Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3
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The Last Chance rocked violently to the port side and I swore. The haywire drone that had trained its lasers on me thinking I was an asteroid swooped by on the starboard and began a slow turn to come back for another go. I drove the Ibis down and tried to come up under him in a blind spot this model supposedly had but the Ibis frigate moved like a crippled fat cow. I swore again.
About 4000 meters back three more mining drones were giving chase, firing their mining lasers in my general direction but not used to dealing with a moving target. My railguns lashed out at the drone I was chasing and one beam scored a hit, lancing through a non-armoured casing and through the electronics and battery inside. Dead, its momentum carried it on into the black.
I focused my attention on the remaining three, but they had closed the distance and their lasers started to strike true. The shield's matrix on my ship began to lose coherence and stability in several spots and I tried to open up some distance to allow the ship's AI time to reboot emitter diodes back into proper frequencies. It didn't work; the Ibis was too slow and the drones kept pace. My railgun energy banks finally cycled and let lose another salvo at one of the drones. A glancing blow staggered my target and ripped off an appendage, but after a few seconds it resumed its chase.
I would have killed for a Merlin right about then.
My shields were estimated at 45% and I activated the shield booster which injected energy into hard reboots of many shield emitter diodes at once. This allowed the shield coherence to be re-established faster, but it took a lot of energy. The shield indicator on my HUD climbed... and then dropped as the three drones continued their assault.
I had kept moving in a straight line and the drones slowly fell in behind me as they gave chase. This dropped the transversal velocity and I lashed out once more with my rails, this time making no mistake and destroying one of the drones completely. My shields were still dropping and my energy levels were too low for more boosting. One of the drone's lasers penetrated the shields entirely and a host of warning lights went off as heat began to rise in the engineering compartment.
I targeted the offending drone and silently urged my railguns to recharge. Yellow warning lights started to give way to red error lights when they finally fired and blew my attacker up. Only one to go.
The remaining drone change tactics all of a sudden and switched from lasering the bulk of my ship to firing at the spot where my pod was contained. That just pissed me off. I tried to turn my ship away from the mining laser but navigation control was disrupted and the archaic AI was still rerouting command subroutines. To make matters worse, the railgun energy store was recharging far slower than normal.
The shields gave and the armour plating on my ship began to melt again. Desperate, I ordered a full stop, firing manuvuring jets directly ahead, and the thick gas of the cluster's nebula acted like a wind brake. The drone flew by and the mining laser skipped off the spot it was targeting. He quickly started coming about but the railguns on my damage ship were finally recharged. I held off firing until he was finished his turn and coming straight at me. Then, I fired and both charges split his chassis and a small explosion indicated the breach of its local power plant.
I mentally sighed in relief and let the AI continue its ad hoc repairs.
* * * * *
"Ah, you must be Kirith Kodachi! My name is Lisa Golyn, please come in."
Lisa sat behind a large desk with a top of looked like real wood. The entire office was opulent, with a view into the main station promenade and exotic fish tanks with subdued lighting. My father would have been right at home here. I felt dirty and unworthy in my rumpled clothes and the faint whiff of pod goo on my skin. I wish I had showered longer now. I mumbled hello and tried to regain my composure as I settled in the soft chair.
"I like to meet my associates in person once they start working with me. Intermediaries are fine for initial contact and routine reports, but first impressions should be in person, don't you agree?" I barely got yes out before she continued. "I see by the report that you took care of those drones at the mining colony for us. No trouble, I hope?"
"Well, the briefing said two but there was four and one of them was strangely more aggressive. It seemed like he was gunning for me rather than mistaking me for an asteroid," I said.
She waved a hand dismissively in the air, "Intelligence reports, what can you do? Good work though." She took a chit off her desk and leaned forward to hand it to me. I swear she was making her cleavage burst out like that on purpose. I took the credit and glanced at it. Then I did a double take.
"ISK?" I said incredulously. "Fifteen thousand ISK?"
Lisa leaned back and gave a loud guffaw. I think she was on something. "Of course, Kirith! We're not paying our capsuleers in State creds! We would never get anyone to work for us."
I was shocked into silence. I hesitantly pressed my thumbprint to the reader and the money transferfed effortlessly despite being a small fortune. "Wouldn't mercenaries have been cheaper?"
"Not really. They need more ships and men, thus have more expenses and contracts, and it takes days for them to get ready. And the colony was costing its owners a lot of money for every day wasted." She took a long drink of some purple liquid and I noticed she did not offer me any. "Trust me, you capsuleers are a lot cheaper in the long run. And more efficient." Almost to herself she added, "Sometimes too efficient."
My head beginning to churn with the possibilities the money meant, I thanked her and stood up to go. She shook my hand and added as I walked away, "Don't stay away too long, dear. Talk to Joril at the desk, he has some more tasks that need someone of your qualifications to take care of."
With ISK in my eyes I replied, "Don't worry, I'll be back."