The Forge Region – Anttanen Constellation
Uitra System – Planet VI, Moon 4
State War Academy Station
13 February YC 121
I thought a lot about what Hakkaras told me during the farewell, and next day I made up my mind and called Aura.
“What do you think about becoming a combat ship AI?” I asked her.
“Hmm… Frequent loss of memory, a lot of swearing, uncouth characters… Nah, that’s not a proper occupation for a lady,” said Aura haughtily.
My jaw dropped, “I thought you would support me whatever career path I chose.”
Aura sighed, “I will. But you asked me what I thought about it. Anyway, where did you get that funny idea about becoming a fighter pilot?”
“From Hakkaras. He thought that a military path might suit me well.”
“Ha! Hakkaras. He is a businessman. What does he know about military profession? If anything, he is telling you that you are not going to be any good at business. This doesn’t automatically make you a great warrior.”
I frowned, “I don’t know about that. Do you mind if I at least try?”
“Knock yourself out,” shrugged Aura. “Just remember you have a full training queue of exploration skills and you must wait eleven more months until your next neural remap.”
“No need to rub it in,” grumbled I. “And who knows, you might like it.”
“Pfft,” snorted Aura and stuck her nose up in the air.
I asked for an appointment with the military career agent and he agreed to see me after lunch. Ranta Tarumo, in high boots and khakis, looked more like an army type than a Navy officer, but who was I to judge the military fashion? He stood up from his chair to greet me, raising the corners of his mouth in a perfunctory welcoming smile.
“Please sit down, Mr Korff,” he pointed at another chair. “I had been browsing your service record just before you came in. It appears you already have combat experience – you destroyed quite a few Guristas during your time in the Academy, and earlier you engaged in several skirmishes with Seeker drones. With such background, what do you expect to get out of the military training?”
“I am afraid I am at a disadvantage, Mr Tarumo,” replied I mirroring the agent’s neutral tone. “You know all about me, but I have no information about your course. What if I turn the tables and ask what you can offer, given my background?”
The agent seemed pleased with my answer, “Fair question, Mr Korff. I can tell you there is always something new to learn, no matter how experienced you are. Our curriculum is aimed at total novices, but I have some freedom to modify it, taking into account your expertise. I guess, we can skip the theory lessons where you learn that Titanium Sabot is not the right ammo for a Gatling Railgun.”
“Has anyone really tried to load Sabot into a rail?”
“You’d be surprised,” Tarumo smiled faintly and then continued, “And you don’t need target practice either, so let’s start with a real combat assignment, shall we?”
“Sounds good to me.”
“Okay, we have a situation at a mining colony.”
“Again?” I blurted out interrupting Tarumo.
“What do you mean?”
“Sorry, it’s just that I’ve had a few assignments at mining colonies in the past. It seems they always get in trouble.”
“It’s because the are the most vulnerable and isolated group of spacers,” explained the agent. “This colony has been harassed by pirates for days. So far, our attempts to ward them off were unsuccessful. The available frigate-sized vessels are hopelessly outdated and outgunned, and our cruisers are too slow. I understand, Mr Korff, you fly a new model of Merlin-class frigate?”
“I do,” nodded I.
“It should be perfect for this mission. Just make sure you have an afterburner and some high-damage ammo.”
“I’ve got a hundred antimatter charges.”
“That’s quite enough,” said Tarumo, “and if you finish this mission within five hours I’ll give you some more as a bonus.”
“By the way, what’s the mission reward?”
“It’s 75-mm Gatling Rail,” replied the agent and, seeing my frown, asked, “Is anything wrong?”
“No, not really, but I am actually using one-twenty-fives.”
“Ah, you prefer a larger calibre. I can’t change the reward now but I’ll see what I can do for future missions. Any questions?”
“I guess, with pirates I shoot first, ask questions later,” smiled I.
“That’s the idea,” Tarumo again ever so slightly raised the corners of his mouth. “Good luck, Mr Korff.”
The mining colony was built on two asteroids tethered together. This kind of space architecture demonstrated an amazing ability of human race to adapt to the harshest environments, and impressed me every time I saw it. Unfortunately, I had to cut my sightseeing short as I noticed two Guristas thugs circling a smoking wreck of an industrial.
“Hey, you two bozos, why don’t you fight someone your own size?” I addressed them on a local broadcast channel. It was a bit ironic as the industrial had been larger than all three of us together.
“Look, Tyko, who turned up,” said one of them.
“Ooh, another noob from the Academy,” said Tyko. “It’s been a while since I tasted tender meat of Caldari rookies.”
“Haha, you are talking like a Blood Raider.”
“Maybe I should have joined them instead of Guristas.”
“They would probably love you to death.”
While they were thus occupied with small talk, I targeted their ships and quickly closed the distance using the afterburner.
“Guristas may be Fatal too,” punned Tyko and then cried, “What the fuck?” when the first salvo of iron charges took out half his shield.
The next few seconds were filled the synthesised sounds of my railgun fire while two Pithi Arrogators desperately tried to target Ampuhaukka and get away from it at the same time. Although they had some success with the former, it was short-lived as my one-two-fives made quick work of their ships. When I was finishing the second Arrogator, a third one suddenly warped in. I don’t think his mates had time to fill him in on the situation as he valiantly but stupidly tried to assault my Merlin. My third railgun was at his service but I doubt he appreciated it. Soon the sad remains of the industrial were joined by three clouds of swirling debris, some of which were decorated with rabbit-eared skulls.
“Nice work,” said Aura. “If all your combat missions finish like this I might change my mind about my career path.”
“Your career path,” snorted I. “Are you going to work toward promotion?”
“Yes, yours,” giggled Aura. “Not every ship AI gets to be a Grand Admiral’s assistant.”
Before I could come up with a repartee I received a call from the mining colony. After activating the channel I saw a hologram of an old man who was hugging a sobbing woman.
“Mr Korff?” asked he.
“Yes, it’s me,” confirmed I.
“I am the colony manager, Kalle Ryota. Thank you for ridding us of those bandits, Mr Korff. But, our son…”
He was interrupted by the woman, I guess his wife, who let out a doleful cry and buried her face in his shoulder. Ryota patted her on the back and whispered something in her ear. Then he straightened, swallowed hard and continued, “Our son was in the industrial which was attacked by the pirates. He managed to escape it but his pod was scooped by Guristas.”
“Was it one of the Arrogators I destroyed?” I asked with a sinking feeling.
“No, it was a bigger ship which warped away just before you arrived. Mr Korff, I know I have no right to ask for more after all you have done for our colony, but Elias, he is our only son. I… I beg you, Mr Korff, please, bring him back to us.”