The Forge Region – Anttanen Constellation
20 June YC 121
“So, can we go back to that Covert Research Facility now?” asked Aura.
“Er… I’d rather have a bit more practice before risking this blingy frigate,” said I apologetically.
“Come on! What can possibly go wrong? You’ll hack one can and we’ll warp out before the pirates can say ‘Mama’,” nagged me Aura.
“Okay, we’ll do it but let me first finish exploring the remaining systems in the constellation.”
Unfortunately for me, Sirseshin, Geras and Nomaa contained only signatures of wormholes and hidden Guristas bases. Still feeling jittery, I flew back to Shihuken.
“Hey, where are you going?” cried Aura as I approached Spacelane Patrol Logistics Support Station. “The Research Facility is the other way!”
“Look, if I am to go to a site which can any second explode in my face, I am not taking all these Tech II modules with me, to say nothing about the loot from the Guristas Backup Server,” said I firmly. “I am going to remove all the fitting except the Data Analyzer and unload the cargo.”
“Hmm… Makes sense,” reluctantly agreed Aura.
“I can also unload you, in case I get podded.”
“No way!” objected Aura. “I will not miss that expedition for the world. But since we are visiting the station I’ll back myself up. You know, just in case.”
Stripped down to bare essentials I undocked from the station.
“Ready,” I asked Aura.
“Yes, yes, yes!” she replied excitedly.
I took a deep breath of pod good and said, “Let’s go, then.”
“Warp drive active,” said Aura, her eyes shining.
A few seconds later we arrived to Lesser Guristas Covert Research Facility and immediately got an automated warning.
You are approaching a Guristas research facility. We have little patience for daredevils other than our own. Leave now and you may escape unharmed. Attempt to break in, and you and your crew will find yourselves in a dangerous situation.
“If I didn’t want to break in, why would I come here in the first place?” muttered I.
To be honest, I don’t remember what the site looked like; I was too nervous to enjoy sightseeing. The overview showed four containers with loot; one was named differently from the other three. I think that can was called a Lab and it was 30 kilometres away from me. I don’t know which containers contained more valuable loot but I chose the one with the unique name because I surmised that more expensive stuff should be rarer. Willing Haikarat to approach the container I realised that I forgot to fit a prop module. Slowly, so slowly we flew through the space as the precious seconds were ticking away. While the Heron was slowboating to the can I targeted it and prepared to activate the analyzer. Six klicks from the can I willed the frigate into a close orbit and started hacking.
The node field looked surprisingly small. I started moving my virus toward the opposite corner of the screen when Aura suddenly intervened.
“Go to that node with six neighbours first.”
“Why?” asked I.
“Trust me, it has to be empty.”
“How do you know?”
“I read about it on the Net. It’s empiric – it is either empty or it is next to the system core.”
“Why didn’t you tell me about it before?” I said indignantly.
“Why does it matter now? Just go there!” urged me Aura. “We are wasting time!”
“Okay, okay,” said I and willed the virus into the specified node.
Indeed, it was empty and I continued moving ahead.
“Wait, where are you going?” cried Aura again.
“To the top left corner.”
“Don’t. The core isn’t there. It’s in the top right corner.”
I felt annoyed, “And how would you know that, Miss Smarty-pants?”
“No time to explain. Just trust me. Please.”
I rolled my eyes, “Okay, but if we lose the Heron you’ll buy me a new one.”
It turned out that Aura was right. Guarded by a single firewall, a very weak system core (coherence 50) was sitting in the top right corner of the screen, waiting to be destroyed. As soon as the virus killed it, I opened the can and grabbed all the loot inside.
“Warp! Warp! Warp!” screamed Aura. “They are coming!”
Panicking, I selected a random celestial on the overview and warped to it.
Breathing heavily, I asked Aura, “Who were they? Did you notice the ship classification?”
“Oh, there wasn’t anyone. I just wanted to give you an extra incentive to leave that site as quickly as possible,” answered she with an innocent smile.
I felt my face flush with anger. Struggling to control myself, I said as nicely as I could, “Aura, I wish you were a physical person. You know, a beautiful woman as you are but in flesh.”
Aura’s eyes widened and she whispered, “Oh Vlad, I wish so too, so that we could…”
“Yes, so that I could…” interrupted I and roared, “fucking strangle you. I nearly shat myself when you yelled that in my ear!”
Aura looked at me sheepishly and said, “Sorry! I meant it as an imperative, not a laxative.”
I wanted to say what I thought about her lame excuses but then the meaning of her reply sank in. I buried my face in my hands and started laughing. It was a stupid joke, but I laughed and laughed and laughed until my belly ached. Probably it was an emotional discharge after the stressful job. When I finally stopped, I looked at Aura and said, “One day your sense of humour will kill me, darling. Okay, now I am ready to hear how you divined the location of the system core.”
Relieved to see me calm again, Aura was just too happy to explain, “You know, when you move the virus to an empty node, it briefly displays a number.”
“Yeah. I always wondered what those numbers meant.”
“They indicate the distance to the system core or the nearest utility. As you were moving to the top-left corner, it was number 5 two or three times in a row. When you approach the core you expect those numbers to go down. Since they didn’t, you were going in the wrong direction.”
“So simple,” muttered I and asked, “Why didn’t you tell me before?”
“I thought you knew it. I was actually shocked when I realised that you didn’t,” shrugged Aura.
“Ah, so it was you who was shocked,” I said sarcastically and then changed the subject, “Anyway, let’s see what we’ve managed to get away with.”