December 3, 2014

Pod and Planet: Flags on Far Distant Stars

In the not-too-distant future, in a New Eden much like our own... a New Eden that could be.

The Throw

The comms channels buzzed amongst the ships that danced in a long conga-line around the massive structure.  While it was clearly a gate, it had none of the elegance of Amarr or Gallente designs.  This was a massive utilitarian artifice besides which mere regional gates would be swallowed whole.  Propped off to one side was the gate command, a small bubble of steel reinforced by shielding elements that guarded it not from the hostile deep of space, but from the central aperture of the gate itself.

"T-space virgins, ready to pop your cherry?"
"Hell, if they're unlucky their cherry isn't the only thing that'll get popped.  This is my second time on this roller coaster. I don't even remember what happened last time."
"Well Gellar, don't fuck up again this time, then. Keep your pod intact until we can finish the broadcast unit."

A calm voice cut across the chatter.  "Tomas here, Battle comms everyone.  Shut the fuck up.  Taki, get those freighters snuggled up to zero.  We can't leave you behind.  Gerald, is the gate Go?"
"Gate is Go, Tomas."
"Joli, is target cyno Go?"
"Target cyno is fueled and ready to go.  No rats here or on the POS. Go."
"Okay everyone listen up.  As you've probably heard, we now know Goonswarm has their own throw gate and their own T-space foothold, maybe not too far even from ours.  They're pissed that we're here and that we've made more throws than they have.  Hell, if it wasn't for the Schism War, they would be way in the lead, but now it's a fair race - and we know how they hate "fair".  As soon as the target cyno is lit and we spool up we should assume that they'll start spooling theirs and trying to lock down on our cyno in T-1.  That means as soon as that gate opens you need to go go go, because we need to close it down again before they can throw a fleet into our system."

"These freighters are vital. We have so much we need to build that we're used to having: a real station, a proper receiving gate, a broadcast station so you can get back to another clone without losing anything. And we need to have our defenses up before another coalition tracks us down - you all know that fight is coming.  So have your finger on that button."

The ships ceased their conga line and joined alongside the four immense freighters that carried the irreplaceable cargo that would be needed by the far distance forces.  The chaotic chatter turned to a cold, nervous silence across the channel.
"Transport, Logi wings - confirm?"  Tomas flicked his gaze back and forth across the scene, looking for anything that might possibly be out of place.  His Vulture command ship was nestled in the middle of the combat wing, not that it would mean he would still be there once their ships were thrown out of the cluster to a distant star.

"This is Taki, Transport is Go"
"Maria here, Logi is Go"
Tomas let out a long breath, then keyed his comms.  "Joli - go for it."
Over 100 light years away a massive cynosural beacon flared.  It rushed out from the hull of the unmanned ship that had leapt in tremendous pre-calculated warps to reach this cluster.  Now that hull was a rough fixture along the spine of the partially-built receiving gate, a collection of panels and projecting beams that would make any Minmatar shipbuilder blush.  The wavering, ethereal lights of the cynosural beacon spread out beyond the farthest reaches of the gate, a titanic expenditure of fuel compared to any cyno lit in New Eden.  But to the distant sensors of the throw gate, despite the mixture of technology both ancient and new, the cyno was a tiny spark nearly lost in the depths of space.
"I see it.  I'm trying to lock it down now."  Gerald stared at his screen in the tiny command quarters of the gate.  His fingers flew as he adjusted the sensors to get a hit on the target cyno, his expensive implants giving him insight within the conflicting feedback.  In his Helios he could probe down a tiny enemy frigate or slippery T3 in seconds, but despite the similar interface locking down the cyno from T-1 was a struggle.
"This is Joli.  Are you guys coming?  This beacon's going to be calling all the rats any moment now…"
"At 87%, I'm trying. I'm getting shadow hits."  Gerald adjusted the sensor beams built deep into the throw gate by minuscule fractions, trying to resolve the distant cyno.
"The Talocan are going to see us." Joli's words were coming rapidly. "You're going to land hot."
A anonymous voice exhaled, breaking comms discipline.  "Shit."
Tomas cut in, his voice even and factual.  "Remember everyone, these are not like Guristas or even Sleepers.  Assume every one of the Talocan ships is the equal of a capsuleer.  Strong shields and they will have logi..."
"Break break.  I have you locked.  Throwing in 3 ... 2 ... 1 ..."

The huge capsuleer-built ring pulsed with energy.  A roar of static filled the communication frequencies, briefly blotting out even the CONCORD-run local channel.  There was a blinding light that outlined the ships arranged around it, from the slender T3 cruisers to the huge freighters.  And then they were gone.

Talocan Welcome

Overwhelmed sensors struggled to compensate for the burst of electromagnetic energy that writhed over the ships as they emerged back into normal space.

"You've seriously scattered." Joli's voice was shrill over comms. "Freighters align for us before the Talocan get on you. Shit, you're all over the place, burn for the gate."
"Joli, pipe down."  Tomas's voice was even and calm.  "We're here now and I'll make the calls.  Freighters align to POS bookmark.  Align, Align.  Anyone with webs should web the freighters.  Michael, burn away from gate, then warp to me when you hit 150 clicks.  Gellar, just burn back towards me.  Logi, lock each other up and repair your throw damage, then start on the combat ships."

The scattered ships began to angle around, Tengus swinging around gracefully compared to the lumbering mass of the freighters.

"Talocan ships decloaking.  Ten battlecruisers, two cruiser logi."  Maria called.
"Shit, they're right on top of me."
"Gellar, overheat your MWD and burn for the fleet.  Get the fuck out of there.  Logi, get reps on him. Everyone who can should be recording this fight for later analysis - we need to learn what these ships can do."
"Maria here, Gellar is 25km out of range of reps. Closing."
"I'm scrammed.  Gellar is scrammed."
"Gellar, align to the POS, get your pod out.  Freighters, status?"
"Freighter 2 and 3 are about to hit warp."
"Combat wing form up on me. Load Lead. Lock the nearest battlecruiser as soon as you can. Maybe we'll draw attention."

The Tengus started to pull together around Tomas's Vulture from their scattered positions. Sporadically their railguns began to pulse, spitting high-speed metal at the distant alien ships. The rhythm of their fire increased as each Tengu reloaded and got into range, until the full fire of the fleet played a constant tattoo against the heavily shielded Talocan.

"Broadcast as soon as you start to take damage.  Maria, don't get too far behind in case they damp you."
"Gellar is about to go into armor."
"We have you locked, just a second Gellar and we'll have reps on you."

The beams playing from the spindle-shaped Talocan vessels ruptured through the shields of the Tengu, cutting through the armor swiftly.  With a burst of ruptured structural fields and power systems the billion-ISK Tengu was reduced to a wreck.
"Gellar is down, minus one Tengu.  Dammit.  I can't believe these rats... oh shit."
The dancing lights of a warp disruptor held the pod in place, if only for a moment before a beam sliced the capsule in half.

Tomas cursed silently before reopening his comms. "Keep on the primary. Taki, status?"
"Freighter 1 and 4 will be warping momentarily."
"Let's get to the POS", a voice piped up, "all we need is the freighters."
"Negative." Tomas cut in quickly. "The Talocan have tried to incap the gate before, we have to put them down.  Primary is broadcast as Target 1.  Secondary will be the logi, Target 2. I want those Huginn webs and a Lachesis point on the logi as soon as the freighters are away."

"They're pulling away, probably trying to keep at the edge of their beams optimal."
Tomas watched the display of the Talocan battlecruiser, its shields only slowly waning under the fire of his fleet, surges of shield transfer undoing much of their offensive work. Caught up in the work of his fleet, he almost missed that his own ship's shields were now being eaten away by the beam fire of the Talocan fleet. He keyed a broadcast for reps, trusting Maria would catch him without needing to speak up on comms, and turned his attention back to offense.

"Reload to Antimatter and switch fire to Target 2.  Overheat.  We want that thing dead."
The Talocan logistics ship twisted in the stasis webifier, suddenly pinned by the bright points of high-intensity railgun fire.  It turned towards a distant point on the opposite side of the solar system.  Its shields began to break as it started to build up speed on its new alignment.  The maneuver was for naught though, as a warp disruptor engaged around it from the distant Lachesis, and the alien logistics ships quickly succumbed to the firepower of the fleet.

Tomas smiled, a silent thanks to the retrofit that Roden Shipyards had made to their Recon ships and the comparable adjustments that the other builders had made to keep up.  The specialists ships allowed his fleet's Tengus to focus on durability and firepower.

"Web them up and we'll run them down.  Target on my broadcast."

The Talocan ships began to fall more rapidly and after a few more went down the rest aligned out and warped. Tomas stared into space - somewhere out there was a cloaked Talocan base that they would need to find and destroy if they really wanted to claim this system for their own. But now it was time to get the fleet to their new home. Tomorrow they would lay down the station egg nestled secure in the freighters and truly plant a capsuleer flag by this distant star.

Station Zero

"I thought for sure that you were going to be able to catch Gellar." Tomas paced across the small quarters, his eyes hard.

Maria held her ground.  "He was just on the edge as we got into range.  If he'd burned straight for you instead of aligning for the POS we could have saved him, if he had warped when he popped he would have saved himself.  He just failed to GTFO."

"Damn.  We need every pilot and every ship.  And now even once they unscramble his brain he won't be back until they can re-align the throw gate."

"One loss - acceptable losses.  And Gellar was an idiot.  We'll be fine.  You have plenty enough to keep your mind on without Gellar."

He stopped, a smile growing on his face.

"I can't believe we're here.  It's not even really New Eden anymore, is it?"  

Maria shrugged, "I'll leave the definition of the cluster boundaries to the scientists."

"Don't you feel it? "  Tomas slapped his hand on the bare metal wall. "This isn't another station dropped in Null."

"Don't hit it too hard."  A smile curled on her lips.  "This modular thing was thrown up so fast in a lot of ways it's weaker than a old-style moon base."  She took a long stride towards him, her eyes fixed on his.  "But I hear you.  Soon we'll have a proper station beyond New Eden.  Beyond the Empires.  Beyond CONCORD."  She curled one hand behind his head, fingers tracing the metal port at the base of his skull.  "A station truly under complete capsuleer control."

"And the Talocan to discover.  What they brought here, what they've left.  Now that we know how to detect their cloaked bases..."

"We can do anything we want here."  She slid her other hand up his inner thigh.  "And I intend to."  Maria pulled his head down to hers.

Midnight in Unknown Space

Maria disentangled herself from Tomas's sleeping grasp, careful not to cause the bed to shift.  His sleep should be deep given how enthusiastically she'd ridden him, but always better to be stealthy.  She briefly considered re-attaching the restraints from their earlier play, but that might just wake him up enough to want more.  Playtime was over; Maria had work to do.

Her bare feet were silent on the tight carpet of the captain's quarters.  The whole place still smelled of new construction.  She paused by the scattered pieces of their clothing at the bedroom door.  The air had a chill to it, but if he did awake it would be useful to have him distracted by her nudity.

With a practiced hand she keyed in Tomas's security code, sweeping through the functionality of the modular starbase and making adjustments. Pulling up the hangar controls, she ordered her Tengu to be refit in preparations for a scouting mission that the records would show Tomas assigned to her just this evening. Everything had to be carefully put into place...

"Maria?  Come back to bed, babe."  His sleepy voice proceeded a shuffling step. "What are you doing up?"

She turned, smile on her face, chest out, eyes narrowed to that mischievous look he fell for every time.  "Just playing with some ideas.  Unless you'd rather play something else..."  Behind her back Maria's fingers played over the console and the ship fitting display winked out. Not fast enough.

"Is that your Tengu?  Why did you have a covert cyno... "  Maria's hand lashed out in the tight shape of a ridge-hand strike.  Tomas reflexively blocked to protect his temple, but her hand instead slammed into the meat of his upper bicep.

"Ow.  What was that for?"  His eyes hardened as he pulled back into a boxer's stance.  "What the hell?"  He wobbled, head tilting loosely as he stared over at the small bloom of blood on his arm.

"Goodnight, Tommy."  Maria held up her right hand so that his eyes could just make out the glint of the injector protruding from the side of her first knuckle.  She relaxed her fingers from the ridge-hand and the injector withdrew just as Tomas's knees gave way and sent him slumping to the floor.

"Oh Tommy-boy, why couldn't you just stay sleeping."  She shook her head as she rose out of her fighting stance.  "Better not be trying to be clever..."  She shifted her weight subtly as she considered a quick kick to his head.  "No, we can't have you go and die and set off a medical alarm."

She half-carried, half-pulled his naked body back to the bed.  "Everyone knows you like it rough, right Tommy?"  She whispered over him as she fastened his arms into the restraints.  "You like a dangerous kind of woman: a certain attitude, a certain shape, a certain set of skills..."  She fastened his ankles and pulled the straps tight.  "You'd think that an experienced FC like you would have learned how to recognize bait."

"Now just in case your neurotoxin training gets you ahead of the curve, let's make sure you don't go crying to Aura."  A ball-gag went into his mouth, leaving him helpless on the bed.

She straightened, looking down at him.  "I admit it has been fun." She ran a hand from his jaw down the muscles of his chest. "You like being fucked, Tommy?  Well, now you're fucked."  She stepped back and started pulling on her clothes.  "But I am looking forward to resculpting back into a body whose shape I chose."  She zipped up the front of the top.  "These boobs are just too big."

"Here, I wouldn't want you to miss the show."  She activated the large console screen to show the undock camera.  "Be seeing you!"

A Distant Light, a Deeper Darkness

In the lonely place between orbits, a Tengu-class cruiser shimmered into sight as its cloak deactivated.  Station Zero, and indeed all of the celestial objects of the system, were sufficiently far away that the ship's presence would not be given away on directional scans from anyone there.

Maria opened a secure conversation channel.  "In position now."
"Confirmed.  Hold."  A distant voice replied.  "Okay, we're ready."

Only someone who know where to look, how to look, would see the covert cynosural field that bloomed from the Tengu.  If the deep-space cyno was a brilliant beacon to guide a horde of friends across far reaches of space, this was a shielded candle beckoning shadowy figures to an unlocked back door.

"Cyno is up."

Moments later the Tengu was surrounded by Redeemer blackops battleships, their jet-black skins broken only by the image of a ninja-suited bumblebee on their flanks.  As the Redeemers turned away from each other and burned to cloaking distance, two Proteus strategic cruisers appeared before the cyno winked out.

"Welcome bros.  So glad you were in the neighborhood."  Maria set her Tengu aligning towards a distant planet. "Guess it's time for me to get on with my scouting."
"Yup, nothing to see here.  Move along."

As Maria's Tengu entered warp a new covert cyno field erupted from one of the Proteus cruisers, even as the Redeemers vanished under their cloaks.

Old Wars Under New Suns

Alarms sounded as the battleships decloaked and the first salvos of lasers began to land on the small starbase.  The klaxons awoke Tomas, his mind swiftly alert even as his muscles ached with the side effects of the toxin.  His jaw worked uselessly against the gag as he screamed his muffled curses.  He enjoyed the restraints for the feeling of danger they brought to bed play, but now the familiar leather bound him all too well.  He stared as the video screen of his quarters showed him the brilliant lances of pulse lasers pounding into the modules of the base.  His eyes darted back and forth for the shimmer of the force field that should be there, until his personal comms sounded with the answer he already knew.

"Tomas!  Respond please.  Someone changed the base forcefield password.  We need your override to change it back."

His muscles strained against the bonds, his jaw working at the gag.  All he needed was to be able to give the order.

"Attention all pilots."  Maria's voice over the comms stilled Tomas in his struggles.  Bitch!  "All pilots get to your ships and warp free of the base.  Warp to Maria.  We'll need to hit them together."

Nooo!  He shouted against the gag and wrenched as hard as he could with his right arm.  Comms quickly became a mixture of calm and panicked replies.

"Roger, warping to you Maria ... 80AU?  This is a really long warp, where are you?"
"Crap, Goon Proteus decloaking.  They must have probed me down."
"If you're not in warp, abort, abort."
"Somebody call primary, maybe we can pull this off."
"We're about to hit structure on the command module.  Someone.  We need someone to force off those Redeemers."

Pain exploded through Tomas's and at first he wasn't sure if he had broken the restraint or his own arm.  His shoulder and elbow throbbed.  He held up his hand, the broken metal of the bed-frame still attached.  He had a moment of triumph right before the bulkheads melted under the laser fire and the vacuum took him.

Reunion and Consolation

Her first conscious breath came in a quick gasp, her brain racing as if from a nightmare.  Maria forced herself to calm.  The steady warmth, the sterile smell - the cloning bay was a false comfort that she associated with failure.  Perhaps not this time.  She threw the release with rushed fingers.   Techs would be here momentarily to run their tests on her, summoned by the animation alarm, but she had to know first.  Date and time, date and time.  The medical display showed only one day after the throw mission.  She had been podded, but she had no memories since throw so...

"Maria!" his familiar voice was now very dangerous indeed. She looked up to see Tomas rushing from the next cloning room, still naked and pink-skinned.

One arm covered her breasts in the false modesty he would expect of her in this less than private space, while her right hand slid to the latch of the personal effects storage chest.  If things had gone wrong, the waist-high storage unit could provide cover and the covert blaster pistol hidden in her effects might be enough to get her to a ship.

"Maria, the Goons, the fucking Goons. Joli was able to report back before they incap'd the target gate." He came to a stop just before her. "We've lost T-1."

Her hand relaxed on the locker's latch.  His guileless face told her everything she needed to know.

"We're very sorry Commander."  The med-tech's voice was clinical as he approached before stopping at a respectful distance.  "We've recovered both of your brain patterns from the imaging we made before you undertook that mission.  Since this is an experimental technique you may experience more pronounced gaps in previously encoded neural responses than with the traditional burner-scan method.  We'd like both of you to report for scans so that we can determine if any follow-up treatment will be required."

It was all she could do not to smirk.  Here he stood naked and vulnerable before her.  This alliance was now worked over more even more than she had ever done to his physical body.  And when he learned, as eventually he surely would, then the fullness of her mission would be complete.  Now she needed only to play our her final scenes before departing the stage.

"Tomas...." tears filled her eyes.  "All that we worked for..."  She opened her arms as she stepped out from behind the storage chest, an invitation for him.  His eyes made the predictable darting glance as he rushed forward to wrap his arms around her.

"It's okay Maria."  He whispered in her ear.  "There are two other deep-space cyno probes en route now that we haven't told anyone about."  Her eyes widened.  "There will be more T-1s."

She sighed into his shoulder. Still more work to be done.

(for those interested, author's notes)

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