Verge Vendor Region – Ancbeu Constellation – Scolluzer System

The warp tunnel collapsed; a stargate loomed into view above Sakaane’s ship, dwarfing the battered Griffin-class frigate she’d bought from a salvage yard in Agoze. Abandoned on a battlefield where a capsuleer and Serpentis pirates had recently clashed, the ship was badly damaged and just barely functional. Yet it was all she had been able to afford. A shuttle was beyond her budget and she wouldn’t risk taking a commercial passenger transport.

Never again.

The burly man who sold the wrecked Griffin to her had been happy to be rid of what he called a “worthless hunk of squiddy metal” for the meager price she offered. He’d shrugged when she’d asked if it would hold together through seven jumps from Intaki.

“Mebbe,” he’d drawled, “if yer real lucky an don’t meet no pirates.” The salvage yard wasn’t terribly well-equipped; he’d pulled out a dusty paper map of the area. “You figurin on goin through Ost direct ta high security empire? Bad idea, that. Stac gate there usually camped.” He pointed. “Better ta use this gate here.”

He’d shrugged again when she protested about the course change adding another jump to the trip. “It’s yer life. Either way ya gotta figure some way ta fly this boat first. There ain’t no pod innit, an you ain’t no pod pilot.”

True, but that was the entire purpose of the journey. Becoming a capsuleer had never occurred to her before; she was Intaki, content to remain an artisan singing songs for her modest following, until Serpentis pirates had ruined it all. Now she was determined and had quickly learned from any pilot and mechanic willing to teach her how to rig the former pod ship for manual controls good enough to get by.

I will have my revenge.

Her ship vanished into the jump portal and for the eighth time in a row she nearly blacked out. Having only once previously attempted to travel outside of Intaki, the effects of gate travel were still foreign to her and compounded by the stress of knowing the initial route had been along the same lanes attacked by the Serpentis those few months ago.

Twisted metal and screams. Acrid smoke and burning flesh. She was healthy now, but parts of her mind and body still ached from wounds received in the attack.

No, don’t think about it. That part of your life is over. Look forward.

She’d taken the yardman’s advice and added the extra waypoint to the ship’s neocom. Jumping into high security space intact and without incident had been a relief. Now, four jumps later, she was nearing the end of her journey.

The frigate hung lifeless on the other side of the gate while she caught her breath, willing the jump sickness to pass. Around her, other ships arrived from Alentene, swiftly appearing on then disappearing from her makeshift overview as they warped away.

Wiping beads of sweat away from her skin, she retook the controls and called up a star chart. It centered on a specific planet, then a moon orbiting it. The hull shook as the frigate warped and suddenly she could smell a hot electrical odor.

Just a little farther.

A monitor displayed a planet, Scolluzer VII, growing from a grey smear to an imposing ringed gas giant. Its third moon was a dark disk against the system’s blue sun. Finally, the Federal Navy Academy School station orbiting the moon came into view.

“Station control, this is Caldari frigate Soovari. Request permission to dock.”

When no reply seemed forthcoming, she repeated the hail. Still nothing.

“Is this thing even transmitting?” she muttered, thumping the console for good measure.

Aura suddenly stuttered to life. “Welcome on—welc—welcom—onb-b-b—”

Sakaane opened a panel and reached into the console up to her elbow, searching with her fingers for a wire wrapped thickly with electrical tape. A little jiggle and Aura fell silent but the comm system crackled to life, streaming audio from the station into the cabin.

Satisfied, she held her fingers still and stretched with her other hand for the comm’s toggle switch. “Station control, this is Caldari frigate Soovari requesting permission to dock, over.”

“We read you, Soovari. Docking request accepted. Do you require assistance? Sensors show your vessel is in pretty bad shape.”

“No, thank you. I won’t be flying this ship again.”

“Roger that. Set course for the docking perimeter. Actually, belay that. Let’s leave your ship where it is, shall we? A tug will be around shortly to tow you into bay fourteen. Station control out.”

She let go of the wire and sat back, watching as the station slowly filled the monitor as her ship drifted toward it. The tug appeared, approaching the frigate and locking on a tractor beam. A moment later the docking bay swallowed them both.

I’m here. I made it.

The dockmaster eyed her with disbelief when she slipped through the ship’s airlock, his gaze darting from the frigate’s blackened, battle-scarred hull to her wearied appearance. She was pale and her deep green eyes were made all the more black by the dark bags beneath them. Her honey-blonde hair hung limp and wet from perspiration, all signs of mild jump sickness. “Good day, miss. Name’s Scotty. You really flew here in that?”

“Apparently.”

He took in her cool expression and cleared his throat, glancing down at the datapad shoved into the crook of his arm. “So. How long do you plan to be berthed? We have weekly docking fees for your convenience.”

She considered. Most of her funds had been spent on the frigate itself. “I require the bay for only as many days as it takes to sell the ship.”

Scotty frowned and shook his head. “Nobody will take it like this. If you aren’t going to repair it, the station has a reprocessing plant.” At her blank look he patiently explained, “Break the hull down into its component minerals. They’ll keep some to cover their costs and you can sell the rest.” He fished in the pockets of his overalls, finally producing a business card soiled by a smear of grease. “Here. Station time is nearly 2130 hours but they usually have a night crew. If you hurry you might be able to get them to take it before the day rolls over, and then I’ll only have to charge you the tug fee. For now I just need a deposit to hold the bay.”

He tapped the datapad and then presented it to her. A figure displayed and what little blood was left in her face drained completely away.

Looking again from her face to the ship and back, the dockmaster noted the young woman had not disembarked with any personal effects. “You want to sign up at the academy? Used everything you had to get here,” he guessed.

A small smile pulled the corners of her lips. “Yes. I can cover the deposit.” She pressed her thumb to the pad to register the payment. “I just didn’t expect it to be…quite that much.”

Scotty grinned and clapped her gently on the shoulder to steer her out of the bay into the station proper. “Head over to Reprocessing like I suggested. They’ll take care of you and then you’ll be set. We can settle up after. Good luck, miss.”

It was easy to find Reprocessing using the station’s automated directory. When she arrived a few minutes later the intake clerk greeted her with a smile.

“Welcome. Are you the owner of the Soovari? Docking called ahead.”

A diagram of her ship appeared in the air above the clerk’s desk.

“Yes, that’s it,” Sakaane said. The clerk offered her a seat so she sat down.

The display rotated and highlighted certain features of the hull.

“Let’s see what we have here. Griffin-class Caldari hull. No special modifications. Pretty rough shape; one too many battles, eh?”

“I suppose so. I’m not the original owner; I bought it in this condition.”

The clerk’s eyebrows shot up. “Really? Well, we’ll take it anyway. It’s a slow night so we can get it in right away if you like and have delivery in a few hours.”

“So quickly?”

The clerk smiled a smile of white teeth. “Certainly. It’s only a frigate, piece of cake.” For a few moments she fed data into the desk console. Finally a chart appeared in the air next to the ship diagram. “This is our quote. Due to the condition of the hull the total yield will be less than normal. It’s unfortunate but we estimate about twelve percent is unrecoverable and if you were hoping for any nocxium or zydrine I’m afraid you’re out of luck. Output will be just under twenty-one thousand units in all, primarily tritanium and pyrite but also some mexallon. Given you’re a new customer, we’ll be keeping ten percent of the viable units and you’ll receive the balance.”

Sakaane made an effort to study the figures, but really they meant nothing to her.

Did I make the right choice, leaving Intaki for this station? I don’t know anything about the military, or ships, or minerals. Can I really become a capsuleer?

But if she went home, assuming she could even find a way to get there…the Serpentis would still be lurking between the stars, waiting for their next helpless prey.

I won’t be that prey anymore.

“This looks good,” she said with more confidence than she felt. “Please proceed.”

A short while later the minerals had been delivered to a storage hangar set aside by the station for her, and she found herself at a public terminal poring over the local market buy orders. Not certain of the results, she called up buy orders for Griffin hulls to compare with and was relieved when the only results in the entire region offered less than two percent of the value of the minerals. The transactions complete, she returned to the now-empty bay fourteen.

Scotty smiled at Sakaane’s approach. “Nice to see you again, miss. Feeling better?”

“A little, thank you. After a good night’s rest I think the jump sickness will have passed. Thank you also for referring me to Reprocessing. I’m here to settle the matter of the tug fee.”

He winked at her. “I’m glad it worked out in your favor. Here we are.” Pulling out his datapad, he brought up her account and keyed in the fee, then passed the pad to her for authorization.

She blinked. “Is this a mistake? You’re refunding most of the deposit.”

He took the datapad back, frowned at it, and flicked the display with his thumb. “So it seems.” Then he winked again and handed the pad back. “Oh well, what’s a dockmaster to do?”

Conscious of the fact he was deliberately undercharging her, she asked, “Why are you doing this?”

He shrugged. “It’s not easy getting started out here in space, and I figure anyone who has the guts to fly a scrapheap like the one you pulled in with deserves a bit of a break.”

She looked down at the pad and slowly placed her thumb on it, then handed it back. “Thank you. Suprab nahi.

Turning, she left the docking bay. It was nearly midnight. A wave of dizziness swept over her.

A hot shower, then bed. It’s too late and I’m in no condition to apply at the academy now.

The automated directory was happy to point her toward the nearest office where she could rent a room for the night. On the way, she passed the dimly-lit doors to the academy, proudly bearing the insignia of the Federal Navy and the Federation.

Here. This is where I will begin anew. And someday…the Serpentis will feel my wrath.