I know even before I open my eyes: I’m home. I’m home in all senses of the word. Home where all my things are, in the apartment I’ve decorated to my taste, in the station where I’ve lived so much of my piloting life. But most of all I’m home where my heart lies because this warmth, this delicious weight on me, this soft breath tickling my neck, they all mean my love is back.
Lest I be dreaming, I open my eyes and there she is, in all her sleeping glory, half-draped over me. Her hand is on my breast, so warm, so soft, so close to my heart. Her leg thrown over my thighs keeps me deliciously pinned down. She keeps me warm. She makes me feel safe.
My heart fills with so much love that I simply must sigh, and I look at her face. She is angelic in her sleep, relaxed, vulnerable. I want to touch the curve of her cheek, kiss the tip of her nose, but she might wake up and I don’t want that just yet. I like to watch her sleep. So instead, being ever so careful, I run my fingers through her hair. I’ve always loved that it looked like spun silver.
Finally I can’t resist anymore and I softly press my lips to her forehead. I whisper so softly it’s hardly more than a breath, “I love you, Nakatre.”
Instead of closing doors to new members and licking their collective wounds, SPHERE had reacted to the entire corp theft episode by taking in new blood after a few days. It was perhaps risky and it certainly was a pain in the rear end security-wise with all the new measures in place around the tower, but they refused to let Moonora stunt the growth of the corporation.
In a strange way, the theft had brought the rest of the corp closer together. Blood still raced in some people’s veins, but Moonora had gone to ground, disappeared within the bowels of one of the stations in Adacyne. Those bereft of their possessions couldn’t vent their fury on their target. Morale was a little low.
Kayleigh was scratching her head – figuratively speaking, since she was in fact on board the Second Breath – staring at the security measures, trying to fathom why the corporate hangars weren’t letting the newer members access the public sections. She was peripherally aware that one of the XianKun sisters was busy with something or other because she’d disappeared outside the tower shields, and she knew Nethys was patrolling the system. So the jin-mei was startled out of poring over security measures by a bleep indicating an incoming message from her boss.
“Maintain radio silence, Kay. Warp to me.” Tor’s voice sounded mysterious. Anything but staring at this, she thought while she promptly aligned her Loki toward the coordinates.
When she came out of warp, she gasped. A new, bigger tower was already online, and the sisters were clearly busy assembling and onlining more modules around it. “It’s a surprise,” her CEO was explaining. As she listened, Kay couldn’t agree more: they needed more self-sufficiency out there, more labs, more industry.. and most of all it was wise to perhaps move from the location Moonora was aware of, random wormhole exits or no.
The jin-mei felt optimistic. It was a good plan, a good move. It would make the corporation end the year on a positive note. She warped back to the old tower, re-evaluating Tor XianKun in her mind and finding she grew fonder of her the more she got to know her CEO. Underneath the mischief Tor seemed to harbour a genuine affection for her pilots and an uncanny sense for doing just the right thing to boost morale.
For the first time in days Kayleigh found herself giggling when Nethys reported in corporate comms that she was getting a second control tower on her scans and Tor essentially talked her into thinking she was perhaps getting ghost images from the one known tower.
The investigation revealed the window of opportunity had been rather small. Three hours at the most between when Kayleigh had disembarked from her ship and the first shout of alarm from Moonora in corporate mail.
Kayleigh hadn’t needed a corporate mail to know something was wrong. One of the perks of being a director in the corp was that she had actual windows in her quarters with a view to the nearby moon and some of the tower structures. The first thing she’d done when she’d woken up in her rather cramped quarters had been to stretch in front of her window as usual.
The view which had greeted her had been unusual, however: several ships were undocked and just floating around. She had rubbed her slanted grey eyes and squinted sleepily at them. The adrenaline surge had come when she’d recognised the dull, rust-coloured Loki hull outside. No one else in SPHERE had a Loki, much less one that would look exactly like the Second Breath.
Her entire day was a rush: reading messages, alerting the leadership, getting ships back into hangars and securing them, trying to figure what was missing and who had taken it. Once she pooled information together with the XianKun sisters, it became clear who had done it
And it had been Moonora.
She didn’t think Moonora was particularly bright. Why else post that alarming mail to all the corporation? The only reason Kayleigh could think of was to perhaps shift suspicion away from Moonora herself, but all the mail had really managed had been to narrow down the window of opportunity to a mere two or three hours, during which the logs showed only two pilots would have been active: herself and Moonora. If not for that message, the list of suspects would have been much longer.
Once all ships were accounted for, Kayleigh could only consider herself lucky, despite everything. All she’d lost had been the Alenia, one of her old Retriever hulls equipped with tech 2 strip miners and a choice of mining crystals in the hold, and the Racing Team III, the Iteron III which still sported the faded-out colours of the old Dragonstar Racing Team from the days when she used to assemble replacement ships in strategic points of the circuits. They had sentimental value, for sure, but they weren’t a big dent in her wallet. Other pilots had lost battleships, battlecruisers even the odd stealth bomber, with expensive fittings more often than not. She didn’t even want to think how broke she would have been if she’d lost her second Loki so soon after the first.
Kayleigh officially hated her, now. And it wasn’t just for the betrayal in trust; it was because Kayleigh herself had been the one to post the day’s exit on the billboard for all of the corp to know and come or go as they pleased even when the current wormhole dwellers were docked and getting their night’s sleep. Kayleigh had only posted it at all because some corp mates – and Moonora most vocally among them – had complained it was sometimes hard to get an escort into the system. By taking advantage of Kayleigh’s willingness to help corp mates Moonora had made the jin-mei feel particularly stupid and gullible. Kayleigh didn’t appreciate the feeling.
Going after the thief now was not a good idea. She was officially with a State corp, already, and CONCORD would frown on swift retribution without a sanctioned war which they couldn’t declare on Deep Core Mining, anyway. But jin-mei were nothing if not patient. And they do say revenge is best served cold. At any rate, Kayleigh had always been good at holding a grudge.
Trepidation was the word for how she felt, as Kayleigh boarded her capsule and started to prepare for another day of life at the SPHERE tower in uncharted space. After the podding incident she had been unable to sleep in her capsule, something she hated doing anyway. But the clocks said a new day had dawned, and flying was what she did, so she swallowed her fears and connected to her navigation systems.
As it turned out, getting back onto a ship was the easy part. Once she undocked, she just hovered aimlessly in space, hugging the corporate ship hangars, feeling ridiculous and yet not quite getting up the courage all by herself to go perform her usual scans around the star system.
Her eyes alighted on the new structures. The XianKun sisters had brought over a polymer reactor array and some silos which were installed off to the side. Kayleigh bit her lip and wandered over to inspect them.
Within minutes she had forgotten about her fears, slanted grey eyes hardening with resolve as she pulled up all the info she could find on GalNet about running these reactors. There sure was no shortage of assorted fullerites that she herself had been harvesting every time she found ladar signatures. Half an hour later, she was following a guide step by careful step, supplying and then onlining the relevant structures.
Finally, once it was all online, she had to try twice to establish the links on the tower interface but then with a satisfying hum faked by her capsule interface, she saw the reactor go to work. Her lips curled into a smile. Ten hours to completion? Certainly. In the meantime…?
In the meantime there were signatures to check and probes to launch. With renewed resolve Kayleigh boarded her Cloak and Dagger and set off – properly cloaked – to check on the known sigs and probe for unknown ones, her troubles pushed somewhere far to the back of her mind. Thank you Tor. Or Yal. Whichever one of you installed all that machinery.
Kayleigh woke with a strangled yelp, soaked in sweat. As she gulped for air she took stock of her surroundings: dark room, small, a bed that was not her own, the covers tossed aside as if in a struggle. She was confused for a moment and then remembered. It wasn’t real, it had been a nightmare. At least this time, it had. Late night yesterday she had been podded for real.
She buried her head in her hands and tried to get her heart beat under control once more, but the horrible memories kept playing behind her closed eyelids, so she flicked a light on just to find something else to focus on.
It was still hard to believe how fast everything had happened.
She had been fleeted up with Yal, Loken and Morbick, the four of them working on dislodging Sleepers from a nest. Four SPHERE pilots, with four pairs of eyes on directional scan. It was supposed to have been reasonably safe. But the fight must have distracted them at the key moment. It all happened when the last Sleeper blew up and Kayleigh was still approaching the first wreck to scoop up some loot.
There were six of them.
The first alarms rang when the Phobos materialised so close to them. The jin-mei was the first to shout a warning and instantly aligned toward an escape route while the Second Breath resolved a lock on the heavy interdictor. Before that happened, a warp interdiction bubble had taken effect, imprisoning both Yal and Morbick. And that was when the other five revealed themselves. Yal shouted at them to warp out and return with stealth bombers.
Loken had been lucky enough to find himself outside the warp interdiction, so he had quickly warped to safety. Kayleigh for a moment thought she was going to lose another painfully expensive Loki, as she was within the bubble. But then she heard Aura’s beautiful voice: warp drive active. A glimmer of hope lit up in her heart. The Interdiction Nullifier subsystem on her ship had just saved her. She had still been lucky, however; among the attackers she had spotted an interceptor, no doubt on tackling duty. If he had targeted her specifically she would have been just as trapped.
As it was, fleet chatter was alive with orders and intel. Back at the tower, Loken was having trouble getting on board a heavier-hitting ship. Kayleigh swapped as fast as she could to the Ignebaener Wrath. Heart hammering at her chest, she followed Yal’s instructions and warped at range, fervently hoping the calculations would be correct and she would land outside that dreaded warp bubble.
But something went wrong.
Coming out of warp, Kayleigh found herself just a thousand metres or so from the Phobos, right in the middle of that bubble… and she with a microwarp drive on board. She tried to realign while locking the primary target, but in a matter of seconds the interceptor was on her. A Hound doesn’t have much in the way of a tank. They made short work of her, as she started to feel sick to her stomach. Not the capsule, please, for the love of everything you hold dear.
Her silent pleas were naturally ignored. Although she spammed the commands, struggled within the pod, physically tried to make it move, she was trapped. The attackers lost no time. First Morbick, then her, then Yal.
She awoke kicking and squirming for her life back in the Federation for the second time in her life, except now Nakatre wouldn’t be coming over to comfort or reassure her. She cried herself to sleep that night.
Contrary to Dauntless I, the second stage of their wormhole operations was seeing an increased presence of SPHERE pilots in this new home of theirs. A good thing, too, because in their very special brand of insanity, as Kayleigh saw it, the XianKun sisters had brought them to live in a Class 3 wormhole and not the previously planned Class 2 that would have made transitions a little smoother. In sharp contrast to the corp’s previous home, over here pilots were getting ripped to pieces by the local Sleeper population whenever they tried to face them solo.
The increased presence manifested itself in ways Kayleigh hadn’t expected. Some of the newer people were positively itching to catch the unwary traveller off-guard. Chief among these seemed to be Nethys. Only the previous night she had caught the capsule of some unfortunate pilot by the day’s exit. Lots of corporate chatter had ensued about aggression, podding, ransoms, war stories.
Kayleigh, who always felt that knot in her stomach at the idea of shooting anyone not actively shooting her first, couldn’t help feeling somewhat out of place. She was glad to be in her pod at the time, so her colleagues couldn’t see her blush, or feel her embarrassment. Yet if she really thought about it, this was a lawless place, and Dauntless I had taught her death would come swiftly and spectacularly to the unwary, from anyone at all who happened to get the drop on them, security standings notwithstanding.
So when her directional scanner caught a lonely frigate coming in, she decided to practice her scanning skills and try to chase him in her stealthbomber. It took her a while, being relatively new at this. While she was still working at it, the signature her scanner was reporting changed. A frigate wreck showed up, then a capsule. She winced. Someone had warped to a Sleeper nest on a frigate. That never went well.
She had fully expected to see the pilot go back home, so she warped to the exit, trying to catch a glimpse of him leaving. Nothing. Ten minutes passed and Kayleigh started to suspect this pilot had forgotten to bookmark the exit coordinates. Time for another sweep of the directional scan.
In the end, she found him at a planet. He was clearly going nowhere. She orbited him in a lazy arc, debating what to do. Nethys would probably have got the pod, but Kayleigh could still remember how it had felt when she had lost Kanunu in a wormhole and how gruelling it had been to get him back home safe. Being lost in a wormhole was scary enough without getting podded in the process. She took a deep breath and tried her best to act mean and hard, like she imagined might be expected of her in this place. She hailed the pilot on a private frequency.
Instead of podding him, she had decided to ransom him for a way out. She had heard reports of this working, it would make her look fierce (she hoped), and it certainly would help pad her wallet some more. After all, she still owed people some money for replacing the New Dawn.
Kayleigh Jamieson > Did you get stuck inside the wormhole? Allizard > yes =( Kayleigh Jamieson > Would you be willing to pay for a way out?
It didn’t hurt to be polite… Or maybe it did. She clearly hadn’t intimidated him enough. As conversations unfolded the other pilot claimed to have even less money than her – hard to believe, given his age – and the haggling was bringing the payment to a value so ridiculous that it wasn’t really worth her bother.
Failing to get a deal, Kayleigh ended up prompting him to speak more of what had happened to him. It was what she had thought: pilot new at exploration had warped to the first thing to come up on scan and had been taught a lesson by the locals.
The next thing she knew, Kayleigh had taken pity on the pilot and was explaining to him the very basics of wormhole must-know information. Once she realised he was thinking of self-destroying to get back home, she finally gave up on all pretence of being tough. She tried to help him.
First she jettisoned the exit coordinates at the star. Once safely cloaked again, she told him where to find those. Sure enough, seconds later he was there. Risky. It could have been a trap. Although she supposed that for someone contemplating a capsule self-destruct a trap was the least of his worries.
However, that plan failed. Without a cargo hold, the capsule was unable to translate those coordinates into the onboard computer. Kayleigh sighed deeply. Against all common sense and against everything she’d learned during her time as a capsuleer, she invited a complete stranger into her fleet.
Hoping he wouldn’t have time to spring a trap on her, she warped squadron to the exit coordinates, cancelled her warp, then disbanded fleet. Only then did she warp herself to the exit at range, just in time to see the capsule go through.
True to his word, and despite Kayleigh having given up on any ransom early in the conversation, the distressed pilot wired her the amount he had claimed was the entirety of his wallet. 5 million. He even sounded grateful for her assistance, which confused her, since she’d started the whole talk to try to extort money from someone.
In the end, she didn’t care what anyone else thought of her. She would have felt rotten to the core if she had podded that guy. She actually felt good with herself for having helped him out instead. In a way.
November is over and so is NaNoWriMo. And I did it! I wrote fifty-thousand words in the space of thirty days. \o/ I learned a lot more about my habits and failings than I had expected to, and about what works and what doesn't for me as a writer.
I did not, however, finish the whole story I was writing. I'll still be working on that, but I'll be taking a much more relaxed approach.
As for the in-character postings, I have had a few ideas and yesterday some things happened in game, so expect a flurry of posts in the near future. For those of you still reading, sorry for the hiatus and thanks for staying with me :)
Blog posts are labelled according to a certain logic, most of it self-explanatory. Note, however:
In-Character: events that would one way or another become common knowledge out there. Fiction: most likely events that are not common knowledge. Do not assume you know this about my character unless you have good reason to. Out-of-Character: mostly ramblings from the player, not to be associated with the character herself.