The following is my submission for the Pod and Planet Fiction Competition – it is a fictionalized account of an operation I took part in a few months ago. I hope you enjoy it, and if you, please let me know!
It was an awesome sight and no doubt about it. It was perhaps five times the size of his familiar Breacher, and many times heavier, but looking at it head-on from the platform, its silhouette was as sleek as any frigate’s. The bow of the cruiser resembled a snake-head the most, he thought, though he was aware of other, less flattering comparisons. Towards the rear end of the ship, its hull widened to accommodate its powerful drives, and the large ventral fin brought balance to its overall profile.
Everything about its elongated, bullet-like shape screamed speed, danger, attack. He had loved it since he had first laid eyes on it back in the Academy. And now here he was, standing right in front of his very own Stabber.
He smiled as he saw his crew – hand-picked from the best in the whole Placid region – swarm about the Stabber in the station hangar. They were working through the pre-flight checklist with obvious professionalism. He was proud of them, and of himself. The months of hard studying and attending countless classes, the endless hours in simulations, and of course long days scouring Uphallant’s belts for Clone Soldier Transporter ships, which had been essential in funding the purchase of the hull on the Stacmon market… it had all led up to this moment. And it had been worth it.
His hands clenched the platform railing as a mild adrenaline rush flooded over him. Just imagining what it would feel like to link up with such a powerful ship did that to him: the desire to be out in space in this new hull was very strong. Physical even.
“Hey Lynx. Space ace, why don’t you come back here,” she called from inside his quarters. Her voice was slightly hoarse and she spoke with a slight drawl that he found strangely exciting. “My crew knows what they are doing. No need for you to oversee things personally…”
She was right, of course. Since they had become involved, following on that all-night pub crawl in Ostingele’s top station a few months ago, she had proven to be a very experienced captain as well as an insatiable lover. She had been quite vague about where she got her experience, and most of the crew members that she had brought on board had turned out to be very experienced.
“I guess you are right, Skye. At this rate we will be ready to undock in less than an hour,” he replied.
“Mmm. Come back to bed, then. You’ll be on your own in your pod soon enough…”
Grinning, Lynx turned around and walked back to his quarters, a lewd grin on his face. Things could not be going any better.
* * *
The data that came flooding into his mind was so much richer than anything he had experienced before. He toyed with the targeting systems, locking up random asteroids over 40 clicks away, just for the fun of it. They had been hunting Serpentis drug runners for a few hours now – they had not posed any problems at all, and now their home system was cleared of all illicit activity.
The E-UNI comms channel had been mostly quiet for a while now, as many of his corp mates were out of system on a fleet operation. His mind was wandering, pondering what his next move could be, how best to put his Stabber to use. He wanted to make a difference – to be an honorable low sec capsuleer, a good pirate who honored the unwritten rules of piracy and brought good fights only…
Suddenly, ship comms crackled into life and pulled him back into the present.
“What’s up, captain? You still with us, or asleep at the helm?” Her throaty chuckle filled his pod, and he noticed he had been burning straight off into empty space for minutes while he was daydreaming.
“Still here. I was just deciding on our next move, Lieutenant Skye,” Lynx responded, just a little irritation in his voice. He did not want her to start challenging his authority on board.
“Roger that, captain. Standing by.” Her reply was a little terse. She had obviously detected the anger in his voice.
Annoyed, he flicked back to corp comms. Maybe it was not realistic to think that he could keep their intimacy confined to downtime in station… All the manuals forbade this kind of relationship, but he had never been one for following regulations to the letter. And to be honest, he did not think he could break up with her even if he wanted to. There was something irresistible about her, it was all the small things combined – the way she cradled his head in her hands before she kissed him, or the perfect fit of their bodies when she pulled him close. Losing her, he admitted, would be more than he could bear.
Then, as he tuned back in to the Low Sec Campus comms, the excited voices of capsuleers preparing for an operation filled his mind. Something big was afoot, and he pushed his worries about Skye to the back of his mind.
“… we need fast shield cruisers, and we need them now. X up now if you want in. We will be departing from Uphallant in ten minutes.” He recognized the calm, quietly confident voice of one of his mentors, Aren Dar.
“Lynx here. Can bring a shield tanked, autocannon Stabber, ready to go right now. What’s up?”
“I have eyes on a single Stratios running a Sleeper site in the wormhole that just appeared in system this morning. Feel free to come along. Meet us at the coordinates I’m sending you now – that’s the wormhole we will be heading into.”
“I’ve never ventured into a hole before. That a problem?”
“Shouldn’t be. Just stay close, and follow the FC’s commands to the letter. Can you do that?”
“Can do, Aren. On my way. Lynx out.”
His heart racing, he quickly started checking and activating modules and subsystems on his ship. Best to let the crew know we’re heading out, he thought.
“Crew, break break. Battle stations, now. Prepare for warp in thirty seconds.” The internal channels filled up with acknowledgements. Professional, as always, he noticed with satisfaction. No chatter. Just straight to action, the way he liked it. He started aligning towards the coordinates Aren had sent, and prepared to warp.
“Lynx. What are we heading out for?” she whispered in his ear.
“Ganking a lone Stratios. In the hole that opened in system today. Aren is the FC. This should be good. Might get some nice loot from the site he was running…”
“Awesome. Crew is ready. All systems are go.”
“Good. Thanks, Skye.” A few seconds of silence as the Stabber straightened out its course, the wormhole now dead ahead.
“… and you know I’m always ready for you, Lynx,” she added seductively.
He grinned and engaged the warp drive. What a day.
* * *
Slipping into the wormhole was an exhilarating experience, similar to the sudden rush of jumping a stargate, yet completely different at the same time. To his augmented senses, drinking the raw data from his direct link to the ship’s multitude of sensor arrays, it was almost like diving into a pool without a bottom, where you just kept sinking at breakneck speed into the depths of an ocean.
He vaguely felt the presence of his fleetmates ahead of him, Tylenos in another Stabber, Instigo in a Thorax and Aren in a Vexor. The four of them should be able to make short work of the Stratios, but you never knew if he was truly alone out there. The stories he had heard about wormhole all had one thing in common: things were rarely what they seemed to be on the surface. He focused on the wormhole exit, prepping his directional scanner.
All was clear as they came out of the wormhole and entered an unfamiliar system. He shivered despite his efforts to control his nerves, and activated his defensive systems.
“Arrived in the hole. Battle comms, no chatter please,” he whispered on the internal channel. A second later, his E-UNI comms channel crackled to life.
“Transmitting coordinates of the Sleeper site now,” said Aren.
“Received,” acknowledged Tylenos.
Lynx watched the coordinates roll in. Only a short warp, by the looks of it. He started aligning.
“Warp on my signal, to zero. In four, three, two, one… warp!” commanded Aren. Lynx took a deep breath to ease the tension a little, and engaged the warp drive.
* * *
The battle was short but brutal. They landed on grid in tight formation, with Lynx pulling up the rear. He did not have the same piloting expertise as his more experienced fleet mates, and at times like these it showed. By the time he was burning towards the gleaming white shape of the Stratios, it was surrounded by the constant fireworks of railgun and autocannon projectiles smashing into its hardened armor plating. Swarms of drones were streaking between the five ships in their deadly dance.
“Targeting systems ready, captain.”
Oh crap. He was so focused on closing range to the unfortunate Stratios that he had completely forgotten to open fire.
“Thank you, lieutenant Skye,” he muttered, and set to work. One portion of his mind engaged the targeting systems, another pre-heated the autocannons, and two seconds later he cried out gleefully as he watched his rounds plow into the enemy cruiser’s hull.
“My tank is holding,” cried Tylenos over comms, “and he is going into structure. We have him!”
“Pull range if you need to, Tylenos,” replied Aren. “We only need a few more seconds.”
By the time his Stabber had reached the optimal range of its autocannons, escape pods were ejecting from all over the now ruptured hull of the Stratios. Small blasts rocked its frame for a drawn-out second, sending long streamers of fire and debris into space, and then the spaceship disappeared in a blinding ball of white light as its warp cores imploded.
“Status report,” said Lynx in a shaky voice.
“All systems nominal, captain. Sleeper drones are aggressing, but our shields can take them. Well done.”
“Grab loot and warp back to the wormhole exit,” said Aren calmly.
“Roger that, FC.” Lynx started burning towards the Stratios wreck and instructed the crew to prepare a boarding party for some rapid looting. As they approached the wreck, he saw his fleet mates align back out. He would have to hurry. Overstaying your welcome in an unknown wormhole was not a great idea.
He could hardly believe it, though. On his first idea piloting a Stabber, he had been lucky enough to take his ship and crew into a wormhole for the first time, and to take part in a gank that might turn out to be very profitable…
As the exit team swarmed the hull to loot the Stratios, he allowed himself to dream on a little. One day, he would be piloting even bigger ships, maybe even a Loki, into sites such as these. He would not make mistakes, though, like the hapless Stratios. No, together, they would strike it rich, the crew, Skye and himself. His mind wandered off again, thinking of how they would be celebrating their victory back in station, first with the crew, and later on, just Skye and himself.
“Looks like we got lucky, Aren,” he reported as they warped back to the exit coordinates a few minutes later. “Over a hundred million in loot, I would estimate. The Stratios was carrying a nice load of nanoribbons – he must have been running sites for a while before we showed up.”
“Excellent work, team,” replied their leader. “Now, to get back, turn off prop mods and take the hole. On my mark, enter the hole. Four, three, two, one, mark!”
Lynx switched off his microwarpdrive, and felt his ship float slowly towards the hole. For moment, he watched as the other ships were swallowed by its hungry, swirling mouth, then fired the engines to dive after them, back to known space.
And then, nothing.
“Oh shit,” whispered Skye in a private channel. She must also be watching the external feed, he realized. Which meant she was watching the same horrible sight that had him frozen with shock.
The hole, in a mass of flashing, roiling energy, had closed.
* * *
It took a little while before he fully understood what had happened. Or rather, he understood what had happened – the hole had been unstable, and perhaps one of his fleetmates had forgotten to switch of their microwarpdrive when they took the hole, collapsing it – but not what it meant. For the better part of an hour, they ran through scenario’s, tried to establish comms with the fleet, even warped back to the Sleeper site. But there was no denying it.
They were lost.
Utterly, irrevocably lost.
Without scanning equipment, without the coordinates of other wormhole exits, there was nothing they could do.
He had trouble breathing – he felt as though a great weight was crushing all the breath out of his body. He had never felt guilt of this magnitude before. This was on him. There was no denying it. He had not thought to bring scanning gear, or even to check the stability of the exit before following Aren into the wormhole. He had been so smug, so proud, and now he had condemned them all to a slow death. His crew would starve, Skye would die here, and the ship, his beautiful ship that even now hummed with barely contained power, even the ship would go quiet, dark and cold over time.
* * *
“Lynx,” she said. “This is it, isn’t it?” Her voice, even now, was calm and soothing. Not a hint of panic. He squeezed his eyes shut. Tears would not be helpful, not now.
“I guess,” he muttered.
“It was good, you know. You, me, us. Damn good. We made a great team.”
“We did.” He wanted to say so much more, but no words would come.
“You could stay,” Skye whispered. “We have supplies for a long time yet to come. Someone might pass this way, and with a little luck we can follow them out of the hole.” For the first time ever, he thought he heard her wavering.
“You know I can’t,” he said, cursing himself even as he knew it was true. “I’ve put too much effort into this. I can’t afford to wait for days, weeks, months, Bob knows how long it will take before you run into another ship. I just can’t.”
“I know.” She cut the channel, but not before he heard a soft sobbing noise.
He took another deep breath, then shouted with all the anger left in him, until there was nothing left but loss, defeat and self-loathing. All emptied out, he slammed the eject button, and watched through tearful eyes as his pod pulled away from the shimmering hull. A soothing voice started counting down the seconds to self-destruction.
Lynx back, motionless, recalling the feel of Skye’s body against his.
And he knew that no matter how many times his consciousness would be transferred into a brand new clone, he would never be truly whole again.