Prompt

Now this was familiar. Bustling barrels of warning-labeled chemicals rolling around on industrial-sized trolleys in the medical bay of Cerra Manor. Each one lined up neatly for immediate deployment: Sulfuric Acid (H2SO4), Hydrochloric Acid (HCl), Acetic Acid (HC2H3O2), Aluminum Sulfate (Al2[SO4]3), aqueous ammonia (NH4OH),
Ammonium Nitrate (NH4NO3), Phosphoric Acid (H3PO4), Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH) and his personal favorite: Hydrofluoric Acid (HF).

To be fair, most of these were for show. He imagined that despite their wisdom and love for flying through space, few of the capsuleers at Cerra Manor actually bothered to learn anything when it came to reactions. It was enough for them to know how to extract materials from a moon–Cadmium, Platinum, Technetium, Vanadium, Hafnium–but how many could apply chemical engineering theory to the development of more complex compounds? Reginald could. He had developed an entire method of reaction control by increased monitoring of reaction catalysts to produce compounds at incredible rates of efficiency. Heart of Pyerite may have been leading the militia in confirmed kills in recent months–serving as the highest performing corporation within Imperial Outlaws. since it joined the alliance in August–but he surmised that it was also the 24th Imperial Crusade’s lead chemical agents corporation–and that’s why the shareholders kept him in power, that’s why he maintained the role of CEO, and that’s how he saved the family name.

He continued to muse to himself as the barrels were rolled into place, his men offering questioned glances as they lined the hallways with the stuff. His mind wandered to Kat–what would she think if she knew what he was going to do? He couldn’t afford to think about her. He was tired from lack of sleep, his mind wracked with the eternal questions of loyalty versus the pursuit of love, and he felt that hours normally dedicated to slumber were plenty enough for rumination. He rubbed his eyes–the last time he might be able to do so freely today–as he willed the thought into the back of his mind.

“My lord,” one of the guards pulled him out of his daze, “The suspect is ready.”

Reginald nodded his thanks to the guard as he stepped into the holding cell to face his quarry–the android known as “Vlad Cetes.” For all of the arguments about Kat and their increasingly common bickering, Lady Lianne had tact enough to recognize the path of justice, allowing Reginald full access in the interrogation of Vlad Cetes. Reginald had prepared a special chamber for the robot: A magnetized operating table to supplement the standard restraints with a fume hood sealing the table to the ceiling. The chamber had ample ventilation, lighting, monitoring equipment, a gas chromatograph, balances, titration devices, a multitude of analytic chemical indicators. And test tubes. Hundreds of test tubes.

It was almost a shame how theatrical it all was. The amount of preparation was aimed at triggering Vlad’s CPU to begin calculating iterations and permutations of ways to increase the tensile and compressive strength of his skin, which would therefore make it impossible to scrape, and as such, incredibly difficult to analyze. The trick was to make it all about the cloak–it was what truly separated humans from machines. Machines needed to brute force their way through every possible instance. Humans could start from the outcome they desired and work their way backwards, providing the proper incentives and utilities in order to lead to that outcome.

He allowed himself a thin smile, “Every N-player, finite, perfect information game possesses a Nash equilibrium. Even a game with millions of permutations, if it adhered to those basic principles, possessed an equilibrium of its own. Simply, identify that equilibrium, then remove all branches of the game that could lead to non-Nash equilibrium outcomes. In a long-form game with multiple moves, you would simply work back from the last step from the game–anything that was not a credible move could be discarded. Functionally, this left a pathway from start to finish for the completion of the game. This process was called ‘backwards induction’ and the Nash equilibrium was referred to as ‘subgame perfect.'”

Perfect information, however, did not exist with this particular game he would play with Vlad. And there was no law against the existence of multiple subgame perfect Nash equilibria, but the fact was each one was logical. And logic is all that mattered to a robot. Vlad’s AI would just need a push in the right direction to limit wasted processing resources.

After he was satisfied that Vlad–emotionless, silent–was properly restrained, he started preparing himself in earnest. In the beginning, it had to be about the cloaking device–how it functioned, how it was deployed, how it was used–if only to throw off Vlad’s initial defenses. Reginald began, “So, I’ll admit, your cloaking device is pretty clever. Really had me running around in circles. Applied physics isn’t really my field.”

No response.

Reginald, unfazed, pulled a pair of latex gloves over graceful fingers, bringing back memories of the laboratories at the Royal Amarr Institute. Pulling a white lab coat over his tunic, and donning a pair of goggles, he said, “But when it comes to chemistry, I know enough to get by. Hopefully, though, we can avoid my practicing of the trade. And you can just answer my questions, instead.”

No response.

Smugly, Reginald started with the interrogation proper, “Did you kill my men?”

“No.”

“Are you currently under the employ of Tigerfish Torpedo?”

“Yes. I currently have a contract…”

Reginald interrupted, “Were you under the employ of Tigerfish Torpedo when my men were killed?”

“… that is nearing its end. I have been under contract for the last several months.”

Now, it was time to play the game.

Reginald motioned for his guards and assistants to exit the chamber while he shut off the recording equipment and software that connected the medical bay chamber to Lady Lianne’s offices.

“I’ll be frank with you, Vlad. I have no interest in seeing you behind bars or compacted, whatever it is they do to robots who commit atrocities.” Sudden change of course.

Vlad responded, “If I ever was found guilty, do you think I would allow myself to be compacted or thrown into prison?”

“Exactly, you’re not stupid enough for that.” Priming.

“The only reason I am here in this medical wing is because I am allowing you to interrogate me.” Standard arrogant assertion.

“But I think there is common ground here for both of us. The families of the men you killed–and you did kill them–want justice. I want justice. And you want justice as well.” Drive his processors ever forward into arguing innocence.

“I did not kill them. And what does the family of a baseliner care in our grand schemes?” He remains focused on the immediate issue.

“Yes, you did kill them. But I think there’s a point of mutual benefit for the both of us.”

“I see no benefit in admitting to something I did not do.” Adamantly arguing the same point.

And now, to show the equilibrium. “If you implicate Tiger, for instance, I’m sure the Theology council would grant you immunity. Since that keeps you out of prison and gives you a clean record, you’ll have first go when his assets are impounded.”

Reginald leaned back, “In other words, to put it simply for your CPU, I see Tiger behind bars where he belongs, and you get off scot-free.”

Vlad responded, “You really are a simple human. That is assuming many things that will not happen.”

There was something to be said about the grinding of microprocessors, each chipping away at a problem in an attempt to find a solution. In that way, it was as if all computers–and AIs by extension–worked for the future, to personify their forward-thinking values. Humans, however, could dwell in the past–backwards-thinking creatures that they were, and in this particular scenario, Reginald’s backward induction was far more resilient than Vlad’s computations.

Time to apply logic. “It’s the subgame perfect Nash equilibrium.”

“If you choose any moves in our little game theory tree that don’t end there, well, you have faulty programming.”

Silence.

After several minutes, Reginald decided to break the silence again, throwing Vlad a bone. He opened Case File #7284659 (CETES, VLAD).

“I can share this with you, if you like.”

“Give it to me.” A symphony.

Reginald uploaded the file into Vlad’s hard drives, letting him mull over the contents. Eventually, he broke the silence again, “So, Mr. Cetes, are you going to cooperate, or do I need to start practicing analytical chemistry on your skin?”

Reginald flipped the fume hood on for good measure, if only to affect more of Vlad’s sensors.

“I think some doctored evidence ‘proving’ that Tigerfish did this is in order,” Vlad responded.

Reginald threw the switch off of the fume hood, “I’m glad we could reach an accord.”

Putting on a sour expression, Reginald turned the feed back on, screaming, “DAMN YOU MAN, WHY WON’T YOU TALK?”

His men swarmed into the cell.

“I’m done here.” Reginald stated, mumbling loud enough for the sensors to hear, “Even Hydroflouric acid was inconsequential.”

“May as well release him,” he cast over his shoulder.

Reginald walked into the corridor, stifling the laughter of victory. This was real justice. The men killed by Vlad were martyrs in a greater cause. Their names, which Reginald had difficulty remembering, would be etched into history as heroic victims of Tigerfish Torpedo’s blood lust.

Reginald’s neocom blinked:

AFFIDAVIT:

I believe that your culprit is Tigerfish Torpdeo. He has both the means and motive.

Here is footage downloaded from my sensors:

*The footage appears to be taken from the mountains facing the cathedral. It shows Tigerfish throwing two knives at each of the guards from cover. One keels over instantly, while the other attempts to get the knife out before succumbing to his wounds. It then shows Tigerfish making his way back to the manor.*

Reginald forwarded the evidence to the overzealous Alexa de’Crux.

And not a drop of acid wasted.

Rumination Reprise

Your face is burning.

And it still was, thirty minutes later, his back propped up against the doorway to his balcony. He buried his face into his hands, trying to force the redness away with sheer force of will. He had tried to make a stand for tradition, for observing rules of courtship, for standing for what was right. So then why did he feel guilty? Why did he feel like he was wrong?

The inner turmoil was stretching him thin–he had sent nearly the entirety of a campaign’s worth of ships to Egghelende rather than to the correct staging point for a major push. Messages were going unanswered, schedules weren’t being filled, recruitment was backlogging and there was no sign that anything was being mitigated. It was all cascading together into a miasma of dissonance and cacophony. His ordered, scheduled, predictable world was crumbling all around him.

He hadn’t known her out of pod until several short weeks ago. Right before meeting her, he was a slave-owner, his corporation led the 24th Imperial Crusade in confirmed kills against Minmatar, Gallente, and pirates, and he was focused on driving it forward with the delicate precision of fine clockwork.

And then he met her out of pod. His superior officer. His alliance executor. A living legend within the Crusade. She possessed the sort of influence that could only be obtained with a true noble heritage, years of positioning, and a strong sense of purpose. By contrast, he had none of those things. At the very best, he was a new, weak piece in a game that had started years before he even considered joining the militia.

He hadn’t even known her that long when she exhibited an immense amount of control. Within two weeks of meeting her, she had him collared and his slaves were free.

His face burned again at the thought, as if the humiliation of being paraded around the Terrace in a golden collar wasn’t already acute enough. He could feel tears of shame forming around his eyes. But somehow, in her diction, in her resolve, the shame had been bearable, because it was all for a brighter future. That’s what he told himself, anyway, in awed admiration of the clarity she offered in a sea of gray.

He pulled his knees to his chest as he tried to make himself small–the way he had done in the days leading up to his mother leaving the family for good. His mother’s last words to him echoed like a crystal goblet shattering in an empty Cathedral, “Remember, Reginald, I only want the best for you.” He could still see that fake, forced smile she wore as she departed, a smile filled with malice and disgust.

It was the same kind of smile Lady Lianne had flicked at him the night before with the words, “But of course I do. I only want the best for you, Reginald.”

He hated smiles like that. Those false, sarcastic smiles that meant the exact opposite. It was worse than cruel. A shock ran through his spine as familiar cold radiated into his soul, the self-pity known only unto the anxiously depressed and heartbroken.

She had really said, “But of course I don’t. I only want the worst for you, Reginald.”

He suddenly found it difficult to breath as a fresh wave of frigid despair coursed through him, crashing through the old barriers he had erected against his mother. Like shallow trees planted in the bed of a flooding river, they fell one by one. Earning a spot at the Royal Amarr Institute–shattered by his father being unable to pay the tuition. Scoring top marks in his first few courses–broken by not graduating with distinction, merit, or honor. Forging a path for his own identity by not choosing engineering, applied mathematics, or industrial design–destroyed by the month of hauling garbage in Penirgman just to make ends meet.

And then there was nothing left. Nothing except Kat. It wasn’t strong, that small spot of warmth at the base of his neck when he thought of her. But it was enough to turn the bitterness away, if only for a moment. He glanced at the railing to the balcony, finding himself smiling a weak smile. They had stood there together, hand in hand, watching the waves roll across a boundless sea with a wonder so hard to kindle within a capsuleer. It was a nice memory. He set it up as another barrier to Lady Lianne’s mocking tones and icy glares. It would never be enough.

He could feel it crumbling, then it snapped.

“She is in the Legion killing the militia. She has no loyalty. I have no respect for people of her ilk, they can burn for all I care.”

He had reached out to her because she needed a friend.

“You’re so keen on playing ‘Knight Errant’ then so be it. Come talk to me after you lose your entire fleet to the Legion hotdropping you. When Katerina kills YOUR men.”

A toast to friendship.

“You think Katerina is loyal to you? Time will tell, the battlefield will prove this to you.”

He had observed the proper rules, etiquette, and decorum.

“Don’t come crying to me when your men stop trusting you because you’re bedding the enemy.”

He was shivering. He was tired. He felt weak. He let his head fall to his chest. He closed his eyes and saw Kat across the table from him, enjoying dinner with a smile. He saw them strolling through the trade floor of the Emperor Family Academy station above Oris. He saw her standing by his side as he signed the papers for Joni. He saw her laugh. He saw them standing next to each other on the railing to the balcony. For a moment, he thought he could feel her hand in his. He clenched his fist, more tears streaming down his cheeks as he tried to shake the memory of the feeling away. He didn’t want to believe what he was about to tell himself, but Lady Lianne was right. With her scathing words as a catalyst he willed the sentences into existence:

“Katerina’s smiles are fake.”

“Katerina is the enemy.”

“Repeat.”

Discovery of Personal Cloaking

[Working draft, unfinished, University of Saikamon Journal of Applied Physics, 1,1, YC 116]

I begin by stating this is far outside my area of expertise. I was recently subjected to a first-hand experience regarding the applications of a personal cloaking device, largely developed at a bar at the Cerra Manor Terrace. My colleagues in the applied physics and engineering communities may find my statement as ludicrous. To waylay such concerns, I have included footage.

[Video footage, most likely from a helmet, shows a number of individuals approaching Vlad Cetes. After being told to hand over his weapon, he disappears from view by fading from visible light]

What do we know about the user? Vlad Cetes is a synthetic organism with very little organic matter present. Though we do not have a full understanding of Vlad’s physiology, his synthetic skin potentially serves a similar function as a metamaterial “invisibility cloak,” manipulating the interaction of objects with the electromagnetic spectrum. This would be the absolute lower bound of his capabilities. However, the appearance of his form phasing from view is troubling.

The other extreme possibility of Vlad’s cloaking capabilities are whether or not he has miniaturized a cloaking device as would be found on a vessel. For many of the common-use cloaking devices, his abilities are limited, though a look at the specific case covert ops cloaking device leads to startling challenges.

There are four major sensor types in New Eden: Radar, Ladar, Magnetometric, and Gravimetric. A cloaking device, therefore, necessitates that it counteract or subvert the detection parameters of these sensor types. The Amarr Radar, the Minmatar Ladar, and even the Gallente Magnetometric, involve detection utilizing electromagnetic fields. The Amarr Radar (RAdio Detection And Ranging) focuses on the radio portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, in contrast to the Minmatar Ladar (LAser Detection And Ranging), which focuses on or around the visible portions of the spectrum–infrared, visible, and ultraviolet. The Gallente Magnetometric systems measure magnetic fields, though are nonetheless dependent on both electromagnetic power and electromagnetic fields. In other words, three of the four systems, in a properly developed cloaking device, can be thwarted through the manipulation of the electromagnetic spectrum and electromagnetic power.

The final system–and the major hurdle for cloaking devices–is the Caldari system: Gravimetric. Gravimetry is the measurement of the strength of a gravitational field. The majority of modern space-faring vessels utilize an FTL (Faster-than-Light) form of transportation, necessitating on-board navigational computers that are able to lock onto gravity wells. A cloaking device extends the anomalies stemming from those navigational devices around itself to better blend in with the environmental gravitational fields–planets, stars, asteroids, moons, stations, what have you.

As such, a miniaturized cloaking device–if that is indeed what Vlad has developed–would be capable of remaining undetected against these sensor types.

The final problem in terms of countermeasures, however, lies with the covert ops cloaking device. Based on information released publicly when such a device is purchased, we understand that the covert ops cloaking device produces a spatial distortion that functionally removes a ship from space.

The countermeasures required for a standard metamaterials cloaking device are simplistic–Alexa de’Crux, apparently possessing experience on the matter, suggested we use dirt and water to indicate where he was stepping. A more sophisticated approach along those lines would utilize pressure sensors at strategic areas around the Manor…

Further notes and questions:

– Discuss personal spatial distortion capabilities.

– How does Vlad possess the processing power necessary to run a miniaturized ship-borne cloaking device?

– The detonation of EMP devices in relation to the cloaking device.

– The possibility of using minute contact surfaces to break the light deflection aspects of the cloaking device.

– Positioning an artificial gravity well signature somewhere on the Manor to overwhelm Vlad’s processing power. Assuming that Vlad is using on-board processing power, of course. He could be running the computations through an up-link to a ship in orbit… so a jamming field would also be necessary.

Rumination

“It was just tea.”

He felt sick. It had to have been hours since he had seen Joni to the Guest House, since Katerina had left for Amamake, since he had sent a communication to Lady Lianne regarding Joni’s health. He turned over again, struggling to find a comfortable position, though he understood it was by no means the fault of the bed. Maybe it was the espresso.

Sighing heavily, Reginald clambered out of the covers and placed his feet firmly on the ground. Sitting upright, he started to massage his temples, his mind ablaze with the events of the night before. Too thirsty to sleep, too exhausted to get water. He contented himself with breathing, his mind crossing back over familiar torments.

It was supposed to have been a quiet visit to The Holy Grape. He had asked Katerina Tzestu–formerly of Imperial Outlaws. and now of Pandemic Legion–to the venue as he was unfamiliar. The goal was simple: Sample the food and drink at The Holy Grape in preparation for obtaining similar for his date with Lady Lianne. It had started as a friendly excursion and then the evening took a turn for the worse.

Reginald and Katerina had just finished dessert. He had been of the opinion that tea was perfectly acceptable with cheesecake, but Katerina had convinced him to keep an open mind about espresso. With that in mind, dessert was surprisingly enjoyable. At least, until the Kingdom slaver Natasha Lanti entered the Grape, male slave in tow. He had clandestinely sent a message to Lady Lianne requesting further instructions, but had received no response. Instead, Lady Lianne arrived at the Grape personally with a ruffian–though one of Reginald’s alliance mates–acting as escort.

The negotiations between Natasha and Lady Lianne broke down almost immediately. Simultaneously, the ruffian of a man did little to cast a positive light on Imperial Outlaws., almost causing a raucous within the establishment. To Reginald’s relief, the ruffian began behaving considerably better, but only after the Sommelier, Charity Black, approached him with two imposing-looking staff members. The transaction for Joni’s transfer came to a bill of two billion ISK, which Lady Lianne dutifully paid on the spot.

But she did not seem happy by any stretch of the imagination. There was a beauty all of its own to her demeanor–as a storm is beautiful when seen from a distant horizon. But Reginald did not have the pleasure of a dozen miles between himself and the fire behind her gaze, a fury concealed beneath delicate features and blue eyes. Nor was he merely an observer when her expression finally fell upon him, sharing a table with Katerina as he was. He hoped he was mistaken, he hoped that Lady Lianne had simply turned her head after becoming angry at the slaver–but he felt the stare lingering in his mind.

Though he was certain he had observed stiff rules and etiquette when entertaining Katerina, he felt somehow that he had crossed a threshold he should never have. The feeling had started several nights prior, the night after Joni was abducted, when he walked onto the Terrace with a tactless smile. Lady Lianne had seemed less than pleased when her inquiries revealed that Reginald had enjoyed tea with Katerina. He apologized, but she had replied, “Stop it! You don’t have to apologize. If you have an interest in her, that is your business. Not mine. You don’t have to explain yourself to me.”

He had wanted to say he was observing the rules becoming of a gentlemen, that Katerina simply needed someone to talk to to, that he was just being a friend to her when she needed one most. He shook his head quietly. That would’ve been accurate, then.

Now, however, things were more complicated. When he caught Lady Lianne’s expression at the Grape, he felt guilty. Not in the scandalous way of being found out–he could hold his head high that he treated Katerina with deference and respect. No, he felt the guilt that a traitor must feel, the guilt of betrayal–the guilt associated with breaking Lady Lianne’s trust, even if she herself had said she trusted no one . He pounded himself with “should have’s”:

“I should have been on the Terrace last night.”

“I should have been the one to go to The Grape with Lady Lianne.”

“I should have been there, somehow, afterwards.”

“I should have been available as a subordinate within her alliance.”

“I should have stayed away from–”

Why couldn’t he complete that thought? A smiling Katerina occupied his attention as he tried to will the end of the sentence. But even if he could finish the sentence now, would he believe it? He rubbed his eyes in between breaths, searching for respite from the dizzying cacophony of thoughts, whispers, and memories.

As penance for his transgressions–though reluctant–he stayed behind at the Grape after Lady Lianne took her leave, serving as the plenipotentiary for the slave transaction paperwork regarding Joni. With the evening already ruined, he considerately asked Katerina if she wanted to leave. It would have been well within her right to–he was just putting his name to paper after all. But she had volunteered to stay. And then, that’s right, they went for a walk to the trade floor, where he showed her how he made his first billion ISK, margin trading on the commodities market in the Emperor Family Academy station above Oris. They had shared laughs. That had been fun–a way to distract him from his responsibilities.

Reginald felt his right hand start to shake as the unwanted memory of signing the papers crept into his thoughts. And then there was the remote. The collar. That monstrosity that came with explosives? And Natasha insisting that Joni was dangerous. And then there was the way Joni looked. How many Jonis had he created?

But she stayed with him through all of it, not just for the formalities. She even helped him bring Joni back to the Terrace and see that he had a meal, before seeing him off to bed. And then they talked and she was there, listening to his outrages, his outbursts, his sorrows. And then he had asked for a hug. Hours afterwards, he was certain that request was improper, but the result was comforting, natural, human.

“I don’t want to do that ever again,” He had said, embracing her, a waterfall of freezing guilt pouring over him, his mind saturated with Joni’s accusatory tones and Lady Lianne’s glare.

“With any luck you won’t have to,” Katerina had replied, returning the embrace.

He felt his face burn suddenly. He tried to shake it all away as he sunk back beneath the covers, shutting his eyes in an attempt to drift off to sleep.

“It was just tea.”

On God’s Will

Working draft, University of Saikamon Journal of Theosophy, 1,1, YC 116, Part I of a Series

“Begin dictation.”

“There exists a perennial question. Does God exist?”

“An individual theology on the existence of God that claims one way or the other without the strength of reason, is neither accurate nor useful. The circular reasoning espoused by the majority of the Amarr, promulgated by the Theology Council and the Church, enforced by the Ministry of Internal Order, and supposedly adhered to by the elite of the empire, is not robust and fails tests of stress and flexibility.

Let us look at an illustration of the challenges such reasoning faces. As an example, we can view an illustration of the reasoning itself, based on a conversation, in which I had the pleasure of being a party.

I ask, “Where is it that the souls of the fallen go?”

She, a patron of the Terrace, responds, “They dwell at God’s hand, honored as Faithful.”

I continue, curious, “Do they? Fascinating.”

She contends, “They are warriors in God’s name. They deserve nothing less.”

I respond, “Some would say Karsoth ruled in God’s name. Does he also dwell at God’s hand?”

Defensively, she replies, “You are questioning my faith.”

I continue, “I asked a question, yes. But am I questioning your faith? Doubtful. The faith is not so brittle as to succumb to an offhand remark, don’t you think?”

She responds, “Karsoth was a manipulator. He will not sit at God’s hand.”

I press the issue in another direction, “I suppose, though I wonder who gets to decide.”

She says, “God knows his own.”

I decide to prod, “So, in theory, Karsoth could be sitting at God’s hand while those who died in Hofjaldgund today are eternally damned? After all, what if Karsoth was actually one of God’s own?”

She responds with a bit of a growl, “He is not.”

After a slight intervention by another patron, she continues,

“The Empres had him executed. She is God’s voice among the Faithful. If she does not see him as worthy, then he is not worthy. Additionally, Karsoth allied himself with Blood Raider heretics.”

I respond, “And yet is not the Empress herself an exception? She managed to evade the Shathol’Syn, after all.”

She declares, “That was God’s will.”

And I continue, “So then, was it also God’s will that Karsoth exercise such power and influence over the Empire?”

She responds, “He was a heretic. And you are attempting to confuse me.”

I, of course, assured my dear companion that I was doing nothing of the kind, but as you can see by the reasoning displayed in our exchange, there exists a dangerous pattern in her belief. It is anathema to her faith to even consider the notion that Karsoth sits at God’s hand. Particularly troubling is her use of “God’s will” to justify Empress Jamyl’s ability to escape ritual suicide while refusing to accept that it may also be due to the same “will of God” that Karsoth came to power in the first place.

If “God’s will” is the end all to any argument for the sake of good, why cannot a more negative state of affairs also be attributed to divine providence? The fact that the answer is “no” implies that the standard believer is consuming information from a source of authority. It is therefore, that authority–most likely the Theology Council or the Church–rather than God that is responsible for belief in God and by extension, God’s very existence!

A truly robust theosophy would either accept that God’s will applies to all things universally equally or that it does not apply at all. Selectively using the “will of God” for strengthening those things that are perceived as good by the majority while withholding the “will of God” from a disenfranchised minority makes the faith neither universal nor particularly strong at standing against even the most perfunctory of challenges.

Invitations

Reginald frowned at his collar, wondering why it became lopsided only after he donned his tunic. He examined it closely in the mirror–only slightly crooked but nonetheless noticeable. He shrugged off his tunic for the third time that morning, his collar magically straightening as a result. Sighing, he tended to his collar, tugging and pulling at it with noble dexterity.

“Some Holders have people for this,” He muttered under his breath.

But it had been years since someone had actually helped him get dressed in the morning. And he remembered why. He shook the memory away, of his father’s business prospects drying up immediately after he brought Reginald’s new–and unexpected–baby sister back from the Caldari State. He shook away the memory of his mother being outraged, of how she left the family. He shook away the memory of his father not having enough ISK to pay the tuition for Reginald to attend the Royal Amarr Institute. He shook away the memory of not being at his father’s funeral after he had committed suicide. A familiar string of bad memories.

He tugged violently at the collar, pulling out a button. He heard it land on the ground with two skips and a roll before settling down with a soft rattle. Cursing softly, he unbuttoned the shirt calmly and threw it off to the side. He walked over to a large walk-in dresser and found an exact duplicate, removing it from the hangar and going through the motions of putting it on. He returned to the mirror, taking a deep breath as he threw on the tunic as well.

Still crooked. What an excellent way to begin the morning. Perhaps it would have been better to go with the normal routine.

Looking up to make sure the voice sensor heard him, he stated, “Play music.”

Soft instrumental [think impressionistic piano] music started to drift into the room, the notes less a discernible melody than a pleasant medley of tones, timbres, and harmonies. He walked to a counter and started boiling water for tea, watching patiently as the heat bubbled into a gentle roll.

Taking out a tin of tea leaves, he stated clearly, “To-Do List.”

A computer voice responded diligently:

“Meet with shareholders regarding emancipation ceremony.”

“Send it to public relations.”

“Develop security protocols for emancipation ceremony.”

“Taken care of.”

“Write invitation to Lady Lianne.”

Reginald paused, letting the boiling water cool, “I haven’t done that, yet?”

“Write invitation to Lady Lianne.”

“Yes, I heard you the first time,” Reginald snapped at the computer voice.

He took the kettle and poured it into a clear teapot over the leaves. The aroma of warm tea wafted over the counter, the water turning a shade of amber. He reached for sugar and milk, his brow furrowed. How did he overlook the invitation?

“Begin dictation.”

The volume of the music decreased drastically to accommodate his request. He poured some milk into a teacup–always milk in first–then added a generous amount of the warm amber liquid. Taking a spoon, he stirred in some sugar, pleased at the hue of the tea. He indulged in a light inhalation of the fragrance, raised the cup to his lips, and took a sip.

Too hot.

Yelping, he nearly dropped the teacup on the counter as the searing pain of a burning tongue overwhelmed his senses. He reached for a glass and poured himself water, but the damage was done–the feeling would last for days. Setting the teacup back on the surface, he ran his tongue against his teeth to assess the damage. He hoped that it wasn’t extensive. Sipping water carefully, he retreated to the center of the room, no longer in the mood for tea.

“Dearest Shalee–” he started, “Wait a minute. Play that back.”

The distinctive sound of him yelping in pain could be heard, followed minutes after by “Dearest Shalee.”

“Start over,” He commanded.

He cleared his throat, “Dearest Shalee,” he stopped again.

Was that too familiar? He referred to her in public as Lady Lianne, or “my lady” whenever he was addressing her directly. So why would he call her by her first name, now? He gave the command to begin again.

“Lady Lianne,” He halted.

“Lady Lianne” certainly took into consideration her Holder birth, but she almost never advertised the fact that she was indeed a Holder. And even if she did choose to overlook that particular form of address, it ignored the fact that she was the Executor of one of the more successful imperial alliances in the entirety of the 24th Imperial Crusade.

He tried again, “Lady Executor Lianne.”

But now the problem was that it sounded too formal. How many times had she said formality was secondary at the Terrace? But then again, this was a formal invitation.

He took a sip of water, “Lady Executor Lianne. I would like to cordially–”

But who used the word “I” in formal invitations? What was he, an amateur? He drew back upon the years of parties, gatherings, and celebrations his mother had forced him to attend–at least, had forced him to attend before she left his father. He buried the memory of watching his mother return to her own family and tried to focus on preparations.

“Lady Executor Lianne, you are cordially invited to attend the Official Heart of Pyerite Emancipation Ceremony, to take place in the system of Saikamon.”

So was that it? He thought for a moment. Not even close. The ceremony would be followed by another one that would officially establish the University of Saikamon, into which many former slaves were eager to matriculate. After that, there was the issue of dinner, which he had not even begun to consider. So many details. He’d have to include an asterisk about additional information being forthcoming following her availability.

And then there was the door.

“Stop dictation.”

He stood in the middle of the room, the glass of water still firmly in his hands. The last time he had tried to obtain information about Red, Lady Lianne had become almost hysterical. He had only seen the ghostly projection once, and at the time, he was reeling from the exhaustion of the disastrous Huola Campaign. But she was fascinating–and in more ways than being a simple key to get him back to the Box.

“Include the following lines in the invitation but under layered encryption sequences–I don’t want it visible under the standard Imperial Outlaws decryption algorithms. Let’s use–,” He pondered for a moment, realizing that having access to the Box would have made this much easier, “Use the old Heart of Pyerite codes within the Vitoc Health Services database, she’ll have a more difficult time finding the answer to the puzzle–what with their control towers no longer in existence. But yes, include the following:

‘Hello Red. You can call me Regi. I would like to meet you.’

Yes. That’ll do. I suppose, put it in the asterisk.”

Now, Red would either see her invitation or not see it, with Shalee being none the wiser. He felt a cold twinge at the thought–subverting Shalee in order to meet Red, but it was not as if there was no reason. As for Red’s abilities–if she saw the invitation, then that was that and he could move forward. And if not, then no harm done.

He took a sip of water, “As for the invitation, we’ll go with what we have for now.”

He would need to develop a menu. But what kind of food and drink did she enjoy? He could always ask around. Perhaps now was a good time to go back to the Terrace.

Terrace Scene, Poking a Tiger

[Author’s OOC Note: This scene, taken from the in-game Cerra Manor Terrace channel, is one of the first RP scenes I took part in without  Shalee or Kat (both are awesome, by the way) present either OOC in-game or IC in the channel. I was therefore without their guidance. So, in a lot of ways, it was an adventure into the realm of RP, which has proven to be an immensely fun way of passing otherwise mind-numbingly boring time (yay POS management!).

Setup: Reginald’s perception of Tigerfish Torpedo at this point are colored by two incidents. The first is when Reginald unwittingly brought a Fraudulent Pax Amarria to the Terrace and was subsequently interrogated by Tiger and Vlad Cetes–an incident that has left Reginald with a low opinion of Tiger. Shalee managed to save the day with a timely intervention, but not before Tiger engaged in a series of public displays of affection that Reginald found tasteless.  The second, which decreased his opinion even further of Tiger, took place the night prior to this scene, during which Kat alerted Shalee to Tiger sharing a bed with Lunarisse Aspenstar–it also happened to be the same conversation where Reginald had revealed to Shalee that Heart of Pyerite employed slaves, thus sparking the chain of events that led to his collar.

After writing that description, I’m surprised at how complex the context is despite my less than a week of RP experience at the time–it’s so entertaining on the Terrace. At any rate, just so that you don’t have to deal with massive chatlogs, I have adapted the scene into a narrative.]

Terrace Scene: Poking a Tiger

Reginald felt a few glances in his direction from a number of the servers as he walked onto the Terrace from the Guest Manor. He was unsurprised–it made sense that Lady Executor Lianne’s employees would share her sentiments. He fought back an urge to tell them that he was trying to make amends, that he was working towards emancipating his corporation’s slaves, and that he had an email to Lady Lianne as proof. But there wasn’t much good in that, especially as his slaves were not yet free. He was also still mulling over Lady Lianne’s response, a message that arrived in his inbox encrypted. After running an Imperial Outlaws leadership-level decryption algorithm for nearly an hour, the message was revealed to be a curt reply:

We should talk. – Shalee

Although he thought his own message may have warranted a lengthier response, he was nonetheless at a loss as to what “We should talk” was referring. She could be angry, though she could also be willing to forgive him and his corporation. Far too many variables. It demanded much more thought on the matter than he was prepared to give at the moment.

With an unsatisfied sigh, he managed to finally pry his eyes away from the message, sat down at an empty table, and ordered breakfast. To his surprise, he was greeted by another patron.

She approached the table, giving him a nod, “Sir.”

“Oh, hello,” Reginald replied, surprised. He stood up afterwards entirely on instinct–always stand up for a lady, his mother had told him–and asked, incorrectly, “How are you?”

His mother would be displeased indeed. His face turning red at the faux pas, he attempted to rectify his error by reciting, “Apologies, where are my manners? Reginald. Please to make your acquaintance.”

“Alexa de’Crux, sir,” The dark-skinned girl replied, “The honor is mine. I trust you find the day well, sir.”

As he returned to his seat, Reginald nodded cheerfully, “Quite well, thank you. Would you care to join me?”

“Thank you, sir,” Alexa responded, though after taking her seat, she held a stiff posture.

Reginald was unsure what to make of the patron. He had never seen her before, but that was less than surprising considering that he had only been visiting the Terrace during his off hours from Saikamon for less than a week. Fortunately, she was the one who first brokered conversation.

“This is a lovely home.”

“Isn’t it?” Reginald nodded, making a show of admiring the Terrace and its surroundings, “It’s quite impressive that my alliance’s executor even owns something like this.” He tried to correct himself, “Or still owns it for that matter.”

Understanding that Cerra Manor belonged to an Amarrian holder in Minmatar-occupied territory, Alexa responded, “You should be proud. Maintaining and defending such a holding is no easy task.”

Reginald, however, was transfixed on “You should be proud.” The words struck a deep chord as his memory flashed of a Shalee too angry to even tolerate his company the night prior. He became quiet, trying to piece together the right words as a server brought a plate of fruit and a cup of tea to the table.

“Well, as of late, I’m not quite sure what my standing in the alliance is–not sure if I have the right to be proud.”

Just then, a voice boomed from behind him, startling Reginald out of his seat, “No, you don’t!”

Reginald shot around to see none other than Tigerfish Torpedo enter the Terrace from the Manor pathway, heading towards the bar. He walked with a sort of confidence and ownership Reginald didn’t believe he should command at all, a man who had nearly threatened to torture him over a book, a man who horribly mistreated Lady Lianne by all standards of gentility. That’s when Reginald’s fear started to boil over into anger, when machinations started clicking into place.

“I’m surprised to see you here, sir.” Reginald only managed the “sir” as a token of respect.

Alexa shot out of her seat as well, snapping to attention, “Sir!”

Tiger, seemingly more interested in the bar’s contents, didn’t even turn to face Reginald, “Surprised? Why so?”

Glancing over to Alexa, Tiger addressed her directly, “And who might you be?”

Angered by the sheer lack of deference, Reginald started not with a probe but a frontal assault, “Oh you know, infidelity.”

Tiger shrugged off the first barrage, “Infidelity? Explain.”

A true, gentlemanly confrontation was clearly out of the question with this man. It would take another strategy, for which Reginald began adjusting. Two could play at that game.

With Alexa remaining stiffly at attention, Reginald returned to his seat, crossed his arms, and looked at Tiger smugly, “I don’t need to explain myself to you.”

That got Tiger’s attention. “Actually, you do. I’m your superior officer, by rank if by no other virtue and hold a career within the militia that makes yours seem as though it should pass by in the blink of an eye.”

Perfect. Laughing softly, Reginald shot back, “Technically, we’re the same rank, Major.”

Tiger nodded as he picked up a drink from the barman, “I see. You bought your commission. That’s very nice.”

Noticing Alexa’s posture and half-turned to her, Tiger released her with a simple, “At ease, please.”

Reginald tilted his head, undaunted, “Bought? I served in Huola while you were sitting on your hands in Egghelende.”

Tiger responded, the tone of his voice dripping with mockery, “I fought to win back the warzone with the Metropolis campaign that resulted in over four weeks of constant fighting, system by system, before you even sat in a capsule. I will not blow smoke with you. You are a child in the grand scheme.”

Reginald put on a yawn for good measure, “A campaign that ultimately means nothing in the long-run. I served in Bosboger, Huola, Lulm, and Huola again.”

Tiger smiled back, “And I served in the Sani Sabik, as the personal Prathet to Shiras Revan Neferis; the Thrice Illustrious Sovereign of Bloodveil for over 6 years. Your career means dick.”

A gold mine of a response. Reginald forced down a smile. He felt his blood should have curdled at the title, but his mind was coursing with adrenaline. Was this fun? Not quite. No, this was justice. And he was fighting on the side to defend Lady Lianne’s honor. What more cause did the son of a Holder need?

He narrowed his gaze at Tiger, his tongue becoming a dagger, “What Shalee sees in you is beyond comprehension. She deserves far better than a supposedly reformed criminal.”

Tiger attempted to brush off the comments, waving vaguely in Reginald’s direction, “And as you say; your opinion means very little to me.”

Time for another dagger. Reginald cast it with a chuckle, “Whatever you say, Blood King.”

A direct hit. Tiger’s eyes shot back to Reginald. “Is that supposed to anger me?” He asked, his eyes growing cold and devoid of emotion, “If you had any idea of the stuff I’d done in the past, you’d realize that title greatly undermines my actions.”

As the conversation progressed, on the periphery, Reginald had noticed Alexa had been growing less and less comfortable. He was creating an ally, and only by Tiger’s own confessions. This was going splendidly.

Tiger returned his attention to Alexa, “So, again, who might you be, dear?”

Too late, Reginald thought to himself. No one really comes back after declaring they were a Sani Sabik.

“Alexa de’Crux… sir.”

Tiger nodded, either oblivious or undeterred, “Alexa de’Crux? That’s a pretty name. You’re here on business?”

“Yes… sir.”

“Well, I’ll assume you’re here with peaceful intentions?”

Alexa hesitated, “For the moment… sir.”

“For the moment?” Tiger queried, sipping his drink, “Well, I’m all for peaceful co-existence, so whatever we can do to facilitate you, you only need ask. I will, of course, pass on any issues you raise to Shalee.”

“Of course, sir.”

Reginald could feel Tiger attempted a peace offering, “You may of course explore our grounds. It’s quite a stunning spot. I personally suggest you visit the beach and the gardens whilst you conduct your business.”

“Thank you, sir. I will, sir.”

Tiger smiled at Alexa, bowing, “You may call me Tiger.”

“As you wish, sir. Tiger.”

Reginald had been watching the conversation with great amusement. Indeed, he had coughed at Tiger’s attempts at hospitality and then almost broke into outright laughter as the exchange continued. But laughter does not win wars. Wars are won with diligence. And when Tiger offered his first name to Alexa, Reginald nearly shot out of his chair.

His voice harsh, he asked, “A new conquest for the Blood King?”

He felt himself pulling Alexa back out from Tiger’s grasp, though he wasn’t entirely sure if it was necessary to do so. Yet, it paid to be on the safe side when it came to defending a lady’s virtue. He hoped that Alexa wouldn’t hold it against him for being so blunt.

Tiger’s gaze darted back to Reginald, “New conquest? What is your problem, child?”

Ignoring Tiger’s question, Reginald turned to Alexa, “I hope you don’t see him as representative of all of us. Some of us at least make an attempt to act civilized.”

Tiger broke in, “I was being civilized. The only reason I’m not now, is your continued attempts to goad a response from me.”

A correct observation. Credit belonged where credit was due, of course. But merely identifying the mode of warfare was insufficient. One needed also to develop countermeasures.

Reginald rolled his eyes, preparing yet another attack, “Says the man who treats the woman he claims to love like a…,” Reginald paused, no, some attacks went too far, “I won’t insult Shalee by describing the way you treat her.”

Tiger quirked a brow, “Excuse me? You’ve not know her, nor I, long enough to have any say in how I treat her. You know nothing about our relationship.”

A fair defense. Reginald was grasping at straws here and there, but there were universal constants when treating a lady. Relying entirely on upbringing, Reginald responded, ” And from what little I’ve seen, it’s absolutely disgraceful. What kind of man walks up to the woman he claims to love, interrupts a conversation she’s having, and then proclaims for all around to hear ‘dress sexy’?”

Alexa even almost laughed. An unexpected, though excellent measure for effect.

Tiger shook his head “That’s what you’re basing my five year relationship with Shalee on? Well, you’re quite right. That sums it up perfectly.”

Reginald threw another dagger, “I can’t imagine from what lows it must have degraded from.”

“Well, you seem to know everything about us, so why imagine?”

Reginald chuckled, the net closing, “Well, I don’t claim to know everything, I’m still new to the alliance.” He smirked as he stood at the precipice of victory, “But I don’t need to be a seven-year veteran to understand how to properly treat a lady.”

Tiger laughed and tilted his head down at Reginald, “That’s it, isn’t it? You have feelings for Shalee. And it’s ten years.”

Reginald was suddenly disarmed. For all of the calculations and careful crafting to get Tiger to admit to his shameful deeds, he had never expected that assertion. Did he have feelings for Shalee? Was this the whole reason why he was fighting in a battlefield for her honor? The thought lingered longer than he thought comfortable or proper. He found himself losing initiative and suddenly on the defensive in a war he had started.

“A preposterous assumption from a former Sani Sabik,” He tried to mask his emotions with a laugh, though he truly did not know what those emotions were.

“I do tend to make them every now and again. Occasionally I hit the nail right on the head too.”

Reginald grasped at a thread of a lifeline, “Leave it to a Sani Sabik to talk about nails.”

Did they even use nails? What little was known about the Sani Sabik was shrouded in myth–it’s not like they operated in the open. And it had been years since Karsoth had been executed by Empress Jamyl for his crimes, for his support of the Blood Raiders in the Bleak Lands. Reginald hoped that maybe, somehow, they really did use nails.

“Is there some reason I should associate a nail with the Sani?” Reginald’s heart sank as Tiger corrected him, “In the six years I spent there, I don’t think I used one even once.”

Reginald found his position increasingly untenable. Tiger had dealt him two blows he had yet to recover from: one that questioned the honorable nature of the exchange in the first place and one that called into question his knowledge on the subject of the Sani Sabik, and by extension, all knowledge in general. There was still an opening, though, one he could make. It was a debate tactic–no, a tool of rhetoric–he had learned at the Royal Amarr Institute that won no favoritism from professors or peers.

Reginald swallowed his pride and fired, “Well, then, please,” He motioned to Alexa and the servers on the Terrace for rhetorical effect, “Enlighten us with your torture methods, Blood King.”

Perhaps, at the very best, a glancing blow. The idea was to draw attention back to Tiger and refocus the spotlight on his Sani Sabik past. Tiger smiled and glanced from Reginald to Alexa, and back again, “What makes you think I ever tortured anyone?”

Alexa spoke up, “That’s what the Sani Sabik do.”

Tiger glanced in her direction, “Do all Amarrians own slaves?”

The question hit Reginald hard, and as much as he wanted to support Alexa, he found himself mumbling, “Shalee doesn’t. All of In Exile. doesn’t.”

Tiger responded, “But that’s what the stereotype is, right? I mean, I couldn’t possibly be a peaceful ex-Sani could I?”

“But no! Of course not. That’s not what the Sani do!” Tiger looked back at Alexa.

“… They are heretics.” Alexa murmured.

Reginald nodded in agreement, trying to find a better opening.

“They have a different faith, and yes, some are heretic. I became Sani by accident, as it happens. I have never even considered their faith my own.”

Reginald jumped at the chance, “Ignorance of the faith is no defense for blasphemy.”

Tiger replied, “I was tried for my crimes, and executed for my part. Further, I’ve helped fund the Amarrian war by over twenty-two billion isk, and I’m now overseeing the construction of a Cathedral to further embrace the culture. What right do you have to make any assumption based on my past?”

Alexa answered for Reginald, “I have never encountered a Sani Sabik that has truly ‘reformed.’ Sir.”

Tiger made a dramatic gesture, “Well, now you have.”

Reginald held his fingers up, counting one down for each point, “A capsuleer’s execution means nothing. So isk can cover a lifetime of heresy? And the Theology Council ought burn that cathedral to the ground.”

Tiger laughed turning his back to Reginald, “Your opinion means nothing.”

Reginald grinned, “Typical defensive response of a delusional.”

Tiger’s attention refocused, “You seem rather opinionated for a man with hardly any past and just a few months’ service to the militia.”

Alexa, again, entered the fray, “At least his past is beyond reproach. Sir.”

Tiger sucked on his teeth, lips pursed, “You’ve gone too far, Alexa.”

Reginald shot to his feet instinctively, “Is that a threat?”

“Is what a threat?” Tiger asks, looking back to Reginald.

“Do not assume that I am helpless without a weapon in my hand, sir.” Alexa fumed.

Perhaps his poking and prodding had gone too far. He had not intended bloodshed from the onset. He narrowed his gaze onto Tiger, trying to pull the situation back from the brink, “I don’t think Shalee would appreciate your treatment of her esteemed guests.”

Tiger shook his head, “I simply said she’d gone too far. No threat implied. You should stop speaking for other people.”

Enraged, Reginald spat back, “Perhaps you should let me speak for you. It’d limit the amount of absolute nonsense you’ve been spouting.”

“Me? You’re the one that began by goading me with comments about my relationship; nothing that is any of your business at all. Then you called me ‘Blood King,’ suggested my Cathedral be torn down, and accused me of torturing people in polite society. From a man I’ve known all of a week!”

Reginald gave a sly smile, “What can I say? I’m incredibly observant.”

“You’re opinionated, you jump to conclusions, you’re offensive, insulting, and base too much on stereotypes without having any background knowledge with which to form a genuine opinion.”

Before Reginald could make another clever remark, Alexa responded beautifully, “A heretic calls another man ‘offensive.'”

Tiger shot back towards Alexa, “A heretic? I’m not heretic, and if you accuse me of such again, I may have to take issue with you.”

“Go ahead.” Alexa stood her ground.

Tiger shot a look back at Reginald, “That was a threat.”

There would be bloodshed if the path continued. Perhaps it was time to begin drawing the engagement to a close. But how much further could it go? Reginald rolled his eyes, “Unsurprising, coming from a man who, having just met him put me through an interrogation akin to the Inquisition itself.”

“You come her brandishing a fake copy of the Pax and you want to know why I was suspicious of you?”

Reginald demonstrated unwavering loyalty to Lady Lianne–that anyone would question her word was anathema–gritting his teeth, “How dare you say it was fake! Shalee herself called it genuine.”

“It is not genuine. Bring me the copy, and I’ll show you how I know.”

Alexa turned to Reginald, “You have nothing to prove to him.”

Reginald nodded at Alexa’s reassurance, “I know. He’s the one lobbying threats around here, today. Normally we have civilized discussions.”

“He wanted a reason for my interrogation. I gave him one. If you can’t face the truth, then don’t blame me.”

Alexa snorted, “Truth. What would you know of truth, Blood Raider?”

Tiger laughed, “Say what, slave?”

Alexa took an angry step towards Tiger, “I am no slave and you heard me clearly enough.”

Tiger gave her a wry smile, “You’re no slave. I’m no Blood Raider. Even when I was Sani, I wasn’t a Raider. There’s a big difference. I suggest you read your history books.”

“Heresy is heresy. I see no difference.” Alexa responded faithfully.

Finding the situation quickly deteriorating, Reginald tried to reassure Alexa as she reassured him, “You’re better than him, Alexa. No truly reformed Sani Sabik would dispute freedom.” Reginald gave Tiger a sharp glare, “We ought to chalk it up to his natural depravity.”

Tiger laughed, “You’re pathetic. Have to fight all her battles?”

Reginald was starting to lose his own patience, but Alexa was far ahead of him, “If you seek battle, I am right here,” she declared.

Tiger shook his head, “That would do me no favors with Shalee, and hers is the only opinion I actually care for.”

Alexa spat, “Then go, run and hide behind her good name.”

Reginald couldn’t resist another jab, “And yet you reject her declaration that the Pax was genuine? Hypocrite.”

“It is fake!”

Reginald, solidifying his high-ground position, reaffirming control of the battle, stated, “It would seem, as far as the alliance goes, my executor’s word is good enough for me. You seem to want much more than that.”

Tiger shook his head, “If you want to know how I know it’s fake… It’s because I was part of the team that distributed that copy for Revan. I’ve seen it before. Bring me the book, and a blade, and I’ll prove it.”

Reginald also shook his head, “There’s nothing to prove. Though you’ve declared your guilt before all present.”

“I have, and I stand by my statement.”

Reginald offered more accusations dripping with accusatory tones, “How deep does the heresy run in the empire? One that you helped spread? No amount of atonement could possibly make up for so many lost souls.”

Tiger grinned, nodding, “Hey, if you really want ammo… I led an assault fleet once, under the name of the Sani Sabik, and destroyed a CVA tower that was unarmed in Sahtogas. It was about seven years ago, and had women and children on board.”

Reginald swallowed. He had expected Tiger to break down in shame, not demonstrate such callousness. He provided the only words that he could, “What could she possibly see in you?”

Tiger shrugged, “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have work to attend.”

Alexa offered, “She thinks that this ungodly creature is worth saving.”

Reginald crossed his arms, “Indubitably. God bless her soul.”

With that, Tiger picked up his drink from the bar and headed towards the Manor. After making an apology on behalf of Imperial Outlaws, Reginald also parted way with Alexa. It had not gone perfectly. Tiger had not fallen to his knees, begging Shalee for forgiveness like he ought to have done. Furthermore–and perhaps worse–Reginald had essentially lost his temper. Cool calculations had broken down in the heat of the moment. Loyalty. Etiquette. Those had been Reginald’s two guiding beacons and he had come close to snapping them apart.

And then there was Tiger’s assertion, an echo in the back of Reginald’s mind as he walked towards the landing pad.

That’s it, isn’t it? You have feelings for Shalee.”

Game Theory 5

Reginald’s eyes shot open. They must have dragged him out of the clone vat bay. Reflexively, he started screaming, “No more! No more!”

He fought, kicked, scratched, and bit at the hands and arms reaching out for him, before dashing to a corner next to the clone vat bay. This wasn’t Amarr–nothing was familiar about t. He huddled into a ball in the corner, a shivering, naked, terrified image of a man. A man who had just been devoured by slaver hounds.

One of the figures checked a bite wound Reginald had inflicted on one of the others, before starting to proceed towards his corner. New eyes, new ears, and the taste of vat bay fluid on his lips, Reginald could barely make out who or what the figure was. However, with each step it took, deliberate, yet slow, Reginald felt a sense of compassion emanating from the figure. Finally, a blanket was thrown over Reginald’s body, though he frantically pulled it off of his face. No tricks.

The figure knelt down until it was at the same height as Reginald’s face. A familiar voice came out. Soft, but also firm, “My lord?”

Reginald felt a wave of calm wash over him as the voice registered with his fresh synapses. Still blurry, his eyes could make out the insignia of Project DENT–a Heart of Pyerite logo with reversed colors. He cleared his throat, testing his new mouth and tongue. Spitting out some stray fluid, he said, “It’s about damn time.”

The man kneeling in front of him smiled, tossing Reginald a change of clothes, “Glad to see you’re back to your old self already. Get dressed.”

“There, you see? I told you everything I know!” A Brutor man, bound and on his knees near the cadre stated.

“Yes, and the Empress thanks you for your service,” The figure pulled out an Amarr CAR-9 Scrambler pistol, and expertly executed the Brutor with a bullet to the head.

Reginald dried himself off and then slipped into the clothes without incident. Somehow they were actually presentable, one of the many mysteries he chalked up to the capabilities of Project DENT. He thought that at times, he should have more control over how they operated, since he was the one who cleared their expenses and developed their budget. But for now, he was just thankful they had shown up. Carefully stepping over the Brutor’s body, he exited the clone chamber. His hair still matted to his head, he joined the cadre of operatives, looking towards their cell leader and the man who gave him the blanket and clothes–a capsuleer he referred to as Agent L.

“Situation report.” He said as he adjusted the cuffs on his sleeves.

L gave him a hard look, “You sure you don’t want to take a break?”

The image of the slaver hound lunging at him, fangs bared, flashed through his mind. Steadying himself, and hoping his uneasiness stemmed from getting used to new legs, he responded, “No time like the present.”

L shrugged, “If you say so,” he motioned for the operatives to start moving towards the bridge of the Rorqual. Brutor bodies lay scattered about in the corridors. Reginald said nothing.

Before even reaching the bridge, L started, “When you sent out the distress signal, I had no idea about the magnitude of the situation, so I showed up in a shuttle at the tower–.”

“What?!” Reginald interrupted.

L shrugged again, “Like I said, I didn’t know what was going on. Anyway, when I reached the tower, communications was dark and the forcefield password had been changed. I assumed that it was compromised, so I pulled my entire cell from Sharhelund. While I was waiting, I tuned into local frequencies to try to get a sense of what was happening. I couldn’t get any of their encrypted stuff–that’s your job–but there was a lot of chatter from the local port authorities about a Rorqual.”

They entered the bridge to a similar scene of bodies strewn about. Reginald surmised that their takeover had been recent, DENT operatives only now beginning to pull bodies off of control panels.

“Once my cell entered system, we identified where a Rorqual had docked recently. We took a chance there–it could have been the wrong one–but my hunches are typically good. Anyway, after they entered the forcefield, which was about twenty minutes ago, we seized control of the Rorqual. We took a prisoner,” He motioned with his thumb back towards the clone facilities, “And he let us know about their little scheme to keep resurrecting you.”

Reginald mumbled, “So it’s true, then? They can intercept a digitized consciousness?”

L raised an eyebrow, “Never took you for a fool. No, they bribed your Amarr pod technician to get access to your clone location. A little more bribery and they got it reset to the Rorqual. I’ve got guys looking into it. Don’t get me wrong, though, that ‘Vuld’ guy that’s leading them is pretty smart. He managed to hack just about everything in that tower, except for your special room, of course.”

Reginald had stopped paying attention to L’s debriefing as he stared at the docking bay entrance on his control tower. He was lost in thought, more accurately, lost in memory. His neck might be free of scars, but he could still feel the fangs sinking into it, the claws landing squarely on his shoulders. He rubbed his neck absent-mindedly.

L noticed. “How did they do it?”

Reginald, his eyes glazed over, responded, “Hounds.”

“Bastards.”

Reginald took a deep breath, “How are you breaching?”

L nodded, “It’ll be risky, but the plan is to shut down the entire tower by removing the fuel from it. In the confusion, we’ll retake the docking bay and then clear the tower. Maybe three hours tops.”

Reginald slumped into the seat with the least amount of blood on it, “Do it.”

“Consider it done.”

***

Reginald was leaning against a freight container in the docking bay. He had never expected to be so tired in a fresh clone. But perhaps “tired” wasn’t truly descriptive. He was definitely exhausted physically, but he also felt mentally drained, empty. There were more bodies, of course, this time of Brutor men who thought they could fight the expertise of Project DENT and win–he had made sure they were lined up in a neat row. He was deep in contemplation when Vuld and Crofton were shoved onto their knees in front of him. In the distance, echoes of gunfire and the screams of hounds perforated the otherwise still air.

“You know,” Reginald started, looking at the Brutor then to the Sebiestor, “I’ve been trying to think of what I was going to say to you at exactly this moment. But, now that you’re here, I’m not really sure what to say.”

He smiled wryly, “I suppose I only got one death to ponder the last words you would hear from me.”

His last sentence was more for his benefit than a taunt directed at either of the captives. It didn’t seem to fit quite right, this attempt at black humor, but at the very least he could try to jest. That was a good sign. At any rate, it received no reaction from either of them.

Reginald hadn’t moved from the crate, his arms folded against his chest. All work and no play. He stroked his chin, getting down to business, “Where are the others?”

No response.

“Now, it’s my turn to hit you.” He smirked, glancing at L.

At first, L made to strike the Brutor, but Reginald held up a hand and pointed a finger at Vuld instead. L dutifully struck him across the back with a collapsible baton. The resulting yelp broke Crofton’s muzzle, “As if we’ll ever tell you anything!”

Reginald pressed a hand against his forehead, “Gentlemen, I’m in no mood for–.”

He stopped. Actually, yes. That was what he was in the mood for. He looked down at the duo, smirking to himself.

Looking to the Sebiestor, he asked pointedly, “Vuld, my good man, tell me, have you studied economics?”

***

He was still leaning. This time, he was looking out of an observation window near the height of the tower. A work team was busy scratching and hacking at the door, making little to no progress as expected. From his vantage point, he could barely make out two corpses bouncing harmlessly off of a Bestower-class hauler.

L interrupted his thoughts, “How did you know that would happen?”

“Hm?” Reginald kept his gaze on the corpses, mentally counting the number of times they rotated, “Oh. Human nature. Most people, given isolation, tend to work for their own self-interest. You just need to find what they have a higher utility for. Crofton was a simpleton who wanted to live. Vuld, on the other hand, was too well-educated to throw his life away. With the right incentives and pitted against one another in a dilemma, the outcome was predictable.”

“How so?” L queried.

“Both of them were as players in a single-turn game. Both were given two possible moves: Tell us where their friends were hiding and be given safe passage to the Republic or remain silent. With both wanting to live, they both cooperated.  What they didn’t know was that cooperating with us abrogated our usefulness for keeping either alive, since we could just corroborate their stories against one another. And that’s why they’re both floating out there.”

L nodded silently.

“And what of the pacification?” Reginald asked.

“We’ve rounded up everything and everyone they told us about. Nasty stuff they had planned–bombs, gas.”

“Animals,” Reginald muttered.

“I’m sorry, sir?”

“Will she be safe?” Reginald asked, ignoring L’s question.

“You’re mumbling, I can’t understand. I’m not a cyber knight.”

Reginald half-turned his head towards L, his voice a little more forceful, “If I bring her to this system, will she be safe?”

L nodded, finally understanding, “We have every reason to believe so. Most of the discontent is directed at you. The general slave–er, newly freed–population see her as a kind of savior. But if it eases your mind, I’ll look into security matters personally.”

“Good,” Reginald nodded, allowing himself a small smile, “And the door?”

L exhaled, “At the rate we’re going, it won’t be open before the month is out.”

Reginald returned to looking out the window, “Pity.”

L thrust his thumb in the direction of the door, “The nanites embedded into that thing give it the compressive strength of a Hyperion. So unless you know someone who can magically walk through that door, hack open the digital locks, and reset the encryption algorithms, it will be at least a month.”

Reginald let out a sigh of disappointment as one of the corpses–Vuld’s or Crofton’s he was unsure which–floated out of view. Returning to the matter at hand, an idea flashed across his face. He ruminated on the thought. There would be a plethora of variables to consider, but the possibility was there.

Finally, he turned back to L, “Actually, I may know a girl.”

Game Theory 4

“But I released all of the corporation’s slaves!” Reginald protested as a pair of Brutors pulled him out of the chair and started dragging him towards the forcefield.

“Not good enough,” Vuld replied, his arms crossed, “By the time we’re done with you, you’ll be a moron who can barely pilot a Bestower.”

“This doesn’t make any sense!” Reginald screamed. He needed to buy more time. Where were the DENT operatives?

The Brutors suddenly turned him away from the forcefield and into a maze of shipping containers. They were lined up neatly, in the style Reginald demanded–each one numbered and categorized with a pedantic precision for ease of accounting. And they were moving towards the “fauna” category. At first, Reginald could barely make out any sounds, but as they neared their destination, a cacophony of barks, growls, and howls started to saturate the docking bay. Finally, they reached a container sealed on all sides except one, which was made up of steel bars. As they approached, Reginald could make out at least three Brutor men antagonizing its contents–a small pack of slaver hounds.

“Where do you send packs of bloodthirsty hounds?”

“To their deaths.”

“I thought–I thought I ordered those destroyed!” Reginald’s heartbeat quickened, as he kicked and shoved away from the snarling mouths of the hounds.

“You did,” Vuld replied calmly, “And as a result, they haven’t been fed recently.”

The Brutors put Reginald on his knees in front of the container, then violently tilted his face up towards the slobbering mass of teeth, fur, and ravenous gazes within the cage. He could feel the Brutors pushing on the back of his head, closer and closer to the bars. One of the hounds managed its muzzle between the bars and took a snap at Reginald’s face. The Brutors yanked him back, casting him onto the ground, and laughed at his terrified expression.

Reginald took the moment to try to calm down. He had done it dozens of times before–the instant before the capsule exploded, he had always been prepared, he had always known he was about to die. But his pulse wouldn’t slow down now. His heart was pounding against his chest. This death, and most likely all the deaths to come, would not just be his brain being fried followed by an instantaneous euthanizing neurotoxin. No, these would be long, messy, protracted, painful deaths. And nine hundred sixty seven of them.

Vuld typed some commands into his neocom while Reginald lay on the ground, frozen in fear, “We’re about ready to start. The digital message of your death will be intercepted and you’ll end up inside of the Rorqual’s clone vat bay. I suppose I should ask for last words, but you have nine hundred sixty seven deaths to contemplate a historical one.”

Reginald said nothing in response, his eyes were glued to the cage. There had to be a way out. Some way. Some thing he hadn’t thought of. Think. Think.

“Throw him in.”

One Brutor pulled out a shockwhip and slammed it into the bars, causing the hounds to cower in the far darkness of the container. Two more Brutors lifted Reginald off of his feat.

“But I released them all!” Reginald whimpered as they opened the gate and shoved him in towards the hounds.

He may not have been able to see them, but he knew they were there, watching him. He took several deep breaths–each one filled with the stench of the cage. Calm. Help is coming.

He whispered to himself, “Standard predatory instinct. One of you will aim for my neck. The resulting impact needs to snap my cervical and thoracic vertebrae to increase the probability of my spinal chord being severed. With my neck broken, the nervous system connection from my brain to my heart will be interrupted and I will enter spinal shock due to sudden drop in internal blood pressure. My peripheral and central nervous systems thus cut off, in theory, I shouldn’t feel a thing after the initial impact. Or, it could be an inefficient break and I’ll suffocate to death as you all tear me apart.”

Nothing really prepared Reginald for the next few seconds. How can you really be prepared for a vicious animal lunging several meters from the back of a cavernous container directly towards you? He remembered seeing it fly towards him at remarkable speed. In that second, he felt strangely fortunate to be able to witness a slaver attack in action–did all victims of hounds feel the same way? There really wasn’t anything he could do. The hound soon crashed into him, biting into his neck immediately, the sharp fangs penetrating clean and deep. The impact flung the two of them back into the bars. Then, as if only dragging a fresh meal, the slaver pulled the lifeless corpse back into the darkness.

Game Theory 3

Reginald awoke with a sharp pain in the back of his head. He instinctively attempted to rub it for some relief, but he found his hands were bound behind his back. He struggled for a few moments, but submitted to the pain in his head and the soreness in his shoulders, too exhausted to carry on. He was lying on his side on some sort of cold, hard surface–the bag was still over his head.

It was quiet. He figured he must have been in one of the cells in the detention block, down the corridor from the security barracks. At least he hoped that was the case. The only other type of room in the control tower that could have been as dark and quiet was an airlock.

He could feel spots of saliva pressing against his cheek from the inside of the bag. How undignified. He urged his body upright through the pain and stiffness, rolling and pushing towards a wall. Of course, since his vision was severely restricted, he didn’t see the metal bunk jutting out of it. He crashed into it with his back, a fresh wave of pain radiating from the epicenter of the impact.

“Damn it!” He cursed, falling back to the floor.

He felt a sudden burst of air flood into the cell. A pair of heavy, deliberate footsteps soon followed. Reginald pricked his ears for details–the newcomer’s breathing was labored, he could hear the rustling of loose-fitting clothing, and the footsteps were those of a man wearing boots.

“Lord Reginald Sakakibara,” The intruder stated, his voice dripping with contempt.

It was the first time Reginald shivered at hearing his own name. His mind raced to match the voice with a face while simultaneously developing some response. He wasn’t fast enough. Within a few seconds of the words slithering out of his captor’s mouth, Reginald felt a sudden and unexpected kick directly into his stomach. It took a few moments to register–the wonders of the nervous system–but in those moments, he poured every prayer, hope, plea, and dream to be spared the additional pain.

God failed him, again.

He felt a spasm shake his body to its core, crumpling into a ball. He couldn’t even clutch at his sides his hands still bound behind his back. He gasped for air but only managed to catch a bolt of filthy cloth in his mouth. Was this how he was going to die? Asphyxiating after being kicked in the stomach inside of his own control tower? Pathetic.

“Didn’t your Holder father teach you to speak when spoken to?” The voice chuckled.

Reginald frantically pushed the cloth out of his mouth by jerking his head to the side. He sputtered, “What do you want?”

“What do I want?” The voice laughed, “I just like seeing you squirm like that. But the others, the others want justice.”

Reginald answered weakly, “Justice? For what?”

He received another kick for his inquiry.

“You should know!” The intruder snarled.

As he was reeling from the second kick, Reginald felt a pair of strong arms hoist him off of the floor and onto his feet. He was pushed out of the cell, and yanked, dragged, and prodded down a number of corridors. He was finally thrown into what felt like a wide-open chamber–most likely the docking bay–and forced onto his knees.

The bag was torn off of his head, flooding his eyes with a profusion of lights, images, and shadows. They all blurred together into a mass of shapes and voices, though he could distinctly tell that at least a dozen set of eyes were on him. Trying to blink away the kaleidoscope of color, he peered towards the ground, noting several lifeless corpses of men and women loyal to him.

Shaking away the shock, he asked aloud to no one in particular, “You just left their bodies?”

He received a blow from behind as an answer.

“All right,” Reginald nodded bitterly, “What do you want?”

Another blow.

“I already told you, we want justice.”

Reginald noticed that they were brandishing weapons, though none of them were pointed at him–at least not yet, “Are you going to execute me? Because if you are, it’s clear I’m not going to get a fair trial, so you might as well just kill me, now.”

A slight, lithe figure appeared from behind the crowd of Brutor. His skin seemed stretched across his face, giving him an emaciated appearance. Reginald recognized him immediately as a Sebiestor.

“Killing you would be meaningless,” His voice was strong and definite despite his frame, “At least, without the proper preparations.”

Slightly fearing being struck again, Reginald said defiantly, “In civilized society, we introduce ourselves.”

The Brutor that dragged him out of the cell raised his arm again, causing Reginald to wince in preparation, but the Sebiestor raised up a hand.

“It’s all right, Crofton. You’ll forgive me, Lord Sakakibara, if I don’t give you our actual names. You can refer to me as ‘Vuld.'”

“Well, you have me at a disadvantage–can you release my bindings and then we can talk like real men?”

Another blow.

“And why do you need to keep striking me?!” Reginald turned to the Brutor, his eyes brimming with lost patience.

“That’s enough, Crofton, help him into that seat over there.” Vuld motioned to an overturned metal chair.

After Reginald was seated, one of Vuld’s other men found a similar seat for the Sebiestor and soon the two were looking at each other face to face. His hands remained bound, but sitting upright was certainly an improvement.

“I must apologize for how you’ve been treated, because I really do have great respect for your talents,” Vuld smiled sardonically.

“Why do I have immense difficulty believing that?” Reginald responded, his eyes fixed on the Sebiestor.

Vuld laughed, then produced a neocom, tapping onto it lightly with graceful fingers. “I’ve read your work on… the term you used–La dependence à la mort?”

Reginald’s face betrayed a twitch of concern, “I’ve only written a working draft, there shouldn’t be anything in circulation.”

Vuld smiled, “Of course there shouldn’t be–the university you wrote it for hasn’t even been established yet, after all. Still, not quite my approach on the issue, but nonetheless, inspirational.”

Reginald said nothing in response.

“My friend Crofton here must have told you by now that we–,” Vuld motioned to the men around him, “Want justice.”

At the word “justice,” the Brutor named Crofton bent down and nearly tore the neck off of Reginald’s fencing jacket, revealing several thin scars underneath.

Vuld continued, “The public story you’ve been putting out is that the Imperial Outlaws Executor Shalee Lianne convinced you to stop using slaves. But that is only half of the story–rumors are that she put a collar on you. I see now that that is most likely true.”

Reginald tilted his head, trying to remain undaunted, “What of it? I released all corporation slaves.”

“I think,” Vuld stood up and started tapping on his Neocom thoughtfully, “That our sense of justice and hers are fairly closely aligned. She wanted to teach you about how our brothers suffered. She was on the right track. But she didn’t go far enough.”

Reginald swallowed hard. Calm. Remain calm. Help was on its way.

“What if,” Vuld turned a sinister glare towards Reginald, “we took the lesson she was trying to teach you and extend it further. Killing you in your current state would be meaningless–we know, after all, that you only have one clone and that it’s in Amarr. But, what if we took some of the ideas in your paper and turned them around? You write about how to combat addiction, but I’m interested in inducing it, particularly in the CEO of a certain corporation whose brutality towards their slaves is legendary throughout the warzone. So, let’s say that we’ve found a way to intercept the digital signal of your death and that we can transmit it somewhere else.”

At that, Vuld motioned towards  the forcefield entrance of the loading bay. The shimmering blue-green screen was all that separated the contents of the loading bay from being sucked violently into space. Beyond it floated the unmistakable form of the ORE Industrial Capital Ship, a Rorqual.

“Do you even know how many have perished toiling for your corporation in chains?”

Reginald ran a series of numbers through his head, spinning his response so that it sounded a little more acceptable, “Less than a thousand.”

Vuld nodded, “Nine hundred, sixty-seven. And do you know what other number that matches exactly?”

Reginald shook his head.

“The number of times you’re going to die.”