A gentle blue glow radiating from the sun enveloped the sleek profile of my Slicer in the silence of space. It had been seven months since I entered the war zone, and I had done more than prove myself. I was a Fleet Commander in a rising power in the region, and was overseeing our withdrawal from the Vard system after a valiant defense. A gasp of excitement roused me from my reverie. The young lieutenant behind me had found something interesting. So long had I spent with this crew, this ship, that even a specific gasp was enough to instantly communicate a rush of adrenaline.
“Commander Aurilen! There’s a freighter on scan. Nomad class heavy freighter breaking orbit.”
I stood immediately. “Move to intercept and scan their ship. What is their heading?”
She chewed her lip as she refined her scans. “Amamake gate.”
That figured. Amamake was home to the largest freeport in the disputed territories. We dropped out of warp right next to the Nomad as she continued aligning, my Slicer a small speck against the massive junk mountain that was the Minmatar freighter. I sighed. The freighter wouldn’t have anything spectacular in the way of cargo. Those of means had already extricated themselves and their treasures the moment the Empire deployed the transmuter. Resident civilians had rejoiced when the Minmatar horde descended on Vard and drove us out. Imagine their shock when the Republic simply continued what the Empire had begun.
Since then, civilians had begun a panicked exodus, fearing the results of the experimentation of their sun. Most fled deeper into Minmatar space, worsening the humanitarian crisis that was the Republic. Others attempted to seek asylum in Imperial space, where they rightly assumed the Empire would not conduct such experiments. As if to confirm my thoughts, the lieutenant reported her scans: “Tons of bio-signs on that thing…at least 60,000 life signs plus livestock, foodstuffs…it’s a whole town!” I smiled. She would learn how to conduct herself in time, but in the meantime, I enjoyed her enthusiasm. As I suspected, there was nothing here for us. The cruelest thing we could do was let them be on their way, a further burden on the Republic and I was inclined to do just that.
Suddenly, there was a shift in space and a giant CRACK shook the ship, threatening to rip it apart.
“Wormhole opening right on top of us Commander!” the science officer cried out.
Bracing myself, I yelled back in response “Get us the hell out of here.”
Warp engines whined higher and higher as space began to warp around us, and then BAM!!
Rocked out of my pod, we were all tossed about the bridge as the ship spun out of control. I was surprised when the shaking stopped and I was still on the bridge. I expected the ship would be in pieces, scattered across the star system, and I in a new clone, but we weren’t. Rousing themselves from the floor, the crew returned to their stations. “Report!” I bellowed. I could be harsh when needed.
The bald engineer tapped his screen with his hand now wrapped in the sleeve of his uniform. “Heavy damage across all systems, our MWD is offline, we still have basic functionality but we need to return to base for repairs asap. I’ll start to work on bringing the MWD back online straight away commander.”
He turned to the navigator. “Nissa, what happened?! Did we hit something?” The navigator worked the controls as fast as she could, frustrated. “There was nothing in line with the stargate in the charts. If we hit something, we wouldn’t be here…” she said, working her thoughts out loud.
Not focused on any controls, I noticed a green glow coming in from the edge of the viewport. “Nissa…where are we?”
She flinched, and started scanning. “We aren’t in Vard…there’s no astronomic point of reference. No nearby star, no planets…commander, Sanshas!”
The crew fell silent for just a moment as we watched a fleet of ships come into view.
“Two Nightmare battleships, six Phantasm cruisers, and over a dozen Succubus frigates. They have the Nomad commander. There are stasis towers and we are caught in a huge interdiction sphere. It’s a trap…” she ended hopelessly.
“Get us out of here, thrusters to full” I commanded. Without our MWD, we would be moving at a crawl, but for the moment the pirates were still focused on their prize, pecking at the Nomad like ants on a worm. Moments passed in silent terror, as if a spoken word would reveal us. A while longer, the game reached its inevitable conclusion, with the Nomads hull being cracked open and boarded.
“Some of the smaller craft have noticed us and are locking weapons!” cried the lieutenant.
“How much farther until we are out of warp disruption field?” I asked the helmsman.
“23 Kilometers.” was his bleak reply. Sensing their dejection, I jumped into action. “Lock the nearest frigates, load aurora crystals and fire! The larger ships won’t have time to lock us before we escape.”
Lasers etched the abominable bulbous spiked Sansha ships, crippling several, but with afterburners, others were rapidly closing the gap. Suddenly, our lasers started missing, and I grit my teeth. “Tracking disruptors. They are closing, but we won’t hit them until they get too close to matter.”
“Commander, I will have the MWD back online after it completes its reboot in 10 seconds!” the engineer called out.
Just a few more moments…we all stared at the energy wall marking the end of the interdiction sphere. We slid through the bubble at a crawl, and sprang into action at the reboot finished.
“Engage the MWD! Melt it to the engine housing if you have to!” The ship sprung forward, rapidly putting distance between us and the frigates. We were going to make it! But where would we go? There was nothing out here to navigate by…the pirates solved that problem for us as our ship was hit again and our velocity began to decrease to nearly a standstill. Nearly 300 kilometers away, stasis web towers had shifted focus onto us. Caught, we could do nothing more but watch as the Sansha ships closed in.
I had lost many Slicers in my time in the crusade, but I was very fond of this crew. I stood and looked around, a dangerous thing to do when a capsuleer is about to lose their ship. I met the eyes of the science officer, and her fear destroyed me. I had failed them. The words that came out of my mouth did not sound like my own. “You do not want to be taken alive…” Tears in her eyes, she understood. The Sanshas harvested people. They would not die. They would be taken, modified with slave implants, and live the rest of their life as a drone, a slave to their master’s will. “Initiate self-destruct.” I said flatly. I would simply transfer to another host of course. It wasn’t right, none of this was right. I should go down with my ship. It wasn’t fair to them; it wasn’t fair to me. As the countdown began, I couldn’t stop thinking about her in my pod. The fear in those eyes, a fear I could not save her from. Was her life worth less than mine? Why should she not live a full life? She had so much more to experience. The rest of the small crew were older, more experienced, prepared for this eventuality. They accepted it with good grace. I knew every ship I took out could be destroyed, but I had let myself believe that this one, with this crew, for all its kill marks, would not. I cursed my arrogance; we are not gods.
The Slicer exploded ejecting my capsule into space and I activated my own self-destruct. Soon I would be far, far away from here. I could try to force myself to forget, but I wouldn’t, I needed to remember. A Phantasm cruiser quickly closed the distance to my pod and activated a tracking beam. The idiot was scooping my pod into their cargo bay. I hoped the capsules explosion and my death throes would cripple the ship, but then I realized their plan. Once inside the cargo bay, Sansha slaves rushed my pod with tools, and began cutting into the hatch. I vaguely remember them cracking my pod open as I watched the timer count down…8, 7, 6, 5, 4, and then…nothing.
Was I dead? The room was dark and cold, but there was a bright light in my eyes. I could not move. This was not the clone bay. Two men stood above me. They were speaking to each other not as if I couldn’t hear them, but as if I could do nothing to defy them.
“The pairing was a success. The implants are online but it will take several hours before they are totally synced and uploaded. She can hear us.” the slave technician informed my new master. Ironic, that a slave would be the instrument that would enslave others on behalf of the Sansha Nation. My master looked me up and down as I lay helpless on the operating table, appraising me. He was an older Caldari man, richly dressed with very yellow teeth.
“Now, what can you tell me about this capsuleer? Certainly, an aptitude for combat…anything else in particular?”
The technician turned back to his monitor and replied icily “There are…billions of ISK in this capsuleer’s account plus records of hangers full of ships and modules.”
The Master turned. “Oh? Transfer it all to me, immediately. Anything else?”
“Yes master, this capsuleer has administrative privileges in an Amarrian militia corporation, Task Force 641.”
The master gloated. “Excellent, empty every account, everything!” He turned and regarded me with a keen eye. “Such a lucky find, who would have thought?” I was pleased that he liked me, and I hated it as well. Already I was bound to his will. I was completely incapable of resistance.
“Master, my intrusion was detected. I’ve been locked out. Her administrative access has been revoked.” the technician stated.
The master grumbled. “That was fast. How much did you make away with?”
The technician replied evenly “All of her personal wallets, ships, hangers and corporation assets in Mehatoor and Tzvi have been liquidated. In total, over $35 billion ISK has been transferred to clean accounts.”
The master grinned “More fuel for the war effort. My master will be pleased. In time, we will reveal ourselves openly, taking back what was stolen from us.”
The fact that my Master was himself a slave brought me little comfort. As if sensing my ‘ingratitude’ at his patronage, he brought himself to bear. “So recently paired, you must be wondering the limits of our control over you. Know that it is complete, unchallenged and in a few hours from now, you will even be grateful for the gifts I have given you. You have been permitted to retain your individuality, your creativity, your ability. In order to better serve me, I have granted you that. I sense that you would be wasted as a mere drone. But you have no will to do other than what I decide.” To reinforce this to me, he released me from my restraints, and placed a bloody scalpel in my palm. I stared at it blankly, not understanding as he postured before me. He gave me a command. It was instant, sent from his will directly to the implant he placed in my mind. Without any hesitation, I immediately drove the point of the scalpel into my arm and dragged the blade along my forearm. Blood streamed from my arm freely flowing on to the floor as I busied myself with this task, not minding the blood a bit.
“That’s enough” he said “Wrap up your arm before you bleed to death.” He grinned; his point made.
The technician spoke “Master, there’s something else. A Legion class strategic cruiser appeared on our sensors for a moment, then vanished.” he stated.
The master frowned. “They must have scanned down the wormhole. Seal it before any others come through! Tell our agents to move to Egmar until things cool down in Vard as I have calculated where I want the next wormhole to spawn. I want as many refugees as we can get before those damn transmuters finish whatever it is they are doing.”
“Master…our agent reports even more ships approaching the wormhole. They will have enough time to enter before the wormhole closes.”
The master growled, turning to me. “It seems your former friends have found us. Well, it is time for you to prove your usefulness to me. Take the fleet and destroy them. As highly placed as you were, you should have no problem fighting them until we can close the wormhole. Do you understand?” I felt a flutter in my chest and nodded. I was eager to please him. He continued. "Know that if you perish, you will reanimate here now, in a lesser corpse. Now go.”
I boarded a Succubus and flew out from the command station heading straight for the worm hole already showing critical levels. I was confident in my victory. I knew the Task Force; in fact, I knew every one of them. They would not survive. Alarms indicated a ship entering through the wormhole. It was an Abaddon class battleship, alone and without escort. That had to be Boofalo I thought, he was the only one brash enough to head straight into a fight. I understood that it was a diversion of course, typical for this crew. I sent the command for his battleship to be targeted and drained of its capacitor, but did not commit my whole force against it. Once they realized I wasn’t going to take the bait, predictably the rest their fleet jumped through the wormhole. An assortment of frigates, destroyers, and cruisers I once found charming now earned my scorn. JHal, Phobo, Pressure, Adam, and others. I ordered each ship to be tracking disrupted and scrammed. They could not reach me with their lasers, and they lacked the propulsion modules to close the distance. The Legion decloaked from a perch at least 70 kilometers from the wormhole and fired desperately at long range, trying to free the Task Force pilots by sniping our tackling frigates, but I simply refocused our tracking disruptors on it. It was the Baron; I would enjoy giving the command to watch him die. That’s when I realized something was wrong. Where was their leader, where was Seraghis? Surely, he would not bring his flagship Paladin. Even if he did, I was ready for that, safe, far out of harm’s way as the Task Force floundered at the edge of the wormhole. It would die very much the same way, neuted, disrupted, never landing any shots fired. I ordered the Nightmares to move into position for the kill. I would deliver victory to my new master and he would be as pleased as I was.
Proximity scanners then squealed in alarm. A ship was decloaking 2000 meters off our bow! It was a Curse, the Arania. I scowled, Seraghis. My ship was targeted and a full array of neutralizers struck my Succubus draining all its power. That would not be enough, was this the extent of his plan? I could still direct the fleet and ordered the Nightmares to align to my position. I knew the Arania was configured to fight frigates, but my battleships would easily crush him. He could destroy me if he wished, but my master would see to it that I recloned somewhere they would never find me.
What happened next, I did not expect. I was instantly severed from my master. I felt like someone had just torn off my right arm and I wailed and screamed like a child…and then in an instant, blackness. I awoke in the familiar sanitary white, well lit interior of an Amarr starship. It should have brought me comfort, but I was wracked with anxiety. There was a profound sense of withdrawal. An emptiness. Regret?
Seraghis stood at the end of my bed. He seemed so calm.
“How did you break the connection?” I asked blankly. I did not understand.
“We knew that the Sansha had bypassed your connection to your home station, so it was a priority for us to re-establish the original link or we would lose you forever. We have been working on a modified ECM burst jammer to sever the pirated link.” Seraghis let out a deep breath and continued “It was really a gamble if I’m honest, but it was the best plan we had with the limited time window. Once your ship was incapacitated, I gave the order for your ship to be destroyed. We then locked onto your capsule, fired the burst jammer and established the original link before destroying your capsule. We only had a split second to do this all so the timing had to be perfect. Fortunately for you, it was. We tractored in your corpse and warped back to the wormhole joining the rest of our fleet and jumped, collapsing the wormhole behind us.
Looking down at my arms, I gasped seeing implants still in my body. “What in the nine hells” I exclaimed and started to rip at my arms.
“Oh yes” replied Seraghis taking my hands in his and doing his best to calm the situation. “You have been in unconscious for the past two days as we have struggled to bring your consciousness back fully since you died. There was interference from the implants when the ECM hit you. We had to take some of implants used from your previous host and use them to…” A look of fear overtook me at the thought of the implants taking control again.
“No, no don’t worry” Seraghis quickly interjected “We only used the specific implants with attributes allowing for fine motor skills and piloting as you were not responding to any electrical impulses for movement. Now that you are awake and responding normally, the physicians have assured me that all implants can be removed safely.
I sat there in thought, and a moment later a word escaped my lips that Seraghis never heard from me before “No.”
He inclined his head, curious. “No…?”
“No.” I said again, this time more firmly “I have to go back.”
He just stood there, waiting for me to elaborate.
“I originally deployed to Task Force 641 as you were loyal to Empress Catiz, defending the Empire’s people in the Bleak Lands and Devoid against the Minmatar, pirate capsuleers and the Blood Raiders, but the Sansha are more dangerous than them all. This war is playing right into their hands. Their incursions burn across the war zone in which they are taking millions of slaves right from under our noses while we are all too busy fighting each other to stop them.
I… I know things now, I’ve seen them. There are more than we ever knew, and all this time they’ve been growing, preparing, gathering slaves and materials across the cluster for their master. The Sansha have more at their disposal than they did originally before their fall, when it took the combined might of all New Eden to stop them. Even the Jove fear the Sansha."
Seraghis was silent for a moment, and nodded. "What do you propose?’
I thought for a moment in silence. A plan came to me rather quickly.
In the end, my former master’s fall was hubris, an original sin to which no man or slave alike has found immunity. He had told me exactly where he was going to spawn the wormhole in Egmar, so sure was he of his hold on my mind. I planned the forthcoming attack and it was flawless. Our ships infiltrated the Sansha staging wormhole and lay in wait for the attack. On the eve on their assault, I gave the order to our fleet’s Pilgrim to light its Cyno and brought death to our enemies. Instruments of my wrath, the burning fire of three Redeemers supported by a full bomber wing lay waste to the Sansha outpost with its ships not even having the chance to undock. Nothing survived, but it was not enough, the slaves had already been moved. I knew there were other bases just like this; far more. I decided not to re-clone. I would keep this body and its augmentations for now, for with them I could pilot the Sansha ships to perfection. This was how I would fight back; utilizing their own technology against them and I would find my revenge. I would no longer allow them to fly in the shadow of war remaining unseen. I knew that I alone could not destroy the Sansha, but I could disrupt and help to deny their goals, making them bleed until the venture cost more than the prize.