The girl whipped back around the heavy metal bulkhead just in time to avoid a massive, molten metal slug as it tore through the air. The slug, nearly as large as her fist and traveling near the speed of sound, would have taken her head clean off had it connected, and she shuddered at the thought.
It struck the wall down the hallway with a crash and riotous explosion that rattled her teeth.
Lethe ejected the empty clip from her firearm with a practiced ease before slamming a new one into the weapon, which she had dubbed "Naito". The 9mm semiautomatic handgun, though plated in silver and etched with an intricate pattern of vines and leaves, was decidedly primitive in comparison to the technical marvel that had launched the slug, firing simple lead bullets rather than magnetically accelerated tungsten. In fact, the weapon had caused her to be the subject of much ridicule, even from Jason, her partner. While it was true that she herself had had a fair amount of contempt for the crude weapon before becoming accustomed to it, she had since come to appreciate and rely on its rugged efficiency, and relatively low need for maintenance, something modern weapons could not attest to.
Another slug raced down the hallway, slamming into a supply crate resting on the wall opposite Lethe. A man crouched behind the metal cube, covering his head against a rain of molten sparks.
Lethe knew that he was likely safer than she was; the crate was made of stronger stuff than even the walls of the ship and the bulkhead she hid behind. Somewhat ironically, pirates were loath to lose anything they had stolen, and their storage crates were notoriously difficult to get into.
But they couldn't hide forever, and Lethe knew it. Sooner or later reinforcements would arrive, and then they'd really be in it.
"Lee," The man behind the crate called over to her, as if reading her thoughts. "Give me some covering fire. I'll move up." He shouldered his assault rifle. She smiled at the familiar name "Charlotte" painted in white on the stock, in stark contrast to the black material the weapon was made from.
Lethe nodded and readied her pistol, and silently held up three fingers. The man nodded, and Lethe began counting. On 3, she rounded the corner and fired the pistol down the hallway. She was a good shot, but the distance was great and she hadn't had time to aim properly, so her shots went wide. The man at the end of the hallway, Lethe's quarry, ducked behind a bulkhead identical to the one Lethe was taking cover behind, massive railgun clutched tightly in his hands.
She cursed as her own weapon clicked empty, and she moved back behind cover. She had missed, but she had succeeded in giving her partner an opening. He sprinted from behind the crate, rifle up as Lethe slapped a new clip into her gun.
The report of his boots on the metal walkway prompted their quarry to poke his head from cover, but several crackling yellow energy bolts from Jason's rifle sent him scurrying back behind the bulkhead.
Jason slid behind a new crate farther down the hallway. From there, he had a better shot at their pirate quarry. He peppered his hiding place with blasts from his rifle, forcing the bandit to crouch down into the fetal position to make himself a smaller target.
A gaseous hiss could be heard as Jason's overheating weapon ejected a spent iridium cartridge, and Lethe realized too late Jason's mistake. The lapse in Jason's fire had been precisely what the pirate had been waiting for. Lethe called out, but the pirate had already thrown something to the ground between Lethe and Jason. It detonated with a flash of light, and Lethe brought her hands up in front of her face, as if she could somehow ward off the explosion. But the pain borne from fire and shrapnel that she had anticipated did not come; rather, a burst of electricity raced across her skin, tingling where the blue sparks touched. An EMP.
She glanced up. In their confusion, the pirate had bolted for the nearest doorway, locking the access terminal behind him after the door slid shut.
Jason cursed as the yellow lights on his now-smoking weapon flashed and died, the rifle useless. He angrily slung it across his back, unwilling to leave the beloved weapon behind. The delicate circuits within would have to be replaced later, but for now he was unarmed.
Lethe looked down at her own pistol and casually pulled the slide back, racking a round into the chamber. It would perform just fine, having been unaffected by the EMP burst.
The two of them dashed down the length of the hallway to the terminal, where Jason began trying in vain to open the door. After a few seconds of hammering away at the touchscreen with no results, he shouted and slammed a fist against the metal frame.
Lethe frowned and pushed him out of the way, reaching into the bag that hung from her back by a single strap across her chest. She unzipped it and procured a metal-shelled laptop, an antique she had proofed against EMP.
Jason snorted as he caught sight of it, unable or unwilling to hide his disdain for Lethe's low-tech solution. But he knew better to argue; Lethe was a better hacker than him by far, and she would have ignored him if he had protested anyway.
Laptop balanced atop her left forearm and tapping furiously at the keys with her right hand, she had accessed the terminal and overridden the lockdown protocols in mere seconds, the locks disengaging with a hydraulic hiss. Lethe snapped the laptop shut and returned it to its bag, exchanging it for lustrous, melon-sized sphere.
She gave a two-tone whistle, and the sphere opened like a rose in bloom, tiny jets sluggishly pushing it into the air. Two stubby arms protruded, a small laser cannon mounted at the edge of each one.
"Hello, Hummer," she lilted as the drone hovered about her head, the familiar noise that was its namesake reassuring even now.
She sharply rapped a holopad mounted on her forearm with her middle finger, and Hummer stilled. She hit it again and the drone moved over to Jason, bobbing in the air over his shoulder. Using the holopad and voice commands, she could have the drone execute simple actions. She would have had better control with her laptop, but she could not hold it and fire her gun at the same time.
"Protect Jason, Hummer," She intoned, a finger pointed in its direction. The sphere chirped in response. Jason glowered.
"I don't need your toys to protect me, Lethe," He growled.
"You're unarmed," She scolded. "I don't want to hear it."
Jason grumbled again but said nothing, knowing full well that she was right.
Lethe tapped her holopad again, and a map flashed to life above her wrist. It displayed the entire layout of the cruiser, having been scanned by Lethe's Incursus well beforehand. She tapped the display and it zoomed in on their location, marked by a flashing dot labeled smartly, "You Are Here".
"The engine room is on the other side," She informed Jason. "This corridor is the only way in or out, aside from some maintenance tunnels, but we breached them when we tackled the cruiser, so they've been blocked off."
"He's trapped like a rat," Jason said with a cackle. "Fitting, that the hunter should become the hunted."
"Right," Lethe nodded, shutting the map projection off. "Let's end it."
She turned to the terminal. "When I open this, throw one of those," She said, pointing to one of the smoke grenades at his belt. She wanted some cover in case the pirate had his weapon pointed at the door. Jason nodded grimly in agreement.
Without hesitation, she keyed the door open, and it slid open with a dull shunk.
Jason pulled the pin on a grenade and tossed it through the open doorway. The two slammed their backs against the wall as it detonated, a white flash casting long shadows down the corridor. As soon as the flash subsided, Lethe moved through the doorway, handgun raised.
She padded lightly through the smoke like a cat, ready to pounce at the slightest sign of movement, Jason following close behind. Thankfully, no shots were fired their way, as Lethe had hoped.
The two moved into the shadow of an enormous structure whose purpose Lethe had no way to determine. It thrummed quietly behind them as Lethe keyed her holopad again. Hummer bobbed in the air as a command was issued, and the little drone flew into the air above their heads.
Soon after, a projection leapt into the air from Lethe's holopad bracer, showing a video feed of the room from Hummer's point of view.
The room was massive; it was surpassed in size, Lethe suspected, only by the cargo bay. It was cluttered with massive machines that Lethe could only guess were part of the cruiser's massive engine array, and a myriad assortment of tubes that ferried fuel and coolant. She had Hummer circle the room, searching for the ship's captain, but there was no sign of the man. Lethe shook her head in frustration.
"I'll need to draw him out," She hissed. "I'll wound him, then you'll need to grab him."
Jason, who was much larger than the wiry pirate captain, grinned in anticipation, slamming a fist into the palm of his other hand.
She tapped at her wrist monitor again, and pressed her middle finger to a button her earpiece, opening a comms channel to Hummer.
"Hummer," She said, "Stay hidden until he shows himself, then shoot him. Nonlethal, if you please." She added. Hummer chirped in confirmation. Even if they hadn't had orders to capture and not kill the pirate captain, Lethe did not have much of a stomach for bloodshed.
She nodded to Jason and took a deep breath before she stepped out into the open, gun clasped tightly in both hands.
"End of the line, pirate," She called, contempt clear in her voice. "Make this easier on all of us, and come peacefully.
"The Gallente federation is just," She continued. "And will offer you a fair trial."
The metallic ring of heavy boots on a metal catwalk brought her gaze up and in front of her. The man was standing there, regarding her calmly.
Lethe's instincts screamed at her to raise her gun and put a bullet through his skull, but she knew in her heart she could not just shoot him in cold blood, pirate or no.
"Ah, how kind of you to grace us with your presence, Mister Derrick Cutter," She said. If the man was surprised at her knowledge of his name, he did not show it.
"Just?" He spat, "Your 'Federation' Is a mockery of the ideals it supposedly stands for. They think themselves a democracy," He pointed at Lethe. "But look how they enforce their laws with violence and bloodshed, sending mercenaries to do what they can't stomach themselves.
"Democracy," He continued, holstering his railgun. "What a joke. Dictatorship would be more appropriate."
"That's rich, coming from a pirate," Lethe snapped angrily, all semblance of civility she had previously had evaporating. "You prey on those who cannot defend themselves, all to turn a profit! How dare you accuse me of anything!"
Two small jets attached to the man's back flared to life, causing the man to levitate a few inches off the catwalk. "My only targets are those that belong to your Gallente Navy. I care not how well they can defend themselves. They've made their allegiances clear, and will be made pay the price."
With this, he drew two small submachine guns, their barrels glowing with unfired plasma, internal components whining as a charge built within them.
Eyes wide in surprise, she brought up her weapon and squeezed the trigger, but the rounds stopped short mere inches from the man's flesh, flashing cobalt blue where they struck.
Lethe cursed under her breath and dove for cover behind a large, metal structure as red laser bolts melted the steel where she had been standing a moment before.
She pressed her back against the cool, bronze-colored metal, angry with herself for not expecting the energy shield. The Caldari were masters of shield technology, so it should not have come as a surprise that that technology should apply not only to their ships, but to their capsuleers as well.
"Come on now, Gallente," The pirate called out to her with a laugh. "Leaving already? I thought we had just gotten started!"
Lethe heard the whine of the man's jetpack before she saw him; he whipped around the corner of the massive machine and pulled the trigger on both of his weapons, peppering Lethe's hiding spot with red bursts of scathing light.
Lethe put her arms over her head and turned to run, but as soon as it had begun, the storm of laser bolts halted, punctuated by the man's angry shout.
Lethe glanced up and saw Hummer mercilessly pelting the pirate with crackling blue energy blasts. The blasts of electrically charged blasts were designed to bring down electronics and energy shielding, as well as have a paralyzing effect against flesh.
Cutter's shielding flickered and died, more to the pirate's anger than distress.
"Out of here, pest!" He shouted, leveling one of his weapons at the little drone, firing at it as one might spray pesticide at a bothersome fly.
"Hummer! Run!" Lethe cried, hastily firing a few rounds at the man one-handed. The distance was too great to ensure a hit, but Lethe succeeded in distracting the pirate long enough for the little drone to fly away.
"Gallente and their drones," The man sneered as his shields rebooted themselves with a cyan shimmer. "The Caldari prefer a more direct approach." He raised his left arm and a small click reached Lethe's ears, moments before a projectile leapt from a gauntlet on his arm.
Lethe's eyes widened as she saw the silhouette of a tiny rocket streaking towards her, and dove to avoid its impact. She landed in a roll as the explosive detonated behind her, and she covered her arms against the rain of shrapnel that showered her.
She gasped in pain as bits of metal sliced her flesh, but kept running lest she become an easy target.
She sprinted out into the open area in the center of the room, flashes of red light throwing her shadow on the wall as laser bolts struck the ground at her heals and flitted about her head.
Luckily for her, the compact and likely non-Amarr construction of Cutter's weapons meant that they were not particularly accurate; with the distance Lethe had been able to put between them, she took minor burns from near misses, but no more.
She whirled and fired a few rounds at the pirate, emptying the clip before she could penetrate the shield.
She moved behind a support column, dumping the empty clip and inserting a new one. She was gasping for breath, but Cutter would be upon her in moments.
As before, the whine of the pirate's jetpack preceded his arrival, and moments later he swung through the air around the pillar, but this time Lethe was ready for him.
She clamped a hand on his arm, feeling the electric, slippery energy shield under her fingers. Caught off guard, the man could not bring his other weapon up in time to kill his assailant before she pointed the muzzle of her firearm at his forehead, close to, but not quite touching the shield. Tendrils of blue electricity reached out to touch the barrel of the gun as she pulled the trigger.
Even with the shield intact, the impact of the bullet at such close range was jarring, and the dazed pirate reeled back. Lethe wasted no time in emptying the clip against the shield, and the last casing exited the chamber as the shield flashed once and disappeared.
Angry at having been taken off guard, the man opened the throttle on his jetpack and disengaged, knowing that Lethe was out of rounds. He readied his own weapons to finish her, when a rage-filled shout caused him to turn his head.
Running along a catwalk near the pirate was Jason. Lethe gasped in surprise, words of warning on her lips.
Before she could even so much as call out his name, however, the pirate raised one of his rifles and opened fire at the man.
Lasers tore into his right shoulder and left thigh, but he did not slow. With a shout, he launched himself from the catwalk towards the hovering pirate.
Jason reached out and easily found handholds on the pirate's jetpack harness, the lack of a shield allowing a firm grip. The jetpack whined as the throttle automatically opened to compensate for the extra weight, and Cutter snarled in fury as he struck at the clinging attacker.
Jason reached back with his right hand and punched Cutter full in the face, keeping his hold onto the pirate with the other hand.
Lethe slammed another clip into Naito, but dared not fire at the pirate out of fear of hitting Jason.
"Dammit Jason!" She shouted in impotence. "Get clear! I don't have a shot!"
But if her partner had heard her, he gave no sign. Instead, the big man reached up and tore something off of the jetpack. Severed circuits sparked and smoked, warning light flashing.
The pirate swore as the jetpack failed and the two crashed to the ground.
Lethe rushed over to assist as the two men wrestled on the metal floor. Though smaller than Jason, Cutter was gaining the upper hand, apparently having had more hand-to-hand training that was uncommon among most capsuleers.
Triumph shone in Jason's eyes as he pinned the wiry pirate beneath him, but his celebration was cut short when Cutter pulled his knees to his chest and extended his legs quickly, pushing the big man away as if he were no heavier than a child.
Jason's heavily muscled frame slammed into the slender Lethe, and she gave a cry of shock as he fell bodily atop her.
Cutter stood and straightened his jacket, almost casually pointing one of his rifles at the two.
"This is what the Gallente navy sends after me?" He sneered. "Pathetic."
Lethe cried out as the pirate pulled the trigger.