A Chance Encounter

The Serpentis ships scattered like angry bees, pursued by their own predatory insects, Hammerhead II drones.  Behind them, the Mons Olympus’ mighty railguns poured forth their firepower.  Inside the battlecruiser, safely tucked into a relatively new Mark XVIII capsule, Erbo directed the battle, his senses extended to sweep the space around him, his motor impulses and his very thoughts translated into orders to the guns, engines, and drones.

He’d spotted this Serpentis lookout complex earlier, out probing around the Aclan system in his trusty scanning ship Amaranth.  He’d done it on a lark, really, just to keep his skills sharp.  He hadn’t known going in whether he’d find something like a hidden asteroid belt, or perhaps a wormhole entrance…but a Serpentis complex it was, and he’d decided to take it out.  Just for drill.

An alert tone crossed his awareness.  The scope showed another ship here, not one of the Serpentis.  The tactical readout quickly came across the fiber-optic control lines and into Erbo’s head: Ishtar-class heavy assault cruiser.  Pilot: Engalo, member of AlphaCore corporation.

Erbo froze.  This was an exceedingly dangerous situation.  The other pilot was prohibited from attacking him outright by CONCORD restrictions, but there were several tricks unscrupulous pilots could use to attempt to cause other pilots to lash out…whereupon those pilots would call in friends and eradicate the poor bastard who’d been tricked, with CONCORD looking the other way.  Yet the other ship wasn’t making any suspicious move…other than shooting several of the Serpentis ships, but those were fair game for anyone.

Fine, Erbo thought.  You don’t bother me and I won’t bother you.  I’ve got a fight to finish.

Soon, the last Serpentis vessel fell.  Erbo began looting and salvaging the wrecks, bringing in his drones and reloading his guns, just as standard procedure called for.  The four wrecks that the other vessel had destroyed shone yellow on the display, but he made no attempt to do anything with them.  There was another area to be cleared beyond the next acceleration gate, anyway.

Suddenly, a message popped up in Erbo’s augmented vision: Engalo was requesting communication.  Erbo opened a channel, but said nothing on the line as yet.  This complex wasn’t worth losing the Mons Olympus over.

“Good to see another corp with a moral backbone,” came a rich, cultured voice over the ship-to-ship comm system. “Sorry for messing your complex up. Take care.”

“Nah, you want the rest of it?” responded Erbo.  “You can have it.  I ought to–” But it was too late.  The channel had been closed.  The Ishtar was gone.

Erbo shook his head and went back to his salvaging job.  He did, however, activate another communication channel…this one to Swine Aviation, the alliance that his friends in the Hauling Hogs had created.  Shuckstar, head of the Hogs, was on the line; he and Erbo had exchanged greetings earlier.

“Damnedest thing just happened,” said Erbo, and proceeded to relate the story to Shuckstar.  “What was he complimenting me on?  That I didn’t try to trick him into ninja-looting my wrecks and shoot his ass? Hell, I thought that’s what he was about to try to do to me.”

“He read your corp description,” offered Shuckstar.

“Hmm…maybe,” mused Erbo, heading for the next acceleration gate.  “Maybe we’re just too nice or something.”

“Yeah,” said Shuckstar, his laughter carrying across the light-years.

Shuckstar signed off soon after that, pleading fatigue, and Erbo was left alone with his thoughts.  What was that pilot doing?  If it had come down to a fight, a heavy assault cruiser would have been able to make short work of Mons Olympus, if fit correctly…and Erbo could almost guarantee that the other pilot had more experience in ship-to-ship combat than he did.  So why didn’t Engalo try to provoke him and roll the dice?  Maybe there’s a few gentlemen left in this galaxy, he thought.

Then, too, it had been rare in the past that there would be others entering a complex as he was clearing it out.  The cluster was definitely getting more crowded.  Erbo doubted it would get better anytime soon, even with the promise of more riches out on the wild, unmonitored frontier.  There were new capsuleers being churned out of the major educational institutions all the time.

With a sigh, Erbo docked up, making arrangements to have the ship reloaded and repaired, and its spoils of war transferred to the corporate hangars.  Ours not to reason why, he mused, ours but to do or die.

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