The small, metal-walled room was poorly lit, save for a small candle burning on a low stool against a wall. A dark figure kneeling in front of the candle cast a barely noticeable shadow across the hard carpeted floor. Hands firmly gripping his kneecaps, Darius’ eyes were clenched tight as he tried to focus on his meditation. Not even able to control his breathing, Darius gave up the struggle and opened his eyes, relaxing his shoulder and neck muscles. He had not noticed how tense he was until that moment. He let out a deep breath and sighed as he rose to his feet. Darius made his way through the dark to his bathroom to get a glass of water. His throat was dry from the re-circulated air in the station quarters. At times like this, he craved the tranquillity of home on Matar. The humidity in the air would be a welcome change from the coarse air provided by the station’s air filters. Not to mention that there were too many distractions in a station to even contemplate meditation. There was a slight but constant deep humming noise that seemed to reverberate through the solid structure. It was even more noticeable, and somewhat irritating, when he was sitting in silence in a dark room trying to clear his mind.
Darius waved a hand over an optical sensor mounted to the wall of the bathroom and, with a reluctant flicker, the lights switched on. As he ran the water and put the glass under it, he caught his reflection in the mirror. His eyes were red and sore looking. They were sad. He rubbed them gently, smearing a tear across his cheek. The memory of his late brother Kordan’s death came back to him. He dropped the glass into the basin and ran his hands under the cold tap, splashing the water on his face and around his eyes. He tried to wash the tears away, but he could still feel them.
It had only been a week since the funeral that took place on his home island. His brother’s last will and testament had requested that he be cremated and his ashes spread over a lake in the center of the island. He had taken his brother to that lake as a child countless times to swim, as their mother had done for him when he was a child. He had not been to that lake in nearly ten years. Darius was surprised at the fact that Kordan had even prepared a will, let alone given it some thought. He always seemed to be one to live for the moment and never made plans for the future. Darius could not help but think of their last conversation that day before he was killed trying to destroy an Angel Cartel scouting operation, and his pod failed to transmit the neural pattern. In their last words, they had butted heads. Amongst the tirade, Darius had told Kordan that he always acted immature. After the funeral service, Darius felt the pain of those words even more. He realized that his brother was more mature than he had come to think, or ever showed him.
Darius broke his stare on his own reflection as the console in his room beeped to let him know he had a message waiting his attention. Stepping back into the room, he sat at the desk, not even bothering to raise the lights. The crystal screen flickered to life displaying the corporation logo as he tapped the panel. The logo faded and the main interface loaded, casting a bright light over the desktop. He opened his mailbox, then frowned as he saw the name of the sender. The subject heading read “We need to talk.” Not even bothering to open the mail, Darius selected the message and stabbed his finger on the delete button with contempt. As quickly as the message had arrived, it was gone again.
The Probe class frigate hovered at a dizzyingly high altitude above the hangar floor. Looking at it, Darius wondered why it didn’t just sit on the hangar deck. After all, there was an access hatch was on the bottom of the ship’s three levels. And they did have landing gear struts anyway. He could simply walk up some stairs and step through the airlock. Darius was supervising the loading of some supplies into the cargo frigate. A friend had asked him to spare some reactor modules and a couple of guns for his cruiser. By his side, the crew chief was tapping his data pad, occasionally raising his head to yell at his hangar crew. Darius said nothing the whole time. He simply watched the chaotic scene in the hangar as people scurried around with a single job in mind. Somewhere in this tangled mess, Darius knew there was a pattern that showed some order. There had to be, as the pile of ship modules had almost vanished as it was loaded onto the back of a hover-lift ready to be raised towards the ships cargo hatch.
High above, on an overhanging walkway, two technicians were entering the hatch that leads to the command deck of the ship. Darius watched them for a second before glancing at the crew chief.
“Just a routine service check sir.” He noted as casually as he could. It seemed too rehearsed to Darius who raised a curious eyebrow at him.
“Never heard of this routine, so try again.”
“Eh well…” Darius straightened up to the chief and frowned. “Sorry. It’s just… with your brother and what happened to him…” Darius’ face relaxed as he averted his eyes towards the floor. Again, his face grew sad. “I can’t help but think that if someone had checked the pod, it would have functioned properly. I feel responsible.”
“It’s OK.” Responded Darius quietly. “I think there’s enough guilt to go around.” Darius was about to say something else, but could not muster the strength. His throat tightened and his eyes began to swell. He didn’t hold the chief or anyone else responsible. He was the only one he blamed. In an attempt to salvage some dignity, he walked quickly towards the hangar exit and stepped through into the empty hallway. Not even able to make it to the sanctuary of his private room, he slumped his back against the wall and rested his head in his hands.
The chief, feeling a little awkward, attempted to busy himself with more work. Amongst other things, he grabbed a couple of crewmen and asked them to make an audit of the corporation hangar and update inventory. Turning to his data pad, he checked off one more item on the list before scouring the hangar for his next victims. He spotted a small group heading for the same door Darius just went through. Knowing Darius likely needed some solitude, he shouted to them.
“Where are you guys going?” He asked. It was more a question of habit than a real query. He know they were likely heading out for a break, but he didn’t want them to walk in on Darius. Not even letting the men answer, he turned round to a small pile of crates stacked rather precariously in the middle of a clearway. “That’s a safety hazard. No one gets a break until that is sorted out!” The men looked despondently at the stack, knowing that it would take them some time to move them. “Never mind that look, you can have extra time on your breaks if you move them back into the stores and do it neatly.” The men sighed in resignation, and walked towards the crates. One of the crewmen stood for a second longer, looking back at the door.
“Something wrong with your hearing crewman?” he asked sternly. Ignoring him, the crewman followed his comrades to the pile, who had already taken hold of one of the containers. The chief shook his head as he turned back to the data pad and instinctively ticked off one more item on the list before strolling across the hangar to the administration office door. As he neared, a crew supervisor jogged over to him with a pad in his hand.
“Sir!” he said intently as he got close. “I think you should see this.” He handed the pad to the chief displaying a replay of energy current readings.
“The pod?” he asked.
“Yes sir. These are the readings we just took from the secondary power coupler.” The chief looked again, squinting as he attempted to determine what he was supposed to be looking at. The technician reached over and tapped the panel again. “Keep an eye on the mid-range signatures… there!” The chief nodded as the frequency oscillations registered a faint, regular spike.
“Yeah I see it. Power surge. It seems to happen every…”
The chief was cut short by a hollow and deafening bang from above as the front of the Probe cargo ship hovering above the hangar exploded in a ball of fire. The shockwave crashed against the station structure, and crewmen were thrown off their feet. Large chunks of the ship hull plating fell to the deck in flames, trailing plumes of dark smoke and dust behind them. Other smaller parts ricocheted off the hangar walls before falling to the floor. Some lights were shattered by the explosion, shortly followed by the rest flickering off as the emergency lighting kicked in, casting a dim orange glow in the rapidly thickening smoke. As the wake of the explosion still rang in the air, a klaxon sounded through the hangar with a repeating automated message:
“Attention, please keep clear of the hangar section. Emergency evacuation: Deck 9, hangar 4-27. All assigned damage control teams report to their stations.”
Darius rose to his feet after being knocked down by the shudder in the hallway. He opened the hatchway to the hangar and was quickly enveloped in a thick cloud of dust and smoke. He staggered through the blinding cloud, occasionally stumbling over rubble. The orange mist was disorientating, only giving him a limited view of the floor below his feet. He glanced up and saw a dark figure heading towards him. As it emerged from the smoke into view, he saw it was a crewman, dragging another injured man by his shoulder.
“Help me.” he wheezed, fighting for breath in the smog and struggling to walk straight. High above in the darkness, a secondary explosion ripped through the hangar, sending a fresh swirl of dust and smoke towards them and showering the deck with debris. The crewman fell to the floor again, turning over to land on top of the injured man, covering him from the blast. Darius crouched low and covered his head as small pieces of metal dropped all around them. When the hail stopped, Darius helped the crewman up off his friend, and realized the injured man was the crew chief. Blood, mixed with black dust and surrounded by burns, covered his face as a large wound on the side of his head flowed steadily.
“Grab his arms!” shouted the crewman as he slung one of the chiefs arms around his shoulder. Darius did the same with his other arm and they hoisted him off the floor. Darius looked around and found the door he had come through in the thinning dust cloud.
“This way!” he yelled over the klaxon, and both men started to drag the chief towards the exit. As they neared, Darius could feel his legs giving way as he fought to breathe. The physical exertion in the heavy dust was making it even harder to breath and both men were getting weak. The door ahead opened and several bulky figures in haz-mat environmental suits emerged, their flashlights casting a beam through the haze. Bright neon-glowing strips on their suits read ‘DAC-SAR’ for Damage Control – Search And Rescue The first two ran past them and headed towards a blaze created by the debris with fire fighting equipment. Two hands grabbed the chief from the side and lifted his weight off the crewman’s and Darius’ shoulders. Another two rescue members took hold of Darius and the crewman who had both dropped to their knees and helped them out of the hangar towards the corridor beyond the door.
Darius sat on the bed in the emergency room and coughed violently, attempting to clear the stinging in the back of his throat, only aggravating it further. A young Caldari medic passed him some water.
“Take steady sips.” He said. “You likely inhaled a lot of dust. Just try to breathe slowly and steady.” He glared at the young junior medic intently. To Darius, it felt like someone had wrapped a plastic bag around his head, suffocating him slowly. He wondered if the young medic would be able to breath slow and steady if he choked him with his bare hands. He then shifted his gaze across the room. The DAC-SAR members were still bringing in people from the hangar. Some were not too badly injured, others were covered in burns and cuts. Near the door, the crew chief lay motionless on a gurney with a couple of doctors working on him. Stood behind them was the other crew member who he had helped to carry the chief from the hanger. Darius stood up and walked over to him. Clearing his throat with some more water he approached the crewman.
“What…” Darius coughed again, fighting to clear his throat. “What… happened?” Between his own coughing fits, the crewman told him about the ship exploding in the hangar and a large piece of metal striking the chief in the side of the head.
“Gentlemen,” interrupted the young medic again. “You should be resting. We need to run some tests. You might have inhaled some chemicals.” Wanting to protest, but not even able to muster the strength, Darius walked back to his bed and sat down.
Curled in the corner, naked and covered in a slightly luminous blue gel, the male Brutor quivered. Scars were evident along his ankles and wrists as well as slight electrical burns on his back.
A dim shaft of light, emanating from a slit in the heavy steel door, was the only illumination in the room. It never moved and never faded, yet it was not enough to bring light to the four stone walls. A cold dampness chilled the air and covered the walls and floor. There was no bench, no chair, no table and no facilities. He was a prisoner.
A series of hollow clunks beyond the door sent the man into a fit of shock. He tried to push his way through the solid stone wall behind him. Panic ran through every artery in his body and his eyes widened with fear as the noise stopped outside the door. He whimpered to himself as he sat still on the cold floor. Among his ramblings, he pleaded for help, but no one was there to give it to him.
He jumped as a loud clatter rang from the door and the lock was opened. The door swung wide casting a painfully bright light into the room. Several large men swarmed into the room and towered over him. With no regard for his comfort, they grabbed his arms and hoisted him off the floor to his feet. He squirmed and fought to free himself as the nightmare continued. He could not remember how he got here and he had not known how long he had been captive.
One of the guards brought the stock of his weapon down on the back of this tormented soul’s head, rendering him unconscious with a sickening crack. As the nightmare faded to black, he knew it would not go away. It would be waiting for him again, when he awoke.
Two days after the accident, his corporation hangar was still sealed off for damage control and repairs. Darius had been released from the sickbay after an overnight observation and had attempted to regain some normality. His quarters were now his office until the station’s corporation liaison assigned him some new space. His ships were in the process of being moved into another hangar and the salvaged equipment from the stores had already been moved. It was fortunate that the ammo stored among the various crates didn’t go up with the explosion otherwise that section of the station might have breached.
His throat was still a little coarse from the dust, and he had been drinking a lot of fluids as well as taking some medication. He had inhaled some chemical dust while in the hangar and needed the pills to fight the nausea he was beginning to suffer. Fortunately, it was not serious and he would recover, as would the young crewman. The chief, however was in worse shape. He suffered internal hemorrhaging and several fractures to the skull. The last he had heard this morning was that he was stable… for now. Darius was just readying himself to leave for the sickbay and visit him.
Darius entered a lift down the hallway from his quarters and tapped the desired deck number. The sickbay was two decks below.
“Hold the door please!” shouted a familiar voice as the doors began to close. Darius tapped the hold button and waited as a young Minmatar woman trotted down the hall. As she drew nearer, Darius recognized her. It was Chiron Ferral, his agent. Darius groaned and let go of the button, but it was too late. She slipped through the door and into the lift. Quickly, the lift began to descend through the station.
“You’re a hard man to get hold of lately.” She remarked instantly, not giving an awkward silence time to develop. Darius simply shrugged. “You never responded to my message the other day. I was beginning to think you were deliberately ignoring me.”
“Maybe I was.” Darius muttered staring straight ahead into the elevator doors, willing them to open.
“I see.” She replied quietly. As if on cue, the doors opened and Darius quickly stepped out and down the hall. Chiron frowned. “I guess you don’t want to know who’s trying to kill you!” she shouted after him. Darius did not stop. “Or what I found out about Kordan’s death?” Darius slowed his pace before stopping completely. She stepped out of the lift as the doors closed behind her and stood for a second. Darius did not turn around. “OK then.” She said and turned to walk the other way.
“Wait!” he turned round and walked towards her. She was already halfway down the hall. “WAIT!” He shouted again, this time running after her. He grabbed her arms and pinned her to the wall. She yelped more from surprise than pain as he gripped her shoulders. “What happened?” He growled. Her eyes locked with his, a calm steely resilience showing him she was not afraid. “TELL ME!”
“If you let me go, I will.” Darius released his grip on her, making no apology. “I don’t know if you blame me or not for Kordan’s death, but the truth is that I was used.”
“Just get to the point.” He demanded. “Tell me what you know.”
“It’s best that you see what I have back in my office. It might not even be safe to talk here.” Darius paused for thought before nodding his head. They both stepped back towards the lift and entered it again, this time going up several decks to the administration level.
“And by the way…” she started plainly, “that hurt.” Darius suddenly came to his senses and grimaced sheepishly as she massaged her arm.
“Sorry…” was all he could say. It had been a rough couple of weeks.
Several floors up, Darius sat in the agent’s office.
“I never told you how sorry I am about Kordan.” She said. “I felt guilty since he was on a mission I facilitated when he died.” She could see Darius shifting impatiently in his seat. She cut to the heart of the matter. “So I started my own investigation the minute I heard his clone was not activated correctly. All the information about the cloning incident was pat of an official CONCORD report, so I requisitioned it and looked deeper. A recovery ship was sent from a nearby station at my request to a local agent. Since we are both friends, he was willing to help me. And it was also him that passed along the tip off he originally received about that Arch Angel scouting party, so he wanted to know what happened too. The fact that the tip was anonymous made both him and myself wonder.” Darius groaned and rubbed his head in frustration.
“Please get to the point.” She frowned and passed him a small data pad. It was burnt and cracked, not even functioning.
“That was found in the hangar near where your crew chief was injured. I spoke with the crewman who helped rescue him from the hangar, and he told me he was showing this to him before your ship exploded the other day.”
“…it’s broken.” He stated plainly before tossing it back on the desk with a clatter. She rolled her eyes.
“We recovered the readings taken from it. They are power signals from your pod in your ship. There are numerous spikes in the power flow. There’s a pattern. Darius, it’s a countdown.” He looked up at her.
“Your pod’s power systems were tampered with, the secondary safeguards were disabled, and the system overload. While that only produced a small blast, that explosion then ruptured a main power conduit, blowing up the cabin of your ship.” Darius leaned back a second and thought about it.
“But I wasn’t in my ship. Some booby trap that turned out to be.” He scoffed.
“According to those readings it wasn’t supposed to blow for another ten minutes. The crewman running a maintenance check must have set it off prematurely.”
“You said you knew who was doing this? What does it have to do with Kordan?” She passed him another data pad.
“That was supposed to be your mission Darius, remember?” She stated plainly as Darius tapped the panel. “That was recovered from the wreckage of your brother’s Rifter.” Darius read the first page and shook his head in disbelief. “Those weapon signatures are energy based.”
“I have never heard of Angels using laser weapons.” He mused to himself.
“There’s more. Check out the next screen. A message was found on the data recovery box attached to the pod. It was the last message he received before his ship and pod was destroyed.” Darius tapped the button and read the message:
“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.
Darius clenched the data pad tightly, cracking the screen. He tensed his jaw and lunged to his feet. Screaming loudly, he threw the data pad to the corner of the room, smashing it in to pieces and slammed his fists onto the desk. Chiron jumped out of her chair and into the corner of the room as the big Brutor raged, overturning the desk and threw his chair against the wall. Within moments the door to the office slid open, and two security guards dashed into the room. Chiron held her hand up to both men who halted just past the door, their stun weapons pointed at Darius.
Darius settled as quickly as he had erupted. He straightened himself, looking around at the damage he had done to the agent’s office. He was beyond caring though. Not even acknowledging the security guards or his agent Chiron, he stepped towards the door to leave. One of the guards, a Krusual, began to move to block his path.
“Let him go.” Ordered Chiron. “For your sake…” The guard stepped back again and Darius departed the room.
Returning to his quarters, Darius could think of nothing else to do but sit and stare at the walls. Rage welled up within him and it took all the willpower he could muster to contain himself. His body shook in anger with each breath he took. He thought about his friend and crew chief in the sickbay, his brother Kordan’s funeral, and the torture he had endured in Ammatar space at the hands of his former friend Ramar, now a declared enemy to the Clan Shakor. He thought about his own father, and the stories his uncle Gol’dar had told him about his father’s escape from slavery, and his painful death from the neuro-toxin soon after Darius was born. His entire family history had been that of suffering, betrayal and death at the hands of the Amarr. Not just death, but murder. Like the Amarr that murdered his father, so too had his enemy, Ramar, murdered his younger half-brother. And now he tried to murder him too.
In an instant, as if the wheel of his whole life had been turned by some celestial force, Darius was thinking along different lines for the first time. He walked towards the terminal in his room and opened the message system. He then selected a name from his list of contacts and began to type.
The small shuttle craft silently slipped through the docking tunnel and settled above the hangar floor. The hangar was dark and abandoned, as if the station itself was empty. A lone figure, covered in thick robes, departed the ship and swiftly made his way to the corporation offices attached to the hangar.
A quiet knock on the door prompted Maggot to respond.
“Enter.” He said firmly, knowing who it would be. The figure stepped into the room and stood before Maggot, who was seated at his desk with Zoolkhan standing at ease behind, and removed his hood. He stepped forwards and removed a small pad from his robe, passing it to Maggot. He browsed the pad with interest before looking up at his visitor, Darius Shakor. Standing at attention, Darius saluted Maggot.
“Reporting for duty, sir.”