Unearthing The Past


Maarten Buitendijk


Disclaimer: This story takes place in the universe of EVE, which obviously is not owned by me. However, nearly every character in the story will be my creation as I mostly wanted to borrow the extended lore of the universe and thought it would provide fertile grounds for an epic story, complete with all the (possibly not so) good things in life: love, war, tragedy and epic conflicts. The main characters are original, although Evelynne is loosely based on PsiDraconis' character (mostly in appearance/name) as it is on of my favorite characters ever written. But I think the specifics of the character are sufficiently different that she is, overall, mine. I just wanted to acknowledge the original inspiration for her.

A/N: I decided to write this from Evelynne's perspective as I favored the idea of seeing the whole story unfold through the lens of a single person's perception, with all the limitations and surprises that brings.

I decided to start off with a (much) later scene to give some indication to what you may expect in terms of action later on in the story. The first actual chapters will be a lot of character development as I don't have any pre-existing material that people already know to fall back on for that. My apologies if it takes a few chapters to really get going; I felt it was important to have some more background-type chapters first to establish the history of the protagonist of the story, as I think that will allow people to identify with, and care about, her struggles all the more as they unfold before our eyes.

I have not really planned the whole thing myself, and will most likely take it wherever the characters and plot want me to go, but there should be plenty of enjoyable scenes for almost anyone, whether you're a fan of detailed space battles or (very possibly) sappy romance.

It certainly will be rated M, and my apologies if any later scenes disturb people. I promise not to make truly bad things too graphic, but I do believe it is important to include both the great and terrible acts that human beings are capable of in my writing.

I don't personally know why anyone would be affronted by it, but there will certainly be loving relationships between individuals of the same gender, and possibly other less “mainstream” arrangements. This universe is about 25,000 years ahead of ours, and I sincerely doubt that ALL the many species that inhabit it are as narrow-minded as some people in our day and age are. But I do promise that whatever the particulars, my characters will have very believable and, above all, loving relationships. I hope that inspires others as much reading about it as it does me writing it.

Lastly, I do hope this story can appeal to more than just people who play the game. I think it is more broadly interesting, myself, and I mostly used it for background/setting purposes. In the end, the broader themes that matter most are universal. I mostly am writing this as a way to express myself, so having people read it is optional. Though extremely fulfilling, none-the-less. Enjoy! If you want to send feedback, feel free to email me at mbuitendijk@gmail.com. :-)

Chapter 0: Prologue

YC 113 (current year)

OSY-UD, Curse

There was darkness everywhere. The void that surrounded me now was something I had become familiar with over the past two years. The feeling merged with each and every instance of leaving or entering my ship. First, as always, I had felt the brief but agonizing sensation of the cables as they connected to the ports along my spine, moments after entering my capsule inside the central nervous system of the Loki. Hidden behind armor plating thicker than trees, and layers upon layers of shielding that could stop almost any weapon known to man, if only for a time... It was truly the brain of the ship.

Most spaceships were flown by enormous, tightly integrated and expertly trained crew. As a capsuleer, however, the many, many upgrades that had been added to my body, my mind, allowed me to control the entirety of this cruiser by myself. The incredible flow of information that normally required a crew to handle, to respond to, was efficiently relayed along amplified neural pathways into my cybernetically enhanced brain. No human being could process that much data; but then, I was no longer entirely one of them.

My main tie to others, to humanity, however, I still felt. There was a familiar tingling in my auditory and visual cortices, and I smiled to myself as a beautiful face popped up in my mind. It was nearly an order of magnitude faster to respond to direct neural input than it was to see someone, and one of the many reasons I, and other capsuleers, could do what we did.

I smiled at her, an old habit that had yet to fade. She could not see me, of course, but she could feel the mental equivalent of what had made me smile, and I could see her smile in response. Alecto. She who meant almost everything to me, now. Even my prodigiously enhanced mental capacity failed to extrapolate what I may do without her at my side; there was only a void, as if the absence of her meant no future could be plotted, could exist at all.

“Evie...” I could see her whisper my name. “I am ready, my love.” An eager smile lit up her face. I giggled to myself at seeing her that excited. “This should be so much fun! I can't believe we located another one of the ancient sites so soon after the last one!”

“Me neither. Usually it takes me weeks to locate one as promising as this...” We'd been hunting for ancient sites for nearly three months, trying to find more clues to what fate had befallen the earlier civilizations of this galaxy. Not to mention, the fact that it made good money... Both the artifacts, after having sufficiently analyzed them ourselves, of course, as well as the materials and salvage from the Sleeper drones that guarded the complexes that we frequented were worth millions upon millions of ISK.

If my parents could see how much money changed hands on a daily basis for items such as that, they'd probably die of shock. But then, they no longer had to struggle to make ends meet these days. I definitely took care of that . It was really the least I could do for them, now.

I continued. “Are you ready for this, my beloved Alecto?” I sent her a fond smile. “You are ten times more gifted at interpreting these archaeological finds than I am, you know.”

She smiled shyly at that, looking absolutely endearing. “Evie... You say the nicest things to me. I know you could probably do this yourself fairly easily...”

I interrupted her. “Maybe I could, but that's hardly the point, my love. I am sure I could learn to do this extremely well, but I am better off specializing in learning how to ever more effectively protect us, and learning the latest nuances of every module we use on board of our ship.” I gave her another smile. “And you're really the best archaeologist and intuitive codebreaker I have ever met. That's no lie.”

She was silenced by that, and I could see the pride surging in her green eyes. “I know, and I'm glad you trust me, and my abilities, that much, Evie.”

“Well, you've more than earned that over the years.” I reminded her.

A smirk entered her face, then. “That's true, and I certainly am not a novice at certain other activities, I think.” Her perfectly sculpted, platinum blond eyebrow raised in mock challenge. As if I ever would contradict her on that . She was an absolutely phenomenal lover, that was for damn sure. Not that I had a whole lot of experience to compare ours to, but I felt comfortable to objectively state that our sex was mind-blowingly good. I had more than once had to repair a fucking co-processor because she managed to overload one of the pleasure circuits in my brain. Damn, but she's excellent. Her tongue, fingers... I mentally fanned myself. Focus, Evelynne, or you're going to be sorry later. It's hell to be inside a damn pod for half a day if you're incredibly horny. The universe knows we've had THAT before, too. I did remember, and it sucked in a major way. Although, the sex after was rather amazing. One of the times I alluded to before that we had needed to replace some of my implants after our, umm, activities.

I heard the melodic sound of her laugh. She looked supremely amused. “Are you remember that time, again?” She knew me too well, it was eerie sometimes. “Better not, my love, or you'll be distracted.” Her face became more serious. “I know we've done this before, many times even, but we shouldn't let our guard down.” She frowned, then. “I don't trust the other capsuleers here... Even though we have written and signed agreements with the majority of the corporations operating in the depths of this lawless area of space, you never know if someone would ignore orders from up high and try to collect a trophy. Or outsiders could come in...”

I nodded at her, mentally. “You're right, and I haven't forgotten. I'll be on guard. I have a precious cargo on my ship, after all.” I smiled at her, again. A warm, incandescent smile born of my love for this remarkable human being that was welded to me more tightly than I had ever thought was possible. Our futures were very much intertwined, and had been for nearly two years. Ever since that fateful day when I graduated, really, but that was a tale for another time.

I had finished connecting to my ship, and felt an enormous amount of information suffuse the neural connections of my brain almost instantaneously. The whole world outside me lit up, and it felt like I could see every direction at once. In a very real sense, I could, as optical sensors on the ship relayed data to me every nanosecond of the day. It was a very surreal sensation, and had taken me years to get fully used to. And I still missed things, sometimes. It was incredibly hard to train yourself to pay attention to everything at the same time, and was one of the things that took capsuleers the longest to master.

I could sense every vibration, every tremor in the molecular structure as the Loki shifted with its superior agility, and started moving towards the exit of my hangar space of the station. In a sense I was one with the entire ship, and felt what it felt. It was as if my consciousness had possessed this enormous machine, and in a very real sense I thought it probably had. I could control it as expertly as if flexing my human fingers, and no longer felt any distance from the mechanical form I inhabited now, as I once had when it was all new to me.

OSY-UD IX, Moon 16, Serpentis Corporation Chemical Storage. I had made it my home for the last few weeks, and was on fairly good footing with the pirate corporation that ran the place. Even did some missions for them in between scouting for new sites to explore. We had an... understanding, was probably the best word. And they were fairly honorable, as pirates went.

At one point in my life I would have been horrified at myself, as I was now... But then, that was before I knew many of the things I now knew... and what the just and egalitarian Gallente Federation was truly capable of. Freedom and equality for all, indeed. They conveniently forgot to mention some of the darker sides to the idealistic vision, and darker sides there were aplenty. I growled at the memories, cold hatred filling my mind. What they had done to me I could have forgiven, though it was immoral by any standard. But I never could, and would, forgive them the things they had perpetrated upon the woman I loved more than life itself. She had not deserved it, any of it, all as a way of harnessing me, controlling me. It was the first, and final mistake that particular governmental organization had made. I had seen to that, but again, it was a story for another time. Reliving that, now, would not be a good idea. I needed my attention on the task at hand.

Alecto, who had seen glimpses of where my thoughts went, sent a silent surge of love and support into my mind, which helped smooth over the roiling black sea. It quieted it some, but only ever temporarily. No, I would never forgive those responsible for that act of barbarism, and one day every single one of them would pay for what they had done. I had only managed to find the directly involved parties, and none of their superiors had been within my reach up until now. Maybe soon that would change. But it did explain why I was in this part of null-sec space, working with the Serpentis and Archangel organizations. Currently I was still proving myself, my value, to them. But one day in the future, they would help me hunt down those responsible for Alecto's violations. How ironic, in the end, that the stated reason for why they had taken her would ensure their eventual downfall.

I pushed those thoughts away, for now. The one downside of being supremely efficient at thinking along dozens of lines simultaneously, was that it was very difficult to completely shut something from my mind. It was as if part of my consciousness always thought of it, and never could let go. The constant presence of Alecto's mind in mine helped, though. When compared to the importance of her, the vengeance and hate was nearly non-existent. But the emptiness of space would tremble at the depths of my fury if she ever would be taken from me.

The Loki, our Loki, glided out of the station's loading bay serenely. Within the forcefield of the station's bay it was virtually impossible for anyone else to harm you. As soon as we left the perimeter, though, it was an altogether different story.

Currently, it should be safe, as the system scanner showed no active capsuleers in the system. The fact that every capsuleer was connected at all times to the galaxy-wide grid that made us immortal, also ensured that we knew of each other's presence in the same system. At least in K-space, that is. Where we were going that would not necessarily hold true, and I had fitted my ship with an advanced probe launcher that was very efficient at locating anything larger than a space rock the size of my head. It was really the best, and sometimes only, defense you had.

The Loki aligned quickly to the first of my many safe-spots in the system. They were a necessary precaution, as one could only warp to a known location. Warping to places everyone knew about and could easily reach was beyond stupid, and not something I had done any time recently. I grinned a little. I may have back in the day, before I knew some of the nuances of safety in these remote areas of space.

As the ship entered warp, I detected a presence entering the OSY-UD system. Unknown name, unknown corporation. My threat awareness level went up slightly. Though, as long as the capsuleer stayed off my ship's long-range scanners it would be fairly safe, as he shouldn't be able to locate me that easily.

The warp lasted all of thirty seconds, and as we left warp I could feel the brief sensation of discomfort coming from Alecto. She still wasn't quite used to the massive deceleration, even within the protective fields of the ship. At least , I thought, she hasn't puked all over the small crew quarters any time recently. Ah, fond memories. A feeling of mock outrage made itself known, and I could imagine the vision of her scowl.

As the Loki came out of warp speeds, I started deploying scanning probes to locate the entrance to the wormhole we'd be entering. I had scouted it out earlier, of course, but it was good practice to quickly deploy the probes on the grid I could mentally overlay on the OSY-UD system in a commonly used, very effective 7-probe pattern. Having four probes flanking the location laterally, with one above and one below, and a single probe at the center of the geometrical shape, really had been one of the most efficient ways of locating a signature that I had used. As I moved the probes on my mentally overlaid grid, Aura, my AI companion, sent the corresponding digital signals to the scanning probes.

I quickly shifted to my second safe-spot in the system, not wanting to remain in the same place for too long. It wouldn't do to have someone else locate, over time, all my safe havens in the system. Some capsuleers could be quite persistent, and hunt you over a period of weeks just to get the bragging rights of a kill, and the valuables on your ship. The unknown capsuleer had left the system, again, but it really was better to be safe with these things. Complacency had ended many an illustrious ship's career. Not necessarily the capsuleer, as we were nigh-immortal, but it was hideously expensive, and somewhat traumatic, to wake up in a clone somewhere else. Hurt your ego, for one.

By the time the ship came out of warp once again, I had located the wormhole signature and locked its signal down. Recalling the probes, I felt the Loki shift once more towards the outer arms of the solar system, beyond the furthest planets as I gave it the command to warp. The distance, 6 astronomical units, or AU, was sufficiently close that my scanner would have located other ships waiting at the wormhole entrance.

That wasn't currently necessary, as the system was still empty. One advantage of operating at unusual hours, and one I took much advantage of. Capsuleers didn't work nine to five, of course, but there were definitely times that there was less activity, less traffic, and therefore more safety in pirate-controlled null space.

Reaching the pulsing opening of the wormhole, my ship's scans confirmed it was the one I had seen, and scouted, the day before. Its classification, J145805, came up as a class 2 wormhole, and represented about the limits of danger I could put myself in with this ship, and be reasonably safe. The sleeper drones inhabiting these unknown quadrants of space were tremendously dangerous, and I had had several close encounters in C2 wormholes in the past.

“You ready?” A smile in reply, followed by a quick affirmation. “Yep. I'm quite excited, actually.” I smiled back at Alecto, before pushing the Loki forward with a thought.

J145805, C2 Wormhole

The edges of the wormhole quickly encompassed most of my panoramic vision, and the first sensation I had that told me we'd gone through was the odd displacement I could sense somewhere deep inside me. Maybe that should have been the first indication that my life was about to go to hell in a hand basket, though I could not have known it right then. Hindsight is, as they say even in my time, 20/20.

It was quickly confirmed by the utter blackness of space, out here. I could see tiny dots that represented planets, of course, and the distant orb that was the sun in this system, but there were no other stars, or nebulae, or anything else one could use as a bookmark of sorts to center you in the wide expanse of the galaxy. Nobody really knew where these wormholes led to, nor did we clearly understand how they operated. They did, though, and many people used them now, and had ever since their discovery many years ago.

Yesterday, when I scouted this system it seemed empty. Absolutely no signs of habitation. That didn't mean it was safe, of course... All these systems behind wormholes were interconnected, and there tended to be several entrances. You never knew where another capsuleer might pop up from... And unlike k-space, w-space as we called wormholes lovingly had no registration system for capsuleers. There really wasn't any way to tell someone was there unless they made themselves known to you, or you scanned them down. Added a bit of a thrill, that was for sure.

I stayed close to the wormhole, for now. The day before, I had made several safe-spots within the system to give me some breathing room should I need it. Most of them were higher order safe-spots, constructed from warping in between lower safe-spots I had made before. Most primary safe-spots were easy to find, as they must be in between two celestials. However, once you started at a safe-spot, and made a second safe-spot on the way to a celestial it was much more difficult to locate, as the possible locations quickly increased towards infinity. People could still scan you down, of course, but it was harder when they didn't know where to start looking. Gave you another minute or so, sometimes... Which is really all you could ask for, or need if you were any good at surviving.

I sent out my probes, immediately warping them to an initial location so as to not give our Loki away. Having some probes sitting on top of you made another capsuleer's job of scanning you laughably easy, and it was a fairly stupid thing to do. Also learned that the hard way, but I digress.

I could still feel Alecto's barely contained excitement, and smiled to myself at how incredibly attractive it was that she was so passionate about this. She loved ancient civilizations, and had studied them for years. First as a hobby, then professionally at the University of Caille where I met her. Her mind was incredibly sharp, inquisitive and creative, and I loved hearing some of the more controversial theories she had come up with. She always, though, had some justification for it, and I had come to rely on her instincts a lot during our travels. She could manage to synthesize, somehow, enormous amounts of information into some sense , and we had quickly found that it was often better than not to follow it. The entire reason we were in this wormhole, now, was to find scraps of evidence about the origins of these Sleeper drones. Who made them, where they came from, how they could still be operating out here.

I started scanning signatures in the system. I had already found a few initial sites, but it never hurt to explore more areas while we analyzed the data. It kept a girl interested, after all, and that was good. Besides, having some material benefit to show for our trip regardless of the archaeological evidence we may or may not unearth was good practice. We'd eventually lose the ship, most likely, and I was already saving up for the eventual replacement we'd have to buy, then. My capsule would survive that in most situations, and I had a second escape pod installed for Alecto in the case of an impending catastrophe. It was programmable, and could be quickly instructed to take her to safety. Beyond getting stranded in a warp bubble, it was a fairly good way to keep her safe. But not losing the ship, of course, was the primary means to do that.

After a few minutes of scanning down signatures, I had tracked down five gravitometric signatures, 3 anomalies of varying kinds, a radar site and a magnetometric site. The magnetometric signature was our primary target, but possibly not our first.


“Hmm?” Her voice instantly rang in my mind.

“I was thinking... First alert the Sleeper drones in some of the other sites, then start clearing the ruins while the drones arrive in the other parts of the system?”

I could feel her nod affirmatively. “Sounds good! Those Sleepers sure are slow, sometimes. Slow to arrive, but when they do...” She shivered a little.

I agreed, deep down. The things were quite disturbing in how damn efficient they were at eliminating threats. They seemed to possess a tactical intelligence that few of the many scumbag pirates and empire fleets in the galaxy did not rival. One of the reasons we were so interested in their existence. “I know.” I told her softly within our mental link. “They disturb me a great deal, too, my love. We'll clear the Sleepers, first, and then I will leave you to analyze the archaeological ruins while I salvage the remains of the guarding drones. Sound good?”

She smiled. “Sounds good!” Alecto followed up with a giggle, one of her more endearing traits in my mind. “Evie, I am so excited to do this! I can't wait to see what we'll discover. It may just be blueprints, or old datapads or logs. But I really get the sense that we're on to something, here. Something big .” Her voice rose slightly in pitch as her excitement spilled forth through our connection.

I grinned. “Don't get yourself too excited, now. And we can't count our chickens until they've hatched, so to speak.”

I initiated a series of warps, then, to all of the minor sites we'd visit over the course of the day. It would alert the defensive sensors, I imagined, as the Sleepers somehow knew you were there. My bet was on some hyper-advanced sensor system that we couldn't detect that let them know they were needed, as you could never sense them before they showed up. One of the worst parts about fighting those things was that you had so little warning. You could be perfectly safe, and then the next moment have Sleeper forces deployed on top of you, instantly being scrambled and having to fight for your life. At least they hadn't figured out how to stop the data transfer to your clone. Don't give them any ideas, Eve...

After the 8th warp we'd hit all the smaller sites. From experience I knew it'd be about 20 minutes before the Sleepers would show up there, giving us enough time to eliminate the guardians at the Magnetometric site that we were most interested in.


“Ready.” Alecto replied.

“Okay, then.”

I initiated warp, and the Loki shot forward into the furthest reaches of this wormhole. Roughly five AU from the outer planet orbiting the pale yellow star. The queasy sensation in my stomach was barely noticible now, as I experienced the rapid deceleration from warp speed for the umpteenth time. It helped to have most of your organ systems fortified, too, of course. And sensory input dampeners that could block most types of input to the brain if necessary made it almost trivial to ignore uncomfortable sensations. Of course, there usually was a reason your body tried to tell you this, so ignoring it frequently came at a potentially high price. You didn't want to ignore the cold for so long your body froze solid, after all. Heard of that happening once, though not to yours truly. That was one thing I hadn't done to my poor self. Yet, anyway, you never knew in this life.

The Loki arrived at the Forgotten Perimeter Gateway, which was the rough translation the site's signature came up as, courtesy of Aura. Within moments, 5 hostile presences had announced their intentions as locking indicators started to flash in my mind's eye. Four Awakened Patroller, and one Awakened Watchman were trying to lock onto my signature. From experience, I knew the Watchman had energy destabilizing weapons that would slowly leech the charge from my ship's capacitors, so it would have to be the first to go under normal circumstances. However, these ships also tended to call in reinforcements as they were about to explode, so I'd have to save it for last if I didn't want to be overwhelmed. I'd just have to make sure it died before my capacitor bled empty. Easier said than done, though .

I felt the exhilaration fill me as my body released copious amounts of adrenaline into my circulation. I also had several boosters on me. I hated using them, hated the way they made me feel, but it could mean the difference between success and an expensive death. It was better to err on the side of living, especially with my current companion safely tucked away in the interior, most heavily reinforced part of the Loki.

“Hold on, my love.” I told her silently. “Here we go.” I turned the Loki slightly, igniting the afterburners on the cruiser and propelling it dramatically forward towards the incoming Sleeper drones.

My own locking mechanisms had targeted the Sleepers a few tenths of a second before they locked me due to the ship's excellent signature resolution on its targeting arrays. A quartet of 425mm autocannons lit up the first Patroller, the fusion warheads on the projectile ammunition causing small explosions to flare up against the drone's shields. The guns cycled rapidly, pumping out salvos every three seconds, while I made sure to match the approach vectors with my current target to minimize the amount my guns needed to track.

The impact of the cruisers' weapons against my own shields was fairly heavy, but tolerable. I had to pulse my shield boosters every so often to keep the shields topped off, but as long as I did not have to constantly keep the shield boosters active my capacitor would last, even with the additional drain from the Watchman trying to neutralize my energy matrices.

The first Patroller's shields were gone now, and my autocannons ripped into the structure, systematically tearing huge chunks of the Sleeper apart. Four bursts later, a salvo hit the warp core, causing an explosion that decimated everything around the drone in a few hundred meters' radius.

My shields and capacitor were down to about two-thirds each, now, but having eliminated a fifth of the incoming damage gave a bit of breathing room. I could always allow the capacitor to recharge some before taking out the final cruiser, as the next reinforcement wave would be significantly tougher.

A few minutes later, my shields were down to about a quarter strength, but the capacitor held at roughly 40% charge as the last Patroller was torn to pieces as the superstructure of the drone came apart.

I had already salvaged and used the short range tractor beam to pull in any valuable materials from the wreckage of the other drones. It was important also from a security perspective, as wrecks were a clear indication that someone was around, and they were exceedingly easy to spot even without scanning probes. I usually tried to salvage as I went along to minimize the time the wrecks were around. It was paranoid, yes, but it kept me alive, which was what mattered most.

Even with the constant energy neutralization, my capacitor had recharged to nearly 75% of its maximum charge, and I lit into the Watchman drone. The autocannons tore it apart in under a minute, triggering the first reinforcements wave.

Two tiny Sleeper drones accompanied a behemoth, dropping out of warpspeed only kilometers from my current position. Burning immediately towards them while the battleship tried to lock onto my signature, I started orbiting it at extremely short range to avoid at least some of its damage. Larger guns tracked rather poorly, and one could usually out-fly their turning speed. Not necessarily with these Sleepers as they had amazing tracking for a ship this size, but it still saved you a little pain.

The gigantic Sleepless Controller was having some trouble, and only managed to land a salvo every third or fourth try. However, each one that did impact my shields caused warning systems to flare up loudly, as they easily discharged 15% of my shield strength per combined hit. I was tearing apart the first smaller Sleeper, my autocannons not quite hitting it in an optimal manner due to its size, but doing a good enough job for my purposes.

The other Sleeper drone seemed to go for a novel tactic, and suddenly reversed course, heading straight for the belly of the Loki. “What the fuck? ” I screamed in my capsule. Damned thing... That was a rather ingenious tactic, I had to give it to the drone. It was easily outside of range of most of my guns, sitting on top of my ship's armor as it was. It hitting the shields as it had seemed to fry its own shield generators, but it managed to force its way through the barrier of my shields to the surface of the Loki. Shit...

I could feel the tremors as small caliber lasers began tearing into the armor plating of the Loki, close to where Alecto was sheltered. That certainly raised my ire, and running and discarding scenarios through my mind at incredible speed I came up with a rather daring approach of my own... If I had to use it. Where is a fucking smartbomb when you need one. I thought. I am never leaving the damn station without at least one of those things, if this becomes a common practice. Stupid AI...

The first frigate-sized Sleeper had already exploded, and I tried orienting the Loki's autocannons towards the second Sleeper that was still anchored to the structure of the ship. It had taken out about ten percent of the armor integrity there. Not terrible under normal circumstances, but it didn't matter how long it took to kill me if I couldn't hit it. Even warping off would hardly help, now...

The autocannons swirled, and the gyrostabilizers they were attached to creaked almost ominously under the strain of turning in directions they weren't normally meant to go in. I fired a salvo at the drone with the bottom two autocannons, and cursed colorfully as the shots bounced off my damn shields.

“Alecto?” I called out to her quickly. “Just a heads up, we've got a Sleeper attached to the ship, and it's hiding under our shields... I have to get rid of it, fast, before it destroys the armor protecting the vulnerable interior of the ship...” And you . I added mentally. “This is going to get iffy, but I think we'll make it.”

Doing a quick calculation in my head, I decided that we'd best take out most of the battleship Sleeper's structure before attempting this, so I could quickly eliminate it. The only thing I could think of was to short out my own shield generators to get a clear shot at the damn Sleeper on my hull. But, that would leave us dangerously vulnerable to the massive guns that were trying their hardest to turn the Loki into scrap.

A few minutes were all it took to reduce the Sleeper Patroller to a critically damaged state. Alecto gasped every few seconds as another blast of precise laser fire almost surgically cut into the ship, so very near here. All it did, all I could do now, was harden my resolve to end that blasted drone, whatever it took.

Deactivating my autocannons save for a single one that would keep the Patroller from repairing too much of its shields while I tried my gamble, I whispered a quick affirmation of love to Alecto before pulling the power to the Loki's shield generator. Her soft reply caused a brief smile to ghost over my face.

Instantly, warning lights flared up everywhere in my vision as shield integrity dropped from a steady 47% to 0, and a salvo from the wounded battleship nearly took off the hind quarters of the Loki. It missed by mere meters, and I tightened my orbit radius even more to try and avoid as much of the ship's gunfire as possible.

“Alecto, hold tight!” Rotating my autocannons to near breaking point, I closed my eyes for a millisecond before pulsing a salvo towards the small drone. It barely overshot the thing, and I realized with a sinking feeling that my guns couldn't quite shoot at the right angle. Each shot was going half a meter wide of the drone, but it could have been a giant chasm for all the good that did me.

“I really, really hate my luck today.” I grumbled. More alarms were blaring loudly in my mind. Armor integrity in that section of the ship was down to 37% now, and fading fast. It seemed like losing the shields there had given the drone free reign to use all of its weaponry, and it was shredding the plates apart even faster than before.

With a sinking feeling, I realized that in another minute or two I would be down to structure, and that was not including that damn Patroller that could very well land a lucky hit right there and strip the remaining armor off of the area. At least it would kill the fucker... I thought, and froze.

Of course! I realized now what I could try, as a last ditch effort to kill the Sleeper on my ship. “I'm sorry, love...” I cried out in my link to her, in despair. “Please hold tight, this is going to get extremely rough... But that drone needs to die before it destroys us, and I can't dislodge it any other way.”

Her reply came instantly, and it nearly broke me to hear the conviction, the absolute trust in me in her voice. “I love you, Evie. And I trust you. With my life if need be. You are absolutely everything to me, and I know I am safest in your capable hands. Do what you must to keep us safe, and don't worry about me. I'll get through. We must.

I nodded at nothing in particular, tears leaking out of my eyes as I twisted the Loki into a corkscrew figure, heading straight for the Sleepless Patroller battleship. I had exactly one chance to pull this off, and if it didn't work there would be little left of us both. 500 meters. Bitterly, I knew that there was nothing permanent about that for me, at least... Physically I would still be there, in a new body. But whether I still cared to live if I lost her... 100 meters.

At the last possible moment, my impact alarms flaring, warning for an imminent crash, I pulled the Loki upwards and away, activating and overheating my afterburners. My ship's not inconsiderable momentum carried me yet closer, the leftover velocity still taking me towards the battleship at nearly 100 meters per second. It was dropping rapidly, and I hoped it was slowing enough to not hit the ship at anything more than a few m/s. More than that, and we'd be like a proverbial bug splattered on a windshield, as the battleship outweighed us probably ten-fold or more.

A horrific grinding noise tore through our ship, then, as the belly of the Loki slid across the surface of the Patroller. The force of the impact, with no kinetic shielding to dampen it, was tremendous and took out what remained of the armor integrity, and even a portion of the structure underneath the armor plates was crushed as if it was paper. And I saw the blinking red cross on my tactical overlay blink once more and vanish. At least the fucking Sleeper frigate was gone.

There were, actually, compressive layers in between the armor and the structure that were designed to lessen impact forces, and they probably saved the ship from completely tearing apart and blowing up the warp core in the process. But I could feel the violent shudders going through the Loki's structure, the damage control systems working overtime to keep the various critical sections of the ship holding together.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the forward momentum shifted and the ship started to move rapidly away. I had lost two autocannons in the crash, their status indicators blinking red as if I had overheated them to exhaustion. I did overheat my two remaining guns, then, and watched them rip into the battleship, as I started aligning the Loki to our safespot.

I started bringing my shield generators online, the significant structural damage slowing what otherwise would have been an instantaneous process. Luckily, we were under the battleship's guns, still, and there was no way for it to hit us as we glided mere meters from its surface. Every volley of the 425 mm's took out critical arrays on the other ship, and after the fifth such salvo a visible shudder tore through the sleeper as the capacitor matrix overloaded. It split apart, then, as an egg would have.

I immediately saw the second wave of reinforcements hit the grid, then, and entered warp the second after they arrived on the scene. Before I could say anything, relief flooded my mind as Alecto's voice came through, strong and melodic and beautiful as always. “I'm fine, Evie... I'm fine. I think the compression zone saved my hide there... There's some denting in the interior of the ship, but it held together.”

“Oh good.” I closed my eyes for a moment, tears of joy now leaking through, mingling with those from before on my pale cheeks. “I thought for a moment there that you may not have survived that crash. We barely held together there. At least we got out in one piece.”

I could hear the pride in her voice, then. “No small thanks to you. Damn, woman, you're an amazing pilot to have pulled that off. I thought for sure we'd have crashed against that battleship. I can't believe you got the momentum calculations just right to only slide across the surface before bouncing off. It is damn impressive.”

I grinned, glad that she was happy. Alecto truly was eternally an optimist. At least, when it came to me. I shook my head bemusedly. “Thanks, Lex.” I could visualize her scowl, although I knew she secretly loved my nickname for her. And it was truly only one I used in private, my special name for her. “You're the best. Only you could be happy and proud after that experience, rather than pissed off for nearly dying.”

She only smiled warmly in response. Accessing the secondary ship controls from the interior, I felt her release a small swarm of maintenance drones that could patch up our torn armor plates, almost as good as new. Some liberal applications of nanite repair paste could bring the two smoking autocannons back into a somewhat decent shape, bringing the ship back into form. There was nothing much we could do for the structural damage, but we could take care of that when we reached the station. Was going to be bloody expensive, though, but there was little we could do about that now. I refused to fit hull repair systems, on principle.

In a few minutes, we'd completed most of the repairs. The shield generators were back online, too, and the booster had nearly restored them to full. “You ready to head back in there, Alecto?” I queried her.

“Yep, I think now that we've taken out most of the guardians at the site, we should be good.” A smile entered her voice. “Just stay away from the little Sleepers. For all we know they have a linked AI and the others will try to pull that little stunt again. If one nearly tore us apart, I can't imagine what multiple Sleeper drones could do to your ship.”

“I know. Damned little things, I have never heard of them doing things like that . I hope that's not par for the course from now on.” I shook my head. “I'm fitting a bloody smartbomb and some light drones, though, in case the bastards try that again.” I grinned at her through our link, knowing she would recognize it. “I mean, seriously... What. The. Fuck.”

She laughed at me again. “Oh, Evelynne. You have such a wonderfully spirited mind. Don't ever stop being like that. I'd miss you and your colorful sayings so very much.”

“I won't.” I smiled again. “You ready?”

She nodded.

“Okay, then, here's take two.”

I glanced at my long-range scanner to check that it was still clear, and it was. Of course, in the thick of fighting for our survival I hadn't particularly kept my eye glued on it all the time.

The Loki, sections of it still smoking and overheated, entered warp again, returning to the site.

It arrived less than a minute later, entering the site roughly thirty kilometers from the Sleepers. At this range, the newly reinforced battleship would be much more painful as it had no trouble tracking us. However, I could much more easily kill the smaller frigates this way, and the battleship wouldn't be too bad once the others were gone.

Indeed, it took only a few salvos to utterly rip apart each smaller Sleeper drone, and I watched them disintegrate under the barrage of fusion ammunition with something akin to glee in my eyes.

“Don't gloat, dearest.” Alecto reminded me, with a grin.

I scowled at her. “Pff, taking away my joy in life. These things are a pain, and I can feel a little happy they're dying gruesomely, right? Metaphorically, anyway. I doubt these things really care about death.”

Another Sleeper blew up. “Oh, Evie, always the philosopher. It's part of your charm.” She added the last bit with a wink.

I pulled the Loki into a diagonal approach to keep some transversal up against the battleship, causing the occasional shot to miss us. The salvaging module was working overtime, too, both grabbing the remains of the smaller Sleepers as well as the earlier battleship wreck. Battleships took much longer to salvage due to their size, of course, but were worth the effort. Easily .

The last frigate-sized drone had gone down as its shield generators overloaded and went boom. Training the autocannons on the remaining battleship, it only took a few minutes to overwhelm its shields and reduce the structural components to rubble, one by one. Its guns were the first to go, then propulsion and finally the engine cores.

It bloomed into a small supernova when the core went critical, which really was one of my favorite ways to blow up these things. I maybe aimed a little for that section of the ship. It didn't make much practical difference as the armor there was thicker, but the visuals made up for the little bit of extra time. At least, when we weren't critically pressed for seconds.

I grinned at Alecto, knowing the excitement she must be feeling right now. And judging by the breathless tone of her voice in my mind, she was quite worked up right now, eager to see the ruins after all the trouble we went through. “Okay, I'm ready to eject the Analyzer Mk2. Shall I?”

I answered in the affirmative. “Yep, I'll scoop up the rest of the spoils here while you collect the samples. Then we can hit a few of the other sites for more materials and salvage, and possibly clear out the radar site if we feel like it. There's some good invention materials to be had in those, too.”

I saw the Analyzer leave the ship, its form absolutely tiny compared to the strategic cruiser next to it. I was finishing the last wreck as Alecto expertly and efficiently scanned through the ruins. Even as meticulous as she was, the advanced archaeology equipment we had made the process very rapid. Essentially, the robotic suit allowed one to quickly cover short distances in space, take and store samples and scan digital imprints of anything else that looked interesting for later study.

That's when my heart nearly stopped. My long-range scanner blinked angrily at me, indicating several combat probes deployed within the 7 AU radius I had it set for. Just as quickly, they were gone, and I knew we only had a minute, maybe two before we had company. Possibly a lot less, for all I knew they had already scanned us, although I didn't think that was possible in such a short time.

“Alecto!” I shouted at her through our link, unnecessarily loud due to my near-panic. “You need to get back, we have hostile contacts. They could be here any time!”

I saw her right next to the last ruin, working on detaching something that she had trouble dislodging, even with the additional strength of the robotic arms. Her voice came, much calmer than mine, suffused with controlled focus. “Almost, Evie, almost. I need this last one. I can sense it!”

I propelled the Loki towards her, seeing the distance shrink rapidly. “Just hurry, I have no idea how much time we have, and they could be here in seconds for all we know. It's not worth your life!”

She ignored me for a few more seconds, which seemed like hours to me as I watched the scanner again like a hawk. It would give us a few seconds' warning of incoming ships, if they had already located us. I just hoped it was fast enough.

Finally, she pulled something loose from the structure she had been investigating. “Yes! I have it!” I saw her turn, then, felt her excitement almost viscerally. It nearly made me forget about the situation, so overwhelming it was to sense her elation like that. I set the ship to orbit the ruins she was in at a short distance, using the remaining momentum from my forward motion to slide past the structures, pulling the Analyzer robot into the cargo hold with the tractor beam.

Just as I felt the tremor of the cargo hold closing once more, sheltering the woman I loved and her precious cargo safely within the Loki, the scanner lit up once again. For real, this time. A half-dozen signatures, at least. Broadsword. Lachesis. TWO Proteus. Stiletto. Guardian.

I swore loudly, and very colorfully this time, as I aligned the ship, hoping it was fast enough. I picked my safespot away from anything else in the system that I was aware of, sensing I may not be able to go directly to our entry point as there could be more people waiting for us there.

I had thankfully just turned off my afterburners, which saved me a precious second off the alignment time before the Loki hit warp, leaving the grid at the same instant the hostile ships entered the site. I wiped the sweat away from my face, then, as the intensity of the situation had completely soaked my hair and shirt. Right now, I didn't care about that discomfort, and used what little attention I had to spare to send a quick burst of concern to Lex.

She answered it, letting me know she was fine, if a bit shaken. I was just glad we had survived that particular encounter, as literally a second later we'd have been dead as the Stiletto would have locked us down in less time than it took you to say: “Fuck my life.” Appropriate last words in that situation, anyway.

We weren't out of the danger zone yet, and I cursed myself for not having any combat probes along. Stupid mistake number, what, six?

We landed at the safe-spot, and then began a mad dance that lasted for what seemed like hours, as I warped between safe-spots erratically, trying not to stay anywhere long enough for them to pin me down. I was quickly running out of places, though, as I didn't know if it was safe to return to ones I had already used. For all I knew they had probes waiting there. The scanner was certainly filled with them, and they must be covering most of the damn system by now.

At the next spot I quickly threw out three probes before warping off. I repeated this at another, and moved the probes off-grid as soon as I could. Maybe there was a way out that they hadn't seen yet. It was all I could hope for, as they could easily have buffered the wormhole we came in from with a warp bubble, preventing me from landing close enough to return to our origin.

I recorded more coordinates in between the last few safe-spots I had not yet used, thanking my foresight and paranoia that was well paying dividends today... If I hadn't gone crazy yesterday and had placed a dozen of them all over the system, I probably would have been cornered now. I didn't think lightly of my skills, but nobody could fight a full gang of capsuleers by themselves.

I moved my probes back on the grid as I warped to the next location, down to just three now. That gave me maybe a few minutes, at most, if I drug out the time between warps. I'd have to.

I warped out of the next one only moments before the interceptor landed on top of me, having spotted him just barely in time on a greatly reduced scan range. I sighed in slight relief as my probes located a new signature far away from any others. I found it rather by accident as one of the probes had accidentally scanned at a much greater range, having forgotten to reprogram it in the rush to leave the safe-spot.

It wasn't a wormhole, though, and my hope sank. It would buy me a few moments, but not nearly enough. A good scanner would be able to locate the new spot fairly rapidly, and I cursed myself for not having some kind of cloaking device on me. Again, hindsight was 20/20.

I reprogrammed my scanner range, and the heavy interdictor was somewhere within 7 AU. Which meant it wasn't at the entry wormhole leading back to OSY-UD. Unless they had another one, or placed a stationary bubble, but in that case we were completely fucked anyway.

I could feel the carefully masked concern coming from Alecto, and I marveled at her bravery. Most people would have been terrified into a stupor by now, knowing they could very well die. She wasn't most people, though, and I loved her all the more for it. Figuratively squaring my shoulders, I vowed to myself then that I would find a way to get her out of this death trap. Somehow .

As we entered warp towards the wormhole, I whispered into our link one last time. “I love you, Lex. I'll get us through this. I have to .” My voice would have broken, then, if I had said it out loud, and a single tear rolled down off my cheek, falling and soaking into the fabric of my shirt.

“I love you, too, Evelynne. More than I can express in words. And I have completely trust in you, no matter what happens, it'll have been worth it... For what we have shared together these past years.” She paused, before adding. “Though I would appreciate pulling through.” Even now, a hint of a teasing smile reinforced her words, and gave me some much needed strength and determination.

We landed right on the edge of a bubble, just as I had feared, though one only guarded by a single capsuleer at the moment. I knew we likely only had a handful of seconds before more of them came in, now, as they could easily warp towards the known location.

I fired up and overheated the afterburners, burning towards the gate as fast as I could. The single ship, a Proteus, locked onto us moments later, adding its warp disruption, destabilizing the core. It didn't matter right now, so I assumed it was more force of habit. It was on an intercept course, and we'd have to brave some amount of its guns before reaching the wormhole entrance, though I thought our shields would hold out even under the barrage of its cadre of blasters.

The other ship was using a microwarpdrive to reach us, giving it an amplified signature radius that made my autocannons strike true every time, quickly piercing the shields. That, however, was not really the hardest part on a heavily armored ship like a Proteus, and I knew we most likely couldn't take it out in time before reinforcements showed up.

I activated my scramblers and shorted out the other ship's warp core, drastically reducing its speed relative to my own. Our guns were missing more now, hybrid charges and fusion projectiles slamming into shields and armor, respectively. Seconds later, we moved past the Proteus, and I could see the wormhole mere kilometers away.

Moving in a straight line past the cruiser made us a bullseye, and its array of blasters began slowly wearing down our shields, overwhelming the booster's ability to repair it fast enough. I glanced at the indicators, hoping they would hold long enough. Judging by the rate of decline, they should. Thankfully. But who knew what was on the other side of the jump?

Seconds later, our shields down to barely over half of maximum capacity, five more ships showed up, landing on top of the wormhole as I reached entry distance. More targeting alarms were blaring in my head as we jumped through, the temporary void of sensation as we traveled through untold distances of space in mere seconds rather soothing. Of course, not knowing what to expect made me uneasy. Alecto's presence in my mind calmed that anxiety enough to ignore it, for now, and I could sense her encouragement clearly. She was very pleased, and I knew that if we made it out of here, somehow, that we'd deserve a few days off. Preferably spent in a luxurious bed somewhere. It was a worthy goal, anyway. Helped me stay motivated.

The flash of light as we exited the wormhole was overwhelming for a moment, and as my brain rapidly interpreted the sensory flood my spirits sank again. Another bubble was up here, preventing me from leaving. Just a single advanced destroyer was present, at the moment. The interdictor would die rapidly to the autocannons of our ship, and if we managed to take it out quickly enough we may be able to get out.

It was roughly twenty kilometers away, and I made sure to align towards a celestial on the opposite side of the wormhole, so not to leave its opening in case we needed to make an emergency jump back. I had only seconds, most likely, before all hell broke loose here.

Three seconds later, my targeting systems locked on the interdictor and the autocannons tore rapidly through the ship's shielding. Destroyers, even upgraded versions such as this, were not built for withstanding heavy fire for long. They shouldn't have been here alone, but maybe its escort had gotten eager and jumped through to catch me on the other side. Sometimes capsuleers could be over-eager for a kill, like sharks out for blood. I knew the feeling, myself, and it was hard to resist the temptation.

Ships entered the system as my autocannons stripped the last of the shields, tearing through the weaker armor plating with small, concentrated explosive bursts. I was getting locked by four other ships now, and overloaded the autocannons, just for a few cycles, praying my shields would hold until the interdictor, and its bubble, died.

It did, finally , and I managed to contain a cry of glee as the warp bubble disintegrated around the exploding vessel. I was scrambled by the others, of course, but at least the stationary interdiction sphere was now disabled on this side of the wormhole entrance.

They wore the shields down to below 20% even through continuous boosting before I jumped back into w-space.

As today was certainly my lucky day, I shot out beyond the entry range of the wormhole as it ejected the Loki. I was about 2 kilometers too far, and knew this would get painful. Turning as soon as possible, locking indicators went solid red on our ship before we had turned completely. The afterburner I overheated yet again, but it had barely started to accelerate the ship towards the wormhole entrance when stasis webifiers entangled the Loki, slowing it significantly. We were still moving, but what should have taken seconds would now take nearly half a minute. I hoped that we'd still be alive by then.

I had to overload the shield booster and hardening modules, then, desperate to hold the shields together for long enough to reach the gate. Our stored supply of nanite paste was rapidly dwindling, and I would soon reach the point where modules couldn't be overheated without completely deactivating them.

I could feel Alecto scrambling downstairs, trying to redirect additional power from auxiliary systems to our defensive grid. I hoped it was enough, for both our sakes.

The shields went down, still five hundred meters out from the wormhole. The boosters were still running, although dangerously hot now from the stress of overheating them for so long. They managed to absorb a good chunk of the incoming damage, though the overwhelmed shields were allowing shots to grind into the armor plating near the aft of the Loki.

The armor integrity reduced to almost nothing, we finally came in range of the jump. In the heat of the moment, I thought the wormhole looked... smaller? I wasn't completely sure, though, and paid no further attention. Just hoped that maybe no one would be on the other side, this time... and jumped through again.

As we sped through the void, we both sent the other pulses of warmth and love, knowing it could be the last time we had the chance for that . I heard Alecto's voice in my mind, too. “No regrets... None whatsoever, Evie.” I smiled at that. Still trying to make me feel better, even now... I cannot lose her. Not here, not now.

I realized that I had completely forgotten about the combat boosters I kept on me. A split second of decision making was followed by the flood of Blue Pill entering my blood stream, interacting with the cybernetics connecting me to the shield boosters on the ship, making it more efficient. I could feel my attention drifting just the slightest bit, and hoped it wouldn't affect the targeting systems too badly... But there was little to be done about that, now.

We sped out of the wormhole once more, and I almost viscerally felt the shudder go through it as the waves of contorted space around it contracted, almost as if it was a living entity. Two Hurricane battlecruisers came through, then. The moment the second one left the wormhole the fabric of space tore viciously, spasmed once more, and the opening was gone.

Rather than take the chance and trying to warp off, I decided that the best defense would now be offense. Besides, if I could grind down one of the Hurricanes, they would most likely be unable to scramble Alecto's escape pod should I have to eject it. With two on the grid that wasn't such a good proposition, and I'd never risk it.

Burning towards the ships that were only a dozen kilometers away, I trained the autocannons on the one furthest from the closed wormhole. They locked me moments later, and phased plasma projectiles started slamming into my shields, making them light up as the tiny nuclear warheads went off. Even with the booster I could tell that they'd eventually overwhelm my shield grid as the pure damage projection of these battlecruisers was too much. With any luck, though, we could destroy one right before they killed me, as I was confident with just one remaining Hurricane my shield booster would be able to keep up with its autocannon barrages.

Their stasis webifiers hit me the moment I came within ten kilometers, and I realized I wouldn't be able to get close enough to avoid some of the incoming damage. Both ships released a swarm of light drones, adding to the already significant problems our shield generators were going to have. Hurricanes were slow, but not as slow as a twice-webbed Loki. In response, I released five small Electronic Countermeasure Drones. With any luck, they'd manage to lock out one of the Hurricanes long enough to kill the other. How I hated having to rely on luck. What a terrible place to be, when that was all that stood between you and failure.

Thankfully, my fusion ammunition had already overloaded the much weaker shield generators on the first Hurricane, and explosions started tearing up the armor plating underneath. My shield reserves were down to nothing, too, and all that kept the full potential of their salvos to hit my ship was the energy supplied almost constantly by my shield boosters. Even then, they were slowly wearing down the armor plating that was already weakened from our earlier engagements.

Damage control systems were already working overtime, and I overloaded the 425 mm's to rip through the last of the Hurricane's armor plating. Zooming in with optical sensor arrays, I could see that the armor plates over one side of the ship were completely torn apart, and a few cycles of the autocannons' constant barrage later the engine cores on the Hurricane shut down, causing a series of explosions to bloom up inside the superstructure.

Within seconds, nothing more was left of the ship than scrap, and immediately I could feel our velocity pick up significantly. Its drones deactivated as well as the central command relays that connected them to the other ship ceased function.

With a sinking feeling, I realized our capacitor was nearly drained from the constant demands of the shield boosting. Working only on recharge, we'd only be able to boost every few cycles rather than constantly. Almost immediately, the rate at which the other Hurricane was destroying our armor accelerated, and it was mere seconds later that it started tearing into the Loki's structure.

Damage control force fields were really all that stood between it and the critical systems, and I prayed they'd hold long enough to live through this. Its swarm of light drones was buzzing angrily around the Loki, moving much too fast to hit them even at the best of times. Tiny explosions rang out over the superstructure as their small caliber guns put yet more stress on our ship's defenses.

I suddenly realized that the other ship lost its targeting lock, and sighed an audible gasp of release. We'd have a few seconds to damage it, now, while its stasis webifiers, guns and scramblers were shut down. I started to align, knowing he'd probably re-lock me before I could get out. It was worth it on the off-chance it worked, though.

Indeed, the other ship managed to over-ride the drones' scrambling, and locked us right before we entered warp. The few seconds' respite had given us a chance to regenerate enough capacitor charge to restore the shields to 20%. However, we were down to about half structural integrity and no armor, while the other Hurricane had only barely lost its shields.

It turned into a straight up brawl, then. Neither ship was able to outmanoeuvre the other, and it was simply a matter of killing the other before your ship disintegrated underneath you.

The shields went, again, as the other ship's armor was nearing critical conditions. Thankfully, we had slightly more sustainability in terms of repair rates, and I hoped that'd last us long enough to live through this.

The Hurricane's autocannons ripped into the Loki almost unopposed, now, and more and more systems started flashing warnings as the additional fractures and mini-explosions tearing through the ship were overwhelming safety mechanisms everywhere on board. In desperation, I tried increasing our transversal velocity enough to make some of our shots miss. The longer I could draw out this fight, the better, as I was slowly wearing down the other ship's more limited sustainability.

It worked, somewhat. Our autocannons missed every few salvos, now. We were still losing structural integrity, though at a reduced rate. I sent a quick query to Alecto. I could sense her presence, still, but it was good for my fraying nerves to have that ‘verbal' assurance, too.

Her reply came quickly, warm as always. “I'm fine, Evie. I've fortified everything critical down here that I could.” I could feel her grin. “Ripped a few insulation pads out here and there that were blocking access to the cooling mechanism of the shield booster coils. I, umm, used ice packs and anything else cool I could get my hands on to prevent them from melting. I hope that'll buy us a few more seconds of performance.”

“Thanks, Lex... It just may be the difference we need.” I smiled warmly at her in my mind. “You're wonderful.” More shudders ran through the ship's structure with every fusion round exploding inside the overwhelmed and failing shields.

The overheated shield boosters maxed out the capacitor matrix again, overwhelming its ability to recharge fast enough to keep them going, and I cursed. We were saved from almost certain destruction by another lucky jam on behalf of the ECM drones. They were getting nanite cake if we lived through this. The little things were beyond amazing. Sometimes, anyway... But today they were proving their worth ten times over.

The respite we received from that was enough to even the odds, and the other Hurricane was now losing structural integrity as well. I could only see the fluttering of nanobots across the ship's armor plating occasionally, now, indicating it, too, had run out of capacitor charges to power its repair systems and could only fire them every other cycle. We just may have a chance.

Every system on the Loki was giving critical status reports, though, and it'd be extremely tight. And the Hurricane's light drones were still eating into the structure near the aft of the ship, though for now the shield regeneration was mostly keeping up with their destructive urges.

The locking indicators came up once again before we could warp off, and more shivers ran through the Loki as the structural integrity slowly broke down more and more. 27%... 23%... 20%. Fucking hell, I thought, this is going to be way closer than I want it to be. We're really one or two lucky hits away from destruction, now. Or if someone manages to come in to reinforce them... I frantically checked the scanners, but they were still quiet, thankfully.

Our autocannons took the Hurricane down to nearly no structural integrity before its overheated armor repairing nanobot swarm gave one last ditch effort to hold it together, patching together some armor plates over the most critical sections of the battlecruiser. It added precious seconds to the time we needed, and I wasn't sure if we would have that much before we exploded. 11% structural integrity .

I had a few cycles of overheating left on the autocannons and used it now, watching the temperature gauges like a mother watches a newborn infant to make sure I didn't accidentally blow up the guns. That'd be embarrassing, and very deadly. The increased performance, though, ripped through the battlecruiser's armor plates with abandon, and with the second salvo the last of its armor disintegrated once more, leaving only a few percent of its structure intact. Just one more cycle of my guns... Please... please shoot before theirs do.

I whispered a quick I love you to Alecto and felt rather than heard her reply, before both ships fired nearly instantaneously. My shield boosters gave a last gasp and managed to provide a tiny bit of buffer against the incoming rounds, but it proved ineffectual as the barrage of 6 autocannons overwhelmed the shields, piercing right into the belly of the Loki. I felt the enormous explosion tear through the inside of the ship as the fusion ammunition penetrated deeply, too deeply, in an unlucky combination of factors. It must have hit the shield hardening modules as they instantly went offline, and the auxiliary power units attached to them went critical and exploded, taking a good portion of the interior structure of the ship with it. The damage control force fields somehow held the ship together, preventing it from completely disintegrating as the structural integrity went down to nearly nothing. My autocannons had almost all burned out with that last salvo, the overheated rounds spewing from their barrels nearly melting before they left the guns. They landed a critical blow on the battlecruiser, too, and I felt its warp core explode into a miniature supernova.

I could feel Alecto's scream of pain shooting through our link before it went quiet. Too quiet . “Alecto!” I shouted into the emptiness of the capsule I was trapped in, and this time no reply came in my mind. A primal sound of despair and anguish mixed with fury tore from my throat, then, and I immediately switched to the internal sensors, barely daring to hope.

The sight that greeted me nearly made my heart stop, as I saw her unmoving form flung against the bulkheads, and blood splattered across everywhere. It was on the interior cameras, the walls, the floor. A huge section of the ship there was missing, only force fields from the damage control systems keeping Alecto from being sucked into the void around us.

The vital monitors were still indicating a pulse, although it was erratic and weak. Panic lanced through my body almost everywhere at once. Normally I would head for the station here in OSY-UD, but they had no medical facilities there and even not being a doctor I could tell Alecto would need help of that nature. “Alecto... Please don't die...” I sobbed into the quiet of my capsule.

The enemy drones had lost their targeting information, and I quickly recalled mine as I aligned for the H-ADOC Stargate. The Loki entered warp speed seconds later, and after a seeming eternity we reached the H-ADOC gate that led to the system where we could get medical support.

Jumping through, I quickly scanned the surroundings on the other side. It was clear, for now, and I immediately aligned towards the H-ADOC IV - Moon 12, Archangels Logistic Support station. As the Loki accelerated once more to warp speeds I saw the vital signs somewhere in the belly of the ship behind me flutter once, twice, and go silent. It felt as if part of myself silenced with it. Temporarily for now, but I didn't want to think about the consequences if she really was gone.

Tears streamed down my cheeks, trailing along the path the earlier ones had wet, and I was glad on some level I didn't see with my eyes while flying, as I wouldn't have been able to perceive anything past the blur.

We docked at the station half a minute later, and it felt like an eternity to eject completely from the ship and be released from my eternal prison. I instructed one of the tractor beams in the bay to gently lift Alecto's body out of the interior of the ship, the force fields shut down as we entered allowing direct access to a part of the ship you normally shouldn't be able to get within a dozen of meters of.

I cradled her in my arms, then, her slender body torn in too many places to count or sum up, and I knew that even if I could have I would break down and be useless. Separating that part of myself with cybernetic neural dampeners I blocked my feelings for the time being, and thought about what I could do as I flew out of the docking bay towards the medical facilities here. It had only been 90 seconds since her vitals faded completely, and I knew there was still time to resuscitate the woman I loved. Hopefully.

Detached from my emotions, I glanced down again and noticed the intense burns covering most of her front, the clothing fused to the sensitive skin I knew so well. Blood still seeped from lacerations too numerous to count, coming from I know not where. Vowing to myself, once again, that I would find a way for her to live through this. Somehow. I would save no effort, no expense to make that happen. If there was any way in the galaxy to bring her back to me, it would be done. Whether I had to destroy entire systems or empty our accounts completely and sell everything we possessed, I cared not one bit. Not right now, in the face of the desolation that would be eternity without Alecto.

My tears had dried, the source emotions cut off for too long for the physiological response to continue on. But inside me, behind the neural dampeners my heart and soul were bleeding tears all the more. I would have to face that later, and I knew I would pay for walling it off temporarily. I always did, as nothing in life came without costs.

I ran into the medical wards of the station seemingly seconds later, the muscles of my enhanced body straining with the effort of pushing myself that hard. Mental indicators showed tears in various ligaments but I ignored them for now, I couldn't afford to slow down for mere discomfort.

We had visited here before, and at least the staff knew me. They were cold people, had to be to work out here in the depths of controlled chaos that was this part of space. But exceedingly professional, and money counted for more than anything else here. These pirates had their own honor code, and if I could pay the price there was no limits to how much of their expertise I could tap into. I just prayed it was enough.

One of the surgeons saw me instantly, most likely alerted by the trail and smell of blood that followed me through the pristine hallways of the station. He urged me into one of the surgical suites, some measure of concern clouding his otherwise hardened eyes at the state of the woman I held.

“Quickly, put her down here.” He urged. “She has little time, and needs to be revived and stabilized soon.”

I nodded numbly, and laid Alecto on the surgical table as gently as possible. I caught the doctor's eyes, held them for a few moments to convey my determination. “She needs to survive this. I don't care what you need to do.” My voice broke slightly. “Just bring her back.”

He nodded, a flicker of kindness visible behind his mask of professionalism. “We'll do what we can for her.” His gaze moved to a far corner of the table. “Please move aside to allow me to work.” I moved there, my fingers trailing idly along her right arm. It was still mostly intact, she must have been facing away from the explosion with that side of her when it engulfed her form.

He studied my eyes for just a moment longer, as if gauging my will. “Her body is severely damaged, and may not be strong enough to recover even if we can stabilize her vital systems for now.” Several robotic instruments lowered from the ceiling as the physician expertly hooked her up to vital monitoring systems. An IV line went into her arm, a second instrument made a tiny laser cut in her neck to allow access to the carotid artery, in case it took too long to resuscitate the heart. A backup system could then supply the brain directly with nutrients and oxygen, allowing it to sustain itself for longer. I felt bile rising in my throat but forced it back down. I would not, could not, leave now. Not now .

For two minutes electric shocks stimulated the heart, rhythmically and consistent, until finally a tremulous beep returned to the monitor. It looked so faint that a breeze could have extinguished it, but at least her heart had continued beating. I felt an impossible weight life, at least somewhat, off my shoulders.

Glancing at the physician, he shook his head slightly, not wanting me to become too excited. Robotic fingers had peeled off the remaining clothes, taking patches of her beautiful skin along. It felt like I was being torn up like that, and again was glad that at least I didn't have to feel anything right now. The underlying muscle and connective tissue was visible in many places, mere patches of Alecto's skin still whole to some extent. I could see her blood pumping through exposed arteries and veins... At least there was that much.

The surgeon caught my eye again. He shook his head ever so slightly. “She's stable, for now... But I fear her body won't be able to recover from this insult. Most of her organ systems are working, for now, but she can't live like this for long, and the burns are too extensive to simply transplant layers from less affected sites to where the dermis is needed most... Additionally, the release of toxins from the burns could very quickly shut down the liver and kidneys.” He paused, clearly thinking hard. “Cloning new skin would take too long... Much too long, she doesn't have the days it would take to grow her enough of her own skin to completely replace what was destroyed.”

My despair rose, threatening to engulf me. “Is there nothing that can be done?”

His eyes met mine, unblinking. “Well...” He gestured to me. “There's that. We could replace the lost and damaged tissues with artificial ones. But she'd need the whole treatment, or it wouldn't function. A normal human nervous system cannot interact properly with a biosynthetic organ system, and skin. There would be all sorts of problems, too many for it to work in the longer term...” His voice trailed off.

My reply was instant. “Do it, I do not care how much it costs, or what we need to do to make it work. She will survive, I don't care if she is not entirely human after this. I know I'm not.” Internally, I wasn't quite as confident. I knew she had no problems with the idea of what I was, she loved me regardless of it. But she had not given any indication she had wanted to become like me, yet... And part of me felt like it was supremely wrong to make that choice for someone else. It really couldn't be turned back. My mind raced through countless scenarios. In the end, there was only one answer I could give. I just hope she will accept my choice for her, and forgive me for what I have to do . I thought she would, but I could not be completely sure. Either way, I would rather have her alive and hate me for this, than dead.

Completely emotionless, while inside me my feelings behind the neural dampeners were caving in, I nodded at the surgeon. “Do it, she must live. I will pay whatever it takes. Just bring her back to me.”

He held my eyes for a moment longer, before turning and rapidly entering some commands into his wrist pad. His eyes met mine briefly, once more. “Are you sure you want to see this? You can leave...” They softened ever so slightly. “No one needs to see this done to someone they love.”

I shook my head. “I can't abandon her, I will pull through.” I have to.

He nodded once more. Medical drones moved into the chamber, and a small gravitational field was used to suspend Alecto and move her into a nutrient tank that would keep the vulnerable tissues from drying out during the enormously long procedure. It would further allow them access to all the necessary parts of her body, at once. This procedure could not be done in sections, I remembered that much from my own.

I cringed internally as large needles punctured the veins and arteries of her neck, connecting her brain's blood supply directly to an artificial heart, keeping her essence alive through what was to come. My emotions still tightly shut behind impenetrable barriers, flailing mightily but ultimately futilely against them, unable to force their way into my main consciousness. I watched as laser cutters neatly opened up the body I loved so much, granting access to all the vital organs that would indelibly change this day. I watched as her beautiful platinum blond hair, braided elegantly as it always was, was efficiently removed to prepare her scalp for the surgery.

I did look away as her skull was opened with precise motions, the brain laid bare for all to see. With an expertise born of centuries of neurosurgery advances cortical layers were gently exposed and peeled apart, allowing for addition of cybernetic grafts that would form a type of mind-machine interface, allowing the cybernetic additions to communicate with Alecto's brain directly. My eyes were drawn back, the fascination with seeing this momentarily distracting me. And having my emotional circuits blocked, there really was no strong compulsion forcing me to not look. I knew, though, that later I would remember, my enhanced memory would forever etch these scenes in my mind. I would likely dream of this, have nightmares rather, for the rest of eternity, if not longer...

After the initial surgical connections were made during an hours long surgery, fully forming the hybrid entity that would from now on be Alecto's brain, a tiny nanobot factory was implanted near the brain stem that would, over time, further upgrade and maintain each neural pathway, expanding them when necessary as a person's cybernetically improved mind demanded it. A full set of Standard implants was then carefully inserted into the various areas of the brain they would amplify. They were optional, but I did not want Lex to have to go through surgery again after this, not for a good long time, and it was better to get this over with as I imagined she would eventually want the upgrades. If she lives... and doesn't hate me forever.

Ocular Filters were placed in the visual cortex, enormously amplifying the processing power of incoming visual information and allowing future connections directly linking a ship's sensors with her mind. Tiny nanofibers reinforced the optical nerves and pathways linking that part of the brain to others, increasing the possible bandwidth by nearly an order of magnitude from what it had been before.

A Memory Augmentation implant was seated under the hippocampus, allowing much more efficient processing and solidification of memories that would essentially give her a photographic memory. In addition, minuscule storage modules were attached that exceeded the storage capacity of the human brain significantly, and provided room for her to learn everything she would ever want to, or have to.

A Neural Booster was inserted inside, and connected to, the emotional processing centers of the brain, allowing superb control over one's emotional states in a similar way to what I was capable of, was doing , now. It allowed a person to push themselves far beyond what most people were capable of, never feeling the crippling uncertainty of doubting oneself unnecessarily. It further served as a brake on most physical stimuli when that proved necessary, reducing agonizing pain to little more than a tingle when the sensory barriers were fully lowered.

A Cybernetic Subprocessor was next implanted in the frontal lobe, greatly expanding the logical and deductive and inductive reasoning circuitry that was normally present there. It would allow her to almost instantaneously map out the consequences of many, many different actions and pick the best way forward. Calculating in fractions of a second what would take most people hours or days to mull over, it made or broke one's ability to respond to changing situations as quickly as most capsuleers did. We dealt with so much information, that without these subprocessors we would never be able to make decisions fast enough for them to matter.

Finally, a Social Adaptation chip was placed below the Neural Booster, greatly amplifying the positive side of a human being's emotional capacity. When unleashed in full, it allowed one to be incredibly charismatic, empathic, and helped a great deal with nearly any kind of social interaction. It allowed a capsuleer to bluff their way through impossible odds, to inspire nations and essentially convince anyone of anything, given enough time and effort. Not that she really needed that. Alecto was already a wonderfully charming person. I thought. She'll be a force to be reckoned with, now. Her brain waves, erratic and violent for the past few hours as the brain slowly tried to integrate the new components were ever so slowly calming down, restoring to a more regular rhythm that was human, yet very much not at the same time.

While the neurosurgery robots were upgrading the neural circuitry of Alecto's brain over a period of countless hours, scanners had gone through every inch of her to determine which parts needed to be fixed now versus later. The incredibly release of toxins by the dying skin and trauma she suffered had critically overloaded the liver, and most of it had to be replaced by a biosynthetic one. It was grafted onto the healthy core, annexing blood vessels and nervous connections until it became tightly integrated into a new core that could filter any known poison from the bloodstream in seconds. Delicate nanosieve filters removed any impurities from the bloodstream much more efficiently than a mere flesh and blood liver ever could, and it was almost impossible to overload it. I hope she won't miss being drunk... I thought in passing. Her kidneys, too, needed to be replaced by a similar biosynthetic hybrid organ.

For now, the organs laid dormant until the improved neural connections would reconnect to these novel systems, and learn how to communicate with them through the programming that would be added to the processing units later. Her heart muscle still remained in excellent shape, somehow, and was merely reinforced with a flexible outer layer that would suffuse it with the proper mix of nutrients, protecting it from most cardiac pathologies as well as shielding it from any but the worst kinds of trauma.

Finally, a second nanobot factory was implanted where her thymus had once been as a child, severely boosting the immune system with nanometer sized artificial constructs that would recognize, encircle and eliminate any foreign compound from the body. She would need it, most likely, as losing this much of your body's protective outer covering tended to bring forth horrible infections. If not for the surgery, she would likely have died from some infection that no amount of antibiotics could cure in a human being. There was a limit to what medicine could do without intervention such as this.

The surgery in her head was drawing to an end and I saw the cortical layers being almost lovingly draped back into their original conformations. The nanobots in her nervous system would repair any severed combinations, and detach and reprogram others that had been less than ideal before. Normal nervous tissue couldn't regenerate, but the missing pieces were supplied by artificial synthetics that could bridge the gap otherwise left by the limits of human physiology.

Minutes later, her skull had closed once more, a thin red line the only indication of what had happened within, of what it now contained. She was still without skin in many parts of her body as that hadn't been replaced, but I watched with fascination as the many injured tissues reconnected, knit together, mended at a nearly glacial pace. Torn muscle fibers and connective tissues slowly fused as I watched her, the surgical robots patiently waiting for the underlying tissues to heal enough that the artificial skin could be attached, connected to the nurturing blood vessels that would supply nutrients, both organic and inorganic, to the new tissues.

Patches of still living skin had been taken from Alecto's still form, to be melded and merged with layers of biosynthetics. Once the gestalt had been successfully formed and stabilized, it could fairly rapidly be amplified and transplanted back. The biosynthetics were capable of stimulating much more rapid rates of cellular metabolism and division, with the additional benefit of being as tough as many strong polymers, though retaining the remarkable supple nature of the original skin thanks to the outer human epidermis that covered it, and the thin layer of adipose tissue that softened her skin and insulated it from the exterior environment.

The massive amount of rejuvenating fluids that stimulated cellular repair and division pathways left their mark on her form, too, as her slender body was subtly, yet quite discernibly more muscular and defined to my knowing gaze. Over time, the biosynthetics would further reinforce the tissues in her new physical form, ever strengthening it until it was far beyond the capabilities of the original template. That, however, would take time, and mostly manifested itself in a greatly increased regenerative ability that would allow her to increase muscle density much more easily than a regular person could. And heal injuries in minutes that otherwise would have required days or weeks.

The last layers of her original skin were slowly detached, careful to leave all the nerve endings as intact as possible. It would take many hours, days even, for the newly awoken nervous system to reconnect all the ends properly... But I knew from personal experience that they would. The first few days she would be missing some sensory stimuli from her skin until they had completed all the repairs and synaptic junctions necessary for proper transmission of neuronal information. She'd be very insensitive to touch and temperature and pressure, but it'd fade over the next week... The sensitivity would keep improving day by day until it far surpassed what human beings could discern, or even tolerate. I knew that for a fact, too.

The first strips of the biosynthetic skin were layered over her vulnerable, truly naked form, melding with the underlying tissues. Light charge interactions were used for now to keep the skin attached, but within minutes the underside of the synthetic material would have anchored itself in the layers of muscle and connective tissue underneath. Slowly, as if by an act of magic, the familiar yet subtly different body of my beloved was being reconstructed before my eyes. Every familiar contour was formed anew and I could almost see my hands touching her beauty as before, and wondered briefly whether it would feel identical, or not. Sarah had known me before I changed, and had never said anything about the difference, so I doubted it would feel very different.

It took another hour for the process to complete and her body to once more be completely encased in a sheath of skin, as new and vigorous as that of a newborn infant's. It was hers, yet wasn't. A curious idea to my mind, for sure. Alecto's body was still suspended three feet above the ground, more time was needed before the skin had attached securely enough that she could be laid to rest on an actual surface. She was still connected to the fluid lines that suffused her body with incredibly rich nutrient mixtures, optimized for the growth of the biosynthetic tissues that now filled her previously human form. She fairly glowed with the intensity of it, as the new skin was very pale, nearly translucent. It would take some time for the tissues to get completely perfused, and until then they would look like this. It was quite strange seeing her even paler than I was, her normally darker complexion something I adored, especially in contrast with my own freckled, pale skin.

I noticed then that we were alone, and I moved closer once more to the divine form that was now suspended in the tank, eager to touch her and give her comfort, but knowing I couldn't until she had healed more. But she was still so incredibly beautiful, even with the fading angry red lines trailing over her skin like patchwork, and without any hair. She looked so vulnerable, too, and I knew deep inside that I would, had to, do everything I could to keep her safe, whole, from now on. I felt like I had failed her once, and it had nearly cost her, and us, everything. It still could, because I was not sure she would accept this and be capable of and willing to forgive me for what I had done. I could only hope that she would understand, over time... Most of me thought she wouldn't be angry with me for doing what I had done, but I couldn't help but worry for having had to make the decision for her. It wasn't right, in my mind, to make that choice for someone else, as had been done to me. Although to me, I would have accepted it from her if she had done so to save my, and our, future.

I knew, too, that when she awakened finally, possibly many days from now, she would know agony beyond anything a human being was capable of experiencing. Until the nerves had reconnected the sensory stimuli didn't work, but detached nerve endings would think they were hurt, and transmit a constant flood of pain to her brain. If she didn't know how to block it, shield herself from it, as nobody did initially, it would be a living nightmare. I only hoped I could show her quickly how that was done, as she did not deserve to suffer more than she already had.

I made a solemn vow, then, that even if she never wanted to be around me again, I would spend the rest of my existence to safeguard this precious being from harm. Maybe I would have to do it from the shadows, without her ever wanting it or knowing about it, but I would do so. The universe without her in it was not worth knowing, experiencing... and I would do whatever I could to keep her in it. Even if that universe with her in it did not have room for me. I hoped that was not necessary, but looking at the floating form in the tank that meant more to me than anything else in this galaxy and my life, I had never been more certain of anything.

Still, I hoped she would, and could, forgive me for this. Nothing could be better than an eternity with Alecto at my side, exploring the vast expanses of the galaxy and beyond until the many stars in it had extinguished forever, and humanity was nothing more than dust. I hoped we would be there to witness the end of existence, however many eons that was from now. But first, I would have to ask for her forgiveness and understanding, hoping she would be capable of that even after all the pain and loss I had caused her.

A single tear fell down my cheek, mixing with the nutrient bath in her tank, and I whispered softly. “I love you, Lex. From that moment years ago when you kissed me in the library, until eternity embraces us all.” The steady vital signs on the monitor next to me were the only response I received, but to me the sounds of her life were all the affirmation I would ever truly need. Perhaps it was my imagination, but it felt as a tiny tremor curved her sealed lips into a smile as I said that. It was gone before I could really register it, leaving me none the wiser until she woke up from her regenerative slumber.

“Until then, my love. I will be there for you... Forever.”

*To be continued in chapter 1.*

A/N: Okay, then. I hope that was enjoyable to read :-) It will be a while before we see the next scene as we're going back in time now, to discover how Evelynne and Alecto ended up as they were here. I made some references to past events that will be further illuminated in the chapters to come. If you're incredibly impatient, feel free to PM me about it as I have enough understanding of the characters at the moment to know how it will play out. Having said that, they still manage to surprise me sometimes... Evie and Lex weren't even supposed to be together when I first started writing the chronological chapters, but they had such insane chemistry in my head that the decision was made for me *grins*.

Some technical notes concerning EVE and this story, as I realize I took a few artistic liberties to make parts go better. Some features of EVE don't really make sense in the real world as they only exist for PvP balance, so I got rid of them (i.e. logistics drones can't repair your own ship, which makes no sense). I also changed some things about how repairing in general is represented, especially for hull/armor repairs as I can't imagine a ship literally making armor plating out of nothing. It makes more sense to me that armor/structure damage represents integrity failures, rather than holes blown in the ship, making it much easier to patch them up again.

I do try to stay true to the game as much as possible, and please point out to me in a PM or review if you see anything I missed/did wrong. I've played the game for years, but I am not infallible and I have a lot more experience with some parts of the game compared to others. If anyone who has a huge amount of experience with PvP situations would be interested in beta-ing the combat scenes in the story to make sure they're realistic, that'd be awesome :-) Otherwise I'll just go by my gut instinct, as there are enough variations that almost anything can happen given the right conditions. And yeah, ECM drones are totally insane. Not my decision *grins*. I think that scene was accurate. I did change the jamming duration on them as I think a few seconds is more than sufficient for the sake of this universe.

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