[Pod & Planet Contest Submission] Biomass

A distant explosion dragged Rick into the conscious world with a jerk. His eyes burned as they struggled to adjust to the poor light and the first breath of icy cold air sent him into fits of coughing.

Bringing his breathing under control the Capsuleer sat upright on his table and slid his legs over the side, wincing as the rough edge sent a volley of pain through the collection of cuts, scrapes and bruises marring his skin.

He raised his hand to his face and wiped away a thick layer of dirt and blood. He felt a jagged wound running from his forehead to his right cheek that protested as he explored it with shaking fingers.

It was deep, but the blood seemed to have clotted. Good news.

Happy to be alive but confused to not have woken up in his home station Rick lifted his head to look around. His eyes wandered to the next table, his blood running cold as a pair of lifeless grey eyes met his gaze.

The cadaver’s frostbitten flesh was crisscrossed with a network of darker blue veins like estuaries on an old map. Rick dropped from his own table, dislodging the fine dewy layer of water that clung to the unfortunate soul’s skin. It ran off her face, creating ever growing pools of liquid on the cool metal slab below.

He hesitated for a moment, his tired legs threatening to collapse beneath him, but a second explosion and the sporadic sizzle of laser fire drove him to keep moving.

Sound would not travel through the vacuum of space, since sound was simply vibrations and in the void there was nothing to vibrate. In his career as a Capsuleer all those audio cues and battle sounds had been artificially created and fed into his mind by the pod interface, a concession granted by the technology’s Jovian creators to allow simpler human minds to cope with Capsuleer combat.

Here though the sounds were not produced via his sterile connection to a ship, they were reverberating against the hull, agitating the air within. The thought prompted a fresh wave of nausea as he imagined the relatively thin layer of metal shielding him from the icy death beyond. The uncaring void would see him die a human icicle without the failsafe systems provided by his pod.

He leant forward, using the deceased woman’s examination table as a hand rail to steady himself as he half-walked and half slid around her.

He was just getting around the head of the table when he stopped for a moment to gather his strength. It was only then that he really noticed the rest of them.

The size of the chamber was difficult to judge, particularly in his tired and broken state but as far as he could see there were more tables and more bodies. Hundreds were laid out in this room alone.

He decided one body was far easier to cope with than a room full and turned his attention to the woman. She was blonde, or at least she once had been. An old scar ran across her neck which should have been fatal but the wound had healed long before death had finally come for her. All along her spine and over her body lay a number of sockets, connectors that linked directly to her nervous system. He knew them well because he had them himself. They were the mark of a Capsuleer. She was an immortal, or at the very least a clone of one.

Eager to flee the gruesome chamber Rick stepped out into the corridor and considered his plight. Had he been mortally wounded in his ship the pod would have scanned his neural network, transmitted the data to a new clone and he would be sat in a Citadel somewhere drinking coffee right now rather than hanging out with the cast of a horror holo.

Something had gone wrong but so much of his memory was missing. Was he travelling somewhere? He had been a passenger, he was sure of it. That would explain why his consciousness never left his body. Whoever picked him up had brought him here assuming he was just like all the other empty clones and thrown him onto a slab, despite the fact that he was the only one amongst them wearing clothes.

In the gloom of the corridor left or right seemed to be a coin toss, there were few signs and even fewer that were legible. Even stranger, he had yet to see a single company or faction logo as if the station was owned by nobody. Half of the emergency lighting units had failed and he couldn’t help wondering how exactly he was still alive. Was life support still operational? There could be an air supply in the open spaces of a structure this large to last a sole survivor weeks but he could only speculate about heating. There was a chill in the air but it was naught compared to the icy grip of open space.

He chose right after some short deliberation and began his struggle along the corridor. Progress was slow as each cut, scrape and bruise protested in a way that reminded him of the time he got tackled by a fleet of Rifters. He still had sweat-inducing nightmares about forty-something small autocannons hungrily gnawing through his hull like flesh-eating beetles.

Rick used the pain to focus his mind. He couldn’t waste any more time and energy thinking about how he got here, he just had to get out. The Capsuleer couldn’t remember a time when he hadn’t been made immortal by pod tech and the thought made him feel cold, alone and very vulnerable.

His hand slipped and disappeared into a dark room closely followed by the rest of his body since, arm had been keeping him standing. He cursed, crashing to the hard floor of a small office.

Rick frantically pushed himself backwards with aching arms and legs as a figure bathed in blood loomed over him. His mind raced, trying to imagine the kind of man who would live in a station such as this with his own personal collection of dead and mutilated bodies.

Slowly, his vision cleared and the homicidal scientist with a station full of cadavers coalesced into an empty red hazmat suit hanging from a pair of hooks.

Rick’s heart raced and his body shivered, the adrenaline rush taking a heavy toll on his battered nerves. He was about ready to lay back and wait for the pitiless vacuum of space to claim him when he spotted the corner of a medical bag peeking out from behind the plastic suit.

The Capsuleer smiled, building up the strength to pull himself back to his feet. Perhaps his day might improve after all.

The well-used handrail groaned ever so slightly as Samra rested her weight against it. She took a refreshing sip from the icy can of Quafe that chilled her left hand to the bone. The dying embers of a cigarette threatened to burn the fingers of the right. Both sensations felt like absolute heaven after weeks in the goo.

Voices echoed up the walkway from the vid screens in the captain’s cabin behind her while a second gantry off to her left led to her gently humming capsule. Her eyes wandered to the battle-ravaged skin of her Proteus as it hung effortlessly in the center of the hangar bay before her, spinning gently as a delicate ballet of repair arms rebuilt the broken steed.

A welding arc released a shower of sparks that flowed like a stream down a rare untarnished portion of her ship’s luscious green hull, cascading over a lip as a shimmering orange waterfall. The Citadel was hard at work patching dents, twists and outright chunks that had been torn from the cruiser during its last foray into the black. The mere sight of some of the deeper gouges caused her to shiver. The capsule had an interesting way of informing the pilot of incoming damage. Those who understood capsule technology probably had a complex scientific term for it but to Capsuleers it was searing pain.

The Proteus completed a rotation exposing a deep gash that ran from the canopy to a point midway along the hull prompting a migraine that spread through her skull like a sheet of lightening. Directly below the wound the ship’s name “Sic Semper Tyrannis”(Thus Always to Tyrants) was still just barely legible in the pitted and space-worn paintwork. The phrase was a throwback to her more boisterous days and kept her grounded, reminding her no matter where she went in life there was still one dragon left for her to slay.

Samra had started her career like most Capsuleers - content to keep herself tucked up in high security space, running missions or mining for the big corporations and filling her own pocket at the same time. But as news of the wars filtered in through the net she grew less and less capable of ignoring her Gallente blood that urged her to fight the good fight.

She battled the Caldari fiercely and before long Samra had taken more lives than she cared to think about, not to mention lost more of her own than she could even count. She grew jaded, and with time she began to realize it was all for naught. The lines rarely moved and where they did it would never be long before those same systems were retaken by the enemy. She bid farewell to the Militia and eventually the politics of sovereign space altogether.

She had a new enemy now, one that had no battle lines and never slept regardless of their misleading name. Her small group had been fighting the Sleepers for a long time, but on their last trip out they had found something new.

A chime heralded the appearance of a familiar face on the communications array to her immediate left. Dance looked different and she knew all-too well why, she avoided looking directly at the screen as best she could. It felt too much like eye contact with the man who just died because of her own ■■■■ up.

“Chin up, Sam.” He said in his usual friendly voice. “That body was starting to get old and achy anyway.”

Samra glanced his way and gave a non-committal shrug. It was easier than saying sorry.

“I get it, I get it. We had a rough time of it out there.” He responded with a smile, the light shimmering on his freshly-formed skin. He took a deep breath, his expression turning serious. Samra knew before he did what he was about to say and took the last drag from her cigarette to cushion the blow. “But you know what we found was way too big a deal to let it slip through our fingers. So get your head on straight. We are going back in.”

Rick shuffled through the doorway feeling like a new man. A bandage covered the large wound on his face, partially obscuring his eye while the handful of unlabeled drugs and boosters that now littered his blood stream made him feel sharp as a knife and lighter than air all at once.

The only thing he hadn’t been able to shake was the stiffness in his limbs and the shake in his hands, though the latter had been reduced to a mere annoyance.

Lighting in the control deck was just marginally better than the corridors he had spent the better part of an hour struggling through, and a thick layer of dust covered every surface. Still he figured that this dilapidated room would be his best bet for departing the besieged station.

He moved from holo-screen to holo-screen, bypassing those that were completely inoperable. The machines that did work flickered irritatingly, and the dust had to be cleared from their lenses before he could make anything out.

The first few were fairly useless, shipping manifests and environmental controls. His immediate thought was to leave them and keep moving but a far darker corner of his mind stopped him, realizing that if he escaped from this particular hell he would damn well want to pay those responsible a visit. He found a data stick in a nearby drawer and downloaded all he could get his hands on.

The next screen granted him access to the surveillance network, those cameras that were still operational of course. He flicked through chamber after chamber filled with dead clones of every race. The horror fanatic in him kept half expecting to see the bodies rise from their slabs all glowy-eyed and cannibalistic. But the cadavers remained still, and finding nothing of use on the internal system Rick turned his attention to the next console.

A smile crept across his face as he dusted down the holo lenses and a magnetometric sensor interface blinked into life before him, but the incoming data stream made his heart sink a moment later.

There was a lot of debris out there, but what grabbed his attention most were the three red triangles that held position a few kilometers from the structure.

“Drifters,” he muttered under his breath, his head shaking in disbelief.

Rick studied the attack patterns of the ships. They seemed to have been focusing their lower-tier firepower on a section of hull in the main structure of the base. As he watched with grim fascination the smallest of the three ships, a Lancer began to edge closer to the station. When the battleships stopped firing Rick slid back to the surveillance screen and began tapping through the channels.

It took a lot of cycling through static and busted cameras but eventually he found what he needed. A section of tritanium wall in one of the enormous cargo holds glowed bright red while fixtures and fittings made of inferior materials within had long ago melted, their remains now sliding down the hull like used candle wax.

He watched for a few seconds, not quite sure what he was expecting to see when a huge metal claw sliced through the weakened metal. A second gash crossed the first, closely followed by a third. The contents of the room appeared to shift slightly as the atmosphere vented into the emptiness beyond. Emergency bulkheads slid into place to protect the rest of the facility. It took a little over sixty seconds for the Autosynth to carve a hole in the cargo hold large enough for it to fit through. Rick forced himself to stop watching when the insectoid ship began harvesting the corpses within.

He turned his attention to the last console left in the room. After a wipe of the lenses and a swift clenched-fisted thump Rick breathed a sigh of relief as the communications array hummed into life. The antenna was completely destroyed, presumably the first shot the Drifters took when attacking the base to ensure its complete isolation. He checked the logs to find only one message cycling in the buffer. He sent a copy of it to his stolen data stick before pocketing it, adding the magnetometric details and surveillance footage in for good measure.

A creak echoed through the station, reminding Rick of the Lancer currently tearing the place apart from the inside. He limped toward a large yellow-hashed hatchway embedded in the outer wall of the command deck and twisted the handle at its center. After a few agonizing seconds the airlock clanked into life, opening into a small escape pod.

Rick climbed inside with a sigh. He knew his chances out in open space were dire, but at this stage he had little to lose. He sat at the controls, closed the hatch behind him and fired the ejection mechanism.

Samra stared in disbelief at the carnage that lay before them. The sleepers had been battling mercenaries when she had given the order to pull out and regroup. Given their attrition rates and how heavily they were outgunned she had expected the mercenary commander to do the same.

They had given as good as they got. Several sleeper wrecks were dotted amongst the decompressed hulls of innumerable battleships and what appeared to be a carrier.

“Loot what you can,” she said over their encrypted fleet comms, willing her Proteus to push closer to the smoldering capital’s carcass. “Jeri, keep an eye on D-scan. Let me know the moment something shows up.”

They were deep inside a wormhole where local communication relays and therefore local lists were non-existent. Without watching the directional scanner any pirates or disgruntled wormholers would have the drop on them, and still could if they approached cloaked. The debris field would help there though; cloaks didn’t take kindly to close proximity objects – even the funky covert ops variety needed to warp undetected.

A collection of ‘Rogers’ drifted back to her as the fleet spread out like vultures to strip the flesh from the dead. Bask and Sal peeled off first, the two DPS legions glowing brightly in the light from the system’s bright blue star. The laser boats were ideal for extended trips in hostile territory since they burned no ammunition, at least none worth mentioning. In her experience you were more likely to need a replacement ship than you were a replacement set of crystals.

No sooner had they peeled off to the sides Dale and Rusty sailed over Samra’s hull, the external camera drone gave a perfect view as the pair of guardian logistics cruisers made a beeline for a cluster of wrecks a few clicks above the carrier. They were decent pilots though hot-blooded Brutor Rusty was no fan of flying an Amarrian ship. Still, they were the new guys and rookies fly the corp logi until they earned enough to buy a strategic cruiser of their very own.

“Uh, FC,” Dance’s voice began over the fleet chat. “Looks pretty clear, should I come join the party?”
Samra hesitated for a moment; it had been her decision to send him into the site solo to check it out first time that had cost him a clone not to mention a ■■■■ load of currency. She had offered to replace his ship but the veteran Capsuleer had simply waved her off.

“Affirm, just keep aligned as best you can. I don’t like this.”


She twisted her cameras just in time to see a small patch of empty space a few kilometers to her stern begin to shimmer. A two-pronged nose appeared from the ether, a white wave spreading over the hull revealing a sleek yet angular chassis that just screamed Caldari.

No sooner had the Tengu emerged did the explorer kick on his MWD and burn to catch up with Samra’s Proteus, slowing only when he pulled up some five-hundred meters on her port side.

“Let’s take a look at this carrier,” she said, pushing her ship to max throttle with barely a thought. She held off on propulsion modules for the moment, not wanting to overshoot her target and still not happy with the looming station ruins just beyond the capital wreck.

As they neared the derelict Samra’s trained eye picked out the jagged yet noble bow of a Chimera. It was a ship that all Gallente, regardless of status or profession were raised to despise. The first Chimera class vessel, the Kairiola under the command of Admiral Toba led a brutal campaign of distraction during the withdrawal of Caldari Prime. In a last act of defiance the Admiral plunged the carrier into the Gallente home world, decimating the city of Hueromont and killing himself along with what remained of his broken crew. It caused enough panic and confusion to allow the remaining millions of Caldari citizens to flee.

Looking at the Chimera the Gallente Citizen in Samra Vincent saw the legacy of a war criminal. Samra the Capsuleer saw a waste of a powerful and expensive ship while the privateer in her saw a whole lot of salvage.

She made a mental note to send the rookies back for Noctis salvagers once the site was secure.

Her Proteus angled downwards, the engines growling back into life as she headed towards the wrecked structure. It had been a scientific observatory once, the skin green where it wasn’t pock-marked by weapon impacts and scorch marks. Shining green domes sat at each end of a walkway that had a larger structure built around it, she tried not to think about the souls that may have once lived and worked aboard as she took in the gaping hole torn into the hull.

She could tell Dance was grow increasingly impatient, his lightly tanked Tengu pulling ahead of her before dropping back like an scolded dog on a leash. She smiled inwardly, despite his fresh clone her oldest friend was still the same voracious explorer he had always been. The empire station was an anomaly in wormhole space, most structures out here belonging to the Sisters of EVE or Capsuleer organizations and her wingman was clearly anxious to get a closer look and find out who it belonged to.

“Dance, how about you go over the carrier one more time. Let me check out this derelict before you sticking your nose somewhere it might get bitten off.”

There was a brief paused before he responded, Samra could only imagine what he was muttering under his breath.

“Sure thing boss, breaking off.”

She turned her cameras, watching her number two reduce thrust and peel off towards the capital. The star continued to pour lustrous blue light over the wreckage-strewn battlefield, giving the illusion of waves rippling across an ocean. Off in the distance her four fleet mates in their golden Amarrian ships looked like shining buoys floating in the flotsam.

The station loomed. Now closer Samra could see the tear in its outer hull far better, she had assumed it had been the product of explosive decompression, the escaping atmosphere inside ripping a hole in the side of the habitat as it raced to reach the void beyond. Now she knew better.

Deep striations like claw marks surrounded the wound as though something had torn its way through.
Her imagination threw up a host of space-borne horrors that might be capable of such a thing as every stellar camp fire story she had ever been told came back to her in graphic detail. Her ship pulled back from the gouges without her even thinking about it, the pod systems clearly detecting her subconscious desire to be nowhere near them.

She shook her head, certain she was hallucinating as an insect-like head emerged from the gash in the station, light streaming from a ‘U’ shaped array that covered its entire front edge as it swung from side to side on a number of metallic hosess. The feeling of her skin crawling was swiftly replaced by a chill in her spine as she realized what she was looking at.

“Say, Dance.” She began, as the lights locked onto her position. “I don’t suppose this is a Drifter wormhole, is it?”

“No boss, regular old wormhole. Why?”

“Because I am looking at an Autosynthian Lancer right now.”

“Er…” Dance replied, clearly unsure how to respond. “Okay.”

“On our way to you FC,” Bask cut in over comms. Her lead Legion pilot was always first into a fight and was near surgical with a set of beam lasers.

At best speed she knew it would only be sixty seconds until the rest of her fleet were at her back. But what then? Lancers were known to be fairly passive so long as they weren’t interfered with, at which point they became large black balls of violent death.

Her train of thought was derailed by a cone of flickering light that shrouded her ship as the Lancer began to scan her. She watched with fascination as the ship crawled from its hiding place within the husk of a station, insectoid legs she had never seen before scraping against the torn hull only to disappear into the bulbous thorax of the monstrosity as it pulled itself free.

The spectacle was something she had never heard of before, and she had heard a lot of stories about Lancers. She weighed her options, if the machine didn’t like something when it scanned her it would no doubt attack. With the Guardians and Legions she was under no illusions that they could take the drone but when they were attacked the Autosynths had a habit of calling on something far worse as backup.
“Dance, get out. This could turn ugly.”

“You got it Boss, thirty seconds. I think I have something here.”

Samra felt her fists clench within her capsule.

“Not thirty seconds. Now! Go!”

“Sorry Sam, some things are just important enough to lose a ship and a cl-”

His words were drowned out by the salvo of electric death that burst from the Lancer. It had completed its scan and decided Samra posed enough of a threat that she had to be destroyed. Her shields melted instantly, alarm bells shrieking as the advanced weapons shredded her armor. She gritted her teeth against the pain as a second salvo saw her reach seventy percent.

“Bask, that’s no ordinary Lancer!” she managed to cry over comms, returning the weapons lock and prepared her blasters to fire. She pushed closer listening to the reassuring tweet of her targeting computer as it calculated the perfect firing solution. A confirmation signaled and with a thought she unleashed a full volley of overloaded neutron blasters at point-blank range. The Lancer recoiled slightly at the blast but responded moments later with a nerve-searing volley that took Samra’s faithful Proteus into fifty percent armor, then twenty.

Neutron blasters barked a second time, shattering her attacker’s shields but barely scratching its thick black carapace. She screamed as another volley penetrated her armor and began chipping away at her hull.

She turned her cameras to face her opponent, her blasters blowing yet more dark metal from the hull of the Autosynth. Her own ship looked the worst it had been in years, glowing orange gouges marked impact points from the Drifter pet while the surrounding areas smoldered like the roiling surface of a lava planet. She couldn’t last much longer.

Luckily, she did not have to.

Bright white blades of energy streaked out of Bask and Sal’s Legions, cutting into the Lancer at the same moment her Proteus was surrounded in a green field that almost instantly repaired her shattered armor plating. In her pod the feeling was euphoric, the only pain that remained the dull nagging of the dented hull that armor repair nanites could do little about.

The Autosynth took one more volley before a series of explosions tore it apart from within, culminating in a bright blue flash that scattered debris through the graveyard, creating a wave that rippled through the beautiful blue ocean of wreckage.

“Perfect timing as always,” she managed over the fleet channel, activating her reloading subsystems more out of habit than for any particular reason. “Set desto to the exit hole, let’s get out of here. It gives me the creeps.”

Stress fractures in her hull creaked as the battered Proteus spun lazily around to align with the wormhole bookmark she had dropped upon entry to the system. Samra watched the velocity gauge slowly rise, her heartbeat slowing after the rush of battle.

The Guardians made it out first, their T2 chassis’ weighing marginally less than that of the two Legions who blinked into warp with a satisfying boom a heartbeat later.

Samra was almost at escape velocity when warning sirens sounded across the board. Her overview showed a new addition to the mysterious area of dead space, one that already had her locked.

The warp scramble effect came moments later, sealing the Sic Semper Tyrannis’ fate as Samra spun her cameras to see the sleek but deadly form of a Drifter Battleship slowly cruising toward her. She had heard stories and seen holos of Capsuleer fleets duking it out with these tyrants of the space lanes but nothing quite compared to the spine-chilling fear of being in the presence of one with all of its attention focused on you.

She swallowed dryly, detecting a massive energy build up throughout the Drifter vessel.

“You better have saved something damn valuable Dance,” she said, waiting for the killing blow to land. “I will see you on the other side.”

A point of light on the Drifter grew until it burned with the ferocity of a star before unleashing a beam of energy that cut through her Proteus as though it were a rookie Corvette.

All thoughts of retaliation vaporized as quickly as her armor, the final words of her ship’s computer ringing in her ears as the hull melted.

“Danger, Hydrostatic Capsule compromised. Contact approved service agent immediately.”

Rick stepped out of the escape pod and looked around the cargo hold. Scanner probes were stacked in one corner and cap boosters in another while the rank scent of mildew assaulted his nostrils.

“Hi there,” a voice said over the tannoy, echoing off the bare walls. “My name is Dance Madiera and I will be your pilot for today. If you want to get some rest on your way back to our home station that’s fine, just make sure you are ready to meet the boss once we reach the end of the road. Samra is going to want to know exactly why you were worthy of her unexpected sacrifice.”

The Capsuleer’s hand dropped to his pocket and began absent-mindedly turning the data stick between his fingers.

“No problem,” he replied, not even sure if the owner of the voice could even hear him. “No problem at all.”


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