Header art by Redline XIII.
Shira Sinak watched the travelers filing through inbound lanes. Station security scanned, gencoded, and loctagged every single one before interrogation. The majority of travelers came from citadels in the Imperium’s flood plains. As personnel already in the Imperium’s employ—and thus known to Imperium Security—the security check, while not pro forma, was straightforward. A significant portion of the new arrivals consisted of additional crew for the capsuleers’ ships. With losses projected to be high everyone from individual capsuleers to the alliance level wanted to ensure all their ships would sortie if called for. Still more were ‘strikers’ who set out to the null regions with no promises, empty bags, but dreams full of hope.
This war, like all the others before, would be good for business. A skilled Jackdaw rating could make enough in a year to retire comfortably. Though, Shira didn’t concern herself with money. Her job, as part of GSF Security—the secret police—was to ensure that none of the people coming into the capitol posed a risk to the station, or the Imperium as a whole.
She stood out in her black uniform, badged with the Imperial Eagle, Fatbee, and the shining gold badge of GSF Security. The point of the secret police, after all, was to be seen, known, and feared. The secret part wasn’t that they existed, but what they did. Usually GSF security just spaced someone that threatened the security of the Imperium. Shira figured that most people would find the truth tame compared to what their imaginations could cook up. And why did the secret police always wear black, anyways?
Regardless of the sartorial inclinations of those at the top, Shira had a job to do. Information appeared on her datapad as all the new arrivals checked in. If someone was particularly suspect, Central would flag them for an officer to pull in for extended interrogation. A name and image flashed on her screen. She turned to her subordinates, each carrying ‘Bedlam’ M555 Mod C submachine guns, and gestured for them to follow her as she made her way to the gate.
“Kaheiro Yoshi,” Shira said to a man carrying a scruffed-up, dirty spacebag.
“Uh. Yes. That’s me,” he responded in a nervous tone, his eyes darting to the goons with submachine guns behind the officer addressing him. “Is, uh, something wrong?”
Lieutenant Sinak ignored the question. “Come with me,” she demanded.
* * * * *
Dan Nolan made his way into the StellarKredits on Deck 132, Tower 2, Quadrant C, Section 77, near frame 5088. He thought the coffee was better than the one on Deck 123, Tower 2, Quadrant C, Section 77, near frame 4990. Shoving his hands into the pockets of his utility suit, he waited in line until he could order.
“Yeah, give me a large mocha, extra espresso, add on chocolate sprinkles,” he said, tapping the payment screen with his wrist once the ordering droid had confirmed the order. One Dan got his drink from the barista, he found a seat in the shop. However, someone interrupted his moment of morning solace.
“What ship you serve on?” a scrawny Deteis sitting beside him asked before nodding to the crewmember badge on the shoulder of Dan’s utility suit in response to the coffee-toting Civre’s scowl.
Dan kept glaring at the interlocutor in the other chair. Finally, he answered, “Jackdaw.”
“Oh, nice. That’s actually what I was hired for. I don’t have a ship yet, but the personnel office says I should have one soon. I’m Kando Maken. Nice to meet you . . . ?”
Dan sighed and resigned himself to the conversation “Dan.” And then Dan said nothing for a good fifteen seconds while he drank his mocha. Kando babbled about something, but Dan ignored it.
“Look, newbee, you say you don’t have a ship yet?” Dan interrupted.
“Uh, no. Not yet. Should be in the next day or—” Kendo replied, but Dan cut him off.
“Did you get a backup scan before coming out here?”
Kendo shook his head. “I’m fresh out of mandatory service. They didn’t give me a scan when I was in, and I didn’t have the credits to get one after I got out. I figured I would get enough on contract to get one eventually.”
“Okay. So, listen carefully. Jackdaw fleets? We’re the ships that the new skirmish commanders get to play with. Sure, we fly a lot, but if something goes wrong, it’s going to go way wrong. Lotsa folks, they come out here with nothing, and their family gets the death benefits. Some capsuleers just don’t give a shit. So, here’s the deal. Personnel is gonna send you a mail with the first contract that shows up for whatever ship and whatever pilot. You don’t have to accept. They don’t tell you that, but you don’t have to accept. So, if the contract doesn’t include a backup scan, don’t take it.”
“Naw dude, the pay’s pretty crummy for those contracts with cloning included. You’re here to make money, right?” said a blond-haired person who turned around to get in on the conversation. He had a crewmember badge on as well. “Just take one that pays good, do your missions and go home with a pile of cash. I’m Malarie by the way. Pronouns are Xie/Xim.”
Dan sighed again. It was like all his ancestors were pissing on him right now. “Don’t listen to that Federal Fruit. When he does it, he’s the one bent over the bed. But he was right about one thing, that is where they trick you. The straight contracts pay well. But if you factor in the value of a clone into the pay, you still come out ahead if you die.”
“What the heck, dude,” Malarie said. “I told you my pronouns. And for your information, I’m a top, not a bottom. Asshole.”
Dan put his mocha down on the table beside his chair. He stood up, walked over to stand in front of Malarie.
“What,” Malarie said to the 2.1 meter man standing over xim. “You think I’m scared of you? Cause you’re bigger and—”
Dan punched Malarie in the face, knocking xim out cold. Then Dan went back to his chair, picked up his mocha and took another sip.
“Welcome to Delve,” he told the newbee.
* * * * *
“Mesdames et messieurs et tout le monde. The Imperium!” said Capitaine de Vaisseau Tempeste Lafollete, raising her glass of wine in a toast. Though she bore the rank of full captain, Tempeste was the first officer of the Nyx-class supercarrier Spirit of Caille. However, to all the others in the senior officers’ mess, Tempeste was the ultimate authority on the supercarrier. The capsuleer was friendly to all her crew, but her door was firmly shut to anyone besides Tempeste and Jacques Sigaard, the commander of the space wing.
“The Imperium,” the other officers responded.
They sat in a room of opulence and refinery that would make anyone but the firmly upper-class Gallente envious. While crews of smaller ships had their primary quarters on citadels—no one wanted to live on a Jackdaw if they could help it—the crews of capitals and supercapitals lived comfortably on their ships. And no one considered a supercarrier expendable. So, unlike dreadnoughts, supercarriers were decked with finery, and the men, women, and nonbinary people in the room were the crème de la crème of the already-privileged crew.
The executive officer had decided on one last formal dinner before the hostilities started. Tempeste had hired one of the best chefs from Caille to serve on the ship, so the meal was incredible. After the third course, the exec claimed the floor.
“Three days left, Ops; how are we set?” Tempeste asked the Operations Officer, a Caldari man by his position, as was customary.
“Honestly, Madame Exec, we’ve been ready for days. The crew’s scans are all up to date. We even managed to get most people back to empire for a few days leave. All our needed refit modules are stowed and ready. I think I’m going to actually be bored until this thing kicks off.”
“Good to go. How about you, Engineering?” Tempeste said, turning to the Sebiestor in charge of the engineering department.
“Fuel stores are full. All hangar bays and launch tubes green. There’s four more reactors to run a full diagnostic on, but we’ll be ready even if they need to be fully overhauled. I agree with ops. This is the most prep time I think we’ve ever had for something. My people are re-relubing parts now out of boredom.”
“Tell me about it. Just make sure that if something breaks, you get the space wing issues taken care of first. If we can’t launch and recover fighters, the captain and Jacques are going to be all over me like white on rice in a glass of milk on a paper plate in a snowstorm. Medical?”
“Like Ops said, we’ve completed all the scans. We’re well stocked. No one is in sick bay.” Doctor Uhlan ran his fingers over his short, white hair. “The only thing of note was that twenty something ratings were treated for an STD this morning.”
“That low? I guess 1DQ really is getting a better class of whore.” The bell rang to indicate the fourth course was on its way out. “Ah, very well then, I’ll yield the floor back to the Chairman of the Dinner.”