Tuesday, October 30, 2012

For Absent Friends

Command Deck, Forward Crew Quarters

                The door slid shut cleanly behind him. Dim lighting and Amarrian architecture left his quarters particularly foreboding. The cramped space--the second largest quarters on the vessel--seemed barely able to fit a cot and desk inside it. A single lamp attached to the wall above his cot bathed the room in the faintest hint of golden light. It made his eyes hurt.

                He let out a heavy sigh, and pulled at his uniform, unhooking a few of the buttons that kept his jacket tight around his chest. Too tight, he would complain, if it would've done any good. Pulling at the jacket again to give himself some breathing room, he made his way to the back of his luxurious lodgings, and tapped a switch on a wall panel. The door next to the panel, which mimicked the theme of the wall almost exactly, retracted and slid to the side, revealing a small washroom. Shower, sink, mirror... they all seemed too close together.

                Leaning over the sink, he let out another sigh, and let one of his hands drift into it, triggering the motion sensor. Cold water rushed over his hand and into the depression. He leaned down further and splashed some onto his face. Standing upright, he looked himself over in the mirror. The lapel of his coat hanging lazily, the makings of a beard covering his cheeks, droplets of water finding their way to his chin, dropping onto his grey dress shirt.

                Delen Yima. Commander Delen Yima, he thought to himself. It had only been a year since he left the Imperial Navy, barely a lieutenant at the time. Leaving the strict, militaristic traditions of serving Amarr Royalty to fight in some Capsuleer's private army seemed like a good idea at the time. It probably was, he thought. The pay was better, and he was immediately promoted to Commander after he signed the contract. Whether a promotion outside Empire military meant anything or not, he still wasn't sure. He surely hadn't counted on being shipped out to the edge of the universe when he signed on. Not even the edge of the known universe, fighting in some self-proclaimed Alliance's war, as some officers did when they entered Capsuleer service. But to the edge of the unknown universe. He still hadn't a clue exactly where he was stationed. Some uncharted system deep within a wormhole chain.

                He grabbed a towel, and dried his face. Closing the door to the washroom behind him, he sat on his cot. Immediately, the light in his room brightened, and a low-pitched klaxon sounded, assaulting his ears. He stared at the wall across from him for a moment, the alarm throbbing in his ears. The ship's intercom sounded, silencing the alarms. Exaggerated chimes preceded the announcement--a relic of the vessel's Amarrian origins--signaling that it was a ship wide broadcast.

                "All personnel to stations. This is not a drill."

                The klaxons returned. Commander Yima stood up, rebuttoning his jacket. Muttering a few Gallentean curses, he strode out of his quarters.

Deck 12, Flight Group Crew Quarters

                Theron zipped up his flight suit, then went to work on getting his boots on.

                "It's probably another Sleeper run" he heard someone next to him say. The klaxons stopped.

                "At this hour? Doubt it". Another of his squadron.  Theron finished fastening his boots. He ran his hands over his shaven head, a pre-flight ritual he picked up a few months back from some Minmatar grunt who had since been transferred to another ship. He looked up at his locker. Stills of friends he had left behind on Caldari Prime. A few sets of civilian clothes, for shore leave on one of the Starbase's housing modules. A dress uniform for ceremonial occasions. An extra pair of boots.

                Taking a deep breath, he stood up, and shut his locker. He took a quick look around, seeing most of his flight group still fumbling with their flight suits. 

                "Let's move it, people! We've got targets to shoot!" He barked. 

Command Deck, Bridge

                Yima entered the Bridge, returning the salutes of the posted guards. He walked over to the central console, noting the bridge crew saluting him in sequence as he passed. Lieutenant Garric was at the console across from him, leaning over it. Garric furiously entered commands into the console, and a three dimensional holographic view of the system was projected over it.

                "Report." Yima stated, half amused. Garric had always had a problem with situational awareness, and focused far too narrowly on anything he was trying to accomplish. The lieutenant glanced up, and immediately straightened and saluted crisply.

                "Sorry, sir.", the salute was returned, and Garric's hand returned to the console, "We've received word that an enemy fleet is blockading our outgoing wormhole", he tapped a command and glanced up at the projection. A red circle appeared around the location of the wormhole.  "Our orders are to prep the ship to spearhead the response. Our Pilot is en route, ETA eleven minutes."

                Yima looked over the map, frowning. "What does the enemy fleet look like?"

                "Unknown, sir... that's all that we received."

                Yima's frown deepened. "Alright, prep for launch" he glanced at one of the communication officers "Hail bay control. Have them open the Array, and get the mooring clamps off my ship". The comm officer offered a crisp 'Yes, sir!', then turned to her console, hailing the Ship Maintenance Array crew. Looking back at the map projection, he noted several new friendly contacts appear in the Starbase's zone of control. "They are really scrambling... must be quite the enemy fleet. Garric, get Flight Groups one and two set, relay them the situation."

                Garric nodded "Right away, sir". He returned to the intercom. A series of heavy thuds resonated throughout the bridge. Yima nodded approvingly, recognizing the sound of docking clamps disconnecting from the ship. He punched a command into his console, bringing up a holographic view of the Ship Maintenance Array, along with his ship inside it. The long, sleek lines of an Archon class carrier--the Ascendant--made him smirk slightly. If there was anything he was proud of after signing on with a Capsuleer, it was being allowed to command such a beautiful vessel.

                "Sir, bay control confirms that mooring clamps have been retracted" the comm officer informed the Commander. Nodding, Yima inspected the holographic rendering. The giant doors of the Array housing the Archon began the lengthy process of opening.

                "Good, good. Let's get her warmed up, shall we?" he announced to the bridge.

                "Reactor levels green". Engineering.

                "Bringing primary engines online". Navigation.

                "All stations report ready". Another comm officer.

                Yima glanced back at Garric. "Flight groups are checking in, sir" Garric updated, holding one speaker of a headset against his ear. Yima nodded. Despite the inadequacies of frontier life, he lived for this. He took note of the console's projection again, and saw that the array doors were almost fully extended.

                "Helm, engine status?" He looked to Navigation.

                "Primary drives primed, maneuvering thrusters online"

                "Good. Ahead one third. Take us out". He turned his attention back to the command console. 

                "Aye, ahead one third".

Flight Deck, Hangar Bay Two

                The ship shuddered gently for a moment as the engines roared to life. Theron leaned against a bulkhead, watching  as a pair of the flight deck crew toiled over his Templar fighter. With hoses of every size latched onto its hull, hangar struts attached to both wings, keeping it in place, and the lower halves of two jumpsuit-adorned mechanics hanging out of open hatches below the cockpit, the fighter looked like some octopus nightmare out of Matari legend. Theron tilted his head slightly--amused at his daydream of a monstrous Templar devouring the deck crew --until a tap on his shoulder jolted him back to reality.

                "She looks ready to fly", a voice stated as Theron craned his neck to look over his shoulder. One of the deck crew. Probably someone important. He gave the crewman a nod.

                The mechanic continued, "A few more checks on your bird, and you'll be good to go". The crewman looked down at a datapad, then toward the Templar, then back to the datapad. A small nod to the pad and the crewman was satisfied with the progress. He glanced back up at Theron. "Good luck out there", he offered, then turned and headed for the next plane on the deck. Theron watched him start the maintenance checks on the Templar next to his for a few moments.

                He turned back to his Templar. Half of the hoses were now gone. One of the crewmen toiled with the connecting valve on a hose attached to the underside of the Templar's fuselage. The connection gave a sharp hiss as the valve clamps disengaged, and the mechanic slung the hose over his shoulder, dragging it away.  The other crewman was sealing the maintenance hatches that they had been half-buried in just moments ago. His plane was beginning to take its proper form; sleek golden curves, exaggerated Amarrian glyphs embossed over the hull wherever possible. Dual laser cannon mounts were attached to each forward wing, pressed snuggly against matching impressions in the hull in their disarmed state. 

                Walking around the fighter, Theron ran a hand over the glyphs embossed on the side of the cockpit mount. He couldn't read Amarrian, but he was sure the etchings had something to do with Divine Purpose or the Will of God.  He glanced up to the cockpit itself, past the transparent plating impressed with a green tint, and into the cramped seat within. If there was one thing the Amarrians didn't believe in, it was comfort.

Command Deck, Bridge

                "Helm, all stop." Yima declared. 

                "Aye, sir, all stop. Reversing thrusters", one of the navigation officers acknowledged. The holographic projection showed the Archon slowing to a stop, fully clear of the Maintenance Array.

                Yima looked over the command console's rendering of the Starbase surrounding them. Two other Arrays were open, and a small armada of ships surrounded them, some of them still in the process of exiting the Arrays. One of the holographic ships caught his eye. An Apocalypse class battleship listed as the Tomahawk. He smirked to himself.

                "Ensign Freyley," Yima turned to one of the communications officers, "inform Captain Thale aboard the Tomahawk that he should take the safeties off his pulse batteries this time. I hear his Pilot doesn't like flying into battle with his guns offline."

                "Aye, sir". The Ensign smiled as she relayed the message. Yima and Thale had been in countless engagements together, and they had formed a close friendship.

                A few moments later, a gruff voice sounded over the bridge intercom, "Ascendant, Tomahawk"

                Yima grabbed the bridge console's headset and pulled it toward him, talking into the microphone,  "Go ahead, Tomahawk"

                The intercom sounded again, "You know damn well that that only happened once, Yima"

                The pre-battle tension on the bridge seemed to dissipate immediately as the bridge officers listened to the exchange. Yima brought the mic to bear again, grinning, "Message received, Tomahawk. Ascendant out". 

                Garric perked up from across the console, "Receiving new orders", he paused to read over the packet showing up on his screen before continuing, "OpFor has repositioned further down the chain. We are to lead the response fleet to pursue the enemy. Our Pilot is in warp to the Starbase".

                "Right". Yima nodded. The tension returned to the bridge. "Let's not waste any more time, ladies and gentlemen. Freyley, get the Pod Bay open and ready to receive the Pilot". The order was acknowledged. Yima looked down toward his console, punched in a few commands, and then back up to the projection. The image zoomed back in to the Ascendant. A new contact appeared out of warp, and was quickly identified as a Capsule.

                "The Capsule has entered the grid, and is beginning its docking procedure. Standby", an officer reported. The Commander watched as the little green, holographic egg burned toward the carrier. It maneuvering under the Archon's superstructure, and on toward the center of the ship. The pod disappeared from the display a heartbeat later.

                "Docking underway". Freyley reported, pressing her headset against her ear. A few uneasy moments passed. "Pod Control confirms docking complete".

                "Integrating Command Capsule". Another of the bridge crew.

                "Systems syncing". And another. The holographic display flickered, momentarily displaying a large schematic of a Capsule above the command console, with counters representing various systems, all rapidly approaching 100%.

                "Integration complete. Transferring primary systems to Capsuleer control".

                "Camera drones launched". Six new screens appeared on the holographic display, each with a different external view of the Archon. The ship shuddered, almost violently. The camera displays showed the ship rapidly turning, aligning to something. The tension on the bridge rose.

                "Fleet reports that Vanguard units have engaged the enemy".

                Yima gritted his teeth. Relinquishing control of the ship to someone he had never met had always been the hardest part of his new command. He glanced up at the holographic display, just as a single lined of text appeared. 'Hold onto something.' 

                "Brace for warp!"

Flight Deck, Hangar Bay Two

                Theron grabbed onto one of the struts that were keeping his fighter in place as the deck shook violently. He glanced around, alarmed, and saw the rest of the crew on the deck stumble and grab onto whatever they could to keep from falling. The intensity of the shaking increased for a few seconds, before becoming a constant, shallow shudder.

                He let go of the strut. "Is it too much to ask for a little warning?" he asked himself. Looking around and seeing his squadron's craft still berthed to their struts, he grunted.

                "Let's get these birds ready to fly!" He yelled, and the deck crew immediately got back to work, slightly more frantic than they had been before.

Command Deck, Bridge

                "We're coming out of warp, sir", a Comm Officer advised. The entire bridge crew grabbed onto their workstations and hunkered down as the shaking returned. The bridge jostled violently, with Yima and Garric both latched onto the command console for support. After a few moments, the shaking stopped once again, and the bridge crew returned to work.

                Yima stood upright again, shaking his head. He turned his attention to the command console, and switched the projection to show the current grid. The Archon, alongside a support fleet consisting of three Absolution command ships, three Legion strategic cruisers, two Guardian logistics cruisers, and a lone Apocalypse battleship. Yima took a moment to ponder the fleet's obsession with Amarr ships, but relegated it to the "Capsuleer-Oddities" section of his thoughts.

                He then noticed some of the escort fleet disappearing. On the projection to his right, hovered the ever-shifting representation of a wormhole. An immediate bout of nausea overtook him. He cursed under his breath as the carrier jumped.

* * *

                Yima groaned as he regained his senses. Hunched over the command console, he lifted himself up, dispelling the urge to retch, and looked around, taking an account of the situation. The bridge crew looked to be alright, if a little green in the face, and were regaining their composure at about the same speed as he. He swallowed hard, and stood up straight.

                Staring him in the face was another entry into the text box hovering in the projection.

                'Final warp. Combat imminent. Triage.'

                The ship lurched forcefully as it cleared the wormhole, and began to align with all the inelegance of a capsuleer-piloted vessel . Yima took a deep breath, and then turned to face the birdge crew looking to him.

                "Red alert! Get fighters in the launch bay! Prep remote repair crews for emergency triage!", he declared to the bridge. Each of his orders were acknowledged immediately, and the relative calm was replaced by the flurry of a duty-driven command crew aboard a ship bound for combat. The neutral, golden light of the bridge darkened and was replaced with a dim red. Klaxons sounded, and Garric grabbed his intercom headset.

                "All personnel, prepare for battle. Shut down all non-combat systems. Prepare for triage deployment". Garric's cool voice sounded in a ship wide broadcast. The klaxon's stopped, but the glow of the condition red lighting remained. Garric's eerie calm in combat situations always unsettled Yima, but he supposed that that was what made the Lieutenant  a good officer. Yima closed his eyes, and took slow, deep breaths, clutching the command console, as the vessel shuddered and entered warp.

Flight Deck, Forward Launch Bay

                Theron shifted in his seat, trying to find a comfortable position. He glanced forward, to the tug that was towing his fighter into launch position. He ran through the ship's systems, making sure everything was operating normally. Satisfied that his craft was in prime condition, he reached for his helmet, and planted it on his head snuggly. Connecting the helmet's systems to the fighter, a head's up display appeared in his field of vision. It began a self diagnostic. The overly clean smell of filtered O2 was everywhere in the cockpit, as its life support systems weeded out any contaminants left over from the flight deck.

                His HUD finished its diagnostic, and linked into the carrier's comm systems. An update appeared, a text transmission packet. He opened it and read it over quickly, sighing irritably as he finished.

                He keyed up his squadron's channel. "Alright boys, looks like we're gonna sit tight while the triage crew does their magic. Flight deck's getting locked down. Standby... don't get too antsy". A chorus of disapproval resonated in response.

Command Deck, Bridge

                "Grid is loading."

                The shuddering of dropping out of warp wound down, and the bridge crew prepared themselves for the engagement. The projection updated, showing the fleet already engaged with an enemy battle group orbiting a wormhole.

                "Looks like a handful of Tengus and Drakes... pair of Rokhs... Caldari fleet." Yima tallied the opposition. 

                "New contacts appearing on grid!", a comm officer announced, obviously shaken.

                "Stay calm", Yima looked toward the wormhole, finding the new contacts. A Thanatos class Gallente Carrier and two Basilisk logistics cruisers. "Enemy fleet has carrier support!"

                "Triage module activated!"

                "Locking multiple friendly targets!"

                "Flight Deck secured for Triage!"

                "Triage teams report successful deployment! Repairs Underway!"

                Yima eyed the camera drone displays, and was immediately greeted with a friendly Legion's superstructure rupturing from the impact of a missile salvo. A few seconds later, the reactor went critical, turning the once proud looking ship into a burst of blue light, leaving behind only wreckage. He saw no life boats jettison, but noted the Capsule burning away from the remains of his ship. 'There goes a few hundred good people.' he thought to himself.

                "Forward Scout has been destroyed!"

                Yima growled, "Where the hell are those repairs!?"

                "Remote Repair modules cycling, sir! The Scout was mostly gone when we landed!"

                'What a horrid start' Yima thought. "Repair teams, keep up with the Pilot, I don't want any more losses!".

                The projection showed the battle enter full swing, fire being exchanged between well over two dozen ships. Despite the hail of fire from both sides, most of the damage received was , more often than not, repaired immediately by the Triaged Ascendant. The ship shook as it's shields absorbed a stray missile barrage.

                "Triage teams report that the fleet has been stabilized, sir! The Triage Module has been red-lit!"

                Yima acknowledged. "Have normal repairs resume immediately after we exit Triage!" he turned to Garric "Advise flight group one to prepare to launch once the launch bay is clear."

                "Aye, sir" 

Flight Deck, Forward Launch Bay

                "We've received a green light, boys, the doors will be open momentarily", Theron informed his squadron. He looked down from within his cockpit as the launch bay was evacuated. Technicians and mechanics scattered to the exits as klaxons sounded, and warning lights appeared in every corner of the bay. The temporary struts keeping his Templar suspended in the air locked in place with an audible click.

                A few silent moments passed as the evacuation completed and the bay was sealed. The massive bay doors in front of him lit up with another set of warning lights, and he could hear the muffled announcement that the bay was about to be vented. Time seemed to stop.

                Finally, the bay doors creaked, and began to retract. The sudden change in pressure caused his fighter to shake, but it stood in position regardless. The remnant air in the bay rushed toward the opening door, being vented into space. A few scraps of refuse and equipment leftover from the evacuation flew off into the void. The doors continued to creak, opening slowly, meter by meter.

                The shaking stopped. The HUD of Theron's helmet showed that there was a complete vacuum outside his cockpit. He stared out the half-open bay doors at the battle that awaited him. Purple and Green laser beams lit up the dark scene. Trails of missile salvos heading toward their targets, before turning into bright flashes on the hulls of friendly ships. He held his breath.

                He heard another click, then his fighter shuddered for a moment as the struts retracted into the floor of the bay. His fighter hovered in the launch bay, rotating slowly without the restriction of the clamps. He quickly corrected the spin with a few gentle thrusts of stabilizer jets. His fellow pilots did the same.

                Bay Control chimed over the intercom, "You are clear to launch. Give 'em hell." 

                "We are go for launch, boys. Stay with your wingman, and try not to run into anything on the way out", he announced to his group, and then slammed the throttle forward.

                The engines of his fighter roared to life, and slammed him back into his seat. The golden craft accelerated quickly and launched him straight out of the launch bay into the battle beyond.  The rest of the squadron launched in turn behind him. Theron grinned, and unlocked his weapons, the laser cannons moving from their locked resting position to aim straight ahead.

Command Deck, Bridge

                "Fighters launched, sir!"

                The tension of the bridge hadn't subsided, though the mood was significantly more excited. Yima monitored the battle using the projection and camera drone readouts, watching salvo after salvo be exchanged between the two fleets. The Thanatos hadn't launched any fighters, and seemed to be remaining in triage to counter the damage his support fleet was taking.

                The image of a Basilisk appeared on one of the camera drone displays, as it was hit by strafing runs by four fighters, the tiny golden darts peppering the cruiser's armor with laser fire. Immediately following, a full broadside from an Apocalypse melted the weakened armor, boring eight holes straight through the cruiser's hull. Yima cheered silently as the cruiser drifted for a few seconds before exploding. Mentally, he marked one tally for Thale.

In Space, Templar Fighter AF-127

                Cheers resonated over the squadron comms as the cruiser exploded. Theron steered his fighter in between a pair of enemy Drake battlecruisers just as one of them launched a barrage of heavy missiles . Eight purple streaks connected with the Drake, splashing over its shields, which seemed to be failing.

                "Stay clear of the big guns, boys", Theron advised, "Transmitting a new target"

                "Looks like they are burning back to the hole!" 

                Theron looked over the enemy fleet, trying to verify his wingman's assessment. The enemy ships were all aligning toward the wormhole, under a constant barrage of laser fire. All but the Thanatos.

Command Deck, Bridge

                "That's the third to jump. They are in full retreat"

                Yima looked over the situation, satisfied with the outcome. Only one loss, four kills, and an enemy fleet battered and retreating. He then noticed that the Thanatos was still on grid, and stationary, struggling to repair the remaining ships that hadn't jumped.

                "Their carrier is still in Triage..." , he stated, mostly to himself. He watched as, one by one, the enemy fleet disappeared into their wormhole. As a heavily damaged Drake limped through, the holographic icon for the wormhole turned red and began to blink.

                "Confirmed, sir",  Freyley interjected, "Fleet comms say that the hole just went critical. They are appraising the situation."

                Yima looked from Freyley to the projection. The remaining red blips of enemy vessels stopped just short of entering the wormhole. The Thanatos was some 25 kilometers off the distortion's edge, immobile. 

                A familiar voice keyed over the bridge's speakers, "Ascendant, Tomahawk". The grim bitterness in Captain Thale's voice was unmistakable.

                Yima, somewhat surprised, grabbed the command console's headset, and pulled it toward him.

                "Tomahawk, this is the Ascendant, go". Yima glanced at the Tomahawk's blip on the console display, and noticed that it had activated its Micro-Warp Drive and was heading straight toward the wormhole.

                "We have just been informed that we are heading through the wormhole".

                Yima's eyes widened, and he checked the wormhole's condition readout again. He responded, trying to calm himself, "Tomahawk, that wormhole can't take much more mass, it may collapse on you." he thought for a moment, "Who gave the order?"

                "Our Pilot". There was a short pause that seemed to last for an eternity. The Tomahawk's blip crawled toward the wormhole on the holographic display. "It's been an honor, Yima."

                Swallowing hard, Yima keyed the intercom again, "It has. Godspeed, Captain Thale. Good luck."

                The communication was cut off abruptly as the two holographic blips merged and then disappeared. Silence fell over the bridge.

In space, Templar Fighter AF-127

                "What the hell was that?!" One of his wingmates demanded.

                "The hole just collapsed!"

                " That was a friendly!"

                Theron craned his neck to the side to examine the area in space that had only moments ago held the shifting vortex of a wormhole. There was nothing there but a few battered enemy cruisers and bits of wreckage. He reached up to his fighter's comm system, and keyed into the fleet's frequency, and was greeted by a cacophony of confusion, target designations, situation reports, and requests for instructions being transmitted between ships.  No one seemed to know what had just happened. Well, no Capsuleers, anyway, he reminded himself.

                He was so focused on finding out what happened that he almost didn't notice the new text packet on his HUD, sent straight from the Ascendant's Capsuleer pilot. The text read simply, 'Mop up.'

Command Deck, Bridge

                Yima stared at the holographic projection, leaning against the command console. The bridge was still silent. From the projection, it seemed that the fleet had recovered from the chaos that ensued from the Tomahawk's last flight, and were back at work hammering the remaining enemy forces. One by one, the enemy blips blinked out of existence, the enemy Thanatos looking on, 20 kilometers away, evidently without the power required to continue Triage operations.

                A moment later, the Thanatos' indicator noted that it was moving. One m/s, then two. Then three. Out of triage, then, Yima thought to himself, bitterness enveloping his thoughts. He took a moment to pity the enemy carrier's captain. Out of energy, unable to warp, nowhere to escape to even if he could, and surrounded by a fully committed enemy fleet with capital support. That wasn't a position any captain wanted to be in on the battlefield. And under Capsuleer control, only one of many ways to die. He wondered if the Ascendant, too, would be fashioned into an interstellar doorstop and be lost with all hands at the whim of a Capsuleer. The thought was unsettling.

                He regarded the projection once more, and saw that the enemy Thanatos was in its death throes. Shields down, armor gone, hull failing. Tiny blips indicating jettisoned life boats started surging from the vessel. Won't do them any good. Capsuleers don't pick up survivors.

                Another line of text appeared on the display, 'Victory achieved. Prepare to return to station.'

                Yima stared at the text for a few heartbeats. Victory.



  1. Wonderful.

    I love the detail, the tangible emotion of the characters, the depth. Most of all I love how it describes a fight from the perspective of the crew at the mercy of a possibly reckless capsuleer for whom a ship is just ISK.

    Very well done. You really raised the bar in this contest.

    Just one thing: Shudder is not written with double t ;)

    1. Nice catch :) Fixed.

      Thanks for the feedback, I appreciate it.


  2. I'm going to just repeat what EP said: Wonderful!