Stone Temple/Ekoo’s Stop
My head swam from the smell of incense and my knees ached from kneeling on the hard stone floor of the chapel. Deeply troubled by the turmoil created by recent Synergy actions against our Brothers, I spent most of the last couple of days in solitude, looking for answers. Some things had resolved themselves to some degree . . . others had not. Synergy had been moved to WAR status, but did not seem to be flying in any organized fashion, there were simply random acts of piracy and violence from individual Synergy pilots.
I walked down a deserted hallway from the Chapel towards ST Control. Upon entering the room, I first made myself a cup of strong coffee and then sat down heavily in my well-used leather chair and swiveled it towards the Cartography Holo in the center of the room. Using the control pad and trackball on the arm of my chair, I set the display to show beacon status. As usual these days the beacons were in complete disarray, most of them completely offline and showing gray. I quickly overlaid squad status on the holo and saw just one Brother in-flight — SlimPickns was in-flight . . . probably finding artifacts by the dozen as usual.
I finished my coffee in two scalding gulps, coerced my body up and out of the comfortable chair and headed for the hangar deck, ordering my Ranger to be prepped with a few key clicks on my wrist-comp. I strode out of ST Control and around the corner to the turbolift, then down three levels to the Hangar Deck.
The servos has just finished prepping my ship and is sat waiting for me, canopy open. Climbing up and into the cockpit, I strapped on my helmet, lowered the canopy and began pre-launch sequencing. As my ship was being lowered into the launch tube I opened the narrow-band squad comms and hailed.
“Hey, Ambro,” replied SlimPickns.
“Anything going on, Slim?”
“Nope. Been real quiet so far,” answered Slim.
“Hope it stays that way — at least until I get these beacons taken care of.”
I was shoved back into my seat as my ship was ejected into space. Swinging the ship around with practiced, almost unconscious movement, I headed toward Ring View. I had decided to tackle the back route down to TriPoint first. Jumping into Ring View I did a quick radar sweep and saw Winnkin (-=MACK=-) in a freighter, and then noticed a green blip . . . Elgamal, in a Ranger, with pirate tags! Unfortunately, he jumped out before I could get a fix on his position. I queried Winkkin, but he had not even seen the pirate. So I decided to escort the MACK freighter into The Gurge in case Elgamal was camping there.
I waited a few seconds after Winnkin jumped through to Gurge before following him. I wanted to give the pirate a chance to show his hand. But jumping in about 10 seconds later, the sector was clear except for Winnkin and a few low-level conflux.
Opening up squad narrow-band again, I broadcast “Elgamal … pirate tags.”
“Where?” This was a new voice — GrimGriz.
“Hey Grim. I made a brief contact in RV, but was unable to get a fix.”
Suffice it to say that we did not see Elgamal again. He probably either disappeared into unregulated space or docked at one of the many private stations that littered just about every sector these days.
While I was preoccupied with Elgamal, someone (I think it was GrimGriz) had flipped the beacons around TriPoint, so I headed back through Ekoo’s Stop and down into Omni V. Suddenly a TRI alert flashed on my HUD: “A pilot with a bounty from your faction has been spotted in Ring View.” I thought perhaps it was Elgamal, but over squad comms, GrimGriz said “Aslan.”
Over the years, Aslan had gone from being a staunch Octavian factionalist to once of the most hated pilots in TRI space. He seemed to thrive on disdain. Hearing the name, I flipped my ranger and headed back to Ring View, but by the time I got there . . . nothing.
“If it’s Aslan, he’s probably headed into The Gurge,” said GrimGriz.
“This is RIDIC,” a new Brother had come on, “I’m headed your way from QC and will assist as soon as I can.”
“Roger, I’m headed to Gurge. Not sure how long I can delay him with this Ranger,” I answered. In the few minutes it took my Ranger to fly the 60,000 kliks to The Gurge, I rechecked the status of all systems and armed my two Purgatory Missiles. As soon as I jumped through the gate into The Gurge I saw the red blip on the radar. Cycling as quickly as possible, I targeted Aslan. He was in a heavy miner — which mean he was mounting some serious firepower and major shielding, but almost no maneuverability. I took a wide sweeping course, easily catching up to him, and keeping away from the miner’s front-mounted guns. As I got within 5k I fired off my purgs and got ready to start hitting Aslan with my twin Spitfires.
As soon as he got the missile alert, he began burning for Evening’s End, but that gate was a long way away. I began pounding him and one of the missiles hit. Aslan’s shields were down to 53%, but he had plenty of shield and armor to go. Another missile hit. Bingo! With shields nearly gone, he slowed and started turning to fire at me. I kept firing my twin Spits rapidly until I saw him start to get a bead and then I burned away. Aslan turned back towards EE and resumed burning toward the gate — but I had succeeded in slowing him down. This sequence of events re-ran two more times. After the last time, RIDIC was on-radar and burning towards us, so Aslan went back to ignoring my peppering fire and headed to Evening’s End.
Try as we might, RIDIC and I were not able to take Aslan’s miner down before he was able to land at EE. Amazingly, though, Aslan decide to launch again just a minute later. We were out after him, and by this time, GrimGriz had arrived with his Vant Monsoon. Now, with heavy-mortar power, Aslan was done-in quickly.
After a momentary pause to enjoy the victory, RIDIC, GrimGriz and I departed from Evening’s End. RIDIC had a project awaiting him back at QC, Griz went off to do one of the many things that Griz does, and I decided to try to tune a few more beacons.
After just a couple of beacons tuned (and a couple of unreg sectors claimed), Singleshot got on squad comms and was asking about the improved V.A.P.O.R. lasers. I told him I would run down to Hyperial with him to check them out (since the TRI market network was still on the blink and we could not check their supply). We met at Stone Temple, where I switched ships to a Monsoon, figuring I’d use the extra cargo space to bring a few V.A.P.O.R.s back.
On the way down I continued my regular task of beacon maintenance. Tuning Hyperian-space beacons to Quantar frequencies always gave me a special kind of pleasure. Sadly, after running all the way to Hyperial, Singleshot and I found that, due to some Hyperian intrigue, production of the new V.A.P.O.R.s had been delayed. Disappointed, Singleshot decided to grab a room in Hyp station and check again the next day (personally, I hate sleeping in that place. I figure if I ever closed my eyes there they’d never open again).
Brother JackLord- happened to be at Hyperial grabbing some equipment. Jack stocks . . . I tune . . . it’s just what we do. I continued beacon tuning through Far Gate, then up into Hyperian Hook, and then back through Rear Gate up towards home space. The first few sectors were uneventful, but as I was about half-way through Reaches, Jack called over comms: “Oh no, Rebound is in here.”
I burned for Main Gate, where Jack was, knowing he was a sitting duck for the Synergy Pirate. I was still smarting from the Synergy-induced turmoil over the last couple days and the very last thing I wanted was another Brother going home in a pod because of them. I burned a flashfire (only two left since I had Duely and BCU installed). In a few seconds I was through the gate. Rebound was about 20,000 kliks away and vectoring towards Jack’s freighter in a Dragon. With that firepower on his tail, Jack would not have a long time if I didn’t get there quickly.
I was just a few seconds behind Jack and Rebound as they jumped into GVB sector. As my ship materialized in the GVB gate, suddenly I felt boom, boom, boom . . . my teeth rattled from the impact of the Flail ammunition on my shields. I burned out of the gate and went evasive, pleased that Rebound was firing at me rather than Jack. As my shields began to regain strength, I started circling in preparation to engage Rebound.
He was just over 4k away as I simultaneously flipped and flashfired on a vector to engage. Unfortunately my angle was too sharp , too close to a joust. I got in a few shots, then boom, boom, boom shields melted away again. I flashfired away – last one. I was armored and Rebound had only minimal shield damage. Damn those Dragons. The only thought on my mind at this point was giving Jack as much head start as possible. Rebound flashfired after me and I went ammo-evasive. Finally he started to hit with a few shots. I didn’t have much time, so I decided to make one last run. It ended in a blinding flash and the immense pressure of pod ejection. My stomach flipped as the pod sped back through Hyp Gate, Round and finally Home – The Stone Temple.
I wanted to know how Jack had fared, but was afraid to ask. Then came a transmission . . . Jack’s voice: “I’m in Rounds headed to Ekoo. I’ll be in in about 30 seconds, Rebound should be about 20 seconds behind me.”
Relief flooded over me, but I had no time to spare. My pod had been installed in a new Monsoon hull and I quickly began the process of installing and checking all of the systems. 40 seconds . . . next I ordered up armor check and refuel – the servo droids seemed to take forever . . . 25 seconds . . . I did a final pre-launch sequence and checked the power grid to make sure everything was online and operational and then mashed the launch button.
My ship was lowered into the launch tube . . . 15 seconds . . . and finally, stars. My ship was in space and I hit the afterburners as I scanned for Rounds Gate.
Jack was in sector already, burning for QC. Seconds later, I saw the tell-tale red blip in the Rounds of Quantos gate – Rebound. “I’m on him, Jack,” I said.
“Launching from QC,” came RIDIC’s voice. “Bring him to Omni V if you can, Ambro.”
At first, Rebound seemed to head towards JackLord-, but then he must have seen me and changed direction. I tried to take a wider vector, but he closed the gap quickly. Boom a flail shot lit up my shields – but just one. So far so good. But I could not get a good vector on him. I lit off a flashfire to get room, but he was right behind me. Boom . . . boom . . . boom. Shields nearly gone. I let go of a few Morningstars – didn’t want to die with them on the racks – and then flashfired in a wide arc, trying to get him to slow down and try to turret me. It worked as I saw a flash and a big dent in Rebound’s shields. I went on the offensive again, even though my shields had only recharged to 50%, letting loose with my FeatherFires and a couple more missiles.
Boom . . . boom . . . “Warning!” announced the computer’s metallic voice, announcing that I had taken armor damage.
“I’m in Omni V if you can get him in here,” said RIDIC.
“Don’t think I can,” I replied. “Totally defensive.”
My thumb was white from pressing on the AB button. Glancing at my H.U.D., I knew that I couldn’t burn for much longer. I corkscrewed wildly, evading the powerful Flail ammo. Rebound was less than 4k behind me and gaining. He was flying straight which meant he was faster than me.
“Hurry up, RIDIC!” I yelled. “Can’t last much longer . . .”
Rebound was now closing in on 2,000 kliks away. At that range, no amount of corkscrewing was going to save me. Desperate, I flipped and burned hard. The slower-reacting Dragon was clearly caught by surprise and I was able to gain about 5,000 kliks. Miraculously, I was vectoring toward Omni V As Rebound burned another flashfire, I began corkscrewing again.
“I’m in!” C’mon, RIDIC. I kept my radar locked on Rebound, measuring the distance and varying my evasion. I knew RIDIC would be on him quickly as I was less than 12k from the Omni V gate. Rebound must have been completely focused in on me as well, as I saw his shields begin to melt away from RIDIC’s attack.
Seeing that Rebound had refocused his attention on RIDIC, I flipped and headed back in case he got into trouble – which can happen rapidly against a Dragon. But RIDIC had taken Rebound by surprise and now had him on the defensive. I use the last of my AB fuel to head back into the fray and opened up with my four guns at long distance, but quickly was blinded by the explosion of the Synergy ship.
“Woooooohoooo! I thought you were gonna steal my kill,” laughed RIDIC.
“Great job, RIDIC. Thanks for getting my back.”
“No problem, boss.”
I exhaled. Not sure how long I had held that breath, but it seemed like an awful long time. Cutting throttle, I slowly scanned for Stone Temple. There it sat – less than 20k away, and looking quite welcoming. I looked forward to letting go of the control stick (if I could pry my fingers off) and then finding a space-cold Q Ice. After a couple of quiet cruises and a period of isolation and meditation, it had been quite a cruise.