“Why so alone tonight?”
It was just another voice in the cacophony of the bar, so I ignored it.
What I couldn’t ignore was the man sitting down next to me, giving me his attention.
“Don’t talk to just anyone, hm?”, he continued. “Smart. But how about I buy you a drink?”
I turned to muster him. Male, Caldari, bald-shaven, a pair of Nightstalker goggles pushed up on his forehead. Not too shabby looking. Capsuleer.
“Arcturian Mega-Stout.”, I agreed.
He turned to give the order, and we sat in silence until the barkeep returned. I picked up the glass, and took a long swig, then flashed my benefactor a quick smile.
“See, that’s how you do it. Now, try again.”
“Very well.” He cleared his throat. “’Why so alone tonight?’”
“Well, have you tried sitting back there in the booths?”
“Good heavens, no! There’s only so much industrial talk I can stand before... I see your point.” He took a swallow from his own drink. “However, that’s not what I was referring to.”
“If you must know, it felt it was necessary to unwind for once. Which works best alone.” I cocked an eyebrow at him. “And you?”
“Also unwinding - but I prefer the kind where you have company. But of course, if you’re not done with your kind...”
“That fully depends on the options. What do you have in mind?”
He leaned back. “For starters, I’d suggest to retire to a bar less ... sterile. The kind where they also offer....”
Suddenly his voice was replaced by static, and it even appeared as if his outlines broke up. Then everything was normal again.
I looked at my glass - I didn’t recall Mega-Stout having this kind of hallucinogenic effect. And it was my first alcoholic drink for tonight.
“...everything ok?” I realized that he was mustering me with a hint of concern.
“Yes - just had a weird moment here. Sorry.” I shook my head to clear my thoughts, then returned my attention to him. “You were saying?”
He opened his mouth, but before he could say anything, he himself, the bar, all the people flickered and derezzed - to be replaced by the virtual images of my Purifier’s command system. And shrilling in my ‘ear’ was the thing which had interrupted my dream: a priority message from our WH operation.
Instinctively I engaged my cloaking device while the ship performed its automatic warp, and accepted the communication.
[ Sorry, boss, for waking you up ], replied Lance, [ but we have just found a WH leading to Hi-Sec. Caldari Space. ]
“How stable is it?”
[ Hardly used, and probably has another 8 to 10 hours on it. ]
Of course this had to happen when I was down in 0.0 space. But we had waited for a chance like this for months now, so...
[ Hang on - let me patch Eta in. ]
I sent out the Comm’s request, and it was answered immediately - she hardly ever was asleep at this time of day. Though you wouldn’t be able to tell from her reaction.
[ What?!! ]
“Sorry, sis, but we are in need of your services.” I quickly explained the situation. “Can you take the Orca we prepped, and bring it into the WH?”
A moments silence, then she replied. [ Sure, it’s only seven jumps from here. But - we haven’t prepped the Blockade Runner to go with it. ]
“Hm. Could you donate yours?”
[ I kind of need it for my own hauling. ]
“Tell you what: once you deliver the Orca, buy a new transport on the way back. Corp pays.”
[ In that case... ] she sighed. [ Very well - again I melt at the sound of your velvety voice. Where is the exit? ]
[ Isaziwa ] answered Lance. [ We’ll fleet up and you can warp to me when you get there. In the meantime, we’ll collect our produce from the planets. ]
[ Copy that. It’ll be an hour or two. ]
“Excellent - and thanks! To both of you!”
As comms winked out, I considered my own next steps. Last night I had gone to sleep in this system just a few jumps from the border between Providence and Devoid - drumming up the courage just to make the first and second jump out of Empire had taken me hours.
While this wasn’t my first excursion into lawless space, it was the first time that I was doing it all by myself, with no backup. Using a stealth bomber gave me an advantage - but it didn’t make me invincible. As evidenced by the Hawk yesterday which did its best to uncloak me at a gate. Luckily the evasion drills from the Agony CovOps class came back to me in time to avoid an embarrassing accident.
For a moment I had even been tempted to blow the Hawk up for his insolence, but I restrained myself: the purpose of this trip was to scout and bookmark the long way to the system our Alliance had taken sovereignty in. There’d be plenty of fights waiting for me once I got there.
And considering the time it took to make the bookmarks I wanted, I better got going again.
Commands streamed out from my pod into the ship’ systems, as it elegantly swung around and accelerated towards the next gate, further away from Empire.