Wednesday, December 25, 2013


        "Never let a good crisis go to waste." -- Winston Churchill

I walked slowly around the holographic image of myself the mirror in the dressing room had created. I knew that my ‘personal purchase experience specialist’ was trying to sell me more stuff than I actually wanted or needed, but Damn! the belt did look good! Formal or non-formal dress, it would add a note of intent whenever I would have to do negotiations. Hmm, maybe also get a second one in a different color?

My comm pad vibrated, and without taking my eyes off my mirror image, I touched the right buttons to answer the call. Only few people were allowed to bypass my ‘do not disturb’ setting.

        “Hello, Sis!”

        [ Are you happy now? ] , she asked with a bitterness that made me pause.

No greeting meant that she was really pissed. At me, of course.

        “What do you mean?”

        [ You know what I mean: the little stunt you and your friends pulled two days ago. You almost got me booted from corp and alliance! ]

Frowning, I sat down, ignoring the furtive knock on the door from my ‘specialist’. This was more important.

        “I don’t understand - ok, I should have known that that tower was one of your renter’s and stayed out of it. But still! It was offline, and we didn’t even kill it!”

        [ Not just any renter. ] I heard her take a deep breath. [ This renter had friends, who had friends, who then dropped by with a little capital fleet. I only heard about it afterwards, but apparently they were gung-ho to take out all the alliance’s towers. If our alliance hadn’t been repping the tower as the big boys arrived, all kinds of bad things could have happened - these are the same guys we usually bat-phone in times of need. ]

My gut clenched - that was not an outcome I would have anticipated. Under other circumstances, the image of being a catalyst in bringing an alliance to the edge of a costly war would have thrilled me; but endangering my sister’s operations… I really had messed up this time.

        “And?” I finally managed to ask.

        [ We dodged the bullets - barely. Our CEO did some rapid talking, I groveled, and since no actual property damage was done, we got away with a stern warning. ] She paused. [ I have to admit: the alliance boss handled the situation better than I would have given him credit for. He was the bigger person this time. Didn’t even remove your blue status. ]

Crap. While I didn’t truly care about the blue status with them anymore, it did make a few things easier. And him not removing it over this incident… dejectedly, I hung my head. I hated it when I failed my own standards while others exceeded them.

        “Guess I owe him a thanks.”

        [ At least an apology. ] Her voice softened. [ On the positive side, one good thing did come out of this. We’re taking down our big POS next door as we speak. ]

My head snapped up.


        [ The threat of my possible expulsion lead to some straight talk in our corporation, formulation of alternative strategies, and all that. And it allowed me to voice that I’m sick and tired of running that large POS. So we’re taking it down and replacing it with a smaller, self-financing one, with less need of handholding. ]

        “But - your reactions? I thought you loved them!”

        She sighed. [ I do love them. But they also have become routine - and I never really liked the market aspect of them. And I definitely have started to hate the damn fuel running. ] She sighed again. [ Pity about my Jump Freighter project, though - I’ll have to put it on hold. ]

I shook my head in disbelief.

        “But what are you going to do now? Especially to make ISK?”

        [ I don’t know yet ], she admitted, [ and frankly, the prospect scares the heck out of me. Travel, maybe - I have hardly left Domain in the last couple years. Maybe do PI for a while for income, or inventions - things I haven’t tried enough to know whether I’m good at them or not. I might even come back to reactions in the end, on account of being broke. But until then… ] It was an audio-only connection, but I hear a crooked smile in her voice. [ We’ll see. ]

        “You never cease to surprise me,” I said warmly.

        [ I aim to please, ] she replied jokingly, [ and unlike you, I use a high-precision sniper rifle instead of tac-nukes. ]

I laughed.

        “Well, if there’s anything I can help you with, let me know.”

        [ Actually… if you could be here in a few hours, that’d be awesome. We could use some scary-looking people in combat ships on the field when we do the actual tower switch.] She paused for a moment. [ You do have ships left here, right? ]

Good question. I quickly pulled up my asset list, and nodded.

        “Yep. My trusty Talos. And I need to drop a JC over there, so I wanted to come by anyway after I’m done shopping here.”

        [ Shopping? What’cha buying? ]

        “Accessoires, of sorts. For my outfit.”

        [ Clothing? ] Now it was her turn to disbelieve. [ I’ll believe that when I see it! ]

        “Not exactly clothing.” I grinned. “You’ll see.”

        [ Ok, ok, I shall suffer from curiosity in silence then. ] She cleared her throat. [ I’ll see you in a couple hours then. Eta out. ]

The connection closed, and stood up, strangely enough feeling as if a weight had been lifted from me. Shutting off the holo-mirror, I stepped outside the dressing room, finding my ‘purchase specialist’ waiting for me.

“Sorry about that,” I said apologetically, “I had to take that call.”

“No problem at all, I fully understand.” he replied with a studied polite smile. “Our customers are usually busy people, and it is our goal to provide them with the best environment while they are making their decisions.” His eyes dropped briefly to the belt I had been trying on. “And, what does Ma’am think?”

“I take it. And a second one in black.”

“Excellent choice!” His smile brightened. “It'll go nicely with the rest! Anything else I could interest you in?”

I thought briefly, then shook my head. “No, nothing I can think of… wait.” I snapped my fingers. “Ammunition - Antimatter and Iridium.”

“Of course.” He gave me a tiny, knowing nod. “After all, it is a dangerous world out there.”

Monday, December 23, 2013

Brandy and a Dreadnought

        "I am going to show them a world,
        A world where anything is possible.
        Where we go from there, is a choice I leave to you."
         -- Neo, The Matrix

“Tell me again: why did we do what we did last night?”

She looked just how I felt: horrible. I nursed my coffee before answering.

“Speak for yourself.”, I finally managed. “I just came to aid a friend who had bitten off more than she could chew - you on the other hand were doing something… how shall I put it…”

“…uncommonly stupid?”, she finished the sentence for me, blushing slightly.


I took another sip from my mug, the sharp taste biting my tongue, but doing nothing against the cobwebs around my brain.

“So, you tell me - why did you attack a POS all by yourself? In the home system of my sister’s Alliance? With friends of the Alliance around? While insulting the locals?”

“I wasn’t all by myself!”, she protested, but I waved dismissively.

“The lone Hyperion at your side hardly counts.” I frowned. “Who was that guy anyway?”

“Actually I’m not quite sure.” She stood up to refilled her own mug. “I met him when we went shooting IBCOs last month, and I have kept in loose contact since. But I can’t say that I really know him.”

I nodded. “A mercenary, just like you.”

“Something like that.” Both hands around her cup, she took a deep breath of the steam emanating from the hot liquid. Exhaling, she sat down across from me.

“And as for last night…”, she shrugged, “I think the whole year simply had come to a head. And when your sister grumbled about her Alliance’ latest stupidity, I just had it.” She grimaced. “The brandy might have played a role as well.”

I rubbed my eyes. “Yeah. I may have made the same mistake.”

“Really? I couldn’t tell!”, she teased, but then quickly became serious again. “Say, will your sister be in trouble?”

“Maybe.” I leaned back, pondering. “Well - technically she didn’t do anything wrong. It was us doing the shooting, and it wasn’t even Alliance property.” I took another sip and closed my eyes, savoring the taste. “Though I sometimes wonder what she’d do if she didn’t have the corp to run. I think she might move on, if it weren’t for the others.”

Opening my eyes again, I looked at her quizzically. “What are you going to do now?”

“I don’t know. Find a new area of operations. Save up for another Moros, maybe.” She stared into her mug, as if it contained the answer. “Or maybe not. It’s not that I really need one; and with you gone, it was the only reason why I even stayed in this area.” A weak smile played around her lips. “In a way, losing it is a relief.”

“A relief with a Billion ISK price tag!”, I snorted.

“I try not to think of that particular detail.” She took a deep drink of her coffee, then put down her mug and reached across the table to take one of my hands into hers.

“Listen,” she began, her voice suddenly soft, “I know we had had our differences, and this is not how I pictured meeting you again - creating a mess instead of patching things up.” She gave my hand a light squeeze. “But I ‘m glad that you came.”

Surprised, I looked up, and saw her looking at me intently - in her eyes words she didn’t dare to say. And after previous night, she no longer had to.

I intertwined my fingers with hers. “It’s good to be back.”

Friday, December 20, 2013

Someone To Listen

        “You're a lone wolf in a sandbox.” -- CCP Soundwave

Smooth jazz flowed from the sound system and filled the air above the few late night patrons and their hushed conversations. It wasn’t my favorite style of music, but it matched my zen-like mood as I sat at the bar, watching a couple slow-dance on the deserted floor. It had been a couple of weeks since I had returned from that outpost in Catch, and slowly normalcy was creeping back into my life - I even had started flying regularly with a group of pilots again, some of which I knew from old, others I did not. Just sleep was still slow to come, my sub-conscious wound up too tight to relax, unless pure exhaustion overcame it.

I turned to set my empty glass onto the counter and pick up the fresh one the Bartender had already prepared, reading me like a book. Swirling the deep red liquid in the glass, I thought about everything and nothing, when a sudden commotion from the entrance drew my attention.

A group of people in ship’s uniforms entered, their chatter and demeanor a fresh spark in the room. Behind them, a capsuleer, likely their pilot. The group commandeered a table, and while a waitress walked over to take their orders, the pilot approached the bar counter. A brief conversation, the passing of a credit chip, and the pilot settled onto a stool. Taking sips from the drink which appeared in front of him, he occasionally glanced towards the table where his crew was starting to have a good time. Even taking his true Amarrian lineage into account, his expression was too grim for his young age.

Making up my mind, I grabbed my virgin Bloody Gurista and walked the few steps over, sitting down next to him.

“Why don’t you join your crew?”, I asked, skipping unnecessary things like introductions.

He took a sip before answering. “I’m not sure they’d like me there - seeing that I’m the one who almost got them killed today.” he said darkly, and I recognized his mood. I shifted into a slightly more comfortable position, not by accident making sure that he got a glimpse of my neck connector, and smiled encouragingly.

“Tell me.”

And bit by bit, his story came forth. He was a young, budding industrialist in New Eden, and considering that he had only recently been certified, he was doing quite well: member of a small bustling corp, gift with a sense for leading the market with his products, his net worth had increased rapidly. Until a bad call left him with almost all his assets tied up in sell orders while the prices dropped.

“I had a choice: hole up in a station until my products moved again,” he explained, the potent drink having made him more talkative, “or branch out for the time being. So I took up tramp-hauling - courier contracts, small stuff trading, the like.”

“I remember doing one or two stints like that.”, I threw in.

“Then you probably know the crucial factor,” he sighed, “Location. Location. Location.

”It went well until earlier this week, when I accepted a courier contract - hi-sec to hi-sec - with a reward above average. Only after I had already paid the substantial collateral, I actually looked the route.“ He took a drink. ”Pickup was in a hi-sec pocket, surrounded by low-sec two systems deep. And all I have at hand is a regular hauler, none of these fancy Blockade Runners.“

”I could have failed the contract, but the money was Too Good! So I did my homework,“ he continued, ”kept an eye on the systems, sussed out the traffic patterns. And today, with only two days left on the contract I made my move.“

His eyes lost focus, reliving the memory.

”I had timed it well: I had chosen a lesser used entrance system, and the route was clear. Easy-peasy - I hop into the hi-sec pocket, pick up the cargo, and make best haste back. First system - clear. Second system - a cruiser and a HAC awaiting me on the gate, both outlaw.“

He focused again, and he set his glass onto the counter. ”Ok, imagine this is the gate. Then these…“, he pulled up two empty shot glasses, ”…were the two outlaws, and this here…“, he pulled up another shot glass and turned it upside down, ”…was me.

”The HAC was at 10-ish klicks distance from me, the cruiser was about 7km away, both orbiting the gate. I know about the Cloak+MWD maneuver, but all I had was a Cloak and Afterburner.“ He picked up the ‘gate’ and drank a sip before putting it down again. ”Crashing the gate was not an option, and I wasn’t sure that I’d last long enough for the gate guns to take down both of them.

”So, I waited as long as I could, and when both were moving sort-of away from me, I fired up the engines, dropped gate-cloak, kicked the Afterburner and engaged the cloak. Immediately the cruiser turned and sped towards where I had briefly appeared, but he had actually overestimated my speed and passed 5km in front of me.“ He moved the shot glasses for illustration, then looked at me with deep grey eyes.

”I thought that I had gotten away, but then I saw him turning and heading back towards me.“ He nudged the cruiser shot glass a bit. ”And this time he came right at me.

“Panicking, I changed course, heading straight down, hoping that crawling along at 10m/s would make a difference - and he still came barreling at me.” He lifted up the cruiser shot glass and moved it towards and above his industrial, to allow for the 3D nature of the movements. “And all I could watch was the distance between us - 8km… 5km… 3km… 2.8km… 2.5km… 2.1km…”

His hand stopped at the moment of closest approach.

“The bastard came within 2030 m from me.” He dropped the shot glass and picked up his drink, taking a large sip, and I whistled through my teeth: regular cloaks failed when other objects came inside a 2000 m radius. A close call - too close.

When he continued, he spoke without looking at me. “Had he angled his course just a fraction of a radiant differently… had I turned just a fraction of a second later…,” he turned his head towards me and jerked a thumb towards the table with his crew, “… all of them would be dead.”

“It’s funny,” he said, looking into his glass, “I shouldn’t be so upset about it - I have more riding on the market than on this lousy shipment. But when this cruiser came running for me - I was paralyzed. Scared shitless.”

He fell quiet, and I waited a few seconds before encouraging him on. “But you got away.”

“Yeah.” He emptied his glass. “We drifted for like half an hour until they got bored and left, then we made it into hi-sec. Delivered the goods, got our money. Another day in the life of an industrialist.

”And that is most annoying part!“ He gestured with his empty glass. ”I almost got them all killed today - but nobody will ever know! Nor care! There was no battle, no combat record, no dramatic gun camera footage, no triggering an avalanche of events - it’s not even enough to go pondering profoundly about larger meanings. All I did was running away.“ He tried to take a drink from his glass, but finding it empty, set it onto the counter. ”And who is going to want to listen to something insignificant as that.“

”Well,“ I said softly after a moment, ”I listened.“

He looked up. ”Heh - that’s true.“

I nodded towards his crew. ”You should join them - show them that you still care.“ I said, a bit ruefully, not remembering the last time I had spent time with my crews. ”After all, today was quite significant in their lives.“

”Hmm,“ his voice pensive for a moment, ”maybe you’re right.“ He stood up, but held up for a second. ”Thanks. For listening.“

”You’re welcome.“ I smiled. ”Go.“

He hesitated, as if to say something, then nodded and headed towards his crew. I watched his retreating back, knowing that I’d never see him again, and I wished him well.

I finished my drink, set my glass next to his onto the counter, and signaled the Bartender for another.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Suicidal Tendencies

        "You have to look at the bright side." - " Which is...?" - "A figure of speech." -- Archer

The pain cut through my brain white and hot, tearing up my neurons like an army of nanite buzz-saws. Slumping forward until my head came to rest against the plast shell, I opened my mouth, but no scream would emerge. Oxygenated amniotic fluid surrounded me and filled my lungs, rendering my vocal cords useless. I boxed the shell, desperate for any sensation which would distract me from the spike in my mind.

And suddenly the shell vanished and I fell forward onto a cold floor, the impact lighting new fires behind my eyes. Trained reflexes took control of my body, and I convulsed to expel the fluid from my lungs, no matter what it did to my head.

Damn it - I would not cry!

But it had become harder and harder every time. Mr. Burning Neuroscanner and myself had never been friends, but ever since I had moved out to this backwater outpost in Catch, our relationship had drastically worsened. The docs said that it was psychosomatic - which didn’t change the fact that the pain was very real.

A prick in my arm - a hypo injecting a bipartite drug cocktail into my blood stream. I clenched my teeth and willed myself through the seconds the topical painkiller needed to become effective. But finally the pain started to subside, and I allowed myself to relax, still lying on the floor.

Warm hands glided over my body, took hold, helped me up. I felt a robe draped around my shoulders.

“How often more?”, asked a voice, touched by pity.

I turned my head towards the voice of the med-tech, still not being able to see anything but shapeless blobs.

“Once more.”, I whispered. “I think.”

The med-tech grunted noncommittally, knowing better than to ask why I was putting myself through this. Heck, I could hardly remember myself.

Back in Empire, the plan had sounded so … well, sound. Jump-clone out to this station, where I still had ships stored, left over from yet another of my former Alliance’s unsuccessful null-sec endeavors. Sell the small stuff, evac the more valuable ships one by one. All of it deeply symbolic even - cutting what hopefully would be the last ties to my former Alliance and what had happened the previous year. All that would be left afterwards would be manning the turrets for my sister whenever she needed help - strictly a family affair.

A good plan - except that I had forgotten that I no longer had docking rights at this outpost. So once I took a ship out, there was only one way for me to re-enter the outpost to get the next one.

A bitter chuckle bubbled up through my throat. The painkiller was working, now I only needed a drug to get me to symbolically cut ties in more traditional ways - like getting a tattoo, or cutting off my hair. Life could be peachy.

Yeah, right.

Resignedly, I laid a hand onto the med-tech’s shoulder, and let him lead me into Recovery.


“You are fit to be released, but you are not fit for space duty.”, the chief resident said sternly. “You need at least a day’s rest, and for God’s sake - eat something!” He leaned back and briefly rubbed his face. “Not that I have any illusion that you’re going to do any of that.”

“Sorry, Doc.” I quietly confirmed. “You know I can’t. But - thanks.”

He nodded. “Out with you then!”, he ordered gruffly. “Before I forget my oath and tranq you personally.”

I smiled at him and stood up, light headed, bemusedly noticing that my knuckles were scraped. The painkiller had done its job, the cloning pain a mere memory throbbing in the background of my mind; now the euphorant was taking over.

The Doc wasn’t wrong, I had to admit when I almost stumbled in the doorway: I really should get some rest and real food. But if I did that, I’d just start screaming at the walls again, or worse, hit the bars on the station. And I knew far too well how that’d end.

No. While there’d be hell to pay once I got back to Empire, for now it was the better choice to just push through.