It had been several days since Shalee had told him about the Aposi and her intention to disband Imperial Outlaws. He had received no further instructions. The lack of communication was less than surprising, however; she needed time to mourn.

As he walked through the 24th Imperial Crusade station above Kamela V, he felt a pang of guilt for wanting his marriage to Kat to take place at the cathedral in Huola. There had been moments where he mused it would be the first major service since the cathedral was sanctified, yet, he imagined that a memorial for Karlee, Shalee’s daughter, would be more appropriate. He hoped that Shalee was reaching out for help in her self-imposed exile. He felt silly for worrying–she would have surrounded herself with loyalists.

His quarters in Kamela were a far cry from the suite he had enjoyed as a CEO in Saikamon, Siseide, Egghelende, Tararan, Kourmonen, and a host of other systems. He had grown used to ridiculous amounts of space–every additional square foot costing a fortune and reserved only for the leadership of capsuleer corporations. He held no such position now and wasn’t planning on gaining attention by rising through the ranks. Still, he felt cramped. At very least, he didn’t need to share his limited quarters with anyone.

It had a bed, a desk, and a kitchen just large enough to house a small refrigerator, a tiny oven, and some other amenities. There wasn’t quite enough space for a table, so he had done without one. Instead, there were a pair of swivel chairs planted into the floor at the kitchen counter. The lighting was acceptable and a projector provided images on a bare wall–on some days it was a beach very much like the one at Cerra Manor, on others, a temperate forest, and still others a frigid mountainside.

But the feature that stuck out the most to him was a lack of a sofa. He remembered Kat scolding him for not having one when he had first moved into the Manor as a place to entertain “casual guests.” He supposed that the bed would have to do if she ever visited.

At any rate, it could have been worse. It was an Amarr station, after all, providing him with a wide arched ceiling with the usual golden ornaments and finishes. The solitude had done wonders for him psychologically, far away enough from Huola and free of responsibility, he had managed to focus on integrating into the corporation, which was going well. Still, it was likely the Aposi were watching.

The news that he was closing Heart of Pyerite and accepting an offer to join the pirate corporation Death by Design had been met with outrage among his extended family and shareholders. Much like the number of members within NO45, the share price of the corporation plummeted, casting a number of fortunes into utter ruin. As expected, he received numerous threats, some of them even aimed at his engagement with Katerina.

He had spoken to her, of course, about the entire debacle. The conversation was fresh in his mind. They had been seated on the floor, leaning against his bed at Cerra Manor. He had failed to clean up the mess of ink, papers, and blood on his floor. She had looked terrified.

“What’s going on?” She had whispered, a note of horror in her voice.

He had broken down into a series of battered sentences and overthought responses. Part of him had wanted to burn the pages as soon as he had returned from the shore with Shalee, but another part of him wanted Kat to know. She had a right to know.

“Do you hate me?” He finally asked, after rambling off a series of incoherent responses.

She sat next to him, wrapping an arm around him, “Why would I?”

“Because… because innocent slaves died at the infrastructure hub in Huola. My corporation was clearing the decommissioning papers. It was my fault. There shouldn’t have been any slaves there.”

She sighed, “Do you trust me?”

“Of course I do.”

“Well I trust you. And I trust you knew nothing about it, no matter what anyone else says.”

He his heart melted and he nearly broke down again, but this time out of sheer joy. He hadn’t expected that to be her response. He supposed that was his fault for not giving her more credit, for allowing his upbringing to once again influence his outlook on life. He felt ashamed and relieved at the same time, his heart pounding at the reaffirmation whilst the cold of self-isolation slowly melted away. He loved her.

After a few moment, he told her what Shalee had told him: The Aposi, her daughter, her quest for revenge. He added that he wanted to help her achieve that goal, to bring the people responsible for murdering a little girl to justice. He wouldn’t and couldn’t suffer them to continue existing. But it came at a price. Everything did in New Eden. And his title as Holder was not above the immortal conflicts–it too, would be a casualty in the campaign, bloodied and tarnished by the desire for retribution.

“But,” He squeezed her hand after confiding in her, “My reputation is ruined… And…” He choked on the words but finally managed as he shattered his own feelings for her sake and for her family’s sake, “I can understand if you want to call off the engagement.”

She looked at him, her eyes horrified, “Do you take me for some status whore?”

He snapped to attention immediately, just in time to see the look of disgust on her face. “No, of course not!” He shook his head, “Never, never, never.”

He took her hands in his, then said quietly, staring directly into her emerald eyes, “I love you, Katerina Tzestu.”

And that had been that.

He stopped at an observation window to survey the expanse of the system of Kamela. The familiar golden hue of the Amarrian nebula shown throughout this fortress of organized piracy. He was still getting used to his uniform, now that it held insignia for Death by Design and the alliance Did he say jump. He had that in common with Katerina, now. Officially, he was a pirate.

Unofficially, of course, he was Shalee’s eyes on the outside of the Crusade, working from without to test the Crusade’s facade and hopefully expose Aposi sympathizers and agents within its ranks. It was no secret that the legendary Predator Elite had designs on the moons throughout the Bleak Lands–every source of income not held by the Crusade was another blow to the Aposi and their influence.

But his hands were sullied. He thought that he needed to play the role to the utmost in order to get the Aposi to stop monitoring him, to believe that he had left in disgust at Shalee’s actions in order to take revenge against the militia that betrayed him.

He had fired upon a member of the Crusade on the undock in Kamela. The pilot’s Imperial Navy Slicer hadn’t stood a chance against the lasers of a Legion he had been provided with for the sole purpose of destroying ships exiting the safety of the station. For good measure, he had destroyed the capsule as well. As long as they were watching, this was what he would have to do–to continually fight his beloved Empire until the Aposi threat had been extinguished permanently.

As a call to arms sounded throughout the Did he say jump district in the station, he wondered at how many more he’d have to kill.


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