This is a story for the Pod and Planet fiction writing contest. I wanted to participate last year but didn’t get my story done in time. I’m excited to enter this year. Thanks to the judges and organizers for putting their time toward this contest.
Update: my entry won first prize in the “Day in the Life” category! http://podandplanet.wix.com/podandplanet#!winning-stories/aj0u3
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The Best Sport
I was about to call it a night when the Venture appeared on scan.
The night was less eventful than I liked. I only got into a few fights, and of those, only two had been any good. System after system showed me a few people signed into the local transponder, but they were mostly docked in stations and pursuing their own business. Once in a while a ship would appear on my directional scanner and my heart would start going a little faster, but then they would disappear off scan. Just come fight me, I wanted to tell them. You’re an immortal. It’ll be fun. But it takes all kinds to make a universe.
I very much expected the Venture to disappear from scan. That kind of mining frigate was rarely fit for battle. I mean, it could be fit with guns, and I would welcome that. It probably wouldn’t be much of a challenge, but a kill’s a kill. I frantically worked d-scan to narrow down where he was, and it became clear to my practiced hands that he had found a small scattering of asteroids in deep space. He was almost certain to be mining.
The pounce was almost perfect. I dropped out of warp about ten kilometers from him, my warp scrambler already hot. He was orbiting a big chunk of hemorphite, mining lasers worrying at it. At first he didn’t seem to notice me, and my scrambler offlined his warp drive before he even reacted. He started to align out, mining lasers deactivating as my autocannons began to impact.
“Hey… “ he said over the local system channel.
He seemed to change his mind about what he wanted to align to, because the ship stopped and plunged off in another direction. By this point I was through his armor plating, though, and there was no more doubt whether he would escape. The ship’s integrity failed, the capsule ejecting as it exploded. I targeted his pod out of habit. Considering how long it took to lock on, there was little chance of catching him. But he showed no more decisiveness now than he did before, and my autocannons chewed that up too.
I’m not a corpse collector, so I let it float and warped away.
Later, I’m back in my home station, out of my own capsule and idly flipping channels in my Captain’s Quarters. I bring up the kill report. Reviewing the public record on the pilot, I see he’s fresh out of the academy. Less than a month a capsuleer and, I guess, mining to jump-start his wallet, like so many of them do. Hell, like I did for a few days, before I learned better. I don’t feel bad for my kills. They’re a time-honored sport in the capsuleer world. But I don’t want to bankrupt anyone either. Pilots with no money don’t fly, and if they don’t fly, I can’t shoot at them. I brought up the interface and sent him double his ship’s value with a short note to keep a closer eye on local.
When I woke up the next morning and checked my message log, there was a mail from him. This happens pretty often: sometimes it’s an enraged diatribe, sometimes confusion, sometimes an attempt to play along, like trying to be Mr. Cool. Which one would it be this time?
Thanks for the money. But now I’m double confused. I don’t know why you decided to destroy my ship. I was just mining. I thought you must be hard up for money if youre killing me for my rock pile. But now i don’t know because you sent me a pile of money, way more than the ship is worth.
I only just got started. I dont know how everything works. So, thanks for the isk, and if you could tell me what’s going on I would be thankful for that too.”
“No problem about the money. Myself, I’m a pirate. I track people down and shoot at them for the sport of it. Sometimes it’s easy pickings, other times the other guy knows what he’s doing and I end up on the wrong side of the kill report. That’s a side benefit of immortality, you know – your body and mind react as if it’s life or death, because it is. But even if you lose, you get to come back for another run at it. Best sport ever invented.
My advice to you is to watch the local channel more closely. If someone enters system and you don’t know them your best bet is to dock up. Even better: grab a combat ship of your own and fight. You’ll learn to love it.
Oh, and don’t bother with mining. Do combat missions for a corporation or CONCORD if you must. They pay better and you might even learn something about flying your ship – not that the baseliner pirates you’ll be fighting are any real threat except maybe in large numbers. Good luck.”
I sent it and moved on to some other business. My broker in Jita needed his daily instructions. A few minutes later, an indicator flashed: incoming request for a personal conversation. It was him, of course. I accepted it.
“Hi”, he said.
“Hey”, I returned, neutral.
“Thanks again for the money, and for the advice. It, uh, it really helps.” He sounded nervous.
“Sure, any time. We pirates might have a bad reputation, but some of us like to help out when someone is just getting started. We were all there once.”
“Listen… I know you’re probably busy and all. But I could use a little help, if you don’t mind. You said to get a combat ship and try some security missions. Well, I did that, but now I’m not so sure about completing the mission. I don’t want to ruin my rep with this agent by failing.”
I thought about it. It’s true, I had planned out the day, more or less. But on the other hand, this was something new. It would be a change, for a few hours. And hey, it would be a chance to use some of my more expensive hardware that I wasn’t looking to risk on everyday operations.
“Sure. Where are you located?” I started to sift through my ship module inventory, finding the ones I wanted and keying the commands for the assemblers to begin fitting out my Tengu-class strategic cruiser.
“Whoa”, he said as we dropped out of warp in the deadspace pocket this group of Guristas had established themselves in. To a first-timer, the screenful of threat signatures found in these little baseliner pirate nests was daunting. This one was far from the largest I’d seen, though, and this group was no match for a single capsuleer, let alone two of us. The power differential was almost embarrassing, but that’s why capsuleers are so respected… and well-paid.
“Just stay with me. You can always warp off if things get too hot.” I locked onto his ship to monitor his ship’s defenses, just in case, while my first missiles streaked toward the defenders.
I fought the first wave of defenders. By the time the second wave arrived, he was starting to take part and doing fine. The armor on his ship took some damage, but he was able to self-repair with me soaking up some fire. In comparison, I hardly needed to run my shield booster, as my shields’ natural recharge was strong enough for the comparatively weak ships guarding this outpost.
As we fought, I gave him the benefit of my experience. “You know, you took a chance inviting me here. There are plenty of people who would consider you a quick and easy kill. Me, I keep my word. But you should really be very selective who you trust. Almost anyone can turn on you.” His armor self-repair was falling behind a little. “Send me your fit,” I told him. He sent me the schematic of how his ship was outfitted. “Oh yeah. This could be a little better. For starters, always fit a Damage Control module. That’s Rule #1. Rule #2: when in doubt, see Rule #1”.
After a while, I started to get bored and antsy. “Listen. You seem to have this under control. You just needed a little push in the right direction. Get some money saved up and then come out to low security space. That’s where the action is. Good luck and next time we meet, don’t be surprised if one of us explodes.” He thanked me and I left.
Later that evening, if you can believe it, the guy calls me again. I’m starting to get tired of him at this point. But I accepted the conversation.
“Hey… I hate to bother you again, but you’re really the only capsuleer I know. I’m in a little bit of trouble.” I didn’t respond, so he continued. “I was going from system to system here, and I don’t really know how, but I got a little lost. I’m trying to puzzle out the map but it’s not so easy. I don’t think I’m in known space any more.”
Wormhole space, I thought? Surely not. “What does the local transponder say?”
“Local? Oh… 9SBB-9.”
I looked it up. Querious region, but not very far from CONCORD-controlled, safe space. He’d only gone a few jumps out of his way.
I considered. The guy needed help. But I was about at my limit. He was turning out to be more of a beggar than a victim. I’d go out there, though, I decided. I’d go out there alright. Time to teach him his next lesson.
“Sure, I’ll head out that way and see if I can get you back to your home station”. By means of the clone express, I didn’t say. I quickly swapped a few subsystems on my Tengu for cloaked operations, climbed in my pod and undocked.
The flight there was uneventful. You have to be wary of fleets camping the stargates where CONCORD-patrolled space meets null security space, but with my cloaking and my piloting skills there wasn’t much danger. Anyway, there were none this time. I entered system through the stargate and saw him signed into the local transponder. “Where are you?” I asked.
“Planet 3. So glad to see you. Do you want me to warp to the gate?”
“No. I’ll come to you.”
I aligned to the third planet and entered warp. I grimly looked over my display, warming up missile launchers and warp scrambler.
I dropped out of warp only a few kilometers from him. He was flying a Maller-class cruiser this time. I took up a lazy orbit around him and locked on. His token shields disappeared after my first salvo of missiles. I checked local to see if he had anything to say about this, but there was nothing.
His ship’s armor was not dropping as fast as I expected. Maybe he’d taken my fitting advice to heart and used a Damage Control module. Then I noticed a few more things. The first was that he had locked me in return and applied not one, but two warp scramblers to me. My racing brain put it down to his inexperience. Why would someone have two scrams? Then, I noticed he had activated another module.
The cynosural field is a beacon that jump drives and jump portals can lock onto and so travel multiple light years in a single jump, bypassing the stargate network that normally connects the cluster together. When done in combat, it’s called a hot drop.
The first ship to exit the jump portal was a Devoter-class heavy interdictor. That pilot activated his ship’s warp disruption sphere, making my warp drives useless, even if there weren’t already two warp scramblers on me. Then another ship jumped in. And another. A few more rounded out the ten or so ships that now surrounded me, locking on with guns ready to fire.
My friend was now waxing philosophical in local, letting me in on some advice that sounded very familiar. “You should really be very selective who you trust. Almost anyone can turn on you. You were right though. This is the best sport ever invented.”