Breaking

The control room above Veri was bustling with activity as editors, writers and producers clambered to and fro. From the stage below and through all of the lighting, Veri could barely make out their mouths, let alone the subjects of their conversation. It was late–roughly 4:00 A.M. New Eden Standard Time–but crews had been called up and reporters dispatched following a series of rumors and then confirmed reports of a major firefight occurring at a holding facility for high-profile criminals within the Sakakibara Family Holding.

Large monitors off of the set showed raw footage from the station’s news drones. Gunships hovered over the facility, casting searchlights over the grounds as teams of riot police entered the facility to restore order. At least, they looked like riot police.

In reality, the holding facility technically didn’t exist, nor did the riot police or the police gunships. He took a sip of coffee as he continued to wait, mulling over what he knew and what viewers would never know. The facility–masked to look like a detention center–had been constructed specifically for three criminals: Naomi Sakakibara, Alexa de’Crux, and Alexa’s mother, Rebeka Nemzik. The riot police? DENT operatives and auxiliaries eager to take their revenge on the tyrant that had run rampant through the Holding. The gunships? Actually of Pandemic Legion origin, provided for so-called “security purposes” by Lady Katerina Sakakibara.

He sat behind his staged desk, chuckling to himself with a smug smile at what he knew. It paid to be a journalist–and an established one at that–rubbing shoulders with the high and mighty in interviews, cocktail parties, and social gatherings. None of that investigative journalism that fresh recruits into The Scope wanted so badly in order to make a name for themselves. News in the Empire was of an entirely different category. It wasn’t so much that the media was censored, rather, it was careful in what it selected to present to the masses. A delicate balance had to be achieved between informing the populace and ensuring the preservation of their way of life. Casting doubt on the legitimacy of the execution of a tyrant? Unthinkable.

But it was unthinkable because it was not a game open to the masses. It was a game reserved for the incredibly wealthy and those with the divine right to rule, an unspoken agreement among the ruling institutions. And in that sense, the news in the Sakakibara Holding was presented on the basis of an understanding: The understanding that nobles will handle nobles. Everything else would fall into place as long as the proper respect was held regarding the social structure. But shootings, lockdowns, and mobilizations needed to be explained. Of course, it took professionals to explain away explosions and warzone-esque expenditure of bullets and manpower. And that’s why they turned to people like Veri and his bosses–the controllers of the faucets of information.

An indicator light turned red, signalling the crews to make final preparations before the broadcast. Make-up artists applied the last bits of necessary dusting to Veri’s face so that he would be the immaculate image of trustworthy journalism to the people. As the set hushed, he thought to himself, at the end of the day, what harm did it really do to go along with the Sakakibara family’s charade? The people received their just desserts regarding a tyrant and Lord and Lady Sakakibara would go on and live their lives in peace and happiness–a state of affairs that everyone would benefit from.

“Three, two, one,” A crew foreman counted down then pointed to Veri, indicating he was on the air.

Summoning the persona he had created with nearly a century of anchoring for the Holding’s premier news outlet, he began, “We are with you at this late hour to report that Naomi Sakakibara has attempted to escape from lawful custody along with Alexa de’Crux and Doctor Rebeka Nemzik. Holding security forces are already on the scene…”

He knew that as he described the scene, that the audiences, tuning into the broadcast would see an aerial view of the complex. Riot police were still flooding into what appeared to be a loading dock for the facility, while military-grade gunships hovered overhead. Had the three prisoners just been murderers or fraudsters, the mobilization would have likely seemed to be overkill. But Naomi Sakakibara was clever. And Alexa de’Crux was a kameira. Doctor Rebeka Nemzik had been a creche matron for kameiras. DENT had planned and staged this execution in such a manner as to make it look like an escape–they would then claim that the use of deadly force was inevitable. All of that would be explained by a late-night address by Lord Reginald himself. Veri showed no emotion through his presentation, even though he understood entirely that Lord and Lady Sakakibara didn’t just want to kill the three–they wanted them obliterated.

“We now go live to the scene with field reporter Misaja Rura. Misaja?”

“Thank you, Veri,” The scene cut to a reporter separated from the loading dock by a line of traditionally-clothed constables, “It would appear that the gunfire has died off substantially. Only moments ago was the loading dock behind me flickering with rounds of gunfire. Witnesses have reported that it seemed as if the firefight had lasted only for a few brief moments, streams of gunfire broken only by the staccato punctuation of a single-shot followed by anoth–”

“Any updates on casualties?” Veri asked, pulling Misaja away from indicating the second, and most likely, third single shot.

“Right now, Veri, the casualty list is easily in the dozens, though no hard numbers have been reported by police representatives as of yet. In fact, police headquarters seems to be silen–.”

“Excellent. And the status of the escapees?”

Misaja nodded as she listened to Veri’s question through her earpiece, “Veri, details are still unclear regarding the escapees, but we will let you know as soon as we hear anything definitive.”

Of course, however, Misaja’s role was over. She was just there to show that the event really happened and to give some context for the viewers. The feed switched over to a conference room that Veri recognized as sitting squarely within the Sakakibara Estate manor. After several minutes–the bottom of the feed reading that Lord Reginald Sakakibara was about to make an address–Lord Reginald, dressed in full regalia, appeared at a podium. Lady Katerina, wearing an evening gown that complemented her eyes and hair stood with him, holding onto his arm.

“It is with a heavy heart that I offer the following announcement: Naomi Sakakibara is dead…”

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Pawn

Her name was Ahzelan Tinja. She was a young woman in her mid-twenties, fresh out of the Saint Alia School of Nursing in Myyhera IV’s second district. Passing through the rigorous curriculum had required long nights of coffee and studying, but Ahzelan had persevered, often sacrificing social and romantic pursuits for the academic. She had been immensely worried that her singular academic focus would limit her employment options, having created few connections during her years at Saint Alia’s. It was why she would never get married, her mother would say. But as she was preparing to graduate, she had received a message that changed her life.

“Dear Miss Tinja, 

I was quite impressed by your performance at Saint Alia’s School of Nursing. I count myself among the friends of the institution, as many of my colleagues are instructors there. I am Doctor Ezekiel Nayot, the family doctor for the Sakakibara Family, and I would be pleased if you were available for an interview. 

Sincerely, 

Ezekiel Nayot, M.D.                                                                             Director and Chief Physician, Medical Branch           Sakakibara Family Office of Household Affairs

Her heart had skipped a beat when she received the message. At first she didn’t believe it, resigning herself to a cold shower to make sure she wasn’t dreaming. A position in a Holder’s household as a paid staff member rather than as a slave was an incredible honor, especially due to the amount of trust and clearances required to attend to even a minor member of the family.

She scheduled an interview almost immediately, traveling to the Sakakibara Family’s township in the heart of the district. On the way, she notified her parents and younger brother–they had been ecstatic. Her mother and father seemed particularly pleased, though they had always been supportive of her. With their support, smiles, and blessings, her life was finally about to begin.

She met with Doctor Nayot in the shade of an outdoor table at a cafe in the township a few miles from the Sakakibara Family’s country estate. Everything felt slower in the country; the people were nicer, perhaps even more pious than their city counterparts. She enjoyed a cup of espresso as the doctor outlined the responsibilities. He was an older man, his hair turning gray but nonetheless sharp-witted. She thought that she would enjoy working with him.

“So,” He finally asked, munching on a pastry, “Would you consider working with us?”

It was all she could do to refrain from screaming a resounding, “Yes!” Instead, she managed, “I would certainly like to pursue the opportunity.”

He chuckled, “Very well. I’ll see you in a few weeks.”

The “weeks” went by like a whirlwind. Between packing and tearful good-byes to her immediate and extended families, Ahzelan found herself exhausted and anxious. What if she made a mistake? What if she was made to attend to measures, the slightest deviation from which, would result in a Sakakibara’s death? She prayed daily for guidance, and as she gave her final waves at the train station, she felt a surge of pride. She had been chosen for this.

***

“Read back the symptoms she reported,” Doctor Nayot demanded, rushing through the hallways at the Sakakibara estate with a retinue of nurses and med-techs in tow, equipment trailing behind them.

Brara, one of the associate doctors read aloud from a clipboard, “Patient complained of headache, dizziness, and disorientation before retiring–she then lost consciousness in the presence of a member of the house staff. That’s all we know.”

“Damn it,” Doctor Nayot cursed as he burst into Naomi Sakakibara’s bedchamber, directing the staff to set up the equipment around the bed.

This was Alzheran’s first test as a member of the medical staff. As such, she aimed to perform her work diligently and with only a modicum of direction. She had learned to be independent at Saint Alia’s, working to anticipate a doctor’s orders before they spoke them. With equipment ready for use–a heart monitor, IV, and other basic necessities, she stood to the side, waiting for the doctors to continue their diagnoses. She had learned to not let her eyesight linger on patients, though her curiosity got the better of her.

Breathing lightly on the bed was Naomi Sakakibara, the appointed steward of the Sakakibara family while Lord Reginald was on honeymoon with Lady Katerina. She seemed smaller in person, her dark hair kept short and her complexion clear. She looked almost frail–a far cry from the rumors of the tyrant servants spoke about in hushed whispers. If anything she seemed angelic, a vision of purity caught in a potentially fatal ballet between life and death.

Ahzelan was broken from her reverie when a 6′ 4″ female kameira burst into the bedchamber. A servant followed behind, looking incredibly upset at the intrusion, only begrudgingly letting the newcomer into the room. It was the first time Ahzelan had ever seen a kameira–one of the vaunted if almost mythical slave-soldiers of the Amarr Empire. But she clung to professionalism, trying to keep her mind occupied with the tasks of keeping Miss Naomi Sakakibara alive, even if that meant working around the kameira who knelt down next to the bed and took Naomi’s hand.

“What did they do to her?” The kameira asked.

“What do you mean, miss?” One of Ahzelan’s colleagues asked, still a little dazed at the sudden entrance.

The kameira produced a datapad, “Does nobody here know how to read?! She’s been poisoned.”

Doctor Nayot glanced at the datapad, biting his lip, “Poisoned… We’ll need other equipment.”

He glanced to the others to follow him, though he left a lingering gaze on Ahzelan. She knew in that moment that he trusted her to keep Naomi Sakakibara alive, to monitor vitals, and to report any deterioration in her condition. She felt proud that she was chosen for such a task.

“442, Actual. Status?” The kameira called into a comms-link, then said a little softer, “Naomi… My love.”

Ahzelan tried to ignore the last two words, instead scratching numbers into a clipboard as she tended to the equipment. She noticed the kameira’s face clouding after reading a neocom message, even going so far as to growl. Ahzelan checked to ensure Naomi was stable, then decided to take the plunge.

“Can I help you with anything, miss?” She asked, concern dripping in her voice, perhaps mixed with a little fear.

“Search the house. Confiscate all data transmission devices. The person responsible for this is watching us.”

Ahzelan had no idea how to respond. She wasn’t responsible for security at the Sakakibara estate, much less did she have the authority to confiscate ‘data transmission devices.’ And who was the person watching them? She shook her head, trying to remain calm, hoping that her demeanor would help calm the kameira.

“Umm… I can contact my colleagues?”

“Do it.”

Ahzelan didn’t much like the idea of taking orders from someone outside of the medical staff, but Naomi was still stable. She picked up her comms unit and contacted Doctor Nayot, relaying the medical information, utilizing the correct terminology and radio protocols. After their brief conversation, in which she told him the kameira was still present, she placed her comms unit on a table. After a few moments, it lit up back to life.

She picked up her comms unit, “Tinja, go ahead.”

“Miss Tinja,” A voice said, if it could be called a voice–it was garbled, electrified, and distorted, “Listen very carefully to what I’m about to tell you. Your parents and younger brother are being held hostage. They’re kneeling on the ground in your backyard. Follow my instructions and they will come to no harm. You will pick up a syringe left in the blue bag. It has a green handle. You will give the kameira your comms unit, then place the syringe against Naomi Sakakibara’s IV. They’re right here.”

“Ahzelan, sweetheart,” Her father said, “We’re all right. I don’t want you to do–“

“That’s enough. Follow the instructions.”

Ahzelan almost froze when she heard her father’s voice grow quiet. Frowning, she handed the comms unit to the kameira, “For you… the voice sounds… garbled.” Once the kameira’s attention was on the unit, Ahzelan almost dove into the blue bag, finding the syringe just as the voice told her it would be. She then took a position next to the IV, unsure how or why this was happening.

“What do you want?” The kameira asked.

“I want Naomi to stop pressuring the family to become Holder. It’s Reginald by right.”

“Does he know you’ve poisoned his sister?”

“Of course not. He’s too busy with his new, commoner wife to care about anything. It would seem,” The voice laughed, “That you’ve become close with Miss Sakakibara.”

“Tell me, L. Do you know precisely who I am?”

L. Ahzelan recognized the moniker–the codename for the DENT spymaster, a man who controlled webs and threads cast about New Eden. The rumors were that he policed both the Holding and the Sakakibara family. All that Ahzelan really knew was that the servants and nobility alike feared DENT. She swallowed, offering a prayer that if she survived this, and if her family survived, she would find a position in an orphanage or volunteer at a slave rehabilitation camp.

“The better question is if you know who I am. But I am not here to argue with a star-crossed girl madly in love with a whore’s spawn excuse for a daughter of the nobility.”

“Strike two.”

L laughed, “Do you want to save her or not?”

“How do I do that? It seems that you are holding all the cards.”

“The choice is yours. They still need to diagnose the poison, you know. That could take time. Everything does.” He voice paused, then said firmly, “Stand down. Your team is getting dangerously close to our location. And that would cause… problems.”

“You give me the antidote, and we’ll stand down.”

“Turn and face your beloved.”

The kameira turned towards Naomi. Ahzelan’s heart skipped a beat as she was now in full view of the kameira, her face shadowed and angry. Her hand started shaking–the one holding the syringe–but she dared not move it away from the IV. Her parents, her little brother were counting on her.

“That’s a lethal dose she’s holding, Miss de’Crux. Now. Stand down.”

de’Crux growled and twitched, “442, Actual. Stand down.”

Ahzelan could feel the seething anger penetrate her through de’Crux’s cold, icy stare. Still, she clung to the syringe, ready to administer when ordered if need be.

“Good. If anything Miss de’Crux, you’re decent at following orders,” L taunted.

She managed a whisper, shaking her head at the kameira, “I-I don’t want to be here. Please.”

“Then go.”

She shook her head more, “They have my brother. My parents.”

De’Crux turned back to the datapad, “I stood down. Release this woman’s family.”

“Now, then,” L continued, ignoring the request, “Have a seat Miss de’Crux and we will discuss terms. I want you hear you drop all of your weapons to the floor.”

“The antidote, first. Terms later.”

“Tsk, tsk, tsk,” L scolded de’Crux, “Young lady… take the syringe…”

Ahzelan gripped the syringe tighter.

De’Crux turned her attention to Ahzelan, speaking calmly, “If you do this, you will die.”

Ahzelan steeled herself. All of her training and preparation had taught her to never harm a patient, but what was one life for three? She could feel tears rolling down her cheeks as she pressed the syringe deeper into the IV. Just a little more and she could inject and it would all be over. She would see her mother Ahni again, eat her home-cooked meals and laugh about the same old jokes; she would see her father Kahtin, bandaging fingers from his excursion with whittling, scolding him to stop trying; and she would be at her younger brother Ezal’s graduation from high school. Just a little more.

“My… my family…” She started to sob.

But de’Crux beat her to it. The kameira slammed into her in a matter of moments, forcing the syringe out of her hands. Cast onto the ground, she looked up helplessly at the slave-soldier, utterly terrifed. The kameira ordered, “Sit down.”

“No!” Ahzelan screamed as she watched the syringe fall to the ground, realizing what it meant, what would happen.

“Not a good choice, Miss de’Crux.” L said calmly.

A video image flickered onto de’Crux’s datapad, though it was too far away for Ahzelan to make out anything distinct.

“I just kept you from making a very serious mistake,” de’Crux said to her, “You should be thankful. You expect me to sit back and just let you kill someone I care about?”

“We didn’t want to have to do that, Miss de’Crux,” L said, obviously referring to the video, “But be so kind as to let the young lady know that her father has just entered the void.”

Ahzelan broke down into whimpers, the declaration shattering her soul, “Daddy…”

“Now then, we can kill the other two, or you can listen to our terms.”

“Here’s a newsflash. You kill Naomi, and your bargaining chip is gone. what’s more, I will be very… very… angry with you,” de’Crux said, “I never said I wouldn’t listen. What are your terms?”

“Don’t think you can dictate terms to us, Miss de’Crux. We know where her clones are. We know where she’ll wake up. We can play this tragedy out again and again and again.”

Of course. Naomi Sakakibara was a capsuleer, immortal. But her father’s hadn’t been, not Ahzelan’s father. Not the man who had taught her to ride a bicycle, not the man who had held her when she scraped her knees on the cement, not the man who worked day in and day out to pay for her education, not the man who had smiled proudly at her graduation ceremonies, not the man who had taught her that life was best lived helping others. He was dead. Forever. And neither de’Crux or L seemed to care. Ahzelan’s life and the lives of her family were worthless in this greater game–a game to preserve the life of one who could not die.

“But our demands are simple. We need a guarantee that Naomi will stop attempting to ‘transform’ the family. She will step down from her position as Steward in favor of Ashessa Sakakibara. She will confess to the murder of Orion Sakakibara. And then she will release Rebecca Sakakibara from her custody.”

“You’re not being very clear-headed,” de’Crux responded, not budging an inch.

“There are our demands… unless… she hasn’t told you about Rebecca?”

“She has not, but that is not my concern. Or yours.”

L started laughing hysterically, the garbled voice a series of high and low pitches.

“Laugh all you want, but consider this: how is she going to do anything if she’s comatose from your poison? Give us the antidote and we will consider your demands.”

“When she wakes up, ask her to tell you about Rebecca. The poison is methyl alcohol.” L cut the transmission.

“442, Actual. You have a go. Secure all civilians and take OPFOR down with prejudice.” She turned back towards the door, “Doctor!”

Finally, Doctor Nayot and the med-techs arrived with the equipment for testing for and treating poison. De’Crux said simply, “Methyl alcohol.”

Ahzelan needed to do something. While Doctor Nayot’s presence was soothing, she knew that only she could save her mother and younger brother. There was only one thing she could do. She reached for the syringe on the ground.

De’Crux planted a boot on her hand, “This will not bring him back.”

Ahzelan yelped, the tears rolling freely, “You killed him! You killed him!”

“I’m sorry that happened, miss,” de’Crux said, “But I swear to you that he will be sorrier.”

“They’re probably all dead because of you.”

Ahzelan broke down into tears. Everything seemed as if confusion itself had manifested in the bedroom–a swirling mass of bodies tending over a woman. But not just a woman. A noblewoman. That’s what made the difference. That’s why her father died. She could make out the chatter from de’Crux radio connection.

“Hostages down. One hostile captured. One hostile down. No confirmation on escapees…”

Hostages down. That’s all that her mother and brother were afforded as a eulogy. Their names were Ahni and Ezal, she thought to herself. He was only fifteen. She started crawling over to the syringe. Why? Why was God punishing her? Why did He choose her family to pay the price, to become pieces in a game of the nobility?

But again, de’Crux beat her to the syringe. The kameira hoisted her up by the collar.

“I want to die! I want to die!” Ahzelan wailed as she was manhandled.

“Listen to me,” de’Crux said, “You’re angry, you’re hurting, you’re scared. Your death will not bring them back. Don’t let them win again.”

Ahzelan only managed to kick and thrash for a little while before exhausting herself, her mind aflame of memories of home, how she wanted to go home, and how she wanted home to be home if she ever returned. But that was all impossible. No one could bring back the dead.

“Doctor? She needs a psych eval; put her on suicide watch.”

As she was led out of the bedchamber by another med-tech, she felt useless. All her training. All the nights of studying and absorbing information had been to help support her parents, to give them a better life. All that time learning to save lives.

And she couldn’t even save three.

Heretics in Plain Sight

He waited patiently for his neocom to blink with an expected notification. He checked the time and let out a long, drawn-out groan. It was late by at least several hours.

He had tasked what was left of the Project DENT spynetwork to dredge up information on the Aposi–the Sani Sabik cabal that had successfully infiltrated Imperial Outlaws. and had murdered Lady Lianne’s daughter. He clenched his fist at the thought, letting his mind wander unproductively about whether the little girl had understood what was happening as her life ended. She was probably confused, disoriented. He willed himself away from his imagination after offering another prayer for the child’s soul and returned to reviewing the papers and reports strewn across his bed in his quarters in Kamela.

Realizing that the message was probably delayed again, he walked over to the kitchen counter and poured himself a cup of tea. One file caught his attention for the dozenth time. He picked it up and scanned it over once more in between sips of rejuvenation.

The Sani Sabik influence with the 24th Imperial Crusade was far more apparent than he realized when he had joined Death by Design. One such group had even been a part of one of the more powerful alliances within the crusade: The Loaded-Dice alliance based in the Bleak Lands. Fitting, it seemed, that such an organization would have found refuge in the former home territory of the Blood Raiders.

The corporation he was examining closely was Blood Fountain Massacre, headed by Apothys Rah. As Sani Sabik, they were less than discreet about their loyalties. Indeed, Apothys Rah’s own publicly-available biography read as:

The planets surfaced burned and the skies were ignited with the crack of laser fire and burning comets as vessels plummeted through the atmosphere, addressing the captured heathens he spoke.”It was us who brought civilization to this dark and perilous galaxy, and it is us who uphold it, with compassion.. strength.. and courage. We save you Minmatar from yourselves. We will help the lost ones amongst you find their way and we will do it with the deathless force only the might of the 24th Imperial Crusade can wield. pausing a moment before the kneeling heathens the robed figure turned and cried out to the Blood Raiders. Blood for the Blood God!!!” The Blood Raiders roared in approval and the figure turned to his second. “Now sacrifice the males in the name of the Blood God and take the females too the slave barges”

– Apothys of the House of Rah, ‘Divine Commodore’ of the 24th Imperial Crusade and the sinister Order of the Empress’s ‘Blood Fountain Massacre’ –

It was appalling that such a flamboyant corporation of Sani Sabik was allowed to operate beneath the Empress’ banner, with no loyalist corporations taking up the mantle against them. Something had to be done, but there were limitations to his capabilities. Starting over at the bottom of the corporate ladder left him operating sparsely and only with the tentative approval of higher-ups. He had been used to creating his rules and regulations rather than following them.

He would have made a proposal to Predator Elite directly to declare war on Blood Fountain Massacre, but that was largely unnecessary as Death by Design was already a neutral party in the ongoing Amarr-Minmatar conflict and could therefore fire on both. As a result, he had started to pressure on the alliance to which Blood Fountain Massacre once pledged allegiance: Loaded-Dice. It was no secret that Loaded-Dice’s executor Kenshein had partaken in the freighter kill above the infrastructure hub in Huola, therefore implicating his entire alliance. Reginald believed this game him a path of salvation and penance.

But how can one man hope to overcome the bureaucracy of an entire alliance? What message could possibly be sent loud and distinct enough to cut above the natural communications of “Amarr Victor” and blind loyalty to a corrupt Crusade that would have Blood Raiders operate beneath its sacred banners?

The answer had been simple, yet elegant. A single pilot, properly equipped, could wreak havoc upon the rank and file and leadership alike. A single pilot could send a message so loud as to be deafening. And thus he had begun a smartbombing campaign in Kourmonen.

He turned to a paper-clipped page inside of the file. And it had already received attention:

“Blood Fountain Massacre left our alliance in September. Any harm done to us for the sake of them is misplaced, when we have neither the control nor influence to alter their course. If they are Sani Sabik cultists, then you will have to hunt and kill them in our Empress’ name.” 

Alas, the path to salvation is long and narrow and the “do it yourself” mentality was less than becoming for warriors of the Amarr militia. Standing by and doing nothing was almost as bad as supporting the Sani Sabik. Turning a blind eye out of convenience was an affront to God and the Empress.

The campaign would have to continue. At least, until allies could be rallied against the Sani Sabik corruption within the Crusade.

Until then, he walked alone.

Exhaustion

Location: Heart of Pyerite Proving Grounds, Saikamon

Everyone wanted to be a hero, a genius; to see what others could not or did not see. In doing so, they would elevate themselves above their peers and bask in the glory of discovery. The most common arena for such talents lay in Heart of Pyerite’s corps of engineers. The corporation boasted many ambitious engineers within its ranks, each one seeking to improve the effectiveness of a particular hull. There were myriad traits to consider and blend: versatility, cost-effectiveness, specialization, utility, firepower, staying power, agility, speed. But the Ametat and Avetat of any designer was to create an improvement that increased firepower and allowed a hull to sustain more damage while increasing its speed.

And yet, if Reginald had received ten ISK for every “improved” fit, he would have quadrupled the family fortune.

He was resting his head on his fist–a terrible position for posture but one he had picked up as habit in recent months. A lukewarm cup of tea sat untouched on his desk, the backdrop of the proving grounds behind him through a large observation window. He tried to maintain a look of interest as he listened to another bright-eyed engineer rattle off the benefits of adjusting the list of approved corporation doctrine ships to accommodate his design.

“… and as you can see, my design gets an additional forty meters per second in top speed. In conclusion, my design is faster, inflicts more damage, and can last on the battlefield longer than the current design.”

Reginald raised a brow as he finished. It was the dozenth or so in a long chain of suggestions that had inundated the corporation’s inbox, but it was rare for someone to be able to claim improvements in all three attributes.

“All right, let me see the modules,” Reginald managed a smile, mildly interested.

The engineer nodded then provided a list, “You need to use Imperial Navy Energized Adaptive Nano Membranes in order to reduce the stress on the CPU and I’ve also went with the Gistum B-Type…”

Reginald suppressed an urge to smash his face into his desk. It required a great deal of restraint, but that’s what his Holder upbringing was for. Restraint. Calculation. Self-control. He picked his words carefully.

“This is for an Omen, correct? Not the navy variant?”

“Yes! It will last longer, hit harder, and fly faster than anything the Minmatar can cobble together.”

“One of these ships is worth thirty of the current design.”

“Well, that’s true, but cost shouldn’t really be an issue when considering victory,” He added, “And if you think this Omen is durable, then wait until you see my Imperial Navy Slicer–the pilot would need a full understanding of Advanced Weapon Upgrades, the two Genolution implants, and an implant to increase powergrid, but with its DED-space armor modules, it makes for the best fleet brawling frigate in the warzone.”

Reginald massaged his temples. It was a wise man who said “The bureaucracy expands to meet the needs of the expanding bureaucracy.”

He looked up at the engineer, then glanced down at the list in a show of interest, “Yes, I’ll send these to the fleet commanders and we should get back to you in due time.”

The engineer beamed, then strutted out of Reginald’s office like he had just defeated the Jovians at Vak’Atioth. Reginald wondered how far from reality the theoreticians actually were, laboring away in their laboratories, churning out “improvement” after “improvement.” No design, it seemed, lasted more than a few weeks before someone made a major “breakthrough.” Unfortunately, most of those consisted of removing propulsion modules or, as in this latest case, required a pricetag so large that the Minmatar would consider killing even one a major victory.

He stood up from his seat and wandered over to the observation window; outside were arrayed a number of vessels that had passed scrutiny. He wondered if Lady Lianne had the same issues in her own corporation, of crash program engineers vying for acclaim with their “ingenious” improvements to pre-existing designs. He wondered if she cared for their interests at all. She was a very difficult woman to read behind her blue eyes, noble expressions, and pretty smiles. His Holder upbringing constantly warned him of her duplicity and yet her actions seemed genuine enough.

As he watched two frigate test pilots duel each other in the proving grounds–no doubt checking the maneuverability of the Federation Navy Comet against the Imperial Navy Slicer–he felt worn. There were still things that needed to be taken care of that he simply hadn’t had the time to attend to–market orders in Jita, reaction towers that needed to be resupplied, mining installations that had to be checked for rogue siphon units, messages to answer, invitations to respond to, and, above all else, a campaign that required planning. All of that, however, was professional work.

In his personal life, issues were abounding–spreading like Drop addicts through an undercity. He could feel his family’s plots manifesting against him with his sister at the helm, leading them forward as their savior against her older brother’s detachment and indifference. L’s reports on their activities were becoming a little less detailed, a little less precise. And into all of that he was planning on bringing Katerina.

He felt selfish for the request. But it was the only way he knew how to protect her honor. His family’s approval, coupled with her own family’s, would allow him to make a public declaration that he was courting her, thus dispelling all erroneous claims of impropriety. He knew he had already acted improperly. Their interactions should have been in public or one of her family members should have observed them as a chaperone. And for this failing, he was forced to forgive Lady Lianne’s statement–even if only an outburst–that he had been “bedding” Kat. Inviting Kat to his quarters at Cerra Manor had been impulsive, a mistake, and he should have considered her honor and public image even if the precious moments they shared were innocent.

And then, far off in nullsec was Vlad. He felt too exhausted to even contemplate the possibility of apprehending the robot. What would become of it? But then, how many letters had he received from the families of the fallen? Each one implored him to take action.

He felt as if he hadn’t thought clearly in an eternity. His thoughts were jumbled, pulled to other corners of his mind before he could properly analyze them. Half-finished musings tormented him as new ones sprung up, the subjects always disjointed, their juxtaposition providing no rhyme nor reason.

He reached for the lukewarm cup of tea and took a sip.

It was cold.

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.”

Redemption

Reginald quietly sipped tea on the bridge of his new Armageddon-class battleship. It was his first battleship, and he was eager to use it. It was outfitted with a full rack of heavy neutralizer batteries, supported by electronic counter countermeasures and two heavy capacitor injectors. Although its compliment of drones resulted in lackluster damage output for a battleship, it boasted an impressive tank made up of dual 1600mm plates, triple battleship-class armor rigs, and a modern damage control module. Most of the crew required to pilot the thing were fresh out of academy, eager to make their fortune aboard a capsuleer battleship.

“My lord, preparations are complete,” a smartly-dressed lieutenant saluted.

Her name was–Reginald wracked his memory for the name of the officer standing in front of him. He was surprised he had already forgotten, despite handling her papers just hours before. Non-capsuleer crew tended to blur together like watercolors against thin paper. They were important as part of the whole, maintaining the shape and structure of the image, but as an individual, their contribution was as limited as a drop of azure in the depiction of the sky.

“Yes, quite, thank you lieutenant.” He nodded, “Commence undocking procedures. Once we’ve exited, please summon all senior officers to the briefing room.”

As the lieutenant saluted and started shouting orders to the pilots, communications officers, and other personnel on the battleship’s bridge, Reginald meandered through the trenches of control panels, seated officers, and personnel traveling between consoles. There was a rather large golden throne-like seat at the center of the bridge that he assumed was where the captain would traditionally sit, but it looked terribly gaudy and uncomfortable–more like a reminder of who owned the ship rather than who commanded it. All the same, the battleship was far more spacious than the majority of ships he owned, a quality that not even the TSS Discovery–his preferred vessel–came close to approaching. Each console came with a plate above it, inscribed with a line from Amarrian Scriptures. Finding an empty seat, he peered down at its accompanying axiom:

“To know the true path, but yet, to never follow it. That is possibly the gravest sin.” – The Scriptures, Book of Missions, 13:21

Reginald shot his head from side to side to see if anyone had been following him. If their eyes had wandered towards him during his casual inspection, they were very good at hiding it. Why this line? 

“My lord?” The lieutenant broke into his thoughts.

Turning around sharply, he nearly spilled his cup of tea over her crisp uniform. Catching himself before then, he made a face, righted himself, then responded, “Yes, lieutenant?”

Unshaken, she continued, “The Emperor Family Academy Port Authority has cleared our request. At your word, my lord.”

“Very well.” Reginald nodded, “And the senior officers?”

The lieutenant nodded to one of the pilots on the bridge, who started mumbling a series of commands–disengaging such and such, releasing this, activating that. Returning to Reginald, “The summons have been distributed, my lord.”

“Excellent,” Reginald nodded as the personnel on the bridge, through their sorcery and coaxing, urged the behemoth to life. He motioned to the men and women engrossed in their consoles, “They’re capable, correct?”

“Very, sir.”

“Good. Accompany me to the briefing, then. You there,” he pointed to one of the officers standing with his hands behind his back, “The bridge is yours, set destination to Sharhelund.”

Reginald almost immediately regretted the decision as the officer saluted, then started barking orders needlessly to the hapless crew. Shrugging and hoping that the ship wouldn’t collide into one of the gates along the way, he walked through the gold-plated doorways that led into the ship’s myriad corridors–more like caverns–and followed a series of the lieutenant’s directions to the briefing chambers.

Upon his arrival, the senior staff of the battleship rose from their seats around a large table that projected a map of the Domain region into a holograph. Giving his empty cup of tea to an orderly, he walked to his position at the center of the table. Perhaps to the lieutenant’s surprise, Reginald took a seat and looked at her as if he was waiting for something. The rest of the room soon turned their attention to her, leading to an awkward silence broken by a few wayward coughs.

Finally, offering her an olive branch, Reginald asked, “Were you able to review the materials that I had transmitted here from Saikamon?”

As if a switch had been flipped, the lieutenant cleared her throat, picked up one of the laser pointers on the table and impressively began the briefing.

“For the past several weeks, a Project DENT asset has been monitoring activity of industrial corporations in the system of Sharhelund. His exact location within a particular corporation remains,” She glanced towards Reginald, “Classified.”

“Regardless, we have received intelligence that a major industrial coalition has been formed. According to reports from the asset, it’s likely that part of this coalition’s output is falling into the hands of the Minmatar Republic. As the industrialists take no responsibility for their actions once their wares enter the open market, it is clear that they are aiding and abetting the rebellion,” She finished, looking towards Reginald for approval.

“Thank you, lieutenant,” Reginald smiled, picking up another laser pointer, “The situation demands a response. And our response will speak volumes to the industrialists and their kind.”

Reginald typed a code into a panel on the table, then accepted another cup of tea from an orderly. The hologram above the table morphed from a three-dimensional map of the Domain region to a series of microscoping effects, each one indicating a smaller geographical location. From the region with the system outlined, it became the system’s constellation, then the system itself revealing asteroid belts and other celestial bodies, and then finally a particular asteroid belt dotted with an Orca industrial capital ship, a smattering of Covetor and Hulk-class mining vessels, a Mobile Tractor Unit, and a Gnosis and Stratios flying in a haphazard combat air patrol formation.

“This,” Reginald indicated, “Is real-time footage of a mining operation being conducted by the industrial coalition in question. Our mission will be to engage their Mobile Tractor Unit to disrupt their operation. If they provoke us into combat, we shall not back down. Questions?”

From Engineering, “This ship, my lord, is not outfitted with a propulsion module. Is this a suicide mission?”

Reginald raised an eyebrow, “We should all be prepared to die for the cause, but no, I am not expecting to lose this ship. I have taken the necessary precautions. Should our armor be damaged past a certain threshold, we will deploy a Mobile Depot and outfit Warp Core Stabilizers to negate hostile warp disruption capabilities and extract.”

From Gunnery and Flight Deck, “Is there a primary target?”

Reginald looked thoughtful, then replied, “There were reports of a Hyperion Aliastra Edition so we should be prepared for a battleship escalation. However, we will make the Stratios the primary target should it engage us.”

From Communications, “Will we be in contact with the asset?”

Reginald shook his head, “No. We will not risk compromising the agent.”

With no further questions from the senior staff, Reginald brought the meeting to a close and called for action stations.

The Armageddon lumbered into Sharhelund without incident, the crew already on alert. Reginald had returned to a position on the bridge, unwilling to be associated with that ridiculous chair and instead stood closer to one of the cathedral-sized windows that offered a vantage of the space before him. He was confident. Very confident. Indeed, he was so confident in the information provided to him by the Project DENT operative that he was choosing to command the ship traditionally rather than through his capsule.

The Armageddon entered warp in the direction of the asteroid belt. There, just as the Project DENT agent had indicated, was the mining operation.

Reginald looked to the lieutenant, raised the cup of tea to his lips and whispered just barely enough for her to hear, “You have the bridge, lieutenant.”

She returned an expression of surprise, but straightened her jacket as well as her resolve, declaring from the command rail: “Target the Mobile Depot, deploy Hobgoblins, engage.”

The Mobile Depot came under attack, though its shield capacity was of such a massive quantity that it could take nearly half an hour for the light drones to punch through. But the coalition’s security forces were already responding. Almost instantaneously, the Stratios and Gnosis had counter-engaged the Armageddon, setting their own drones upon the battleship as a swarm of retribution.

“Damage minimal, lieutenant.”

“Excellent, all neutralizers on the Stratios, recall Hobgoblins, activate the Warp Disruptor, and deploy Sentry Drones.”

The orders may have needed to be repeated through a chain, rather than just being interfaced directly into the ship itself, but Reginald could only see a discernible lag of a few seconds before the orders were confirmed and carried out.

“The Stratios is turning away, lieutenant.”

“Alert engineering, overheating is authorized on the Warp Disruptor.” She responded impressively quickly.

“The Stratios is in structure. The Stratios is down!” One of the crewmembers from targeting exclaimed, resulting in a cheer throughout the bridge.

“Calm down!” The lieutenant commanded, reestablishing order, “Stick to your secondary, bring down that Gnosis!”

Unexpectedly, one of the mining barges, a Covetor, attempted to ram the Armageddon, sending its drones ahead. The damage was negligible, hardly scratching at the Armageddon’s energized, dual-plated exterior.

“A mining barge is engaging us. Lieutenant, orders?”

Reginald shot his eyes over to the lieutenant, who was visibly flustered. She was biting her lip almost to the point of drawing blood, her knuckles white as she gripped the railing. She was staring down, her face contorted with confusion and puzzlement.

“Why would they–?” She started, before being interrupted by a cry for orders.

“Ignore the Covetor,” she threw out an arm as a show of authority, “Focus on the Gnosis.”

Reginald took a sip of tea, “Belay that last,” he said quietly.

“My lord?” She turned to him, a lock of hair out of place across her forehead, “They’re civilians. Those drones are meant to protect against pirates!”

Ignoring her protests, Reginald ordered calmly but firmly, “Turn the Sentry Drones on the Covetor. If the miners want to play, let them taste imperial might.”

In only a few seconds, the Covetor was a blaze of wreckage. There was no cheer this time, only silence as the Sentry Drones reacquired the Gnosis. Despite a Falcon appearing at the belt and landing Electronic Countermeasures on the Armageddon, the Gnosis too, was ultimately destroyed.

Following the destruction of the Gnosis and securing the spoils of victory from the wreck of the Stratios, Reginald ordered the Armageddon to disengage. As the coalition’s battleships and logistics support appeared at the belt, the Armageddon disappeared into warp, ultimately docking at the Sharhelund Imperial Navy Assembly Plant station.

It was several hours later when Reginald heard a rapping on the door to his quarters.

“Enter,” he said as he reviewed the communication logs of the mining fleet provided by the Project DENT agent.

“My lord?” It was the lieutenant. Her uniform was immaculate, her hair likewise, but her expression was one  of stoic apprehension.

“Ah, lieutenant.” Reginald smiled, “I thought that for your first time in a combat situation, your performance was exemp–.”

Reginald stopped mid-sentence. He noticed she was carrying a single sheet of paper with her. She held it with trepidation, rather than the professional deftness she had exhibited while handling sensitive materials prior.

“How can I help you?” Reginald asked, resetting the conversation.

She swallowed, “My resignation, sir.”

He looked at her sternly, then relented. Taking the sheet of paper with one hand, he unceremoniously scribbled his signature on the release form and handed it back to her. He said nothing as she left. All he could do was think.

“To know the true path, but yet, to never follow it. That is possibly the gravest sin.”