11/10/2013

Innocence lost

This short story is my entry in "Eight Thousand Suns in New Eden" category
for the "POD AND PLANET FICTION CONTEST YC115 "

Present day:

I'm not making a mistake giving you this assignment, am I?” The corporate agent looked slightly worried. “No need to worry Mr. Galt. I've completed much harder tasks.” Merrin said cheerfully, “This will not be a problem. You just make sure payment will be ready when I return!” Merrin closed the comm link with the agent and started to prepare her ship. “No problem at all”, she murmured, “just another job for an egger...”



Six months earlier.

Merrin felt she was the luckiest person in the world. She had just received confirmation that she finally achieved her dream of becoming a capsuleer! All her young life, she had been wishing to fly among the stars and she had worked very hard to reach her dream.

Please don't get your hopes up to high!”, her fiancĂ© Korlis had told her before. “Only a very few people qualify to become a capsuleer. Why can't you just concentrate on starting our family?” Truth be told, Merrin wasn't all that averse to the idea. As much as she dreamed of roaming the stars, she enjoyed spending time with the neighborhood kids. She loved the idea of having her own children running through the small apartment they had bought only weeks ago.

But there's no reason why I can't try to become a capsuleer and raise a family at the same time, is there?”, she asked Korlis cheerfully. “If I don't make it, I'll still be here and if I do make it... Just think of the possibilities!”

How many capsuleers with a family do you know?” Korlis countered weakly. But Merrin would have none of it: “Do you really want me to give up my dream?”

Of course not! I just don't want you to get hurt!” Korlis said with anger in his voice.

Merrin would never forget this conversation. It was their first real big argument. She remembered going to bed angry and sad that day.



Present day:

In her heavy attack cruiser, Merrin saw she was reaching the coordinates the agent had given her and powered up the ships defensive modules.. The agent had given her a pretty detailed outline of the assignment and she was expecting some resistance.

There you are.” she smiled when she saw a dozen targets light up. “Rogue drones?” she mumbled surprised, “that is unexpected in this area...”.
Once the targets were locked and her missiles slammed into the first drone, she smiled again. “Nah, just some reprogrammed mining drones. This will be fun!”

She always enjoyed the guiltless destroying of mechanical drones. Her defenses were easily coping with the little damage the drones applied, so she relaxed and continued taking out the drones, one at a time, while she leisurely approached the acceleration gate that would take her to her destination.



Five months earlier.

Merrin wasn't so sure she was the luckiest person alive any more. When she returned from the cloning center where she was transferred into her first clone, Korlis had been overtly hostile.

Who or what are you?”, he had asked, loathing in his voice.

What do you mean?”, Merrin replied. She had expected Korlis to be troubled, but his anger surprised her.

Well, they did just kill my future wife, didn't they? I'd like to know what I am getting back!” Korlis snapped back at her.

We've already gone through this before.”, Merrin said soothingly. “You know what happened. You know they transferred my consciousness to a newly grown body that has the pod implants. A body grown from my own cells.”

It's me, just plain old me!”, she added with a big cheerful smile.

My girlfriends body wasn't riddled with filthy holes!” Revulsion filled Korlis' words. “Do you really expect me to go to bed with something looking like... that?”

You've been talking to your father again, haven't you?”, Merrin said sadly. “Didn't we settle this and did you not say you agreed with me going through with it?”

I just want my wife back!” Korlis cried, “And you're not here. You're a pod pilot now, a stone cold killer!”

The argument had ended quickly. Only minutes later, Korlis left her behind in the apartment, moving back to his parents “to take some time to think it over”.

Merrin felt more alone than she ever had in her life after Korlis left. She had no family of her own and Korlis had made it quite clear that she should not try to contact his relatives.

Even the neighborhood kids she liked so much, did not want to spend time with her any more. Initially puzzled by their reaction, Merrin soon found out that stories about her being a “freak” had scared the children so much, they stayed well away from her.

Fortunately, Merrin did not need to stay home alone for long. Now that she was equipped with the pod implants, the corporation that sponsored her transformation financially was eager to get a return on their investment. A corporate agent had already left a message with a first assignment.

Don't worry, he's just scared that he will lose me.” Merrin tried to convince herself while she contacted the agent. “Once he sees that I can hold my own out there, we'll be back together again.”



Present day:

As expected, Merrin's attack cruiser had not much trouble dispatching the drones although one of them placed a lucky shot and caused some armor damage to her ship. “Damn rust buckets!” she thought, “That should not have happened. I need to stay focused.”

She activated the acceleration gate with the encrypted code chip the agent had given her and sped towards her destination: an asteroid mining colony. When she dropped out of warp, she immediately noticed something wrong. Six unregistered battle cruisers were positioned between her and the station that were not supposed to be there.

Immediately, one of the battle cruisers hailed her: “We know what you have come here for, capsuleer and it's just not going to happen. These nice people here have asked us to make sure you turn around and go back the way you came. Don't make it hard on yourself, OK? Just go back!”

Her on board systems had identified the ships now. “Mercenaries”, she thought clenching her teeth. “You weren't supposed to be on the menu today...” The mission briefing had not informed her that there would be this much resistance, so she could just turn around. However, even though these weren't lifeless drones, there was no way she was going to let these mercenaries chase her away.



Two months earlier.

Space was where she belonged! Merrin had completed several courier assignments by now and the corporate agents loved her! She had earned a reputation of getting the job done, using evasion rather than confrontation, but sadly her most recent assignment had ended badly.

Please report?” the agent asked.

Merrin was still adjusting to her new clone body. Or rather adjusting to waking up after “dying”. There was just no other way she could phrase it: she just died, and now she was alive again.

She had expected that when it happened (and she had always acknowledged that it was a matter of “when”, not “if”), it would be a traumatic experience, shaking her very soul.

But now that it had indeed happened, it turned out to be an extremely... bland experience. Yes, her body had died and had probably burned to a crisp in the flaming wreckage of what had been her destroyer. But she had felt no “death” experience. She just woke up in the cloning facility, fresh and rested. 

The realization that she could not really care about “dying”, startled her more than the “death” itself.

Merrin Forese, Please report?”, the agent repeated more insistently.

Of course, sorry.”, Merrin said shaking her head. “There is nothing much to report though. There was an ambush at the pick up point. Mercenaries had already destroyed the courier before I got there. When I landed, they were waiting for me and my destroyer did not stand much of a chance against their battle cruisers.”

Ah, yes... We did expect something like this.”, the agent said while he studied Merrin's face closely.

You knew there would be an ambush? How could you not tell me?”, Merrin asked angrily?

We are sorry,” the agent said calmly, “but it was unavoidable. We do apologize and the corporation has agreed to pay for your new clone body.”

And you think that makes it all right?”, Merrin asked incredulously, feeling more than a little betrayed.

Well, actually, yes we do.”, the agent replied matter of factly. “But we are prepared to add an extra bonus... If you agree to get rid of those mercenaries for us?”

This made Merrin pause: she had never taken a direct kill assignment before... But she did feel more than a little bit murderous towards those mercenaries that had dispatched her so... effortlessly.

Sure, I wouldn't mind blowing that scum out of my galaxy. But in case you had not noticed, that little stunt of yours left me without a ship to fly.” Remembering that she had lost her ship made anger rise in her again.

Well, that is where the bonus comes in.” the agent said soothingly. “As you can see on the mission briefing I just sent you, on top of the normal payment for this type of assignment, we're throwing in a Cerberus heavy assault cruiser. Our records show you do have the required certification to fly this craft, do you not?”

Wow... Yes I can fly it.” Merrin could not help acknowledge the generosity. A Cerberus was a considerable step up from the little destroyer she just lost and looking at the mission offer, she saw that the standard payment was also an order of magnitude higher than what she was used to. “Killing pays, and it pays well it would seem”, she thought.



She couldn't help thinking of Korlis. When she returned safely from her first few assignments, she tried to make things right again with him. And at first, it did seem like she was succeeding: he moved back to their apartment and there was even talk about starting a family again.

But it quickly turned out that he was not interested in her, but in her new found capsuleer wealth; even as a beginning pod pilot, she was earning way in excess of what Korlis was making and he felt that he was entitled to most, if not all of it.

This time it was she who cut the arguments short by leaving the apartment, not bothering to tell him where she was going. She felt no attachment to the place any more: most people were afraid of her and did their best to stay away from her. She had already been spending more and more of her time at her more luxurious capsuleer quarters in the orbital station. From now on, it would be her home.

Seeing the payment the agent was offering her for this assignment, she could very easily imagine Korlis's face, with that ugly greed shining in those eyes she once loved so much...



Waking from her daydreaming, she wasn't ready to let the agent of the hook just yet: “Can I have your guarantee that this was the one and only time you withhold information from me? I cannot possibly be responsible for the success of a mission if I am not told the full story!”

Of course. In future we will always let you know when we give you a suicide assignment.” the agent smiled reassuringly.

Merrin thought she saw an evil glint in the eyes of the agent but she could actually appreciate the humor in it. “I bet you will!”, she laughed. “Fine. Tell me where my ship is so I can go scum-hunting!”

The mercenaries that had killed her earlier that day soon discovered that this was a pod pilot that could hold her own in a fight and true to their word, the corporate agents never knowingly sent her to her death without telling her again.



Present day:

When the mercenary pilots understood that Merrin was not retreating, they quickly moved into their optimal positions and fired upon her. Merrin knew she was in a bad place. The mercenaries knew where she would drop out of warp and had positioned there ships expertly. Merrin grudgingly had to acknowledge their skill.

With murderous intent, Merrin fired up her own afterburner and initiated a defensive flight pattern. Picking her targets skilfully, she was able to use her fast assault cruiser to evade much of the incoming fire the mercenaries were unleashing on her ship.

Having already fought mercenaries on more than one occasion, she was able to anticipate their moves and, being a pod pilot, there was no need to hold back.

As a fury from hell, she weaved thought the enemy ships, dispatching one after the other. Incoming hits made her vessel ring as a bell. The damage indicators went well in to the red and her overheated guns were causing serious damage to neighboring modules.

And then, all of a sudden, the last mercenary went screaming to his death and there were no more targets to shoot at.

Letting the adrenaline drain from her body, Merrin assessed the state of her vessel: most of her armor was gone and a third of her launchers were probably beyond repair. “This will cost a bundle to repair...” she smiled as she turned her ship back tot he mining colony. “Now to finish this...”.

As she approached the colony, an angry voice called out: “Capsuleer, this is the mining colony. Please hear us! We know the corporation sent you here to stop our revolt but can't you understand why we had no other choice? We had to send a message that we won't take it any more!”

With a shrug, Merrin closed the comm link and launched the communications beacon the agent had provided her with. Once deployed, the beacon started broadcasting its pre-recorded message: “This is a legal, official corporate sanction, imposed on the workers of mining colony CCWK-94G. As your representatives have been told, we can not and will not tolerate this revolt. As allowed under corporate law, events have been set in motion that will stop this revolt. This message will now repeat itself...”

Again, the settlement hailed her craft, but this time a desperate voice pleaded: “Capsuleer, please understand that we are peaceful people. We have no weapons and there are families, woman and children here!”

She closed the communications again. “Peaceful people... Right. Look at the damage to my ship! You would have thrown a party if those mercs had put me in my clone!” she thought angrily.

...


Later, back at her quarters, Merrin sent out a call to her agent while she was ordering the repairs to her ship.

Merrin Forese, how nice to hear from you again.” the agents voice came from the communications terminal. “I trust everything went satisfactory?”

As expected, the colonists had arranged for some protection.” Merrin answered, “But as I predicted earlier; it was no problem.”

I see your ship got quite badly damaged. It must have been quite a fight.”, the agent smiled approvingly. “Any wounded?”

No,” Merrin answered with a grin, “no wounded... And no survivors”

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