Friday, 26 February 2010


The place... echoed.

I passed through empty warehouses and hangars doing one last check for anything that might have been forgotten. For once, the job had been done thoroughly. Rather than being shipped -- and causing the contracted haulers to be lazy about things -- it was all being sold, with the exception of a few of the more expensive pieces and hulls. Those were in capable hands and on their way to a staging area on the other side of the cluster.

My fingers, trailing idly across a wall, tripped over the spot where we'd accidentally splashed paint one night when we'd got the idea that putting corp logo on our ships would be an awesome idea. We kind of forgot that hull paint is specially designed to withstand combat conditions, and had uttery ruined the coveralls we'd borrowed. The lumpy splatter on the wall would never come off.

'You're sure we can't have your stuff?'

I laughed and turned. Mynxee, Venom, Lakasha... all the Hellcats, and several members from the rest of the alliance, stood in the entrance. Heading over, I made certain I gave everyone a hug. 'I'm gonna fucking miss you guys.'

Eviwyn pouted. 'We'll miss you, too. I never even had the chance to fly with you.'

Fort ruffled my dreadlocks playfully. 'I'll keep your seat in the hot tub warm for you.' His craggy Amarrian features creased in a devious grin, and I giggled and kissed his cheek.

The gathering turned into a small party as we headed for one of the station's bars for drinks. Memories were shared of the last year and a half, three-fifths of my piloting career since I left the academy, summarised over beer and whisky and several hilarious games of pool. Towards the end of the night, Mynx wrapped her arm around my shoulders and took me aside.

'Look, I want you to know that you've got our support in this, and you'll be welcome back anytime.' She grinned. 'I've sometimes considered going on to other things, myself, but I kinda made my bed here, ya know?'

I smiled and hugged her. 'That means a lot, you know. And yeah... I kind of feel bad for leaving you guys like this... timing and everything.'

She shook her head. 'You've been such a big part of Hellcats for so long, and corp chat won't be the same without you, but I think this will be good for you. You've been down, lately.'

'Yeah. I have a good feeling abut this. And I will be back, eventually.'

'Ha! You can't leave this behind forever.'

Mynx laughed, her braids flying as she tossed her head back. I laughed with her, happy that this period of my life was closing on a good note. The last seventeen months had brought me some of the closest friends I'd ever had, and some of the best memories.

It had also given me the best relationship I'd had yet. Determined not to let it slide, I was leaving a jump-clone behind in order to visit Caellach whenever I had the chance. We'd managed a visit to his parents a couple weekends earlier, and it had been a surprisingly pleasant introduction to the Marellus clan. His mother had insisted on making up for the shortcomings of my own, despite my insisting that she didn't have to.

Someone smacked me on the arse and I looked over my shoulder to see Fort holding out a cue stick. 'Your turn, short-stuff.'

Chuckling, I took the stick and went back over to the table, determined to beat Val this time.

I'd be leaving for Ushra'Khan in the morning.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Eve gets more shiny

A lot of people are drooling over the images of the soon-to-be revamped Scorpion as revealed in the latest dev-blog.

And man, is it about time the ships got some love to update them with the newer graphics. I'm impressed with the hull redesign, too... suddenly, the poor Scorpion is a ship I'd actually want to fly.

...Yes, I'm vain about my ships: if I'm going to be seen in it, it's gotta be sexy. Or make up for its visual shortfalls by pwning hard :p

What interests me more in the dev-blog, though, are the details about how they're changing the file system to make the graphics update possible. I'm an art geek and taking classes in that sort of thing right now. The potential that system change opens up is immense. I'm really looking forward to seeing what the art team does with it.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010


Meme time! Why not?

...The camera wasn't actually tilted. The desk is tucked into a small angled window niche. It's... cramped. If I need the extra room, I put the laptop and tablet down on the bed. And yes, that's a figurine of Guan Yin on top of the tower. The tower itself won't fit in the floorspace. My setup in my old place in Scotland was much more spacious and comfortable -- and I didn't need massive curtains to keep the cold out. The sound system was better too, but that's in storage. I have to make do with what I can get, these days.


The heavy features of the Civire on the other end of the connection frown a little in puzzlement at the sight of the auburn-haired woman.

'I've seen your introductory message, and the recording of your first interview. Consider this your second interview.

Can you tell me why you wish to leave your current corporation?'

The woman sighs and looks down for a moment as she collects her thoughts. 'It's not... because of any in-corp problems. Or even any inter-alliance problems, for that matter. Yes, there are things I see as being issues, but they have nothing to do with my decision. To put it simply: I'm not feeling the yarr anymore; I'm not feeling the urge to go out and ransom people and blow their stuff up.'

The Caldari man smiles a little at that, and she chuckles. 'I know, it sounds absurd. But I've just felt I had little reason to fight anymore. When I left the academy, I wanted to prove to myself that I could be as good as the guys who allowed me into their corp as a raw rookie. Then I felt I had to prove I could prosper as a pirate with honour. I've done both of those, and now I feel I have nothing left to prove to myself.'

She shrugs and settles back in her chair, looking vaguely uneasy. 'Recently, all the demands that I prove myself for whatever reason have come from outside, from other people. I don't give a shit what people think of me; I don't care about what others think I should do. The pestering and badgering has been growing annoying, and I realised a month or so ago that I was wondering why I didn't just retire as a pilot to get away from all of it.'

The recruiter's eyebrows shoot upwards at that admission. The Gallente woman nods. 'Exactly.

'I love flying, void forbid I give it up just because people keep asking me to meet their own expectations. So... you know why I want to join you. The reason I'm willing to leave my corp is simply that... I need to prove to myself that I can do something else, that I'm not just a washed-up pirate.'

She offers a wry, twisted smile. 'It know, it's kind of selfish, expecting anyone to take me on with that kind of attitude. I'm not known for altruism, but I know that I fly best when I have only my own expectations to meet.'

The man on the other end nods. 'No, that seems reasonable enough. What do you think you can offer us?'

The pirate laughs. 'In all honesty, no more than anyone else could. I'm experienced, I have a code of honour I live by which includes loyalty to my corporation, and I'm willing to follow even the strangest of orders in fleet. Is there anything more that a corp would ask of their pilots?'

Nodding, the recruiter makes a note out of range of the camera. 'Well, I assume you read our ROE, I was told the list had been sent to you. Do you have any questions or problems with it?'

'Let me see...' She calls the information up on a different screen and skims the glowing green words briefly. 'No, it all seems very reasonable to me.'

'Alright, then. Thanks for your time, and if you'll hang about in the public channel again, we'll get back to you with our decision within the week.' He smiles, and she returns the grin, running long fingers back through her dreadlocks.

'Thank you, for taking the time to consider me.'

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Thicker Than Blood: Chapter Ten

Just now...

The blond Caldari woman glared at the semi-holo. 'I know it was your people, you swine. We checked the wreckage of his pod; the neural scan transmitter had been tampered with, preventing his clone from being revived. The backup scan he had done that morning is mysteriously missing, and everyone who could possibly know anything has apparently developed selective amnesia. Was that really necessary?'

'Mlle Mbaari, I do not have to explain anything to you. If anything, it is you who needs to explain your deviation from the duties you were hired to perform.'


Isaar's heavy features settled into a piercing scowl. 'Your errors have been compensated for, and you have been paid precisely the amount that was agreed upon. I hereby expect no further contact from you until such time as you might be requested to do so.' The transmission cut abruptly, and Sati leaned forward, resting her elbows on the desktop and massaging her temples wearily.

After a minute, she tapped in a command. When the request was granted, she sighed and said, 'It's done. Wake him up anytime.'

Miska T'onik smiled broadly through the hologram. 'Thank you very much, Ms Mbaari. Your service to the Rocketeers has been commendable. Your use of the mercenaries your opposite number attempted to hire was an excellent touch, though it might have been better had you told us what to expect. Jackal's record has been cleared.'

'Comms records needed to reflect a surprise attack. I have nothing to apologise for.' She did feel a twinge of guilt for her manipulation of the Rocketeers, though the scout had been a willing participant once she explained the plan. 'Well, if you'll let me get my things, I can be on my way--'

'What we now need from you, my dear,' the Khanid interrupted, 'is to forget about your young man. Unless you want me to be informing him of whom you were really working for? The Gallentean Admiralty is only the tip of your very dark, political iceberg, young lady, and just think how hurt he would be to learn you were playing him against three sides.'

'You paid me to keep him safe! His family paid me to keep him safe! What more do you want?'

The scar-twisted smile widened. 'I think fifty million should be sufficient to buy my silence. Your obvious affection for him is the only reason I do not ask more.'

Sati's clenched fist slammed on the desktop; if it hurt, she was too incensed to react. 'You scum-sucking bottom-feeder! I ought to have known...'

'Fifty. Million. Yes? And we shall pass the message on that, for his safety, you must keep your distance. Because that is the way of it, is it not? Do not think we would allow you so close to the corporation, knowing who else pays you.'

Her teeth gritted loudly as she entered the transfer request. The older man was right. She had hoped it wouldn't come to this... it had been too much to hope for with the Rocketeer director's weird information network so close. 'You will regret this, T'onik.'

'Oh, I am certain. But as long as you do not threaten what the Rocketeers have going... as we all are too aware, the autonomy of capsuleers is under constant threat from the larger governments who would dearly love to own us, yes? That would be as much ill to yourself as to the rest of us. Blood may be thicker than water, but in our world, ISK is thicker than blood.'

'Save your preaching, fedo-breath.' Sati slapped her hand on the end button, and the Kahnid's smug grin faded from sight.

Breathing deeply, Sati got up and crossed to the small kitchenette to prepare a cup of tea, willing the red rage to cool so that she could think clearly. It was, she had to admit, partially her fault: she had mixed work and emotional needs.

The process of preparing her tea helped the flames of her ire to simmer down to an icy calmness. That the Amarrian had found out her own web of connections was frustrating, but two could play the I Know What You Did game. She called up the dossier she'd kept in a hidden, encrypted file. Miska T'onik, formerly Admiral Etrian Lyritha, might harbour few regrets about his nature, but there were sure to be those who would find a use for his whereabouts, and his Sani Sabik background.


Cold darkness surrounded me, and it took a moment, or maybe an eternity, to realise it wasn't actually cold or dark. It was a total absence of everything. The realisation frightened me, and I jerked in panic. Something -- was it my hand? my foot? -- struck an unyielding surface that resonated around me with a hollow thud. Light blinded me, and I thrashed through the heavy air...

Not air. Fluid. I was sunk in a bath of viscous turquoise liquid... Vat fluid?

Fumbling with limbs that felt weak and unused, I reached forward and touched the smooth surface in front of me, a slick featureless wall curved 260 degrees around me. The back of the tube was a wall of machinery and tubes connected to the various sockets in my spine. An upright vat... I remembered the tour Miska had given me of the carrier he'd just purchased, the corporate cloning bay designed specially to fit within the confines of a capital ship.

Something suddenly pressed against the outside of the tube, a dark shape taht resolved itself into someone's open palm. My eyes were having trouble focussing, or maybe it was the effect of the fluid and the curve of the glass. Following the hand and the arm attached to it, I finally made out the face of someone familiar... Flaschmann, his dark features creased in a grin.

Seeing my eyes focus on him, my CEO tilted his head to his right. I squinted, forced my body to work for me. There was someone standing beside him, small and red-haired, and as lovely as I remembered. I reached out and pressed my hand to the glass, and she touched the surface on her side, a smile spreading across her face. My sister nodded to me, then jerked her head towards a rectangle of dim amber light behind her -- a door? -- and said something that made Flasch nod. She blew me a kiss and headed out as someone in a medical uniform appeared and tapped the glass to get my attention.

The clone-bay tech pointed downwards, indicating the bars that had extruded from the perforated surface below me. I reached down, gripped the handles and tried to force my legs to extend as the fluid began to drain out. One final breath and then I was choking and hacking fluid from my lungs as air filled the space around me, hanging limply from the grip-bars as my body discovered that it was meant to breathe oxygen. Hands on my shoulders, under my arms, something warm and soft wrapped around me as people helped me to stand up. I raised one shaking hand to wipe the goo from my eyes, still coughing amniotic fluid.

'Easy, mate, we got you.' Flasch was the one with his arm around my shoulders, guiding me towards a bench beside the wall.

'How--' My question was interrupted by a horrid coughing fit that doubled me over. Flasch's large hand thumped heavily between my shoulder-blades.

'It's been a week. We got confirmation an hour ago that the people who wanted you removed believe the job's been done. Your lady-friend was behind the mercenaries that attacked us, and she paid Jackal to mislead us. He went back after the attack and picked up your neural scan block. Brave boy.'

I leaned forward with my elbows on my knees, letting my head hang as a wave of dizziness hit me. Sati had...

He rubbed my back through the towel, helping the blood flow. 'You're lucky to have a girl like that, Jack... Val... what do we call you now, anyway?'

Another cough wracked me, but it seemed the last of the amniotic fluid was out of my lungs. 'Tor,' I choked, randomly picking one of the false IDs we'd built earlier. 'Is she...?'

Flasch sighed heavily and mimicked my pose, his expression unhappy. 'She's not here. She told Miska she's being watched, and that it would be best for you if she not be seen around the Rocketeers at all til the incident has been swept under the rug entirely.'

My eyes closed tightly. Not at all what I wanted to hear, but it made a regrettable amount of sense. I breathed deeply, feeling the bite of clone-bay chemicals in my nose, and raised my head. 'When did Shae get here?'

'Yesterday morning, and she's already got half the boys falling over their own feet to impress her.'

I chuckled, smiling despite myself. 'She's good at that, mostly because she doesn't realise she's doing it.'

Flasch patted my shoulder again. 'She's waiting until you're showered and dressed.' He pointed to a door off to one side. 'In there.'

Rising and pulling the towel around myself along with what dignity I could salvage, I managed to make it to the dressing-room without staggering. It was good to be back.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Thicker Than Blood: Chapter Nine

One week ago...

The station was pleasant at this time of the evening, he thought, though it gave him fewer faces to get lost among. The dimmed lights gave the interior a dreamlike quality, and the smaller numbers of people allowed the soft hums of the machinery that formed the heartbeat of the structure to come through.

He strolled casually through the station, a common maintenance manager on his late-night rounds, confident and unassuming. The security officer he was paying off had signalled five minutes ago, and Neron had an hour to do his work undisturbed.

This appeared to be the final window he would have to fulfill his contract; the mark's corporation was giving every sign of making ready to pull out of the area any day now, and they'd been cagey about the location of their new base. Thankfully, the tech who'd been working unexpectedly late the last time seemed to have forgotten about the incident.

He'd been annoyed when the first attempt had failed. The mercenaries who'd been hired to ambush the convoy two weeks earlier had mysteriously vanished, and attempts to contact them had turned up empty offices and abandoned dead-drops. It was as if they'd been consumed by the Void. If the target had noticed the tampering that would have left him vulnerable, there'd been no sign of it.

The service techs might have simply written it off as faulty equipment and repaired the damage.

He had no idea what the target had done to warrant his removal -- permanent removal, no easy task when a target could be revived minutes later using neural backup copies. Neron didn't care; he wasn't being paid so well to ask questions, particularly since knowing the answers might get him in unnecessary trouble. That was the nature of the beast: knowing too much could be as dangerous as knowing too little, a complex game of poker where even the dealer was unknown.

He let himself into the hangar, made a show of checking offices and gathering forgotten refuse to tip down the disposal unit in case anyone had lingered late. When he was certain the place was deserted, he retrieved a datapad from his pocket and issued a command. A few minutes later, a response came back, and he unlocked the door for his assistant. The man knew starship systems nearly as well as Neron understood the system they served, and they set to work on the Taranis left on the main pad. It was the sole hull remaining in the hangar; everything else had been moved out by the target's corporation.

'Third time and all that, eh?'

Neron nodded, carefully picking his way through the computer system, erasing all signs of their access.

'Your credits are good enough, mate. Pleasure doing business with you.'

Neron took a few minutes longer to finish wiping the records before following the tech out, stopping short at the sight of the security detail waiting for him, stun-sticks at the ready. With a resigned sigh, he showed his hands empty and raised them to shoulder height as two men moved forward to give him a pat-down and secure his hands behind him.

The tech lay unconscious in the back of the waiting transport hover, a bruise slowly colouring on the side of his jaw evidence that he'd resisted more than was wise.


I had wanted to be there when they caught the guys who'd been messing with my hulls. Security Chief Parulis would hear none of it: I was untrained, and stars forbid a capsuleer be injured on her watch. Sati had taken an almost perverse pleasure in exposing Neron Euvidar and his connections, and the dirty security officer had been identified and taken in an hour before he'd been meant to loop the security systems. A long list of people were being located and brought in for questioning; Parulis had suggested that only a handful would know anything of any worth.

I was permitted to watch from the monitor room while the operation went on. It almost seemed too easy; why would an agent be anywhere near where they were meant to break in?

'Because the best plans are the simplest ones. Fewer loose ends to slip out of your control.' Sati put her arm around my waist. 'Speaking of simple plans, time to make you disappear, sweetie.'

We'd spent the last week building a handful of imaginary Rocketeers pilots, any one of whom could have been mistaken for me. All that was left was for me to slip behind one of the masks, rejoin the Blackball Rocketeers in Cloud Ring, and slowly fade 'Madjack Rackham' into digitised ether. Valar Tiann remained a semi-artificial construct under the Navy's care, and might eventually be reported lost in the line of fire, which was fine as far as I was concerned. The people who mattered knew the truth and that was enough.


'So what do we call you now, man?' Flasch asked as we completed our final undock procedures from Stacmon V-M9 station.

'Dunno, I've not decided yet. I'll figure it out once we get there, I suppose. Which route are we taking?'

'Same as the first time. Skies ought to be clear, we won't need scouts til we hit nullsec, anyway.'

I rolled the Taranis a couple times, enjoying how light she felt, like a feather drifting on the ions. Miska was so right about inties. Flasch laughed at my antics.

'Feels good to leave that crap behind ya, huh?'

'You have no idea.'

'Right, we got everyone? Drop an X in fleet channel when you're all out.'

I entered my confirmation along with the twenty or so others who were all that remained of the Rocketeers in Stacmon. Everything else had been moved out via blockade runner or jump-freighter. Offices closed this morning, with a last poke around the corp hangars for any bits of gear that might have been overlooked. Each ship was hauling some communal goods, mostly ammunition, alongside our standard spare rounds. I had two foundling Hammerhead drones and a handful of missiles in cargo, Flasch's Ruppy was playing hauler for a load of battleship-sized hybrid antimatter rounds. Sati was remaining behind to sweep my trail clear, and then...

Well, I didn't know. It was scary and exciting at the same time.

'Alright boys and girls, align to Covryn, prepare for fleet-warp.'

The scattering of mismatched vessels surged forward, hitched, then shot towards our exit gate at six AU per second, flashing past the sun in instants. I wondered if I'd ever get tired of that feeling, and hoped I never would.

'Covryn is clear, heading for ex'.'

'Everyone jump, align to the out gate.'

We were almost there -- only a few jumps from home -- when it happened. Jackal called the next system clear, but when space reappeared around us, we were in the middle of a massive bubbled camp.

Flasch cursed. 'Jackal, what the fuck?!' But the scout had disappeared from the fleet, and we huddled in the temporary security of our post-jump cloaks while Flasch thought fast. My mind whirled with a moment of panic.

'Shit. Shit. Right. That's a lot of bubbles. We're not fighting this, there are too many people here, who the fuck are these guys? When I say “go”, burn hard for the nearest edge and warp to the rendezvous as soon as you're clear. Just scatter, give them too many targets to focus on. Right, go, go now!'

I angled my ship down, aiming for the lower edge of the warp disruption field, and kicked in the microwarp drive. The incerceptor punched through the edge of the sphere just as another appeared around me. 'Fuck! What...?' A Sabre-class interdictor had been orbiting the bubble, and I found my ship slowed to a crawl by a half-dozen stasis webs.

'Flasch, this is Jack, I don't think I'm gonna make this one. You guys go on ahead, I'll see you at the far end.'

I gritted my teeth as I watched my shields and armour melt away. This wasn't exactly how I'd imagined things going. Flasch's voice cut through the cacophony of cannon-fire. 'There's something funny going on here, Jack. Nobody else was targeted. I'm sending word to Miska to impound Jackal's gear til we figure out what the fuck he's playing at.'

At my command, the alarm to evacuate the ship blared through the interceptor's cramped confines. I had only a minimal three-man crew on this run, but that would be three too many to lose. The gate rescue crews would scoop them and take care of them til corporate recovery could make a pickup.

The hull disintegrated, and they started nibbling on my pod. An alarm went off in my head and I winced in pain. A diagnostic query confirmed the worst: we'd missed the tampering on the capsule's transmitter.

It seemed I wasn't getting out of it, after all.

The capsule's minimal defences redlined, and the shriek of pod fluid venting into space was the last thing I heard.

Final Chapter