The Forge Region – Anttanen Constellation
Uitra System – Planet VI, Moon 4
State War Academy Station
26 February YC 121
Tarumo returned from his mysterious “official business” on Tuesday and immediately called me to his office. Walking in I wanted to cry “Where the hell have you been?” but seeing his impassive face I checked myself and asked politely, “I hope you had a pleasant trip, Mr Tarumo?”
“It wasn’t a pleasure cruise but it was necessary. The information that you provided after the last mission required an urgent action which has been carried out,” replied the agent.
“So, can you tell me now who that Tahamar character is?”
“All I can say is that he is a person of interest to our intelligence service. The fact that you attracted his attention makes us hope that soon you will meet him again. As for now, I have another mission for you. Our scanners have detected an illegal stargate here in Uitra. Interference from a large deadspace field makes remote surveillance impossible, so I need you to fly there and scout the area.”
“Any hostiles?” asked I.
“Hard to say – too much noise. Be prepared both for a fight and for a quick escape.”
“Roger,” said I and left the office.
After loading my pod into the Merlin, I woke up Aura.
“Ooh, Ampuhaukka,” chirped she. “So today we are going to make wrecks instead of chasing them?”
“Shut up,” said I listlessly, “or I will send you back to bed.”
Aura put a hand on her mouth and puffed her cheeks. After a few seconds she started making gulping sounds as if she was suffocating, and put up a sign “Girl needs air.” She looked so funny that I burst out laughing. She laughed with me and then asked, “So what’s the mission?”
“Basically, scouting. There is an illegal stargate that Tarumo wants to take a closer look at.”
“Illegal stargate? Cool. It’s probably used by smugglers. Can we shoot them?”
“Only if they are hostile. I don’t want to be CONCORDed because I presumed,” said I and warped to the mission location.
“Wow! Look at that,” whispered Aura in awe when we arrived.
The scene was indeed spectacular, unlike anything I’d seen before: three stone arches that looked like a skeleton of a giant creature formed an arcade inside which there was a strange man-made construction. It had to be the stargate that the agent told me about.
“We need to approach that stone formation to get a better look at the thing inside. Start the video feed to the Academy,” said I.
“Done,” replied Aura. “And what if it is a trap?”
“There is only one way to check,” replied I and willed the Merlin to approach the gate.
We stopped about 100 metres away from the arcade entry.
“Is it good enough?” asked I.
“The base says we need to get closer.”
“For that we’ll have to enter that arcade. I have a bad feeling about it.”
“Me too,” said Aura, probably trying to provide moral support by agreeing with me.
I took a deep breath of pod goo and slowly started moving inside the stone gallery. We came so close to the gate that I could distinguish welding joints on its walls, when suddenly the space around us was filled with green ambient glow and I started taking damage.
“What the fuck?” cried I. “Who is attacking us? Why can’t I see them on the overview?”
“It’s not a ship, it’s the gate. It released some kind of aggressive substance which is eating at our shields. We need to warp out immediately!”
I chose a random celestial and willed Ampuhaukka to warp. It aligned to the destination and started accelerating but bumped into one of the stone arches and stopped before the warp drive could kick in. The shield damage was getting close to 50%.
“Shit!” swore I. “We can’t warp from this stone cage, we have to slowboat out of it first!”
Aura blanched but said soothingly, “It’s okay, we still have time. Let’s just do it slowly but surely.”
I tried to calm down and forget about the creeping red line on my shield indicator. First, get my bearings. Second, turn towards exit. Third… here I glanced at the dashboard – the shields were 70% down… ACTIVATE THE FUCKING AFTERBURNER!
A few seconds later, with my heart jumping out of my chest, but still with intact armour, I whooshed out of the arcade.
“Phew! That was close,” said I wiping imaginary (or maybe real) sweat from my forehead.
“The base says not close enough,” said Aura. “We need to go back.”
“What?” exclaimed I. “I am not going to lose my frigate because they couldn’t count all the rivets! Tell them to get stuffed.”
“Relax, Captain. I was just kidding,” giggled Aura. “The mission is accomplished.”
When she said the last sentence I remembered that such dry formal notifications were one of the reasons why I wanted to modify her. I didn’t regret my decision but at that moment I thought that that particular reason was probably wrong.