(( This is a short story written from the perspective of a relatively new Matari Capsuleer named Jesoph Swolin. In terms of timing, it is set roughly a few hours to a day before system control of Floseswin was lost to the Amarrians, and about four to five days after the destruction of the Oath of Vengeance. I had been pulling a few all-nighters too many to have a coherent grasp on the passage of time so the exact timing is uncertain. I have tried to make it a worthy nod to the people who stuck around to delay the loss of the system long enough for us to get our gear out of Asset Safety, without being disrespectful to the players of the Amarr Militia. Good fights to the ladies and gentlemen on both sides. ))
THE FINAL HOURS
As the end of another sixteen-hour sortie slowly drew closer, Jesoph felt fatigue sinking in. It was the fourth double shift he had embarked upon that week. The other half-dozen Capsuleers in his rag-tag squadron were similarly approaching the end of their tether. However, they knew why they were out there, and drew strength from that.
It had been a little over four full days since the Battle for the Oath of Vengeance. Over a hundred ships had been drawn together for the defense of that Astrahus, which had survived over two dozen Amarrian attacks thus far. This was the largest gathering of Matari Capsuleers that Jesoph had ever seen. Attacks on the Oath had been repulsed by formations a fraction of its size. Surely this time would be no different? He was high on victory. For nearly a month, the Amarrians had been nigh-unable to foray into Floseswin, and he had just returned from a victory over the Triglavians at Eygfe. However, as the undock command was given, he realized that out of the nearly four-hundred individual signatures within striking distance of the station, only about a quarter were friendlies. As he locked onto half a dozen unmistakably hostile Abbadons and activated his electronic countermeasures, he couldn’t help but wonder who all these unknown sensor contacts were, where they had come from and why they were fighting for a regime that sought only to subjugate and enslave. The vast majority of these pilots certainly weren’t the ones he and his allies had fought for system control over the course of many long months. Mercenaries, perhaps?
It was over in half an hour. After activating his ship’s warp drive, he focused its sensors on the Oath of Vengeance one last time. The shadowy silhouettes of enemy capital ships danced across her cracking superstructure, as great pillars of fire emerged from within. With the fighting having come to an end and the adrenaline surge slowly fading away, his thoughts turned to the baseliner crews within, his bunk in the barracks, the grouchy old doctor who kept telling him to sleep more, the wondrous hangar where he and his fellow Sebbies had tinkered with vessels in a never-ending arms race to find the perfect combination of kit to counter certain enemies, and that gal from the mess hall staff whom he had never gotten to ask out. Within a few moments, the station that had been his longest posting since the Ammold Military Academy had turned from a home away from home into a mangled mixture of fire and metal. As his frigate rapidly accelerated into warp, the remains of the Oath and the hostile fleet that had destroyed her faded away until they became too small to observe.
That same day, Filmir had made a speech to bolster their spirits, and Chief Harkon Thorson had asked them to delay the loss of system control for five days. Jesoph was determined to deliver those five days. A civilian station had quickly been requisitioned as a new forward operating base, but in Jesoph’s mind it was not a replacement for the Oath, nor the vast stores of war materiel that had gone down with it. Not by a long shot. As he entered the hangar and gazed upon the strange, curvy ships that had mysteriously found their way from Federal Navy depots on the outskirts of Gallente space to Floseswin through the Amarrian blockade, he couldn’t help but feel a healthy degree of skepticism. He had flown Gallente ships before, of the Tristan pattern to be precise, and found them to be far too slow and sluggish for the kind of warfare Floseswin was known for during the hours of the late evening, night and morning. After that experience, he certainly didn’t have high hopes for this contraption called a Maulus. It lacked sensor foils. He’d have to rectify that at some point. For now, however, beggars could not be choosers.
Over sixty hours of flight time later, his skepticism had vanished. The vessel had proven itself to be almost as fast and agile as his trusty Slasher, and capable of crippling enemy sensors quickly and completely. As the baseliner crews of the Matari surveillance outpost continued to evacuate in an orderly manner under the tired, if watchful protection of the motley band of Firetails, Comets, Kestrels and Breachers that Jesoph was accompanying, his attention was entirely fixated upon the enemy Slicer that was rapidly vectoring in and out, attempting to strafe the Matari ships. Normally, that ship would have picked them apart at ranges between thirty to seventy kilometers. Now it suddenly lacked the targeting range to engage the Matari frigates without entering the range of their light missile launchers, forcing it to abort attack run after attack run.
Ignoring the frustrated comments directed at him by the Slicer pilot on local frequencies, Jesoph waited for the outpost’s crew to evacuate. Then he and his squadmates activated their warp drives and vanished into the vast darkness of space as quickly as they had come. Many of the crews manning the long-range surveillance outposts scattered across the system had been far less fortunate. Jesoph and his friends had attempted to evacuate one a few minutes prior, ambushing and destroying a Coercer in the process, only to be forced to abandon their brethren due to hostile destroyer after hostile destroyer appearing on short range scans. They were not going to take on a destroyer wing outnumbered two to one.
During the evening hours, Matari Capsuleers had been able to keep the Amarrians in check, beating them back at every turn, but the enemy had been maintaining an impressive around-the-clock presence in the system, and this was slowly turning the tide in their favour. In doing so, they had taken advantage of the lack of equipment the Matari had suffered from since the destruction of their main base of operations in the system. The most obvious evidence of the chaos around him was surely the fact that Republic ships had mistakenly attacked his commander in chief and destroyed his pod. Surely a terrible accident caused by a lack of communication and nervous crews. Jesoph found himself wondering whom amongst the Amarrians had orchestrated this sudden thrust.
As he observed the fluctuations of the warp tunnel, he allowed his attention to drift to the ship’s chronometric read-out. It was almost eleven in the morning, galactic time. His thoughts turned to home. Mum would be putting the kettle on right about now. He’d have to sit down for a brew once he had gotten out of his pod, washed up and slept for a few hours. Suddenly, a one-way broadcast from command alerted him and his fellow pilots to the fact that they had pulled it off. The Amarrians could no longer secure the system before the assets could be taken to safety. Jesoph paused and pondered. “Assets? They’ve been evacuating assets? What about the people on the planet? Was that not what they had been fighting for?” It seemed answers, as well as an end to the fighting on Floseswin IV, would have to wait.