The Forge Region – Anttanen Constellation
Uitra System – Planet VI, Moon 4
State War Academy Station
12 May YC 121
Two or three days after my last meeting with Ijumachi I called him to request a new mission. My call was answered by his secretary who advised that Mr Vuonolailen was on extended emergency deployment and should be back next month. As it turned out, it took him full four weeks to return to the Academy. I was not given a notice and was quite surprised to spot him in a cafe where I had my breakfast.
“Welcome back, Mr Vuonolailen,” said I approaching his table. “Do you mind if I keep you company?”
“Oh, Mr Korff. I am so glad to see you,” beamed Ijumachi. “Please, take a seat.”
“Thank you,” said I moving my breakfast tray to his table. “How was your deployment?”
Ijumachi smiled, “It’s actually classified information but I can tell you a few things; they will soon be in newspapers anyway.”
Here is what I’ve learnt. Earlier this year, in March, one of the Chigas Ovoken’s students made a mistake and scanned down an acceleration gate instead of a training data site. When he arrived there he was attacked by unaligned mercenary who nearly killed the poor bugger before he could warp out. That incident was reported to the Academy Security Team who thought it wasn’t a big deal and simply sent a drone to reconnoitre. When the drone didn’t return they shrugged and sent another one. It didn’t come back either. Having lost two drones the team decided to deploy a frigate. Ranta Tarumo gave a Bantam to his student and sent her to the area. As the intel was scarce, the girl was totally unprepared for a fight against the mercenary ship which was guarding the deadspace pocket. She lost her Bantam and her pod. Tarumo then passed the buck to Ijumachi Vuonolailen, arguing that it was a mission for advanced military students. Ijumachi gladly accepted the challenge and decided to send me. He then went to great lengths to persuade me to take on a second suicide mission in the same course.
As you know, I successfully destroyed the mercenary frigate and thus forced the enemy to show their hand. Totally unexpectedly, I found that the reinforcements consisted of a fleet of Gallentean elite cruisers which shredded my government issue Merlin to pieces despite all the high-tech gadgetry I had installed on it.
When Ijumachi realised who we were dealing with he immediately escalated the issue to the State level. His report was initially met with disbelief – why would Gallente terrorists create a base in a dead-end system which is mostly used for military training. Nevertheless, my video record and certified Neocom logs were confirmed to be authentic and the wheels of military bureaucracy started spinning. The State Navy sent a fleet to Uitra and Ijumachi was put in charge of the operation.
“How big was the fleet?” asked I.
Ijumachi smiled apologetically, “Sorry, this is classified.”
“Okay, no problems. But why did it take so long to exterminate the terrorists? I’ve heard space battles hardly ever last more than a day.”
Ijumachi looked embarrassed, “Well, when our fleet arrived to the acceleration gate we discovered that it was not powerful enough to warp anything larger than a frigate.”
“Aha!” I said triumphantly, “So our fleet had at least destroyer-size ships.”
“Against cruisers? Of course, it had. The State Navy doesn’t do frigate blobs.”
“So how did you get into that pocket?”
Ijumachi made a pained grimace, “We had to build another acceleration gate. This is what caused the delay.”
“Wait a moment,” interrupted I. “If only frigates could use that gate, how come the terrorists managed to squeeze their cruisers through it?”
Ijumachi looked at me with a blank expression and slowly said, “Er… I have no idea.”
“Did you capture any of the bastards? They should know.”
“Unfortunately not,” said Ijumachi looking pensive. Then he shook his head and added, “Anyway, it doesn’t matter anymore. We have cleared the pocket.”
“I wish I could join that fleet,” I said wistfully.
“There will be other fleets, and in time you will be able to join them but first you need to finish your training.”
“Talking of which, have you got a new mission for me?”
Ijumachi finished his coffee and said, “Of course, I do. Let’s go to my office.”
“What’s that?” I asked incredulously after reading the mission brief.
“A mission. Anything wrong?” said Ijumachi.
“Let me see if I’ve got it right – after facing off against ten cruisers you ask me to fly a few klicks in a straight line from point A to point B and you call it a mission?”
“Yes,” quoth the agent with a deadpan expression.
“And what am I supposed to learn from this experience?” I asked irritably.
“The virtue of speed. If you have read the brief carefully you know that there is a radioactive cloud between points A and B. You have to fly fast or your ship will be destroyed by the EM disturbance. That is why I am giving you a 1MN Civilian Afterburner.”
“Okay, so it’s flying with an afterburner. Been there, done that. Can you offer anything else instead?”
“I am sorry, but this exercise is a mandatory part of the curriculum,” firmly said Ijumachi.
I rose from the chair and shook my head, “And this is the mission I was waiting for for four weeks. Okay, start the clock, Mr Vuonolailen.”
I dismissed the granted civilian afterburner in favour of a proper military-grade one, but I didn’t ignore the advice about speed – every low-energy slot was filled with an overdrive injector system which together with the afterburner increased my max velocity to 1023 m/s. When Ampuhaukka arrived to the target location I called Aura and told her about the mission. She rolled her eyes and said caustically, “Wow, what a deployment! Now we have something to tell our grand-kids about.”
I inspected the surroundings – there was an asteroid station that I needed to reach, and a gas cloud which separated that station from me.
Aura wrinkled her nose, “I don’t like the colour of that cloud; it’s quite disagreeable.”
She then projected a 3-D model of the area and turned it so that we could see it from above.
“Hey, look!” exclaimed she. “That cloud does not envelope the station. We can fly around it.”
“Are you afraid?” I teased her. “But seriously, I don’t think Ijumachi will consider the mission completed if we don’t go through the cloud.”
Aura snorted and asked sarcastically, “And what if we go through the cloud twice? Will he double the reward?”
“No. He’ll probably reduce it due to our demonstrable stupidity.”
Aura stuck her tongue out at me and said, “So what are we waiting for, Captain Brain?”
“For you to shut up and stop consuming the energy I need for the afterburner,” retorted I and activated the aforementioned module.
“Three, two, one, go!” shouted I and increased my speed to maximum.
“Yeehaw!” screamed Aura as the first wisps of the cloud hurtled past.
Suddenly, a few bars on the shield level indicator turned red and I cried, “Ouch!”
“What’s wrong?” asked Aura with concern.
“This shit burns my skin like acid!”
Aura looked around, “I don’t think that gas can penetrate the ship, to say nothing about the capsule.”
“Don’t forget that the shield is mapped to my skin. If it is damaged, I feel it.”
“Okay, but how do you know what the acid burn feels like?”
“We had chemistry lessons at school and once my curiosity got the better of me… Oh, that feels good!” breathed I.
“That’s it. We are out of the cloud,” explained I and then added trying to imitate Aura’s voice, “The mission is accomplished.”
For a moment Aura looked taken aback but quickly recovered and, perfectly reproducing my pitch and intonation, barked, “Then look alive and take us home!”
“Aye-aye, Captain Aura,” laughed I. “Warp drive active.”