Fiction Friday! Escape pod here!
The Passenger - Part II
"Linead, how are we on transponders?" he asked finally.
"We've got one spare that isn't burnt. Registered in the State as a bulk transport and should still be usable. The other one we had in reserve is no-go. That ship went down to the Serpentis three months ago. Anyone querying the ID will wonder why we're flying a wreck with a crew of corpses. However we'd need to dock to swap transponders and I'm guessing our 'friends' out there have the local stations and outposts covered."
Swapping the transponder was a normal trick of the trade. A spoofed ID copying another ship who hopefully was operating on the right side of the law many light-years away and ideally under another jurisdiction. Swapping them was a risk. Should the law enforcement agencies look closely, there would be no record of that ship making stargate jumps into the system and explaining to the police how your ship miraculously appeared in system would be an issue. The "we came in via a wormhole" was an overused and obvious lie. Plus they would need a safe outpost to do the swap. Dock under one ID and leave under another. Any proper outpost would flag that up. They needed one that operated under the radar and wouldn't immediately call the cops. The issue being Tranard was out of his usual area, he didn't have the connections here in Amarr low-sec.
"Can't we just drop our guest in an escape pod? The navy picks her up. Job done?" Coverie suggested.
"No good. That's a potential future Empress. Do you think the Amarr are going to be happy leaving us with what we know? That their holier-than-thou butter-wouldn't-melt princess is a bit of a party animals and has had more pricks than an acupuncturists client? No. They won't be happy until we're silenced. Moreover, keeping her on-board means they aren't likely to vapourise us and will be careful with their shooting. They'll try to disable rather than destroy which gives us an edge. Without her they'll bring the big guns to bare and won't hold back. Lets keep them restricted to small weapons and precision shooting shall we?"
The table fell silent again. The crew knew the Captain was right. Their industrial was no match for Capsuleer piloted Navy vessels. Anything cruiser and above would take seconds to destroy them.
"I'll make a call and then check on our guest. Get to your stations and be ready to move." the captain ordered rising from the table.
The green hologram glowed bright in the darkened room.
"Tranard! How are you? Back in Dodixie yet? Got my delivery?" the small computer generated figure spoke.
"No Yvandele. In fact we're having some logistical issues. Its all gone a bit Hasmijala here and we need a safe haven."
The face on the hologram turned serious.
"Villore serious or Old Man Star serious?"
When Tranard had mentioned Hasmijala Yvandele knew to be careful and that their communications may be intercepted. The holographic figure picked up a datapad and scanned through it.
"I know somewhere near you, but its three jumps back."
Tranard groaned. "Nowhere in this system?" he asked assuming Yvandele was tracing the signal to the nearest stargate fluid-router any knew which solar system they were in currently.
"No. My information is that the system you are in is locked down. Something about a.... oh."
"Its not what you think or what is being reported. We have a run-away onboard."
"Can them!" Yvandele replied.
"Wouldn't make any difference to our situation."
Yvandele just nodded thinking about it.
"Look I'm sending you a bookmark. Encrypted key number 43. Be warned. A good system can break that encryption in a couple of days, three at the top."
Tranard nodded as the hologram vanished. He looked at his datapad and ran the encryption key. One of a set Yvandele had granted him years ago when he started working for the underground information broker.
"Amme. Set a course for the system I'm sending you. However only align to the outbound gate. I'll be up in five minutes." he said into his comm unit leaving the holo-com room. He headed up two flights of metal stairs until he reached the crew quarters area. As Captain he had the large cabin at the end. He look a deep breath before entering.
Eva was still in bed, she looked up with a smile.
"So Captain, are you here to take my order for breakfast in bed..." she pulled the white sheet down exposing her breasts "...or have you something more fun else in mind?" she purred.
The Captain rolled his eyes.
"I'm sorry, breakfast is delayed as we polish the best silverware... your royal highness." he said sarcastically.
Her expression immediately dropped and she pulled the sheet over her head and groaned.
"A fracking future Empress. How the frack dare you! Sentencing me and my crew to death just so little Miss privilege can have some fun. Is that all it was. Wanted to get to a proper Gallente nightclub and blow off some steam before ascending to the throne was it?"
She pulled the sheet back and jumped out of bed. She strode over to him and jabbed a finger in his chest.
"You know nothing? Do you think I asked for this? Do you think I want that? I was going to ask for asylum in the Federation. I was going to disappear to live like a normal person. I don't want to rule anything. Not the planet Eclipticum, not the Kor-Azor Prime solar system, not the Gebem constellation and certainly not the Amarrian Empire. If I even got there. The numbers are the same as always, if the Drifters have another pop at us I'll be in with a 6 out of 7 chance of having to commit suicide in the next succession trails. No. I don't want any of this. I want out! I'm sorry I put you in danger. I didn't mean to. I thought my cover story would be good for several days. Long enough that you'd all be back in Gallente space and safe and they'd be no reason to come after you. Damage done."
The Captain was stunned by the admission. This girl had the opportunity to be the most powerful woman in the known galaxy and she wanted nothing to do with it.
"What is done is done." he conceded not wanting to continue the argument. Her nakedness was putting him off. "Sit tight here. We need to go back deeper into Amarrian space where there is a small outpost that'll let us swap ID of this ship and hopefully allow us to slip back in the Federation."
She turned and sat on the bed, her knees deliberately apart.
"Don't leave me too long Captain. If we're all going to die horribly might as well enjoy the time we have." she said with a smile.
The Captain shook his head and walked out.
Sir, we have something!"
The Inquisitor looked up from his desk as Borvah entered his roomy personal office. The Absolution class commandship was large. Based on the Harbinger battlecruiser, it was spacious and allowed the highly-ranked officers plenty of space.
"Reviewing all the transmissions to ships in this system and only those in space we intercepted a communique we believe was between the target and a contact in Gallente space. He sent an encrypted bookmark."
"Can we decode it?" the Inquisitor asked.
"Eventually sir, but it could take up to 50 hours, we don't know. All we know is it is a solar system somewhere back several jumps the way they came."
"Good. Reinforce the outbound gate and..." a beep interrupted him. He looked down at his datapad. "I see we are too late. I have a report that the target ship has just dropped out of warp at the gate. Inform our capsuleer to align for that gate but not to warp. If the ship escapes I want the fleet to pursue them."
"And us sir?"
"I take it you have an origin from that transmission?"
"Yes sir. We traced it back to the Quafe station in the system of Old Man Star."
"Excellent. That is our destination if they slip through the gate-camp then. With our capsuleer piloting we should be able to be there within the hour."
Borvah nodded and span around to the door, heading to the bridge to relay the orders.
"They are locking us up!" Coverie shouted over the tactical alarm.
"Really? I thought dinner was ready?" the Captain grumbled to himself thinking the blaring alarm made it obvious enough.
"5km out." Amme called.
The Captain wished he was a capsuleer. They could drop out of warp almost on top of the stargate and jump immediately. The limited navicom on this ship dropped them out 15km from the stargate and they had to travel the rest of the way to the gate on sub-light engines. A gate surrounded by the Amarrian Navy.
"We're scrammed and webbed! Speed is dropping!"
"Come on baby!" the Captain leant forward. It was going to be close.
The incoming warp scrambler had neutralised the micro-warp drive they had used to cover the last 10km so quickly. The stasis webifier was also rapidly slowing the ship. Laser fire lit up the blackness of space. The ship juddered as the energy weapons struck their shields. He had been right. The larger ships were holding their fire. Unwilling to risk vaporising the ship and thus killing a daughter of a royal heiress.
"3km. Shields at 34%."
The crew tensed as they watched the distance to the gate reduce painfully slowly. They barely were moving when the counter dipped under 2500m.
"JUMP!" shouted the Captain and the there was a flash of light as the ship was swallowed by the artificial wormhole. The process of gate travel was unpleasant to the human body. There were collective groans from various members of the crew as they reacted badly to the jump. The view screen flickered back on as the systems came back online.
"Out of the fire...." Coverie stated as they all looked up at the screen. The destination stargate was surrounded by Amarrian ships. The Captain quickly scanned the options. The jump had been lucky, there was a good alignment to a distant asteroid belt.
"OK we're doing this old school. No room for error boys and girls. Our shields will fail on the next hit. On my mark I want alignment to the 'roid belt and a pulse of the MWD. Straight on and off. Activate the cloak and we coast to warp velocity, decloak and warp. Just like a pirate camp."
"Only this is not a pirate camp." Amme grumbled.
The ship shuddered as Linead set velocity to max and engaged the MWD. The normal cloaking field projected by the stargate onto any ship entering the system for 60 seconds fell away as the ship moved. Amme activated their own cloak as soon as the stargate projected one started to drop. The MWD was now offline.
"We've got a Malediction making a run for us. 12km out."
The crew held their breath. Any object coming within 2500m of them would cause enough gravimetric disturbance to cause the delicate cloaking field to fail. It was a common tactic my gate-camps to use a fast frigate to try and burn at the area where the ship appeared for a fraction of a second.
"9km. 7km. 4km...."
The tension in the bridge was unbearable.
"6km. 9km." He overshot but got close!" Amme sighed in relief. "He's turning!"
"Decloak and warp." the Captain ordered.
The single cycle of the MWD had propelled the industrial to speeds above what it needed to enter warp. The cloaking field dropped and before any of the navy vessels had time to target them, they were in warp.
Yvandele entered the office of his nightclub. As he approached the desk the chair swung around. A man in a black shirt and trousers sat there. Yvandele paused to appraised the stranger. He was obviously an Amarrian but his attire did not give anything away. The fact he'd gotten this far past his elaborate security made him a serious threat. He casually glanced behind him. Two other men, also dressed in nondescript black, were stood against the back wall. He'd not been able to see them as he entered. He was outmanned and outmaneuvered for now. He needed to stall them, whoever they were.
"Greetings Yvandele. I have heard a lot about you. Entertainer, club owner, black-market information broker."
Yvandele knew there was no point lying. He needed to send a message to his family to run. He needed to buy some time.
"Well sir, you have me at a disadvantage. You know who I am."
"Yes I do. I also know you communicated with a Captain Tranard. He's a bit lost in our space at the moment. He's also got a very special person with him we are keen to reunite with her parents. So if you can unlock your console here we can do what we need to do and be on our way... and nobody needs to get hurt."
Yvandele knew that was a lie. They couldn't be sure he wouldn't call Tranard and warn him he was compromised. He was dead the second he unlocked his terminal. Tranard that was not the only thing stopping him unlocking that terminal. Not only would it condemn himself, the Captain and all aboard that ship to death, there would be many thousands more throughout New Eden. Over the years his services had been bought by many. From the scum of New Eden; pirates, criminals and pushers to what he considered the good. Members of the Amarrian underground pushing for democracy. Matari freedom fighters attempting to release the millions of their brothers and sisters still enslaved by the Amarrian race. No, unlocking his terminal wouldn't just cost him his life. It would be thousands dead in the Amarrian held systems. Perhaps one of the biggest coups for the Amarrian intelligence services , who he assumed now the intruder worked for, they would ever get, setting the resistance and freedom fighters back decades and exposing their network.
"You seem hesitant. May be we can negotiate?"
He nodded at one of his men who opened the door which led to a small store cupboard off Yvandele's office. Yvandele let out a sob as his wife, son and daughter were led out at gunpoint by two more men.
The other two men approached Yvandele and forced him into a chair, binding his wrists and ankles to the frame. The Inquisitor rose and they repeated the process with his teenage son, tying him to the chair.
"I understand your boy here has been accepted into Duvolle. Congratulations!" the Inquisitor stated pulling a strange handle from his belt. "And your daughter is likely to finish college later this year and follow him I have read in a report. Excellent grades apparently!"
Yvandele sobbed and watched intently as the Amarrian raised the strange device and clicked a hidden button. The glimmering silver sabre extended with four distinct metallic clicks. The rare weapon was a masterpiece of nano-engineering. The interface between the sections of the blade invisible to the naked eye.
"Unless you unlock that terminal things are going to get ugly." he stated pointing the sabre at the boy. "My men here have been couped up in my ship for far too long without any 'R and R' if you get my meaning, and this blade has not tasted blood in a whole day."
Yvandele looked at his terrified son, his eyes fixed on the blade just inches from his stomach. He then looked at his wife and daughter. Each had a man each side holding them tight. The look in the men's eyes told him they were hoping he'd resist. Finally he glanced at the terminal. The low-lifes he didn't care for. They knew the risks they took. However, thousands of good men and women would be rounded up by the Amarrian security services. Thousands of people could be in this exact same position as him if he unlocked that computer. Them and their families suffering a thousand times worse in the interrogation centres of the Amarr Empire.
"Look wait...." he said trying to think of a delaying tactic.
"No. No waiting." the Amarrian replied casually and slowly pushed the sabre forward into the belly of the boy. The family screamed in unison. The Amarrian withdrew the blade and nodded to his men who dragged the women to the floor. They pulled knives and started to cut away the womens clothing. The screams raising in pitch as the sharp blades nicked flesh. The Inquisitor walked behind Yvandele and angled the chair so he had the best view.
"Your son has five minutes. Seven at the most. However that is likely to be a pleasant way to go compared to them." he hissed in Yvandele's ear.
Yvandele looked at his wife and daughter, now stripped to their underwear and were desperately fighting against the men. Thin red lines leaked blood where the knives had nicked the skin. The men continued their assault, the knives were gone, obviously they prefered to have a more hands on approach for the final scraps of clothing. His gaze fell on his sobbing son. The front of his shirt was wet and a trail of blood leaked from his lips.
"Unlock the terminal and it'll all be over. Leave it too long and the men will get bored. Then the knives will come out again. Once they have sated their lust, friendly wagers will be made on who can get the woman to scream the most. It can get very, very unpleasant." the Inquisitor said gently as one of the men slapped his wife in the face to stop her resisting.
"We got two interceptors on short-scan as we left. They followed us to the belt but were too slow."
The Captain nodded looking at the scan results on his monitor. They had stopped at a safe point in deep space and cloaked up. Combat scanner probes were everywhere. He consulted the starmap. They had two more jumps to go before they got to the outpost.
He needed a break. Looking at the charts he had a plan. One of the stargates was near to a planet, the one they wanted was in a point in deep space only a couple of AU away.
"Helm. Plot course to planet III. Warp us to 100km and then bounce to the outbound gate."
"Captain?" Linead queried the strange request.
"Just do it and no waiting. We want to land and be in warp as soon as possible."
Amme looked quizzically at the Captain and then smiled. She realised the plan. The ships on the gate near that planet were going to get excited. They'll report they have the ship on short-range scan and the assumption will be that was there destination outgate. This would draw ships from the other gates leaving them lightly defended. It was a risky plan that relied on the Amarrians being overzealous. However when dealing with Amarrains it was a safe assumption.
The ship shuddered as it entered warp.
To be continued.....