Mittwoch, 31. Dezember 2014

Short Story: A Visit in Winter (Contest-Version)

For the end of the year, I joined another small contest! However, in my first draft I accidentally went over the allowed word count, so I made two stories: A shorter one for the contest and a longer version just for you to enjoy!

This is the post for the contest-version of the short story. (It's about winter, by the way.)

A Visit in Winter

It had gotten colder again. Even though her short, but dense fur protected her, she started to feel the cold.

Normally, at this time of year, her favorite prey would have wandered up from the valley below and she wouldn't be hungry now. This year however, everything was different. First it was unnaturally warm, but there were still enough animals to eat around, so she didn't care. Then the cold finally came.

Snow and ice covered her mountain forest and all the animals went into hiding or wandered down into the valley, searching for better hideouts. Everything seemed like normal again and she waited impatiently for the several small herds of red deer to come up from the valley.
Every year, the red deer would follow a small river up to the mountains and enter her forest. She didn't know and didn't care why the deer went up when most other animals went down, but for her it always meant she wouldn't be hungry during winter.

But the red deer didn't come and it still got colder. Then it got colder again. Even she had to start hiding in caves over night, or the biting cold would have gotten her. For some time she survived by digging out frozen corpses from the snow and slowly warming them with her body until she could eat them. But after a while she stopped finding new corpses.

Now even the ravens and crows had started to avoid her forest, as if the cold was slowly smothering all life within.

She sighed.
Enough of this. Waiting obviously doesn't work. I'll just have to go and search for them.”, she thought.

If her food wasn't coming to her, then she would have to go where her food was. She decided to go down into the valley and find out why her red deer hadn't come. She climbed down and started the long way down the mountain.

Hours later, long after nightfall, she finally reached the valley. In the darkness, she could faintly hear the river flowing nearby. Down here, the river wasn't frozen anymore, which had been a nice surprise for her thirst after hours of traveling. Some smaller animals had turned up, too. But a badger and a little unlucky blue tit weren't really filling her. 

Where were the deer? She decided to climb one of the high beech trees surrounding her to take another look around. This was the first time she had come to this strange area, after all. Carefully she selected the highest tree she could see and used her claws to scale it. 

When she finally reached the treetop, the surprise nearly made her drop down anyhow. There were a lot of lights! Close to a third of the night was full of lights! That wasn't what she expected. It was also really bad for her night vision, so after her awe had passed, she tried her best to avoid the many lights. Blinking to make her eyes work properly again, she tried to skim the area with lights as best as she could. “What is that?”, she thought.

She couldn't wait to find out. Her excitement nearly made her forget her hunger.
After a time she could see the lights shimmer in the distance, giving the forest an otherworldly glow in the darkness. Excited, she scrambled closer, trying to use the trees to hide as best as possible. Finally the glow got so strong, she couldn't even look directly into it without hurting her eyes. The light seemed to come from a clearing up ahead. She reached a tree trunk next to the clearing and peered slowly around it, using a hand to protect herself against the light.

For a moment, she was speechless. The light didn't come from mushrooms, like she had expected. Instead, there was some kind of weird-looking square hill with what looked like holes and caves inside. And the lights came from several different sources: There was a chain of small, blinking lights draped around the hill, a towering tree-like gray thing without any branches, but a huge, blinding light instead of a crown. Smaller, milder lights shone out of the holes in the hill. The lights combined to illuminate a flat, hard surface made of some weird black stone. She had no idea what exactly could make stone look that polished. Maybe a river flood or something? 

Na, that was stupid. Someone probably had done this. She stopped herself. “If there is someone, then there is something to eat!”, she thought. Excited again she raced across the stone and slipped into a zone of deep shadows below one of the holes. Suddenly she saw her bushy tail sticking out in front of the hole above her head and moved it hastily out of the way. 

Now that her potential meal didn't have a reason to run away or hide anymore, she tried spying through the hole. It turned out to be harder than she thought: The light from inside illuminated everything nicely, even though the light from outside had destroyed her night vision somewhat fiercely. But the unnatural light everywhere still made her nervous and the few glimpses she made in-between ducking back under the hole just frustrated her. She didn't understand anything she saw!

The only thing remotely understandable were the few animals which looked disturbingly like her, except not really, sitting calmly under a tree they apparently had dragged inside for some reason. And the tree was almost bending under the mass of lights and shiny stuff hanging from it! Those things were weirder then crows, she decided. The rest of that cave had been an almost incomprehensible mess of forms and colors. She recalled sensing some movement deeper inside, so there were probably more animals moving around somewhere in this den.
Some of the stuff she had seen must have been unnatural, like the lights. Those animals somehow had made them. She faintly recalled her mother sometimes using her claws to make nice things out of pieces of wood. Maybe those animals were just really good in using their claws? 

Frustrated and hungry she thought of maybe jumping really fast and snatching one of the smaller ones. But if they had claws like her, this could be a serious fight. Maybe if they were like her enough, they would share food with her?

Absentmindedly, she tried climbing into the hole. “If it goes wrong, I can just jump out. Right?”, she thought. But then her plan immediately derailed. First, she bonked her head on something hard and fell back. “An invisible wall? Man, those animals are smart.” Before her dazzled mind could think of anything smart itself, one of the animals showed up on the other side of that weird wall-thing. It was a strange animal indeed. Fur only on its top, hairless hands and face sticking out of wraps made out of the weirdest animal skins she had ever seen.

The animal grinned at her, showing blocky teeth. She immediately calmed down. Obviously they weren't predators like her, so at least if they didn't want to share, she could eat them without feeling guilty. 

Some kind of gibberish came out of the mouth of the animal. It did something with its hands and to her astonishment, parts of the hill around the invisible wall came loose and the entire thing moved. She could now see some kind of mechanism made out of moving parts between the wall-thing and the hole it was in. She was impressed. This was a lot more than just making a small wood-deer. She wondered so much about what kind of fine motor control would be necessary to make those small parts just with your claws, she nearly missed the animal pointing some kind of stick at her.

Surprised she looked closer. The stick was part wood, part the same gray stuff the light-tree outside was made out of. When the large animal moved some other part of that thing with a finger, she decided there must be some deeper meaning behind the stick and threw herself sideways.

A loud thunderclap shocked her momentarily, but she regained her balance pretty fast. A funny smell hang in the air and the animal was apparently furious. More senseless noise came from it. She dashed back to the hillside next to the hole, just as another thunderclap pummeled the air. This time, she saw a small flame burst from the end of the stick and she could have sworn something fast was moving out of it. She suddenly felt very lucky she had trusted her instincts. 

The angry animal stuck his head and hands out of the hole and tried to level his stick on her. She decided she had enough backtalk from prey for today and just grabbed his head. The animal started struggling to get free, but it turned out to be astonishingly weak. Even with both hands he couldn't get her hand off his face. He tried to slip out of her grip, but she just pressed down to embed her claws deeper in his skull and dragged him out of the hole, down to her. His weird stick had fallen back inside. A lot of agitated sounding noise came from inside.

A bit torn between the urge to flee and her hunger, she paused a moment. The animal in her grip started flailing and screaming like mad and a sound like wood and stone banging together came from the other side of the hill like an answer. Suddenly furious, she smashed the animal against the stony hillside until its body went limp, then she cracked his neck with a bite, just to be sure. In the sudden silence, she heard hurried foot steps. Apparently the sound earlier had been some other animal opening the hill and getting out.

And now it was coming to her. Well, now it was easy. She just had to avoid those strange sticks and she would have enough food for weeks. In a hurry she stood up on and moved away from the hole, deeper into the shadows. Close to the edge of the hill, she leaned herself at the stone and waited.

Another animal looked out of the hole, seemingly agitated. But she was too deep inside the shadows now and the light everywhere wasn't strong enough to expose her. After a while, the animal went back in again. More loud noises. Could it be some sort of talking, like a language? “Now this would be weird, seriously.”, she thought.

Finally the footsteps stopped, just on the other side of the edge. Did the animal notice her? She held her breath. Suddenly, the creature jumped around the edge, wildly flailing his stick around. But by leaning back against the stone of the hill, she wasn't where she had been expected and it was incredibly easy for her to just grab the dumb thing and wrestle it around for a killing bite. It didn't went as easy as she had planned, of course. The creature evaded her first rush by blindly stumbling sideways, then it tried several thunderclaps to shock her into submission, followed by using the stick like a club to cave her head in. 

Now it was her who stumbled blindly out of the way, just barely avoiding a really painful death. Incensed she rushed around him and jumped on his back. 

She got a good grip with her teeth on the creature's neck and chomped down until she felt the bones splinter. The neck broke with a satisfying crunch and the animal under her suddenly went silent. Its body twisted around one last time and fell, forcing her to hastily jump off. 

Her heart hammered fast and her blood was boiling. She remembered the third animal. That creature also had looked rather hostile. She decided to be proactive in self-defense and hurried to the edge of the hill. If she was lucky, whatever opening the creature had made in the hill to come out was still there. Time to get the third one and be done with it.

She was lucky. After rushing around the edge and along the porous hillside behind, she found the opening the creature had made just on the other side of a second edge. It was another strange hole in the side of the hill, this time covered with wood instead of invisible walls. Of course, more of the smaller holes with those things in it were also there, but by now she had gotten some routine in avoiding them.

The wood stood at an angle, revealing more mechanisms inside. And also a large cave entrance. She smelled blood from the inside and the everlasting light had been switched off somehow. The creatures knew she was here, and they thought the darkness would help them. Determined to prove them false, she jumped inside as fast as she could.

Annoyingly, nothing happened. The creatures, or maybe just the third aggressive one, were hiding somewhere inside the hill. With careful consideration she took a good look around. Inside the cave was a maze of tunnels, everything seemed to be made either out of wood, stone or stuff she couldn't identify. Large pieces of worked wood were everywhere, even blocking off some of the tunnels. In awe she tried to understand how much work must have been necessary for all of this, and failed miserably.

The lingering blood smell brought her mind back to the real world. Cautiously she moved through the maze. Luckily it turned out to be a lot smaller then her over-awed mind had thought at first. Most of the tunnels ended up being just weird square rooms filled with weird stuff. Some of the weird stuff was understandable, like the caves with cozy looking furs and animal skins on top of sturdy looking pieces of wood. Probably sleeping places. 

At last she entered a cave she was already familiar with. She had seen it from the outside. The tree was there, the opened invisible wall was there and the irritatingly incomprehensible stuff was also there. What surprised her were the creatures still sitting under the light-tree. They looked fearful at her. After some time, she noticed some of them were bleeding. Weird.

Now that she had the time to look at them for a while without getting attacked, it again disturbed her how close those beings resembled her, just hairless and wrapped in ersatz-fur instead of the real deal. She thought she could even discern which of the four creatures before her were female and which were male. Which was impressive, considering she would have had trouble telling female and male deers apart if the males hadn't had horns growing out of them. 

Suddenly she stopped her train of thought. Those creatures weren't looking at her, they were looking at something behind her. She whirled around. That stupid blood smell had masked the scent of the animal she was hunting. The light suddenly went back on, blinding her for a second.

“Now I got you, asshole!”, the man said. He walked out of the corner he had been hiding in and waved his rifle in her direction. Then he stopped and went pale. “What he hell are you?” Instead of the armed woman he had thought he was hunting, he saw some kind of lanky, lean thing

Covered in short, but dense fur. Dark green fur. It almost towered above him. Suddenly it leaned forward with unnatural speed and grabbed his rifle with incredibly long, thin fingers. 

Startled he tried to press the trigger, but screamed in pain instead. The thing had used its thumb like a spear and pierced his trigger finger with a nasty looking claw. Panicking, he tried to get away from it, but the table was suddenly behind him and he awkwardly fell to the ground. A bowl filled with gravy toppled over and spilled its contents over his jacket.

The monster was leaning over him, that almost human looking face peeking curiously at him. It still had his rifle in it's left hand.

Cursing he pulled out his revolver. He wouldn't fucking die this day, with this stupid family looking at him like stupid sheep. His last thoughts were about wishing they'd just killed all of them right after breaking into their house, then his own rifle came back down on his head like the end of the world and he never had any thoughts again.

She looked at the other four creatures. They still looked scared, but a bit calmer now. She felt exhausted. With a last look at the creature she had killed, she decided to leave it there for the other four. It was obvious now they were a different tribe or even a different kind of animal altogether. But there was some bird-meat on the table, so they probably could digest it. 

Besides, the creature's stick was still stuck inside it's head. And she really didn't want to know what that weird not-wood stuff on it would do to the meat.

Now the two smaller creatures under the tree started with that mewling noise, too. She told them: “I think I'm getting a headache. I'll take my food and go.”

The four creatures got a bit agitated, but it didn't seem like they understood a single word. 

Lost in thought, she walked back through the small maze and to the larger hole leading out of the cave. She went out and carefully shoved the big piece of wood back on the cave's entrance.
Afterwards, she collected her food and dragged it into the woods. She was pretty sure there was some perfectly normal cave close by she could use. And who knows? Maybe tomorrow she would find a herd of red deer. Staying here seemed like a good idea for now.

She carried the bodies into the night, quietly humming to herself.

Word count:  2996 words.

Mittwoch, 3. Dezember 2014

Pod and Planet Fiction Contest YC116 Entry

This year I decided to enter the Pod and Planet Fiction Contest, so I wrote this short little story. Here are the other entries, if you want to take a look. Now enjoy!

Once in a Blue Moon



Enver Paille, technician first class, stepped back from the panel and started cursing. “Great, just great.”
 “What is it?”
 “The pump just stopped working.” He turned away from the red warning lights dominating the control panel and pointed upwards to a smooth, rounded shape barely visible between the lights on the deck's ceiling.

The other tech followed his pointing finger and sighed. “Of course, that thing again. I swear, the nano assemblers building this deck must have fucked up pretty badly when they made that coolant pump.” He crossed his arms and looked at Paille expectantly.

Enver just shrugged and turned to grab the control reader he had left connected to the panel. While he carefully declamped its magnetic links, he answered the unspoken question hanging in the air. “I'll try to see if the reader can access the internal pump controls and force it to start up again.“
 “But if that doesn't help, we have to bridge the coolant flow over to the other pumps and then open this thing up to see what can be done.”

The other technician nodded. “Then I guess I should prepare a pair of full-body suits.”
Paille made sure the reader was working and then pointed it at the faulty coolant pump.
“Yes, you go and do that. I somehow doubt this thing will suddenly start working again on its own.”

Just a typical day of life for two technicians working on one of the oldest industrials still flying for the Gallente Federation Navy.


The indomitable Loriot's Revenge, an Iteron-class industrial, was on its way to transport captured Caldari-personnel from a skirmish at the border back to a suitable prison camp. Technically, the ship was now part of the Nereus-class, thanks to its new drone bay. But the crew still called it “that old Iteron”. Besides, the navy somehow had never gotten around to actually fit the ship with drones.

The crew didn't mind. Some of them had served for years on this ship and were well accustomed to its many quirks. Malfunctioning repair drones, accumulating heat damage because of coolant pumps breaking down, and sometimes the atmospheric scrubbers gave the air the sweet taste of mustard. All in all not having combat drones to defend themselves didn't really rank high on the list of things wrong with the ship.

Captain Inardo, proud non-capsuleer and stalwart refuser of all help modern technology could have lend his ailing body, looked around his bridge. A mess of broken equipment, slowly breaking down equipment, and repair drones whirling around through the air, trying to keep up with the decay. Sighing deeply, he sat back in his command chair. Sometimes he felt a bit lonely. On the Loriot's Revenge, most of the work, even on the bridge, was done by drones. This was quite normal for a ship of the Federation Navy, but on this old industrial the effect was felt particularly extreme.

Thanks to his ship getting closer and closer to being decommissioned each day, the number of crew men assigned to it had steadily decreased until it hit the bare minimum about a year ago. After that moment, the ship could be lucky if it at least got replacements for crew lost or reassigned. 

Captain Inardo had pointed out on more than one occasion how stupid it was to use a ship with a dozen crew men to transport close to a hundred prisoners. But his superiors, all capsuleers, had just pointed out they would have had no problems controlling a ship like his. If they had had enough time, of course. Or if a capsuleer-capable industrial would have been available, of course.

So they just crammed everyone in, jettisoned the crates of rifles he had been supposed to transport and ordered him to take the POVs back all the way to Orvolle for questioning.
Annoyed he adjusted his chair a bit. Of course, this left him with a bit of a mess. A lot of people, some of them also his superiors, would be quite disappointed to hear of the fate of his rifle-shipment.

A grating, metallic voice interrupted his meandering thoughts.
“Exit out of warp in 15 seconds, arrival at gate to Osmeden imminent”
“Acknowledged. Jump into the Osmeden-system as soon as possible, please.” He got no answer, but then he didn't really expect the boxy navigator-drone replacing an actual navigator on his ship to give him one.

“Skipper, something is wrong here.” Indardo flinched at hearing the unexpected voice. He did actually had one other human left with him on the bridge. He leaned over to look at the stations his 1O was overseeing. “What is it?”

“Our communication-drone claims it has intercepted a scripted override protocol aiming at the gate ahead.”

“Who the hell would try to override a gate?”, asked Captain Inardo incredulously.
His 1O, an average looking guy locked into a dead end position in his career, like so many others on this ship, just looked back at him. 

“It's not aimed directly at the gates. Someone tries to interfere with the gate guns.”
This didn't sound good. “Are there still naval ships at the gate? There should be some customs officers hanging around, at least.”

The 1O shook his head. “No, that's too expensive nowadays. We're still in the Maut-system and the ships protecting the system are busy elsewhere.” 

In this moment the ship finally dropped out of warp. Automatically the drones controlling the ship aligned the small industrial to the gate connected to Osmeden and accelerated to get into jump-range. At the same time, other drones detected the waiting ships close to the gate and raised the alarm.

Both humans flinched at the buzzing, shrill sound of the emergency siren suddenly blaring into their ears. The drones remained completely oblivious.
“What the hell? 1O, cut that off! I can't hear myself thinking”, shouted Captain Inardo to his fellow officer. 

The 1O reached over the weirdly smooth shape of the drone connected to the communication-station and into a hole where something had dissolved the metal plating.
With shocking abruptness the painfully loud siren was gone. “What did you do?”
His first officer shrugged. “I ripped the intercom main router out of his casing. It's rather easy to replace, after all.”

The captain sighed. “We have to look up the AI-routines responsible for the siren. I'm fairly sure it's not supposed to be loud enough to drown out everything.”

“So now what, why the sirens?” His 1O looked at the sensor station. “Pirate ships, waiting at the gate. Looks like the signal we intercepted was them trying to neutralize the gate guns.”
“I guess in a few seconds we see if they were successful.”, said Inardo cheerfully.
“Ten seconds to gate jump.”, grated the navigator-drone. 

On the sensor screen, the ships were identified as belonging to the Serpentis Corporation. A strike force comparable to the one they just left, down to the ship types involved. Three sleek, smooth Vigilante-class cruisers and a couple of small frigates hang around, slowly orbiting the gate. For an ignorant observer it looked like someone had just taken a couple naval frigates and cruisers and painted them black.

Suddenly the small force changed to an intercept-course and accelerated like mad. The frigates rushed forward, leaving the slower cruisers behind. 

The navigator-drone and the drone controlling the sensors spoke at the same time, blithely obliterating useful information into an incomprehensible, slightly metallic sounding mess.
“Five” “Warning:” “seconds” “Foreign” “to gate” “targeting impulses” “jump.” “detected.” 

The 1O and the captain looked at each other. “I don't think we'll go through that gate, skipper.” The captain nodded solemnly.

They didn't jump through the gate.

Four frigates targeted them with multiple warp scramblers, disruptors and stasis webifiers. The warp scramblers and -disruptors made it impossible for the small industrial to warp away and the stasis webifiers slowed their sublight-speed down to a crawl. Less then a thousand metres before they could have been close enough to the gate for a jump, the Vigilante-cruisers arrived and added even more webs to the net holding them. The ship practically came to a stop, immobilized by the electronic weapons targeting its warp core and engines.
The Loriot's Revenge was left completely helpless.


Far away from the bridge, Enver Paille and his helper were still fighting with the faulty coolant pump. The blaring siren surprised right during the process of checking each others' suits for faults. “What the hell is going wrong now?” Paille was furious. The entire ship had just twelve people on it and chances were, whatever just went wrong, he and his pal would have to deal with this.

“I have no idea. We're just a couple of jumps from Orvolle, it can't be a pirate attack or some nonsens like that.”

“Jack, try to reach the bridge, I'll make sure the coolant isn't still pumping through this broken piece of shit.”

The other technician nodded and turned to the next internal com-panel. Enver winced silently. He had completely forgotten most people on this forsaken ship had no implants or other upgrades to interface with the machinery. They had to do everything by hand.

He turned to the pump over his head and made sure his suit was connected to both internal and external interfaces, then he slowly overrode the small pump-AI and closed the valves leading into it. “Now the thing at least won't suddenly explode and flood the compartment with coolant.”, he mumbled to himself.

Behind him, his assistant technician looked back over his shoulder. “Enver, communication to the bridge is blocked. I can't reach them!”

Silently cursing, Enver Paille rerouted his com-implant to try to get to the bridge himself. Nothing. “Looks my fancy implants can't get through, either.”

Jack frowned and turned around. He opened his mouth to say something. Then the world ended.


“Skipper, I don't think they believe we can't talk to anyone on the ship.” “Well, I wouldn't believe it myself if someone told me. But we surrendered, what do they want more?”
 “I guess they think we'll try to destroy the cargo.”

“Message incoming.”, interrupted one of the drones. The two humans exchanged a quick look. “I hope this time they accept our surrender.”, said the 1O.
 “Luther, I fear they will do exactly this, just because it is the only thing I can think of which would make our day even worse.”

The 1O smiled. “Let's hope they don't and we get the others out of this alive.” The Captain couldn't help it and smiled back. “Yes and let's hope the pirates will also tell us what they want with some third-rate prison transport.”

“Maybe one of them owes them money?”, joked his 1O. This absurdity was too much, both the captain and his first officer started cackling like mad. Maybe they already were. 

Right then the commander of the Serpentis strike force finally decided to end the stalling by the valiant Gallente officers. He was now sure a relief force of the Federation Navy must be close. This was the only explanation why the lowly captain of an aging Nereus-transport would dare to talk back to him with one inane thing after another. 

This Captain Inardo actually had the gall to tell him he couldn't reach the rest of his crew because of his internal communication breaking down just as he dropped out of warp! He also seemed to think the Serpentis commander would accept a surrender while his crew was busy destroying the valuable cargo the ship was supposed to have. The commander ordered his force to open fire. The cargo was also supposed to be incredibly durable. Better to fish it out of space instead of wasting more time with those federal jackasses, he thought.

The combined fire of fifteen neutron blasters hit the Loriot's Revenge. Shields and armor were instantly gone. Compartments were ripped open, atmosphere vented into space. Engines exploded and a flood of plasma rampaged through the writhing wreck. By sheer coincidence, one of the guns happened to fire directly into the bridge, killing the captain and his 1O instantly.


Enver Paille's head hurt. He forced his eyes open. What happened? Everything around him seemed half-molten and broken. Even more so then usual. He suddenly noticed he was lying on the ground. Slowly he sat up. A spike of pain ripped through his spine. “Jack? Where are you? I think I need help.”

No one answered. Silently cursing, he got up himself. Very carefully. It was still painful. He tried to remember what happened. His full-body-suit was blackened, his telemetry told him half it's functions were dead and his oxygen was already half depleted.

Enver tried to orient himself. A large hole in the wall. That shouldn't be there, he thought faintly. Behind him on the ceiling, another hole where the pump had been. Drops of coolant were slowly moving through the air. Wait, his suit told him the atmosphere was gone. There is no air anymore. Well, then just call it empty space, he thought in the silence of his own head. For some reason this seemed really funny to him and he started to laugh.

More pain raced through his head. He decided to stop being funny and get on with it. Enver slowly moved through the room. First he had some trouble getting forward, but then it finally dawned on him the magnetic links in his boots prevented him from floating in the zero gravity and he stopped trying to swim. He walked out of the compartment, one clunky step at a time.
After carefully avoiding a part in the wall where the bulkhead had just melted into the com-panel, leaving a mess of wires and something which looked disturbingly like swarming rogue nanites, he finally found Jack.

Jack's suit was a broken ruin. And what was left inside, barely human. The same force which had pushed Enver down to the ground and shoved him into the edge of the compartment must have hit Jack with full force, sending him out straight through the bulkhead.

Enver fought down the sudden urge to vomit. Poor Jack. And he had been supposed to leave the ship for retirement in a week. Why do I think of this now? I hope I don't suffer from some brain damage. 

He took some long, deep breaths. It depleted his remaining oxygen even more, but calmed him down somewhat and cleared his thoughts. I guess there was an attack, multiple simultaneous equipment malfunctions seem rather unlikely. The siren did have a reason, after all. 

Think positive, he told himself. Even with Jack dead, there were still ten other people left with him. So he just had to go and search for survivors, then they had to head to some remaining escape pods and get out of here. Easy. Just hope the attackers are finished and gone, or this still could end nasty.

After sometime, his unwieldy steps brought him close to the ship's cargo hold. This of course meant not much on a cargo vessel, he still was a long way from anything important. He remembered the Caldari prisoners and wondered if they were still alive, protected by the cryogenic chambers they were transported in.

He decided he couldn't just ignore them and went to look for survivors.
The first cargo compartment he accessed told his com-implant everything was fine, then opened into space. Cursing and thanking the gods for his magnetic boots anchoring him to the ground, he closed the compartment again as fast as he could. Apparently that part of the ship was just gone. The next compartment also opened, but the cargo space inside was a lumpy mess of molten metal. Still hot enough his suit immediately warned him of impending danger. He hastily closed this one, too.

Feeling a bit unreal, he wandered through the cargo area in total silence. Nothing worked, no-one seemed to be alive or even able to reach and use a communication device of some sort.

A third cargo compartment refused to open. He got his implant to connect with a still working camera-drone inside and got a confusing picture of metallic spikes and boiling clouds of some indefinable mass in dazzling rainbow-colors. Enver decided this looked too much like malfunctioning nanites and moved on.

The fourth compartment gone like the first one. The fifth one was so broken nothing worked. The bulkhead looked so twisted he decided to not even try getting it open anyway. The sixth cargo compartment finally worked like normal, even though it too had taken extensive damage. Enver opened the access hatch and crawled in. Not for the first time he was thankful the engineers responsible for the Nereus had at least added walkways like this one, to enable some quick maintenance without accidentally blocking main access to the cargo.

Enver found his way blocked by a burst cryo-crate. Again he had to waste precious time to avoid sharp edges. He also tried his best to avoid looking into the destroyed cryogenic capsule inside the crate. Something told him vomiting inside his suit would be the last thing the did before suffocating like a moron.

Suddenly his implant send him a warning: Unknown foreign communication detected. He wasn't alone anymore. And whoever was close enough for his implant to pick them up, wasn't exactly part of a federal rescue operation, it seems. 

Speeding his progress up a bit, he hastily stood up inside the main cargo area of the compartment and tried to find a working cryo-crate. About twenty per compartment, he thought. He saw and discarded ten immediately. They weren't as broken as the one he had to crawl over on his way in, but they were still clearly dead. As fast as he could he tested the nine remaining crates. 

His implant send another warning. It was clear now someone was boarding the wreck, the signals were far too close for the source to be outside the ship.
Another dead Caldari. Another broken cryo-crate. Five left. Finally he got life signals! Enver crudely marked the crates he found just in case.

Now he just had to find the maintenance-chamber close by, drag out two suits and enough tools and materials to restore atmosphere inside the compartment. Then he just had to rescue the two Caldari by himself. Easy!, he thought. Hey, maybe even some more survivors would show up to help him?

He went to work.


Diane Zuo had seen better days. First the Caldari expedition she had been a part of got mistaken for a hostile recon force scouting the border between Pure Blind and Placid. Then she and about a couple hundred other survivors were taken prisoner. The last thing she knew before getting stuffed inside a cryogenic capsule was: They were supposed to be transported to a federal navy base for a more intense interrogation as was possible on board a warship. So she was understandably surprised when she instead awoke to weird Gallente drones trying to get them out of their capsules and inside of some escape pods.

Still a bit drowsy from being roughly ripped out of cryogenic sleep, she barely noticed the drones closing a clunky space suit around her. Then something had hit her in the head pretty hard and she went back to sleep.

Now she was awake again. With some additional headache, because why not? Apparently she hadn't suffered enough already. But hey, she was free at least. Now she just had to escape from the airless wreck the Gallente-industrial had turned into. Easy. 

After taking a good look at the compartment she was in, she decided to head out to find some other survivors. This room was just some kind of storage area for maintenance work. Trying to think around the pulsating headache plaguing her, she vaguely remembered the drones dragging people out of the cargo area. If that had happened to her, too...

She walked the way back she remembered. As she thought. The maintenance area was close to the cargo-compartment she and her comrades had been stored in. But her high spirits immediately fell down to earth again: She had no idea how to get into the cargo-compartment. She had no idea how to access the Gallente-interface controlling the maintenance hatch she was standing in front of. Basically, she had no idea if there even was anyone alive back in there.
For a moment she just stood there, silently despairing. Finally, she decided to go on and search for an escape pod. No use dying here too, she thought.

Just as she entered a new passage-way, her suit suddenly piped up. According to the readings suddenly appearing in her helmet HUD, a crew member of the Gallente industrial was near, and slowly getting closer each step she took. She swallowed and tried to calm down her suddenly racing thoughts. Maybe she could convince the other survivor to work together? Now she only had to hope the other one wasn't one of those nationalist fanatics sometimes cropping up at the most inopportune moments.

Then she smirked. The Gallente survivor must be thinking pretty similar thoughts right now, considering how the history of Gallente and Caldari went.

A communication request interrupted her dithering. Apparently the other survivor had indeed noticed her. Silently hoping for the best possible outcome, she accepted and with an audible click the connection between their suits established itself.
A strained male voice suddenly spoke into her ears.

“OK, who the hell are you? I'm reading your suit's telemetry data right now and you are showing up as 'unknown'. Are your one of those Serpentis-freaks? You sure as hell do not belong to my crew.”

Diane was shocked. Serpentis? She guessed the Serpentis Corporation must have been the attacker, then. One riddle solved. She tried to hold her voice steady and answered.
“No. I'm one of your Caldari-prisoners. Your drones started thawing us out and then stuffed us into spacesuits.” 

“What?”, came the incredulous answer.
“Well, into one space suit.”, she corrected herself. “Everything exploded after the drones finished closing my suit. And I was the first one.”

“OK, this is seriously weird. Our drones were not supposed to do this. On the other hand, I'm also sure Serpentis boarding parties won't be wearing our full-body suits and claiming to be our prisoners of war.”

Before Diane could get a word in edgewise, he continued.
“Just to be clear, those boarding parties are already on board and we don't have much time, so let's speed things up a bit. I'm sending you the coordinates of the place I'm sitting in right now. It's rather close, so please hurry up so we can get to an escape pod and out of here.”

“And I guess those Serpentis-guys will just let us go?”, Diane asked sarcastically when the voice finally paused for a moment.
“Well, do we have a choice?”

Diane shrugged. They really didn't.
“You're right. I'll come to you and then we go and get out. My name is Diane Zou, by the way. “
“Enver Paille, nice to meet you.”


The rest was easy. More or less. Diane carefully made her way through the wrecked ship, lead on by her suit. Finally she arrived at another wrecked cargo-compartment. The access-hatch worked, however. She entered and stopped surprised. A thin layer of something was on the other side of the hatch. An emergency air lock maybe?

“Good, you made it. Now please wait a moment until the hatch is closed.”
Another full-body suit in even worse condition than hers was waving at her from behind a opened-up cryo-crate.

“What are you doing here?”, she asked.
“Two of your comrades are still alive. I'm trying to get them out of these things and into spacesuits.”

She was impressed. An egotistical Gallente willing to risk his life for some POVs? Not something you saw often.

“Let me help you. I was a cryo-technician on my ship.”
“You're a technician, too? Talk about coincidences. Come on over, then.”

After the hatch closed behind her, she carefully pressed through the thin air lock material and went to the open crate. But just as she reached the Gallente guy, Enver, she reminded herself, an alarm was send to her HUD. She froze for a second.

Enver jumped up from his work. “Shit. I guess the boarding parties finally found us. They're on their way through the passage-way right now.”

Fighting her growing panic down, she tried to deal with this new development. “Do you have a weapon? Can we get those two out of here right now?”

“Only my sidearm. I didn't find any other working weapons.”, he said, pointing to the ion gun hanging on his side. “And no, we did what we could. We two aren't probably going to fight off those guys on our own.”

She bit back an angry retort. He was right. And more, the frustration in his voice told her he liked this no more than she did.

In this moment the hatch behind her blew apart. The atmosphere streamed out immediately as shrapnel pierced the thin emergency air lock and pulled them both off their feet. They stumbled awkwardly over each other, cursing. Another salvo fell into the room, wreaking havoc among the cryo-crates.

“How?”, whispered Enver somewhere below her. “I think they were cloaked.”, she whispered back.

Armored figures in black carapaces filed into the room. Black, featureless plates scanned the room. One of the armored figures waved his weapon to one of the few cryo-crates still undamaged. He fired. 

Another looked into the ruins of the crate they had been standing above just moments before. He just made a insulting gesture and straightened up again. 
“I think he is dead, too.”, Enver whispered and Diane understood. The sudden depressurization had killed the other Caldari-prisoner. Now she was the last survivor, like Enver Paille was the last surviving Gallente on the ship.

One of the blank masks swiveled to them. Suddenly, their suits started complaining about outside interference breaking into the communication-circuits. A stark, emotionless voice cut in.
“Just so you two understand, for the stupid bullshit your captain pulled, we will throw you out into space. We won't even take you scum out of your suits. Would make the suffering not long enough for the commander.” When the voice stopped speaking, another Serpentis-soldier had retrieved Enver's ion gun and pressed his armored fist hard. The gun just crumbled apart like a broken toy.

“Man, once in a blue moon I wish I could be lucky.”, whispered Enver over the com-link. The soldiers came closer. Enver and Diane remained silent. What was there left to say?


The capsuleer was annoyed. He really had no idea why a force of Serpentis pirates were trying to blockade his route and he really had no time to deal with them now.

But he also was really, really bored. When the small Serpentis fleet started targeting his ship, he just activated his micro jump drive and waited. As he thought, before any of the ships surprised by his sudden appearance through the gate could get close enough to stop him with a scram, the MJD jumped him a hundred kilometres away from the danger.

Not far enough away to escape the fast moving frigates, but far enough away to target them and blow them away before they could get close enough again to be a danger.

The three Vigilante-class cruisers followed in the wake of their smaller consorts, obviously trying to get close enough for their short-range weapons to deal with him. He smirked. He was experienced enough to know the weaknesses of those Serpentis cruisers, he had a good ship and a good crew. And not a single enemy capsuleer among the pirates. This was a slaughter, not a fight.

For a moment, he thought about why those pirates were so keen on sacrificing themselves to his boredom. What was so important to them? Then again, he wasn't that interested. He shrugged mentally and launched drones from his old Raven battleship. Just in case some of the frigates survived his long-range bombardment with cruise missiles. But with a target painter leading the missiles, this wasn't really a possibility.


“Hey look at this couple, isn't that cute?”
“Get away from that pod, you dolt! I have to see if they're hurt”

Diane and Enver, still encased in their blackened and bruised suits, blinked in the sudden light shining at them.

It took the people surrounding them almost no time at all to pry them out of their suits and transport them to some sort of hospital ward.

“Where are we?”, whispered Enver, after he and Diane were finally left lying on two white beds next to each other.

One of their saviors, a lean girl with short, black hair and concerned looking green eyes, just looked at them and said: 

“Don't worry, you're safe now. We found you two drifting close to our gate and took you in. You're at the Osmeden-gate in Maut. Just be glad the emergency-beacons of your suits still worked.”

“The gate people took us in? I guess this time we're the lucky ones”, said Diane Zou with a tired voice.

“But what happened with our attackers?”, asked Enver.
The girl shook her head. “The Serpentis ships, I assume? An independent capsuleer with a battleship turned up and killed them all.”

Enver felt Diane grabbing his hand and he looked around to her. As their eyes met, she said: “I guess once in a blue moon we do get lucky.”