The Best Laid Plans

2019-03-01

Art by Major Sniper

“I’m picking up a fleet on d-scan en route from the Hek gate,” Radar Operator Marcus Martin said calmly, making sure everyone on the bridge could hear him. “Three Maelstroms, six Ruptures, 10 Thrashers, and one Noctis.” He finally took his brown eyes off the screen that showed a small cluster of dots approaching and added, “This is our salvage fleet.”

Martin was Gallente, and most of the crew would occasionally make fun of him for getting Minmatar tribal tattoos in his youth, but they all respected him. When he was younger he’d heard about the Minmatar rebellions during the Amarrian war with the Jove, and how the Gallente Federation helped rebuild the Republic afterwards. It had instilled a fascination in him to learn more about the Minmatar people and the vastness of New Eden.

He’d joined the Federation Navy when he was 18 and quickly advanced rank, until he was caught with Crash in his personal locker on a deployment in Balle. The drugs weren’t his, and all the evidence pointed to one of the ship’s engineering officers, but he couldn’t convince the council. He took the dishonorable discharge quietly and set off in a shuttle for Minmatar Space. He’d hoped to buy a frigate in Rens, but was ambushed by a Thrasher-class destroyer on the gate from Uttindar in Hek. His shuttle was destroyed and Concord destroyed the Thrasher for its offense. Martin was already in his escape capsule and the capsuleer who piloted the Thrasher was already getting lined up for his next hit.

The first ship that offered to pick Martin up was a Hound class bomber, which slowed down to scoop up his pod into a tiny cargo bay before heading to the closest station. The Hound was with¬† Ambramotte’s Raiders’ fleet and Martin begged the captain for a position. He was fed up with the politics of the military and endless bureaucracies, having just been fucked twice. This annoyed the captain of the Hound, who sent word to his fleet boss, who seemed eager to have the newcomer aboard his flagship. For the next few months, Martin would find his home on the ship as the chief radar officer, being able to pinpoint objects without the aid of probes. Within the next year, he figured he and the other crew members ran the best ship in the entirety of New Eden.

His eyes met those of Captain Dean Ambramotte, who stood at the helm. He wasn’t an overly tall or broad man, but what the captain lacked in stature he more than made up for in skill, wits and will. His crew and the other captains he commanded respected him. They not only owed him their lives, but many owed him their ships as well.

His flagship was a newly built Leshak-class Battleship which had been backwards-engineered from the Triglavians, a newly-encountered race waging open war against Drifter ships. Everyone on board the Black Reaper had attended her christening in the Great Wildlands region where the Angel Cartel had several shipyards. Ambramotte paid no small fortune to obtain not only the blueprints, but the materials as well. His old ship was given to the Angel Cartel as a sign of good faith, but he saw it as returning their property. The Angel Cartel designed and built his old Machariel class Battleship after-all. He never really trusted the Cartel and suspected the same of them. He really didn’t trust most people or groups really. Only those under his command, and even then he quietly expected someone to stab him in the back at the most opportune moment.

The captain’s eyes narrowed. He was calculating the location where the salvage fleet would break out of warp and come to a stop. His ship had recently been fit with a cloak, plucked from the wreckage of a Republic Fleet Burst-class frigate scout ship which had tried to arrest his crew leaving the Great Wildlands region. He was certain the ship had reported his location to the rest of the Republic Military but he knew how to avoid them. He’d made a career of it.

The newly discovered Triglavian ships would demoralize most foes they faced. In battle, their weapons and armor were centuries ahead of what the empires were able to produce on their own. The ancient spherical weapons that emit a surge of energy in the form of a brilliant beam capable of disintegrating armor on contact and only increase in power as they were fed from an electromagnetic tether. Energy flowed through wireless magnetic lines, feeding the weapon power from the caged black hole at the heart of the ship. The constant warble could be heard throughout the ship even when the weapons were lowered into purpose-built pockets on the hull for warp.

“A new ship for a new era,” Captain Ambramotte thought to himself while he looked around the bridge at the eager faces of his crew. They had been planning this heist for a week and now it was their chance to prove to themselves and to the rest of the Republic who and what they were. The Leshak would decloak and warp to location to begin drawing fire from the targeted fleet. Once the stout battleship had the attention of everything on grid, the 10 stealth bombers circling the wreck they had laid as a trap at a good distance would decloak as well and start hitting targets from largest to smallest with torpedo barrages. The four cloaked Deimos-class heavy cruisers would deactivate their own cloaks and warp to the Black Reaper as closely as possible to start bullying anything smaller than them until they fled off grid. Nobody was to engage the salvage vessel or any ship that was not already engaging their own fleet. Let the panic do its work. The more frightened the target was, the easier it would be to break up its support.

He had done this several times. In fact, it’s how they had obtained all four heavy assault cruisers. Across the span of a year they planned and executed four heists. Each one different than the last, down to the location. The one thing that was similar with each heist, besides the fact they obtained the ships without a loss of their own, was that they did so with no Federation Navy losses. Each time they would find a lone heavy cruiser on patrol and pounce on it with everything they had.

“Comms Officer Davis, open a fleet-wide channel,”¬†Ambramotte ordered.

“When you are ready, sir,” Davis replied after pressing a few buttons on her console.

She and the rest of the crew had flown with Ambramotte for several years. Everyone on board had been directly saved and now were alive because of the captain. In Davis’ case, she had grown up in Hek on the Boundless Creations station. It was one of the larger trade hubs in Matar space, even though the system and station were infested with pirates. She wasn’t much better, having no real means to keep herself alive. She used the ventilation systems of the station to move what she had stolen the day prior. She mistook him for an easy mark and quietly boarded his Machariel, but was caught by the crew within an hour. When the captain returned, and was informed of what had happened, he met her in the small ship brig which – a re-purposed crew bedroom compartment. He slid open the small slit in the door and peered into the room and where she sat on the floor in the middle, arms wrapped around her legs which were tucked up to her chest.

The sudden sound scared her and she jumped, looking quickly up at him with frightened green eyes. He returned the look with an almost friendly gaze, “Stowaways are supposed to be stuffed into the nearest airlock, aren’t they?” he said in a tone which matched his gaze eerily.

It wasn’t his words but rather the tone and presentation of the words that sent shivers up her spine and shook her voice. “Please don’t,” she managed. At this point she had little to no experience talking with anyone besides the few she called family on the station. She was Minmatar through and through. Tribal by nature and trusting only of her tribe, a small group of thieves living on the Boundless Creations Station. “Please, I’m sorry, I was just curious!” she pleaded, “I haven’t ever been off station and I saw your strange ship. I know I shouldn’t have and I’m sorry!” Tears were streaming down her tan cheeks leaving clean streaks on her tattooed face.

Ambramotte sighed and leaned against the door while his hand fumbled through his well worn brown leather jacket for a cigarette. Once the flame licked the tobacco, he told her, “Way I see it, you have three choices.” He pulled another cigarette from his jacket. “You can stay in here for the rest of your life. Plenty of water, but you’ll get hungry in a couple of days — if you aren’t already. Choice number two is that you leave this ship and forget you ever met me or my crew and we will be more than happy to forget about you.” He could see her eyes light up at this, knowing she had a way out would make her intently listen to the final offer as was human nature. “Or, you can join my crew and see what we do. Maybe even have your own ship some day.”

Sheila Davis didn’t want to leave her home, but she knew that if she didn’t, she would eventually end up on trial and the Republic didn’t care if it was only for survival. Thieves were sent to prison. She looked around the small cabin before standing up and walking to the door where the captain was holding the second cigarette and a lighter just inside the hole. She grabbed them, stuffed the smoke in her mouth and lit it just as he did. They both smiled and shared a silent moment before the captain opened the door and escorted her to the mess hall.

“Our target is on it’s way, it should be here within the next 90 seconds. I expect you all to do your jobs and we’ll be heading to port with a hefty pay day. You all know what to do.” With that Captain Dean Ambramotte nodded to Communications Officer Sheila Davis and the channel was closed. He wasn’t one for fancy speeches but he did have a way to make the different captains of his fleet listen. He had to, if he didn’t the other captains would fight among themselves and decide they wanted to run things. Piracy was a bloody business and you always had to watch your back and show no weakness.

No sooner were comms closed than the four cloaked Deimos-class heavy assault cruisers fired up their engines under low power and began approaching the lone wreck 3AU away. He knew that the 10 Hounds would already be there waiting for their chance to decloak and deliver their own payload of torpedoes – but not before the trap was sprung.

The Captain took a breath to steel himself and silently counted down the time he expected the target fleet to be in location before pressing a button on his console, “Engineering … warp us in.” The order wasn’t replied to but rather the ship instantly began moving. With the artificial gravity run by small stasis modules under the interior skin, he couldn’t feel it. The only thing that gave any sense of motion were the stars moving across the view screen and soon it was all a blur as the ship’s warp engines had spooled up and they were in warp.

The wrecked ship was the most recently decommissioned stealth bomber that had taken too much fire running from the Republic Military in Rancer. The Republic didn’t take kindly to their own military ships being stolen, and as most of Ambramotte’s Raiders’ ships were stolen, they had a tendency to get shot at by bored military gunners. The captain parked and left the ship an hour before he watched several torpedoes splash into it. The wreckage was to be used to bait a salvage corporation to the location. Once they got there, the rest of the fleet would make the salvage ship’s support either stand down and run, or be destroyed. The crew of the salvage ship would be ransomed back to the corporation tasked with the job and the ship would be sold whole or stripped and sold as scrap. Simple plan, and they figured that they had just enough firepower to do it providing they weren’t running into a capsuleer or Republic fleet.

The Leshak slipped out of warp, which came as a whooping low thud against the hull. Once the ship’s sensors had re-calibrated themselves, the Triglavian ship began locking the closest Maelstrom to it. After all, most captains had a tendency to run away when their shields fell — especially ships made with extra shielding from the factory. The Leshak started to open up. It slowly split from fore to mid-ship, down the center where it split around the engines and cantered each section to either side. The keel began to drop down and angle itself as if presenting the now furiously sparking power core at the heart of the ship. This was how the weapons would spool up, drawing more and more energy from the power core which seemed to be caged in an orange force field.

The beams began cutting straight through the Maelstrom’s shields into the ship’s thin armor, cutting the word “Kora” in two jagged lines which had been presented proudly in white paint moments before. Her sister ships, the “Kaga” and “Kono” which were also Maelstrom class Battleships opened up with their own arrays of 800mm autocannons which rested on beams stretching from fore to aft suspended off the starboard and port sides of the ships. They both began approaching the new battleship while sending out a distress call to the closest Republic outpost.
Ambramotte zoomed in on the salvage ship with one of the battleship’s camera drones and ordered for it to be tackled. The ship’s camera drone was zoomed in on the Noctis designation on the hull which read, “TMS-N32-Nostromo”

The four Deimos were now decloaked and exiting their own warps to lock up and began tearing into the Thrashers which had already swarmed the Leshak and were now turning to engage the new cruisers on grid. Their 250mm artillery cannons could reach the new ships even if they were relatively small and in their group they would do plenty of damage. The Neutron Blaster technology had originally been developed by the Gallente Federation and were favored by some pilots for their ability to shoot balls of plasma into enemy ships. In their opening volleys, two Thrasher class destroyers were turned inside out by these balls of plasma fired from the Deimos Heavy Assault Cruisers. The Ruptures saw this and broke off of the Leshak and had already started engaging the Deimos with their 720mm artillery batteries which could punch a hole straight thru any light to medium armored ship. Unfortunately for them, the Deimos had onboard repair systems which could handle staggering amounts of punishment by injecting nanites or near microscopic machines that would assemble new armor and patch the holes as fast as they could form.
The first Maelstrom that was attacked was now chewing up capacitor boosters as fast as the crew could inject them to keep the shields up. She couldn’t hold out for long and started aligning to the Hek star gate.

At first Ambramotte thought the Wormhole 20 some odd kilometers from their fight was collapsing as he could see the scanners on the helm’s console beginning to fluctuate. He looked at the view screen and had the camera drone zoom out slightly to give him an orbital view of the fight. The wormhole wasn’t showing any signs of decay or collapse–What the hell was this? Then it dawned on him that what he was seeing was entirely different and much closer. It started with what seemed like a small ripple in space with yellow tendrils which then shot out wider and wider. Soon it could be seen as a massive triangular rift in space, similar in shape to the field holding the black hole at the heart of his ship. Then he felt it. He had instantly realized that his target was not only equipped to respond to threats, but also willing. It came at the same time he realized he was about to encounter the unknown. It was a feeling every captain dreaded.
“Open me a channel to fleet!” he shouted which alarmed his crew, but it was already too late. His battleship was being engaged by three others and his cruisers were outnumbered 4 to 1. The only chance he had were his de-cloaking bombers which needed just a couple moments to re-align their own sensors to begin locking and engaging targets. Just a few seconds are all they needed.
Without notice three Leshak class battleships, Six Vedmak class cruisers, and nine Damavik frigates slipped through the new triangular rift. Fleets like this could mean only one thing and Ambramotte watched them in horror. Very few had witnessed these beings and only Capsueers would even talk about them. In his shock, he barely noticed as the camera drone tracking the Noctis witnessed a flash of yellow that disappeared into the rift that the Triglavian fleet had just come from.

“Channel open Sir!” Comms Officer Davis said, her voice drowned out as the Triglavian Leshaks turned their superior weapon systems against the Black Reaper. The armor on the port side whined and rattled and soon the starboard side was as well. Another Leshak locked it’s weapons onto Ambramotte’s ship and soon the flagship of Ambramotte’s Raiders had three Triglavian battleships dissecting it.
“I’m marking targets, bombers, orbit these bastards at thirty and give them every last torpedo you have!” and with that he began selecting targets for the fleet starting with the first enemy battleship that engaged the Black Reaper. He could see the Vedmak and Damaviks swarm the heavy cruiser fleet under his command and knew the they would be on their own until the battleships could be dealt with. He could also see that the fleet he had hoped to ransom had now turn tail and run, minus several vessels which were now floating hulks making an ever growing graveyard.
After the first Heavy Cruiser was destroyed he knew he had been bested. The entire heist and ransom had been banking on the cruisers being able to support and keep each other alive. It was then that he noticed that the bombers weren’t there.

“Davis, Martin, find me our bombers!”

“They’re gone, Sir.” Marcus spoke up first, “The moment they decloaked, these new drones ripped them to shreds…We didn’t stand a chance sir!” Their cries for help were drowned out by the Triglavian opening shots on the Black Reaper who’s Captain was now desperately trying to hold himself together even though he knew that tomorrow was a luxury none of them had as did everyone on-board knew as well.

Dean Ambramotte watched as the purple fleet indicators on his console went black and soon his ship would be gone too. “Well boys, I guess this is the end…” he sighed and resisted the urge to slam his fist on the console, a few tears burning their way down his cheeks. Overheat everything, don’t stop firing.” he said defeated.

Soon he heard the emptiness of space. The deafening silence of no engine, no life support. Nothing, not even the deafening screeches of his ship being rendered apart. The only thing that could be heard aboard the Black Reaper was the crew breathing and a few overloaded circuits sparking out as they discharged what little energy remained through the ship. He wanted to ask Engineering where the power went. He wanted to ask them to get the guns back online. He wished he had chosen a different target. He wanted many things, mostly of all to be anywhere but here. Yet here he was. The battleship named Black Reaper was already beginning to list to the port.

Without power, the various screens and monitors began going black. The consoles which were already non-responsive, soon went dark as well. The crew sat there in near disbelief trying to wrap their heads around what had just happened in the growing darkness.

Dean thought for a moment until his mind got hung up on the yellow blur. “The Noctis went in…” he muttered just as an orange-yellow light flooded the bridge of the Black Reaper with an explosive wail. The next instant all was calm and silent. The only light in the entire ship being from the Otou star beaming through a several gaping holes and gashes along all sides of the ship. The Black Reaper now lay in silent ruin with the rest of her fleet as a quiet reminder that even the best laid plans can go wrong in New Eden.

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Comments

  • Zain ul-Abdin en Chasteaux

    Agreed. I really enjoyed this story. Respect goes out to the author.

    March 7, 2019 at 12:24 PM