Many thanks to Bataav for his valuable input and written contributions to the Holoreel RP.
An ebook of all seven parts of this ficlet can be found here.
Dodixie IX – Moon 20 – Federation Navy Assembly Plant
The first panel of the day did not begin until 1100, so Bataav and Sakaane were afforded the opportunity to enjoy a lazy start to their day in her quarters before venturing out together for breakfast.
“The Economy” was a large presentation in which analysts from across New Eden discussed how the various markets in the cluster interacted with one another and how capsuleers were usually its driving force. They used terms like “pilot versus pilot” and “pilot versus everything else” to distinguish between conflicts where capsuleers shot each other and conflicts where capsuleers went after baseliner space-faring groups (or found those groups coming for them) and the resulting number of ships produced to replaced those that were destroyed.
This topic led into an extensive discussion regarding commodity prices, initially focusing on secondary products now generated by capsuleers since being granted access to planetary resources. The graph spoke for itself:
The miners in the crowd stirred with interest when the presentation turned to minerals. Bataav took out his datapad and made notes, murmuring to Sakaane that the information would be of use to his uncle.
Finally, Sakaane and Bataav emerged from the panel with a majority of others who intended to attend presentations taking place in other rooms. Bataav remained thoughtful as he looked over the notes he’d made, while Sakaane surreptitiously gave her numb backside a rub, and shot Bataav an apologetic smile when he noticed.
They grabbed a quick lunch at the nearby EON Bar ‘n’ Grill and then hurried on to the “Captain’s Quarters” panel, eager to hear about changes being implemented cluster-wide for in-station capsuleer housing. Each empire was in the process of renovating their stations at their own great expense for their prestigious guests.
“I’m looking forward to getting out of our rusty old quarters,” Bataav said afterward as they once again waited patiently at the back of the crowd for everyone to leave ahead of them.
Sakaane grinned and briefly slipped her arm around him. “Rust aside… That small bed sure does make things…cozy, doesn’t it? But yes. It will be nice to get the upgrades. Hopefully Astral and FedMart don’t take too long to get things finished at home.”
He considered as they finally exited the room. “I’m sure they’ll find some excuse to delay completion of the work. There’s always something when the Federation is involved.”
Bataav checked the time. “It’s early yet but we should think about dinner later. Maybe set up a reservation so we don’t have to wait?”
Sakaane nodded. “Would you mind taking care of that? I’d like to pop back into the market area, see if they restocked on any of the shirts I wanted. They were out of my size yesterday.”
“Shall we meet back here then? Twenty minutes?”
She smiled and let her gaze linger on him as he disappeared into the crowd before turning away herself.
The market area was just as crammed as it had been the day before but the stock was largely depleted. Disappointed, Sakaane took the time to browse again anyway and picked up a few more items, this time arranging to have them delivered to her quarters so she wouldn’t have to carry them through dinner.
The way back to their agreed-upon meeting area was thick with people milling about. She strolled unhurriedly and paid little attention to the pilots around her, instead lost in thought about how well things were going, both with the convention…and with Bataav. She ducked her head as she walked to hide a happy, girlish grin.
Someone grabbed her right arm and something hard jabbed her ribs.
“Keep walking,” a rough voice whispered hotly on her ear.
Sakaane inhaled sharply. Pressed next to her was the Civire from the agent panel the previous day. She tried not to stare. This close, she could see the intense orange of the iris of his one good eye, ringed with green like a hawk’s. It glowered down at her; he was a good head taller than she. Deep wrinkles at the corners of each eye, plus fine lines around his lips, betrayed an age at odds with his otherwise impressive physique. The burn that marred his face was also old; the scar from the injury that had taken half his sight seemed only just less so. Obviously he hadn’t been podded in a long, long time.
He had a peculiar scent about him as if he came from somewhere arid and hot and could never fully shake the dust out. She tried to shrink away but his hand tightened painfully on her arm, keeping her snug against his body and her pace even with his.
“Don’t make a scene,” he growled, just loud enough for her to hear. The crowd swirled around them like water flowing around rocks in a stream, paying them no attention. After some way, he said, “Sakaane Eionell,” and she winced at the sound of her name on his lips. “You are the daughter of Nasiir Eionell.”
It sounded more like an accusation than a question. Her body tensed but he pressed the concealed blade more firmly against her in warning. Aloud she said, “I am.”
His mouth twisted into a smile that distorted the scars on his cheek and stretched the grey hair of his moustache and beard. It was the kind of smile that showed teeth and was anything but warm or inviting. He was silent again a while, studying her as they wound their way through the now-thinning crowd. Then he said, “Your father has been dead a long time. I knew him, many years ago. I have something of his that I’m sure he’d want you to have.”
“I see.” She didn’t see, not in the slightest. Her pulse raced. Her father had been a man of Ida, working peacefully at home to raise his family. Not once in her memory had he ever ventured off world, nor ever received a visitor such as this Caldari. How could a capsuleer have come to know him, never mind have some possession of his?
A cold sensation spread over her; the skin around her implants constricted uncomfortably. It was the same gut feeling she always got whenever a patrol was about to go bad—and not listening usually meant she flew home in her pod.
Sakaane scanned the crowd. They’d been heading away from where she’d agreed to meet Bataav. She recognized no one nearby.
The CONCORD official should have listened to his instincts and arrested this pirate yesterday. My father would never have associated with someone like him!
She bit her lip. But how did he know the name Nasiir Eionell? Even if he had somehow known her father, why would he need a knife and coercion if all he wanted was to pass on a memento? If this was some sort of elaborate plot for payback hatched by a red she’d recently blown up, why go to such trouble to bait her with a name dead and buried for nearly a decade?
She recalled what she had told Bataav at the base of the volcano on Dodixie VI. If there’s any chance at all this Caldari is telling the truth and really knew my father… She swallowed thickly in a vain attempt to beat down the fear.
“Where are we going?”
He didn’t answer.
“How did you know my father? Who are you?”
He grunted. “Not surprised he never mentioned me.”
The crowd ended abruptly as they approached the darkened back area of the convention center where she imagined few except the local staff actually ventured. Ahead, all was deserted and quiet. A shiver raised gooseflesh; the urge to flee was overwhelming.
She hesitated and looked back, catching a glimpse of a familiar face watching her discreetly from amongst the straggling convention-goers now some distance away. But who was it? She didn’t have time to reflect; as she moved the Caldari’s blade slid easily through her clothes and bit into her flesh.
“Oh no you don’t!”
He shoved her through a doorway, following in behind and sealing it shut. The room was a small storage area, mostly empty save for a few shelves with boxes scattered about and a spare folding table set off to one side. A single light overhead cast shadows.
Sakaane backed away to the opposite wall, keeping a wary eye on her adversary and sliding a hand inside her jacket; the fingers came away bloody. The wound seemed superficial but painful, overriding the ache of bruises forming on her arm.
Over the years she’d tried to keep up with her hand-to-hand combat training from the academy. While regular people often displayed awe and fear when faced with capsuleers, it was also true she’d had her own fair share of scuffles dealing with opportunist jerks and crooks, not to mention sexist pigs whose blood flowed uncontrollably into their pants at the sight of a female starship captain. But most of that had happened years ago. Her skills were still decent, but rusty.
He stood opposite her with the knife in hand, her blood on it dark in the poor light. He was easily twice her size. Nothing about him betrayed hesitation or nervousness. Rather, he was coiled like a snake, ready to strike if she made the slightest wrong move.
Her eyes flicked around the room, looking for anything she could use as a weapon. There was no way she could best him without one in this confined space, considering her injury and his knife. But all the boxes seemed to have small items in them, nothing that would be of any use. “You’re a liar,” she accused angrily, trying to stall. “You never knew my father. Who are you really?”
The Caldari grinned cruelly and advanced toward her. “Oh, I did know your father, better than I cared to. He was always spouting off that Ida bullshit. But I suppose I did lie, a little. I don’t actually have anything of his.” He flicked the fingers of one hand at his face. The bulb overhead lit the scars crisscrossing his skin. “Except these. Oh, you didn’t know that? Even better. His gift to me, and now I’m going to enjoy paying it forward!”
He lashed out. She tried to duck but he moved like liquid, grabbing her jaw in his hand and squeezing, wrenching her head back so he could examine her. His thumb massaged her cheek. “Nasiir must’ve fucked some impressive whore to make a hot piece of tail like you.”
Sakaane spit in his face, catching him squarely in his good eye. As he recoiled she rammed her knee into his groin and cracked her fists against the base of his skull once he doubled over. He groaned and sank to his knees. She leapt for the door and then went sprawling head first into its control panel when his foot kicked and tripped her. Stunned, Sakaane crumpled into a heap.
He was on her in an instant, tackling her as she fumbled to regain her feet. They crashed into the door again, wrestling against one another, but Sakaane was quickly pinned with his knee dug into her abdomen, the control panel out of reach.
She felt the first blow even as she fought to regain her senses and gasp for air while he slowly crushed her. Blood ran down her face from a cut on her forehead, and each blow exploded fresh red and yellow suns into her darkening vision. She could hear him laughing.
Silver flashed. Finally she managed to get her arms free and grabbed at his wrist, sinking her fingernails into his flesh and straining against his bulk. The knife hovered dangerously close to her face. His other hand was still free though, and with her arms up the wound in her side was exposed. He punched her there again and again, trying to get her to release her hold on him. Over the roar in her ears she could hear herself scream from the agony…but hung on.
She wasn’t sure what happened next. The light changed; something dark hurtled by; suddenly the Caldari’s hold on her released and she gulped air greedily. The sounds of a beating continued and she curled up into a ball, wrapping her arms protectively over her head.
When she felt hands on her again she recoiled and spun over, ready to fight—
Relief. It was Bataav, helping her sit up against the nearest wall. The storeroom was full of at least half a dozen people, most of whom were station security.
Someone else, not security, stood nearby holding the Caldari’s knife, waiting to be brought a stasis bag to place it in. Who was that? Then she remembered his familiar face in the crowd and where she knew him from. It was the man Bataav had given their luggage to down at the dock. He saw her watching him and inclined his head politely.
Light flashed; someone was taking photos of the scene, and of her.
Sakaane shifted her gaze back to Bataav. His hands were steady as he assessed her injuries, and even though she couldn’t see clearly and one of her eyelids felt wrong, his fury was plain to her. He seemed so still, to the point she wondered if he was still breathing. His eyes were cold and distant, and the look in them set her heart racing again.
He lifted her jacket aside and drew a sharp breath. Sakaane’s waist was soaked with blood from a deep gash that had obviously been torn wider from force. Bunching up the fabric of her shirt and pressing it over the wound to stem the bleeding, Bataav looked over his shoulder. Station security was finishing fitting restraints on her subdued attacker. The Caldari’s lip was split but still he grinned maliciously and kissed the air at Sakaane. Then he caught sight of Bataav and blanched, his lips frozen mid-pucker.
“Get him out of here, and fetch some cures—four or five epidermal patches at least and one for deep tissue trauma.”
“Batvv—” Her lips weren’t working right either and there was blood in her mouth. Every cough sent pain spearing through her. “I’m okay,” she managed. “I’m okay.” Then his eyes met hers, instantly warm with concern, and she felt her anxiety wash away.
“Sshh. It’s over now,” he said quietly, using the fingers of his free hand to finish gently probing her face and ribs. Her hair was half pulled out of its twist and caked black where it had soaked up the blood on her forehead. One eye was swelling shut and turning a nasty shade of purple, her nose was bleeding, her lips split open and oozing blood too.
But nothing seems broken. Just this knife wound. The Caldari is lucky.
Someone produced a first-aid kit and handed Bataav what he wanted, one at a time. The cures were round and looked to be made of gossamer webbing with an adhesive backing and small electrodes embedded throughout. He took the largest one and held it ready before peeling back her shirt and quickly applying the patch to the wound. It bloomed red as her blood soaked into it but then he nodded with satisfaction as it went to work, causing coagulation and beginning to mend the tissue. That done, he applied smaller ones to her face, almost immediately seeing improvement.
“Are you all right? Can you stand?”
She nodded. He wrapped his arm around her to help her up, then held her close as she collapsed, trembling, against him.
“What was all this about?” he asked gently. Her hair pin was sticking out; he pulled it free and ran his fingers through her tangled locks to smooth them down and calm her.
She rested her cheek against his shoulder. A patch had already reduced most of the swelling in her lips. “I wish I knew. Squid asshole said he knew my father…but that can’t be…”
A security guard approached them. “We need her statement,” he said.
Bataav shook his head. “Later. She’s in shock and needs to be checked out first.”
The guard appeared reluctant and opened his mouth to argue, but taking in Bataav’s hard expression, decided against it. “The prisoner will be transferred to CONCORD’s custody by then,” he said. “They’ll have to take your statement instead. I’ll escort you to the infirmary.” He hesitated. “Would you like me to call for a hoverchair, miss?”
Sakaane glared at the guard and squared her shoulders. She was dizzy and had a screaming headache, and with the pain in her side would have loved nothing better than to sit down. “Thank you, but I’ll walk,” she answered stiffly.
They left. Bataav walked close beside on her right, his hand placed protectively against the small of her back to steady her as she limped and to shield as much of her bloody clothes from view as possible. She sensed him scanning the crowd, looking for any sign of any others with hostile intentions. Casting a glance behind, Sakaane saw his associate following discreetly, watching their backs. People looked on curiously but otherwise did not hassle them.
“We’ll stick mainly to the back staff areas,” the guard said, leading them down a narrow corridor. “Fewer people.”
The cure on her side helped abate the pain and had already repaired much of the minor damage, but still they moved slowly. Finally they emerged out of the convention center and the guard led them on to the nearest infirmary.
A nurse led the trio a bed where Sakaane gratefully sank down. The nurse gave her a cursory once-over, reviewed the patches Bataav had applied with a sniff of approval, then poked and jabbed at the knife wound before nodding to herself. “I’ll have a doctor along in a moment to have a look at this,” she said. “We’ll send the details to station security to add to their report.”
The guard nodded and then produced a large stasis bag. “For her clothes,” he said.
Sakaane pulled herself to her feet and slipped into a small lavatory to change into a sterile hospital gown. The fabric was stiff against her skin and smelled of antiseptic. She shivered. I haven’t been in one of these since…
“I hate hospitals,” she groaned after the guard had gone, holding her hand protectively over her side in case anyone else might pop up to give it a stab.
Bataav smiled and leaned down to caress her cheek. “Will you be all right here? I need to go take care of something about this, and I’ll get you some clean clothes. I’ll be back.”
She nodded and rubbed her throbbing forehead, then leaned back against the bed, pulling a blanket up to ward off chills, even though the room was warm. “I’ll be fine.”
A voice from the bed next to hers suddenly said, “What in heaven’s name happened to you?”
Sakaane opened her eyes and looked over. The nurse had forgotten to draw the privacy curtain. A brown-haired, brown-eyed Ni-Kunni with more than a definite sickly green pallor about him gazed curiously at her.
“Asked the wrong questions at a panel,” Sakaane muttered, wincing as her lips cracked open again. She reached for a tissue from the box at the bedside and tried to turn away, but that meant lying on her wound.
“Much more romantic than mine,” he said. “It seems like something I ate didn’t agree with me. I’m not sure what it might have been, though… I’m sure it was something Gallente, at least. My mother always warned me about eating Gallente cuisine, but those cheese-covered calamari looked so inviting… Whatever it was, I’m apparently allergic.”
Despite herself, she laughed. His talking kept her from thinking about the incident, though the laughter sent searing pain through her stomach. She tried to fight her body’s instinct to double up.
“So, really,” the Amarr said sincerely, watching her. “What happened?”
She blew a breath out slowly between her lips to steady her nerves and leaned back in his direction. “It’d be nice if people at these conventions had little markers hovering over their heads so you could tell at a glance which ones are red.”
“Ah. Civility seems to be a lost art among capsuleers. It looks like you got caught by a very serious gate camp.”
She smiled, appreciative of his attempt to improve her mood. “Something like that.”
“I certainly hope they were apprehended. And if not, keep faith. I’m sure they will be. CONCORD doesn’t appreciate troublemakers at events like these. They—urk—” Suddenly ashen, the man leapt from the bed and hurtled into the lavatory. Sakaane heard coughing and sputtering.
“You all right in there?” she called out.
“It’s not quite sending me to the clone banks,” came the weak reply. She heard running water; then he reappeared, looking just as green as before, and crawled back onto his bed, lying face down on the pillow with a groan. A moment later he turned his head to face her. “I’m Yoshito, by the way. Yoshito Sanders. It’s nice to meet you.”
Sakaane smiled as best she could and introduced herself just as a physician bustled in and pulled the curtain. “They told me I would meet all types at this convention. They were right!”
After a few hours of poking and prodding by the doctor, who muttered a great deal about “amateur medicine” while working to repair the damage to Sakaane’s side despite, she suspected, being at least mildly impressed someone had thought enough to apply any kind of cure at all, Sakaane was released into Bataav’s care. Bataav looked her over critically before handing over a clean set of clothes for her to change into.
“I’ll be stiff for a bit,” Sakaane explained after washing up and changing, “and a little light headed from blood loss. I have a mild concussion too. But the doc gave me something for all that. By tomorrow all the physical signs, the bruises too, will have cleared up.”
Bataav nodded and was quiet for a moment, still looking intently at her. Then he said, “We should go to the CONCORD office to give our statements. Are you up for that?”
“Has to be done. No time like the present.”
They left, Sakaane wishing Yoshito better luck with his culinary adventures and thanking him for his company as they passed. The Ni-Kunni waved weakly from his bed and looked as if he might need to dash for the washroom again at the words “culinary adventures”.
A sour-looking officer greeted them when they arrived at the CONCORD office, and it seemed a great deal more uniformed men and women lingered around than they might have otherwise expected.
“How can I help you?” the officer said shortly, her tone making it plain she wanted to do no such thing. The nameplate on her uniform said “Yvormes”.
“We need to log statements in,” Sakaane said. “The assault at the convention center?”
Officer Yvormes glanced over her shoulder at her coworkers, all of whom were talking animatedly amongst themselves or speaking urgently into comms. Then she looked back at the two ILF pilots. “I see. Right bit of trouble that’s proven to be. Wait here, please.”
Bataav and Sakaane exchanged puzzled looks as the officer walked away.
Just then, a gaggle of Scope reporters, followed by at least as many cameras and lights, burst into the office and made a beeline for the nearest uniform.
“Scope News!” they all said, shouting to be heard over one another. “Do you have any comment about the pilot who escaped custody?” “Was anyone hurt during the escape?” “Has the felon been identified?” “Is it true he’s linked to an earlier attack at the holoreel convention?”
“You have got to be kidding me!” Sakaane exclaimed.
Officer Yvormes reappeared, gently touching Sakaane’s elbow to gain her attention. “This way, please. Quickly, before the reporters spot you.”
They were led out of the public reception area into back hallways. The corridors were cold and silent. The din of conversation echoed behind them over the tread of their shoes on the shining deck.
Yvormes stopped at a closed door which to Bataav and Sakaane bore no distinction from any of the other closed doors they’d passed before. It opened to reveal a small office containing a small desk with a harassed-looking man sitting behind it.
“Inspector,” Yvormes said. “Victim statements.”
He waved a hand, beckoning them forward, but did not look up from his holodisplay. Sakaane and Bataav stepped in; Yvormes closed the door after them.
“Please, have a seat,” the inspector said, still not looking up. “I’ll be a moment.”
There was only one chair. Bataav indicated to Sakaane to take it.
Finally, the inspector dragged his hands over his face and met their gaze. “He might still be in the station. Honestly we’re not sure. If he undocked in a capsule…they’re near impossible to track.”
Sakaane was livid. “What sort of incompetent—” She felt Bataav’s hand on her shoulder, gently warning against letting her anger boil over, and fell silent.
“How did he escape?” Bataav asked. Without looking she knew he’d gone still again. The tone in his voice was the one he used when speaking on behalf of ILF as their diplomat. It easily masked anything else he might be feeling.
The inspector shook his head. “I can’t discuss that with you. IA is all over it and would have my head if I released the details to the public. But he’s loose, I won’t deny that to you folks.” He shrugged. “You’ll probably run into him sooner than we’ll catch up to him. There’s not much we can do until he shows his face again.”
“Will you at least tell us who he was? Which corp?”
The inspector glanced back at the holodisplay and picked at his thumb. “We didn’t get that far,” he admitted. “His ID doesn’t come up. Guy’s a ghost.”
Sakaane swore quietly.
“I’m sorry,” he said to her. “I know you’ve been through something and we bungled this. The internal investigation will identify who is responsible. In the meantime, if you both would give me your statements…”
“And what if he still is here, in station?” Sakaane asked coldly. “There is no pod interface to clone me if he kills me next time. What good will your internal investigation be then?”
“We won’t let that happen,” he said.
Ignoring the scathing sarcasm in her tone, the inspector opened a new file. “About your statements…?”
They gave them. By the time they were finished, the dinner hour had long since passed.
“I can’t believe this,” Sakaane complained as they left together. “It was like he didn’t even care.”
“He wasn’t a capsuleer, did you notice?”
“Why should that matter? Gross negligence, that’s what that was. He should be fired. They should all be fired. Meanwhile there’s an unidentified madman running around—”
Bataav caught her hand in his and gave it a gentle squeeze to halt her progress as she turned down the corridor to her quarters. “If this guy’s still in station he might show up there. Stay with me tonight.”
She returned the squeeze. “I’m not going to hide from him.”
“I know. But I’d rather not have another trip to the infirmary.”
She paled a little, then nodded.
He kept hold of her until they reached his door. Bataav went in first. Nothing looked disturbed but he checked anyway.
The door closed behind her and she leaned against it, then headed wearily toward the bed, noting with a smile that an overnight bag containing some of her things was already there waiting for her.
“What would I do without you?” she murmured.
“Did you say something? Sakaane?” He turned to see her sitting on the edge of the bed with her elbows propped on her knees and her head in her hands, massaging her temples. Her shoulders were slumped and she stared at the floor. From this angle the gash on her forehead where she’d struck the storeroom door’s control panel was little more than an angry red lump. The cure covering it had disguised itself to match the skin and was still working to heal her. Satisfied there were no pirates lurking in the quarter’s dim corners, he crossed the room and sat beside her.
“Who is the man?” she asked finally, not looking up. “The…luggage guy.”
“An associate. He works for an old friend of mine, someone I knew from…a long time ago.”
Again she sensed his reluctance to talk about his past but was too tired and sore to press him about it. “I’m lucky he was there.”
“He has a talent for being in the right place at the right time. Earlier I asked him to watch your quarters tonight, in case…” Bataav left the sentence unfinished; Sakaane’s shoulders trembled and her hands quickly moved from her temples to cover her face. He pulled her into his arms and held her until she quieted. Then, out of some unspoken agreement, they both undressed and slipped beneath the bedcovers.
In the dark, with his arm around her and her head resting against his chest, he reflected. His desire to protect her was strong, stronger than he’d expected it might be, and this pleased him. He tightened his embrace; when her arm slipped across his front in response he knew she’d realized the same thing.
“Let’s not let today overshadow the rest of our time here,” he whispered. “We came to have fun, right?”
“Mhmm.” She settled against him and as he stroked her back he felt the tension slip out of her until she was asleep. She’d be fine: he was there.