Darius leaned closer to the terminal in his office at the Anubis Inc. headquarters in Pator and frowned. Across the table, his younger brother Kordan could sense a change in the air as Darius growled in the back of his throat.
“Something wrong bro?” He inquired with his usual silly grin on his face. Darius did not even need to look up to know it was there. One day he was going to have that grin surgically removed from Kordan’s face, just as soon as he could find a doctor that knows how.
“Nothing…” he replied curtly followed by a pause. “Well, actually, yeah. Our resident agent for the security services has a tip off about some kind of Angel Cartel scouting operation she wants me to gatecrash. They suspect they are checking out the defenses of a remote outpost on a moon in Audensder and will be followed by a slaver fleet.”
“Great, some action.” Kordan paused when he could see his brother did not share his enthusiasm.
“It’s not even worth our time. It would take us a while to get there, and there’s not much bounty in it. Maybe a measly 20,000isk with not much more as a reward. And the bonus is a couple of junk heap ships that won’t sell for much.”
“Slashers?” asked Kordan
“Slashers? The Slasher is no junk heap brother. It’s a fine and tough ship. I’m talking about the Burst.”
“Ah, yeah those things a rather cruddy.”
Darius tapped the panel and closed the communication feed down. He leaned back in his chair and groaned again.
“I take it you are not going to accept that mission?”
“Hell no. Only problem is that we haven’t made much today and the tight bitch won’t give us anything else for a while if we refuse.”
“So you haven’t officially declined it then?”
“I’m thinking about it.” Kordan looked at Darius silently for a moment. “Go on, what is it?” Asked Darius.
“I’ve completed my training in the Rifter.” noted Kordan. Darius sighed. He knew this was some time coming. “Let me take the mission. With a bounty that small, I bet there are no cruisers right?”
“Right.” Replied Darius wearily. “But there are several Nomad class ships. You’ve never gone higher than Ruffian class Angels before today.” Darius looked back at his brother. For the first time in many months Darius could see a serious look on his brothers face. All most defiant. “What’s that look supposed to mean?”
“I’m just wondering what’s stopping me from talking to her myself and getting the mission.” Darius stared blankly for the moment.
“I just don’t want you to jump in with both feet until you’re ready.” He replied, raising his hand.
“Sure, more like you don’t think I can do it. You never trust me with anything!” Burst Kordan
“What the hell makes you think..?”
“You always talk down to me. I’m 22, not some damned kid.”
“You sure act like it some times!”
“Don’t come with that! I was the one who stood by you when you were damn near alcoholic! The entire clan was hanging in the balance when Gol’dar died. Can you honestly say that you would have gone through with accepting the clan leadership?” Darius tried to think of a retort, but had non. “It was me that came to give you moral support at the last minute and stand the vigil with you. Would an immature kid do that?” Darius shot out of his chair to his feet, his jaw tense with anger.
“And you think I don’t remember that? Or that I am not grateful?”
“If you are you don’t show it much…”
“Hey, if you want to do this mission, then I won’t stop you.” Kordan stopped and stared at his older brother with steel in his eyes. “Get your Rifter fitted and loaded with ammo, and go see if you have what it takes. If it will make you feel better then go do it.” Kordan quickly left the room, the office door slamming behind him.
Darius sat back down and took a deep breath. He had never seen Kordan like that before. Was he really that overbearing with him? His only concern was to look after him. He had done that all his life, since their mother died when Kordan was still just a kid. But we was right. He was not a kid anymore. He had never really thought too much about how he treated him in the past. Now the thought had crossed his mind, he couldn’t shake off the guilt.
Kordan began the final power sequence on his Rifter, and double checked the weapons. Nomads are slow and his 280mm howitzers would pack a punch to say the least. Especially now as he had raided the corporation hangar and found some modified gyrostabilisers. That was all he mounted to the lower slots to give extra punch to the three howitzers he had installed along side the nosferatu. He had not even installed a shield booster as he was confident that he could kill the pirates quicker than they could shoot at him, and at a greater range than they could attack from. Instead he used a tracking computer, to help the heavy guns keep up with the speed differential, and an afterburner to keep at optimal range for the artillery.
When the checks showed that his guns were all online and loaded he initiated the undock sequence. He was eager to win this fight today. Not just so he could serve the republic, but because he wanted to feel useful. His outburst to his older brother was a long time in coming, and he didn’t regret it. He wanted to start to make a name for himself in the republic as his brother had. It was not fair that he would get all the glory. And thwarting a scouting operation for slavers would be a good start. The airlock doors slid open and Kordan piloted the ship into the dark tunnel, ready to be greeted by the stars.
Despite the fact that there were many jumps between him and the target system of Audensder, the journey was swift in the fast and nimble Rifter. On arrival at Audensder, Kordan instinctively activated his list of bookmarked co-ordinates and selected the one that the agent had given him. His Rifter turned on the spot and, within seconds, was travelling at full warp speed towards a small moon on the other side of the system. Kordan afforded himself one last check of the weapons and modules to make sure they were configured correctly shortly before his ship began to pull out of the warp field. However, when he dropped from warp the scene was slightly different than he had imagined. There were no ships there, only several cargo containers floating ahead of him surrounded by debris. Had he been beaten to it? Or were these the remains of others who had tried what he was about to do, and failed? As Kordan weighed up the possibilities, and shook off the disappointment of not getting into some form of combat, he noticed his scanner was registering a faint signal behind him, moving very fast. Kordan swung the Rifter around to meet his prey, and before his nose came to bare on the intruder, he was being orbited at insanely high speeds by the target. It was moving so fast he was having a hard time keeping up with the camera drone. Suddenly, his shields were being shredded as bright streams of light were bouncing off them from the lasers. He did not need to catch view of the ship to know it was most likely an Interceptor. He had heard of the pirates using such ships in the past and suspected that the agent’s information was wrong. Though it did not matter now. He knew he would be no match for this class of ship.
He immediately selected a point in space and frantically engaged the warp engines. The ship vibrated slightly as she always did while the warp engines spooled up. A violent shudder reverberated through the entire structure as Kordan braced for the sudden acceleration of warp. Except he was still being shot at by the Interceptor when the shudder subsided. He had not moved. A warning sounded somewhere in his senses as a blindingly bright message shot past his vision stating his warp field was unstable and the drive was being shut down, obviously the enemy craft was disrupting it. He had no choice but to fight. He kicked in the full afterburners and attempted to get into a firing position on the much faster craft. A glance at his shields told him all he needed to know as he finally established a lock; this was going to be close. He was unable to get into optimal range due to the superior speed of the interceptor that he could now see as being the Amarrian designed Crusader. In desperation as another chunk of shields disappeared, he began to fire his artillery. His targeting computer registered each hit and displayed it to Kordan who cringed as the damage was only minor due to the close range. He activated his tracking computer to help them get a better lock, now thankful he had installed it. He then attempted to activate the shield booster, only to remind himself that it was not there. Suddenly, he felt very naked.
His artillery continued to boom into empty space behind the interceptor, rarely landing a blow of any significance while the remaining shells lunged deep into the darkness of space in the Crusaders wake. Suddenly, his Rifter shook violently as a missile struck home against his shields tearing them apart. He turned his attention back to the scanner and his heart sank as he realised that two more ships had joined the fray, another Crusader and an Arbitrator. As quickly as that, his ship was enveloped by an eerie blue aura as the second Crusader locked on with a propulsion jammer of some sort. The Rifter slowed quickly and was essentially dead in space. The enemy ships loomed above, their guns now silent. Kordan could not help but wonder why they were taking their time. He would be dead by now, that much he could admit in spite of his pride. His comm channel beeped to show he had an incoming message. He hesitated to read it, he was sure it would contain some kind of ransom notice or some evil gloating. He opened the message sent to him:
“I prey to God himself, everyday, that you would eventually be enlightened as I am. This is the only way to ensure that you are brought into the loving fold of God’s will. I look forward to seeing you again Darius.
Kordan felt a shiver resonate through his spine as he read that name. Ramar. Darius’ long time friend before he betrayed him in Ammatar space. This message was addressed to Darius.
A bright light flashed across the hull of the Arbitrator and streaked towards Kordan.
This was all a setup. He thought, absently watching as the heavy missile gained on him.
It can’t end like this… Kordan replayed the argument with his brother in his mind. He had said that he didn’t care for him. As the Crusaders orbiting above him opened fire again, he wished he could take back those words. But now he would not get that chance. Kordan took one last look with the camera drone as the missile streaked silently towards his ship, then cut the video feed.
Kordan’s ship was violently torn apart by the lasers of the Interceptors, shards of frozen oxygen crystals were hurled away from the ship as the escape pod broke free a split second before the ship’s engine core detonated, showering the tough pod with chunks of burning metal and liquid fire from the ignited plasma. The heavy missile tore through the explosion towards the centre of the fireball and the proximity fuse detonated less than 10 metres from the pod. In an instant, the pod was smashed open, exposing the inside to the unforgiving vacuum of space. The protective gel burned instantly in the fire leaving Kordan’s dead, icy body floating through the wreckage.
“Sir,” spoke the young Gallente technician, “incoming data stream.”
“OK, what’s the ID number?” asked the older Minmatar who was obviously the senior technician.
“Uh… ID: KW-494-J, Name: Kordan Shakor.” The man continued to type into his terminal. “Oh, a first timer.” He said joyfully, almost morbidly sickening.
“OK then,” The supervisor replied. “Feed the data stream to pod D-43 and pop the cork.” The man continued to casually type commands onto the panel in front of him.
“Done, the transfer was uninterrupted, zero percent cognitive degradation.” Both men got up and went through the door into the adjacent room.
Lining the walls around the room were several hundred chambers, each one holding the registered clone of a pilot kept on hold for the day when the inevitable would happen. Each clone bank had a yellow light flashing on the diagnostic screen attached to it, and a name displayed showing who this person was, or is for that matter. Tavish, the senior cloning technician had long ago given up trying to determine the proper way to address the identity of an inactive clone. Both men made their way to the pod at the far end of the room, Tavish picking up a robe on his way there from the many that were hanging from the support pillar in the middle of the clone chamber. The light was flashing green with the words “AWAITING ACTIVATION” along side, and the name was illuminated.
“Everything checks out.” spoke Deita, the other technician.
Deita pressed the pad on the front of the unit and stepped back. As the seal broke around the chamber, shards of ice fell to the floor and braking into a fine powder around the base of the unit. The door slid upwards and the cold air inside evaporated into a delicate mist as the clone body opened his eyes and moved forwards. Instantly, Tavish knew something was wrong. The body lurched forwards and collapsed onto the floor with a sickening thud, followed by convulsions.
“De-fib!” shouted Tavish. Deita rushed towards the alarm button on the wall and slapped it hard setting off a klaxon in the room and rushed back towards Tavish who was now trying to lift the body onto the recovery table behind them. Immediately afterwards, a team of medics dashed into the room from the double doors at the opposite end, some holding medical kit bags while others took hold of several trolleys with medical machinery on them and pushed them to the table.
Tavish and Deita rested Kordan onto the bench and quickly stepped back as the medics swarmed around. Tavish looked at Deita who simply stared back in confusion. Both men quickly returned to the control room to let the medics do their job and began checking and double checking the transfer logs.
“He was alive!” shouted Deita. “What the hell? He was fucking alive!”
“Deita! Check the logs.” He ordered sternly. “Something is wrong here.” Tavish opened the transfer records while Deita checked the backup logs for errors in the transfer stream.
“This shouldn’t have happened.” Remarked Deita. “Uh, OK the transmission diagnostic shows complete ingest, no error codes.”
“Same with the neural reconstruction and transfer to the clone.”
The chief medic entered the room and looked at Tavish. Tavis was about to ask when the medic preempted the question and shook his head before going back into the clone room again.
“Damn it!” Shouted Deita again, the emotion clear in his voice and on his face. “What went wrong?”
“Do we have a backup?” Deita did not answer. Tavish turned around to see him leaning over his console, eyes clenched shut. “Deita.” he reiterated firmly. Deita looked up. His eyes were sad-looking, and red around the sides. Tavish walked over to him and put a hand on his shoulder.
“I’ve never…” Deita swallowed hard. “I mean…”
“Look, these things happen. You can’t blame yourself, but I need you to concentrate.” Deita nodded. “Now, was there a backup?” Deita tapped through the menu and found the last transmission file.
“Yes.” He croaked.
“Transfer it to my console.” Deita initiated the transfer. “Got it. Go get a drink or something. Take the rest of the day off.” Deita looked almost like he didn’t want to. “I can make it an order. Don’t worry, I will need to route incoming transmissions away from us to the other wards while I run a full diagnostic anyway. And I will call the evening shift guy to come in if I need help later.”
Deita walked to the door, then stopped as he opened it.
“I’ll call you as soon as I find out what happened.” Replied Tavish. “First I have to call his next of kin.”
Darius swallowed hard to clear his throat as he listened to the man on the other side of the screen. The man was a Vherokior, in his mid fifties, with greying hair shaved short round the side of his head. When he stopped talking, Darius could say nothing as the tears welled in his eyes. He fought the impulse to break into tears by taking in a deep breath.
“I’m truly sorry Mr Shakor.” Stated the cloning technician.
Darius quietly spoke in a gravelly voice. “How… how did this happen?” He swallowed hard again, trying to maintain his composure.
“We received the clone activation signal from your late brother’s escape pod followed by a data stream containing his brain wave patterns. According to the initial diagnostic run by the system automatically, the stream was complete and we began to transfer the pattern to your brother’s clone. When we took him off life support he was awake, but unresponsive and immediately stopped breathing.” Tears began to flow from Darius’ eyes as he heard the details spoken so plainly. The technician paused for a second and diverted his eyes in sorrow before continuing. “I have personally examined the data stream. To put it as simply as I can, it was scrambled. A series of neural patterns and synaptic instructions jumbled and repeated over and over. The mind did not have the basic instructions needed to sustain the body when he was taken off life support and the medical staff could do nothing to change this.”
The conversation grew silent as Darius struggled to muster the words to respond.
“Again Mr Shakor, we are all deeply sorry for your loss. I can offer no other explanation except to speculate, based on my own experience, that there was a malfunction in the pod firmware that records the synaptic patterns. Some how it only compiled a series of random data and transmitted that. We are making arrangements to have the body sent to a medical facility on Matar. Is there anywhere specific you would like us to arrange for your brother’s body to be taken to?”
Darius was about to speak, but simply transmitted the address of the Hospital on their home island. The same hospital where his father, and mother had died. The same hospital where he and his brother were born. The same hospital where he spent a week recovering from his ordeal in Ammatar space at the hands of his former friend, turned blood enemy.
“Thank you sir.” Tavish did not know how to end such a conversation, he never did. The transmission curtly terminated, leaving Darius alone in his office.
Through a small porthole window, the dark hallways beyond the bright metal door let little sign as to what lay beyond. The room was in near blackness, save for the occasional dim blue and green neon lights emanating from the control panels. Quietly, a solemn figure moved from the shadows in the room for what seemed like the twentieth time, leaning towards the window in the door. His right hand clutched the hilt of a small metal case sealed with a combination lock. His face grew impatient within the shadows as he awaited a signal. As he was about to duck back into the shadows, his eye caught sight of movement. A silhouette in a lab coat stepped from round the corner in the hallway beyond the door and waved him forward. Rapidly, the dark figure made his way through the metal door and trotted down the passageway, quickly engulfed by the darkness. In less than a minute, all trace of the stranger was gone and the hall returned to its eerie quiet.