I didn’t have the faintest clue what I was hauling, I swear. That was part of the deal- I’d lost every Astero but my last (The lovely ship “Fool’s Errand”), I didn’t have the resources to do anything low-risk except mining, and the belts were drying up as quickly as my income, so I took a shady-ass job. I was given temporary membership to the guy’s Corp to meet certain contract terms, I wasn’t allowed to step off the ship while they loaded the cargo on… they disabled most of the sensors in my cargo hold so I couldn’t peek.
Believe me, if I coulda peeked, this woulda been over a lot quicker and easier.
The first thing I noticed was that my security beacon was acting up- I couldn’t set it to show I’m a nice, law-abiding citizen, which raised some red flags immediately. And so, a few jumps later, on my way out of High-Security space, I was flagged down for transporting illegal cargo, escorted to the nearest station, and searched. Much to my relief- and, I’ll be honest, some amount of shock- I was unceremoniously told to get on my way.
So, I continued on my way to meet the contract recipient. Narrowly avoided danger more than a few times, but finally, there I was- Nullsec, the heart of one of the great corporate alliances. I can’t say exactly who I met, or who she worked for, the bounty on my head would easily double if I did, but damn, she was pissed.
“Where are the Snakes?”, said she, chillingly nonchalantly, as she slammed my face into a table. Getting out of my ship at all was starting to seem like a bad idea just then.
Groggily, I replied, “The what…?”. I need to keep my clone bodies in better shape.
She paced away, continuing to speak, softly and calmly. “The snakes. Your cargo.”
“Lady, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I was specifically contracted to transport this ■■■■ without knowing what I was hauling. Hell, my employers disabled my internal sensors to keep me from peeking.”
“Verify that”, said my interrogator, I suppose to whoever was listening through microphones or something. She took a seat opposite me at the table, and finally told me what was going on.
“Your ‘cargo’ was a corpse, but not just any corpse. A high-ranking non-Capsuleer Serpentis executive died of a degenerative neurological condition recently. Your employers were a small, tight-knit espionage group, who inserted themselves into the staff at multiple Serpentis facilities in a certain system, where our degrading executive was waiting out his last days in some illusion of luxury. When he passed, they stole the corpse, loaded up on neural boosters, tucked tail and ran.”
“The boosters were just for kicks. Their real target was the old man’s implant set: specially-modified Serpentis augments designed to slow his mental decline. They’re unnamed, so I call them Snakes. Thing is, for a long time they worked. Now, my people and I have some very powerful backers intrigued by the Snakes’ methods… if you catch my drift, they have some interest in curing conditions like those.”
“Except the implants aren’t on the corpse. All we have is the load of Boosters in his stomach… and you.”
It suddenly became clear to me that I was in deeply, deeply over my head.
So, there I was, at a table with one of the more dangerous women in New Eden. She wasn’t showing anger on her face, but I was still getting the impression of her seething below the surface. Nullers… psychopaths, the lot of ‘em.
“I’m gonna ask you this once, flyboy:”- cliche, yes, but her actual words- “Where are the Snakes?”
The spark of inspiration that struck me in that moment was nothing short of ecstatic, and whether I was right or wrong about what happened, it was my only chance.
“The ■■■■■■■ search officer.”
I was overplaying my reaction a bit, but this moment needed to sell, and it worked. The raise of her eyebrow signalled me to continue.
“Something was up with my Security beacon- I couldn’t set it below yellow. I was in high-sec, got flagged for search, I was sure I would get screwed for hauling… whatever I was even hauling. But no, they let me out with no further trouble.”
“So, the security officers stole the Snakes?” She wasn’t smiling, not exactly. There was still no warmth, no true emotion, in her face. She pulled out a palm-sized holo-reader and slid it to me across the desk. “Give that a read.”
It was a transcript, of two people taking. The transcription was pretty literal, so it was clear that one of the two was intoxicated, slurring words all over. The other was… pressing for information? My suspicions about the Snakes were confirmed. I slid the reader back. “I was double-crossed.”
“You were duped, from the very start, but so were your bosses. The two people conversing are a certain Gallente Security officer, with bigger ambitions than motivations, and an associate of your employer, who has his own motivation- namely, intoxication.”
“The drunk idiot, I suspect, was on the team that ■■■■■■ with your ship. I don’t have the necessary records yet, but I think we can confirm that the security officer was involved in the search of your ship. A certain officer had been deployed, you see, in the same system as your employer and his espionage group, to sabotage a drug plant in the system, where they happened to be cooking up Neural Boosters on the side. See where I’m going with this?”
I most certainly did. “The officer must’ve realized who the drunken idiot was, gotten to him, found out about their plan and decided to ‘help out’, and had his friend set me up so he could retrieve your Snake implants. I got paid to get played.”
“Don’t be so sure, flyboy. Job isn’t done yet.”
A raise of my eyebrow signalled her to continue. This was probably about to get interesting.
She punched something in on the holo-reader and passed it back. “We’re pretty certain our security officer is planning to fence the Snakes to our backers, just as we were, at the same location as us. That means we know where he’s going, but we can’t predict his route. Except…”
On the screen was a star map, showing a long route from the system where I was searched to a system in CONCORD-controlled space. Except there was another, shorter route, much shorter, that took a detour to a system that wasn’t on the map.
“We have word that there’s a temporary highway that’ll get him there a hell of a lot faster than normal space. We’ll try to blockade other routes, but I believe this is the one he’ll take. Now, you fly an Astero pretty well… how much do you know about wormholes, flyboy?”
I grinned. Now we were talking, and I had ideas.
“Depends on what you can set up for me… have you got a surgical bay, a Chem lab, and some ships you can deploy easily?”
This security officer had just gotten himself into some deep, deep ■■■■.
I’m not used to sitting still in Wormholes, more of an explorer than a camper, but there’s a first time for everything, and the bait was set. If there’s one thing this bastard didn’t know, it was how to operate in a Wormhole.
“I see him. He’s in a Probe… haha, very funny." The Nuller pilots on comms, scrapped together to help execute this daring robbery, thought they were funny. They were not. "I mean the ship class, idiot. Oh, hey, he’s taking the bait.”
The Nullers were all set up, not all in-System but all outside of Directional Scanning distance, and I was there to co-ordinate. I waited a few seconds as he looted the wreck and corpse we’d prepared. The corpse was the Serpentis executive’s, altered surgically to look like mine, floating in the wreck of an Astero, filled with all the neural boosters I’d unknowingly been carrying.
It wasn’t my wreck, but it looked to be. It looked like I’d gotten myself shot while flying away from my failed delivery, and the Security Officer, “ambitious” as he was, had decloaked to loot it. Just his luck that he could get the Boosters back, right?
“Warp in… now.” Hook.
And that’s when a Higgs-Anchored battleship flew through the wormhole, collapsing the thing as it went, and an Interdictor warped in from out-of-range to bubble us. I decloaked, dropped drones, and the carnage began. Carnage enough, hopefully, to inspire the security officer to implement the next step of the plan.
Things were over quickly enough. The ‘dictor put a web on the dinky little Minmatar frigate, and my drones cleaned up what the battleship couldn’t. Then came the moment I was waiting for… a transmission from the security officer.
“Hold fire.” I opened the channel to the frigate.
“You’re after the damn implants, aren’t ya? Well, back off or I’ll- I’ll shoot the damn things into space! I’m standing right by the ammo loader and I’ll do it, I swear, if you don’t back the ■■■■ off!”
“Oh, I’m sure you would… except you won’t.”
“And why’s that, ya littul bitsch?”
There it was- the slur I’d been waiting for. On the other side of the transmission, I was grinning. Sinker.
“How were those boosters? Bet you popped one or two when things got serious just now, hoped they’d give you an edge, but they were… altered.”
He tried to respond, but I don’t think he could. Whether they were already taking effect or he was fast on the uptake, I couldn’t know, but he was definitely catching on.
“See, the people who were buying those implants… they know quite a bit about neurological degeneration. Enough to induce neurological failure… pretty easily?”
Yeah, he was feeling it. I could already hear him slotting them in.
“Thanks for playing, bud… but you lost this round.”
With a Blap of the battleship’s blasters, there went his ship, and since we were surrounded by an interdiction sphere, my drones took care of the pod, quickly and easily. I slipped in to finish the job- silently, because I’d disconnected comms from my Nuller allies. That should’ve raised some red flags, but it was already too late.
There they were, in his corpse. Just as planned, he plugged the Snakes in on the spot, hoping they could save him from whatever was in his Boosters. Nothing was in them, of course, except a simple neuro-suppressant. He was being paralyzed, not having his brain rotted, but that just goes to show… some people will believe any lie, take any risk, to maintain their comfort.
When I cloaked up, I think they all knew it was coming, but they weren’t prepared to deal with me. They dropped bubble after bubble, but the joke was on them: the “Fool’s Errand”, lovely gal she is, was capacitor-stable in cloak. I could sit and wait as long as I liked, burning out of range on low-power thrusters, before warping away.
They would leave eventually, pissed-off enough to put a bounty in the millions on me, and I would sell the implants for… less than the price the buyers had negotiated, probably, but still a markup on my original contract.
That could wait, though. For the time being, I just turned the internal lights out, lay down for a little nap, and set my thrusters to carry me out into the endless deep.