Church of the Obsidian

TANOO SYSTEM – 13 JUMPS FROM ALDRAT

I could tell immediately the difference between dealing with a civilian and someone in the military. The fact that Hiva Shesha was flying around in a shuttle was only the first of many giveaways I would discover in our time together.

I hailed her ship, and we opened a private comm, exchanging initial pleasantries for quite some time. I smirked with playful flirtation; I never could resist an attractive woman. She seemed content talking with me, and exuded a quaint shyness. That was something I wasn’t accustomed to, having been on the receiving end of affections from the likes of Mynxee, Shae, Venom, and many others, whom were always direct.

Hiva was gorgeous. Her bald, smooth head was a bold statement, hinting at toughness, a self-assuredness of purpose. It would’ve seemed very masculine were not for the fact that her makeup was expertly done. It wasn’t trashy, or too much; it merely enhanced her beautiful facial features as intended.

Her full lips curled up at the sides naturally, and her eyes shone with what could be perceived as innocence, but I read it for passion.

She wore a loose fitting, sleeveless leather vest with a very tight, bust enhancing shirt, not that it looked like she needed the assistance. Her shoulders and arms were very muscular, but not massive, just well defined.

My manhood embarrassed me with sudden and unexpected growth, and I was thankful this was a comms only introduction.

hivaDo you have any idea how tough this relic is to crack? You’d think something this simple would come with a manual. We’ve used the Khumaak for a long time as a symbol of our defiance. But the presence of one little rock adds a whole new level of meaning.

Oh yeah. Welcome, Roc Wieler! I take it that Nilf sent you over? You’ve earned a lot of trust with the Republic, and I hope we can continue that trend.

I was one of the Republic University scholars to take a look at the Wildfire Khumaak for the Brutors. I was also sent to look over the documents you recovered from the RSS. So, essentially, I’ve been with you from the beginning, lurking in the shadows.

I smiled slightly, watching as she blushed, breaking eye contact with me, revealing her own attraction towards me more than she had wanted to let slip. To her credit, she recovered her composure quickly, and redirected the conversation amiably.

That’s what we historians do: Skulk about in dusty corners looking for information. It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it.

She continued onwards, happy to be controlling the direction of the conversation again. I was happy to let her think that.

The Ammatar “sister” that was the source of all the information was based in a nearby cathedral called the Church of the Obsidian. I’ve contacted the church, and she’s no longer there. In fact, I have no clue where she went. She did make reference to some artifact located in the church. They’ve denied me access to the church grounds – those bloody lapdogs – but I think you be able to persuade them.

She had a quick temper and a bit of a foul mouth; I liked that. I also was coming to like her style with how to handle obstacles.

Get inside the church and get something called the “Blood Obsidian Orb.” I don’t know what to do with it after that, but I think that’s our first step.

I had a difficult time taking orders from a civilian, and a woman at that. Still, I was interested in bedding her, and I learned the quickest way to a woman’s pants, outside of booze, was by playing nice.

I quickly accepted her task.

Take this analyzer with you, and use it on the church. It should help you unearth the Blood Obsidian Orb.

Suddenly, I went flacid. Literally.

I was getting sick and tired of this. First, I was delayed from achieving the objectives of an assigned task because I had never hacked a computer firewall. Now, I was being given the tool of an archeologist, and being asked to use it to recover this bloody orb.

Ok, granted, I did fail in keeping the archeologists alive previously, but I was sure Hiva could spare one of her assistants to come with me and perform the necessary operations.

I thought I had been brought on for my combat prowess as a capsuleer.

In a way, I supposed I could be flattered; maybe people thought I was more intellectual than I actually was. On the other hand, maybe all non-capsuleers just assumed we were expertly skilled in all things.

Of course, there was a third option that occurred to me. Maybe she was testing me on a personal level. Maybe she only allowed herself to be attracted to men that demonstrated more than just the typical Brutor quality of physical dominance.

This was her foreplay.

I had her mechanical team fit the analyzer to my ship, then headed out, excited to succeed. I was already fantasizing about what she would be like when we slept together. There was no doubt in my mind it would happen; it was simply a question of whether it was a one night stand type of deal, or did I keep this going for a few nights?

The Onslaught easily crossed the distance to the neighbouring system of Shasta. Upon using the jump gate and entering the system, I received a comm from Hiva. I answered a bit too quickly, betraying my own personal interest in her. I was being too eager, but it had been a while, and my veins were pumping with anticipation.

Oh yeah, I may have forgot to mention that there are some armed guards there. I’m a scholar, not a fighter. Which one are you?

I simply smiled and ended the transmission. I had read her correctly. This was definitely a sexual interest test. She put the question out there as a “one or the other”, but I knew she wouldn’t accept anything less than both. Part of me was disappointed that she was so easy to read, it diminished the thrill of the hunt. The other part of me redoubled in predatory glee, waiting to devour her with my building lusts.

I warped to the outer limites of the Church of the Obisidian, wanting to assess the situation from afar, in a non-threatening way, unless no other alternative presented itself.

We know what you are here for. You are not allowed on the church grounds. Leave now or face the consequences.

My mood soured. I had been soaring high, endorphins coarsing through my system, and these clowns had to go and ruin it.

I hated being told what not to do.

All my life, it had been one of the most difficult things for me to overcome; following orders. But as with anything I put my mind to, I could persevere and excel. As a slave, the consequences were quite severe for disobedience. As a military cadet, disciplinary action was almost as harsh.

I wasn’t a creature driven by reactive emotion, but rather a strong-willed man in full control of his every faculty. It had taken a great deal of personal effort to create this mold for myself, this man of duty and obedience, but it was something I valued highly, and the mold would not bend nor break in my lifetime.

I left the church grounds, as instructed. There wasn’t any point in me being there anyway; as I couldn’t use the analyzer on my ship.

I reviewed the telemetry data Aura had recorded while there, and quickly ascertained the most probable location of the orb.

I then did something I rarely ever did back then; I asked for help, specifically, for a military pilot with skill enough to use an analyzer.

mark“Mark Yaqb reporting for duty, Colonel. What do you need?” the young Brutor said with vigor.

He looked to be of the newer generation of pilots, angry, overconfident, aggressive in his demeanour. Eventually, those things were driven out of you after numerous clone chamber visits.

He had a strong chin, rugged jaw line, and high cheek bones. His neck strained with muscle, and you could see his impressive mass through his trapezius and shoulders.

He bore an elaborate tattoo across his forehead of a design I didn’t recognize, but that didn’t surprise me. Many of the younger Brutor didn’t respect the ancient traditions, marking themselves for style rather than honour.

Yet the single most striking feature of Mark Yaqb was none of these things; it was his eyes.

He was blind.

It wasn’t as uncommon a characteristic amongst Brutors as one might think, but there were simple procedures employed at birth to correct this genetic defect. Either he had never been cloned, or he specifically chose to remain blind.

“How close are you to Tanoo?” I asked, cutting short my own philosophical wanderings.

“7 jumps out. On my way, sir.” he replied.

“You equipped with an analyzer, pilot?” I asked.

“Sir, yessir.” Mark responded, his ship fitting momentarily appearing on my HUD.

He was flying an exploration fit Republic Fleet Firetail, Sisters Expanded Probe Launcher, Codebreaker, Analyzer. The boy definitely was skilled enough to assist me.

“I look forward to flying with you, son.” I said, and laid out the attack plan.

Ten minutes later, I warped fifty kilometers away from the Church of the Obisidian. The Ammatar Guardians of the Church immediately locked me, and the battle was begun, just as I had planned.

The Onslaught’s shields easily held, and I focused on my attention on the fast moving frigates, the only real threat to my ship in this battle.

I turned my ship away from the Church, pulling from the attacking vessels. They fell into pursuit, as anticipated.

Mark’s Firetail warped in at ten kilometers, and the nimble ship made short work of the Chapel, the structure that Aura had calculated contained the orb.

Thirteen seconds later, Mark warped away. I followed his lead shortly thereafter.

We met up at a nearby station, and I had my crew transfer the cargo from his ship.

I offered Mark some isk for his troubles, but he declined.

“It’s an honour to fly with you, sir.” he said, much to my surprise, given my recent military record.

Even blind, Mark picked up on my confused hesitancy.

“If I may speak freely, Colonel?” he asked.

“Of course.” I replied.

“You’re somewhat of a hero to my squad, Colonel, a role model. I know it might seem out of place to say, but you’re what we want to be.” Mark stammered.

“And what is exactly is that?” I asked sarcastically, my eyebrow raising, waiting for the hammer to drop.

“A man of integrity, a man of conviction. A man that will do whatever it takes for the cause of the just. You inspire us, Colonel, to be more than we are. I wanted to thank you for that.” Mark said, with the most precise and crisp salute I had ever seen.

I returned his salute out of rote, and was thankful for his blindness. I was completely and utterly stunned to hear such high words of praise from a pilot I had never met or heard of before that day.

I didn’t know what else to say, so stood there, like a dumb idiot, saying nothing.

Mark took his leave, and soon I did the same, returning to Hiva with the precious orb intact. I performed a query against Hiva’s database enroute, which she had given me access to earlier.

orbThe church of the Obsidian has kept this relic for nearly four hundred years, though its original meaning was never truly discovered. The orb is carved from blood obsidian, the same material found in the head of the Wildfire Khumaak. The orb’s surface is completely smooth, though it is lighter than it appears.

Hiva was beside herself with enthusiasm and genuine happiness.

You found it? Really? Well, I guess it’s kind of orb-like. I have no idea what its significance is, but I’m going to find out. Hang on real quick. I must look into this further.

I was so getting laid.

History in the Making

Our historians have pored over the information found on the drive cluster EDF-285. There’s a lot on there, but not all of it pertinent to the Wildfire Khumaak. I’ve been in contact with a Krusual historian who has spent some time researching the Khumaak. The historians cross-referenced each other’s work and stumbled upon a lead. I guess those nerds are good for something, eh?

I’m sending you to Hiva Shesha, the Krusual historian. She’s taken her poor interns with her to the San Matar constellation – right in the heart of Ammatar space. I don’t know what’s she discovered, but I’m sure it’s important. Best you get over there and talk with her. Let us know what you’ve uncovered, and keep your eyes peeled for our missing agent. I have a feeling that he went to seek out his Ammatar contact. There’s no telling what he’s up to, either.

Anyway, good luck.

And with that, my relationship with Nilf Abruskur was over. I had started out detesting the man, but had come to realize he was simply the wrong guy in an awkward situation, doing the best he could.

I would like to say I respected him, but that would be false. I tolerated him. I understood him.

I was happy to be done with him. Besides, I was looking forward to meeting Hiva Shesha; she had a hot name.

Playing all Their Cards – Epilogue

The day had arrived, and I was prepared for the meet. My service teams had gone over the Onslaught with a fine toothed comb, giving her the thumbs up. She was pristine once again, fully operational, and ready to be of continued service to the Minmatar Republic.

With newly restored vigor, she surged out of the docking bay, the rumble of her thrusters being felt throughout the ship. She was as eager as the rest of us, hungry for answers, craving action, and we all knew she was a capable predator.

I returned to Aldrat, ready to be briefed for my next mission, a hit and run on the Angel Cartel while Nilf and his negotiation team kept them busy elsewhere.

We’re counting on you, Colonel Wieler, not just for the information this time, but to help us keep our reputation and morale after being dealt such a blow by those Angel bastards. The RSS is hurting right now. I need you to fire my men up. Make us proud.

Nilf saluted me crisply, respect finally being shown to my rank and ability.

That was thirty minutes ago.

I laid in the course for Hardbako, and arrived to the adjacent system quickly, and made my way towards the Angel bunker without incident.

Five minutes ago, Nilf commed me, urgency in his voice:

They’re stalling the negotiations. Our scouts and scanners are picking up no sign of the reinforcements they were going to bring. I’m getting the feeling we’ve been screwed again. Get the data and get out.

Three minutes ago, as I made my way at top speed towards the Drive Cluster Archive at the Angel’s undefended base, their ambush was sprung.

Seventeen frigates and assault frigates closed the gap quickly after warping in. Six battlecruisers followed on their tails, their added firepower a welcome addition to the fast moving frigates. And in the distance, from sniping range, ten battleships lit up the darkness of space with dozens of deadly missile volleys.

Thirty seconds ago, my newly acquired hacking skills were put to the test under extremely hostile conditions. My shields were close to buckling, which was no small feat given my Pith X-Large Shield Booster, but I kept my cool, and focused on the task at hand, slowly making my virtual way through the security system’s many failsafes.

Ten seconds ago I was rewarded with the prize we all had been seeking, information about the Wildfire Khumaak.

dataThis is a cluster of drives, each of which contains several exabytes worth of encoded data. Somewhere in here is vital information on the Wildfire Khumaak.

As my armour groaned and buckled, entire plates forcibly ripped off of my ship, I knew it was time to leave. I had accomplished my mission; we had what we had come for.

There was no glory to be sought facing overwhelming odds; only death. And while many capsuleers would turn to engage the enemy even against such a superior force, jeopardizing their ships and their crews, I was not such a pilot.

My orders weren’t total annihilation; this was a retrieval op.

In short order, I handed over the drives, and spoke with Nilf once again.

Excellent work, Roc. The Republic Security Services are in your debt.

To hear those words come from his mouth was almost as sweet as the victory I felt over being closer to solving this mystery surrounding the Khuumak.

I felt I was close.

Playing all Their Cards

I was still seething at my own failure by the time I arrived back in Aldrat. It appeared Nilf Abruskur wsa still reeling from my failure as well.

We dropped the ball on this one, Roc Wieler, and those putrescent, motherless Angel freaks made sure to capitalize on it. Our only consolation is that it cost them, too. We’ve managed to root the Angel spy within our ranks – the one who tipped the Cartel about your visit to the historians. They’re in a world of trouble right now; you can trust me on that.

I bit my tongue for the moment. My own hostility at this game Nilf had been playing, keeping me in the dark, sending me on missions with limited information, putting myself and my crews in unnecessary danger, was second only to my remorse at the historians whose lives were lost during the last engagement.

From our initial interrogation of this captured Angel agent, we have learned that just before the Cartel blew up the outpost, they managed to find and make away with the data we needed on the Wildfire Khumaak. The historian that was supposed to have a text for you relating to it was tortured into handing over his research and was then killed.

Nilf paused, letting his words sink in, letting the blame sink in. Even though he had used the royal ‘we’ in his speech, it was clear who was going to shoulder the blame for this failure. The only reason he hadn’t hung me out to dry already was that he still needed me; and better me than having to put trust in some other random capsuleer, though if push came to shove, I am sure there were hundreds whom could do the job.

They’re offering us a deal. We give them back their agent, and they give us the information we want. They tried to make a bid for the Wildfire, but there wasn’t a chance in hell we were going to entertain that idea, especially once we discovered who their agent was. We negotiated it down to the agent, but we have no intention of making a fair deal with them, simply because when it comes to the Angels, there is no such thing. They have no desire for the safe return of this traitorous scum; in fact if they could kill him right now to shut him up, they wouldn’t hesitate.

I silently agreed with the Angels’ sentiment. This traitor, whomever he might be, had traded lives for money, put profit over morality, and it sickened me.

In addition to providing us intel that the historical texts on the Khumaak have been taken, our captured agent has also revealed something else; its location. His testimony and a good deal of other intelligence we’re receiving is pointing to one of the Angels’ main staging outposts in Metropolis.

Finally, something tangible. I felt we were close.

The defense forces posted at this place are impressive, Colonel, beyond even your capabilities. We’ve come up with a plan to lure some out and reduce their numbers to something you’ll be more easily able to manage. We forced subversion on our Angel prisoner, made him tell his superiors that we’re sending a huge ambush fleet to the meeting point. This should goad them into bringing along a bigger reserve of manpower, most of which will be drawn from that base.

While we’re having the meet, you sneak in, bypass the remaining resistance, and grab the texts that were taken. Underneath the central command center, we’re told there will be several data banks. The documents we’re looking for will be in one of these. You’ll need to deactivate the security firewalls, which means some hacking. You’re looking for a drive cluster called “EDF-285″. Grab it and get the hell out of there before the Angels figure out the game.

Lovely. This time Arsten Takalo wasn’t around to divert attention from this flaw I possessed; I had no hacking skills.

“When’s the meet? I’ll need time to prepare.” I asked.

“You have four days, Roc Wieler.” Nilf replied.

Four days was a long time for a capsuleer to engage in accelerated neural learning. In four days I could easily inject the skills I needed directly into my brain, and probably even get in some hands-on practice time.

I’d also been meaning to pick up a Loki T3 cruiser for quite some time now, so figured now was as good a time as any to kill two birds with one stone; I could pickup the required skillbooks I would need to learn Hacking, and do up a couple of fits for a Loki while I was at it.

Only problem was, I would have to go to Jita, the market hub of the New Eden, right in the heart of Caldari high sec.

Well, I’d been through worse.

Who Art in Heaven

36 HOURS LATER …

We’ve gone over the essential details from the information you recovered, Roc Wieler, good work on getting this back to us. Here’s the decoded message from our Ammatar source:

“All right, my sources have traced the origins of the Khumaak and we’ve been able to get a little bit of information, but we’re still digging. There’s remarkably little mention of this stuff anywhere in official records.

It’s called a Wildfire scepter. Apparently, the Wildfires were a particular kind of Khumaak-like scepter that existed only in certain conclaves of Starkman Prime in the years while the planet was under Amarrian occupation. The physical details all match up; the holes in the shaft, the blood obsidian sun center, the slightly smaller sun spirals. Only one other has been found, ever, and has since gone missing.

According to its previous owner, the wildfires were all destroyed some years before the Starkmanir rebellion in 22947, and it’s not even known for what purpose they were initially created or why, indeed, they were destroyed. We’ll have our sources keep investigating.

Lastly, I’ve cleared you for entrance to the ruins of Arzad. I’ve attached the relevant security access codes. I give you my word that the people there will provide their full cooperation and discretion. I’m told that one of the historians even has a text that mentions this Khumaak of yours.”

There is nothing to suggest that our own agent ever made it out to those ruins. He did not pick up the package you recovered, and he has still not returned to base. As our temporary representative, you will be standing in for him.

Your task is to travel to the system of Arzad, to an orbital forward point for an archeological dig being conducted on a nearby planet – Starkman Prime. There’s a team of historians and archeologists there, a couple of which are supposed to have texts that reference the Wildfire Scepters. Make your way over there and await further instructions. We’ll get to the bottom of this mystery yet.

Nilf disconnected abruptly.

Hmmm, I thought to myself. There is definitely some things he’s not telling me.

Firstly, Arzad was in Devoid region, roughly 14 jumps from my current location and smack dab in the middle of hostile Amarr war territory. In fact, I knew from firsthand experience that the 24th Imperial Crusade had a logistic support station there near Arzad VIII.

Why would there be an archeological dig going on in the middle of a combat zone? It didn’t make sense, unless things were truly that desperate, which was plausible I supposed.

Still, it didn’t feel right.

I asked Aura to run an analysis on the transmission; just to check validation and authenticity. She quickly did as I asked, noting one discrepancy between the transmission and the objective data sent: Nilf had sent me Erstur as my destination system, which was much closer than Arzad.

Things just got more peculiar.

Either he was aware our conversation was being listened in to, and was feeding disinformation to our audience, which would hopefully buy me some time to go to Erstur; or he genuinely made a mistake.

From what I could gather of the man, he wasn’t one that tolerated mistakes, least of all from himself. This left me more inclined to believe the first scenario.

In retrospect, I simply could’ve commed for confirmation, but I didn’t want to appear to be slow on the draw.

It was time to make a decision.

I flipped a coin; Arzad won.

14 JUMPS LATER …

The Onslaught made her way across space slowly to Arzad. Passing through Dal enroute, I continued to get updates from military intelligence; the Amarr were out and about in force it seemed. At least it wasn’t going to be a boring day.

I had a scout escort me to Amarr space, wherein he had to rejoin his fleet for another op. I thanked him, wishing him “fly safe”, the standard farewell between pilots.

I jumped into Arzad.

My heart sank as Aura set off every alarm she possessed. There was a gatecamp of at least a dozen Amarr battleships, another fifteen or so battlecruisers, and plenty of frigates, destroyers, cruisers and interceptors to round things out.

I had found the roaming Amarr fleet. Lucky me.

There was no way with my current fit that the Onslaught would be able to stand against this many capsuleers. I had my crews ready their battle stations, and weighed my options.

The gate I had just jumped through was 14 km away. Unfortunately, it would take me nearly 10 seconds to align from my current heading to that trajectory. In that time, I was sure to get webbed, scrammed and killed, and there were too many crew members onboard to consider.

There was nothing remotely inline with my current alignment, so trying to make a quick jump to anywhere was out of the equation also.

I knew time was running out. Soon, the gate would fully have my ship resolved into real space, and I would be visible and vulnerable to the Amarr.

Shit! I thought to myself. There were no other good words to express how I felt at the certain loss of my billion isk command ship.

Well, if I was going to go, I was going to go out fighting.

I mentally picked my primary from my overview, took a deep breath, and was about to give Aura the command to engage the afterburners when something miraculous happened.

The Amarr fleet began jumping through the gate.

I  literally held my breath. I refused to move or think. I didn’t want to do anything to jinx this gift I had been given. If I was lucky beyond measure, the entire fleet would jump out before I resolved into realspace.

That wasn’t destined to happen, but what did happen was pretty damn close.

Two interceptors and a single cruiser were still on this side of the gate when I finally reverted.

They instantly targetted me.

I managed to pop the first with my artillery before he could get any speed, all the while urging Aura to align me to the nearest moon. It was time to leave.

Undoubtedly, reinforcements were on the other side of the gate, and would be more than eager to get a kill.

Long story short, we got away by the skin of our teeth. My adrenaline was pumping, and I wanted nothing more than to take a step back and relax. The Amarr wouldn’t afford me that luxury. I knew they would be scanning down the system, looking for the safespot I had bookmarked, and that my time here in Arzad would be short today.

I spent the next half hour performing my own scans, trying to locate the archeological site Nilf had sent me to.

I managed to stay ahead of the Amarr for quite some time, but came to the point where I knew I was pushing my luck.

There was no dig going on in this system. Time to head to Erstur. Damn you, Nilf.

I warped on top of the exit gate, easily breaking through the anticipated Amarr camp waiting for me there.

I quickly jumped through, pleased to see the Tribal Liberation Force reinforcements I had called in engaged with the Amarr on the other side.

I hurried on my way to Erstur.

16 JUMPS LATER … AT THE ARCHEOLOGICAL SITE IN ERSTUR

Shit… the Cartel is here, and they’re targetting the outpost. You need to act quickly. Secure the area and protect the archeologists!

Four Gistii battleships pounded at me, effectively blockading me from the outpost. Six battlecruisers joined them, leaving me no choice but to play on the defensive side.

It was very slow going, and during the entire engagement I could see frigates, cruisers, battlecruisers and battleships bombarding the outpost.

I had to get through.

Finally, I got through the hull of a battleship. This was far too slow going.

By happenstance, I scanned the outpost, only to find it was now in structure. A spike of fear surged through me.

Were they actually going to destroy it? I thought incredulously.

That is when the archeological outpost exploded, and my stomach sank. Nilf was quick to chime in.

The outpost is down. We’ve lost this battle … and the Cartel knows it. I’ve just received word from one of their commanders; the terms of agreement for an exchange. Forget the base; it’s a lost cause now, just come back to me.

Fucking hell! I cursed myself. Goddammit!

I berated myself as I set a course back to Nilf. I hated failure, especially in myself. I had entirely misread the situation at the outpost, and after the hell I had gone through to get there in the first place … dammit.

I had let the RSS down.

I had let myself down.

I had let the Republic down.

I had let those archeologists down.

We have a transmission from the Angels. Those god-damned slime-excreting vermin. I think you better get back here right now. We’re gonna need you for this next part.

Surfacing

NILF ABRUSKUR’S RAPIER IN ALDRAT

We’ve had analysts from the Krusual and Thukker tribes going over the doucments you recovered from our agent’s private compound. They’ve made one more promising discovery so far which we want you to follow up.

Something I had learned in my experience was that the more people were involved in keeping a secret, the less likely that secret would remain such.

Too many hands were getting involved in this mix, and it made me much more cautious than I typically would’ve been. It was almost borderline paranoia and conspiracy theory; I was expecting the unexpected at every turn. It wasn’t the way I preferred to live.

As a military pilot, I was very straightforward. If you were my enemy, I’d shoot you in the face. If you weren’t, I’d fly your wing with pride.

Intelligence operatives were masters of making things overly complicated and convoluted for no other purpose than to maintain their mystifying stereotype to outsiders; and in this case anyone not part of the Intelligence Division was considered an outsider, myself included.

There was no trust, no straightforwardness. I needed to know that the person I was talking to, the person assigning me to life and death situations was trustworthy. If not, it was a fool’s errand each and every time. I would be more likely to cheat death by putting a pistol to my head and hoping for an empty round than by continually working for Republic Fleet Intelligence, at least in this “need to know” capacity.

Just the same, I would do my sworn duty. That is who I was. And that was the main differentiation between me and Nilf. If I said it, I’d do it. There was no reason to doubt.

They found a communication from our source inside the Ammatar Consultate. It seems she sent a package of information on the Wildfire Khumaak to the system of Jark for pickup not long ago. Our guess is that due to the sensitivity of the information and the amount of attention it’s attracting, our asset in the Consulate could only get it to the border, not across. This could play in our favour though. Due to its location in the San Matar constellation – the heartlands of Ammatar space – there’s a good chance our agent didn’t make it out there yet. We have to be careful where our operatives are seen sometimes.

I continued to listen to Nilf’s briefing, but at the same time I casually brought up military intelligence on the San Matar constellation. Average security status was 0.8, and it wasn’t deemed Amarr sovereignty, so I would have no outright issues with their military forces. So far, things seemed straightforward, for a change.

The drop-off location inside Jark is a complex known as Tili’s Red Light Palace.

My eyebrow shot up of its own accord. He had my full attention.

Initial Intelligence is that it’s just another merc RR dive, nothing special. Once you have arrived to the area we’ll forward the exact location of the cargo.

I had to re-read the real time transcript on a side monitor to catch up on what Nilf said. My mind was still back at Tili’s Red Light Palace.

Speaking of which, I trust I needn’t remind you how important those documents could be, or indeed, how sensitive. Proceed with caution, do not take any risks.

Sensitive. Caution. No risks. Condoms. Got it.

JARK SYSTEM

The Onslaught was at full crew capacity. I had never seen so many volunteers for a mission. You could smell the testosterone hanging in the air, the pheromones seeping through the air ducts.

I was thankful to be isolated in my pod; I’d wager the body odour levels were high out there as well.

Nilf commed me:

Okay, here we are. Head for the brothel complex on your right. It’s the one in the middle where you’ll find the package.

It’s an odd sensation sometimes, being a Capsuleer. With experience, you learn how to control your thoughts, how to allow Aura to differentiate between commands and random stirrings. Some pilots verbalized these commands, but that was more for their own benefit and focus than for Aura.

Unfortunately, she often read your strongest thought impulses, responding to those core instincts in each of us, ignoring surface thoughts altogether.

In this instance, even before Nilf commed me, my ship was heading towards the brothel, as soon as I saw what it was on my overview.

If my men (and women) aboard were as excited as I was, this would be a fantastic mission. I had already told them that should all go well, we might just dock up here for a day or two, taking some leave time. They deserved it. Hell, I deserved every orgasmic moment of it, though even thinking about sex was a little premature.

We were just out of range to initiate docking procedures when an unexpected comm came my way.

Well boys, looks like we got ourselves another poddie trespassin’ our domain here. Why don’t we show him what happens to uppity eggers who think they can hang with the big boys?

I could never catch a break. Did these yokels really think they could stand against a Command ship of the Tribal Liberation Force with one of the most well decorated and well respected Matar Colonels at the helm?

You would think I would’ve learned that the amount of eating your words done was inversely proportional to the amount of boasting you did ahead of time.

These guys were serious business.

Multiple Battlecruisers, several frigates, they warped in and pounded me with their initial volleys. I had to align my ship away, giving the Onslaught some distance from the Brothel; the last thing I wanted was civilian casualties and being tied publicly to this place.

A second wing warped in with triple the ships of the first. I launched my valkyrie drones, my artillery cannons straining with the exertion of overheating. I hadn’t seen this large a mercenary force in a long while.

They launched spider drones, which quickly snagged me, but I was smart and had a plan. I would micro jump back to the brothel, engaging the bigger ships that had fallen behind in distance, and at the same time putting distance between my ship and those spider drones.

Are you freaking kidding me? I thought to myself as my drones didn’t micro-jump the 300 km with me. They simply sat motionless, watching as the spider drones quickly made their way back to me and webbed me, allowing the numerous battleships I had engaged to pommel me without any drone support on my side.

I spent the next two hours barely surviving what should’ve been a routine encounter, all due to one foolish noob mistake. Let that be a lesson to all of us.

Finally, I had junked all the ships, and was trying to make my way back to my Valkyrie drones. I couldn’t target the fast-moving, hostile spider drones with my artillery, but at a current velocity of 34 m/s, there was no way I would ever get back to my drones.

Thankfully, I was smarter than drones.

I warped away, then warped back in at 100km range.

I made it about 100m before the spider drones had closed the distance and webbed me again.

Thankfully, I was smarter than drones on the second try.

I warped away, then warped back in at 0 km range, and hit my afterburner, pushing in the opposite direction away from my drones.

I made it about 100m before the spider drones had closed the distance and webbed me again.

Thankfully, I was smarter than drones on the seventh try.

I warped away, then warped back in at 100 km range, near my drones, the enemy spider drones finally out of their aggression range on the far side of the brothel.

Take that stupid drones! I mocked myself.

I scooped up my valkyries, and approached the brothel.

Using an RSS specialist that had been assigned to this mission, we managed to retrieve an encrypted transmission the RSS Ammatar spy had hidden on the brothel broadband. Even with the specialist, it was still a wholly incomprehensible string of 1s and 0s.

I bought the specialist a shuttle, and sent him on his way.

After the day we had endured, my crew and I weren’t leaving just yet.

If Nilf had issue with that, well, then it was just that much sweeter now wasn’t it.

Maintenance Program

I don’t know if you’re like me, but being a Capsuleer, you probably are. We’re a lazy bunch, truth be told; spending far too much time immersed in our pods, keeping the fate of worlds in balance, yet at the same time, neglecting the temples that are our bodies.

I can remember being on recon missions for months at a time, stuck in the tight confines of my Rapier Blue Vein, going a bit stir crazy in all honesty, which made me all the more thankful for these workout routines.

DISCLAIMER: Always consult a physician before engaging in these exercises/nutritional recommendations. Not all capsuleers are created equal. Work to what you can, building up over time. Do not over-exert yourself to the point of feeling faint or dizzy.

Remember, you can cheat all you want; you’re only cheating yourself.

BASIC

NUTRITON

  • Drink at least 2 litres of water per day.
  • Eat a large, healthy breakfast. Eat a medium sized lunch. Eat a small dinner. Go to bed hungry.

EXERCISE – MORNING AND EVENING

  • Cardio Cleaning for 30 minutes. This is regular ship/quarter cleaning, but without any rest. (Once per day only).
  • 3 sets of 20 pushups, maximum 30 seconds rest between sets. Hands should be shoulder width apart and the middle of your hands should be equal to your nipples.
  • 3 sets of 10 body squats. A body squat consists of legs shoulder width apart, weight on your heels the entire time, back straight, arms at 90 degrees, and lower your body (again, weight on heels) as far as you can, as though sitting down. It’s important to keep your back as straight as possible. You will know if you’re not doing it right, as your lower back will start to hurt.
  • Abdominal plank. It’s the same position as a pushup, but on your elbows. Hold that position for as long as you possibly can, timing yourself. When you can no longer hold it and collapse, rest 30 seconds, then repeat, forcing yourself to meet the same amount of time as your first plank.

INTERMEDIATE

NUTRITON

  • Drink at least 2 litres of water per day.
  • Eat a large, healthy breakfast. Eat a medium sized lunch. Eat a small dinner. Go to bed hungry.
  • Start taking a good Whey Protein Isolate 30 minutes before your workout and immediately afterwards. Allmax Isoflex is a good brand. A little pricey, but hey, we’re talking about our temples here.

EXERCISE – MORNING AND EVENING

  • 45 minutes cardio cleaning. Same as Basic, but damn are things starting to look clean. (Once per day only).
  • 3 sets of 20 pushups. No more than 30 seconds rest inbetween sets. This time, alternate between regular pushups and clapping pushups, that is, clap your hands together when you push yourself up off the ground.
  • Side abdominal plank. Same as Basic, but alternate with resting all your weight on one elbow, turning your body perpendicular to the ground, extending your other hand towards the ceiling, maintaining a rigid body the entire time.
  • 3 sets of 10 body squats, same form as basic, but this time at half speed. Feel that burn.

ADVANCED

NUTRITION

  • Drink at least 2 litres of water per day.
  • Time to up things a notch. In addition to your protein supplement, start taking a non-phase loading creatine. Anything else is just pumping your muscles full of water to look big, but the day you stop taking them, you’re going to look small again. Purple K brand is excellent. Take one of these before your workout, and one after.
  • SIX meals per day. You heard me. Each meal should be 3 hours apart, and each portion shouldn’t be any bigger than what you can hold in one hand. It’s very important to start eating healthy.

EXERCISE – MORNING AND EVENING

  • 1 hour of cardio cleaning. Everything should be spotless on a daily basis at this point. (Only once per day).
  • 2 sets of EPIC FAIL. Do as many “push-off” pushups as you can. This is where you push your hands AND your feet off the ground when pushing up. Do as many of these as you can. Immediately after fail, do clapping pushups until you can’t do anymore. Immediately after fail, do regular pushups until you can’t do anymore. Immediately after fail, do girl pushups, that is, knees on the ground, until you can’t do anymore. Rest 5 minutes and repeat.
  • Abdominal Assault. Do alternating “Superman” planks, that is, in the plank position, extend one leg and the opposite arm, until fail, then switch sides. This is gonna hurt. Trust me. Hold as long as possible, matching or exceeding the second set with the first.
  • Suicide Squats. 3 sets of 20 squats, where you launch yourself as high you can into the air, extending your neck and spine, landing into a smooth squat as low as you can. Rest no more than 30 seconds inbetween sets.

And there you have it.

Keep at it; don’t be discouraged. These are just a few simple exercises I thought of off the top of my head from my many routines.

They may not all be right for you. The important things are to start eating better, get some cardio activity daily, and to push your muscles a little more each day.

If you have a desire for other exercise variations, or are limited in what you can do and need something more specialized, feel free to leave a comment in this thread, and I’ll try to help you out as best I can.

Dead End Intercept

I accepted Nilf’s mission to kill the RSS traitor.

Good. His name is Lomar Vujik. As soon as he emerges, terminate with extreme prejudice. Recover any data that wasn’t destroyed and then report immediately back to me.

I had sworn to myself that I would not kill his family, which he had taken onboard his escaping vessel with him.

What did that kind of action say about a man?

Lomar obviously loved his family; that was respectable. He was obviously in a blind panic; no husband nor father would rationally put his family in harm’s way unless he was completely desperate and without hope.

If Lomar had become that irrational, he would be prone to reckless mistakes, clouded judgements resulting in possible catastrophe for those he sought most to protect.

The very ones he cherished most might suffer if this wasn’t handled delicately.

The soldier’s voice in my head reminded me that he should’ve thought of that before betraying the Republic; and that orders were orders. But things were never that simple. There was always a reason behind action. I was sure the truth would surface before this was finished, one way or the other.

I made good time to Fredagod, warping the Onslaught to the RSS Residential Suites. My crew was made well aware that if they did not respond to my commands within nanoseconds, there would be severe disciplinary action, and past toothbrush bathroom cleaning sessions had instilled a healthy fear in them.

While in warp, I took a moment to review the data Nilf had transferred to me regarding the RSS Residential Suites.

This reconfigured station houses thousands of RSS agents along with their families, and serves as just one of many secure locations for employees to settle down. Often the line of work RSS agents undertake brings with it a risk for recriminations. In order to minimize the threat to their families and keep agent’s minds on the job, the RSS often heavily subsidizes the accommodation at these residential suites. For the RSS it is just another way to approach internal security; the cost of these subsidies pales in comparison to the amounts the Amarr would pay for just one good defector, and the damage done from a high-level leak would be significant for an entity that built itself on the security of information.

I felt uneasy. At first I thought it was because of the nature of the assignment I had been tasked with, but further introspection revealed a more alarming truth; my world view was being challenged.

Thus far in my life, decisions had been very black and white, very clear. There was a line. There were consequences for crossing that line. I had always been able to discern what was right and what was wrong.

I was starting to see just how many shades of grey there were in this universe, and it left me unsettled at how easily the vast majority of the population lived within them. I didn’t like when things became unnecessarily complex, but the longer I lived, the more complex my life became.

I missed clarity from simplicity.

I exited warp 100km from the residential station, my overview quickly filling with RSS ships. Frigates, cruisers, and a single Fenrir freighter. I flagged them all as friendlies to avoid any confusion should things turns sour.

I began moving towards the station when I received an open transmission from the docking authority. At first I thought they were requesting credentials, assuming I was moving to docking proximity, but there was no talking. I was privy to overhear an unauthorized debarkation of a Republic Fleet Tempest battleship, and the ensuing firefight as the ship broke free of the station.

This had all been planned for the benefit of Lomar Vujik, but it gave me all the information I needed. I cycled up weapons, set the crew to red alert, and moved in, locking the battleship and launching my Valkyrie II drones.

This wasn’t going to be an easy fight.

This variant of the frontline battleship of the Minmatar Republic had been heavily modified with only one purpose in mind: destruction. It had been supplemented with decks of top-of-the-line fire control systems, and its entire power distribution structure had been redesigned to provide as much power as possible to its weapons, resulting in a truly fearsome battleship.

Thankfully, the Onslaught wasn’t a stock Sleipnir; I had some surprises of my own for any enemy I faced.

The battleship hammered my shields hard, and I returned fire in kind. Very slowly, I peeled away his shielding and his armour, not letting up as his hull began to flame.

By now Lomar must’ve known he had reached the end, and that his family was going to suffer his fate if he didn’t act quickly. But what was he to do? I had him locked down tight, at my mercy, but had it been me in his situation, I would be of the mind that it was better for my family to die with me than to suffer torture at the hands of the RSS to reveal what they did or did not know. I would take them with me, selfishly, not thinking it through in the heat of the moment.

“Stand down.” I broadcast with authority to every ship within 250km, not knowing the exact frequency he would be using. His ship continued its barrage against me.

“Lomar, stand down. It doesn’t have to end this way.” I said with as much compassion as I could muster. I used his name to try to establish familiarity, relationship; it was a device often employed in negotiations.

Still, his ship continued to assault me, my shield dropping dangerously low.

“You have my word that your family will not be harmed. Simply stand down and…”

“Your word?” Lomar replied on an open channel for all to hear.

“What good is your word, Colonel, when you act as the uncaged bear of the RSS? Your word means nothing to me and my family. You will die, or we will die fighting you.”

Did he not see the dozen frigates and cruisers surrounding him? Did he not realize I was giving him an out? Impressive as his ship was, it would not stand against this fleet.

“You don’t have to do this, Lomar.” I said, genuine sincerity pouring from my voice, the use of his name pleading to his subconscious mind to hear me as a long-time friend.

“Yes Colonel,” Lomar paused. “I do.” The regret was clear in his voice.

He was not irrational at all. I had been mistaken. He had weighed all his options, and this was the choice that he had made for his family. There would be no swaying him; this I could tell from the grave finality of his tone.

He opened up with a new volley against my ship, dropping me into armour. I quickly gave the mental command, which was relayed to my engineering deck, and a size 800 capacitor battery was used to top up my ship. Seconds later I activated my shield booster, regaining about 30% of my shielding. I let the booster cycle again, and was close to 60% shield strength within six seconds.

I was trying to make it clear to Lomar that he would lose everything he valued most if he continued on this way. If he was so far gone that he would sacrifice them all, maybe I could push him further, to the point of breaking, to the realization of defeat, triggering his survival instinct to the foreground of his mind. It was never too late to change your mind; that’s what it was made for.

He simply continued firing at me, telling me his answer without uttering a single word.

With great regret, and a burden that still haunts me some nights to this day, I gave the command to the destroy his ship.

My eyes closed as it exploded brilliantly, a single tear escaping unseen within the liquid of my pod.

“Send a team to check for survivors.” I croaked, emotion slipping unwanted into my voice.

No life signs were showing via ship scan, but they weren’t 100% reliable in my experience.

Within fifteen minutes, my search and rescue team confirmed my ship sensor readings; there had been no survivors, but they had been able to recover a single singed datapad.

datapadThis barely functioning piece of personal electronics turned out to contain ledger upon ledger of financial statements, high-level meeting transcripts and company rosters from several public and private Minmatar organizations. A large portion of the data was encoded in some sort of advanced cipher, leaving it completely unintelligible to me.

I returned my findings to Nilf Abruskur, the pressing burden I felt only increasing in weight, crushing my spirit.

It’s good to know we’re on the same page, Colonel Wieler. Our asset in Ammatar sends their thanks. They’ve been gathering information for us; there will be something shortly. Get back to me in a minute or two.

I closed off the comm link, and squeezed my eyes shut, until the physical outweighed the emotional pain. I was angry at Nilf. I was furious with this entire situation. I was enraged at myself most of all.

Lomar hadn’t comprimised. He had stood by his beliefs until the very end, despite it costing him the lives of those he loved most. He had known the consequences of his choices, but for him, it had remained black and white until the very end.

I envied the man quietly.

If there was a god, I prayed that my superiors would be held accountable for my actions. After all, I was just a soldier following orders; that left my soul unblemished did it not?

I had hoped my own rationalization would cheer me slightly, allowing me to focus on the very real tasks before me. Instead, my inner voice could see through the self-deception, the lie, the attempt at justification for something I knew in my heart of hearts was clearly a wrong and despicable act.

What was I becoming?

My Little Eye/Dead End Intercept

As always, it seemed downtime was a luxury only civilians got to enjoy. We had barely started our RNR on Hek VII TLF Logicistic Support when Arsten commed me.

I hadn’t even had the time to enjoy a decent meal, and protein paste just wasn’t cutting it anymore.

My disgruntled crew quickly and professionally re-assembled, ready for their next mission. I couldn’t begrudge them their dissatisfaction; we were all in a position of subjugation. It was part and parcel of serving the Republic.

Heroes aren’t made 9 – 5. Sounded like a good rule.

We made haste back to Frarn, rendezvousing with Arsten Takalo’s Republic Fleet Tempest once more.

Excellent, you’re back. Firstly, I have an update on the documents you recovered. The Thukker and Krusual have flown in analysts to go over the copies. It may take some time to sift through the data and find the fresh leads, but I’m confident they’ll find something useful in there.

In the meantime I have something else for you to do. I’ve made a few arrangements with the RSS and convinced them to let you continue to work on this Wildfire Khumaak business. Officially you will be acting as the RSS liason for the Brutor tribe, but in reality you’ll be on the front line working for the both of us to figure out what’s going on. You’re our go-to guy for this one and you got that job based on my recommendation. Don’t make me look bad, alright?

I didn’t respond, having gotten to know Arsten well enough by this point to understand that most of his questions were rhetorical. He simply enjoyed the sound of his voice, and of making you feel like you had a choice.

I’ve been asked to point you towards Corporal Nif Abruskur, who you can find in the system of Aldrat, Metropolis. I don’t know the guy, but I do know the RSS, and my advice is not to trust them. In fact, part of the reason I recommended you for this job was because I know I can rely on your judgement. That, and you how to deliver results.

I want you to keep an eye on this RSS operation. My gut still tells me that they’re keeping something from us. I suppose we’ll see, right?

Again with the royal “we”. I would find out. My crew would find out, and hopefully we’d find out with enough time to react; otherwise there would be a time of reckoning for those whom didn’t equip me with all the necessary intel to succeed at my task.

“Understood, Arsten. We’ll meet again soon, I’m sure. Fly safe.” I said, already laying in the course for Aldrat.

The fifteen jump journey was uneventful, which was a welcome rarity. My crew was on standby, but not full combat ready alertness.

As I warped the Onslaught towards the RSS Liason Headquarters, I had time to reflect on what Aura’s records revealed about them.

For the most part, the Republic Security Services Corporation has not made a habit of hiring outsiders, preferring instead to stick to known, trustworthy people who have long proven their loyalty to the Minmatar cause. The one notable exception to this isolationist tendency has been the capsuleers, who are afforded much higher levels of access due to their unique capabilities. Unwilling to let such powerful individuals serve other agendas, the RSS long ago made sure that the proper in-space and in-station infrastructure would be there to act as a bridge, a connection between their own shadowy world and that of the powerful capsuleer class.

Good news for me, I guessed.

A Rapier class covert ops vessel decloaked off my starboard bow, and I was hailed by our RSS representative, Nilf Abruskur:

nilf

Nilf Abruskur

Greetings Colonel. I’m Corporal Nilf Abruskur. I’m glad to have you working with us. Now, we have much to discuss and little time in which to discuss it, so if you don’t mind, I’ll get straight to the point.

I broke my salute, allowing the Corporal to continue.

You conducted yourself with skill and cunning for Agent Takalo. Due to this, and due to the fact that you’re already involved in this delicate matter we have decided to enlist your services, if you will provide them.

As you’ve no doubt learned by now, it appears we have an intelligence asset in the Ammatar Consulate, and their handler – our agent – had disappeared under mysterious circumstances as well. It is a messy situation at the moment, but I have little doubt that we’ll clean it up one way or the other.

Our Ammatar asset is the priority for now; if we can find her, we will be able to make sense of the Wildfire Khumaak you have discovered. The tribes have their best people working on those documents you recovered as well, trying to glean her identity from something in there, but even though we don’t know her identity, they have shown us who one of her enemies is.

The data you have recovered has strongly supported existing evidence that we have an Ammatar counteragent in our midst, and now we have their name. We believe this person has gathered information that may compromise our own source in the Ammatar government. This traitor is currently residing at one of our residential quarters with his family, completely unaware that the world is about to come crashing down on him.

We’ve dissolved his ship’s FTL link without his knowledge, and for the past twelve hours we’ve run a dead-end intercept on every transmission he’s tried to make out of the area. We know he’s about to make an escape with his family sometime soon.

Your task is to ensure that ship does not escape the area intact. Local agents will stand down, they know the score.

I felt sick to my stomach.

I had seen war. I knew the consequences every kill brought. I’m not talking theologically here; eternal damnation, reaping what I sow, blah, blah. I’m talking straight out facts: I kill a pilot; their family suffers the loss.

You de-sensitized yourself to it; you had to or you would drive yourself insane with the guilt of it all. You accepted that you were choosing the lesser of two evils, and shouldered the burden; that was your job.

But this man, traitor or not, would have his family on board his vessel. There was no way I would open fire on innocents. It simply would never, EVER, happen.

But if I said no, they would simply find someone else who would comply. If I said no, I would be potentially removing the Brutor tribe from even having a part in this discovery.

I accepted the mission.

I would find a way to accomplish my objective and spare the family.

Friends in High Places

I knew it was the right course of action. They needed me for this. I had past relationships with the Republic Security Service, and was in good standing with them; it should’ve been a no-brainer.

Why Arsten was still in debates with them as to whether I was an acceptable candidate or not was beyond me. I stressed about it more than necessary, blaming my recent public misfortunes once again.

I wasn’t self-pitying; I was self-loathing. There is a difference.

Alright, we’ve talked it out and I was right. You’re going in there. The RSS almost threatened to have you killed for attempting it, but with the accusations being leveled at them right now they’re just gonna have to get over it. We needed someone independent, not tied to any one faction, and who we knew we could trust. You were the obvious answer; I didn’t even have to suggest it.

That gave me a small sense of satisfaction. The previous few years of my life at that time had been tirelessly dedicated to the cause of the Minmatar; my blood bled daily for our freedom.

The RSS has given us the location of the compound where this agent was doing his work. Your task will be to fly to Alakgur and investigate it. We’re looking for anything that would give us further insight into why he was visiting the Defiants. All they could tell us was that he expressed an interest in examining the Khumaak and then suddenly showed up. The Angels followed shortly after.

Hmmm, it seemed the “official” story they were going with was different than what had actually occured. I supposed it wasn’t the first, nor the last time, a cover-up would occur surrounding potentially volatile situations.

It’s a politically delicate assignment, Roc, but a pretty easy one from your end. Just fly in there, have a poke around, and bring back anything you think may be relevant to our investigations. I’ll be plugged into your camera drones for this one, along with the rest of the RSS, heh. We’ll tell you what to look for too, if we see anything in there. Sorry about the invasive measures, but it was either that or a 500 million isk collateral to the RSS.

You down for this?

I grumbled to myself at their extreme measures. It wasn’t like I was some random cadet, still green around the ears. I knew how things worked. They didn’t have to threaten; they simply needed to show some courtesy was all. Then again, it was the RSS, and I had never known any of those security types to be charming or personable.

“Yeah, let’s do it.” I told Arsten, ignoring the look on his face at my obvious lack of enthusiasm.

“Thanks Roc. I owe you one.” He said, disconnecting the comm.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to solve this mystery as much as anyone else involved, or that I wasn’t excited to be a part of it.

I was just tired of taking orders from just about anyone I spoke with at that point in my life. When would I get to be in control of my own destiny? When would I get to make the decisions?

The Onslaught made good time to Alakgur, warping insystem to the coordinates provided by the RSS.

I was unceremoniously reminded of my audience.

You’re in warp to the RSS compound foyer, from here you have to use the acceleration gate marked RRD-XX3. It should be the only one you have access to.

So far, it was only Arsten talking, which I didn’t mind. We were Brutor, and he was a pretty straightforward guy thus far.

I maneuvered my Sleipnir to the designated gate, and activated it, hurtling myself and my crew through subspace, the gate controlling our destination remotely.

Okay, we’re in. Good.

Arsten was anxious. I could hear it in his voice. I pulled up my overview as soon as reverting to realspace.

Now, see those three storage warehouses to your left, up the back? Start there. The RSS says any documents archived there would have more than enough information. Let’s see about that.

It seemed Arsten was the designated mouthpiece for this mission. He was as much a puppet right now to the RSS as I was.

I moved to within scanning range of the warehouses as directed.

warehouses

Nothing was showing up on my scans throughout any of the warehouses. I was starting to doubt the RSS had any clue whatsoever. Arsten apparently agreed with that sentiment.

Still nothing? What the hell?

Okay… one last thing to try. That giant radio telescope over there? I’m guessing it cached all outgoing transmissions. Everything else might be empty but I’ll bet there’s still some data in that thing. Head over and check it out. We’re going to kindly ask the RSS for the decryption passwords right now…

Good thinking on his part, and he quietly covered my ass in the process. I knew little to nothing of hacking and decrypting, leaning closer to the nothing side.

I moved towards the telescope.

telescope

Using the codes provided by the RSS, I accessed the logs of the telescope… and found what we had been looking for.

Finally, something. This is looking good. We’re picking up all sorts of data on your sensors.

We just uploaded the interface protocols and security clearance to your electronics subsystems; you should be able to freely access the telescope’s storage compartment. That will have hard copies of all communications logs. Bring everything you find there back to me. Good work.

I sent out a drone to retrieve the now available records from the base of the radio tower. I looked over the reports myself.

reportOperation Stillwater: Synopsis

This small data storage unit contained a swathe of operational information, offering insights into an ongoing RSS investigation known as “Stillwater”.

Although the report logs number in the hundreds of pages, a few key details became immediately apparent. The name of a highly-ranked Ammatar Consulate official recurs frequently, and references to her as “sister” reveal a secret loyalty to the Republic. Despite the prominence of this Ammatar defector in the reports, her name and any other identifying details were omitted.

Page after page of synopsis were filled with meticulous documentation of the agent’s daily life; every meeting they had, every stakeout they sat through, and every other lead they chased up – it was all there. The problem wasn’t the lack of detail, more the overwhelming amount of it. It would take some time to make sense of it all.

I moved onto the next report.

reportReport R:081-9560

This fragment appeared to be just one part of a larger intelligence dossier.

“The Consulate is able to, of course, but I’m confident that the current situation won’t escalate. Even still, we need to keep pushing for the location of the [unidentified encryption - string undecipherable]… the Angels have smelled Jovian involvement and are now throwing all kinds of ISK around to catch up to us. They will, eventually. Don’t doubt it. I almost wish Boufin sold us out to them in the end, they’d realize there is nothing of value to them there and screw off. But then I guess anything we value, they’ll want to lord over us too. I’ve noticed a few people of theirs are assigned to me too. I’ll be taking slightly longer to get to our meetings as a result; I don’t want to be leading them anywhere we don’t want.

She asked to meet Boufin again today by the way, and again I had to explain the risks and make her promise to lie low. I’m not completely trusting that she will let me handle things. She needs to keep up her public appearances in court, not go off meeting Gallentean historians in secret. Her career would be over in a second if we got made, and I’d have serious problems of my own.

She’s growing increasingly frustrated though, so we may have to look into some kind of arrangement. Surely we can set up a secure FTL line for them both? I know how to do it myself; I just need your clearance to proceed.”

Things were getting personal; and I had learned quite painfully that mixing business with pleasure is poison. If ever a man wanted to end his professional life, he simply had to mingle with the wrong type of woman. Trust me on that one.

I read the final report.

reportThis fragment appeared to be just one part of a larger communication. The intended recipient was unknown, but was presumably someone within the upper echelons of the Republic Security Services.

“… you dare try and cut me out of the loop again. If you wanted to run operations without me knowing or caring then you should’ve brought in someone with half my skill.

I’ve given six years of my life to this. Try that shit again and I’ll be out of here. The last thing you’ll see before the sip of Pator Whiskey you keep in the 2nd drawer kills you will be me waving a Wildfire Khumaak on The Scope news.”

Ah women, can’t live with them, can’t kill them.

My heart ached even at the thought of another man’s romantic mishaps. I was getting soft. It was time to go home.

home

Once I had dropped off the reports and had my audience removed from my ship’s systems, I debriefed with Arsten.

Excellent work out there, Roc. We’re making copies of the data you recovered now. It looks like we’ll have more than enough here to work from.

You’re telling me, I thought to myself.

From first impressions, it looks like this RSS agent was working almost entirely alone on some operation involving a highly-placed Ammatar defector and the Wildfire Khumaak. The RSS people here with me are claiming they’ve never heard of this matter before.

Yeah right.

I’m seeing reports here to suggest that this Ammatar “sister” was a source for historical information on the Wildfire.

I don’t like the name of that RSS operation though, Roc. Stillwater? That’s basically the opposite of “Wildfire”. We should be careful not to trust the RSS too much on this one, I think.

I was about to communicate my wholehearted agreement with Arsten’s assessment, but he kept on going.

In fact, I have an idea. I’ll speak with you again after I’ve made a few arrangements with the RSS.

Interesting. What was he up to now?

I was sure I would find out soon enough. But right then, it was time for some rest and relaxation for my crew and myself.

I laid in the course for Hek.