Saturday, 15 August 2009
Sylar Starke strode through the corridors of the Tribal Liberation Force logistic support station in Hek, confident and self-assured. On the outside at least. Inwardly, he felt awkward and uncomfortable in this place, heart of the Minmatar Republic’s militia organization, and despite Alistair Avion’s presence at his side, his first instinct was to turn on his heel and leave.
‘This doesn’t feel like such a great idea,’ he muttered.
His second in command smiled slightly. ‘Give it a chance, Syl. It can’t hurt to at least find out if we can work with them.’
‘People are staring.’
‘Of course they are. You’re recognizable and I’m Amarrian. Relax.’
Sylar peered at Alistair from the corner of his eye. ‘You have that camera implant recording, don’t you.’
‘We need reference material.’
The Brutor grunted quietly. ‘Just don’t get caught.’
They reached their destination. From the muffled voices coming from the inner office, there was a mighty row in progress. Valklear General Lyre Hadhradir’s secretary, a harassed-looking Intaki, gave them a helpless look and asked, ‘Do you have an appointment?’
‘I didn’t know we needed one.’
The secretary shrugged and rubbed his stubbled jaw. ‘It’s not a requirement, but the General often has a full schedule. You’re lucky today, she’s just finishing up a, um… meeting.’
The office door slid open and a petite Sebiestor woman stalked out on long strides, barely sparing a glance for the room’s occupants. Sylar blinked as the closing door interrupted his view of her hips, then turned back to see the General eyeing him in much the way he might examine a stray dog. After a quick study of Alistair at his side, General Hadhradir stepped forward and offered her hand to the Brutor capsuleer.
‘Captain Sylar Starke, I presume?’
Sylar nodded, trying not to wince at the woman’s grip. The top of her head was at his eye level, but he still felt as if he was looking up at her. ‘It’s an honour, sir.’
The General laughed, a quick, humourless thing. ‘I should be the one saying that. My nieces and nephews idolise you. I’m more curious about why you’re here. Given your reputation, you’re rather the last man I’d expect to see in my office.’ She extended her hand to Alistair with a studied scowl. ‘I’ve seen enough of your work to figure out how it’s produced. I’ll have to ask you not to use any actual camera footage from this—‘
‘Of course not, sir, though I may ask if you’ll help us stage the scene later.’
General Hadhradin gave a quick nod. ‘We’ll see. Come in and have a seat, gentlemen. This ought to be interesting.’
The two of them were up to their elbows in the week’s laundry, sleeves rolled up and hands reddened by the hot water.
‘How d’ you think Capt’n Starke will beat the bad guys?’
Her mother grinned. ‘You kids have been obsessing about that a lot haven’t you?’
‘You heard us?’
‘Well, you were being quite loud about it.’ Sapha chuckled as her daughter hid her face behind a soapy shirt. ‘I think he’ll have to ask for help from the Republic, sweetie.’
‘But Capt’n Starke, he hates the R’public.’
Sapha leaned back, stretching her spine after so long hunched over their work. ‘He doesn’t hate the Republic, Reenie. He thinks they don’t do enough. I bet if he asked and made a good argument with them, they’d help out.’
As they stretched the damp clothes over the lines to dry, Nareen’s mother mused at the sort of person who would create a serial holo like ‘Space Captain Starke’. It was a noble but utterly pointless thing: raising children’s spirits brought strength to the people who lived planetside, never knowing more than what the news services and government broadcasts had to say. Even out here, Amarrian propaganda stained the FTL comms relays, and the small community’s technicians were careful to block the less-scrupulous channels.
After the colony’s founding, their parents and grandparents had removed anything which smacked of the Amarrian religion, so that their children could grow up free. There were still arguments among the governing council regarding how much was ‘enough’. After generations enslaved, they had only the broadcasts from Minmatar space to guide them, and even some of those preached the Amarrian way of life.
SPACE CAPTAIN STARKE stands before THE GENERAL of the Tribal Liberation Force, a commanding presence in the small office. THE GENERAL is an equally powerful presence, but the Brutor woman remains seated behind her desk, looking solemn and serene.
As Chief Executive Officer of the Nova Elite, I wish to ask the assistance of the Tribal Liberation Force in removing forever the stain of Lord Grimlok from Matari skies. The operation will be perilous and we cannot do it alone.
THE GENERAL looks at STARKE carefully.
I assume you have a plan already?
AVION steps forward and places a portable, palm-sized holo-projector on the desk. The device blinks to life and a map of New Eden appears in the air.
We now know the location of Grimlok’s secret base.
The hologram focusses inward on a region, then a constellation, and finally a system near the edge of Amarrian space. A tiny point of red light between and below the second and third planets pulses ominously.
Our scouts checked it out, and it appears to be the real thing. He has a handful of small guard compounds throughout the system.
Four more points of red appear on the map.
If we take those out first, we remove Lord Grimlok’s ability to call for help in time. Once we secure his base, we can end his tyranny and bring the Minmatar one step closer to freedom.
THE GENERAL uses a stylus to examine the statistics of the target emplacements, frowning as she thinks.
THE GENERAL: (muttering thoughtfully)
It won’t be easy… but we’re accustomed to this sort of work out here. It’s not hit-and-run like your usual guerilla tactics, Starke.
This is why we came to you, sir.
THE GENERAL snorts, her full lips curved in a small smile.
You sound mocking even when you’re being polite. I’ll lend you two strike gangs – twenty good men and women – on the condition that, for the duration of our work together, your Nova Elite fly under the TLF. I want no dishonour on our name, Captain.
STARKE frowns a little, but after a moment’s consideration he gives a sigh of resignation and nods.
THE GENERAL stands, and she is nearly the same height as STARKE.
It will be an honour to work with you, Captain.
THE GENERAL offers her hand, first to STARKE, then to AVION. They shake firmly.
‘See?! I tol’ja he would ask them for help!’
Nikitta shushed Nareen, who was pointing triumphantly at the screen. The village’s children sat on cushions on the floor of the community hall – once the cargo bay of the ship their grandparents had slaved aboard – gazing raptly at the latest weekly episode of ‘Space Captain Starke’.
Nareen’s mother leaned over, tapping the flat of her hand sharply against the back of her daughter’s head. ‘You said that because I suggested it, honey. Don’t claim others’ ideas as your own, and hush so the others can hear.’
Rubbing her head – nothing was hurt but her pride – Nareen slumped sulkily as Sapha returned to her seat at her husband’s side. Risga wrapped his arm around her.
‘I wonder if that’s really the General,’ he murmured. Sapha nodded. There was something different about this week’s episode.
Sylar Starke hovered above the station in Dal in his Jaguar assault frigate, awaiting the rest of his ‘strike force’. The General had allowed the Nova Elite to temporarily join the TLF so as not to be marked neutral, and they’d worked out a method to make Sylar appear to be leading what was, in fact, a bog-standard bunker lockdown in a contested system in Amarr space.
Nineteen frigates, assault frigates, cruisers and interceptors – the best of the Nova Elite fighting force – undocked one by one and formed up around him. ‘Cap’, are you sure these guys won’t shoot us? Some of us are flashy, y’know…’ said Cherry. The Pator girl was one of the outlaws who had joined recently and she’d not yet worked to raise her status with CONCORD.
‘They better not; we’re marked as allies now. Isn’t that right, Commander?’ Sylar asked, discreetly reminding his crew that they were now on shared comms.
‘That’s right, Captain,’ Blade Commander Tiia Edgriet responded. ‘Any of my boys shoots you, he has me to answer to.’
Sylar grinned. The Commander ran a tight outfit to match what she normally wore, and after their non-introduction the other day when she’d stormed out of the General’s office, the Sebiestor woman had warmed to him. Or so he liked to think. The cluster needed more women like her.
Commander Edgriet was the real commander of the strike force. Her fleet instructions would be relayed to Sylar via a private comms channel, which he would then issue to the fleet. It was understood by all pilots that once they were underway, the entire operation would be recorded, comms and all. All the ships had been rigged with flight recorders which would send the feeds from their piloting interfaces to the specially modified covert ops frigate the Nova Elite used to film their fights. The TLF’s pilots had become extras.
‘Your boys ready, Captain?’
‘We’re jumping in now. Meet us at the Vard gate.’
The Local comms population in Dal spiked with the arrival of twenty TLF pilots, and Sylar felt the pleasant surge in his ship’s systems as the second gang’s commander, Spear Lieutenant Imkara Vash, brought her fleet bonusses into play.
‘Oh, that’s good Lieutenant. Are all your massages this… invigorating?’
‘Wait until you feel my full-body special, Captain,’ the other Sebiestor woman chuckled. ‘Claymore is worth every penny.’
‘I can hardly wait.’
The run out to Arzad was uneventful, save a few neutral outlaws fleeing through their massed ships on the gates as the scouts checked ahead. ‘Let them go, don’t give yourselves timers.’ Sylar’s reminder was more for the benefit of the recording than that of the pilots. Nobody needed to be told the gate controllers wouldn’t permit someone to pass through if they’d acted with hostile intentions.
Arzad itself was a totally different story.
‘Riva here, there’s an Amarr fleet on the gate,’ one of the scouts reported. ‘Holding gate cloak, looks like two full gangs waiting for—shit!’
‘What happened, Riva,’ Sylar asked tightly.
‘Bastard inty decloaked me.’
‘You make it out?’
‘In my pod, yeah. Going safe off the gate.’
Sylar cursed to himself; this was unexpected. An icon lit up in the corner of his vision and he switched to the private and unrecorded comms with Commander Edgriet.
‘One of the neutrals we passed earlier may have been a sympathiser. There’s probably a scout watching us here.’
The gate flared suddenly and the safed scout reported, ‘They all just jumped in to you.’
Swapping comms, Sylar made a snap decision. ‘Jump-jump-jump. Everyone into Arzad and hold your gate cloaks.’ They would have to shake the hostiles before they could get to work.
To Be Continued Next Week!
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This article was first published on EVE-Mag.com – an independent EVE magazine (www.EVE-Mag.com). Reprinted with permission.
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