12 March YC124
Ungated deadspace complex, Eha system
A Bestower-class industrial transport was docked at a refueling and refurbishing facility hidden away in a deadspace complex in the Eha system. The transport bore identifier markings identifying it as a transport ship for Mazi Space Truckers, LLC. Onboard the bridge, a short, wiry woman paced impatiently, waiting for the ship to finish refueling.
“Captain, the facility reports that they’ve finished the refueling procedure. We’re clear to undock,” a technician said over the intercom.
“Excellent. Helm, commence undocking procedure. Then take us out on vector three,” the captain ordered. The crewman acknowledged and everyone on the bridge heard a series of metal clangs as the docking clamps were released. Then, the industrial slowly turned away from the facility and onto its departure vector, ready to continue its journey.
Suddenly, a sensor technician called out, “Contact!” She frantically worked her board to narrow down the vector and profile of the inbound signatures. “Straight ahead, and portside. Five contacts! Initial identification, Gallente design, frigate class. One cruiser!”
The captain quickly strode over to the sensor station and peered at the display. Three Incursus-class frigates were quickly closing from portside, while a Tristan raced in from straight ahead. An Exequror-class cruiser had also emerged from warp, but was maintaining its distance, remaining 25,000 meters away from the industrial. Seconds later, the first antimatter charges began slamming into the hull of the Mazi industrial as the pirates opened fire. Their aim was disciplined - instead of randomly shooting, the pirates were aiming for the thrusters, warp drive, and shield generators of the ship.
“Helm, get us out of here,” the captain ordered, her voice cracking under the stress of the situation. “Any vector. We can recalculate later.”
“I’ll do my best,” the helmsman replied grimly. He diverted additional power to the thrusters and engaged the vessel’s oversized microwarpdrive, trying to propel the ship out of the pirate’s range long enough for it to escape into warp. It wasn’t enough. The frigates swarmed the unarmed transport, generating stasis fields that webbed the vessel and forced it to a crawl. Crackling tendrils of energy shot out, disrupting the transport’s warp core and shutting down the microwarpdrive. Pieces began breaking off of the thrusters as they squealed in protest, trying to drive forward despite the damage and stasis webbing. Within seconds, half the engine crew were dead, their bodies shredded by flying shrapnel. The rest of the injured crew fled the compartment, locking the door as they ran out. The bridge continued to shunt power into the engines, not realizing that the thrusters were breaking down. The overload was too much to handle. The first thruster exploded, followed seconds later by a second, then a third. The bodies of the fallen crew were incinerated, the walls of the compartment blackened by fire. A pipe ruptured, spilling gallon after gallon of fuel into the compartment, where it was greedily absorbed by the fire, which grew hotter and hotter as it burned toward the locked metal door, barred shut by the escaping crewmen using two metal bars.
A camera drone operator was the first to notice the damage. While trying to reposition his drone to get a better look at the pirate frigates as they sped by, he noticed the flames engulfing the rear of the transport, and shouted in alarm. A second drone operator tried to move her drone over for a better look, but one of the Tristan’s drones shot the camera drone out of the sky. Seconds later, a third camera drone operator was able to maneuver his drone into position and transmit live footage of the conflagration consuming the engine compartment and its neighboring rooms.
“■■■■,” the captain cursed under her breath. She raced to a nearby bulkhead and grabbed a comlink from its holder, shouting, “Damage control to the engine compartment! Damage control to the engine compartment! Smoke, smoke, smoke! Fire in the engine! I repeat, fire in the engines!”
“We need to abandon ship,” the executive officer shouted at the captain.
“We can still get out!” the captain shouted back in denial.
“Our engines are gone! We’re on fire! We’re not making it out! Not in this ship!”
“Hell yeah, we are!”
The executive officer rolled his eyes and strode towards the portside bridge escape pod. He walked two steps towards the red rimmed door before the entire bridge was engulfed in fire.
From a habitation module attached to the repair and refurbishing station complex, a Mazi LLC security operator watched the whole ambush unfold. His fellow operator was shouting into his headset, reporting the situation to local security forces and requesting immediate assistance. From the looks of it, assistance was not forthcoming.
“How long? No, no, no! No, we don’t even have five minutes, let alone twenty five!” the operator shouted. “Fifteen? That’s not going to help! No?!”
The operator turned back to the wall of holoscreens, which displayed multiple views of the space around the complex, transmitted live by camera drones drifting around the perimeter. A few screens were black, the drones responsible for transmitting images to those screens shot down by the attacking pirates. The industrial had finally stopped dead in its tracks. The bridge area was gone, obliterated by two rapid salvoes of antimatter charges, followed by a third salvo of Void - the first shots from the cruiser that had been standing off from the one-sided attack. The rear was fully engulfed by flames that still burned hot. The fuel tanks had probably been ruptured, their precious cargo spilling out to boost the conflagration. Suddenly, the Gallente cruiser increased speed and raced toward the transport. It rammed the vessel’s portside flank, shouldering its flaming engine compartment to the side before braking. As it drifted, the rear of the cruiser slammed into the transport’s bow. The operator’s last image before the camera drone was shot down was a docking tube extending to link the cruiser with the heavily damaged industrial. Of course. They were going to board it.
Six men wearing Mazi LLC security uniforms raced toward the portside barracks, where they were met by three Blazing Torch operators. All six men held scrambler pistols and wore light body armor. Damage control crewmen raced the other way, heading for the escape pods. Seconds earlier, the fourth officer of the transport had finally decided, after trying to reach his superiors multiple times over intercom, that the bridge had been taken out, and he was now the senior officer. He promptly ordered the crew to abandon ship, and was the first to leap into an escape pod and jettison it into the black void of space. The rest of his damage control team soon followed. But the rest of the crew would need to weave their way through the labyrinth of corridors and compartments that was the transport’s layout to their nearest escape pod banks. It would take time. These nine men, all of whom had made their peace with their fate, would have to buy this valuable time using sweat, blood, and more than a fair amount of tears. Two more Blazing Torch operators were at a vital checkpoint, setting up and manning a Mk34 sentry gun. They had 400 rounds for the autocannon. There was no chance that they could drive off the boarding party. No. Instead, they would make the pirates pay a heavy price in blood for the cargo that lay behind their hastily built barricade.
And so they did
12 March YC124
Situation Room Gamma, a room in the Grand Nexus in Dam Vishen
The Mazi Space Truckers, LLC’s chief of security reached over the table and shut down the built in holoprojector. The flickering image of the security personnel grimly preparing for their last stand disappeared. “Obviously, none of the security personnel survived. Their sacrifice bought enough time for most of the crew to escape, though, so that was good. The bridge crew were wiped out by the strikes on the bridge area, and many of the crewmen stationed near the engines were also killed during the ambush. However, easily three quarters of the crew escaped, and are currently being debriefed at a Mazi corporate office in Eugales.”
Duke Shasta was seated at the head of the table, opposite from the security chief. He nodded and turned his head fractionally to face Baron Alacha Mazi, head of House Mazi, the owners of the affected company. “Baron Mazi, anything to add?”
Shasta nodded. “Very well. Thank you, Chief,” he said. The security chief rose to his feet and was escorted out of the room by a uniformed Beseth Dunijia Army private. “Alright. That’s the fifth attack so far. I want suggestions on how we can shut this down. Director West, does the Ministry have anything on our unidentified attackers?”
“No, milord,” Director West said. He consulted a datapad on the table in front of him before continuing. “Asset Tracking can now conclusively identify seven frigates - four Incursus-class, two Atron-class, and the Tristan - as part of the pirate flotilla. The pirates also have the Exequror cruiser and a Nereus-class industrial that they are likely using to transport the stolen goods. Markings appear to indicate Serpentis affiliation. We haven’t been able to conclusively identify anyone, though. But the team at Eugales is still running DNA samples from the blood and bodies left behind in the attacked transports, so we might get lucky there.”
“Can’t depend on luck. Alright, suggestions on how to bolster security? We need to stop this in its tracks!” the duke moved on, looking pointedly at the members of the Defense Council sitting at the table.
“Increased security presence on the transports, perhaps?” Baron Bubby Chen asked. Shasta nodded in understanding. The other capsuleer was the ruler of House Chen, which ran numerous training camps for its myriad private military contractors. Of course he would be the one to suggest additional security contracts.
Before the duke could respond, Baron Mazi butted in. “And who would pay for that? I’ve already lost a lot of money in fuel, people, and transport damage. I ain’t gonna pay for additional security!”
“Even if it protects your transports?”
Mazi opened his mouth to respond, but Duke Shasta cut him off. “Okay, okay. I think Bubby is right. We need heavier security on the transports. But, I understand that you’ve taken heavy losses already thanks to the piracy, Alacha. So, here’s what we’re going to do. Bubby, have your PMCs start negotiating additional contracts with Mazi. Standard price, but bill it to the Initiative,” Shasta ordered, referring to the government fund set up to fund certain economic initiatives, such as the business deal between the various toy companies of Beseth Dunijia and the Gurista Helk’s toy company, Helk’s Plundered Toy Chest. “I’m also going to be assigning Legionnaires to assist with security. Now. How is the exchange going? How behind schedule are we?”
The Minister of State for the Duchy, Aimi Lehni, spoke up, saying, “The last shipment of fighter parts and trainers arrived two hours ago. The first two fighters and some engineers from UNF will be arriving tomorrow night. We’ve finished shipping most of the slave work crews that the UNF rented out, and about half of the mineral and ration shipments have also made it to Eugales. However, we’ve lost three out of the four weapons shipments, and four of the attacked transports had additional mineral and ammunition shipments, all of which were plundered. I’d say we’re about, oh, maybe two, three weeks behind? The ammunition is easily replaced, but we need time to extract additional minerals. And the factories need time to churn out more weapons.”
“Great. Alright, when does the next shipment of work crews leave for Eugales?”
“It’s already departed, milord. It’s two hours out. Three Badgers carrying Blood Raider and Equilibrium of Mankind convicts, along with a side cargo of holoreels. Next transport for Eugales is leaving in an hour,” Minister Lehni reported. He checked his datapad before continuing. “Cargo is another weapons shipment and some crates of rations and ammunition.”
“Space for additional personnel?”
“We can add, let’s see, five work crews of ten convicts each? And there’s a Badger departing tomorrow morning with a shipment of toys and ammunition. I can fit twenty men aboard.”
“Do it. UNF is going to have to wait for their weapons and minerals. We have to compensate them for that.”
“With your permission, milord?” Director West raised his hand. “Milord, I’d like to replace one of the work crews and some of the security personnel aboard the Nereus with some intelligence operatives. We’re well stocked in Eugales with agents, but none of them are MISOD. They’re all ‘covered’, and known to the UNF. I’d like to send some snoopers in as well.”
“MISOD … correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s the Ministry of Intelligence’s Special Operations Division, correct?”
“Yes, milord. They handle black operations and stuff. They’d have more flexibility, since they wouldn’t be known to UNF, and wouldn’t have any fake embassy desk jobs that they’d have to pretend to work.”
“Fine. If it doesn’t help us with these pirates, at least they’ll be able to snoop on all the other entities roaming around Eugales,” Shasta said. “Let’s see … Triglavian embassy, second Triglavian embassy, warclones, Caldari, Gallente, right, a third Trig embassy, … and of course, Serpentis and Angels, … and capsuleers. Yeah, there’s a lot of snooping to be done. Do it.”
“Also, sir, I’ve been reviewing the ambush reports. As you know, there’s been five so far - one in Renarelle, two in Eha, including the latest attack, and two more in Oicx. All five transports were ambushed at deadspace refurbishing facilities. I think we have a mole on our hands,” West continued.
Mazi butted in, saying, “Yeah, I agree. I mean, you can’t exactly catch a transport while it’s jumping to the next system, right? Maybe you can catch it on the gate as it warps out, but that’s not what this gang is doing. They’re ambushing our transports. They need to have an inside man to feed them the information. I’d bet it’s the UNF - selling us out to try and make an extra buck.”
“I don’t know, Mazi. I know your concerns about the UNF and how advanced they are, but look, Laura is … she doesn’t have the best morals, but she seems trustworthy. Director West, set up a task force with the counterintel folks from the MIO. I want this mole found,” Shasta ordered. The minister in charge of the Ministry of Internal Order, Yhaloang Cienx, whispered something to an aide, who immediately left the room. Shasta stood. “Alright, thank you everyone for coming out today. Let’s try to shut this down before we lose even more transports, alright?”
Meanwhile, in Duke Kyvon Ariend's mansion on Amarrinn, Mekhios,
Botu Akatti knocked on Duke Kyvon Ariend’s office door before entering.
“Ah, Mr. Atti! Just in time,” the duke said, smiling. “I’ve got something for you. Please, sit.” The duke gestured for the tall Civire to sit in one of the two chairs before his ornate desk.
“Yes, milord?” Akatti asked. “You leaving on a trip and need me to set up a protection detail?”
“Yes, and no,” the duke replied. “I’m heading out on a trip to Aridia tomorrow morning.”
Akatti raised his eyebrows. Kyvon rarely, if ever, toured his house’s holdings in Aridia. He had always desired to remain at Amarrad, as it was much, much closer to Amarr, the seat of power in the Empire.
“I know, I know. Distasteful affair. But … the latest reports have been … concerning. It appears that I may need to make an example of some of the workers to get the miners back on track,” the duke explained, having noticed his security chief’s reaction.
Akatti nodded in understanding. “You want me to handle the … example making?”
“No, no. I have something else for you,” the duke replies. He grabs a datapad off his table before continuing. “I heard that the operation against my brother’s latest … economic deal has commenced?”
“Yes, milord. The pirates we contracted have hit a number of transports, seizing their cargoes.”
“Excellent. I want you to supervise the contractors, make sure they aren’t getting any … second thoughts about working with us, you know. And if they do,” the duke smirked. “You can make an example out of them. I don’t care.”
“And travel arrangements? Do I make them myself?”
“No, no. I’ve contracted a transport for you - well, I reserved a seat on a passenger transport. The Bestower leaves at 0700 NEST tomorrow. Don’t miss it! Dismissed.”
Akatti rose to exit, snorting as he left the room. A Bestower. He was a real miser, Kyvon. He had enough money and influence to secure a private passenger transport, but of course he would go for the cheapest option. Damnit! I’m going to have to arrange my own transport. I ain’t riding on a stupid cargo ship! Hell no.