Kerak Nielas, Security Officer and Chief of Staff aboard the Wraith, led the new Caldari Astrometrics Officer through the cramped hallway leading to the observation bridge. “There’s not much room aboard, I’m afraid. Good news is your promotion here is a good sign – Cap’ keeps us busy even while he’s using temporary staff on the other boats. The rest of the crew are a mongrel lot, but I’m sure you’ll fit in just fine.”
The bridge was not what he had expected. The large open area that had once been designed for a non-capsuleer pilot had been converted to a single open room, with a handful of control stations around the edges by the windows. But that wasn’t the strange thing. In the middle of the open area sat a small table, and three other men – a Gallente, an Intaki and a Minmatar – were seated around it. One chair sat empty.
The Gallente man smiled broadly. “Ah, fresh meat! Thank you Nielas.”
Nielas waved the new crewman to the open chair. “Helas Karth, meet Jever Etenne, our Science Officer. I expect the two of you to play nice together.” He paused. “After all,” he said, nodding toward the other Minmatar, “Cap’ insists me and this damn Ammatar treat each other nicely.”
The Minmatar man chuckled quietly and inclined his head toward Karth. “Nefantar. There is a difference. My friend here is a bit out of date in his politics, you’ll have to excuse him. I’m Agar Hawulf, the Engineering Officer.” He indicated the Intaki man with one hand. “And this is Doc. Or Cookie.”
Doc winced. “I’m afraid there’s not much for kitchen facilities aboard, but I promise you won’t starve. And if you get sick I can heal you.”
“And maybe add it to the next meal,” Etenne quipped. “All right, enough banter. It’s time to induct the new guy. Have a seat, Karth. The game is Empress. Same rules as Emperor, but since Jamyl Sarum’s in charge we play points for the Amarr queen instead of the King. Buy-in is 100 credits, now that Cap’ is paying you first team wages and you’ll be locked up on this boat for weeks with nowhere to buy anything anyhow.”
Karth sat down, and Nielas went to stand by the wall. Etenne dealt the cards.
As he examined his first hand, Karth noted a trio of lights on the aft wall of the deck. There was a brief shudder as the ship dropped out of warp, and the first light, a yellow, popped to life.
“Low security warning, gentlemen,” said Nielas.
“What are the other two lights?” Karth asked. “I’ve never flown with Cap’ outside of high security space.”
Hawulf cleared his throat. “Your play, Karth. The red one will come on next when we cross into nullsec. It also doubles as the combat all hands light. For battle stations, you’ll see it flash. The blue one next to it is … a bit more concerning on this ship.”
Karth was so busy looking at his new surroundings now that he misplayed and Doc dropped the Amarr queen on the pile, giving him points he wanted to avoid. He gathered in the cards and dealt.
“So what is the blue one for?” He prodded. Hawulf’s face remained serious. “Bubble warning. Never even seen it on except when I’m doing system tests. If you see it, pray to whatever god you have, and get ready for anything.”
Karth took the queen again. It was not going to be a good night for his bank account.
The red light came on solid. “Welcome to Geminate,” Nielas said.
As the game progressed, the talk quieted. The stars passed by in the windows overhead, interrupted only by the occasional flash of gatefire as they jumped between systems.
Karth took the Amarr queen card once again. “Dammit.” He was getting slaughtered here.
A flash of gatefire. But this time, it didn’t dim. In fact, it brightened, electric arcs shooting across the now blue space outside the window. Suddenly, the blue light and red light were flashing furiously, the alarm was sounding and his fellow players were up from the table impossibly quickly and at their consoles.
Karth jumped up, knocking over his chair, and ran to the lone open console. Red lights glowed across it. He felt his heart sink as he realized that the probes were not loaded. He had no capability here whatsoever. He ran back down the hallway to the probe bay as he felt a lurch of the ship turning sharply, and was thrown to the floor of the hall by sudden and violent acceleration. The air was punctuated by a loud thrum as the cloak re-engaged. He braced himself for the inevitable implosion of enemy fire into the CovOps ship’s thin defenses and icy cold of being blown out into space.
It didn’t come.
Another lurch, and the more familiar sway of the warp drive kicking in. He picked himself up and returned to the bridge, the probes still unloaded. When he got there, a holographic image of a tall, shaved-bald Vherokior man in black from head to toe awaited him. The others stood at attention. Karth stopped and strighthtened as well.
The image smiled sardonically. “That was fun, wasn’t it? My first time doing a CovOps bubble escape. She handled perfectly in the crisis moment, Hawulf. Well done. Response time was good.” The capsuleer’s gaze turned to Karth. “Mr. Karth. I expect your station to be in readiness at all times. I cannot drop cloak to address it here, but we will need to do so when we reach Roua. We will be there soon – I’ll let you know when to load.”
Karth bowed his head, eyes lowered. “I won’t fail you again, sir.” And he meant it. Crew on other ships had been put out the airlock for less.
The capsuleer’s image dissipated. The group sat back at the table, and tried to regain the earlier lighthearted mood, but it was of no use. As the ship pulled in to Roua, Karth again took the Amarr queen. The game was over and he had lost the entirety of his stake.
The ship dropped out of warp in the system, a grey moon visible nearby. Etenne hurried to the science console. He frowned, then cursed. “Damn it. All the way here and nearly died. For nothing. Oh, the cap’ is gonna be pissed.”
He turned to Karth. “Your turn to get to work. I advise you to find … something. The station isn’t here. I guarantee you He is not happy.” Suddenly, the Gallente produced an Amarr queen card as if from nowhere and handed it to Karth.
So did Doc.
Nielas handed him a third. “Welcome to the team. I’m afraid you drew the bitch.”
Hawulf came last and smiled. “The Empress also symbolizes power and the ability to move forward against all odds. You now have the chance to show your worth. Good luck.” He too handed over an extra Amarr queen.
There was a soft thrum as the cloak began to drop. The capsuleer’s voice echoed through the comm system. “Mr. Karth. The probes. Now.”
Wraith Capsuleer Log Entry 100920, Roua, Geminate
The trip out was tricky. We jumped straight into a major gate bubble in L-HV5C – actually four bubbles on different sides of the gate, all overlapping. It was mostly luck that we managed to get out without getting decloaked and shredded.
In the end, the entire trip was effectively wasted. I can confirm that the area is in fact controlled by the Society of Conscious Thought. FDZ4-A is the gateway system to the Society-controlled area of space in Geminate, and they have a large station that serves as their school and indoctrination facility. While we could have potentially docked there, docking in a CovOps is always a risky proposition, and I don’t have the greatest trust for the Jove, especially as I work through this puzzle of the shattered planets and their potential involvement.
Roua is one jump further from FDZ4-A, but the rumors of a destroyed station where Jamyl Sarum’s ship was to be brought at planet 10, moon 2 have proved to be false. It would have been quite the amazing find had we come across the rumored superweapon ship in this deep nullsec backwater dead-end system.
The one small blessing is that we have probed down a wormhole that leads directly to nearby low-security space without having to go through a wormhole, so the trip back to Metropolis should be a far less eventful one.
This is the sixth part of a 12-part series. Next – Part 7: Synchronicity