Watching the Procession

Lights blinked on the control console, illuminating the dark cabin with a staccato pattern of various colors. Various displays fed constant streams of information to a pilot sitting alone in the sole chair in the cabin. For his part the pilot glanced at the screens occasionally, but mostly he stared out of the viewport that dominated the bulkhead before him. A single star shone, flanked by a deep blue nebula. In the near ground a planet was slowly spinning, complete with attendant moons. The vista had a cold, majestic beauty which seemed to be distracting the pilot.

Of course this was all an illusion. The pilot sitting in the command chair was not actually sitting in beaten leather seat. The pilot was suspended in a pool of shock-absorbing and life sustaining fluid, connected to the powerful computers of the ship he piloted via a series of cables and leads connected to his central nervous system. The chair and command center it occupied were simply a nifty piece of software that modeled a real environment, and fed that information into the pilot’s optic, aural, and haptic nerve centers. The chair, the view out of the cabin into space, and the blinking lights were just the pilot’s preference, an illusion of reality that conveyed information. The solar system, at least, was real, created from images from camera drones orbiting the ship.

One particular light, real or illusory, caught the pilot’s attention. It indicated a new signature had appeared on the survey scanner. Something had appeared in local space that was not there previously. This was not an odd occurrence, but it always came with a feeling of nervous anticipation.

The pilot lived deep in space far from the influence of Empires or pirates. He had made a choice to leave behind the squabbling of politicians and corporations, found a wormhole, and jumped through. Wormholes led to strange spaces that no empire or self styled king could lay claim to. This lack of traditional property law was a function of both the space itself and the means used to traverse it.

The space itself had residents, both other pilots who entered other wormholes, and odd natives, robotic drone fleets with technology far beyond what humans had devised. Both were dangerous. The “Sleepers”, as the drones were called, were openly hostile to almost any ship they came across. Other pilots often shared this hostility. The space was fundamentally out to get you, and any claim made on a star or moon was defended only by the force one was willing to use to repel others.

In this deep space, there were no stargates. There were only the mercurial wormholes. No one knew why, but they appeared and disappeared quickly, lasting for hours or days. Where a wormhole led was always random. Astute pilots learned to glean information from the signals and colors emitted by the tears in space, but the final destination was never certain until one flew through one of the pulsing maws. This lack of certainty meant the Empires stayed out. One thing that was known was that the wormhole systems were far away from the New Eden cluster. Far enough that no stable stargates had been constructed to connect the systems to humanity’s homeworlds.

No stargates also meant CONCORD and the Empires had no power. Without gates, there were no surveillance systems to tell anyone who or what was sharing the light of today’s sun with you. There was no recording of attacks, and no way to know who was a criminal and who deserved protection. This was truly lawless space. Without the safety of treaties and instaneous communications, the wardens of New Eden left this odd region alone. This is why the blinking light intrigued and worried the pilot.

A quick check of the directional scanner showed an uncloaked ship, an Imicus class frigate, nearby. There were also probes scattered about the system. That provided partial answers to many questions the pilot had. He wasn’t sure what the new signature was, only the on-board survey scanner was running. More detailed information on the signature would require deployment of probes. But those probes would give away the pilot’s presence. An unknown ship was a more immediate problem. That ship’s pilot may have friends.

After half a minute of focusing the range and width of the directional scanners on the ship, the pilot narrowed down the location of the Imicus. He punched in a warp destination, double checked ammunition and cloak status, and engaged the warp drive. A short time later, he dropped out of warp and saw the Imicus slowly flying away from a planet. The ship was 100 kilometers away, to far for the pilot to engage with the autocannons mounted on his hull. He logged the position of the Imicus, and intiated another warp to a nearby moon.

A quick landing at the moon followed by a quick return warp dropped the pilot much closer to the Imicus. He maneuvered towards the Imicus under cloak, then disengaged the device that had kept his ship hidden. He did not open up fire just yet. He engaged a warp scrambler on the Imicus, flooding the other craft’s warp engine with signals that prevent it from using the drive to escape. The pilot also engaged a stasis webifier, slowing the Imicus to crawl. Only once both were engaged and ensure the Imicus was not going to leave any time soon did the pilot engage his weapons.

The autocannons roared to life, spitting rounds of phased plasma into the void. The rounds found a new resting place as they impacted on the hull of the Imicus. Frigates are not particularly large or heavily armored. After a few moments the Imicus dissolved into a flash of light. The hull had failed, and the reactor breached. A pod emerged from the edge of the explosion. A pod, same as that which the pilot inhabited. The pilot engaged the warp scrambler and webifier again. A few more bursts from the autocannons crack the small pod. A small spray of fluid erupted out, and a flailing body emerged from the rapidly freezing mist. The fresh corpse trailed broken cables from its’ spine and head.

The pilot navigated his ship to the new wreck. He commanded his ship to pick up various pieces of salvage that survived the explosion, along with the corpse. He looked up the recently deceased pilot on the ship’s cached database. A new pilot, barely a month out of the Acadmey. He probably had no idea just how many others wanted to kill him out here. Feeling slightly guilty, the surviving pilot composed a short message to his victim, explaining a few mistakes the younger capsuleer had made. The survivor even included some isk to cover the cost of the ship he had destroyed.

Death is not a permanent thing for capsuleers. The ship and body may die, but the clone lives on. It is not a peaceful or painless process, but the slain pilot was waking up somewhere back in Empire space. The killer vaguely hoped to hear from his prey.

The pilot brought up his scanner again, and dialed it out to full range. Nothing on scan. He launched probes of his own, engaged his cloak, and warped into the darkness. It was time to find out where his prey had come from, and if he had any friends.

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