Monday, August 22, 2011

Zakree Part II - The Gamble

Below is some more geeky fan-fiction. I originally wrote this to accompany this post about custom ship crews in Eve. However I thought it need a bit more background about why he was so desperate to get out of capsuleer crewing. So I wrote an introduction to the main character for that post instead. The piece below follows on from that previous blog post.


"How did it come to this?" Zakree wondered. His head held facedown in his hands, his elbows resting on the table.

He felt Samara's warm hands on his shoulders. She gently squeezed in support.

Zak raised his head and looked across the table. Marcus, his XO, sat there arms folded, staring at him emotionless. His girlfriend, Zak could only assume she was his girlfriend, the black-haired sultry beauty, was all over him like a rash. Probably whispering in his ear what she was going to do to him tonight after he won. Most likely to ensure she got a better present from his winnings, she looked the type.

Between the two men lay 6 playing cards, 3 each, all face down. In between the cards was a pile of money the likes of which Zak had never seen before. The pile was over several years worth of salary to him. As well as the cash there was a necklace and a encrypted passcard for a starship. The passcard would give Zak his dream. However, the necklace was the most precious thing to him on the table even though it had by far the least monetary value on the table.

The series of events that had led up to this moment had all started a few hours ago whilst he was on-shift in the Hurricane class battlecruiser on which he lived and worked.......

"Now hear this! This is the Executive Officer" The crew in the engineering bay all groaned out loud as his voice came over the ship-wide comms channel. In every other starship in the galaxy, the 2nd in command was known as the XO, however their XO, Marcus, always insisted on the full title of Executive Officer being used.

"Our captain is not planning to take this vessel out again over the next few days so has asked me to inform you that you may consider yourselves on station-leave this weekend"

A cheer went up throughout the ship.

"Additionally he has authorised me..." everyone noted how the XO emphasised the 'me' bit ".... to deposit your quarterly wages a few days early so you may enjoy this weekend even more" an even bigger cheer went up.

Zak smiled. As Senior Mechanic, even when the ship was in station he usually had work to do. A weekends leave, and being paid early was great news. He could spend all weekend with his girlfriend, Samara, and he could treat her to something nice too. He had been with Samara for almost a year and it was going very well. However, a capsuleers ship in low-sec was no place for a couple. Samara had said she wanted to take their relationship to the next level, but not whilst he was serving on a capsuleers crew. He understood. Capsuleers were the immortals. They generally didn't care too much about a persons life, their own included. Death in space was a mere inconvenience to the them. Mortality rates on capsuleer ships were high. Even with the escape pods on modern ships, Zak himself had lost many good friends and had almost died twice. He glanced over to the power relay board. It was at that panel on another Hurricane class battlecruiser last month he had seen his friend Kathreen killed. A power conduit had blown out and skewered her. He had seen the life drain from her young eyes. He too had nearly died that day. He had only just managed to reach an escape pod in time. Whilst he was awaiting rescue the captain had flown back to station in his pod and simply bought a new ship. The hundreds that had died that day probably didn't even register with him.

The problem was there was limited opportunities for him outside the well paying capsuleer ship crews. Normal captains, who weren't cloned at death like capsuleers, were a bit more careful with their ships. So an excellent mechanic was not really needed as long as you had a good or average one, and they were cheap and plentiful.

"And finally" The XO continued "I'll be in the crew bar on deck 92 myself tonight. If anyone fancies a few hands of cards I'll be up for it."

Marcus' card games were legendary. After a few drinks the crew were soon keen to gamble their recently received their full three months of salary away. Living costs on a battlecruiser were zero. You had your shared cabin, you were fed, clothed and on this ship there was even a modest drink allowance. You didn't really need to spend anything to survive. Marcus was a shark. Not only was he paid 10 fold compared to the rest of the crew, he would happily bleed them dry at the card table. He had no mercy, no morals, no empathy for his fellow man. In fact he was more like a capsuleer than anyone dared to point out to him.

As soon as the ship was docked and powered down, Zak grabbed his bag and headed to the station transit system. Half an hour later he was pressing the call button at Samara's quarters. She opened the door and smiled, pulling him in close to her and kissing him deeply. Zak was taken by surprise by this. She pulled him into her quarters, the door slid shut. She span him round and pushed him hard. He staggered backwards and fell on the bed. "What's gotten into her?" Zak thought "This is not like her!". Samara smiled and undid the belt on her robe. She dropped her shoulders and the robe fell to the floor. She walked towards Zak with a smile on her face.

An hour later Zak walked out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around him, still wet from the shower. Samara was still in bed where he'd left her but he could hear quiet sobs coming from her. He slid onto the bed behind her.

"What is it?" he asked.
She sniffled "I cannot do this anymore. I thought I could, I thought if I really tried.... but I can't. Earlier today in the office we could see two ships engaging off the station from our viewport. One was a Hurricane, I... well.... it could have been yours. Two bigger ships undocked and tore it to pieces. I saw it break up. The bodies....." she broke down in tears.
"I'm trying to get out. It's not easy. You cannot support us both on your salary. I cannot find work other than on the pod ships."
"I know, but I cannot go on like this. Never knowing if you'll be back. I just can't"
Zak looked up at the clock. There was still time. He got up and started dressing.
"Where are you going?" Samara asked as she propped herself up in bed, pulling the sheet up around her. She wiped her moist eyes.
"I'm going to make a break for freedom." Zak said as he walked out of her quarters.

The bar was packed but Zak could see Marcus at his usual table. The bouncers were in the process of dragging a clearly furious, and very drunk, crew member away from the table and out of the bar. It was impossible to see how many peoples quarterly pay Marcus had already taken, but looking at the pile of money on the table, it was many.

Zak went up to the table and took the now empty seat. Marcus smiled... "Ah, yes.... erm...."
"Ah yes of course Zak. How are you"
"Fine, lets play"
"I like a man who gets to the point. As you can see I'm having a good night. How much we playing for?" Marcus was so smug any normal person would just want to punch him in the nose after spending 10 seconds in his company.

Zak pulled out a bag and emptied it on the table "100,000".
There was a gasp from the people surrounding the table. Zak had been to the bank on his way down and withdrawn his life savings. He'd been saving hard to buy a frigate. With his skills he knew he could easily make a living from salvaging. Unfortunately, the 100k was not Interstellar Kredits. It was the local currency used by non-capsuleers. And even 100k which was a lot to a normal person, was nowhere near enough to buy a frigate which were traded in ISK. Zak had now realised by the time he had enough saved, he'd be dead. Also he knew he was losing Samara. So this was his plan. Win big, buy his frigate and marry Samara. Or lose everything, his savings, his dream, his girl, and be bound to that godforsaken battlecruiser for life, which was not likely to be that long serving on a capsuleer ship.

"Wow... erm... Zak wasn't it? Where did you get all that?" Marcus eyed the money greedily.

"Savings. Are we going to play or are we going to discuss the virtues of compound interest in the banking services?" Zak was nervous, but he needed to show he was strong.

"I've no problem with that!" Marcus beckoned over a woman. She was stunning. Hourglass figure in a tight red silk dress. Her long jet-black hair bounced gently as she walked. "Honey, could you get me a drink. I think we'll be celebrating later." The woman looked at the money on the table and smiled. She walked over to the bar without saying a word.

The first hand went badly for Zak. But he didn't let it show. The volume of money on the table had attracted quite an audience. They were all stood slightly back, except Marcus' girl who was now stood behind him. Touching his shoulders and occasionally whispering in his ear.

Over the next few hands Zak lost more, but towards the end he started to win some back. He jumped as a pair of hands were placed on his shoulders. He looked up to see Samara behind him.

"What the frack are you doing?" She asked, despite the words, neither her voice or expression carried any real emotion.

"Risking it all. Either I win tonight and I quit pod-crews and we live happily-ever-after. Or I lose. And I lose everything." he whispered at her. She smiled back at him and nodded.

Zak's run of luck had started to irritate Marcus. He was getting angry with himself. The more worked up Marcus became, the more Zak started winning. Within half an hour Zak was up. Still nowhere near what he needed, but he was up. The next few hands were massive wins for him. Before long his pile of cash was bigger than Marcus' who was now looking decidedly uncomfortable. Soon Marcus was looking downbeat and sweating. However, Zak realised it was not going to be enough. Even if he did clear Marcus out, and in one more winning hand he would, he'd not have the cash to set up on his own. His gamble had not paid off. He had won, but not by enough. After the cards were turned, with Marcus all in, Zak played another winning hand. Marcus slammed his fist down on the table as Zak pulled the pile of cash in the centre on the table towards him.

"I want to continue!" Marcus growled.
"Your running slightly low on money by the look of things" Zak observed.
"Screw money. I want another hand." And with that Marcus fished a passcard from his pocket and tossed it into the centre of the table. "The Claw"

Gasps and murmured voices rose from the spectators. Zak's jaw dropped open. Everyone on the crew knew about The Claw. It was a rather fancy name for an old Kestrel class Caldari frigate. It was nothing special and the fact this rather poor little frigate had been named "The Claw" was a constant source of amusement for the crew. Apparently Marcus won it in a card game but had never used it. He saw his position as XO on a Capsuleer piloted battlecruiser as much higher status and better paid than an independent captain of a rust-bucket frigate. However he did like owning his own starship even if it had never left the docking bay.

"I... I... I don't have anything to match that" Zak stammered. He wished he had, but he just didn't have the money to make it an equal bet.
"Yes you do. All that what you came with, and what you've won from me, plus....." Marcus shifted his gaze to Samara. Marcus' companion saw this and looked at Samara with hungry eyes. Biting her bottom lip in a an over the top statement of agreement with her man.
"Oh yes baby! Do I get to play too" Marcus girl purred seductively.
"That's a definite babes, you know how I love to watch." Marcus was clearly loving this "One night with your woman, and she has to make an effort, plus all that on the table for The Claw. One hand, three cards, simple blind draw. What do you say Zaky?"
"NO WAY! YOU ARE FU..." Zak was rising out of his chair angrily but his words were cut off by Samara squeezing his shoulder and pushing him gently back into his chair. She walked around to the middle of the table and raised her hands behind her neck. She unfastened her necklace and placed it next to the passcard for the frigate.
"That's me" she said matter-of-factly. "You win" she turned to Marcus with a neutral look "You and your whore get me for the night as a willing participant". "You win" she turned to Zak, smiling, "You get me forever". She walked back behind Zak and placed her hands on his shoulders. He slowly pushed the huge pile of money into the centre to join the passcard and the necklace, still shaking his head in disbelief. The bar had fallen silent.

As the dealer lay the cards in front of each player Zak held his head in his hands.

These six small plastic cards would decide his fate. In a matter of moments he would either have a frigate and the cash to fit it and be off to start a new life with the woman he loved. Or, he'd be penniless as his XO took all his money, his woman and his dignity. Zak felt light headed. "How did it come to this?" Zak wondered.

Zak straightened himself up. Marcus smiled, shifted his gaze to Samara, smiled, and turned the first card. A Black Raven. He turned the second card, another Black Raven. He turned his final card. A third Black Raven. There were more gasps from the spectators and Zak's heart sank. Not many hands could beat three Black Ravens.

With shaking hands Zak turned his first card. A Red Chimera. He turned the second card. A Black Nyx. His cards were technically higher, but three Black Ravens was still better and with the mix of colours in his own hand, a win for him now was unlikely. He couldn't turn the last card. His mind fast-forwarded, he saw Samara leaving with Marcus and that dark-haired whore. He saw his life savings gone. He saw himself back on that battlecruiser with no money, no way out and a smug son-of-a-bitch XO who would remind him daily in every gory detail of the night he'd spent with the woman he loved. Not that it mattered in the long run, he saw the capsuleer getting into another unwinnable fight and seeing himself tripping as he went for the escape pod and becoming a frozen corpse a few seconds later.

Zak finally turned the last card....... a Red Avatar. The bar went silent for a split second and erupted in cheers. A cap run. Carrier, super-carrier and titan. The colours meant nothing, a cap run beat the XO's hand, even with three Black Ravens. Zak had won. Marcus just sat their for a brief second before suddenly standing up. His chair went skidding across the bar, his woman had to dodge out of the way. Marcus snapped. He was screaming that Zak must have cheated and that he would flush him out of an airlock for humiliating him like that. Marcus picked up a bottle and smashed it on the edge of the table and lunged at Zak. He never got close. A blue bolt of energy hit him and he went down. Three bouncers picked up the unconscious Marcus and carried him out. The pacifier camera in the ceiling retracted it's stun gun and went back to scanning through the crowd for trouble makers. Zak turned to Samara and kissed her. He scooped up the passcard and placed the cash back in the bag he had brought in originally. He picked up the necklace and stood behind Samara and fixed it around her neck before kissing her there. He then dragged her to the bar and ordered the most expensive bottle of Amarrian wine they had.

After two hours of celebrating, Zak was still smiling when two station officials approached him.

"Zakree Audian?" one asked.
"Please accept this hanger transfer" the official handed a datapad to Zak.
"But I won a frigate tonight. Not a hanger!" Zak protested.
"Be that may. The fact is that we have been requested to set this hanger up in your name and transfer some modules across."
Zak placed his thumb on the scanner.
"OK but there is some mistake, the thumb-scan will show you've got the wrong...." The datapad bleeped in acceptance. Zak looked at the manifest and it showed he had a prepaid hanger in station which his new frigate was being moved into. Moreover, the hanger inventory showed stocked ship modules, everything he needed to fit his salvaging Kestrel.
"But.... who?" Zak asked
"Whenever you grease monkeys get really out of control, the capsuleer of the ship that you're registered on gets a message. I can only assume your XO will be working the value of those modules off for a long time!" the official smiled. "Well done son" and left.

Zak wondered, it must have been the capsuleer. But he'd never seen the guy, never-mind properly met him, he didn't even know his full name. Surely he didn't even know Zak. It didn't make sense. Also how did he know about his plan for a salvaging frigate. Did he have access to Zak's private logs? Is there nothing on those damn ships the capsuleers don't know about? He put it to the back of his mind and drained the last of the bottle into his and Samara's glass.

Zak was in wonderment how in such a short space of time his life could change so dramatically. 3 hours ago he thought he'd lost everything. Now, he was leaving the bar with his girl, a sack of cash and the passcard for his dream, his own starship. Zak was almost floating to the door with Samara by his side. As they were leaving they saw Marcus' girl sitting alone at a table near the door.

"Wait here a sec" Samara told Zak and walked over to the girl who was looking pretty unhappy. Zak couldn't actually hear what was being said but the girl suddenly had changed from looking rather down to looking rather happy. He saw her pick up her bag and walk back over with Samara.

"Zak, this is Sable. Marcus' girlfriend. I don't think you were properly introduced."
Sable gave a wry smile "Yeah, sorry about that. Marcus is always most... erm.... insistent that I behave in that way. Apparently it helps him win"
"Anyway..." Samara said "Marcus is apparently having a night in the cells tonight. And I thought it was very unfair that Sable here had been promised a night of passion and a cut of the winnings and she wasn't going to get it. So I've invited her back to ours to continue the celebrations"
Zak's jaw dropped open again.
"I've just got to get my coat" Sable said and walked over to the cloakroom.
"What? Are you serious????" Zak whispered. "Have you gone mad? You're not.... well..... you're........ you're just not!"
"Oh I'm very serious!" Samara smiled "Firstly, when you see Marcus tomorrow when you go to clear your bunk of your personal items you'll have something to talk about. Make sure you let him know exactly what we all got up to together. That will teach him for trying to win me in a bet, the bastard!" Zak couldn't believe he was hearing this "And secondly. After we're married, and it will be this week by the way, you don't ever get to touch another woman again, so you'd better make the most of tonight" Samara giggled and led Zak out of the door with Sable as she returned.

Zak simply pinched himself on the way out. No, he wasn't dreaming!

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