N1231’s Rifter class frigate, Sunray, cruised silently through the empty space, in an arbitrary spot between the fifth and sixth planets of the Hevrice star system. The scoping arrays on the powerful, high-tech, 200mm Automatic Cannons- often colloquially known as ‘AutoCannons’- mounted on the frigate, glowed orange-red, like angry eyes in the blackness of interplanetary space.
N1 himself sat in the captain’s chair at the front of the ship, surveying the beauty of the surrounding space. The local nebula, a pool of cobalt blue light rimmed with steely grey, gave a gauzy glow, lit from within by the collective lights of thousands of seemingly unreachable stars. For once, N1 wished he was at the helm of the Cheetah class covert ops ship, so that he could take in this vista without fear of being tracked down by fellow combat pilots. With its numerous internal baffles and stealth ablative coatings, the Cheetah classes of Covert Ops ships were extremely difficult to probe out, and, with its engines on low power and its cloaking device engaged, the ship was a dark as interstellar space.
A high-pitched chirping from the communications console indicating a private communication request pulled N1 from his thoughts. He quickly accepted the request and found the face of Courier displayed on his main visual feed, weirdly distorted by the curvature of the screen.
Courier blinked heavily before responding, his face registering a slight grimace as he did. His somewhat less then friendly run-ins with several of the Caldarian mega-corporations had resulted in a slew of tortures that had left Courier in a state described by N1’s technical crew as ‘quirky’. Most obvious of these ‘quirky’ traits was a sight flinch which occurred occasionally when he blinked, courtesy of an experimental implant inserted into his retinas by the torturers at Lai Dai. N1 had found Courier living as a vagabond on the streets of Pator and had taken a liking to him, offering him the chance to become a pod pilot and act as his personal hauler.
Courier quickly shook himself to clear his head and glanced at a data pad before addressing N1.
“Ah, Numbers!” he exclaimed, making use of N1’s callsign “I just wanted to inform you that I have completed transportation of the Assault Frigate skill packages. I bought ten of the skill sets in Listabanne and have put them on the market in Arnon with a 10% markup.”
“Very good,” N1 replied, “Will there be anything else?”
The Brutor looked away distractedly, speaking to another crew member off-screen.
“You are currently in Hevrice?”
“Yes” N1 replied
“It seems I may have something else for you,” Courier grinned manically “It appears that a Hulk class exhumer might be en route to your system”
N1 sat up a little straighter, his eyes suddenly alert and wide
“A Hulk?” he enquired
“Did you catch the name of the pilot?”
“What about the name of the ship?”
N1 frowned slightly. A hulk was a dream catch for a pirate. The hull itself usually cost over 100 million ISK, not to mention the scores of expensive modules and rigs that could be fitted to the ship. However, without any knowledge of the age of the pilot, it was quite impossible to determine how the pilot would react in a combat situation, and Hulks were potentially dangerous to small ships in a combat situation.
“Ok,” N1 replied, “I’ll look into it.”
N1 squelched the COM and activated the ships scanning arrays, doing a blanket scan of all celestial objects within a 14 AU radius. He was greeted by a slew of results. The list primarily consisted of starbase structures and cargo containers. Realizing that it would be highly inefficient to continually scan through such results, N1 reconfigured his overview to display only mining barges and Exhumer class ships. Whil he trusted courier's judgement, there was still a risk that the hulk could have been mistaken as a lesser Retriver class mining barge.
He repeated the scan and got a hit on an Exhumer. Working quickly, he narrowed down the results further and tracked the hulk to an asteroid belt at the very edge of his operational scan range. He quickly pulled his frigate into a tight turn and aligned to the celestial. As his ship hit 75% operational velocity, his warp drives engaged and his frigate sped towards the asteroid belt.
N1 landed on the belt, 20 kilometers off from his intended target. The hulk was sandwiched between several asteroids, all mining lasers active and harvesting. The mining ship was surrounded by a flight of low-tech ‘Hobgoblin’ drones. Judging by their wide orbits and slow speeds, it seemed to N1 that the pilot of the ship was ill-experienced and poorly trained with drones. Still, if the pilot had fitted any kind of propulsion inhibition modules, the drones could pose a significant threat; it would be prudent to take them out first.
As soon as N1 appeared on his overview, the pilot began to align to an arbitrary point in space, clearly preparing to warp to a safe spot. However, he was too close to several asteroids and had to continually pulse his lateral thrusters to avoid crashing headlong into one of the massive objects. This bought N1 several seconds to close the distance between him and the panicking pilot.
Now 15 km from the target, N1 locked his weapons onto four of the drones and the exhumer itself. The Exhumer pilot responded in kind, ordering his drones to attack. N1 quickly fired upon the closest Drone to him. The lumbering Hobgoblin was caught in a hail of 200mm projectile rounds, and ceased to exist. He quickly turned his attention to each of the medium scout drones, destroying all of them in turn. The pilot, sensing defeat, redoubled his efforts to enter warp, but remained inhibited by several of the near-by asteroids.
Now within 7,500 meters of his target, N1 engaged his warp scrambler, disrupting the navigational systems of the target, preventing him from entering warp. He quickly followed up by activating all three of his 200mm AutoCannons and his rocket launcher against the defenseless Exhumer. Rounds of ‘Barrage’ type ammunition, combined with high-yield EM rockets, slammed against the mining ship, demolishing its shields in a matter of minutes. With its primary means of defense down, the lightly armored vessel seemed to melt under the power of his weapon systems. As the superstructure of the ship began to show through, N1 opened a private COM link with the pilot.
“Good evening,” N1 opened the conversation, smiling with confidence and complacency as he did.
The pilot, in return, opened a visual feed with N1. His face appeared on the main view screen of N1’s Rifter. The miner looked vaguely familiar to N1. He recalled meeting someone who looked painfully similar to him on one of his numerous roams. A flicker of anger passed across the victim pilots face but was tactfully replaced by a strained smile.
“Evening,” The victim miner responded in a would-be-casual voice, “What is it that you want from me?”
“100 million ISK for that safety of your ship and pod” N1 demanded coolly, replacing his confident- borderline arrogant- smile with straight, businesslike face.
“Do I not know you?”
For a second, a flicker of disbelief played across N1’s face. He looked up again at the pilot, this time taking in his overlarge glasses, his tattered pilot’s jacket, and his shoulder-length dreadlocks. Suddenly, realization dawned, and N1 broke into an unpleasant smile.
The Brutor pilot seemed to relax. N1, however, tensed slightly, his hands balling into fists; from the body language of the pilot, it seemed that he was expecting N1 to let him get off scot-free, as it were.
The pilot opened his mouth to speak, but N1 cut across him sharply:
“If you are expecting me to show you any leeway, Daal, you are sadly mistaken. Just because I met you in a bar does not allow you to traverse low-security space without ramifications.”
Daal’s relaxed smile melted off of his face. He muttered something offscreen to one of his crewmembers before returning to his visual feed with a triumphant leer.
Suddenly, N1 noticed the cause of his triumphant attitude; a flight of 5 ‘Warrior’ drones appeared on his overview. Obviously, Daal thought he could destroy his Rifter before he destroyed his ship. Not pausing to target the drones, N1 reactivated his AutoCannons and web. At the same time, Daal ordered his drones to attack. Rounds of barrage smashed against the Hulk, tearing pieces of armor plating and internal structure asunder. The Warrior drones fired their miniature autocannons at N1, pounding his shield like a drum. Within seconds, the drones were through his shield and eating at his armor. N1 was forced to activate his repairer, allowing waves upon waves of nanites to reconstitute areas where his armor plating was breached. The hulk was at 25% structural integrity and dropping. He could make it!
Just… One… More… Shot…
Suddenly, a flash of blue light eerily illuminated the surrounding asteroids. His lock on the hulk dropped as there was no ship remaining to target. N1 sighed in relief, stripped any modules of worth from the wreck and waited for his criminal flag wind down.
Later that day, N1 sat in the bar in the Hevrice V station. He wondered why Daal hadn’t just launched the Warrior drones after he lost his first flight or how the drones managed to eat away his shields so quickly. He shrugged mentally at both quieries and returned to his docking bay with the intention of expediting repairs to his Rifter. As he walked, the final words of Daal reverberated in his head as they had exited the bar:
I shall see you around
He had immediately interpreted this as ‘I shall fight you at some later date’ but then realized that Daal probably didn’t expect or want a fight. He had immediately assumed that Daal, like him, was a fighter.
‘Maybe this is a sign that you are looking at everyone as a potential target’ he thought to himself
He pushed the idea out of his head and, upon reaching his Rifter's docking bay spent the remainder of the morning and much of the afternoon working on repairing his Rifter. A projectile from one of Daal’s drones had severed a control line in his left bow section, resulting in impaired tracking on the port-side gun. He was having considerable difficulty with reparations. As a result, by the time he had finally completed work on his ship, nearly eight hours later, he had completely forgotten about the affair with Daal earlier, until his NeoCom flashed, indicating that Daal had sent him a Private message:
Well, you're an absolute bastard, doing that to a cadet! Well, what goes around comes around… I’ll see you at some future point...
N1 suppressed a strange urge to smile as he read through the message. With any luck, he may have just made himself a new enemy, or, at the very least, stripped away any naïveté that the pilot may have had about the world of piracy.