Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Soft at Heart

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.

1 comment:

  1. This is why you're one of my favorite people, Kay.