The superheated metal squealed and clicked as it cooled. The red that had suffused the entire sheet of metal began fading to a silver-gray as the pieces were separated by computer operated hands. Hundreds of different components cut from the steel all sorted into four separate conveyor belts. Where the pieces would be inspected and packaged for shipments.
A strip of plasma superheated the sheets of metal as they rolled out onto the factory floor, turning the entire room into effectively a furnace for humans. Luckily, the entire factory was automated. Drones moved the materials where conveyor belts could not. The only people responsible for the smooth progress of production were the techs who carefully monitored every piece of equipment.
The Techs were especially diligent today as their patron was busily inspecting the facility from head to toe. Cold blue eyes and a shaven pate caused the man to stand out in the crowd of managers who flocked around him. Each trying to explain a portion of the factories production and what they individually believed would help increase production.
Icy blue eyes regarded the factory through the inch thick reinforced glass that separated them from the inferno beyond. The man wasn’t even listening to the managers, and as he scratched absently at the C2 Neural socket at the base of his head, he wondered just how stupid these men really thought he was. Each and every single one of them were only proposing things that would make their jobs even easier, but would as a whole decrease the efficiency in the case of an emergency.
Rogan was not having it, so he just allowed the little gnats to buzz and buzz and bug him. He would take their concerns under “advisement”.
Slowly Rogan followed one of the sheets of metal to the cutting board through the long observation hallway that ran along the heights of the factory. His own little gaggle following him like the geese they appeared to be. Right in his shadow as he watched the components be made and pushed off onto their own conveyors.
His eyes locked on a small ring of metal as it was pushed down the conveyor to be inspected. He lifted his hand and eyed the little ring that was there was well. The circle of high-tensile steel that acted as a securing cap for his prosthetic right arm. Looking at the arm brought back a wash of memories to Rogan. Memories from before he became an Empyrean. Before he had become a Capsuleer.
Rogan waded through dark images of fire and desperation in his mind and came out the other side unbothered. The arm wasn’t really necessary. He had lost the arm before he was a capsuleer, and as a Capsuleer he could have a new one any time he changed clones. Hell, he could have a new arm any color he wanted. That was however why he chose something sturdier than flesh and blood.
He chose steel and wire.
The augments were not by any means necessary, and by no stretch of the imagination could a capsuleer ever require such. Yet it granted him a sense of accomplishment in truth. He had passed through the dark waters and come out on the other stronger and better than before.
Rogan had spent much of his adult life working in a facility much like this one. As a tech like those around him. Once he had probably even gathered around the head of the company that ran the factory with the same level of fevered interest just to get some sort of approval for his forward thinking.
That had been ages ago, that had been before a sponsor had taken notice of him. His life had entirely been work, study, sleep. With no breaks in between for nearly eight years. Pushing to reach that fruit that hung so high on the tree, he hadn’t truly ever imagined he could reach it.
With a sigh Rogan turned towards his managers and spoke.
“The facility looks in good working order. I will take your opinions and suggestions under advisement. My inspection of this facility is over, thank you for your time.” He announced, and he couldn’t quite hide the boredom in his own tone, even from himself. Not that he really cared to. Maybe if the managers realized just how little he cared about their opinions they would stop having so many of them.
Rogan stepped through the parting crowd of managers and towards the lifts at the far end of the hall. Ignoring the attempts to get his attention for one last minute boredom session. Once he reached the lift he closed the doors, leaving the managers to wait for the next ride up as he settled into the back of the cab and felt the Gs as the lift accelerated him rapidly towards the planet’s surface.
The factory was deep beneath the crust on a planet so close to the star that if it had an atmosphere on the surface, one’s skin would have burned away in the blink of an eye. This planet orbited a big red star in a system so far from anything that mattered, that if the star were to explode and rip the crust away he doubted even the Scope would take note of it.
The minutes ticked by as the lift made the long journey up, and briefly Rogan wondered just how much work it had taken to get this far. To not just have your own factory out in zero security space, but to have dozens of them. Hundreds of them if you counted the factories owned by other fellows in your corporation. All using resources that were also being mined by your own strip mining facilities either on planet or elsewhere in the same system, or constellation at the very greatest.
A well oiled machine that had taken less than a year to construct and was always a delight to see on the quarterly earning reports. Mostly because it took little and less effort.
Mining required someone to get into a pod, put that pod into some form of mining barge, and go stare at rocks through a cam drone for hours on end. And he had never even considered trying to be a combat pilot. It wasn’t that he didn’t have the stomach for combat, it was simply there was so much risk involved.He had always taken measures to use the least risky endeavor, and this was it.
All Rogan had to do was set up these little factories all over, and watch his account grow fatter with each sale of the final product. A billion ISK industry that took no effort to manager or maintain. Their nullsec pocket was even close enough to empire space to allow product to be moved relatively safely. Not that it always could make it safely.
Some shipments were, unfortunately, lost. One in a hundred or so but that was an acceptable loss. Often just pirates waiting on the gates in High Security waiting to attack and loot what remained.
Only a few times in recent memory Rogan had ever noted intruders into their little corner of Null Security. Neither particularly interesting. The first had been a mining gang looking for fresh rocks. They had been scared off by a pirate group Rogan and his friends had contracted to deal with them. They didn’t need trash stealing what rightly belonged to them. After all, what else would they get those wide eyed eager to please rookie capsuleers to do while everyone else enjoyed their wealth.
That second incursion had been rather funny. A covert ops cruiser, one of those fancy new ships that could fly and warp while cloaked, had come into the system. They had asked a few times what he was up to over the local comms, but never had gotten a response.
Finally though, one of the ships in the combat wing had discovered the specialized cruiser had been hacking serpentis sites in their system. Places where the pirate cartel routed some of their vast arrays of data to make it harder to detect by the empires. They had decided to stage a trap for the capsuleer.
Calling on their pirate friends, Rogan had been provided with a Heavy Interdictor Cruiser. The combat wing had instructed him to wait by the systems gate and put it up, they would flush the capsuleer to him.
Rogan had waited for nearly an hour when he had heard the frantic voices over comms telling him to put up the field, and he had done so. It had not looked like anyone had arrived when the rest of the wing arrived, but the moment they deployed drones suddenly there the ship was. Decloaked by the little devils.
As the ship was being ripped apart the pilot had been positively livid. Threatening them and shouting them and cursing their names seven ways to sunday. Finally when they had destroyed the ship, it had taken nearly a full minute, then the pod the pilot had contacted Rogan via Neocom for a more personal threat.
Normally he would have long forgotten such a pointless threat, but for some reason this one stuck. All the other ranting the capsuleer had done didn’t matter but those last words before he had closed the channel.
“I know who you are now. You can’t hide from me you little fedo stain. I’ll find you, and i’ll tear those implants out of that little bald head.”
It was the way that he had delivered the threat that had somehow stuck with Rogan. A cold rage instead of a frothing fury. It had bothered him in the weeks and months since then just how sincerely he had seemed to mean it. Just the rantings of some butthurt moron, right?
Rogan shook the drifting thoughts from his head and checked the time, 16:47. Shouldn’t he have already made it to the top by now? Curious Rogan slapped the lift button and he heard the soft ding as if the elevator had already reached the top. In fact the floor indicator was telling him as much. Top floor, shuttle bays. Why wouldn’t the damn thing open?
There was the sound of squealing metal and Rogan’s eyes went wide as he clutched at the lift’s handrails. Squeezing tight as momentary terror took hold, was it possible the lift could plummet? How long would it take for the metal cage to hit the ground kilometers below? Could he even possibly survive that? The lift shuddered again, but nothing happened. No sudden gut wrenching descent, and the seconds ticked by.
Rogan listened for any slight shift. Already connecting to members of his corporation through his Neocomm. Sending frantic distress signals to anyone who was currently active, but no responses came.
Suddenly a new channel invitation appeared in the corner of Rogan’s vision. He recognized the name of the Capsuleer they had blown to smithereens months ago.
Hesitantly, Rogan opened the channel. For a moment it stayed blank. Than after what felt like an eternity a single message came over the Neocomm.
Rogan stared dumbly at the message box only he could see, too dumbstruck by the revelation. There was no way the bastard could have gotten here. This was the heart of their territory, on the sun blasted planet nearest the sun. How could he have even gotten here without someone finding him… the covert ops.
The only reason they had even known he had entered the system the first time was someone had seen him warp away from the stargate on their way through. Otherwise the only evidence of the man’s presence would have been in the local channel.
Still the moments dragged on however, and the lift did not just drop. What was he waiting for? The right moment?
There was the soft skittering of metal on metal. A clinking as if someone were tapping a pen point on a metal desk. Rogan glanced about the elevator, wondering what that could be. He found out when he felt something tugging at the pant leg of his suit. Several dozen somethings.
Little metal… things with eight articulated metal legs were clustered around his legs. Rogan wasn’t even sure what he was looking at until the thing tugged at him again and a turned a single red photoreceptor up to peer at him.
As if they had been waiting for that exact moment, which they likely had by Rogan’s guess, the creatures began crawling all over him. Scampering up his pant leg and jabbing him with their little needle-like legs. Silent but for the click of metal against metal, and his own screams as they tore at the skin beneath.
Physically clawing their way up his clothes.
Rogan slapped at the things, trying to knock them free. Some of the times it worked, other times the things only pierced latched on to his synthetic hand. Stabbing their needle-like appendages into the seams in the metal and chittering their way up the metal.
He felt to the ground in panic as a sudden pain shot through his knee. As he fell he saw one of the spiders stabbing at the joint savagely. The needles coming away slick with blood. He struck the floor with a crash amongst the creatures, and they swarmed over him.
He was screaming, Rogan found. Screaming and flailing as the things crawled all over him. He felt pricks of pain and agony riding up his neck and across his face. He couldn’t see anymore, and one was going into his mouth.
What hurt worst out of all of it, however, was Rogan could feel them digging. Into his back, just around the C2 and lower vertebrae. He could feel them scratching at the implants. The needles digging deep into the flesh and he screamed.
Suddenly he felt as much as heard a loud pop, and he couldn’t feel the pain anymore. Well he could, especially around his face, but it was almost as if it were far away. He couldn’t move, he couldn’t even struggle.
As he stared at the doors of the elevator, he watched one of the multi-legged things crawl out in front of them. It was carrying something… circular and metallic with a long pointed connection. And then another, and another. It took him a long time to realize, those were the neural jacks to his pod.
The elevator doors opened, and as Rogan slipped into the darkness that was beginning to swallow up his vision, he thought he heard laughter. Distant, and hysterical.