The system resolves around me and I let out a crude and wholly involuntary curse. Gatecamp city: forty-six people in the Local channel, twelve of them sitting on the gate I've just jumped in through. There's a Phobos by the gate with the shimmering globe of a null-warp field making moiré patterns of the stars around us, an array of ships between cruiser and battleship class, and -- what worries me most -- two interceptors orbiting the gate at top speeds.
I'm out in the middle of nowhere, alone, in an Arazu, and I've just stumbled through somebody's back door.
In the past, my Helios has never been caught jumping into a gatecamp, but the recon is larger and slower, and a Taranis scores a lucky bump off my engines as I angle to fly down in relation to the gate. Swearing as my cloak drops and lock-tones make my ears ring, wondering if I can bribe my way out of this one -- I doubt it: being flashy in nullsec is an unconditional ticket for the Clone-Vat Express, but most of these guys are blinky, too -- I'm picking my targets based on threat level and prepping for a mad dash back to the gate when the Local comms flare to life.
It's the Taranis pilot, and after a moment I realise why he sounds familiar. 'Jack, you nut! What the hell?'
He laughs. 'Stand down, we'll set you temp-blue so you can dock.'
It's been a while since I've last seen Jack. He's hard to keep track of, and has changed his name yet again; the man's learned a lot about staying under the radar in the last year. His outlaw status surprises me, and I have no doubts there's quite a story behind it, and that I'll get to hear the whole thing in detail.
Towers don't have much docking space, so I leave my pod and clean up in my ship, then let them shuttle me over. Jack meets me at the hangar, all foxy features, fashionable clothes and boyish good looks; his coppery hair flops rakishly to one side, nearly hiding the tattoo running over his cheekbone.
He grins broadly and I throw my arms around him. 'Dammit, Valar, don't fucking scare me like that again,' I whisper in his ear. My little brother gives me a bone-crushing squeeze around the ribs and kisses my cheeks.
'Next time, call ahead.'
Jack takes me to the bar his corpmates have installed in the upper levels of the tower. 'So what are you doing out here, anyway? You really are the last person I'd'a expected. You're out in Minmatar space now, aren't you?'
'The lowsec route is stupidly quiet, especially since all those wormholes opened up. And how'd you know I was out there, anyway?' I thank him as he passes my drink over.
'Your whadd'yacallit, blog... journal-thing.'
'You read that?!' I cover my face with one hand as Jack laughs. 'Well, I had some free time, figured I'd come out and see if you were still based out here.'
Nodding cheerfully, he wraps his arm around my shoulders. 'We are, we are. And doing well, too. Nobody cares about this end of New Eden, but we do well enough to maintain ourselves.'
We find a table near the back and Jack lights a cigarette off the candle in the centre. I wrinkle my nose at him. 'You did not pick up that guy's disgusting smoking habit.'
'It's herbal, sis. A lot of people use them here because the scrubbers need replacing.'
'So you fill the air with smoke, speeding the rate of filter clogging. Ingenious.'
He pulls a face at me and sips his drink. 'I see you're still flashy.'
'I see you've tasted blood, too. I thought you were supposed to be the well-behaved one.'
Rolling his eyes, Jack said, 'We're none of us perfect citizens. Even Dad rebels in his own way. Have you seen the latest?'
'He's going to need to smuggle himself out of the Federation, one of these days.'
Laughing, we tap the rims of our glasses together. Dad's political antics are well-known, and Mum's side of the family has never approved.
'Actually...' Jack hedges a moment, and I eye him carefully. He's afraid I won't approve of what he's about to tell me, so I tap his leg under the table with the toe of my boot.
'Out with it.'
He sighs a plume of incense-laden smoke. 'We've made a deal with the local Serpentis. Been working with them for a while, that's why we're all starting to go outlaw.'
'Serpentis.' I offer my opinion in the form of a snort and take a swallow of whatever it is Jack had bought me; it's pleasantly sweet-sour, reddish-orange and tingles with alcohol. 'They treating you well?'
'Better than the Federation was.'
He falls silent for a bit, drawing thoughtfully on his cigarette. I can't help being a cynic about factions and larger organisations; what's good for them is rarely good for their independent supporters in the long run.
'Well, a percentage of our profits go to the organisation... we run patrols for them, sometimes with them. It's weird, though, if you're reported working with them enough, you get your standings dropped despite being out here.' Jack taps ash from the end of his smoke, then rubs the side of his jaw where a new scar has creased the skin. 'It's not always fun, the last one got a bit... uh, rough.'
'My baby brother, doing naughty, unsociable things? Scandalous. Have you consulted Auntie Gita yet? She always knows just what you should be doing.'
He shudders. 'And how to do it. Our cousins haven't killed her yet?'
'I heard from Arris last month, he's told her he's taking his doctorate from CAS and will be out of reach for a couple years.'
'What's he really doing?'
'Run off to Palas with a pretty young thing whom Auntie disapproves of strongly and thinks she's forbidden him to see.'
Jack folds, stifling his laughter with difficulty. 'I love our family, we're so fucked-up.' He grinds the stub of the cigarette out on the chemical layer of the ashtray, leaving just the lightest hint of cloves and sandalwood on the air.
I sip my drink again and grin cheekily at him. 'Speaking of pretty young things, how's it going with that Caldari girl?'
'Um.' Jack looks a little embarrassed. 'It's, uh... it's a guy, actually. Hidoro's, uh... yeah.'
After a moment spent waiting, I prompt, 'Well, is he treating you alright?'
Spluttering a little on his drink, Jack laughs and puts his glass down, cupping his hands around its bowl and looking down shyly. 'Voids, I thought you might... It-it's good, things are good. We've been together a few months, it's looking like it might last a while.'
It makes me smile to see him looking happy again; last time I saw Jack things had hit the fan pretty hard and he'd barely avoided being dragged down with so many others. 'Well, he'd better take good care of you. He'll regret it if he doesn't.'
Jack gives me a look of mock-terror which becomes a devilish once-over glance. 'What about you and that Sansha boy, huh?' he asks slyly. 'You two are hardly being quiet about things but you both seem to be totally in denial anyway. When are you going to actually do anything?'
I tilt my glass towards him and counter primly, 'What we do in our private time is none of your business.'
'You make it everyone's business when you start blogging about it, Shae.'
'And you wonder why neither Jorge nor I say anything about it.' I grin at Jack as he pouts in disappointment.
'So how long will you be around for? It'd be good to actually spend some time with you, you were gone so fast last time.'
I shrug. 'I told Mynx I'd be gone for a week, so a few days, at least.'
'Aw, stay the week.' Jack gives me the big puppydawg-eyes look that always made Mum cave in. 'I've missed hanging out with you.'
I glance around the bar, giving a cursory nod to a couple of Jack's corp-mates who wave as they recognise me. 'Alright, then. Know any good clubs?'
OOC: I thought it would be fun to come up with an IC reason for Shae to be away for a week. I've been online in the evenings from my laptop, but it doesn't run well enough for me to consider pvp, or even anything more strenuous than flying around. Plotting a killing spree for when I get home tomorrow evening, I have lost time to make up for!