The Hive

UNDISCLOSED SYSTEM – MINMATAR WARZONE

Some people relax with a nice cup of tea. Others enjoy the luxury of slowly sinking into a thermal spa.

Brutor are an odd people this way; many of my pilots enjoy an extreme workout session at the gym, or going bare-handed bear hunting, or engaging in martial combat training, or any other number of equally aggressive, physically demanding outlets.

For me, I had decided to wind down a little by making use of the newly acquired skills I had picked up during my adventures pursuing the truth of the Wildfire Khumaak, namely Analyzing, Hacking, and Archeology.

To that end, I purchased a Vigil class frigate, and put together a quick exploration fit with my chief mechanic. We both agreed it was definitely not the ideal configuration, and that neither of us really had any expertise with this particular aspect of ship usage, but just the same, he surprised me, as he often does.

“You should be puttin’ a drone in the bay, lad. Least gifya a fightin’ chance.”

I looked at him incredulously. It had a drone bay? I thought to myself, not recalling ever having seen a frigate launch a drone.

He chuckled heartily to himself at my bewildered look.

“Ach, laddie; are you completely daft? They build some of  ’em with drone bays. Be why tis best ta leave the flyin’ to ya, and the brains ta me.”

With that, he started mumbling to himself as he headed off towards our drone supply warehouse, his hands expressively gesturing until he was gone from sight.

I had never trusted drones, but was slowly starting to understand their value.

Within the hour, I had departed from Dal, not sure of my destination, but anxious to hone my exploration skills.

I was always pragmatic, and it didn’t take long for me to settle upon the idea of scanning down anomalies in lowsec war systems. My first scan revealed a Major Minmatar Stronghold in the currently contested system I was in. I informed the militia channel, waited for interested pilots to arrive, then having neither the engineers onboard nor the need to oversee these newer pilots, I continued onto the next leg of my undetermined journey.

Several systems deeper into lowsec warzone, I finally got a positive response from my probe. There was a 6% strength anomaly insystem.

I felt a sense of youthful excitement at the find, and quickly set about launching five more probes to help me narrow down the exact location of the occurrence.

50 minutes later I realized I had to get better at this. With one eye continually on my overview, the other eye straining against my scan map overlay, I was relieved when a 100% sensor strength ping turned green, informing me I was ready to go.

I sent out the retrieval command to my probes, and as I waited for them to return, quickly brought up all the relevant information on the anomaly.

Rogue Drone Complex – DED rated 5/10, definitely beyond the means of this ship. Still, after all the efforts I had put into finding the damned thing, I was at least going to take a peek. In a worst case scenario, I could bookmark the location and come back in the Onslaught. Having made up my mind, and verifying my probes were securely returned, I warped to the complex.

A single acceleration gate beckoned to me, enticing me inwards. I happily obliged and felt my small frigate shutter as the gate’s tractor beams seized my ship, accelerating it onwards at warp velocity.

I fully expected to drop smack dab in the middle of a hornet’s nest, well, the rogue drone equivalent. I was ready to hear the sound of target locking alarms, of Aura’s voice warning me of incoming hostiles, and dozens of other equally unpleasant scenarios.

I wasn’t ready for what the reality of it was; the complex was empty.

Shipwrecks and debris littered space for hundreds of kilometers around me, stripped meticulously clean. My overview picked up several biomass signatures, frozen corpses floating throughout eternity, their faces forever etched in the terrible moment their lives were extinguished. Even within my pod, I felt a shiver work its way down my spine.

I was presented with a choice of two acceleration gates; one identified as an ancient acceleration gate, the other as a plasma acceleration gate. I had never heard of such a thing before, so naturally directed my ship that way. The whole point of exploration was to discover new things afterall.

The Vigil was a fast and nimble ship, and with the additional burn from my afterburner, I was clocking 1620 m/s, which was pretty impressive to me. Only my Firetail, the Renegade, matched those speeds from within my personal fleet.

Once within range of the gate, I had Aura activate it, but she rejected the command, citing I would require higher Plasma Physics skill to operate this gate.

In a day and age where everything was mind-controlled artificial intelligence, I was a little put off. That, and the notion of Roc Wieler, Plasma Physicist held no appeal to me whatsoever.

And yet I was stubborn and dedicated to my task. I was exploring, and therefore I would explore.

I had Aura pull up a quick search of the regional market, and coincidentally found a copy of the Plasma Physics skillbook insystem. Since I had barely started into the rogue drone complex I figured I might as well take some time, acquire the book, have Aura feed it directly into my subconscious mind as I continued exploring, and when she felt I was at an acceptable level of scientific expertise, come back to the gate in question.

Not long after, I was back in the complex, having driven forward through the ancient gate to whatever laid beyond. Again, I was anxious returning to normal space, my combat readiness felt by the adrenaline raging throughout my system. Nobody liked to be caught unaware.

Again, I was greeted with the inky blackness and eerie silence of nothingness. There was a joke I had heard among fellow capsuleers, “Nobody can hear you scream in space”, and it came to mind uninvited, its very premise haunting my logic.

Several unmarked containers littered the scene, many near small drone outposts, surrounded by more ship debris. Still, I had to know everything about this mysterious place; I moved the Vigil towards the nearest drone outpost, angling for a container.

My hands flexed subconsciously, my senses eager for battle at a moment’s notice, and I could feel my temperature rising within the warm comfort of my pod’s life supporting gel.

I launched my drone towards the nearby container, feeling the bay shudder and clang as the drone released. It reverberated throughout the small ship, making the hairs on the back on my neck stand on end.

There was simply something not right about this place. It was almost a graveyard, but there were no indications of whom would visit or care for these dead souls.

My drone opened the container, and I squeezed my hands once more, expecting some unknown alarm to trigger a swarm of rogue drones from the nearby outpost.

Nothing.

My drone quickly scooped up the contents of the container and proceeded back to the Vigil, unloading its prize into the cargo bay before returning to the drone bay.

I could feel every movement, could hear every action. This ship had thin walls it seemed.

I broke out in a small perspiration of sweat, noticing on my status HUD that my heart was accelerated. I forcefully pushed aside my growing fear; it wasn’t welcome, it wasn’t rational. My heart rate slowed to more acceptable levels.

The joke about the silence of space sprang back to mind. Nobody can hear you scream. The words were stuck on an auto-loop in my brain.

I checked the militia channel, always conscience that I was in the warzone, always aware that at any given moment the Amarr might ambush the unsuspecting. There was no traffic in the channel.

I switched to the TLF Intel channel and experienced the same thing; nothing but static. I put out a quick private comm to a pilot I knew that Aura had confirmed was plugged into their pod. Nothing.

An increasing sense of dread and isolation pushed in at me from all sides.

I physically shook when Aura interrupted with the notification that I had learned the equivalent of Plasma Physics basics. After laughing at myself and my own senseless uneasiness, I headed back towards the plasma gate.

Once within range, I activated the gate. Aura gave me the same warning, that I did not possess the skills necessary to activate this gate. I cursed silently, and asked the simple question. What do I need to know, Aura?

She stated I would need the equivalent of level 4 training in Plasma Physics, an advanced understanding of the relationships between the presence of a non negligible number of charge carriers that make plasma electrically conductive to respond to strongly charged electromagnetic fields. She was right; I had no idea what that was.

I bookmarked the gate, citing my notation to read “For future investigation”, then headed back into the complex.

It was a perilous cycle. Each new gate I warped through offered choices. Each choice led deeper into the mysteriously dead or abandoned facility. Each area was littered with an increasing number of shipwrecks.

But the loot was good. It gnawed away at me more and more at how effectively the ships had been stripped, and how organized the containers were. I had never even heard rumours of drones behaving in this methodical a fashion. Granted, I wasn’t a drone expert, rarely employing myself until recently. I knew there were those that swore by their drones, but I had always been wary of drones, for this exact reason. I didn’t trust anything not under my direct control.

I had heard horror stories of capsuleers venturing into the Rogue Drone Regions, never to return, their clones inexplicably failing. These tales were enough to convince me to face living, breathing opponents, not manufactured ones.

Hours later, I was still pushing deeper and deeper into the complex. It was a dark labyrinth of never ending options. My cargo hold was long since full, but I dared not leave for fear of never being able to find my way this deeply again.

This particular area was within a poisonous nebula, reducing visibility to almost nothing. I relied entirely on my instruments as I navigated towards the only acceleration gate out of here.

I had given up maintaining a normal heart rate, and noticed even my breathing had quickened, becoming shallow. I was genuinely and irrationally afraid.

The final gate sped me forwards, and my fists clenched to the point of pain as I anticipated another unexpected drone assault.

My jaw dropped at what I saw next.

hive2

I wasn’t entirely sure what it was, but it was massive and daunting. I had Aura perform a thorough sensor scan, and reactively readied my drone for launch as a precautionary measure.

I was mesmerized by this technological monstrosity. I thought I was able to recognize dozens of different parts from ship types I knew intimately: rifters, punishers, hurricanes, taranis, megathrons; there were pieces of everything put together here. Armour plates, engine clusters, shield generators; at least I knew what had become of all those stripped ships.

Aura had analyzed it and identified it as a Rogue Drone Hive, indicating a grave threat level to me. I scanned for hostiles, finding nothing. I wasn’t going to be put off having come this far, so swallowing deeply, I pressed forward to see more of this hive up close.

hive3

My mind staggered as I approached it until I was directly underneath what was geometrically its center. No matter which direction I looked, my HUD was filled with the hive. Its enormity beggared description. I cleared the HUD to get a better view, pushing ever nearer, inexplicably drawn to it.

My fear had subsided. My reservations didn’t exist. I wanted to be part of this hive. I needed to be closer to it. I didn’t even hear the warning alarms from Aura as a stream of dozens of drones spewed from the hive, instantly locking my small frigate.

I continued to stare, dumbfounded, as the stream of drones raced towards me. It was only then that I regained my faculties, but by then it was too late.

The Hive had locked me with three points, my velocity was held to 4 m/s. I couldn’t align in time. I couldn’t warp away. I could feel the drones reaching out to me, as insane as that sounds, then could physically feel the rear of my ship buckling, as my own drone responded to their call. It thrashed around in its cargo bay, weapons blazing, and I do not know which had sealed my fate; the rogue drones about to destroy my ship, or my own drone rebelling against my commands from within.

hive4

So much damage was done by the combined volleys of all those drones, that even my pod shook, taking peripheral damage. I feared I would be too late, and that the hive would respond before I could, locking down my pod, adding my body to one of the many littering its perimeter as surely as it would add my ship to itself.

To my bewilderment, the drones abruptly stopped, suspended in space. A few moments later, they returned to the hive, and somehow I noticed my own drone among them.

I was powerless to do anything but watch. I could feel the pushing presence on my mind, the peace and comfort it exuded. It wanted me to stay as much as I wanted to stay, but there was something deeper within me that rebelled at last; the need to survive.

I had programmed Aura earlier on with an escape vector in case of ambush. All I needed to do was will the auto-pilot to take over.

But I didn’t want to leave. I needed to leave. I wasn’t going to leave. It was time to leave.

My mind couldn’t focus enough to give the command, at war with itself.

Survive. It was a thought of growing importance as the Hive opened its lovely mouth to my pod, inviting me to come be a part of it.

Survive! Together with the hive I could become more than I ever could dream of, and that sounded just lovely.

SURVIVE!

And as had happened many times before, and many times since, the core of who I was, of who I still am, took over.

I was Minmatar. I was Brutor. I was Roc Wieler!

Aura warped the pod away, and none too soon. The hive screamed its anguish at my departure. I screamed in my pod at having to leave. So intense was the pain in my head. So intense was the pain I had inflicted on the hive.

I screamed, but nobody heard.

Several minutes later, I awoke, my pod hanging suspended in space, much like the drones had been at the hive.

The Hive. I had no idea what the hell had happened, or how drones could’ve developed the technology to interact with capsuleer minds on an electrical level, but sure as shit I was happy to be away from that thing.

As I gave the order towards the nearest friendly station, I filed a full military report on the Hive’s location, advising quarantine to all pilots until High Command could better understand the nature of the place.

Days later, I still couldn’t shake the feelings that encounter had left me with. No amount of showering, no amount of working out, no amount of Amarr corpses would make it go away.

I needed help, but didn’t know if help existed.

I was still afraid.

The Pirate and the Colonel Part 4

“With respect, this tribunal hearing is a complete sham.” Shiaz Starr began. Starr was a high profile celebrity lawyer, designated by the Senate to the defence of Roc Wieler. Though out of his element in a military hearing (which was probably the intent of the Senate), Starr felt confident that he would win these proceedings, and become more famous doing so.

“Anyone can twist facts to suit their own purpose; we call that politics.” Starr continued in his opening argument, waiting for the appropriate laughter from the gathered crowd. They complied on cue, and Starr pushed forward, already getting a feel for the right techniques to use.

“Seriously though, we’re not here to discuss perspective. We’re here to look at facts objectively, to present the cold, hard evidence in favour of and against my client, Colonel Roc Wieler. Individual opinions shouldn’t hold sway in a proceeding such as this, especially when a man’s career is on the line. My esteemed opponent has already provided you with distorted views of well documented historical events, to suit his purpose, and bravo to him for starting so brazenly.”

Starr stopped and gave an artifically shallow clap towards the prosecutor.

“I could go over that very same footage, and show the entirety of the clip; in fact, why don’t we, just to illustrate my point.”

A camera drone played the same clip as used by the prosecution, the footage of Roc Wieler attacking TLF pilots while flying allied with the notorious pirate gang The Bastards. Only, this time, it started differently.

RoninData: I need to know if those are friendlies, Roc. We’re here to help you, yes, but I can’t risk my guys getting shot at in the process.

Roc Wieler: I’m trying to raise a response, but they’re not returning my hail. Gimme more time, Ronin, or this will all go to hell.

Roc Wieler (encrypted military channel): I repeat, this is Colonel Roc Wieler. Do NOT fire on the pirate gang. They are working under my command. Respond.

This line is repeated three more times without success.

RoninData: They look to be moving into an attack formation, Roc. What’s the word?

Roc Wieler: I’m getting no reply. Don’t fire on them!

RoninData: If they fire on us, we’ll be returning fire, Colonel, regardless of our arrangement.

The video then looked familiar, Roc Wieler’s ship angling towards the Minmatar militia, on an intercept course.

Roc Wieler: I’m going to try strafing them with blanks to get their attention. Maybe then they’ll return my hail.

Roc Wieler’s ship opened fire on the nearest vessel. The Minmatar fleet returned fire.

RoninData: Shit! All Bastards, open fire on the TLF! Sorry Roc, it’s every man for himself now!

A series of cursing and grumbling can be heard from Roc Wieler’s comm unit. His ship then plots an egress trajectory and warps away.

Roc Wieler: I’m not firing on my own people, Ronin. Get the Bastards out of there. Let’s regroup and try this again elsewhere.

The camera drone stopped there, leaving the assembled crowd stunned. Shiaz Starr didn’t miss a moment’s opportunity.

“As you can see, much of what we perceive as truth is in reality our own perceptions forced upon a given situation. And while I can understand the desperate attempt by my opponent to establish poor character of my client, I believe this tribunal is more interested in the murder of Spear Lieutenant Daul Halwick, and the involvement, if any, of Colonel Roc Wieler.

I could cling to that same pathetic tactic, showing countless examples of my client’s honourable character, but his exemplary war record speaks volumes.

Instead, if it pleases this tribunal, I’d prefer to focus on the relevant facts, and not waste anymore time on unsubstantiated heresay. Thank you.”

Shiaz Starr took his seat, his expression neutral, but inside he was quite contented with his performance. This arena might be different than what he was accustomed to, but the game was the same.

Casting a sidelong glance towards the prosecution table, he could see his opponent wasn’t as adept at hiding his emotions. A scowl masked the prosecutor’s face, which only reinforced to Starr that the man knew he had been bested.

The following hours were a back and forth between prosecution and defence, with arguments and counter arguments ensuing every step of the way.

The temperment of the crowd shifted easily, at times condeming the Colonel, while at others times crying for his innocence. Eventually, the head of the Triumvirate overseeing the hearing cited contempt of court, and had the media and the public removed for the duration of the hearing.

This, of course, only led to more media coverage, and more speculation as to the truth regarding Colonel Roc Wieler.

“It’s looking bad, Maleatu.” Senator Keitan Yun said. “This isn’t playing out well in the media at all.”

Sanmatar Maleatu Shakor stood with his back to his desk, his impressive physique framed by the light cascading in from his magnificent office window.

“I advised that allowing the public access to a military hearing would only backfire; and it has.” Yun continued. “Not only is this Starr gaining public confidence, but his refuting of every argument is devastating to the prosecution’s case.”

The Sanmatar took a deep breath.

Senator Yun continued, emboldened. “I’ve spoken with our colleagues and we are of one accord. You need to intervene in this, Sanmatar. Show the people that none are exempt of their crimes, even heroes of the war. You could end this before it gets even more out of hand.”

“Out of hand?” The Sanmatar snapped, turning his full attention towards the seated Senator. “Is that what you call this?” Shakor said, nearly laughing.

Senator Yun was perplexed, squirming in his suddenly uncomfortable chair.

“Who do you think recommended Starr in the first place?” The Sanmatar asked rhetorically. “He’s the perfect man for this task, and has performed admirably.”

Senator Yun didn’t understand. For all his intelligence and scheming, he had failed to see the bigger picture. Maleatu Shakor saw this on the Senator’s face, and shook his head in disappointment.

“Sometimes I am amazed we’ve lasted this long, Keitan. For all the backroom politics that go on within the Republic, it’s a wonder we’ve achieved any forward motion at all.” Shakor said.

Yun blinked dumbly, not knowing whether he was being accused of plots against the Sanmatar, or whether he should know what the Sanmatar was referring to, instead of sitting there dumbly, like a child being chastised by a parent.

Shakor continued. “Look around us, Keitan. What do you see?” Maleatu paused.

“I’ll tell you what I see.” Shakor continued, just as Yun was opening his mouth to answer. The Senator was thankful for being interrupted, as he was totally unprepared to debate the Sanmatar on a topic he wasn’t even sure of yet.

“The Amarr and the Khanid have united, Amarr religious zealots have brainwashed our people into their way of life, and we have to allow them their freedoms or ourselves look to be overlords. Caldari State has crushed the Gallente Federation, the Heretics pirate organization hampers our every military move out of Dal, the Bastards roam freely in Evati, the Hellcats have expanded their operations unchecked into Kourmonen, I could go on.”

Slow comprehension was finally revealing itself on the face of Senator Keitan Yun.

“Yes, Keitan, you get it. I can see that now, and no, I know you’re not part of the planned coup against me.” Maleatu smiled. “Don’t worry, I am aware of that too, but one matter at a time, if we may.”

The Senator nodded overemphatically, still feeling three steps behind the Sanmatar.

“We need to distract our people from our real problems, Keitan. We need to show them what we want them to see. If they knew how bad things truly were, there would be widespread panic and chaos beyond our ability to manage.” Maleatu said.

“Look at the holos! Everyone is talking about this trial! The newsfeeds, the talkshows; you can’t escape it! It’s exactly what I was hoping for.” The Sanmatar slammed his fist on his desk to reinforce his point, causing the Senator to jump in his seat.

“But…but, what are you saying?” Keitan Yun stammered. “Are you saying this is all a setup? That the Colonel is truly innocent of his accusations?”

“Yes Keitan! That is what I am saying! Are you willfully stupid? The Colonel is one of the most loyal Matari this generation has seen! His efforts in this war, and affection from the public have been instrumental in many of our victories.” Shakor said with pride.

“Then … why? Would you honestly sacrifice a hero’s career to further your own political agenda?” Keitan asked.

The Sanmatar sighed heavily.

“You can’t really be this short-sighted, Keitan. The Colonel will be found innocent. There are recordings of the actual murder. He was in his own quarters several systems away at the time! This is all smoke and mirrors. Look at my right hand so you can’t see what my left hand is doing!”

Slow comprehension dawned on the Senator.

“He’s going to be furious. He may even resign. Are you really willing to risk that if he’s as valuable as you say?” Keitan asked.

“He won’t resign, not this one. And he needed this, in all honesty. He’s a cocky, arrogant, sunuvabitch that has been too hard to manage. He’s still caught up in being a Capsuleer, though he doesn’t consciously realize it. He needed to be taught his place. He needed to be knocked down a peg.

He’s going to feel relieved. He’s going to be thankful to still be of service to the Republic. He’s going to be able to follow orders without attitude.

He’s going to be everything I have always hoped he would be.”