Location, Location, Location
Location, Location, Location
A dolorous creak drew Jayken Taisho’s attention as the metal walls of his cramped, little rented room contracted; its remaining heat bleeding away now the ambient temperature controls for the hallway outside had switched from evening- to night-mode.
‘You had to stay in Caldari space, didn’t you!’, Jayken berrated himself, and pulled a second blanket over his shoulders. He wrapped it tight to cover as much of his neck and body as he could, making sure to allow access for his chilled fingers to tap the glowing virtual keyboard before him. He sighed, and let his fingers run along the edge of his new implants, feeling the organic curve of their bioceramic surfaces. Twin micro-holoprojectors fitted around the orbit of each eye and, over the right temple and extending behind his ear, the casing of his new high-speed computer. Beneath it lay an array of processors, memory cells and communication bio-chips allowing him to access the network wherever he could find a signal. And through his arms ran a lattice of nerve sensors to interpret the movements of his fingers as they inputted data on the virtual keyboard visible only to him. If he’d wanted he could have had synthetic skin added, making the implants appear less noticeable, but that would have meant less to spend on the hardware and he needed the processing power and the speed more than he needed a pretty passport photo. He might even have chosen unobtrusive retinal implants, designed to transmit images directly to his visual cortex, instead of the holoprojectors. They would have been better, but that kind of tech was way beyond the wallet of a low level researcher. He’d spent everything he had as it was.
What is it the Capsuleers are always saying? Jayken thought, Never fly what you can’t afford to lose. And here’s me doing just that. Head full of expensive electronics and pockets full of air.
The bare walls of the cabin did nothing to detract from the falling temperature, and Jayken supressed a shiver. It was dark also, only the blue glow projecting from his implants broke the gloom, catching on corners and edges around the room and on the Wiyrkomi Corporation logo on the wall – identifying the spacestation owner. The Wiyrkomi Corporation Factory, in orbit around Oichiya I, Citadel Region, Caldari Space – the ultra-capitalist state where everything that could be sold would be sold. He’d taken the cheapest room he could find; the electricity was extra and the heating extra again. But his hardware ran from his body’s own bio-electricity and he had blankets to keep warm so he’d skipped on both. He was beginning to regret that decision now.
He knew, though, that he’d had no real choice except to stay in Caldari space. Jayken was Caldari born and bred so a more comfortable Gallente Federation station, where heat and lighting were considered a right not a commodity, was out of the question. With the war still simmering away between the old enemies, life for a freelance Caldari in Gallente territory would be uncomfortable at best. He didn’t like to think about the worst. Amarr space was out aswell; not that he had anything against them but it would have been expensive again with tithes to pay for avoiding their ever present religious ceremomies. And the Minmatar .. well they just made him nervous – always suspicious and angry, or so they seemed. He never knew if they were about to shake his hand or cut it off and beat him with it. But seven centuries of brutality and slavery under the heel of the Amarr would do that to a people, he supposed.
So he’d spent the last of his InterStellarKredits on this tiny, cold, dark cabin – enough to cover the rent for two days. And he’d fired up his new implants, hit the network, and begun trawling for any work he could find to bring in some cash. That had been the plan, at least, but it wasn’t working out as he’d hoped. He’d registered his name and credentials with the local agents, hoping to pick up some jobs quickly enough to make some ISK and extend his rent agreement, but the jobs hadn’t come. So he’d busied himself researching for any scraps of information he might be able to sell on, but that was slow and tedious work. And even if he did stumble on some snippet of valueable data, finding a buyer would take time again. His entire first day had been spent at this task, until he’d been forced to stop and sleep, his head throbbing from the constant, low-level computer hum echoing across his skull for hours. The next day had brought little new success, and now he had maybe four hours left before his contract with Station Housing ran out. Without money to extend it he’d be out of a place to live aswell, and being a homeless Caldari was a prospect Jayken hoped to avoid. The Caldari State, officially, did not have homeless people – if you couldn’t pay your bills you ceased to be a citizen, and any rights you’d earned with that would disappear. If he was lucky, he’d be escorted to some unpleasant corner of the station to work off his debt. Less lucky and he could be shipped down to the barren surface of Oichiya I to work on one of the many factory complexes, extracting resources and processing them into saleable commodities. Less lucky still and he might find himself bought by an enterprising Capsuleer and sold on to some Amarr merchant in Rens as a slave.
A dark panic was beginning to grow at the pit of Jayken’s stomach. He was becoming increasingly distracted the closer he moved to his deadline; the thoughts of what might happen if he couldn’t make some money competed with wild fantasies of how he might escape that fate. His imagination saw him stowing away on a hauler transporting the planet’s resources to a market hub far from Citadel Region; he’d be discovered by a passenger who’d turn out to be an Amarrian noble-woman travelling under the radar. She’d take pity on him, seeing his potential, and smuggle him into the Empire with forged papers. And there a new life of wealth and warmth and comfortable apartments with lights and food and a real water shower would begin for him. Or he’d stumble on to a hidden cache of corporate secrets in a dark corner of the network, some competitor of Wiyrkomi or maybe a Gallente spy seeking advantage in the war. And he’d argue passionately with an officious middle-manager from the corporation’s security division that he had to speak to someone more senior before passing them on, for a modest fee to cover his costs of course. Until finally he’d be sitting in a plush office and the reclusive founder of Wiyrkomi, Tyunaul Seituoda, would enter to thank him personally, shake his hand, and offer him a position as Chief of Cyber-Security for the entire Corporation. Or maybe …
Jayken let out another deep sigh and rubbed at his tiring eyes. With them closed his implants had nothing to project their images into and the view of his virtual keyboard disappeared, along with the displays of news portals, market data and countless other sources of information he’d been scanning for anything of value. The brief respite felt like a sudden break in a storm. Ghosts of the images he’d been watching danced across the darkness of his closed lids and then began to fade, and his whirlwind thoughts slowed and settled. With an effort of will he forced himself to retake control. Jayken concentrated on his breathing until it was calm and regular, savouring each breath like cold water splashed on to his face. His arms felt like jelly and he could sense a tremor in his fingers and hands, but he reminded himself it was just the adrenaline from the rise of panic. His limbs felt odd only because they had no action to take – no danger to fight or to run from – but he could use that adrenaline to focus his mind, to make it sharp like a scalpel. And he pushed his fantasies to the side, tucking them into a corner out of the way, and then he pushed his fears after them – far enough that he could only just hear them scraping at his conciousness, looking for a crack in the wall through which to make their way back. A soft beep intruded Jayken’s repose, gentle but insistent – a message had arrived for him. He took a deep breath, making the most of his last moment of self-imposed darkness and calm, preparing himself for a return to his world of light and data, signal and noise. And then he opened his eyes.
His message was there, a small yellow circle pulsing faintly at the margin of his field of vision. It beeped again and, with a small flick of his fingers, he pulled it up to the front. For a second he froze, and then cursed himself for indulging his panic for those few precious seconds of darkness and calm. The message was short and blunt:
Contract from Kotatainen Toksen, Agent for Wiyrkomi Corporation
Locate Calavar Solis, Payment: 10,000 (ten thousand) ISK, 8 minutes
7 minutes 46 seconds remaining.
One of the local agents he’d listed his details with had picked him up for a job, and he’d wasted fourteen seconds already. Not that eight minutes wasn’t more than enough for a simple location trace, especially with his new hardware, but agents weren’t known for their patience and he’d need to make a good impression if he was to encourage further jobs. Jayken hit the accept button and immediately pulled up the access portal of CONCORD’s Gate Traffic data logs to the front of his display. His message alert beeped again, and there was a time-limited access code from the agent. He swept it deftly into the access portal and, for the first time in two days, allowed the tiniest of smiles to touch the corners of his mouth.
The traffic logs filled his view and Jayken entred the name of his target. Whoever this Calavar Solis was he’d have him tracked down in no time. There were over seven and a half thousand mapped star systems in the New Eden cluster, each linked to another by huge, mechanical Jump Gates anchoring stable wormholes. Together they created a vast interstellar travel network. Ships crossed the void between stars regularly, and each time a Jump Gate was used the ship’s unique I.D. was logged and stored. That made for a lot of data to sort through but, with a swift enough computer, anyone’s travel pattern could be traced. Ostensibly this was intended to allow for smooth running of travel and trade between New Eden’s empires, but in reality it had given way to a grey-market trade in location services. The Capsuleers, engaged in their seemingly endless wars and petty squabbles amongst each other, frequently paid agents to locate their enemies – all the better to continue killing each other over and over again. And the agents, in turn, contracted the work out to freelance researchers, allowing them a measure of deniability if anything should go wrong. Jayken’s fingers raced across his keyboard, filtering the results of his search to bring it down to that singular point – where the guy was right at this moment. He quickly checked the time – 6 minutes 12 seconds remaining. His focus was sharp now, but he pushed one more scraping distraction to the distant corner of his mind – he was helping someone find this guy, this Calavar Solis, so they could try to kill him. But that was why the pay was so good for such quick and simple work, he supposed. And besides, it wasn’t as if he was really going to die – the Capsuleers’ cloning technology meant he’d just wake up in a brand new body somewhere, minus his ship and some dignity maybe but otherwise the same self-important, privileged, immortal prick he’d always been. Nonetheless, Jayken’s earlier smile had gone as he lost himself in his concentration and his conscience-smoothing.
The stream of data showed the target wasn’t in Citadel Region, or even in the Caldari State. That would slow things down a little – 5 minutes 23 seconds remaining. He’d have to tackle some of the extra bureaucracy involved in fetching data from one or more of the other of New Eden’s states. He pushed the traffic logs to the side and drew up his music library, sweeping through his collection to select something suitable while he waited for his access request to be processed. Something to help his concentration, and to keep the wolves in his mind from the door. The music began and Jayken ushered his work back into his display. New data was just beginning to flow in and his fingers returned to the task of filtering through it, narrowing it down – 4 minutes 45 seconds remaining. Whatever Solis had been doing, he was moving fast – the information was coalescing into a picture of movements, becoming clearer with each passing second. He’d been in Citadel, it seemed, but had left and headed into Gallente space. And from there travelled further, out of the Gallente Federation and into space claimed by the Minmatar Republic. Jayken scanned the timestamps of each jump, satisfying his own interest rather than that of the task at hand – from the length of time spent in any single star system it looked like Solis had been moving as quickly as he could, barely stopping before jumping to the next system. He imagined the Capsuleer, locked in his hydrostatic ‘pod’ from which they piloted their ships, racing across the stars with some shadowy foe right behind him every step of the way. Or perhaps a gang of them, flying a tight-knit formation of interceptors and assault frigates, weapon turrets and rocket launchers primed to unleash deadly torrents of fire the instant they caught up with him. He found himself hoping that Solis might get away; avoid the inevitable result that tracking him down would bring. But, then again, what did it matter since the guy couldn’t really die anyway? Jayken returned his focus to the job, forcing his daydreams to the side once again. Things were moving more quickly now as he closed in on the last jump. Solis had gone to the Heimatar region, it seemed. A few more key-strokes filtered the data down further to the Hed Constellation, meaning there were only 6 systems in which he could be. With a final flourish on the keyboard, Jayken found himself staring at just one name – Solis’s last known location – projected into his eyes by his implanted holoprojectors. His single, blinking 10,000 ISK prize – Amamake System. The data showed no logs of docking in any station, so Solis must still be in open space, but the timestamp showed he’d been there for the last 30 minutes – he’d stopped running. 3 minutes 58 seconds remaining.
Jayken’s smile returned, broader than it had been for many days, as he tapped out a message to the agent and let his finger hover over the ‘send’ button, savouring the moment he’d been waiting for. He sighed again, all the tension of the last two days draining away with the sure knowledge that he’d soon be 10,000 ISK the better, able to pay his bills, get some food, turn on the heat and lighting. Things were looking up. Maybe he’d even get a bonus for completing the job with time to spare.
And then he saw it. Or not a particular thing, at least, but something in the list of data he’d just filtered which felt wrong. For a moment he thought, maybe, he’d made a mistake but that was absurd – it was just data and the result was right there in front of him, a clear hit. It wasn’t the result that was wrong, as such, it was the way the information had arrived there. Jayken scanned the list of system jumps again. And there it was – a double entry at the jump from the Caldari system of Perimeter into the Gallente Border Zone system of Iyen-Oursta. He pulled up a Sniffer program from his library and set it to work pulling apart the data and, in seconds, it flashed its result confirming his suspicion – the entry was fake. 3 minutes 00 seconds remaining. Jayken cursed; he should have spotted that earlier – would have spotted it if he hadn’t been too busy indulging himself in his daydreams. And then he realized his finger was still paused over his message to the agent, ready to send the now fake location on.
I could still send it, he thought, the Agent would never know the difference and when whoever’s hunting Solis gets to Amamake and finds him gone they’ll just assume he moved on before they got there. No one would ever know.
His finger twitched, his ISK was right there on the end of a single key-stroke.
But I would know.
‘Dammit!’, he cursed again, and swept away the message in favour of a new program – a Bloodhound. He set it to task on the fake entry, scanning for anything it could use to trace the information back – a signature to look for in other data. It was sloppy of whoever had built the fake, but Jayken reprimanded himself that he’d been sloppy too in so nearly missing it. He felt irritated at himself and cancelled his music with a bad-tempered swipe. 2 minutes 08 seconds remaining. The Bloodhound was taking too long; Jayken opened a new message, but held it off to the side – he still had a location to send, at least, if he couldn’t get a new result in time. It would be a lie, and he’d know it, but he imagined his 10,000 ISK might help him live with it. He reminded himself of the alternative. 1 minute 22 seconds remaining. Jayken began typing. And then the Bloodhound forced its way to the front of his display – it had a signature and had begun to track back through the jump traffic. Solis, or whoever was doing his datawork for him, had planted false jump logs from Perimeter to Amamake and then obfuscated their ship I.D. so he could double back with a different data trail. Jayken’s fingers became a blur, their speed enhanced by his implants, filtering the new stream of information as it was provided by his software. Solis was back in Caldari space after all – 0 minutes 53 seconds remaining – and moving fast again, the timestamps even closer this time than on his way out. Caldari space, Citadel Region, Jayken’s display reported. 0 minutes 38 seconds remaining. He was sweating now, lost in his focus and driven by his search; the lack of heat and light in his cramped cabin completely forgotten. Caldari space, Citadel Region, Santenpaa Constellation. 0 minutes 21 seconds remaining. He typed the new information into his message for the agent just as the Bloodhound returned with the final piece – Calavar Solis is in Motsu VI, Moon 13, Poksu Mineral Group Mining Outpost.
Sneaky bugger, Jayken smiled, that’s the system right next door.
He hit the send button, sat back, and closed his eyes once more. Job completed. 0 minutes 12 seconds remaining. He could feel the cold again now that he was no longer occupied. More than before, as the sweat began to trickle down his back. He surpressed another shiver but couldn’t prevent his thoughts from drifting, once again, to Calavar Solis and what might happen to him now his pursuers knew his location. He was glad to be interrupted this time, by the soft bleep indicating the arrival of a new message, and opened his eyes to welcome the flood of light and colour.
Job completed to our satisfaction; please find payment of 10,000 (ten thousand) ISK transferred to your account. Next time, though, say something like ‘The scumsucker you’re looking for is located in Motsu .. ‘ – the Pod Pilots love that kind of stuff, makes them feel important. Kotatainen Toksen, Agent for Wiyrkomi Corporation.
* * *
Malvig Toag let a smile creep on to his lips as the Harbinger class battlecruiser turned into the final section of the docking channel. From his vantage point on the bridge he watched as the stars swung into view, along with the steady traffic of other starships entering and exiting the Poksu mining outpost in orbit around one of Motsu VI’s moons. It never got old no matter how many times he travelled, and he loved to be there as they undocked, witnessing that first look at the star-filled sky – it made him feel small and significant at the same time. He turned to share the moment, but of course there was no one else with him – Calavar liked to keep his crew compliment as low as possible, knowing that non-Capsuleers risked so much more than himself. He turned back just as the ship crossed the threshold of the station’s docking port; the star’s light fell across it’s curved golden hull and, briefly, the reflection seemed to fill the inside of the ship. And so, Malvig failed to see the initial burst of laser fire disperse its energy across their shields. As his eyes readjusted he spotted the Harbinger return fire, its own pulse lasers piercing the sky with ocean-green beams.
‘Battlestations. Nothing to worry about, but .. Battlestations.’, Calavar’s voice echoed across the bridge. ‘Just a Prophecy battlecruiser, not a match for us, nothing to worry about.’
Malvig ran to a communication console and called up the Pilot option, opening a direct link to Calavar in the hermetically sealed pod from which he was connected to, and controlled, all aspects of the ship’s operations.
‘What’s going on?’ he called, noting the air of panic in his voice and trying to bring it under control, ‘Who is that?’
‘No idea, Mal, just a chance find probably; looks like he’s on his own. They don’t know we’re here, you did make sure of that didn’t you?’
‘Of course, they should think you’re in Amamake. There’s no way they can know we’re here. Oh … shit … another one!’
The bridge grew suddenly dark as the view of Motsu’s star was blocked – a sleek, black-hulled Curse shimmered into existence at near point blank range, dropping its cloak and engaging immediately with electronic warfare, disrupting and sapping the Harbinger’s energy reserves. A flight of combat drones launched from its bow, and almost immediately the Harbinger’s shields collapsed, their charges now biting into the battlecruiser’s heavy armour.
‘Can we hold them off until the station lets us dock again?’, Malvig watched the ship’s displays as warning lights appeared, alerting the absent crew to the damage.
‘Perhaps, so long as it’s just these two we ..’, Calavar’s voice now betrayed the effort of fending off the ambush, ‘ .. Damn!’
New alarms sounded, heralding the arrival of yet more attackers – two rust coloured Minmatar battlecruisers exiting their warp-tunnels and heading straight for them. Malvig was just a computer guy, but even he recognized the wedge-shaped profile of Hurricanes. He knew they had no hope as the close-range autocannons opened fire on them, destroying what remained of their armour in seconds.
‘I think you should probably head for an escape pod, Mal’, Calavar spoke. It was becoming harder to hear him. It seemed as if every alarm on the bridge was sounding, and now Malvig could hear the sounds of weapon fire tearing into the ship’s hull. It seemed like the ship was screaming. And that’s when Malvig realized he was too.
‘I won’t make it!’. Tears were streaming down his face now as he searched wildly for a way out. All he could focus on was the digital display showing the hull being chewed away by the overwhelming damage. The ship lurched violently, then screamed again as metal tore away and some vital part of it exploded. A second explosion shook Malvig to his knees as the starlight burst, one final time, into the bridge – mixed with laserburn and yellow-red autocannon fire.
‘I know. I’m sorry, Mal. I’m truly sorry.’
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