Fiction: Credo’s Bounty, by Alan Mathison

“You’re really set on this?” Frank Kameny asked. “You know that you can continue to do everything you were doing before. We both know that Doc wouldn’t have any problem with you continuing the Astrographic Expedition, for example. I really think Star Tide Industries has had enough change for a while.”

“I appreciate that, Frank,” Alan Mathison responded to his old CEO. “You know this isn’t being done because I’m mad about us moving into Provi, or anything. And I know Doc would be happy to have me continue the Astrographic Expedition here, but it’s really more appropriate under Signal Cartel’s banner. There’s nothing wrong with where Star Tide is, but it’s not the corporation I joined to help build Citadels. We’ve grown, and you don’t need me for that anymore.”

The two men sat alone amidst a large cafeteria in Star Tide’s Kastoro-Stacio Citadel in the Riavayed system. Both of them held hot cups of kafo in their hands, slowly growing cold. While no announcement had been made, Kameny suspected the whole Corp knew what was going on and had decided to give these two unusual friends a bit of space.

“It’s funny as hell. A year ago I would have loved to have this conversation. I never wanted an overbearing Amarrian snob in Star Tide anyway!” Kameny said with a smile.

“And I couldn’t believe I was so desperate to work with Citadels that I’d ask a dirty, stinking Minmatar if I could join his corp,” Mathison laughed back. “And so here we are; both getting what we no longer want a year later.”

“Mynxee will take you back? You’re sure?” Kameny asked.

“Oh yea. For some reason I’ve never understood, she likes me. I wouldn’t have. Not after what I pulled at Gelhan station – asking and getting the quartermaster position and then quitting on them not 2 months later.”

Alan Mathison,” the general Citadel intercom announced, “Your frigate is now ready in Docking Bay A94. Alan Mathison, your frigate is now ready in Docking Bay A94.

“And that’s my ride,” said Mathison. He stood up and Kameny stood up with him. They looked at each other. Finally Kameny broke the silence.

“Take care you smug, overbearing, holier-than-thou Amarrian scum.”

“You too, you stinky Minmatar!”

After a moment’s pause both men moved into an embrace. “Thanks for everything, Alan. We couldn’t have built this Citadel without you!”

“Hey, Frank, you just need a break. Shit, you’ve been dealing with me for a year. That’d nearly kill anyone. Star Tide will be fine. Doc’ll be a great CEO. You’ll see.”

They released and Mathison moved to the door. Three-quarters of the way there, he stopped, paused, and turned around. “Frank,” he said, “Tell Doc – not a scratch! When he moves this little Citadel to Provi he better not put a scratch on the damn thing. I’ll come after him, Credo or no Credo.”

“I’ll tell him,” Kameny laughingly assured him.

Alan Mathison, your frigate…

“OK, OK, OK!” Mathison shouted into the air as he exited. “I hear you. God damn it! What do you think you are? My mother?”

***

Now leaving warp. Gelhan Station now on grid. Gelhan Station now on grid!” The AI system in the frigate sounded insistent and Mathison realized he’d been thinking about his leaving Star Tide Industries yesterday perhaps with too much attention. Lose attention like that in the wrong place and a capsuleer would end up waking up nowhere near where they wanted to be. That would be annoying.

Mathison punched up a recently received email:

Of course you’re welcome back, Alan! Glad to have you —
Mynxee

Mathison inwardly smiled as he took the Astero’s controls and moved to the station’s docking bay. He didn’t think he’d ever know how he made the impression on Mynxee that he’d had, but now he had to figure out how to deserve it. He was back at Gelhan station, yes, but he wasn’t intending to get back his quartermaster position. He wanted to “ease back” into Cartel life; find something sustainable. Part of him wanted to do a “Louis Wu” and just head out to the deep, alone for a while. But if that was the case, he hadn’t needed to rejoin Signal to do that. Hell, he wouldn’t have had to leave Star Tide. No, there was something else here. He just had to spend some time to recognize it.

But first let’s pay attention to docking the damn ship, he thought. Crashing into Triffton’s docking bay would be a poor way of saying ‘Hi! I’m back!’

***

Mathison let loose a packet of eight scanner probes from his Stratios-class exploratory cruiser CSS Janet A. Mattai. If Signal Cartel people were supposed to be good at anything, it was scanning, Mathison thought.

Things looked light today – just three cosmic signatures came up. Methodically, Mathison set about scanning them down. The first two turned out to be combat sites – pirates out here trying to hide out. Some people went after them. He tended not to. At least not today.

The last signature turned out to be a wormhole. That sounded interesting. Bringing the probes back into the bay, Mathison engaged the Stratios’ warp drive and moved to the wormhole 4.6 AU away.

Quickly the wormhole came off his starboard bow. It was said you could tell where a wormhole transited by its color and corona. Apparently some people were really good at it; he wasn’t one of them. For the hundredth time he peered into and around the seething hole in space. For the hundredth time Mathison reflected that he probably wasn’t good at this because this seething anomaly in space always made him more than slightly nauseous. OK, we’ll guess Gallente space, he thought. He punched the computer to get an actual analysis.

LowSec Amarr space. Wrong again! Thank you for playing! What do we have for the losers, Adrien? as the ancient holographic game show hosts used to say. Was it worth checking out? A small taste of the home that now hated him? What the hell? Mathison hit the thrusters and the Stratios-class cruiser moved toward the wormhole. His stomach tightened for the leap through and he tried not to close his eyes. That was dangerous.

He was through! The quantum cloak was holding. He checked local scanners. Ooookay, he looked to be the only one in-system. What the hell was that bright light to port? Since he apparently was alone, he broke cloak and moved the ship to the direction of the light.

Gah! Too bright! Too bright! Mathison didn’t know if he’d thought it or had actually said the words, but the computer brought down the brightness on the screen several notches to compensate. Shit! Something’s wrong! I’m in the middle of a battle, Mathison thought. Those are exploding ships – big ones! He activated the cloak again and it took hold. That meant he was at least 2500m away from anything. Good. Why had the scanner been so wrong? He’d been the only one here. According to the scanner he still was. Wait. What system was this? He punched the scanner again.

New Eden! I’m in New Eden! The New Eden system. The first system humanity had ever come to in the cluster, Mathison mused wonderingly. That bright light wasn’t an exploding ship (largely because it was still there. It hadn’t dimmed one iota). It was the Gate! The EVE Gate…blinding him from several parsecs away!

Looking back to the scan something surprised him. Mathison was reading an Astrahaus-class Citadel several AU away. And a Raitaru-class Engineering Complex. That meant they were publicly available; he could dock at them. Interesting, he thought, that usually wasn’t the case in LoSec.

He chose the Astrahaus Citadel and hit the warp drive. Within seconds it was in front of his cruiser. He waited a couple of seconds and the tether did indeed reach out and and grab the Stratios. A tether, not a missile. Good. Mathison requested docking, and got it.

Upon docking, he found a regular Astrahaus baseliner crew in place, but no other capsuleers. Grabbing a Quafe, he found the Citadel owners were currently absent, but did come around regularly. The Citadel had regular Capsuleer visitors but militarily the system had been nice and quiet. New Eden, still, was known more for tourism and research – especially by the Sisters of EVE – than Capsuleer fights.

Hmmm, thought Mathison. Could I make a base – a home – here? He’d been thinking about a wormhole. He’d been marginally involved in the wormhole campus when he was a student at EVE University, but he’d not really given wormhole living a try. One of the possibilities he’d thought of when he rejoined Signal Cartel was its Anoikis Division. You needed some “time in grade” before you were eligible, and in the meantime this could work. Hmmmm. Hell of a view, too, thought Mathison as he gazed out the window at the blazing EVE gate.

***

The base idea had worked. It was three months later, and again, Mathison was in space orbiting an Astrahaus, but this time in the Exit system. A couple of other Signaleers had even joined him in New Eden. Today, in fact, he was in a Occator Deep Space Transport meeting one of their associates to guide them into New Eden. Signal Cartel was in the middle of one of the crazy CONCORD-allowed HiSec wars that, as a whole, they basically ignored, but it did make transport a bit difficult at times. Arielle en Distel had arranged for an associate who was not affected by the war, Morgan Garsk, to move some items for her to the New Eden system.

Arrangements like this were made all the time. Using a regular courier like Red Frog tended to be almost impossible for places like New Eden, so things were done piecemeal, in small batches. Mathison himself tended to use wormholes for transport, but those were subject to the whims of Bob, of course. Usually things were quiet in the EVE Constellation since the entire constellation was one big dead-end, but it only took one bad system to ruin your whole day. And because the constellation was a dead end, it was easy to set up a gate camp if you wanted. So it tended to get either be feast or famine; easy or deadly hard.

Mathison had been moving things to Zoohen and was on his way back to New Eden. He met Garsk in the Exit system and started a small fleet with him for the way back.

Everything went well until they got to Central Point system. Mathison was in a Deep Space Transport. Garsk was in a regular Hauler. They jumped the gate into the Promised Land. One more system ‘til home!

As they jumped in-system scanners showed two aggressor ships on gate, orbiting. An Hyperion battlecruiser and a Lachesis recon cruiser. These guys weren’t messing around. There was nothing that could be done.

“Garsk,” Mathison said, “Get ready to punch the drive and run for the New Eden gate. Run and jump. Don’t wait for me.”

“What the hell are you going to do? What can you do?”

“I’m going to drop cloak and bait them. They’ll go for me, and when they target me, you’ll be able to escape.”

“That’s dumb! Your ship is worth six times more than everything in my cargo,” Garsk objected. “Yea, but I said I’d get you to New Eden safely, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.” “Don’t be stupid!”

“Sorry,” Mathison said. “It’s what I’m known for. Warp! Warp now!” Mathison moved to engage the Hyperion, his quantum cloak dropping. He cut his coms. Now Garsk couldn’t argue. He hoped he could follow instructions.

Almost immediately the battleship and recon cruiser targeted Mathison. He let loose his drones knowing they’d not be enough. Through the viewer Mathison saw Garsk’s hauler dropping his cloak and aligning to the New Eden gate. It had worked! The battleship and cruiser were too busy with him. Both ships had launched drones against him, and now his ship shook with their damage. Ten drones. This wouldn’t take long. As if in agreement a small ship alarm went off. He’d lost over 80% of his shields already. His own board indicated he’d successfully targeted the enemy battleship and his drones had done 10% damage. Mathison smiled. He’d won. As he thought that, he lost the lock on the battleship. The enemy recon cruiser had been busy as well.

Something caught Mathison’s peripheral vision. He stole a look at one of the panels, this one monitoring the transponders in system. He’d seen one vanish. It was Garsk. He’d jumped into New Eden! All he could do is hope these people didn’t have friends there. If they did, there was nothing he could do. As if in agreement, another alarm went off in the cockpit; 80% of his armor was gone. Almost in hull. It was time to prepare to go. Mathison prepared to warp off when the Occator exploded around his pod. The third alarm – the hull alarm – sounded. The transport exploded and Mathison warped the pod away.

“GF” someone transmitted via the local beacon. Mathison sent a smile back. He wasn’t going to be bitter about this.

Suddenly a private conversation request from one Jonathon Rodriguez, the main attacker, came up. Mathison accepted it. “You got me!” he said, again smiling.

“Dude!” Rodriguez transmitted back. “Sorry, man! I didn’t realize you were with Signal Cartel”

“Yea.” Mathison punched up Rodriguez’s details in the CONCORD database files. “I didn’t realize you were with SUNDAR. I’ve been using your Citadel in Promised Land. Nice place!”

“Shit man,” Rodriguez said. “Give me a second.”

“That’s the issue with the heat of battle,” Mathison continued. “You just fight for your life.”

“I sent you ISK to replace your ship.”

“That’s very decent of you, Jonathan!”

“My mistake,” Rodriguez said. “I thought Signal Cartel was marked Blue to us. Give me a minute and I’ll give you blue.” A bit of time passed. “OK, you’re now on our private access list as well. You can access our Fortizar in Promised Land and the Citadels in the Access system as well. My bad. Safe flying to you. Won’t happen again from my alliance.”

“Thanks, Jonathan! Really decent of you. I appreciate it! Fight the good fight! o7!”

“o7!” Rodriguez ends. The transmission cut off and Mathison jumped into New Eden. Moving back to the Astrahaus to link back up with Garsk, he reflected on the power of the Credo. What had just happened wouldn’t have if if it had not been for the Credo and the reputation it had given Signal Cartel. It was interesting to reflect how much that had come to mean in a Cluster that seemed to thrive on virtually its antithesis.

The tether at the New Eden Astrahaus grabbed his little capsule and brought him to the docking bay. Well, I’m back, he thought.

Op Success!

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