Welcome to the Show

Author's Note

Chronologically Prior: 7 Kilometers Out

The following story is an OOC recount of Emilia Dallocort’s acceptance into Sisters of Eve Rough Riders, and her first day after joining Electus Matari. It is based heavily on actual interactions and events. While I have added in a fair amount of descriptive detail and some embellishments, all of the conversations involving other characters actually happened IC. Thank you to Debes, Arsia, Cloak, Liara, and LaFond for taking the time to look over the sections involving your characters and helping me edit the interactions. Also, thank you to the many people on the Roleplay is Primary Discord who have answered my endless questions regarding EVE lore. All of you helped to indirectly write this story. I can’t name all of you but you know who you are.

For those that actually read this in its entirety, I appreciate you. I realize it is a rather long one. I did my best to be concise without sacrificing too much on visual detail and character portrayal. I think it turned out alright. I hope you enjoy this glimpse into Emilia’s character and her first experiences with EM. I appreciate any and all feedback from those that wish to give it.

Happy reading!


Welcome to the Show

The overhead lights of the habitation unit began to glow a soft orangish hue, slowly growing brighter in order to simulate a sunrise. A chirp of a single bird sounded, followed by another, and soon a conglomeration of avian calls were playing through the surrounding speakers. Emilia groaned, rolling over in the twin sized bed. She wiggled an arm out from under the plump blankets in order to cover her eyes.

Emilia wanted more sleep. Yesterday had been a long one. Over a dozen wormholes scanned down, manual piloting lessons, weapon and ship fitting statistics, crash course training on fleet tactics, and several jumps into abyssal rifts occupied by hostile Triglavians would wipe out pretty much any capsuleer… but she had signed up for this. Emilia was antsy to get out into Minmatar space and that was no secret. She had spent the last five years in capsuleer training, wasting time. Every day mattered. Every moment mattered. So when Emilia was transferred to London Elektricity after graduating from her Aliastra sponsored capsuleer program, she made certain she was on an accelerated course. Danki Kaang had taken the role of her mentor in this effort, and he was making sure she had a solid foundation to build off of, but building that foundation was no easy task. She was working her ass off, and it showed in the losses her sleep schedule had been taking. However, Emilia refused to have it any other way. The sooner she left for Molden Heath, the better. She didn’t have time to lounge around, which meant she needed to absorb as much as possible before she departed. Time was of the essence.

Groaning, knowing that the hab’s AI wouldn’t stop bothering her until it sensed she’d left the room, Emilia peeled back the covers and swung her legs over the side of the bed. Her bare feet brushed the carpet as she sat on the edge of the mattress, and Emilia pushed her tangled hair away from her face, tucking the strands behind her ears. After a moment, the capsuleer pushed herself up and stood. She walked out into the main room with tired eyes, hearing the sound of birds fade behind her.

“Good Morning!” a friendly AI voice chimed. A holographic smiley face lit up on the counter. Beside it, a coffee machine spurred into action.

“Morning,” Emilia responded half-heartedly, walking over to the kitchen corner of the main room. The coffee stopped pouring, leaving a full cup ready to be grabbed. Emilia took it, blowing the steam away from the top of the mug, and took a sip. It was already blended with cream and honey, exactly how she enjoyed it. The brunette drew in and released a deep breath. She leaned on the counter, looking over at the holographic emoji. “Any mail?”

“No new messages today, Emilia.”

She nodded, straightening up and walking over towards the window. Emilia folded one arm across her ribcage, propping her right elbow on her wrist. She took another sip from the warm coffee mug as she looked out across the scene before her. A dark orangish hue of nebula gasses dusted the black sky, thousands of stars poking through to shine from their remote corner of space. A grey, powdery moon loomed to her right, its surface wrought with craters from millions of years of asteroid impacts. The Kador Family Academy, in which she stood, orbited this moon, which in turn orbited Akhmoh VII. Emilia’s gaze shifted to look at the enormous gas giant. Its pale tan surface was streaked with dark greys and blacks as the turbulent winds churned. From where she stood at her hab window, she could see the planet’s umbra. The shadow cast from the system’s bright blue sun wrapped around the circumference of the enormous gas sphere, forever hugging Akhmoh VII as the planet slowly spun.

“Emilia, you have an incoming communication request.”

The brunette turned, walking towards the counter again. “Put him through,” she told the AI, not bothering to check the caller. She assumed it was Danki contacting her about today’s lessons, as he usually did around this hour. Approaching the counter she took another drink, and the holo-feed transformed into the face and upper shoulders of a woman. As the color faded in, Emilia’s eyebrows furrowed. The caller had dark black hair, light skin, golden brown eyes, and a scar on the left side of her face which traveled from the base of her nose up to the corner of her eye. Emilia didn’t recognize this person.

“Ms. Dallocort, good morning,” the stranger greeted, “I received the mail you sent me. I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have related to Sisters of Eve Rough Riders, or Electus Matari as a whole.”

Emilia’s eyebrows shot up. Crap, she thought, quickly swallowing the coffee and stepping forwards to set the mug on the counter. “Yes, thank you.” Emilia reached up, doing her best to quickly smooth back and tame her messy hair. The capsuleer was still in her pajamas, and certainly wasn’t ready for a meeting of this sort. She cleared her throat and spoke, “I was curious. I would like to join Electus Matari, and specifically the Rough Riders, but I am not Minmatar.” Emilia grabbed a nearby stool and pulled it close. “Does an applicant’s ethnicity get taken into consideration when reviewing applications?” she asked, sitting down and pushing her coffee mug further from the countertop edge.

A soft laugh followed. “Looking at me should answer that question,” the woman responded.

Emilia’s eyes flicked back to the hologram, taking a closer look, and her eyes widened. “Oh…” she muttered. Upon inspection, she realized the person she was talking to was Amarrian. She hadn’t even taken a moment to notice.

The dark haired woman continued smiling. “Yes, I get that a lot. I suppose my… features aren’t all that strong.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t realize.”

“It’s quite alright.”

Emilia nodded, returning a soft smile, but this faded as her brow constricted ever so slightly. She turned to her right and reached over to tap on a screen, quickly pulling up the woman’s information. Arsia Elkin she read, swiping through her basic information, a True Amarrian…

“To some degree all things are considered,” Arsia continued, “but people from all over the cluster are welcome given the right circumstances. There are quite a fair few Gallente in both the corporation and alliance.”

“That’s… good to know,” Emilia said, “I was worried EM might be more… restrictive.”

“While somebody is in Electus Matari, the expectation is that their loyalty be to the Republic. The alliance itself is commanded by Tribal people, but outsiders can and do join. Those like… me… are rare,” Emilia turned to Arsia’s hologram once again, “but Gallente applicants are fairly common.”

Emilia rubbed her palms across her knees, glancing away, this time towards the golden trim that adorned the counter and cabinets of the kitchen. She didn’t want to be rude, but she had to know. “Why… did you join?” The brunette questioned, meeting Arsia’s eyes quizzically, “If you don’t mind me asking, that is. It’s just, well, unexpected.”

Arsia nodded a few times, seemingly unfazed. “I used to be an Empire loyalist.” she explained, “That should be unsurprising. I grew up in the Empire and was raised to believe its ways were the Truth. As I became more and more involved in politics after gaining some prominence as a capsuleer, it quickly became apparent how corrupt many of those in power were… even to a devout believer. At every turn there was obvious corruption. Back then I wanted to heal the Empire. I figured it was new corruption…” Arsia paused, her tone becoming more grim. “It was not.” She took a deep breath and continued, “I began to interact more and more with foreign people in earnest conversation. With Gallente, with Caldari, and indeed with Minmatar. I talked with quite a number of people who held different views than what I had been taught to believe… and more importantly,” Arsia’s eyes met Emilia’s deliberately, “I listened. My heart led me to not only defect from the Empire but to stand against it and help those who I had unknowingly hurt the most.”

Emilia swallowed, leaning a little further back in her seat. She closed her eyes for a moment, silently scolding herself for making assumptions. Arsia had joined Electus for a reason. She wouldn’t be a member of the Rough Riders if she was just another self-absorbed Amarrian holder. “It’s… refreshing to see,” Emilia stated, opening her eyes. She turned her head, looking towards the door of her hab unit. She paused for a moment in thought, before looking back to Arsia. She spoke a little quieter but much more firmly. “What Amarr does needs to be stopped. It makes me sick that the Federation doesn’t do more to prevent their exploits. I want to do something about it. As much as I can, at least. That’s why I want to join. I can’t sit by and watch, not while Amarr and similar exploitative regimes support and fund the enslavement of people.”

“Quite so,” Arsia replied, her expression serious. “At this point, the Empire needs to be either destroyed or beaten well enough that it no longer resembles its current self. It is a danger to the entire cluster.”

“Yeah…” Emilia breathed, her solemn eyes trailing off.

Silence befell the both of them for a moment. Emilia shifted, suddenly feeling uncomfortable, however this was not due to Arsia. Rather, Emilia’s discomfort stemmed from the fact that she was discussing this in an Amarrian station, located in Tash-Murkon. It felt hypocritical to talk against the Empire while simultaneously living under their roof, even though she hadn’t a choice on being here. She felt fake. Being in Empire space left a sour taste in her mouth, and this conversation only brought further attention to that.

“So, what do I need to do to join?” Emilia asked, moving the conversation along. “Is there an application process? Are there assessments? I’m a newly graduated capsuleer, but I can handle whatever it is I need to do. I’m willing to show that.”

“You already sent a mail to myself and Elsebeth. Else has been a bit tied up this week, but it shouldn’t be too much longer before she gets back to you.”

“Okay, I’ll wait and keep an eye out for her response. Thank you for taking the time to contact me, by the way.”

“No worries. I’m sure Else will get back to you soon,” Arsia assured, and Emilia nodded in response. “Till our paths cross again,” Arsia offered a departing, formal bow, and the hologram evaporated when the feed disconnected.

Emilia leaned forwards, resting her arms against the counter and pulling her mug of coffee close. She gazed into it it, watching the creamy brown liquid wobble as it settled. Things were moving along with Electus Matari faster than she’d expected it to, and she wasn’t sure how much more Danki had planned for her. She needed to tell him about her application to the Rough Riders. As soon as Elsebeth got back to her, she was leaving. There was nothing forcing her to stay here, other than the fact she had nowhere else to go. Danki was a good teacher, and the only problem she had with LOELK was that its headquarters sat in Amarrian space. However, this stage was never meant to be more than temporary. Emilia was only sticking around long enough to find an organization that could help her, and if Electus Matari was already reaching out, that meant she wouldn’t be in Akhmoh for long.

Ding
Emilia turned to look at the screen beside her. She’d just gotten a new message from Danki.

“Hope you’re about ready, got a lot planned for us today.”

Emilia’s eyes flicked to the time. “Crap!” she said out loud, taking a large gulp of coffee before jumping off of the barstool. Emilia dashed through her bedroom to hop into the shower. She had to get ready quickly and meet Danki outside of HQ. If she didn’t hurry, she was going to be late.



Hours later, the metal door to her temporary habitation unit opened, and Emilia stepped inside. Her black jacket slipped from her shoulders, and she tossed the synthetic leather into an empty chair while bee-lining it towards the couch. Emilia sat down, kicked off her boots, and laid back on the cushions with her feet propped on an armrest. Her right arm was draped over her eyes, the other resting on her abdomen. Emilia took a deep breath and let out a sigh. Finally some time to relax.

“You have a message waiting for you, Emilia,” The hab’s AI spoke.

“Read it,” she responded in an exasperated tone. There was no such thing as a break, it seemed.

“Mail to Emilia Dallocort, from Elsebeth Rhiannon.” The AI obliged, subsequently altering its audio to imitate the voice of the sender. “Captain Dallocort, I have sent you a corporation invitation. There will be a wall of text, please read it. Welcome to the show.”

Emilia abruptly sat up and snatched a nearby holo-tablet from the coffee table. She swiped to open the mail and read the message again with her own eyes. A smile slowly spread across her face. Pressure bubbled up in Emilia’s lungs and she grabbed a pillow, squeezed it against her chest, and let out a delighted scream. Her application had been accepted! She was going to be a Rough Rider and fly with Electus Matari!

Emilia let her head fall back against the couch cushions, staring up at the ceiling. She sat there for several seconds, just relishing in the buzz of dopamine that filled her brain, imagining what it would be like flying in a fleet with them. Her gray-blue eyes shifted back and forth, as if she could see herself there, disabling pirate cruisers and protecting merchant vessels from raids and blockades.

Emilia sat up, looking back down at the holo-tablet she held while continuing to hug the pillow with her body. She opened her neocomm, pulled up the corporation invite, and then just sat there for a moment while staring at it. It’s actually happening. She was graduated as a capsuleer as of last month, and now, finally, she was beginning to walk on her own two feet. After five long years, this was her first step towards, well… everything. Reaching up with one hand, she tapped the accept button without further hesitation. The invitation disappeared. The tablet chimed a ding as SoERR’s automated introduction mail arrived in her inbox, and Emilia set the tablet back onto the table. It was official. She was now a member of Electus Matari.

Over the next several hours, Emilia prepared. There was a lot for her to do. The Rough Riders had their headquarters stationed in Thera, a hub in wormhole space that the Sisters of Eve maintained and operated from. Their war staging HQ was in Pator, however, and the latter was where Emilia would be moving to. She had several frigates plus a load of random junk that needed to get there, which required preparation, and she had to let Danki know of these plans as well. She would be leaving tomorrow. Emilia had told him about the application during training today, but now that she was an official member, it was time to go. The departure was a little abrupt, and she felt bad about that, but this had been decided upon long beforehand. As soon as she was able, she would be off, and Danki was well aware of this fact.

The capsuleer put in several requests through the station systems, making sure she had a ship moved to the launch pad and ready to fly in the morning. She also contracted a hauler to transport the handful of other frigates she owned. They would be loaded up and moved in bulk by an independent corporation within a couple days. With her arrangements in order, Emilia gathered up the few things she had around her hab, a task which didn’t long as she’d had never fully unpacked, and stuffed her items into a pair of suitcases and a large bag. Once she was done, she took one final look around the quarters in which she’d been living for the past three weeks to be sure she wasn’t forgetting anything. The pilot didn’t feel sad or nostalgic. She was happy to be leaving. The only thing Emilia held regrets about were the handful of friends and acquaintances she had made. This wasn’t necessarily goodbye, but it was a departure. She reasoned there would be plenty of time to catch up in the future, though.

Turning, the capsuleer headed into the bedroom. She laid out a set of clothes for the morning and slipped under the covers, her lights turning off automatically. After a long period of lying awake, she eventually drifted off and slept dreamlessly until the morning birds awoke her again. Emilia got up, retrieved her coffee, and looked out of her hab’s window one last time. Returning to the bedroom several minutes later, the brunette showered, changed, and said a final goodbye to her hab’s AI before walking out with suitcases in tow.

Emilia made her way along the halls of the living quarters, taking several corners before arriving at an elevator that took her down 500 stories to the shuttle bay. Similar to the hyper rail stations one might find planet-side, the shuttle bay served as a quick method of transport for the many inhabitants of the city-sized station. The Kador Family Academy was huge. Standing at roughly 30 kilometers tall, 15 kilometers deep, and 5 kilometers wide, walking anywhere but the immediate habitation zones that residents lived was inconceivable. However, thanks to shuttle speeds, residents could traverse the entire 30 kilometer distance from top to bottom in less than 5 minutes.

Exiting the elevator, she walked with a small crowd towards the boarding zone, approaching a short cluster of people who were filtering through a set of optical turnstiles. Stations like these never slept. Space travel meant that every person had individual sleep cycles, so there was always a crowd at any hour. The line she waited in went quickly, and soon the older man in front of her was stiffly walking through the green-lit turnstile. As he passed and Emilia stepped forwards, the lights went red until the capsuleer held an identification card against the reader, turning the LEDs green once again. She took a few steps forward, heading towards a fork in the hallway, when something caught her eye. Standing along a wall was a line of five individuals with bowed heads, wearing plain, light grey clothing. Both males and females were dressed identically, each donning a loose short sleeve V-neck and long, pocket-less pants with plain white shoes. Their hands were clasped in front of them, backs parallel to but not resting against the wall.

“Captain Dallocort,” a voice startled her. She abruptly stopped, having almost run into the speaker. Dressed in bright white with gold adorning his station uniform, the man smiled in greeting, “Good morning.”

Emilia didn’t respond, only offering an unenthusiastic half smile and a curt nod. It was quite apparent that he had been waiting for her, likely notified by station security that she was on her way to the shuttle bay.

“You are taking a trip?” he asked, as if unaware.

“I am.”

The man glanced at her bags in tow. “Well in that case I must apologize, I would have expected your luggage to be taken care of and an escort arranged to bring you to the hangar. Let me fetch someone to carry your bags-”

“No.” Emilia stated firmly, stopping the man mid motion as he raised a hand to signal one of the individuals in grey. “I am perfectly capable of doing my own work, thank you.” Her tone was short and accusative.

The man paused, before giving a well rehearsed, genuine looking smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “So be it-”

“An escort won’t be needed either,” she asserted.

His smile unwavering, he gave a nod. “Capsuleers are an independent bunch, unpredictable in their desires. It seems our assumption you would require assistance was unfounded. Even so,” he continued coldly, “we will certainly keep an eye on you, to ensure your arrival at hangar 3A is completed safely, and without undue interruption.”

Silence befell them for a moment as she held eye contact, straightening her stance. By this point, the pair were beginning to draw attention from the throng of passerbys; more than a few stole glances at the capsuleer and station guard in tense conversation.

“I suppose I should be on my way then,” Emilia broke the silence. She turned and continued walking, not waiting for a response.

“A piece of advice, if I may Captain,” the man called from behind her. Emilia slowed, hesitating before looking back. “There is nothing more important than the company you keep. It defines you. You would do well to consider this when making future decisions regarding the individuals you confide in, and the organizations with which you associate. Once you begin painting your image, it becomes quite difficult to erase it.” The man made a point to hold eye contact for a brief moment. He then turned, placed his hands behind his back, and walked away.

Emilia faced forwards once again, doing her best to look unfazed by the Amarrian’s idle threats, despite her increased heartrate and churning thoughts. The capsuleer’s blue eyes swung to the right once again, resting on the five individuals with heads still bowed in respect. Her gaze steeled and her jaw tightened as the pilot regained confidence. The picture she was painting was exactly as it should be, Emilia was positive in that.



Suitcase wheels spun silently behind as Emilia exited the shuttle transport and made way towards the hangar. Overhead electronic signs led her through organized intersections of walkways until the wide doors of bay 15 revealed themselves. Entering, Emilia was met with a large space containing a dozen or so shuttles and frigates. Sitting near the left edge of the room was a blue Caldari frigate. Two tall vertical wings and a third horizontal wing all crossed through the center of the vessel, forming the iconic shape of a Heron. The Red Herring was a fast and versatile ship, fit primarily for exploration. The reliable vessel had already saved her from a few close calls in J-Space, so it seemed appropriate to her that she fly this to Pator.

Walking up a ramp and into the ship, she secured her bags in a corner of the cargo bay, and moved to the bridge where her hydrostatic capsule was waiting. Emilia tapped on a screen embedded in the wall, causing the egg shaped capsule behind her to split open on hydraulic hinges. Bending over, the capsuleer pulled her boots from her feet, placing them into a small sealable container sitting on a nearby bench. Her jacket, top, and bottoms were subsequently removed, revealing the black, skin-tight pod-suit she wore underneath. Specifically designed for use in a hydrostatic pod, the suit’s material was woven with sensors, used to monitor the capsuleer’s vital signs while under suspended animation. Much like the wetsuits worn by aquatic divers, the pod-suit was one single piece of material that covered her body, stopping only at her throat, wrists, and ankles. Aside from this, along the spine of the suit were five holes which exposed the capsuleer’s spinal ports. These connectors ran from the base of Emilia’s neck down to her upper back, the lowest of which rested between her shoulder blades. The ports allowed Emilia to directly jack into and interface with the pod beside her, thus allowing for piloting of the ship itself. The five cybernetic plugins present on Emilia were the one identifying feature that every capsuleer had, and the only way they were easily distinguishable from the common baseliner.

After folding and placing her clothes beside her shoes, Emilia sealed the container and pushed it into a slot in the wall. She approached the open pod, swung her leg over the edge, and lowered herself to lay back against the comfortable gel padding. She reached out to unhook a mask, strapping it over her nose and mouth. A hiss sounded as it sealed against her skin. The breathing tube attached to the mask’s front trailed to the pod’s shell off to her right, allowing for a supply of air to reach her lungs.

Tapping an interior control panel, Emilia initiated the interfacing procedure. The pod’s clear door closed, sealing the woman inside, and a gelatinous, chemical cocktail began to fill the chamber. The capsuleer’s blue eyes closed as the surface of the thick liquid rose around her. It poured over her arms and legs, wet her hair, and soon fully submersed the pilot. Emilia felt her body begin to rise from buoyancy. By the time the surface of the translucent green liquid touched the top of the chamber, Emilia was floating weightless. Cords snaked their way through the fluid, locating Emilia’s spinal ports and attaching to them. She felt a spark as they clicked into place, and she sucked in a deep breath as synthetic sensory inputs flooded her. Her body and senses melted away as Emilia’s mind merged with the ship. For a moment she could feel the thrusters, the shield arrays, the capacitor systems, the computer circuitry…

A scene materialized around her. She was sitting in a chair, with a flight stick between her legs and a throttle to her right. Informational displays were mounted around her, with panels of buttons, switches, and dials at her disposal. Pod-ship interfacing could take many forms, and often varied between capsuleers depending on what worked best for them. For Emilia, it was sitting in front of the controls inside of a simulated cockpit. This was easier on her mind, allowing the pilot to focus on one or a few tasks at a time. Other capsuleers preferred a direct interface, where all of the ship’s diagnostic streams were linked to their consciousness. The latter was, arguably, the more efficient method of pod piloting, as the ship became a literal extension of the capsuleer. However, during Emilia’s training it had quickly become evident that this was too large of a stress for her psychologically. The simulation acted as mediator in this respect, taking the bulk of the mental weight. The physical representation of the ship’s environment allowed Emilia to subconsciously enable and disable data streams by simply looking around, or control the ship with muscle movements instead of mental commands.

“Initiating bootup procedure,” the voice of Aura, her ship AI assistant, spoke through the headrest speakers. She felt the Heron rumble as the thrusters powered up. Lights blinked on around her, their green color indicating that everything was properly functioning. “Bootup procedure completed, all systems operational.”

“Thank you Aura,” Emilia responded, reaching up and flicking a switch to enable her comms channel. “Red Herring to Station Control, seeking clearance to launch from hanger 3A, bay 15.”

“Red Herring this is Station Control receiving your request. Undock has been cleared. Ship is unlocking, please confirm.”

Emilia felt several deep vibrations as the large metal arms which held the ship in place were released. A mechanical whine followed as they retracted into the floor and ceiling. The pilot checked a screen displaying her mount points, making sure all were detached. “Confirmed,” she responded, “Mounts have been unlatched.”

“Confirming hanger zone is clear… Clear. Red Herring, you are green for launch.”

“Received. Launching.”

Emilia pressed a button. She felt her ship begin to rise as thrusters below lifted the heavy frigate into the air. A string of lights outlined her path, serving as a visual indicator for her direction of travel. The lights blinked on and off in succession, beginning behind her and traveling out in front. Her eyes followed the movement as the indicators flashed forwards along the hangar’s floor. They traveled through a large translucent barrier at the edge of the hangar and out into the empty void of space.

Now floating above the ground, Emilia engaged her forward propulsion. The Red Herring rumbled as the loud sound of her rocket engines penetrated the ship’s hull and Emilia’s pod. The frigate began moving forward, increasing speed, and following the lights that guided her. As she reached the runway’s edge, her ship’s shields touched the translucent barrier and the two fields merged, allowing for a seamless exit between the pressurized hanger and the infinite vacuum of space.

The moment she left the station’s atmosphere, all exterior sound vanished. A quiet, distant version of her thrusters replaced it as the ship’s audio synthesizers kicked in. Emilia looked behind her, the cockpit’s walls fading into complete transparency as she gazed back at the Amarrian station she was departing. Emilia smiled, and spun her ship around to align with the system’s only stargate. She was on her way to Pator, and the capsuleer was eager to arrive.

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As The Red Herring dropped out of warp, Emilia drew in an astonished breath. Her eyes had fallen on the Fortizar that was her destination. To say it was incomprehensibly massive would be a vast understatement.

Floating before her was the biggest man made structure Emilia had ever seen. Measuring at over 100 kilometers in length, and at least 30 kilometers from top to bottom at the tallest section, the Fortizar was easily five times the size of any space station Emilia had ever laid eyes upon. It was vastly larger than any city plus surrounding county Emilia had ever set foot in. Its total volume likely approached the surface area of a small country. Swarms of activity orbited the metal beast. Hulking ships of all shapes and sizes flowed in and out of the towering hangar entrances located at the station’s underbelly. Shuttles warped on grid from all angles, creating a series of flashes that lit the starry backdrop like fireflies in a forest. It was absolutely beautiful.

Sound returned around her as The Red Herring entered the pressurized hangar. Emilia pulled back on the throttle, slowing the ship to a halt, and mechanical arms reached up to lock with several structural mounts on the ship. The pilot disengaged the hovering thrusters, the newly attached arms taking the weight without budging a nanometer, and the frigate was carefully lowered to rest on the ground. Emilia powered down her systems, and initiated release on the capsule.

Blue eyes fluttered open as she felt the gelatinous fluid drain away. The clear capsule door lifted, and the pilot sat up after removing her mask. The pod’s interfacing cables had already disconnected themselves from Emilia’s spine, leaving her detached, but completely soaked from her prolonged “bath”. She pushed the wet hair out of her face and behind her ears. Grabbing the edge, Emilia lifted herself out of the pod and placed her bare feet on the cool metal floor. She was dripping, and left small puddled footprints behind her as she walked off to the adjacent shower. Emilia stepped into the warm water and rinsed, making sure to wash any lingering chemicals out from her hair. She peeled the pod suit off of her body and hung it in a heating rack, after which she dried herself with a towel and retrieved her clothes from the sealed container. Now clean and dressed, with the only sign of her soak being the damp brown hair on her head, Emilia exited the frigate.

The ramp lowered before her and the capsuleer stepped out. She looked around, getting her first proper look at just one of the hundreds of hangar bays housed within the Fortizar. The view did not disappoint. The towering ceiling above was supported by several thick and sturdy columns. Along the walls, several stories of walkways clung, primarily circling the hangar while some bridged the vast distance across the room. Spaceships, large and small, were tucked into their designated zones all along the hangar, resting on mobile mounts that could ferry the heavy vessels wherever they needed to go. Emilia was parked on a raised floor, which primarily held frigates and cruisers. This floor ended at a balcony however. Looking out past the railing, Emilia’s eyes fell on an even larger section, whose floor and ceiling weren’t even visible from where she stood. The vertical chamber housed giant battleships and battlecruisers, with extendable metal walkways reaching out from the doorways along the hangar walls to the numerous ports along each ship’s hull. The people on these catwalks were so far away they resembled ants, and were absolutely dwarfed by the Hurricanes, Tempests, and Tornados mounted in a grid-like arrangement that spanned the area. There was even a lone Harbinger docked, Emilia noticed, which stood out oddly among the primarily Minmatar lineup.

The Capsuleer swung her gaze back around to the expansive, but relatively small, section of the hangar she’d landed at. There seemed to be a lot of activity going on. People bustled back and forth throughout the area, walking swiftly along the walkways and filtering in and out of various doors. Station staff were loading cargo holds with boxes, engineers were welding and bolting equipment to vessels, and organizers carrying holo-tablets oversaw workers, ordering them about. She watched as a man holding illuminated marshalling wands walked backwards, guiding a Scythe as it was ferried on large wheels to the front of the hanger.

“Emilia Dallocort?” A voice called out. She turned to see a dark skinned man wearing aviator glasses signal her at the bottom of the ramp. The man’s light brown hair was pulled back tightly against his scalp, the braided dreads meeting at the back of his neck in a knot. He was wearing a Matari captain uniform, a deep brown and black colored military jacket, with bright red trim around the neck and wrist. Two shiny, copper toned metallic bands adorned his shoulders. The same metal was used on the clasps along the front right of the jacket as well as on the cufflinks. Aside from this, the rest of his uniform consisted of matching reddish brown slacks and pair of black shoes.

Emilia walked down the ramp towards him. “Yes, that’s me,” she responded.

“LaFond,” he introduced himself, reaching out as she approached. Now closer, she noticed the dark lines of tattoos around his eyes, sticking out from the sunglasses that he wore. They were tribal markings, Emilia knew, but anything beyond that she wasn’t sure. “Welcome to the Rough Riders,” he greeted.

“Thank you,” Emilia smiled and gave his hand a light shake.

She paused as a man in a combat suit walked up and tapped LaFond’s shoulder. He turned, the two men exchanging a few quiet words in private. Emilia couldn’t make out anything, but it was apparent from the tone that the subject was important. After a few moments, LaFond turned to face her again while the other man made haste and left. It seemed everyone around them was in a hurry.

“What’s going on?” she asked, motioning to the busy hangar.

“War,” LaFond stated, raising an eyebrow.

Emilia blinked, her eyes opening a little wider. Her gaze jumped around the hangar again, this time realizing that the cargo being loaded was in fact ammunition. The organizers carrying holo-tablets were lieutenants giving orders to military personnel, and the equipment being fit by engineers were primarily turrets and missile silos.

“Wha-” Emilia started, but she paused with parted lips. The sudden news of this had taken her by surprise. “Who? Why?” she asked, turning her gaze back to LaFond.

“RIOT, as of an hour ago.”

“Who is RIOT?”

“Pirates,” he clarified, “A capsuleer group that enjoys harassing transports and locals in Metropolis. They assaulted an Astrahus built in memorial of the Battle of Colelie. We’re preparing to defend it.”

“Okay…” she replied, processing the information. “Well, I’ve just joined and this is the only ship I have at hand.” she motioned towards the Heron. “I only have fleet experience from my training, but if there’s any way I can help I’m willing to step up.”

“Can you fly a Typhoon, Cerberus, or Guardian?” he asked.

“I cannot,” she shook her head.

“Vigil it is then. Let’s walk.” LaFond turned, and began leading Emilia along the hangar, passing a Slasher with one of its wings disassembled.

“What will I do?” she inquired, increasing her speed to keep up with the man’s pace.

“Target painters. Idea is you stay at range and paint the primaries that the fleet will be firing at.”

“Target painting. Right. Anything else?”

“Nope.”

“And what fit will I need?”

“Cloak will help with that,” LaFond stated, stopping next to a blonde man who turned to face them. The first thing Emilia noticed was the cybernetic augmentation present on the man’s face. Silver metallic lines branched out in a hexagon-like pattern from Cloak’s right temple, reaching down to his jaw and upper lip. His hair was neatly combed back, parted slightly off to the left, with a full, well trimmed, beard outlining his jaw. He was wearing a Matari Captain uniform, the same as LaFond, with tall black boots pulled over his slacks instead of shoes. Cybernetics stuck out from under his collar as well. It looked like the grey metal entirely replaced his throat and collarbone, likely extending down to his chest.

“Emilia, Cloak. Cloak, Emilia,” LaFond introduced while motioning between them.

“Name’s Inarri,” the blonde man said, “But everyone calls me Cloak.”

“It’s nice to meet you.” She stuck out a hand. Emilia felt warm metal touch her skin as he gave her hand a shake. Looking down, she saw his knuckles were carbon black, with electronic bus lines traveling along his fingers and up his arm before disappearing beneath his sleeves.

“Help our new recruit fit something she can fly in the op. She’s tasked with target painting,” LaFond instructed.

“Will do,” Cloak responded. LaFond turned and walked away. “I see an open workbench in the corner. Wanna head over there?” Cloak asked.

“Sure,” Emilia nodded, and she followed as they walked across the hangar towards the wall. What they approached was a waist high cube, on which sat a metal tabletop that had seemingly lost its luster long ago. The surface was dented and scratched from lots of use. Various tools, as well as a handful of notes and sketches, were scattered about despite several drawers available on one side. Like almost all things in the hangar, the workbench was on wheels, making it easy to move wherever it was needed at the moment. In the center, sticking up slightly from the level surface, was the bulb of a holoprojector.

Cloak moved a wrench aside and set his holo-tablet into a slot on the table. The holo-projector flickered to life, and before them hovered the three dimensional projection of a Vigil, a tall and odd looking spacecraft. The body of the ship was a rectangular shape, containing the cargo hold. Two large thrusters were mounted onto the back, in a vertical orientation. Jutting out from the top, at the front of this central body, was the control bridge where Emilia’s pod would be located. Underneath, below the cargo hold, a very long central pillar extended downwards from the ship’s front. Attached to this extrusion were two wide, vertically oriented plates in the shape of an irregular trapezoid. Emilia assumed these helped with either center of mass stability or contained sensors to increase signal resolution. She wasn’t sure what else they could be used for, being so far away from the main body.

“Alright, first thing we will need is target painters,” Cloak said, reaching up and using his hand to spin the ship around. He pressed something on his screen, and a holographic menu popped up in front of them. Cloak begin dragging a few items over and onto the ship, to add to the simulation. “On top of that, a damage control AI should do well, along with a medium shield extension and shield rigging to keep you alive.”

Emilia reached up to pull a propulsion module from the menu onto the Vigil. “Micro warp drive would be nice, right?”

“Yes, but you have capacitor and power grid problems now.”

“A compact cap battery should solve that, plus we could rig up a control circuit and current router.” Emilia took over, dragging several schematics onto the ship. “Still 3.4 megawatts over on the grid, though…”

“Power grid hardwiring might be a fix,” a new, female voice spoke from behind her. Emilia turned around. Leaning against a pillar which supported an overhead catwalk, was a fair skinned woman in a black tank top and black leather pants. Her arms were crossed, right over left, with the left one covered in a full sleeve of black monochrome tattoos. She had piercings, two eyebrow rings on the left side of her brow, and Emilia could see the edge of a few ear piercings which barely poked out through her straight, shoulder length hair. At first glance the woman looked to be a redhead, but Emilia noticed her roots were dark brown, suggesting that the ginger color came from dye. Light freckles dotted the girl’s face, sprinkled across her nose and over her cheekbones. Dark lips, thin eyebrows, and piercing green eyes gave her a look of confidence. Her relaxed and nonchalant demeanor, despite the ongoing war preparation surrounding them, gave indication to Emilia that this was someone who had ample experience in conflict.

“No, even a 5% wouldn’t give you 3.4 on grid,” Cloak answered quickly.

The woman shrugged and turned her attention towards the hanger, not moving from the pillar.

“What is it?” Emilia asked, looking at Cloak.

“Squire Power Grid Management EG-601 through EG-606. The subsystem allows you to directly manage the ship’s voltage regulation, letting you push past the safeguards to squeeze in a little more juice.” he explained. However, Emilia’s still furrowed brow prompted him to continue. “You plug them into your skull,” he stated, tapping his head with a finger.

“Oh,” Emilia reacted, an uneasy feeling befalling her. He was talking about a cybernetic implant, an electronic brain extension that could be surgically inserted into a person’s head. She wasn’t keen on the idea of getting a subsystem plugged into her brain. While Emilia already had cybernetics in the form of the pod interface ports, those were the only alterations to her body, and she had gotten them purely out of their necessity for the capsuleer transition. The ports served as an indirect connection to her brain, going through her nervous system and spinal cord. This was different from most implants, which often required direct brain surgery. She really didn’t want to screw with her mind; she was afraid of how it might change her. Hearing the horror stories of Sansha’s Nation, which used implants to enact literal mind control, didn’t help her mindset on the matter either.

“I’m not sure we’ve met, by the way,” Cloak said, facing the other woman. “Are you the merc that Else hired? From Habitual Euthanasia?”

“The one and only,” the redhead smirked, “Name’s Liara.”

“Cloak. Nice to meet you.”

“Likewise.” Cloak looked to Emilia again, returning to their conversation about the Vigil. “Looks like a Power Auxiliary Core will do the trick. We won’t be able to fit the signal amp, but that won’t do you any favors if the thing doesn’t fly.”

“It looks good,” Emilia nodded, “Cheap too, just over 3 mil each.” She reached into her pocket to pull out a handheld touchscreen device. Holding it up towards the holoprojector, she swiped to download a copy of the ship fitting they simulated. “I’ll get three of these made, that way I have something ready to go for any engagements in the near future.” She began tapping on the screen, setting up an order for the parts she would need to fit, when a pop-up made her pause. She’d just received 10 million isk. Clicking on the transaction, she read that it was sent from an Inarri Hiltuzuki. “What’d you wire me isk for?” she asked, raising her head to look at Cloak.

“The Vigils,” he stated simply, nodding towards the holoprojection.

“You didn’t have to-”

“No worries,” he asserted, “First fleet fight is on me.”

She hesitated, opening her mouth to argue, but she didn’t. Instead, Emilia simply sighed and accepted the donation. “Alright, thank you,” she said, “I appreciate it Cloak.” She paused, eyes examining the Vigil one more time before her lip curled up into a slight smile. “Let’s just hope I don’t go through all three today,” She joked. It was an attempt to lighten the mood and soothe her frayed nerves.

Cloak, however, had his eyes down and was looking at the holo-tablet he’d just pulled from the table. “It’s possible,” he responded seriously, “I’ve gone through three doctrine typhoons in a day so… Very possible.”

Emilia’s smile quickly faded. She looked off to her left across the hangar, where one of those massive battleship class Typhoons was docked beyond the balcony. She felt her face grow pale. The Typhoon dwarfed almost all of the other ships in sight, and the heavy armor plating lining its hull was a clear indication that it could withstand some heavy hits. Comparatively, the ship she would be flying was as fragile as a mosquito. If he went through three of those…

“Well, I need to attend to some other business before the operation forms up. Any questions Emilia?”

“No,” She timidly replied, her eyes still glued to the battleship.

“Very well, I’ll see you for the op.” She saw Cloak turn and leave from the corner of her vision. Emilia looked back at the Vigil that was supposed to keep her in one piece, wiping her suddenly sweaty palms on her pants.

“First time fragging, Emilia?” Liara spoke up. The brunette turned, having forgotten that the other pilot was there. Liara pushed herself away from the pillar, walking towards the table and slipping her hands into her pockets.

“Yeah,” Emilia replied, “Other than a few live training exercises in abyssal pockets, that is, against a handful of trigs… You?”

“First with EM, but far from my first,” Liara said.

Emilia was mildly surprised this was Liara’s first fleet with Electus Matari as well. Both of them were in the same class it seemed, brand new recruits, and yet Emilia could tell they were lightyears apart. While Emilia was fresh out of the academy, Liara had ample experience. This was obvious by her calm composure. If she was at all nervous there was no visible indication.

“Any good stories?” Emilia asked, looking for a distraction.

“Depends on how you define good,” she said, “but most recently I was part of the war in Delve from start to finish.”

“Wow,” Emilia responded in surprise, “I’ve heard a lot about it. That region has been a bloodbath for the better part of a year.”

Liara simply nodded with eyebrows slightly raised. “Best advice I can give for larger scale fleets is this. One,” she held up a finger, “Listen to the FC. Two, if you have no idea what you’re doing, ask. Three, don’t panic. And four, don’t stress if you lose your ship, as long as you were doing as instructed.”

Emilia swallowed and gave another nod. “Simple enough,” she said.

“Yep, the nerves tend to go away after the first one. Unless you’re the FC, it’s all pretty straightforward after the first time.”

“Right.”

Liara took a step backwards. “Just pay attention, and you’ll do fine.” She turned, beginning to head off. “Oh, and one more thing,” she spun around and walked backwards as she spoke, “Take a ■■■■ before you get in the pod, unless you want floaters during the fight.”

“I-” Emilia released her breath in a short chuckle. “Thanks Liara,” she responded with a shake of her head.

“Yup.” Liara swiveled around again to head off.

Emilia planted her hands on the metal table. Her smile faded. Liara had drawn a smile and helped her relax a bit, but she was still nervous. She took a deep breath. The capsuleer scanned the ship fitting one last time, looking for any optimizations, before picking up her device again and clicking buy on the order. It was quickly confirmed. Emilia had some work to do before the operation in a few hours.

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“Comms check?”

“Check.”

“Life-support?”

“Check.”

“Shield arrays?”

“Check.”

“Propulsion systems?”

“Check.”

Emilia continued affirming the long list of items that station control read out to her. Eventually, control finally responded with, “Secondary system checks in order. Departure cleared.”

She heard a click as she was disconnected from station communications, but Emilia didn’t initiate launch. Sitting in her newly fit Vigil, she looked around from her cabin’s high perch at the top of the ship. She was sitting in a launch hangar, separate and distant from the one where she’d landed her Heron. Before her was a shield barrier, beyond which was the vast expanse of space. She looked off to her left, blue eyes falling on a line of Cerberus-class Heavy Assault Cruisers fit and ready for battle. To her right, two more Vigils sat propped on their stands, beside which was a Firetail and two Slashers. Aside from the Electus Matari lineup, a mercenary corp and friend of EM had been called to aid as well, known as Phoenix Naval Operations. They had shipped into a doctrine of Kikimoras.

“Any word on what they’re flying?” Emilia heard the familiar voice of Inarri come through her speakers.

“No eyes yet. Sit tight, we’ll see if they show.”

The voice that responded was that of Debes Sparre, who was not only the FC in this engagement, but the head and overall Commander of Electus Matari as a whole. According to his briefing, the pirate organization known as RIOT had assaulted the Astrahus in Colelie. They had done a lot of damage, taking out the shield systems in their first attack and forcing the Astrahus to enter a reinforced state. This was a temporary, last resort measure that rendered the Citadel impervious to further damage, but only for a limited time. The structure would be vulnerable again soon, and that would allow the enemy to continue their assault. Electus Matari’s job was to hold them at bay while the engineers finished repairing the shield systems.

Time ticked on slowly, every minute seeming to last at least five. Still no eyes on the attacking force. Comms were silent for the most part, aside from the occasional banter between comrades who had likely flown together for years. Nothing was happening, which was good, but it did nothing to ease Emilia’s nerves. After some time word came through that the Astrahus engineers had completed repairs on their shield defenses, and finally Emilia felt some of the weight lift from her chest.

“Looks like we scared them off?” An unfamiliar voice echoed Emilia’s thoughts.

“Perhaps,” said Debes.

“Are we hitting back?” Another new voice spoke.

“Mmmmm, give me a minute,” Debes replied, “I need to talk to PNS.”

Emilia saw Debes’s status change as he switched communication channels. A void of silence filled the air for the next several minutes.

“Alright, undock and align Eystur,” Debes spoke suddenly. All of the engines around Emilia kicked on at once, filling the wide hangar with a buzzing hum as each vessel began to hover. The capsuleer reached up and flipped a switch. She felt a small kick as the Vigil’s stand unhooked itself from the hull. Her ship rose, the thrusters underneath barely vibrating the chassis, as it followed the other ships in their ascent. Once she had reached a proper vertical clearance Emilia shifted the throttle forwards, guiding her ship out into the cold starry expanse. The shield barrier wrapped around her hull and the true sound from the Fortizar’s atmosphere was muted, quickly replaced by a duller synthesized audio generated by her ship’s AI.

The squad of destroyers and frigates swung left one by one as each aligned to the stargate that would take them to Eystur. Emilia followed suit, lining her ship up to prepare for warp. As she coasted towards the destination, a darkness swept past her which shrouded her Vigil in shadow. Emilia turned towards the direction of Pator’s bright orange star, instead finding the long wing of a Hecate blocking the light. It floated over her, the distant dot of the sun poking out from the ship’s stern to illuminate Emilia’s Vigil once again.

“Warping Eystur,” the Commander spoke. Emilia felt her ship’s drive kick on as Debes initiated fleet warp towards the gate. “Alright, here is what’s happening. We’re returning the favor by hitting their war HQ in Clorteler. We have eyes on a couple of RIOT members around the area but nothing that looks like it will give us trouble. We jump in, take out their shields, and get out quickly before they can respond. Everything clear?”

Comms lit up with a chorus of affirmative responses, and Emilia found herself replying in turn. The fleet dropped out of warp, and everyone lined up with the stargate that would hurl them into the neighboring system. Each pilot jumped, waiting on the other side until all were through, before aligning to the next gate in their route. This process repeated as the fleet moved together towards Essence. They bounced along a route of sharp turns, hopping through twelve separate systems before they finally drew near to their target of Clorteler. The fleet gathered at the gate and waited as a brave scout entered first.

“Clear,” said the scout.

“Jump,” said Debes.

Emilia heard a hum reverberate through the ship as she entered the gate. Light suddenly streaked around her as the stargate catapulted the Vigil into the spacetime net of its counterpart. The sky of stars wrapped back around her and the capsuleer’s blue eyes scanned the surrounding area. There was no ship in sight, every one of them was holding their cloak on the gate. The only sign of their entrances was the flash of several light beams landing at the stargate beside them.

“Align here, we warp in ten,” Debes commanded.

Emilia pulled up the coordinates he sent and plugged them into her systems. One by one, like a cascading series of raindrops, the cloak of each ship dissipated. Small, light frigates quickly swung into position while the more massive cruisers slowly adjusted their course.

“Three… Two… One… Warping.”

Emilia’s warp drive kicked into action again, and the entire fleet simultaneously accelerated to faster than light speeds. The green aura of the warp tunnel danced around them, the beauty contrasting the purpose of the war machines streaking through. Then, just as quickly, the warp dropped. There was an eerie pause, nothing happened for a long moment, and then Debes began calling commands.

“Lock the structure, weapons free.”

Emilia’s eyes were drawn to a Cerberus Cruiser flying in front of her. She watched as six giant sets of heavy missile launchers steadily turned towards RIOT’s Astrahus. The dual-bodied weapon systems stopped, and then a multitude of flashes lit as seventy-two warheads consecutively darted from their bays out towards the target in quick succession. The Cerberus rocked to the side from the force of the missile’s propulsion, but the ship’s stabilizing thrusters reacted immediately, pushing the cruiser back onto course as the launchers retracted to reload.

Hundreds of warheads from several Cerbs rocketed towards the City-sized station, the light from their thrusters disappearing among the backdrop of stars. A few moments passed before a sudden flash of explosions blanketed the structure’s shield. The translucent blue sphere rippled from the impact, like a blanket of water that guarded the Citadel’s hull. Within moments, a series of flashes emanated from the Cerbs again, and Emilia’s synthesized audio played hundreds of distant subsequent explosions as they landed.

At first, there was no activity apart from the continued rain of fire onto the Astrahus’s shielding. However, after a few minutes of barrage, Emilia spotted flickers of movement around the Citadel. The field of view around her cockpit zoomed forwards as her system’s imaging lens magnified the structure. Drones? No… Fighters, she realized. Dozens of them were filtering out from the many bays along the Astrahus’s hull, like a swarm of bees emerging from their hive.

“Firblogs and Sirens inbound,” someone called over comms.

“Firblogs are first, then the Sirens,” Debes ordered.

Emilia didn’t immediately react, her eyes still fixated on the storm of small fighters rapidly approaching. She was ensnared in a sense of fearful awe as she gazed upon the seemingly endless stream of defenders pouring from the Citadel, all of them burning directly towards the heart of the fleet.

“Primary is broadcast!” Debes’s voice snapped Emilia out of her trance. I’m supposed to paint these! she suddenly realized, quickly turning to the screen depicting her overlay. Emilia began locking the nearest Firblog, her body tense as she watched the target acquisition slowly encircle the fighter. As soon as she secured a lock the pilot flipped a switch to broadcast her acquisition to the fleet. Her target painters began streaming data to the cruisers, allowing their weapons to hit their mark more effectively. Within seconds the Firblog was reduced to a flaming ball of wreckage.

Explosions began to light up all around as several fighters bit stardust. While most were distant, some were near, and Emilia flinched as a passing Siren’s engine exploded with a whine. Moments later one flew directly in front of and over her Vigil, strafing her ship with a peppering of gunfire.

Though the enemy was falling fast, there were a lot of them. It seemed the Astrahus had an endless stream of fighters to throw at the fleet, and Emilia was having trouble keeping up. As soon as she locked and painted a target, it quickly died, and she had to rush to lock more. Over the course of the first several minutes, the combat continued in this loop. Fighters threw themselves at the fleet again and again, and the attackers continuously gunned them down. At first it seemed EM was untouchable… Until the fighters changed tactics.

Abruptly, and together in unison, the fighters swarming the Cerberus-class ships changed targets. They swung around in an arc, realigning to one singular ship. A kikimora that was flying directly beside Emilia began taking direct, concentrated fire. Its pilot yelled over comms for logistical support, and the fleet Lachesis quickly directed a beam of energy in an attempt to support the destroyer’s shields, but it wasn’t enough. The shields sputtered dry, and the ship began taking hits that shredded its thick armor plating. A bay opened at the front to eject the pilot’s capsule with speed; the bail came not a moment too soon. As the pod left the hull, a barrage of gunfire penetrated and set the engine’s core alight. The reactor exploded in an intense flash that made Emilia raise her arms to shield her eyes. The destroyer listed to its left, heading towards Emilia’s Vigil, and the capsuleer scrambled to pull back on the stick and redirect her ship’s trajectory. She barely missed impact as the flaming hull blazed under her, leaving a nebula of expanding smoke that clouded her vision.

As the Vigil emerged from the black plume, Emilia’s eyes caught another casualty. One of their slashers, a light and agile quad winged frigate, had been targeted next. The pilot was doing his best to evade the gunfire with quick maneuvers, but he could only hold on for so long. Bullets ripped through the ship’s solar panel plating and detached one of the wings on its righthand side. Another pod was ejected into the void as the frigate was lit up further. Moments later, the abandoned carcass erupted in a second violent explosion that cast shadows on the ships adjacent.

“Target the templars,” Debes called calmly over the mic.

Emilia’s heart was pounding as she tapped on the overlay’s touch screen. She targeted and painted as many as she could, while the rest of the fleet did their best to hit the rapidly moving targets.

“Vigil down,” a man called over comms. Emilia’s head swung around, looking through the hull behind her to find one of the other Vigils billowing smoke as it drifted off course. It seemed the fighters had decided they were no longer going after the fleet’s heavy hitters, instead opting to dispatch the more fragile supporting vessels to limit the fleet’s effectiveness.

This is not good, she thought.

Emilia’s audio synthesizers echoed the light boom of a ship exiting warp. “Hecate on grid,” a voice spoke over comms. The Cerbs launched a volley at the tactical destroyer, trading blows with the many blasters mounted along the ship’s massive wingspan. Shields deflected incoming fire on both sides, metal bits ricocheting off of the rippling, translucent barriers, until finally the Cerbs broke through. A string of eruptions opened a breach in the Hecate’s left wing. The ship turned in an effort to align and warp out, but the abrupt change in momentum only helped to rip the fresh wound further open. The Hecate’s left wing tore away from the main body, and the exposed interior was immediately set alight by another barrage of warheads. The missiles effortlessly penetrated deep into the armorless hull, tearing the ship apart with eruptions from within. Emilia didn’t see if the capsuleer had been able to eject in time.

Beeeep
Her systems screeched.

The brunette’s head swung around to find herself red boxed by every single fighter on her overlay. “■■■■!” she cursed, immediately slamming her flight stick to the right. Gunfire rained down upon her shields, and Emilia pulled back and spun the ship into a spiraling maneuver in an attempt to dodge the assault. She was able to avoid some of the aggression, but the fighters on her tail were far too agile. They adjusted easily, concentrating their fire, and soon the capsuleer’s shields were blaring warnings of low capacity. Emilia punched a button to broadcast for repairs, calling out to the fleet’s logistics for support. However, her evasive maneuvers had taken her Vigil out of their range. Bullets punched through as the field fell and gunfire razed the side of her frigate, sending sharp thuds of impact echoing through her ship’s empty interior.

“Vigil’s going down,” she called over comms.

“Warp out,” someone replied.

Emilia tried. Her eyes locked on the first celestial she found on her overlay and punched the destination into her navigation systems. The simulation around her began to flicker in and out. “No no no!” she stammered, trying to grab the flight stick as it jumped in and out of existence. She slapped the throttle and the ship lurched forwards, inertia pulling her back as the dampeners began to fail. Her screens flashed red, declaring that her hull’s integrity had gone critical, and Emilia decided it was time to abandon ship. She slammed her hand down on the ejection button to her left and… nothing happened. She slapped it twice, thrice, and the only response was the simulation fizzling out around her.

Emilia panicked. As the virtual cockpit flicked out in piecemeal, leaving her in black nothingness, she foresaw the ball of fire that would soon engulf her. The capsuleer grew desperate. She squeezed her eyes shut and opened the mental valve that would allow the ship’s diagnostics to flood directly into her. An overwhelming tsunami of statistical data and sensor readings hit the capsuleer’s mind head on. For a moment she reeled in shocked paralysis, the mental equivalent of a plunge into freezing water, and then she screamed.

“EJECT!!”

The pilot felt a jolt, and the firehose of data was immediately cut off from her mind. The lights flicked on around her as the pod’s internal systems took over, presenting Emilia with a streaking whirlpool of stars that rapidly orbited her. Emilia’s pod was spinning like a top, its stabilizing thrusters working at maximum to counteract the angular momentum. Over the course of several long seconds, the sky began to slow. Her spin soon stopped, and Emilia’s systems picked up the fleet several kilometers away. The wreck of her Vigil was still floating beside them, its hull reduced to shredded, twisted, scrap metal.

Beeeep
Emilia didn’t even bother to waste time checking her overlay. She immediately swung the pod around towards the system’s exit gate and punched the throttle. She reached warp velocity quickly, and within the next moment the pilot was once again surrounded by the green aura of a warp tunnel. She made it to the gate safely, no enemies were on grid, and Emilia didn’t hesitate to jump out of system. The capsuleer set her destination to Pator, but it wasn’t until she was several jumps out from Clorteler that she was finally able to breathe. Emilia had somehow survived. As she flew, word came that they had successfully disabled the Astrahus’s shields and that the fleet was pulling out. Emilia breathed a sigh of relief. Her head fell back against the headrest and her eyes closed.

As the capsuleer let her autopilot guide her to the safety of Pator, an image surfaced in her mind. She was lying on a couch, exhausted after a long day of training, with her feet propped on an armrest and her right arm draped over her eyes. Her hab’s AI was reading a letter out loud in the synthesized voice of Elsebeth Rhiannon.

“Welcome to the show,” she said.

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