Running for the border, it always seemed to end that way these days. Ohh don't get me wrong it certainly beats the milk run it was back in the day, at least this way is more exciting. Exciting, the threat of imminent death flash frozen, burned to a crisp or ejected into the void, and possibly all 3, only a capsuleer could call it exciting.
The job still paid well though, I can demand far more compensation for my services these days than back when the Matari Fleet was little more than a handful of rifters and wishful thinking. True the days of bulk orders and clearing out entire colonies of stock were long gone, these days you had to specialise and that is where my talents came in. I style myself as a huntress, I seek out the best prey, blending in, stalking it until the right moment when I strike. I am well known among my discerning clients. I get them what they want, be that an intelligence tool, a double agent, a competitor, or more often than I would like to admit a gentleman's plaything. Maybe I have spent a little too long among the Matari to think of them simply as animals anymore, it is dangerous to underestimate your foe, I have lost too many friends that way. However I believe in the need for unity in humanity, and the Reclaiming is currently the only way this is being achieved.
This particular run had gone well, 11 assets collected most fairly low level stuff a few technicians for a holders maintenance crew no doubt, although I had collected one special item. The holders son is turning 18 and as any doting father would do he is getting his heir an impressive coming of age gift. I think I chose well with her, a beautiful young thing, they will be pleased.
I like to think I am a good host to my passengers for the brief time they are aboard my vessel, as the methods and requirements of asset retrieval have changed so have the tools employed. Gone are the fleets of bestowers carrying every fit or nearly fit asset in the colony, these days I fly a Pilgrim specially equipped with storage units for live cargo, you don't get paid for bodies anymore. The cloaking technology is also a requirement, Republic Security has tightened significantly and being able to lay low or flit unseen through a blockade is invaluable.
That technology was just about to earn its extortionate price tag once again, scanners were picking up multiple hostiles of assorted size spread around the next gate we had to pass through. Checking that all systems were in order we de-orbited from our temporary hiding spot and with not even the subtlest hint for an observer to pick up we slipped into warp to the gate.
The shudder as the warp drive pulls us out of warp vibrates through every plating every bolt and every crewman aboard, even me buried inside my pod deep in the core, still the shudder penetrates vying with my external senses reminding me of my true self. Close range scanners reveal the nature of the Matari blockade, Republic Security Services, these boys were good, not quite Fleet good though, and definitely not as good as me. Three cruisers, a Typhoon and the ubiquitous swarm of rifters, we only had to cover a few kilometres before I could initiate the gate and inform my hosts that they had once again failed to stop me.
My crew is mostly Matari, all long serving trustworthy types handpicked by myself, I think it is important to make a good first impression on new recruits. They have heard nothing but lies and slander from their own leaders blinded by centuries of hate with little or no actual experiences to back it up with. True there are some bad situations, but there are far more holders who actually care for their stock. Replacements are not cheap, my income proves that much, so it doesn't make sense to waste a limited resource. I try to show them the truth of the situation, my crew is well fed, healthy and happy I hope this helps to dispel the fears of those I collect. I know that it can be a traumatic time for them but one day they will thank me for improving their place not just in this world, but also the next.
I sometimes think of my crew at their posts, I wonder how many of them would make it to the pods if I failed to slip by a blockade, probably not many. My tutor back at old ImpAc would have a fit if he knew how much my mind wandered whilst piloting, he was always a stickler for "pure of mind, pure of purpose." I can't help it, the days of staring fixatedly at the unknowing hulls praying for them to maintain course as I slip by had long since past. 3 ... 2 .... 1 ... gate activation .... failed.
"What?, retry" ... failed
Notify, your cloaking system has deactivated due to the proximity of the stargate
"Re-align Planet 3 Now! get that warp drive charging, activate damage controls, start getting a firing solution on any ships attempting interdiction"
Panic, total panic, the flood of adrenaline knowing death is sat at your shoulder watching your every move, ohh how I love it.
Time seems to slow down, my heart rate doubles, thumping loudly in my ears. I watch as my beautiful Pilgrim obeys my commands slewing her nose around. The distant sun glinting weakly off of the unofficially retained ruby red plating, no way was I letting them put brown on her. The speed climbs, but RSS ships are closing fast.
We are not going to make it. No sooner had I thought it than sirens blare around the ship and within my own mind indicating multiple webbifiers and warp scramblers had activated, seems we were staying for the duration then.
A mixed flight of ECM and light drones launch at my command I would prefer a full flight of either but I need to mix giving and preventing damage in equal measures.
It is the battleship that worries me most, being practically stationary within 30km of a Typhoon is not healthy even for a Pilgrim. My Ewar is top line Caldari tech, when it comes to saving my arse I don't skimp on the ISK. They should have no problem keeping the primitive battleships electronics busy whilst my equally top line Gallente combat drones started working away at the tacklers. The pilgrims own systems were keeping the cruisers long range fire at bay, they had been stationed on the opposite side of the gate so my tracking disruption was working its magic on them.
Notify, Critical hit to drone bay, repair facility inoperative
Notify, armour damage exceeds current repair capacity, please consider upgrading repair capacity at next opportunity.
Despite my best efforts and a decent number of rifters being dispatched this battle was only going one way,
Notify, Oxtail soup dispenser in crew galley inoperative
"General stations, all auxiliary crew are to abandon ship at once, this is not a drill, get out. essential crew are to remain at stations, do not let me down"
Notify, Power failure in main shield generator, backup failure
Notify, Artificial gravity field fluctuating
One by one systems were overloading, critical support systems were shutting down, multiple hotspots were appearing all over the sleek hull faster than the nanobots could heal them. My unique exterior view told me what the remaining crew inside could not see, atmosphere venting from non-essential compartments. She has served me well, over a dozen trips deep into the Republic, but it would seem today Fate caught up with her.
Notify, drone control uplink failure,
Notify, auxiliary power generators overloading
Notify, hull breach on deck 3
Notify, engineering section vented to space
Notify, ... "Cancel warning messages... I know it's over"
"All remaining crew abando..."
Notify, Main reactor critical
Notify pod ejection successful
Incoming message from your friendly local insurance company ....
Neural command, warp capsule to planet 7, realign and warp to 0.5 au below the star.
The initial kick from the ejection system gets my capsule into warp before the feeding frenzy of rifters manage to ensnare it. As my viewpoint streaks into the nothingness of warp, I take one last look at the rapidly expanding debris field around the glowing hull that was all that remained of my Pilgrim. There were nowhere near enough capsules awaiting recovery.
"Aura, check my access rights with the local station owners, find anyone who will let me dock, declare an emergency, whatever it takes. I need a drink."
Damnit, they didn't stand a chance, I waited too long, I should have... I didn't have to do anything, but I should have. I really didn't need this now, Pilgrims are expensive and I was supposed to be saving, damnit it will take months to get a replacement crew trained as well. And the contract, no payment for this trip, I hope the customers understand, I will have to offer discounts on the next trip, the wardrobe fund is going to be tight this month.
I really wanted that new corset too.
Bloody Mataris !!!