A corner turned

June 16, 2009

“Stupid dumb bitch” Ta’jun muttered as the last ragged breaths left her body, her once wild and wide eyes glazing over as the veil of death lowered over her. Her face was white, a patchwork of blue veins creating a marbled effect on her skin. One of her eyes was blackened and the blood from her mouth that had been smeared across her cheeks was now drying from bright red to brown. He could taste that blood in his mouth where he had kissed her in  the cruel mockery of passion that had been her rape.

Spent and shaking from his exertions he released the tight grip of the headscarf he had strangled her with, mopping his brow with a loose end before dropping it over her face. She had a name, he didn’t recall it, didn’t care. He hated her and had found a multitude of names to call her during the struggle. He looked at her body, old bruises next to fresh cuts and abrasions, she was not well treated in the past and he considered that perhaps he had done her a favour.

They had met in a bar of an outpost. Ta’jun was drinking heavily. Drinking along because he had screwed up and nobody wanted to talk to him. He had cost the life of one of the gang. He was meant to keep an eye on the scanner as the gang pulled apart a freighter that someone had probed-out deep in the outer fringes of the system. Only when a combat probe had warped to a point 2km off his ships port side had he spotted something, and even then only because it had momentarily caught the sun. In his panic he had locked and opened fire on the probe instead of shouting and a flight of Caldari Navy Ravens, two assault frigates and an interceptor warped in on their party. The CNRs had warped in at cruise missile optimal range, some 75km away from the pirate gangs position, the assault frigates at 20km and the interceptor right on top of one of the gang. The gang members drake was locked, webbed and warp scrambled preventing any escape. The Hawk and Harpy had opened up on the other members of the gang who were all hastily aligned to safespots. One destroyer class ship from the gang barely escaped and was trailing debris from a number of gaping holes in its badly compromised armour as it left. Ta’jun had watched, dumbstruck, for what seemed an age, only coming round as the Hawk aligned to his position and began targeting him. He had managed to warp off just in time, the first set of cruise missiles impacting on the Drake’s formidable shields. It would only be a matter of time, with no support they would slowly be pounded down until the warheads quickly ate away the scant armour of the ship and then the very structure of the hull. The pilot inside would be dead within minutes, he had sealed his fate.

The girl had approached him full of energy and boldness, tugging his sleeve before introducing herself and jumping up onto the stool next to his like they had known each other for years. He had not been in the mood to talk but she had persevered, finally making him smile and making him forget about the sight of the drake as it sat there waiting for death. They had talked for hours and eventually gone back to her place, pretty squalid but made nice with personal touches like a small posy of flowers near one of the small, dirty windows. He didn’t remember what she had said but he knew he had gotten angry, very quickly. He remembered the shock in her eyes as he hit her and the weak struggling as he forced himself on her. But now she would struggle no more.

“Stupid bitch”, he said again, but this time less certain.

“Fuck!”

He scanned the scene and the alcohol haze momentarily lifted and the full impact of what he had done suddenly struck him. A frown came over his face, a face that was now almost as pale as hers. Pulling on his clothes first he dragged her body to one of the couches, lifting her onto it, surprised at how heavy her slight form was. He stared unblinking for a few moments and then hurried to heap cushions, the rug and her clothes over her. He threw the first candle at the bundle only for it to bounce off, extinguished, on the stained bare floor. The second candle he held to her light shirt, which quickly caught. The shirt burned fiercely giving off the smell of burnt fibres, smoke from the bar and a faint hint of her perfume. It quickly spread to the rugs, burning with a thick acrid smoke mingling with the sickly smell as her dark curly hair burning on her head. He fled the room vomit boiling from his mouth, sprayed across the walls of the corridor outside, the smell of second-hand alcohol and his half digusted meal making him vomit again, bile burning his nose as he coughed and spluttered.

He awoke in his Merlin frigate. The autopilot was an standby meaning it had been used since he undocked. His throat was sore, his head ached and his eyes felt raw. His puke strained clothes stank worse than before and a water mark on his trousers testament to the fact that he had pissed himself some hours ago. The sun was behind him shining brightly onto a field of Scordite asteroids, the wrecks of three bantam mining vessels. In the wreckage of one of these small craft lay a fragmented pod, complete with the broken and frozen parts of a capsuleer, surrounded by its own mist of frozen red ‘roids.


Fitting

June 12, 2009

Inside the transport duct the pod was wrapped is a blanket of suspensor fields, the green-blue swirls of the field’s energy luminous in the darkness of the tunnel. Suddenly the pod shot off at high speed along the passage towards the station core. Inside the pod Zoo felt the acceleration as the gel went completely solid around him and readouts showed that a dampening field had been activated to protect him.

This is it. Today I see the stars for myself.

Growing up in a religious family he had never really thought about space. Yes, he had gone to the big cargo port of his homeworld with his father and watched massive lifters bringing down goods and travellers from far away. He’d watched in rapt fascination as huge reaction drives fired thunderously, lifting the metal mountains through the thick atmosphere and up to space stations floating around two of the planet’s moons. He remembered the Olson Incident to. He had been married just under a year and was camping with his new wife in the mountains when a super-heavy lifter had suffered a massive malfunction (later discovered to be sabotage as part of a multi-billion isk insurance job) and had fallen through the sky trailing an arc of glowing debris. Most of it had fallen in the sea but the small town of Olson was hit by a bit of the massive ships superstructure, the explosion killing nine people. For Zoo space was up there and his life was down here, on solid ground.

His thinking had changed after their deaths. Or that was the start of it. Twelve years in a monastic order had almost convinced him to stay but something had pulled at him. A desire to be among the stars, and with his wife and daughter gone he really had nothing to stay for.

The journey through the station had lasted just under 12 seconds and had involved the pod accelerating insanely through the express transducts, at one moment falling through the main vertical duct at the core and the next propelled up an outer duct to cargo bay 3. His pod now slowly rose up through the shining metal of the tunnel directly underneath his new Ibis class frigate, “The Explorer”.

As the pod lifted into the ship a thick, armoured cable flexed and swayed as if alive, the end of the sinuous metal snake searching for something. Finding the hole at the top of the pod it connected with a sudden snap.

Ship systems, in station standby mode, quickly powered up. Manufactured by only a handful of ship builders capsuleer ships were constructed with money in mind. While having a standard ship was all well and good ship builders and equipment manufacturers soon realised that the old system of costly and lenghty alterations were something the capsuleer class just didn’t buy into, it wasn’t quick and it wasn’t cheap. The first module based ship from Dec’Lareen Systems was a huge success, and while only able to fit DL modules the versatility it offered was soon recognized as sales soared.  DL were bought and sold, the creative team split between a number of manufacturers who then developed the ideas in parallel.  The principle was easy, each module used basic power, processing bandwidth from the CPU and high energy from the ships energy reserves. In practice it was much more complicated and it took 3 years and several corporate wars before a standard was agreed across all the empires ship builders. But here it was. His Ibis, fitted with a mining laser and Gatling gun.

Zoo started the undock sequence.


Here begins your doom?

May 26, 2009

Old Sinister looked out from the window of the fleet’s corporation office in Motsu, at the small wild lands area full of mature trees and long grasses. The wild lands were a smallish area of green sitting under a large window high up on the roof of the station, facing the systems sun. Large daylight lamps augmented the suns meager power, weak from it’s journey across the solar system. Naturally, unlike the tropical areas, this area of grassland was used to filter the stations recycled water and give it an authentic taste. Either way, he enjoyed the view.

Interrupting his thoughts his Executive Office tapped  respectfully on Sinister’s antique desk.

“You wanted to see me, Sir?”
“I did Than. Take a seat and let us speak freely.”, he said, regarded the trees outside for a moment more before turning.

Than looked at his boss and friend. Caldari, Achura stock. Thin almost pinched and dressed in a somber suit. The man had a disturbing stillness sometimes, even in the heat of battle he retained decorum and tact. Some of the deck crews had commented that he probably was a robot incapable of feeling. Thanotopsis knew it was just that the guy was private. Very private. He realized that he didn’t even know his bosses full name. Obviously his call sign “Death Toll007” suited Old Sinister as he never thought to correct anyone with a real name, or anything less dark. His friends simply calling him “DT”.

So a military strategist and combat pilot from a well off family, graduates top of his class in military school, runs missions for the navy for 2 years and then disappears for 20, coming back to start his own company? A little odd.

“What do you know about asymmetric warfare Than?” DT asked, a quizzical look sitting oddly on the serious features of his face.
“You mean guerrilla warfare, hit and run etc?” said Than.
“Indeed, yes.”
“Well I understand the basics. I have seen and simed a manticore bomber and buzzard in training.”
“Good. I need to share with you a vision I have for the fleet. It is comprehensive and we are playing a long strategic game.” DT smiled thinly at his ExO, “You have time?”
“Of course Sir”

After 3 hours DT sat back assessing the likely thoughts going through Than’s head. He had been through the whole 10 year plan in some detail.

Than’s head hurt. The guy had just described, in detail, plans for mission running, mining, manufacturing. He had talked about station building and moves to low security space. It was all planned! He had even drawn up action plans, structures and deadlines.

“I will get on it Sir”, Than said.
“Please do. I need an update weekly. I have to go away for a few months. Please mail me via the secure channel.”
“Ok. And sir?”
“Don’t worry about that Than. I am aware of it and he is being watched” Sadness passed across his face briefly, “That is all.”

Once dismissed Than headed for the bathroom. One thing about DT, he could talk without stopping for hours and the niceties of food and bio breaks just didn’t happen.

Hmmm, cloaky ships? Sounds fun.

Inside DT again went to the window. Children were playing in the large oak near the small pond. He watched them play for a bit before returning to his desk and his neocom console, the strains of a Minmatar opera in the background.

He typed at the inlaid keyboard.

To: Fleet of Doom – All pilots
Re: Prepare for war

The final section of “Tribal Slaver” by Brutor Hakeun Narklar built to it’s violent climax in the background as DT hit send and he began to smile again, his eyes unfocused in reverie.


The Apprentice

May 23, 2009

Screaming out of warp Ta’jun’s small frigate shook and trembled as the vast energies of the warp bubble collapsed around the ship, the dying vortices of exotic forces washing over the small craft and its young occupant.

Before him, the sun rising from behind the local moon, lay a vast field of asteriods lazily tumbling end over end, sun glinting off veins of metalic ore. While he could not see his prey he could see the lancing orange beams of its mining lasers as the super heated beam of plasma bored into a veldspar asteriod, the resultant spew of mineral vapour following back to the ship via finely tuned, pulsing electromagetic fields.

Ta’jun’s camera drone’s mini-microwarpdrives powered up giving him a view some 50km above the arcing line of the asteriod field where he could see the small cruiser-class ship mining away at the asteriod 8km to its port side.

“I have one. All alone, not aligned. Easy kill!” Ta’jun excitedly chirped into his communicator.
“Copy that” came an efficient sounding voice of the mission controller, “I have 3 killers inbound on your location.”

His heart now racing, Ta’jun flicked his afterburners and missile system into standby, something he should have down while warping, but this was only his second raid. A row of green lights indicated all was well. The cockpit overview showed 3 rapdily approaching signals, each transmitting a identification code verified by the on-board computer.

“Well look what the new boy found! Two out of two so far. Not bad for a beginner. We might even make a pirate of you yet!” boomed the deep voice over the comms.
“Just luck, I guess.” replied Tajun, failing to keep his voice controlled and the excitement from showing.
“Ha! Well I guess you guys from mining stock are comfortable around these rocks and have a knack for knowing where to go. Suits me.”

Its was true, generations of his family had worked as miners or in related industries, usually out in deep space for one of the faceless Caldari Mineral Corporations. His own childhood had been hard but a mostly happy one. His father and mother had done their best to educate him, even saving up the fees for him to attend a school on a planet near the mining outpost they worked on. Of course it hadn’t worked out, a corporation war had seen to that. The outpost, his parents and his future had dissappered in a hail of torpedo fire, the stations defences unable to cope and the mercenaries paid to defend them out of system pursuing some action to allieviate the boredom of protecting a sleepy mining colony. Yes, he hated the mercs. They had all died at the hands of another mercenary group for their failure. Yes, he hated the corporation that had destroyed the outpost, not that they cared. He even hated the corporation that had employed his mother and father, even more so when the loss of the colony was written off and a smilling CEO pronouced operations would soon be up and running again as insurance had taken care of things. Actually, he especially hated that corporation. But, most of all, he hated mining for taking his father and mother away from him. The face of his mother pressed against the small window of the escape pod as it ejected into the path of an incoming cruise missile still haunted his dreams.

In the end it was the pirates that had found him, adopted him and became his family. It wasn’t easy, but then again nothing in his life ever had been.

“Ta’jun! Come on boy! Before you miss the fun!”
“Sorry Rush, I was at least an AU away.”
“She must be some girl my boy. Time for that later. Lets screw this ship first!”
“Aye sir!”, Ta’jun smiled. Rush always had a way of making things seem alright.

The flare of 4 afterburners lit up the asteriods, casting huge shadows across the sea of boulders and surely alerting the pilot of the mining vessel.

“He doesn’t know we are here! He must be asleep or something” came the incredulous voice of Rapi the lead pilot in their formation. “Are miners always this sleepy Ta’jun?”

Arcing up over the asteriod field and sweeping down to the miner’s ship the pirate frigates started to roll away from each other as each settled into an orbit that gave their weapons the best chance of hitting. Huge guns on Ta’jun’s ship recolied as they sent their projectiles towards the miner’s cruiser and the reassuring vibration of the missile launcher loosing its warhead made Ta’jun smile.

“Hostile is aware” Rush called. His voice now clipped and business like, “Ta’jun, EMP warheads on the sheilds. Rapi, primary any drones. Sol, point on the cruiser and I want that pod.”
“Drones! Drones! Two times Hobs”, reported Rapi, “Engaging.”

The two hobgoblin drones had dropped from the cruisers drone bay and quickly moved into orbit around the cruiser. Each was a mini-ship, equiped with guns, a microwarpdrive and thrusters. They were fragile but fast and could easily take down a frigate if ignored.

“Being targeted”, said the calm voice of Sol, seemingly oblivious to the drones racing towards his ship, barely audible over the noise of the guns and launchers transmitted through the ship structure. “I have point.”

Ta’jun’s EMP warheads quickly stripped the protective field of the cruiser’s shields and its weak Caldari armour soon gave up under the assualt of both missiles and guns, huge holes being punched through by round after round of explosive projectiles. As the ship started to loose its structure to the onslaught Ta’jun wondered at the pilot’s seeming inabilty to even turn off his mining lasers. They spluttered once more as the ship broke up into a fountain of twisted metal, ore and ship parts.

“I have point on the pod” said Sol.
“Excellent! I think we have earnt ourselves a release fee, have we not gentlemen?” replied Rush.

Ta’jun guided the targeting reticule over the pod as the targeting computer locked in the unique signature of the pod.
Locking.
Locked.
Fire.

The missile made the journey from Ta’jun’s frigate to the pod in 2 seconds, exploding in a massive blast of EMP radiation that totally overpowered the pods systems, shorting out every circuit on board, triggering the simultanuous wiping and transmission of the pilot’s mind state and the dissintergration of the pod.

“Or not, as Ta’jun sees fit. Your find after all.” Said Rush, a hint of concern in his voice.
“She must be some girl if you are that desperate to get back and see her!” Rush’s chuckles were joined by those of the rest of the raiding party.

“She was”, Ta’jun said softly, knowing that he would only see her in his dreams, her faced pressed against the window of a pod, her crying silenced by the vacum and a cruise missile.


Sideways, down and back up again.

May 16, 2009

The docking bay was massive, the camera drone Zoo saw through hovered nearly 200m above the platform and still could not take in the whole vista beneath it. Four huge spot lights shone through the slight haze of the bay casting multiple, moving shadows and bright reflections off the various metal bulkheads and docking apparatus that formed this large metal cavern. Loud speakers carried station announcements to every corner of the docking area, echoes and reverberations distorting the words into an unintelligible stream of Caldari syllables, possible meaning something or nothing at all. Large docking machines sat brooding in the shadowy recesses of the bay. Waiting for the command to action, each capable of handling 1000 ton modules at speeds the un-augmented eyes would not be able to keep up with. At the centre of one of the docking rings below, slowly floating in a suspensor field on idle the small frigate class Ibis hull bobbed as if on the ocean. Totally overwhelmed by the dock its blinking navigation lights the only way to locate it in the vastness.

“Mr Zoo, you are currently patched in the ships system via a station link. I have now finished my checks and have sealed the pod. I will now get the station transport system to move the pod to your ship. As agreed your clone has been arranged at this station.”

Should I feel nervous? I am excited! This is a new start. I have….

Reading in a rushed monotone the technician cut through his thoughts “From all the staff at Podmasters we would like to thank you for the purchase of this Class x17 pod. We do hope you enjoy your time with the pod and wish you safe flying. Please remember to purchase a clone. If you would like to give us feedback on this experience please mail us or speak to your local Podmasters office.”

Outside the technician turned off his handheld and punched in a security code on the console. The remaining pipes hissed as they dropped from the pod, falling limply to the floor. The ceiling hatch above the pod slowly open, small orange lights at each corner blinking rapidly. Lowering from the dark recesses of the hatch a grab with three long splayed fingers slowly moved towards the pod. Where the fingers met at the junction of the column ofrm the ceiling hatch a small spike extended. As the grab approached the pod the spike slide into the small hole in the top.

Inside the pod Zoo’s view of the docking bay suddenly disappeared replaced with the face of a Caldari station officer. Not once looking at himshe  punched buttons on her console and muttered codes to those each side of her, both buttons and colleagues beyond the view of the camera. Zoo noticed her eyes glance sideways and the hints of a smile forming on her face as large Brutor male strode confidently past her workstation. Finally looking into the camera and she let all trace of the smile drop.

“Sorry for the delay. You now have a rapid-trans route cleared.”

Her image disappeared replaced by a glowing image of the station. Slowly revolving the 3D image showed the warren of docks, offices, processing centres and open areas within the station. As he focused on each area translucent screens appeared providing information about the passage way, dock or living area, quickly fading and to replaced by another as his focused moved. In the fine lines of the station construct a shimmering line of silver ran along some the stations major passageways. Tracing it from it source Zoo picked out the first part of the path.

Medical Sector 3 – Level 1 > Podmasters Unit > Pod Preparation Bay (PPB-12)

Each word he read exploded into a flower of linked information, a complete list of levels, occupants and rents were available for the medical sector. Level 1 detail showed everything from the individual offices on the level to the cleaning schedules. As he read “Podmasters” the links included real time stock data, products, adverts and even a message from the CEO.

Zoo was amazed how quickly he could read this information. It almost felt that as he started to read the information it was there already, and he was merely remembering something forgotten. He traced the route through the rest of the station.

  • Station Lateral Spine Transduct (FEEDER – Medical 3[iii])>CORE
  • Station Lateral Spine Transduct >CORE
  • Core Vertical Spine Transduct >BASE
  • Base Transduct Logistics Centre
  • Perimeter Cargoduct 3[iii]
  • Dock cargoduct 46[iv-vi]
  • Dock 3[iii]

The fingers moved down finding small divots under the central rim of the pod. Secured, the pod and grab lifted smothly into the hatch.

“Goodbye Mr Zoo” the technician muttered darkly, safely disconnected from the pod’s communications net, “another fucking capsuleer, just what the world needs!”


My daughter

May 8, 2009

Clear shock gel gurgled in from three holes that had irised open along the inner circumference of the egg, falling in strangely shaped lumps, liquefying as it settled. A high technology mix of nanites and inertia sensitive fluid the gel would both protect the capsuleer’s body and take care of dead skin, sweat and other material from the body. Early pods had not had this, and even with a neural interface deadening the itching, it was enough to drive some pod pilots to distraction.

The inert form of the pilot was slowly engulfed in the liquid gel. Where the gel is close to the skin it seemed to become semi-opaque, clothing the pilot in a ghostly suit or second skin,. Hairs that had stood up on end when in contact with the cool liquid slowly lie flat as the new suit gently warmed, in turn creating patterns in the gel as heat convects to the surface.

Did I die?

No sound. Not even the faint fuzziness on the edge of hearing that he could hear in the most quietest of retreats. Total silence. Almost solid, or so vast that sound would quickly be swallowed and lost.

Perhaps this is the place of testing? I am ready Lord.

And then there was the darkness. Darkness so complete, so deep, a complete absence of anything.

“Ah Mr Zoo I see you are awake. Welcome back.”

The body in the gel suddenly tensed, the movement enough to make the gel solidify, restraining any further movement.

Outside the technician repressed a smirk, flicking a number small switch on a console near him.

“It seems Mr Zoo that you started to drown. It was your first time so that is understandable. I used the neural net to put you into a coma, briefly. People have done great damage to themselves and the equipment. The drowning reflex is quite natural and you will accustom yourself to it. I would, however, refrain from swimming once you do.”

The technician smiled a humourless smile.

In the blackness, gradually brightening, a intricate symbol resolved into being.

Its me

He looked at the figure. At once knowing it was him but also feeling detached and distant. His desire to see the figure close up built until in one swift movement he was standing face to face with himself. His face flowed with intricate symbols and glyphs, moving so fast they formed a skin. Very faint lines seemed to wavy uncertainly from the back of his head. He could not see and straining his neck to look resulted in the figure quickly revolving. The faint lines were floating freely next to a bright patch of skin at the base of the figure’s skull. As the end of one of the lines moved close brief flashes of symbols would spark between the figure and the lines.

“Mr Zoo the pod has been security enabled. Please would you authenticate as we discussed earlier.”

He tried to say it, his numb throat failing to form word round the pipes in his throat.

“Project the words Mr Zoo. Simply think them. Again, this will become easier with time and training.”

Concentrating, Zoo thought the word, trying to make them solid in his mind’s eye. And there it was, his security password. His daughter, her figure made up of her name endlessly repeated, stood before him.

Oh Rai! My beautiful girl. How I have missed you.

Skipping towards the avatar of Zoo, Rai smiled and jumped into her father’s arms, her symbols merging with his. The ends of the faint lines snapped into connection with the back of Zoo’s head, each line becoming iridescent.

Slowly the figure and the lines faded, the darkness returned.

Rai………………….oh my dearest Rai.

The tears from his eyes quickly absorbed by the gel.


Drowning

May 7, 2009

Remember to breathe.

Remember to breathe.

Don’t panic.

Stress monitors, one of many pieces of plastic wrapped electronic devices arrayed around the large metal egg, register the increase in breathing and heart rate. Small diameter pipes from another larger machine to its right quiver slightly as a light blue liquid swiftly travels the distance from the bottom of the machine, up over the egg, disappearing into a hole near the top.

Ahhhhhh……..bliss. Its ok. Air fluid next. Remember to breathe.

A technician walks to the side of a large bottle mounted on the wall, noting several details from gauges and readouts at its base, entering each one into a glowing handheld. The light purple liquid in the bottle bubbles once and the whirring of a small induction motor fills the silence of the laboratory. Slowly the thick pipe at the base of the bottle fills with the liquid before snaking its way across the tangle of wires, hoses and tubes littering the floor.  Crawling up the pipe into the egg via a nozzle the technician again notes several figures on the apparatus before touching a lapel mic.

“Mr Zoo. I am beginning the fill cycle. Please remain calm.”

Dear God, have mercy.

Climbing from a storage tank within the egg the air fluid rises the short distance to the large mask around the face of the naked capsuleer. Through a number of filters, measurement probes and valves and then down the tube into the lungs.

Oh no! Get me out! Get m……….

A light flashes red on a console, the technicians smiles, taps the handheld and the light pulses amber.

“They always drown.”