Brimstone

Deep in Hangar 4, the crews from various ships all mingled, enjoying the luxuries provided by their benefactor. The man was a rather different sort of creature, an immortal, known to most only as “a capsuleer”. But other capsuleers, and the crew with which we worked alongside, knew him better as Captain Jaq.

He was rather lenient as a taskmaster, and cautious with lives and hardware, making him rather popular as an employer…along with his deep, deep pockets and long crew roster required to staff each of his various ships. Most ships didn’t even see use except infrequently, so the Captain had been kind enough to set aside one of the hangar bays near the crew lodging as a gathering space for those in his employ. The crowd rarely varied, as new “members” of this exclusive club, arrived but rarely, and no one working for the Captain had anywhere better to be than the only spot in the entire station where they could get free food, drinks, and entertainment while off-duty. Several thousand people in total frequented the hangar, but thankfully it was large enough for many more than that and was patrolled by a small army of marines. Many of the people employed here had been rescued on various missions and chosen to take the Captain’s offer of employment for room and board, rather than try to fend for themselves elsewhere in the station.

"All personnel assigned to cruiser Brimstone report to your stations immediately!"

The partying paused momentarily as the crews listened intently for their respective ships, and most were relieved when their ship was not the one that was called for. For the two dozen odd members of the Brimstone’s crew, however, it was time to go to work. Kevin was a shield technician on this particular craft. The shields on the Brimstone were unusually strong, a product of the ship having been stolen from a stock of Gila class cruisers left by the Guristas pirates years earlier. As a result, he managed to get the shields to perform better than some battlecruiser shields, without sacrificing too much of the ship’s limited power and computing resources. Yet, with the debriefs playing over the intercom, he put in a quick requisition for extra shield coils, to the chagrin of the weapons department. The request was quickly approved, adding to his sense of unease.

“…our mission is to neutralize all hostiles at each of five rendezvous points…”

The captain’s corporation had been at war for some time. It sometimes seemed irrelevant since the aggressors generally chose to lie in wait along trade routes, nevertheless, it was officially a war in the eyes of the authorities. The enemy capsuleers had never been seen in the area, but the fact that his ship was the one called upon made him nervous…if only because if anything went wrong, he would be in the middle of it, not just one of his acquaintances from Hangar 4. Not that he didn’t trust the Captain…he just had a bad feeling. And the fact that his was the second most valuable ship in the Captain’s fleet didn’t help.

“Prepare for Undock! We will be joining Captain Vult for this mission, so keep the comm chatter down”.

In a moment, the metal behemoth shifted, gliding into motion across the vast berth and settling into an undock lane guided by station control. Behind the Brimstone came a larger ship resembling an upright blade…a Myrmidon class Battlecruiser. Kevin shuddered slightly as he remembered the last time he saw a ship like that just 5 months ago, the Blade Fury undocking with some of his acquaintances never to return. The crew had all managed to escape thanks to timely warning from the Captain that the ship would not survive, but they still suffered nightmares of the attack from time to time. Most of them had been reassigned to newer ships after a short leave. As he contemplated the memories, the ship began to hum preparing for warp to the massive gates leading towards the mission coordinates. A few minutes and 2 short warps later, the ship arrived at a decrepit-looking acceleration system inevitably leading to a deadspace location full of hostiles.

Yet, he reminded himself that he had seen far worse, back when he had first been assigned to the Brimstone when it was newly acquired. Back then, he had served multiple missions to extremely hazardous pockets of the abyss, spacetime anomalies full of unfriendly drifters and dangerous belligerents known as Triglavians, who flew fast ships with sleek hulls and invariably sporting a glowing orb of hot plasma that seemed to reach out to burn his shields, assuming the spacetime wrinkle didn’t collapse and extinguish their existence first. There were a few close calls over that tour of duty, but not long after, the Captain canceled all further voyages to the abyss saying that recent developments made it no longer safe to continue these voyages, and putting the ship in dock. There had been some odd missions since then, but the ship had not seen too much action.

A moment later, the ship dropped out of warp near yet another acceleration gate. In the distance were several Angel Cartel ships, obviously caught off guard. Yet, any spaceship crew worth their oxygen knew how to scramble a ship and sure enough, within moments the ships began to assume an attack formation. Just then, Kevin saw a flash of engines, as the two Valkyrie pilots zoomed out to meet the enemy. Those two were the daredevils of the crew, assigned to first launch, with 8 other pilots waiting in their ships should those two take too much fire or the Captain ordered a different set of attack craft into space for his own reasons. the drone pilots would always argue about the best type of payload. Valkyrie pilots always arguing for good old-fashioned high explosive, and sure of their position based on the fact there were 4 of them and only 2 pilots assigned to deliver each of 3 other payloads. Within moments, the enemy fleet fell to ruin, the drone pilots whooping in glee as they delivered their goods to the enemy. As expected, reinforcements arrived and were quickly dispatched. Through his scanners, Kevin observed tiny crew escape pods blooming from each ship as it exploded, yet no one seemed to mind as killing escape pods was considered unsporting. None of the ships ejected a proper capsule though, indicating that none of them were manned by a pod pilot as their ship was. Captain Vult’s own drone pilots were also joining the battle now, a motley collection of seemingly random craft that seemed to be only somewhat effective.

The next 3 pockets went by smoothly, with Captain Jaq calmly but sternly giving orders over the intercom and on the fleet channels sending instructions to Captain Vult, who was obviously less experienced. Despite the fact that Captain Vult’s ship was a class size larger, the Brimstone was dealing greater damage and seemed to be able to withstand fire better than his. Kevin couldn’t resist a smug grin thinking of how many of their targets underestimated their ship due to size, although from what he heard in Hangar 4, the enemy’s reaction to a mere frigate craft arriving to a battle and performing the work reserved for battlecruisers was even more priceless.

At last, the main target appeared. Terzam himself, a pirate captain known for cloning himself in a fashion not unlike the pod pilots although he was not a proper capsuleer, preferring to work for the Angel Cartel. Beside him, were two tiny, fast-moving craft that began closing on the Valkyries.

“Spider Drones!” one of the Valkyrie pilots gasped, quickly turning his craft to run for the safety of the ship. Although the spiders themselves carried no weaponry, their stasis webs were strong enough to all but immobilize anything that could consider moving. The Captain acknowledged their request and ordered them to land “with all expediency”. The spiders quickly readjusted to grapple the Brimstone itself, only to die to rapid volleys from the ship’s advanced missile systems. Captain Vult had also recalled his drones but had made no attempt to assist with the small annoyances. With only Terzam left on the field, both ships launched their drones, the Brimstone once again launching the proud Valkyrie pilots and Captain Vult deploying a wing of 4 heavy Ogre craft. Within moments, Terzam’s ship exploded, leaving behind only wreckage and a trail of escape pods. A comm chime announced that the terms of the contract with the Captain’s agent were fulfilled and he should return to berth. With the mission complete, Kevin was surprised to hear the Captain order the ship to prepare for another round of battle. Then he realized the Captain must have requisitioned an Angel Cartel transponder that would allow them access to the very core of the enemy operation, and had it brought along for the mission.

Sure enough, the Brimstone aligned along the previously locked gate and hurtled further into deadspace. A comm chime sounded, indicating what Kevin guessed was an exasperated notice from the agent that the Captain was now outside the terms of the contract. In the distance, he realized the enemy fleet was not the usual cruisers and destroyers, but 6 sleek elite frigates and 4 Battleships. Kevin had not seen ships of that class in some time, and definitely not from the wrong side of their artillery. Yet, when the enemy ships came in for the attack, they began to chase Captain Vult instead, likely due to his larger ship, allowing the Brimstone to skirt around them while letting the Valkyrie pilots do their deadly work. The battle raged for quite some time, as the Valkyrie pilots doggedly hammered at the Battleships, alongside Captain Vult’s wing of Ogres, now depleted to only 3, with one having been badly damaged during the fray. Yet one by one, the enemy battleships disintegrated in a bright flash, until none remained. The Captain quickly took an inventory of the Angel Cartel assets at the location but did not find anything of interest. Finally, they were headed home.

One jump took them to the gate to their home system. “One more hop and I can get back to that conversation I was having in Hangar 4”, Kevin thought, as the ship streaked across the empty space between the two systems, launched by the massive gate. But suddenly, the entire ship was put on high alert as it came to a stop in their home system.

Outside were 4 ships. All 4 were extremely specialized and dangerous ships identified as Heavy assault cruisers. One was even a design adapted from the sleek triglavian ships he remembered from earlier in his career, although he doubted he had ever seen one of this size. Normally, even this would be no cause for alarm, but their transponder codes made an important exception. All four were members of a capsuleer corporation that was at war with Captain Jaq’s own corporation. All four were arranged in a formation to catch unwary ships in their position.

Captain Vult’s ship broke jump cloak first, reappearing mere kilometers away and aligning for warp. For a brief second, Kevin hoped the HACs would target the Myrmidon first, allowing the Brimstone to escape. Yet, seconds later, the Brimstone lurched forward aligning for warp.

The HACs were quick to respond. Dropping tackle from Captain Vult, they focused their attention on what they easily identified as the tastier prize. The Brimstone shuddered as suddenly, the warp drive was arrested and thin lines of energy appeared around the ship holding it in place. In that terrifying second, Kevin knew the Brimstone would not be docking again.

Overload shields, full power to engines, Valkyries get out there and make some mayhem. We don’t go down without a fight. “

It was Captain Jaq’s voice on the intercom, deadly calm. Kevin realized the Captain knew his ship would not survive but also knew that he was not one to abandon ship without a fight. At least that was what he knew from what the crew of the Blade Fury had told him. The shield console began to steam as extra power coursed through, raising the ship’s already formidable defenses even more. The ship groaned trying to make headway, but everyone aboard knew it was merely a gesture of a fight.

Sure enough, the Triglavian cruiser closed and began to fire, a fiery beam of exotic plasma reaching across space to burn into the Brimstone’s shields. The first shot erased several percent from his readouts, but Kevin knew that subsequent shots would be worse. Moments later, the shield was breached, and the fiery plasma began to eat its way into the ship’s thin armor. Still, the Captain was ordering engine power and for the Valkyries to continue.

Then the hull alarm blared, a horrible, screeching sound Kevin had only heard about in rumors from other crews. Moments later, the intercom boomed. “All personnel, abandon ship.” Without a second thought, Kevin joined the orderly but rapid stream of personnel filing to the escape pods. He and 3 other crew members were assigned to share a pod, and he was relieved to see his 3 pod mates had also made it to the pod safely. The pod hissed closed, then launched out away from the Brimstone. Kevin could see the plasma wreaking havoc on the structural integrity of the ship, with air venting through numerous breaches and many spots outright in flames. Then there was a flash, and the ship was no more. A glint of light, then a long streak indicated the Captain had escaped properly, and would not be reincarnated into a groggy new clone. Kevin’s escape pod entered warp soon after, heading back for the safety of their home station. He would not sleep well tonight.

++++++++++++++++++++

Agent Bird sat in his office, awaiting the call from the Capsuleer he had contracted. The mission had been completed some time ago, but the capsuleer had continued with an unauthorized assault on a heavily fortified Angel Cartel position that he had not put into the contract deeming it too dangerous. He had sent a message to the wayward capsuleer when he saw where he was going, but the egger had terminated the call and continued the attack. Now he doubted whether the pilot had even survived. When the comm chimed, he answered it immediately. “I have finished the mission”, said a familiar voice. Captain Jaq was one of his most reliable contractors, so he did little to disguise his irritation with the unauthorized attack on the main base. With heavy sarcasm, he replied “You have my gratitude”.