Ill tidings

Author’s note: This is the continuation of the in character story I started a while back.

Here’s a short recap if you wish to dive right in:

After Loreena’s home planet was destroyed in a cataclysm, she struggled to keep the pieces of her life together. Aeon was ever present since he saved her from Aramea’s destruction, even if always from a distance. As a true lone wolf, he was always on the move – but their bond was stronger than even they realized. Loreena found a way to fill the emptyness she felt by creating the Aramean Excavations project: a non-profit organization dedicated to salvaging the remnants of her home planet from the debris field that had taken its place. It was on the day of its inauguration that both their feelings came to a head. During the ceremony, Loreena was on the verge of collapse when Aeon finally stepped in and revealed to them both with a kiss just how strongly they felt about each other. Since then both have gone back to their usual routine, but things were not quite the same anymore.


Jarzalad System, Tash-Murkon region, somewhere in the vicinity of Jarzalad V.

His thoughts invariably wandered back to the kiss – How that simple touch revealed the extent of his feelings for her, locked away unbeknownst even to himself. He enjoyed every bit of it, but he had a lot of trouble focusing on anything else. The vibration from a kinetic cruise missile hitting the ships’ armour brought his attention back to the battle. He had to adapt his strategy somewhat, those heavy hitting drone ships had a lot of range, and Angus’ Fist, his Hyperion, had trouble keeping up with the damage even under full afterburner. He changed his trajectory to bring a cluster of debris between him and the heaviest hitters and concentrated his firepower on a lone battleship coasting close by.

The question of course, was whether this would change anything. Did it have to change anything? He sneered at this line of thought. People as experienced as him should be immune to such dilemmas. Nevertheless, here he was – wondering what he should do now, how that simple – yet very enjoyable – moment would affect his life. Did he fear change? Him of all people, the nomad, bathing in constant change? He had to admit that much: he was indeed afraid. He knew where this fear came from: while he was used to constantly changing sceneries, opponents and more, the constant had always been his solitude. Lone wolves do not have a mate. Would he stop being a lone wolf, then? He laughed aloud at all this silliness. He was putting way too much thought in this – he had to approach the subject the same way he did everything else. Bend to the change, embrace it and make it your own.

He focused back on the fight at hand. His opponents were crumbling, but the drone commander was at least a competent pilot. He had tractored in the wrecks of the ships in his fleet and was using them as a shield of sorts. Smart – Aeon’s guns had trouble tracking the commander’s ship in all that rubble, while in turn his guns had no trouble tracking Angus’ Fist. Aeon saluted an original move, and smiled as he launched the salvage drones. He knew that the done commander had no weaponry left that could shoot these small craft, and they would have that rubble cleared in a few minutes. The drone commander got the point almost immediately, and responded the same way that countless drone ships had done before it by blasting through the rubble on a collision course – stressing the thrusters as far as they would go. Aeon was ready and unleashed several salvos that crippled the ship. He smartly avoided the disabled ship, matched speed with it and launched the grapplers. His mission was to retrieve the drone commander’s AI core, so he gave his team of marines the go to board to retrieve it.

Two hours later, he was a few million ISK richer, and some obscure caldari scientist was the happy owner of the drone’s AI core. Sometimes he wondered what they used these things for, but if you wished to keep getting good missions it was best not to ask too many questions. He had considered asking his agent for a follow-up contract right away, but he knew that he was only stalling for time – keeping himself occupied to put off what he should have done days ago. He looked out intently into the station’s ship hangar, and without a second thought activated the slot holding Swoooooooosh, his Malediction-class interceptor. It was rigged specifically for fast travel, so that the 29 jumps to Gamis would go by in a flash. He had to stop in Lustrevik on the way, but that was not too big of a side trip.

As usual there were gate hugging hyenas loitering around select star gates on the main shipping lane to the Rens hub. They did not pose any threat however – he was way too fast for them, and he did not carry any cargo worth attacking for. He docked in Lustrevik after an uneventful trip, and spent almost an hour rummaging through his old Syrkos Technologies corporation hangar to find what he was looking for. He had only recently remembered that Loreena’s mother had given him a plain wooden box to give Loreena once they would be out surveying the belt. Through the cataclysm he had entirely forgotten about it, and it had ended up here with the rest of his useless objects collection. He had no idea what could be in it, and he was tempted to attempt to open the seal and have a look at the contents of the box. Knowing how easily she had always been able to read him, she would see through that little lie immediately, so he decided against it.

It always felt peculiar coming back to Lustrevik. His corporation hangars here were the oldest of all the Syrkos Technologies offices, and they even had a distinct smell to them; a smell that he had grown fond of. It was dusty of course, and through his hoarder like compulsions he had collected any number of memorabilia over the years that created a peculiar mix of smells not unlike an attic in an old house. This had to be as close to a home as it would ever get for him. Not one to linger on nostalgic thoughts for long, he went back to the hangar with the box to finish his trip to Gamis. As chance or fate would have it, the automatic docking bots had put his ship right next to Crimson Skies, his Hurricane-class battle cruiser that he and Loreena had escaped Aramea’s explosion with. It was a ship filled to the brim with memories, and not all of them good. Right before Loreena’s father had convinced him to take on the mission to escort his daughter, he had been having dark thoughts about his mortality. Even if he ship ultimately saved them both, he had not been able to fly it again since.

He stood there for quite some time brooding about symbolism, cheesy romantic actions, the foolishness of love and the like. He loathed himself for even coming up with the silly idea of bringing her this old bauble in the ship that saved them – it went against all his usual instincts, but he did it anyway because it felt very appropriate somehow. Thanks to the station’s automated maintenance routines, the ship was in pristine shape, and all systems checked out perfectly. Part of him had wished that it would not be able to fly, but the roar of the powerful thrusters coming to life left no room for doubt as the ship soared out of the station. He had not undocked in a Hurricane in over six years, but he instantly remembered what he liked in the ship. It felt like an untamed feline, both fast and powerful. He enjoyed the tip to Gamis very much, and as he got closer he found he really looked forward to surprising her.


Gamis, Aramean Excavation’s Field Research tower, Loreena Syrkos’ office.

She knew that she was drowning herself in work to keep herself from thinking. There was way too much to think about, and none of the questions had easy answers – when they had answers at all. No point in trying to unwrap the mystery that was Aeon if he did not involve her in his life more. The kiss had shown them both what had been there all along, but neither of them really knew what to do about it. In Aeon’s case she felt it was quite simple, since he was used to a solitary life – but then everything he had done for her over the years directly contradicted this. A knock on the door took her out of her reverie, and she let Anthea in.

“I thought you’d like to know right away that the survey teams we sent to planet ten moon two have found a number of promising debris orbiting it” she said, slumping into the couch in the corner.

“Have they found anything we can use?”

“No, they just started setting up there. They positively identified the debris as Aramean though, which is a good start.”

“Thanks, that’s good news indeed.”

Anthea looked at her critically. “You look like you could use some sleep.”

Loreena smiled. “That’s very mildly put coming from you.”

“Okay, you look like shit,” she answered with a perfectly straight face. Loreena laughed, Anthea was known to freely speak her mind, and Loreena had come to appreciate her blunt edges.

“I know, but I can’t seem to stop. There’s just so much to be done.”

Anthea ignored that. “You’re going to have to take the initiative here you know. If you wait for him to make the next move, you can wait forever.”

Well, that was blunt enough. “That would be much easier if I knew what I want myself, you know.”

“Bah, don’t give me that crap. You have wanted to be with him for years, and now you even have final confirmation that he likes you too. I don’t see how it could get simpler than that.”

“You’re taking all the wind out of my self-pity you know.”

Anthea giggled delightedly. “It’s time that wind blew in another direction anyway. Just get some rest, girl – and then go get him.”

“You always make it sound so trivial, so simple.”

“That’s because ultimately, it is. People just tend to complicate things by adding thought to the process.” She said it with such a perfectly straight face that Loreena had to laugh again.

She bowed, and replied, “I shall be guided by your wisdom.”

“I shall be guided by your wisdom?” Anthea repeated mockingly with a smirk. “Damn girl, you sound like you fell out of a cheap heroic fantasy book.”

Loreena was about to retort when the light in the office suddenly darkened. They both turned towards the wide glass pane that was pointed towards Gamis’ star, and saw that a ship was hovering right in front of the office. Not any ship, either – she recognized it instantly.

“Oh my,” she said. Anthea looked puzzled.

“You know this jerk?”

Loreena nodded. “That’s Aeon. And that ship is Crimson Skies, the one we escaped Aramea in together.”

“Oh my,” Anthea said in an awed voice.


As he approached the tower for docking, the station’s services informed him that Loreena was in her office. He figured that having come this far in gooey romantic ideas, a finishing touch would not hurt that much. He cancelled the docking request and enabled manual flight controls. He plotted a course that would bring him directly in front of Loreena’s office. The tower was set to reposition itself automatically to always face Gamis’ star – something about the light as he recalled. Blocking the view should have the intended dramatic effect. He sent a camera drone ahead, and its video feed confirmed that she was indeed there, along with Anthea. He laughed. Some fierce warrior he was! If this were a cheesy romance movie, he would probably serenade her next. He shook himself to get rid of the imagery and concentrated on the manoeuvre. This required some finer piloting skills, and he definitely did not want to spoil the effect by ramming into something useful.

As the ship slowly drifted into position, he watched the video feed intently. They had seen him, and the effect of surprise seemed complete. He could not see enough details to judge their reactions accurately, but Loreena’s smile was confirmation enough. He burned away from the station again, and let the automatic docking bots haul him in. He frowned at his pulse, which seemed quite fast. How could this put him in such a state? He had fought battles in which he had barely gotten out with his skin intact, and those had made his pulse race less. He took a moment to calm himself and picked up the wooden box on his way to the airlock.

He expected Loreena to greet him, but instead Anthea was standing there with a mischievous grin.

“I expected a different kind of welcoming committee,” he said a little sullenly.

“You’re supposed to give a girl a fair warning in advance you know,” she countered.

“You never seemed to be hampered by the same affliction,” he added a little accusingly.

Anthea laughed. “I call it evolution. Come on; let’s not make her wait either. What’s in the box?” she said, pointing at the box and walking off towards the tower’s main course. Aeon followed.

“To be honest, I have no idea what’s in there.”

“You should have gift-wrapped it at least.”

“It’s not that kind of gift.”

She glanced back at him. “You’re not making much sense you know.”

“Not my fault if you don’t ask the right questions,” he said, hoping to irritate her out of being so jovial. Anthea, however, seemed to be unaffected and just laughed.

“I don’t think you would like to answer the questions I think are right,” she said and winked at him.

He laughed. “You’re a terrible person, you know.”

“Oh yes I know, everything I do is terrible,” she said and led him into Loreena’s office. As he went past her, she winked at him again and whispered: “Don’t think. Follow your instincts.” Then she closed the door behind her.

Aeon did not know whether that was supposed to be genuine advice or an elaborate kind of mockery. There was never a reliable way to tell with Anthea, but he liked her nonetheless. She had rough – really rough – edges sometimes, but she was nice and fun. Loreena, on the other hand, was looking very regal. She usually wore utilitarian clothes, even if always chosen with taste, but this was something else entirely.

“You have me at a disadvantage, your highness – I am not properly dressed for dining with an empress.”

“The feeling is mutual then, I haven’t got the foggiest idea how I am even supposed to move in this thing.”

He laughed. “You do look stunning, though.”

“Well, you made quite an impression back there. I had to respond in kind.”

“Oh, that. I was in the area, so I thought I’d drop by.”

“Your definition of area is rather large… weren’t you in Jarzalad this morning?”

“Aye, I was. But then I remembered something, and I thought you’d want to see it,” he said and gently put the wooden box on her desk. She looked at it a bit dubiously.

“It is a remnant of your past,” he offered in way of explanation.

“It is?” she answered in a hushed voice, looking down at the box.

“The day your father hired me to escort you into the asteroid belt for your surveys, your mother took me apart on my way to the ship and gave me this box. She told me to give it to you when you started your surveying. I completely forgot about it, but this morning the memory of it struck me.”

“What is it?” she asked, running her fingers over the wood.

“I don’t know.”

He watched her for a while as she stood there, staring at the box. Then he went over to her, and kneeled on the floor beside her chair. She slowly lowered herself into it.

“Shall we open it together?” he offered in a whisper. She looked him straight in the eyes, and nodded. He broke the paper seal with a nail, and they both lifted the lid. It was filled with paper scraps to protect the item within. They lifted handfuls of them out, and he let Loreena take the item itself out. Aeon was not familiar with it; all he could see was that it was an electronic device of some kind. Loreena however had tears in her eyes, but was smiling at the same time.

“What is it?” He asked.

She took a moment to answer. “It’s a spectrometer. I had pestered my father for months to buy me one. I had all but given up on it; somehow it’s comforting to know that he relented.”

“Can you still use it?”

“Let me see. It’s quite a bit smaller than those I am used to.” She studied the spectrometer from different angles and leafed through the small handbook that came with it. Aeon went through the box again, making sure they had not missed anything. He had expected there to be a note of some kind, but apparently her father had been a man of few words – verbal or written.

“It’s actually quite neat. It’s not as precise as my regular one, but its size makes it ideal for field work. I can definitely use this,” she said. In her expression he could see her picturing herself in the field with it. He smiled to himself and emptied the bits of paper in the bin.

“I’m glad that you found this,” she said, gently taking his face in her hands and kissing him longingly.

In between kisses he murmured, “I’m rather glad I did too.”

She laughed. “You would be, yes.”

“It’s strange… I find myself drawn here, to you. Your call is stronger than space, and she has been my mistress for as long as I can remember.”

“I think the attraction has always been there, we just didn’t know what it was.”

“I’m glad that we finally know, even if I have to admit that I’m afraid.”

“Afraid of changing your ways?” She asked softly.

“Yes.” He answered simply.

“We will have to make it up along the way, but I don’t think that we should change too much. We are both very independent; removing that would make us unhappy. I am perfectly content to follow my instincts and just chase you down whenever I have need of your company.”

He was speechless. His biggest fear, eradicated in such a short moment. Since he did not know what to say, he settled for kissing her again.

She smiled in between kisses. “I gather that arrangement suits you, then?”

“It does,” he said, and bowed low before her. “You shall be my prime mistress, before even the stars.”

“I swear, you guys deserve each other,” Anthea said through a crack in the door. “Have you considered joining one of those famous medieval plays? You’re naturals!” she went on, just as Aeon slammed it shut.

“Did you manage to pinch her nose at least?” Loreena asked.

“No such luck, she’s as slippery as a greased eel.”

“I heard that!” came the muffled reply half choked with laughter from beyond the door.

“She has a point though. You are my knight, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Despite himself he had to laugh. He opened the door, and beckoned to Loreena to join him. Expansively he said, “What say you, my lady, shall we go yonder debris field to apply this fortuitous apparatus to all manner of mystic rocks?”

They all laughed. Aeon and Loreena took the Hurricane out into the Aramean debris field, and tested her father’s spectrometer on some previously surveyed debris. They did not find anything worth keeping, but they enjoyed it very much. They did not have to say anything; simply being together filled the void. Aeon just let himself be caught in the flow, without thinking about it. He was treading entirely new ground, and he certainly was not going to spoil the experience – new grounds this good were hard to come by.

His instincts were as sharp as ever however, even preternaturally so now that his existence had found new focus. He warily observed two battleships approaching the tower in the distance, and moved the ship to hide it in the debris field. Coasting among the debris, the battleship’s sensors would have trouble detecting them. They did not have anything to hide, but there was no need to broadcast their position either. Prudence is the mother of all virtues, as the saying goes – In New Eden this was a good philosophy to live by. One of the battleships entered the shield and docked at the station, so he slightly let down his guard. If Anthea had let them in, they probably had good cause to be there.

“Something on your mind?” Loreena asked, eyeing him from behind a multi-coloured rock they had hauled into the cargo hold.

“Some visitors at the tower. Were you expecting anyone?”

“No, but it’s not uncommon – we have a fair share of visitors. What’s the name of the ships?”

Aeon checked the overview. “The docked ship is Tarmane III, the other Tigerfish. Very original.”

“Tarmane is Spencer’s ship, he’s weird but harmless. He’s one of our top contributors, but his reasons elude me. The other doesn’t ring a bell.”

Aeon ran an additional background check. “Tigerfish’s pilot seems to be a fabrication, and a sloppy one at that.”

“How so?”

“No one is good enough to fly a battleship within two weeks of his pilot’s license.”

Loreena frowned. They both had enough experience to recognize when a situation had potential for shenanigans. “Should we risk calling Anthea?”

“They haven’t noticed us yet, better not to gamble our advantage just yet – we might need it later on.”

“Most of our museum pieces only have sentimental value, if they planned something I don’t know what they could be after.”

“You said Spencer is weird – who knows what he fancies in your collection?”

“We really need to have eyes and ears in there.”

Aeon thought for a while, and seeing the multi-coloured rock suddenly knew just what they needed. “I know how. It’s an old trick, it’s far from obsolete.” He went through the cargo bay, and fetched one of the ship’s camera drones. “These guys have a range of two hundred kilometres.”

“Won’t its transmissions be detected?”

“No, they use tight-beamed transmissions to avoid interference with other equipment. Their thruster heat signature or energy emission can be tracked though, that’s what we need the rock for,” he said and pointed to the multi-coloured rock.

Loreena looked puzzled.

“I’ll weld the drone to the rock make to make it look like a piece of debris. I will just have to make sure that it keeps the rock facing to them.”

“That’s a neat trick. Still, won’t it be a bit obvious if it flies straight through the shield of the tower?”

“I’m hoping they won’t bother watching it for that long.”

“They’re just sitting there. They don’t have much else to do, and if they are indeed planning something they are going to be very alert.”

“That’s true. Then we will have to give them something else to watch.”

She laughed. “You have that look in your eyes. What are you thinking?”

“We have all these free debris floating around, why don’t we send a few their way? A few bigger ones.”

“That would definitely get their attention.”

“I would think so. We can send one of the bigger rocks on a collision course, and a few others around it. They will be forced to do something about it, which will also give Anthea a clear message that we’re watching.”

“I like it. I’ll take care of putting the rocks in motion,” she said enthusiastically and started running towards the bridge. They had not discussed exactly how they would do it, but he trusted her to come up with a good solution.

“Aye, and I’ll send the spy drone on its way,” he shouted after her.

About twenty minutes later, the cluster of debris and the spy camera drone were on their way. Loreena had used a number of camera drones to put the debris in motion according to her calculations, making sure they stayed on the dark side of the battleship’s scanners. A number of smaller fragments had been sent on ahead to mask the bigger rock behind them, which would undoubtedly cause some commotion on Tigerfish once their sensors picked up the real threat. It would not be enough to endanger them, but enough to keep them occupied while the spy drone would go through the shield of the tower.

Loreena was looking at her handiwork. “You know, hauling rocks at people is really bad manners if they have an honest reason to be here.”

Aeon grinned. “We won’t tell them.”

Exactly thirteen minutes later, Tigerfish’s thrusters suddenly came alive and the ship awkwardly tried to get out of the trajectory of the debris. One of the smaller chunks sent sparks flying as it hit the ship’s shield.

Aeon frowned. “Talk about evading a turtle… I’m starting to believe he did in fact get his pilot’s license two weeks ago.”

“At least we can be pretty sure the drone went through unnoticed.”

They both laughed. “And we’re connected to the tower now. I’ll let you work,” Aeon said.

Loreena logged into the tower’s systems, and went through the feeds to find their guests. “Found them,” she said and put the feed up on one of the bigger screens. There were four people in the room, shown from a ceiling camera. One was Anthea, the three others Aeon had never seen before.

Loreena pointed at the man standing right beside Anthea. “That’s Spencer.”

Aeon heard a female voice speaking. It was Anthea.

“…it will most likely take several more years to finish the survey of the debris in this system,” she said in a voice that seemed almost on autopilot. This was a rehearsed talk no doubt.

“Yes, yes. I appreciate the tour, Miss Syrkos. A lot of work no doubt,” Spencer said and Aeon disliked him right away. He had the tone of someone used to having his own way, a man full of petty whims and an over-exalted opinion of himself.

One of the men behind Spencer motioned to him and told him something.

“Ah, it seems the area is not without danger. The pilot of my escort just evaded some rather large debris coming from the debris field,” Spender said a bit accusingly.

Anthea nodded and pointed toward the big window in the room. “While the debris field has mostly stabilized, occasional stay debris are not uncommon. Thank you for telling me, I will make sure to tell our visitors about the danger in the future,” Anthea said smoothly.

Spencer beamed. “Do that, yes,” he added and then they all stood there for a while in an uncomfortable silence.

“Nothing suspicious so far,” Loreena said.

“No, but let’s wait a while longer. I get the feeling Spencer is not done yet.”

As it were, Spencer broke the silence. “I was hoping to meet with Miss Loreena. She is your sister, yes?” he asked.

“Yes, she is. She will be gone at least until tomorrow, I’m afraid,” Anthea answered carefully.

“Good girl,” Aeon murmured. Anthea was apparently just as suspicious as he was.

“That is most unfortunate,” Spencer said sullenly.

“Do you perhaps wish to make an appointment? My sister is seldom here in her office,” she offered.

Spencer seemed to consider it, and looked at one of the men behind him, as if to get confirmation. If the man replied in any way, it was not visible in the feed.

“No, we will have to do this without her,” Spencer said with a new, resolute tone of voice. Aeon did not like the change at all, and beside him he felt Loreena tense up as well.

“What…” Anthea started to say, but one of Spencer’s men moved quickly and knocked her out. Aeon gritted his teeth. That man had just forfeited his clone, if he had any. Loreena’s sharp intake of breath signalled that her line of thought was quite similar.

“Get her on board the ship, she can still be useful. Search the tower and get rid of anyone else,” Spencer commanded. His two goons ran out the room, dragging Anthea’s limp body between them, Spencer sat down at her office and began using the computer.

“We should have thrown a bigger rock,” Aeon said between clenched teeth.

“Luckily no one else is in the tower today, it was just Anthea and me,” Loreena added.

“Can you find out what he’s looking for?” Aeon asked, pointing at Spencer still typing avidly on the office’s desk console.

“No, I can’t see what he’s doing right now. I can try to figure it out from the console’s history logs once he’s done.”

“That’s better than nothing. Right now we need to keep them from taking Anthea though. If they get her on their ship, she’s lost.”

Loreena started calling up and dismissing one screen after another on her console, and Aeon let her work. He went through all the possibilities that came to mind, including ramming Spencer’s ship to keep them from boarding the ship, but that was only a last resort. Besides, they would probably not reach the ship in time even if they started burning at full thrust right then.

“Hah! Got you, you bastard,” Loreena shouted triumphantly.

“What did you do?”

“I put the tower in reinforced mode and triggered a full lockdown. Unless I lift it again, none of the docking bays will be functional.”

“So they are stuck in there, but we are stuck out here as well.”

She nodded. “It gives us time to come up with a better idea.”

“We will have to think fast, because now they know we’re here,” he said pointing to the overview. Tigerfish was moving towards the debris field, towards Crimson Skies. “Smart – they’re following the trajectory of that debris we sent at them.”

“How fast can they find us?”

“If we stay cold, those sensors of theirs will need to get within twenty kilometres of our position or thereabouts to find us, give or take a few kilometres. But by then, we will have exhausted most of our options to surprise them.”

Loreena nodded glumly. “What do you propose?”

“Am I right in assuming that Tarmane III cannot undock because of the lockdown?”

“Yes, the docking clamps are blocked as well.”

“So we only have Tigerfish to worry about, and we have the advantage of speed – as luck would have it, we are even fitted for heavy combat so I say we chance it.”

Loreena looked apprehensive. “You mean just take that ship head on? It’s a battleship!”

“We will have to take it head on eventually, Crimson Skies is a brawler. I am thinking of adding a bit of deception into the mix though.”

Loreena nodded quickly, and let Aeon get to work. The bunch of camera drones Loreena had used to propel the debris was still hovering beside the ship, and although their energy reserves were almost depleted they were going to put that to good use. He fished out a combat program he had written a while ago, and assigned all the camera drones to it, plotted a course and let them fly. At the same time, he started the main thrusters and initiated a course to take them slowly out of the debris field while staying hidden as long as possible.

Loreena watched the proceedings intently. A few minutes later as they were going to clear the debris field, the camera drones all coalesced into a peculiar shape as dictated by the combat program, and began to burn at full thrust on a vector that would take them into the path of the approaching battleship. Tigerfish took the bait and started burning towards what looked like an unidentified ship on the overview. At the same time, Aeon went full thrust and engaged the afterburner. Committed to its current course, the ungainly battleship chose to tackle its current target first. A target that proved to be quite volatile as the camera drones suddenly broke formation and scattered in all directions, making the false ship signature disappear.

Almost at that exact moment Crimson Skies had Tigerfish webbed and warp scrambled, and was starting to pound the battleship’s shields. Their ploy had worked, because their opponent lost precious seconds to start to fight back, and when they did Aeon had to laugh.

“They are using beam lasers. At the speed we’re orbiting them, they won’t be able to hit us. They might get a lucky shot or two in, but that’s it.”

“They must know this too.”

“They most surely do. That ship is armour tanked though, I don’t know if we have the firepower to break those defences. We’ll know soon,” Aeon added as they started to break through the remaining shield. After several more seconds that seemed like an eternity, it became clear that Tigerfish’s defences were no match for Crimson Skies’ damage output. Aeon started to rejoice, but he curbed his joy knowing that desperate enemies do desperate things. He kept his guard up, and tried to think like his victim.

His thoughts were interrupted as a massive blast hit Crimson Skies’ shield. Somehow Tarmane III had managed to override the security checks on their cruise missile launchers, because they were shooting at them right out of their docked position at the tower.

Aeon cursed. “This changes things.”

“Can we take that kind of damage?” Loreena asked apprehensively, not having much experience in combat.

“We are already avoiding much of the damage with speed, but they can still slowly grind us to dust. We have to finish Tigerfish and come back in a ship better suited to the task.”

“We can’t leave Anthea!”

As if that was a cue, they were suddenly hailed by the tower. Tigerfish was already crippled and not even bothering to shoot back anymore, but Aeon kept shooting while he answered the call. He noted happily that Spencer looked very much annoyed.

“Stop shooting right now or she dies,” he threatened, moving out of view to show one of his goons holding a gun to Anthea’s head.

“Only if you stop shooting at us as well,” Aeon countered as he tracked the seconds to the next volley of missiles. As he had expected, Spencer gave the order but a new volley was launched anyway – they did not have enough time to stop the cycle of the launchers. He let his guns fire one more volley as well, critically aimed at Tigerfish’s thrusters to immobilize it entirely.

“Are we standing down, or are we not?” Aeon asked pointedly.

“Stand down! Stand down I said!” Spencer shouted hysterically.

“Watch your trigger happy people on Tarmane III then, I’ve stopped shooting,” Aeon answered calmly. He did not, however, stop orbiting the carcass of Tigerfish in case more missile volleys were coming. Every second they gained now helped replenish the buffer of defences on Crimson Skies as the armour was being repaired and the shield regenerated.

On the comms feed, Spencer was putting a rebel strand of hair back in place that had hopped out of place during his outburst.

“You will release the lockdown immediately,” Spencer said irritably once he was satisfied with his hair.

“We will do no such thing,” Aeon answered calmly.


“If we do that, we lose our only bargaining chip. Hostage situation 1o1 – not an option.”

“You might as well pull the trigger yourself then,” Spencer spat back.

“You will probably do that anyway,” Aeon countered. “This is all very dramatic and all, but before we finish killing each other, could you at least tell us what you bloody want?”

“Oh.” Spencer replied a bit sheepishly. “We skipped that part, didn’t we? Very well – I want nothing more than Miss Syrkos herself,” he added.

Aeon was about to make a very offensive reply when Loreena put her hand on his arm. She motioned to the screen, silently asking to reply herself. He shook his head slowly, not wanting to let them know she was there – but she simply shoved him out of the way.

“This is unlike you, Spencer. What the hell do you want from me?” she asked in a tightly controlled voice.

“Oh, marvellous, you’re here!” he replied, giggling to himself.

“He’s bonkers,” Aeon murmured in Loreena’s ear. She shook him off irritably.

“What of it, what do you need me for exactly?”

“You will be the crowning of my collection!” he said excitedly.

“You’re not making any sense.”

“It will be glorious; your joining the rest of your people in a monument to Aramea’s glory will make history! You will be remembered for all eternity,” he raved on, almost drooling onto the screen.

“He is quite mad,” Loreena murmured back. “Thoughts?”

“There’s more here than meets the eye. He’s mad, that’s quite clear. But earlier, he asked for confirmation from one of his goons to go ahead with whatever they were planning – you weren’t there at the time, so it might not have to do with you at all.”

Loreena smiled and nodded admiringly at Spencer as he went on raving, now explaining how they were going to encase her in a diamond case which would preserve her body for millennia.

“We won’t find out what the real motive was from here. We will have to go in,” Aeon whispered.

“To this madman?” she whispered back in a hiss.

“He seems to be a good mood right now, let’s not enrage him again and play into his hand for now.”

“It’s crazy,” she said between clenched teeth as she continued to smile at Spencer.

“Yes, but at least we know we’re walking into a trap.”

“Wonderful,” she said expansively for both Spencer and Aeon’s benefit.

To be continued…

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