– by Calvin Ciaphas
“It is with great honor and even greater privilege that I introduce this years graduates. Every year I am increasing amazed at the fantastic potential that passes though this university’s halls.” The speaker adjusted his glasses and gripped the podium. “Minds that were of high caliber entering, and an of even higher when they exit. Men and women of our state, who faithfully completed their educations exceeding all expectations. The Caldari people are strengthened by their resolve, even before they have begun to serve. That is why it is now, with tremendous pleasure, that I now pass the stage to this years Valedictorian, Richard Tentatio!” Thunderous applause began as a robbed figure walked up to shake the speakers hand.
“Rick turn off that holo would you? I already had to suffer through that once today.”
“Suffer? It’s not everyday that Dean Mif says my name without being furious.” Rick turned off the holodeck on the table and with a smug grin, picked up his glass. “So then. Have you given my offer any thought?” He took a long drag off his cigarette.
“What offer? I can only recall a suicidal rant about signing up for a pod corporation in Null Sec, all while you were drunk enough to make a Gallente Midshipman blush. If I wanted to die right after graduation I would have shot myself already.”
“Oh come on Bhin, you know very well that’s not the case. Maxi-Mine has been operating in it’s production sectors for decades, and it hasn’t been at war with anyone since it’s conception. And even if it did, it’s got the guns of the Four Swords Alliance backing them up.”
“I’m not thick you know.” Bhin sat up in his seat and waved an empty glass at the idle service bot. “These corporations are at each other throats constantly. Hell, half the time they just kill each other for sport.”
The bot scuttled over and took the glass as politely as it was capable.
“Another lager please.”
“That’s just bunk the state pushes on us so we piss our pants and never leave home.” Rick finished off his beer and handed it to the bot. “Lager for me as well.” He sat up in his seat and adjusted his jacket. “They’ve invested quite a pretty penny in us, and they don’t want us shipping out to places deemed nontaxable.” He smiled and took another drag on this cigarette. “In Null Sec, guys like us can make fortunes in days that would take decades in empire, and again they can’t tax one red cent of it. So come on, you work a few years on a planet no one will so much as sneeze over and then retire like a king before you’re thirty.”
The service bot returned with fresh glasses and placed them the two ceramic coasters on the table.
“Yeah well, maybe… but how come we don’t hear about guys going out and striking it rich all the time?”
“Because there’s so much money to be made! You really think the state would let that stuff filter through to the public? If you heard about that before, would you still want to sign up for some small time mining corp taxed to death by the state? Listen, you remember Alan Brish?”
“Of course, got us into the Honors Society early. Didn’t he graduate after our freshman year?”
“Sure did, and I happened to keep in touch with him ever since. He signed up with Maxi-Mine and has been raking in more money than both our families will make in a lifetime.”
“I’m sure…” Bhin rolled his eyes and thumbed the side of his glass.
“I don’t joke about money Bhin, you off all people should know that.” Picking up the drink in front of him, Rick took off his hat, revealing his shaved scalp highlighted with blonde stubble. “But here’s the best part. How much would you stand to make in a year, before taxes, if you stayed in the Empire?”
“I dunno, depends I guess… twenty thousand ISK maybe?” He sheepishly replied starting to take a drink
“And that’s if it’s a good company with good contracts.” He leaned in and motioned for Bhin to do the same. “Alan can stand to make fifty thousand in one day.”
Bhin choked on his beer, and spent a few moments coughing.
“Bullshit!” he spat.
“No bullshit, and that was when he was just working asteroid belts. Word is, the company is planning to literally set down roots planet side. There’s a huge hiring surge on the way and freshly graduated geologists are just what they’re looking for.”
“Come on, that’s way to dangerous for me. My parents would be worried sick for the entire tour.”
“Ha! That’s it, think of your parents. Haven’t they worked their fingers to the bone for you? You know better than me just how much they scrimped and saved to put you through school even with those state scholarships. A few years out in the Null, and you can retire yourself and them on your very own moon. I’m just saying they should be able to relax in their golden years.”
“Don’t play that card on me pal… but I guess… you do kind of have a point.”
“There we go! You can see the word of reason yet. We’re the best and brightest of our lot, and you know it. We deserve better than what those statesmen deem fit.” Rick slapped his friend on the shoulder and reached into his jacket pulling out a small data slate. “Here, you can sign up for the same shuttle as me. It’s leaving this week you know, the very last one for a good long while.” A few clicks on the screen and a rather impressive looking contract was brought up. “All you need to do is sign up here and meet with the Human Resources rep before we leave.” He slid the slate across the table and handed Bhin the stylus. “Our fortunes await just a few light years away.”
“I wish I was as confident as you are. I don’t want to wind up being a forgotten corpse in the middle of nowhere… but that sure would be a lot of money…” Bhin took the stylus and scribbled his name on the contract.
“Alright then, we’ll get packing right away.” He picked up the tablet and stuffed it back into his jacket. “Oh yeah, I forgot to mention I’m getting an extra signing bonus for snagging you, but I didn’t want to scare you off before. Don’t worry thought, I’ll be sure to split it with you.” Bhin’s face crumpled for a moment as he processed the last sentence but relaxed as he shrugged his shoulders.
“You’ve always been an asshole Rick.” he sighed, downing the last of his beer.
“Your attention please, all personnel are required to locate their gates for final boarding.” Small lights embedded in the floor beneath Rick and Bhin’s feet illuminated. “Penalties for missing a scheduled transport include, but are not limited to the docking of wages, company probation, and reeducation of company policy.” The lights began pulsing in the direction of the hangers.
“Looks like we’re on our way at last. The first step on a journey to becoming rich men.” Rick hefted his duffel bag over his shoulder and tapped the floor with his foot.
Bhin followed suit, and sighed, gazing at the floor. “I really hate flying; jumping even more.”
“Ha! Tell you what, if you get sick, lunch is on me when we get there.”
The two started down the corridor and merged with a herd of other recruits. Entering the hanger to check in with a manager.
Rick flipped though the paper work they received. “Ah here we go, we need to get to gate ten, and we’ll be flying in… the Scarlet Midget?”
Bhin leaned over, confused at the name.
“That’s the name of the ship, seriously, it’s being flown by a capsuleer too.”
“Why would you give a ship such a ridiculous name?”
“Dunno… but I suppose when you make the kind of money he does, it must not really matter. He probably has whole fleet of ships with equally ludicrous names. See what I mean? We’ll be able to afford our own armada soon enough.”
“I’m fine with just finding my seat at the moment.”
The Scarlet Midget proved to be a Gallente Ishkur, a small assault frigate that specialized in drone warfare. It sat modestly in the hanger, and with green and white armor there was little for it to be called scarlet. The gangway lead into the cargo bay, where a section was retrofitted to hold passengers. Seats were plentiful as it appeared that the pair were the only ticket holders. Bhin threw his bag up onto the rack above their seats and began strapping it down. Rick did the same and pulled a small box out his pocket.
“Here take one of these.” He pulled small blue pill out of the container and handed it to Bhin. “Just a little something to help you with the trip.”
“It’s not going to be like the last time you gave me drugs is it?”
“Of course not, I guarantee no one will turn into a fox or a black hole.”
“You’re a scream when you want to be.”
A small red light started flashing above them and a voice came over the intercom.
“Good morning ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking… actually since I’m the only one doing anything useful on this ship I suppose I could be the stewardess as well. But since I’m in charge of keeping the blood inside your bodies, captain will do just fine.”
“That sounds reassuring…” Bhin groaned and readjusted his seat straps.
“Oh yes, welcome aboard the Scarlet Midget and thank you for choosing Maxi-Mine as your means of make me piles of money. Please fasten yourselves in as tightly as possible, we don’t expect to get shot at, but the day is still young! Sorry about the lack of company, I was originally just picking up some blueprints, but the brass decided to tack you guys on as well. If I were you I’d be relieved. After all, those prints are worth far more than you pair any day, so I’ll be flying extra careful.”
Bhin looked over at Rick “This guy’s worse than you. I’m surprised your not a capsuleer.”
“Would if I could Bhin, would if I could.”
The ship shuddered, releasing from the station couplers. Inertia dampeners kicked in and the pair felt their stomachs drop a few inches before adjusting to the new gravity.
“Thought you newcomers might like a look at some of our fancy toys, just try getting a glimpse of this in empire space.” A screen popped on with a visual of the exterior. The ship aligned itself to some point in the system and activated its warp engines. Light blurred and flashed around the ship for several moments until it arrived at a dead space point. Ships were already amassing in the hundreds, with one ship several kilometers away from everyone else.
“Keep an eye on that lone wolf right there; going to put on quite a show pretty soon.”
The small craft wasn’t moving, and shortly after the captain had given this advice, sparks started appearing in front of it. Sparks turned to vibrant flashing and finally a soft explosion of light left a glowing orb in front of the ship.
“Ha ha! Bhin look! They’ve opened a cynosural field! I’ve only read about them, I couldn’t even find a holo of one, and now here we are about to go through one!”
“Who said that? Yeah that’s right I’m listening to ya. You think we’re going through it? Nah, that’s just sticking our thumb out for a ride. Should be along any second now.”
The orb continued to glow and seemed to be vibrating with a higher intensity than before. Shimmering in the distance a similar orb formed, darker than the first. Then with the same intensity and speed that the first orb had formed, the second grew unthinkably large before exploding in a flash of light, leaving behind a ship so colossal neither Rick or Bhin could believe was being shown on screen.
“To the ignorant or non believers amongst you, that my mortal money makers is none other than an Eerbus class titan. It specializes in providing logistics, over whelming firepower, and being the single largest war deterrent money can buy, one of five courtesy of the Four Swords Alliance. Now if you’ll excuse me I have to navigate to the jump portal, get ready to travel five light years in the blink of an eye. Just don’t get sick on the seats, they’re new. Ha!”
“Holy Mother, Bhin… a titan. I’ve never seen one up close… the largest ships in existence and we’ve got five on our side!”
“Yeah… but think what has to be out there to need that many… sorry, but a ship the size of a small moon kind of terrifies me.”
An image of a small dog took over the screen “That’s the whole bloody point!” it barked in the captains annoying voice.
Rick chuckled “Are we supposed to think there’s a dog flying this ship?”
“Well of course not, I just happen to enjoy looking like it. But if you like, I guess I could give you a peek under the hood.”
Rick recalled stories and rumors as to what capsuleers looked like inside their pod and instantly hoped he wouldn’t find out. “Um well, I think we’d rather…”
Rick was cut off as the screen changed again, this time showing a pale corpse floating in a cloudy green liquid. Cables and machinery ran all over the body, some connecting directly to it’s spine, the largest of which were connected to head; encased in a large helmet.
The dog reclaimed the screen “There’s something to write home about ‘eh? Now you know exactly what’s floating around in these pods.” the captain barked with a cheerful demeanor.
“Hey Rick, I think I’m going to be sick now.”
Their Ishkur slowly impulsed towards the titan. The massive ship stretched for kilometers, and very well had the internal capacity to hold every ship in attendance. Instead, the ship began warming up it’s jump portal generators. Like the initial jump, it too would use a cynosural field, this time deployed in Maxi-Mine space, to transport every ship in the blink of an eye. Once more, the void jumped with spontaneous sparks and flashes, energy surging within a singularity in front of colossus. Another burst of light and sitting in front of the ships was a miniature wormhole known as a jump portal.
“Ha ha! We are lucky, lucky boys indeed. We’ve been scheduled to be the first ship though. Please hold on to all personal organs and fluids while we go between two points in space faster than the speed of light.”
The Ishkur increased speed and aligned itself with portal. As it grew nearer, time seemed to slow for the passengers in the hold. All of reality stretched and swayed as the ship was compressed impossibly small and then stretched back to it’s original size.
Bhin’s stomach finally betrayed him and gave his seat an interesting new color scheme.
“Hope the trip was as fun for you as it was for me. Well it was probably more fun for me, I get a tasty cocktail of all sorts of drugs when I go through one of those. After all, we wouldn’t want to risk little ‘ol me getting queasy when popping into an enemy position.”
“I’m going to start needing drugs just from listening to this guy.” Muttered Rick under his breath.
“Heard that. It’ll be on the transcript to if you want to hear it again when we dock.”
Rick sank as far into his seat as far as he could.
“Well boy’s we are now officially in Null Sec. If I weren’t being paid so fabulously by the dullard miners I work for, I could eject you into the void with no more repercussion than if I had ejected a load of veldspar.”
Bhin coughed and spat out “Are all pod pilots as sadistic as you, or are we just lucky?”
“Yes I suppose we all are, and yes again. You’re fabulously lucky to get me, most of my coworkers would have popped you out and paid the difference, but I don’t get to talk to mortals that often, so I tend to enjoy the novelty.”
Quiet overtook the ship as the pilot began their journey and the passengers recovered from the shock of jumping. Some time pasted and the trip began to seem almost bearable. Without warning the ship shuddered and resonated. Before the first shock had even ended, a second made the ship creak even more.
“Thought you might like to know, we’re under fire from some pirates. You can watch If you like.”
The screen in front of Bhin and Rick flickered and now displayed a pale green, fish shaped ship. Dull green lights shown from it’s belly as bright streaks of light shot out from its guns striking the frigate. A Serpentis Vexor cruiser, nearly three times the size of the frigate.
“Just so you know, this is really cute. He hasn’t even scratched the shields yet. If I wasn’t in a hurry, I’d scrap him right here and now. But we still have a ways to go.”
The ship shook again, but this time an odd hum remained.
“Oh that’s swell. He’s jamming the warp drive. Well, can’t go anywhere with that going on. Looks like I’ll just have to pop him.
The screens camera moved towards the aft of the ship where a small door opened. With the swiftness of angry hornets, five drone ships popped out and orbited their host. In a calculated unison, they sped off towards the cruiser. At the same time, the frigate adjusted it’s course and flew towards the pirate. The drones arrived first and in sequence began firing volleys of high velocity anti-matter rounds. In the upper right hand corner of the screen, three bars labeled shields, armor, and hull appeared. As the drones continued their assault, the shield bar quickly lowered and the armor began to chip away.
“You know boys, there’s only one job I’ve truly taken a liking to, that being munition sales.”
The frigates guns swiveled and fixed their barrels on the cruiser.
“In fact, I’ve even come up with my own hook. I give all of my potential customers free samples, delivered straight through their bulk heads!”
The guns fired and their distinctive whine echoed thought the ship. Fiery bolts of anti-matter suspended in a magnetic field, raced across the void; striking the cruiser with deadly precision; gaping holes formed on it’s side. The armor bar fell completely followed by the the hull falling to a tenth of it’s original height. The drones released another volley, finally compromising the ships structure. The ship jerked as a small explosion rocked it’s engines. Then with an eerie silence, the entire ship burst into a white fireball, dissipating just as quickly as it formed.
“Oh shoot… another customer who didn’t like the samples. Well that was fun, sorry about the delay.”
Bhin shifted in his seat and started readjusting his straps “Jeez… you actually enjoyed killing that guy?”
“Guy? You mean guys. Serpentis doesn’t fly pods out here. Actually I don’t even think they have any, that would be a shiny kill let me tell you, much bigger bounty than this one.”
“You mean there was more than one person on there?”
“Sure, whole cruisers worth. Ship that size would have a least a few thousand, even with a skeleton crew”
Disgust leaked out of Bhin’s face“So you just kill thousands of people like it was nothing?”
“Well they shot us first, and then they webbed us. Once again welcome to Null Sec aka Zero Security space. The only laws out here are the ones you enforce yourself, and as you can see that’s done by the gun… or rocket… or drone… I like drones, they’re a lot cheaper.”
Bhin finished strapping himself in and stared at the floor. “Rick… now I think I’ve officially made a mistake.”
Thirty minutes of silence passed before the captain spoke up once more. “Ladies and Gentlemen it is my esteemed pleasure to welcome you to your new home, SVX-D4 planet V. We’ll be docking up at the orbital station soon, where you can find a shuttle to surface or just jump out if you so choose. Station time is 00:38 and once again I’d like to thank you for flying on the Scarlet Midget. I’ve enjoyed our time together, but don’t expect me to stick around, I’m shipping out to the boarders to shoot people who really matter. Ta ta for now and don’t forget your bags.”
Bhin released his straps as fast as he could “Finally. I don’t think I could get off of this boat fast enough.” Hopping out of his seat he grabbed his bag and began walking towards the door.
Rick was still fumbling with his straps “Hey wait for me.”
The station was similar to the one they had departed from but almost entirely deserted. Off in the distance a bright neon sign was proudly displaying “Pub”.
Bhin rapped Rick on the shoulder “Here, you can make good on your little wager. Happy hour is a fine substitute for lunch.”
“Hey Rick how are those deposits looking?”
“Down to eighty percent, should last another week before we need to do any maintenance.”
“Sounds good.” Bhin checked off a few notes on his data slate. “We already have the next three months scouted right?”
“Finished this afternoon. You going to the pub after the shift?”
“Heck yes. You’d think after eight months I’d be sick of the place, but it has a certain charm.”
“I assume you mean the booze?” Rick smiled and busied himself with his own slate.
The panel in front of Bhin displayed the off-world shipments made in the past twenty-four hours. It froze for a moment and an alarm sounded.
“What’s it this time, another blocked pipe?” Rick murmured without looking up.
Bhin put down his slate and wheeled his chair over to the blinking screen. “No… looks like a meteor…” He tapped a few options on the screen and pulled up a visual of the object. “Oh heck, it’s a ship!” The camera panned along side the husk of a ship, obscured by the heat of reentry and totally unrecognizable. Bhin calculated it’s trajectory “Rick… it’s going to hit the command center…”
“Jeez… alright, we need to get a hold of anyone there and get them to evacuate.”
“Already ahead of you.” Bhin grabbed a handset on the table and called the command post. “Command this is outpost Gamma, we’re tracking a inbound ship on a crash course with your position.”
A crackled voice responded “Roger Gamma, we’re not tracking anything on our end.”
“Double check, I’ve got a ship the size of a cruiser breaking atmosphere on my cams and it’s heading right for you!”
“We’re still reading nothing, we’ll switch to visual.”
Static retook the com as Bhin watched his screen.
The ship seemed to be spinning slightly, but not enough for an object it’s size. Getting closer to the facility, it’s started to lurch up.
“Holy mother! Command, it’s still active. Was anything scheduled?”
“Negative Gamma, this is new to us.”
As the ship regained control it leveled out, still on course for the command center. Temporarily blinding the screen, a flurry of missiles and lasers shot out and struck the command center. Huge explosions covered the face of the building.
“Command this is Gamma, what’s your status?”
“All hell’s broken loose! The main reactor’s been compromised. We’re starting an eva-” The com cut out as the facility burst into a fiery hell.
“Holy…” Bhin was cut off by an emergency transmission from the orbital platform.
“This Orbital Platform Omega, who’s in charge down there now?”
Bhin racked his brain, if everyone in the command center was dead, then it would have to be… “Us…” he weakly squeaked.
“Then here’s the sit-rep. The whole sector’s under siege, pretty big force too, that bomber was knocked down by our forces and crashed after taking out your command center. Thing’s aren’t going so well up here, stay put and await further orders.” The transmission cut out.
Rick jumped from his chair and raced to Bhin’s panel. “Holy hell… get a sky cam online.”
Bhin tapped the screen again and the picture changed to the sky above their outpost. Even from the surface, the onslaught was visible. The camera zoomed in as far as it could, revealing ships of all sizes. The void swelled with battleships exchanging volleys to tackler frigates doing their best to lock down the defenders. Suddenly huge explosions racked the distance as an invading capital fleet emerged from warp. Ships only slightly smaller than titans directed their massive weaponry at the defenders. Within minutes there was no one left to fire back.
Bhin and Rick stood silent, unable to look away from the battle above.
“What are we going to do?” Rick stammered.
“How the hell should I know?”
“Don’t we have a capital fleet to come to the rescue? I thought we had guns? I was told we have guns!”
“Calm down, they must be on their way.”
The screen flashed again as another transmission from the platform announced itself.
“Outpost Gamma, this is Orbital Platform Omega, do you copy?”
Bhin scrabbled for the handset “We read you, what the hell is going on?”
“We’re frakked is what’s going on… our forces have been completely overwhelmed and the company is ordering a full retreat to neighboring systems.”
“How are we getting out of here then?”
Silence overtook the com for several moments.
“We aren’t… the company as decided to cut their losses and give up this system for the time being.”
“What?! They can’t just leave us!”
“Well that’s what they’ve done and that’s the situation. Stand by for further orders…”
Bhin dropped the receiver and turned to Rick. “What the hell are we going to do?”
Rick said nothing and stumbled back into his chair. “I… I don’t know…” He leaned forward and put his hand on his forehead. “Maybe… maybe they won’t kill us? Maybe they’ll need us just like Maxi-Mine did. We could still get paid.”
“How are you thinking about money at a time like this? Everyone at the command post is dead, these guys seem real eager to collect their winnings.”
“It wasn’t supposed to be like this, ok?” Ricks voice grew frantic as he began pacing the floor “This wasn’t supposed to happen. We were supposed to sit on our asses, mining rocks for these pod dwelling freaks, and make fat sacks of cash doing it.” He slumped back down into his seat and held his head in his hands. “I don’t to die out here.”
“Well… neither do I…” Bhin couldn’t think of anything else to say.
An hour passed before anything happened. The panel flashed once more with a transmission.
Bhin looked it over. “It’s a video broadcast…”
“Maybe it’s the directors wanting to make a big speech about winning?” Rick was frantic again. “Come on! Play it!”
Bhin pressed play.
The image of an elderly gentlemen came into view, he wore long flowing robes and had a wide assortment of precious stones around his neck. He was sitting behind a glass desk, sipping a cup of tea. “Hello, I am Reyo Ulmarti, chief executive officer of Falcons Head Spacing and Trade corporation. I would first like to apologize for any stress caused by recent events. As you may be fully aware, we have annihilated the defending forces in your system and have already begun establishing sovereignty over it. The Four Swords Alliance has been disbanded by a mole and all of their territory is currently under siege. You have no hope of rescue, please do not do anything rash.” He put the tea cup down. “We are not ones to waste assets acquired through… hostile takeovers.” A small smile flickered before returning to his serious demeanor. “My sincerest condolences go out to the personnel who died when one of our pilots crashed planet side, he has since been reprimanded. Now, the matter of your employment.” He shifted a data slate on his desk and folded his hands on his lap.“We at Falcons Head run a much tighter operation than our predecessors, and do so by eliminating unnecessary costs. For instance, we were simply floored at how much money Maxi-Mine was spending on your payroll alone, which will result in cuts across the board. As well, we at Falcons Head are a capsuleer first corporation and have no intention of wasting money on single purpose personnel. That is why it is my esteemed duty to announce that you are now property of the Falcons Head Spacing and Trade corporation. Explosive collars will be fitted during your next resupply, resistance will be met with capital force. Again, we apologize for any inconvenience and hope you all have a nice day.”