Thanks to Morwen Lagann for assisting with the battle.

Intaki System – Intaki VI – Asteroid Belt 1

The Serpentis squad leader’s hull disintegrated into a ball of fire just as another group of ships warped into view.

Sakaane toggled her ship’s internal comm. “We’re earning our keep today. Prepare to engage new hostiles.”

Vakkas ki Shaanti turned in a graceful arc and sped its way across the belt while the newcomers closed the distance. Warnings sounded as each Serpentis vessel targeted her ship. Locking them up, Sakaane counted: one each of a Chief Guard, Chief Infantry, and Chief Safeguard, while behind them lumbered a Port Admiral.

No doubt dispatched to investigate my handiwork, she thought with a smirk. After yet another day spent dealing with Layla in council, Sakaane had returned home to find Bataav absent, out of system on diplomatic matters. The corp offices were quiet and the system, as was occasionally wont to happen, deserted of other capsuleers. Sakaane had thus taken the opportunity to patrol the belts to blow off steam. A long line of wrecks scattered across the system plus the numerous bounty payouts in her wallet had served to bring a more satisfying end to an otherwise bothersome day.

None of the Serpentis captains tried to demand her surrender, perhaps knowing the effort would be wasted; they simply opened fire and she replied in kind, quickly burning through the Infantry. Her turrets moved on to the next support vessel while her ship continued on course to the battleship.

“Gotcha,” she muttered as soon as the Port Admiral came in range. Webbed and scrammed, the leader of the pack could not escape.

The Prophecy’s onboard scanner pinged softly with a new result.

Sakaane waited until the Chief Guard had exploded, then turned her attention to the report: somewhere in the vicinity, but off the local grid, lurked a ship named Basilisk.

She set her turrets on the Chief Safeguard, then went back to the scanner. Local comms still showed the system as empty. The scan ran again, and again came the result: Basilisk.

It was a Vindicator.

One more Serp battleship to help line the coffers. The Port Admiral she orbited was not a bad catch, but Serpentis captains in Vindicators often carried much nicer prices on their heads.

The Safeguard went down, leaving the Port Admiral alone. The comm finally crackled to life as her laser turrets tore through its shields.

“I’m a Serpentis officer! An Admiral! You won’t get away with this!”

“Won’t I?” Sakaane answered, then closed the channel. The admiral’s ship had tank and was doing its best to add to the damage the support vessels had wrought on her Prophecy. Nevertheless, slowly but surely, she was wearing him down. Her crew began whooping with success over the internal comm as sensors showed the admiral’s ship edging closer and closer to destruction.

A shadow passed between the sun and Sakaane’s camera drones. She twisted them to look: the Basilisk had warped into the belt accompanied by a single Protector. In the span of a breath the new arrivals had her targeted.

The Port Admiral’s ship exploded.

She ordered her Prophecy to burn away from the wreck. The Vindicator rapidly closed in.

Basilisk closes in.

Basilisk closes in.

WARNING: WARP DRIVE DISABLED.

WARNING: PROPULSION SYSTEMS COMPROMISED.

As her ship ground to a halt, the battleship took up orbit at her optimal. The comm opened. “Go on, shoot me,” a rough voice said.

The nearby asteroids lit up as her turrets discharged. Tremors rocked Vakkas ki Shaanti as Basilisk replied with two rapid volleys of its own. Sakaane’s stomach sank somewhere near the vicinity of the bottom of her capsule as the hits registered and a swath of red spread over her readout. This wouldn’t be the battle she’d expected.

Of all the times for Local to be empty! Switching to an intel channel, she quickly dumped her location information and requested assistance.

“We’re too far away,” someone responded. “Against a Vindicator… You’ll be dead by the time we get there. Sorry.”

Warp.

WARNING: WARP DRIVE DISABLED.

Her turrets continued to pound into Basilisk, quickly stripping its shields away and nudging into armor.

The captain began to laugh, low and throaty. A golden glow rippled over the Serpentis hull. The small bit of armor damage disappeared. “Having fun, Sakaane?”

Basilisk fires on Vakkas ki Shaanti.

Basilisk fires on Vakkas ki Shaanti.

Familiar disgust churned in her at hearing her name spoken by that rough voice. “Who is this?”

“I’m hurt. We got to know each other so well last time. Can’t be bothered to remember the little people now that you’re some fancy president?”

Another volley from the battleship’s guns tore into her ship to punctuate the captain’s words. Then a name finally slid into the channel.

“You!” Sakaane spluttered. “You’re… You’re Serpentis scum!”

Darac Rin continued to laugh. “Come on, you mean you didn’t figure it out before? Spending too much time letting that idiot Bataav bang you, huh. Some spymaster he turned out to be!”

Warp.

WARNING: WARP DRIVE DISABLED.

Another volley. Darac continued his orbit, forcing the Prophecy to spin in place while its engines strained to escape the effects of the stasis webifier. Sakaane watched helplessly as sensors showed her armor dwindling from neutron blaster fire. The Protector spun around them both, its guns keeping her shields from regenerating.

She flipped to her internal comm. “All non-essential personnel: abandon ship. Now!”

“Aww, how sweet,” Darac crooned with an audible sneer a moment later. Intaki’s red sun glinted off escape pods ejecting from her ship. “Saving the precious crew. Daddy taught his little girl well, didn’t he?”

“Leave them be!”

The battle rages on.

The battle rages on.

“Don’t get excited, missy. I’m only interested in completing my collection.”

“What did my family ever do to you?” Sakaane demanded. “We lived a peaceful life on Intaki and never bothered anybody!”

Klaxons screamed as the last of her armor melted away. Darac was taking his time with his shots now, cycling his guns down to prolong her remaining seconds.

“This is fun. You really don’t know the truth about that traitorous bastard?”

Warp.

WARNING: WARP DRIVE DISABLED.

“He was a follower of Ida! A disciple—”

“Oh really? Didn’t you ever wonder where dear old dad got all the money to pay for the oh-so-grand Eionell estate? Did you ever see him lift a finger to work?” He paused, then sneered, “Did your pitiful mother ever do anything but lay on her back for him?”

“Don’t you dare.” Sakaane saw a different kind of red. “Just shut up. Shut the fuck up!”

He roared with laughter. “You never wanted for anything, did you? Private music school, your own studio, any instrument you wanted. The best of everything! Anything daddy’s little girl wanted.”

She tried to block out his voice and bring her rage under control. Vakkas ki Shaanti‘s structural integrity was failing fast. Fires erupted in the crew compartment.

“Everybody, get out!”

Warp.

WARNING: WARP DRIVE DISABLED.

More rounds of blaster fire thundered into the Prophecy. The hull threatened to breach.

“Abandon ship!”

The crew commander signaled up. “But captain!”

“Dammit, I said get out of here!”

Warp!

WARNING: WARP DRIVE DISABLED.

Darac let his guns fire freely as the second wave of escape pods left the dying ship. “Didn’t you ever wonder why it was so easy for you to become a pod pilot?”

WARP.

WARNING: WARP DRIVE DISABLED.

“I won’t believe anything you say.”

WARP! WARP GODDAMMIT!

WARNING: WARP DRIVE DISABLED.

His voice reverberated through her mind. “Nasiir Eionell was a capsuleer, you stupid bitch.”

She thrashed in her pod. A final round of Void charges leapt from the Vindicator’s neutron blasters, shredding the last of her ship’s hull.

The final blow.

The final blow.

The Prophecy exploded, sending her pod careening into space.

Warp! Warpwarpwarpwarpwarp—

She escaped. In less than a minute her capsule docked safely at the Astral Mining Inc. Refinery station above Intaki Prime. A few blue pilots appeared in local but Darac Rin blinked off all comms, vanishing into whatever deep space shroud kept the local Serpentis hidden on a daily basis.

The pod spat her out onto the catwalk; she heaved, and a mouthful of vomit later, was able to rise to her feet.

She left the captain’s quarters without changing out of her podsuit. Footprints traced by diminishing smears of containment fluid left a trail through the station as she headed home in a daze.

He was lying. He had to be.

The mantra played through her head with each step.

There’s just no other explanation. Darac Rin had to be lying.

“Bataav?” She closed the door behind her and sealed it. There was no answer; he still wasn’t home and all she wanted right now was to be in his arms.

The silence of their quarters amplified echoes of Darac’s voice as she thought about what he’d said.

“…where dear old dad got all the money…? Did you ever see him lift a finger…?”

Actually, she hadn’t. But, she reasoned, the concerns of adults were things not meant to trouble a child’s mind. Later, as she’d grown into a young woman, she’d been focused on developing her music into a career. Her family was healthy and happy. Why should she have wondered how her parents supported themselves?

“It wasn’t any of my business,” Sakaane said to the empty room. “There was a roof over my head, food on the table, and clothes on my back. What right would I have had to ask them where it all came from?” Still angry, she turned on her heel and paced back across the length of the room.

“…it was so easy for you to become a pod pilot…”

“Four years of training wasn’t easy. It wasn’t easy!” But her conviction faltered. How many people had burned out? How many had nearly ended up mindlocked? If she was honest with herself, she really hadn’t struggled with it all that much compared to others.

“Nasiir Eionell was a capsuleer, you stupid bitch.”

“No, it’s not true,” Sakaane muttered. “He’d say anything to upset me. My father was a disciple of Ida. A peaceful man!”

A holopic on a shelf caught her eye. It was a copy of one long kept in her mother’s bedroom on the surface: a photo of her father, with five-year-old Sakaane in his lap, fishing from a rock outcropping. She stopped pacing and stared at the photo.

The next voice she heard was her father’s.

“We have no business being in space, Sakaane. We have Intaki, and that should be more than enough.”

Talk of offworld matters had always been forbidden in Nasiir’s house. Always. His statement had seemed to her to be an admonishment, almost a reprimand. But what if it wasn’t?

“What if you were afraid?” Sakaane whispered.

“Nasiir Eionell was a capsuleer, you stupid bitch.”

One hand picked up the frame. She squinted to see the photo’s details. The image was old and slightly out of focus. But, after a moment, the other hand reached around to the back of her neck, probing to feel the position of her implants.

Everything I know about my family is a lie.

The picture hurtled through the air and shattered against the wall.