With Great Power

It had been days since I had dropped off the Book of St. Arzad to Hiva Shesha. All she had said was:

After all of the trials and tribulations, we finally have the truth at our fingertips. Now it’s time to dig in and find out what the Wildfire Khumaak is all about.

I thought I was going to wear grooves into the floor I had been pacing my temporary quarters so much. I had opted to stay local, to be there when Hiva’s research was completed, but as I had learned, you couldn’t rush a historian; they all had the time in the world.

I was pulled from a sound sleep at 4AM on my NeoCom. Hiva was on the other end. She looked worn down, tired, but more than that, she looked older, deeply troubled. Without hesitation I asked her what was wrong:

I have devoted much of my life to history of all sorts, from its unflappable truths to its infallible lies to the nuanced information systems found throughout the chronicles, artifacts, disputed ruins, and subjective quagmires. Despite what people think, history is a shapeless void of nonsense, akin to space’s vacuum or the cold, thoughtless smattering of stars that we call home. There is no meaning besides what we make of it; we do not know truth outside of the lenses we place over this shapeless void, the teeming nothingness, the endless morass of information.

I was fully awake and sobered emotionally by her words. I could sense she was at a personal crossroads, and I would need to listen carefully if I was to be of any use as her chosen confidante.

This book troubles me. I do not know what to make of it, nor do I know how to proceed. If what this book says is true, and the chances are good that at least some of it is, then the Starkmanir did not begin their rebellion out of a thirst for independence, but rather out of loyalty to their Holder, a man known to them as St. Arzad. The Wildfire Khumaak, a symbol he stole from them, is not an enduring relic of independence, nor is it a glowing tribute to the spirit of the Matari people. Rather, it is an artifact devoted to the memory of the Starkmanir captivity, an heirloom of oppression, but also an endearing homage to a fallen captor.

Though a man of strong opinions, I held my tongue. Now was only the time to nod and continue listening.

In other words, the Wildfire Khumaak subverts the defiance of my people.

That is, of course, if this is true. All we have is the relic and this book. The story of St. Arzad is practically hidden or buried in the Amarr history: I can’t find a trace of it. For all we know, this is apocryphal heresy, a rash account of history, a fever dream of some demented Starkmanir, or an outright hoax.

I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. I’m torn on what to do, and thus I will put the choice in your hands. I don’t want the responsibility for what happens to this text. There are two places we can take it: Return it to the Defiants and reunite it with the Wildfire Khumaak, or donate it to a Gallente historian I know. The former option gives the book back its people, though I don’t know how they’ll approach the text (or even if they’ll release it to the general public, which to me seems a shame). The latter will keep the book safe and make it available for the greater good. Even though it’s a troubling account, it’s still history, and it stills needs to be known.

The choice is in your hands.

It was like she had parked a cruiser on my chest. I felt a tightness I had never experienced, and my hand instinctively grasped. Though physically fine, I felt as though I were having a heart attack, something unheard of for a capsuleer.

My posture broke, my shoulders sank, and my eyes worked furiously, looking this way and that as I analyzed the problem, trying to factor in the countless repercussions of either decision, and failing.

Hiva continued:

As I said, I leave the decision in your hands. This book is a remnant of the Minmatar people, and thus it probably belongs with my brethren. If you feel the same way, take the Book of St. Arzad back to Oggur Marendei, the Defiant member you spoke with earlier. They have the Wildfire Khumaak, and they should have this book as well.

Like I said, this book is unsettling for me, not as a historian, but as a proud member of the Minmatar Republic. The resistance our people endured for the past years is very important to me, and our ultimate defiance of the Amarr people is crucial to our cultural identity. This book does not show our defiance in a positive light, or at least muddies the motivations behind it.

This text belongs with our people. I cannot attest to how they will handle it, nor can I say for certain that they will bury it. But the right thing to do is to give it to them and not to let any outsiders take possession of it. This pains me as a historian, but it feels right as a Minmatar.

The truth is not easy, nor is it absolute. We base our understanding on our perspectives, the ideas we wish to accept, and the data we acknowledge as correct. Everything else is information clutter obscuring our understanding of the world around us.

My head swam, vertigo settling in. She made good points, and even though she believed it to be the right thing to do, did I? The decisions was mine alone to make.

I started to question what others might do in my position, friends and enemies alike, grasping for someone else to make this decision.

To make things even more of a dilemma, Hiva offered me a cargo of ten experimental RSS Enhance Probes, with 4x the flight time of the Sisters probes I often employed.

I needed more information.I asked Hiva about the Gallente historian.

Posmon Aubenard is a friend of mine, a Gallente historian working with the University of Caille. He’s a trusted academic, an astute scholar, and a respected member of the university’s staff. If you take this book to him, I know that he will preserve it and keep it safe, possibly even put the book in the proper historical light with a best-selling book of his own in a few years. That might not sit well with our Minmatar brethern, but at least we won’t lose the truth, or whatever part of the truth this book represents. The Defiants can keep the Wildfire Khumaak – although I’m sure Posmon would love to get his hands on it – but it’s just an empty symbol without the book.

Time stretched endlessly, though only a few seconds passed. I was silent, biting my lip, not sure which way to decide. I completely understood why Hiva passed this off onto me. It was a huge responsibility to bear. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to be the one to make the decision, yet I was the one who had to make it, in retrospect.

When we are quiet, when we stop thinking, when we are completely raw and truthful with ourselves, I believed that we can hear a gentle voice of inner truth. Each of us possesses it. Each of us can choose right or wrong.

It’s our own life experiences that have tainted this voice, that have driven down in silence to the point where we can’t even recognize its sound anymore. It’s our own baggage that damages us. We are the only ones that can control how we react to things, how long we let things affect us. We control our tomorrows.

I made my choice.

I won’t forget this.

That was all Hiva said as I headed for the Onslaught.

AVESBAR VI – MOON 18

I had showered off since docking, and now was walking down the main access ramp to my ship. I held a satisfied smile on my face, knowing I made the right decisions. Under my warm, wrapped in leather, was the Book of St. Arzad.

I extended my right arm, warmly shaking hands with Dr. Posmon Aubenard of Caille University.

Thank you for giving me this book. I will sure it comes to no harm. This is not an easy history to swallow, and I’m not sure how factual its statements are. But it is better to tackle the truth than to bury it. Many Matari will be upset when this book is revealed to the public. I don’t know how or when that revelation will come about; all I know is that it must. Thank you for your help. Good luck.

I was shuffled off to an aide, and enjoyed a fine feast that evening at the University. As the night hours wound down, I was quartered in generous accommodations, and sent a comm to Hiva, wondering how she was holding up.

I think we did the right thing. Though I’m deeply troubled by this situation, as a historian, I must confront it. Thank you for all your efforts in this investigation, Roc. Though some of our people may be upset with you, the Matari people as a whole owe you their gratitude. Good luck in the future, my brave pilot.

She had said all that had needed saying I supposed, and again, I was content with that. It was the last time I would ever see Hiva Shesha, but I would not soon forget the time we had spent together, nor the way my path was altered from our shared experiences in this adventure.

Wildfire/Stillwater

In the short time I had known Hiva, I had come to realize she was very passionate about her vocation.

I’ve been a scholar and a historian for many years now, so I know how to handle ancient relics. I will confess, though, that I was about to cut right into the middle of the Blood Obsidian Orb to see what was inside. Yes, I was getting rather desperate for answers. Luckily, the tablet you uncovered was more than just mystical mumbo-jumbo and flowery metaphors. Rather, it was practically an instruction manual to open the orb. Spirits be praised!

I cringed a little. How could someone so blatantly immoral and sexual be so fervent about spirituality?

I found this datacore inside the orb. According to the tablet, there’s a church in this area called the Wildfire Life Chapel. Inside the chapel is something called the Book of St. Arzad. I think what was what you came across in those ruins: parts of this book.

I didn’t show my shock through the vidscreen. I should’ve known she had scanned my ship. And yet, she hadn’t said anything about me not handing over the pages from that book.

My, from the looks of it, this is heavy stuff. I haven’t had the chance to piece it all together yet, but I have a feeling that this book goes beyond a simple relic like the Wildfire Khumaak and into much bigger territory.

This book must be recovered. I’m almost certain that it’s in the chapel. Put the datacore in that chapel and see what comes of it. It’s our only hope. See what happens.

I wasn’t reassured, but my own excitement level at possibly unlocking the mystery of the Wildfire Khumaak pushed me forward.

datacoreI had the datacore quickly loaded into my ship. This datacore, found inside the Blood Obsidian Orb, was supposed to reveal the location of the lost Book of St. Arzad.

 

CHURCH OF ST. ARZAD

arzadchurch

I made haste to the church, anxious to get the datacore inserted into the chapel.

I sent out a pre-programmed Valkryie II to insert the datacore, maintaining a safe distance in case things went sour as they inevitably did.

A few ancient mechanisms fired, and container slid out from the side of the chapel. A cursory scan from the Onslaught revealed it contained an old book, and my heart quickened;  I had found the lost Book of St. Arzad!

A Tribal Issue Tempest warped in nearly on top of me, managing to insert itself between the Onslaught and the Chruch of St. Arzad. Before I could react, my Valkryie was destroyed, and Aura’s scan showed the book was gone from the chapel.

The nameless villain in all of this finally revealed himself.

Karkoti Rend: Even though the RSS took me off the project, I continued my search for this, the Book of St. Arzad. The RSS have been after this document for a long time now, as well as the Angel Cartel. Luckily, the Angels pay better. I wouldn’t follow me, if I were you. Not unless you want this priceless relic to be destroyed.

I hesitated too long before engaging a lock, and the battleship warped away at the same time as Karkoti’s Cartel allies warped in. Fifteen frigates swarmed towards me, two of them webbing me, reducing my thrust to 40 m/s. Three battleships burned for distance, hitting the Onslaught with salvo after salvo.

I commed Hiva as I engaged the frigates, popping them one after another, my artillery overheated, my patience at an end.

That RSS agent showed up? That’s no good. There’s no telling what he’ll do with the book. You have to catch him and get that book!

“Tell me something I don’t already know!” I snapped back, my ship rocking from another missile salvo.

“Can you give me hand here please? I’m a little pre-occupied!” I yelled over the comm. I realized doing so would more than likely destroy any chance I had of bedding her again, but at the moment, I didn’t care. Besides, there were far more women in the universe I had yet to experience.

The last frigate vanished from my overview as I focused on my attention on the remaining three battleships, my engines revving up to full strength.

We need that book, and that RSS agent has it. This is my worst fear realized: Karkoti Rend was trying to get his hands on the book. The RSS claims that he was working alone, but I don’t know how true that really is.

“Listen, honey, I could care less about the politics of it all right now. We’ll sort that out later. I’m neck deep in battleships and really need less yappy, more results, ok?” I barked at Hiva.

Either way, I’ve tracked down his location to a nearby Angel Cartel base. This compounds the urgency of this mission. I barely trust the RSS as it is, but the Angels are outright scum. Go get the book from there, but make sure it’s safe. The book is of the utmost priority!

That’s all I needed. Hiva had come through for me. I had Aura quickly input the data through the navigational system, disengaged the battleships, and warped off to retrieve the book.

As I left the Church of St. Arzad, Hiva commed me once more:

Karkoti Rend is an agent of the RSS, so he’s bound to have some firepower with him. Be careful.

I was almost touched by her concern. Almost.

If anyone needed sympathy, it would be Karkoti Rend when I was through with him.

Karkoti sent me a private comm while I was in transit, obviously having obtained my frequency and encryption from RSS records.

I had a feeling that you would try to track me down. Not a wise decision. Not only are you outnumbered here, but I have the book. You wouldn’t want anything to happen to it, would you?

He had already made my decision for me. Book be damned, this man was going to die by my hand.

I reverted to normal space to the sound of multiple ship alarms, my overview populating rapidly with enemy vessels locking me.

An energy neutralizer sentry gun was my primary target, followed by the full squad of frigates quickly approaching. I launched my four Valkryie II drones, one a fresh replacement for the loss at the church.

Behind the frigates were three battlecruisers and five battleships. And behind that safety net sat Karkoti Rend.

This was gonna be a helluva fight, I thought to myself, as my shields quickly dropped to half strength from the initial volleys.

I immediately called for backup.

Not a single Tribal Liberation Force pilot was close enough to render assistance, and were engaged in Dal with a massive fleet from the 24th Imperial Crusade. That was something to be dealt with for certain, so I looked elsewhere for aid.

I hit up two corporations I had done work with in the past, hoping to cash in a favour. Again, nobody within 15 jumps.

I was on my own in this. So be it.

I grimaced in my pod as the Onslaught took another massive hit, my shields nearly depleted. I quickly injected an 800 stock capacitor booster, and activated my Gist X-Large Shield Booster, letting it finish three cycles, nearly draining my newly topped off capacitor reserves.

The battle waged back and forth, the frigates quickly falling before the combined might of my artillery cannons and the Valkries, my shields barely holding at 10% strength.

One of my Valkryies exploded, and I noticed too late that Karkoti had his attention focused on them. I redoubled my efforts, a newfound respect for his tactics in mind. He had experience, that was obvious, and he knew that without my drones I wouldn’t be able to sustain enough DPS to take out his fleet.

I recalled the Valkryies.

Right then, I received a comm from one Talus Veran, a name I had never heard before, but was thankful to have remembered since.

Turns out he had gone to great lengths to get in touch with me, citing himself a supporter of my efforts in the war, and for the Republic.

Without trying to be rude, I assessed him of my situation, and implored him for help.

He was 12 jumps out. I felt my resolve weakening until he said he would be there as soon as he could.

I just needed to hold out a little longer.

Two 800 capacitor battery charges remaining. Three battleships and Karkoti Rend still to go.

I wouldn’t even want to know the odds on this.

I launched my drones anew, and watched as Karkoti quickly targetted them, destroying one quickly. That left two.

I was in trouble.

If I was going to go out in a blaze of glory, I was going to take Karkoti with me.

I made him my primary target, and overheated my cannons, directing my remaining drones at his Tribal Issue Tempest.

Again and again I hit him. Again and again he repped his shield nearly as fast as I could deplete it. I used another 800 on the capacitor. One left.

My ammo reserves were well stocked, but I was concerned that I simply wouldn’t be able to break his tank. In my mind, I could see him laughing on the other end, secure in his ship, knowing that his own reinforcements would undoubtedly arrive soon, while I probably had none coming.

Talus Veran commed me; six jumps out. Dammit.

My weapons were in serious jeopardy of being overheated, but still I pushed them, the Tempest’s shields down to 5%. I needed to get past his shields before he cycled his booster so I could ascertain how strong the rest of his ship was.

And then it happened. His shields fell.

My artillery quickly shredded through his armour, despite his best efforts to take evasive maneuvers.

All the while the battleships pounded against the Onslaught, and I used the last 800. It was now or never.

Two of my artillery cannons blew, overheated beyond stress capacity. I quickly cycled them down to regular performance. My afterburner winked out from secondary damage to the systems.

My shields rocked as my transverse velocity fell, and I engaged my booster until my cap was drained.

My two invulnerability fields went offline, as well as my Damage Control II.

The Onslaught was drained. I was thankful that projectile weapons didn’t take any capacitor.

Karkoti hit his shield booster, and I could feel the tide of battle turning against me. My shields dropped, and I couldn’t boost them. My armour began to tear away under the assault of the enemy battleships.

I maintained my focus on the Tempest, stripping away the little shields he had regained, and pushing hard into his armour.

Smoke and fire began to stream from the Tempest, and I knew I was close to victory, though I had not a clue how I would survive against the battleships.

One thing at a time, Roc. Focus.

Karkoti commed me, and surprised me when he didn’t taunt me, but rather imparted remorseful and what I believed to be heartfelt wisdom.

The truth is a weapon and must be wielded with care. That was my greatest mistake. I could handle its power. The Khumaak is just a thing, an empty item; this book holds the true power. Use it wisely, but understand what it is saying. It could change everything.

A single container ejected from the Tempest, before it exploded brilliantly, and I felt a great depth of satisfaction in my gut.

I turned the Onslaught to face the remaining three battleships, knowing my personal celebration would have to wait, but to my shock and trepidation, my weapons lock disengaged.

An immediate sense of panic flooded through me; I thought I was being jammed. But then I watched as the Angel Cartel ships warped away, their employer dead, their guarantee of pay gone.

Apparently, I wasn’t worth it. Smart choice on their part had my ship been fully functional. Still, it was a win, and I was thankful it was over.

I ordered my drones back to their bays, turning my attention back to the cargo container that had been on my overview. Unfortunately, the container was gone.

I felt a surge of panic, but Aura informed me that one of the drones had retrieved an item from the container. It was the Book of St. Arzad.

My mission had been a success. Right then, Talus Veran warped onto the scene. We both laughed as his impeccable timing.

My hands were shaking, it had been a fierce and drawn out battle. I just wanted to be gone from this place.

Talus offered to salvage and loot the scene for me, splitting the haul. Instead, I simply left it to him, as payment for his willingness and quick response.

We spoke briefly before each going our separate ways, and he assured me that he would come by Dal in the near future with an item I may find of great interest.

I thanked him, and headed back to Hiva Shesha.

It was finally over.

Heresiology

“You should know this isn’t how I deal with every Brutor I come across, not that there’s been many.” Hiva said melodiously as her fingers drew on my chest.

“Mmmhmmmm.” I grunted in return, only half awake. It had been a fantastic night with her, Brutor style. I would like to say it was elegant, refined, delicate, loving, but that just wasn’t the way of my people.

It was savage, fierce, sweaty, intense, aggressive, vocal, at times painful, draining, downright exhausting, swinging from vines jungle sex.

Her fingers glided over my chest hair, lightly touching the gouge marks she had left there; one of several places her nails had dug into me rewardingly.

“You’re the best I’ve ever had.” Hiva said dreamily, snuggling in closer to me. I wrapped my arm around her, wishing she would just shut up and let me sleep. I wasn’t in this for the emotional bonding or intimate sharing; I was in it because she was damn hot.

Breathtakingly gorgeous, from head to toe. Just thinking about her feminine muscularity, her body dripping with sweat as her back arched as she rode me hard, moaning and screaming my name, I found myself getting aroused anew, for the fifth time since last night.

I leaned my head over and kissed her beautiful bald head. Her hand ran down my stomach, ever lower, sending shivers up and down my body, until she stopped firmly on my good morning.

TWO HOURS LATER

When I awoke, Hiva was gone. There was a flashing datasheet on the bedside stand for me.

I’m still going to need some more time with the Blood Obsidian Orb, but I have managed to glean some information from it. My theory is that the orb acts as a protective case for something hidden inside of it. I’d hate to break open a priceless relic of the past, and I’m trying to avoid that situation as much as possible.

I rubbed my eyes, trying to focus before continuing. Even in her writing, I was already she’d just shut up.

Something was written on the orb as well, and I want you to go find what it is. There’s a tablet that goes along with the orb and supposedly tells more about its purpose. The Church of the Obsidian did not have this tablet, as far as I can tell, but I was able to decipher a code on the orb that told of the tablet’s location: the ruins of an old Ammatar church.

It was too early for this. I put down the note and headed for a quick steam shower. After a quick morning workout and some breakfast, I returned to the note, caf in hand.

The church is an ancient place, and a prime spot for archeology. Use that analyzer I gave you for the Church of the Obsidian. I expect there to be a lot of stuff to analyze in those ruins. Bring back whatever you can, but I’m especially looking for the Blood Obsidian Tablet. When you come back, I expect that I can crack this thing wide open… figuratively speaking, of course.

I genuinely smiled. “Crack this thing wide open” resonated within me. I had learned that was a skill Hiva definitely possessed in abundance. I was sure it was a double entendre.

My crew wasn’t entirely pleased to see me, as I had confined them to quarters for the night whilst I was out frolicking about. I didn’t know Tanoo very well, and didn’t want to take any chances. There would be time enough for rest when our task was done.

Once the Onslaught was prepped, we headed towards the coordinates Hiva had provided in the datasheet.

As expected, the Ammatar were waiting for me. I didn’t know if Hiva was working with them or not, and honestly it didn’t matter.

I was in the “post coital must kill something” frame of mind anyway.

Three Armageddons, an Apocalypse, and their support cruisers and frigates were quickly torn to bits by the Onslaught’s hunger for blood.

The single ship that stood out amongst the attacking fleet was the one still shooting at me, an Ammatar Navy Detective. I found it curious that their Navy would send a detective into this foray.

I left him alive for the time being, and began my analysis of the relics. Mark Yaqb had uploaded some training documentation to me after our last adventure together, and since then, I had done some studying and was now confident in my ability to use an analyzer.

The next few hours were one of wonderful, yet troubling, lessons in history, as I slowly found startling documentation about the Starkmanir, painting them in an entirely different light than what we had been taught.

bookTHE EDUCATION OF THE STARKMANIR

A tattered document, presumably of a larger manuscript. The text was written neatly, though much of it was faded. An excerpt from this piece, titled “Chapter 12 – The Education of the Starkmanir” read as follows:

“By the end of his tenth year as Holder on Starkman Prime, Arzad had finished the educational infrastructure for the Starkmanir with the establishment of the final slave college on his continent. The focus of these education centers, aimed at young members of the Starkmanir tribes, was in assimilating the slaves into the greater Amarr society. The focus was primarily in basic business matters, science and technology, and all aspects of the Amarr religion. Attendance at this school was not entirely elective, and slaves were given time to study, though they would often have to make up for lost time in the fields. Despite this, many Starkmanir entered into the slave colleges in order to better their station in life, especially with respect to the high, holy Amarr religion.

The Starkmanir also educated their beloved Holder in kind, as well as other members of the Hamri family. The tradeoff in education was often mutual between the tribal leaders and Arzad. When the slave colleges began teaching business matters, the Holder learned ancient Starkmanir woodworking; astronomy education led the to the Starkmanir martial arts; and the teaching of the Amarr religion initiated Arzad’s own edification of the Starkmanir’s tribal spiritualism.”

Hmmm, I wondered to myself. Nilf Abruskur had sent me to Arzad previously by mistake. I wonder if this was actually a slip up related to the mention of Arzad’s name here? Just how much did Nilf Abruskur know that he wasn’t telling?

The next document was more revealing:

bookST. ARZAD

A tattered document, presumably a part of a larger manuscript. The text was written neatly, though much of it was faded. An excerpt from this piece, titled “Chapter 1 – St. Arzad” read as follows:

“And so it was that Arzad Hamri, son of Ezzara Hamri, grandson of Yuzier Hamri, ascended to the title of Holder of the most holy grounds on Starkman Prime. Though only a young man, Arzad held the wisdom of the ages, granted to him by the celestial Maker, and carried with him the burden of creation.

His first act as Holder was to grant a day of celebration to all his slaves, calling the day holy by the Amarr religion. The slaves, members of the Starkmanir tribe, referred to that day as the ‘Hand of Solace’ or ‘Khu-arzad.’ Unlike his father before him, Arzad was instantly loved by his slaves, and his benevolence sowed the seeds of righteous love between Holder and slave.”

My stomach churned with pain wrought memories of my own enslaved past. I remember how easy we were to manipulate; how much enjoyment our Amarrian “masters” would take from breaking us, no matter what the method. Khu-arzad my ass. He was no saint, regardless of what these pages said.

bookTHE BENEVOLENT

A tattered document, presumably a part of a larger manuscript. The text was written neatly, though much of it was faded. An excerpt from this piece, titled “Chapter 6 – The Benevolent” read as follows:

“The fields and hills of Starkman Prime are harsh and demanding, especially for those working indentured servants tied directly to the land by the holy bonds of slavery. Arzad Hamri understood their plight and pitied them. As a boy, he would often work alongside the Starkmanir in the fields, immersing himself with the tribe to better understand their customs and traditions, much to the chagrin of his father and elders.

As a Holder, Arzad offered many forms of restitution and bereavement for the Starkmanir during their often long and difficult days. Regular rest periods were common during his rule, as well as days of parlay and rest, including high holy days and other Amarr religious festivals, deeming these occasions to be too holy. The Starkmanir loved him for these decisions, often working extra hours when necessary because they respected Arzad and wished for him to be pleased with their efforts.”

Just when a part of thought maybe this Arzad was understanding the outright wrongness of slavery, the document had to end with his slaves going “above and beyond”, just to please him.

I could feel my teeth grinding, but I continued reading the recovered documents.

bookHAND OF ARZAD

A tattered document, presumably a part of a larger manuscript. The text was written neatly, though much of it was faded. An excerpt from this piece, titled “Chapter 20 – Hand of Arzad” read as follows:

“The Hand of Arzad grew to become the most popular festival on Starkman Prime, so beloved was this day of rest granted by Arzad Hamri. On this day, Hamri presided as pastor of religious services, in which most of the Starkmanir attended. His sermons from these festivals were collected and distributed among the tribe, often used by the elders to educate the young people of the importance of benevolence and good grace to people of all stations.

The theme of Arzad’s sermons was almost always of the inherent dignity of the Starkmanir, their precious qualities, and the hope of salvation through servitude. This message did not fall on deaf ears, and many ambitious, young Starkmanir took his words as inspiration for independence and rebellion against the greater Amarr Empire, though Arzad was always able to quell the burgeoning pride and self-esteem of the slaves. ‘Salvation comes through servitude, the grace of your masters, the dignity of your being’, was Arzad’s common response, his refrain found throughout his sermons.”

I snickered. It almost seemed that Arzad, self-proclaimed ‘saviour’ of the Starkmanir, was having trouble keeping his ‘people’ in check. I anxiously read the next document.

book

THE FIRE IN OUR HEARTS

A tattered document, presumably a part of a larger manuscript. The text was written neatly, though much of it was faded. An excerpt from this piece, titled “Chapter 37 – The Fire in Our Hearts” read as follows:

“Lord Arkon Ardishapur, though a longtime friend of Arzad, oversaw the popular Holder’s execution for treason and blasphemy. Arzad had requisitioned an Amarr symbol of authority, a scepter, as a symbol for lowly slaves. Arzad granted the scepter to his slaves as a symbol for enlightenment and salvation. Ardishapur ordered that all copies of this scepter – dubbed Wildfire scepters for its blood obsidian orb, a rock native to Starkman Prime – be destroyed. The Starkmanir were angry at his execution. Arzad’s book of sermons inspired the troubled tribe.

Three months after his death, Arzad appeared to Drupar Maak while the slave was alone in the fields. The Starkmanir youth was afraid at first, though once he saw the shimmering eyes of his former Holder, he was at peace. Arzad handed a Wildfire scepter to Maak, telling him, ‘The fire in our hearts burns for salvation, redemption, and grace. May the Word of God grant you the courage to save yourself and your people.’ With those words, Arzad disappeared, but the scepter was still with Maak. Years later, he would wield a similar item and avenge the death of his beloved Holder on the day of Khu-arzad. After that day, the scepter would be forever known as Khumaak.”

I didn’t believe in God. And yet my skin had goose flesh. There was something about this account that rang true, despite every protest my brain could muster.

If this story of Maak was true, then the rest would logically have to be true as well. I wasn’t ready to accept that.

We searched the final relic, finding the prize Hiva sought, the Engraved Blood Obsidian Tablet:

orb ENGRAVED BLOOD OBSIDIAN TABLET

A small tablet, made entirely of blood obsidian, engraved with writing. The words on the tablet are not entirely clear, and the dialect is familiar, though unreadable.

My heart was beating furiously for no good reason; completely unexplainable. I could feel myself sweating within my pod.

I decided to withhold the documents I had discovered from Hiva until I could employ some of my own resources to have their authenticity validated. It was just too much for my mind to handle right then.

I contacted Hiva about the orb. She was pleasantly shocked to hear from me so soon.

hivaI can’t believe what you found among those ruins. This is a historian’s dream come true. Now that we’ve got the Blood Obsidian Orb and the Blood Obsidian Tablet, I think we can finally solve this mystery. We’re very close to uncovering the secrets of the Wildfire Khumaak.

By the way: Did you notice anything strange there?  I could have sworn I saw an RSS ship flying about those ruins. Weird.

I had Aura go over the scan logs. I was very focused on the relics analysis, as well as what I had found in those documents. It was quite possible Hiva had been right.

Aura returned a negative result to the query, and I relayed that to Hiva.

She asked if I wanted to get together for dinner later, but I declined. My mind was focused far too much on other things.

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.

One Night of Roc – Sold Out Concert

rocwieler1We’ve been waiting a long time for this, but the wait is finally over.

For those of you unable to attend the soldout concert in Otro Gariushi Stadium on Jita IV to over 20,000 fans, I have good news.

The concert recording of One Night of Roc is now available in iTunes for $9.99 !

Over 60 minutes of Minmatar Rock performed by Roc Wieler, The TLF Marching Band, and a very special “surprise” guest!

It was a helluva time in Jita, and I’d like to think everyone enjoyed themselves thoroughly; I know we did.

Special thanks to the overwhelming number who attended, making this such a hugely successful event!

BUY ONE NIGHT OF ROC NOW

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?