“Garus Reffore, you are hereby terminated as of this date. The Ishukone Corporation will, at no time, consider you for re-hire. This termination is final and official.”
Garus stared blankly back at the Director of Human Resources.
“You have fifteen minutes to clear out your desk and leave Ishukone premises.”
“What did I do?”
“What you are doing right this moment.”
“Wasting time, Mr. Reffore. This corporation is built on profit and you are a black hole for ISK. You disobeyed direct orders to shorten trade routes and were aware of the consequences. Now clear out or I shall have you escorted without any of your personal effects.”
“Those trade routes took the ships through low-security star systems. Pirates would have destroyed them if-“
“I’m not here to speak with you. Get out.”
Garus took in a deep breath and left the Director’s office, deciding to go directly to FROG’S PUB. He had about fifty ISK to his name and two days before the lease on his apartment was due. His wife and his daughter were never going to be home to greet him. His life was now, officially, over.
“Might as well drink myself to death, right?”
Garus drained his fifth mug of Amarrian ale. He turned and noticed the beautiful woman sitting quietly next to him.
“Whatcha drinking?” he asked, his voice scratchy and his vision only slightly blurry.
“Black tea. My own private stock from NOL.”
“Not who. Where. NOL-M9. Delve Region.”
Garus’ eyes glazed over.
The woman looked over at him, her amber eyes sizing him up.
“Would you like to accompany me to my ship?”
He stared at her, frowning, trying to make sense of her words. “You have a ship?”
“Yes. Lots of curves. Big guns. You know the drill.”
“You have no idea.” She leaned over and grazed his cheek with her moist lips, allowing her cleavage to inch perilously close to Garus’ potential grasp. Then, she was walking away, out of the bar, toward the station’s docking bay.
“This isn’t what I had in mind, but what the hell, one last fling before I go,” he whispered.
Garus Reffore left the bar and never looked back.
The woman’s name was Bellisa. Everyone, including the Capsuleer who controlled most of the functions on the ship, called her Belle.
“Why not? Consider it a new start to life.”
“But, I don’t know anything about flying ships or whatever else you do.”
“That’s why you’re here. To learn.”
“I thought we were going to have sex.”
“Don’t be foolish. Now, you have a choice. Do you want to live or not?”
“You’ll kill me if I try to leave?”
“Of course! Listen to me, Garus. You were a nobody. You were fired from a job you despised by a corporation you despised. I’m offering you a new start in your life. A chance to get rich or die in glorious battle.”
“I don’t want to die in glorious battle.”
“Neither do I. But I can see it in your eyes, Garus. You do want to get rich and you want to show Ishukone that you’re better than they are, don’t you?”
“You want a chance to be somebody, right?”
He nodded quietly.
“Good. So, while the pilot controls all the major functions on board our Malediction, it’s up to you and Squee to procure our winnings.”
“What’s about you?”
“I take care of the pilot’s needs. I offer my advice to him on where to go and what targets are ripe for us.”
“Will you attack Ishukone’s interests?”
“Why do you ask? Do you have any information you would like to share regarding their cargo runs and transport locations.”
“You know I do. I know how to get the info, too”
“So, you’re good with computers and hacking software protocols?”
“Pretty good, yeah.”
“Okay. Let’s see what you can do, Garus. Perhaps your rewards will come sooner than any of us expected.”
All he could do was hold on and hope the inertial dampeners continued to operate. The Malediction class Interceptor sped around the slow-moving hauler, orbiting in a tight 1000 meter radius.
Garus powered up the cargo scanner and smiled.
“Datacores. Encryption equipment. It’s all there!”
“Well done!” Belle said.
He felt the Malediction’s rockets launching from their silos, the hum of the ship’s warp scrambler and the pulse of the microwarpdrive all working in concert to defeat their enemy. He glanced over at Belle, who was smiling as she stared deeply at her computer. Over her shoulder, Garus could see what the Capsuleer saw, an image of his ship, their ship, orbiting an old Caldari hauling vessel. Rockets ripping into it without mercy.
“The Badger’s shields are down,” Belle said. “Armor at twenty percent and dropping. She’s all ours! Garus, initiate a directional scan. 360 degrees. Are there any other ships in the area?”
Garus powered up the system scanner in front of him and watched as the information blinked on his screen a moment later.
“A Coveter-class Exhumer in a nearby asteroid belt. Several Guristas cruisers in another asteroid belt two-point-one astronomical units from our present location. That’s it.”
“No threats. Excellent!”
There was a sudden thump that Garus felt inside his entire body. He looked over at Belle’s screen and saw the debris cloud of what used to be a Badger-class hauler.
The Malediction’s microwarpdrive powered down, the warp scrambler was silenced and no more rockets left their nest.
Garus took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
Belle was watching him, smiling. “For some of us,” she said, “the adrenalin rush of a battle never goes away. It’s a bad addiction.”
“Until you die.”
“Yes. Until you die.”
Belle turned back to her computer station.
“Stand by to loot that baby for everything she’s got,” Belle said
“Ishukone’s gonna suffer for what they did to me,” Garus whispered.
“So is anyone else who stands in our way. Good job. Now, grab your gear and begin looting the wreck while Squee does the salvaging.”
Garus smiled. For the first time in his life, he felt like somebody and it was a feeling he hoped would never go away.
The Director of Human Resources, Noolok Tuonyyda, read the reports for a third time.
“Bad business, these pirates.”
The Ishukone Corporation’s Chief of Staff, Ruunuken Vulli, frowned and squinted her eyes into tiny slits. “There’s one pirate in particular I wish you to look at.”
A badly pixilated image appeared on the monitor in front of him.
Noolok shrugged. “Who’s that?”
Vulli smiled now and leaned back in her chair. “You don’t know?”
“Why should I?”
“Take a closer look. The Captain of that ship is a Capsuleer, by the way. Well versed in the abilities of a Malediction-class Interceptor. The woman is well known to Caldari’s mega-corporations as Bellisa Ruosaka.”
“Ruosaka? She has a twenty million ISK bounty on her if I recall.”
“Correct. So, the security chief of this station is already being interrogated as to how she managed to get on board. Do you recognize the man next to her? The one off-loading our encryption equipment onto the Malediction?”
This time it was Noolok’s turn to squint.
“Can’t say as I do.”
“His name is Garus Reffore. He was in our employ as of three days ago, when you fired him.”
“Garus Reffore? What’s he doing there? He’s nothing. Less than average in every area of his work detail. He couldn’t write a report to save his life and it damn well cost him his job!”
Noolok sat up proudly.
“Do you know how we got this image?”
“I’m not privy to the tactical configurations of our transport fleets.”
“Fortunately, I am. You see, we had a Buzzard-class Covert Operations Frigate following each of the transport ships. They were able to coast in and take these images.”
“They never assisted?”
“How? Did you expect those ships to yell at this Malediction? Scare it away? No, their job was surveillance. Report their findings, if any.”
“Did Reffore know all of this?”
“Of course not, you imbecile! Did you even bother to read his psychological profile before terminating him?”
“No. I just did my job.”
“Well, Director, if you had read his psych report, you would have known that he was volatile. His wife and only child had recently been killed in a tragic accident…”
Noolok flailed his arms as if chasing away annoying bugs.
“I knew all that…”
“Excuse me. If I wish to be interrupted, I’ll inform you.”
The Director furrowed his brows in confusion.
“Due the untimely deaths of his family, Mr. Reffore began drinking. His life began unraveling. Did you bother to assist him in any way?”
“All employees know they can request assistance at any time.”
“You didn’t answer my question. Did you assist Mr. Reffore in any way?”
Vulli stood up and turned her back to Noolok, who felt sweat beading across his forehead.
“Due to your incompetence, it has been discovered that ten of our corporation’s high-technology transport ships, including a Bustard-class Deep Space Transport, were intercepted and destroyed, their cargo confiscated. Hundreds of millions of ISK were lost in those raids. Do you know how this happened?”
The Director blanched and felt his stomach trembling, the acid within building and rising.
“Do not make me repeat myself again, Director.”
“Garus Reffore. He was responsible for coordinating those transport routes. They were originally scheduled for between 15-23 jumps from their home stations to their end stations.”
“Until the routes were ordered shortened for budgetary reasons.”
“Resulting in all ten shipments having to go through low-security space with no CONCORD protection, making them extremely susceptible to being hijacked by pirates.”
“I didn’t order the riskier flight plans! I fired the guy who implemented them!”
“No, you fired the man who objected to the plan.”
“Has already been dealt with. Mr. Reffore refused to sacrifice the safety of those transport crews for a few million ISK in savings. He deserved a promotion. First, we took his family, and then we took his life. Now, we have an enemy dedicated to our downfall. How do you think this make me feel?”
“I don’t know.”
Ruunuken Vulli turned around, holding a hand-held particle blaster.
“It makes me angrier than I’ve been in almost eighty years.”
She fired the weapon and Noolok watched as his body remained sitting in its chair and a fountain of blood erupted from its severed neck. It took him less than a second to realize that he could see his headless body dying before his eyesight faded into eternal blackness.
Garus manipulated the computer console and called up a secondary security screen.
“Here! I found it!”
Belle stepped up to his shoulder.
“What is this?”
“I think they’re blueprints for a new battlecruiser variant. Something faster than a battleship, but without the shielding. Something stronger than a cruiser.”
“They already have both the Drake and Ferox-class battlecruisers. Why another?”
“Why a Rokh class battleship? Something else to make ISK on.”
“Are you sure about this?”
“It appears authentic. My encryption codes weren’t compromised. Yeah. I’m sure about this. A CovOp frigate is going to try to transport these items while cloaked. It’ll be nearly impossible to catch him.”
“Nearly, but not completely. It’s almost too good to be true and I suspect we will come across more than just the Buzzard. This one is bound to have more protection than any of those haulers.”
“Agreed. They’ll do anything to protect their profits.”
“We’ve done very well and gotten very rich up to now. Do we risk this or move on to other targets?”
“We destroy those Ishukone bastards every chance we get!”
“Or die trying, right, Garus?”
“Or die trying.”
“Very well. I’ll advise the Captain to chart a course to the Synchelle Star System.”
“Synchelle? Isn’t that where the first wormhole opened up over a year ago?”
“The same. Poetic justice, don’t you think? Something else is about to disappear. Thanks to you, Garus.”
Ruunuken Vulli was immersed in the Capsuleer fluid, in complete control of her ship. She watched and she waited.
Her Sabre-class Interdictor sat, cloaked, at the Synchelle stargate to Kassigainen. She continually scanned the system and waited to hear from her assistant, who waited on the Kassigainen side of the gate, cloaked as well. When the word came, things would happen very quickly.
Any second now, Vulli thought.
As if on cue, she heard her assistant’s voice. “Malediction decloaking at the gate! Jumping through now!”
The bright flare of the stargate erupted thirty five kilometers from her position.
Let’s see how good you are, pilot!
The Malediction decloaked, just for a moment, heading directly for her.
The Sabre decloaked and launched its Interdiction Sphere, a warp-dampening ball of energy that instantly shut down a ship’s ability to escape quickly.
“NOW!” Vulli commanded.
Her Sabre’s microwarpdrive flared to life and pushed her ship towards the Malediction, which suddenly found itself unable to warp away from the danger approaching it. However, it still had a chance of escape and her pilot was experienced enough to take that chance.
The Malediction suddenly disappeared from view, her engines powering up to speed a millisecond beforehand.
Just before disappearing under cloak, the Malediction began a turn, aligning itself toward the stargate to Algogille Star System.
Vulli now knew where to steer her own ship. She just had to get within two thousand meters of the Interceptor to decloak it.
The Sabre’s sensor boosters flared to life and Vulli knew she had mere seconds after decloaking the enemy ship to target and keep the Malediction from getting away.
Garus suppressed a deep chill and held on as the Interceptor banked hard, attempting to flee as quickly as possible.
“She’s coming right at us. Escape maneuver Alpha. Burn away from her. Don’t worry about the gate until we get out of this damn bubble,” Belle said.
She turned to Garus. “Activate the targeting system. The Interdictor has a huge signature compared to ours. If we can target her first, we might get out of this in one piece.”
“Incoming,” the Malediction’s pilot said, his voice booming throughout the entire ship.
The stargate flared to life. Seconds later, an Anathema-class CovOp frigate appeared and angled down toward the Sabre, but it was more than twenty kilometers away.
The Malediction was now approaching 400 meters per second, faster than the Sabre and the Anathema. But not fast enough. The Sabre was 1800 meters away and the Malediction’s invisibility field shut down.
Garus pressed a button and suddenly, blinking red cross-hairs surrounded the Sabre.
He turned and saw Belle smiling. “Targeting acquired. Firing rockets. Four thousand meters to bubble’s edge.”
“The Anathema’s got us targeted. They’re launching missiles! Brace for impact!”
Two thousand meters from the bubble’s edge, the Malediction’s rockets hit the Sabre and the Anathema’s light missiles scored a direct hit on the Interceptor.
Sparks flew from a shattered power conduit.
“Shields down to thirty percent. What are those things?”
“One thousand meters,” the pilot said. “Hold on!”
The Malediction buckled and Garus felt each hit.
“What was that?”
“Sabre’s autocannons,” Belle said. “Until death, Garus Reffore.”
“We’re not dead yet.”
“Shields down. Armor at 40 percent. We can’t take another hit,” the pilot said. “Anathema’s firing missiles!”
Garus waited for the impact. He waited for oblivion. He thought of his wife. His daughter, waiting for him with open arms.
Then, he felt extreme acceleration push him back into his chair and heard the cheer from the pilot. It was almost as if the ship itself were grinning in proud relief. Looking over at Belle, he saw she had that same expression he must have had.
“Are we okay?” Garus asked her.
“Squee’s already working on repairs. Pilot’s already cloaked us. I’m scanning down various safe spots. We can stay in system for weeks if we have to. We were lucky, but for now, we’re safe.”
Garus smiled. “Until we die.”
Belle blew him a kiss and went back to work.
Vulli smiled. “Disengage pursuit. Repeat, disengage. They’re gone.”
“We can wait them out!” The pilot of the Anathema sounded angry.
“We can, but we won’t. Return to the station. I will be along shortly.”
Without responding, the Anathema turned away and disappeared through the stargate into Kassigainen.
Vulli powered down her Sabre. She opened up her communications system and engaged the local frequencies.
“Well played, Malediction. You have won your freedom here today. However, should you attempt any further attacks on Ishukone’s interests in this region, you have my word that you will be hunted down relentlessly, with the might of the entire Ishukone Corporation behind that search. Any other targets are, of course, not Ishukone’s concern.”
She was not expecting a reply, so when one came, she arched her eyebrow in surprise.
“Why? Why would you show mercy now, when you never did before?”
“Garus Reffore. Perhaps this is my way of personally apologizing to you for the injustices perpetrated upon your family and yourself by Ishukone. Regardless, I consider this matter closed, and as the Chief of Staff, my word in this matter is law. I do not expect to hear from or see you again.”
Ruunuken Vulli grinned, powered up her Interdictor class Sabre and turned back toward home.
“Good luck and good hunting, Garus Reffore. May your new life hold more promise than your old one.”
As the stargate powered up and enveloped the Sabre, Vulli thought she heard Garus whisper thanks. At least, that’s what she hoped she heard. In the end, it didn’t really matter. He was free and she had given that to him. It was all she had. It was all either of them needed.