Friday, November 7, 2014

Extract - The Vaaralen Strain

The fiction below is an extract from the start of my 3rd novella which should be finished in the next week or so. The last volunteer proofreader has it now so hopefully that will posted here soon(tm).

Escape pod here to the latest o7 show if Eve fiction is not your thing. 

The Vaaralen Strain

The customs inspector looked up at the rusting industrial ship docked in hanger 4B with disdain. Minmatar starships generally had a look about them he didn't like, but the condition this one was in was terrible. Its hull was pocketed, dinted and streaked with rust. Over its long life it appeared to have been painted many times, but not recently, not for a good number of years. Thick steel plates had been haphazardly welded here and there as makeshift repairs. He doubted the vessel was fully air-tight. Several sensor arrays and communication antennas had simply snapped off leaving wires sprouting from rusting holes in the hull like weeds growing through an old road. He reached the personnel door which was open. A overweight Caldari man in stained overalls and a faded cap stood there looking bored.

"I am Officer Kanto from Station Customs. Permission to come aboard."

"Yeah whatever." the Captain replied and backed into the ship, spitting on the deck.

As they made their way through the ships corridors the customs officer wondered when the ship had last had an overhaul. If he had to guess it would have been a couple of decades ago. Everywhere he went makeshift repairs were visible. The majority of the junction boxes and access panels appeared to be held closed by duct tape. He had hoped the bridge would be better, he was disappointed. Many of the consoles were not working, and those that did appeared to flicker due to loose connections. A hulking dark-skinned Matari man was asleep in one of the chairs with his feet up on a console. He was snoring loudly and a line of drool left his mouth and ran down his chin leaving a dark patch on his shoulder.

Officer Kanto went through the ships log and inventory to ensure everything was in order. He was glad that the holds were empty, the ship was picking up a shipment at this station. He didn't fancy going down to inspect the holds, he hated to think what the air was like down there. It was bad enough on the bridge, a stale combination of burnt electrics, sweat and oil. He shuddered to think what it must be like in the bowels of the ship. Thankfully the small crew did not raise any flags either. He'd half expected anyone crazy enough to serve on this flying death-trap to have a string of outstanding arrest warrants. Each one had more than a few brushes with the law he noted, mostly bar fights, but no outstanding warrants.

With the inspection complete he thanked the Captain and turned down his offer to inspect the rest of the ship. He was off the ship in half the time he usually took to do the docking inspection. 

With the customs officer clear of the ship the captain stepped into the lift and depressed the button for the bridge holding it down. After a few seconds the hidden DNA scanner inside the button confirmed his identity and the lift dropped to the lowest levels of the ship. When the doors opened the captain stepped out into a smart high-tech command and control centre. He breathed a good lungful of the clean, crisp air. Hos, the ships 'gadget master', did a great job injecting the faux odours into the ventilation system in the upper decks. They made sure official's visits were short and to the point. The Captain was always glad to be back in the fresh air of the lower decks. One of the bridge officers called out, "Captain on deck!" and a woman rose from the elevated captain's chair and took the seat next to it. The captain pulled a large padded insert from the front of his overalls that gave him the impression of being massively overweight and pulled the red cap off his head.

"OK, let’s get the cargo loaded and this show on the road." he said in a commanding tone taking his seat.

Sixty minutes later the hauler was undocking from the station and aligning to the outbound stargate. Its forward cargo hold had been filled with a shipment of drone parts destined for an orbital station in a solar system some 12 light-years away. In the age of stargates, a short hop.

The rusting ship finally slipped into warp, it's engines running at 30% of their output to ensure suspicion was not aroused. It took less than two minutes to cross the solar system and they dropped out of warp speed near the massive stargate. Whilst warp drive allowed ships to quickly cross solar systems, they were inefficient at crossing the vast distances of interstellar space. For travelling between solar systems, stargates were used to open an artificial wormhole allowing almost instantaneous travel over distances of many light years. The ship joined the queue of ships slowly making their way towards to massive grey structure. The viewscreen showed Empyrean piloted ships coming and going: gunmetal-grey Raven class battleships and bright golden Amarrian freighters. Capsuleer piloted vessels did not have to wait in line, their navigation systems were much more sophisticated and relied a lot less on the gate's traffic control systems. Not only that, the immensely rich and powerful did not queue in New Eden. As they were nearing the front of the queue the Captain relinquished control of the ship to his XO and left the hidden bridge.

A short while later the Captain entered a small staging hanger. This was located in the belly of the ship with a camouflaged external hatch allowing the small shuttles they carried to be launched directly into space. It housed a number of different shuttles used for transporting the crew to where they needed to go. The primary ship-to-surface shuttle could hold a full squad of mercenaries with combat gear as well as the pilot and a tactical officer. Their smallest shuttle was not much bigger than a large missile. It was almost invisible to scanners and could discretely fly a single person, usually into harm’s way. The hanger also served as the main access to the ships armoury and also the 'toy shop' where Hos created the more unusually gadgets and devices that the mission might need.

The Captain had changed from the stained overalls and cap he had on to jet-black combat fatigues. He approached a table where a variety of weapons were laid out.

"I saved you the Ishukone spray-and-pray." Riku stated without even turning around.

The Captain picked up the machine pistol and checked the chamber. He slammed home a fresh magazine. Whilst normally he would choose something more accurate with greater stopping power, any fire-fight today would be in the narrow confines of a starship. Assault rifles were too bulky and too slow for such close quarters fighting. The machine pistol was ideal for such situations.

Riku turned around. He was wearing the same outfit as the captain and had a pair of pistols in his hands. Riku was their 'boots on the ground'. A former Caldari Intelligence Services operative, Riku had been hung out to dry after disobeying a direct order than would have resulted in the deaths of an innocent mother and her three children. The captain had sprung him from the military stockade and offered him a job with the mercenary outfit.

"Going light?" the Captain asked nodding at the two pistols Riku was holding.

Riku span both pistols and slammed them into twin holsters. He pulled out a heavy-duty combat shotgun from the pile of weapons and slipped it into his back holster giving an 'as if!' look to the Captain.

"Sir, we are jumping into the target system." The XO's voice came through the Captain’s earpiece.

"OK men, here we go!" The Captain called and waved the assembled men towards the main lift.

In the Ops Centre, the room was deadly quiet as the ship was swallowed by the artificial wormhole created by the stargate. A few seconds later the viewscreen showed them emerging from the wormhole. The stargate sat 12km off their port bow. Several frigates were buzzing around the gate, the threat analyser showing them as pirates.

"Sir, we have six tango's in close orbit of the gate. Frigate class hulls. Cloak will hold for twenty seconds more. No other traffic about." The XO in the C&C centre had a direct open channel to the Captains comm unit.

When jumping through a stargate a limited cloaking field was projected around the incoming ship by the stargate. This allowed them time to make sure all systems were fully operational following the jump should there be any threats on the other side of the gate. Gate camps by pirates were common and the defensive sentry guns which were controlled by CONCORD edicts dealt only with capsuleer aggression. They didn't interfere with anyone else.

"Acknowledged. Wait for the cloak to drop. Then make it look like we're running. Try and warp out, but don't try too hard. Once they get a warp disruptor on us, burn back for the gate. Again, don't try too hard. We want them to catch us." the Captain replied.

The XO followed the Captains instructions. As soon as the cloak dropped she ordered helm to align to planet six and engage the warp drive. As they did the targeting alarms went off. Before they could slip into warp a graviton beam from one of the frigates enveloped the hauler. A second alarm sounded in the operations centre signalling the warp drive had gone offline. The hauler then started to turn back to the gate, making it look like they were going to try and escape the way they came. The wormhole had deposited them 12km from the gate, they needed to be within 2.5km to reactivate it. The ship shuddered and even with the inertial dampeners, the crew felt the ship slow suddenly. As expected the pirates had deployed stasis webifiers, an offensive weapon that used graviton physics to slow the targeted ship substantially.

"Captain, they have us. Warp core is offline and we're webbed badly. Incoming fire is light, they are being careful not to damage us. I have our shields set at 10% and using the passive recharge to keep them up. We are not in any danger from these ships. They are launching boarding shuttles."

The captain entered the lift.

"Come on boys, we have guests arriving. Let’s not keep them waiting."

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