The Forge Region – Anttanen Constellation
Uitra System – Planet VI, Moon 4
State War Academy Station
21 March YC 121
Two days after the drug bust I received a call from Tarumo who had a new mission for me. Another warehouse, thought I, and unhurriedly dressed up and walked to the agent’s office.
“Good morning, Mr Korff,” greeted me Tarumo.
“I hope it is, Mr Tarumo,” replied I settling in a comfy chair.
“Before the last mission I asked you to destroy all pirate ships that you would encounter. I am very pleased that you fulfilled my request. Apparently, Guristas had limited number of combat ships in Uitra and when you destroyed their outer defences they requested reinforcements from another system. All that time we were closely monitoring the pirate activity in the neighbouring systems and we managed to get leads to Tahamar’s whereabouts.”
I breathed in sharply and asked, “Where is he?”
“We have strong reasons to believe that he is hiding in Sirseshin system.”
I wasn’t familiar with Sirseshin and quickly checked it on New Eden maps – it was just four jumps away.
“Do you have a location inside the system?” asked I.
“Only the coordinates of an acceleration gate which leads to deadspace. We don’t know how many pockets are there, nor what kind of defences to expect inside.”
“When do you plan to get that intel?”
“We don’t. Our scouts had to be very careful, so that they wouldn’t tip off Tahamar. They have already gathered all info they could without jumping through that gate. There is a high risk that any ship that we send through will alarm the pirate and he will again go into hiding elsewhere. For that reason, the first ship that will jump the gate will do it with the intention of finding and killing Tahamar. There may be no other chance,” Tarumo looked me in the eye. “It’s one of those missions, Mr Korff, when a pilot has to take risks. I will understand if you decline it.”
“Decline? Decline after all these weeks?! No way! I am taking it,” cried I raising from the chair and heading for the door. “Send the coordinates to Aura.”
“Just a piece of advice, Mr Korff,” said Tarumo. “Fit your best tank and warp out if you are about to take hull damage. Also, the Academy understands and appreciates the risks you are taking and unconditionally grants you another Merlin.”
I stopped in my tracks, “Do you mean I may lose Ampuhaukka?”
“A conservative assessment indicates a high probability of such outcome,” said Tarumo neutrally.
I sighed heavily and said, “Thank you for the advice and the ship, Mr Tarumo. I hope I will have the honour of terminating that bandit but in case I fail, please prepare someone who could continue my mission – this chance is too precious to waste.”
“We already have, Mr Korff.”
My eyes grew wide, “You mean, you already had someone for this mission but you called me?”
“That’s correct. I thought that after all your efforts you deserved the right of first refusal.”
I swallowed hard, “Thank you, Mr Tarumo. You won’t be disappointed.”
“Get up, lazybones,” said I while the capsule was loaded into Ampuhaukka. “We have a new mission.”
Aura yawned, “What, another warehouse?” and then added, “By the way, it’s iridium.”
“What do you mean?”
“You asked me what charges would produce the most beautiful fireworks. I read a chemistry textbook, ran a few simulations and found that you would need to use iridium hybrid charges on a warehouse which contained the Drop. Other narcotics may call for other types of ammo.”
I was impressed, “Aura, you are a genius!”
Aura livened up, “Am I?”
“Yes, you are, but hold that thought for now – we might test it later. Today we aren’t doing structure bashing. Today we are going to rid New Eden of one of the ‘swearing uncouth characters’ which make military occupation ‘improper for a lady’. We are going after Tahamar!”
“Really? Has Tarumo finally found him?”
“He has indeed.”
“Yay!” yelled Aura. “Let’s go and get that motherfu…”
Aura’s battle-cry was interrupted as she put a hand over her mouth and checked herself. Then she made a deep breath, straightened up and said primly, “Yes, I think that criminal’s punishment is long overdue.”
I suppressed a laugh and asked urbanely, “In such case would you be so kind to request an undocking permission and set a course to Sirseshin, my dear lady?”
“It will be a pleasure,” replied Aura and contacted the station control.
The Forge Region – Anttanen Constellation
Sirseshin System – Mission Location
When we arrived to Sirseshin and warped to the mission coordinates, all we saw was an unguarded acceleration gate. Unguarded didn’t mean unwatched though. As I wanted my notice of arrival to be as short as possible, I turned on the afterburner, burned to the gate and activated it.
The first deadspace pocket contained another gate which was patrolled by six Guristas Rookies. Those bandits didn’t waste time on their usual banter and headed straight toward me. That saved some time as I didn’t have to chase them across the grid – I just targeted and dispatched them one by one as they came into my firing range. One of them managed to get under my railguns, but the oaf didn’t know I also had a blaster. I made sure it was the last mistake he had made.
After the Rookies were gone Guristas sent in a couple of Pithi Invaders. It was, however, too little, too late – Ampuhaukka didn’t have any trouble dealing with Herons pretending to be attack frigates. In the end, I was left alone among eight silent wrecks which yielded an Initiated Signal Distortion Amplifier and, guess what, Iridium Hybrid Charges.
“Look, Aura, we’ve got fireworks!” exclaimed I.
Aura made a sceptical grimace, “Didn’t you forget one other little thing, namely, a warehouse full of Drop?”
“I have ten flagons of that shit. Is it enough?”
Aura pursed her lips, “I am afraid not.”
“Okay, let’s go to another pocket – maybe we’ll find Tahamar’s personal stash there.”
The next area looked like a junkyard – a lot of ship wrecks and scattered remnants of a space station. I thought it was a good place for Tahamar to hide but he was nowhere to be found. Instead, I was greeted by two Pithi Arrogators and two Pithi Imputors.
“At least, they learn,” observed I. “Sending those Rookies against me was a huge judgement error.”
“Ha! You, capsuleers, are so self-centred,” scoffed Aura. “What made you think they were waiting for you? Those small-time thugs were just cannon fodder, placed in the first pocket to measure and delay any incoming threat.”
“Wait a moment, who told you that all capsuleers are self-centred? I will be the first to admit that I possess that trait, but your generalisation is rather hasty given the size of the sample that you have observed so far – specifically, one.”
“But I…” started Aura.
At that moment I started taking damage from the approaching hostiles and interrupted her, “Darling, let’s continue this discussion in a finer company. I need to take care of these hooligans.”
Aura scowled and shut up.
In this pocket Guristas threw at me a full line-up of pirate frigates: Arrogators and Imputors were followed by two Infiltrators, and then by the same number Invaders. Eventually, all of them made a harmonious addition to the surrounding graveyard; disappointingly, none of them contained any loot.
Reloading the smoking railguns and moving the frigate to the next acceleration gate, I asked, “So, you were saying…”
Aura waved her hand, “Forget it. I am not going to argue about capsuleer personalities with someone whose milieu consists of, er… the whole two pod pilots, if you also count Reyg Xander with whom you have had a half-an-hour talk.”
“And that’s exactly why I don’t jump to any conclusions about them.”
“Hey, and wasn’t it you who was saying that capsuleers were not self-centred?”
“No it wasn’t. All I said was that your generalisation was unjustifiably hasty. I didn’t say you were wrong.”
“Aha!” cried Aura triumphantly. “So…”
I had to interrupt her as Ampuhaukka jumped through the gate and arrived to the last deadspace pocket, “Later, honey. We have finally found him.”
The area contained some kind of tower and three hostile ships, one of which was the stolen Navy frigate.
“Aha, you won’t escape from me this time, asshole,” growled I and targeted the Navy ship.
I tried to approach the frigate but suddenly I found that my speed dropped significantly and I couldn’t catch it.
“It’s the stasis tower that slows you down,” yelled Aura. “Shoot it!”
“I can’t. I need to kill that Navy ship or Tahamar will escape again,” cried I.
“Tahamar is not in the ship, he is in the tower.”
“How do you know that?”
“I don’t know how to explain. Just trust me,” implored Aura.
I gave her a hard look, “Are you sure?”
“Yes, yes. Please, shoot the tower!”
“Okay,” I clenched my teeth and disengaged the frigate.
I willed Ampuhaukka into 1000-metre orbit around the tower and hit it with everything I had. As I said before, I didn’t expect structure bashing or I would have equipped three blasters. It was slow going in more senses than one: the railguns were not very good against the tower while it was very efficient in slowing me down which played into the pirates’ hands. My Civilian Kinetic Deflection Field was working non-stop but it didn’t help much against the deadly effectiveness of Guristas’ missiles hitting a slow-moving target. The red arc showing my shield damage crept higher and higher until it reached 50% at which point I turned on the shield booster. It started slowly repairing the shield but when it was almost done I heard a warning sound indicating that I was running out of the capacitor. I had to switch it off and started taking damage again. Twice more I repeated the shield boosting procedure each time repairing less and less shield as the capacitor was not fully replenished between iterations. The tower’s defences were also going down but so slowly that I wondered if I should warp out to save Ampuhaukka and restore the shields, or stay on the field until the pirates get through to my hull. Luckily, I didn’t need to make such decision. After several dreary minutes my guns finally overcame the shield, the armour and the hull of the tower and it exploded in a myriad of fragments.
I forgot about the pirates, the hostile fire and the red shield arc on my HUD as I looked in awe at the waxing giant fireball.
“Remember, Aura, for stasis towers we need to use iron and antimatter,” started saying I and then swore, “What the fuck?”
The expanding explosion sphere carried with it a small capsule which was classified by Neocom as Tahamar.
“See, I was right,” exclaimed Aura. “He was in the tower and escaped it in the pod.”
Ignoring the remaining pirate ships I targeted the capsule and unleashed the fury of all three turrets on it. It survived the first salvo but the second one ended Tahamar’s sordid career once and forever. The red triangle labelled with his name blinked and disappeared from the overview. After all these weeks of waiting and chasing it was almost a surreal feeling of emptiness, as if my life suddenly lacked purpose.
“That’s it,” confirmed Aura. “We can go home.”
Startled, I roused from my reverie, “Oh, no. We still have a job to do. I can’t ‘commandeer’ that Navy ship back but I am not going to leave it to the pirates. Let’s have fun and do it an old-fashioned way. Lieutenant Aura, designate the stolen Navy ship target Alpha; designate Pithi Invader targets Beta-One and Two; assign railguns to target Alpha and open fire. Orbit Beta-Two at 14 kilometres.”
“Aye aye, Captain,” said Aura and carried out the orders.
Without the immobilising influence of the stasis tower we easily built the distance between Ampuhaukka and the hostiles reducing the incoming damage to virtually zero. After that it was a one-sided game – one by one, slowly but surely the rails annihilated targets Alpha, Beta-One and Beta-Two turning pirate ships into drifting piles of space junk.
Having cleared the area I looked at the overview to check if there was any loot. All wrecks were empty but there was a cargo container, probably ejected from the tower during the explosion. It didn’t contain anything valuable – just some food supplies.
While I was looting the container, Aura gulped and whispered, “Look, what’s that?”
I looked in the indicated direction, “It’s the remains of Tahamar’s capsule.”
“No, to the left of it.”
I zoomed in the camera and shuddered – slowly tumbling through the vacuum was a corpse of a man whose photo was in all my last mission briefs – Tahamar. I could clearly see his lifeless face contorted in a fixed grimace of pain. As the body rotated and exposed its back to me, I involuntarily let out a shriek of horror and despair.
“What’s the matter?” asked Aura, frightened.
I couldn’t squeeze a word out of my mouth and just pointed a shaking finger at the corpse – there, sticking out of the spinal chord, were all too familiar neural interface cables severed by the explosion.
“Tahamar was a capsuleer,” gasped Aura.
“Which probably means that he still is,” finished I.