I glanced around the sparse accommodations I'd been given, nodded once and dropped the small bag I'd thrown together at last minute. Asa had been left at home in Evati -- I trusted the girls in the corp to take care of her -- more from a press for time than the need to keep her out of range of Sard's boots.
I had wandered down to the hangar yesterday and who should have been sitting with his feet propped on the upholstery to the cleaning staff's dismay, but the devilish lone-wolf Sebiestor himself.
'What the bloody hell are you doing here?'
He'd grinned and slouched lower. 'Escorted Venom back down last night. I'm always up for seeing a cute girl home safely.' He winked and I couldn't help but grin back.
'Wanna get a drink?'
'Actually, I was wondering if you'd want to come with me back to Eg.' He glanced up with a deceptively ingenuous smile.
I took maybe half a second to think about it. 'I'll get me stuff.'
'Stuff', when you're as accustomed to moving as I am, consists of a couple sets of clothes and a notepad with the most recent book I've been reading downloaded into its memory. There's no room for matched luggage in space, where every cubic centimetre counts, and I have neither the time nor patience to put up with the sort of mentality that requires half a wardrobe for a weekend away.
I slapped a note on my office door as I passed on my way back to the hangar.
This trip, I thought, could make or break me. I'd never really done anything like this before: secondary bases for goofing off, ratting, just to get a little peace and quiet and personal space, sure. But a secondary base with intent to engage in solo and small-gang action away from the support of my alliance, that was a new thing. I'd always felt I was failing myself, somehow, by never taking a solid 1v1 engagement, even if there was no way I could lose.
I gave up on massive alliances and heavy action because I prefer to not be just another face in the crowd. Small-scale corps and alliances are much less hierarchical, since everyone is needed to keep the system running; it's less about following orders and schedules and more about taking initiative and backing up your mates when the call comes in.
Not that I'm much of a Lone Wolf; rather, I like to feel that I'm useful and in some way important. And lately, I felt, I'd been letting everyone down.
I thought briefly about a certain Minmatar colonel who'd been hanging around the area lately. I could see what he was trying to do, even if the others seemed blissfully oblivious; his conviction was admirable, but it wasn't my conviction, and while I was happy to lend a hand, I'd had the most fun nearly getting my head blown off by that factional gang.
I'd retreated from the field with a fraction of my structure remaining; parked in a midpoint safe listening to the organised chaos descend into proper chaos, I had to shake my head. We're outlaws. We plunged so far down for our own personal reasons, and I harboured no illusions that anyone not in our fleet would see us as being friendly... or that Roc Wieler could make us clean up our acts so easily. Two of the people who'd been shooting me had been Minmatar, and I had their killmails to prove it: I'd only shot people who'd aggressed me. I'd had too much damage to risk leaving my pod in order to help the girls clean up and mourn the losses; all I could do was wait for my criminal timer to wind down until I could make my way out without stargate sentry gunners finishing the job. My girls knew the score: if they weren't willing to run the risks with me, they were gently advised to find a better captain.
So when I returned to my new, echoingly empty hangar, I hopped up on a crate and called the crews over.
'I want to thank you all for coming out here with me. We're all a long way from home, and this is risky territory. My hauler's called in that she's having trouble getting the ships down through the gatecamps just now, so most of you will be cooling your heels til she gets here. If anyone has second thoughts about this, you should go talk to the Crewmaster about a transfer or hop the next InterBus back to Evati.'
Nobody moved. After a moment, a voice rose from the crowd; I couldn't see who it was, so I guessed the speaker was Kamie Oranys from my Thorax crew, who was much shorter than the rest.
'Are we gonna go kick some arse, sir?'
Definitely Kamie. She'd met me in the hangar after surviving the last 'Rax loss with a massive grin on her face which had nearly matched mine, high as a kite from the adrenalin rush of undocking with the intent to die taking as many down with us as possible.
'I certainly hope so. We'll probably get kicked a lot, too, more than usual and probably a lot harder.'
Ania Dsirka, from the Vexor crews I'd recently hired, shrugged expressively. 'Shit happens. We're trained for this. You're not exactly playing God with our lives, you know; if we aren't there, you'll have a hell of a hard time keeping everything running tip-top.'
Others in the group were nodding and Kamie piped up, 'Let's show 'em that the Hellcats are a name to be feared!'
I felt a grin spread across my face.