Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Lure

When studies are done to condition its subjects to do something one of the most basic forms is to “push button receive item”.  It is a very simple equation and a very rewarding situation that is easy to learn from at every level of awareness.  Push button receive cookie.   It is simple.  It is easy to understand.  It is rewarding.

Often times trying to explain Eve to someone starts to shatter into a dozen shards of tangical explanations and definitions.  “I shoot other spaceships” is easy enough to say. “I build capital ships,” is easy to understand but at the same time, because of fairness and an understanding of Eve one adds, “but it’s not the same as just building other things.”  “I trade on the market,” makes people raise an eyebrow and then one quickly explains why it is interesting, complex, and fun.

But it is not "I push button and I receive fun."

Let me step back to “I shoot spaceships”. That it is easy to understand but saying it in such a simple way is dishonest to the listener when discussing Eve.  I do shoot spaceships but it takes a moment for it to happen.  I have to stalk said spaceship or find them, I may run away from them or call for help, I may be called to assist with that spaceship or die trying to kill it.  I may have to jump several systems to pick up a proper ship and race back.  While doing that I may be jumped on another gate or frantically attempting to write a contract o another corpmate to help them reship.  Perhaps the batphone is going of because a carrier is tackled and the DPS is not in the area.  While doing these things another fleet comes through and evasive actions may happen.  A rescue fleet may arrive.  Shooting the spaceship turns into a full retreat as ships are caught on the gate and fights break out o free corp members.  In the end maybe no one dies and everyone had an amazing time.  Maybe everyone burns in a fire and high fives are still had around the table for a good effort.

The players that most enjoy the game enjoy the pay off and not the immediate need.  My thoughts were summoned by reading a reddit thread about someone that enjoyed Eve but found the mechanics to be boring.  As he described the things he did and why he found them boring I saw that his view of the game was two dimensional.  Others pointed that out.  From the layering of social interaction to the fact that the pay off for actions is what mattered.

Eve rewards at the end of a series of actions.  Sure, there are places with some immediate gratification. Most of the time, however, that gratification lays at the end of a long path.  When cooking, there may be pleasure in the making of the food but the pay off is the finished dish.  It may take minutes, hours, or days to create the end result.  That result is consumed quickly.  Yet, when done properly and well that short time of consumption is the reward for the effort to that point.

When looking at players and who stays and who enjoys Eve there is an undercurrent of similar sentiments   It is not just that Eve is hard and that Eve is complex.  It is also that Eve takes time to reward people.  That hump for the first true reward, often the culmination of personal planning is perhaps one of the hardest things for a person to reach.  We have not been conditioned for it.  We have certainly not been conditioned for it in our personal recreation.  This is where we lose the most people.  Some will make the leap, some will make it with help, and some will never even see the goal to know to reach for it.

Yet, the player base seems to thrive off of it.  At one time we would have been found painting our own figurines or building our own dungeons for games.  Now we play games where we constantly look to create an event to receive our own reward from. We celebrate not just in the reward but in the complexity of the actions that created the reward.  That is why building an Orca was more rewarding then buying an Orca even when I had earned the ISK.  It is not that buying the Orca would not have been rewarding. It is that building the Orca was more rewarding.  That enhanced taste of more becomes the draw.

That is a personality quirk that many of the players of the game seem to share.  Frustration is naught but fuel to push forward the desire. I find myself riding a warm wave of satisfaction at a successful character sale.  A sale that was five months in the making.  Five months to receive my reward.  Yet it makes it so delicious.  It is more satisfying then "push button receive item".  Even the "push button receive item" things developed have been created by players who have the satisfaction of watching what they have made function.

Would RvB be as satisfying if it was provided by CCP as a game feature?  Could it be a game feature?  If one removed the interactions of the corporations, the rules, the trolling, the times when it is purple, would it be the same?  I don't think it could be.  Even if the mechanics were mimicked the people that made it and the ones that run it are what make it magical.

A lot of time is spent thinking and defining the players.  The what and the why that draws us to the game and keeps us to the game.  It is part of the equation CCP is trying to solve.  The one that has given them a successful game balanced with the desire to grow the game.  The magic of their own formula is a bit elusive but it seems clear to me, from any side, that it is contained within their players.

I read a reddit post this morning that the author later deleted.  It had some points on it that started me writing.  Even deleted the internet does not forget.  If anyone wishes to read the original post it is here.  I will add that what I saw of the responses were polite and explanative not trolling and vicious.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

With No Reason But Like

I have recently added two more ships to my stable.  Well, technically only one but kinda two.  I have not dropped the ISK on the second.  Hello Talos.  Hello Naga.  I have entered the world of large T2 guns. Mostly.  I still have a bit of time for my large rail specialization   It will be finished up shortly and the heavens will open to cast golden song down upon my ship hanger.  Or at least I will become more useful.  Large guns open a lot of doors.  It also places me on that dark line where battleships lurk.  I don't look over there.

The reason I'm still a few days out from large T2 guns for the Naga simply because my rail gun specialization has to catch up with my blaster specialization.  I have not needed rail guns for any fits.  And skill training is about time management   There is always another skill and another hump to get over.  Four days here, three days there, a month this way, two weeks that way.  One day I'll be able to bitch about my clone prices and fit anything I fly.  For now there always seems to be something I don't have.  Someone proposed an active armor fleet. I don't have T2 armor reps.  Why?  Because I have always flown passive tanked ships.  Now it is something else for my list of things I seem to need for some point in the future to join in on interesting and/or fun fleet compositions.

It is an endless game of catch up that seems to exasperate the actual problem.  The fact that I don't know what I want to fly anymore.  Beside my Jaguar. I love that ship even if I've been told it's the most terribleist of assault frigates. It works for me and I'm happy in it.

I've so far found myself drawn to the stuff of Eve more than the spaceships.  The concepts, the interactions, the ability to create and destroy.  The way instability of the environment and the constant flux of what may happen or what is happening.  I've never been in love with the spaceships.  This comes from the fact that I find most of them terribly ugly.  Not being a creature of statistics I'm not pulled by the beauty of EFT/Pfya and creating fits for my ships.  I'm almost embarrassed that a year later and I still am absolutely horrid at fitting ships.  I'm rather one dimensional in my fitting abilities.  It gets me by but I'm not special.  Fit discussions make my eyes glaze.  I feel a bit bad about it.

The good part is that I am happy to fall in love with things just because I love them.  The Naga is one of those ships I like.  Firstly, its name.  Naga as I have always known them are mythical snake people.  And in general the ship looks cool.  I know that rail guns are not the best distance platform to use.  Thankfully, I don't care.  Everyone else will be in Tornados and Oracles and I will fly by in full Majesty of Naga.

Everyone has a line that they walk on when they play a game.  The line is what they enjoy vs what they need to do to successfully play. For some its wide and for others it is narrow.  For me, liking my spaceship is an important part of my game play. It doesn't make sense.  It may not be the best.  I don't care.  What I do care about is my enjoyment. This is what I want to fly and that alone makes me happy.

I spent a lot of time doing what I was told when I started.  I'm glad that I did.  Sometimes it doesn't work out.  My Tengu experiment is one of those situations.  I hated that ship.  I absolutely loathed that ship.  I stripped it down and sold it for parts because I hated it and no longer wanted to undock if it was what I was going to fly.  Why?  No clue.  Missiles, the ship, the entire thing just didn't work for me.  I fully accept that it is stupid and sub-optimal and that I will never be the best at anything because of it.  I'm happy.  Just as others find their greatest pleasure in finding the best fit for a situation. I just like one that works for me and causes me to enjoy my day.

Of course, my day is a bit less enjoyable because large guns are expensive.  We killed a Talos the other day and I looted some of the guns off of it. I then kind of sighed.  Over four million ISK per gun.  Sigh.  Almost a hundred mill per Talos.  The longer you play the higher prices go.  Sure, I can afford all of it and have been able to for quite a while. I still just hate to spend.  It is a personality trait that follows me around.  However, once my cold, dead hands are pried loose of my ISK I tend to enjoy what I do buy.

But I do not think they will displace my Jaguar.  I love its mobility and speed and the silly situations I get into when flying it.  Raw DPS does not define me.  I know that I am almost never top damage and rarely get final blows.  That is fine with me.  My part in situations is still vital if not flashy.  I like that.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Origin of a Spaceship: Frigate Swarm

Excerpt from: Origin of a Spaceship: Definition Chapters:  

FW Type Frigate Swarms

Development:
Due to environmental changes across the various manufacturing brood pens of New Eden frigate swarms have begun to spawn in various areas of low security space.  Upon their first presentation many of these spawns were fodder for cruisers and battlecruisers.  Their parasitic nature for a time decimated battleship fleets due to the battleships inability to be protected by its natural symbiote the combat drone.  However, the environmental effects have also proven a boon for drones and battleships can again fight off minor infestations of frigates.

However, the environmental change increased the food supply for frigates.  As with many small, mobile, highly organized creatures they have reproduced in unexpected numbers swamping some sections of low security space with such a density that they have pushed out larger predators and reduced the numbers of medium sized hunters.

Separation:
Due to the radical differences in behavior from other frigates documented, these have been given the title FW to differentiate.

Side Effects:
Naturalists have worked their way into the depths of these systems to study the regional changes that are attracting these dense populations of frigates.  The conclusion is that environmental changes have affected acceleration gates allowing frigates unprecedented access to feeding grounds.  The side effect of their increase presence is that for the first time reports indicate that frigates are in fact a social colony.  Reports of logistic frigates and attack frigates are found in a social symbiosis.  

The greatest indicator of frigates being a social colony genus comes from their seeming lack of self preservation.  Dozens of attack frigates will descend upon a hunting cruiser or battlecruiser to protect the hive.  It has even been observed that stealth hunters such a Pilgrims are countered by Celestus and Slashers who seemingly donate their lives to the greater group good when dragging down large predators. The coordination is fascinating.  There is the suggestion of a hive-mind facilitated by communication frequencies not yet cataloged. The reckless abandon seems counter productive but the results cannot be denied.  The larger prey are then disassembled and scattered throughout dozens of stations. 

At this time it is unknown how to identify the ‘Fleet Commander’ type frigate or if the collective is guarding some type of native queen or just access to their breeding grounds. The proliferation of loyalty points in the frigate diet has most certainly seen an improvement in the stamina, health, and defensive quality of these spaceships.  They are even seen at jump gates in large, mobilized swarms.

At this time the proliferation of frigates is seen as a net improvement to the environment.  The previous predatory hierarchy was seen as too top heavy with dominant predator types.  This is often a sign of impending environmental collapse due to over hunting of prey.  The radical change in diet of the frigates may be a random mutation or a previously unrecognized predisposition that had not yet meet proper biological triggers.

Other points of note:
Specimens have been captured and bands attached to distinguish them as ‘militia’ in an effort to separate them from soloist stock or the more domesticated, immature frigates of previous studies due to the lack of obvious distinguishing external markings.  

Further classification is currently separated by region due to the concentrations of colonies found.  At this time there is a noticeable overlap in territory between Gallente and Cladiari militia frigates and Amarr and Minmatar.  Although each group consumes a different loyalty point there is a suggestion of environmental grooming.  These needs are finite enough for the two groups to clash over resources.

Interestingly enough, Gallente and Minmatar and Caldari and Amarr groups can cohabit peacefully in their overlapping territories.  This creates the suggestion that the regional diet is varied enough that the various frigates cannot self sustained outside of their own feeding grounds.

This is not to state that fights do not break out between the various groups.  Whatever resource independence may be had does not appear to be one hundred percent.  There is a definite ability for frigates to adapt to another type loyalty point when in need.

The colony aspect appears to be highly structured enough to eject intruders to starve outside of the colony.  These specimen may integrate into another colony or become solo hunters.  Some are even captured by farmers and used to invigorate domesticated stock. Often these specimens pine away and wither when removed from the loyalty point food source. Releasing them back into low security space does not appear to affect the rest of the population at this time.

Flora:
The various loyalty point flora have been examined.  While very similar in some manners such as the basic structure and form each one contains a different mineral content.  Frigates at this time almost seem to develop an independent taste for the various loyalty point and crave some types over others.  Individual labling has been under taken.  Due to the frigates lack of physical identifiers per species individuals have been marked with names by those under taking the efforts to tag them.  This is allowing a longer termed study to understand what causes the changes in diet across the entire genus.

The Character Bazzarr


I have done something that other people have done many times before.  I have sold my first character and I am deciding how I feel about it.

For any that do not know, you can buy and sell characters for ISK in Eve, CCP sanctioned.  There is a whole section of the forums called the Character Bazaar set up for this.  Because Eve is Eve and the players are abnormal this is how some people make money. It is how other people make changes.  Sometimes it is how someone finances something or repays a debt.  Some players skip the time part of skill training and buy themselves a character that is already at their goal point.  It doesn't have to be anything magical to be brought or sold on the bazaar   This is Eve after all.

I'm attracted to things that make ISK.  I'm also willing to try most things out once or twice.  Sometimes it is a no.  Anything that is grinding is a no. I missed the Faction Warfare train because I was that disinterested in FW that the sweet, lurid call of ISK could not tempt me to play in that part of the sandbox.

But selling characters has been something of interest. I don't want to buy. Some of it is that I enjoy sculpting my character myself.  Their look, their name, their mistakes in the skill plan; all of it is me.  Someone elses character feels less personal in some way.  Thankfully, not everyone has my issues and the character market is alive and well for everyone else.

Last September, on one of the power of two deals I decided to make a six month alt.  I didn't know what I'd do with her.  At the time I was interested in trying ganking or RvB and I started to train into that. However, I lost interest and moved on to making her a jump freighter alt.  My booster business was going well and I had started to use black frog instead of the corporate jump freighter.  I thought that I could train her into a jump freighter and move her back onto my account and one day afford a jump freighter.

I then promptly displayed zero forethought or sense and made her Minmatar and decided upon a Nomad because I liked the name.  That made a lot of sense to me at that time.  However, a few weeks later I started Chella on her Carrier path.  Working out the skill training plans I quickly realized that Chella would be able to fly a jump freighter.  She can already fly a freighter if I plug in the skill book.  I would have the jump skills as part of my carrier path.  I did not need a dedicated jump freighter alt and if I did it only made sense for it to be the same racial ship as Chella so that they could share it.

Now I had an alt I didn't know what to do with.

What about selling her?

I could give it a try.  I did some searches and decided that I'd keep her a jump freighter pilot.  They are useful and someone always needs one.  I figured I could make a few billion off of her and see how I liked character trading.  I know lots of people buy and sell making their ISK with flipping.  I decided to dip my toes in the market and see how I liked it.

Skilling an account you are not doing anything with is not hard.  I made some errors along the way anyway.  I have those types of talents. The biggest mistake I made was not skilling her into implants early on.  The next time I do this it will be my first path.  Second she has some deviations that came from me not knowing what to do with her at first.  I was skilling her for sale so I wanted her to be appealing but the time frame to be reasonable.  That meant a lot of IV instead of V skills for the high end stuff.   Was the 53 days to Jump Freighter V worth the time I'd have to pay/plex for?

It can get expensive.  As I have learned with Chella, skill books start to go up in price quickly when its ships that require advanced spaceship command..  The money will come back when the character sells but that has to be factored into the profit you are looking at.  Racial Freighters skillbook cost 67.5 mil.  Jump Freighters skillbook cost 90 million.  The prices are all doable but it is a lot of ISK if someone is working with a tight income and a pay off that is months down the road.  Factor in paying for the account or plex and all of these things eat into your budget.

Also, the seller pays the transfer fee.  This is 20 USD or 2 PLEX.  Another factor into the end profit.  What may seem like a lot of ISK is going to be eaten up in the production cost of the character   Not being overly good at these things instead of sitting down and working out neat equations and values I just threw myself into it and charged ahead.

It only gets exciting when the last skill you have decided upon needing before the character is placed on the market finishes.  Until then it is skill queue online.  There is a list of rules to read about posting a character for sale.  It is sensible stuff.  NPC corp, disclose a neg wallet, disclose kill rights, don't lie, no scams.

I used eveboard to make a link so that potential buyers can view the skill list easier.  It also lets you show things like wallet and implants.

Then it was just research a price, home I was not screwing myself in either direction and post.  I got my first response in about an hour and about six hours later someone offered my buy out.  Maybe my price was a bit low or maybe they just liked what they saw and no bullshitting.  I did the transfer the next day once they sent the ISK and poof, I had ISK and they had a character.

It was rather painless.

I can't see myself flipping characters.  However, when things like the power of two pop up the discount for the 6 months is well worth building the character.  It is a time sink to do.  No instant gratification.  If I was better at evaluating accounts and cleaning up their skills and flipping it is a lot of potential ISK to be made.  I'm not that person however.  My little experiment was fun.

I then ran off and sank 400 mil into Blink to reward myself.  I like playing Blink and the money I dump into it is with full expectation of not getting any back.  However, I seem to do pretty well as that I am up.  I walked away with 840 million which was 440 million over what I put in.  That was a nice little ending to the situation.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Other Side

There is someone I used to be terrified of that I have done more killing with then against recently. It is rather funny how things change in those ways.  He almost killed my hauler the other day because I forgot to tell him I was picking something up and see if he minded not killing me.  I got a bit lax.

In that, it was my fault.  I really, really should have checked. I thought he was busy or AFK and now I realized I misread those signs.  So I undocked, and he undocked behind me. It's a spit out station as well. One of the ones that shoots you out from the underside like a high velocity fart and the undock is about the width of a hair.  

I stopped as soon as the grid loaded.  He undocked behind me in a Vigilant.  I hit dock but I was out of the dock range.  "Setting course to docking perimeter."  Its like Aura is laughing at you as a Vigilant webs your Prorator and you start to burn.  Stations are the number one place to pop cloaky haulers. 

I debated switching to Sugar's window and trying to get his attention  I decided not to.  After all, i'd made the call.  I figured I'd follow through to losing everything and sigh at my decision.  I just spammed dock.  It was all I could think of.  I was in structure and then the screen went black.  To me utter amazement I loaded in the station.

Did I mention I was picking up a Cynabal BPC along with some other stuff?  I was being very, very stupid and I normally know better.  I normally do better.  However, I was selling this BPC to Hurome. I'd built the ones I purchased from Ender some months ago.  After I purchased three from him I proceeded to pop another three for myself.  I built two and this one has been hanging around.  Hurome asked me if I had one the other day and it just happened that I did.

Obviously someone wanted Hurome to have this BPC because Uber should have killed me at that moment.

But that is why Eve is fun.  I was moving some high value stuff and getting it out of low sec and I said to someone, "It wouldn't be fun if it wasn't a panic attack the entire time with scouting and gate checking and worrying about bumping the jump freighter."  And it wouldn't be.  I don't want that adrenaline rush where I'm going.  I want it to be uneventful and my stuff moved and my ISK made.  But without that chance of loss it would not be as fun.

In a way, I like when I'm on the other side of the guns.  It is not the same as when I am in a fight.  I'm defenseless and pewpew is not going to save me.  It is humbling.  I made sure to check before I undocked the next time.

Yet, I find the changes amusing.  Someone that once regularly hunted me down now is someone that I have responded to to assist on kills and called in turn to assist me.  If he had killed me I'd have made sure to put a sad face into chat and promised to be smarter the next time.  I do love that about this environment.  The social structure is volatile and complex.  I remember when I was so very new to it that my only reaction was fear.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Production Runs: Buying BPC Contracts

Contracts, contracts, contracts.  They are a life blood.  They make it easy to switch items between characters, hand things to people, move things, buy things, sell things.  But there are so, many, many scams around there.

I decided to take the plunge and convert my drug information from the document that it is shoved into a very poor, somewhat pathetic spreadsheet with no special effects.   The main reason I am doing this is because I get tired of forgetting what gas makes what booster and winding up with the wrong combinations at my POS.  I often do this early in the morning before work and I wind up docking and re-docking over and over like an idiot.

I've been slowly building up my supplies that I keep on hand.  This is very good and a lot of my time now is spent doing the longest part of the entire process.  That is converting the gas into the pure booster so that it can be converted into the consumable booster.  Industry in Eve isn't super streamlined.  You have to manage time and processes and pre-plan what you are doing.

Boosters are much easier to consume then to make.  With my production ahead of consumption I can focus on doing things like stocking local markets and selling to other interested parties while making sure that the people who rely on me for their boosters will always have quick access to as many as they need.

Yes, this is fun for me.

However, contracts.  There are no blue print originals for boosters.  There are two types of blue print copies that I have come across.  There is the common blue print copy found from exploration sites.  There is also the blue print copies that come from the pirate faction loyalty point stores.  The first one has a max run of 50.  The second of a 200.  I normally buy the runs of 50 being a small time player.  I was informed by a commentor (who was anon so I can not give name credit) that there is a 100 bpc that drops from the combat Ladar sites.  I would love to come across this, however, in Molden Heath it would be for sooth anyway.

So, I have to search my contracts and buy my blue print copies.  Molden Heath produces Sooth Sayer.  Sooth is the only booster I do not make. I don't make it because no one wants it.  It is one of those almost completely useless items in the game that make a person growl.

Anyway, most of the contracts wind up in Jita. I've become quite good at buying off of my market alt and shipping them down to Rens.  I was taught by my beloved business partner market Trader friend that haulers pick up lots of small volume contracts that pay out tiny amounts to fill the holes in their transportation.  They have the room and are making the run and a little bit more ISK is always nice.  This has allowed me to smoothly move my blueprints from Jita to Rens where I can pick them up at my convince.

I quickly learned that contract scamming happens here as well.  I have already read my contracts in Eve.  I read too much about the various scams to trust much in the game.  I'm thankful for that.

The contract looks fine but notice the last line of the item information shows the number of runs left.  An untouched blue print will have 50 runs or 200.  This has 10 so someone has used it.  Remainders like this are common.  A deal will look normal but the runs left are suspicious.   10 million is the current price for this blue print with 50 runs on it.


Same price and it will make 40 more boosters.  That little figure about how many runs are left to the blue print is rather important.

Distress - Part Three

Back to Part Two

His breath was hot against her neck.  “You want to be here, illiana.  Tell me you don’t.”


“I don’t see where you have given me a choice.”


“You have a choice now.  You don’t even flinch away from my touch.”  His rough finger tips traces the outline of her shoulder as his hand slid down her arm.  “Tell me you don’t want to be here.”


“I don’t want to be here.”


He chuckled then.  “And mean it.  Tell me that you want to be back at your sweet dinner parties batting you eyelashes at miner managers for ore processing plants.  Tell me that your blood runs as hot for them as it does for me.  Tell me Illiana.  Lie to me.”


She woke alone.  Illiana did not know if she welcomed or regretted that fact.  By the time she made it across the room to the sink she decided that it was for the best.  She passed her hand across the mirrors sensor.  Her reflection faded into view.  Large, blue eyes circled by dark rings of fatigue stared back at her.  Her hair was unpinned and cascaded in a silver-gold flood around her shoulders and body.  Irritated at the unfamiliar feel she pushed it out of her way and froze.


Under her left ear was a tattoo.  If she were not so pale she might not have noticed it for it was still new and a pale grey.  It started under her ear and swept across her neck.  SHe twisted in the small mirror and saw that it crossed  her beck as well.


He had branded her.   She swallowed.  Such a tattoo told its tale more vividly than the best story master. She did not know what it said. Cellular brands were triggered to change the skins pigmentation. That is why she had not noticed it until now. It would grow darker and darker each day. A reminder of where she had been. It cost a fortune to remove them. A fortune she did not have.


Nauseous, she pushed away from the sink. It was to strange. The soft, light weight fabric that she had to wear felt like wind against her skin. She missed the heavier, thicker fabric she had always worn. She shared a bed with someone. Each night she returned to it. To him. Heat flared across her cheeks as she pushed the thought back.


She had tried to escape at first. Once or twice she had tried the coms. It seemed futile. She had just accepted where she was. That she had no control. In a way, it had been fine when it was the two of them on the ship. She had even followed him onto a station. Jaya might have tried to escape then. She, Illiana, had just sat and hoped that he did not mean to sell her to one of the men that leered at her. To the ones that asked him how much he wanted for her after he tired of her.


The arrival at the station had been unexpected. He had escorted her through a maze of travel tubes and hallways and deposited her in this room. Here she had been for the last day. Alone in her thoughts and confusion. They had eaten together. They had been together. Now, she was alone.


The ugly bleet of the door buzzer snapped her out of her thoughts. Illiana stared at the door. The buzzer sounded again. The sound jerked her to her feet and towards the door. It was impolite not to answer.  She keyed open the door, which to her surprise opened..  It slid back to reveal a slender, golden skinned women with large almond shaped eyes.  A splash of freckles was startling against her skin but Illiana found herself staring into the white, opaque orbs of the woman’s eyes.  “I am Salia. I came to find you.”  Her voice held a soft accent that Illiana did not recognize.  She was not Amarr or Minmatar but something else.  Pale green fabric draped her body like dozens of exotic scarves that created a swirl with each breath.


“Me?”


The woman smiled.  It transformed her expression to something soft and wondrous.  “Yes,” she said.  “I felt you arrive.  I don’t always find you in time.  I am glad I have met you.  Come.”  She held out a hand.  Illiana looked at her, paused and then reached out to accept the gesture.  Staci’s hand was warm and strong as she wrapped her fingers around Illiana’s and pulled her from the room.  “There is not always enough time, my child.  Come.”
Illiana followed. Her perspective of the station had been limited to Kruul’s room. Now, Staci led her into a small hallway that opened up into a broad open atrium. It swept both up and down, the center anchored with travel tubes. Illiana followed as Salia led her into one of the tubes.


“Where are we going?”


“To eat.” Salia’s grip was firm but gentle. “I am sure that he had not thought to feed you or that you would not know where or how to find food. Men are often forgetful in their own homes.”


They stepped into the tube. For a moment she had the same feeling she always had with tubes, that she would fall. However, the gravity unit caught them and she found herself moving up even as she felt that she was standing still.  People flickered past in other tubes. Illiana lost track of how many levels they had passed when they came to a smooth stop and Salia pulled her out.


They were in an obvious common area. It teamed with people. Many nodded to Salia. Some looked at Illiana in curiosity or with knowing interest. They threaded their way through the people. Some were dressed as Salia in a swirling mist of fabric while others wore so little that Illiana cast her eyes down in shocked embarrassment.  She was relieved when Salia pulled her through a door and into a small dining area. Never had a food processor looked so familiar and safe.


Some of the options Illiana had never seen before. She picked a simple bowl of soup and a small roll from the basket that sat besides the processor. Salia gathered a plate of fruit and led her to a table. The soup was delicious and Illiana had eaten half of it before she was able to slow and ask some of the questions that ran around her frantic, overwrought mind. “Who are all of the people?”


“Some would call us the lost. We are the unlabeled. The unknown. The remnants of people left behind and people conquered. The children of slaves and their masters. The lost crew that will never make it home. We are none of the Empires and all of them at the same time.”


“Do you think that the entire universe is only composed of your four empires,” ashed a warm rich voice. Illiana turned to stare up at a tall, dark skinned woman. Her white hair flowed around her shoulders, accenting the rich chocolate sheen of her skin. Her voice was like velvet laced with venom and her eyes hard as she stared at Illiana.  “Why are you here?”


“Because, I brought her here, Cylan” Salia said. “She does not know where to come for food.”


“Then let her starve.”


“As we should have let you starve?” Green eyes met opaque white. Cylan dropped her gaze first. She was uncowed and Illiana found herself trapped in a poisonous green gaze. A flash of green fabric flickered between them as Salia stood. “Go, Cylan. Control your anger.”


The other woman looked as if she wanted to object. Her full lips tightened and she turned on her heel and left the room. Salia watched her leave, her expression sad. She slid back into her seat and picked up a piece of bread. “Cylan has had dreams. Dreams I have not been able to quench with the cold waters of reality.”


“She hates me.”


“She hates that she does not have her way. The two are not the same. You cannot make yourself Cylan’s way. She is a strong, brave woman. She will recover and perhaps, she will now be able to see that Kruul is not for her. All the wanting in the galaxy does not make what is not to be, be.”


“Why did Kruul bring me here, Salia? I don’t understand it.”


“Oh child,” Salia’s voice was deep with sadness. “Do you see this pull between you? Even I can see it. You are called to him as he is called to you.”


“It’s infatuation.”


“Is it? Do you love him?” Illiana started. Did she? She didn’t even know him. A few chance meetings. He was the one infatuated with her. He had stolen her. But, the rational side of her made herself ask, what had she done to try to get away? She sat here, an empty bowl of soup before her, with what seemed to be complete freedom and she had no desire to flee. She looked up at S alia and back down at her hands. Nor did she wish to admit that she wanted to see him.


Salia’s eyes softened.  “If you loved him, you could answer yes or no. Love is the richest passion and the deepest loss. Don’t answer. You will only say what you think you should say and not what you mean.” Illiana found her hand caught up once again and she was led out of the small dining area.


“‘Pleasure Hub,’ is a label attached to us by those that spend their time labeling and controlling,’ Salia said as they looked down over the meadow. “These are not stations visited by the immortals. Their ships cannot dock here. Their computers do not interface with our own. The labelers, your empire, hates us for not laying down in neat rows.”


“What is the universe? Men try to condense it into neat, practical numbers. Yet, it eludes them time after time. Who is to say what exists? How time is defined? If things are not meant to always find each other? If you like science child, you should know that they say everything is composed of the same things in different ways. Why should not that affect us? Because we wish to define it? To define is not to control. It is just to seek understanding. And the seeking of understanding? It does not grant us understanding no more than labels do.”


A peal of laughter caught the attention of both women. A child ran across the meadow to join into the play in the sand. His mother walked behind him, a basket cradled in her arms. The other women called out greetings. To Illiana, they did not look like slaves.


“We are not slaves,” Salia said. “Although that is another label given to us. Because we do not walk the paths made by the labelers they give us yet another label.  These children have never known empire space. They have no number, no label to tell them who they are.”  Illiana watched the small group play in the sand. A flock of birds whistled and sang as they flew over head. “None are Kruul’s,” Salia said. “He had never been able to settle down with one woman long enough to father a child.”


“I didn’t ask such a thing!”


“Was it not in your thoughts?” Illiana’s blush was an answer. “He is considered a leader here and many women would wish to father his children but he had always held himself back. He is the one that arranges the work that brings the money needed to keep our waypoint alive.” Salia touched her arm. “Child, this is the home you have been looking for just as you are the woman he has been looking for. We are all caught in the circle of existence, bound to always be part of something. For you, this pull is stronger. It always brings you back to him and him to you.”


Illiana watched the children play in the grass below. Salia allowed her the peace of her own mind. If only the other woman knew that peace was not what she felt in the buzzing swirl of confused emotions. It was only after the children ended their play and their mother’s collected the remains of the lunch that Illiana followed Salia back out into the station.

***
Salia reacted before the sirens began to blare. The woman leapt forward and grabbed Illiana by the arm. They were at a flat out run before Illiana heard the first raid siren scream. For an instant, as they ran, everyone was still. Illiana watched faces flash by. Wide eyed shock. Astonishment. Fear. It all flickered by as Salia ran and she followed before, like a burst dam, people began to move.


There should have been screams, she thought. Instead there was the sound of her own stressed breath. The rasp of fabric against skin as they ran. Illiana did not have breath to question. She stayed on her feet as they fled through hallways. It was Salia who caught her as the first salvos slammed into the station and knocked them off their feet.


Illiana skid across the floor and slammed into the wall. The pain was brief and instant. She believed that she screamed but she was again on her feet. Salia moving the two of them into narrower corridors. They stooped, Illiana wheezed a grateful breath. She saw Salia’s face. Sorrow. Tears.


“Salia?” she asked, reaching towards the other woman.


Salia caught her hands. She kissed her fingertips. “Remember what you know,” she said. Before Illiana could ask her what it meant Silia pushed her backwards. She fell. Forever. For an instant. Her gaze riveted by the low, green row of lights above her. The acceleration cocoon automatically activated and webs snapped around her body. The door closed and the acceleration of the escape pod slammed her into unconsciousness as it ejected from its rack.


Around her others pods activated. Dozens of them. Then hundreds. They flared into life and threw themselves away from the station. Away from certain death into the arms of probability.


***
Mar had not expected the sensor’s to trip as quickly as they did. But, again, his Raven was not a subtle ship. Energies poured from the engines as it dropped out of warp and landed near the edge of the pleasure hub. A response party was already on grid. Mar was amused at the motley fleet of frigates and cruisers that approached him. He launched a flight of combat drones into place even as the Raven’s vast launches began to cycle.


Behind the station, half a dozen battleships dropped into view. He angled his Raven around and ou. Torpedos streamed from the launches their energy flares streaks of brilliance across the darkness. Round after round roared from the Raven as the battleships, menacing in the right circumstances buckled and heaved from the onslaught. His drones destroyed the fighters and went after the cruisers as the Raven kept range and chewed away at the battleships.


He somehow didn’t notice the cruiser until it was ontop of him. The Raven’s shields dropped for a moment before he activated the booster. The shields shimmered and the energy knitted together as the onslaught spent its energies against themselves. The internal powerplant quickened until it reached a steady beat of power to reinforce the shields.


***


Kruul pulled away from the Raven as his shields faded. He pulled range fast. The combat drones had finished off his fleet. Hundreds of people that he knew were now dead. They had seen the Raven enter the system. He had tripled patrols the last few days. He knew they would come for Illiana.


The drones were after him as well. Only the shattered caracas of his ship would satiate them. His cruiser responded, arcing away in a smooth pattern to deflect the energies of the endless torpedos the Raven seemed to have. The entire ship must have been nothing but one massive torpedo bay it seemed.


Still, he distracted it. There was a small chance that they would be saved. One last trump card he had to play.


***


Mar didn’t expect the other Raven. It’s dark hull was invisible to his cameras. He did not need them. The overview told him everything he needed to know. Zor, the rogue capsuleer enjoyed murdering his fellows. A pure pirate that even the pirates no longer associated with.


But he had been to long away. Mar switched his torpedo types and activated his microjump drive. His Raven’s drive spooled up as he launched as heavy offensive attack at Zor. The drones harried the other cruiser causing it to take range. Range that he needed to destroy it.


Capsuleer to casuleer it would be. He banked the Raven and ignored the swarm of support ships. He’d pick them off as he needed to. Zor was his only rival. However, the problem with becoming an outcast meant that Zor didn’t keep up with technology. His Raven was old. His skills were antiquated and his ammunition amusing.


Mar’s jumpdrive ignited and his ship skipped a hundred thousand kilometers away. Zor’s torpedoes extinguished at where Mar had been. The other Raven was out of position and Mar used that to his advantage. He threw his ship to the side and launched salvo after salvo at the other ship. It buckled and twisted the shields shooting sparks of prismatic light as energies tore through them and stripped long slices of dark armor off of the hull.


Mar knew his Raven. He knew it from one side to the other. Zor had picked the wrong ship to do battle with. His evasive maneuvers were ineffective. His defenses inadequate to the fight. His support ships drained their capacitor reserves as they tried to reach Mar and instead found themselves plucked off one by one.


***


He was calmer than he expected as Zor’s Raven exploded. His own ship, crippled, was alone. His fleet was gone. His friend was gone. Gasses and flames gouted from his home and the capsuleer paid to destroy him launched another volley of torpedos.


It was astonishing how easily he accepted his loss. He should never have taken Illiana. He knew that. In one singular moment of passionate emotion he had doomed thousands of people to their death.


But he had no regrets.


Even as the last missiles ripped through the splintered armor of his shields and exploded in a ball of pure, nuclear fusion, he thought only of Illiana and the sweet scent of her hair as his ship was obliterated.


The final missiles did not find their target. They trailed and died in the cold darkness. Mar didn’t notice. The hub shattered under the onslaught of his ship. Escape pods puffed out. Brilliant bursts of energy as they launched into the darkness. Distress signals sounded as one by one he captured each pod and scanned the contents.


It took a moment to find what they were looking for. Once he was sure that the pod contained Illiana Damsel he finished off the hub. It shattered, a brilliant burst of energy that flared out burning matter. It reflected off the dark, matte of his hull as the Raven banked as he fed it a new series of coordinates.


Other information came to him. The chill flickers of probes tastes his shields. They read his ship signature. Four of them. Combat probes. His own directional scanner was quiet. He knew better than to trust it. Better than beliving he was alone in the unrelenting darkness.


“Scoop the loot,” Mar ordered his crew. “Tend to our cargo and get secured. We’re being scanned down by some pirates. Time to bail.”

***

Pain woke her up.  It drove away the comfortable darkness of sleep.  She shuddered once and stilled. She hurt.  It soaked through her body and radiated out.  She could not say where the pain came from or what kind it was.  It was persuasive and as she clung to the painfree darkness it pushed it away and demanded that she acknowledge it.


“The light is down,” someone said. “Open your eyes. I want to make sure that they are working.”


Illiana let her eyes open with reluctance. It required a moment of thought to remember what to do. Darkness was stripped away and she blinked until color resolved into a concerned, brown face above her. She took a deep breath it hurt as if she was unfamiliar with breathing. The sharp, medical scent of healing gel filled her mouth and nose. She coughed and took another breath and a third as she remembered something she had always known.


“Good. Hello. I am Dr. Halemel. Welcome back to the land of awareness.” He pulled back from her field of view. “I had the medvat remove that tattoo,” he continued.  “The slave stamp had not fully integrated with your DNA.  You should not need any further treatments to remove it.  Also, we had to abort a fetus.”  His voice was grim.  “You can claim a full fertility certificate still as well as an exception clause from the priests.”


She didn’t care about her purity status. What fetus? From somewhere, she found her voice. “What happened?” Her voice sounded like rust and splinters.


“You managed to get into an escape pod somehow.”  She remembered Staci’s face twisted in sorrow.  “A few others managed but not many.  Sadly, its not uncommon in those places.”  Laughter as they dressed her tinkled through the empty air  “But you were not secured upon ejection and you got banged up pretty badly as the pod’s AI got you out of there.  The designers figure it’s my job to piece you back together and their job to get you here in the first place.”


“Kruul?”


“That is one dead bastard. You don’t have to worry about him again. We have already sent word to your father that you are safe and sound.”


“Oh.” Her eyes slid back closed. Darkness did not bring any relief. It did nothing to cool the burn that had ignited in her chest at the doctor’s words. She should have been glad. She should have been worried about her father. Yet, all she felt was the heat of the tears as they escaped her eyes and slid down her cheeks.


“Just know you are safe and going home. This is over. Sadly, some people can never escape from their pasts. Just rest. We’ll have you back to your father soon.”


Words did not come to her. In the darkness, behind her eyelids, Illiana mourned for the part of her soul she had just found and now lost again.


The End

Distress - Part Two

Back to Part One

“Jaya, do you ever feel like you’ve met someone before?”


Jaya rolled her eyes. “Every day,” she said. “Who is it?”


“What do you mean?”


“Don’t what do you mean me, all stiff and cold Amarr, Illiana. Who has your eye?”


“No one,” Illiana said and turned away. “I don’t know where you get that idea from.”


Jaya laughed.  “Because I can tell,” she said and spun around. Illiana could not hold onto her expression and found herself laughing as the dark haired, Gallente girl twirled and leapt in the middle of the hallway. She was graceful and for all her antics it was as graceful as a dance.


They were in the college market. A massive, open garden with wide, synth-stone walkways the market teemed with activity. Stalls of goods filled the aisles as students and residents moved through. Jaya had told her that the market was the busiest area in the station and as Illiana looked up at the blue tinted ceiling she could believe it. If she closed her eyes the warm light that mimicked the sun was almost enough to make her feel that she was back on a planet. A feeling she did not know she missed until she had stepped into the synthetic sunlight and laughed in delight as a flock of exotic birds flew overhead.


Jaya had showed up at her door and told her that they were going out before classes started the next day. “You need to know your way around,” she had told Illiana. “And do you have to wear all of that?”


Illiana had looked down at her mid thigh tunic and the loose, comfortable trousers she wore over them. Compared to Jaya’s midriff baring top and tight,metallic pants she might appear to be over dressed. She coiled her hair and left a message for her father as to where she would be. Initially she had been hesitant about Jaya’s offer but the girl’s appearance at her door along with the same, easy smile gave her confidence that Jaya wanted to be there. Illiana was not sure that formal ways could affect the girl if she chose not to follow them.


As it was, she was too perceptive. Illiana desperately wanted to talk to someone about Kruul. She wanted to find out more about him. However, she did not know how to go about it. She had delicately questioned her father about the dinner guests. It was he that had given her the scant bits of information she now knew about Kruul.


She was not sure that she had never met him before. Yet, the familiarity of him was uncomfortable. Even when she walked, she knew his step, It left her unsettled and often unable to concentrate.


“What would you have me wear?” she asked.


“Something nice. Something comfortable. You have to be hot.”


Illiana was not. “This is what I am used to wearing,” she said. It was much hotter on the planet then it is here. The wind was even hot and sand was in everything.


Jaya’s expression was Illiana’s answer to how the other girl felt about the hostile conditions of planets. Jaya she had learned had never, ever been planetside. THe thought of wild, uncontrolled weather shocked the other girl.“You could wear your hair down too,” Jaya added as she walked around Illiana. “After all, it is a new place. It is time for new things.”


“My clothing suits me fine,” Illiana answered. “As does my hair.”


“But your hair is so gorgeous. Its a shame that you wear it in a braid. How long is it?”


She brushed and braided her hair every morning and evening. She had not worn it loose since she was a child. “My knees.”


“Oh! With some color...” Jaya’s eyes glazed as she thought about whatever she wanted to od. Illiana decided to move a bit. The bright excitement was worrisome. “let’s at least look at something to give you something to catch the eye.”


“I don’t need to catch anyone’s eye,” Illiana protested as she was dragged off to one of the shops. Jaya was immediately drawn to a display and allowed Illiana to hover near the entrance in the bright sunlight. She tipped her head back and let the warmth wash over her. It was hard to remember that the sun was not real. That this was not a planet.


“Hello again, Princess.”


Illiana snapped her eyes open. The false sun was as bright as a real one. She closed her eyes, blinded. When she blinked them clear she found herself looking up into amused eyes. Jaya had moved into the store, away from the display that had attracted her attention. Now Kruul occupied her entire field of view. She backed away to put some distance between them. He followed, his long strides consuming the space the moment she created it.  “Shopping?”


“Yes.”


“We could slip away while your friend is occupied.” Jaya was deep, into the store at this point. Illiana flicked her gaze over and then back to Kruul. In that moment he had somehow moved even closer. “You don’t want to run away with me?”


She opened her mouth to say, “No” but paused as a sense of dread washed up over her. It was strong enough that she found herself panting and pressed against the wall as a shiver overtook her. Kruul, the amusement gone hovered over her, concerned. She touched her tongue to dry lips and tried to slow her frantic breathing.


“I...” she started and stopped. She took a deep breath. “I don’t think that would be best,” she got out. It sounded weak and Kruul’s look of amusement returned.


“Is there that little passion to you? What about excitement? Desire?” He leaned close enough that she could feel the heat of him. “You know that people don’t always spend a long, prolonged time getting to know someone. The Amarr married their slaves as they saw fit.”


“You judge me on the actions of others? I’m Amarr so you hate me?”


“Oh there it is. I was wondering where your burn lay. What would ignite you.” He was rumbling into her ear. She shuddered at the warm tickle of his breath on her ear. “I don’t hate you at all, princess. Forgive me for distressing you, Ms. Damsel.” He pulled away and looked down at her. “Sadly, I must go. Your friend has decided she has left you alone with me too long.”


Behind him, Jaya was walking towards them. Illiana found herself unable to meet the other girl’s eyes. With Kruul a step back Illiana’s senses returned. The sheer presence of the man was too much. He was a rich, vibrant, almost feral creature. He slipped into the crowd with one last wink as Jaya moved into range and frowned at Illiana.


“You look worn out,” she commented.


“It has been a busy day.”  Jaya looked back towards where Kruul had vanished into the crowd. “What next?” she asked.


Illiana smoothed her shirt. The air smelt of flowers, perfume and food. She purred the musky, hot scent of Kruul from her senses and shook her head. “I believe you were showing me the classroom layout?” she gave Jaya a weak smile that the other girl accepted with a nod.

***


Two days on the job and his first major incident.

Arnhur kept his grip as the Harbinger turned and dove. The view screen filled with the dark, obscene form of the Sansha Eyster. Behind the Harbinger came a Aurgoror. The spaceships were graceful as they twisted and shot forward into battle. Sunlight glittered on the Harbinger’s hull as it spun around and locked down the inky frigate.  Behind them an Oracle erupted pure energized destruction and the frigate exploded.

On a planet it would have been a containment leak or a bad weather pattern knocking out communications. It might be a raid or an accident that made everyone question the safety systems.

Another one. He could only curse and grind his teeth as they fought the relentless wave of frigates. The mining barges were almost free.  Two Mackinaw were down and fire gouted from the Orca’s sides.  The last Sansha frigate was captured as the crippled Orca entered warp. It streamed energy at the Harbinger. Shield alarms screamed as the cruiser buckled and twisted. The shields went down but the armor held.

Never had he thought that he would be in space, looking at nightmares in the eye.


Sweat dripped down Arnhur’s back. It soaked his arms and collar. He could feel the cold trickle down the side of his face. His hand would not unclench from his support as the last Sansha Nation frigate exploded.  The Aurgoror hovered off field. Streams of pure energy coated the Thorax as the shields surged back to full power.


He had directed rescue operations before. Never anything like this. Even the time when the entire launchpad had exploded it had been nothing like this moment as his body was slammed from one side to the other aboard the ship.

He would never understand capsuleers. The bridge crew had all been focused on small tasks. Communication. Ammunition loading. There had been screams to debin the cap boosters. Frantic but calm roars as they faced death moment after moment.

And still, people had died. The two Mackinaw had held full crews in the ore holds. The mining fleet had stayed out. They had ignored the warnings when the incursion was spotted. Now Sansha’s spawn lurked the belts and scooped up the populace. Even as they checked the last wreck he knew it was futile.

People were gone. They were his responsibility. Not that anyone would blame him. No one knew when the incursions would hit. No one knew what drove the madness behind their rampage of destruction. He had put off all of the warnings. He had tried to personally contact the crews. And when half of the berths were still empty he contracted the only capsuleers in station and went out to rescue those that could still be saved.

What had he gotten himself into? It was madness. Even as the Harbinger reunited with its Oracle and Aurgoror companion he knew it was madness. He had seen the battleship fleet. The Vindicator that had docked beside the freakish mass of a Nightmare. They had fueled and left without a word. And still more came.

They entered the next asteroid belt. The ping told him that a mining fleet had been there. It was empty of anyone. Just the rocks, stretched out in a long, awkward arc around the distant planet. They must have left. He would believe they had left. There was nothing else to believe. Even as a dark, mottled form appeared from behind an asteroid.

The battlecruiser thrummed under him. Did they know no fear, these capsuleers? These things were death and destruction, converted and perverted. But he was pressed back into his seat as the ship accelerated around him, the sound of its drives a vibrating war cry.

At least, Illiana was safe, he thought as plasma and gouts of raw energy erupted between the ships. The stations were almost sacred. Even if Sansha tried to assault them the battleship fleet that hovered around it would defend the station if not but for their own selfish needs. Unlike planetside, space held his daughter away from its dark terrors.

***

The claxtons had startled the entire class. Tablets dropped to desks. Illiana had been on her feet before she realized what happened. The lights dimmed as red and amber emergency light flared to life.

Incursion warning,” announced the station services. “Station services are interrupted. All residents are advised to respond to their safe stations at this time.”

The class had evacuated. Everyone knew where to go. She did as well. Or so she thought. Her tablet, clutched in her hand she stopped at an intersection and huddled into an alcove. The safe stations were all assigned upon registration for personal quarters. But the station was so big. She took a deep breath and called up the map on her tablet again.

A diagram of the station appeared. It was overlayed with a simple, white line that led to her destination. She was going the right way. Once she had crossed the University's open market she had thought she was lost again. It had been a strange experience, crossing the market in silence. The empty stalls had retracted into the floor. All that was left were empty paths and the circular outlines of where the sellers normally were.  Even the lights were off and the tree leaves turned black by the red and amber glare.

The wall was cold to the touch. It was so quiet. She passed her hand across the tablet again. Icons flickered but none flared to life. The communications lines were still open but there was no message from her father. She would not let that worry her. He would expect her to make her way to safety. This was no different from a raid planetside. It was safer even. Everyone said that as long as you stayed in station during the Incursions you would be fine. Sansha had too many soft targets to waste their time trying to pry people from the stations which were guarded by both Concord and capsuleers.

Her mouth dry, she smoothed her tunic and pushed away from the wall. The station was still secure. The the lights turned shadows into murky, blood colored puddles. She glanced down at her tablet and down the hall. Without the press of people and constant, steady drum of sound the corridor was a different place. The arched buttresses looked like the ribcage of some vast, metallic beast.

She moved, her feet a faint whisper against the floor. The alarms were lower, but constant. They faded in and out with her heartbeat. Illiana realized that she had slowed to a craw, pressed against the wall. Frustrated by her own illogical fears she pushed away from the wall with enough force that she stumbled. Hands grabbed her and she screamed.

***

Kruul just managed to avoid one of Illiana’s panic fueled blows. Her tablet flew by his head and smashed against the wall. He pinned her arms to her side as she screamed and kicked.  “Illiana!” he said into her hair. “Stop it.” He repeated himself over and over again as she slowed. Finally, she rested in his arms, limp. She had not passed out. She noisily sucked in breath as her body shuddered against him.

Cautious of her reaction, Kruul released his grip. Illiana twisted around, agile as a serpent. Her coiled braid had come undone and the long braid snaked down her shoulder and across his arm like silk. He watched her eyes dilate as she recognized him. Her nostrils flared and then she relaxed. “Its you,” she whispered, her voice thick. “I was so scared.”

“Why are you here alone?”

“I was heading to my safe,” she said. “I’m not lost. My tablet...” her words trailed off as she looked for the device. Her face fell as she saw it, shattered against the wall.

“We are leaving.” The words fell out of his mouth. He couldn’t stop them. He didn’t want to stop them. They felt right. He linked his arm with hers and started to move down the hallway.

“What? Why? Is the station in danger?” The claxtons flared with each breath. The red and amber lights darkened, Illiana’s ash blond hair. Her eyes shone, bright as quicksilver as she looked up at him. Trusted him.

“The station services are shutting down. If we go now they can’t find us.”

“Go?” She mouthed the word a second time and started to shake her head. “Kruul, I can’t go.”

“Why not?” He kept walking. She didn’t pull away but she continued to shake her head. Her braid slipped down her back, its heavy weight an emphasis on each movement.

“My place is here. With my father. I can’t just get up and leave him!”

“Have you ever done anything for yourself? What about you, Illiana? Have you ever lived for yourself?”

“I love my, father Kruul. I can’t just run off. It is a lovely dream but reality isn’t so nice.”

“Why do you say no?”

“I have to. Whatever this pull is between us isn’t reality.”

He stopped. She stood as far away as she could without breaking contact. They stared at each other.  “In my dreams,” he whispered to her, “It is always this way. Every time something stops you. But that is what makes you you.” Kruul stepped back and dropped her hand. Illiana stared at her, her eyes wide as he lifted a stun pistol.

“And this is what makes me, me.”

He pulled the trigger.

***


Arnhur was a man of deep emotion and deeper control. Yet, as he walked, the thud of his step caused heads to turn. He walked. He did not run. But each step was loud. Louder than it should have been. For such a large man he was fast. He was through the foyer of Corvus’ office before, Kitia, the receptionist could greet him.

The doors snapped back to let him through. Kitia wondered if Arnhur would have simply moved through them, the force of him shattering them without him noticing. She had found the man intimidating but likeable. Now, as the doors snapped closed behind him, she found herself a bit frightened.

Arnhur took in the striking vision of space that framed the wall of the option. Only days ago it had been the vast, beautiful unknown. Now it was just darkness. Darkness seeped in death and sorrow. Behind the desk, Corvus watched him, his expression intent. Arnhur ripped his gaze away from the view and stared at the man. “Corvus, that Mercenary has taken my daughter.”

“Kruul?”

It was a bad sign then, that Corvus knew. “Yes.”


“Tell me what happened.”


“The incursion.” He had been out of the station for a days. A week of endless raidings and trips on one ship after another. Communications had been down. People had needs. He was not sure that he slept during that time. It was not until the vast battleship fleet has swept through and into the heart of the swarm that the incursion had been pushed back. And there had been so much loss. Even the capsuleers seemed worn and exhausted.

“When I returned she had not checked into her safe. Scans of the security footage show Kruul carrying her to his ship. One of her friends saw her in Shakti with him. She tried to reach her but he stopped her and vanished. This is my daughter, Corvus. Stolen by your mercenary.” The rest was unsaid. They had both seen Kruul’s interest in Illiana at the dinner party. Arnhur had held his tongue and now his child was gone for his caution.

“I had not expected this of him. You have my sincerest apologies. I had not thought that he would be so bold. Do you have the security footage?”

“I do. I’ve also requested assistance from Shakti.”

The red and amber lights made the scene all the darker. Kruul carried Illiana, her brade turned dark red in the lights. The footage from Shakti showed Illiana sitting at a table and Kruul by her side. It showed various angles. They arrived. They sat. Kruul met with people. Illiana was kept tucked beside him the entire time.

Arnhur watched Corvus become angry. The man's jaw tightened but his eyes were hard. ”None of the capsuleers that work closely with us will do.  They don’t all fight nonstop. This station hosts industrialists and miners. The incursion forces are already gone. Sometimes you can ply them for other deeds.” Corvus stood. “Come.”

***

The took a fast shuttle to another station, systems away. Arnhur found himself lost in pensive brooding. Corvus had a contact who he thought could help. In the confusion of the incursion Kruul had managed to slip away to his base. He would be deeply entrenched there. Going up and knocking would get them laughed at or worse, Illiana harmed.

Jaylina was a security agent. Her neat office was located close to the capsuleer docks. She was reading over the report Corvus had forwarded to her. A tall, lean, unnaturally attractive man stood on the other side of her desk. He didn’t sit. Bright green eyes flickered over Arnhur and Corvus and back to Jaylina.

“Gentlemen, this is Mar. He was in contact with me when your message came in. I am briefing him. Forgive me for not waiting but time is of the essence.”

“How will I know where to find him?” asked Mar.

A three dimensional display appeared on Jaylina’s desk. “The location is here.”  Arnhur’s head snapped around to the display. The system was Aldali. The  map was edged in red.  Jaylina’s face was hard.  “We may use the mercenaries but it does not mean that we trust them.” The display spun around as a three dimensional grid of space snaped into the air between them. “We know every place that Kruul has been and everyplace that he normally goes.  These coordinates will land you at the pleasure hub that he runs.”

Pleasure hub.  The words sent a ripple of horror down Arnhur’s back.   A headache had a vice grip on his head.  He swallowed and looked down.  He was to blame for this. He had brought Illiana into this environment. Now he stood as a beggar before a soulless immortal. His pride the cost of hope for his only child.

“Aye,” said the capsuleer.  He was unaware of his own arrogance as he skimmed the information Jaylina had acquired.  Arnhur bit back the irritation.  He swallowed the anger.  To this creature retrieving Illiana was a job like any other.  One that he would accomplish with the signature lack of emotion that characterized his group. “It’s out in low sec. It will cost you more.”

Did all this abomination think of was ISK?

Jaylina remained cool. “The rates are listed. They are standard for the security status of the system. Understand that we are concerned that this girl has been placed into slavery or prostitution. Her father here is her only family. He needs her back safely.”

“Okay. I’ll take it, I guess. I’ll need a week at the most.”

“Immediately.:

“When have I ever failed a mission for you, Jaylina? Standard fees are fine. I have to scout. That takes time. Jumping into a pirate camp off the gate won’t get his little girl rescued any faster then letting me do things right.”

“Done,” Jaylina agreed before Arnhur could object.

He nodded to them and walked out of the room.  Arnhur watched until the door closed.  Immortality was not worth that. He would accept death as the price to possess a soul.

End of Part Two: Distress Part Three