Note: We are getting into territory where people who flew with me back in the day might read these and say "hey, that's not what happened!". This fiction is based on those events but is not tied to them, fact sacrificed for story.
Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9
* * * * *
The Merlin frigate warped through space carrying me and all of my remaining belongings in it. There wasn't that much as I had sold most of the items back in Perimeter. It felt very liberating to have no other possession anywhere else in the universe other than what was surrounding me right now.
The ship itself, the Black Knife, was equipped with the best equipment I could afford and use. Two 125 mm railgun pairings from Caldari Navy Surplus, two Kaalakiota X200 missile launcher bays, a CN Standard afterburner assembly for extra speed, and a suite of shield extenders and hardeners to keep me alive.
I was burning through Nourvukaiken towards the Tama gate where Nhi'khuna waited for me. As the warp bubble collapsed and I returned to real space I saw her waiting there in her sleek golden Arbitrator cruiser. I had never seen one up close so I moved my camera drones to take a good look while my ship's AI negotiated with the stargate control.
"You ready?" she asked on our private channel.
"Ok, then, jump-jump."
I had been in "low sec" systems in the State dozens of times as part of the Navy. In fact the Navy didn't really recognize much difference between "high sec" and "low sec" systems as they were all part of the State and patrolled equally. But as a private citizen I was keenly aware of the difference since the CONCORD rapid deployment fleets were not stationed in low sec systems, hence how the distinction came about. With only the regular CONCORD fleets responding to distress calls, usually up to an hour late to the original call and sometimes longer, there was no protection from hostiles besides some very ineffective sentry guns and whatever muscle you brought yourself.
So I admit I felt some nervous energy when I activated the stargate and had my molecules slung a light year away without the safety net of the Navy to back me up when I rematerialized. This time, I understand the threat of low sec space.
Tama was not such a hotbed of fighting back then, before the opening up of the Black Rise region and the open hostilities with the Federation. So Nhi'Khuna and I found ourselves quite alone on the gate and quickly aligned and warp off together. Most of the jumps were uneventful like that; sometimes another ship would pass us by but I got the feeling they were casting worried glances at us despite the protection the sentry guns gave us.
When we jumped into Gallente space, I wondered if the Federation guards would stop me and take me in for questioning, being an ex-Navy pilot and all. But nothing happened. I passed by unmolested without a second glance. I remarked about this to Nhi'Khuna and she responded that the CONCORD treaties with all the empires prevented them from stopping us except in the most vagrant displays of illegal behaviour such as drug smuggling or piracy.
The highlight of the trip was when we jumped into Agoze in Placid region, two jumps from our destination in Pelille. As my overview re-calibrated a huge shadow was cast over me. A looming Megathron battleship sat there with the telltale sign of sensor boosters sweeping the area. My readouts announced in flashing red letters that the pilot's registry was coming up as outlaw in the CONCORD databases. I felt my stomach drop; I knew the sentry guns would not deter a ship of that size and its weapons and drones would easily dispatch us. The Megathron had a reputation in the State Navy for being one of the most feared Gallente vessels.
"Align and warp," Nhi'Khuna said without a trace of concern. I brought my ship around and watched in disbelief as the large battleship simply sat there and did not target us. The warp drive activated and we left it behind.
"Why didn't he take us?" I asked.
"His guns would have had an impossible time hitting you, and my tech I cruiser is not worth the sentry guns' attention," she replied nonchalantly. "Plus he was probably just looking for industrialists and not a real fight."
"Oh, I see."
"We'll get you settled and then I'll reship into something that can fight. We'll go back and see if we can bait him into a fight," she said with enthusiasm.
"By the way," she added, "welcome to IPRC."