Exorcism II.5

“We just cleared the last gate, sir. Awaiting orders from Fleet Command Tactical.”

Reginald’s eyes were closed, though it was easy enough to interact with his crew on the Confessor-class vessel TES Brilliance. Retro-fitting of the Tactical Destroyer had required innovations to take advantage of restrictions on weapon systems as well as available CPU and Powergrid. Ultimately, the end-result was an anti-tackle fast destroyer akin to its cousins the Interdictors but with far more staying power and maneuverability. Designed with cutting edge technology derived from Sleeper technology, Tactical Destroyers were outfitted with three separate modes for battlefield capability transformations. They would need every advantage these modes could afford them as they plunged head-first into an inferno.

A series of numbers surged into his mind, calculated in nearly an instant through the combination of on-board computers and his own implants, “Warp-in coordinates received. Initiating warp drive. Set condition one throughout the ship.”

Though he was in a capsule, his body sitting in a vat of fluid and hooked directly into the ship’s control mechanisms through ports along his spine, he had made efforts to humanize his control of ships for the benefit of his crew. That was the reason why, as the ship reached the half-way marked, he dedicated processing power to projecting a hologram of himself–in full battle regalia–on the bridge.

He flickered into view, surveying the array of monitors and screens in front of him. Only the most vital systems had anyone at a console, most of the other functions handled by himself and automated mechanisms, though even these manned stations, as they were, were only an extra set of eyes in the event that he was bombarded with an overwhelming surge of data. The warp tunnel collapsed and they found themselves sixty kilometers away from the friendly fleet of Apocalypse Navy Issues supported by Triage Archon carriers and eighty kilometers from a hostile shield doctrine of Chimeras, Basilisks, Ishtars, and assorted Strategic Cruisers.

The fighting was taking place over a valuable moon, the large control tower sitting as a hapless spectator while capsuleer-led fleets clashed in front of its simple mining operations. An additional support fleet waited within its protective shields, led by his own alliance’s Predator Elite–one of the greatest fleet commanders in New Eden. Communications were difficult to decipher while the friendly fleet was applying their firepower onto target after primary target, while a fresh set of inquiries were emanating from Predator Elite himself.

“Do we have any fast tackle at all? Did anyone come in fast tackle?”

“Yeah, Regi is out there.”

“Regi!? Burn one hundred kilometers away from the tower.”

Regi. His mother would have thrown a fit that his corporation and alliance mates referred to him by a nickname, but there was something to be said about the freedom of piracy. This was how he was known in the alliance, an identity forged by his own efforts and willpower, not bestowed upon him by birth or title.

His hologram gave a series of notifications rather than orders, “Switching into Propulsion Mode, microwarpdrive activated, adjusting current vector to minimize incoming damage.”

The last move turned to be a life-saver as a number of long-range Ishtars focused their sentry drones onto the destroyer. A few grazing hits, but not enough to break the shields. The Confessor, urged on in Propulsion Mode and augmented by command links from a central command vessel, reached a maximum velocity of three thousand five hundred meters a second. And yet it seemed an eternity until they finally reached the appropriate location.

“Love you, Regi. Fleet take warp, fleet take warp.”

Reginald glanced at the battlefield, continuing his nimble evasion of enemy ships as his alliance’s support fleet entered the fray. He felt perhaps a little more invulnerable than he should have, though he had come prepared for an engagement of this type. Settled into his head as he lay in the pod were a number of illicit, “pirate” implants–a mid-grade Halo set. Working in tandem with one another, they reduced the Confessor’s already miniscule signature radius by masking the signature for other ships’ sensors, producing a smaller target, and therefore one that was harder to track with on-board computers alone. Combined with a significant transversal velocity, most rounds directed at him were simply missing or only barely grazing the shields.

“Enemy Republic Fleet Firetails inbound. It looks like at least two dozen!”

“New orders from Fleet Command Tactical, sir. All fast tackle is to engage Interdictors and eliminate Firetails.”

Reginald’s hologram nodded, before he urged the Confessor into a high speed arc back towards the center of the brawl. Most of the Firetails seemed to be designed for close-range warp propulsion jamming, forcing them into tight orbits around the multitude of friendly battleships arguing with broadside after broadside against the shield fleet in the distance.

Reginald started locking targets, focusing on one Firetail that was busy evading anti-frigate drones. The capsuleer in control didn’t even notice the Confessor’s approach, at least not until its laser batteries began to tear through the Firetail’s shields. In a matter of minutes, it was reduced to a wreck, the capsuleer’s pod waiting helplessly in space. A support Dominix’s smartbomb finished him.

Reginald almost felt himself shudder. The loss of life. While the capsuleer would wake up, presumably in a fresh Firetail with another crew, he wondered about the souls that perished. He then thought about his own crew. From his vantage point on the bridge, they seemed emotionless to the cold slaughter before them. Although their contracts had indicated they knew what they had signed up for, there was no telling if any of them were having second thoughts.

A wrecking shot from a Proteus slammed into the Confessor, the ship buckling under the weight of the volley. Ship sensors went haywire as shields evaporated and armor integrity dropped to below forty percent.

“Initiating armor repair sequence,” He cursed to himself, beginning a series of corrections to his mistake.

He had kept them in Propulsion Mode on their approach to the Firetail. Although the streamlined speed performance of the Confessor was excellent for skirting around the edge of the battlefield, in the center of the conflagration, where enemy vessels’ weapons were zero’d in one lumbering battleships, it afforded virtually no advantages. He threw the ship into Defensive Mode.

His ship’s camera drone offered a glimpse of outside space, showing that the Confessor’s speed-based appearance was quickly transforming into a heavily armored one. Antennae retracted into the ship while additional armor plating extended along the starboard and port sides, creating a less vulnerable vessel. Most importantly, however, with processing power removed from Propulsion, computing resources were dedicated to further masking the ship’s signature radius. Though slower, the Confessor was now a much more difficult target and after four more volleys that produced no result, the Proteus pilot switched to another target.

Reginald breathed a sigh of relief. They cruised after a few more Firetails, working in concert with Fleet-level Interceptors and frigate logistics support to dispatch enemy tackle. In between the quick engagements, he chanced a few more entries into Propulsion Mode, running down targets that were attempting to escape the confines of the blue, transparent spheres of Warp Disruption Probes. With the last Firetail dispatched, their attention turned to Sabres.

A suitable target was fifteen kilometers from their current position. They closed the distance easily, laying a Warp Scrambler into the Sabre’s warp drive, dropping its velocity to mere hundreds of meters a second. And yet, even with perfect tracking, the Sabre seemed to shrug off all of the damage.

“Enemy Sabre is receiving remote assistance. Basilisks spotted, sixty kilometers out.”

He queried Fleet Command Tactical, “Is anything being done about the Basilisks?”

He received no response. Communications were inundated with requests for repair from the Triage Archons when hostile Cynosoural Fields were lit–enemy Dreadnoughts.

“Dreads in, dreads in!” The Fleet Commander screamed, half-announcing the arrival of hostile heavy elements while ordering his own dreadnought wing into the fray.

Reginald switched into a channel for tackle ships. Information traveled far slower along these secondary lines, typically text-based intelligence that was outdated the moment it was entered.

>> Do we have an answer for these Basilisks?

>> No. Just got after Interceptors.

In the chaos of battle, pilots and captains were sinking into their colloquialisms and slang. Reginald chose not to blame them, instead aiming the Confessor towards a gang of enemy Interceptors as ordered. Null security space was still a new concept to him, but most of the enemy frigate pilots seemed to underestimate the piloting skills honed in the low security warzones. He was flying circles around them and they knew it.

His pride caught up with him.

“Sir! Multiple enemy ships preparing to engage.”

He glanced over at his battlefield tactical overview, showing that nearly twenty ships had locked his vessel. His velocity had dropped to nearly zero meters a second, created by hesitation while searching for fresh prey. Panicking, he chose an align point, beginning a warp initiation.

Ship sensors blared from a volley of at least fifteen vessels–shield and armor disappearing nearly instantaneously.

“Authorize overheating on armor repair!”

Time slowed. It was now or never. An enemy Interceptor latched onto him for a split second before its own high speed approach broke its orbit, “slingshotting” itself out of scrambling range. More damage notifications. A fresh warp initiation command. His crew was holding their breath. Not long now until the explosion. Seventy percent structure integrity, hull breaches on Deck Six. Leaking atmosphere.

Warp.

The battlefield stretched behind into the distance as the Confessor finally managed to force itself out of the chaos. He heard the crew cheer, tears in their eyes at their salvation. He breathed a sigh of relief.

Four more times they performed similar maneuvers. Providing anti-tackle support to the larger battleships. The engagement was eventually ended by a CFC Supercarrier and Titan fleet, causing the friendly battleships to disengage once Triage Archons were silenced one by one…

***

Sirens were blaring throughout the medbay, monitors indicating the critical condition the drone had forced Reginald into when it had plunged a scalpel into his chest.

Arody and Noghy were both screaming into their comms links.

“Get them out of there!”

“Security team to the medbay!”

“We have a network breach!”

Arody could only watch helplessly as Ameriya cowered behind Katerina, who in turn was backing them towards a corner away from hostile medical drones. Arody had never thought it possible, drones simply breaking away from control, operating by themselves, their programming overwritten.

Templar Thal Vadam easily broke through the chestplate of one drone, ripping out its internal components, casting its broken form into another pair of drones. She was mesmerized by his performance. He made it look so easy. So simple. Before long, Arody and Noghy were both staring speechless at the screen, the Templar standing amidst a pile of broken drone parts.

“I’m not sure what I’m more afraid of,” Noghy muttered, “Capsuleers or him.”

“At least he fights for the Empire,” Arody nodded in agreement, her body shuddering at the thought of similar super-soldiers fighting for entities like the Blood Raiders or Angel Cartel.

It took several minutes of awe before Noghy gave a coherent order, “Check the networks for other intrusions. Lady Lianne will want to know how that happened. And send teams to contain the panic.”

Arody nodded as she sat back down to her console, entering a series of commands to begin a general sweep of manor security systems. With the situation in the medical bay abated for the time-being, she chanced a glance at other cameras and monitors to assess the panic on the manor.

One camera in particular caught her eye. It zoomed down on Lady Kenzi Lianne, Lady Lianne’s cousin and heir. She was speaking to a crazed member of the medical staff, who was waving his arms around and speaking frantically before bolting for the Cathedral.

Lady Kenzi Lianne looked terrified.

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