Onyx Eagle was bored. He was born in the Bora colony of New Gaia, but by the time he was old enough to fly, the war with GalSpan was over. His parents didn't approve of his love of space, but he managed to convince them to let him go to flight school, under one condition...
...but life as a freighter pilot was almost as boring as he had feared. Back up the freighter, oversee it being loaded, check inventory, fly through a few sectors (which the autopilot could do), back it up, watch it being unloaded. Then, do it all again. There was some occasional excitement when a pirate attacked, but they were rare in the Hub and Star Patrol was usually on them quickly - no fancy piloting required.
When the opportunity came to transport a shipment of "sensitive material" to the Frontier, he jumped at it. He didn't have the experience of many of the older pilots, but most freighter pilots weren't types to invite danger. He won the job.
Onyx had pushed his freighter to the limit, and finished his run with two days to spare. It wasn't much time to explore the Frontier, but it was better than nothing.
New Vegas starbase was all glitz and show. The excessive neon and gaudy adornments proliferating the starbase spoke of the many fortunes that exchanged hands within, most being handed over to the casino by its patrons rather than the other way around.
The atmosphere inside the starbase, though, contrasted with the cold peace of space outside. The air was filled with heated tension. Small groups of people could be seen everywhere, huddled together and speaking in hushed tones. It filled Onyx with an anxious excitment, generated by both fear for himself and anticipation that his dues as a freighter pilot were almost paid up.
As he sat at the bar, he strained his ears to hear some of the hushed conversations. After most of the day, too much cheap beer, and several trips to the lavatory, the best he could deduce through his booze-bubbled brain was that two mercenary groups were at odds, and their collective disagreements were on the verge of breaking out into open war.
The next day, Onyx hung around the station, trying to look inconspicuous. He desperately wanted to ask someone what was happening, but fear and caution held him back. After a fruitless morning, he resigned himself to packing up his freighter for the trip home the next day. Crowds in the corridors thinned as he made his way to the freighter docks. As he turned a corner and headed down the stairs, a face caught his eye.
"Hey... haven't I seen... Yeah! I saw him at the restaurant at breakfas... and the bar, and... uh oh," he thought.
Onyx forgot about his freighter, and took several random turns, doing his best to catch sight of the stranger inconspicuously as he rounded corners. The stranger stayed behind him, never getting close, but always visible. Unsure what to do, Onyx made his way back to the crowded main deck and seated himself in the courtyard where he could watch for the stranger to emerge from the stairs.
As he waited, a few others sat around him. One bland looking fellow ordered a lemonade. He glanced around at the faces, keeping one eye on the stairwell. Suddenly, he started and leapt to his feet.
The stranger smiled and offered him a seat.
Onyx sat tenatively. "Um... why have you been following me?"
"Get to that in a minute. What's your name, son?"
"Um... Onyx. Onyx Eagle. Who are you?"
"I'm called WhiteFox. I've been watching you for the past few days. You're new to the Frontier, aren't you?"
"Yes. Yeah, I am."
"It shows. That could be dangerous." Onyx squirmed in his seat. "It looks to me like you've been doing a lot of listening the past two days."
Onyx sat forward defensively, "Maybe. So what?"
"So, what have you heard?"
"What do you care?"
"I think you're confused, and I'd like to help. Perhaps explain some things to you. But if you're not interested..."
Onyx leaned forward excitedly. "No! No, I am. OK - this is what I can figure from what I've heard. It sounds like two rival merc groups are at each others' throats and something big is about to go down. One of them's called 'Void' something and it seems like most people want them to win whatever this is."
WhiteFox smiled a smooth, knowing smile. "It sounds like you've got good ears, Onyx. May I call you Onyx? What you've heard is true. Two of the many mercenary clans in the Fringe are having a conflict. We have very different - ah - philosophies about how to... do business. Those philosophies have led to repeated conflicts between us, and we fear that those conflicts have reached a level that's going to lead us to war."
"Wow," Onyx breathed in awe. "So... so you're part of this?"
"I am. I represent the clan called the Void Runners."
Onyx's heart leapt. "That must be the 'Void' clan everybody's been talking about," he thought. "They must be something to have so many people behind them. Boy, I'd love to fly with them - if just for a day."
WhiteFox interrupted his thoughts. "You seem like an observant, insightful ladd. Those are valuable traits. Are you a pilot?"
Onyx sat bolt upright, his spine rigid with excitement. He debated with himself over what his answer should be, but finally his lips let out a quivering "Yes" that conveniently avoided mentioning anything about flying freighters.
WhiteFox only nodded. "I'm afraid the Void Runners have a rigorous recruiting policy, but if what I see in you is there, I think you might make it through. That is, if you're willing to try?"
Onyx spurted out "yes" before he could think.
Onyx sat in back of WhiteFox's Pegasus as they made their way to Void Runner space.
"So, what's the story about this other Merc group?" he asked.
"The Alliance? They're lead by a pilot named 'WitchKing', if that tells you anything. He recently changed his name to put a better face forward, but their tactics have stayed the same."
"Well, if anyone pays in advance, they often take the money and then refuse to fulfill the contract. They're so rich and well equipped that no one wants to stand up to them. They extort money from the casinoes, spy on smaller contractors like us, and kill anyone who gets in their way."
"And that's not all... they use guided missles in the Fenris Arena."
"It's true. So you can see they're completely dishonorable pilots who make up for their lack of skill with money, firepower, and deceit. I'm just glad the Runners found you first."
"Me, too," Onyx thought, but silently looked out the window at the stars.
For the next week, Onyx Eagle was put through the paces, learning combat flying on every type of ship the average Fringe Merc could afford. He was dizzy with excitement as he was finally able to follow his lifelong dream. Piloting a fighter was not much different than flying a freighter to him, though he felt more comfortable in the heavier ships.
"OK, kid, this is it," WhiteFox said. "Gotta tell ya that an ArchAngel isn't my ship of choice, so you're lucky, but if you can disable me with that EMP, you're in."
Onyx took a deep breath and responded, "Got it."
"OK. Come get me," WhiteFox said, then switched to a private comm channel.
"Think he can do this?" WhiteFox asked.
"The kid obviously had no combat experience, but he's a heckuva pilot." The voice on the other end belonged to DoomStag, one of the chiefs of the Void Runners.
Another voice over the comm added, "and he's learned fast. I don't think you need to be too easy on him."
"Yeah, but if he doesn't beat me? We still want to use him." WhiteFox said.
"We cross that bridge if we get to it," DoomStag said. When the comm switched off, DoomStag turned to Earthquake and said, "We wanted a fall guy, but this kid may turn out to be one of our best pilots. I think he'll take WhiteFox easily."
Outside the station, Onyx and WhiteFox were rapidly approaching dueling distance. When his radar pegged 10 clicks, Onyx engaged lateral thrust, just as he'd been taught. Dual EMP cannons flashed from WhiteFox's ArchAngel, but flared by harmlessly. As WhiteFox lined up again, Onyx rolled between the EMP blasts and latted above the Angel, then opened fire. The EMP fired so rapidly and accurately that WhiteFox's shields were down to 40% before they passed. Onyx engaged slide and spun around to face WhiteFox, and took the rest of his shields down while flying backwards.
WhiteFox was enraged. "No snot-nosed brat is going to take down my sheilds on one pass and get away with it!" he hissed, then he switched his primary weapon to Sunspot missles and his secondary to Tesla EMP missles. As he slid around to line up on Onyx, DoomStag came over his comm.
"I know what you're thinking WhiteFox. Don't do it. If that kid sees a missle lock on his console, it could blow our plans."
Bitterly, WhiteFox switched his weapons back to EMP projectors. As he lined up, Onyx was already coming his way. He dove, then slid his nose up to tag Onyx in the belly. Only a few shots connected before Onyx latted out of the way. WhiteFox rolled and EMP flares flashed above his cockpit. He transferred afterburner energy to his shields, then lined up on Onyx again. When the first blast hit, Onyx pulled up just as WhiteFox anticipated and ran headlong into the second blast. His shields dropped to 12%. WhiteFox smirked and pressed his advantage, burning in close to get behind Onyx, but Onyx just kept pulling up, and ended up staring down WhiteFox's nose upside down. The blast he unleashed finished WhiteFox's shields, and a spark flew from his afterburner control. The EMP had disabled his flagging burner.
"No matter," thought WhiteFox, "it was almost gone anyway."
WhiteFox slid around to face Onyx again, but no one was there. In a panic, WhiteFox glanced down at his radar, but it was too late. EMP flares from below tore into his ship's systems. Sparks danced over his console, and he knew he'd been beaten.
"Outstanding, Onyx," came DoomStag's voice over the comm.
"He went easy on me," Onyx said.
"Nevertheless, fine flying. Welcome to the Void Runners."
WhiteFox licked his wounds and put on his best face as he ferried the Void Runners' newest member to the New Vegas shipyards. Part of the Void Runners' ritual was buying a new recruit his own ship. What was unusual this time was that Onyx was going to be allowed to pick his. WhiteFox made sure to let him think that was standard policy.
As they checked in to the New Vegas hangar, the agent stopped them. WhiteFox took this nervously.
"You said Onyx Eagle, right?"
"Yeah, that's me," Onyx replied, stepping up from behind WhiteFox.
"You got a message at the freighter dock few days ago. Says it's urgent."
"Oh," Onyx said, and his heart sank.
WhiteFox excused himself, ostensibly to the shipyards to fill out paperwork, as Onyx made his way to the freighter dock. He checked in with the agent and was handed a viewpad with three messages on it. One was dated yesterday.
"Onyx Eagle, we received confirmation of successful shipment from DiaMann Industries, but you were due to return to the Hub yesterday. Is everything all right?"
Message 2: "Onyx Eagle, I don't need to tell you that your tardy return and failure to respond to calls does not reflect well on your work record. Management is considering severe action if you do not respond immediately."
Message 3: "Onyx Eagle, if you want to keep your job, you must respond by close of business today. If we don't hear from you, your employment will be terminated and you will be prosecuted for theft of our freighter."
"Slag," he thought, "that was yesterday. Guess I'm an 'employee' of the Void Runners now. Wonder if I can return this freighter to get them off my back?"
He returned the pad and made his way to the shipyard.
At the shipyard, Onyx caught up with WhiteFox. Apparently he had filled out whatever paperwork he needed, 'cause Ed, the manager, was ready to sell. Onyx selected a WarHammer. It was a nice, big ship that reminded him of flying freighters, but still felt like a fighter. WhiteFox placed no limits on him, so he got a full loadout: Lateral Thrust, Boosters, Railgun, lots of Plasma Rockets. He almost fell over when Ed handed over the access crystal. His own fighter! This was almost too good to be true.
"There you go, kid," WhiteFox said. "Do us proud."
"What... you're leaving?"
"Yeah. Got responsibilites."
"So... what happens now?"
"You're free to check the New Vegas job board, get the feel of your ship, y'know. Just make sure you show up at Void Station in the next few days."
"OK, good," Onyx sighed. He explained the situation with his job and that he needed to return the freighter if he wanted to avoid an arrest warrant.
"Eagle, they're not going to come after you. Star Patrol doesn't exist out here. Why don't you just keep the freighter - we could use it."
Onyx was shocked, "Uh..."
"Look, I need to run. Think about it, OK kid?"
"Uh... yeah. OK. See you at the station, WhiteFox."
Onyx was still stunned. He almost forgot to thank Ed for loading out his ship.
He flew around New Vegas sector, doing loops around the starbase and flexing his Hammer's muscles. He finally tore himself away from the thrill and parked the Hammer in the freighter's cargo bay.
He arrived in the Hub at about 4 pm, local time - still an hour before close of business. He hid out in the scrapyards for over an hour, waiting for most of his former coworkers to leave. When he felt he could make a safe run, he backed the freighter into it's docking bay, left a quick note about a "new job opportunity in the Frontier," and settled into his Hammer.
As Onyx made his way to the Frontier mega gate, he picked up some comm traffic.
"Hey, look at that ship! A Runner in the hub. Let's take him down."
Three Piranhas descended on him, lasers blazing. Onyx wondered what kind of deadbeats would attack a lone clanner unprovoked. He rolled and burned downward. The Piranhas lined up behind him and opened fire. As his shields flared, he slid around to face the Piranhas. The first volley cleared with his shields down to 38%, and he opened fire. The Piranhas barely put up a fight before his Hammer, but one of them put in a call to Star Patrol before he ejected. Onyx burned toward the gate, but Star Patrol burst into the sector in moments. They ordered him to halt, but he faked radio static and made his escape.
Back in New Vegas, Onyx enjoyed his fill of the casino life. He hung out at the bar, ate some fine food, and even tried a slot machine or two. After he'd had his fill, he perused the job board.
"Arena match? A bunch of pilots slugging it out in the Fenris Arena? For pay? Gotta try that."
Onyx accepted the job. It was several hours before the match was to begin, so he looked over the board some more and then killed the rest of his time in the bar.
A little tipsy, he stumbled down to the hangar and pointed his Hammer toward his first Arena match.
This was one of many qualifying matches for the tournament, so an eclectic group of pilots was in the arena: everything from Makos that had been resurrected from the scrapyards to the latest GalSpan had to offer, complete with its shiny, original paint job.
"Welcome to Qualifying Round 8 for this year's Arena Tournament Season!" belted the announcer over the TachBand P.A. system. "The contestants are in the Arena. Let's begin!"
Onyx's Hammer seemed to be moving slower than normal, so he burned toward his nearest opponent, flying a Bora Dagger. He hit 10 clicks, and let off the burner. As the Dagger's first volley flared from its hardpoints, he rolled and then latted above it, the blasts passing harmlessly. One Plasma Rocket from above and a perfect rail shot took the Dagger out of the match.
Next in line was a little Mako - one weapon mount, one missle mount. The little ship didn't have a prayer. Onyx chuckled as he closed in and lined up. A Plasma Rocket and its shields were down. The little ship darted about in a few evasive maneuvers, but Onyx had no trouble keeping his aim. A split second's hesitation by the Mako and his finger tightened on the trigger. The rail gun rocked his ship with a perfect shot, and the Mako was gone.
Onyx's shields flared almost immediately, and he checked his radar.
His eyes bugged out. The Mako was still alive! He swung around again and drew up on the little ship. Another beautiful rail shot, but the Mako wasn't there. The little ship darted above him and unleashed a minor torrent of laser fire, steadily draining his shield energy. Onyx slid this time to face the Mako quickly, but he couldn't line up on it. The ship darted this way and that, always just evading his aim while unloading a seemingly limitless rain of laser fire. Worse, while Onyx struggled to trap the ship its shields were recharging. Finally, he was able to lat behind it and buy enough time to squeeze off a rail shot. The Mako's shields fell and its hull dropped to 48%. Onyx quickly let go a Plasma Rocket as the Mako feinted to the left. The proximity detonator blasted and the little ship was gone.
Radar showed another ship incoming. It looked like a GalSpan Phoenix - a tough ship to crack. Onyx took stock: hull still green, rail energy low, shields only recharged to 21%. He ran. A zigzag course with full afterburner shot him away from the Phoenix and out of its firing arc. The big craft burned in pursuit. Onyx was able to keep just out of range. As he neared the Arena boundary, he spun. His shields were up to 43%. It would have to do. He disengaged his slide and burned toward the Phoenix, closing the gap quickly and firing two Plasmas before latting out of its firing arc. The ship was big and clumsy, so the two rockets connected easily. That only brought the shield down to 23%, though. Onyx rolled as the Phoenix lined up on him and came alive with its awesome firepower. He jerked his stick, fired his lats, and punched the afterburner. Much of the assault connected, though, and that one volley stripped his shields. Onyx continued latting to the side of the ship, moving faster than it could turn, and fired another Plasma Rocket. The Phoenix's shields were down. Quickly, he fired the Rail Gun and then burned out of the way. The Rail shot connected, but the Phoenix was still alive. Another downpour of firepower, but Onyx was ready this time. He dodged, spun and fired the rail again. The Phoenix's hull showed red. Onyx hit his burner and rammed the Phoenix out of the match. The crowd went wild.
Three other ships were fighting it out on the far side of the Arena. Thankful for the respite, Onyx cut his throttle and sat in space, letting his ship's systems recharge. He closed his eyes for a moment, and only then noticed that he had a nasty headache. He struggled to open his eyes again, and as they came into focus he saw a blip on his radar. One of the ships had broken out of the fight and was coming after him! He throttled up and hit his burner, but the burner only sputtered. Not enough energy! As the ship closed in, Onyx saw that it was a Piranha. He aimed the Hammer straight for it, and as it opened fire, he let go three Plasma Rockets in rapid succession. The Piranha blew.
Onyx continued toward the other side of the Arena, but kept his throttle low. This time he kept close watch on the dueling ships. A Bora Mace was dancing with a Posidon. Both pilots had talent, but the Posi finally succumbed to the Mace's speedy maneuvers. Filling out a smooth arc from its final volley, the Mace came for him.
Its shields were low from the drawn-out fight with the Posidon. Onyx throttled up, took aim, and fired his Rail Gun just as the ship got into range. The shot was perfect. Without shields, the thin hull of the Mace burst before the Rail Gun's power.
Onyx blew breath out of puffed cheeks and slumped against his pilot seat. Then he noticed that Tachband had come alive with wild cheering. The announcer's voice shouted over the deafening crowd, "We have a new Tournament contender: Onyx Eagle!"
Onyx hobbled back to New Vegas starbase exhausted. The "thrill" of destroying actual ships felt much different than he imagined. It didn't help that he was having trouble holding his liquor. He ordered a room for the night and collapsed into bed.
His only thought before falling asleep was, "Tomorrow, Void Station..."
Onyx awoke with a throbbing headache. The beer had felt good before the Tournament Match yesterday afternoon, but it sought its revenge now. As he looked at his bloodshot eyes and tousled hair in the mirror, he thought, "This life is going to take some getting used to."
He washed up as best he could manage and wobbled upstairs for breakfast. A table in the common area barely caught him before he met the floor, and he ordered a painkiller and black coffee with breakfast. As he pored over his food a group of giggling girls fluttered up to his table.
"Are you Onyx? Onyx Eagle?" one of them asked.
He tried to smile, but it felt like his lips were oozing down his face. "Yeah, that's right. I'm him."
The girls giggled. Another said, "We saw you in the match yesterday. Wow!" She could barely get the "wow" out before falling into giggling again.
"You were incredible," the third continued. She seemed slightly more level headed than the others and added, "I'm Tisha."
"Call me Onyx," he said, extending his hand. She took it.
"Um... we better go. See you around, Onyx," Tisha said. With that the girls flitted away.
"Er... yeah. Take care, girls."
Onyx had forgotten all about his hangover.
Down at the hangar, Onyx settled into the pilots seat of his Hammer. After yesterday's match it was starting to feel like home. He went through the formalities of launch clearance, and the blasted out of the station toward Void Runner space.
It was a short trip. His week's training with the Void Runners had given him a familiarity with the station, so he made his way to the command deck to see what was happening. He didn't quite know how to react to the flexibility of the job, he was so used to keeping rigid freight schedules.
As he entered the command deck, most of the Runners there were watching a dogfight on the huge viewscreen. A War Hammer was battling a triple-rail equipped Cutlass. The Cutlass bobbed and pitched, dodging the flood of Plasma rockets flowing out of the Hammer, but the Hammer pilot seemed to know just when to roll or lat to dodge the Cutty's rails. As Onyx approached the commanders, Doomstag leaned over to him, eyes still riveted on the screen, and said, "The Cutty's ours. The Hammer is one of the newer Alliance pirates - Dark Ice." As they watched, a pair of Plasmas finally connected with the Cutlass. Then a Rail Gun erupted from the mount above the Hammer's cockpit, and the battle was over. The viewscreen flickered off, and DoomStag and WhiteFox turned around, both wearing a look of disgust.
"When did that happen?" Onyx asked.
"Two days ago," WhiteFox answered, "The V... uh... the Alliance has been recruiting quite a few new pilots. We try to watch them fight and learn their style, so we know how to defeat them."
"I saw the broadcast of the Arena Qualifier," DoomStag said. "I'm pleased with your flying." Onyx blushed. "I would encourage you to continue flying in those matches. The Arena can be an excellent training ground."
"Absolutely!" WhiteFox said.
DoomStag continued, "We have an assignment for you in about two days. In the meantime, keep flying contracts. You'll need all the experience you can garner."
"Um... ok, but..."
"Well, where do I live. The rooms at New Vegas aren't cheap. Neither is the food. And, I mean, I know I could earn some from the contracts I take, but I gotta maintain my ship, too, right?"
"WhiteFox, you haven't shown Eagle his quarters?" DoomStag said, turning.
"Um... well, not exactly."
"Well, let's be exact." DoomStag turned back to Onyx. "Eagle, this station is your home now. You are welcome in your personal quarters, in the canteen, in any public area. We do insist on a certain - dues payment - to maintain the station, but consider this home."
"Can I fix up my ship here, too?"
"Of course. We have crews that are members of the Runners. You won't have to pay Vegas's prices ever again. WhiteFox, show this man his quarters."
"Ok, come on. You remember that room you spent your first week in?"
"Call it home now."
Onyx was thrilled.
Onyx spent most of the morning settling into his quarters. Once he felt they were comfortably personalized, he took his Hammer back to New Vegas to take another look at the Job Board.
The first round of the Arena Match was tomorrow, so he signed up without hesitation. There were all variety of jobs available, from bounty hunting and contract killing to escort runs to even more esoteric requests from the Asteroid Barons. He noticed that most of the contract killing was taken by a group of pilots with ominous names, all part of a group called the "Devil's Fist." That made him nervous. He felt a certain closeness to the freighters, though, and selected a modest-paying escort run as his first contract.
He went back to the main deck of the starbase and ate a quick lunch, making it down to the hangar a few minutes before he was supposed to check in for the escort run. He checked the loadout on his Hammer and ordered up some more Plasma Rockets, got launch clearance, and met the freighter outside the starbase.
"This is freighter Antares to pilot Eagle. You there?"
"Copy Antares. I'm right with you."
"This ought to be a simple run. We have to pick up some supplies from Foothold and ferry them Bora space. Just keep an eye out for pirates."
"You got it."
Freighters were notoriously slow, and with the mega-jump to Bora space the run was probably going to take all day. Onyx wondered if he'd made a mistake. It struck him as odd that just a few weeks ago he'd been in the freighter pilot's shoes and would have thought nothing of an all-day run.
The trip to Foothold sector was uneventful. Everyone expected it to be, though. Only a foolish pirate would jump an empty freighter. Rather, the risk was getting from Foothold to the Bora space jump point. The Skav sector stood between Foothold and the mega-gate. Of the pirates in the Fringe, the Skav were probaby the tamest. They were a loose group of disgruntled employees, some fired, some just between contracts, who used their piloting skills to jump freighters for extra cash. The Skav weren't murderous, just greedy. Onyx himself probably stood the greatest risk of being harmed.
Onyx emerged from the gate shortly after the freighter exited hyperspace.
"Nothing so far," the Antares said.
Skav space was littered with asteroids. An ambush would be hard to see coming. They churned through the sector at the freighter's slow pace with nothing happening.
"Half way. This might be easy pay," Antares said. Onyx chuckled.
Nothing. The Antares was almost to the jump point, so Onyx broke off and headed for the TCG gate. He was within 5 clicks of the gate when a flash caught his eye. Wary, he pulled up hard and spun toward the Antares as his comm crackled to life.
"Eagle! Eagle, we've been rammed!"
A huge fireball was dissipating from one side of Antares. The freighter was beginning a lumbering, uncontrolled spin. The blast had knocked them off their trajectory toward the jump point, and they were sitting ducks until they could get the ship under control and back on course. Onyx hit his burner.
As he got within range, he saw two wings of Mantas - the Skav's trademark ship - dancing around the freighter. One wing was targeting the ship's powerplant while the other generally harassed them. He cut in close behind the freighter and placed his Hammer between the attacking Skavs and the Antares's powerplant.
A steady drizzle of laser fire was coming from the Mantas, along with an occasional Tiger missle. Nothing too frightening. Onyx unloaded several Plasma Rockets and a couple of Rail shots, and the Skav were minus one wing. The second wing broke off their harassment of the freighter and came for him. He ran, trying to take the battle away from the Antares. As he ran, his comm began to chatter.
"Hey, boys! A Runner!"
"What's that freighter carrying that YOU'RE covering its butt?"
"Runner-boy's probably gonna tell you it's none of your business."
"Hey, listen - what's your name? Eagle - sorry for the mix up, OK? We'll let you go back to babysitting your freighter. Just warn us next time, got it?"
...and the pirates vanished into the asteroids.
The rest of the run went without incident, but a sense of foreboding was descending on Onyx. He began to wonder if the Void Runners were all that they appeared.
Onyx awoke from a restless night's sleep, anxious to see what his first assignment was going to be. His time in the Arena had been exhilirating, but his heart was no longer in it. Breakfast passed in silence, and with a rising lump in his throat, he went to see DoomStag.
"You're early," DoomStag exclaimed, looking up from his console. "I'm pleased. Just give me a moment..." DoomStag tapped away at the console for several more seconds, hit the "Enter" key with a certain finality, and spun in his chair to face Onyx.
"Sit." Onyx did. "Well, Onyx, the time has come for you to show the Void Runners why we invited you in. Are you ready."
Onyx thought he saw DoomStag's eyes narrow slightly at his listless response, but he continued, "Good. We'll start you off easy - this is just a reconaissance mission. We want you to fly into IceRink sector and hide in the asteroids. We are expecting the Alliance pilot Dark Ice in that sector sometime today. Get a full scan of his ship: weapon loadout, upgrades, modifications, anything you can find out. Get us a mesh of his build and cockpit layout, too, if you can. We don't know who or how many may be traveling with him, so keep a low profile. If he's alone, though, don't be afraid to engage if it becomes necessary."
"...and if I do have to engage?"
"Kill him if you can. We wouldn't need the data then, would we? But either way, come back alive. That's first priority."
"Got it. When do I leave."
"Immediately. Don't come back and don't break comm silence until you've found him. Good luck."
Onyx didn't like the situation he found himself in, but he didn't know what else to do. The Void Runners had given him his ship, his training, his home in the Frontier - his new life. But was that going to be a life worth living?
"At least I don't have to kill the guy," he thought, standing before the hangar door. That was poor consolation, though. He set his jaw and went in.
Onyx's head bobbed for the third time. The sound of his eBook clattering on the floor jarred him awake. He grimaced as he removed his stiff legs from the console and bent down to pick it up. As his eyes grazed past the radar, he saw the blip.
Forgetting his eBook, he spun his darkened Hammer toward the blip and targeted it. It was him - Dark Ice. A Hammer flying alone. He powered up his own Hammer, anxiously watching the console as systems lazily came to life. Flipping the scanner on, he moved out of the asteroids, slowly gaining speed so as not to attract attention. He had a tough job: the scanner had a range of only 10 clicks, but his EW Jammer would protect him up to 8. He had to stay between 8 and 10 clicks until the scan was complete. At least Dark Ice was alone.
Onyx eased up behind him and began active scanning at 11 clicks. He pulled within 10 clicks, set his ship to match speed, and watched the scan data play across his console.
The plasma volley caught him completely unaware. Dark Ice had sensed something amiss, and spun around in a slide. At the sight of a Hammer on his tail with full jamming on, he opened fire. Frantic, Onyx fumbled with the controls. The second volley hit. Cold instinct took over and Onyx dove and slammed his burner, then, without bothering to look at his readout, transferred energy to his shields. He spun to face Dark Ice and jerked his trigger manically. Dark Ice bobbed, pitched, and retreated. Onyx had time for a shallow breath and a glance at his console. Shields gone except for the energy he had transferred and hull yellow. His frantic play to get Dark Ice to retreat and buy himself time had depleted half his ordinance. Things looked bad.
He switched off the scanner and glanced at the radar to find Dark Ice. Without hesitating, he latted and burned as another volley of Plasma Rockets descended from Dark Ice's closing ship. Only one connected, but his shields were down. He spun and unleashed two volleys of four Plasma Rockets each in rapid succession with accuracy only panic can inspire. Now Dark Ice and he were on level ground, and the duel began.
A rail gun furiously split space, the flash blinding Onyx as he narrowly dodged. Onyx fired a lone Plasma Rocket wildly to give his eyes time to clear, and then responded with a rail shot of his own. A miss. Dark Ice was superior to the pilots in the Arena.
Onyx noticed on his scanner that Dark Ice had shields again. An energy transfer - the like of which he didn't have the luxury of any longer. He cut loose with Plasma again. One connected. He fired again. Proximity detonation only. Dark Ice's shields had gone red, but refused to fall. He jerked his stick and rolled as another volley rushed in from Dark Ice's Hammer. He countered and fired.
Nothing happened. He was completely out of Plasma. Desperately, he switched to lasers and rail gun, aimed, and fired. A hit, and Dark Ice's hull integrity dropped as the power of the rail gun forced its way through his flagging shields. Onyx held his finger down on his laser trigger as he pitched an rolled to avoid Dark Ice's onslaught. His hull went red. Dark Ice's shields dropped. He latted, burned, rolled, latted again, and fired his rail gun as Dark Ice's Plasma bore down on him. A jerked stick, a roll, a frantic lateral, and he was still alive. He spun around to face Dark Ice again, and ship debris clattered on his viewport.
He had won.
Onyx limped into Void Station and pushed past the gate attendant without a word. Back in his room, he locked the door, collapsed on his bed, and sobbed himself into a fitful sleep.
To Be Continued...