Anyone who had known Rhavas during his days focused on exploration would, for the most part, not have recognized the array of ships in the docking bay. It was built specifically to accommodate the three battlecruisers situated there, two Hurricanes and a Myrmidon, that stretched the need for space in all directions.
In the shadow of one of the Hurricanes, outfitted with massive artillery cannons, stood a pair of men, gnat-like in size by comparison. One was shaved bald, highlighting the metal sockets in the back of his head and neck. He wore a black capsule immersion suit emblazoned with the Eve University logo and the stripes of a Lieutenant Junior Grade on his shoulders, and stood listening intently to an older, hairier, and rougher-appearing man in coveralls.
“Shieldbreaker is all set to go, sir,” said Hephast Gehrt, the chief staff engineering officer on the capsuleer’s staff. “I think we have the recoil issue fixed from when you burned out that port gun.”
The capsuleer nodded. “Excellent. But we’re not taking her out tonight. We’re taking Wraith on a bit of a nostalgia mission.”
At Gehrt’s raised eyebrow, Rhavas continued, “I’ve gotten an invitation from a corporation that lives in the wormhole where our long-lost shattered planet is.”
Gehrt’s eyes widened further – it had been more than four months since their last shattered planet exploration mission. “I’ll get your old crew rounded up and have her fit for exploration within the hour.”
Rhavas ran his palm over his bald skull absently. “No, she has to stay fit for scouting by University wartime SOP. It also means we’re going to need to find some wingmen for this mission, since the SOP mandates a minimum 3-pilot fleet. Just get the crew rounded up and on the observation deck immediately.”
Rhavas stood in the pod, waist deep in the fluid that was slowly filling the chamber. He plugged the last lead into the back of his skull, closed his eyes, and opened a video channel.
The connection of other pilots onto the channel was almost immediate. “OK, guys, here’s the deal. It’s just the three of us. We’re going to a Class 5 wormhole to do a bit of sightseeing. From what I can tell, the people who invited us are unlikely to blow us away, but I encourage you to bring a covert ops or a cheap frigate.”
Two volunteer wingmen – Arceris and Setab Nairromede, both seasoned pilots, signed up without hesitation. Like Rhavas, they too were junior Lieutenants in the Ivy League Navy.
“I’ve tried to contact our diplomats on this, but there hasn’t been any response,” Rhavas transmitted. “These guys are Infinite Conflux Alliance – Mental Disorders, Inc and Starfire Oasis. One of their members, Roga Dracor, is a distinguished scholar in the field, particularly relative to some of the cultural implications of the ruins in the wormholes. I’ve been in direct contact with their leadership, who have just collapsed an older exit to open a new one for us in high security space. Sending you the destination now.”
He felt the vibration of the pod being locked into Wraith‘s hull and the popping sound of the last of the air being evacuated and the pod sealed.
“Undock, undock, undock.”
Rhavas kept the private channel open with Arceris and Setab to ensure coordination and communication should things go south, but they had also joined a channel with ten or more of the members of Infinite Conflux.
“Eve University fleet, this is Kurith, CEO of Mental Disorders. We have the path bookmarked and are sending you the locations of the wormhole jumps now. Nor Raca is waiting for you at the first entry.”
Rhavas redirected his communication to the larger channel. “Roger that. Again, thanks for your offer. One thing to be clear here is that we do not represent Eve University from a diplomatic standpoint, this is an unofficial fleet. But maybe it will open some positive dialog between the corporations. Warping to the wormhole now.”
Rhavas redirected his comm channel to his wingmates. “OK guys, now or never. Be alert, jump in at distance in case it’s an ambush. Mark.” Wraith leaped forward across the system. When he dropped out of warp there was a single Tengu-class cruiser awaiting them.
Wraith Capsuleer Log Entry 110305, J115422, Class 5 Wormhole Space
It’s hard to be entirely certain what to expect of a group that openly refers to themselves as Mental Disorders, Inc – but Kurith and his cohort were as good as their word, and then some. We were given free rein of the system, including probe launches and full exploration of the planets, moons and anomalies.
It is of particular note that this one was not a “seen one, seen them all” proposition. J115422 I is far and away the most active of the shattered worlds. In stark contrast to J164104 (its cold, dark C3 brother), J115422 I is boiling over much as I would have expected these worlds to have done at the moment of impact. It is a sight to behold, with great lakes of burning rock on the sunward-facing side and a redly-burning low-lying atmosphere on the dark side.
Maybe it’s just how long it has been since my last trip to a shattered world, but even after having seen so many others, this one, which on its surface must truly be the most horrific hellhole of all worlds, somehow manages to be beautiful and awe-inspiring from orbit.
I enjoyed bringing along partners on this voyage – after so many trips alone all those months ago it was a great experience to have others take in these sights with almost as much enthusiasm as I had. In the end, Arceris got perhaps the most striking shot of the planet – a picturesque view of the dark side.
We were also given a brief display of tactics as Kurith and Nor Raca took on a nest of Sleeper drones in the deadspace of the system. Having not flown Tech-3 cruisers before myself, I was amazed by their sheer capability to both deal and take damage. While it took some time, the two ships had little difficulty taking out most of the first wave of Sleeper defenders of the site.
The Sleepers, however, seemed unfazed by this setback, and brought out massive drone forces the size of battleships – which was more than the two ships could handle.
The Mental Disorders pilots’ final demonstration showed us just how destructive the Sleepers’ weapons can be. Nor Raca flew in a fully shield-tanked Drake, and it was obliterated within minutes. I don’t know which gave me more pause for thought – the power of the Sleepers or how profitable wormhole life must be if you can throw away a heavily-tanked battlecruiser on a demonstration for strangers.
A few short hours later, Rhavas sat at the desk in his quarters, staring out the window. Most people would have thought the room small, considering how much money most capsuleers had. To Rhavas, who spent most of his time in a capsule, it seemed palatial.
It was fitting, he thought, for the last of his investigative trips to be to the most elusive of the shattered worlds. He activated his neocom, opened a link to Boundless Creation’s databank, and hit Upload.
Originally, this was the end of the story. But then the Arek’Jaalan initiative kicked off, and the mysteries investigated on my travels got new life. The series now continues in Part 13: Geztic Revisited.