The following takes place immediately after Tal’s return to the Sirius sector.
The wormhole’s mesmerizing white swirl, reminscent of that of Sirian jumpgates, eventually gave way after what seemed like an eternity of staring blankly out of the tinted cockpit glass. Surrounding him in it’s place, however, was a murky, dark purple nebula cloud, the neuron-esque rock formations revealing themselves with every flash of what looked like lightning. Tal, in his handy Liberator light fighter, would know what this place was: the Badlands. The very mention of it’s name sent fear into the hearts of LPI officers across Liberty, a harsh, unforgiving cloud where the hazards and pirates were bountiful. It was only in a place like this that the refuse of Sirius would find refuge, having been otherwise driven from civilization by the power of the law. Being a Freelancer, it wouldn’t necessarily frighten him to be in Rogue territory, but his ship and the registration papers belonged to the Police.
“Ah, shit,” he muttered, kicking the engines back into gear and pulling up the starchart. He was about as deep inside the Badlands as one could get, showing up at around D7, far from the lanes. He had this area mapped on his personal fighter, but LPI ships purposefully had the Badlands unmapped and unmarked in order to discourage officers from entering it. From here, he could head map west, hitting either the Pennsylvania jump gate or the West Point trade lane, whichever showed up first.
Carefully, he changed headings to due west, activating his cruise engines and leaning back in the seat as the fighter picked up speed. It was a long way to Sigma 19 from New York, but he’d manage. First, however, he needed to get out this Police fighter, as both the lawfuls and the unlawfuls would be asking questions.
“Speak of the motherfucking devil,” he thought, as two red contacts came up on scope, 3.5k out. Too close, way too close. His arrival in the system must’ve set off some kind of energy cascade, one that nearby Buffalo station must’ve picked up and dispatched a patrol. Wait, there were two more. Now four more. What the hell? Where were all these Rogues coming from?
WARNING, INCOMING MISSILE! his computer barked, as a distinctive streak of orange danced through the asteroids and hit him dead on, cutting his engines to a halt. Immediately, he kicked in his afterburners, going evasive as the multiple red arrows on his HUD began to grow deeper in color. They were closing in. His best bet now would be to reason with them, maybe they’d understa–
He rocked forwards in his seat as the first rounds hit him, immediately going full evasive in the face of several other fighters opening up on him. The small shape of the Liberator, coupled with it’s agility, allowed him to dance between the asteroids and the fighters, narrowly escaping an ambush as his shields came back online. Panicked, he reached down to try and open a comms channel, hoping to get them to call off their attack, but no one seemed to be picking up. It looked like radiation damage had knocked out his comms, and they hadn’t been repaired on Blazing Umbra.
A Rogue fighter, a Hyena, by the looks of it, crossed into his line of fire, trying to go head on with the much more maneuverable Liberator and failing. Tal switched to weapons and rolled the ship right 70 degrees, pitching up while firing the directional thrusters to make him a harder target to hit, as there were still a good several ships on his tail trying to take him. With his eyes on the prize, the helmet cueing system targeted the Hyena, and he locked his guns on target before letting loose a quick salvo from his Debilitator pulse cannons. The enemy’s shields fell quickly, as the Hyena was a pretty poorly-made and, in this case, piloted ship, and a rapid chainfire barrage from his twin Vengeance laser cannons sawed the thin hull of the light fighter in two, before it could even repair with shield batteries or nanobots. Splash one.
He danced like this with the Rogues for some time, unable to make a break for it as reinforcements gradually trickled in until it felt like he was fighting the entire Liberty Rogue flotilla. Just as quickly as they arrived, they fell, but the never-ending stream of Rogue fighters meant that Tal had no opportunity to try and make a break for it, until eventually, he was able to blast a clearing through his sixth fighter kill and the asteroid behind it, speeding off through the hole at full afterburner with about four more fighters in hot pursuit. From here, they were all out of weapons range, and judging by the star chart, he was heading in the right direction. That is, until he was hit by a missile.
WARNING, INCOMING MISSILE! his computer had tried to warn him, before it hit him dead-on on the port side. Rocking violently in his chair, he checked his systems, noticing that his shields were gone just as the second one hit him. The Liberator crumbled underneath him, while the automatic ejection system took control and managed to get him out of there before it all exploded.
He caught a glimpse of the perpetrator from his pod, a Rogue destroyer that emerged from the nebula clouds, along with two more full-yield cruise missiles, both of which had lost their targets as there was not enough left of his fighter to lock onto. Figures, he thought, that they’d throw a cruiser on him when it was clear that they weren’t gonna get him otherwise. He didn’t have much time to think of anything else, though, because his escape pod smashed against an asteroid, causing him to lurch forwards and smack his head on the center flight console.
Everything went black.