Alderman Farm was not the first remote settlement hit by the Volsta Empire, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. Over the next five and a half years the fringe of the Empire unleashed more attacks on the planet, and had even taken Central City, the planet’s capital. Farringdon III had resources a growing empire needed, and they intended to burn every farmstead, subjugate every facility, and use the world to fuel their expansion.
The Volstoy Colony Fleet had left the Earth centuries ago, sent on their way by first generation warp encapsulators. Now they were coming back from the depths of space, no longer quite human and with no interest in commerce or negotiation. Other fringe systems had been hit by them too, and one of the last messages they got before the fall of Central City was that the Galactic Federation was scrambling their armies to meet the threat at all conflict points.
Some farmsteads capitulated, working for the Volsta and finding most of their produce diverted to the war effort. Central City rolled over for the invading empire after the Farmer’s Council was eliminated. Those who stood up for their rights, like Jarell and Joran Foster, were made examples of. The Foster farmstead had fallen three years ago, incinerated by a volley of fire from a ground assault ship.
Jena had spilled blood long before her first period. A scout from a raid team had found the survivors of the farmstead by accident. Startled as he was to see the huddled few with their meagre possessions, he wasted precious seconds before activating his comms beacon. With her father’s hunting rifle gripped in her arms, Jena had fired five slivers of energy into him before he hit the ground. Placing a worn boot on the shredded chestplate of the enemy, she delivered another shot into the pale, pointed face that stared skywards.
She was twelve when she had her first confirmed kill, and in the three years that followed, many more dots were etched into the stock of her rifle. She even made a few on her ceramisteel axe and her sling, thanks to the open-faced helmets the Volsta soldiers wore.
Not that the young woman spent all her time fighting. A satchel held dataslates that she spent hours pouring over. From military tactics to technological specifications and scientific reports. She had helped tinker and tune a lot of the vehicles and machines on the farm as a kid, maintaining their scant supply of weapons and working on traps was not a great deal different from that work. Resistance groups had sprung up all over Farringdon III, and the Falcons that Jena Foster belonged to were one of the more notorious among the invaders. The defense of Kayo Farm only proved how well that notoriety was deserved, and the group would live in infamy from their next strike.
Wrapped in camouflage netting made of scraps from ruined clothing, Jena watched from her perch with her rifle to hand. The dropship had finished loading supplies from Kayo Farm, and the marauders were ready for their final act before leaving. Two of them had their weapons pointed at the gathered farmers bound by rope, five were lugging a heavy barrel of fuel in their direction ready to detonate it and leave the land scorched. It had taken a lot of talking to restrain her forces this long, but they knew the signal.
Peering down the scope, she took the barrel in her sights. They were far enough from the dropship, far enough from the restrained settlers. With a pull of the trigger, she lanced the barrel. The surge of flame erupted with a great roar, engulfing the five Volsta and leaving the two guards reeling back from the sight of their fellows caught in the inferno.
Two more shots burst forth, taking both guards in the back and sending them stumbling forwards. The Volsta might have had more men, but their technology had stagnated in their isolation, and even poorly equipped as they were the Falcons had some advantages.
The dropship pulled up from the ground, its weapons systems searching. That was when one of the young girls who had joined them demonstrated her talent. With a whip of her wrist she let a sphere loose from Jena’s sling. Colliding with the sensor array on the front of the ship, it shattered and let its contents spill out.
The mix of conductive paste and metal fillings was the idea of Jena’s middle brother, Jaret. Made after careful observation and analysis, he had formulated the plan and the compound. Smeared against the sensor array, the dropship reared back as it computed navigation dangers that weren’t real and responded to objects that weren’t present, mere shadows and errors putting the ship in danger. It span out wildly as it careened back, only to plummet into the field it had landed on.
Jena whistled the hunting call, and the Falcons were storming it as a small group freed the farmers, offering them sanctuary in the forests and caves they called home. The guard and the pilot on the ship, knocked senseless as they were, didn’t react as the Falcons killed them where they stood. Together with the farmers they unloaded the supplies before starting on the ship itself. Stripping it for parts, for information, for weaknesses. Then they sunk back into the undergrowth with their new members and their hauls loaded on all-terrain crawlers.
Jaret ran to meet his little sister when they returned to the camp. He was thinner than Joran, with glasses perched on the bridge of his nose. Truth be told they were all thinner than they should have been, they had to make the most of their supplies. Jena herself was all wiry muscle, her hair roughly cut short and her lips seldom graced by a smile. As he released her from the hug, she pressed a cartridge into his palm. “The data from the Volsta dropship. Be sure to let the other resistance groups know about the scramble paste, it did a number on the ship.”
Jaret nodded, taking her scar-lashed hands and almost dragging the fighter to one of the recessed camp-fires with a cooking pot perched on top. “Eat, Jena. I’ll need time to look over this data and see if I can write something to affect their systems.” He pushed her down to sit, his hands on her shoulders. While he was more of a thinker than a do-er, he still had some strength to him.
Still, she tried to get up again instead of taking a bowl. “There’s the parts we stripped to sort through, and the Kayo folk to get sett-”
“If Father was here he’d be telling you to eat too. Others here can take care of that. Rest. Eat.” Jaret smiled, before considering his sister. “Besides,” he added, “you’re no good to the cause if you keel over.”
Jena’s eyes shot up to look at him, and she actually chuckled as she called him one of the terms her father would get elbowed for using in front of their mother.
“Love you too, Jena.”
It was several weeks later after the Kayo Farm incident when Jaret gathered the top level members of the Falcons in his workshop. On a holoprojector he had a list of commands displayed in the air next to him. “After extensive research on the dump of a Volsta Dropship’s operating instructions, these are the codes I think I could exploit, and-” He brought up another set, “given what we know of their transmission protocols, these are the ones I think a program could propagate through their command network. I’ve a few ideas, and I’m open to hearing suggestions.”
Jena stared at the two sets of instructions as talk babbled around her. She waited for a lull in one of the arguments over suggestions before throwing her hand up.
“Jena?” Her brother asked.
“Would that one for medical evacuation explain the behaviour we have seen from some dropships in the past? A very controlled take-off and a return to one of their orbital bases?”
“And it could be broadcast through the network to make other ships leave?”
Another nod. “Though once they got to their orbital base, they could just come back down.”
Jena leaned back on her rough wooden stool. “Could we send one ship up to its base, broadcast it on delay, and then recall the other active drop ships? If we had a ship to infect first, that is?”
Jaret ran over the idea in his head. “That should be possible. Have you got an idea?”
When Jena had finished explaining just what she was thinking, one of the meanest men in the camp ran from the workshop and could be heard retching outside.
“You’ve turned vicious on us, little sister.” Jaret reprimanded her gently.
“The Volsta were responsible for that, I’m just returning the favour. Can it be done?”
“It can, if my research is correct. Can -you- do it?” He asked pointedly.
Pushing herself up from her sitting position, Jena Foster turned to head outside. “Just watch me.”
It took several more weeks for all the parts of Jena’s plan to come together. Adjustments were made to the program Jaret was working on, and various targets were sifted through to locate the best possible one for just what she had planned. They had decided to trek a little further out to a farmstead that was firmly under the Volsta’s thumb. Dropships regularly traveled to the farm to gather supplies to take up to the orbital bases. That schedule was the keystone of the plan.
As night fell around the Ishigaki farmstead, the Farringdon Falcons slipped through the darkness to surround the building. Quickly subduing the watchmen, they moved to phase two. Sleeping gas grenades were dropped down the chimneys and placed in the air intake vents to fill the assorted bunkhouses that the staff had retired to. With masks on their faces the Falcons made their entry to restrain the gassed traitors, binding them with heavy-duty tapes and ties to ensure they didn’t escape or alert the incoming ship.
Then they waited. Jena was tucked into the recesses of a small workshop near where the ship landed, her axe in one hand and a hunting knife in the other. She dozed intermittently, conserving her strength and trying her best to stave off the nerves from what she needed to do to ensure the plan would go right. The greatest risk was on her.
The Volsta had grown complacent. They landed and disembarked to head to the farmhouse, their weapons slung at their sides rather than in their hands. They left the dropship door open for ease of loading. As the soldiers walked to the farmstead in the early morning sun, Jena sprang from the shadows and made her way into the ship. Her axe swung first, falling between the collar and the helmet of one of the guards to bite through his spine, felling him with ease. The pilot turned just in time to see the knife driving towards his unprotected neck.
A few seconds later she heard the shots ring out from the farmhouse as the rest of her team completed their mission. Those that lived were quickly bound and gagged and hurled into the cargo bay of the dropship as she worked, installing the device in the engine compartment as Jaret’s program was injected into the ship’s operating system.
With everything set Jena hit the medivac command and leapt from the ship to run clear as it started emergency take-off procedures.
Every once in a while, some idiot on a dropship got injured during a supply run. From dropping boxes on their feet or messing about with farm machinery, to a pilot getting an uneasy stomach from some food. Orbital Base Vadarai-7 noted the incoming dropship returning from the Ishigaki Supply Point issuing a medivac signal and sent the auto-dock command across, directing it to bay four for unloading crops and unloading idiots.
A burst of comms chatter came from the dropship as finished the docking procedure, filtering out across the command network. The technicians on the Vadarai-7 were looking to investigate when the explosion ripped through the bay and started down the large corridors of the orbital base.
“Commandant,” the operations officer on the Pride of Volsta reported, “Vadarai-7 is under atta- … Vadarai-7 has gone offline.”
“How can it be under attack?! These peasant do not even have gunships!” Commandant Ginv replied, watching on his monitor screen as the orbital base was torn apart from the inside by explosions.
“A dropship returned under medivac settings just beforehand.” The ops officer stated, before gulping. “Commandant, more dropships are leaving the planet and returning to their orbital bases under medivac settings.”
Ginv shot up from his chair. “How many more?”
“All of them. Every dropship currently planetside.”
Ginv’s jaw was shaking as wildly as his hands were trembling.
“Shoot them down.” He gave the order.
The ops officer blinked, turning in his chair to look at the Commandant.
“SHOOT THEM DOWN! SHOOT EVERY LAST DROPSHIP DOWN!” Ginv shrieked. “IF WE DON’T, THEY’LL TAKE EVERY BASE OUT!”
“But Commandant, what about-” The ops officer was cut off as Ginv hurled him out of his chair before issuing the orders himself. Every orbital base and the Pride turned their weapons on the incoming mass of ships.
Jena sat on the roof of the Ishigaki farmstead with a small thimble in one hand, and her father’s old hipflask in the other. Filling the thimble with rich brown liquor, she raised a toast to the sky as distant explosions could be seen far above the rich blue.
“For Joran.” She said as the carnage unfolded, before knocking back the tiny shot of alcohol. “For Jarell.”