At the undock there was bedlam, ships spewing out into space in a constant stream, slowing only as the numbers leaving the station dwindled - like blood from a wound, a sudden rush of technicolour against the mundane backdrop of life. The wounded station groaned in agony as parts of its super-structure twisted from the fires as vacuum replaced atmosphere where, like some strange metal tree, it's leaves have been stripped by the cosmic winter. I hit the burner and move clear of the station, wondering if it will stand the hit or explode completely. A fleet Stabber shoots past within touching distance.
"Ali? You sure you're fit to fly?"
"Never better. Let's get the feck out before this turns into a warzone."
"Sounds like a plan, where you headed?"
"Think I'll head over to the wildlands, see if I can't earn a few iskies. What about yourself? Maybe head off and find that chick you met. She still working in that shop?"
"Headed off towards Amarr space I think. Full of grand notions of dancing at state events and mingling with the posh folks and politicians. No, I'll maybe get a few things going in Federation space here and see what happens. Just take it quiet and easy for a bit."
"Quiet and easy runs screaming from you! Well I'm outta here, can't hang about. Thought I'd take the opportunity to run as much illicit cargo as I can! Stay out of trouble now, bysie-bye!"
Ali's Stabber pivots neatly and disappears into warp as I set course for Villore and start the warp to the out gate. A few cruisers and some ammo and drones could go nicely on the market in the coming times. I check my assets and start to count up material needs. Bloody maths, not good for hangovers. Maybe I'll just autopilot through and take a little power nap en-route... As the ship starts to drop out of warp I glance over towards the map screen as i strech and yawn. As I massage my temples and try to focus I notice some assets in Amarr space. What the hell, corp has relocated down that direction anyways, so might as well head that way and see who's about. I switch destination to Ordat and activate the AP. Another yawn, damn that hurt my head, could have done with lying in the bath a while longer. I'll just rest my eyes while the AP takes me towards Tash, just lean across the controls for a moment and get my head down...
The darkness closed in and Arth was asleep before the gate jump was even completed. The AP announced it's intentions unheeded and started the ship's warp towards the next gate as slowly out of the darkness came a figure. Dancing slowly, sensuously, dancing as she had done for him not so long ago, her body shillouetted against the soft lamplight in the corner. 'I'm going to be a dancer,' she said again, softly, 'do you like me dancing for you...' Coming closer now, swaying and caressing her body, Arth reached out and she twirled. He waited for her to fall into his arms but this time she wasn't falling but twirlling still faster and moving away, shrinking as the spinning slowed to match the music which had started, quietly at first but now he could hear it, the gentle plink of clockwork music as the tiny ballet dancer frozen into her plastic pose now rotated gently in time to the tune coming from the old musical box. He stood behind her with his hands resting on her shoulders. She closed the lid and the music stopped, the dancer was gone. 'I keep all my little trinkets and memories in here and that way I never forget. You'll always be part of that now.' She Stood and turned to him. 'You'll probably forget all about me in time.' He wanted to tell her he hadn't ever forgot but found he couldn't. Instead the music was starting again as everything started to spin, faster and faster to an almost electronic beat as if building to some great cresendo.
"Shit I forgot!"
Arth found himself thrown off the command console and onto the floor as he awoke. The strange electronic music that just ended told him everything he needed to know. He'd just been locked. And he'd forgotten Vecamia. A Typhoon and a Dominix were on the exit gate and he was caught, webbed and scrambled with over 10k to travel. It wasn't looking good. He activated the damage control and armour repairer just as his shields vapourised. The afterburner strained to overcome the stasis webs. Drones from the Domi grew bigger in his view as they reached their range.
'Come on baby, don't let me down now.' Arth crooned softly to the Navy Vexor as it shuddered under fire. Level's of red increased on the readouts as overheated armour was torn apart. The damage control had almost burned out as struture was perforated between rep cycles. The ship was starting to look like a badly made colander. The capacitor had somehow managed to leak through it. It was time to run for the pod. Safely inside the HUD informed him that what was left of the ships hull was soon not going to exist. He still had 5k before jump range on the gate and wasnt going to make that anytime soon with the webs slowing him down. He gritted his teeth. 'Come on you Caldari bastard. Hurry up.' The Blackbird came out of warp just in front of him. As it turned and aligned away the locks from the two battleships ceased and the Vexor lurched forward with renewed urgency as it found itself freed from stasis. The gate activated. Arth breathed again as he left Vecamia behind.
'Good job I came along on this little trip'
'Yea, thanks Garth, nice work. Turns out you Caldari have a use after all.'
'It's like the man says - if you can't beat them, don't let them beat you either.'
'And you can't beat that with a big stick. I'll find somewhere to dock up and get repairs before going any farther. Give me a chance to get a few pints and rest for a while too, all this dancing is tiring.'
'Mmm, ballet mostly. You go on ahead, I'll be safe enough getting through from here.'
The intel channel flickered, reports of hostiles in Teshkat. Arth stopped browsing through the drones availible and requested an undock, Tesh was only a few more jumps now from Tash-Murkon Prime. With nothing much better to do other than dream up different equipment layouts until Garth finishes moving some ships for him, Arth decided to go greet the locals. A few system jumps later and he enters Tesh, warily checking directional scans as he heads to a station. Best to stay safe while checking whats around. Keeping a close eye on the d-scan, it's time to set up a couple of safe spots away from any of the normal warp points, crossing between them to get another point that's central to almost everything in system. This would do nicely for watching movements on d-scan. Having had an Omen and Stabber showing for a few minutes now Arth dropped the scan angle and pointed it towards a few planets. Quickly picking up both ships in the vicinity of a belt, and knowing from the names on the ships who they belonged to it was time to make a move and put them to the test. Having watched the scans and seen the 2 ships move through the first and second belt, Arth selected and warped to the third belt in the logical succession. Upon dropping out of warp he cut power and came to a halt, remaining motionless and not launching drones or displaying any signs of activity. Many other ships have agressed to this trick, thinking prehaps that Arth is quietly mining or taking a quick nap and not paying attention. Many have been surprised by a speedy return of firing. Sure enough he didn't have to long to wait. After a moment the Omen and Stabber arrived, dropping out warp within a few kilometers of his ship. He already had all offensive modules activated, all that was required would be to relock either ship if it opened fire and to launch the drones while the targeting computer locked its target. Arth tensed and relaxed, taking a breath and checking d-scan for the 20th time in as many seconds. He now had it back to maximum angle but on a reduced range. If any nasty surprises were coming out of warp near him he wanted to know of them early. They warped off to the next belt. Arth aligned in the direction they had went and maxed range on the d-scan again. Nothing new, they were on their own. Time for test two, a little more pro-active this time. He hit the warp drive and followed the suspect ships, dropping out of warp beside them as they cleared a couple of Sansha's ships. For the next few moments the Omen and Stabber took lead around the belts as Arth doggedly keep close with them, never warping too fast after aligning to allow them a good chance to lock. These guys didn't seem hostile, one of them had just started mining some of the Jaspet 'roids. Arth sighed and scratched his beard. Giving up on the chance of action and wondering when he had last shaved he headed back to the safe spot. These guys were only fairly new pilots anyway and this wasn't killing time. He figured he'd got a razor somewhere in his gear in a corner of the cargohold. A quick nap and a shave and then a fresh look at the system and see if the hostiles had turned up by then.
Returning to bridge after a short while, Arth immediately checked scans. Seems the Omen guy was hauling now in a bestower, Stabber was still in the belt they'd been mining. A Taranis was also on scans now along with a couple of other ships which he recognised as blue. Checking intel it seemed a good possibility the 'ranis was hostile. Time to lower that scan angle and try and see where it was. Getting the angle to 30 seemed to show it near a belt, 15 and nothing though, maybe next belt in the list. Yep there it was again going through the belts one more and it would be in the same one as the miners. Arth aligned for their belt and checked the scan again. The Bestower and Stabber. He widened the scan to 60 and picked up the Taranis. It must be coming out of warp there. 'Warp drive active' announced the Navy Vexor's ship computer. Scan again. Taranis and Stabber at the belt straight ahead. The Bestower was lucky, he must just have been headed back to station. As Arth gained warp speed the Taranis pilot's status updated with a global criminal coutdown, the Stabber would be taking damage. Arth willed his ship on, trying to use sheer determination to make it warp faster than possible, it seemed like minutes before he started to drop out of warp. He became accutely aware of the feel of the controls, the smell as pespiration slicked them to his touch. Every tiny shiver of the ship as it slowed from insane speeds and anticipated its coming vengance. He checked scans again. Maximum angle, no other ships, no surprises. As the ship fell from warp he locked and approached the Taranis, then launched drones. Everything seemed to happen so slowly, the only thing to move with any haste was the adrenalin he could feel pulsing strong and fast through his veins. He activated the microwarp drive and checked scans again. The drones finally cleared launch and entered into space, thinking about it as he waited for the remaining fractions of a second for lock he was glad to have went with 5 ECM and 5 Mediums but it wouldn't matter too much now. Another few kilometers and he could get a web on that interceptor and even the Ogres would tear it to pieces. Maybe in future even 5 light ECM and 5 light scout to chase ceptors... The spell was broken as the target locked. Everything went into real time now. The warp disruptor activated and the Hammerhead drones headed for the target, not even having had time to start an orbit as they launched. He'd closed to just under 21km and was now doing almost 1.5km/sec. Two more seconds and he'd activate the stasis web at 18km and the Taranis would be down. It had to have noticed him by now at any rate. The drones started to hit it taking down its shield easily and tearing huge chunks from it's armour. It had however started to accelerate away at an alarming rate, there was no way to catch it and he wasn't going to let it drag the drones far off and pick on them. He recalled the drones and opened a channel to the Stabber pilot.
'Get out now! Get to a station.'
'I'm going! Don't worry! Damn man that was close, I thought I'd just about exploded!'
'A close shave, so to speak.' Arth rubbed his now smooth cheek, 'I thought I'd just about exploded him. He was too fast though, got away...'
'Well thanks for chasing him anyways. That was awesome, just in the nick of time.'
'I was watching him on scans, seen him go your direction. I wouldn't head back out into the belts right this moment though, if I were you.'
'I think we'll leave it for a while thanks. Earlier we thought you were going to kill us.'
'I was. But we can do that later, my intel channel wants a share of the action. Maybe going after that guy. Chat later.'
Arth sighed again. A while back he'd have killed the two cruisers to push those pod pilots back to the real world down below rather than help them follow this lonely path between the stars. Now it looked like it was just going to be killing time while waiting around on the evil pirates which he was allowed to kill. The distinctions between the goodness or evilness in a pilots actions had long since blurred in Arth's tired mind. There was no innocence anymore up here. Sometimes you could afford to let others make a move, most times you can't. Shooting first was still one the best defensive policies, Arth thought. In combat situations you just don't have the time to think to much usually, the only way to do it was to feel your way through it. You had to be able to feel at the time if it was neccessary to fire or not, when to stand and when to stand off. So many pilots thought of it in terms of numbers and calculations, actions and reactions, as if the outcome was pre-ordained in any situation. It just wasn't true, you can never quantify the human factor, these pod-pilots, thinking of themselves as gods, and yet only human and subject to make mistakes. Arth suddenly realised that he was only starting to learn from his, and thought of suddenly of the mortal humans with envy. The way they could see so much more beauty in the universe because of the shortness of life within it. Mortals trying to cram so much experience into never enough time. They never needed to be killing time. Arth rubbed his neck absent-mindedly, thinking of having a nap, glad he had already had a close shave.