The Forge Region – Anttanen Constellation
Uitra System – Planet VI, Moon 4
State War Academy Station
20 May YC 121
I quite enjoyed firing missiles at Guristas and was looking forward to flying another combat mission with the launcher granted by Ijumachi. Unfortunately, he had a different plan for me.
“Have you ever participated in a fleet?” asked the agent.
“No. Why?” replied I.
“We need to close that gap in your education. It’s an essential skill for every fighter pilot because most battles are fought not by solo capsuleers but by fleets. Do you know the most important thing about flying in a fleet?”
“Er… Keeping formation?” I hazarded a guess based on my rich experience of watching space operas.
Ijumachi thought I was joking and laughed, “That’s a good one! No, when you are in a fleet it is paramount that you listen to your Fleet Commander and obey all his orders. Do you understand?”
I shrugged, “Sounds simple enough. Just do what you are told to do. I had a bit of an obedience problem in the kindergarten but I’ve improved a lot since that time.”
Now that I did make a joke, the agent didn’t seem amused. I thought we were on a different wavelength that day.
“Listen and remember,” he said gazing at me intently. “This may sound trivial to you but the ships, the clones and, sometimes, the lives depend on how quickly and accurately the fleet can follow the FC’s orders. Is it clear?”
I raised my hands in a conciliatory gesture, “Mr Vuonolailen, I didn’t mean to be flippant. Trust me, I am not going to play funny buggers in a combat fleet.”
“You better not because the mission I have for you is hostage rescue. If you stuff up, people will die.”
I felt shivers run down my spine.
“This doesn’t look like a training mission,” said I.
“And you don’t look like a rookie, Mr Korff. You have done a lot of combat missions and you’ve rescued people before. In my view, you have everything you need to complete this mission successfully,” said Ijumachi and smiled. “As you said, it’s simple – just do what you are told to do. Are you ready?”
I thought for a while and replied, “I guess, as ready as I can be.”
“Good. I’ll let the CONCORD commander know that you’ll be joining them.”
“CONCORD?” gasped I.
Ijumachi frowned, “Yes, CONCORD. You’ve worked for them before, haven’t you? And your security status is good. What’s the problem?”
“Er… no problem,” mumbled I. “I just thought that they always worked alone.”
“Not always. Sometimes they engage capsuleers and you are a good choice for this mission because they already know you. Any other questions?”
“No, no. Let’s get started. Send the coordinates to Aura.”
Ijumachi turned to the terminal and typed something.
“Done. Good luck, Mr Korff.”
I decided to fly in trusted Ampuhaukka and fitted it as for a regular military mission – three rails, an afterburner, a shield booster and three overdrive injector systems. Then I woke Aura and told her about the upcoming deployment. She frowned and asked, “So you just need to follow the orders? That’s it?”
“Yeah, apparently,” replied I.
“And what’s the point of using an intelligent creature for such assignment? They do know you are intelligent, don’t they?”
I ignored the innuendo and asked, “Why wouldn’t they assign it to me?”
“Because if all thinking is done by the fleet commander then all doing can be done by a drone.”
“Yeah, or by a ship computer,” snorted I.
“Pfft, that would be an insult to my intellectual abilities!” said Aura haughtily.
“Anyway, Professor. Are you coming with me?”
“Sure thing. I’d like to see how good you are at playing a drone,” chuckled Aura.
“Oh, you’ll be delighted. I had such a good teacher.”
“Teacher? Hey, what do you mean?”
“With your ‘intellectual abilities’, I trust that you are able to work that out yourself,” sneered I. “As for now, just say ‘Warp drive active’.”
Aura gave me a filthy look and we warped away.
The first area contained only an acceleration gate. As I was approaching it, I received my first communication from CONCORD Fleet Commander.
“Good day, Mr Korff. This is Commander Marianne Sciacca. Glad to have you in the fleet. When you jump through the gate you will see our fleet and several hostile ships. Under no circumstances should you engage the pirates. Confirm the order.”
“Roger, Commander. The hostiles are not to be engaged,” replied I.
“Very good. You can jump now.”
Aura gave me a mock salute, “You are doing very well, Mr Korff. Another 30 years of not engaging the pirates and you will be promoted to Admiral!” Then she sighed and said earnestly, “Are you sure it is your dream job, Vlad?”
“Let’s talk about it when I finish the course. There are only three missions left.”
At that moment the gate glowed red and hurled us into the next deadspace pocket. As expected, there were CONCORD and pirates, but there was also some kind of a structure about 25 klicks away from me. Before I could inspect it Marianne contacted me again.
“Mr Korff, I remind you, do not engage the hostiles even if they attack you. Your main task is to extract the hostages and bring them to the station. We are now waiting for Guristas to transfer them to the prison facility.”
The disposition became clear. I saw a red point on my HUD moving slowly toward the structure. When the ship reached the prison, it took some time to unload a container with the hostages into the dock and then started moving away. At that moment I heard Marianne’s voice, “The target is clear. Start the extraction, Mr Korff. Go, go, go!”
I turned on the afterburner and sped towards the prison facility. Half-way through Aura screamed, “Vlad, we are yellow-boxed!”
I looked at the overview and saw that one of the pirate ships started acquiring a target lock on me.
“Vlad, it is going to attack us. Do something!” pleaded Aura.
“Commander, a hostile is about to engage me. Your orders?” said I ignoring Aura.
“Stay on course, Mr Korff. We will take care of those scumbags.”
A few seconds later I reached the Human Containment Facility and got busy with pulling the container with hostages out of it. When the tractor beam dragged the container inside my cargo hold, I glanced at the overview and found that we were in the area alone. CONCORD ships had warped out leaving behind several smouldering pirate wrecks.
“That was bloody quick,” said I. “I wish I could see how they did it.”
Aura snickered, “Such demonstration is very easy to arrange. Just go to the stargate and shoot at the first transport that jumps through it. You will be in the very centre of action.”
“I am willing if you are,” retorted I.
“Shall we do it now?” teased Aura raising the stakes.
I raised a brow, “With ten hostages on board?”
“Er… Good point,” said Aura looking, I’d say, relieved. “I guess, we are going to the Academy first. Warp drive active, Captain?”