Friday, November 22, 2013

I Wasn't There

        "If it's not hazardous, it's not worth blowing up." -- Khori Renalard


        “... Empires demand full compliance with the following directive: Illicit access to…”


        “… two thousand customs offices lost. InterBus refuses to comment, but sources…”



Click! Click! Click!

        “…offices are now under control of Redrum Fleet. A spokesman for…”


        “… first test flight of the Astero and Stratios. Will the two new ships hold up against…”


Frustrated I turned off the view screen and threw the remote onto a chair. For once, high security Empire space was where the action was, and I could no longer go there. I didn’t regret my decisions leading up to this, but it was a reminder that everything had its costs.

I stood up and walked over to my quarter’s bar to fix myself a drink, when I noticed a discreet indicator blinking on my comm terminal. Who would send me a message today of all days? Beverage in hand, I pulled up a chair and called up the message.

Curious - it was a pre-recorded holo-mail from Miss Phage, notionally my boss. I instructed the terminal to replay it, leaned back and sipped from my drink.

        “Greetings, Myra and Druur.”, said the holographic Ni-Kunni.

I studied her expression. On previous encounters, I had experienced her as collected observer, always in control of the situation. This Miss Phage was slightly different, a weariness in her demeanor.

        “Since you two stubbornly refuse to join corps more worthy than mine,” continued Miss Phage, “I might as well keep you informed about our latest happenings.”

An amused smile curved her lips, unusual for her.

        “You surely have noticed the land grab over the customs offices going on. I got interested myself and did a little fly-around in this neighbourhood, seeing what the locals were up to. Which is how I came across these two fine pilots.”

She gestured to her side, and the camera zoomed out to reveal two pilots sitting next to her. I sighed. While I didn’t recognize the male, I recognized the woman far too well: we had had our run-ins, and apparently even two regions away I still couldn’t escape her. The only thing unusual was that her smile for once wasn’t mocking, but almost - wistful.

With the wider angle, more of the room had come into view as well, revealing them not so much seated, but slumped into their chairs, drinks in weary hands. Comprehension dawned - these three pilots had just spend a triple shift in their ships and were exhausted, which also explained Miss Phage’s less-than-calm behavior. I leaned forward, having an inkling of what had transpired.

        “They both were plinking away at an InterBus custom’s office, with not much hope for completion.”

        “I was just curious if it was possible,” interjected the male Gallente, with the woman nodding agreement. “And maybe put enough damage on it that I’d be listed on the combat record once a real attacker came around.”

        “Well, I made them a deal.”, said Miss Phage. “I’d provide them with standings, ammunition and slightly better weaponry…”

        “And dinner with drinks!”, added the woman.

        “…and that,” acknowledged Miss Phage, “if in return they only kept shooting.”

She smiled happily.

        “Long story short: eight hours and one quick Amarr run later, HZRDS became a landlord.” She smirked. “Not bad for a failed corporation.”

        “I don’t know how long we can hold on to this CO,” she admitted, “and my hope is that if the local powers decide they want it, that they are smart enough to simply buy it from us, instead of wasting time and resources to grind it down - but there is no telling.

        ”But until then, we’ll collect the PI taxes, maybe enough to even have a corp picnic or something. And should we find ourselves under a war-dec - now you know why.“

She chuckled.

        ”Though I imagine that neither of you two would be heart-broken about the opportunity of legally shooting people in hi-sec Empire space.“

Sunday, November 17, 2013

One Hour To Finish Preparations

The ready lounge was a muted bustle of activity: pilots were entering and leaving the room, fitting manifests were checked and updated on data pads, orders were snarled into communicators - all the usual activity you have before heading out on a roam. Compounding was the fact that this was going to be Redemption Road’s first public roam, and while most of the pilots actually had flown together before, there were a couple of new faces in the crowd who tried to find their bearings.

Myself, I had joined a group of pilots in one of the quieter corners of the lounge. After the obligatory introductions - it hadn’t been easy, but I had managed to not introduce myself as “Monakh. Druur Monakh.” in my best actress voice, since that usually only resulted in awkward silence and embarrassed coughs - we took it easy, enjoying our drinks, occasionally commenting on the going-ons, or swapping an anecdote.

All the while I kept an eye on the entrance to the lounge. I tried to be surreptitious about it, but as time passed and I was growing concerned, it was noticed.

“Waiting for somebody?”, asked the Sebiestor next to me, shifting comfortably in his seat, his faded Quafe T-shirt clearly having seen better times.

I tore my gaze away from the entrance. “Yes, matter of fact I do.” I sighed, and forced myself to relax. “See, a couple of weeks the authorities and myself got into a little dispute as to the morality of my actions, and let’s say, they are sore losers.”

“You’re an outlaw.”, he translated with a smile.

“Yup, and still green at it.” I admitted.

“I thought you folks meet up in Sendaya?”

“That’s where the ‘green’ part comes into play.” I suppressed a sigh. “All my stuff is still here in Berta, and I am not sure my undocks are good enough.” I took a sip from my drink. “I can probably high-tail it, but this being RILED’s first public roam, I didn’t feel like throwing yet another spanner into the works.” I shrugged. “So I arranged for a support pilot to help me out a bit - but she’s running late.”

“You don’t by any chance mean her?”, he said with a nod towards the entrance.

A Ni-Kunni pilot had entered the lounge, her black hair cut to chin length, and, upon spotting me, firmly walked over to us.

"Good afternoon, pilots.“, she announced. ”I am Eta Monakh, but you can call me Ma'am. I will be your support pilot for today.“ She smirked. ”That is, if you are one of the lucky ones who paid for my services.“

She beamed around the group, then a frown crept onto her face and she fixed her eyes on me.

"What, of all the people who hired me only you showed up?", she said with a hint of annoyance. "I'm afraid that I will have to charge you extra then - you know, opportunity cost and stuff. ... Why are you laughing? This is serious business!"

I stood up and hugged her tightly. "It's good to see you! ... Ma'am.”

She giggled, dropped her stern 'business woman' mean, and returned the hug as affectionately. "Glad that I can help."

"Same last name," noted the Sebiestor with curiosity in his voice, "so you are..."

"Her sister," replied Eta happily, an arm around my waist. "Adopted. Why, what did you think?" She rested her head against my shoulder and, giving me her best bedroom eyes, gently caressed my cheek with her finger tips. "Say, how much time do we have?", she almost purred.

I smiled wickedly and kissed her on her brow. "For you, all the time in the world. At least 40 minutes."

"Then lets not waste it!", she exclaimed, disentangling herself from me, and hooking her arm into mine. "It's been days since we last did it!"

Momentarily resisting her pull, I turned towards the other pilots. "Gentle-beings, if you excuse me, but as you can see it is hard to resist her when she's this excited." I grinned mischievously. "I'll see you in fleet."


About an hour later, hovering in my pod just a couple hundred klicks off the Mifrata star gate, the moment in the ready lounge kept popping into my head. The looks on some of the pilots' faces - priceless! I giggled again, forgetting that I had an open comms line with Eta.

[ You think they fell for it? ], asked Eta, amusement in her voice, her Orca blocking out the sun.

"I think some did. You are an evil person, you know that?"

[ I didn't lie! ], she protested. [ It has been days since I last flew support for you! ]

I went to answer, but fleet comms interrupted me:

        [ Fleet - jump, jump, and warp to Mifrata gate. ]

Local spiked, and a few seconds after, the force field guarding the Orca's ship hangar flickered and expelled an Algos-type destroyer into space. A gentle command to my pod's engines, and I began moving towards the destroyer, engaging the boarding sequence.

[ Here's your ride, ] came Eta's voice over comms, while my virtual vision flickered momentarily as the pod was pulled into its rightful place inside the Algos.

"Thanks!", I replied, finalizing the last connections with my pre-flighted ship, and immediately firing up the engines before the local navy would pay me a visit. "I'll see you on the flip side."

[ Happy hunting! ]

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Improvised Strike Force

        “Remember, proper call escalation involves at least doubling one of the
        following: 1) caliber, 2) mass, 3) velocity, 4) weapon yield” -- Joe Thompson

“Some more coffee?”

“Sure!”, I replied promptly, holding out my mug. As the Civire poured the black nectar out of the self-heating carafe, I let my eyes wander over his naked upper body. Buzz-cut black hair, a subtle facial tattoo, and a muscular build. But not bulky - he had the wiry build of an endurance athlete. I liked that in a man, and if the light fell on it just right, it was also a feast for my eyes.

I was pulled out of my reverie when his fingers touched my hand holding my mug, gently pushing it towards me.

“While I appreciate the admiration, the coffee won’t drink itself.”, he said with a glint in his eyes.

I laughed softly and took a sip, savoring the flavor of the coffee as much as the tingling feeling his touch had left in me. He was good with those hands, as last night and that morning had shown. Seeing my expression, he blew me an air-kiss and went to refill his own mug.

Of course all of this was pretend - once I walked out of his quarters, our paths would never cross again, and we both knew it. But we had gotten along quite well last night, and it felt nice to have a cosy start into the new day.

I should take vacation more often.

With a discreet buzz, my comm pad demanded attention. I sighed and took another drink of the coffee before reaching for the pad. Only one person would have reason to contact me, which meant that I should take the call.

“Good morning, Eta!” I greeted my sister as the miniature holographic display formed.

[ Good morning? It’s almost noon! ]

Across from me, the guy was mouthing the question whether he should leave, but I shook my head.

“You’re just jealous that I have a few days off, and you don’t!” I smiled at her. “But I have a feeling that my time off is about to end.”

[ Your feeling is correct. ] She sighed. [ Boss caught an interloper in Reyi setting up an unauthorized POS. He destroyed the hauler, but the tower is anchored and online. No defenses - yet. ]

POSes. Why did it always have to be POSes! But my sister made her living in that constellation, so I helped her whenever necessary.

[ Boss tried to negotiate with him, to either pay the rent, or take down the tower right away, with guarantee of safe passage, ] continued Eta, [ but to no avail. So we’re now going to attack the POS before he can bring in reinforcements. And if I remember correctly, your Talos is quite effective at this kind of thing. ]

“That it is.” I confirmed. “How many people do you have, and will we have Dreads?”

[ Seven so far - luckily it’s just a small POS. And we will have two Dreads - Lord Grim’s, and I took the liberty of reaching out to your friend as well. If that’s ok with you. ]

“No worries on my behalf. This is your op, your system, you hire whichever gun you can reach!” My eyes narrowed when her full sentence registered. “Wait - did you say ‘Lord Grim’? He is back? Since when?”

[ Yup, he is back! For about a week now - at least I think it is him. ] A frown crossed her face. [ He looks like him, he remembers the things which are his - but his pattern of speech is different. And I can’t quite decide if I just misremember how he used to talk, or if he had a cloning accident, or something else. ]

I nodded thoughtfully. Lord Grim had been the leader of the Frequent Flyers when I was just a rookie, until one day he had simply vanished without a trace. Having him showing up out of the blue was bound to raise some concerns.

[ Anyway, that’s a question for another time. ] Eta straightened. [ How soon can you be here? ]

“Well, I need to get to medical and jump clone over, but then I have a ship already fitted and ready for launch. So about ten minutes.”

[ Sounds good. Do you need me to move the ship for you? The navy doesn’t like you very much here. ]

Rriiight! I had completely forgotten about that! But I shook my head: “Thanks, but not necessary - I have good undock bookmarks.”

[ If you say so… ] she clearly wasn’t fully convinced, but let it go. [ I see you in ten then. Eta out. ]

The connection broke, the holographic Eta dissolved, and I looked up at the guy. “Sorry, I would have loved to stay a bit longer, but … you heard.”

“No problem,” he replied, “you do what you need to do.” He didn’t offer to come along to help, knowing that it wasn’t his op, just watched me gather my belongings. It didn’t take long - I travelled light. Finally I walked over to him, and, holding the back of his head in one hand, gave him long, lingering kiss, enjoying the warm feeling spreading in my midst.

“I had fun last night,” I said quietly when our lips parted. “Thank you.”

He reached up to lightly stroke my cheek. “My pleasure.” He smiled. “Good luck out there!”

I straightened up and made my way to the exit, leaving vacation, coffee and cosyness behind.