This is intended as a follow on to my entry last year entitled “Biomass” it is not essential, but if you would like the full story I have linked the original Here
Rick twisted the thumb drive between his fingers and gazed through the window that allowed a panoramic view of life outside the Keepstar he had come to call home for the last few hours.
His body ached after his ordeal and the handful of pills he had swiped from the infirmary before fleeing the abandoned station were beginning to wear off. A medic had given him a once over upon his arrival to the Citadel and rubber-stamped his file all clear, but the meds they had provided for the pain were little more than over the counter crap. The battered Capsuleer winced as he leaned forward, retrieving the half drained can of Quafe that left ring marks on the otherwise flawless redwood coffee table.
New life burst from his chest as the icy cold liquid trickled down his throat, releasing its payload of sugar into his bloodstream a few moments later. It felt good to be looking at civilised space again. At least it was as civilised as Black Rise could be. The whole region was as a hub for the war that raged between the Caldari and Gallente in the region, and that alone would have been reason enough to avoid it but there were greater dangers to the unwary. These perils took the form of small gangs of roaming pirates that wandered the space lanes and faction warfare objectives hunting for someone to murder. The corporations that lived in the system made up for their occasional lack of skill with sheer bloody-mindedness.
Even now he could pick out the imposing form of a Thanatos carrier undocking from the Citadel, the colossal ship completely dwarfed by the mind-bending megastructure of the Keepstar. It came to a full stop a few hundred meters from the docking bay and sat idle, the hypnotic sequence of its navigation lights blinking like a deep-sea predator trying to entice its prey.
The Capsuleer stifled a yawn, his stinging eyes wandering drunkenly over to the bed which looked altogether far too tempting. He sighed longingly but knew he would have time to sleep soon enough; the man who had pulled him from the outpost had assured Rick that he would be along shortly to speak with him about what had gone on within the confines of that terrible station.
A stiletto interceptor had arrived at station now and was paying an interest in the lumbering carrier. The smaller ship was barely visible to Rick’s eye at this range of course, but the colour and arrangement of the angry flames generated by the overworked MWD were a dead giveaway. The Thanatos pilot, obviously gagging for a fight dropped his station tether and deployed drones, his fighters sailing clear of the ample hangar bay doors before settling into the holding pattern.
“Well that was a mistake,” he said, knowing that it was only a matter of time until the trap was sprung. He hoped that the carrier pilot had something else in mind to fight with. He was going to need it.
“What was a mistake?” a voice asked from behind him. He turned to see two very young looking Capsuleers, not that years mattered a whole lot to the ageless. One face he knew as his rescuer, a rakish but handsome man by the name of Dance who stepped forward and shook him by the hand.
“You are looking much better than you did when I hauled you out of my cargo hold, and it has been barely a few hours!” the Tengu pilot said while maintaining the handshake for an uncomfortably long time. Rick collapsed his fingers and began to slide his hand free. Dance did not seem to notice.
“It is amazing what a little warmth, food and rest will do for you,” Rick replied, subtly trying to wipe his hand on a tunic borrowed from the wardrobe in his cabin. It was green and looked quite expensive. He found it shocking to see how much the prices of simple things like clothing and accessories had skyrocketed in recent times. Rick was sure he’d heard a story in a bar about a simple monocle that almost ruined an entire company.
Outside the window, a second interceptor had shown up. Together the pair looked like a couple of glow flies buzzing around the shimmering green hull of the carrier. Dance’s companion seemed to spot the gathering just as Rick turned to look.
“Oh, carrier baiting. Shame I am still waiting on my new ship or I might be tempted to go and join the fray.” She said with a soft voice that was clearly a stranger to the cigarette that smouldered between her fingers. Something clicked in the back of Rick’s mind.
“You flew the Proteus?” he asked, remembering the scene as the majestic vessel was taken apart by Drifters, holding them off while the rest of the wing fled the ruins. There was a terrible sinking feeling that set in when you knew your number was well and truly up. Of course, actual death never came to a Capsuleer in their pod, but the experience was never a pleasant one and each brush with the reaper grew increasingly expensive with time. He stepped forward and extended a hand to the woman.
“I owe you and your crew a great debt,” he said as she accepted the handshake, brilliant grey eyes framed by flame red hair met his gaze. “I am sorry for your ship.”
The woman smiled.
“I’ll send you the bill,” she replied with a toothy grin normally the hallmark of creatures approaching unsuspecting surfers at speed. “You can call me Cyra. My number two here says you have something I need to see.”
An Amarrian Prophecy battlecruiser had now shown up on grid outside the station and was very slowly burning towards the carrier, flanked by his own flight of drones. He was no match for the carrier but of course, the pilot had no intention of making this a fair fight. Five points of burning exhaust that showed the locations of the light drones streaked towards the carrier. Thin blades of light seared across the void before slamming into one of the lead fighters from the flight of smaller drones.
It was barely enough damage to break the shields of the fighter, but the battlecruiser pilot had little chance of destroying his target. His plans were so much simpler and somewhat elegant.
The fighters, reacting to standing orders to engage aggressors spun and bore down on the automated Hornets, the first of which exploded with an insignificant pop at the first volley of the wing. A mere insect brushed aside by a swarm of ferocious predators.
Without his ship HUD or a nearby terminal Rick could not monitor the local comms channel but still, he could envision the little number in the top corner suddenly jump from a dozen Capsuleers to close to a hundred. The eerie beams that denoted warp scramblers and webs surrounded the carrier like limpets as the first few ships of the Prophecy’s fleet landed on grid with flashes of light and burning tails like a meteor shower.
“Are you still with us, Rick?” Dance asked, giving the Capsuleer a concerned look when he turned from the window.
“Yes, of course. Sorry,” he replied groggily. He hated feeling this tired, it made it near impossible to focus. “I am just curious to see how this plays out.”
Cyra smiled and looked at him with an almost pitying expression. As the station defenses began searching the battlefield for viable criminal targets the smaller interceptors fled the docking area, their nimble frames blinking out of sight leaving only a streak of white light leading the system’s solitary star. They were no longer needed as larger ships with logistics support landed on the grid and applied tackle to the lumbering capital ship.
“This will end the way it always does with those guys,” she began before cutting herself short and turning her back on the glass. “You know what? You will see soon enough. What is on the stick?” She added, apparently just noticing the cool metal slug twisting between his fingers.
Rick opened his mouth to reply just as the carrier returned tackle onto what appeared to be the most expensive ship in the enemy fleet, a blood-splattered Bhaalgorn. He tilted his head with interest moments before the entire exterior of the Citadel and the quarters became bathed in a burning white light. Outside, a fresh anomaly had opened just in front of the carrier’s bow. Ripples emanated from the cynosural field, warping the fabric of space around it, the effect made all the more intense as smaller disturbances punctured the aether around it, like a handful of pebbles thrown at a still, moonlit lake.
“■■■■!” he growled, turning from the windows and trying his hardest to blink away the glowing reddish echo of the cyno that now burned behind his eyelids.
“You get so used to seeing them through drone cameras, you forget that looking at one with your own eyes is like staring at a star, right?” Cyra said with remarkably little empathy in her words. She stared at the ball of energy, with seemingly little regard for pain or what damage it might be doing to her clone. Dance had turned his back on the beacon and lent against the window, less than an inch of armoured glass standing between him and the icy grip of the nether.
Rick dropped to his knees, covering his eyes before scrabbling to the glass and leaning against it with his legs stretched out before him. The effort agitated his throat and he burst into fits of coughing which in turn wracked his bruised rib and plunged him into fits of pain.
"You know we can fix all that," Dance said, after a few seconds just as the injured pilot regained control of his breathing. "We have no problem fixing you up with a pod, from there just give that friendly terminate command and… pop. New clone!”
Rick looked up at him. Bathed in the artificial glow he looked like an angel sent to end his suffering, but it was not a route he was willing to take.
“No, thank you.” He replied carefully to avoid another coughing fit. “I have been through more clones that I can remember, but after what I went through in this particular one I feel a sense of loyalty. I am sure it will die eventually, but it won’t be at my own hands.”
It was a strange sensation. Ever since he had been given the gift of immortality his clone bodies had a literal ISK value to him, and even that was a relatively low price. He had killed clones because his jump clone bay was overpopulated, he had killed them because he was drunk of an evening and felt like a roam into nullsec in a throwaway frigate and he had killed clones to instantly travel back to home base to attend corporate gatherings.
He tried not to think of the copies of his own DNA he had burned for no good reason. It shouldn’t bother him, he had been trained to not let it bother him and yet it did. He decided to read up on infomorph psychology the next chance he got to find out if this was a documented problem, or if he was just losing his mind. If he was, would a clone even help him?
“What’s on the stick?” Cyra repeated. She had pulled her eyes from the firefight beyond the Reinforced glass and was now staring intently at Rick.
The battered Capsuleer looked at the small data stick for a moment before offering it to Cyra between two shaking fingers. She took it and eyed it suspiciously.
“You never said what it is.”
“It’s a list,” Rick replied, eyes wandering over to the bed once again. “Co-ordinates and bookmarks, dozens of them.”
“Co-ordinates for what?” Dance asked as he peeled himself from the wall, suddenly interested.
Rick closed his eyes. He could still see all of it. The rows upon rows of naked, lifeless biomass. The fine layer of moisture that covered the female clone he had woken up beside. The dark, haunting corridors that could have easily become his grave and the image of the soulless lancer as it tore through the station’s hull and began gathering the dead like an insect gathering food for its young.
“There’s really only one way to find out,” Rick added finally as he pulled himself to his feet with a host of protesting muscles and began shuffling towards the bed. “Let me know what you find, won’t you? You can see yourselves out.”
The warm embrace of sleep crept over him the moment he hit the soft duvet, the quarters and voices around him fading into nothingness as darkness rushed to meet him.
18 hours later.
Cyra checked her overview one more time. The abandoned site they had found was beautiful to look at, a veritable lake of shimmering metallic asteroids formed a flat plain leading away from the derelict Gallente research outpost.
The information on the slug Rick had retrieved from the site he had escaped from had been spotty at best but they had gleaned from it the coordinates of the outpost she was currently orbiting while her skin crawled. The other site had been given a defence fleet and been torn open by Lancers with a drifter escort. The latter part she could attest to because she distinctly remembered them tearing her last ship, the Sic Semper Tyrannis into tiny bite-sized pieces.
But this site was a ghost town. A relic, in fact, no one on her crew had seen a station like this in years but here it stood – its green domes shining in the brilliant light of the nearby star. Apart from its location she knew few details about what they were expected to find within the faded and pitted tritanium walls of the structure.
She was flanked by Sal and Bask in their twin Legions, pulse lasers primed and ready for an enemy who never showed up. Dale and Rusty were a few kilometres to the rear of the station nice and far from harm’s way presuming any attacks would come from the front which was a decent bet since it was this side that faced into the solar system and there were no celestials beyond that.
Cyra had decided to spend a little cash and hire a team of mercs to enter the structure for the search. They were already sweeping the interior with Dance hanging around outside in an unfamiliar ship and an uncharacteristically bad mood.
“How’s it going, Dance?” she asked, poking the bear a little. “Does it handle worse than your Tengu?”
“It’s a Luxury Yacht, boss” came the disgruntled reply. “So yeah, it kinda does.”
She wasn’t entirely sure what the logistics would be as far as retrofitting a Tengu to carry passengers, but they did not have the time and the Victorieux had been just sat there a few jumps away on a contract. Unfortunately for Dance, he was the only member of Cyra’s crew that was qualified to operate a covert ops cloak.
She was about to reply when another voice broke over the line, a direct connection to the mercenary commander on the ground.
“Overwatch One this is Tunnel Rat one, do you copy?”
Cyra took a pause before answering. She was used to running fairly informal comms amongst her fleet but the mercs were a different story. They were all business all the time when they were in the field and she could barely blame them. Soldiers did not have inches of plate armour to protect them. They also did not benefit from a capsule that granted them immortality.
“Go ahead, Captain.” She replied via her neural receptors, the Jovian tech adding the correct tone and inflection precisely.
“It is like you said, Ma’am. Hundreds of Eg- I mean Capsuleer clone bodies down here.”
“Searching continues, but nothing but biomass so far Ma’am.”
Cyra ground her teeth. She hated Ma’am, it made her feel like some kind of matron but it seemed to be the way Merchant, the mercenary commander liked to operate. Normally he would address her by military rank but the only one she possessed originated in the militia and she preferred not to think about that aspect of her life.
“Copy that. Keep searching, but don’t forget your primary purpose for being there. We need more intel, strip all the data you can from the data banks, camera footage – anything and everything you can find, bring it back out for us.”
“You got it, Ma’am, you’re paying the bill.”
The line went dead and Cyra turned her attention back to the field she was accustomed to.
“Wing, report in.”
“Bask here, ready and waiting, no heat damage.”
“Sal standing by.”
“Rusty here, me and Dale are in position. Cap chain in place.”
“Dance here boss,” her number two chimed in lastly, the misery in his synthetic voice clear as day. “Standing by to extract our boys in boots any time. Remind me to add taxi driving to my resume.”
Cyra felt her lips curl. “You planning on leaving me, number two?” she asked, mostly to break the monotony more than anything else.
“Not sure where else I would go that gives me this level of job satisfaction, Ma’am. ”
“I don’t know, Rick seems to have taken a shining to you. Doesn’t he run a corporation? I hear nullsec entities are always looking for a few good men.”
“Maybe,” he replied with no thinking time whatsoever. “But I have done my time out in null, it just doesn’t appeal to me anymore. Besides I am not sure when he’s ever going to undock again, he seems very attached to his current body, broken as it is.”
“True, though I am sure he will snap out of it with time.”
Cyra was lying. She had never known a Capsuleer to become as attached as Rick was to his clone. It was as unnatural as it was unnerving to a person who treated their DNA as a template for a printing press. Bodies were just that, vessels to contain the consciousness. It was little wonder some clever soul in a laboratory somewhere – or more realistically Jove – hadn’t found a way to transfer consciousness directly into the ship itself and cut out the fleshy part altogether.
The singularity was nothing new to hypothesise of course but deep down Cyra knew she would miss having a flesh and bone body to call home, even only temporarily. There were things starships just couldn’t do like eat, drink and smoke to name only a few.
“Contact, Commander!” It was Dance’s voice, laced with panic and she had to empathise. A Yacht was fast and hard to catch but none of those mattered when you were attached to a station via an airlock waiting to pick up a detachment of mercenaries.
Her mind flitted to her overview and the sight caused her heart to pound in her chest. Ten drifter battleships had exited warp just above the shimmering lake of asteroids and were already turning to face the station and Cyra’s fleet.
“Captain!” she cried, hailing the command of the mercenaries. “We need to be gone, right now!”
“Copy that Overwatch! Intel has been collected and we even found a body with a pulse! We are on the way to you right now.”
Cyra gunned her engines and burned towards the approaching Drifters. She and her fleet stood no chance but she couldn’t let the powerful but soulless vessels reach the station, she had no idea what their intentions were but they were legendarily destructive and merciless.
“Fleet, this is Cyra. It is going to be one hell of a brawl, but we have to hold these things back just as long as we can. There is a squad of soldiers on that rig that we brought here who don’t get a second chance and a Capsuleer like Rick who was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Today we earn our pay.”
It felt like she was listening to someone else saying the words, but as she powered on her armour hardeners and hit overheat on her blasters she felt alive. She owed these fuckers a debt and this time she wasn’t going to be sucker punched like she was last time as her support fleet left the field. She locked the closest target and broadcast it to her Legion pilots.
“Target broadcast! Let’s send them back to whatever hole they crawled out from, boys!”
She was almost at engagement range when the Drifter ships locked and fired as one. There was a muffled cry as Dale’s Guardian disintegrated around her, Cyra turned to look just as the warp core detonated and threw shattered pieces of golden armour throughout the pocket. Her pilot hung a few kilometres away in a blackened but otherwise undamaged hydrostatic capsule.
“Dale, get out!” Cyra commanded as she unleashed her opening salvo at their first target, the combined power of the three strategic cruisers bore down on the sleek but deadly hull of the Drifter but only managed to drop it into low shields.
“Keep firing! Adjust course to match transversals. We have to get better hits on these things!”
Bask and Sal gave one-word acknowledgements and their second volley took a chunk out of the alien vessel’s armour. The roar of Cyra’s blasters dropped it down to 74%. It was beginning to look hopeless, though there was never a huge chance that they would be able to face down 10 drifters and win the day it was beginning to look like none of her fleet would make it out alive.
As if to emphasise the point the Drifters focussed their fire once again, this time pouring their destructive force into Rusty’s Guardian which broke instantly. Cracks of light formed all across the hull and grew in intensity until the entire ship burned bright enough to rival the star. Finally, the superstructure gave out and the ship exploded, adding the shining golden debris left by Dale only moments earlier.
“Rusty! Get Clear!” She said, now painfully aware that the remaining fleet was without any means of repair, not that it had mattered up until now. The Drifters wielded enough firepower between them to just delete her ships from the battlefield, remote repair modules be damned. The Proteus and Legions had a stronger tank than the Guardians but if the Drifters continued to focus like they were none of it would matter.
She was immensely proud of her corpmates though. Even against hopeless odds not a one of them had faltered, none of them had fled and none of them had doubted her. Cyra only hoped that what the mercenaries had found was worth the sacrifice.
“My ships are dropping left and right, Captain!” Cyra said as calmly as she could over their direct connection. “How close are you to getting out?”
“Working on it Ma’am! The dormant security systems appear to have detected the Drifters and activated countermeasures. Me and mine have got a few more automated turrets to clear out on our way to our exfil. We would appreciate all the time you can give us.”
There it was. The primary target reached structure damage just as the collective Drifter ships took apart Sal’s Legion, the Tech 3 armour faring no better against the onslaught of Jovian firepower than the Guardians had. A crack formed along the length of the cruiser, opening wider with a succession of small explosions that made Cyra think of fireworks displays as a child.
“You’ve done all you can Sal, get clear!” She ordered needlessly. The legion pilot had already swivelled his capsule on a dime and was in warp to the nearest neutral station, if Cyra was any judge he was probably off to find a bar to prop up.
“Cyra!” Dance called as she watched her blasters take the first layers off their primary target’s hull. The Drifter was making no attempts to flee or adjust course to avoid incoming fire, as though the pilot knew that there was no chance the Capsuleer fleet could break him.
“Cyra!” He repeated, this time not waiting for a response before continuing. “I am picking up a capsuleer ship on short-range scan, looks like a frigate with a death wish. I thought you would like to know.”
Had she been able to, Cyra would have shrugged. There was little she could do about it now, maybe it was a chancer who had seen the fight unfolding and wanted to get some damage in so they would show up on any killmail. Suddenly her blood ran cold. The Yacht was worth a cool two hundred million, it was a prize more than worth the risk of a frigate.
The ship landed about thirty kilometres away from her and she estimated a similar distance from the station and Dance in his Yacht. Instinctively she turned to burn at the small ship though she knew there weren’t many frigates that could not outrun a heavy armour tanked Proteus with a basic afterburner fitted.
But the ship did not move. It paused for what seemed like an eternity after it landed and did something that Cyra did not expect in the slightest. It lit a cyno beacon.
The burning ball of high technology burned fiercely and even the Drifters seemed to stop and take notice of the strange turn of events. Events became stranger when a lone supercapital blinked into existence a few kilometres from the presumably nervous frigate pilot.
Rick savoured the feeling as he translated from one system to another and his systems began scanning his new locale for points of interest. He had become so enthralled by his fear of death that he had completely forgotten what it meant and how it felt to truly be a Capsuleer. Feeling the roar of power he pulsed his engines and began a slow turn towards the station that bore an uncanny resemblance to the one that had almost been his end only months ago.
Once again there were lives at risk on the derelict by the sounds of the communications he had been listening in on only this time he was in a position to help and he would not stand idly by while others fought this battle for him. Like Cyra, he had a debt to settle with the Drifters, then with whoever laid him out on that godforsaken slab in the first place
He let his Hel hang in space for a moment and surveyed the battlefield. Several of Cyra’s ships had already been destroyed by the encroaching Drifters though even as he watched the last remaining Legion put a volley into the closest ship to them which sent the vessel into a series of cascading explosions culminating in a brilliant blue flash that signalled the end of the vessels core.
With a thought, he began locking up the remaining Drifters and launched three full flights of Tryfeng fighter-bombers and two flights of Dromi webification drones to really hold down his victims while he took his revenge.
“Commander,” He began, addressing Cyra. “Clear the field if you need to. I will make sure everyone else gets home in one piece today. I owe a debt to you and yours almost as much as I owe a whole lot of pain to our Jovian friends here.”
Boots thundered through the halls of the abandoned station shaking loose the condensation dripped from every surface. A chill permeated the entire structure as though the icy grip of the void beyond the hull plating was only barely being kept at bay.
“The Opus is just at the end of this corridor!” Captain Marchant boomed as he brought up the rear of his men, ensuring no one fell behind. “There, there it is! Move!”
Ahead of him were six of the bravest souls he had ever had the pleasure to serve with and a clone of a female Capsuleer they had discovered in the control centre apparently trying to steal the exact same data they had been sent in to obtain.
He slammed the airlock behind them as the group entered the Yacht lobby at a full run, treading grease and dirt into the cruise ship’s exquisite carpeting.
“Dance, we’re on board!” he yelled over the raid to ensure his message was not misheard. “Get us out of here!”
The Capsuleer replied by firing the thrusters away from the station and burning to warp velocity as swiftly as possible. Marchant walked through his gasping, wheezing men patting them on the back until he reached the survivor.
“You did well to survive on there; the elements alone could kill a person.” He said quite honestly. She wore what clothing she could salvage which essentially amounted to a boiler suit and a lab coat, a large bandage covered a gash on her neck. Brilliant grey eyes stared back at him from under a mass of flame red hair. “You know we never did get your name?”
The clone looked thoughtful for a moment as though trying to remember something that had taken place years before. After a while, she turned and answered with four short words.
“My name is Cyra.”