Battle in the Ruins

The Forge Region – Ruomo Constellation
Itamo System – Planet IV
Nugoeihuvi Golden Dragon Hotel

7 January YC 121

The first days of the new year I spent planetside – caught up with a few friends, visited my favourite pubs, discovered a few new ones – you know, dolce far niente, as an ancient poet said. After months of training and weeks of running missions, it was quite a liberating experience – I had no plans, no deadlines, and I could afford staying at any place as long as I wished. Then came a day when I fully realised the meaning of the saying “with great power comes great responsibility”. On the morning of 7 January YC 121 while I was thinking whether I wanted to go fishing or to simply stay in the hotel and watch the newest holovids, I got a call from Annukka.

“Hi, sweetheart,” I started the conversation in our usual playful tone but Annukka would have none of it.

“Vlad, where are you?” she interrupted me.

“On my home planet, Itamo IV. Why?” replied I, my smile disappearing.

“Thanks God, you are in Itamo. I’ll organise a Navy dropship to get you back to your frigate.”

“Whoa there!” protested I. “I am on vacation. Whatever you have in mind, find another pilot.”

“There is no other pilot; everyone I tried to contact is unreachable. It’s a holiday season.”

“Yeah, I’ve noticed,” I said sarcastically. “But what’s the problem? Can it wait?”

“It’s an emergency! Sisters of Eve research facility is being attacked by Seeker drones. We think they were looking for it all this time.”

When I heard that Sisters of Eve were in danger I ran out of arguments. Even if there were other pilots available I would feel obliged to take this mission and assist the most respected humanitarian organisation in New Eden.

Putting on my flight jacket I said, “I’ll be in the spaceport in forty minutes.”

“No time for that,” said Annukka typing something on her datapad. “We’ve located your commlink position; you are five minutes away from a stadium. We’ll be sending the dropship there.”

“But you’ll damage the field!” exclaimed I. For a gravball fan like me it was a sacrilege.

“We’ll pay for its restoration. Now, go!” said Annukka brusquely and signed off.

That’s how my holidays ended.

The journey from the planet to station very much resembled a very efficient VIP extraction procedure as they show it in holovids. By the time I arrived to the stadium the guards were informed about the emergency landing of the dropship and escorted me to the field. The landing, in fact, was more spectacular than in the films. The dropship was equipped with wings for atmospheric descent, but the pilot was not using them. The ship was falling almost vertically from the sky not only tugged by the gravity but also propelled by its own engine. At some point, the pilot turned the ship 180 degrees so that the engines were pointed down and started jet braking. The touchdown was perfectly timed so that the ship didn’t have to change its rate of deceleration all the way to the ground level. The pilot switched the engines off when the landing gear was half a metre from the surface and the ship’s vertical speed was zero. I mentally applauded to the pilot and thought to myself, “So you’ve learned Spaceship Command level V? Ha! You know nothing, Vlad Korff.”

Before I had a chance to express my admiration, I found myself being hustled into the dropship, strapped into a chair which looked like a cradle, and equipped with an oxygen mask. The pilot jumped into his seat, strapped himself and asked me, “What’s your sustained acceleration tolerance, mate?”

“Er… In Navy tests I reached 7.8 g,” replied I.

“Ok, seven-point-eight it is.”

“But that was in a caps…” I started saying but then enormous pressure on my chest squeezed the air out of my lungs. Without any warning the pilot fired the engine and we were climbing vertically into the sky. The next minute seemed like an eternity during which I tried to push some air back into my lungs. If not for the oxygen mask I would probably have suffocated and passed out. What I tried to tell the pilot was that I experienced 7.8 g acceleration in a capsule, but only now I fully understood what a world of difference it made. The incompressible liquid was much easier to “breathe in” and provided better support for the rib cage from inside. Whoever invented the pod goo earned my eternal gratitude during that airlift.

Finally, we were in the orbit and I could breathe normally. The dropship docked at the Perkone Factory station where I was immediately transferred to a shuttle which warped me to Science and Trade Institute School station. Less than half an hour after I took Annukka’s call in a hotel room on the surface of my home planet Itamo IV, I found myself sitting in a frigate docked at a station which orbited another planet. That made me feel proud of our Navy – when needed, they could be frighteningly efficient.

“Hey, handsome,” chirped Aura, “I’ve got the coordinates from Annukka. Are we ready?”

I checked the fittings and the ammo, “Yep. Get us to those bastards.”

The Forge Region – Ruomo Constellation
Itamo System – The Mission Location
Seeker Sentry Tower
Seeker Sentry Tower

First thing I saw when we arrived was two sentry towers. The Seekers had secured the perimeter and were probably waiting for reinforcements. Three 125-mm railguns made quick work of the missile batteries which managed to damage, mmm…. the whole one per cent of my shield. After losing the batteries the Seekers sent a couple of quick scouts to find out what was happening – an Eluder and a Pacekeeper. I didn’t make the same mistake again and instead of orbiting went directly at the drones. It took just a few seconds to reach each of them at a speed of 800 m/s and only two-three salvos to shoot them out of the sky.

I expected to see heavy cavalry after the scouts but the last Seekers I saw were destroyer-size drones which I’d never met before: Trauma, Nova, Aurora, Flare. Don’t know what the difference was between the models – they all burned after I punched enough holes in their hulls.

Seeker Destroyers
Seeker Destroyers

“Aaaand, that’s about it,” said Aura.

“Disappointing,” frowned I, and then called the SOE station. “Are you alright there, Sisters?”

The image that appeared on my commlink gave me a start – it was a middle-aged bald man with a moustache. I knew that Sisters were not a women-only organisation but subconsciously I expected to see someone of female persuasion.

“We are fine, capsuleer,” said the man. “Thank you for exterminating those drones; we are indebted to you. Although,” chuckled he, “knowing the nature of our services I wish we will never have an opportunity to repay the debt. Fly safe.”

I snorted, acknowledging the joke, then saluted and signed off.

Sisters of Eve Research Station
SOE Research Station

Looking at the clock I thought I still had time to go fishing today, but I needed to hurry. Hmm… I wondered if I could secure the services of the same dropship pilot, and called a very familiar number, “Annukka, darling, now that the mission is over, can you do me a favour?..”

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