TransStellar Shipping Storage station, in orbit around Jarzalad 8, moon 8:
The delivery pilot announced himself in the station manager’s office. “‘Scuse me?”
Scowling, the station manager looked up from the datapad on which he’d been reading the latest news from the home systems. Just what I needed right now, he thought. He grunted, “Yeah?”
“Got a delivery to make,” responded the pilot. “Three Mark XIV capsules, to be transferred to resident pilot hangars and exchanged for Mark XIII units.”
“Huh?” responded the station manager. “Why you botherin’ me with it? Take it to the corp office for those pilots.”
“Can’t,” came the reply.
“No one there. Place looks empty. Well, ‘cept for some cryostasis tubes…those things creep me out worse’n a Caldari frail.”
The station manager frowned as he looked over the proffered delivery status document. It seemed illogical; most of the deliveries he’d seen for the Mark XIV capsules had been at least a week ago. But everything looked to be in order.
“Awright,” he grunted. He reached over and touched an intercom button. “Gilles, Louis, report to…um…” He checked the document again. “Receiving Bay 12. Cargo offloading and transfer.”
“Thanks,” said the delivery pilot.
The station manager didn’t even grunt goodbye as the pilot walked out the door, already returning his attention to his datapad.
. . .
In Receiving Bay 12, the promised help was already present by the time the delivery pilot entered. They’d brought a repulsorlift hand truck, large and powerful enough to carry a capsule and offset its mass enough where a couple of strong men could move it.
At the pilot’s command, the cargo hatch of his vessel swung open, and the cargo elevator sank slowly towards the deck. It bore three shining new Mark XIV capsules, the latest word in technology for the capsuleer pilots that made up New Eden’s true aristocracy. Straight off the CONCORD assembly lines, the pods did bear one non-standard item of ornamentation: three symbols, outlined in space-black permapaint against the bronze of the hull. A letter P, a letter A, and an equilateral triangle.
“What the hell is that?” asked Louis.
“Damn if I know,” muttered the pilot. “But the instructions were specific about the lettering. Had to hold these three up another day while they slapped ’em on.”
Gilles consulted a datapad of his own. “Well, let’s get the first one on its way.”
He and Louis began to maneuver the repulsorlift under the edges of the capsule, making sure the safety slings were in place before engaging the repulsor fields.
. . .
“Would you look at that!” gasped Louis.
Gilles nodded. The hangar they were in obviously hadn’t been accessed in months, but was chockablock with ships of various types, visible in the dim emergency lighting. Most of them were Gallente designs; all bore the same markings as the new capsule they pushed into the hangar. Towering over them all, the massive bulk of an Obelisk freighter sat like a hullmetal god. It, too, bore the three-symbol motif, and under it, a painted name: TUOMAS HOLOPAINEN.
The two quickly located the old Mark XIII capsule they needed to replace…and were shocked to find that it hardly seemed used at all. The hull was nearly as bright as that of the new Mark XIV capsule they had brought with them; it had very little of the dull patina caused by the impact of micrometeoroids that slip in through the shields of a spaceborne pod no matter what happens, or of the minor dents and dings a pod shows just from being slipped into and out of so many ships. And certainly, they could see no carbon scoring or other indication that it had taken fire.
“What do you suppose is up with all this?” asked Louis.
“If it were me,” said Gilles, “I’d be sayin’ that this is the hangar of one of those three that’s up in those cryostasis tubes in that one office. And I’d also be sayin’ we wouldn’t be deliverin’ new pods to these hangars unless them that is up there intend to be wakin’ up. Pretty soon now.”
Shaking his head, he directed Louis to maneuver the new pod into position. “Never could figure capsuleers.”