It Was The Year Everything Changed
The persistent chirp of the communicator next to the bed finally had its intended effect; a hand slid out from under the covers and pressed the “answer” button. From the bed, Erbo’s sleepy voice said, “Yeah?”
“Abbot?” Through the haze, Erbo recognized the voice of Valorna Edgeworth, one of the Ralpha Dogs’ newer members. “You’d better take a look at the news feed. Something’s up. Something big.”
“Right,” said Erbo, straightening up and swinging down from the large captain’s bed. “I’ll call you back.” He cut the connection as Selena, still lying in the bed, stirred but did not wake. He walked over to the living quarters’ terminal, powered it on, and punched for the latest news reports. As the various dispatches began crossing his screen, his eyes widened.
“Nom de merde…” he whispered.
“What is it?” said Selena from the bed, now awakening herself. “What’s going on, baby?”
“The end of the world,” said Erbo, standing up and grabbing for his clothes. “Or at least of a world. Among other things.” He shrugged into his black shirt, fastening the buttons quickly, and reached for the black trousers hanging over a chair.
Selena hopped down and began scrambling for her own uniform. “How bad?”
“Half a billion people, and God alone knows how many else,” said Erbo. He slipped on the hooded jacket, black with one sleeve gold from shoulder to elbow, marking him as an Abbot of the Ralpha Dogs. Quickly, he fastened the broad leather belt at his waist, properly centering the buckle over the jacket. “Get dressed. We need to get in the office.”
“Already on it,” said Selena.
Erbo keyed the communicator. “Val? Meet us in the office in 15 minutes. Pass the word.”
. . .
“And that’s what we know thusfar,” said Erbo, addressing the various corporation members that Selena had been able to round up. “So far, we know of Seyllin I, an ORE mining expedition, and a Thukker caravan that have been lost as a result of these vents, as well as a CreoDron expedition that may have entered one of these ‘wormholes.’ And now we’re getting reports that capsuleers have been trying to get into these wormholes and explore what’s on the other side.”
“What is on the other side?” asked Valorna.
“Reports are hazy as of yet,” said Erbo, “but what information we do have points to a new, alien race, with technology and tactical skill far in advance of our own. It’s not known yet if they’re the force behind the catastrophes we’ve seen here in New Eden, but least hypothesis does make them the prime suspects.”
“So, when do we go after them?” The voice was not very familiar to Erbo yet, but his eyes picked out the speaker, a young Caldari by the name of El Tigrgra, his orange sleeve marking him as a “new drop” to the Ralpha Dogs.
“That would be unwise at this time,” said Erbo. “We don’t have the resources or experience to take on this new alien race yet; it would be throwing good ISK after bad just to make the attempt. Besides, we have our hands full out here.”
“Sweetheart?” That was Selena, her head bent over a communications console. “I’ve just received some communications from a couple of the Hauling Hogs. They’ve gotten themselves trapped in a star system beyond one of the wormholes. They’re self-destructing their pods.”
“Thanks, love,” said Erbo. “Keep me posted.” He turned to face the other Ralpha Dogs. “And that illustrates the other principal danger these new spaces pose; you might find youself trapped, completely cut off from the world we know, with your only route back being the Clone Express. Or worse: you might find the route back, but it might lead anywhere…like right smack into the middle of Goon space. Anybody feel like trying out that scenario?” His eyes narrowed. “Other than you, El Tigrgra, I mean?”
“Very well, then,” said Erbo. “Until further notice, our policy will be: Avoid any wormholes. Do not approach and do not enter. It’s not worth the risk to us right now.” His demeanor lightened a bit as he continued. “We’ve got plenty of opportunities right here in the real world, never you fear.”