Operation Shieldbreaker [September 3304]

Chronicle #27

Along with Canonn Research, the Children plan to survey the out-of-bounds Cone Sector

In the aftermath of Project Dynasty and the galactic conspiracy that was hinted at, attention quickly turned back to the various permit-locked sectors of space that still dotted the greater Orion and Barnard areas. With more and more rumours of clandestine heavy industry projects and even hidden capital ship manufacturing going on there unchecked, the Children of Raxxla (CoR) in August 3304 decided to try and lift the veil of one of these regions: The elusive Cone sector.

This sector was particularly interesting, because while it was still open for space travel, it lay within and was surrounded by the permit-locked NGC 2264 sector. So while still open, it seemed to be inaccessible due to jump range constraints, and the CoR wanted to find out if there were any loop holes that had eluded the Pilots Federation in the past. This was the goal of Operation Shieldbreaker.

As a first step the CoR deployed a navigation team to survey a number of neutron stars for possible frame-shift drive charging. The second task was combing the sectors for any catalog stars that may have been overlooked by Universal Cartographics and the Pilots Federation when they locked the NGC 2264 sector down in late 3301. The goal was to see if any such overlooked systems, if they existed, could be used as a drive-charged jump-in point and thus cross the locked sector.

Coincidentally, the Canonn Research Group had planned a somewhat similar expedition at the same time. Canonn wanted to use their megaship Gnosis and its 500 light year range to jump across the permit-locked sector, right into the Cone sector. Plans to move the ship to the Formidine Rift had been halted and by August Canonn had layed out a new flight plan that would set the ship on its new course.

With the news of a mobile base with a 500 light year range arriving, the plans for Operation Shieldbreaker were altered accordingly. Although a fair number of neutron stars surrounding the “permit donut” had been surveyed by Commanders Jackie Silver, Karnath and Andrew Gaspurr in the meantime, the survey was put on hold in favour of a more hands-on approach: A call was sent out to all available CoR pilots to board the Gnosis and to jump into the Cone sector along with her.

The mission briefing can be found in the CoR vaults as Dossier: Operation Shieldbreaker.

The operation plan for Shieldbreaker now included a “North Team” and a “South Team” assigned to the sector survey. The teams were tasked with a thorough survey, including a search for artificial orbital and surface constructions, unknown signal sources or wreckage and also for ammonia worlds. Before September, 6th, some 30 CoR pilots had boarded the Gnosis when the megaship was finally scheduled to jump.

However, the hyperjump did not go as planned. The Gnosis had travelled to the Outotz ST-I d9-4 system, where it then made the final hyperjump. While travelling through witchspace, the megaship was hyperdicted by Thargoid ships and thrown off-course. It didn’t reach Cone Sector FN-J b9-0 as planned but exited witchspace back in their departing system. There, it came under immediate attack by swarms of Thargoid Hydras, a new type of interceptor AEGIS Operation Eagle Eye had recently identified.

The Hydras were extremely powerful and most pilots’ exploration ships were no match for their superior armament. In the onslaught, many ships trying to flee the system were destroyed. In a desparate move, a number of brave pilots managed to bait and lure the Hydras away by dropping meta-alloys in space. This temporarily forced the Hydras into a “scoop and rescue” mode for the alloys while another wave of exploration ships managed to make an escape to the Bubble and call in reinforcements.

During this daring move, eight CoR ships were destroyed or disabled with their black boxes humming the ships’ last known positions. The Children subsequently launched their own rescue mission and coordinated with Canonn and some of the anti-xeno groups (AXI) to get all the Gnosis‘ stranded pilots home.

In the end, Operation Shieldbreaker and most of Canonn’s own expedition had turned into a rescue mission and the Cone sector was revealed to be another hotspot of Thargoid activity.

The sector remains locked until today, its perimeter being scouted frequently by AXI forces.

Out-of-game context:

Whereas Frontier locked down the NGC 2264 sector in 2016, the Cone sector had remained unlocked, but its location “inside” NGC 2264 prevented ships to hyperjump there. Ships would need a jump range of at least 460 light years, which they just couldn’t achieve. This changed with the introduction of the Gnosis and her 500 light years range.

It was evidently an oversight by Frontier not to lock the Cone sector down in the first place so when Canonn announced they were jumping in there, Frontier needed a Plan B. The stakes and expectations were raised significantly, when a large amount of players — mostly explorers and myth seekers — embarked on the ship.

When the Gnosis was scheduled to jump on September, 6th, Frontier implemented their plan: The Gnosis would be hyperdicted by a new and more dangerous type of Thargoid ship, the Hydra. The story would then be that the Gnosis was thrown off course during the jump and strand in another system. Players would then have the opportunity to fight off swarms of these new ships and discover a new ground structure in the aftermath.

The plan went awry, however. By accident, the announcement that the Gnosis had misjumped was released prior to the jump itself so players logging into the game found the ship still in its system of departure. And they found the ship under siege: The Gnosis was under attack by a new kind of Thargoid ships. This lead to a number of problems and also a lot of frustration. While the Thargoid ships were new and very powerful, most of the players had embarked the Gnosis in their light and often unarmed exploration ships — which were no match for the Thargoids. In addition to that, the Thargoids ships lingered within firing range of the landing pads so any ship undocking found itself swiftly under lethal fire. It proved to be a death trap for most exploration ships. Armed ships had other problems to face:

To add even more insult to damage, players that tried to defend the Gnosis and destroy the Thargoid ships were fined by the Gnosis’ very own flight security when they actually wanted to defend her from the Hydras. This was another oversight by Frontier: A station’s 5 Km no-fire zone and the attached crime and punishment rules. There were even players who were deported to a detention facility in the Witch Head area while trying to help the beleaguered ship, because a bounty was issued on their heads — also by the Gnosis. Of course this caused much anger and frustration, in addition to that already caused by the botched “hyperdiction” event.

All in all, the reception of Frontier’s “intervention” was heavily criticised, with many saying that the company had botched a well planned exploratory player event (with hundreds of players attending) by locking the area down in front of them and only when the event had started, and by substituting the event with more mindless Thargoid combat, although with a new type of adversary.