The docking level of the citadel was quiet- well, as quiet as it ever got. She’d made her way down to the capital ship hangars, often with just a skeleton crew of engineers and mechanics and citadel staff and their potential questions at this late hour of the evening. She didn’t own any of the ships here, but somehow being in the presence of these vast majestic constructs just felt right. Walking along the gantry, she spotted a Nyx docked awaiting repairs a little further ahead. He’d have liked that, she found herself thinking, making a beeline for the bay holding the Gallente supercarrier.
Beyond the distant sound of repair machinery clatter and the hum of the citadel’s power, it was mercifully peaceful. She crouched on the gantry in front of the ship, then sat and swung her legs through the gaps in the safety rails, folding her arms into a pillow and resting them on the chest-height bar now in front of her. As her head dropped forward to nestle on an elbow, she felt the first stinging of tears. There was no need to keep up a facade of responsibility right now, so she allowed them to tumble into the cavernous abyss of the hangar bay.
He hadn’t been a capsuleer. She’d always thought he secretly wished he could be, but he’d always seemed happy as a senior engineer. When she’d told him she had passed all the requirements for capsuleer status, he’d given her the biggest bear hug imaginable. “See, all your hard work paid off,” he’d said proudly, almost brotherly, as he ruffled her hair. “Some day we might both end up on the same crate, who knows!” She remembered giving him a playful slap on the arm for that. “No ship of mine will ever be a ‘crate’, thank you very much,” she’d said with a laugh. “Better make sure you get the best crew on board then,” he’d retorted, “So, where do I sign?” That had earned him another slap.
Maybe if he’d just – No. This wasn’t the time for ‘maybes’ or ‘what ifs’ or ‘if onlys’. He’d always enjoyed the details of things, focusing on one singular thing and giving his all to that one thing until he was happy with it. Engineering allowed him to do that, and he did it well. His way of looking at problems, of breaking them down into their components parts and dealing with them one by one, had been quickly picked up on by enterprising recruiters. It was then her turn to be jealous as his first ship assignment had been on board an Amarrian cruiser on escort duty; while her own first ship has been nothing more than a tiny frigate with a grand total of three crew.
Wildly differing schedules and often hundreds of systems between them made regular contact difficult, but every communication they did manage to get was full of anecdotes and good-natured mocking. He was quickly becoming a well-liked and respected engineer, earning praise and promotion along with brief assignments on capsuleer crews. She was making good headway herself, quickly getting to the stage of having an on-call crew pool to man her ever-growing list of available ships- but never an opening for a senior engineer.
She drew her arms in tighter together, finally rubbing the tears from her cheeks. The gantry was cold and uncomfortable beneath her, but the peace and quiet was a rare luxury. Too rare, she thought, shifting the position of her arm-pillow. Now she was closer she could see the amount of scorch marks and armour damage on the Nyx’s hull, cutting through layers of slightly faded paint and accumulated dirt. Her own ship had fared just as badly on her last op, the fresh paint on her Scythe cruiser blackened and scarred in more than a few places.
It was also the reason she’d missed the initial message.
He’d been assigned to a ship much closer to her own current base of operations, and their last communication had been vague plans to rendez-vous at one of the nearby stations once his current crew run was over. That had been weeks ago, now she thought back on it. The last she’d heard, the small fleet he was with had hit some logistical problems; some of the more ‘enterprising’ capsuleers in the area had been watching their movements and decided to make a formal declaration of aggression. He’d sent a somewhat sulky comms message about all his hard work being continually undone as they tried to pick their way from station to station and make frantic dashes between gates. She hadn’t found time to reply, as her own logistical problems took up more time than anticipated.
It was only after her battle-scarred Scythe was docked and the crew signed off that she’d had chance to take time in one of the available captain’s quarters. Amongst the messages and updates from her alliance was a battle report, forwarded to her by a station engineer chief she’d gotten to know on one of her numerous repairs.
It was his ship. Destroyed in its entirety, not even the pod of the capsuleer pilot getting out alive. It was a cruiser, same as her own, but one of the Amarrian Omen-class ones. A slightly higher crew compliment due to their precarious situation, though she knew the survival rate remained just five to ten percent. As the list of lost souls kept scrolling, it seemed to be coming up at the lower end of that estimation.
And there was his name. The accompanying crew roster photo was slightly faded, the letters ‘KIA’ sitting beneath his slight smile. She read it five or six times. Then reached out with a finger and gave the screen a gentle tap. Maybe she thought she would fix it with her touch, but instead it enlarged his photo and crewmember information, bringing it to cover most of the screen. She poured over ever word, every letter, despite having known all this information for years. Some panic-stricken part of her was hoping to find a problem, a mistake in the paperwork that would make it all right again. There was none.
A fresh wave of grief hit her as she remembered. Her arms were hugging the rails so tight it hurt, though she barely noticed. Her tears were silent, her gaze fixed on the ship in front of her and the view into open space that lay behind it.
“I’ll be flying one of those one day.”
“One of what? That? That’s a supercarrier, they take forever to learn to fly. Besides, it’s not even Amarrian.”
“When you’re a capsuleer you don’t have to just fly your own ships. And I’m a fast learner, you know that.”
“I guess. Ok. Someday we’ll get you in a Nyx.”
“Didn’t think I’d let you leave me behind, did you!”
“Goodnight, old friend,” she whispered to the stars beyond, her voice shaky and ragged. “Save me a place out there, will you?”
In memory of Chris
The man who taught me to never stop reaching for the stars.