Cat & Mouse

Chronicles | YC119-06-13
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Esmes III – Low Orbit FEDCAF Border Supply Depot 16:55 NEST – 117/07/03 Federation Navy Convoy – Call Sign “Hawk 6”

“Esmes Three Tower, this is convoy Hawk Six heavy. Do you copy?

“Esmes Three Tower, this is convoy Hawk Six heavy. Do you read?”

Flight Lieutenant Risa Harelle allowed her mind to relax a little as the heavy Intaki accent of the convoy’s fleet commander echoed through her consciousness, transmitted directly through her neural interface from the communications array of her Comet class frigate. She panned her camera drone to take in the full scale of the border supply depot she would be calling home for the next twelve months. The 58 kilometer tall spire of carbonide armor loomed ahead of the fleet as a needle-like silhouette, contrasted against the lush green glow of Esmes III.

A single thought commanded the safety systems on the weapons of her Comet class frigate to engage, the indicator on the flight interface that was projected directly into her consciousness flicking from red to green beside a text readout of her call sign for this mission–“Kilo Two.” Her camera drone refocused on the colors of the Federation Navy projected across her vessel’s hull as the voice of fleet command sounded out again.

“No response from Esmes Three Tower. Hold bearing and continue approach pattern.”

The fleet of exactly a hundred vessels, every class represented from titan to frigate, glided forward silently as a squad commlink materialized on her flight interface. The familiar voice of her squad leader, Jonas Casille–known as “Kilo One” for this sortie–invaded her thoughts.

“So, I hear this crate has a hell of a pleasure hub. Drinks flowing and holoreels running all day and night. How about the twelve of us hit the deck plates once we’re dried out and debriefed?”

A chorus of enthusiastic agreements came from call signs Kilo Three through Twelve as Harelle began to form a mental list of pre-shutdown checks before subvocalizing her own agreement to the mix. Without warning, her thought process was swiftly interrupted by a squad of twelve Cyclops fighter bombers that cut across her flight path from her port side, the surprise burst of data from her neural interface akin to the discomfort of a microsecond of pain in her temples.

The Comet slowed instinctively, responding to her thoughts as the group of smaller craft triggered a cascade of proximity alarms. They narrowly missed an Algos class destroyer, before cutting beneath the armored hull of a Talos off her starboard flank. She was experienced enough not to allow her thoughts to be broadcast over the open commlink.

Stupid fucking stick jockeys.

She was impressed with the precision of the piloting, but still made a mental note of the last four digits of the lead fighter’s call sign as she watched the strike group vanish beneath the armored hull of the battle cruiser, repeating the numbers in her head.

Three, six, five, four.

Her mind refocused on her checklist, the large structure of the supply depot drawing closer before a second interruption tore through the silence inside her head. The voice came in time with a crescendo of pure white flashes that lit up the black void off her starboard bow, telltale signatures of a fleet slowing from hyperspace. Countless golden hulls slowed from warp as the fierce voice of Major Lara Rinache–her squadron’s wing commander–screamed through her skull. The exhaust trails behind the arriving vessels began to dissipate as her comms crackled with activity.

“Contact! Contact! Bearing 278! Imperial vessels. They’ve gone hostile. Tripwire breach! Weapons free. Repeat, weapons free!”

“Contact! Contact! Bearing 278! Engage at will!”

The aggressive voice was cut short as squad command took control seamlessly, the calm tone of Kilo One caressing her ears.

“Kilo Squadron five-niner, converge on Kilo One. Delta formation. Objective is defense of Nyx class FNS Foxton. Kill order confirmed, weapons free.”

Harelle’s safety indicator flicked back to red almost instantly, a sharp increase in her heart rate triggering a visual warning from her capsule’s neural interface life support system. It was dismissed with a single thought, and the next mental command brought the vessel’s microwarp drive system online, shunting power from her capacitor banks to her warp pulse capacitor.

The squadron of Comet class frigates converged into a tight formation as their velocities skyrocketed in unison, scything a white-hot trail of plasma vapor across the battlefield, power enhanced generators overcharged with additional energy.

Kilo One’s wing was a mere ten meters from the hull of Harelle’s vessel as an explosion tore through an Imperial battle cruiser five kilometers off their port side. The blast showered the squadron of Comets with tungsten carbide shrapnel as the Oracle broke up, smaller chunks of debris vaporizing against their shields, the larger sections creating a trail of burning metal left in their wake.

Harelle’s brain reactively instructed her to duck, her consciousness mentally recoiling from the blast but her physical form remaining inert within the protective shield of her capsule’s ovum. The Comet’s photon mainframe reacted instantaneously to cancel out her reaction, keeping the vessel on its projected course without interruption after checking her flight path was clear.

The convoy had descended into organized chaos around the squadron of Comets as Harelle’s camera drone focused on the Foxton. Its massive hull was lit with a conflagration of energy weapon impacts and the surging green glow of repair nanites as they drew closer. The oldest Nyx class still in service with the Federation Navy after the destruction of FNS Wandering Saint, the Foxton seemed to be holding her own against an onslaught of dual gigapulse fire from a trio of Revelation class dreadnoughts, their once golden hulls burning with an angry amber glow.

Harelle watched as a wave of fighter-bombers strafed their golden superstructures with another round of blaster fire and incendiary bombs, the glow of detonations against the Imperial vessels sending a surge of adrenaline through her consciousness.

A split second of confusion blocked her train of thought as she registered the markings of the Amarr Navy on the three burning hulls, but her mind was brought back to reality with a sharp jolt as electrostatic cynosural discharge dissipated behind the Foxton, an Avatar class titan shimmering into existence.

The group of Comets banked to port, the green glow of landing lights flashing past Harelle’s peripheral vision in a split second. She was close enough to the flight deck of the Foxton for her camera drone to see the tiny figures of fighter technicians swarming the birds that remained on deck.

The frigates climbed, dwarfed by the burning hulls of the attacking dreadnoughts as the voice of one of her wingmen–she didn’t care to ascertain which–broke comms discipline in frustration after realizing the identity of the aggressors.

“What the fuck is the Golden Fleet doing across the border? Why the—”

Kilo One swiftly silenced his complaint.

“Comms discipline! Stow it! Prepare to engage. Nine tangos. Three o’clock. Seventeen klicks. Break and engage. Weapons free!”

With that, Harelle peeled off from the formation, rolling the Comet over as she followed the contour of the Revelation’s golden spine. Her focus was absolute, her brain multitasking as she willed another burst of power from her warp pulse capacitor. The Comet’s exhausts burned white hot, the nimble vessel surging forward as a rush of ionized plasma streamed from its tail. Harelle could feel the Comet’s hull flex as if it were part of her own being under the stress of the maneuver, the sensation like that of stretching for a warm-up before her mandatory daily physical training.

Her mind interfaced with the frigate’s magnetometric sensory subsystems, acquiring target lock on the nearest of her designated targets–a Slicer class fast attack frigate already trailing a mess of conflagration from a previous engagement. The Gallente vessel’s onboard processing array worked seamlessly with her parietal lobe to calculate target velocity, relative transversal velocity, and trajectory.

“Kilo Two locked an engaging. Kilo Four, watch my six.”

“I got you. All clear.”

With target acquisition confirmed, her preprimed pair of 150 mm rail guns fired, a full volley of hybrid bolts vanishing into the trail of burning debris behind the target. The Imperial frigate banked hard to starboard in an attempt to avoid the next strike as chatter continued to flow among the squad.

“Kilo Five towing two Tangos, bearing one six three.”

“Kilo Nine, I got you. Bring ’em around and we’ll clean up.”

Harelle followed her target, her focus absolute, the lighter framed Comet banking at a tighter angle, lasers returning a volley of multifrequency pulse fire that stripped a sizable portion of the Gallente frigate’s shield charge away. Harelle weaved to avoid a second wave of laser fire from the faster cycling energy turrets, her mind turned out from the carnage unfolding around her as the Federal and Imperial navies clashed in the largest Amarr-Gallente engagement since Uriam Kador’s failed attempt to invade Ratillose.

The rear of the Slicer became her whole world, her entire mind tuned to the spiraling trail of debris, smoke, and plasma vapor ahead of her.

A second volley of railgun fire struck the rear of the Imperial frigate as the two vessels leveled out, the Slicer vanishing in a dazzling white flash that blazed against the blackness of space. A familiar voice cut into her senses as she willed her vessel to dive hard, narrowly undercutting the expanding conflagration of shrapnel and debris as her target was consumed by a superheated fireball.

“Kilo One to Kilo Two. Orders from wing command. An Imperial scout has broken away from the main task force. Last sighted in the rocks around Esmes Four. Kill mission. Break squad, seek and destroy.”

Harelle’s response was instant as she pulled her frigate into a hard roll, lining up with the celestial beacon for the only asteroid belt registered in the system. She felt her mind roll over with the Comet as they slid into alignment together.

“Roger that, squad broken. Kilo Two en route.”

Her vessel reached alignment with the beacon as she simultaneously canceled the power shunt to her microwarp drive, mentally commanding the vessel’s Roden built warp core into action with a single subconscious gesture.

A sudden flash of gold lit up her peripheral vision, reflecting against the damaged hulls of a squad of Megathron class battleships as they released a volley of lethal blaster fire. Harelle willed her camera drone into a fast arc in time to see a sphere of amber light begin to form in front of the Avatar. Space itself seemed to ripple in front of the gargantuan vessel’s superstructure, electrostatic arcs bouncing between its golden hull and the growing sphere.

She kept focus on the Imperial flagship, her last view that of a golden beam of light reaching for the convoy’s Erebus class flagship, before the Comet’s warp core catapulted her from the battlefield at two and a half thousand times the speed of light, the vessel phasing seamlessly into hyperspace with gut-wrenching acceleration.

Harelle immediately busied herself with weapons commands, her squad comms now silent as her flight interface registered successful magazine reloads. She checked capacitor charge status, ammunition reserves, and drone control readiness as the second moon of Esmes Three slipped past in the blink of an eye.

As the vessel began to slow, her camera drone was buffeted from the phase back to normal space, static crackling across her field of view for a split second as a dense field of asteroids and dust was suddenly pulled from the blackness toward her at incredible speed.

Bright trails of superheated ionized plasma stretched out from the frigate’s exhaust ports as the vessel’s power enhanced generators spooled up, slicing a greenish-blue glow across the asteroid belt as the frigate slowed. Within a couple of seconds the Comet’s sublight propulsion system took over, drawing energy from subspace and immediately pushing her toward maximum velocity.

Harelle let out a mental sigh as her field of vision was filled with the serene view of light from Esmes, the orange glow from the distant star scattered between thousands of rocks that floated gracefully in a natural gravity well in orbit of the nearby gas giant. It was almost peaceful, just one thing out of place.

A single mental command spurred the frigate’s drone control mainframe into action as four wrecks with Serpentis Corporation transponders lit up on her flight interface, a flight of three Hobgoblin light scout drones emerging from the Comet’s drone bay as the access hatch in its keel slid open smoothly.

A fourth signature materialized on Harelle’s flight overview, identified by the Comet’s tactical suite as that of an Imperial Navy Slicer, twenty kilometers dead ahead of her. She brought her camera drone about with no more effort than it would take a mortal to cast their eyes to the side, the faint bluish glow of fusion exhausts apparent as the Amarr vessel darted between dense dust deposits in the belt, light from Esmes shimmering against its polished hull.

Inside her head, Harelle smiled to herself as she drew a surge of power from the Comet’s warp pulse capacitor.

Esmes IV – Asteroid Belt I 16:57 NEST – 117/07/03 Imperial Navy 4th Fleet – 31st “Nashar” Squadron – Scout Designation “Helo Eight”

The Slicer slid forward gracefully, its sleek twin hulls cutting a smooth path through the dust cloud that enveloped the asteroid belt. Its pilot subvocalized across secure communications to his squad commander as the vessel rapidly recharged the frigate’s tesseract capacitor banks, siphoning energy from subspace through its propulsion system.

“Helo Eight reporting. No Federation Navy activity, but light Serpentis resistance. Appears to be a false positive. It looks like the comms issues are also affecting the FEDCAF network. Inspecting Serpentis wreckage before return to fleet.”

“Copy that, Helo Eight. Inspection and no salvage, dispose of survivors. RTF ASAP.”

“Yes, my lord.”

The Imperial pilot closed distance on the last cluster of burning wreckage, one of four Serpentis Corporation Atron class frigates that had dared attack when he split from the main strike group. He pulled his camera drone into a close frame, inspecting the remains of the noncapsuleer piloted vessel. Its hull was no more than a ravaged husk lanced by pulse laser fire, the crew of six lost to the vacuum of space.

The muzzles of the Slicer’s dual light pulse lasers still glowed a deep hue of orange, slowly cooling from the contact with the pirate vessels as the victorious Imperial Navy pilot brought the vessel about. Surprise filled his consciousness as his tactical overlay blinked with activity, a Federation Navy contact–frigate class–slipping from hyperspace just twenty kilometers from his position.

His immediate response was to open comms again with a message to his strike group as he relayed neural instruction to his weapons systems, turrets processing the digital representation of his clear, controlled thoughts. His flight interface confirmed the switch from Conflagration to Scorch frequency crystals.

“Contact, contact. This is Helo Eight. Hostile scout sighted. Request permission to engage.”

“Negative, Helo Eight, you’re needed with main strike group. RTF. Repeat, return to fleet, Lieutenant Rasanto.”

“Copy that.”

The Slicer was already on the move in an attempt to make range on the Federation Navy vessel, dust and small chunks of ore bouncing off its polished hull as the vessel climbed to its maximum speed.

The agile craft weaved between a scattering of Jaspet and Scordite deposits, making for clear space as three more signatures flashed into existence on Rasanto’s tactical overview, the Slicer’s radar sensors identifying them as a flight of three Federation Navy Hobgoblin light scout drones.

With fourteen kilometers between the two vessels, several piercing bleeps pierced Rasanto’s skull, the four signatures flashing red as the Federal pilot engaged. The golden hull of the Slicer was bathed in the soft blue pulsing hue of a warp disruptor as it emerged from a cloud of veldspar dust and ore deposits, Rasanto cutting a hard arc around the pursuing Comet and darting back into the asteroid field, willing another shunt of power to the vessel’s microwarp drive.

Harelle followed, the group of three Hobgoblins rapidly gaining on the Imperial vessel, a series of low power alarms sounding as the Slicer’s shields were rapidly dissipated by light blaster fire from the trio of automated craft. A volley of railgun fire followed, one of the bolts missing its target and slamming into a cluster of omber deposits, shattering the larger rocks and spilling them into the path of the Slicer.

In a reflex action, Rasanto’s brain commanded his inert body to duck to avoid a concussion from several thousand tons of ore debris, the Slicer’s mainframe processing the command into swift evasive action that allowed it to dodge a large fragment of rock.

The remaining two bolts struck the port side hull of the Slicer, superheated projectiles cutting through the remaining shield charge, buckling tungsten armor as asteroid debris rattled across its hull.

Dual light pulse lasers returned the argument between the two vessels, stripping away the remains of the Federal frigate’s shield and scorching a series of strike marks across its knife-like bow as it continued to close on its heavier and less agile prey. A second set of fast-tracking pulse bursts struck the Comet again, three direct hits tearing crystalline carbonide armor plating from the frigate’s starboard side wing.

Harelle commanded her turrets to ready a fresh volley of antimatter fire as the pack of three light drones pounded at the scarred hull of the slicer, Rasanto pulling range as he rolled the low profile of the slicer onto its side, slipping between two enormous veldspar rocks.

The Comet pitched into a steep dive to avoid them, too bulky to follow its quarry, its backbone cascading a shower of sparks and rubble into space as it glanced the larger of the two asteroids, slipping beneath them. Its turrets remained trained on the Slicer as it passed from the line of fire, Rasanto commanding his frigate’s nanorepair pumps into action during the brief respite from assault.

The Slicer turned its focus to the pursuing drones as they followed through the narrow gap, a flurry of pulse fire obliterating the first, and crippling a second that spiraled into a group of rocks, vaporizing as its power core breached on impact. Harelle growled to herself inside her head, her consciousness processing the anger of having to fill out an equipment requisition form for replacements.

Despite this, her subconscious response was immediate: two replacement drones catapulted from the Comet as the third continued to batter the Slicer’s port side with blaster fire. After several more seconds, the Gallente frigate was back in pursuit, cutting a path through a dense cloud of scordite dust that coiled in its wake.

A second round of railgun fire slammed into the golden hull, spilling tungsten carbide into space in a hail of shimmering metallic confetti as Harelle closed range, forcing overheat on the vessel’s propulsion system to close on the rear of the battered Slicer. Rasanto pulled his camera drone’s field of view in close, splitting focus between his tactical overview and inspecting the damage as his pulse lasers cut down another light drone.

He watched as his vessel’s buckled hull plating surged with nanite activity, the tungsten plates bleeding shimmering green nanite fluid like blood from the capillaries of grazed skin. Hundreds of readouts spilled across his peripheral vision as the Slicer’s repair systems invaded his consciousness, informing him of repairs, cycle time, power rerouting, and nanite flow pressure through the capillaries of the vessel’s armored hull.

Another volley of pulse fire was trained on the sharply cut bow of the pursuing Comet, stripping away its outer hull plating and exposing the armored substructure beneath. Harelle skillfully weaved behind a pack of scordite deposits as a shield, launching the last remaining drone in the Comet’s complement as Rasanto’s vessel banked hard, circling a colossal formation of ore in a 180-degree change of direction. The light drones followed dutifully, raking the side of the Slicer with blaster fire, the next volley of ordnance from their automated turrets exposing the vessel’s port side reactor shielding.

The lighter hull of the Federation Navy vessel closed on the Slicer as its turrets cycled again, slides recoiling, spent antimatter shells spiraling from their chambers into space before they locked forward again with a fresh load. The impact of the next round of antimatter struck the port side booster housing of the Slicer, dense black smoke erupting in a billowing trail of conflagration that spiraled wildly in the Amarr frigate’s wake. The Slicer’s mainframe spilled tears of digital pain into Rasanto’s subconscious, temperature warnings filling his peripheral vision.

Within seconds the vessel began to succumb to the damage. Its port side propulsion cooling ruptured as drone fire made light work of exposed equipment. With a small explosion, the auxiliary thruster broke away completely, Harelle weaving again to avoid being collected in the trail of debris.

Rasanto’s flight interface lit up in a series of critical failures as the Slicer’s systems began to shut down, the vessel yawing violently to port as it began to break up. A final volley of pulse laser fire consumed one of the light drones, an action that was to be in vain as the substructure of the Amarr frigate finally succumbed to heat and stress.

The vessel’s port side superstructure broke loose from the rest of the hull, its thruster extinguishing with the loss of command input from Rasanto. The two halves of the frigate spiraled wildly, the discarded port side thruster slamming into rock, its reactor detonating in a superheated fireball.

The young Amarr Navy lieutenant became a passenger for a split second, a thick plume of black smoke trailing in the wake of the Slicer’s remains as the pursuing Comet was pelted with burning coolant and debris. Harelle pitched into a steep climb to avoid the growing plume of carnage as flying shrapnel obliterated one of her remaining two drones.

A split second before the Slicer impacted a group of Scordite deposits, the capsule emergency release charges fired, the vessel’s mainframe instinctively sensing risk to its fragile human cargo and acting in protection. Rasanto’s senses were filled with screeching hull breach warnings, then sudden silence as his flight interface was torn from his consciousness and replaced by a simple warning:


The feed from his camera drone flickered, the images distorted with static as his capsule was hurled loose of the wreckage, a trio of severed umbilicals flailing behind it.

Harelle felt a surge of adrenaline, tracking the carnage with her camera drone as she watched the remains of the Slicer slam into a minefield of rocks. Sheer velocity shredded the remains of the golden hull in an angry orange fireball as she brought the Comet out of a steep climb.

Her entire mental effort was swiftly focused on drawing a magnetometric target lock on the hostile capsule that spiraled from the wreckage. The Comet’s BZ-12 sensor suite identified the target and acquired lock, a preprimed warp disruptor holding it in place as Harelle brought the battered Gallente frigate into a tight orbit, closing in to optimal range.

Silence overcame Rasanto, his bruised consciousness reeling in the aftermath of the sudden disconnect from his vessel. He braced his mind for what was to come upon recognizing the throbbing pulse of a warp disruption field, and subvocalized to himself alone, the communications link to his strike group severed with the destruction of his ship.

Repeating his chosen words to himself, Rasanto waited for the inevitable—the searing white light that would cleanse his failure from existence, projecting the very fabric of his soul across the stars to the Throne Worlds so that he might live again.

Only through many hardships is a man stripped to his very foundations.

And in such a state, devoid of distractions, is his soul free to soar.

And in this, he is closest to God.

Esmes III – Low Orbit FEDCAF Border Supply Depot 17:59 NEST – 117/07/03 Officers’ Residential Deck, Unit 601F

Risa Harelle allowed a relaxed groan to surface from the depths of her throat as she ruffled her damp raven hair with a soft white towel, before rolling her shoulders and stretching her neck from side to side. She looked over her smooth complexion in the mirror, smirking to herself.

Two more confirmed kills. A clean 2501 and her name on the list for a fifth flight commendation.

She stood in the bathroom doorway with a second white towel wrapped around her slender frame, surveying her new quarters for the next twelve months. The tower in orbit of Esmes III was just over a year old, one of the newest additions to the tripwire network courtesy of increased defense funding under the Roden administration. Some of the equipment the Federation Navy provided was still sealed in its original packing. She’d have the satisfaction of peeling the plastic from it later.

Her attention was drawn to her military issue datapad, its smooth black shape vibrating across the glass surface of the table at the center of her living area. She approached, reading from the holographic screen, four numbers brought back to the forefront of her mind as her eyes ran over the remainder of her squadron’s debrief in thirty minutes.

Three, six, five, four.

She smiled to herself as she lifted the datapad from the smooth reflective surface, tapping at it and searching roster archives from the day’s operations.


Risa tilted her head, shrugging softly as she spoke to no one in particular, tossing the datapad onto the black leather cushion of her new sofa.

“Well, Lieutenant Kavik. Lucky for you that I don’t need to have your flight status suspended.” The trip back to the bathroom was cut short by the ringing of her buzzer. She ruffled her hair as she made her way to the door, a view of the other side flickering to life, holographically projected against the door’s surface as she approached. A familiar figure stood on the other side, his muscled frame wrapped in Federation Navy fatigues.

“Who is it?”

“Casille. Squadron debrief in sixty. 1900 hours.”

“Yeah, I got the memo, sir. I’ll be there fifteen before.”

Harelle smirked to herself, swiping a hand through the hologram to turn it off before completing her journey back to the bathroom as she spoke to herself inside her head.

Not a fucking chance, Casille. Try again, boy.

Irnin V – High Orbit Maintenance Yards – Imperial Navy 4th Fleet 21:27 NEST – 117/07/03 31st “Nashar” Squadron – Post CRU Debriefing Facility

Orin Rasanto took a deep breath, filling his lungs with sterile air and sliding his hands across his unnaturally smooth face. He exhaled gently and rolled his well-muscled shoulders, looking down to his palms. Their virgin skin was several shades lighter than he remembered. He flexed his fingers slowly, turning his hands over, fingers fresh and unblemished, nails smooth and unmarked.

Water cascaded from the shower faucet behind him, its contact with the floor tiles akin to the beat of a thousand drums to his new senses. He sighed to himself as he replayed the final moments of the engagement to himself inside his head.

Hunted by a pack of drones that lashed out like rabid dogs. The shrieking of the Slicer’s hull breach alarms. The disorientation of emergency release. The strike group’s confusion due to communications failure. The unauthorized breach of the Federal border that their commanding officer had maneuvered them into.

He took in another deep breath as he started to wash his hands for a third time, feeling dirty despite the sterile environment he was in. The faucet over the stainless basin dispensed a frothy mix of cleansing liquids, before switching to a gentle flow of warm, clean water. He worked slowly as he regained his senses, breathing deeply.

A vibration caught his attention, the screen of his datapad flickering to life on the polished counter to his side. His hands stopped as he read the screen.


He remained silent for a few seconds, his hands trembling and his jaw tense as he took in a deep, slow breath. Unable to contain himself, he lashed out, a meaty fist turning the mirror over the basin into a spider’s web of fragments with a colossal crash. Crimson leaked from his new knuckles as his hands fell to his side.

Orin let out a shaky sigh as he considered his own brown eyes in the fragments of mirror that still clung to the wall, confused disbelief painted across his fresh-faced complexion.

His eyes fell to his feet, his head lowered in defeat as braided hair fell around his face.

His tears joined his Brutor blood on the white tiled floor.