Pyhrric Victory

Pyrrhic Victory – In PDF format, looks better because it’s justified/indented.

Pyrrhic Victory

In a seldom frequented, backwater solar system in the deep and dangerous depths of outlaw space, a young man, no, a boy with no significance of any kind, was dying. His glamorous hopes and irrepressible dreams of a great existence, as an immortal Capsuleer,
formed perfect, crimson globules as they were slowly pumped out of his broken
body. His eyes were stretched wide like burning moons around alien planets and
his face, almost ghoul like in the glow of flashing warning lights, was twisted
in a ghastly grimace of anguish too great for any living person to intimately
know and describe. Ceaseless spasms shook his frail body and caused him to cry
out meekly. He couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t help him; he was here,
dying, and yet they did nothing, his mind screamed into his failing consciousness.
Maybe that old saying was true after all, you go into death the same way you
came into life; alone. With that thought tormenting his tortured mind, the boy
slipped into the eternal abyss.

Capsuleers had it easy, for ones not as fortunate as them; every trip could be their last.
Ryan, a competent and clean-shaven man in his thirties, couldn’t help but think
about that as he listened to the boy coughing his last behind him; they had
been close friends and he had taken the boy under his wing when he had first
signed on to crew  for him a few years back. The boy had joined up as a navigations officer, and his CV had been good for Federation Navy drop out, but he couldn’t think about that right now. His life and the lives of the rest of his crew were in imminent jeopardy, he
couldn’t help the boy no matter how much it hurt his body and soul. His heart
wrenched nauseatingly inside him and it felt as if a vice was viciously
clamping down on it, but then a fresh explosion, which reverberated through the
creaking hull, knocked Ryan from the franticly, flashing console he was trying
desperately to get a grip on. He was shaken out of his reverie; his ship
couldn’t take much more of this pounding, it wasn’t designed for an extended
slugfest and each shell that ferociously penetrated its armour like huge
burrowing cockroaches, felt like a stab into his own flesh.  He pushed off hard from the back wall of what remained of his battered bridge and soared through bits of shattered consoles, which still sparkled evilly, and spheres of congealing blood which lazily splattered over him in streaks of rust. Not a single member of his bridge was unscathed,
and those that were in any fit shape to still follow orders were as terrified
as a cluster of new-born mice surrounded by packs of starving cats, and yet
they still obeyed him efficiently and without question; such was their
experience and professionalism.

Ryan, whilst relatively young to be commanding a ship, for a non-Capsuleer, was no
less qualified to do so. He had worked towards his current position through two
decades of strife, manual labour and psychological pressures. During that time
he served aboard non-descript pirate frigates, captained salvage destroyers
through long periods of destitution and eventually earned a name for him-self
as a skilled cruiser commander who ransomed multiple industrials frequently,
with or without an escort. After twenty years of scrounging a living he managed
to hoard enough isk to buy, fit and hire the crew for a Pilgrim, and its
purchase marked the pinnacle of his long career. For the following two years he
carefully learned the nuances of careful target-picking, fast and deadly
ambushes and the discrete trailing of vulnerable targets. He had recently
become interested in the high risk, but profitable game of bounty-hunting. With
a few successful kills under his belt and a slowly swelling wallet he began to
take on more exciting and more volatile prey, prey with bite. He started
hunting the immortal gods themselves. To his surprise, he found that
Capsuleers, while not easy prey, made tactical errors because they were not
afraid of death; they would walk into traps, ignore obvious warning signs and embrace
combat in situations where others would do almost anything to avoid it. In some
cases, this arrogance made it easier for him to hunt them down and lure them to
their deaths, or at the very least, temporary deaths.

His bedraggled crew had gone without pay for two long months now, and while they
didn’t openly say anything, he could feel that they were disgruntled through
the way that they walked, talked and breathed. They hadn’t even docked up,
relaxed or laughed for at least twice as long as that and the tension was
getting to them, he knew he had to give them a break soon or frayed nerves
might lead to unnecessary deaths. But he couldn’t stop, not now! He had been
stalking this particularly juicy piece of meat for what seemed like an
eternity; he was on the trail of an elusive Capsuleer by the name of Daniella
Verus, who had stepped on the toes of one too many corporate leaders and had
earned quite the bounty on her head. He still couldn’t grasp the implications
of that much isk; two hundred and fifty million, that’s enough to retire him forever, or to buy himself a more advanced ship. He hadn’t decided what he’d do yet and the possibilities kept pouring like moonshine into his mind, making it salivate at the prospect.  Ryan had sighted his prey a couple times and on one instance was floating close enough to her to be able to even read the faint and scarred lettering of “Glistening Glamour” painted in bold, black letters on the side of her ship’s bow. He had been sorely tempted to make his
move on those sparse occasions and the urge to do so was a thousand incessant
itches clawing in his mind. But he held his hand, he needed her alone; far away
from any kind of assistance or support, then and only then, would he strike.

He had shadowed Daniella to this remote and hellish place. The Blood Raider
covenant in all its dark glory ruled these space-lanes and he had to be careful
to avoid them, for a fate worse than death awaits those that fall into the
grasp of the Blood Raiders and he couldn’t understand why Daniella would travel
to such a place. He believed that the bounties on such deadly pirates as these
were high, but why did she not stay near her own corporate space? Within their
borders multiple pirate havens lay hidden, ripe for the greedy picking of Capsuleers.
Dawning understanding washed all emotion and blood from his face when he picked
up four distinctive signatures of scanning probes on his scanner. She didn’t
come here to destroy pirates for bounties; she came here looking for a
wormhole! His thoughts raced through his head; space on the other side of wormholes
was dangerous, filled with all manners of ancient robotic guardians, protecting
the precious assets of a long forgotten race. Capsuleers voyaged into this
unknown frequently for the priceless technological bounties within those
robotic hulls, but for those who weren’t Capsuleers, such journeys were
infinitely more deadly as the chances of surviving those automatons were slim
at best and there was no cloning vat for them to calmly wake up into if
something went wrong.  Ryan had another problem to contend with too, for if he went through a wormhole after his prey, he ran the risk of it closing behind him and locking him, along with his crew, into a purgatory far worse than any devil could devise; with slowly dwindling supplies and no safe berth to dock in, his ship, which was the ultimate symbol of personal freedom to many, would become a floating nightmare of cannibalism,
mutiny and despair. He had never entered the unknown space beyond the wormholes
before and he certainly didn’t want to now, and so Ryan knew he must catch
Daniella before she went through.

The time had come; he had waited his whole life for this moment, and everything he
had done before led to this point in space and time wherever that may be. This
was the moment when he’d either fail or fly and he knew it would be the latter.
He had found her floating mere metres off of the eerily glowing, phosphorescent
blue wormhole and had eagerly started his attack when her ship twisted
unnaturally into impossible curls which spun and disappeared in a blue flash;
she had gone through. He stood there, in the middle of his ship’s bridge and let
the waves of rage drown his rational thought as the azure nexus swam dizzyingly
in front of his bloodshot eyes; it taunted him with countless shadows which
swirled across its face and ringing in his mind he heard the astral laughter. Forgetting
all past fears he commanded his ship forward and through, it’s bow warping when
it broke the glass-like surface. The feeling of going through a wormhole was
akin to having your insides being turned upside down and given a violent shake
before having a whole bottle of laxatives forced down your throat. Ryan’s knees
were quivering and he felt as if they’d go numb and collapse on him in an
instant; he had to hold onto his console to regain his balance and his resolve
was temporarily undermined by the quivering in his muscles. Some, more
delicate, members of his crew weren’t faring as well, his helmsman, or more
accurately his helmswoman, was knelt face down on the floor with her back arching
into the frigid air while she retched over the once shiny deck. The sharp smell
of cloying acid and the sight of her crumpled form focused Ryan’s mind and he
straightened up, instantly becoming a steadfast role-model of composure and
self-control. To his purest and innermost delight, Daniella was right there. The
shadow of her mighty vessel engraved onto the blue-black background which was inlaid
with a million foreign stars and nebulae.  The golden bird that was his ship soared
forward, out of the swirling enchanted mists that clung to the wormhole, and
glinted brightly like a glorious phoenix born out of the ashes of fire and the
red flecks that ran along its hull gleamed like a slaughtered tribute to a dark
god.

Daniella’s vessel was not as glorious, it was not designed with aesthetics in mind; it was
a killer and was not dressed up to be anything else. Along its dark shape
against the backdrop, slivers of silvery light shone through spires,
out-riggers and spindly arms which reached out in front to grasp things to maim.
Ryan felt a shiver, like ice cubes, slide down his spine and his broad shoulder
blades tingled with excitement. Her ship may be state of the art and it may be
the bane of all ships its size and some larger, he thought to himself, but I
have the element of surprise and I’m feeling good this day. His technique was
immaculate, but he didn’t take in to account one thing of an extremely critical
nature, and it would cost him dearly. At the centre of the solar system he
found himself fighting in, was a Pulsar; the resistances of his specially
engineered armour was reduced and his capacitor’s recharge capability was
greatly decreased. In comparison, the Pulsar benefited Daniella greatly; her
shields were boosted and this petty Pilgrim that dared attack her found that
its signature radius had become almost as large as a Battleship. The Pilgrim’s
energy zapping neutralizers emptied her Capacitor, but she did not need it, the
passive recharge on her shields and the added boost she received from the
Pulsar could tank its pesky drones, for a while at least. The Pilgrim’s tracking
disruptor did nothing as its form appeared so large on her sensors that her grinning
autocannons couldn’t have failed to hit it a light year away. Daniella was
pleased and not in the slightest bit worried, it was a free kill after all;
just another thing to brag about to her corporate friends when she got back
home with her hold full of valuable sleeper loot.

The long streams of deadly cannon shells, almost bright against the starry
background, after easily shredding through its meagre shields churned the
Pilgrim’s armour into a flayed mess of twisted and melted metal. The Pilgrim
looked like a comet as it raced back to the wormhole; bits of armour, people
and metal forming a thick, sparkling trail which spun urgently behind it. An
explosion blew the pilgrim into a slow spin as fresh rounds punctured some
critical part of the ship; the back half of the left engine tail had been
entirely separated from it and the people inside were resigned to a slow death.
Daniella’s vessel leapt forwards like a panther to follow the Pilgrim back
through, on the other side, space was littered with the melted debris which had
been thrown out by the disdainful wormhole. After returning to normal space,
Ryan’s Pilgrim had been able to start repairing itself and it was ready for its
final confrontation.

Ryan’s hands were gripping his console tight enough for his knuckles to be almost a
perfect transparent white, muted screams from other decks could be heard
through the gaps in weapon fire and they raised the hairs on the back of his
neck, but his face was set in a grim line of hate and resolution. Melted and
still live wires fumed with unhealthy wisps of grey smoke which were pungent
enough to make your eyes water. Damage control fields protected breached areas
from explosive decompressions and armour repair devices started the reforming
of twisted metal that made up the hard outer shell of his ship. Then she was
there, her dark vessel emerging from the nether like a black tongue reaching
out from a giant spinning maw. Ryan’s breath caught in the depths of his throat
like a blockade behind his heart but he acted with the alacrity of experience; his
ship, not fixed and nowhere near it, was at least capable of fighting again. The
neutralizers came back into play, the tracking disruptors helped avoid the
streams of death that poured out from Daniella’s vessel like a deadly rain and his
drones started eagerly eating her shields.

Daniella laughed maliciously inside her pod, her body twitching in amusement. This
Pilgrim believed it could contend with her, it didn’t even realise she had been
playing with it like a cat does a mouse. She calmly activated two modules and
waited for the tears to begin.

Micro energy streams streaked out from her vessel and entangled Ryan’s Pilgrim. Immediately his ship became slower than a Battleship, she had webifiers and that knowledge ended him. He slumped down into his chair, stopped issuing orders and watched the damage readouts which screamed lists of errors and failures out to him. He
couldn’t hear them, but he could see his panicked crew shouting at him through
an underwater haze, their movements in slow motion; the boy was at his side, shaking
him, begging him to do something and then he clicked.  The noise washed back over him, the frantic shouts, and the clangs of more rounds hitting the hull, the wailing sirens and the boy’s desperate efforts rocking him back and forth. He stood up, gently pushed the
boy to the side and nodded at him before taking command of the bridge again. The
relief of his crew apparent on their blackened faces, he was there and giving
orders again, they’d make it out of here. They wouldn’t.

It was too late; her shields were weakening, but his armour was on the verge of
being non-existent under the constant biting of her hungry shells. Internal
gravity had failed, his armour repairer had long since burned out and his
capacitor was struggling to maintain enough juice to power his tracking
disruptors, warp scrambler and neutralizers. He couldn’t let her go, NOT NOW,
not when he’s so close, the two hundred and fifty million danced before his
eyes. After this kill, people would pay extra for his personal services to hunt
down ones they wanted dead. Multiple explosions rocked his bridge and knocked Ryan
from the franticly, flashing console he was trying desperately to get a grip on.
The boy was floating in a halo of his own blood and Ryan ignored his pleas, he couldn’t
let Daniella get away! His honour, reputation and ego were at stake!  He pushed back towards his console and grabbed onto it to stop himself from soaring away. A panel to his left short circuited and fried the once recognizable form of his communications officer across the bridge in a storm of bright, blue crackling light and smoke, his charred and smouldering husk filling the room with the nauseating stench of burnt flesh.

SHE CAN’T WIN, his mind screamed at himself, I can’t let her win. She thinks she
has me, but we’ll see what she does now. Ryan tapped a message out onto his
console while his world burned around him, “Weak and warp scrambled Loki at the following coordinates” and he broadcasted it around the system through the local channels. It was a very risky move and he knew that, the system was ruled by the Blood Raiders and they’d surely come to remove both the threat of the Loki and to harvest its crew. The only problem would be if they would accept payment for the lives of his crew or not. He just wished he would be able to destroy Daniella’s pod after the Blood Raiders
destroy her ship.

Sure enough, they came, like demons summoned from a hidden portal, three mottled
burgundy battleships and a swarm of blotchy red cruisers emerged from their
warp and they saved Ryan and his crew, for last.

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