Fiction Friday. Escape pod here.
The piece below is based on this week's Blog Banter.
Trerron pushed to the front of the murmuring crowd. Dozens of people josseled for a better view. Caldari, Gallente, Matari, Amarrian, every race was represented there. It was beautiful. The vast window looked into space and the massive fleet of ships assembled outside the station. The light show was hypnotic. It would have been a wonderful experience to watch, if the weapons fire wasn't aimed at their citadel with the sole intent of obliterating them. The citadel's massive shields lit up each time a torpedo or laser beam struck it. As one of the top engineers on the station Trerron could see the shields were weakening under the barrage of fire from the dreadnoughts.
"What can we do Trerron?" a voice said to his right.
He turned and looked. Challelle was by his side looking at him. He was surprised. Whilst he hadn't seen her directly, he was too busy pushing through the crowd and looking at the spectacular light-show outside, his subconscious must have noted her and guided him so that he was positioned next to the object of his desire. She even knew his name. He didn't realise she even knew he existed. They both worked at the local Propel Dynamics facility on the citadel. She was in accounts, he was a lead engineer on the laboratory floor. He'd watched her from afar for the last year, never having the guts to approach her. To him, she was the most beautiful woman on the station. Ethnic Gallente with jet black hair and a pale complexion. She was short, but perfectly formed. She always dressed immaculately and her bold make-up made him weak at the knees. She glanced back to the window and he took the opportunity to take her all in. Red high heels, black tights and a short pleated red skirt. Her top was skin tight and transparent black, but the ladies suit jacket she wore on top covered her modesty. It was a tantalising glimpse that sent him into a sweat. Without that jacket her outfit would be totally inappropriate even on a Gallente station. With it, she was professional sexy. Now, after a year of watching her from afar and wanting to speak to her more than anything, he could. All whilst two dozen seiged dreadnoughts and a large support fleet rained destructive fire at them. He felt that fate had given him a wonderful gift and then kicked him in the nuts a seconds later just for shits and giggles. As he stood there dumb-struck, staring at her she turned back and continued.
"Some have left saying they were going to grab a shuttle and make a run for it."
Finally Trerron found his voice.
"There is not a lot we can do. See those there." he said pointing up at a high angle.
Challelle craned her neck and looked at the six specs of fast travelling light. She looked back at Trerron and nodded.
"They are starburst torpedoes fired from our defenses. Their blast radius is large. Probably only tickling those seiged dreadnoughts but they'll rip any shuttle or small craft apart. That's before the idiots in command start firing off any citadel class smart bombs." Trerron sighed. "It would be suicide to undock."
"May be if they warped off quick they would get away?" she asked hopefully.
Trerron shook his head.
"See the flickering light out there that looks a bit like the shield bubble. They are warp disruption fields. Any ship or escape pod is going to have to fly well out of range of those before it can warp. Its suicide to take anything but a capsuleer piloted interceptor frigate which has a specially shielded warp drive. I don't suppose you know a friendly capsuleer here on the station with one?"
She gave a weak smile.
"Best chance might be the escape pods. However they'll only launch as the station gives-way. The warp bubbles and the explosions from the citadel going up and the weapons fire. I'm afraid the odds are not good."
"So that is it then? We're finished? Us? All these people? All these billions of tons of construction? The hundreds of ships and cargo inside? All to be atomised like we never existed?"
"Yes. Looks that way I'm afraid. We and everything on this citadel has the life expectancy of a bottle of vodka at a Gallente rockstar's afterparty. Well, expect of course for the....." Trerron trailed off. Deep in thought.
"What?" Challelle asked, a tinge of hope in her voice.
Trerron looked around to see if anyone else had been listening to him, they hadn't. Everyone was busy concentrating on the scene outside. Probably hoping a friendly fleet of capital ships would jump in and save the day. A smile creeped across Trerron's face. He took Challelle's hand and slowly started leading her through the crowd and out of the room without saying anything. She followed.
A few minutes later they were in deck 13. The top deck of the administration offices for the citadel which were now abandoned after everyone had fled. Trerron was stood at a secure maintenance hatch, its control panel had been popped from the wall and was hanging by a mass of wires. Trerron had his datapad connected to various points in the back of the console.
"Were are we going?" Challelle asked worriedly.
"We need to get down to the hangers." Trerron replied not turning his attention from the datapad.
"Why did we come up to the thirteenth deck then?"
"Not the normal hangers. The hangers we need are shielded by a metre thick wall of tritanium that runs around the bottom of the citadel up to deck twelve so they are utterly secure. You cannot get across to these from the bottom decks"
He tried to ignore the fact that in space there was no top, no bottom as there was no up or down. However he didn't want to spend ten minutes arguing astrophysics with her.
"The capsuleer hangers!" she said surprised "You are going to break into a capsuleer hanger!"
"I will, if I can get some quiet to concentrate!" he said.
Challelle fell quiet for a few moments.
"Why didn't we go to deck 12 then? That's the start of the capsuleer's deck. Wouldn't it be easy to get to the hangers from their deck?"
Trerron sighed again.
"Have you ever been to deck 12? I have once for a meeting with the CEO. There is one single bank of lifts that breaks through the reinforced deckplate between 13 and 12. It opens in a secure room with lots of scanners and lots of big men with big guns. Rumour has it that in ceiling hatches there are even more guns controlled by the AI. You need an appointment and they only let you through if you have a invitation and not carrying anything suspicious. Our reason of 'We want to break into a capsuleer's hanger' is not going to work and I doubt the big men with the big guns would stand around and watch me hack the secure door like I'm doing here!"
A beep on his pad cut him off. He disconnected the device and pulled the sliding door open. A set of rungs were set in a conduit rising up.
"We need to climb up about ten metres, then there is a crawl-way access across the blast-shield wall. You ready?" Trerron asked stretching out a hand. Challelle nodded and took his hand.
The ventilation grating fell to the floor with a loud clang. Trerron emerged feet first, dropping the metre and a half to the deck plates. He then helped Challelle down. She had not enjoyed the last twenty minutes. The crawling through maintenance ducts and conduits was tough. He looked at her standing there. Her face was dirty and her usually perfect hair was messed up. Her legs were red from the crawling and her skin showed through where her tights had worn through and ripped at the knees. Were they tights Trerron thought? A woman like Challelle might wear something more racy. Gallente stockings made with imported Amarrian silk. Lace made from.... he shook his head. This was not the time. for one of his regular fantasies about her.
"You OK?" Challelle asked concerned.
"Yeah. You?" he replied blushing.
"Well not sure I'll win any beauty pageants right now but if we can get out of here before the pace blows I'll be happy." she laughed.
Trerron wanted to say something complimentary and witty. He just couldn't think of anything. He looked around at their surroundings. The hanger was immense. Ship modules and components were stacked tens of metres high. Massive secure crates carrying warnings of explosives and ammunition lined the walls. At least if he was wrong they'd not suffer. If this lot went up, they'd never even know about it.
"What now? We find one of those interceptor ships?" she asked.
"Can you fly one?" he asked.
"No! But you can surely? Why else would you bring us here?"
"I cannot fly even a shuttle, never mind an advanced frigate." he laughed.
"So why did you bring us down here?" she said surprised and sounded slightly annoyed.
He turned around looking for something. "There!" he said pointing to a door on the far side of the hanger. They walked over and Trerron opened the door. They both looked in at the massive machine in the circular room.
"So its true." he said marvelling at the sight.
"What's true? What is that?" Challelle asked.
"There were rumours. Like it was some big secret. Apparently capsuleers didn't like the fact their life savings were at such risk in a citadel. Effyr and Co allegedly came up with a solution. These hangers are actually self-contained. Multiple hanger modules fit together so you can have them as small and large as you like. This one is a capsuleer's equipment store. His ships will be in another. When the AI detects the citadel is lost it activates a fail-safe. That thing we're staring at, well it is basically an over-sized jump drive. When the time comes this entire hanger will be jumped to safety." he said, a touch of awe in his voice at the engineering feat required to accomplish something on this scale.
"But what about the warp disruption fields. You said...."
"They are out there. We are in here. The bubbles cannot effect something this shielded. They did it. I cannot believe the rumours are true."
"So we are going to survive?" Challelle said, her voice breaking with emotion. "Where will this take us?"
"Could be anywhere." Trerron replied. "Normal jump drives have a range of around five light-years. However they are restricted by available power and the fact both the departure point and arrival point are never fixed and always moving. Their navi-coms have to update the jump plan several times every millisecond. Avoiding suns and other gravity wells. This one has almost limitless power from the citadel's fusion reactors and is jumping from a static, fixed location to another. No complex re-calculations due to movement of the origin and destination points. I have no idea how far it can jump, but it'll be much father than any carrier, freighter or even titan could ever dream of."
The citadel shook and the lights in the hanger flickered. A loud hum started to emanate from the huge device in front of them as it started to charge.
Challelle turned to him and smiled. "You saved me. You're my hero!"
He smiled, embarrassed. He was a geek, inexperienced with women. He blushed again and looked down at the ground avoiding eye-contact.
"Haven't you seen those cheesy Gallente action holovids?" she said coyly. "You know how they all end right?"
Trerron shrugged and looked confused.
Challelle laughed and moved close. Her delicate perfume enveloped him. She wrapped her hand around the back of his neck pulling him in for the kiss. His first kiss.
The whine of the jump drive reached an almost painful threshold and there was a massive flash of light, then silence.
The drone rumbled along on its rubber wheels. It was an odd looking thing, built for practicality not looks. A robot designed and built by other robots. Four wheels each side of a rectangular base with a double jointed manipulator arm rising from a box in the middle-front. It moved around the various crates and items in the hanger taking the most direct line it could to its destination. The sensors in the hanger had detected the location and dispatched the drone. The AI was simple but it was determined. Nothing should ever upset the client. It knew not why, but it was built into its code so it followed the routine to the later. It didn't know what a capsuleer was. How much immense power and money they commanded. It had its job and it was going to do it.
The drone reached the location which was just outside the door to the jump drive. The manipulator arm started to pick up the scattered items that didn't belong there and deposited them in a small skip on the back of its body. A man's shoe, a shirt, one stocking, a high-heeled shoe, another stocking, a pair of pants with belt. After thirty seconds all the items were picked up. A blue laser scanned the pile on the floor that remained.
..... Scan verified. Organic matter. 145 kilogram total mass. Life-signs none. DNA inconclusive. Non-human. No known life-form. Categorize as deceased unknown organic waste. Clear to proceed on clean-up.....
The manipulator arms on the drone span and a nozzle was selected from the various options. A silver spray ejected from the arm over the mass of red organic waste. Tiny nanites designed to consume organic matter went to work. The pile appeared from a distance to slowly dissolve. Once it was gone the drone retreated. Its job done.
There is a section in the manual for the citadel capsuleer hangers. It warns capsuleers that the jump drive is unshielded and emits a huge radiation pulse when it activates. Shielding the jump drive would limit the range too much. Any organic matter in the hanger will receive a massive dose of ionising radiation, enough the break apart DNA instantaneously and mutate flesh and bone beyond recognition of even medical quality bio-scanners. Under no circumstances should any person, animal or organic material be located in the hanger during its emergency jump unless inside a shielded container. Nothing can possibly survive the jump. A few of the capsuleers have read this. None of them really care.