Thargoid Marauders, Federation ..."
Wingnut's eyebrows rose above his aviator glasses.
The agent continued. "One transport ship carrying Momus Point Bog Spaniels to the Sirius Dog Show - that's,,,, Jet Hand Gang of Orispuscho.
140k against for your shenanigans around al-Din Prospect, then three passenger ships carrying nuns from the Holy Order of Van Maanen's Star, also for the Jet Hand. Defection to Shadow President Felicia Winters, 25k in fines for random interdictions against the Grom Party immediately following.
Elimination of forty corporate skimmers in Lave and Leesti... Promotion from the Pilots' Federation - your Combat Rating is now Expert, congratulations on that by the way - and another visit to your old friend Squeezy Stan,
Oh! And almost 500k in new fines with the Galactic Institute of Political Correctness, which is a registered subsidary of the Sirius Corporation.
You've had a busy day, Commander."
The agent tapped the corner of her PAD gently against the desk,, the 34th-century fallback of shuffling a sheaf of paper. "Commander, I've just finished the math. Between the combat bonds and the existing fines against you..."
"You've earned about 250 credits for your work. Thanks so much for supporting the Rhea System cooperative."
"You're fucking kidding me."
The PAD buzzed in her hands and she checked the screen. "Whoops, sorry. 248 credits."
"Hi, Commander English. Thank you so much for delivering twenty canisters of beer. As we previously discussed, you can choose one of the three rewards:
Wingnut stares at the screen. It's not even a decision worth deliberating. Realizing almost instantly that Rhea Interstellar is not a company that is going to stay in business for very long, he has to separate them from what he wants while they still have it.
"I'll take the money, thanks."
Wingnut's defection to the Grom Party proves to be an unpopular choice among the subordinates of Li Jong-Rui and Sirius.
He hears back from an old friend at the Galactic Institute of Political Correctness (GALCORRECT is a registered subsidiary of the Sirius Corporation).
Sirius Business (Spacebook Video)