No return, no make amends
Is this the future or this is how it will end?“
-- Pop Will Eat Itself ”Everything’s Cool”
As I stepped out of the entrance into the bar, I was greeted by the combined sounds and sights of a large group of people in various stages of excitement. Dim diffuse lighting and a low ceiling gave the room an almost intimate atmosphere, peppy music playing at just the right volume. Entering here had been an impulse choice, one last stop to finish out this evening, and as luck had it, the clientele was primarily pod pilots. Baseliners were in attendance, but appeared to be mostly companions of the night, or groupies.
It wasn't too crowded so I didn't have to push too much to get to the bar, a brightly lit island in the middle of the room, voices washing over me. A bar tender rose to attendance, and after I had him scan my credit chip, I ordered a water, as I had reached my limit some time ago.
With a dash of tremor juice, which mollified the bar tend's attitude somewhat - that juice was not cheap.
Letting the sharp tang of the tremor juice run over my tongue, I turned around, leaned against the bar, and listened to the conversations going on nearby. Capsuleers being human (if only barely), a lot of them covered rather mundane things - proud descriptions of the latest hookups, attempts-in-progress at said hookups, discussions of the fantasy SCL results, quarter decoration tips - you name it. And of course the usual capsuleer topics - the latest fights, lucrative "insider" market tips, enthusiastic exchanges about the state of the security zones, and I think I even heard 'Yo Ship' jokes.
I was about to relegate all that back into the acoustic background, when a fragment of a conversation caught my attention.
"Well, my first loss was..."
I didn't want to overtly intrude, so I just positioned myself into a position more suited for following the conversation, without directly looking at the pilots. From the tone it quickly became clear that I had caught only the tail end of a longer exchange of stories, but still, I got to hear about a pilot’s first loss as part of a 0.0 frigate fleet, contrasted nicely with another pilot’s experience of being at the receiving end of a hi-sec mining awox. As no further stories were forthcoming, my mind started to wander, back to my days as rookie. Thus distracted, it took me a few seconds to realize that the group had fallen silent and was looking at me expectantly.
“Well, Miss, are you going to share your story?”, asked a tall Detei, then added: “After all, you heard ours.”
“Some of yours,” I replied, studying the speaker. Tall, muscular build, hair and beard so grey that they were almost white. A scar not so much disfiguring, but ornamenting the left side of his face, running across a milky-white left eye. Whatever had given him the injury, it must have been important enough that he elected to not have it repaired via the cloning process. A faint smile was playing on his lips. This guy probably was bad news should I ever meet him out in space, but he appeared amicable enough in a social situation.
“Very well,” I continued, turning my attention to the whole group. “But don’t expect anything exciting - it is rather embarrassing. And quite short.” I briefly paused, gathering my memories. “I was a still a bloody rookie: not even a month old, and less than two weeks in this corporation.” I chuckled. “What they saw in me, I never quite figured out - but I was glad that they had taken me in. Slightly overwhelmed by the reality of space, scrambling for ISK, it was good to have a home.”
I noticed one or two heads nodding - it wasn’t an uncommon situation for rookies.
“I was in fact so short on ISK, that I had taken to buying ammunition all over the region, including even the lo-sec areas. The first time I entered lo-sec, I admit I was quite frightened - expecting to die any second. But it all went well, so I grew bolder.”
I looked past the people, the past running through my mind.
“Then one day, I undocked my shuttle for another pick-up run - and did all the things wrong a rookie could do: disabled my safeties, set my ship to autopilot … and let myself get distracted. Next thing I know, the hull breach alarm went off, and my shuttle got vaporized.” I rubbed my chin. “I don’t remember if I got podded as well - there is no official record - but I think I was.”
“And, what did you do next?”
“Whatever every average rookie would do: I raged.” I gestured for effect. “I ranted against the universe, against the unfairness of veterans not giving a break, that I wasn’t even carrying anything, etc etc.” I took a drink from my glass, then smiled at my audience. “And then I took a rookie ship back to the Kourmonen gate, to see my attackers into their faces. Of course they weren’t there anymore.”
I shrugged. “And that was it. As I said - it wasn’t very exciting.”
”That’s ok - it takes all kinds.“, replied the Detei. ”But the important thing, in my opinion, is that you did go back, instead of hiding in station.“
Yeah, about that… I looked into my glass. I had gone back, as I had gone back to missioning. I even tussled once with a stealth bomber in lo-sec, in my ”battle“ Omen. And when missions became too boring, I went into the courier contract business, picking up contracts in deep lo-sec nobody else touched. Until one day, when there had been one risk too many taken, one ship too many lost…
”Right, I went back.“, I agreed simply, looking up again.
We chit-chatted for a little while longer, but quickly the group broke up. I was debating whether to stay longer or call it a night, when the bar tend discreetly cleared his throat behind me.
”Miss - this gentleman would like to buy you a drink.“ He glanced down the bar. ”Would that be another Virgin Tremor?“
I followed his glance. Hmm… Ni-Kunni, in his prime, lush black hair, friendly enough face. The beard I wasn’t a fan of, on principle, but he obviously did work out… I made up my mind.
”Make it a slutty one.“