Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Lost Brother, Part 3

I tried to tell Jed that it was not a good idea to make a stop at Kourmonen. The factions have been fighting there since earlier this year and no one was safe, especially haulers. We had consolidated most of Jedadiah's equipment, and he insisted on stopping off at Kourmonen V to pick up some stray materials.

"We'll be in and out before anyone knows we're there", Jed exclaimed confidently.

I just wished I shared his confidence.

The only station at Kourmonen V is a small facility orbiting one of the moons. The Theodoulos Family knew the corporation that owned the structure, and there were several crates that Jed had dropped off there earlier that he needed to grab before heading back to Netsalakka.

We docked both Bestowers and disembarked to find the hanger foremen. Once he verified our credentials, we were directed through the warehouse and assigned us local slaves to pull the crates. No sooner when we started that the station alarms sounded. A voice came over the speakers, ordering all non-employees off station. Three squads of Thukkers were in orbit heading for the station.

The Thukker Tribe is not known for their congeniality. An uncooperative off-shoot from the Minmatar Repulic, they have a reputation of being ruthless in their attacks. With the outbreak of war, more and more Thukker fighters have been seen on the front lines.

A look of worry came across my friend's face. Jed had more than a few run-ins with these barbarians, but never in a hauler.

The pounding on the station shields began. When autocanons rage against shielding, it has a distinct sound, much like distant thunder on a summer day. I'm sure calls went out to the milita near by in Kamela, but we never found out if there ever was an answer. The pounding continued and people were seen running to their ships to leave as quickly as possible.

I finished signing the paperwork, and found Jed speaking to someone on a video screen. He turned to me, and shouted above the noise of the attack, "Finish getting those crates on board. The shields aren't going to last, and we have to get out of here before the station falls!"

That's all he had to say. I turned my attention back to the crew and we continued to finish loading the equipment. Though the crates were not large, both ships were packed pretty full. After what seemed to be an eternity, everything was loaded and locked down. By then the station shields were failing and the attackers were digging into the armor.

I ran back and said, "Jed, we're packed and ready."

"OK Jonas, we're leaving now," Jedadiah shouted.

I jumped on board to my Bestower and began the undock sequencing. By now, the shields had fallen and the brunt of the Thukker attack was starting to dig into both the armor and structure of the station. Explosions could be heard near by and power outages started appearing throughout the docks.

"Jonas, you ready?" came the familure voice across the comms.

"Yes Sir," came my reply. "Just give the word and we will undock." Though we were both in unarmed haulers, we agreed that our best chances were to slip out and hope that the Matari were more interested in popping a station rather than a couple of civilian haulers.

As we exited the station, both Jed and I began to align ourselves with Huola Gate.

"I don't feel good about this Jonas," Jed began. "Let's get to a safe spot and scan the gate before warping right in." Since the safe spot was closer to alignment, we quickly vacated the area, and after a short time, both ships were sitting alone in a hidden location.

"Just as I thought," said Jedadiah. "There's a camp on Huola Gate. There is no way we're going to get out that way."

"We could try for Lamaa," came my suggestion.

"No, I don't like that," Jed said. "It would force us to fly through too many low security systems. Align to Kamela. We should be able to make it that way."

We aligned to Kamela Gate and warped.

When flying on autopilot, the warp in point is always 12 to 15 km away from your destination. Since we were flying in Low Security Space, every good pilot knows that you fly manually, so that you come in right on top of the gate and jump to the next system. Yet, every once in a while, the ship doesn't come right in, and you get dumped far enough away to have to fly closer to activate the gate. And it had to happen at this time!

Our ships came out of warp and we found ourselves over 5km away from the gate. Without saying a word, we both punched the acceleration and those last kilometers turned into light years. It was during this sprint, five Rifters came in on the gate. Matari preferred these light frigates over larger craft because of their speed. One of them locked onto Jed and launched missles.

We jumped.

Arriving on the other side, both Jed and I kept still. The after effects of jumping through a gate envelopes a ship in a static field, cloaking the vessel for about a minute. For the first few seconds, things were quiet, but then the Jump Gate activated, and we knew we were being followed. Four Rifters uncloaked and started slowly moving around, much like wolves trying to pick up the scent of their prey.

"Jonas," came Jed's voice, "what are you alighned to?"

I checked my scans and replied, "The closest alignment I have is with Sosala Gate."

"I'm aligned with Ohide, but scan says there are pirates sitting there."

"We're going to try something different here Jonas," Jedadiah said. "The best chances we have are to split up and hope one of us makes it through. I am going to break cloak and jump to a safe spot. Once I have their attention, head straight for Sosala and try to get through back to Netsalakka."

I didn't like this idea, and told Jed so. But it was too late. His Bestower started moving, breaking cloak. All four Rifters, immediately turned toward Jed. I then started up the engines and began the slow climb that a hauler makes to build up the speed for a warp. Three more Rifters came through the gate and started chasing me. I mashed the warp as hard as I could, and realized to my horror that all three Thukkers jumped ahead of me. Unable to alter my course, I knew what would be waiting for me at the Sosala Gate.

While in warp, both Jed and I were still in communication. "I am going to try and get through to Ohide," Jedadiah commented.

I didn't mention my troubles.

"Once back in High Security Space, I'll take the long route back to Sarum Prime and then to Netsalakka," Jedadiah was saying matter of factly.

"Very well Jed," was all I could say. Even though the capsule a pilot controls his ship from, maintains a comfortable temperature, an icy chill was slowly climbing up my spine. At first I thought the danger would be over, if we could just get out of the station without attracting attention. Now I was really afraid that I might not get back intact.

My ship came out of warp, right in the middle of three Rifters and the Sosala Jump Gate. Even before fully coming out of warp, I was pounding on the jump command, knowing that the Matari wouldn't be able to lock onto my hauler, despite its size. I jumped through and they followed.

Sosala is a key system in moving through this area of the Bleak Lands. It connects several High Security systems to the rest of the region, which makes it an ideal lurking point for pirates. With three Rifters on my tail, I had little concern for those low lifes who prey on the innocent.

This time I didn't wait for the cloaking to end, I hit the warp command and began to increase speed to jump. I wasn't aligned to Netsalakka, but I had a wonderful shot for Sasiekko.

Good enough. It was High Security and if I could just make it to the gate, I knew I was home free.

Two of the Rifters appeared and targeted me. Their warp scramblers started sizzling as soon as their lock on me was complete. I wasn't going anywhere!

The third Rifter locked and started tearing away at my ship with his missles. Even though my shields were gone and I knew my armor was soon to go, I kept mashing the warp. I would lose the ship, but when the hauler blew, my pod would be free and I could warp out. Right before the ship exploded one of the Rifters caught my attention. It was close. Too close.

There was a bright flash and my pod was loose. I think they knew they might loose my pod, because the moment my ship was gone, the Rifter closest to me started discharging a smart bomb.

Smart bombs don't need a target lock. They just rip into anything close enough to receive damage.

Jonas Calvin totally focused on mashing that warp command. When he finally warped, he was too exhausted to notice that his structure was down below 10%.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

General Roth Sar-kosis sat on the bridge of his Armageddon. Gate Security Detail was looked upon by most officers as a vacation, but Sar-kosis hated the job. A detail shift would last for 14 days, and during those 14 days, absolutely nothing would happen.

Reports were coming in on a Thukker raid a couple of jumps away, but even though Matari were rather simple in comparison to the superior intellect of an Amarrian, Roth knew that the Minmatar were not stupid enough to try and enter High Security Space.

Lieutenant Haddon turned from his station to face the general.

"Sir, probes show a fire fight in Sosala," came the junior officer's report.

Sar-kosis looked up and turned to the main screen, just in time to see the gate flash.

A minute later, the burning wreck of a pod uncloaked.

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