[I had originally intended this for the Amore Tank Your Hearts Competition, but have decided to self-publish it instead]
This story takes place during the Crimson Harvest of YC117.
Dosette Ambertin was a slight woman, though her physique proved no impediment for her ambition. A promising graduate of the University of Caille’s Chavol School of Journalism at the home campus in Luminaire, like many of her companions, she began her career as an intern for the highly-respected and much-vaunted news agency: The Scope. It was supposed to be a natural progression of events: three months as an intern depending on the amount of networking she required, followed by a position reporting on the Federation Senate to give her connections for foreign affairs, which would then propel her into serving as a foreign correspondent, and from there, she would make editor. She had even neatly arranged the important achievements through a set of timetables, deadlines, and schedules designed to keep her on track until she reached her goal. After all, with so many people living in New Eden, news and stories were out there for the taking: Dosette simply needed to find the ones that would speed her along. Her strategy had worked splendidly at first—her analysis of budgetary debates and coverage of senatorial elections won her numerous local accolades, to the point that it was a simple move to assign her to a station involving the empires of New Eden.
Unfortunately, it had been too easy. Her meteoric rise could only be matched by the office politics and clandestine jealousies of her colleagues. She wasn’t certain who it was that had pulled the trigger on her career; the world of Gallente journalism was as cutthroat and competitive as the politics it reported upon. She had wracked her brain for so many possible culprits that their names and faces had started to blur together until she had become certain that everyone was actively conspiring against her.
Ultimately, she had been assigned Sahtogas IV – Moon 2 – Amarr Navy Logistic Support, Sahtogas System, Tandoiras Constellation, The Bleak Lands Region. Minmatar occupied. Today, of course, she was on an administrative orbital platform in the system—for the ceremonial transfer of sovereignty.
“Consider yourself fortunate,” Her editor, Armand, had said, “You are one of the youngest reporters in the Scope’s history to be sent to such an exciting location.”
Aside from the battles waged by the proxy soldiers for the Amarr Empire and the Minmatar Republic, there was virtually nothing to report. Much of the population had adjusted to life switching between two separate forms of administration: the ossified hierarchy of the Empire or the far more fluid yet more susceptible-to-bribery methods of the Valklears. For the most part, terrestrial civilian life was stable, to the point that many were not just prepared for bombardments, but expected them. Nothing from the warzone broke out into the headlines beyond ticker tape soundbites, nothing as big or as important as a Wirykomi corporation supercarrier getting hijacked by the Dread Guristas.
War had simply become business as usual.
And that was why she was standing in the essentially empty “press box,” near a worn-out portable stage where Tribal Liberation Force officers were presenting their weapons to their 24th Imperial Crusade counterparts. As they did so, the banners of the Minmatar Republic were removed from the auditorium and Amarr Empire banners were unfurled in their place. Although thousands of system inhabitants were in attendance, giving the outward appearance of patriotic importance, the officers standing on the stage had an almost collegial familiarity with one another. In fact, since Dosette had covered the exact same proceedings—though reversed—earlier that year, she knew that the weapons were merely props kept in the station command center. Depending on the necessities, the weapons—either Amarr or Minmatar in origin—could quickly be retrieved, presented, surrendered, then placed back in the safe; this way, the officers never had to give up their actual swords and sidearms.
It had taken weeks of investigation for Dosette to find the truth, which involved a short affair with a Sebiestor junior officer, who, because of his desperation to impress his Gallente love interest, broke at least two dozen regulations in order to show her not only the command center, but the safe where the weapons were kept. He had even shared the station’s master security access code with her: Six, seven, three, three, five, one, eight—a code, he assured her, was only disseminated to the most critical of the command staff. She had almost felt bad that their night had been interrupted, but not bad enough to warrant returning his calls.
Unfortunately, the fact that the officers had agreed to use cheap replicas instead of their real weapons had never been taken as a serious story by her editor—or, for that matter, the story of how she had gained access to a station’s central command system. No, he had been too busy handling requests for combat trials footage of the Federation’s Hecate-class tactical destroyer.
The ceremony ended with a recording of the 24th Imperial Crusade’s anthem. It wasn’t even important enough for them to muster a full band.
“This is Dosette Ambertin, reporting for The Scope,” she said with all of the excitement of an Iteron Mark V coasting into a hangar.
She hadn’t even been able to say “Back to you” followed by whatever the catch-of-the-day anchor’s name was, before receiving the signal from her autonomous camera-drone that she was off the air. She removed her earpiece with an exasperated sigh, then proceeded to unceremoniously toss her equipment into the velvet-lined briefcase that housed her essential reporting gear.
One of the other correspondents standing in the press box approached her, “Well, I thought you were impressive.”
She looked up from her silver briefcase, expecting to tell off yet another overconfident reporter starting their career in a no-name outlet. As she was about to make her well-rehearsed castigatory remarks, her green eyes fell upon a pin on the correspondent’s collar: Amarr Certified News.
There were a number of things she found immediately surprising about the Ni-Kunni, who had his arms folded over his chest, an almost arrogant smirk on his lips betraying curious amusement. Firstly, his posture was casual—not the stiff pose that made every subject of the Amarr Empire look like their portrait was being painted. Secondly, there didn’t appear to be any slaves attending him. Finally, there was the fact that he had acknowledged her presence at all let alone compliment her: Amarr Certified News and the Scope were bitter rivals, especially with the Scope’s expanding coverage of the Empire.
“Excuse me?” she blinked and blurted all at once.
“I said that I thought you were impressive,” the Ni-Kunni responded, his voice well-metered.
“Oh? This? This was nothing,” Dosette shook her head, briefly averting her gaze as she clasped the briefcase shut.
The briefcase was mapped to her biometrics, so if this ACN reporter wanted to see the newest of the Scope’s equipment, he was out of luck. She raised her head to look up at him again, noting that he was a head taller than her. His face was clean-shaven, his tunic crisp, and what looked like a new ACN-issue camera drone hovered a few inches from his head. Her own chrome green drone inched towards it—standard operating procedure in order to take records of the latest of rival agencies’ news production technology—giving the opposing drones the appearance of two rivals eyeing each other down.
“I think you truly believe that more than you think,” he nodded, though he did not bow, “My name is Ofarad Emieh.”
“Well, ‘Ofarad Emieh,’” Dosette responded, placing her hands on her hips, “My name is—.”
“Dosette Ambertin,” Ofarad interrupted, his smirk unchanging, “I heard you.”
Dosette’s face turned a shade of red, not only because she—the senior correspondent in the system—had been interrupted by an obvious newcomer, but also because of the teasing that obviously ran beneath his veneer of professionalism.
“Good day, then,” She said through the most venomous of smiles, before departing towards the shuttle bay terminals. She called over her shoulder, “I’m sure your mother taught you to not speak to Gallente women with ‘loose morals.’”
Ofarad called after her, “Wait. Wait, I’m sorry!”
More surprise. First, the fact that he was humble enough to apologize, a rare trait among any of the Amarr bloodlines. Second, that she actually stopped and turned, “What is it? Are you going to buy me a drink? Because if I had a kredit for every time one of you Amarrians thought you could ‘woo an “easy” Gallente girl,’ I’d own the Crystal Boulevard!”
Ofarad returned her question with a quizzical expression, “You think I’m trying to get a date?”
Dosette had already prepared her rejection when she floundered, “You mean you’re not?”
He ran his eyes over her, “Perhaps under other circumstances,” then he shook his head vigorously, “No, no! I was hoping if you wouldn’t mind a collaboration of sorts.”
“Collaboration?” Her mind was still puzzling out what he wanted. If this was a pick-up routine, it at least held her attention.
He nodded, then produced a neocom. He scrolled through messages and notifications, then said, “Approximately one hour ago, one of the satellites we operate in Oyonata went dark.” His face held a grave expression, “I was hoping, given the Scope’s extensive nature, that there might be overlapping coverage of the system?”
Dosette blinked away her surprise, then nodded, “You want to know what happened to your satellite?”
“Yes,” A shadow of Ofarad’s smirk returned, “I’ll buy you a drink afterwards.”
Dosette rolled her eyes, then pulled out her own neocom. She was careful to shield her access codes from the Ni-Kunni’s eyes, just in case this was an industrial espionage ploy. Scope satellites, camera drone hubs, and relay beacons were spread all over the warzone, but the locations and the extent of their distribution were trade secrets. In all reality, she should have just refused, but her journalistic instinct was piqued—ACN might not be as advanced as the Scope, but in Amarr Empire territory, no agency came close to the level of access that they had across the imperial bureaucracy all the way up to the Theology Council. If this reporter was turning to third parties, then it stood to reason that more than just a surveillance satellite had “gone dark.”
She sifted through numerous feeds, limiting the search function to the Tandoiras Constellation. Strangely, other Scope correspondents in the Bleak Lands had posted comments about malfunctions. She furrowed her brows as she perused the comments, then accessed the broadcast log. The Scope algorithm routinely parsed unfiltered footage, which was then categorized based on images of interest. However, due to the amount of data and the cost of maintaining the fluid router network, the Scope often relied on individual correspondents to run manual searches. She accessed the log for OYO-1S, the Scope broadcast relay embedded into an advertisement billboard on the Sahtogas gate in Oyonata, then activated a manual filter.
“This should only take a moment,” She bragged to Ofarad.
She was ready to launch another jab at ACN, but that was before the Blood Raider insignia was emblazoned on her neocom’s screen. There had been Blood Raider pirates throughout the Bleak Lands even after Omir Sarikusa fled to Delve, but this image seemed different. She turned to Ofarad, “This doesn’t look like local Blood Raider markings.”
Ofarad glimpsed at the image, then frowned, “That’s because it isn’t.” Dosette could almost make out the lines of data running across Ofarad’s eyes through his implants.
“What do you know?” Dosette asked, her heart beginning to race.
“Come on!” Ofarad said as he grabbed Dosette by the wrist, essentially dragging her towards the terminal.
“Let go of me!” she yanked her wrist away, “What is going on?”
Ofarad turned to her and opened his mouth to speak, though his voice was drowned out by the blare of the facility’s siren. A voice rang out over the facility’s PA system, though it was muffled—Dosette had heard clearer announcements on Caille’s underground subway network. She turned her attention towards the terminal, which had suddenly become crowded with wide-eyed civilians. Military and security personnel tried to calm the crowds as engineers in similar uniforms began to seal the shuttle bay bulkheads.
But they were too late.
A ship entered the shuttle bay. Even though she had only reviewed wrecks before, she knew what it was: A Hematos-class corvette, specialized for Blood Raider insertion.
Its lasers melted the bulkheads. They also melted hundreds gathered in front of those same bulkheads. The heat from the blasts forced Dosette to shield her eyes and face. When she readjusted her vision, the corvette’s gangplank had extended out and dozens of armed men were surging through the chaos. For all of their infamous bloodletting and for all of their terror, these Blood Raider strike teams operated with surgical precision, gunning down the remaining security personnel and forcing civilians to their knees, regardless of injury, age, or social rank.
Most of the battles she had seen were from space and while she had interviewed plenty of bombardment survivors, she had never experienced one herself. Yet, when ships fought other ships, battle was different: there were no screams, no smell of melting flesh and bone. This was visceral. And she kept her gaze on the dying, the wounded, the attacked, directing her camera drone through her implants.
“A-are you getting this?” she asked her camera drone. It was all she knew how to ask, even if it could not answer. Frozen with terror, her body simply wouldn’t move no matter how she wanted to urge it away from the carnage.
She felt something grab her wrist, then also felt her body begin to put one foot in front of the other, pulling her away from the spectacle of destruction. As she tore her eyes away, letting the camera drone autonomously record the fury of the assault, she focused on the familiar outline of Ofarad’s features. Somehow, he remained calm. Was this all instinct? Had he lived through an attack before? They reached a bulkhead, but it was sealed.
“Damn it all!” he cursed, slamming his hand against an uncooperative keypad as the firefight crept ever closer.
She blinked as she tried to concentrate, wracking her brain for the master security code. She gently pushed Ofarad away, then reached towards the keypad. With any luck, if the officers in charge were as lazy about their codes as the weapons they exchanged…
She peered at the glowing keys, her hands shaking, “I can do this.”
Seven digits. That was all she needed. Six. Seven. Three. Three. Five. One… What came after one?
She snapped, “Shut up, I’m trying to remember!”
“Dosette,” this time Ofarad’s voice was accompanied by a gentle touch to her shoulder. It was not a reassuring touch. It was one of defeat.
She turned around to see a Blood Raider strike team, weapons raised, staring at her and Ofarad. They had already seized the camera drones, reviewing the captured footage. The squad leader stepped forward.
“Amarr Certified News and the Scope working together?” His teeth were filed into fangs, a sadistic grin spreading on his face.
“Collaboration,” Ofarad shrugged, his hands raised.
Dosette also raised her hands, then blurted, “I am a Gallente Federation citizen—.”
She was going to continue about proper treatment of journalists during wartime, but her rote recitations of such rules was interrupted by a rifle butt. She fell to her knees, clutching her stomach as she gasped for air. The squad leader gave her a look-over, then turned to Ofarad.
“This,” the squad leader produced a holoreel, “Is a special recording just for the Empire. You, you lucky Ni-Kunni bastard, are going to take it and broadcast it across the ACN’s network. Understand? You get to live.” His voice was icy cold as he thrust the recording into Ofarad’s hand. He added to his team, “Take the girl.”
Two of the assault team’s members holstered their weapons and dragged Dosette to her feet. They pulled her high enough so she would have to look at their leader’s face. It was scarred and covered in tatoos—bastardization of Amarrian Scripture to fit the Blood Raider narrative. The squad leader ran his finger beneath her chin, “I’m sure you’ll taste just wonderful.”
Dosette turned her face away. This was it. This was the end.
“Wait, wait!” Ofarad stepped forward, to be greeted by a pistol barrel to his forehead. Dosette turned to see his face. Calm, but urgent. His placid eyes met hers.
“What?” The squad leader asked impatiently.
“The ACN network is currently offline in this region,” Ofarad lied in his well-metered tone, “Even if I could get a broadcast out, it would only reach a fraction of the audience you want.” He gestured to Dosette, “She is the senior Scope correspondent in the Bleak Lands. I’ve seen her access their fluid router network. If you let her get to a broadcast relay, your message will reach far more people, far more quickly.”
A look of almost-disappointment washed over the squad leader’s face as logic slowly overcame desire. He yanked the holoreel from Ofarad, then handed it to one of Dosette’s minders, “Get her to a shuttle. Make sure this gets broadcasted by the Scope.”
The team member nodded, then proceeded to lead Dosette back towards the wreckage of the terminal. She looked back over her shoulder to Ofarad, who merely smiled whilst calling after her, “Don’t worry about me. I owe you a drink, after all. And tell Alton Haveri he should learn how to pronounce the word ‘Basilisk!’”
As Dosette boarded the shuttle that would convey her to salvation, one word echoed in the confines of her mind: Eight.
Two weeks later, Dosette Ambertin would return to Sahtogas.
Ofarad Emieh, Amarr Certified News Bleak Lands Service, was listed as missing. His status has not been updated.