This is a collection of short in-character fiction pieces about Awakened Industries, a group of capsuleers and their crews living in the enigmatic and dangerous regions of Wormhole Space in EVE Online. None of the protagonists are actual characters or corporations in-game. All similarities with persons fictional or real are possibly coincidental and only sometimes intentional. - Emergent Patroller

For an introduction to this blog refer to this link. You may also want to check out the guide for new readers

Warning
: The stories on this blog contain mature themes involving sexuality and violence and are not suitable for minors or sensitive people.

28 Sep 2012

OOC Entry 47 - Social Skill and War


 

Introduction - Oh James, Oh James


Recently I have done a lot of head shaking and criticising of Mr. James 315 - Miner hater and Highsec Nerf Demander extraordinaire. However, he then proceeded to write this post which is actually quite good. I recommend you go read it.

If you don't feel like it, I will give a short synopsis from my point-of-view here.

The man can use words well, that is for sure. He makes his proclamations with the urgency, the vehemence and the conviction of an Alex Jones, but previously I found the logic of his anti-highsec manifestos to be quite flawed and full of hyperbole. This time, he writes about nullsec, and more specifically about the power of the blob, and it turns out way better.

He makes a valid argument. He argues that all those who are at the receiving end of blob tactics sometimes could apply more self-reflection when it comes to explaining their failure to win against the overwhelming forces. He does a very nice historical analysis of prior wars and uses the ascension of Goonswarm as an example of successful warfare against a more powerful and more experienced force i.e. Band of Brothers (BoB).

In his historical excursion he cites Redswarm Federation (The Goonswarm/Red Alliance/Tau Ceti coalition) as the first true coalition in the sense of today's EVE powers like Honey Badger Coalition (HBC), Cluster Fuck Coalition (CFC) or the recently collapsed Drone Region Federation DRF and Northern Coalition (NC).
 
He correctly points out that the BoB vs. Redswarm  fight was lost mostly due to BoB's arrogance. He also correctly states that Goons and TEST are better on a social organization level when compared to their major antagonists of the past and the present.

In the end he sort-of relates that competence to being good at fighting in EVE, and there it becomes difficult.

Social Metagame vs. Elite PVP


Those two things are simply not the same skillset. If you take some of the really good fighters in EVE like Aperture Harmonics, Rooks&Kings, Noir or Black Legion, then you will see that they can win engagements very well. Would they be able to hold together a massive Corp/Alliance/Coalition of hundreds or even thousands of players?

The answer is probably no.

While those groups have very skilled EVE warriors, very disciplined ranks and good commanders, they lack the out-of-game infrastructure and community that is the foundation of the two largest Alliances currently in game.

On the other hand, I don't see it happening that Goons or TEST engage in a mercenary-style fight where their losses have to remain below their income to make a profit.

As members of Against All Authorities (AAA) never got tired of pointing out during the HBC/CFC southern campaign, their opponents would often "lose" when it came to killboard efficiency (losses vs. kills) or the "ISK War" (losing more in value of ships than the opponents). Now that TEST is holding a lot of space that was previously occupied by AAA allies, the Southern alliances keep harassing the larger neighbour successfully. In the north, Black Legion have regularly managed to win against larger CFC forces by a wide margin.

I am sure, that CFC or HBC members will be able to point me to examples where that is not the case, but if you are honest to yourself, you will realize, that your strategy and tactics are not the sort that makes you a profit by fighting, like Noir or Aperture Harmonics manage to do.

It's a question of the arena in the end. In sov warfare, numbers will win because then you can just grind through all those timers so much faster. If it comes to sov unrelated confrontation, the same is not necessarily true. A smaller, more skilled and more flexible opponent can easily play games with larger fleets that are by nature more difficult to organize and contain a much more diverse skillset both in terms of in-game skillpoints and fighting experience of the players involved.

This is best illustrated by the contrast between solo PVPers and their targets (which incidentally tend to be isolated groups of large nullsec coalition members quite often)



You could argue that the solo PVPer always loses because in the end they are podded back home. Inevitably there will be a response they can not handle except by running. They definitely lose to "the blob" because in the end it is overwhelming forces that kill them if they do not retreat from the field earlier.

On the other hand, before a solo PVPer gets killed, s/he already left a trail of corpses behind, comprised of potential members of that same blob. Sure those people will get their ships reimbursed and will resume ratting with little or no risk shortly thereafter and all is good for the alliance or coalition on the macro scale, but the solo PVPer considers that a success. They do not desire empire building, they desire interesting fights and they want to win them. If they win six and lose one, they are successful on all levels that matter to them.

Those people fight sucessfully against the blob, because they do not engage it as such. They engage individual members who are bereft of their leaders and consequently do not know quite as well how they should handle themselves.

But does one win a war like that?

The Blob, the Metagame and History


Once upon a time, before Goonswarm, before TEST, before PL, there existed a nullsec alliance that was also often criticized for their blob tactics and lack of "real PVP skill". They were the first ones to build an Outpost, the first ones to build a Titan and also the first ones to lose one. They held large areas of sov nullsec and were the largest alliance EVE had seen up until that time.

Extra points for the person who remembers without googling who those people were.

Anyway, I am talking about Ascendant Frontier. Just as BoB was brought down by Goonswarm, AF was brought down by BoB. Despite the self-created myth that BoB are the elite PVPers because they could beat such a massive force, AF was not conquered by military power. They were brought down largely because BoB was using exploits and even went as far as using alliance members who worked for CCP to tip the scales.

It became obvious that there were ways to beat the blob, but those methods were not entirely genuine.

Enter Goonswarm.



Here we have a community of people for whom organized destruction of the order of online environments was a well honed skill even before they came to EVE. By then, BoB had become "the blob" by conquering or otherwise subjugating most of the nullsec population. The Goons - already a large community out of game - made it their goal to out-blob and out-metagame BoB. As James has written, BoB treated their "pets" horribly and they had started to believe their own myth: That they were the be all and end all of elite PVP.

The little bees had something that BoB did not have, though: Social skills.

Using those, they rallied the enemies of BoB into Redswarm Federation, proceeded to alienate BoB's most powerful "pet"- the Mercenary Coalition - from it's master and finally brought about the complete fall of BoB entirely by subverting one of their leaders. This was the beginning of The Mittani's era.

Again this victory was not achieved by military means.

In fact, by the time BoB fell the Redswarm Federation had effectively been shattered already. What won that war was superior social skills of a community that is so tightly knit, that it would be able to bounce back from almost any loss.

And today?


The current war is actually very interesting in this respect. Here we have one side which - generally speaking - does include some of the most skilled PVPers, against a group that has probably the best social engineers and leaders in the game. By now, a lot of GSF and even TEST have matured though. They are not the noobs-in-rifters anymore. Neither are AAA and NC. and their allies the arrogant "Samurai of EVE" that BoB styled themselves to be.

This war might be the final test of whether actual fighting skill can break the blob, or whether it will always come down to metagaming and social skills.

One thing is for sure. For as long as AAA and the "Dotbros" fight skirmishes, they will manage to win in the same way the solo PVPer wins against the blob. If they want to achieve a strategic victory, though, they will have to break the social cohesion of their opponents while strenghtening their own.

That is where James 315 is entirely correct in his analysis.

27 Sep 2012

OOC Entry 46 - Go away powerblocs

I do not find myself agreeing with Poetic Stanziel's viewpoint very often, but the most recent post of that author made me nod in agreement all the way through.

The follow-up post by Mynnna also raised a few quite good points.

Since the issue is on, and since the two authors made me think about it, I will write down my thoughts here.

Both authors suggest, that a reduction of passive income will result in a pressure on the big powerblocs of nullsec. Most notably the ones involved in OTEC. They both speculate that the consequence will be that those alliances and coalitions might have to reduce in size and potentially give up space (great!), that they very likely can not afford every frivolity or game-wide trolling action anymore (even better), and that their players will have to do some active work to get some income (imagine that!).

If I read that and ponder such consequences, I can only hope for it to be true.

I don't understand the people of the big powerbloc alliances.

They have massive support behind them. No highsec player can run missions or mine as safely as they can: Protected by hundreds of friends and a local channel that tells the immediately when a hostile appears. Their spokespeople never get tired of telling everyone else how great nullsec life with them is. That is usually coupled with a healthy dose of arrogance projected against everyone else - especially highsec players and other nullsec entities that are not as great as they themselves think they are.

They achieve prominence in the EVE narrative with their wars and exploits. They dominate the CSM elections with their unified votes and they are basically unconquerable and unbeatable because of their sheer numbers.

Quite a few of them run many of their accounts entirely on PLEX because that is how much ISK they make in-game

One might think they have it all, but they still complain.


Each time something comes up about trying to reduce the amount of ISK or power those massive in-game entities have, someone is going to shout 'Nerf Highsec' with the certainty of Godwin's Law. Threats of unsubscribing, or at least ominous predictions of large drops in subscribers, usually follow.

People who point out how ridiculous all that moaning and gnashing of teeth is, often earn adversarial remarks or at least get told that nullsec is so empty of players, or that it's basically unacceptable to have to do PVE and that large powerblocs simply can not be sustained without massive ISK faucets.

Well, there you go.

As far as I am concerned, they should not be sustainable.

I say the powerblocs should collapse.

If you can afford to do a Burn Jita event and reimburse ships of suicide gankers all over EVE. If you can hold three complete regions while being a bunch of cheerfully incompetent trolls. If you can impersonate Russia by holding vast tracts of space where nobody else but Russians want to be, then you might just have more ISK than is good for the game as a whole.

The majority of people in EVE do their grinding, ratting, spreadsheet wizardry and logistic drudgery, and guess what: They are still enjoying themselves.

The ones who seriously dedicate themselves to PVP-only, try their best to make income from that (like pirates and ninja griefers), or they simply buy GTCs to finance their habit.

If the nullsec powers need to give up space, well maybe some dedicated people who want to start a new alliance out there can actually take it over. Listen to any of the latest few Lost in EVE episodes and you can hear how impossible that is now, even for the most ambitious startups.

At the end of the day it is not that highsec is so safe and so lucrative why players do not come to nullsec. It is because the big powerblocs have made it impossible for anyone to set up shop there.

As a sidenote, I would propose one major change to highsec: Incursion systems should have no CONCORD response. Not only would that make things more fun, it would also make one of the major ISK faucets of highsec space less easy to exploit. In addition to that, it would also make sense. I always considered it odd, that CONCORD would punish a capsuleer who shoots another, but they would completely ignore that fleet of cyberzombies who intend to abduct the populations of whole planets to add them to their ranks.

During an Incursion, capsuleers should be able to kill eachother freely. There would still be a sec hit and a GCC and all that, but no CONCORD.

Now back to the subject.

The ironic thing is, the major nullsec powers are the most attractive thing about EVE for the potential players on the outside. They create great videos and emergent gameplay that makes the general gaming news. At the same time, they are what makes people quit in frustration once they learn that you can not be part of anything that great without being a member of some special language community, a particular online community or by renting space or submitting in another way to a bigger power.

Sure there are ways to 'make a living' in EVE that are exciting and engaging, just not out in sov nullsec if you do not fulfill any of the above criteria.

If you want to experience what CCP videos like 'The Butterfly Effect' or 'I was there' advertise, you will find yourself realizing that the reality of the game is unfortunately much more stultified.

Things like in those trailers should be possible, though. The bold and the ambitious should have their chance to make it without having to bow and scrape before people who just put TCUs everywhere because they simply have the numbers and the ISK to do so.

There are people within the big powerbloc player-communities who actually are for measures that would be detrimental to their position. I hope CCP has the presence of mind to listen to them rather than the inevitable masses who will rage on the forums.

If CCP has that presence of mind, I hope even more, that they will introduce measures which make it easier for small alliances to establish themselves and harder for the bigger ones to stay as big as they are. Otherwise, things will become even worse.

For my part, I am happy with living in WH space. I like my little frontier village.

Still I think that nullsec needs to be opened up more for newer players to be able to achieve something.

25 Sep 2012

OOC Entry 45 - Yet another metagaming tool?

It is now almost two months since that new EVE Online website  was launched.

You know, the one named after a guy from an alliance that has something to do with bees.

Since then, the site has been lauded by some, and discussed critically by others. It has put out a reliable amount of content every day and managed to attract a lot of attention.

I found myself reading a lot of the material on there, just as I would read material on Evenews24. I am not a huge fan or a participant in what is mostly a nullsec oriented player community, and that's where both sides draw most of their writers and probably their readership from. I do - however - enjoy reading what is going on in-game and I like to analyse the more obscure aspects of either news outlet when it comes to the metagame.


In this post, I will take a critical look at our most recent community site from that viewpoint.

Media Missile Launched

The launch of TheMittani.com was first-and-foremost accompanied by an all-out attack against Evenews24 in general and it's editor-in-chief Riverini specifically. The introduction post on the new website dedicates a whole section of no less than three paragraphs to nothing but self-aggrandizing and implicit EN24 bashing.

The man who is "the brand" that gives the site it's name is never short of words when it comes to explaining how badly Riverini is running his ship, how terrible the content of EN24 is, that Riverini can't use the English language properly and how horrible the comments on EN24 are.

The new site also rather quickly managed to recruit Riverini's main contributor, Bagehi, away from EN24.

According to Mr. M. himself that was so easily done because Riverini treated the man really badly. On the other hand, Bagehi is a member of TEST and therefore the Goonswarm-lead initiative of another news site was definitely closer to home for him. Even if Riverini would treat Bagehi decently (which I can neither confirm or deny) his switching of camps would probably only have been a matter of time.

Now, I myself am not a friend of Riverini or EN24.

The man himself is often ridiculous - Defending Incarna because it allows you to look at hot girls in underwear was just one of the many low points. The anti-anything-CFC or HBC bias was also mostly annoying and the comments were horrible and cringeworthy like most stuff usually is when it's written by men who lose many of their higher brain functions as soon as you present them with an opportunity to comment on things online.

Still, a news site that celebrates it's inception with all the smugness and assumed superiority that is so characteristic of it's namesake should be above such petty bashing as far as I am concerned.

Except of course, if that was part of the idea behind it.

Content Competition

In his most recent interview on Lost in Conversation (linked above) Mittani himself criticizes EN24 for being mainly syndicated content. Now I myself do not find that to be a drawback at all. In fact, the syndicated pieces were what I mostly read from EN24. For me it's way more convenient to find them there than to check up on all the blogs or maintain a daunting RSS feed list.

Our friendly beekeeper also immediately takes the opportunity on the Lost in Conversation interview to sound off rather dismissively about the blogs and podcasts that are syndicated through EN24. Of course the man is smart enough to know that Bringing Solo Back, Jesters Trek, Crossing Zebras etc. are not actually that bad. He could (and maybe does) know, however, that he will generate an impression that they are somehow of lower quality because they are featured on EN24, and in this way possibly weaken their willingness to be associated with the site.

It is a fact, that the self generated content on EN24 has diminished. The new content provider also regularly beats EN24 to the pot when it comes to actual news. Of course that is not so difficult when you have a significant superiority in numbers of editors and staff.

When it comes to content on mittani.com, the first few weeks were actually quite impressive. Personally I do not see that as such a great achievement though. With the largest single in-game community (i.e. CFC+HBC) to draw upon for possibly contributors, it would have been almost impossible to not find a dozen or more good writers. Despite the outwardly projected image of those coalitions, they do include quite a few sensible individuals who are not complete sociopaths.

I have to grant the site's staff, that they did try and attract contributors who are from "the opposition", but then again, so did Riverini when he initially recruited Bagehi.

Another thing that the new site prides itself on, is the generally higher level of the comments.

Again, this is a non-achievement when considering the background: Goons have a culture of not messing with each other internally while they are free to trash everything and anything around them. Of course all those GSF members who write comments will be all civilized when commenting on a site named after their dear leader and run by their community members. The same does not apply when it comes to EN24 where they have free reign and also know that they are trolling and trashing a site run by someone who is not only not one of them, but even someone who opposes them openly.

GSF Tactics?

In warfare, the GSF famously uses blob tactics where they dominate timezones with massive fleets, very quickly cut through all the timers of the sov system and rush over their opponents Blitzkrieg style. The last time we saw this happen was the combined CFC/HBC campaign in the south.

When it comes to maintaining the position, they often do not fare so well. The TEST controlled south is now a pretty unstable thing, and the last time the GSF controlled a truly large empire it imploded under it's own weight and they have now wisely relegated themselves to one region only with a lot of allies around them.

The development of content on themittani.com shows similar signs of degradation. The most glaring example of this is the wall-of-text conspiracy theory of James 315 (the link is only part one, I dare you to read part two and part three if you have a lot of free time and a high tolerance level). This piece is worse than the most horrible tinfoil-hat crazyness Riverini ever came up with. Also, pieces have crept in that are of less than stellar quality: Non-news like some stupidly fit ship that got killed (Riverini has regularly been criticized - correctly - for posting such things) and recently articles with promising or sensational titles which sadly fail to fulfil their great promise have become more frequent .

Are the editors of themittani.com really that desperate to prove that they can produce content at a breakneck pace that EN24 can never match, or have they already decided that it's "Mission Accomplished" when it comes to discrediting EN24?

Be that as it may. I would say, if they are really dedicated to the high standard they have set for themselves, and if they really want to be better than EN24, then a bit more editorial discretion might be a good thing.

In Conclusion

I like the fact that there is a great-looking additional news-site for EVE Online that sets a high standard for itself. For a large part I have found good content there too, and they even have interesting book reviews (yes book reviews on a site about online gaming, who would have thought).

I can not help myself though: Something seems odd.

It just has too much of that typical GSF metagaming all over it, and Mr Mittens with his derisive comments and smugly superiour attitude doesn't help at all with making that feeling go away.

It may be, that "The Mittani" is a great recognizable brand, but it is also a tainted one. Personally my first reaction to the site's appearance was that it will very likely be pretty horrible because of that taint. So far I admit that it has been better than I expected, but I am still far away from "trusting" it. I am certainly not going to gush about how wonderful and great it is, like Jade did on Lost in Conversation.

If the site loses it's childish "we are better than EN24" attitude, and if it manages to separate itself from the larger-than-life in-game image of the character it is named after, if it proves that it was not just a metagaming tool, it could have a future as a really respectable content provider of the Eve Online community.

I very much hope that my paranoid feelings are all wrong and the latter is true.

21 Sep 2012

What once was lost - Part 1



Hegomir Torstan looked out over the ocean from the black slate terrace of his hillside residence. A good third of Eram's large red sun still loomed over the horizon. It's light made the gently rolling sea look like molten copper. Hegomir shivered slightly as a cool breeze wafted up the hill from the wetland forests that skirted the beach further below. Despite it's size, this system's bloated sun was comparatively cold. Although the second planet orbited less than an astronomical unit from the star, it only just received enough warmth for human habitation, but the immense oceans that covered nearly ninety percent of the small world's surface had proven very suitable for a diverse range of cold-water species.

The calm-faced Sebiestor took a sip from the cup of spiced coffee he had been holding in his hand, savouring the heat as it infused him. His narrow lips smacked slightly as his senses dwelt on the taste for a few moments. For a man his age, the fine features of his face showed remarkably few wrinkles. Only the carefully coiffed white hair clearly indicated that Hegomir was a man past his prime. Least of all, his glinting eyes – lively and awake despite his overall calm appearance – looked like they belonged to an old man.

A subtle chime behind his back tore the Sebiestor man's gaze away from the idyllic scenery that lay below the slope he dwelt on. As he turned to head back inside, he noticed that the sky had already become the deep violet shade of nightfall above his house, but the crimson light of dusk and it's reflection off the sea, was still mirrored in the smoky glass separating his living-room from the terrace outside.

He entered the tastefully decorated room with it's sunken circular seating arrangement and activated the holoprojector of his home-system with a voice command.

The narrow-boned face of his personal secretary materialised in the room, bathed in dim red light.

Like most employees of Eyfir & Co she was of Krusual descent. Her hair was shaved, so only a broad strip remained, running along her skull's centre-line. The dilapidated sides of her head were covered in swirling tattoos after the Krusual tribe's fashion.

'What is so important that you have to call me in my free time Ffeifra?' Hegomir demanded brusquely.

Despite the corporation's preference for Krusual employees, he had managed to achieve a high status within it's ranks. Not only because of his technical genius and innovative thinking, but also by being a ruthless and uncompromising player when it came to corporate politics. It was part of that game to make both his superiours, his peers and his subordinates aware of the fact that he should not be bothered with trivial matters.

'Savant, excuse my interruption.' Hegomir immediately heard from her tone that this must indeed be an important matter. 'We have received a message from Republic Security Services.' she paused as if to see what his reaction would be. The Sebiestor scientist remained calm and composed though, as if that hardly mattered at all. 'It is from Internal Security Commander Uinkin Hrul himself.' she added for emphasis.

'So what does he want? Another checkup on his agent's implant systems?' Hegomir asked dismissively and sipped from his coffee.

'Savant.' Hegomir's secretary began after shaking her head and swallowing. 'One of their spies has found Halis Ettin.'

This did cause a reaction with the self-absorbed man. 'The commander of the Project Turncoat mission?' Hegomir asked rhetorically with widened eyes and put his cup down on a side-table. 'I will prepare to travel at once!' he exclaimed and rushed for the door leading to the front rooms of the house.

'It wont be necessary Savant.' his secretary called after him. 'They have already dispatched an aircraft to retrieve you.'

Her words were swallowed by the howl of a small vector-thrust vehicle that touched down on the patio in front of Savant Torstan's house.

***

'Really, if anyone would have told me that this would happen a month ago, I would have laughed in their face.' Keram said as he allowed himself to sink down into Alira's embrace. Exhausted after he had spent himself, he rested his face against her neck.

'Yeah, I always hated you.' The Matari woman whispered into his ear with a satisfied smile on her face.

He pushed himself up and looked down at her with a serious expression. 'It's not like that. Everyone knew you had the hots for Cedrien.'

'What?!' Alira's narrow eyebrows drew together. If her face were not already flushed with the afterglow of their intercourse, her cheeks would have reddened noticeably.

'Can't blame you.' Keram said with a grin. 'If I were a girl, or he would swing a different way, I'd have tried to get in bed with the commander as well. Helps you get ahead in life' He yelped when she gave him a hard slap on his naked ass in response.

'Don't say such things!' Alira shouted with more playfulness than real anger.

'Or else?' Keram asked and provocatively narrowed his eyes.

'Or else I'll have to make you do me again.' she responded with a challenging smile, wrapped her legs around him, and began to contract herself around his girth down below.

'That is not a good way to make me stop.' He growled back at her and Alira felt him twitch against her insides.

'Who said anything about stopping?' she purred and grabbed a handful of his dark hair to pull him down for a deep kiss.

Just when he began to grind against her in a most delightful way, an alarm signal wrested them out of a world where they enjoyed eachother's bodies and into the cold and stark reality of the Caldari designed station quarters they occupied.

Keram muttered a guttural curse in Amarrian that sounded grievously blasphemous even if one didn't understand the words, and hit the voice-only transmission on the neocom next to the bed.

'What is it now?' he hissed.

'Come to briefing room six immediately.' It was Cedrien's voice and Keram cringed. 'Damn, did I just jump at the boss?' he inwardly cursed.

The Gallente commander didn't betray any reaction other than urgency from his tone, though. 'Bring Alira.' he ordered and terminated the connection leaving the Amarrian wondering how Cedrien would know that the Matari engineer was with him.

Alira made a sour face as Keram rolled off her and left her empty. 'What can be happening at that time, with our only exit mass-critical and on the verge of collapse?' she moaned.

'Do you think I can read his mind?' Keram shrugged while he looked for his underwear among the discarded clothes strewn around the bed. 'But I don't have to be Sandrielle to recognise that there's something going on when he gets that tone.' He paused and looked at the lean woman still lying in his bed. '… and usually that something is not a good something.' he added and tossed her top at her when he found it on the floor.

'I guess we better be fast.' Keram urged her on as he pulled up his briefs.

Alira slammed her head against the pillow once and groaned. Then she got up and started collecting her clothes.

What once was lost - Part 2



When Alira and Keram entered the meeting room Cedrien had called them to, they found their commander in the company of Sandrielle who was just closing a fluid router link embedded into the long brushed-metal conference table. Clearly the Gallente woman had also been called from her sleep. Her hair was uncombed and she wore a simple billowing white blouse of a light fabric together with equally loose pantaloons matching the light gray of her soft slippers.

Cedrien himself looked wide awake wearing his normal 'on duty' clothes comprised of a faded pair of Federal Navy trousers, a simple black form-fitting shirt and a heavy reinforced-weave jacket. He was pacing restlessly at the far end of the room, stroking his beard and frowning worriedly. He stopped when the two capsuleers entered.

'There you are, please sit.' he motioned at two seats across the table from Sandrielle.

Keram slumped into one of the chairs. 'Ok, what is so important at this hour?' he moaned. 'More religious fanatics? Another mercenary fleet? Or have the creators of the Sleepers finally made an appearance?'

Alira did her best to hide a smile when Cedrien looked with annoyance at the Amarrian. She sat down next to Keram and rested her chin in her hands, looking at their leader expectantly. The former military man did not look like he was in the mood for witticisms at all. Whatever was going on had put him on the back foot. Alira knew that he usually only got that way when he was in the dark. Cedrien could look death in the eye if he knew it was coming, but it irritated him when there were too many unknowns in a situation.

'I have just received a number of CONCORD notifications. Several bounty hunter organizations have registered an official declaration of hostilities against Awakened Industries.' Cedrien informed them. 'I have asked Sandrielle to consult her network of informants immediately.' He gestured at the Gallente woman to cue her in.

Sandrielle nodded and began to activate the holographic display at the centre of the table with a few strokes on the table's interface. 'I have traced the origin of the bounty offer to the Minmatar Republic.' she began as five martial corporation logos materialized above the table together with brief paragraphs of information. 'I have just finished a conversation with one of my spies there.'

'Damn woman, is there anywhere where you don't have spies?' Keram muttered.

'Even in your bedroom.' Sandrielle replied with a provocative smile. Keram grimaced at her while Alira looked up to the ceiling to avoid meeting the Gallente woman's gaze.

'This is no joking matter.' Cedrien interrupted their banter. 'Continue Sandrielle.'

Again the Gallente nodded and proceeded with an earnest expression. 'My contact tells me that this seems to come from somewhere very high up. Probably Republic Security.'

'What would they want with us?' Alira asked with a puzzled frown on her face.

'It appears that they want you.' Sandrielle replied and hit another key on the interface.

Alira's mouth opened as she stared at a holographic image of herself. The offered sum was staggeringly high. Enough to be of interest for even the most well-paid capsuleers.

'The bounty is not all though.' Sandrielle continued. 'My informant tells me that Eifyr & Co has impounded all your clones.'

'What?!' Alira shouted, jumped up from her chair and slammed her palms down on the table. 'How can they do that? Capsuleer's clone contracts can only be touched when it's a matter of …' Alira paused and sat down. Realization made her angry features slacken. '… Republic Security.'

Sandrielle nodded slowly. 'That is why my contact thinks this is coming from the top.' she added.

'Well.' said Keram 'You can always have a place on the Stormchaser's tombship.' he offered unimpressed. He had lived without the possibility to have a clone at an official facility for a long time.

Cedrien shook his head 'That is beside the point.' he said. 'Someone holding a powerful position within the Matari authorities wants to take in Alira, and we do not know why.'

Alira shrugged despondently 'I have no idea what the government could want from me. I have never done anything against the Republic.' she said as she stared at the hologram of herself with the red “wanted” letters below and the flashing indicator that marked her as a criminal within the territory of the Republic. She could not believe it. Despite being a wayward drifter, she had always considered herself a loyal Minmatar at heart. All of a sudden it was as if part of what defined her identity had turned against her. She found herself thinking about Sylera. 'She must have felt even worse, dedicated to the Empire as she was before she got thrown in with us.'

'Maybe we shouldn't have fucked after all.' Keram mused. 'Sorry, I didn't know your people would take fraternization with Amarr that seriously.'

Alira blushed with embarrassment, but then she punched the former pirate on his shoulder when he burst out laughing.

Cedrien sighed and shook his head. 'I am dealing with a bunch of children.'

***

Hegomir Torstan had a serious aversion against Uinkin Hrul. True to the nature of his function, he was a conniving skulker. He lacked any form of visionary capability and only saw possible security risks where Torstan would see great potential. Hrul was of Sebiestor descent, like Torstan himself, but that was where the similarities between the two men ended. In the eyes of the ambitious engineer, Uinkin Hrul represented the antithesis of the Sebiestor ideal of innovation and creativity. All that man thought of was maintaining the status quo. It had cost months to convince Hrul of the merits of 'Project Turncoat' and even then he would only allow one isolated, covert testing mission. If Republic Security Services hadn't been so risk-averse and conservative, a bigger mission could have been fielded and it would not have failed as miserably.

Even the man's appearance was repellent. Hegomir could not look at that sickly pale rat-face with it's dark eyes gleaming with duplicity, so he did not face him but rather stood and looked out of the wide window over the city which lay glowing with copperish hues in the rapidly fading dusk.

Behind him the Republic Security Commander whined with his annoyingly high-pitched voice from the spacious desk he sat behind. 'I am aware that Halis Ettin is an employee of your corporation, but I can not allow you to see him before we have concluded his debriefing.'

Torstan pressed his lips together and clasped his hands behind his back. 'If you only want to make my life difficult and waste my time, I wonder why you have brought me here at all Security Commander.' he said calmly, yet clearly stressing his words to express his annoyance.

Uinkin Hrul got up from his office chair and walked over to stand next to the Sebiestor scientist. 'Don't worry.' he put a hand on the other man's shoulder. 'You can interview him all you like soon.'
The man tried to sound conciliatory, but Torstan could only feel indignation at his words and touch.

'He has provided us with the name of one capsuleer, and we have identified the corporation she flies with.' Hrul withdrew his hand and folded his arms. 'Eifyr & Co has been more than helpful and immediately impounded the capsuleer's clones.' He inclined his head to look at Torstan 'What I need you to do is to tell me how high the risk is that the test subject might have become compromised. Whether our enemies could know what we have done.'

Hegomir Torstan took a long breath and finally looked at the gaunt Security Commander. 'With all due respect.' His words were an empty phrase. Respect was the last thing he had for that man. 'I read the briefing report on my way here. Do you really think you can catch those people unprepared, or even find them?' he asked rhetorically. 'You must have noticed that they live in wormhole space. Your agents can not reach them there.' he added patronizingly.

'This is why we offered a bounty and had your corporation impound the clones.' Uinkin Hrul lilted, clearly satisfied with what he considered an ingenious move. 'She is a capsuleer. Eventually the reckless nature of those folks gets them killed, and then she will be in our hands.'

Savant Torstan just scoffed at him. 'Or she could just get a contract with a sovereign Caldari corporation where she would be out of your reach.' He wondered how a man with such a lack of foresight could ever have become the director of the Republic Security Service.

'Those are also not the usual capsuleers you contract to do your dirty work.' Hegomir continued 'Wormhole settlers are dangerous outlaws and among the worst of their kind.' he gestured dismissively 'Your bounty hunters will very likely end up dead if they even manage to find their quarry.'

Now it was Uinkin Hrul who began to sound annoyed 'If you know so much, maybe you can tell me then how else we should get to them?' he raised his voice and threw his arms up in anger.

Savant Torstan smiled and looked up into the darkening sky where one ember twinkled brighter than all the others. 'Indeed I can.' he replied. 'We need the help of people who have experience with wormhole systems. People who I happen to have good relations with.'

The intelligence officer followed Hegomir's gaze up and found the red dot of reflected sunlight in the orbit of their world. 'The Arek'Jalaan project?' he wondered.

'Exactly.' Hegomir replied. 'Now let me talk to my man, and in return I will get some people with real competence on the job.'

What once was lost - Part 3









In his office Hegomir Torstan browsed through the dossiers that had been generously provided by helpful contacts within the Arek'Jalaan project. He had immediately started reading the material on his shuttle flight back from the orbital facility to the Eifyr&Co tower in the capital of Eram II. Now virtual documents were arrayed all across the touch-sensitive display surface of his desk.

The collected intelligence was extensive.

Ever since the tragic mission of the Raskaan Veyden, which resulted in the loss of ship and crew together with the popular reporter Mielikki Valpuri, Arek'Jalaan staff had done their best to be prepared for further explorations. With the help of sympathetic capsuleers, contacts within various intelligence services, and even bribes for CONCORD officials, they had done their best to collect knowledge about capsuleer factions that roamed the unsettled systems of the Anoikis cluster.

On the first glance, Awakened Industries seemed no different from the usual collection of independent capsuleer thugs living out there. Lead by a renegade Gallente naval officer the small corporation included a wanted Amarr pirate, a Gallente woman of questionably obscure background, a defected Caldari scientist and of course the subject of Republic Security's bounty: Alira Tjalgard.

Torstan kept coming back to her dossier, studying the portrait.

A promising young woman it seemed. The sharp, boyish features of her face and the intensity of her eyes expressed a quick wit and strong determination. Her record with Pator Tech School was flawless in terms of achievement. There were a number of disciplinary records though, eventually resulting in her early expulsion. After that she had started working as independent capsuleer for the Thukker Tribe and later moved to the lawless space those nomads roamed. Her name appeared regularly on CONCORD records of capsuleer kills. Her losses far surpassed by engagements she managed to decide in her favour.

When Hegomir Torstan had interviewed the commander of the “Project Turncoat” mission, Halis Ettin, the man had spoken of Alira Tjalgard's ingenuity and persistence which had eventually brought him down. With a flick of his wrist, Savant Torstan sent a number of documents from his view and called back the notes he had made of the questioning session.

He pursed his lips and frowned. Ettin had suggested that this woman might have found a way to recover the subject of the “Project Turncoat” experiment. In a way that intrigued the Sebiestor engineer. It would have been no little feat to achieve. However, if that were the case, then the consequences could be dire. The subject could be with those capsuleer outlaws now, or worse, she might have ended up in the hands of the enemy.

Certain records hinted at engagements between Imperial forces and Awakened Industries. In general, this small corporation of wormhole capsuleers appeared as capable and resourceful people, and there were no records of losses they had sustained during those engagements. If the Amarrians found a way into wormhole space there would be no way of telling, though. The authority of CONCORD did not extend to those areas, and capsuleer kills that happened there were mostly not recorded.

Torstan hoped that whatever happened between Awakened Industries and the Amarr did not result in the loss of the subject to the Empire. It would be better if she were dead than in Amarrian hands.

He leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers. With half lowered lids he looked out over the cityscape bathed in red sunlight, thinking of ways how he could get to those people. On an impulse he leaned forward again and called back all the capsuleer dossiers with a gesture. Then he retrieved a stack of project reports he had collected from the public Arek'Jalaan databases. Quickly he flipped through page after page with short taps on his desk's interactive surface.

There it was. He called up a communications line to his secretary using the desk's embedded neocom.
'Ffeifra, get me a link with Kellis Shaharod of Arek'Jalaan.'

'The man you met with yesterday?' the young woman asked unnecessarily.

Torstan rolled his eyes and shook his head slowly. 'Of course! Or is there another one?'

'Immediately Savant Torstan.' Ffeifra replied sheepishly.

'And Ffeifra.' Torstan added 'Send someone to bring me coffee.'

***

Torstan was sipping from his spiced coffee, prepared just as he liked it, and drifted his gaze over the metallic spires outside when his desk-neocom chimed.

'Savant Torstan, I have Kellis Shaharod for you.' Ffeifra announced with satisfaction.

Hegomir did not bother to thank her. It was her job to do just that, after all. 'Link him through.' he ordered curtly.

He had to grant it to that generally oblivious Krusual girl that she was good at making appointments happen quickly. That, and her abilities to keep his less than interesting business relations in order, was the only reason he still kept her around. His last secretary had been a woman as eager to make an impression as she had been incapable of making one. Ffeifra, at least, did not have any sort of ambition to go beyond what she was needed for, and in the mundane world she worked in, she excelled in her own meaningless way.

'Savant Torstan.' the elderly Vherokior scientist of Arek'Jalaan greeted when his holographic portrait materialized above the desk. 'Did you still have any questions about the data we provided?'

'I did, in fact.' Torstan replied calmly and set down his cup. 'I saw that you had several contributions to your project files by a man called Shisei Kanioota.' he began 'Incidentally he is also a member of the small capsuleer corporation I have been asking you about. Do you think you could get me in contact with that man?'

Kellis Shaharod nodded eagerly. 'Kanioota, yes, he was very helpful. Submitted a few very interesting results.' the man opened. 'As a matter of fact we are expecting a visit from him. He promised us a few specimens of Sleeper technology.'

Hegomir Torstan smiled and nodded. 'Very good. Do you think you could arrange a meeting between us?'

'Well, certainly.' Shaharod replied. 'Although, he told me he might be a bit delayed due to some inconvenience.' Torstan sighed inwardly, knowing exactly what kind of inconvenience that would be. '… but I will let you know immediately when he is due to arrive.' the other man promised 'I am sure he would like to meet you.'

'So would I.' Torstan said slowly. Returning his full attention to the Vherokior he quickly added 'Shaharod, may I ask you to keep this meeting as discreet as possible.'

Kellis Sharrod smiled softly 'We are dealing with independent capsuleers a lot. We always keep things discreet.' he confirmed implicitly.

Hegomir Torstan nodded thankfully at the other man before he disconnected. 'I will have to make sure Hrul and his henchmen don't get in the way.' he thought with a determined frown.

***

Keram yelled triumphantly on the combat frequency when his pulse lasers burned through the structural integrity of the Hurricane class battlecruiser. The dagger-shaped vessel came apart along it's central axis in an explosion of superheated gas and molten metal.

The Amarrian willed the heavily armoured hull of his Legion cruiser to turn and engage the battleship that had waited for them at the gate. His peripheral awareness registered the flight of Gallente designed combat drones screaming past him toward the target.

Broadening his awareness Keram saw how Cedrien's Myrmidon banked sharply as he aligned it towards their last opponent. Tilted like that, the ship's vertical design looked like a massive flying wing torn off some larger craft.

They had been in need of products only obtainable from the markets of New Eden: Ice isotopes.

With six different bounty-hunter posses committed to catching them, the chances were high that any one of them might trace and intercept them on the way to Rens. The closest market hub to their current wormhole exit. Alira had raged at not being allowed to come. Concerned about her impounded clones, Cedrien had ordered her to stay. She reacted like a sulking little girl who had been sent to her room. Any attempt of Keram to make her feel better through jokes, diversion, even sexual attention, were thrown back into his face with hissing annoyance.

That woman really didn't like being told to stay put, and he could absolutely understand it. It was one of the things he loved about her,.

So it had fallen to him and Cedrien to escort Shisei in his massive industrial command ship. It's holds were crammed full of advanced Sleeper components to sell and make room for the essentials they needed to keep their stations up and running. As they had expected, a gang of bounty-hunters waylaid them.

The Stray Dogs were notorious and feared throughout the four nations of New Eden, but their engagement strategy was geared towards fighting petty criminals and their tactics relied on facing opponents who were much less experienced in small engagements.

Shisei had used electronic warfare drones to disable their systems while presenting a tempting large target. Keram had his modular ship outfitted to take heavy punishment and to reciprocate equally. The battlecruiser Cedrien flew was an unorthodox configuration with multiple capacitor-booster fed repair systems and using a newly developed technology that sent bursts of energized particles to his drone wing – amplifying their damage considerably. It was designed to engage overwhelming forces.

Their opponents had soon lost their small support frigates and cruisers to the superiour tactics the wormhole pilots employed. Their Minmatar designed Hurricane battlecruiser had just been overcome, and now the two Awakened Industries combat ships bore down on the menacing shape of a Megathron class battleship.

Their antagonist was a capsuleer too, so he reacted with a speed and precision no base-line crew could achieve with a ship that size. Nevertheless, he had lost his support and he was now faced with a decision whether to keep attacking the Orca industry vessel that showed signs of becoming unable to resist his relentless attacks, or to concentrate on the two more dangerous ships that began to target him.

In the end, even the powerful pod-pilots were just human. If anything, the illusion of immortality stunted their instinct for self-preservation. Sometimes that was a factor which made them take decisions against better judgment. After all they would just wake up in a clone if they failed.

For the wormhole pilots, there was at least the conditioned realization that their death would result in a tedious journey back from the cloning facilities of New Eden. That and the constraint that crews were not readily available from a vast recruitment pool. Out here in empire space, there was a multitude of greedy or desperate people who would sign up on a capsuleer ship. The pod pilots generally offered large sums to compensate for the high risks they took regularly. A few tours could be enough for a crewman to feed a whole family for a year.

In wormhole space, that luxury was not available. Only the most adventurous or uprooted individuals would take the step into the great unknown, far away from their homes. As such, the pilots of Awakened Industries fought harder and with tactics more suited to keeping their ships intact and crews alive.

Keram swung his ship into an orbit around the massive emerald shape of his opponent. The heavy blasters of the Megathron tore at his armour, but his vessel had been configured to weather such destructive force. Streams of repair nanites held up in the race against the antimatter charges that were flung against his ship. They felt like a soothing prickle, subduing the pain impulses of the impacts.

Shisei replenished his shields in the moments of respite he had been granted. Keram registered that he sent a flight of electronic attack drones against the enemy battleship again.

Passing ships at the jumpgate to Rens watched the dance of destruction unfold, and the Minmatar navy stood idly by. After all, this engagement was protected by CONCORD regulations, and – unknown to the wormhole pilots - the commanders of the Matari ships had been told to stand down by authorities they would not disobey. The capsuleers of Awakened Industries were flagged as criminals, but someone up high had a vested interest in allowing them to pass without interference.

Cedrien's drones now swarmed around the enemy ship and he came into range to engage it with his projectile weapons. It was not a common thing to fit a Gallente ship with the Minmatar weapon systems he used, and that resulted in an element of surprise. The opponent had not been prepared for something like that, and the defenses of his ship were not accounting for it. Even less for the combination of electronic warfare and heavy energy weapons on top of that.

Cedrien sent a devastating barrage of highly destructive shells into the massive battleship hull while Keram's energy turrets sliced through it's defenses like industrial cutting tools. Eventually the combined efforts of the three capsuleers brought down the last of the Stray Dogs.

They left the battleship's burning carcass behind as it shed escape pods like fleas jumping off a dying beast.


While they were going to be docked for business, there would be time for Shisei to attend to a visit he had planned.

A representative of the Arek'Jalaan initiative had requested a meeting to discuss some research with him. An opportunity the Caldari scientist would loathe to miss.

With the bounty hunters off their back for now, there could hardly be any trouble coming from that.

What once was lost - Part 4

 
The Arek'Jalaan research facility in the orbit of Eram II was a monument to the human thirst for knowledge. A soaring tower ripped from it's foundations and set among the very stars it's builders would reach for. Site-One, as it was humbly called, thrust out into the red-lit depths of the local solar system as if it wanted to point the way toward the unknown regions it's project staff were dedicating their research to: The Anoikis Cluster. Wormhole Space as it was more commonly known.

The array of smaller constructions floating in space next to the mighty edifice contained the most revolutionary collection of knowledge gathered by humanity within at least a century. Together those space-born buildings formed a treasure trove of data, artifacts and technology that could rival some universities and was certainly unsurpassed in it's chosen field. Nowhere in new Eden could one find more on the greatest enigma of this galaxy. A mystery that, if solved, promised both answers about humanity's past before the Dark Age and at the same time about the most provoking question of them all: Is there intelligent Alien life?

Hegomir Torstan regretted only one thing as his shuttle - shining in the giant sun's red light like an insect made of glass and glowing metal - approached the tall structure: That it had not been his initiative leading to the creation of this unique endeavor.

He still vividly remembered the days when Hilen Tukoss had asked for asylum after his defection from the corporate empire of Ishukone. Hegomir was among the leading scientists who had been invited to hear the renegade present his research to Eifyr&Co for the first time. He would not have expected a Caldari to be capable of such visionary thought. Usually they tended to be too pragmatic and obsessed with quick-to-market applications to ever bother with deep research and the quest for greater knowledge.

Hegomir also recalled how he had been disturbed by the man's appearance. For once it was not the great Savant Torstan everybody was listening to with fascination, but a Caldari defector who came with the groundbreaking ideas. The fact that Tukoss was at least ten years younger and more energetic did not help either.

Not only was Tukoss a man of brilliant intellect, he was also a charismatic figure who managed to gain the voluntary support of dozens of capsuleer idealists – if such a thing even existed. They helped his escape, donated generously to the construction of his facility and were supplying him with research material that would place any normal exploration crew at the highest risk. Eifyr&Co basically just had to take care of the bureaucratic formalities to wave through Tukoss' asylum petition.

For the first time in his life, Hegomir Torstan had felt like only the second best at what he did, and for the first time he had known jealousy. That feeling returned to him every time he looked upon Site-One, but this time the feeling was tempered by excitement as his small craft approached the docking bay.

This time Hilen Tukoss was gone. Probably vanished on one of his expeditions, or maybe finally apprehended by the Caldari State and his former corporate masters. Without his leadership the support for the Arek'Jalaan initiative had dwindled among the upper echelons of Eifyr&Co, and it was Hegomir Torstan again who was unrivaled as the corporation's best scientist.

His excitement, however, did not come from that knowledge. He was – after all – not that egocentric. It still meant the loss of a great man, even if he was a rival.

What really made him feel so stimulated while he emerged from the ship as soon as it had landed, was the prospect that he would meet an actual wormhole capsuleer today, and not only that. He would also prove that he was not only a scientific genius, but had the cunning to operate in the field of secret services too. He would gain first-hand insights into a world he knew only from publications, and he would prove his value to the Republic as a whole.

Confidently he approached the express elevator that would take him to that momentous encounter, flanked by two of his most trusted corporate guards. Today he would open a new chapter in the story of his life.

***

'Allow me to to introduce Shisei Kanioota of Awakened Industries and his head researcher Magalie Setadrelle.' Kellis Shaharod said with a formal tone as he gestured at the two visitors awaiting Hegomir in the aged research director's personal reception lounge.

Kanioota was of Achura descent. His head shaved bald and his small frame clad in a light gray suit of a simple and loose-fitting yet refined cut. His narrow eyes expressed a calm intelligence and he smiles faintly as he bowed. 'Savant Torstan, I have heard much about you.' the Achura greeted him. 'It is an honour to have to opportunity to meet you in person.'

Hegomir returned the smile and the bow. 'My colleague Kellis Shaharod here has told me many good things of your valuable contributions to the Arek'Jalaan research.' the Sebiestor scientist replied. 'I would be thrilled to discuss some of it with you.'

'Let us sit.' Shaharod offered and they all settled down in cushioned seats arranged around a low oval table where fragrant spiced coffee steamed in a tasteful traditional metal pot on a serving tray. The tray, the coffeepot and the matching cups were hand-wrought and decorated with the spiraling geometries of ancient Matari design.

As was the custom for the host, Kellis Shaharod poured the bitter brew slowly into four cups and served the guests before himself. Hegomir only now spared the time to look at the woman who had come with Kanioota. Unlike him she was Gallente. She had the characteristic soft features of that race but small wrinkles around her eyes and mouth showed her age. Hegomir assumed she would not be much younger than he himself. Her shoulder length straight hair was silvery gray and must once have been auburn. She wore an understated three-piece arrangement of dark charcoal over a white blouse with a high collar.

Neither she nor the Caldari Scientist himself looked at all threatening. He had expected battle hardened capsuleer veterans with no manners, but those two looked more at home here than at the helm of a warship. Hegomir was certain that the men he had brought with him and who stood in attendance at the door would have no trouble at all dealing with them.

Neither the Caldari capsuleer nor his assistant showed any sign of suspicion as the conversation began and turned towards subjects like the nature of Sleeper Drones, artificial neuro-networks, implant technology and the enigmas of wormhole space. Hegomir noticed that he enjoyed the exchange greatly. While the Gallente woman did not speak much and left most of the talking to her capsuleer superiour, Kanioota was a pleasantly calm-mannered man of obvious mental capacity. Despite remaining modest and professionally reserved as was the usual case with the Achura, it became clear that Kanioota was a man of profound learning and highly developed philosophy.

It was a shame that Hegomir had to betray him, but there was more at stake here.

'May I ask you.' Hegomir began after an explanation of how the mechanics of wormholes allowed travel between Anoikis and New Eden. '… what did you think of the results of my research on live capsuleers?'

Kanioota raised an eyebrow and inclined his head. 'I do not quite understand.' he replied defensively cautious.

'Well.' Hegomir leaned back and folded his arms. 'It has come to my knowledge that you have something which is mine. The modifications of the capsule control implants of a young Amarrian woman to be precise.' He let the words sink in. His two bodyguards moved on cue and approached the seating arrangement slowly.'What is your professional opinion, I wonder?'

A glance passed between the Achura scientist and his Gallente assistant. Hegomir heard the heavy footfalls of his two men from behind and he smiled calmly. His smile even lingered through the events of the next seconds while his brain raced to process them.

The Gallente woman twisted and spun from her seat at a speed that should be impossible for someone of her age. The clatter of the coffeepot and a flash of metal followed as she threw the serving tablet at one of Hegomir's approaching men, hitting him in the throat. The second guard drew his weapon while his companion collapsed, uttering a choking rattle.

Hegomir stopped smiling.

Without breaking her whirling movement, that woman appeared next to Torstan and wrenched him from his seat with shocking ease, expertly using the force of her own inertia. They ended up standing, Hegomir held before her like a shield, just as the second guard released two shots from his stunner. The charged projectiles impacted on the Sebiestor engineer's chest and sent destructive electric interferences through his nervous system immediately. He slumped against the Gallente unconsciously.

'What is this?!' Kellis Shaharod screamed and jumped out of his chair.

'It is called an abduction.' The gray haired woman replied with a soft smile.

'Drop your weapon or Torstan dies.' she addressed the guard still standing there with his gun aimed at her. She held the unconscious man's head in a grip that looked like it would take just a quick wrench to break his neck.

Quickly the guard nodded and slowly put his stunner on the ground. Incomprehension was all over his face.

Shisei Kanioota got up from his chair and shook his head slowly as if disappointed.

'You were right Sandrielle, it was a trap.'

What once was lost - Part 5



'You will never get past security.' Kellis Shaharod protested after Shisei shot down the second guard using the man's own stunner gun he had picked up from the floor.

Sandrielle nodded at the elderly Matari research director with a smile that drew creases on her disguised face. 'I fully agree with you.' she concurred and looked at Shisei. 'What is the status of Hysteria?' she wondered.

The Achura scientist looked at the neocom on his wrist. 'Hysteria is ready to launch.' he announced after tapping the surface a few times to retrieve a set of readings.

'Shall we?' Sandrielle inclined her head invitingly.

Shisei nodded and hit the execute on his portable device.

Immediately alarm sirens went off and the ambient lighting changed to a pulsating red.

'Emergency evacuation protocol is now in effect for levels sixty-five to sixty-seven.' A calm but commanding female voice announced. 'All personnel proceed to escape tubes immediately.' the voice continued between the wails of the alarm. 'This is not a drill.'

A wide portion of the wall paneling slid apart in multiple segments to reveal a row of round tubes which opened in turn with a low hiss. Red arrows flashed on the floor to point the way towards the escape from an acute disaster which only existed in the artificial mind of the station's computer system.

'The comfort of executive lounges.' Shisei commented dryly. 'Always an escape route nearby.'

'Cedrien, do you read us?' Sandrielle thought-transmitted through her communication implant.

'Loud and clear.' the Gallente commander responded on an encrypted channel that directly induced Sandrielle's nerves to create the illusion of speech. 'I am locked on to your transmission and ready to receive you.'

Sandrielle nodded at her Caldari companion. 'Cedrien is in position. We should leave.'

'Research Director Shaharod.' Shisei turned to look at the gray-haired man after he had helped Sandrielle to hoist up the limp body of Hegomir Torstan. 'I want you to know that I very much enjoyed our conversation and all previous ones.'

He bowed his head once at the other man 'I hope you will forgive me one day for this betrayal.' Then the two wormhole capsuleers dragged their captive over to an escape tube and carefully slid him in before they each entered one themselves.

Seconds later three escape pods hurtled from Site-One's spire among a swarm of similar projectiles. Space fluctuated in their path and the smooth curves of a Proteus class strategic cruiser emerged from invisibility. A tractor beam lanced out and took hold of the three slender shapes to quickly drag them into the cargo hold of the organically rounded gray-green hull.

Before the captains patrolling around the science installation in their sentinel frigates even registered what had happened. the ship vanished from sight again.

Kellis Shaharod remained standing in his lounge for a few moments. Confounded by the events, he was not sure how he should react. The alarm was obviously false, but part of him still wondered whether he should enter an escape tube anyway.

Finally he shook his head to dispel the confusion that had taken hold of his mind and he called security.

It was an empty gesture. He knew it would be already too late.

***

Sandrielle's face still itched with the aftereffects of the reconstructing makeup she had worn for several hours. Normally older women would use that sort of enzyme cream to appear younger. She had to thank Shisei's bioengineering stuff for re-manufacturing it in ways that made it do the opposite. The process did unexpected side-effects, though, making her skin feel raw and irritated. Fortunately her highly developed discipline had prevented her from reflexively rubbing her face during all that time.

'So that was you there on the station?' Hegomir Torstan asked rhetorically while gazing out into the star-spangled distance.

'I could not let my companion walk into your little trap all by himself.' the Gallente woman replied while looking at the scientist facing away from her. She put the annoying pricks on her face out of her mind while leaning back in her chair which formed part of the comfortable arrangement in the observation lounge of Cedrien's ship.

Savant Torstan had his hands clasped tightly behind his back which exaggerated the waistline of his russet coloured overcoat. For the rest he seemed relaxed, standing there in front of the large panoramic window. His face was reflected in the tinted transparex. Enough for Sandrielle to read and interpret his expression. On his calm and dignified features she could see that he had come to terms with his defeat.

'Will you kill me now?' he wondered from his position before the starfield that wavered slightly with the distortion effect of the ship's cloak.

'If that would have been our purpose, you would not be standing there.' Sandrielle replied matter-of-factly.

'So what do you want with me.' Torstan turned and looked at her with the annoyance of a man who had been disturbed by an inconvenient request.

'There is someone who requires your services.' Sandrielle replied. 'Your test subject.'

'She is alive?!' Hegomir raised his eyebrows and his pupils widened, indicating surprise but also worried concern. Sandrielle knew it was not about Sylera but about the possibility that his secret project might become known.

She nodded slowly. 'And very much burdened by what you have done to her.' she added reproachfully.

'So she has not returned to the Amarrians?' the Sebiestor scientist sounded momentarily relieved.

'Well.' Sandrielle got up from the form-fitting chair and approached the man. 'We were going to return her to her own kind' she looked into Torstan's eyes. 'But they were more interested in what you had done with her capsule control system than anything else. She has no home to go back to now.'

Torstan waved dismissively and stepped away from her to turn and look back out again. 'Forgive me for not losing any sleep over the fate of an Amarrian who enslaved and murdered my people.' he then faced the Gallente woman with grim determination in his eyes. 'I used my talents to serve the Republic.' he emphasized each word individually. 'You would have done the same if you had been in my position.'

'Indeed I would have.' Sandrielle admitted readily and held the man's gaze. 'And it is exactly that which I want you to understand very clearly.' she added slowly. 'You must understand that I consider Sylera one of my companions, and – like you – I am prepared to go very far to protect them.' she closed and poured all the necessary menace into the statement.

Hegomir Torstan swallowed and nodded. 'I understand.' he answered quietly. 'So if I help her, you will let me return home?'

Sandrielle displayed her palms in an open gesture. 'That depends entirely on you.'

The Matari scientist stroked his chin and contemplated the statement for some time. 'This technician of yours, Alira Tjalgard, will I be working with her?' he finally asked.

Sandrielle smiled subtly. She could see the old man's fascination with the young, unconventional and creative firebrand. Very likely Alira reminded him of his younger self. 'She would be the first choice.' Sandrielle confirmed.

'That sounds acceptable.' Savant Torstan replied with satisfaction.

'We shall see.' Sandrielle replied ambivalently and prepared to leave. 'You can move freely in all non-restricted areas of the ship.' she informed the man. 'Don't forget that this vessel is under capsuleer control. Whatever the security systems register will be known immediately to captain Roucellis and there will be no tolerance in case you attempt anything.'

'Of course.' Torstan replied flatly.

After Sandrielle had left, he contemplated his situation while outside the view collapsed into a streaked vortex as the ship entered warp.

It did not even look that bad: He would be able to see the results of his work. He would meet that young woman who had broken through his protocols. Someone possibly even worthy of his knowledge.

He would see wormhole space.

A real adventure that would add to the fame and unique character of Savant Hegomir Torstan.

He could not help but smile.