This is a continuation of this post and is connected to Chapter 5 of the short fiction 'Dark Omen' by Jorge Belda. The series starts here.
I hit the hangar deck running, shouting at Maura, the crew chief on duty, to get my Taranis prepped. Heading straight into the ship's capsule chamber, I shed my clothes without bothering to hang them up, and even before the ambiotic fluid had filled the pod I was hooked in and broadcasting a demand for Jorge's departure log from The Bastards' ops control.
The man on duty responded a moment later, 'I'm sorry, he didn't log a flight plan, and I can't find him in space. He may have disabled his CFL connection.'
The Corporate Flight Link was what each group used to track and record their pilots' actions and was tied directly into the Aurora systems. I cursed roundly as my pod onlined and my body became just another piece of operational hardware. Flight prep seemed to last an eternity.
A yelp split through the alliance comms. 'What the fuck, Jorge?! Cut it out!'
'What's going on. Mynx?' I broadcast.
'It's Jorge, he's attacked me on Todi gate. Bastard's not on comms.'
'How are you holding up?'
'I -ugh- I'm alright for now, but he's going to break my shields soon. I'm in the Jag.' She sounded pissed-off.
My control HUD lit up: all systems online and ready. 'Hang tight, I'll be right there.'
I cleared the force fields and hit hard vacuum with a burst of steam as the interceptor's skin cooled instantly. The roar of the warp-drive lighting up reverberated through my hull, my crew strapped in securely as the gee-forces dropped the bottom out of the floor and shipboard gravity generators kicked in.
'This is a fight, ladies, prep for combat,' I announced tensely, hoping Mynxee could hold out long enough. As the ride smoothed out, confirmations lit up on my HUD. For the first time, I really wished I had taken the time to train for thermodynamics.
Too late now. My warpin bounced me off that damned piece of debris which floated just off the gate before I was able to correct my trajectory and I swore as I tried to compensate. Flipping my overview to show friendlies, I spotted the fight and powered in, turrets, web and scram hot and going live the instant lock resolved.
The Succubus rocked as my first salvo slammed into its shields; Jorge reacted instantly, veering away, and the high tone of a target lock rang through my head.
'...when I’m in ‘Darkness’, my Succubus. I go into this zone, like a frenzy, when I’m in that ship. I’m just scared… that I’ll lose control...'
'Mynx, fire on him.'
'Do it. There's something weird going on here.' I flipped comms to the rarely-used open Local channel. 'Jorge, what are you doing? Talk to me.'
There was a long pause, a tense moment as I felt a stasis web attempt to pin me down; my afterburner-fit inty shrugged off the worst effects from the warp-scrambler without noticing.
'...Shae?' Jorge's softly-accented voice finally broke through the broad-band static. He sounded like a man just waking up, and I began to wonder just how aware of his surroundings he really was.
His ship, however, didn't slow, and my shields were disappearing fast under the onslaught. At least he'd stopped shooting Mynxee.
'Shae, we're going to hit his armour soon,' Mynx said. 'Are we going to destroy him?'
'If he doesn't stop, we'll have no choice.' On the open channel, I broadcast, 'Jorge, stop firing. Don't make us do this.'
There was no response, and I began to feel the sunburn-prickle of lasers nibbling at my armour.
'Take him down, Mynx, and catch his pod if you can.'
'Remember what I told you last night? I don't think this is Jorge we're fighting, but he's in there somewhere.' A pang of guilt shot through me but I pushed it away; I could hate myself for this later when I had the time. Right now, what I hated more was whatever had driven us to this point. 'Just don't pod him; he'll die.'
The prickle became an aching burn as a blow-through hit my interceptor's structure. Flying erratically had helped me last longer than a basic orbit would have allowed, but it might not be enough.
The Succubus was deep into structural damage when its icon on my HUD flickered and doubled-up on itself. 'He ejected!'
Lock resolved on the egg-shaped craft even as Jorge's Sansha frigate exploded without his skills holding it together. The fight had moved well off the gate; I dropped a web and scram on the capsule to keep him from moving.
'Jorge, are you...there?' I half-dreaded the response I might receive. 'Are you alright?'
Very faintly, I heard his choked voice say, 'Help me.'
'Jorge...? Jorge! Yuria, get me a scan on that pod,' I yelled. 'Tell me his condition.' Ships don't come equipped with medical scanners, so I'd had them installed for my crew to use. They were incredibly useful for determining how much a poential ransomee's pod was worth in implants.
'Checking... he's unconscious. Not going anywhere,' Yuria reported.
'Thanks, patch a call in to Kaalakiota 9-4, get a capsule recovery team out here and tell them to not shoot the outlaws near it, this time. Mynx, how're you doing?'
'Lost half my armour but we're fine.'
'I'm sparkin', here.' My camera drones showed me the small flare towards my engines where something was burning off. 'I'll dock at 9-4, myself, for repairs and to tell them about Jorge.'
Mynx sighed. 'Ronin's gonna be pissed.'
'Crap.' The adrenalin rush was fading, leaving me feeling shaky -- always a risky state for a pilot, since structural damage could increase if the pilot couldn't hold it together. 'What do we tell him?'
'Think he knows about Jorge?'
Nervously, I eyed my directional scanner; engaging on the gate with a wardec live had been risky, and I was feeling insanely exposed out here now, with holes in my hull and relative safety so far away. 'I doubt it. System malfunction? Under investigation?'
'He won't buy it. We're going to have to tell him.'
'I think that's Jorge's decision to make, Mynx.' The capsule-retrieval team finally showed up on the scanner, and a moment later dropped out of warp at the gate, immediately turning to approach.
'And what if he's unable to make that decision?'
'Let's not go there just yet. See you at the bar.'
I found Mynxee sitting at a table toward the back of The Hub a couple hours later, looking over new applicants' details. She shut her notepad down as I sank into the other seat, a bottle of something very alcoholic and dangerously drinkable in my hand.
'Hitting the hard stuff already, are we?'
'I like cider.'
She looked at me for a moment, then sipped her own drink and asked, 'So do they know what's wrong?'
'They're keeping him sedated; doc said he'd be in "acute agony" if he was conscious, something to do with neural pulses his implants are sending out.'
My CEO winced. 'They have any idea what's causing it?'
I rested my elbows on the table, cupping my chin in one hand and idly rolling the base of my bottle over the pitted surface. 'They have a vague idea, but they're calling in a specialist in Sansha technology to work on him. One of the boffins picked up a signal Jorge's implants appear to be receiving, the encryption is Sansha. What we're guessing right now is that it's sort of a recall, kind of the way companies recall faulty products.'
'That's... that's fucked-up.' She tucked a stray dreadlock behind one ear. 'You think they want him back?'
'Considering how many years they spent creating him? I can't see them letting him go so easily; maybe they found a way to... well, "fix" what didn't work.'
I felt uncomfortable thinking of Jorge as just some... machine, a biological drone commanded by a greater consciousness. He had had perhaps a year to actually have a life, barely enough time to even begin to experience what the rest of us took for granted every day. He was like a mannequin, dressed in the rushed ideology his Amarrian rescuers probably force-fed him to make him socially presentable, and propped in a window for display, too far removed from the depth of human experience to see beneath its fragile surface. Remembering his words the night before, I felt myself blush a little; he'd openly confessed having feelings for me, but how well did he understand them? We barely knew each other.
The rhythmic hum of the base of my bottle rolling on the table stopped abruptly as Mynx stuck her finger in the way.
'You're way out there, Shae. What's up, girl?'
'Feeling a bit guilty, I guess. It's because of me he got upset, and then all this... crap happened.' I sat back in my chair, gesturing to indicate the events of the last several hours.
Mynx reached out and poked my forehead.
'None of that. It was probably just coincidence. Or he could have unconsciously noticed the signal he was picking up and felt the need to confide in someone, trying to explain things. I do know that he went from hiding in the shadowy corners to spilling his guts to you in a very short time, so something must have been going on. Don't blame yourself. Oh, shit.' This last she added as we spotted RoninData, the Bastards' CEO, stalking toward us through the bar, his expression darkly unpleasant.
He stopped at our table and loomed over me, blocking out the light; it was probably intended to be threatening, but I was accustomed to being head and shoulders below everyone else. The tattoos running from the corners of Ronin's eyes made his heavy scowl more pronounced.
'What the fuck, Shae.' Ronin was one of those unique people who didn't have to raise his voice to tell people off.
'You destroyed Jorge's ship. That's friendly fire, Shae, you know our policies on that.' He flashed a glare in Mynxee's direction. 'You, too. You do not fuck with my pilots like that. You're only here because we like you, but you're pushing the limits, the both of you.'
'Ronin, we had our reasons-'
'Shut it, Mynx. I want to hear it from Shae. Now.'
I slowly pushed my chair back and stood up calmly to face his wrath, nose to... well, breastbone. 'Jorge attacked Mynxee on the gate, Ronin. No warning, he wasn't on comms. I went to defend her and he turned on me. When I managed to raise him on Local, he didn't seem to know where he was. Technically, he destroyed his ship when he ejected, but he's unconscious at KK 9-4 medical just now, so it's not like we can ask him what happened. They're trying to figure out what's wrong with him, they've called a specialist in.'
Ronin seemed to relax a little as I explained, his mood shifting from outraged to a sort of grim foreboding, like a thunderstorm that hasn't quite passed. 'You're paying for that.'
'I didn't assume otherwise. I'll take responsibility for it.'
With a harsh exhalation through his nose, Ronin went back to business mode, taking a step back and folding his arms. 'Neither of you lost ships? No? Send me the repair bills, the corp will cover it. See you later.'
We watched him leave, then I resumed my seat. 'Well, that could have been worse.'
'Is it just me, or is he damn sexy when he's mad?'
'Hot like a summer's day. Rawr.'