Deep in the system, a few AU off one of the outer planets, Muv'n twitched the probes into a new, smaller pattern. The scan distances contracted. The small, mobile objects throbbed with bright yellow glow from inside. Their modified interiors were more sensitive than the normal types. Muv'n had spent weeks bewitching one of the Sister's of Eve for the things. The discount had been worth the dinners. As soon as his carohold was filled he had bailed from Arnon to make his fortunate. They were almost more valuable than his ship. After all, they had purchased it.
Not that he would tell the Legion that. He locked the thoughts into a tightly controlled piece of his brain. There were times when the thing felt alive. He was tied more deeply into it then anything else had had ever flown. The blue light of the systems pulsar gave the distinctive, Amarrian gold a green-blue cast. The ship, its nose flared into a wide flower an its body a rippling muscular mass was unlike anything Amarr. Yet, it still connected to its origin. No matter where the technology had come from, it had been harnessed into the familiar made strange.
Muv'n dragged his attention away from the ship. It happened more often then he would like. The bond was deep. Perhaps, after a few more hauls he would work his way back to empire and spend a bit of time away from it. But to do that meant he needed to find what he was looking for first.
There was a soft ping. "Sleeper Ruins Detected." The coordinates flickered across his screen. Muv'n keyed his coms. "Saully. I got one. How's things looking?"
"Quiet. The mass is stable. I'm just sitting here watching." Their wormhole contained another wormhole to another class three system. Saully watched over it. Sometimes they received neighbors from it. Sometimes other wormholes spawned back to empire space. They were short lived things that collapsed and reappeared at random times.
"Good. Let me know what you see." It was a quiet system. The mass limitations were the smallest that he could find. A battleship couldn't be squeezed through that wormhole. Even the Legion was almost a tight fit. It must have been a small boarder system for someone at some point. The instability of the wormhole was too great for battleships.
This little system was perfect. He and Sually had set up shop a few months ago. It had been a lot of work hauling load after load of supplies into the system. The time and energy had paid off. They had opened negotiations with the natives of three of the planets for mining operations. The starbase he had managed to get into a degrading wormhole pathway hummed happily. They had a little secure home in space and they were so far off the track that no one poked their heads that far into the system.
That didn't mean that there was nothing to find. The departed denizens of this area were called Sleeper's for a reason. His Legion dropped out of warp. The ring of giant edifice circled around in a loop. Each tall curved structure of the ring shone like polished brass reflected by the sun. Particulate matter was dense in the air turning space into a thick, golden cloud.
Light glittered off of the Legion's hull as it cruised under one of the rails that connected the monoliths. Pale green lights crossed the surface. If it were not for the broken husks of ship and building that hovered near the monoliths someone might have lived there. The destruction said otherwise. As did the drone ships that decoupled from the monoliths dark corners.
The light poured like molten honey off of their black hulls. He spun his legion around and activated the targeting systems. His armor systems activated. The first people to find these systems had died. They had tried to communicate with these ships over and over again. It had taken a while to realize that they were unmanned. All of them. Their Artificial Intelligence systems were so advanced that many had sworn a biological operator was in command even as their ship burned around them.
No one had been prepared then. The ships creators had used a different technology. The damage had ripped across the ships resistance profiles. Shields had been unable to compensate for the scattered patterns of destruction and armor had melted under the barrage. It was a sad time.
But that was then. Now, the site of the sleeper drone ships, empty of life, excited Muv'n. He had trained his salvaging skills for this situation. The decoding and retrieval was not perfect but it was enough to pull chunks of information out of the ships. That information had been used to understand the history of sleepers and reverse engineer ships.
Ships like his Legion.
The flower shaped nose turned towards the sleeper ships that burned towards him. Bright white beams of energy pierced the golden haze. Matter vaporized along the laser beams trail leaving an incandescent trail of cooling particles to mark its path. Time had learned the Sleeper drones tricks. With no new programming while formidable they were still predictable. His ship absorbed the damage and self repaired while spewing out retina searing streams of energy.
When the final drone exploded Muv'n descended upon the wrecks. It would be nice if someone developed a hacking technology to shut down the drones. Someone that was not him. He'd settle for the scraps he could salvage. Empire space hungered for any bits of this technology. That hunger filled his wallet. Back at the starbase he had piles of the stuff. Soon he would stuff a hauler full to the gills and drop into Empire the next time they found a wormhole into high security space.
He wasn't sure if the ships were guardians or not. Did the monoliths produce them? Whatever they where, for the time being he was safe. With a bit of speed he could see if any of the debris that floated around the ring like monolith held anything of value.
He was getting better at the retrieval. His ship locked onto a particularly large and undamaged object. It was pointy and spun a bit. His hacking systems flickered across the can and began to run. Access to sleeper technology was still hit or miss. Some things worked better than others.
Everything was keys. Codes. Numbers flickered and reformed as the ship attempted to access. Muv'n could feel the ship him around him. The AI synced with him. The deep connection to the ship slipped across his awareness. He could almost see the processes running as the material was analyzed.
“Target locked in four seconds.” The calm voice of the AI snapped Muv’n out of his daze. He cursed and ordered his cloak to engage. “We are too close to the structure. Cloaking field affected. Deinitilizing cloak. Lock in one second.”
How had he drifted to close to the structure? The thought vanished as space distorted around him and the attack started. Okay, he told himself. Stay calm. Calm. Calm. He switched on his exterior cameras and pulled up his tactical display.
Where was Saully? He commanded the afterburners on. He needed distance to cloak. The Legion started to move and then it shook as the Proteus opened fire. Hot, altered Plasma begin to eat into his splash through his shields as the ship pumped out damage. "Warp out."
"Warp capabilities disabled," his ship told him calmly. More ships landed around him. He twisted the legion away from the artifact. As he deactivated the hacking program he felt a hard lump. "Access Granted," the program told him. No time for that. None. No matter what it was it wouldn't be worth it. Escape for now. Escape mattered.
Everything distorted into a blue shimmer. “Warning. Interdiction sphere deployed.” His HUD focused on a Sabre. The vicious, rust colored ship looked like one of the fish from his native Amarr. He had always been terrified of fish. They bit and tasted strange. “Shields at ten percent.”
Okay. He was good. His legion’s strength was in the massive armor tank he had put into it. His lasers warmed up and he started to burn towards the Sabre. If he could get rid of the interdiction sphere he could get out of there. “Speed reduced to ninety meters per second. Stasis field in effect.”
A Loki beside him? When had that gotten there? Loki. Shit. Saully wouldn’t be able to help him in his covops. He sent a command to his lasers. The giant purple energy crystals dropped out of place. Massive, teal conflag crystals replaced them “Armor at seventy percent.”
“Shut up!” Why had he programmed this ship to talk to him. He aimed away from the Loki and Proteus and continued to pour focused laser fire at the Sabre.
“Yes! Take that you bastards! Targeting Loki.” He needed to get rid of the stasis webs. Minmatar ships loved to skimp on proper structural support and go for shielding to compensate for their stolen half understood ship construction habits.
“Unable to target.”
“Unable to target. Target is too far away.”
“Good.” The stupid Sabre was dead. He switched to the Loki.
His tactical overview blinked red. “Target is too far away.”
“How? Analyze target failure,” he snarled.
“Targeting systems maximum range is: 10 meters.”
Ten meters? How was that possible? His targeting range was at least thirty. Cold realization sunk in. His systems were being dampened. There was another icon on his screen. further out. Arazu. He ordered a search on the ship name. What the hell was it? His ships armor reached thirty percent. Golden clouds of metal were vaporizing under the onslaught of projectile and hybrid turrets.
It would have to be the Proteus. He burned away from it. The afterburner fought the stasis effect. Eighty meters per section ticked on the HUD. Eighty one. The ship shuddered as he overheated it. He needed room. With a cruse he overheated his lasers. The barrels glowed red-gold as the capacitor adjusters decoupled. It would be expensive to repair them later. Green-blue energy cracked across the Gallente ship. It vanished against the green armor leaving scorched black paths in its wake.
Hybrid plasma slammed into his armor. The plates dented from the impact. The super heated hybrid plasma seared where it splattered. Great scratches and burns obscured the once glistening gold armor. Holes appeared as super accelerated rounds of ammunition punched through the thick plates. Too far away for him to do anything the Loki held him trapped as it rained down a hail of ammunition that continued to find its way through the weakened armor.
One of his camera drones exploded. Part of his view flickered out. A wave of warrior drones spun around his ship in an hyperactive cloud of miniature hail. The ammunition scraped his damaged armor as the swarm rolled up and down the length of his ship. The legion started to shudder. A projectile round slammed deep into his cargo hold and exploded inside of his ship.
“Structure breached.” The entire HUD was soaked in red. Warnings screamed from every system. He was going to lose his ship. He could feel the vibrations of the ship ripping apart in his pod. He was going to lose his ship.
"Pilot. Activate emergency ejection system?"
What? "What emergency ejection? Why would I eject? Shit!" His head slammed into the side of the support. The ship bucked around him. He started to activate the emergency ejection systems.
“Structural collapse. In three seconds. Two seconds.” He hit the ejection conformation. “One.” The ship exploded around him. Metal and energy expanded away from the pod tossing it out into space as its emergency systems fled the destruction around it.
“Emergency warp initiated.” His mind felt raw. Muv’n pulled up the coordinates to his POS. He had other ships stored there. Warp disabled. Engines disengaged.”
“What?” He had been clear of the bubble. The Sabre was gone.
The local communications line pinged open. “Sorry about that. We got a bit excited. A nice, shiny legion like that just gets the blood flowing. Anyway, passcodes to your POS and we’ll let you go.” “What? I’m not letting you into my POS.”
“Sorry mate. You seem confused about who is in charge here. There are many, many guns surrounding you. You are in a POD. You give over the POS and we let you go.”
“No.” The POS was his everything. He had sunk his entire fortune into the ships there. Everything he had was there. Everything that Saully had was there.
“You already destroyed my ship.” His words were harsh. They tasted bitter. The pods rudimentary overview showed the entire fleet there. The Sabre was there. They must have had two. No wonder. "Two Sabre for little old me?"
“Two? No mate. We didn't need what we had really. Nice set up you have there. Took a few more rounds than expected. I was just hoping for a little business deal when we dropped in.”
“Business? After you destroy my ship? That is billions of isk down the drain.”
“I know. It was a nice one. Dalkanar over there just pulled out a lovely set of Imperial Heat Sinks. Barely dented and a little bit of polish will take the soot just off. You sure about the POS?”
“Yes,” he snarled. He was going to choke Saully for falling asleep. He would have to find someone else trust worthy to bring into the wormhole. Someone who didn’t fall asleep on guard duty.
“No need to be snappy. We’re nice enough blokes. I just thought we could do a deal.”
They had destroyed his ship. “Bite me.”
“Already done, mate. Have a good one.”
His universe exploded for the second time.
“Activate clone upgrade?”
“Clone upgrade: Eta. Fee two hundred fifty thousand Interstellar Kredits.” “What?" That wasn't right. He bit back a moan as he called up the clone selection. " I need Lambda.”
“Upgrade to clone Lambda. Authorization?”
“Upgrade? What?” Muv’n activated his skill training processes. It took him several long minutes as the clone body heaved and twitched around him before he understood what had happened. The wallet graph for clone upgrades was clear in deep, scarlet red. He had not upgraded his clone.. A raw path had been ripped through his skill nodules from the forcible decoupling and reassignment to this clone. He couldn’t remember something. “I upgraded.” He knew he had. He had sent the order.
“Last upgrade clone: Eta.”
Had he forgotten to upgrade? He had forgotten something. Everything hurt. What had he been flying. He tried to call up his logs but pain laced through his brain. God. He had to let the new clone settle. Let the pathways connect. This was never easy for him.
It felt like eternity before he could leave the revival chamber. His mind felt raw. Searing streaks of pain and memory loss splattered his thoughts into prismatic brilliance as his pathways attempted to recompile. What had he lost? So much was gone he could not remember what he still had.
The recovery suite was busy. Capsaleers were everywhere. He needed to select a new home system for his clone. This one was too busy. He had started here and left his clone here for nostalgia. The familiarity had been a comfort before. Now it was a harsh reminder of his loss. He knew some of these people. He had flown with others. Now he burned with embarrassment that they knew he had lost not only a ship but a pod clone as well. He flicked his gaze across the room and then stopped, stunned.
“Saully? Why are you here?” The familiar, dark skinned form was a bit more pale then the last time he had seen him. The close cropped hair and trim beard over bright grey eyes were too familiar.
Saully looked up from his meal. He always could eat after a new clone. Muv'n had never developed that ability. “They caught me. What happened? They got you too?”
They? Right. He remembered fighting. “You were cloaked. Watching?”
“They spread out and I was near the hole pulling the collapse readings. It was near its end life and I didn’t think anyone would use it.”
“Why didn’t you warn me?”
“Loki jumped me. Then I got thrown all the way here. My clone wasn’t ready yet from the last time I was here. It's been a mess.”
A missing piece clicked into place. “By all that is Amarr!”
“How are we supposed to get back to our hole? I didn’t scan down the other entrances today. We are both here. All of our stuff is there. All of it.”
“Oh.” Saully’s dark skin paled. “We can get it back.”
“Five thousand wormhole systems, Saully. Five thousand known.” Muv'n rubbed his face. "I need a quafe."