The Forge Region – Anttanen Constellation
Uitra System – Planet VI, Moon 4
State War Academy Station
3 March YC 121
After escaping from the outpost Tahamar did not go into hiding. On the contrary, the bandit loudly announced his vile presence by commandeering a State Navy ship and terrorising Anttanen Constellation. I could not believe my ears when Tarumo told me about that.
“A State Navy ship? How can one ‘commandeer’ it?”
Tarumo’s face stiffened, “The investigation is ongoing.”
I thought it might be a painful topic for the agent if some of his former students were implicated, and decided to change the subject.
“Do we know where they are based?”
“We lost contact with our informants so all we can go by is the results of combat probe scans,” said Tarumo with just a hint of apology in his voice. “We know the exact location of a ship which has the same model as the stolen one but we don’t know if it is the same. I normally do not offer missions based on unverified information but we have an emergency situation. If you want to take risks I can provide you with a Small Shield Booster; it will help you to offset incoming damage from Tahamar’s gang.”
“Just to confirm, is it kill-on-sight order?”
“Be careful out there,” said Tarumo as I was leaving his office.
I stopped in my tracks – that was the first time ever when he showed that he cared not only about the mission but also about me.
Turning back to him I said, “Thank you, Tarumo. I will.”
“I have a new gadget,” I told Aura while I was fitting the shield booster to Ampuhaukka.
“Ooh, cool. What does it do?” asked Aura looking at the fitting control display.
“Helps restore your shield quicker.”
“Nice. Would have come handy when we were taking flak from the defence sentries two days ago. By the way, why are we fitting it? Do you expect us to get into such trouble again?”
“I don’t know what to expect,” I said honestly. “It may be an Arrogator or it may be a Komodo. Even Tarumo was concerned about this mission. Anyway, let’s just hope that this little thingy will see us through. Now, be an angel, put it online.”
“I can’t,” said Aura. “You don’t have skills to use it.”
“What? What kind of skill do I need to use a shield booster?”
“Apparently, Shield Operation.”
“Oh, for goodness’ sake, what’s the point of granting a module that I can’t use?” exploded I. “It’s an urgent mission and I don’t have time to jump between systems searching for the skillbook!”
“In fact, the skillbook is sold right in this station. We are in an academy, remember?”
“Even so, I won’t have enough time to learn the required skills. It will probably take days.”
Aura produced a calculator, put on reading glasses and typed in some numbers, “Captain, please be informed that with your current neural remapping you will need seven minutes to reach level I of Shield Operation skill.”
I was taken aback, “Does the Shield Booster require only the first level?”
Aura threw away the glasses and the calculator, “Of course! It’s an elementary skill. I am surprised that you haven’t learned it yet. And I think Tarumo would be surprised if you told him. Do you want me to ask him if he would be surprised?”
I waved my hand, “Shut up and order that skillbook.”
“Yessir,” replied Aura and saluted.
Five minutes later the skillbook was delivered and injected. I expected that the mission would take more than seven minutes and hoped that I would be able to enable the Shield Booster in space before the baddies would blow me up.
The pirates’ camp was located inside a hollow asteroid which looked like it was intricately carved by a giant abstractionist. It was guarded by a suspiciously weak fleet which comprised only two Pithi Arrogator.
“You don’t get to pièce de résistance without chewing through entrée first, eh?” I winked to Aura and engaged the Arrogators.
As soon as I made the first shot, I saw a broadcast message from Tahamar in the local channel. He told the pirates that I was the scoundrel (yes, it was I who was the scoundrel there) that destroyed their base, and asked them to capture me alive because he wanted to have a word with me in person. I couldn’t believe it – either Tahamar still didn’t realise that I was a capsuleer, or he didn’t know the second thing about us, that thing being the fact that no one could prize a pilot out of his pod alive against his will. Remembering Tarumo’s predictions about my prospects if I was captured, I would not hesitate to issue a self-destruction order should such contingency arise.
While I was rolling my eyes I nearly missed arrival of the main dish – six more Guristas frigates: two Pithi Invaders, two Pithi Infiltrators and two Pithi Imputors. I was not ready for an all out brawl without the shield booster so I pointed Ampuhaukka away from the mob and burned away using my afterburner. As the Merlin was getting out of pirates’ weapon range I had some time to inspect the two new models of pirate ships – Infiltrators and Invaders. When the camera drone magnified the image of an Infiltrator I couldn’t help cursing.
“For fuck’s sake! Do you see it, Aura? Do you see what that Infiltrator looks like?”
“Hmm… Resembles a Heron,” said Aura.
“Exactly! A goddamn Heron which is only good for hacking containers. If I knew what they intended to fly I wouldn’t bother fitting that Shield Booster.”
At that moment a voice in my head (don’t worry, for capsuleers it’s normal to hear voices) told me that Shield Operation skill training was completed.
I shrugged, “Anyway, now I have the skills required to use that module, so let’s put it to good use. Aura, darl, would you please put the booster online?”
“I can’t. The capacitor must be at 95% per cent to online it but we have only 90%. We need to wait”
I shook my head and muttered, “I shouldn’t have got out of bed today.”
When the booster was finally online, I turned Ampuhaukka back and flew toward the pirate gang. You know what, after jumping through all those hoops required to use the Shield Booster, I actually didn’t need it. Arrogators, Infiltrators and Inavders (which were also based on Heron design) melted under my railgun fire before they could inflict any damage. Imputors were tougher and managed to get close enough to me but my shield was still at 85% when they succumbed to the iron charges. At some point Tahamar sent me a dessert consisting of three more Imputors. I gratefully accepted it and ensured there were three less bandits in this universe.
I looked at the overview and all I could see there was a collection of shipwrecks. One wreck was missing though.
“Aura, have you seen Tahamar?” asked I.
“Oh sorry, I didn’t watch out,” said Aura and finished lamely, “the fireworks that you made out of the pirate ships were so fascinating.”
I sighed, “Then that son of a bitch escaped again. Get us back to the Academy. I need to report to Tarumo.”
Aura looked at me sheepishly and activated the warp drive.