Intaki V – Moon 5 – Astral Mining Inc. Refinery

Another late night—or a very early morning, depending on the point of view. Sakaane’s office was dark; only the holodisplay floating before her cast a pale, glowing light.

A summary scrolled past on the display. It was a rundown of combat statistics for the alliance, automatically produced to summarize the previous twenty-four hours’ activity. It had four entries on it, all coded red: losses.

She glanced briefly at the first one. Daniel Alpena and Spar Jamlamin of Repo. had fought in Aunsou, with Spar’s Thrasher destroying the ILF Rifter. There were no comments appended to the kill report; she made a mental note to ask Daniel about it later.

The next three entries made her bite her lip. The Coreli war was now into its seventh week and engagements continued to prove frustrating. Earlier that month it had been publicly confirmed that Coreli ships intended for use in the campaign against IPI tended to be fit with warp core stabilizers, allowing them to slip the field and escape from any engagement where they might otherwise be destroyed. In the face of this tactic some IPI pilots had decided to make an effort to return to the alliance’s normal activities. But of course the war meant no system was safe, and Coreli had well-paid locator agents in their employ. The next entry in the summary showed Joshua Foiritain had used a Rapier to attack an empty Occator belonging to Alessa Leon in Hatakani, no doubt while she was on a run to fetch supplies destined for the Intaki V-5 trade hub. Approximately half an hour later, it seemed Alessa and Daniel caught up to the Coreli CEO in Stacmon only to have both of their ships destroyed minutes apart by his Pilgrim.

Sakaane wiped the report off the display and leaned forward, elbows on the desk, to rest her forehead in her hands.

Her people were trying their best, and public support on the Intergalactic Summit was helping to keep everyone’s morale from crashing completely, but even so she felt the weight of the war heavily and knew they did, too.

We were never prepared to fight a war like this, she thought miserably. It’s one thing to send patrols to seek isolated combat engagements on gates or in complexes or at celestials…but IPI was never intended to be a militant force.

Then she heard the Suresha’s voice in her mind, reciting one of the alliance’s objectives: “To vigorously combat the capsuleer and Serpentis pirates who continually wreak havoc on the local population, destroy lives and property, and disrupt commerce…”

Vigorously.

Vigorously.

She giggled; the giggle was choked off by a sob that she quickly swallowed. Her hands balled into fists as she looked up and through the now blank holodisplay, its rectangular field still shimmering slightly, to the window which afforded her a view of her homeworld.

A mistake, she thought, blinking away her watery eyes. We made the same mistake the Assembly made so long ago. They said no to a navy presence and then did not provide one of their own… We said we would combat piracy but in the same breath said no to violence…and then did not make sure we could protect ourselves.

What was that saying? Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.

She recalled a conversation with Suresha Hawke from that past June. He had finally come to accept that force was necessary to achieve certain goals and promised to help build a navy for ILF. He realized his view of being able to solve all of Placid’s problems with diplomacy was idealistic. “There are those who will only listen to the peaceful solution when the threat of force is leveled firmly against them,” he’d said.

But only a few short weeks later he’d gone, vanished inexplicably once again, and before they knew it, the war with VKYR had started, and then the Coreli war shortly after that. Without someone to specifically spearhead that effort, the navy he’d envisioned never materialized.

And now here they were.

Sakaane sighed and rubbed her stinging eyes. The numbers on her chronometer were blurred and she wasn’t sure when she’d last slept well. We have to change, she decided, trying to stifle a yawn. We can’t go on by clinging to such idealism. New Eden’s hostility cannot be ignored.

As she mulled over this and its implications, her neocom alerted her to an incoming message. Distracted, she opened the mail, then sat bolt upright in her chair when she saw who the sender was.

Mz Eionell,

I apologize for the delay, but the item in question was difficult to obtain.

Please proceed to TXW-EI I, Intaki Bank Depository in your own time and request access to safe 324-Q. You will need to retrieve the item from the safe in person and you will need to provide identification to the staff there.

If you have any questions about this, please let me know. I look forward to doing business with you in the future.

Regards…

The Coreli war troubles momentarily forgotten, Sakaane’s exhaustion gave way to giddy excitement as she eagerly read over the message.

He’s done it. He found one!

She’d never really doubted whether her contact would be able to locate what she was looking for, considering his connections. But that he would get it for her without using the request as ammunition to shame herself, her corporation, her alliance? For that, she wondered if or when the other shoe might drop.

There was still a chance it could all go very wrong. TXW-EI was a system at the border of Syndicate-controlled nullsec, and her neocom showed her the most direct route from Intaki required eight jumps through lowsec before the ninth and final jump into 0.0 space. Her contact meant for her to share in the risk: there could be Serpentis patrols at any gate along the way, not to mention Coreli ships. Landing in TXW-EI, she could find herself bubbled and unable to escape… She might wake up in her clone bay in Intaki and still the item would be out of reach, waiting for her in that safe. Or she could make it all the way to the station safely and be destroyed on the return voyage.

Or it could be a trap. Perhaps there was no safe at all, no item to retrieve. After all, her contact was a pirate and they had been enemies for many years. His own forces—or he himself—might lie in wait for her, either on the route or even in the station. He could have sent word to Coreli regarding where she would be. If she was shot while outside her capsule…

Eventually she discarded those thoughts. It was still a risk but she guessed he wouldn’t attempt to double-cross her. Despite his occupation, his psychological profile made it clear that he held great stock in the agreements he made. But it would be up to her to get the item safely back to Intaki, because if she were to be caught with it, especially if it showed up on a public kill report, eventually it would be traced back to him. The ramifications for both of them would be dire.

She acknowledged the message, made a mental note of the safe’s location, deleted the mail, and then flushed the system records.

The holodisplay was blank again. She stared at it for a time, listening to the barely audible whoosh of the station’s air recycling system and the quiet whirring of a small janitorial drone moving about in the dark corners of the office. Her excitement withered to cold anxiety that settled in her bowels, and before she knew it her mail client was open again.

Njal,

Sometimes I believe I have succumbed to the madness they say eventually claims all capsuleers, rendering us as nothing more than inhumane killing machines that no longer feel remorse or regret. Sometimes I wonder if we succumb to this the moment we wake in the first clone, the moment we allow our bodies to be sacrificed in exchange for our supposed immortality.

But I know it’s not as simple as that. People are complicated. Some are stronger than others. Some can hang onto their humanity, and their humility, their compassion and their love. Others never had any to start with. Capsuleers are all sinners, in the strictest sense of the word. But some of us try in some meager way to atone for the death and destruction we cause.

Tonight I wonder where I fall along that bell curve, and where I will be in the coming days.

The device I sought to find has been found. It’s a nasty piece of work, Njal. Will this be my greatest sin, to hold this thing in my hands and use it on another human being? Can I live with myself if I do? Or will this one act simply be lost amongst all the transgressions I have committed to date and will commit in the future?

I can never forget why I became a capsuleer. As much as I want the past not to exist, it still does, but now at last I can put it to rest and be rid of it forever. And I want that. I deserve that.

Normally I wouldn’t contemplate using such a device on anyone. Never mind that it’s a vile contraption and understandably its existence makes capsuleers—those few who know of it—nervous because of what it does. There is only one reason for its use.

I have no problem killing a man, if it’s right. So what of this?

After all, I kill every time I destroy an enemy ship: a certain percentage of crew do not make it out alive. Sometimes none of them do. Their blood is on my hands, even if I never see the whites of their eyes. Of course I’ve known this since the day I became a licensed pilot. It’s simply part of what we are.

And when it comes down to it, the device will have the same end result. It just won’t be a baseliner that dies. So in this sense, using it isn’t much different to what I already do. It’s just…more intimate. More horrifying.

For everything I have learned this year, and everything that knowledge has cost me… This item can never inflict the same degree of injury or pain on the individual it is intended for…

…but it will go a long way toward evening the score.

Sakaane