(C3) J164104 I - Moon 1
There is a quiet so absolute it drives humans to madness after only a few minutes. A suspension of all exterior sounds so profound that you become aware of hair growing, the flexion of muscles, and the touch of fabric to skin. One’s own heart becomes the loudest sound imaginable.
Amir Khema had been suspended in quiescent observation for greater than seventeen hours.
His capsule’s support systems kept him hydrated and nourished, and carried away his waste. He floated weightless within the matrix of bio-gel that filled his command pod, his ship’s sensory and control feeds wired directly into his brain. Amir’s attention was presently focused through the ship’s sensors on the surrounding space.
Only a special low-power cloak and the charged-particle nebulae in which he floated obscured the SEV Myrkur from immediate detection. The ship was proverbially ‘dead in the water’; the corridors and crew berths empty. Complement for a ship of this size would be between ten and forty souls, but Amir was alone. Every non-essential subsystem in the expeditionary frigate had been temporarily disabled. Only his capsule, the cloak, and the passive external sensors have been kept online and running - sustained by purpose-built charged cells which were constantly recharged by solar membranes and passive collectors.
Powering down his ship probably wasn’t required for this observation detail, but he felt it prudent. He had volunteered to be here, and was determined to return with something of value, to offer some measure of repayment to the woman who had saved his life, restored him, and given him a sense of purpose. Amir was devout in his belief that the Servant Sisters served God, and that they served Amarr best when left free to investigate the mysteries of the cosmos. Such were the wonders they had revealed to him.
So he waited in silent, monastic devotion, watching as a swarm of Infestor Alvi and Strain Renders set to work reanimating a Scorpion class battleship.
When he focused his mind, the corporeal trappings of a cybernetically-enhanced meat suit and the silent and steady thrum of ship systems would tumble away. Pure sensor data would flow into him, and for a time it would feel as though he were a naked babe floating in a sea of stars, or an angelic being drawing light into itself. He didn’t allow such reveries here. He preferred to remain deeply and painfully cognizant of his mortality and of his coursing blood. He was floating in a graveyard.
The pale nimbus of the A-type star cast a dappled shadow on every visible surface. On the wrecks of ships. On the massive, turning blocks of planetary detritus. A geometric parquet of shadows served as the only witness to thousands of the dead, frozen and floating in the murk. The victims of too many capsuleer ambitions, and of curiosity.
The rogue drones pulsed as one for a moment - like water around a stone dropped in a pond - as the Scorpion shuddered once and went dark. Then they descended once again upon the drifting hulk to resume their busy work. One drone pulled away from the group and drifted toward the nebula and Amir. His eyes tracked it patiently, but with interest. He had long prepared himself for the possibility that God might call him to his kingdom, and he did not fear death; only failing to serve Sister Kaitra.
The drone paused several times and altered course ever-so-slightly on its passage to the nebula, avoiding drive core wreckage, blasted armor plates, and shattered escape pods. As Amir watched it approach his eyes tracked past the drone and he spotted something he had overlooked in his determined reconnaissance of the drones. Five faint horizontal emanations of light, stacked upon each other, glowed with a faint blue light in a chasm opened when the star had ejected the majority of its corona into the planet with the force of God’s wrath.
The drone appeared to have found what it was looking for in the exposed hold of a transport vessel less than six kilometers from Amir’s position. The drone attached itself to an intact power generation matrix, which it severed cleanly and delicately with lasers and grasping pincers before returning to the swarm.
Amir hardly noticed.
His eyes had locked on a structure which, after countless years in space, was showing some signs of age. A tall, curving, slender pillar of an alien composition suspended above what was still an active magma flow in the heart of the shattered planet. A Sleeper thermoelectric converter.
“Heavens be thanked,” he mouthed reverently. This was a gift worthy of his lady!
With a thought he reactivated just the mechanical thrusters. Reserve tanks of pressurized gasses fed servo-controlled nozzles placed strategically around the hull. These released small blasts of atmosphere, turning the vessel.
He would pilot visually through the debris field, as he suspected firing up his engines and engaging active sensors and navigation would alert the drones. He would have to move slowly, carefully, as the nearly one and a-half million kilogram ship’s mass generated its own micro-gravity and he might have inadvertently drawn wreckage towards him. His cloak would deactivate if he drew too close to any collidable object.
It was delicate work, but he inched the Myrkur across the divide to the shadow of a colossus of stone forty kilometers from the Sleeper structure.
Once obscured from the swarm’s line of sight he began slowly powering up the other systems until he was able to release three camera drones. These raced towards the pylon with haggard anticipation, finding an eroded segment of hull which revealed a docking port. Amir felt himself drawn along with the cameras, perceiving through their lenses.
He came eye-to-eye with a corpse.
The corpse blinked.
An Apollo Tyrannos stood in the exposed docking port of the Converter, its black eyes regarding the camera drones with alien disinterest. A second figure, apparently female, stooped to collect the frozen corpse of a Jovian male who, standing, must have been at least seven feet tall. The Apollo raised a small, oblique hand weapon and efficiently executed his camera drones.
Amir’s heart leapt into a pace which was restrained only by the biofilament lacing which infused his engineered muscles. It was perhaps the only reason his heart had not exploded in his chest.
Amir slammed himself into the ship’s command functions with such force that his hands and feet involuntarily struck the inside of his mercifully padded capsule. Every system came online at once, at the speed of thought, and he threw the engines to maximum.
“■■■■ ■■■■ ■■■■ ■■■■!”
The Prospect lurched across the intervening space between the tumbling hulk of what had once been a mountain range and the cleft which held the thermal converter. Amir knew without looking that the Scorpion battleship had also come alive, and that the swarm were now turning their attentions in his direction.
He dropped his cloak, turned his only offensive weapon on the vulnerable Drifters, and fired. His neutron blaster belched antimatter rounds into the drone docking port of the structure and he watched as the opening in the structure caved inward under the onslaught. This shifted the pylon out of its ancient moorings and revealed a growth of brilliant orange-red crystal growing from stanchions beneath the structure.
Amir locked his other turret, a specialized mining laser designed for harvesting Mercoxit, on the crystal and turned to flee. A bright ray cut into the base of the crystal at the same time a tractor beam latched onto its heft. He desperately hoped the cycle would complete and he would leave with something for his lady as he turned the bow of his frigate towards open space and the coordinates of his wormhole exit.
The black bulk of three sleepless watchmen and a Drifter battleship emerged from the chasm behind him and his flight became a desperate cat-and-mouse chase through the debris. Bright green energy lanced through the wreck of a Gila only meters to his starboard as he dodged and weaved, waiting for his mining laser to secure a sample.
A moment later the drones descended on the Drifter vessel and Sleeper drones. Space exploded in a chaotic proliferation of light and destruction. Amir’s mining cycle ended just as a flight of drones trimmed away from the tumult and veered towards him.
The sleepless watchmen were torn asunder in Amir’s aft sensors, the rogue drones chewing into them like ants into cheese. He watched with horror as the Drifter vessel began carving a swath through the sentient machines, determined to get to Amir.
“Amarr preserve me!,” he shouted into his pod goo as he flipped-on his ship’s recorders and engaged his microwarpdrive. The Myrkur rabbited forward, zigzagging to avoid arcs of murderous green light.
The Drifter vessel began to close the gap on the Prospect as it neared the edge of the debris field.
Amir recited every prayer ever learned as a child. He beseeched his dead mother. He begged his ancestry for his grandfather’s reflexes, a combat pilot, just once. He pictured his lady in his mind and wondered if he’d see her in heaven.
Space folded before the Myrkur, directly between Amir and escape. Three vessels hove into view from the bright distortion, tripartite hulls trailing a visceral heat and a great red eye at the heart of each ship.
Amir felt his blood run cold and his heart lurch.
The Drifter lock on his ship vanished, and he immediately cloaked. He disengaged his MWD and selected the warp coordinates with a whispered, “Sacred blood.”
It was the single foulest and holy thing he could think to say.
J-CIJV VII - Moon 14 - Sisters of EVE Bureau
Vove Apyson stood silhouetted against the window, the amber light of the red giant casting a warm glow over the burnished deck plating. He watched with trepidation as the CONCORD diplomatic shuttle entered the docking ring and passed entry credentials for verification.
“Permit them to dock, and escort the pilot directly to my quarters. Any guests will wait in the hangar under guard. Make them comfortable, and be polite.”
The page nodded and took a datapad from Apyson, ducking his head and leaving the room.
Vove watched the comings and goings from the station a moment longer.
A knock at the antechamber door, a side door reserved for unobtrusive departures, caught his attention.
Vove was well-built, broad shouldered, and good looking. He had a clean-kept, wholesome look about him and his sable hair had a way of looking styled fresh from sleep. It was not an uncommon occurrence for him to find the researchers, crew, and visitors - of both genders - casting him admiring glances. The woman who entered the room put him to shame.
Kaitra Etalaid was a rare beauty, taller than he, slender, with white-gold hair and narrow shoulders. Her attire was all business, a trader’s outfit in gold, black, and green with only a small silver pin to mark her membership in the SOE hierarchy. Her eyes met his with a look which belied her seeming ease.
“Amir is… well?”
Vove grimaced and gave a curt nod, “Straight to business.”
“It’s important business,” she agreed, adding, “but it’s good to see you, too.”
“He is unharmed. A little shaken.”
Vove tapped an icon rotating above his desk and the holographic display rendered a three dimensional damage assessment of the SEV Myrkur. Its cloak was functional, but its microwarpdrive had been burned out, its shield emitters would need to be replaced, and the starboard ore containers were reduced to slag. Large sections of the ship showed weapon scoring from conventional weapons. It would take a month to repair the vessel.
“Was the mission a success?” Kaitra inquired quietly.
He looked her over from head to toe, assessing her posture, her bearing, and her facial expression. Old familiarity showed him how she curled her fingers at the hem of her sleeves, the slight irritation of her right thumb which presented as a tremor when she was thinking hard about something. Her shoulders were set in that way he’d seen before, which said she would not be moved.
Vove reached out and spun the diagram of the Myrkur, enlarging it and exploding the view of the remaining ore hold containers. He tapped the container and its contents split out as a separate inventory.
A single block of red-orange crystal, about the size of a block of compressed spodumain, spun languidly in view.
He watched her eyes widen with intense curiosity and calculated how long it would take her to–
“Is that?” She said, leaning forward so her palms pressed on the table.
There was a moment of silence as he watched her scrutinize the projection, then the energy readouts and the superficial analyses carried out by the observing engineer.
“We’re calling it Isogen-10. It’s stable, but I suspect highly reactive, and it’s giving off gravimetric distortions such as we’ve never seen. It doesn’t respond to conventional attempts to work with it, nanites barely scratch it, and lasers just amplify the gravitational effects.”
Kaitra straightens, raises one hand absently to the thick plait of hair trailing over her left shoulder, and turns to look at him. Her eyes returned to their previous professional distance.
“How did he come by it?”
“I think it’s best he tell you. I’ll show you to him.”
They walked in quiet companionship for a while, through the corridors and bulkheads of the station. It took several minutes before they reached the first lift, then several more to reach the quarters where Amir Khema was resting.
Apyson slowed outside the door and turned to place a hand gently on her elbow, to stall her. The look in her eyes at the gesture was not kind.
Before she could speak he said, “I don’t know what your hold is on this man, but I believe he loves you.”
She took a stilling breath before reaching for the door controls.
“They all do.”
As the door hissed open, the man laying on the bed opened his eyes. He had been asleep, and his face had a harried, frantic set which relaxed as soon as his eyes fell on Etalaid. He sat up slowly, as if with great effort, and leaned forward to hold his hands up plaintively before him.
Kaitra’s entire demeanor softened and she glided forward to him, a gentle smile on her lips. She walked forward until she stood before him, and took his face cupped in her palms. She took a moment to rub the edge of her thumbs over his closed eyes, and watch as his tension seemed to melt at her succor. He placed his hands over hers and sobbed quietly into her palms.
“Amir, you are too good a man for me to ask so much of you.”
As though reciting a prayer, he spoke, “All I do is for you and the glory of Holy Amarr.”
She kissed his forehead gently, and brushed her fingers through the hair at his temples, as though soothing a child.
“You have done a great service for both the Empress and I, and you will be rewarded.”
“My reward is my faith, and your contentment” he intoned.
“I am content. Sit up and tell me your story.”
Vove watched the whole exchange with a faint sense of dread and interested horror. It was like watching a documentary holoreel on the post-hunt rituals of the Thukker Tribe, he found it abhorrent but could not look away.
Etalaid smiled at Amir and pulled a chair forward so that she could sit opposite him, their knees touching. He seemed to draw strength from this and placed his fingertips gently upon her knees.
Amir began to describe the events of the last twenty four hours. His dutiful recording of the rogue drone activity, their apparent method for selecting and reanimating capsuleer and navy vessels, and their ability to identify useful salvage. All these he described in exacting detail. She listened with a mother’s patience and nodded gently to his report.
Then he shared his report of the sleeper structure, of the Drifters and their Jovian bounty. His bearing became increasingly emotive as he tried to express the chaos of his narrow escape, and of the interlopers whose appearance enabled his escape.
“Amir,” she took his hands in hers, “you have done well, Child of Amarr. You were right to come here and to call for me. I am very pleased by your service, but I fear for your heart.”
She smiled gently and placed a hand on his chest, which he closed his hands over. Her smile was encouraging.
“How long has it been since you last synchronized and had a long and true rest?”
Amir responded thoughtfully, “About thirty-six hours, I think.”
She smiled, nodding, and ran her left hand gently over the side of Amir’s face. He closed his eyes reverently and she turned to look at Apyson.
“Do you have his logs and recordings?”
Vove crossed his arms and nodded. She looked at the display on the wall behind him. 00:46:38.
Kaitra put her blaster under Amir’s chin and triggered it.
Erindur VII - Moon 2 - Sisters of EVE Academy
Amir Khema awoke in the fluid chamber of a medical cloning facility. His eyes felt raw and the dim lights in the room burned like tiny suns for a few moments. As the newness of his senses faded and he gained his bearings, he triggered the release sequence which would drain, wash, and dry his new body before depositing him upright onto a dressing platform.
Standing before him was a tall, beautiful woman with a plait of white-gold hair. She smiled at his awakening.
“Welcome home, Amir. Did you enjoy the conference in Bhizheba?”
He nodded once.
“Good. I am content.”
Kaitra Etalaid stepped forward and offered him a linen shirt, still smiling.
“I have a mission for you, if you’re up for it.”