A Crimson Harvest
by Lt Bleue
Flash of light, Intense, searing pain, darkness…relief. As I awoke in my death clone back at the station, I slowly regained consciousness, memories flooding back into focus. As the pod-goo drained, I replayed my latest death in my head…I should have known the lone procurer in a belt was bait…getting greedy in my old age. Pod drained and auto-disconnect complete, I emerged naked and drenched in pod-goo, and headed for the hanger sani-showers. I wasn’t the only one to experience pod death that day as I entered the showers. “Hey Scranton, see you had a bad day as well?” came a familiar gruff female voice. “Don’t ask, how ‘bout yourself?” I replied. “Well let’s just say falling asleep on the gate isn’t the best idea. I need to farm some extra newbs this week to make up for the loss.” Chuckling, I responded, “don’t tell me you lost another bling-fit Tech III Cruiser with expensive clone?” “Ok, I won’t tell you,” she answered derisively. “No worries, I will check the region’s killmail reports and the gang can harass you later over drinks at the “Scrub Pub,” the local’s favorite station dive bar. “Fly safe Scranton.” “You too BloodyBetty.” Betty was a darned good pilot and honorable pirate always kept her word on ransoms. Oh well, the day is early, time to find more opportunities to make Interstellar Kredits (ISK) or die trying, I thought as I grabbed the least dirty/wrinkled suit of clothes from my locker, dressed, and headed to the corp office.
The sharp, searing pain in my head as I sat at my desk almost made me vomit on my holo-terminal. It was getting more regular now, the debilitating migraines. Sometimes I thought the only thing that could cure it was a slug to the brain. Despite what my doctors said about death cloning having no long-term adverse effects, my experience proved otherwise. Perhaps I am just genetically unlucky or a statistical outlier but years of combat, being podded hundreds of times, in my humble opinion, had a deleterious effect. My post-military career as a low sec privateer had added to this wear and tear. Maybe it was all in my mind or exacerbated by the regular use of combat boosters, which gave that extra edge, but at what long-term cost?
New Capsuleers, newbs, you could see them a mile away, arriving in their shiny new ships and freshly purchased combat suits, some still with the price tags. They were all the same - excited to have run the low-sec pirate gate-camp gauntlet, filled with untested swagger, and hungry for riches. Fresh-faced with braggadocious call signs embroidered on their brightly colored combat suits like BusteRock, KillaKarl, or PayneBringa! My “newb friendly” corp welcomed them with open arms, portending an oasis of aid, comfort, and camaraderie. The trick was to gain the newb’s confidence, recruit them into corp with promises of protection, training, and “riches beyond their wildest dreams!,” all the while draining as much ISK from them as possible before they rage quit and ran back home to mommy. The best marks were “Whales,” capsuleers with more ISK than sense, willing to throw money at shiny new ships that they had no clue how to fly. My corp, “Freeport Mining & Logistics Co.” motto is, “join our team, get space rich - satisfaction guaranteed.” Now what I really mean is I get space rich, I and my corp mate’s satisfaction is guaranteed! Of course, a deposit is required to join such an elite corp.
Sheeze - I gotta get over this latest skull-throbbing, mind-flayer migraine and start concentrating on a big score - corp coffers were getting low. Corp - lol, more like me, two hot-shot killboard whoring mercs, several drunken pirates, and a Jita scammer, padded with several dozen “sham” memberships! The pain subsiding, I begin to open my eyes, briefly reliving my glory days as I glanced at the holo-terminal’s screensaver of a younger me and my wartime squadron mates posing dashingly in front of a blaster Frig with our trademark Thukker Valkyrie squadron tiger shark skin. It was a long war, or multiple wars fought across many fronts. The Amar and their Caldari sycophants were merciless, which meant to win you had to be even more ruthless, nothing was sacred or sacrosanct except killing Amar scum. There were things done the in the heat of battle better left unsaid or remembered. Unfortunately many of my Minmatar Thukker Tribe brethren never really adjusted to civilian life. Like me, they couldn’t settle down as traders or haulers, no they needed combat to feel alive. Funny, now that the war was over, we daily sought out combat, having ships shot out from under us, facing pod deaths and never feeling more alive!
My former squadron mates, men like Rudy, Ace, SlimJim, and Meat, were my band of brothers, bonded by both tribal blood and combat. Lately, it seems like the old gang was absent without leave, AWOL, hadn’t heard from most of them in some time. Ace had met a pretty face, as per usual, in his last message, but radio silence of late; maybe he had settled down and the missus didn’t appreciate him hanging out with the likes of me. Rudy, on the other hand, was always working a deal and last we talked he seemed to have landed a real doozy. I envisioned him lounging on some pleasure moon, drinking the most expensive spirits, surrounded by the best company money could buy! Slim, Meat…two shiftless space-bums like me, no telling where they were, but obviously too busy or drunk to give me a shout out. Oh well, in its own time we will all get back together and chill I’m sure. Hey, maybe my big payday was just around the corner and I could make a mysterious disappearance and keep them wondering what I had gotten up too!
Downing the last bit of my favorite adult beverage, a 50/50 mix of Quafe Zero and the local station Engineer’s homebrewed hooch, I let out a large, hearty belch. “Good afternoon” I sat up abruptly, spilling the remaining drink in my lap. She stood in the doorway…tall, svelte, shapely, like a perfect model on the cover of an Amarrian glamor digi-mag. The best I could get out was, Greetings miss uhh?” “Svetlana, she replied, just Svetlana” “Ok, just Svetlana,” feeling a bit more on top of things, I stood up, walked across the room and reached out to shake her hand…she didn’t reciprocate. That’s when I noticed a large wet stain on my crotch area and my fly open. Turning toward my desk while surreptitiously attempting to zip up my trousers, which was, of course, was jammed! - damn! - now feeling a bit less cocky…I inquired, jerking at my still jammed zipper, “to what do I owe this pleasure?”
I was hoping to meet the former Thukker Valkyrie squadron leader, Major Scranton, famous for his small gang tactics and combat prowess, when will he be available?
“Well, your speaking with him.” Giving up, I turned to face her, hands on hips, wet crotch and open fly - I could tell she was less than impressed. “So you are the hero of the Bleak Lands War? During the largest fleet battle, you and your squadron slipped through bubbled gate camps, sub-cap pickets, super umbrella, and dozens of Titan Doomsdays to headshot the enemy Fleet Commander (FC), effectively ending the battle and the war?” “Well I don’t like to brag, and war is hell and all but yeah, that was me and my squadron. I feel bad that the stations with his jump and death clones had been destroyed earlier, as he was biomassed when I podded him, but that’s war I guess,”
What I didn’t elaborate on was that our small gang had been on a drunken roam, stupidly followed a ship into a Wormhole (Pfffft…WHs…I hate WHs!), got lost, paid some smelly WH hermit a handsome ransom for an exit and his silence (we still keep in touch), and upon jumping through the WH exit, collapsing it, we landed inside the largest cap brawl of the war. Luckily we were behind the enemy fleet’s battle lines and they were too busy with our forces to their front. Unbeknownst to me, while dodging red-boxing Titans and Supers, trying to escape with our skin intact, the capsule floating immediately in front of my gun sights was the enemy FC. Apparently, he had lost his command ship and was in the process of re-shipping to remain on-field directing his fleet. Yet, as fate would have it, I stumbled on the scene, literally, and a reflexive weapons lock and a quick burst of my blasters exploded his pod. I didn’t think anything of it, I was just yanking, banking, and cranking to avoid my own certain death. After Admiral Kosov’s death, his exit from the field of battle left the enemy fleet leaderless, sending their force into chaos and ultimate loss.
One of my squadron mates happened to scoop the corpse, and it was only after getting back to base and sobering up that we heard the news of the great victory and a mysterious, elite team who took out the enemy FC. We reviewed our combat logs and checked the corpse in cargo…Admiral Kosov. The word got out and I and my squadron mates were hailed as heroes, and maybe we allowed the embellishments of our feat to grow to less than factual but mythic proportions. Heck, it got me free drinks in establishments across New Eden, not to mention introductions to many a lovely lady…or two. This was a running inside joke among my old squadron mates, we all laughed at the stories told about our heroism but each promised to keep a lid on the “whole” truth if you get my drift, better to be a hero than a lucky drunkard.
In a slightly haughty tone, I said, “Every anniversary of that final battle, my squadron mates and I, wherever we are, lift a glass of Amarrian Vadke and salute Admiral Kosov’s bravery and sacrifice.” To be honest, this was something I made up on the spot, but I liked the sound of it. “As do I,” she replied respectfully, “may I sit, it has been a long journey?” “Of course, here you go,” as I cleared off some inappropriate reading material and leftover lunches from the only available guest chair in the now, to my eye, visibly cramped, unkempt office. “On second thought I think I will stand,” she said in her lithe, eloquent voice, “this shall be quick” I sat on my desk, legs and arms crossed, with my hand to my chin awaiting the next words to come from this angel’s lips before me. I think she must have felt my eyes working like core scanner probes, deep scanning her assets because she zipped her jacket up to the neck and pulled it down tautly below her waistline, while giving me that, “what a creeper” smirk. That was my cue to swing around behind the desk, appearing to make some innocuous entry in my data terminal, while surreptitiously taking a full body photo and shooting it, with the name Svetlana, to Snoops, my corp intel officer. If anyone could find a rat, Snoops could, besides maybe she did some “modeling” work and there were bikini shots or even better out there in the ether.
Snoops had saved my butt numerous times, outing spies, thieves, and AWOXers trying to infiltrate the corp for nefarious purposes. “What brings you to my humble corp?” “I am guessing you are not looking to join and farm the local belt rats?” “No, she replied, I am looking for an aggressive, ballsy Friig pilot who can lead a small gang to successfully complete a dangerous mission.” “Ballsy, not a word I would have expected outta that pretty, sophisticated mouth” “I have already recruited most of your old Valkyrie squadron, now they just need a leader.” Wait a sec, so that is why they had simply disappeared from radar, it was starting to make sense. “No kidding, Rudy, Ace, SlimJim, Meat, they are in on this deal? “Yes,” she replied, “fully committed.” The hell she says, well with that team, and the right ships, we can do anything…long as we are drunk I chortled to myself.
“Did I mention that I have brand new, officer fit Wolves, and Snake booster implants at your team’s disposal.” “Wolves, now we were talking. During the war we made due with Tech I Rifters, held together with chewing gum and bailing wire”…the Tech II Wolf variant of the Rifter takes things up a notch. Just curious, “Is this a hi, low, or null sec job…and can I batphone a few friends if needed?” “Neither of those, this is WH space, static frig size hole, and I do not want unnecessary outside attention or escalation, getting major alliances involved is not desirable.” Wormholes, yuk, not my cup of tea…I am gonna have to reach out to an old WHer buddy, GrungyPete. Once or twice a year, he emerges from his hole with a load of loot to blow on drinking, gambling, and whoring in my station. Not a very likable character, in fact like most WHers a bit strange, but he owes me a favor or two.
“So tell me about this job.” “Let’s just say I intend to settle an old score.” “Ahh, a little revenge, gotcha, and what are the remunerations?” “Pass me your ISK magcard reader.” She withdraws a shimmering red Mercoxit magcard, the first I have ever seen, swipes it across the reader and rapidly keys in a number…a long number. Mercoxit red magcard, that means crazy ISK credit…maybe her family runs a casino (hadn’t they been banned?) or has an automated, robotic Rorqual farm in the Drone Lands, mining 24/7. Just who is this lady? Snoops - I almost forgot! The incoming message was flashing on my screen. I clicked to see what my man had found and it said nothing! Literally “Nothing.” I sent Snoops a terse reply, “What the F*** - over?” He quickly replied that she is clean, nothing out there on her name, image, or any aspects of her ever having ever existed…blank slate…no kill board…no corp history…no market transactions…impossible unless she was a brand new capsuleer, but that was obviously not the case. Snoops was messaging something about danger signs, take it slow, etc, but my mind was on my magcard reader Svetlana’s hand was holding in front of my face. Ignoring his protestations, I sent Snoops a quick thanks and signed off…I had never seen that many zeros…danger or not, this was a score of a lifetime…besides mistakes and bad ideas are what death clones are for.
“Lady, I mean Svetlana, you just deposited 50 billion ISK into my account and I haven’t done anything yet, or even agreed to help you.” “That is just the down payment, a trust builder if you will. You will get another 50 billion ISK upon successful completion of the mission. Do we have a deal?” “Svetlana, my gut says no, but you have given me 100 billion reasons to say yes - when do I leave and join my team?” “We depart immediately, but before we leave, I need to close some potential loose ends. I need to erase your history, present a clean slate that can’t be traced back to me and my associates, do you understand? You will effectively go off-grid, ending all contacts from your past, including closing your corp, liquidate all corp assets and offices, and finally destroy all your jump and death clones.” “Svetlana, everything is fine except that last item…100 Billion is a lot of ISK that you can’t enjoy if you are biomassed.”
She let out a small laugh, “I didn’t say you wouldn’t have a death clone…did I mention that my ship has a clone bay…you have to understand, in my position and for this particular mission, I must have your total commitment…no chance you will be traced or tempted to take the easy way out…you are either all in or out.” “Ok…what could go wrong…I’m in.” One more thing - I represent a collector…before you dissolve the corp and liquidate its assets, I want you to transfer any and all corpses stored in your corp hanger.” I had run into corpse collectors before…always scooping up the fresh floating corpses of the ships/pods they destroyed. They were even sold in the large market hubs. Some built their collections alphabetically, A thru Z, others collected famous pilots names; I even sold one a while back, an infamous alliance leader, for some pretty ISK. I would have never guessed that this gorgeous, classy lady standing before me was into collecting meat popsicles, so who was this mysterious collector? “Sure thing, we don’t really have a large collection, but we did have one member while back who kept a few, and of course, I have Admiral Kosovo’s corpse as my own personal trophy. Here, let me set up a station trade and transfer them to you”…a few keystrokes and done. “Thank you, ” Svetlana said as she turned and walked solemnly toward the door. “You have 30 minutes to gather what you need and meet me at the VIP launch hanger.” “Roger that, I travel light, just a flight bag, and with 100 billion ISK I imagine I can replace my socks and underwear.” Svetlana didn’t seem to hear as she disappeared around the corner and out of sight, followed by two large, heavy set, smartly dressed attendants who seemed to materialize out of nowhere.
Arriving at the VIP hanger, I saw a shiny, sleek Victronix Luxury Yacht fueled and ready for launch. In this godforsaken outpost station, the elite and their yachts were not regular visitors so there were several lookie-loos around the hangar checking it out to the consternation of ship security personnel, dressed similarly to the two sighted earlier accompanying Svetlana. After this mission, I might buy me one or two of these beauties. I was briefly distracted by a comely, curvaceous crew member who took my bag. As I entered the ship, I began to fantasize about my own yacht and how I would hire an elite, hand selected, all-female security team and crew, with personally designed, matching uniforms built for comfort and freedom of movement…when I was brought back to reality by a sharp pain in my forehead…not a migraine this time but the ship’s bulkhead - I forgot to duck…sheeze!
Holding my now bruised forehead and ego, I proceeded to take a seat in the VIP passenger cabin. I noticed that all of the seats, napkins, hand towels, wine glasses, etc. had the initials, S.K. I normally pod piloted my own ships, ready any second for a fight to the death, so it was nice for once to be a pampered passenger, however, we would be traveling thru unfriendly space in a shiny target. Any fear of running into trouble was dispelled when our escorts, a squadron of Gallente T3 Proteus Cruisers decloaked at the first gate. I leaned back and sunk into my seat, quickly dozing off with sweet dreams of my future yacht and all female crew…I was awakened by my favorite comely crew member’s sweet voice, “Sir, we have arrived at our destination.” Looking outside, it appeared we were approaching a station, but peering closer, I saw weapons bays, capital class weapons, ship bays, and what appeared to be a cyno generator…a Titan…and that blood red skin…”Blood Raider,” crappers, this was a Blood Raider Molok Titan! So Svetlana’s command ship was a Molok…the rarest and expensive ship in New Eden…the mystery of who this lady is, who she works for, and what this secretive mission comprises took an unexpected and slightly uncomfortable turn.
I had never been onboard a Titan class ship, but it exceeded all my small mind could have imagined. It was immense, a city skyscraper with warp engines and capital weapons strapped on. The ship hangar bay was bigger than my station’s hangar bay back home. It was chock full of several squadrons of sub-caps bristling with weapons, and in the corner, I spied several T2 Wolves in Thukker Valkyrie Tiger Sharkskins. A driverless VIP shuttle met us at the yacht and proceeded to carry us across the expansive hangar toward a grav-lift. As we passed by the shiny new Wolves, I noticed the front fighter had my name under the cockpit. Svetlana saw my reaction and smiled in my direction. My unease was starting to subside, perhaps I was being too suspicious.
After a long grav-lift ride to the ship’s Command level, we exited at a well-guarded passageway for senior officers only. Svetlana received a special deference, with crew lowering their gaze respectfully and smartly stepping aside as we proceeded down the passageway toward the ship’s bridge. The guards and crew members I encountered had combat and jumpsuits with no apparent militia or corp insignias visible. We proceeded to the expansive Captain’s bridge, located in the Commander’s Conning Tower, the most armored station on the ship, from which the Officer in Charge can conn the vessel and command a fleet of ships. This location could take a direct hit from a Doomsday and stay online to keep the ship in battle.
The Captain greeted us and I instinctively reached out to shake his hand, which passed through the thin air. Of course, the Captain was in his pod, connected directly to the Titan’s infrastructure and networks, able to manage all aspects, from Navigation, Engines, Weapons, Shields, Capacitor, etc. His shipboard presence, on the Bridge and in multiple instances throughout the ship, was a hologram. The Captain, in his hologram form, took the time to give me a brief tour of the bridge, explaining the massive ship’s capabilities and answering all my questions, patiently, treating me like a VIP. I think he may have been slightly relieved when Svetlana intervened and said, “Captain, may I interrupt, I would like to borrow our guest and show him something special.” “Not at all M’am,” he replied dipping his head, "I need to make preparations for getting underway,” as he clicked his heels, turned smartly and proceeded to direct his crew.”
With that, we exited the bridge and grabbed a waiting VIP cart. Svetlana gave a brief voice command and the autonomous transport whisked us down the passageway. I asked, “Are my team onboard? Are we going to meet up with them?” “Yes to both,” she replied, but first I want to take you to a special place. After a long ride down bustling passageways and multiple grav-lifts, into the heart of the ship, we arrived at two ornately carved, antique wooden doors, like cathedral doors, definitely not an airtight compartment. We entered into a sanctuary like setting with a large, regal blood red floor to ceiling curtain on the far end wall with facing seats. Come, sit, I have something to show you. We sat and she spoke and the curtains separated revealing a dark black glass wall. Below the wall etched in black polished rock were the words, “Death to the Living, Eternal Life to the Killers” - a warrior’s prayer. Ok…not a very jolly prayer to be sure. To the right, on the side wall was a smaller curtain, with a carved wooden altar with the same ornate symbols as the door. She spoke again and the room darkened and the wall became a mass of floating corpses…floating as if in space. I was looking at a wall-sized windowed zero-gravity room with a tangled orgy of frozen corpses, from floor to ceiling. I have seen many floating corpses in space after combat, but this was an entire army. “The Molok is unique in that is has a large corpse bay.” she said, “I sometimes come here to relax and gather my thoughts.” Man, this was beginning to creep me out…my skin was crawling.
“So these corpses, …your collection?” “Yes, do you not approve?” “Uhh,…sure, it’s just that there are so many…just how many may I ask?” trying not to show my discomfort. “The corpse bay holds 100 thousand trophies, I have 999,999 she replied with a wry smile.” I may be stupid, but I ain’t dumb, “so you only need one more to reach max capacity?” I figured if I got the first punch in, I could probably take her, find my squadron mates, work our way to the hanger, and skedaddle outta here in our new Wolves…or not… as I spied the small blaster she was pointing at me. She spoke again and two glasses with a clear liquid appeared from a cabinet. I half expected them to be filled with blood. “Do you know what day it is?” she asked.” “Umm…well I’m guessing it’s not my lucky day?” I replied questioningly taking my glass. Crap, she’s gonna poison me. “It is the anniversary of the Battle of the Bleak Lands and we are in the system and approximate location where you ended that battle.” The Captain had jumped us at least 10 light years and I hadn’t even noticed…he was a damn good pilot. “As is your custom, come let us give a toast to those brave souls who died that day.”
At that, the smaller curtain slides back revealing a glass wall with a single corpse floating as if in space. She stood, “Cheers father, she said, downing her glass, “I have brought you the Minmatar hero who pod killed you these many years ago, and who is responsible for our faction’s and family’s destruction.” “He was kind enough to provide me your corpse and allow me to fulfill my pledge to my dying mother, your beloved wife.” Oh, that was the score, avenging daughter with daddy issues…I’m screwed. I began to slowly work my way toward the glass wall of corpses, perhaps she wouldn’t shoot in that direction for fear of hitting the glass. Just then I froze…there in front of me, I see a familiar face steering wide-eyed out at me from behind the glass, …it was Meat! “Aren’t you going to drink your toast?” “I’m not really thirsty.” “Drink it,” she demanded, pointing the blaster at my lower main body mass. “I complied, expecting to drop to the floor convulsing, but no hint of foreign substance, actually it was an excellent vintage, very smooth, with an earthy aftertaste. “That is some fine Amarrian Vadke,” I replied, forcing myself to smile.
“Hey, really appreciated you sharing this special moment between you and your dad, that means a lot to me, I never really knew my dad, perhaps that’s why I turned out the way I did…” “Zip it flyboy.” She wasn’t moved. “You see after the Amarr alliance collapsed, the Minmatar who had tasted blood, reverted to the primal savages they are, burning our stations, raping mothers and daughters, pillaging our homes, taking our sovereign territory, and hunting us down like dogs. My extended family was slaughtered on our home planet, only my mother and I escaped. My once proud, aristocratic mother turned to prostitution to survive under the feudal, slave-like conditions imposed by our new Minmatar overlords. She was killed by a drunken Thukker scum who had turned his attention to me. I won’t bore you with the details of my life and crusade for justice, suffice it to say that today I complete my holy vow.” With that, she shot me…in the left knee. “Lady, you’re batshit crazy, “ I groaned as I hoped away on the good leg. A second shot rang out and I collapsed in extreme pain, both kneecaps blown away. Please, let me wake up in my death pod far from this place!
Standing over my writhing body, she thought out loud, “I am not sure if I want to destroy your death clone then biomass you or perhaps death clone you to my clone bay and then re-kill you on a daily basis?” Holy crap, I forgot, my death clone is on this ship…noooo! Her eyes grew wide with an epiphany, “I know what, I will kill you every year on the anniversary of the battle of Bleak Lands!” By then I had managed to crawl a few feet toward the door when it hit me, right between the eyes…a friggin mother of all migraines, a BIG one. This pain was more powerful than my mangled knees. I smacked my palm hard into my forehead multiple times, involuntarily screaming “my head, my head, make it stop.” I heard a female’s voice, “Ok, if you insist.” I opened my eyes and mouth to protest and in that instant saw the pistol aimed…a flash of light, intense, searing pain, darkness…relief.