A battle-scarred Rupture cruiser gracefully slid into the dim lighting of the docking bay and parked in the center, guided with pinpoint accuracy by the station interlink to the ship’s navigation system. Through the various large alcoves on either side of the dock, other ships in similar disrepair were visible either making an entrance or already docked and being attended to by emergency crews and station drones that were buzzing around them. With an almost eerie sense of symphony, his ship was subjected to the same welcoming party by small robotic droids using nanoprobes to repair the damage to the armor.
The hatch slid open amidst the distinct buzzing of the drones’ anti-gravity drives and regular short bursts of Halon gas, sprayed from the nozzles under the drones’ nano-probes every time the flames pick up again. Darius stepped firmly onto the walkway leading to the ships hatch, his exit from the ship announced to all by the sound of his heavy boots rattling the gantry. Darius took a few steps away from the towering Rupture before turning to watch the ballet of drones dance across his vision. Things were a little different now he had joined the Freelance Unincorporated crew some months earlier. His old corporation could never have afforded such things. Nor were they necessary back then for such a small corporation as his.
Already the station crew chief for this hangar section was approaching his ship, eyeing up the damage and shaking his head with a smile on his face.
“Damn,” muttered the chief to no one in particular as he slowed his approach. “You surely found the limit of this ship, young man.” He chuckled. Darius was in no mood for his jibes, however comically intentioned they were. He simply walked past the crew chief who looked on blankly, before shaking his head in Darius’ wake.
“There’s talk about a celebration in the bar later,” he shouted after Darius as he continued to walk away, unresponsive. “Fine…” he finally grumbled to himself after giving up on any response.
The chief went about his business in the hangar before reporting to Admiral Maggot, the CEO of the corporation.
“Seven ships in need of a repair job. I ordered a couple more replacement frigates, though I am sure I don’t need to tell you who for.” Maggot chuckled as the chief continued his report, knowing the ships were for their self-styled frigate ace, Khaldorn. “Three ships are dry of ammo and are being restocked. I also have a request for a refit on Commander Zoolkhan’s Tempest so I’m going to get the night crew started on that when they come in.”
“Excellent,” replied Maggot. “And how about the crew?” It was a more appropriate question to ask a chief mechanic than one might think. Usually, the first people to see the crew as they arrive are the hangar crew and any problems would be picked up on quickly by them first. Most times the chief would reply that everything is ok, or let him know about casualties. This time, he paused for thought.
“There… mostly fine.”
“Well, except one. Young Shakor.” Maggot settled back in his chair and exhaled, almost a groan of frustration, as he rubbed his forehead. “I don’t know what to make of him sir. He’s always moody when he comes back from an op. I was beginning to suspect it was me that he didn’t like at first, but I hear he is like that with most people. So I guess you could say he is… normal.” The chief shrugged in conclusion.
“Obviously, he is still not over what happened with his brother. Who would be?” He mused to himself. “He joined the fight to help prevent slavers from ruining others lives the way they had ruined the lives of his family. From what he has told me, there’s a long and bitter history there.”
“He helped to liberate over 200 slaves today in Amarr space sir. You would think he would be proud of that.”
“He’s not in it to seek rewards or self-gratification chief, just the opportunity to get revenge.” Maggot allowed his comments to trail off before turning back to the chief. “Thank you for the report chief. Dismissed.” The chief snapped a salute and left Maggot’s office, leaving him to his thoughts.
The music reverberated deep in Darius’ ears, mixed with the distorted sound of a hundred conversations battling with the rhythm. The noise was deafening and became more of a high pitch whine with each second. Despite this, he persevered to make out the conversation between Khaldorn and Vir who were seated at the same table as he was. Every time he managed to make out a couple of words his attention would waver once more, and would be lost in a sea of sounds. His attention was once more brought back to the conversation as Vir slapped Darius on the back while laughing at Khaldorn. Darius quickly smiled and nodded as if he understood what was so funny, but he had missed it completely.
Darius scanned the room as his comrades continued to laugh and cheer, now joined by Christa and Tabak. Sat in the corner booth, Darius could make out two more members of Freelance through the gloom created by the smoke and the poor lighting. The CEO Maggot and his second in command Zoolkhan were engaged in what looked like a serious discussion with each other. Most likely discussing the results of the raid and future considerations. Hanging on the edge of the conversation was the old man, Corin Raven. Formerly of Freelance Unincorporated, he had since moved on to join the Masuat’aa Matari tribe. He was actually surprised to see him after such a while since they moved their operations further from Pator. No doubt he was in the station on other business. Darius had a sense of pride every time he talked to that man, who carried so much respect with his clan and many others. After a long moment, Darius finally realized that Corin had been quietly watching him the whole time. Unsure of himself, he quickly turned his attention back to his own table. Looking at the bottle he clutched in his hand, and seeing there was a little left in the bottom, and gulped it down before making his excuses to his fellow pilots and left the bar. Having watched from the corner, the old warrior Corin stayed a moment longer before he made his own excuses to the commanders and followed at a distance.
The darkness of the damp cell was disturbed once more. A tortured soul withered in the corner, the very light emanating from the doorway seemed to avoid contact. A pair of bloodshot eyes peered from the shadows, straining to see what was beyond, the light through the door impossibly bright.
Within moments, the white light was obscured by several large, dark figures moving into the room, quickly surrounding him. Large hands, with an inhumanly strong grip, clenched around his quivering wrists. He screamed and tried to shake their vice-like grip, thrashing with what little energy he had left.
No sooner had they dragged him to his feet, one made his way behind, just out of his blurred vision. He was held in place for a couple of seconds, facing the open door. Another figure, somewhat smaller than those before, stepped into the doorway. A dark silhouette motioned with hands and a quiet word to the large men, barely comprehensible. He felt a sharp pain in the back of his neck which became a burning sensation spreading deep into his body. His heart raced rapidly and sweat crept to the surface of his skin as his muscles burned hot like smoldering coals. The feeling seemed to pass as quickly as it began leaving him cold like ice, his ears full of the sound of rushing water. For what seemed like several moments, time stood still as the new figure came into clear view, the first face he had seen in what seemed like a life’s age. The face he saw chilled his soul and slowly, as he blacked out, he was beginning to realize what had happened and where he was.
Darius paced the hangar deck slowly, the shadow of his Rupture sprawled across the sickly green hangar deck like a dark cloth. The ship, undoubtedly one of the most dangerous looking ships in the space lanes today, was suspended silently above as if it were a dark angel were watching over him. Compared to when he docked after the operation, the hangar was now much more deserted save for the occasional crewman strolling between ships and diagnostic consoles before disappearing once more into the main storage beyond the landing pad. He welcomed the quiet as it was now in contrast to the scene he had left in the bar.
A soft noise from behind grabbed his attention in the quiet space as he quickly turned. An old and familiar figure was advancing towards him, the warmth and friendliness barely making it through his weathered face, but there none the less.
“It’s good to see you again, Master Corin,” began Darius with a faint smile. “How is life in the Masuat’aa tribe?”
“Satisfying.” Replied Corin after a short pause, as if thinking his answer over carefully. His look became more inquisitive, all most invasive as he stared Darius in the eyes. “Yours doesn’t seem to be, though.” He finally added. Darius averted his eyes down for a second, trying to think of something else to say.
“No, it is.” He eventually protested. “I feel like a part of something here.”
“If you say so, I will not disagree. But, something troubles you young Shakor. I have known you since you were a child, and lived long before that too.” What Darius knew he was saying without words was that there was no use hiding something from him. He was right.
“I… We freed many today. I took down a convoy ship and one of their escort ships as well. I…” Corin looked on silently, his stare not giving a trace of his emotions. “I don’t feel anything.”
“You don’t understand. I don’t feel unhappy about killing an unarmed convoy. I don’t think about the people on their ship that didn’t make it out alive.”
“They are your enemy.” Growled Corin. “Why should you want to feel for them?”
“I don’t feel happy either. Not about blowing up an enemy, or about freeing the slaves from the cargo pods. I know in my heart that these are good things but I take no joy from it.” Darius lifted his gaze from the hangar floor and looked across the hangar deck towards his ship. Its hull almost repaired, showing little giveaway signs of the previous battle. A long silence grew between the men. Corin not sure what to make of Darius’ situation, and Darius hard pressed to give a reason why he felt the way he did.
Eventually, Corin turned to Darius.
“Tell me, young Shakor, what would you seek pleasure from?” Darius looked Corin in the eyes. He didn’t know what was being asked of him. “Did you join the fight to seek pleasure from it? Did you expect to gain joy from your deeds?” Darius’ eyes shifted slightly as he tried to think of an honest answer.
“No,” he confessed. He looked up once more to see Corin grinning at him.
“Then what’s the problem? If you are seeking some satisfaction it is not from this.” Darius knew he was right. He had been looking in the wrong place. He knew he was helping his people, and he wanted to do that. But not to satisfy himself.
“Something is still missing,” mused Darius. “I just feel empty.”
“Give it time. All voids are destined to be filled with time. Soon, you will come to what you need.” Both men fell to silence again as they watched several crewmen, most in clean uniforms, enter the hangar beyond housing Zoolkhan’s Tempest battleship. The night shift had arrived to commence a refit. Through the immense alcove, Zoolkhan’s large figure was clearly visible, following the deck crew and waving his hands in various places as if he were figuratively painting his orders in thin air for the mechanics. Darius knew this was going to be a long night for that unfortunate crew. For others like Zoolkhan, who never seemed to sleep, it was just the beginning of the next day.
The recent months had brought new prospects to pilots who were fortunate to fly a pod fitted ship. Newer ships had recently been introduced to the space lanes by major contractors within the empires. For others, they had been fortunate to gain research materials from the failed Crielere research facility. Slowly such technologies had been researched more and wider applications had trickled into the mainstream. Recently, Darius had acquired one of the latest spawns of such technology, a modified Rifter frigate known as the Wolf, complete with modified weapons. Based on the Rifter’s shell, the Wolf has unusually high armor tolerances for a small ship and is almost as fast as most frigates.
Darius was more than content with the ship as he put it through its paces, weaving at high speeds through empty space as if he were navigation a dense asteroid belt with a penchant for a quick death. Obviously heavier than the Rifter, it was more designed to attack larger targets. It had the strength to play against the bigger guns, and the speed to keep clear of their defenses. He hoped to put it to the test in combat shortly too. It would surely give some of the biggest cruisers in the galaxy a sweat.
The thought of combat dwelled in Darius’ mind. His mood was still dark, despite his conversation with Corin days earlier. His mind was a little clearer, however, and he felt a little more focused. Selecting a system two jumps away, Darius activated the autopilot and headed to a known location where the feeble pirates of the Angel corporation congregated from time to time. The shiny black ship gracefully arced towards the jumpgate and entered a warp tunnel.
Two jumps later, his ship de-cloaked as he activated the warp drive and fed the computer the coordinates of the small installation. As quickly as he entered warp, he arrived at the target that lingered near the third moon of Aedald VI. Before him, mired in a dull dust cloud, a twisted feature dotted with strong metal structures on its surface loomed in the darkness. Once a private mining outpost for a modest Minmatar corporation that helped rebuild soon after his people gained independence from the Amarr, it now stood abandoned. Frequented occasionally only by the Angel cartel pilots in this area, it was treated as a stop over on longer journeys between their assets in the Minmatar Republic and their home systems in the outer region known as Curse, where much of their time over the last few years had been spent in an infrequent war with the alliance of corps known as the Curse Alliance. However, the Curse Alliance as it was known had recently dissolved in the last week, leaving the remaining members in a power struggle. Skirmishes had already been reported between former member corporations and a civil war situation was obviously brewing. Still, with all the activity on their doorstep, there must still be Angel pirates holding in this part of space.
Normally, one could get lucky and happen across a small swarm of their ships and possibly some of their veteran pilots flying larger vessels. The bounties from CONCORD could range from pointless to appealing. Today, however, was not a lucky day. In fact, quite the opposite as it seemed someone had already visited before him and cleared the area. Several chunks of debris were clearly visible, some still smoldering with small flames. This battle scene was fresh. An alarm sounded somewhere in Darius’ senses. He gave up trying to figure out where exactly since he was linked to his ship via a neural link in his pod. He checked the feed from his sensors as three ships moved out from behind the facility. They were not Angel’s and were registered as wanted pilots by CONCORD and the Republic. In the second it took Darius to contemplate engaging them, they had already made that choice for him, quickly locking him and disrupting his warp drive. His communication channel buzzed and he accessed the incoming message.
“I am Xander Doriv,” began the voice with a heavy Caldari accent. “Since you have no bounty, unlike these Angels, it would be a waste to destroy your ship. If you transmit a sum of twenty million isk to my account, I could be persuaded not to fire on you.” Darius savored the irony. Pirates killing pirates for their bounty. It may have seemed strange if he had not gained some insight into the situation. Many pirates saw their bounty as a mark of respect. Killing another pirate for their bounty must be akin to taking that badge away from them in some warped and twisted sense. Quickly, he checked the ships. They were all frigates. The lead was a Merlin, a classic Caldari design and one of the mainstays of the Caldari combat fighter ships. This was escorted by a mixed bag of a Herron and an Incursus. He let the transmission linger for a second longer before responding.
“What’s to stop me from firing first?” He enquired. The response he got was coarse laughter. It seemed they were not going to go quietly.
“Your ship’s warp drive is disabled, my Minmatar friend. And you are outnumbered three to one. I doubt your chances.” Again, Darius paused for thought as he considered his response. He replied by assigning their ships as target locks for his weapons. Quickly, he selected the lead ship that had communicated him and fired a full barrage of autocannon fire while he accelerated towards his wingman.
“Shit!” His enemy cursed down the comm line as his Merlin’s shields were battered down in seconds. “That wasn’t smart!” He continued before the communication line went dead. The three ships broke formation and attempted to gain a firing position on Darius’ ship to support their leader. Their efforts were simply in vain however as the Merlin was already taking armor damage. It responded in its death throws with a mix of rail gun fire and missiles, all with mixed results as only a few of them hit his Wolf’s shields, barely causing a dent. By comparison, their equipment was out of date and outclassed against the assault ship that was beginning to live up to its name, ravenously tearing chunks out of the stricken pirate’s frigate as the bulkheads rapidly buckled. Multi-coloured plasma streams and gasses leaked from various vents and holes created by the raking autocannon fire and swirled violently in the wake of the escape pod that jettisoned from the ship seconds before it exploded. The whole encounter had taken a few short seconds but had indeed impressed Darius with the power of this ship.
He selected the next target as the Incursus that had quickly gained a close position to him and was letting loose with a volley of blaster fire. The damage to his shields was minimal, further impressing Darius as he opened fire with his own guns. The simple numbers game was in play as Darius had more armor, more shields and more guns than both his enemies put together. The Incursus made a desperate attempt to escape as the fight was becoming clearly one sided. While aligning for warp to a nearby planet to escape, a stream of greenish gas passed by the thruster contrails and ignited in a blinding explosion. Darius pulled away as the Incursus lost control, spinning from the force of the fire jet off the port side before being consumed in the flames and exploding. Once more, Darius registered an escape pod leaving the area with haste as he turned his attention towards the final prey.
In his chase towards the Herron, Darius realized it was not attempting to run. It was the weakest of the three ships and the pilot had to know he would lose. It was not like them to have such honor in battle as to fight to their death and they usually ran quickly when outnumbered. As he realized this, the answer to his question was quickly presented, as more warnings were sounded. Darius checked his sensors again as several more ships warped in, significantly larger than the ones he had destroyed. Three were Osprey class cruisers and they were escorting a Maller and Thorax lead ships. Quickly the Ospreys assaulted his ship, adding to the warp scramble and also jamming his propulsion system, holding the Wolf in place. Darius cursed himself, now realizing that he should have known better. Pirates rarely operate in small bands, attacking in frigates, and they hardly ever show their full numbers unless needed. If he had destroyed the jammer ship first he could have gotten away quickly. Now he was definitely in trouble. The laser fire from the Maller rained down on his ship, cutting vibrant beams of light through the darkness of space and striking his shields. The damage was significantly higher than before, but even then the shields held, absorbing much of the damage with their advanced dampening capabilities. The Thorax was now moving in close and was no doubt fitted with blasters. Ripples of energy leaped from the Thorax as it fired all of its guns. Darius was helpless as the jamming ships were out of his guns effective range. Only the Thorax was in range, so he selected it from the target list and fired as his shields quickly disintegrated. Bolts of flaming energy and light struck his armor plating, shuddering the fuselage. Darius turned on the energized plating to hold off some of the damage as his guns pelted the larger cruiser. The damage to the Thorax was minimal and it was obvious he would not survive long. Suddenly, the numbers game was not in his favor.
He grimaced even more as three more ships warped into the fight and quickly made their way into gun range. They were fast for cruisers and were unusual in their design. He vaguely recognized them as another new class of ship, known as the Vagabond. A modified Stabber cruiser much like his own Wolf, only on a larger scale. This was the end. He watched as the Vagabond ships lunged into the battle area and launched a salvo of missiles. The missiles streaked past him and stuck directly on the Thorax cruiser. In less than a minute the Thorax had lost all of its shield power and much of its armor as the Vagabonds, flying in formation, strafed past raking the pirate cruiser with autocannon fire. After just a single pass, the Thorax’s hull contorted as its structure failed and detonated in a ball of fire that blinded Darius’ camera drone for a second. Their attention was quickly turned on the jamming cruisers that had already released his Wolf to help attack their new enemy. The attack was vicious as the cruisers swooped on their new targets. Darius contemplated his next move as his ship broke free. He was unsure who the newcomers were, or what their intentions were. One thing he did know, he owed them for saving him. As the first Osprey exploded, Darius turned towards the Maller lingering on the edge of the fight. He quickly covered the distance towards the cruiser, the laser beams skimming his ships hull and fired at the limit of his guns range. He had barely scratched the Maller’s shields as the remaining two Osprey ships exploded behind him, the Herron long since abandoning the fight. The heavy assault ships gracefully turned in their never breaking formation and flocked towards the Maller that was quickly losing its shields. The fight was swift as the Vagabond’s orbited, quickly wearing down the last pirate, finally succumbing to the concentrated fire before the main reactor exploded in a brilliant ball of flames.
An escape pod quickly left the area, unchallenged by either party, as Darius and the newcomers rested their ships. Darius was weary of their intentions and ignored various system warnings about the damage to his ship. He had always held the view that the enemy of his enemy was not always a friend. Their ships sat in their formation facing him, not moving or attempting to communicate to him. Darius weighed up his options as he checked his systems. In doing so, he could see he was not being targeted. After he was content with the status of his ship, he finally opened his comms unit to satisfy his curiosity.
“Nice ships,” he began “Though I’m more curious abou…”
“It’s quite rude not to introduce yourself before asking questions,” interrupted the curt voice. Darius paused for a second.
“It’s also rude to interrupt someone while they’re talking,” he retorted. “Or at least not offer an explanation for their actions.”
“I didn’t know people had to explain their reasons for a good deed these days,” came the reply. Darius noted the voice from the lead ship was female.
“OK, Let’s start again. I’m…”
“Darius Shakor. Yes, I know.” Darius was already becoming frustrated with this conversation.
“If you know who I am,” he spat. “Then why the hell did you ask me to introduce myself… and, you interrupted me again!”
“Am I starting to annoy you?”
“Yes dammit! What do you want from me?”
“My, you do have a temper don’t you.” She teased. “Chiron warned me about that.” Darius was about to start making demands when he caught the name she dropped. Chiron was Darius’ agent in the security service who he had dealt with for over a year.
“Chiron? You know her?”
“I work with her. I’m one of her field agents.”
“Well, it’s a small universe, isn’t it? Now if you will excuse me.” Darius began to power up his warp drives when she spoke again.
“She asked me to track you down. I need your help.” Darius powered his engines down again. “It was actually very easy to find you. Surprising since a man in your position should take all precautions to avoid being caught. What with the freedom fight and everything.”
“OK, Talk.” He replied.
“Not here.” To punctuate her words, her escort ships broke formation and warped away in different directions. “We’re about to be interrupted, and I know how much you hate that. More pirate ships have entered the system, all battleships.” Her own ship began to move as his ship’s navigation computer registered an incoming waypoint. “Head here. It’s three systems away. Dock at the Caldari Business Tribunal station there and wait for me.”
“You had better hurry before those battleships get here and make a light snack of you. Speak to you soon.”
“Who are you?” It was too late. Her ship had already departed and the comms link was cut. Darius cursed to himself before viewing the waypoint. He set his destination there and quickly engaged his warp drive as four Megathron class battleships quickly entered the area, just in time to see his engine trails stretched into warp.
Light. Bright and multicolored. Images flooded his senses. Sounds of every conceivable noise deafened his mind. He was strapped to a chair, a large cocoon of metal tubes, plates and wires that stretched across the room to a large console covered his head. It was not the first time he had been brought here, though he could not remember the last. He screamed in pain and fear. The images were of death. A face flashed with each scene. It was familiar, and something deep down began to boil within. A Brutor, a man, a brother. He was causing the death. The same death replayed over and over. A small fighter ship being cut to pieces by laser fire. The armor plating bubbling with the heat around the holes created by the laser. Hull plating being ripped from the bulkheads by the decompression, hideously bending and twisting the small ship. The escape pod ejects amongst a flurry of light and fire, struck by a missile. A body is hurled free, torn by the void of space. He screamed as the face flashed before his eyes again. He hated that face. He hated it.