Monday, November 9, 2015

Indecision

Region: Etherium Reach   
Location: Stratios-class cruiser ‘Raza
Date: 23.10.117
Time: 02:14

The camera drones rotated, fixating on the vast red and orange nebula of the Kalevala Expanse.  The enormous clouds of interstellar dust and ionized gases had been twisted, by so many unseen forces, into a breathtaking display, hanging like a painting in the sky.  Despite seeing it almost every day now, Sahriah still found it mesmerizing.  It said something to her, that even the most chaotic of things could form one of the most brilliant and awe inspiring scenes known to humanity, and she wondered how many an artist had looked into those stars and tried to recreate its beauty, only to have failed at every attempt.


Sahriah’s mind wandered as she performed another routine system scan.  She was vaguely aware of the others on her ship, scurrying around performing diagnostics or maintenance that was barely worthy of her attention.  Despite the periodic reports from her crew, it was largely easy to forget that she wasn’t alone out here.  In fact it was much easier to pretend she was.  She had been in Triumvirate for almost two months now, running various recon and combat operations, once again under the command of Garst Tyrell, a ruthlessly efficient Amarrian she had met during her time in the Amarr militia.  The move to null-security space had been jarring.  Even though she had joined an alliance five times the size of her previous one, Sahriah had gone from managing hundreds of pilots and clients a day, to barely needing to speak to a few dozen.  Ironically, even amidst the war raging in this region, life was simpler and more peaceful here than it had ever been in high-sec.

Most of her acquaintances happened to reside under Garst’s command now too, a reality that she disliked, but could do little about.  She had always done her best to keep business separate from personal life, which helped when one forwent any normal semblance of a personal life to begin with, but it was becoming apparent that the universe disagreed with this course of action, and was attempting to correct it for her.  As always, she did her best to thwart its plans and rarely left the confines of her quarters while docked in station, but she sensed conflict was likely inevitable.  Nevertheless, if anyone noticed that she had joined TRI, they weren’t saying anything, and at least that made it easier for now.

Her executive officer managed to break her reverie as his voice flooded into her head via the ships communication link.

“Captain, we’ve received new orders. Tyrell wants several constellations of moons in the Insmother region scouted.”

Sahriah smiled inside her pod.  It hadn’t taken very long to clear out the first five constellations of Red Alliance moons and even though it was a tedious job, the progress it represented lifted her spirits.  “Very well Tyler, I’ll see to it, thank you.”

There was a brief silence while the comm link remained open.

“Was there something else?”

His voice seemed unusually hesitant.  “Captain, I know you asked not to be reminded, but the Minmatar has been in the isolation cell for over a month now…”

 “I am aware.” Sahriah felt her mood instantly sour.

“Have you decided on a course of action?” he continued.

What the hell are we still doing with him is what he really meant.  Tyler was a very competent XO and someone whom Sahriah had personally hand-picked for his attention to detail.  While he understood that he would not always privy to all her plans, he had also noted that keeping a prisoner in complete isolation for over a month, with strict no-contact orders, was abnormal, especially for Sahriah who was generally decisive in her actions.  It was obvious he was becoming concerned with the situation and the pause before her reply did not help to instill confidence.

“Have him brought to my quarters at 02:00.”

“Your quarter’s captain?”

“I don’t normally need to ask twice with you Tyler.”

“02:00, yes sir.” She sighed as she felt the comm link go dead, realizing her muscles had tightened, and consciously forcing herself to relax.

The Sebiestor Ludik had been a constant affliction on her mind from the moment she had ‘liberated’ him from his holding cell at Cerra manor and relocated him into the holding cell of her ship.  His disappearance from Shalee’s property had gone relatively unnoticed despite Sahriah’s certainty that Lord Sakakibara suspected her involvement.  Luckily the assassination of Empress Jamyl, and the recent Blood Raider incursions into the warzone had the Amarr fairly preoccupied.  That or Reginald may have just assumed Sahriah had him dealt with him her way by now.

In truth she was struggling with the fact that she hadn’t just executed him already.  It wasn’t necessarily because he had killed a lot of people; she was guilty of that crime every day she undocked.  Rather it was how he had done it.  They were not quick deaths, and she still retained vivid images of children, slaughtered and carved up, left to starve, rot or worse inside of their own homes. She had seen death and gore before, but out of all the memories, these were the ones that returned to her while she slept.  He surely deserved something much more painful than a quick death, but at the very least, death was what she should have given him without a second thought.

What bothered her more, wasn’t the memories, it was the question of what should be done with him.  An internal dilemma had plagued her with inaction.  Despite his crimes, Sahriah couldn’t help but recognize the man’s talent, not just for violence, but for manipulation.  Her need for justice, or more accurately vengeance, was being overshadowed by the fact that she realized his potential.  Ludik’s talent was one she could utilize, but at what cost?  Slaughtering children used to be an unforgivable transgression in her eyes and the fact that she was even considering not killing him both angered and disgusted her.

Sahriah frowned as she willed her ship to life again, aligning it towards the next stargate and accelerating the Stratios to warp speed as she refocused her camera drones back towards the nebula in hopes of a distraction from her thoughts.

The Kalevala Expanse was home to The Ginnungagap, a black hole that was rumored to be the closest of its kind to civilized space.  She searched its center for some sign of the anomaly, as the drones magnified the images, but all she saw was the clouds of dust being slowly sucked into its center.  As she watched this snapshot of the past, she realized that it suddenly appeared differently to her.  It was no longer a declaration of the beauty or complexity of the universe, but rather a desperate thing, slowly being sucked into an invisible vacuum from which there was no escape.  The inevitable fate of this beautiful phenomenon sparked a certain familiarity within her and the notion of it chilled her to the bone.

Her clone recoiled in the amber liquid of the capsule as the Raza landed on the Q7-FZ8 stargate, forcing herself to refocus.  She had a job to perform, and the questioning of morals would have to come at another time.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

[OOC] Amarr Championship House Wallpapers

Time for a rare OOC post. I have been working on a little art project the last week and while I originally set out to make just one of these for Tash-Murkon, I figured I should make an entire set instead. I am not really a 2D artist but I wanted to share it with the community anyway.

You can also view the full-rez versions here. They are 1980x1020.

I'd like to thank Samira Kernher and Aldrith Shutaq for assistance with the house wording and I hope you like them.



















Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Identity

Region: The Bleak Lands   
Location: Huola – Planet VII – Cerra Manor
Date: 06.09.117
Time: 04:00 Local time


The manor house could have been described as a shining example of Amarrian nobility.  Its dark wooden floors flowed into expansive living spaces, furnished with stairs which twisted upwards in perfect spirals to the rooms above.  Stunning hand crafted carvings, etched with both precision and love, sat atop every table and mantle and paintings welcomed guests at every corner, the faces of Lords and Holders organic and vibrant.

It could have been described as the symbol of wealth and power that every Holder should enjoy, if it wasn’t for the dried blood that had stained those polished oak floors a deep carmine, if the carvings were not made of sculpted flesh and bone, or if the faces of the Lords did not protrude outward from the paintings in a grotesque display of artistry once only attributed to the Blood Raiders.

The putrid air made her gag as she stood frozen in the doorway, trying to comprehend the macabre scene.  A girl no more than ten years old sat chained to the ground in front of her, malnourished, filthy, and barely alive. Her lips opened, producing a broken voice so scarred that it was barely able to form the whisper for help.  The once beautiful canopied bed beside her was now littered with the deformed corpses of her parents, laying beheaded on the sheets, while another body, its face unidentifiable, hung from the ceiling in tattered satin.

The girl stared at her with terrified eyes, seemingly in unison with the lifeless gaze of her four year old sister that had been left slumped beside her, the red gash across her noble neck crusted with dried blood.  Streaks of dirt ran down her face, displaced by a constant sobbing that paused only for brief moments of sleep as she had faded in and out of consciousness.  All Sahriah wanted to do was to reach out and cradle the girl, to whisper that she was safe now and promise her an end from this trauma, but she couldn’t move.

Despite her best efforts her body seemed frozen in place, bound by a fear that permeated her so fully, she had lost the ability to press forward.  The distinct laughs of Minmatar echoed through the room in an eerie chorus, seeping through the walls to taunt and mock her as the girl began to cry again, looking down at her arms as rounded bumps began to move under the surface of her skin.  The cries soon turned to screams as Sahriah watched helplessly, a thousand tiny fangs piercing through her flesh as the voices faded away, drowned out by the deafening hiss of Shiksi as they ate the child alive.


***


Sahriah’s eyes flashed open as she jolted upright in bed, gasping for breath and covered in a cold sweat.  The cottage was dark and silent, save for the hushed sighs of her slaver hound, Ja’tek, sleeping on the floor beside her, but her eyes scanned the room several times anyway until she was satisfied she was alone.

She pulled her legs up to her chest and rested her chin on them, reminding herself that the girl, Tara, was safely asleep on the other side of the Cerra manor, under the care of Lord Reginald and that the Minmatar rebels were dead…well most of them.  There was still one that remained, one that lay bound in the medical facilities only a few hundred feet from where she sat, and she couldn't get his voice out of her head.


"Sleep well?"  The Sebiestor taunted, running a blade over her skin. The room smelt stale.  A rancid underground chamber with a single light illuminating her and the myriad of gleaming tools set neatly on the tables beside her.
         “Why are you bothering?  You know how this ends."
"Oh, I just want to make sure you know we're serious about what we believe in.”  He knelt down next to her, inspecting the cybernetic arm, its components torn open to reveal the advanced wiring beneath. “Let's see just how much you can feel."


Sahriah looked down at her arms as she moved from the bed and began to dress, trying to push the memories away. She could still feel the burning of the electrical current that had scorched her veins despite being in a completely different clone.  She grimaced, wondering if the sensation was just some kind of twisted phantom pain or if Dionee was right, and there was something seriously wrong with her brain.

Knowing there was no more sleep to be had that night, she nudged the Ja'tek awake and moved over to the table, taking several items from it before opening the cottage door and stepping into the night.


"Was that so bad?" 
The Sebiestor traced his fingers across the insulated wiring that ran from her shoulder to the battery, and flicked the power off, allowing her body a brief moment of reprieve from the current.  Without waiting for a reply, he moved over towards the table, picking up a long silver instrument. 
"Now, where should we continue?"

It had been days, or so she guessed.  There was no natural light to judge the time by.  She had stopped replying to his questions now; merely looking at him as her body involuntarily recoiled at every touch of the cold steel.  She had not expected him to be so meticulous and thorough, taking great care to not nick a vein or cause infection as he worked.  He was a man that clearly had experience with Capsuleers, a man that knew the body was only a conduit to the real prize. 

The blade sliced open her upper arm and he laughed softly in her ear as she flinched, his head lowering over her shoulder as he whispered in her ear.
"You're going to know what it means to be a slave, little flower."


Crisp night air penetrated her cloak, attempting to take credit for the chill that ran up her spine as she tried to push more memories away. Small patches of light lit the cobblestone path, emanating from the beautifully engraved gas lamps that could found throughout the Cerra estate.  The walk felt longer than usual and the dark silhouettes of trees stretched over the path like tendrils, as if some invisible force was trying to reach out to her.  She hesitated, moving her hand down to stoke Ja’tek’s head, as if the action would stir a fresh confidence, before taking a breath and continuing towards the building ahead.


"We have quite the surprise for you, Miss Bloodstone." 
She couldn’t see the bucket, but she could hear the sounds emerging from it.

"Are you familiar with this species?”  He wrapped his fingers around a pair of tongs and lifted a wriggling form up in front of her.  
“Shiksi, they're called. Fascinating creatures.  The Ardishapurs and the Sarums loathe them, but Zon Mada keeps them as pets.  This one is a pregnant female." 
He chuckled, slowly lowering it onto her arm where the skin had been flayed to reveal raw muscle.  It bit immediately, scampering over her arm as the stinging venom quickly dispersed through her bloodstream, allowing the paralytic agent to take effect before slowing down, its movements becoming lethargic.  Using its strong forelegs it began to deepen a gap between her muscles, burrowing directly into her arm and lowering its abdomen.


Sahriah ran her fingers over the blaster pistol beneath her cloak as she entered the Med-bay, her eyes scanning the multitude of rooms branching out from the main lobby.  It was empty, just as she had hoped at this hour.

It didn’t take her long to identify the holding cell where she knew he was, the two-way mirror revealing him sitting cross-legged in the middle of the padded cell, arms bound by a white strait jacket.  She stood there in silence; watching him for longer then she would have cared to admit, contemplating options as her fingers traced the outline of the pistols trigger. 

Control was something she valued.  A barrier between emotion and reason, it provided her the perspective to determine her fate instead of letting it define her.  But as she stood watching him, struggling with this irrational barrage of emotion, she realized the control she thought she had obtained was still as distant as ever.

Anger, frustration and despair all consumed her as she fought to suppress them under a stony exterior.  For years she had tried to convince herself that the cure for these ailments was indifference, to distance herself from the things that could hurt her: Tiger, Jacob, her crew.  Things she could lose or things that could be taken from her would have no effect if she didn’t permit them the time.  But instead of strengthening herself against them, she knew all she had managed to do was lose them instead, the aftermath of poisoned relationships.

Sadness flooded her as she stared through the window, the reflection of her face overlaid with the Sebiestor as he sat facing the mirror, unaware of her presence.  This man, this baseliner who had tried to break her, was closer to his goal now, making her question herself from within the confines of his cell, than he had ever been in the damp underground tunnels of Huola.  For all the advanced technology and heightened intellect they possessed, a Capsuleer’s mind was still just as soft and malleable as any other.  There was no shutting off emotion, just different degrees of feeling it.

A more intense sensation began to tug at her as she watched him, and that ever-present smile plastered on his face.  She didn’t just want to reach out and tear pieces from him as he had done to her; she wanted to deconstruct him, to remove who he was from existence and replace it with something else.  If the ability to do so was a real measure of power, or a weakness, she couldn't tell.

The Sebiestor took a deep breath, breaking from his meditative state and reclining his back on the ground, his movement snapping her out her out of her thoughts.

She moved away from the window and into the main medical bay, scanning the equipment for something she could use. A robotic voice answered her presence immediately.

"Good evening, Miss Bloodstone. How may I be of assistance?"

She was momentarily startled, but regained her composure quickly.  "The Minmatar in the holding cell. What is his status?"

"In perfect condition."

Good. She thought to herself. He can be moved. She didn’t want to risk killing him now after all, that would be counter-productive.

"Has he been visited at all?"

"Negative.”

Sahriah frowned. He had been here for over a week now and they had not even bothered to interrogate him, probably due to the attacks on the manor. She paused, looking at the medical drone as a plan laid itself out in front of her.

"I require 10mg of Ketamine."

She looked at it, waiting for it to request a prescription or some form of authorization for the liquid sedative, but it simply turned around and fulfilled her request, pouring the dose into a vial with perfect dexterity and precision and returning to her promptly. She dismissed it, waiting for it to deactivate itself before moving to a shelf and pouring a quarter of the liquid into a syringe, placing it and the vial back into her cloak before walking back to the holding cell and unlocking the door.

Ludik glanced up, a little surprised, but produced a smile when he saw her face, watching her as she moved into the room.

"Ah. Having difficulty sleeping at night?"

"Not at all.” she lied.

He grinned.  “A private visit? I wasn't notified.”

She moved towards him producing a smile of her own. "Well I know you are a fan of surprises."

His attention shifted to Ja’tek, who was still following obediently at her side. "Hello there, boy!"

Sahriah knelt down, raising a hand to gently stroke Ja'tek's course fur. "Do you like him?  I raised him myself.  Properly trained protection hounds are becoming quite sought after.  Much more effective than the rabid untrained mutts the Amarr like to use.”

The Sebiestor seemed unfazed.  "Oh I agree, I can tell. He's well-treated by you.  Nothing like what Lord Searle used."

"The Amarr seem to lack a proper balance between efficiency and finesse in my opinion." her hand moved into her cloak as she stood again, circling around behind him.

"All armor and attempting to be inexorable" he agreed "No artistry."

She crouched down behind him, her face over his. "Art is all down to interpretation, don't you think?"

His eyes remained trained on her, watching her intently. "In the eye of the beholder, certainly."

"Good. I'm glad you agree."

Pulling out the syringe from beneath her cloak in one swift movement, she injected the sedative into his neck, his attempts to move away coming too late.

"Poison? Or just a sedative? Do what you want... but.... I...." his eyes closed, the large doze she had given him taking immediate effect.

She observed him for a few moments, still smiling, and placed the syringe back in her cloak. She hadn’t expected this to be quite so easy, but it was clear the recent attacks on the manor had occupied everyone’s attention for the time being.  She stood and moved towards the door, leaving briefly to acquire a medical gurney and tarp to disguise him as one of the many causalities still on the property, and then deactivated the security drones to delay alerts until long after she was gone.


"No poison for you dear." She looked down at his form as she exited; patting his covered head. “We’re going to be good friends soon.”


Monday, August 31, 2015

Spies

Region: The Bleak Lands   
Location: Huola – Planet VII – Cerra Manor
Date: 06.08.117
Time: 17:30 Local time

The sound of heels clicking on pavement preceded a tall Achur woman as she made her way in from the shuttle pad, dressed in business attire and sporting platinum blonde hair shortly cropped to frame her face. She possessed an air of confidence about her, mirroring the demeanor that could be found amongst the highest corporate executives, complete with the same polite fake smile.

She paused as she stepped onto the terrace, her vibrant green eyes scanning purposefully as she noticed two men standing at the bar.  She looked them up and down, noting that one appeared to be a Templar, but her attention was quickly diverted as she located a Caldari women sitting on one of the sofas on the far side by the balcony.

"An interesting place for a meeting, although I can see why you've taken up residence here.”  She smiled, approaching Sahriah and winking towards one of the male servants.

The Caldari looked up from the neocom she was reading before standing and straightening her uniform.  Her lips melted into a soft smile, one of pure politeness, as she studied the Achura.

“Indeed, this is a beautiful residence.” Sahriah tucked her neocom back into her jacket before placing her hands behind her back neatly.  “I apologize for not contacting you sooner Ms. Rel.  My duties here have been occupying most of my time."  She gestured towards one of the sofas. “Please sit. Would you care for something to drink?”

"Commodore Rei ask me to relay the following.  "The Achur straightened slightly and developed a mock military air and a Khanid accent.  "I was there approximately 215 km off your bow, I find it interesting that you were able to able to monitor the situation while engaged in combat with contracts.  Though I suppose it’s why I hired you."  The women smiled, taking a seat, her eyes flashing with purpose.  "Accurate enough?"

Sahriah’s smile widened at the impression and she waved a servant over before taking her own seat again, neatly crossing her legs.  Despite the casual remark, Sahriah had come to understand that everything coming from Dionee’s lips was laced with hidden meaning.  In fact, she couldn’t seem to recall a friendly conversation that hadn’t been some sort of test or message, something that greatly added to the distrust she felt for the women.

The two looked at each other for a few moments, each with a polite smile, before Dionee turned to the waiting servant.  "Well then Achuran Saki. Chilled.  We might as well start this off right" she crossed her legs as well, mirroring Sahriah’s demeanor and leaned into the corner of the sofa while the servant scurried away.

"Fantastic" Sahriah’s response was almost sarcastic. "Any other comments from Ms. Rei I should be aware of before we start?"

"None that are suitable for the public."

Sahriah shifted her gaze to Thal Vadam and Predator Elite who were still seated at the bar as the servant delivered their drinks  "Would you prefer to discuss the situation in private?"

"No, there is an advantage to public discourse."  Dionee poured half a cup of Saki and lifted it to her lips, closing her eyes for a moment and drinking it in a single gulp.  "I am curious however...why you are guarding the child of a Holder who as far as I can tell no longer has a holding?"

As she had suspected, a clear message that they had been watching her.  Sahriah wondered if the order to spy on her personal affairs had come from Azaziel Rei herself, or if this was just a result of the mirrored distrust that Dionee and her felt for each other.  Regardless, it was unsurprising but irritating nonetheless.

"Niece actually.” Sahriah corrected “Rebecca is Lord Reginald’s niece."

She lifted her glass, taking a sip before placing it back down squarely on the table and returning her hands to her lap.  "Because I was contracted to Ms. Rel.  You do remember my profession don’t you?”  She kept her tone causal but inflected enough to relay her discontent at the woman’s prying.

"I see, apologies.  My access is a bit more limited than it used to be, but thank you for pointing out the error in my assessment."  She winked and took another shot of Saki.  "I still find it an interesting contract for a woman that specializes in ship to ship combat."

Sahriah held her gaze, receiving the message that she wouldn’t be dissuaded easily.  In truth, the contract to protect Lord Reginald’s niece had presented her with the perfect excuse to remain on the planet and conduct her own personal agenda.  Once the residents at the manner had learned of her Sani Sabik affiliations, it had made prying for information much more difficult, and what better way to repair that distrust than by working for a Holder, or at least he would have still been a Holder if not for his incompetence.  Thankfully the process to repair the damage was well underway, but the last thing she needed was for Dionee or Azaziel to come along and interfere with her personal affairs as she knew they could.

Her eyes flashed a warning as she responded this time.  "Well branching out just increases payment opportunities doesn't it?"  She turns and gestures to one of the men at the bar.  "I am working alongside Templar Vadam.  You'll find he's quite an exceptional ground to ground combat specialist.  He’s even been kind enough to give me some training.”

The Achur narrowed her gaze at Sahriah slightly, understanding the veiled threat for what it is. "Fascinating.  Well, it certainly is good to have additional sources of income.  Diversity in portfolio and all that." She laughed but the laughter didn’t completely touch her eyes. "It's like they used to say back in Achuran business school."  She lowered her voice to a gravely lectury tone.  "Propel dynamics learned in YC98 during the market crash of that year that a lack of diverse securities blah blah blah."

She mimicked Dionee's un-genuine laugh, leaning back into the sofa, her hands still firmly in the middle of her lap.  "Shall we discuss business now or would you like to hear more fascinating tales of my life?"

Dionee closed her eyes and tilted her head back.  "Funny how fleeting these moments are, how tenuous this life is.  A small breeze.  The smell of an ocean.”  She opened her eyes and looked sidelong at Sahriah.  “The touch of a long lost lover.  The cry of a child.  So easy to forget how they become ghosts to our kind."  She paused for a moment before straightening, content in the reminder. "Well I suppose I am here on business."

The conversation progressed in the same guarded tones as it had started with the topic changing to Empress Jamyl and the recent appearances of the Drifters.  They had kept her under contract for some five years now, using her as their eyes in known space as they worked secretly in the depths of Anoikis.  Periodically Azaziel would send her little minion to collect information or provide her with a task, always preferring to meet in person rather than utilize FTL communications. Capsuleers were some of the most distrustful and paranoid creatures in the universe, and with good reason.

"You should visit Ascension sometime Sahriah.  It's the colony we've created on J143959 III.  We've been researching some, interesting, things there.”

The thought of going into wormhole space was distasteful but she nodded anyway.  "I should like to, perhaps when I am able to spare a day or two.”  She finished the rest of her drink, placing the empty glass on the table.

"It's an amazing place really.  The coral forests are incredible ..." Dionee stood up and smoothed her skirt winking coyly at a passing servant.  "I have to admit this place is quite impressive."

Sahriah stood politely with her, preventing an eye roll. "Yes, it’s been very…refreshing…to be planet side again.  You know how much time I normally spend cooped up in a station.”  She began to move with her towards the exit.  “If you will forward me the details, I will ensure I make the time to visit."

Dionee smiled at her knowingly before providing an unexpected hug, whispering something in her ear before pulling back.  "Well I must be going.  You know how the Commodore just has to have her reports on time."  She smiles.  “Maybe I'll see you again…here”  She turned and began walking back down the path towards the shuttle without waiting for a reply.

Sahriah lingered on the spot for a few minutes, an uneasy feeling permeating her thoughts, before turning and moving back over towards the balcony, leaning against it as she watched Thal and Predator depart as well.  The sun was beginning to sink beneath the horizon, the last threads of light painting the sky in brilliant streaks of orange and purple.  Several sea birds floated towards the shore on the cool ocean breeze, their cries muffled by the waves crashing on the shoreline below.

She stood overlooking the beach from the balcony that rested on the cliff above, raising a single finger to brush away the rogue strands of hair that whipped across her face.  The servants made no sound as they went about their duties in the background and she took a moment to enjoy the serenity that the planet could offer, but eventually that too was interrupted as her neocom pinged with incoming audio communication.

She took it out of her jacket, smiling as she recognized the source.

“Is your position secure?”  She inquired, skipping all formalities.

The voice of a young Minmatar girl replied in a nervous tone “Yes”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, he doesn’t suspect anything.”

 “Good.  I expect you to keep me updated.  Do anything he wishes and don’t question him.   Do you understand?”

“I do.”

“Contact me again when you have something useful.”


The feed was terminated and Sahriah closed her eyes as a fresh gust of wind rolled onto the terrace, letting it gently caress her face.  I suppose I can’t blame you she mused as her thoughts refocused on Dionee.  I guess we all have our spies

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Release

Region: The Citadel
Location: Ikao VII – Moon 8 – Spacelane Patrol Logistic Support
Date: 25.06.117
Time: 18:07

Sahriah stepped off the docking ramp, dressed in a red and black uniform and that been freshly embroidered with the Forsaken Asylum alliance logo. The concourse was teeming with other Capsuleers and their crews, unloading a myriad of cargo containers, weapons and civilians onto the decks of the docking bay. She paused, momentarily admiring the vastness of the hanger deck and her new Barghest-class battleship which floated silently behind her. Held in place by the powerful graviton emitters of the station, its hull shimmered majestically, mirroring the gun-blue metal of the Caldari architecture surrounding it. Right at home she mused.

Pushing her way through the overcrowded hanger, Sahriah crossed the security threshold that separated the quieter Capsuleer amenities from the general baseliner population. On a normal day, she would have preferred to unwind in one of the many luxury lounges the station afforded her kind, but today she had another form of relaxation in mind.

As with many stations, the entertainment sector of this one was, unfortunately, mixed. Despite the high concentration of Capsuleers that lived here and the fact that most of the station populace had grown accustomed to this, there were still many that were complacent enough in the presence of station security, to throw a menacing glare in their direction, should they notice an implant socket or the baby-smooth skin of a fresh clone. Ignoring the offshoot glances from a gang of Minmatar teens, Sahriah passed by the many boutiques, shops and adult ‘establishments’ until she reached her destination in the heart of the district.

Strobe lights flashed in a prismatic array of colours, greeting her as she entered. Aurora was one of the stations most popular nightclubs and attracted a large array of customers from most of the ethnicities in New Eden. Named for the dazzling holographic lightshow that graced its walls every evening at midnight, Aurora featured a number of facilities in addition to its dance floor including the traditional Caldari gambling services and game rooms. Watched over by four large Civire bouncers, it was a place that rarely experienced trouble-makers.

Dodging elbows and a few stray hands, Sahriah moved towards a large room situated in the back of the venue. The room sported several large displays positioned in a ring around a center console, which in turn, was flanked by two glass booths, both containing an array of monitoring equipment and a single chair.

The rhythmic beat vibrated through her body as she stepped up to the console and placed her hand on the recognition pad. The screen flashed green, displaying her information and accepting her entry.

// Mind Clash Competitor//
//Competitor: Sahriah bloodstone
//Race: Caldari
//Gender: Female
//Age: 26
//Status: Capsuleer
//Rank: Amateur – Class 3


An assistant appeared, ushering her into the empty booth and starting a pre-game scan of her vitals before securing restraints over her arms and legs as she waited for a competitor. These precautions were mandatory, especially for amateur players. Although purely a psychological game, Mind Clash was considered a dangerous sport, a trait that had pushed it from Caldari bars, into the international spotlight.
Evolving from the computer game ‘Clash of Wits’, Mind Clash allowed two players, connected via a neural link, to project a variety of mental attacks against each other, which could range anywhere from projecting unsettling imagery, to causing nausea and stimulating pain receptors in an effort to force the opponent into submission. Due to this, the game had the potential to cause both physical and psychological damage and was heavily regulated to minimize accidental injury or death. Professional Mind Clash players were restricted from battling amateurs and were required to go through extensive screening, often amassing large psychiatric bills to help cope with the stress the game induced. Even these facts however, were not enough to stop the incalculable number of illegal Clash games held outside the borders of empire space.
A shiver ran down her spine as a thin cable was inserted into the implant socket at the back of her neck. A myriad of sensory information flowed over her like a warm wave and she closed her eyes, allowing it to engulf her body as the noise of the nightclub was drowned out, overridden by pulses of data and light. It had been far too long since she had allowed herself to be distracted with recreational activities, but after the events of the past few months, it was no longer a temptation she could resist.
The viewers flickered as the virtual representation of the battleground manifested on the screens above, showing an arena of dirt extending into an expanse of black nothingness, and indicating that a challenger had been found.
A familiar rush of adrenaline coursed into her system and she smiled, allowing herself to become fully immersed in the experience. It felt good, an intense and irreplaceable high that could only come from having a million neural receptors stimulated at once. While it was an experience reminiscent of the connection she felt with her ship, it was drastically enhanced by the presence of another mind. She could feel him there, flittering at the edge of reality while they waited for the game to begin. Her opponent was another Caldari and another Capsuleer.
A piercing metallic hiss resonated through the room as a figure materialized on the screen, slinking out of the mist forward onto the battlefield. While the technological advances of the Empires allowed for the interpretation and projection of the battle from the sensory input of the players, it was not clear how exactly it derived the avatars that appeared on-screen. What was clear however was that it did an exceptional job of keeping audiences entertained with an array of visual effects befitting of the latest holo-reels straight out of the Federation.
The signal was given to begin and Sahriah reached out with her mind, probing for her opponent, the creature being willed forward in unison with her thoughts. Now fully illuminated on the battleground, it resembled a large black feline, but with a slightly more serpentine appearance. Its melanistic leathery skin contrasted against cinder eyes and a long distensible jaw snapped forward viciously in provocation, mimicking her eagerness.  She could feel him through the connection like an electric current, a spark she intended to snuff out, and her hands curled around the ends of the chair’s armrests as their minds connected.
The panther’s eyes locked onto its opponent, a large white cobra, coiled defensively near the middle of the battleground, head reared but still, in intense concentration.
He’s waiting for me…. Preemptive aggression had proven to be her downfall more than once. She took a deep breath, relaxing her muscles and opening her mind, enticing him to make the first move, a novice baiting attempt to see how skilled her opponent was.
The cobra darted forward and circled her looking for an opportunity to strike. He was fast and she had trouble tracking him, the illusions dancing as she followed his presence, preparing to block whichever attack he chose to use. Instead she felt a fading sensation as his avatar disappeared into the black mist that encircled the arena.
So your one of those. Sahriah gritted her teeth in frustration. The intense concentration the game demanded was able to quickly burn out competitors in a matter of minutes and there were some that liked to use this burn out to overwhelm their opponents. Mind-kiting was a tactic she despised.
“Get out here and fight me” she internalized bitterly.
“As you wish.”
In a blinding flash, the snake reappeared, lunging forward out of the darkness with horrifying grace and striking her illusion in the side, burying two long fangs into the panther’s belly. She reeled, doubling over, momentarily disoriented as a spike of pain surged through her head and down through her stomach. She could feel his smug smile through the link, as he attempted to expend her focus. It wasn’t often that a first attack was so aggressive.
A sadistic smile appeared on her lips. “Better.”
The panther let out another hiss as its image melted into a thousand grains of black sand that were thrust upward by an imaginary wind and then down again with staggering force. The mist enclosed on the serpent, forcing its way into its throat, blocking the airways and inducing a feeling of suffocation. Euphoria flooded her mind as she felt him falter as he endured the horrible sensation. It was a momentary joy that dissipated quickly when she missed the signs of his counter.
Her vision blurred and senses became muffled as his avatar lashed out, shattering the mist of sand. The arena evaporated into a vacuum of space, suddenly replacing exhilaration with an intense feeling of dread. She shrunk back into her seat as glints of metal swarmed at the edge of her vision, fading in and out as she tried to turn her head towards them. It took several precious seconds to beat him back, forcing down the feeling of lifelessness that threatened to encompass her thoughts.
In a sudden clarity of purpose, her base instincts took over. The panther’s eyes locked on to the snake as it retreated into a defensive position. It was a gaze of murderous intent, calculating not how it might attack unharmed, but on what blow might cause the most suffering.
Her illusion leapt forward, opening itself to a counter attack, but she didn’t care, she wanted him close and he was happy to oblige. A gash of pain flashed down her left arm like lightning as the Serpent stuck out, at the same panthers jaws clamped down on its fragile neck. Both held their grip, abandoning all defense and trying to force the other to submit. Tense seconds passed before she felt herself give way to the intense pain, her vision fading into a white blur.

***
Indiscernible patterns and shapes lit the edges of her vision and unintelligible voices whispered at the edge of oblivion. Panicking, she involuntarily attempted to rip the neural connection from her neck, her hands only grasping air as she sat up straight and then collapsed again, another wave of dizziness overcoming her.
“What the fuck.” Confusion quickly turned to rage as she recognized the pristine white walls surrounding her meant that she was no longer in Aurora.
“Well good morning.” She noticed the man standing two feet to her right. “Have a good nap?”
“Why the hell am I here?” she demanded, managing to sit up slowly this time.
“Big Caldari guy brought you in; apparently you had a little too much fun playing computer games.” He walked over to her and shone a light into each of her eyes “How are you feeling?”
She swung her legs over the side of the bed she brushed his attempts to examine her aside “I’m fine. What did he look like?”
“Huh?”
“The Caldari, what did he look like?”
“I don’t know. Tall, dark hair, your average Deteis I suppose.” He sighed. “You look fine, but I’d suggest not engaging in that wreckless activity, it doesn’t do you any good.”
His recommendation seemed half-hearted, a likely result of it being frequently disregarded. She stuck to the stubborn Capsuleer stereotype and ignored it, sitting in silence for a few moments before standing and heading towards the door. “Thanks.”
“Oh one last thing.” The doctor pulled out a small card from his shirt pocket and offered it to her. “He left you this.”
Taking the card, she looked down, hoping to find the name of her mysterious opponent, but all it contained was one letter… and a score, hand printed in a beautiful cursive front.
 S.  1/0