His name was Tulio, and his home was among the stars. It was just me and him, in those days, before…everything. I wouldn’t meet Hummingbird for several more years. The memories of the months Tulio and I spent together, out on patrol, hunting the trade lanes for wayward travelers, traders or deep space miners, they will haunt me for the rest of my days.
I didn’t know it then, but those were the golden days of my life. Living the carefree lifestyle of an independent pirate, Tulio and I roamed from Molden Heath to the Outer Ring, and every other region in the New Eden Cluster. Without a care in the world, living in the moment, we flew wherever our hearts took us. Our days were filled with the mad, joyful capers of youth - sticking up miners and explorers, joining in goodfights with adventurous destroyer pilots, cheerfully taking whatever the stars offered us, and giving nothing back - as the pirates code suggests. Together, we felt invincible. And our nights- oh, our nights. Lying together in the starlight, being inside of him, our bodies and minds joined in a way no non-capsuleer could ever understand…
I remember the night before our last mission together. I was lying on top of him in the spacedock of the Uemon VIII - Moon 3 - Perkone Factory Station. The lights of the incoming spacecraft twinkled romantically as they passed by overhead. His body was both smooth and firm underneath me. I closed my eyes dreamily. My mustache nuzzled softly against his long, hard, pink shaft -
“Uh, sir?” A Perkone technician in yellow overalls looked up at me.
“Yes?” I asked.
“Sorry to disturb you. When you’re finished…uh…whatever you’re doing…I’m here for the repairs you ordered for this Stabber.”
I slid down off Tulio’s chassis and landed beside him. “Go ahead,” I said, “I’ll be getting a drink in the station bar. Let me know when you’re done.”
“Will do, sir. Whoa - nice paint job! Is that the Zakura Shumyu skin?”
“Sure is,” I nodded.
“She’s a beut, sir.”
“He,” I corrected. “He is beautiful.”
The next day, Tulio and I undocked and laid in a course for the Kalevala Expanse.
An independent capsuleer faction that styled itself “Pandemic Horde” was based in R1O-GN in those days. They were much like any other of the capsuleer organizations who claim empires in the hinterlands of null security space. Noncombatant ships, some of them quite powerful and well equipped, bustled about their space in large numbers, carrying on with the endless drudgery of exterminating rogue drones and mining asteroids.
It was a rich hunting ground for pirates, in other words.
The borders of Horde space stood wide open, undefended. Their security forces, such as they were, were embroiled in an ill-fated attempt to dislodge another capsuleer faction from their territory in the south, leaving only a few token fighters sitting on the undock of their Keepstar, to protect the industrial fleet at home.
My darling Tulio, his long, smooth hull glistening with starlight, thrust deeply into the pipe through hostile space, encountering no resistance. The stargates opened almost eagerly before him, as if they yearned for the passage of strange vessels into their welcoming orifices through the fabric of space-time.
Soon we were in the Kalevala Expanse. Tulio’s directional scanner lit up with the signals of asteroid mining vessels and rogue drone extermination craft. We located a likely target, a Procurer class mining barge. With a thought and a waggle of my agile fingers, I activated Tulio’s warp drive.
The hapless miner was caught with their pants down. Before they could react, Tulio’s warp disruptor had cut off their escape. High energy projectiles spurted from the tips of his autocannons, splattering flashes of plasma across the barge’s wide backside. As their shields failed, the rounds penetrated deeper and deeper into their hull, leaving gaping holes in their chassis. My jaw clenched with tension as we activated Tulio’s afterburner and drove faster and faster circles around the target. It was all too much for the unfortunate barge to withstand, and soon they were torn apart.
“Ahhhh,” I sighed deeply, releasing the tension that always comes with a fight. The flash of the miner’s exploding warp core lit up my ocular implants. I relaxed into the sticky, viscous goo that filled my capsule and covered me. I could feel the thrum of Tulio’s antimatter reactor reverberating through me like a heartbeat, surrounding me, embracing me, making me feel safe, as we looted the wreck and flew on looking for another target.
Another ship fell beneath the virile thunder of Tulio’s autocannons, then another, and another, as we closed in on R1O-GN. I was happy, smiling. Tulio’s automated systems sensed my mood and injected a healthy dose of Matari Spirit into my pod goo. He played an old favorite song of ours, the ancient Jovian shanty “It’s a Pirate’s Life for Me” and I sang along. Only a pirate, with a cargo hold full of gently used mining lasers and drone damage amplifiers, can know that feeling of pure, carefree joy. I don’t think I will ever be that happy again.
On the gate into R1O, we spotted another Stabber. Far from the sleek purple beauty of Tulio’s long, smooth shaft, this Horde warship was covered with rust and grime. Many of my Sebestior brethren favor this neglected appearance, as a mark of pride in our shared tribal history of survival through the hardest of times. I have always had somewhat more refined tastes.
“Easy, my love,” I whispered to Tulio. He circled the gate, catlike, 50km from the ugly Stabber. I could feel his eagerness for battle through the vibrations of his hull. But the Horde pilot would not take the bait, instead jumping into R1O.
Neither I nor Tulio was inclined to give up so easily. As one, we activated our microwarpdrive, thrusting into the stargate. We jumped into R1O in pursuit and found the other Stabber loitering on the gate.
Tulio’s autocannons blazed as we swooped into an attacking maneuver. The other Stabber tried to veer away, firing a few wild shots in our direction, but his pilot was lacking in skills. Great chunks of his rust covered hull were blasted away. He struggled impotently to escape, but soon his hull collapsed.
While we fired the final volley to finish off the weaker Stabber, alarm klaxons began to sound. The directional scanner scrolled through an overwhelming list of approaching vessels. As the vacuum of space reverberated with the thunderous clap of the Stabber’s exploding antimatter reactor, a Malediction dropped out of warp beside us. Then a Stiletto, a Jaguar, a Rifter, and a Battle Badger. A warp disruptor cut off our escape, and the jump gate refused to authorize our passage on the grounds of aggression. More and more Pandemic Horde vessels filled local space. A Gnosis, an Executioner, three Vexors, a Proteus. They kept on coming, dozens of them. Finally, darkness fell upon Tulio and I, as a monstrous Ragnarok blotted out the sun of R1O-GN.
His name was Tulio. He lived among the stars, and among the stars he died.
I wish I could tell you some heroic tale of Tulio’s last stand. I wish I could say that he struggled valiantly to the end, taking a dozen Horde vessels with him. But this is no fairytale. This is New Eden. In New Eden, there are no happy endings. The truth is that in one moment, I was inside of him, surrounded by him, feeling his strength and speed and vigor, and the next moment he was gone, so fast I saw nothing but a flash. The next thing I knew, my tears were mingling with the saline medium of the clone vats in Uemon VIII - Moon 3 - Perkone Factory Station as I choked up my nutrition tube…
My beloved Tulio was gone.
…two years later…
I was already aligning for warp and issuing a recall order to my drones as my final volley of Mjolnir light missiles hammered into the Ishtar pilot’s capsule. My ocular implants registered video of the pod, rupturing in a mass of freezing goo, the pilot’s muscles contracting reflexively on contact with hard vacuum, her naked limbs reflecting the pink glare of MJ-5F9. Her eyeballs boiling in a puff of outgassing vapor. I smiled grimly.
“For Tulio,” I whispered, kissing the ring of twisted shrapnel that I wear these days.
The Pandemic Horde Standing Fleet dropped out of warp - 63 warships in kitchen sink configuration, bristling with weaponry of all sorts. Predictably, they arrived just in time to get a good look at my new ship - a souped up Osprey, stolen from the Caldari Navy. A nice ship. Technically superior to Tulio in almost every way. I had even become fond of it. But it was not him, of course. As usual, the Standing Fleet could only watch helplessly as I warped away. My smile widened.
“Scratch another bogey,” Hummingbird said across comms, her voice crackling with the subspace distortion caused by her covert operations cloaking device. “One day you’re going to have to tell me who Tulio was. He must have been quite a guy,” she sighed.
‘One day I shall,” I said.
The pilot of the industrialized rogue drone extermination vessel would be awake already in the nearby Keepstar, just a few AU away. If it was her first time…maybe she was rattled a bit. More likely, she was already tossing back a pint in the local saloon, all fresh faced and well hydrated. Pink. Positively glowing with perfect health.
We capsuleers, we do not bear scars on our bodies, unless as pure affectation. I have died a hundred deaths. Easy deaths. Hard deaths. Yet when you look at me, you still see the fresh faced youth who conned his way into the Republic University all those years ago. We are immortal. Whatever horrors we may endure, life goes on for us. The ones we love pass away, and we go on. But we bear scars of the soul, wounds that will never heal. Our hearts become more akin to black, ticking clockwork than flesh and blood. Fortunes are easy to come by, when you are a capsuleer. Luxuries become boring. The pleasures of the flesh…a momentary distraction. But vengeance…vengeance is forever…
…I loved that Stabber…
“Loot secured,” Hummingbird crackled over the secure band. “Hey boss, we’ve been here awhile. Maybe we should try Goon space next, or maybe FRT.”
“How many Horde pilots have we killed?” I asked slowly.
“I dunno,” Hummingbird said. “We’re the biggest dealer in certified pre-owned Drone Damage Amplifier IIs east of Jita, if that tells you anything.”
I closed my eyes. “Find us another target,” I said.
“Will do, boss,” she crackled.
I felt the ship around me. Sleek, smooth…and cold. I smiled thinly. “Come, Hector, let us wait together here…in the dark.”
With a twitch of my eyebrow, I activated our cloaking device.