EVE Fiction

 
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AS THE CROW FLIES. AN EON FICTION CONTEST SUBMISSION

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#1 - 2012-11-11 02:51:38 UTC  |  Edited by: Natassia Krasnoo
The man looked at him with a questioning and pleading look as he slid to the floor the blood already starting to soak through his tunic in a large dark patch above his abdomen. His face was already a bright red from the pain of trying to breathe.

He wiped the blood from the blade on his sleeve and sheathed the knife back in its concealed scabbard on his hip. It would only be moments now before the other man lay dead on the dirty floor. There were only a few other patrons in this little dive of a bar, but he would need to leave soon regardless. Word can travel fast on a station. He’d be sure to leave the bartender a large tip. That would at least buy him enough time to gather his things and get back to his ship. It’s not like the bartender really cared about it anyway. Hell most of the other patrons simply looked on with expressions of apathy and contempt. They weren’t likely to do anything about it either. It would be the bartender that made the call, otherwise he’d have to dispose of the body himself, and he certainly didn’t look like he would be the type to do that.

The bleeding man now lay on the deck trying desperately to breathe, his lungs filling with blood as a red foamy froth dripped from his lips. He only had seconds now. Captain Higashi turned back to the bar. “Another round,” he motioned with his empty glass to signal the bartender who simply nodded and moved to retrieve the bottle from the shelf.

Times were getting harder. Each encounter with that damned bounty hunter cost him more and more ISK to get the repairs he needed for his ship. Not to mention the crew replacements. Most had abandoned him after the second encounter; the others slowly trickled out at each station over the last six months. Some at least had the fortitude to tell him they were leaving, others simply never returned for ship departure. As word spread about his “little problem” it was getting harder to find good help. He was down to a skeleton crew when he docked here.

Captain Higashi was known to be a ruthless soul. His raids on colonies and lone ships carrying cargo were talked about in stations spanning all four Empires. So when crewmen came to him and told him face to face they were no longer interested in being a part of his crew, he had to respect their courage. He had only killed one crewman when he delivered his news. Captain Higashi blamed it on the hapless soul he had slaughtered. You should never deliver bad news to a Captain of a ship immediately following a run in with a bounty hunter. Now most of them waited until he was in a bar in a station and had a few drinks to lighten his mood, though of late the drinks didn’t seem to be working like they used to. The now dead man on the floor was a testament to his shorter fuse.

He looked down at the corpse of the latest crewman to seek his approval for abandonment. It wouldn’t have been an issue, but the crewman had insisted Captain Higashi owed him back pay. He knew he shouldn’t have killed him in a public place. It would make it even harder to find a replacement now. He’d have to scour the even more unsavory depths of the station to get a decent crewmember. He picked up his drink and tossed it back then stepped over the corpse and added a large tip to his bill as he walked out of the smoky watering hole. The body would be drawing unwanted attention soon enough.

He wasn’t sure how she kept tracking him down. He had slipped past blockades larger than most Caldari Navy Fleet patrols, made his way through the reaches of unknown Wormhole space, braved the wild lands of null security space on multiple occasions, and each time had returned with his ship intact, he even raided a settlement on Caldari prime once. Every time he had gotten away with hardly a glancing blow to his ships shields. This bounty hunter was a different story altogether though. She was as relentless as the glare from a sun after a long night of drinking. He knew what was driving her. Other than the three hundred million ISK bounty, that is.

Three months ago the bounty hunter had found him and his crew in Umokka. The resulting fight had gone his way. His heavily shielded Caracal class cruiser could not outgun her, but her shields had been insufficient, she had opted to go with more firepower, and he had left her Caracal class cruiser a ruined hulk of metal and slag. He thought it was over then. It was later he discovered the Commander had survived, but the XO of the ship had not, and the XO had been a close friend of the Commander. He recalled the name of the ship now. Vendetta. He smirked to himself, irony.

He made his way to the depths of the station. Life down here was ugly, hard working people, dirty living conditions, mundane food, and less savory company. Even station security didn’t come down here without full backup and riot equipment. Should be the perfect place to find a new crewman. The thought amused him. It didn’t take as long as he thought, after a few stops in the bars and a few well greased palms an able crewman was met and hired. He was a deserter from the Caldari Navy and had turned to piracy. He even came with his own bounty, though nowhere near the amount Captain Higashi commanded. If times get too hard I could turn him in for a profit on what I’m paying him. He chuckled to himself at the thought. They headed back to the ship it would be time to leave soon.
#2 - 2012-11-11 02:54:04 UTC  |  Edited by: Natassia Krasnoo
His old Caracal class cruiser had been a good ship heavily shielded and rigged for escaping warp scramblers, it had served him well. It was too well known now days however, and with this bounty hunter chasing him it was only wise to sell it and get something a little more slippery. She wasn’t likely to make the same mistake twice. The next time they met he was sure it wouldn’t go his way. Five times he had escaped her attempts at capture. Even he knew the odds were highly stacked against him for a sixth escape. So he bought a Crow Class Interceptor Frigate with the ISK he’d gotten for the Caracal. Fast, sleek, and harder to hit, it should give him an edge should they cross paths again.

It was his cargo that gave him pause; it had to be the reason for the bounty. It was also the reason he had removed all the escape pods from the cargo bay in order to make more room. Should they get into serious trouble it would be the end of him. This cargo though was well worth the risk. It was worth more than he could imagine. Like most his cargo it was stolen, but he hadn’t known what it was until they brought it on board and scanned it. After that he had posted his most trusted men on it with heavy arms and round the clock surveillance. He would take no chances. This was his ticket out of the life of raiding and murdering. This was his way to a life of luxury and extortion. Wouldn’t want to retire from making people squirm altogether. The thought put him in a rare good mood.

The life of luxury was why he was in this system in the first place. He had been told a local pirate warlord was looking to sell his current base of operations in a DED space pocket nearby. The warlord had taken over an abandoned mining colony on a large rock and turned it into a base for raiding the local territories. It had paid off for him and it was now a large hang-out complete with pleasure hub, silos for storage, it even came with a lot of the old mining equipment, though the ore in the area had long since been stripped away. Captain Higashi had wanted to look at it to see if it was worth the asking price. It certainly was, and if everything worked out, he would be the owner of it soon. It also gave him an excuse to buy the new ship. A check of the local markets had revealed a nice Crow Class Interceptor for dirt cheap in this very station.

His ship waited in its anti-grav tethers as maintenance personnel swarmed around it. It wasn’t as large as the Caracal and had considerably less cargo space, but with dwindling crew numbers and the rising cost of ship repairs it was perfect for his last mission. After this he could afford a fleet of ships to do with as he pleased. Maybe even hire some of those damned Capsuleers to patrol the skies around his pleasure hub. He walked onboard the ship and began ordering the crew to prepare the ship to leave dock. He then showed the new recruit his lodging and left him there to fend for himself. From there he made his way to the cargo bay. He wanted to look at them again. My fortune. He liked to stare at them and imagine the ISK they would bring.

The guards he had posted snapped to attention and greeted him appropriately. He typed in the code on the access door to the cargo container and stepped inside closing the door behind him. It was pitch black but the soft hum and clicks of machinery and computer systems broke the silence.

“Lights.” The cargo containers computer system illuminated the lighting panels built into the walls.

He wondered if the ship that was carrying this, before he relieved them of their mortal burden, knew what it was they had?

He had studied to be a Capsuleer at one time, and had looked forward to becoming one of the elite Demi-Gods plying the New Eden space ways. That is until they had ended his training prematurely, after the psyche evals. “A penchant for homicidal tendencies.” Was what the doctor had written into his evaluation. So after his dismissal he hunted down the doctor and proved him right. He first killed his sixteen year old daughter by slowly bleeding her out while the doctor and his wife watched, gagged, tied and horrified. It had taken four hours and a lot of stims to keep her awake through it all; she eventually went comatose from the blood loss. He had taken a special pleasure watching the doctor suffer tremendously as he watched his family die in front of him. The wife was not as fun, after seeing her daughter tortured she had mentally checked out, and as he tried to make her scream she only grunted with the punches, cuts, and stabs. So he ended her quickly and moved on to his favorite subject the doctor himself. He had destroyed the doctor piece by piece, relishing each horrific scream of agony; as he burned and cauterized each wound so he wouldn’t bleed out and die, he left him alive but horrifically scarred. He would have needed extensive prosthetics if he had opted to live and had not ended his own life instead. The memory still brought a smile to his face.

When they had first tractored in the cargo container he was expecting to find the usual trappings, ammunition, trade goods, or a cargo container full of explosives, a nasty trick sometimes played by enterprising Capsuleers to discourage piracy in their areas of interest. When they had gotten the scanner readings he immediately posted the guards. The scanner operators had conveniently “left” the ship. A nice way of telling the rest of the crew he had blown them out an airlock. It was his early training and knowledge of Capsuleer technology that had tipped him off to what was now before him. Someone would pay dearly to keep this secret, or CONCORD would pay a large sum to learn of it. Either way he was in for a big payday. He ran his hand along the smooth surfaces; they were warm to the touch.

“Lights.” The lights clicked off. He turned, opened the door and left the Cargo container making sure it sealed and locked behind him.
#3 - 2012-11-11 02:57:13 UTC  |  Edited by: Natassia Krasnoo
He moved through the ship to the bridge and sat in his chair. “Helm, send the request to undock.”

“Aye, Captain.” the helmsman at least hadn’t left yet. With as much as he paid him, should he ever leave, Captain Higashi would be sure to take at least a pound of flesh. Most likely his tongue, he had a tendency to talk too much.

Undocking wasn’t the hard part; it was out there, away from the safety of a station that things could get hairy. Today would not be that kind of a day, he had seen his future, and now he intended to make sure it came to fruition.

“Captain, permission to undock is granted."

“Then quit wasting your damn breath telling me about it and let’s go.”

“Aye Sir.” The helmsman brought the ship about and took their place in the queue to leave the docking bay of the station.

“Once we’re clear open her up and let’s see if I got what I paid for.”

The Crow was fit for maximum speed. She would be faster than most ships. The extra speed came at the cost of extra shielding and armaments. With speed, other ships weapons systems would have a hard time tracking him; if they used missiles it could outrun the explosion radius, so damage would be minimal anyway. Captain Higashi knew his latest enemy liked to use missiles. He smiled to himself knowingly.

“Captain, we’ve cleared the dock.”

Captain Higashi frowned; he hated it when the helmsman narrated every damn detail about their movements. “If you feel it necessary to tell me about everything we’re doing, instead of following my instructions, I may find it necessary to remove your ability to speak at all!” His voice was calm but the emphasis and meaning were crystal clear.

The helmsman pushed the throttle control to maximum. The ship began to speed up immediately climbing quickly to maximum speed as the station began to dwindle behind them. Captain Higashi kept an eye on the readouts. Just as advertised, the ship hit its maximum speed. The inertial dampers seemed to be working fine there were no system failures or alerts on his holo console. Now would come the real test. “Activate the Micro Warp Drive.”

The helmsman nodded his consent and activated the newly installed drive unit. There was a moment of pressure before the inertial dampers caught up to the sudden forces created by the new drive and the ship hurtled through space accelerating sharply. Captain Higashi glanced at the readouts. “Fast little thing isn’t she?” He was talking more to himself than any of the crew, but the helmsman answered any way.

“She can certainly move Captain.”

Captain Higashi scowled at the helmsman, and then turned to the readouts again. Everything was in the green. “Scan the local area and find me something to shoot at.”

The weapons operator nodded and did as he was told. It only took a few seconds. “Planet four, belt three sir.”

“Helmsman, let’s go.”

The ship still at top speed came about hard and aligned for the jump to the asteroid belt marker. The inertial dampers load increased by almost half. They held, and Captain Higashi nodded his satisfaction to himself. Time seemed to freeze for a moment and then the ship shot into warp.

He checked his messages on the neocom, nothing. That settled it. As soon as they were done testing out the weapons and what little defenses they had, he would set course for the nearest CONCORD station. He had let it be known he was looking for the owner of the Cargo Container originally carried in the hull of the Iteron Class hauler, Regalia. There had been no reply, but two days after, he had ended up with a three hundred million ISK bounty. He didn’t believe in coincidence. With no information on the true owner the only other option was to turn them over to CONCORD, for a price.

The ship was nearing its destination. “As soon as the warp drives cut out, I want full scans, three sixty, I want to know what’s out there.”

The weapons controller set about readying the scanners. The Asteroid belt appeared at first as a small dot and grew extremely quickly as it almost popped into view, and then the ship was out of warp and at the belt. Huge chunks of rock floated amongst a sea of smaller rocks and debris. The light from the bright blue sun lit up the Asteroids around them turning them a grayish silvery color. Amongst them a lone Hulk Class mining vessel was in the belt and three pirate frigates were shooting at it. The Hulk seemed to not be worried about the pirates; the pilot still had his mining drones out and working. A quick scan showed the pirates hadn’t inflicted very much damage to the Hulk at all. He must have shield upgrades. Higashi mused.

“Scans complete Captain. Nothing on the scanners but what’s in the belt.”

“Target that mining vessel, and those frigates, and let’s see what kind of damage we can cause and how much we can take. Battle stations!” The Crow began to move further into the belt towards the mining vessel. The Hulk was now pulling in its drones and aligning for a warp out of the belt. Captain Higashi felt a flicker of pride knowing that his presence could instill fear in those around him. Low Security space was filled with dangers and he took solace in knowing few were worse than him. The hulk had finished its turn; it would only be moments now before it went into warp. They were almost in range with the warp scrambler. The Hulk froze in space for a moment and then with a streak of light it vanished. Their target now gone, the pirate frigates turned their attention on Captain Higashis’ ship. “Set ten kilometer orbit on the nearest ship and fire, same with the other two, don’t stop until they either warp out or are destroyed.”
#4 - 2012-11-11 02:59:47 UTC  |  Edited by: Natassia Krasnoo
The weapons controller went to work, as the helmsman set an orbit around the nearest ship. The two ships exchanged fire; the pirate ship was no match for Captain Higashis’ heavily upgraded ship. The pirates turrets could barely track fast enough to hit the Crow. The light missiles from the Crow however found their mark every time, and the first pirate ship exploded in a dazzling white/blue light leaving it a smoldering wreck of twisted metal.

The Helmsman set the next orbit around the nearest pirate as instructed. He was about to inform Captain Higashi of that fact and then thought better of it.

The last two pirate ships lasted only a couple of minutes and then they were gone. The belt was devoid of any other ships. Captain Higashi sent out a scavenger crew to bring back anything that might fetch some ISK on the market. It wasn’t much and with limited cargo space he simply left most of it.

“We’re done here. Set course for the nearest system with a CONCORD station in it.”

The helmsman brought up the map and began his search. They were in Low Security space and because of Captain Higashi’s reputation they would need to find a route that wouldn’t take them through heavily policed systems. The bridge was silent except for the sound of the air circulators and humming power supplies for the computer systems.

The weapons operator was the one to break the silence. “Sir, I have a Caracal Class cruiser on scan five AU out. It’s registered to Commander Aiko Fujiyama as the VENDETTA II!”

“Five AU? What the hell are you doing? Sleeping at the damn console? ****!” His anger flared like a volcano erupting. Rage and frustration emanated from his very being. With one swift motion his right arm straightened out and before anyone realized what had happened a gush of fresh blood spattered across the weapons operator console. The weapons operator looked down at the hole in his still smoking abdomen, a questioning look on his face, and then his eyes and face went blank, and he slumped to the floor dead with a soft thud. “Get me another warp beacon now!” He bellowed at the helmsman.

Without a word the helmsman began searching for a beacon, he settled for a planet close by and set the ship to warp. The Crow began its turn towards the planet just as the Caracal landed not more than 7 Kilometers away.

How did she find us? How does she always know exactly where we are at?

“Status on warp?”

“Just a few more seconds, sir.”

They weren’t going to make it he could see through the blood covering the weapons console that the Caracal was already locking on. He transferred the weapons control to his console and returned the favor. As long as she doesn't have a warp scrambler we might make it. Just as he finished the thought the targeting reticule around the Caracal turned red and he saw the missiles launching as the Caracal made right for them. The impact from the first wave of missiles shook the ship but due to their speed, it didn’t produce very much damage. He watched the monitor. She’s going to ram us to knock us out of alignment and prevent us from warping out. Very well, if it’s a fight you want Commander. It’s a fight you’ll get!

“Orbit that ship at seven K!” He opened fire on the Caracal as he spoke the words. His first volley of missiles struck the Caracal head on just before it collided with the Crow, and knocked it off its warp alignment. The shield systems of the two ships, both stressed from impacting each other wavered for a moment. Captain Higashi thought it might overload his shields systems, but they held and the game began. The two ships then set into orbit about each other dancing their deadly dance of fire and lights. The much faster Crow was outrunning the explosion radius of the Caracals heavy missiles while it peppered the Caracal with light missile fire.

I can win this fight if I maintain speed. Perhaps she hasn’t learned her lesson after all. He smiled to himself as the Crow loosed another assault on the Caracal. He had gotten a good deal on a stolen arsenal of Caldari Navy Light Missiles. The extra punch would serve him well in this fight. Readouts showed the Caracals shields were dropping faster than they should have. Once again she had opted for more firepower, the same mistake that had cost her the other cruiser. He laughed out loud to himself. He’d be sure to hail them again before he finished them off and chide her on not adding more shielding arrays to the ship. He mused about his past escapes and the taunting he had given the Commander as he had left her and her crew angry and disappointed. Maybe he’d even see if he could kill all the escape pods this time just to be sure she never came after him again.

The ship shook violently from another barrage of missile fire and the dead body lying next to the weapons control station shifted with the impact. The Crow fired its batteries again in answer to the Caracals volley, the impact dropping its shields to seventy percent. His shields were dropping, but not too fast and he was positive he could maintain defenses long enough to finally rid himself of this bounty hunter. Today will be a great day. He mused. His ship let fly another round of missiles and the Caracals shields dropped to just above sixty percent.
#5 - 2012-11-11 03:01:28 UTC  |  Edited by: Natassia Krasnoo
“Sir the Capacitor is running low, request permission to cycle the Micro Warp Drive.”

The helmsman looked pale and Captain Higashi could almost smell the stink of fear rolling off him in waves. Cowardly trash, I should have shot him instead. He gave his nod of approval and turned his attention back to the readouts. Cycling the drive would cause them to slow and end up with slightly more damage but it shouldn’t be deadly as long as the helmsman timed it right. In order for the self recharging Capacitor to recharge there could be no load on it. If the capacitor ran out of juice they would have no more Micro Warp Drive and would then be doomed. The Crows missile bays erupted with streaks of fire as more missiles were spat at the Caracal.

It happened so quickly it took Captain Higashi a moment to realize what was happening. At first he quickly eyed his console looking for the tell tale warning lights of engine fires. There were none, and that’s when he realized what had happened, as he felt the blood drain from his face. He looked up to the helmsman who was cringing in his seat but facing Captain Higashi bravely.

“Sir they have a webber!”

“Thank you Mr. Obvious!” His hand flashed to his side arm but he realized he didn’t have anyone other than himself to fly the ship. “Don’t just sit there you dumb son of a *****, warp us out of here!”

The helmsman set to the task faster than Higashi had ever seen him move. The shields absorbed an assault from the Caracal. With the ship slowed they felt the full force of the missile assault this time. The ship shook so violently the helmsman was thrown from his seat and smashed his head open on the corner of the already bloody weapons console. He staggered back to his feet and made for the helm controls. Captain Higashi cut him down before he got two steps. “That’s for not strapping in when I called battle stations you ignorant ass!” The helmsman never heard him. Captain Higashi transferred the helm controls to his own console and chose a warp destination. He was too late.

The warning message loomed on his screen like a death knell. His ship was effectively dead in space. She had shut down his speed and now she had shut down his warp drive, preventing his escape and ensuring his demise. He sat back in his seat as the ship rocked violently from another assault. It was only a matter of time now.

Perhaps it is not such a great day after all. His rage suddenly exploded. He drew his sidearm and began randomly decimating his bridge and its crew while screaming. When he was done five smoking corpses littered the bridge amongst the debris of ruined consoles and electrical fires. Another volley from the Caracal threw him against his restraints and the weapon flew from his grasp. He slumped in the chair and waited for his end to come. He hoped it would be quick. The warning message flashed across his console again informing him that perhaps she had learned her lesson after all.

The comms buzzed.
***

The Commander had hailed him, and refused his attempt to bribe her with the contents of the cargo container in his hold. She had told him if it survived the core breach she’d be sure to pick it up along with his frozen corpse.

Arrogant *****. He despised the thought of someone who thought themselves beyond reproach. Everyone had their price. If she only knew what was in there. He wasn’t about to broadcast it over unsecured comms however.

With no escape pods there was only one chance for him, the Cargo container. It held air and was sealed. It would sustain him long enough to survive until it was picked up by the Commander, if it survived.

He made his way to the container, the guards had long abandoned their posts in favor of finding a corner to hide in and pray. As the ship was torn apart around him he slipped inside. The container shielded him from a lot of the noise as a drone picked his ship apart piece by piece. After what seemed like hours he heard the unmistakable alarms ring out that a core breach was imminent. He closed his eyes and leaned against his prizes bracing for the impact and praying for survival. There was a deafening noise and pressure.
***


Aboard the VENDETTA II

After the initial celebrations, Commander Fujiyama sat back in her chair and surveyed the wreckage of the Crow. There wasn’t much left. “Salvage what we can and lay out the corpses in the cargo bay. Any sign of that cargo he was bragging about?”

“Is there any sign?” The salvage expert tended to be smart when in a good mood. She could hear the sarcasm in his voice over the comms. “Yes, I’ve got lots of signs, a piece of a container over here, a piece of a container over there…”

“Funny, Mr. Kendal. Make it quick out there, I want to wrap this up and get moving.” She smiled despite the mild break in discipline. After all it was kind of funny.

“Aye, aye maam.”

The Commander almost thought it was a pity the cargo hadn’t survived. Whatever it had been, it was nothing but space debris now. “Weps you have the bridge.” She returned to her ready room where the holo of a dear friends face still rotated slowly above her desk and a bottle of spirits waited.

©John B. Stewart II
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