Back From The Dead

I haven’t slept for 36 hours.

I’m exhausted. I’m not thinking clearly. My muscles ache. I feel like an exposed nerve ending, raw and inflamed.

I’ve tried to sleep, but sleep won’t come. Every time I close my eyes, I see that exact moment when the Colorado VII‘s cargo hold depressurized and the DBAU scientists were sucked out into the emptiness of the universe.

What most people don’t realize is that when you are exposed to the vacuum of space, you don’t die instantly. You don’t even lose consciousness instantly. It takes 15 to 30 seconds for your body to deplete the oxygen reserves in your bloodstream. If you exhale, you can survive for as long as two minutes before you suffocate. That’s plenty of time to know you are dying.

I can’t imagine what it was like for those scientists. Every time I think about it, I feel perfect terror. But this feeling is not for those fourteen men and women or what they experienced. It is for me. This perfect terror is selfish.

I watched the scientists die on YC120.Mar.26, and yet I was in Theology Council when Harald and Fen returned to the station on YC120.Oct.3. I’ve seen the security footage from YC120.May that clearly shows Harald, Fen, and Khandy very much alive.

Their deaths on YC120.Mar.26 were real deaths. There was no transmission of consciousness, no waking up in a clone bay with a new physical form. They died a forever death from which no one can return. But somehow they returned.

I can’t bring myself to reconcile this information. I don’t want to understand it. There is only one plausible explanation. Once I accept this explanation, I must also accept that those closest to me may not be who I think they are.

They may not be who they think they are…

This possibility evokes that perfect terror and amplifies my isolation. I don’t know who I can trust. I might be truly alone. I don’t want to be here in The Forge. I don’t want this responsibility. I want to go home.

I’m at the edge of something, but I don’t know whether it’s despair or rage. I want to weep for those I may have already lost. I want to raze the cluster in furious retribution for what may have already been taken away from me.

The lack of sleep has cracked my carefully constructed walls separating the rational and the emotional. One is bleeding into the other. The silence in my room is deafening. I miss Pebble’s snoring. I miss the way she smells after she rolls in the grass. I miss the soil and my plants. I miss my guys. Hell, I miss my ship

It’s too much. I can’t think about home. If I do, the cracks will expand and the walls will crumble. I have to hold it together, just a little bit longer. I have to focus on the mission. I have to find out who put the scientists into the cargo hold and who brought “Harald” and “Fen” back from the dead.

 

Into the Void

Once you start asking questions, innocence is gone.

-Mary Astor

As luck would have it, not only did the Casino have a leathersmith on staff, they also had an excellent Caf house. I had spent quite a bit of time there over the last several days, reviewing everything available about the DBAU scientists, looking for the intersection in their disciplines that might explain what had happened to them.

I was in the Caf house when I received a cryptic message from the Junk Man: “found something you need to see.”

I boarded the next shuttle to the Narco Market and headed straight for that nondescript building down that nondescript alley.

When I walked into the Junk Man’s place, the Brutor behind the counter nodded in my direction and opened the door to the back office.

The Junk Man was seated at his desk, looking at something on his screen. There was no friendly greeting this time. He wore the hard expression of a man about to deliver some bad news.

“I did some digging, like you asked. I found something that I know you’re gonna want to see. But what I found didn’t come cheap. You and I have a history, Théana, and you know I’m always willing to help, but this… This was difficult to get. I’m sorry. I hate to do it, but this has to be quid pro quo.”

He explained that one of his “associates” was friendly with Ohvajuuri Ahama. Since his demotion to a basic Level 2 mission agent, Ahama’s been spilling a lot of The Sanctuary’s secrets for the right price. Ahama gave up the first piece of information relatively easily. The second piece was more difficult to obtain, as it directly implicated Ahama himself in some very dirty business.

The Junk Man then asked me for something in exchange for what he had found. I had no choice, and I reluctantly agreed. Sooner or later I will have to pay this debt. For my sake, I pray that it’s much, much later…

After I agreed to his terms, the Junk Man told me that he had obtained security camera footage from the Colorado VII. He pulled up this footage on his terminal and began playback. Based on the video timestamp, the footage was from the early morning hours of YC120.Mar.26, the same morning the scientists were kidnapped.

I saw the Colorado VII undock from Theology Council in Zoohen and align to the Tarta stargate. I saw Sky’s ship warp through Zoohen, Tarta and Tekaima, and jump into Tar.

Right after the jump into Tar, all fourteen DBAU scientists aboard The Colorado VII were herded into the ship’s cargo hold. I saw everything, every horrible little detail. I saw Khandhy’s confusion. I saw Fen’s fear. I saw Harald doing the best he could to reassure the others.

Then I saw all of them die. After warping to a seemingly random point in space, the cargo hold was depressurized and everything in it was sucked into the cold vacuum of space. Their bodies drifted into the void.

The video footage cut out, and before I could understand what I had just seen the Junk Man handed me a copy of a cargo manifest. I quickly scanned the document and saw that it was for an Anathema that departed from Theology Council, Zoohen III on YC120.Mar.26 and docked later the same morning at The Sanctuary School, X-7OMU II – Moon 7.

No passengers were identified, no cargo was declared, and all cargo space was classified as empty.

This manifest was signed by Ohvajuuri Ahama.

Thinking and Drinking

BEEP… BEEP… BEEP…  

I was awakened by a message alert. As I reached out to silence my datapad, I became aware of a deep ache in my shoulder. As soon as this discomfort registered, it was replaced by a sharper pain, an angrier pain, burning through my upper arm. I slowly opened my eyes, touching my hand to my arm. My fingers found something wet and sticky. Blood.

Looking down, I saw a puncture wound in my right deltoid. It was only two centimeters long but it felt deep and hurt all the way down to the bone.

I sat up on the edge of the bed and rinsed off the wound with a nearby bottle of water. The runoff pooled on the grimy floor, and for some reason this triggered a hazy recollection of the evening before. I recalled something about being on the ground, but the memory would not focus.

I needed Caf. I pulled on my boots and threw on my jacket. It wasn’t until I saw my reflection in the mirror near the door that the events of the previous night became clear to me.

Mirrorbackground

My visit with the Junk Man had been somewhat fruitful. He knew about the Colorado VII and the possible involvement of The Sanctuary, but didn’t know what happened to Sky’s ship. Nobody knew what happened to Sky’s Anathema. It was as if that ship had vanished into thin air. The Junk Man promised to do some digging over the next day or two and to let me know what, if anything, turned up.

There was nothing to do now but wait. I knew I couldn’t just sit in my room doing nothing, so I decided to soak up a little local culture. I started walking toward the front of the market and ducked into the first drinking establishment I could find.

I ordered an ale, found a quiet table in the back, and turned on my new datapad. It took a few minutes to download the file to the blank device and as I waited, something Sky said seven months ago about the DBAU scientists kept playing in my head:

These guys have something that’s got them looking over their shoulders and jumping at their own shadows. It involves all of their disciplines combined, something at the intersection that is plain to see when pointed out to you but nearly invisible until then.

The file finished downloading and I opened it, reviewing the passenger manifest of the Colorado VII:

  • Bailmer, Brairon – Lab Tech
  • Benirajan, Adinga – Intern
  • Blaneau, Yaly – Lab Tech
  • Bravenot, Stayla – Social Sciences
  • Chocques, Trerian – Ethicist
  • Hallet, Emmementine – Intern
  • Jammus, Brustine – Lab Tech
  • Khandy, Bulazan – AI & Biomass
  • Kugne, Kovas – Lab Tech
  • McElwee, Fen – Communications
  • Peddick, Dellum – Engineer & Cloak Tech
  • Schweisheimer, Harald – Jove Historian, DBAU Team Lead
  • Soura, Isavanna – Genetics
  • Waque, Bryvin – Xenobiology

Reflecting on what happened with Brad, I saw how most of these disciplines might be related, but I didn’t have anything concrete. I hadn’t arrived at the intersection Sky had described, and I certainly didn’t understand why someone would do what they did to Harald and Fen. 

I sat there thinking and drinking for the better part of two hours, trying to understand how these roles intertwined around the SOFA technology. Aside from the occasional inquisitive glance in my direction, I was left undisturbed. But it didn’t matter, because I hadn’t arrived at any answers.

My head was starting to ache and I was out of ideas, so I decided to call it a night. I gathered my things, settled my tab, and exited the bar.

As I was walking back to my room, I passed by several small groups of fresh-faced Capsuleers on their first shore leave and clusters of older folks who, by their appearance, had spent too much time here at the market. I have no issue with either – it’s up to them how they spend their time and their isk. It’s the overly eager unaffiliated pilots looking for work who annoy me. Unfortunately, I crossed paths with one of these boys before I could get back to my room.

I heard a voice behind me. “Hey! Hey. Come here. I wanna talk to you for a minute.”

I quickened my pace and tried to ignore him, but he caught up with me.

“Hey. Slow down. I saw you dock that Helios at the casino. Why you flyin’ a Helios? They’re so ugly.”

I kept on walking. “I like my Helios.”

“You fly anything else? I bet you do. What else you got in your hangar?” He was not going to give up any time soon. “You look like you’re into Amarrian incense and penance. I bet you have a Sacrilege, don’t you?”

“No. Get lost.” Now my head was really starting to ache.

“I can fly everything. Level IIs across the board for all races. Just tell me what you need.” I think his intent was to impress me, but his lack of focus and failure to complete annoyed me even more.

I stopped walking and turned to face him. “I’m sure you’re an excellent pilot,” I said, my tone dripping with sarcasm, “but I fly alone these days.”

“I can help you atone for your sins.” A wide grin spread across his face and he took a step closer toward me. “I can help you commit a few more in-station if you just give me a chance.”

“Not interested. Frak off.” I started to turn away from him, and he grabbed my arm. I slowly looked down at his hand, and then into his eyes. “Let go. Now.”

He didn’t let go. In fact, his grip tightened. I took hold of his wrist and began applying pressure. He yelped in pain and reached into his coat pocket with his other hand. I didn’t see what he retrieved, but he buried whatever it was in my upper arm seconds later. I felt it enter and then exit, but the surge of endorphins muted the sensation.

“Did you just STAB me, you sonofa -”

I was interrupted by his fist making contact with my face, and I dropped to my knees. When I looked up, he seemed more surprised than I was at what had just transpired. He spit out a quick apology and took off running down the street.

What the hell, I thought. If I was gonna get stabbed today, I thought it woulda been that Brutor, not some jackwagon looking for work and a good time.

I wiped at my nose, laughing aloud at my next thought: Lucas will never let me live this one down! I can hear the jokes already!

I picked myself up and continued walking toward my room. Frak, I really like this jacket. I wonder if there’s a leathersmith on staff at the casino…

Forging The Framework

Aura had calculated the shortest route from Zoohen to Friggi, and I was entering Uedama when I realized I missed Allison. I missed her scouting reports, her snarkiness, and even that self-destruct klaxon that she always seemed to activate while I was hacking a red core. But until I was sure of what I was up against, I couldn’t risk using Allison. Aura would have to do.

As I crossed from The Citadel into The Forge, I felt a rush of adrenaline. This was happening, and it was too late to turn back.

Spider always said that good information comes from bad places. The Forge was an ideal staging ground for getting into those bad places. Always crowded and a common shopping destination, Jita 4-4 was the perfect spot for a discreet rendezvous with a SC friend should the need arise. The Forge was also close to Metropolis and Heimatar, the home of the Tribal Liberation Force. But The Forge was my first choice for staging because of The Bandit Outpost.

Comprised of a casino, a narco market, and a pleasure hub, it was probably one of the last places anyone expected to find a Signaleer. I could disappear here and move about unnoticed. But I could also literally disappear here if I asked too many questions or accidentally crossed an unspoken line.

Aura requested docking permission at the casino, and we were immediately towed into a bay.

The hangar was littered with discarded advertisements for isk-doublers, mercs, and Gallente Girls. Off to one corner was a young man in a freshly pressed uniform holding a leash in his hands. I approached him slowly, Pebble in tow. She was sniffing the air, more for information collection than actual hunting behavior.

She seemed calm enough, and as I reached out to shake the young man’s hand, she sat politely by my side. She started sniffing in the man’s direction, and then abruptly sneezed. I could smell the hound pheromones on him, so I’m sure it was overwhelming for her sensitive nose.

I passed him the leash and confirmed Pebble’s pickup time. As he led her to the hangar exit, she looked back over her shoulder at me. I gave her a reassuring “go on” that seemed to satisfy her, and she quietly followed him out of the hangar.

The information I needed was not likely here at the casino. Personnel shuttles continuously ran between the casino, the narco market, and the pleasure hub, so getting around the outpost was no problem. I tossed my bag over my shoulder, boarded a shuttle, and headed to the market.

Bandit Outpost

I exited the shuttle and quickly scanned the area to get my bearings. I walked past all of the flashy shopfronts and the “first taste free” hawkers, toward the back of the market. The man I was looking for was in a nondescript building down a nondescript alley, well away from the beaten path. He wasn’t too difficult to find.

I walked into the shop and was greeted by a disinterested Brutor. He was large, even by Brutor standards, and seemed slightly annoyed by my presence. “Help ya?” he asked, without looking up at me.

“Yeah. I’m here to see the Junk Man.”

The mention of the Junk Man seemed to catch his interest. “Who the frak are you?”

“Tell him The Professor is here.”

He stood up to his full height and puffed himself out. “Don’ know ya. Not gonna disturb him for some’n I don’t know.”

I adjusted my posture and used my FC voice. “He knows me. Just go tell him.”

The Brutor looked me up and down, I gave him a shooing motion with my hand, and he acquiesced. “Aight. But he don’t like bein’ disturbed for nonsense. Fer yer sake, I hope yer legit.”

He disappeared behind a door, and re-emerged a few seconds later. He held that same door open and motioned for me to go into the back. I casually walked through the doorway, ignoring his gaze.

The doorway opened into a dimly lit room overfilled with a desk and a chair, three couches and two small tables. The Junk Man was seated on one of the couches, sloppily filling two glasses with a brownish liquid. He continued to pour as he stood to greet me.

“Professor! How long has it been?”

“A long time. Nice place you got here,” I chuckled. “I forgot how… charming… the backs of these establishments were.”

He laughed as I took a seat beside him on the couch. We picked up our drinks, clinked glasses, and downed them in one swallow. I reached for the bottle to refill our glasses as he settled back into the cushions.

“I hear you’re a Signaleer now. Quite a change from the last time I saw you.” He downed another shot and I poured him a third. “I would ask whether you’re here for business or pleasure, but I can see from your expression that it’s all business.”

I handed him his glass and took a breath. “What can you tell me about a ship named The Colorado VII?”

My Task Has Only Just Begun

If you’re reading this, then you’ve followed the clue that one of my friends cleverly placed for you.

You’ve probably also read my last post on the forum. TL;DR I’m leaving I’m already gone.

The meeting with the SSAC-appointed FC really was a joke. Mynxee and I sat there, across from The Commander, listening to him say absolutely nothing. It was more of the same: OPSEC this, ‘need to know’ that. It was incredibly unsatisfying, and I was getting more frustrated by the second. Mynxee was frustrated too, but she is more of a diplomat than I am. At one point, she reached under the table to put her hand on my knee, a gentle reminder to stay calm. If she hadn’t been there, I don’t know that I could have held it together much longer.

Mynxee and I exited the meeting together. Once outside the room, she asked me to retrieve some Chamomile tea from my workspace and bring it to her office. “No rush, but I’m in the mood for tea and a chat, so sooner is better than later,” she lilted. It was a very kind way of giving me permission to be angry but reminding me gently that I needed to get a grip on myself fairly quickly.

I returned to my workspace and, after a quick shower, I retrieved the container of Chamomile tea, grabbed a chunk of Valerian root to chew on (it would have to do for now), and headed to see Mynxee.

When I arrived at her office, the door was open and Mynxee was seated at her desk. She was carefully reading a letter and rolling some kind of coin through her fingers. She looked up from the letter, motioned for me to come in, and asked me to close the door.

I had just taken a seat when she told me she wanted to show me something. “I can’t let you handle it. I wouldn’t put it past them to test this for genetic material. So just read it over my shoulder.”

As I made my way around her desk, I was unprepared for what she was about to show me:

 

letter

“I… I don’t understand,” I stammered. “What does he mean about extended commandeering? What is he expecting us to do?”

“That has not yet been revealed to me,” Mynxee growled. “I share your frustration with what can only be described as Black Ops nonsense. But I have to protect the Corp and the people in it. There are too many unanswered questions, and for right now I have to cooperate. You, on the other hand…” She hesitated for a moment, and then continued with a look in her eye I imagine she hasn’t had since her days with The Hellcats. “You don’t.”

She went on to describe a potential assignment that I was overly eager to accept. At the risk of sounding like The Commander, I cannot yet disclose what this assignment is. Saying more at this point could comprise Mynxee’s safety, which I will not do.

We never did have any tea, but I left Mynxee’s office slightly less angry than when I arrived. I now have a place to channel that energy, and nothing will stop me from completing my mission.

I raced to my quarters and grabbed my bug-out bag (a good Capsuleer is a prepared Capsuleer). While I was getting Pebble ready to go, I messaged my hangar tech and asked him to prepare The Sunburst for departure.

No sooner had I sent the message when I noticed that I had received an encrypted communication. I swore under my breath, eager to undock my Helios, but loaded up SCIPHER anyway. If I was going to be in the intelligence game for a while, I might as well get over the idea of schedules. I uploaded the message, ran the decryption, and was surprised to find a short message from Thrice:

 

scipher message

Hunting was exactly what I intended to do.

I boarded The Sunburst, secured Pebble for the ride ahead, and prepared to enter my pod. As I was about to climb in, my hangar tech handed me a dose, whispering “He said you’d know who it was from.”

I smiled as I consumed the Pyrolancea and wondered when I would see them all again.

As the last jack connected I was flooded with information, and within seconds the docking bay was only a memory.

So, my friends, I have left Zoo. I don’t know when I will be back. I cannot return until my mission is complete. But I assure you, I will be returning to Zoohen. And when I do, I will be bringing answers with me.