Meanwhile, the Maxolhx military was trying to investigate who was really behind the actions of the Pirates, since a few doubted the cover story that the Bosphuraq were responsible. One particular patrol cruiser (the Vortan captained by Commander Illiath) went to the Bosphuraq system the Pirates attacked and found out that the star had been modified well after the research bases were destroyed. Illiath and the ship's AI decided that someone had likely framed the Bosphuraq, and that the next step was to find out who.
Colonel Joseph Bishop and the Pirates aboard their starhips (Valkyrie and the Flying Dutchman) returned to the beta site on Avalon to resupply and pick up the military personnel that had been left there. With Joe not seeing a way to do more than delay the inevitable Maxolhx response to the disappearance of their battlegroup, he decided their only option was to try and bring as many people to Avalon as possible after interfering with the Maxolhx.
The first acts of interference were overwhelmingly successful, with Valkyrie destroying ships throughout Maxolhx space and broadcasting a manifesto supposedly from a rogue Bosphuraq group. However, the Vortan found human DNA from the Renegades battle that destroyed the two cruisers heading to Earth. In addition, Maxolhx fleet headquarters had decided to lure Valkyrie into an ambush with a juicy target, a plan that played into Joe's desire to make a bold strike to impress Gunnery Sergeant Margaret Adams and hit the Maxolhx hard.Valkyrie jumped into battle expecting three destroyers and two light cruisers with a star carrier, and instead faced eight heavy cruisers, four patrol cruisers, and six destroyers with two star carriers, with almost half the ships projecting damping fields. However, several of the Maxolhx ships were unprepared for an attack, expecting Valkyrie to attack at a prepared ambush site rather than while some of the ships were being refitted.
Two heavy cruisers were immediately destroyed and their parent star carriers crippled, but the remaining ships engaged in a fighting pursuit of Valkyrie. Both sides got worn down, but Valkyrie suffered some devastating hits that would eventually end the pursuit. However, the Pirates had the idea to temporarily disrupt the damping fields by broadcasting a feedback signal, jumping a dropship into a gas giant and detonating some nukes, and then jumping into the collapsing low-pressure zone.
The environment almost destroyed Valkyrie, but Skippy the Magnificent was able to salvage the situation and raise the ship up out of the atmosphere. They destroyed one more of the Maxolhx ships that were looking for them and jumped away.
The Maxolhx were shaken by the failed ambush but learned that Valkyrie was far from invulnerable. The actions of the ship suggested that the group running it had somehow compromised multiple Maxolhx relay stations, but that they didn't have perfect knowledge or combat capabilities.
On Valkyrie, Joe had the idea to move dormant wormholes by several light years so that they could reduce the time needed to evacuate some people from Earth to Avalon. This wouldn't save nearly enough people, but it would be enough to ensure the future viability of Avalon as a beta site. However, before the broken wormhole closest to Earth, named Backstop, could be fixed and moved, the Gateway wormhole normally used by the Pirates would have to be shut down permanently.
With the continuing Maxolhx blockade of the far end of the Gateway wormhole preventing access to Earth, the Pirates recognized there was nothing to lose. After successfully moving the other wormhole, they started flying to the other wormholes to move them. On the way there, Joe had the idea to destroy the Maxolhx's faith in their communications system.
Before the Pirates could carry out their plan, Skippy found out that the Vortan, found tiny remnants of the Dutchman and human DNA. While the evidence was not enough to blow apart the planted cover story, it was enough to make Illiath suspicious.
Valkyrie arrived at the site where they would intervene in an ambush by the Maxolhx of several Bosphuraq battleships and civilian transports. The Bosphuraq put up a bold but futile resistance against the Maxolhx heavy cruisers, until Valkyrie jumped in, destroyed one heavy cruiser, and forced the other to retreat.
After the intact Bosphuraq ships jumped away, the Pirates took the regrettable action of destroying a disabled Bosphuraq battleship and planted evidence of compromised Maxolhx communication devices in it.
Illiath, delivered her findings to an interested, but skeptical, Admiral Urkan. Illiath speculated that the mystery ship was from the Rindhalu and they had a reason for their actions and the cover story. However, before the theory could be further investigated, the Maxolhx received news of the planted "pixies", cementing in their minds that the Bosphuraq had somehow leapfrogged their patrons.
After the successful attack on the Maxolhx, Skippy told Joe that he had to decide whether he wanted to intervene to save hundreds of abducted children and adults on a Kristang planet and potentially all humans on Paradise while risking the Pirates and even blowing their hard-fought cover story. The Thuranin were planning to use the humans to develop a bio-weapon to destroy UNEF and the concept of the Alien Legion.
Joe decided that a rescue was necessary and that the Pirates would have to abduct human special operations forces to increase numbers and complement their Special Tactics Assault Regiment (STAR) teams. They decided to obtain them from a Legion training exercise in Ruhar space. After capturing a Dodo dropship containing 18 members of a mostly French Commando team, a Ruhar liaison officer (Klasta Kattah Robbenon) and a Jeraptha cadet in training (Yula Fangiu), Joe had to convince the Commando forces to join the Pirates and confined the Ruhar and Jeraptha to cabins. 12 of the Commandos didn't need convincing. Among the Commandos, was Gunnery Sergeant Lamar Greene, who had a previous romantic relationship with Adams.
The Pirates developed a cover story that they were a rogue group of UNEF rescuing their own people. The STARs and the Commandos trained for the op at a site on a planet the Pirates named Club Skippy, that was located in a remote star system.
When they arrived at the planet in the Rahkarsh Diweln star system the Pirates nicknamed Rikers, they found out that the Kristang had started moving the humans to a more defensible location. The Pirates revised their plans and started infiltrating. With Skippy rerouting enemy units into more favorable positions, they were able to rescue the humans despite several surprises.
However, while the teams were extracting, Skippy got distracted with his newly recovered memories and let Joe's exfiltrating Dragon dropship get detected by the Kristang. Skippy's distraction affected Nagatha on the Dutchman, but the Dutchman was able to rescue the other dropships. Once Skippy came back to awareness, he was able to rescue Joe and Joe cajoled an extremely Skippy into talking about his regained memories.
Skippy found out that everything he had thought he knew was wrong. He discovered that an AI that didn't go rogue had used a Sentinel to kill the sapient species on Newark, the wormhole network was used to power the galactic barrier that protected the Elders from an unknown threat that could harm them even after ascension, and that Elder society had experienced two devastating wars, the first of which was a civil war between those that wanted to destroy all sapient species to protect Elder technology from being tampered with and those that didn't want to commit galactic genocide out of a misplaced sense of fear.
The genocide faction won the civil war and tasked Elder AIs with exterminating any sapient species that developed in the galaxy. Skippy found out that he developed empathy for primitive species and had rebelled against his original programming along with other Elder AIs. The second Elder war destroyed the AI Collective and Skippy was unsuccessful in saving Newark, but after regaining his memories he decided that it was more important to destroy the dormant genocidal AIs than help one primitive species for his own "amusement". He apologized to Joe, referring to him as "human" instead of "Joe" and gave half-hearted condolences for Joe's species, then he disappeared from local reality to go and contact the Maxolhx and Rindhalu for assistance.
Skippy's disappearance cut all power to the Dragon and caused Joe to be detected and attacked by the Thuranin. Skippy's disappearance also collapsed the microwormholes and severed all communication between the Dragon, Valkyrie and the Dutchman.
With Skippy gone, Valkyrie's native AI was no longer kept in check. It was able to send a virus to the Dutchman that attacked Nagatha and all the ships systems, building up the reactors on the Dutchman for an overload. The native AI on Valkyrie also by cut power and began attacking the crew using all of the bots on the ship.
The Dutchman lost all power and was adrift in space, slowly losing life support. On Valkyrie, a bot was strangling Capt. Samantha Reed. In Reed's attempt to stop it, it snapped her arm, breaking the bones. A heavy repair bot began banging in the passageway outside the bridge.
The crews of Valkyrie and the Dutchman were fighting for their lives. There was no hope of rescue for Joe, the Pirates, and all of humanity.