The Keepstar was supposed to be a beacon of hope. It had instead become a place of fear, and desperation. The Inquest at H4-RP4 had been convened to seek a solution to four outbreaks of the Kyonoke plague. The plague was the most virulent, dangerous pathogen known to medical science in New Eden, and had for years been contained in the Kyonoke Pit, the site of the last outbreak, in the Taisy system of the Caldari State. Four outbreaks, one in each empire, almost simultaneously, pointed to deliberate action, possibly even a concerted program of bioterrorism.
The plague had to be stopped.
Each of the sites had been quarantined. Three were orbital infrastructure, easily isolated and locked down. The fourth, though, was an entire city. It had to be sealed in, cut off from travel, water, and even the wind under a nanocontainment dome. In all, millions of people were quarantined in a series of fishbowls, trapped with a disease that never left survivors.
In response, the empires—great interstellar nation-states that rarely agreed on whether water was even wet—came together under the auspices of the Society of Conscious Thought. Geneticists, pharmacologists, virologists, cyberneticists, and more came together. With them, they brought their nations’ complete archives of research and work toward their own cures. They came together in a spirit of hope, tempered by grim determination, setting aside centuries of hatred and warfare.
Capsuleers from across New Eden joined in the effort. Though often seen only as engines of destruction and warfare, the implants and neural jacks of the capsuleer allow for levels and rapidity of learning unparalleled in all of human history. With the addition of these enhanced individuals, even many from the null security space beyond the empires’ borders, humanity itself was united in the search for a cure. Those gathered represented some of the greatest minds humanity had ever produced… and some of less… scholarly pursuits.
* * * * *
It was, for the most part, easy to pick the crowd apart. On one side, the attendees wore party clothes ranging from simple to outlandish. On the other, it was a mixture of suits and labcoats—all making it clear what each person was here for.
Of course, there were exceptions to that rule—like the man who stepped up to the check-in desk. Equipment and numerous pouches clattered with every move of his worn boots and old leather jacket. On top of the layers of dust, a yellow patch with the number 15 had been clumsily stitched, next to a blood-red handprint.
“Your credentials please” The receptionist furrowed her brow as lines of errors about records not found filled her screen.
“Mr. 15,” He replied, handing her a black ID card. “You will find me under Voight. With the Imperium, Goonswarm Federation.” At those words, the two security guards immediately began to pay attention – tracking his every move.
“Sir, it must be a mistake, we didn’t…” the light on the terminal flashed green, confirming both the identity and invitation. She blinked a few times, as if not trusting her own terminal.
“Don’t worry, we are here to help.” Taking both his ID and the delegate pass, 15 marched away from the desk and towards the Inquest hall.
* * * * *
That night, things had a hopeful, almost confident tone. The Inquest center had seemed almost more like a party than a research conference to combat a deadly plague. Many of the capsuleers, at least, had gone back to their hangars thoroughly trashed. Fifteen liked to think of it as ‘networking’. He’d spent most of the evening drinking heavily with a group of delegates from ARC, the Arataka Research Consortium.
The morning changed all that.
Even before the briefing, hungover and haggard eyes had been greeted by increased security all around the Inquest levels of the Keepstar. Walls and surfaces were scored and scorched, blackened by lasers or the superheated plasma of blaster-fire.
The Amarr chapel had seen some of the worst of the violence, with fixtures, facade, and even statuary damaged. From there the trail of damage ran through hallways and checkpoints, and into the laboratories of Eifyr & Co. It was only there that things appeared to have taken a very final turn. The facilities of the Minmatar research group were gutted, equipment shattered and strewn across the labs… and everywhere, blood. Clearly, someone had been hit multiple times, and not with the clean, cauterizing bolt of a laser pistol.
But the news only got worse from there: the lab had been more than trashed, it had been sacked. The vials of material suspected to hold the key to curing the plague, along with the ‘black box’, the portable injector under development, had all been taken. That was the bad news.
The good news, though, was that the stolen material might yet be found. The initial reports of weapons-fire had triggered a security lockdown. Since then, nothing had been able to undock, no-one had been able to flee. The injector and samples had to still be on the Keepstar—if they hadn’t simply been destroyed.
It was a slim hope, but a hope, nonetheless. And on that hope, everything hung.
Three things, Fifteen noted in his head after the morning briefing. The first was a big black box, a portable injector. The second: four vials vital to developing a cure that the saboteur had likely ditched somewhere in the Keepstar. They needed to be delivered to the lab, unopened. Third came Patient Seven, not much known about him or her. Fourth—beer.
The last one was the most pressing issue. The sole thought of missing the last night’s firefight due to heavy drinking in the lower levels of the Keepstar was almost unbearable. As he walked through the corridor towards the nearest bar, he sighed at the sights of fighting—namely the two priests explaining something about the Sefrim statue that was now missing a wing.
He followed the scorch-marks. As they’d said, the fight went on through the corridors, and in the corridors leading up to the laboratory sector, the State had erected a barricade that took a few hits. “Helluva bender. A beer and a tale of who got shot, please.”
“One of the Society.” The bartender handed him a beer. “Rumours say they were chasing some runaway subject.”
“You don’t say.” Fifteen paid for his beer and began to walk towards the ARC offices. It was time to check in with his newfound allies.
* * * * *
“Oh for the love of…” the Goon finished his beer and tossed the can away towards a trash chute. He missed. “If you’re all going to stand around, with your thumbs up your…” the obvious ending the sentence was obscured by a loud belch. “Then we’re all going to die. You three, take the corridor towards the lab section and start the sweep up to the maintenance levels.” He picked three closest delegates with ARC badges around their necks.
“The rest, keep up, we move. Check the Chapel first.” With his ever-present clatter, Fifteen took off, with two others in tow. “And then the pleasure hub, I need another beer.”
The search continued, sweeping the small Chapel column by column as one of them talked to the priest to distract him. Once more, it turned up nothing. As they reached the bar, the Goon pulled himself up on a chair and ordered another beer – thinking about places he would have hidden the vial.
The Chapel was obvious. The labs were obvious. If he was going to find anything, Fifteen was going to need to skip the obvious. And he couldn’t take the ARC crew along. He was going to need to do this on his own.
“It’ll turn up eventually.” He stopped for a moment, looking away into the distance as the rest of his group carefully peeked around the bar. In the hall, the bright orange vest of one of the maintenance staff moved past. “Go get a drink, guys,” he said, coming to a decision. “I’ll be back. Just gotta take a break…” And with that, he vanished back into the crowd once more…
* * * * *
“And you say nobody could get down here without special access?” He scratched at his chin as he walked through the accessway with his new friend from maintenance. They’d been wandering the accessways for over an hour now, and this was the first thing he’d said since in at least forty-five minutes.
“That’s right.” The station worker replied. “Plenty of people who have that running around, though. So you guys coulda searched these tunnels whenever y’wanted.”
“Yeah,” He peered ahead into the gloom, narrowing his eyes as they drew nearer to one of the ventilation grills. “Pretty sure they haven’t, though.”
“What makes you say that?”
Drawing a penlight from one of the equipment pouches on his vest, Fifteen shone the light into the grill and turned a smile toward the maintenance worker.
“Cuz they didn’t find that. C’mon, gimme a hand getting this grill down.” He smirked as the worker swore, staring at the small glass vial, glinting in the beam of light.
* * * * *
“Arrest. Help. Arrest. Help.” 15 flipped a coin in his hands, marching through the docking bays of the Keepstar. The time searching had proven eventful for more than just Fifteen. Two miners had escaped the nearby Astral Mining platform and gotten onto Keepstar. The mining platform had been under strict quarantine since the first reports of the Kyonoke outbreak onboard had gotten out. With the fears of exposure on the Keepstar, however, the containment forces had drawn back, establishing a single perimeter. As a result, the two miners were able to use a small, short-range shuttle to make a desperate trip to try to escape the death and disease that surrounded them.
They were initially unable to get inside, however. Because of the security lockdown, they were denied access to the now-sealed docking bay. With air supplies too limited to return to the mining platform, they sought other means of entry. By the time they were able to find a service hatch on the citadel’s starboard tower, the pair had heard the news reporting from the Scope on the terrorist attack within the Inquest itself.
It proved a fortunate turn of events. As they made their way through the tower toward the medical facilities of the Inquest center, the pair discovered a crate of partly-disassembled medical equipment bearing the Eifyr logo: the portable injector system and its ‘black box’. Without more than a vague sense of ‘this could be important’, they carried it with them, finally returning it to the grateful Eifyr techs.
By the time he’d gotten back to the bar, there’d been even more news: Patient 7 had been identified as ‘Akira Kasaras’, a member of an entire family who appeared to be tied into the kind of radical Caldari nationalist group suspected of causing the Kyonoke outbreaks in the first place. Also identified was the individual suspected of the attack on the Eifyr labs, an intelligence operative of unknown allegiance codenamed ‘The Vulture’. As soon as he got back, the ARC team he’d been working with had dragged him out again to get looking for Kasaras. He’d barely had time to grab another beer.
His search party split up, most of them searching the remaining catwalks and access tunnels. That left each of them alone, and wandering around alone had him wondering just how much the beer he’d drunk was impairing his judgement. Usually, he wouldn’t worry. The capsuleers he’d lead were armed and aggressive enough to pummel anyone trying to attack them into thin, red paste.
These weren’t his pilots though. Worse, none of them, including Fifteen himself, were carrying sidearms. If the Vulture wanted to silence the team, those catwalks would be the perfect place.
“Kasaras, short, brown hair, kinda cute.” He muttered the description to himself, taking another turn in the search, only to see another empty bay.
“Pack a radio, they said. No, I will be fine, you said. Muppet.” He cursed his own idiocy as he moved up the massive stairwell back into the Inquest levels.
As the door slid open before him, two ARC associates swooped by at full running speed. “Someone spotted her! Fifth level!”
* * * * *
Hours later, he returned to the bar. The search had been long, annoying, and fruitless. Akira Kasaras, the mysterious Patient 7, was still at large somewhere in the facility and still infected. If things didn’t get brought under control soon, the entire Keepstar would have to be… ‘sterilized’. Fifteen didn’t need to dance around matters with the happy euphemisms of polite society though. The whole damned place would be blown straight to hell, along with everyone on it.
“Alright, so this Kasaras? Few people are talking that she disguised herself as a part of the Scope camera crew.” One of the ARC associates said as she arrived at the bar. “Get this, she’s walking around in plain sight, and the moment she sniffs out people are looking for her? Hides somewhere.”
“So? We just look for anything yellow and keep our ears peeled for the words ‘Galactic Hour’ and ‘Ret Gloriaxx’, then we’re golden.” Fifteen replied, burying a pair of chopsticks into some local takeout.
“Oh sure, but nobody’s seen the Scope for a while now.” She waited for him to stop chewing… whatever that mess was. “We checked the labs, the chapel, the main hall, and the other areas they’re supposed to have access to. Zilch.”
“You want Scope,” With the all-familiar clatter, the pirate stood up from his seat and dumped the empty box to the nearest bin. “I’ll get you Scope. Just be ready to tackle her.”
Several minutes of plowing through the crowd later, the two marched into the Inquest Hall. The place was almost completely deserted. What few attendees of the Inquest weren’t off frantically searching for the missing Akira Kasaras were mainly in the bar, save for a single priest from Amarr delegation, off in a corner screaming to any who would listen that The End was nigh, that God’s Judgment would fall upon New Eden, and that all hope had now been lost.
Fifteen wasted no time. Striding up, he clattered his way onto the central stage before turning to the mostly empty chairs. This also put him looking directly at the remote cameras, some of them no doubt ran by the Scope.
“THIS IS A SCANDAL!” He bellowed at the top of his lungs, causing even the doomsaying priest to fall quiet for a moment.
“Get the Scope here! We can’t work like this, it’s unbearable!” A shuffle in the upper rows, a yellow shirt briefly flashing between two chairs. The pirate grinned before shouting once more. “WE ARE OUT OF BEER!”
It was hard to see the expression of Ret Gloriaxx as he descended down the stairs. “You wanted the news crew, you have the…” Fifteen fell silent, noticing one important detail: Ret Gloriaxx was alone. Without the crew. “Best-laid plans of mice and men…” he sighed as the Host of Galactic Hour conscripted a few delegates to act as a camera crew. It was time to improvise an interview…
* * * * *
Though Fifteen’s efforts to flush out Kasaris proved unsuccessful, the lack of the Scope camera crew did not go unnoticed. The search was redoubled, and in the early morning hours of the third and final day of the conference, members of one of the other delegations had tracked her movements through the bowels of the station. Finally, the mysterious ‘Patient 7’ was apprehended not far from the Inquest center. Now it was time to finish this.
Marching into the Arataka Research Consortium office, staffed by personnel in clean black uniforms with an ARC sigil, he looked downright comical. When a pirate does that, though, bearing a can of beer and a smug grin, hardly anyone is eager to throw the first laugh.
“Something’s gonna go down in the Inquest Hall. Get your people ready, set up a guard and nail every sucker that bolts.” The words, laden with every possible accent from the Outer Regions were directed at the ARC commander. “What are you…” The man began, causing the outlaw to lean over the desk with a wide grin. “Oh it’s gonna be good stuff, believe me. Just be ready when it goes down.”
With those words, he put his beer one one of the desks, turned around and clattered onwards towards the Inquest Hall. “What the hell are you planning?!” the ARC chief stood up, trying, somehow, to predict what was about to happen.
His only response was a pair of hands reaching up and then pointing towards the hall – “Trust me! I’m a Goon!”
The Inquest Hall doors would have swung open if they weren’t already. The thought brought a bit of a disappointed look on his face. Kicking the door open would have been so fitting at this point. Fifteen moved down the hallway towards the stage, tailed by a few Arataka associates with puzzled looks.
“Hello, New Eden!” he picked up the microphone and walked right into the spotlight. Suddenly, his other hand was up in the air—wielding one of the missing vials. “There is yet HOPE!”
Time seemed to freeze for a split second as the entire hall fell silent, every pair of eyes focused on the center stage—all but one. A maintenance worker walked by, casually chewing a sandwich, not paying any attention whatsoever to the situation. Fifteen didn’t give a damn. Not about the janitor, and now about the eyes focused on him being clearly in the wrong place at the wrong time.
As the pirate proceeded to hand the vial over to the scientists who confirmed its authenticity, those in attendance waited, watching. Tension ran high. And then, just at that moment… precisely nothing happened, beyond a few sighs of relief. All hell had suddenly, decisively, failed to break loose. The hall slowly descended into cheers, with thanks being issued for a swift recovery of one of the two vials containing the vital components of the cure.
The outlaw did not care. His eyes scanned the area of the member of the Maintenance crew that vanished out of sight. He brushed off Dr. Veranne, dismissing his question as to where the vial was found and started towards the exit. The Kyonoke cure was finally secure.
… but the Vulture was still at large.
* * * * *
“Son of a…” Fifteen’s words were drowned out by the gasps of surprise as one of the delegates revealed Dr. Veranne, the leader of the proceedings, as having been clonejacked by the Vulture. The delegate was a quietly intense little man who’d been nervously obsessing about tiny little details in a way Fifteen had been unable to follow and quickly ignored. Still, he’d gotten results.
“I guess he really knows how to maintain his composure.” It was aimed at Veranne—or rather, the Vulture wearing Veranne’s clone. There was as much appreciation as there was anger in his voice. Part of him felt like crushing the can of beer he held and giving the so-called “Doctor” a solid punch. Still, he did have to give the saboteur at least grudging respect for keeping his cool through every attempt to bait him out.
With the Vulture being hauled away by the SOCT security and the cure in place, the mission was, by design, accomplished. Only, not just yet. It lacked some personal touch.
Guided by this thought, Fifteen walked behind the table and snatched the microphone again, the Goon’s voicing booming through the hall. “Vulture! Remember this day!” He looked up to one of the security cameras. “And to the rest of you, I know you’re probably still watching us, so I have a bit of a message. This cluster is OURS to burn!”
Imperium.news regularly accepts submissions from our readers. This in-character submission is a Goon’s-Eye View of events within the Kyonoke Inquest Live-Action event at FanFest 2017 and comes to us from Trii Seo.