It was September 5th, YC120. I was standing in a big hall with several dozens of other graduates and listening to Admiral Nobuyuki Oshiro. He commended us on our skill and dedication. He told us how lucky we were to be able to join the elite ranks of capsuleer pilots. He reminded us of our duty to protect Caldari State and a way of life of Caldari people. He said many other things expected on such occasion. Then he shook hands with every graduate and exchanged a few phrases which showed detailed knowledge of our personal files. To me he said that I was lucky to meet Gerhardt who was an outstanding role model for all aspiring capsuleers. Despite my rather cynical self, I felt inspired by the Admiral’s speech and his personal touch. Later I was told that he was always invited to capsuleer graduation events because of his exceptional people skills.
After the ceremony I had an appointment with Midori to finalise and formalise my initiation into the world of capsuleering. There I learned a few interesting things. First of all, every capsuleer had to be a member of a registered corporation. It could be a government-run organisation or a private capsuleer-owned company, but a pilot was always affiliated with some body corporate. Initially, I was assigned to Science and Trade Institute, but I could change that at any time.
Secondly, my call sign was registered with CONCORD. Now, wherever I went (except wormhole space) my name would be visible in the local communication channel and I could be contacted via NEOCOM by any other capsuleer. And I could contact them too!
Thirdly, I’d got my own Aura! At the beginning she was still a standard government issue, but with time, as we would get more familiar with each other, I expected her to become an enjoyable travel companion, just as Gerhardt had.
And finally, I was gifted a ship! True, it was just a humble Ibis-class corvette, but it was MY. OWN. SHIP. Look how beautiful it is. I’d called it Yatagarasu as it would be my guide to the new world of capsuleering.
In fact, it wasn’t really a gift; it was an advance payment for a courier mission. Although I’ve never piloted a ship I was assured it would be an easy one. All I had to do was to fly to a given location, get datacores from CONCORD research ship and bring them back. So, as soon as Yatagarasu was registered in my name I jumped into the capsule, undocked from the station and warped to the given coordinates. If only I knew what I was getting into.
First thing I noticed when I arrived were three red symbols on my overview – there were hostiles in the area! My first thought was “Where is the bloody CONCORD?” And then I saw it – the CONCORD research ship which was bashed by three Seeker drones. Before I could say “Oh my God”, the drones blew it to pieces and warped away. I was totally stupefied by the carnage that had happened before my eyes – the whole crew of a peaceful research ship had just perished in a violent explosion caused by soulless machines. I’d understood if they were killed in a battle with an enemy, pursuing their ideals and thinking their sacrifice was not in vain. There was glory in such death. But being destroyed by drones whose sole purpose seemed to be indiscriminate extermination of all the living… What a terrible way to end one’s life!
I was awoken from my torpor by the crisp voice of Aura.
“Captain, the datacores on the research ship are destroyed, but the data backup system seems to be intact. If you approach the wreck I might be able to copy the surviving information.”
Having not yet recovered from the shock of witnessing death of innocent people, I was startled one more time, now by Aura’s insensitivity. Sure, she was just a machine, but having talked to Gerhardt’s virtual assistant I expected more empathy from mine. I made a mental note to check her for bugs in the dock.
Whatever my feelings were, Aura’s suggestion made perfect sense – I had to make an attempt to retrieve that data in order to earn the corvette I was flying in, and also to ensure that the lives of the research ship’s crew were not lost for nothing. It was the first moment since my arrival when I actually had time to look at the surroundings. The place seemed to be a mess of asteroids, debris and almost intact, albeit defunct, station modules. The scene appeared foggy as the space was saturated with gas or star dust. From time to time static electricity discharged and flashed in an arc from one object to another, illuminating everything with ghostly pale blue light.
Looking at the sad remnants of the research ship I shuddered at the thought of what I might see there – I was never the one for anatomical theatres. Overcoming my queasiness, I willed Yatagarasu to approach the wreck. Before I had time to take a closer look at it, Aura informed me that the download was completed and we could return to the station.
Relieved that I didn’t have to stay there any longer, I started aligning to the station when I felt a sting on my back. That was the most unexpected sensation as there could not be any parasites in the pod goo. But then I felt another one on the leg. The brief inspection of the skin where I was allegedly stung did not reveal any abnormalities. Before I had a chance to develop some crazy ideas about the source of my pain I heard Aura say, “Captain, we are under attack!”
“What?!” I stopped my dermatological research and turned my attention to HUD. What I saw there threw me into the state of sheer panic: my overview showed a Circadian Seeker less than 3 clicks away, I was red-boxed, and 5% of my shield was gone. The bloody drone was trying to kill me!
My emotions flooded the brain-machine interface with all kinds of signals and in response Yatagarasu veered wildly. At that moment I didn’t remember that I was a capsuleer and could not really die. All I thought about was that someone, or something, was trying to kill me and I needed to get away as quickly as possible. The trouble was that all that adrenaline in my veins prevented me from controlling the ship and it was moving erratically and bumping into surrounding debris. I didn’t know what to do and was desperately watching the growing red semi-circle on the HUD which indicated the shield damage. At that moment Aura addressed me again and her words came as a cold shower.
“Captain, you need to orbit the Circadian seeker no farther than 2,000 metres, lock it and activate Civilian Gatling Railgun.”
Of course, I forgot that I had a gun! The pendulum of my emotions swung in the opposite direction. I was not a helpless victim anymore; I had weapons (ok, just one) and I was able to defend myself. Another lightning-fast thought crossed my mind and enraged me as I checked the status of the shield – the stupid Seeker was trying to get through shields to my shiny new corvette. And when my eye caught the remains of the CONCORD research ship destroyed by that machine, my rage turned into a white-hot hate which I funnelled with surgical precision into the ship control. Yatagarasu promptly responded to sharp commands and started pummelling the Circadian Seeker with hybrid charges. In less than a minute I blew the clunker out of the sky. Having finished with the drone I looked around to see if I could pick another fight, but there was only dead, silent debris floating around me. Not having satisfied my bloodlust I swore a silent oath to exterminate the Sleeper vermin whenever I saw them.
Aura chose that moment to remind me that we had valuable data to deliver. Throwing the last glance at the mysterious ruins, I aligned Yatagarasu to the station and warped away. The mission was accomplished.