The Hollow Sound of Forgiveness I

Tuomuta IX

Reginald stared mindlessly at a peeling painting opposite to him. He imagined that at one time it had been an imposing portrait of some relatively important Holder on the planet, bedecked in the golden finery and pearl ornaments that were perennial to the ruling class. For the flicker of a moment, it made him self-conscious of his own attire: the flight suit that lacked insignia, a lapel bereft of the colored ribbons and decorations of past campaigns, and a generic neocom rather than an alliance-access one.

To be a pilot without an alliance was akin to being adrift in an incomprehensible sea of intrigue: to hear without context, to see without chronology, to know without completion. It was to be aware while helpless, like a diver at the mercy in a cloud of sharks. And yet into that most volatile of vortexes, she had reached out to him.

Katerina.

It was a short yet secure message, scarcely longer than a Scope News Network ticker tape broadcast. It mentioned very little about her specifically, only that matters required attending. However, the message included the coordinates of their son. His son. A baby boy Reginald had held twice.

“Lord Reginald?”

Reginald blinked away the glassiness from his eyes before looking up at the speaker. She was a mature woman dressed in the simple habit of an Amarrian sister. Tuomuta, located on the edge of the active Amarr-Minmatar warzone, was no stranger to refugees requiring medical assistance. Furthermore, the stream was so constant and so voluminous that it was easy to slip into it without being noticed. Without an alliance’s security to turn to, care and tact were required in much greater quantities.

“How is he?” Reginald stood up, then immediately faltered.

The sister started and placed her hands on his shoulder and arm, “Please, my lord, sit. You’ve not been attended to.”

Reginald tried to jerk his arm away, staring at the woman intense annoyance, “How is my son?”

The sister didn’t back down, “Sit. My lord.”

Reginald bit back a scathing remark, then returned to his chair. His leg throbbed with pain, but he tried not to focus on it. His nails dug into his palms as he grit his teeth, expecting an answer.

Once he was seated, the sister relented, “He’ll be fine, my lord. Just a few minor scratches.”

Reginald breathed a sigh of relief, “When can I see him?”

“Once you’ve been examined.”

He shook his head, “There’s no time. I have to be on my way. Besides, this body is just a clone.”

“My lord, it’s obvious to me that you care little for you own physical well-being, but for your son’s sake, rest! Even empyreans have limits when it comes to mental fatigue.”

In truth, he hadn’t slept much. Why would someone like him even deserve rest? He hated who he was. The failure of a husband and a father, with nothing to show for his efforts for the last year. He was an alcoholic and his main conversational companion had been the ghostly apparition of a holo-projection known as “Red.” No alliance. Few friends.

“I just want him to be safe.”

“He will be, my lord. Especially if you rest. Now, is there anyone we can contact, anyone you’d like us to reach out to?”

A long moment passed.

“There’s an officer in the militia, a captain in the Praetoria…”

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Echoes and Shadows

Reginald awoke with a start. It was the dead of night in Cerra Holding, hardly a sound to break the stillness of the dark. He sighed heavily and placed a palm over his eyes, rubbing each in turn as the lingering images of yet another bad dream faded into the recesses of his mind. It had been her eyes as usual, her green eyes blazing with hatred, contempt, and disgust. The same eyes he expected his son would eventually have.

“Bad dream?” A familiar voice asked from his bedside.

His dreams had become so frequent—and her corresponding visits as well—that he barely flinched at the apparition of a little girl staring at him. She shimmered a translucent blue, the color of a hologram projected by a holodrone interface. Her hair was a mess of curls while she wore a modest, sleeved dress with a high collar.

“As if you could read my mind, Red,” he closed his eyes, trying to find comfort by pressing the back of his head against his pillow.

“I could help, you know.”

Red’s offer was always at the back of Reginald’s mind. An offer to rid himself of the memories of the recent past, to reset to a time without heartache, abandonment, despair, depression, or fitful sleep. But there was a part of Reginald that rejected that, rejected throwing away the last few years of his life. It was the same part of him that told him that for all of the pain, the image of he and Kat smiling at their newborn son was worth it. He couldn’t forget that.

“I can’t do that, Red. You know the reason.”

Red shrugged her tiny shoulders, “Suit yourself. And now there’s a killer disease ravaging New Eden.”

He blinked, “The best minds are being summoned to deal with Kyonoke. It hasn’t broken containment.”

“But you aren’t even worried?”

“About what?”

“About him? About her? When was the last time you even talked to her?”

Red’s question shot into Reginald’s soul like a steel-shafted arrow. It was difficult for him to even recall the last time he had spoken to his ex-wife. There was a memory buried beneath the pain, of he and his wife enjoying seafood in Kamela. It seemed like an eternity.

“A year, maybe?” He forced himself up, knowing full well he wouldn’t be returning to slumber any time soon.

“How do you know she isn’t trapped beneath the nanoshield? Or stuck on one of the quarantined stations?”

“Because,” he blurted out, “I’m sure that if she or Oberyn were in real trouble, she would contact me.”

“Would she?”

Red’s question lingered longer than the last one. Would she? It was a possibility that had taken root in Reginald’s heart, of the possibility that his ex-wife had fallen in love with someone else, that another man—or woman, possibly—was raising his son. He tried to shake the feeling away, even as his fingers clenched into his bedsheets, curling from the all-too-familiar sensation of frustrated hopelessness that characterized most of his waking hours.

“I’m sure she would,” he replied at last, his voice unsure.

“I don’t like seeing you like this,” Red said as she began to run and skip around the room.

“This is my life, now,” Reginald responded, watching Red’s holoprojection.

I wouldn’t want you to live like this,” she stopped and turned to face him, shooting him an almost disconcerting look.

“She hasn’t responded to anything I’ve written her,” he frowned. He had stopped writing to her over a year ago.

“Maybe you should go and try to find her. He is your son after all,” Red placed her hands on her hips.

“And leave the Holding? Who will oversee it in my absence?”

“Oh, I don’t know. The literal armies of servants that typically run Holdings? And it’s not like you’ll be traveling on foot. It doesn’t take that long to go anywhere these days.”

Reginald chuckled. Always to the point.

“But!” Red nodded firmly, “I think you should try to see them. They’re all you think about. And besides, you have a right to know how his life is progressing, even if you aren’t part of hers anymore.”

“Maybe you’re right,” Reginald nodded as he stood up from his bed.

“I’m always right.”

With that, Red flickered away.

Crimson Eve

[I had originally intended this for the Amore Tank Your Hearts Competition, but have decided to self-publish it instead]

This story takes place during the Crimson Harvest of YC117.

Dosette Ambertin was a slight woman, though her physique proved no impediment for her ambition. A promising graduate of the University of Caille’s Chavol School of Journalism at the home campus in Luminaire, like many of her companions, she began her career as an intern for the highly-respected and much-vaunted news agency: The Scope. It was supposed to be a natural progression of events: three months as an intern depending on the amount of networking she required, followed by a position reporting on the Federation Senate to give her connections for foreign affairs, which would then propel her into serving as a foreign correspondent, and from there, she would make editor. She had even neatly arranged the important achievements through a set of timetables, deadlines, and schedules designed to keep her on track until she reached her goal. After all, with so many people living in New Eden, news and stories were out there for the taking: Dosette simply needed to find the ones that would speed her along. Her strategy had worked splendidly at first—her analysis of budgetary debates and coverage of senatorial elections won her numerous local accolades, to the point that it was a simple move to assign her to a station involving the empires of New Eden.

Unfortunately, it had been too easy. Her meteoric rise could only be matched by the office politics and clandestine jealousies of her colleagues. She wasn’t certain who it was that had pulled the trigger on her career; the world of Gallente journalism was as cutthroat and competitive as the politics it reported upon. She had wracked her brain for so many possible culprits that their names and faces had started to blur together until she had become certain that everyone was actively conspiring against her.

Ultimately, she had been assigned Sahtogas IV – Moon 2 – Amarr Navy Logistic Support, Sahtogas System, Tandoiras Constellation, The Bleak Lands Region. Minmatar occupied. Today, of course, she was on an administrative orbital platform in the system—for the ceremonial transfer of sovereignty.

“Consider yourself fortunate,” Her editor, Armand, had said, “You are one of the youngest reporters in the Scope’s history to be sent to such an exciting location.”

Exciting.

Aside from the battles waged by the proxy soldiers for the Amarr Empire and the Minmatar Republic, there was virtually nothing to report. Much of the population had adjusted to life switching between two separate forms of administration: the ossified hierarchy of the Empire or the far more fluid yet more susceptible-to-bribery methods of the Valklears. For the most part, terrestrial civilian life was stable, to the point that many were not just prepared for bombardments, but expected them. Nothing from the warzone broke out into the headlines beyond ticker tape soundbites, nothing as big or as important as a Wirykomi corporation supercarrier getting hijacked by the Dread Guristas.

War had simply become business as usual.

And that was why she was standing in the essentially empty “press box,” near a worn-out portable stage where Tribal Liberation Force officers were presenting their weapons to their 24th Imperial Crusade counterparts. As they did so, the banners of the Minmatar Republic were removed from the auditorium and Amarr Empire banners were unfurled in their place. Although thousands of system inhabitants were in attendance, giving the outward appearance of patriotic importance, the officers standing on the stage had an almost collegial familiarity with one another. In fact, since Dosette had covered the exact same proceedings—though reversed—earlier that year, she knew that the weapons were merely props kept in the station command center. Depending on the necessities, the weapons—either Amarr or Minmatar in origin—could quickly be retrieved, presented, surrendered, then placed back in the safe; this way, the officers never had to give up their actual swords and sidearms.

It had taken weeks of investigation for Dosette to find the truth, which involved a short affair with a Sebiestor junior officer, who, because of his desperation to impress his Gallente love interest, broke at least two dozen regulations in order to show her not only the command center, but the safe where the weapons were kept. He had even shared the station’s master security access code with her: Six, seven, three, three, five, one, eight—a code, he assured her, was only disseminated to the most critical of the command staff. She had almost felt bad that their night had been interrupted, but not bad enough to warrant returning his calls.

Unfortunately, the fact that the officers had agreed to use cheap replicas instead of their real weapons had never been taken as a serious story by her editor—or, for that matter, the story of how she had gained access to a station’s central command system. No, he had been too busy handling requests for combat trials footage of the Federation’s Hecate-class tactical destroyer.

The ceremony ended with a recording of the 24th Imperial Crusade’s anthem. It wasn’t even important enough for them to muster a full band.

“This is Dosette Ambertin, reporting for The Scope,” she said with all of the excitement of an Iteron Mark V coasting into a hangar.

She hadn’t even been able to say “Back to you” followed by whatever the catch-of-the-day anchor’s name was, before receiving the signal from her autonomous camera-drone that she was off the air. She removed her earpiece with an exasperated sigh, then proceeded to unceremoniously toss her equipment into the velvet-lined briefcase that housed her essential reporting gear.

One of the other correspondents standing in the press box approached her, “Well, I thought you were impressive.”

She looked up from her silver briefcase, expecting to tell off yet another overconfident reporter starting their career in a no-name outlet. As she was about to make her well-rehearsed castigatory remarks, her green eyes fell upon a pin on the correspondent’s collar: Amarr Certified News.

There were a number of things she found immediately surprising about the Ni-Kunni, who had his arms folded over his chest, an almost arrogant smirk on his lips betraying curious amusement. Firstly, his posture was casual—not the stiff pose that made every subject of the Amarr Empire look like their portrait was being painted. Secondly, there didn’t appear to be any slaves attending him. Finally, there was the fact that he had acknowledged her presence at all let alone compliment her: Amarr Certified News and the Scope were bitter rivals, especially with the Scope’s expanding coverage of the Empire.

“Excuse me?” she blinked and blurted all at once.

“I said that I thought you were impressive,” the Ni-Kunni responded, his voice well-metered.

“Oh? This? This was nothing,” Dosette shook her head, briefly averting her gaze as she clasped the briefcase shut.

The briefcase was mapped to her biometrics, so if this ACN reporter wanted to see the newest of the Scope’s equipment, he was out of luck. She raised her head to look up at him again, noting that he was a head taller than her. His face was clean-shaven, his tunic crisp, and what looked like a new ACN-issue camera drone hovered a few inches from his head. Her own chrome green drone inched towards it—standard operating procedure in order to take records of the latest of rival agencies’ news production technology—giving the opposing drones the appearance of two rivals eyeing each other down.

“I think you truly believe that more than you think,” he nodded, though he did not bow, “My name is Ofarad Emieh.”

“Well, ‘Ofarad Emieh,’” Dosette responded, placing her hands on her hips, “My name is—.”

“Dosette Ambertin,” Ofarad interrupted, his smirk unchanging, “I heard you.”

Dosette’s face turned a shade of red, not only because she—the senior correspondent in the system—had been interrupted by an obvious newcomer, but also because of the teasing that obviously ran beneath his veneer of professionalism.

“Good day, then,” She said through the most venomous of smiles, before departing towards the shuttle bay terminals. She called over her shoulder, “I’m sure your mother taught you to not speak to Gallente women with ‘loose morals.’”

Ofarad called after her, “Wait. Wait, I’m sorry!”

More surprise. First, the fact that he was humble enough to apologize, a rare trait among any of the Amarr bloodlines. Second, that she actually stopped and turned, “What is it? Are you going to buy me a drink? Because if I had a kredit for every time one of you Amarrians thought you could ‘woo an “easy” Gallente girl,’ I’d own the Crystal Boulevard!”

Ofarad returned her question with a quizzical expression, “You think I’m trying to get a date?”

Dosette had already prepared her rejection when she floundered, “You mean you’re not?”

He ran his eyes over her, “Perhaps under other circumstances,” then he shook his head vigorously, “No, no! I was hoping if you wouldn’t mind a collaboration of sorts.”

“Collaboration?” Her mind was still puzzling out what he wanted. If this was a pick-up routine, it at least held her attention.

He nodded, then produced a neocom. He scrolled through messages and notifications, then said, “Approximately one hour ago, one of the satellites we operate in Oyonata went dark.” His face held a grave expression, “I was hoping, given the Scope’s extensive nature, that there might be overlapping coverage of the system?”

Dosette blinked away her surprise, then nodded, “You want to know what happened to your satellite?”

“Yes,” A shadow of Ofarad’s smirk returned, “I’ll buy you a drink afterwards.”

Dosette rolled her eyes, then pulled out her own neocom. She was careful to shield her access codes from the Ni-Kunni’s eyes, just in case this was an industrial espionage ploy. Scope satellites, camera drone hubs, and relay beacons were spread all over the warzone, but the locations and the extent of their distribution were trade secrets. In all reality, she should have just refused, but her journalistic instinct was piqued—ACN might not be as advanced as the Scope, but in Amarr Empire territory, no agency came close to the level of access that they had across the imperial bureaucracy all the way up to the Theology Council. If this reporter was turning to third parties, then it stood to reason that more than just a surveillance satellite had “gone dark.”

She sifted through numerous feeds, limiting the search function to the Tandoiras Constellation. Strangely, other Scope correspondents in the Bleak Lands had posted comments about malfunctions. She furrowed her brows as she perused the comments, then accessed the broadcast log. The Scope algorithm routinely parsed unfiltered footage, which was then categorized based on images of interest. However, due to the amount of data and the cost of maintaining the fluid router network, the Scope often relied on individual correspondents to run manual searches. She accessed the log for OYO-1S, the Scope broadcast relay embedded into an advertisement billboard on the Sahtogas gate in Oyonata, then activated a manual filter.

“This should only take a moment,” She bragged to Ofarad.

She was ready to launch another jab at ACN, but that was before the Blood Raider insignia was emblazoned on her neocom’s screen. There had been Blood Raider pirates throughout the Bleak Lands even after Omir Sarikusa fled to Delve, but this image seemed different. She turned to Ofarad, “This doesn’t look like local Blood Raider markings.”

Ofarad glimpsed at the image, then frowned, “That’s because it isn’t.” Dosette could almost make out the lines of data running across Ofarad’s eyes through his implants.

“What do you know?” Dosette asked, her heart beginning to race.

“Come on!” Ofarad said as he grabbed Dosette by the wrist, essentially dragging her towards the terminal.

“Let go of me!” she yanked her wrist away, “What is going on?”

Ofarad turned to her and opened his mouth to speak, though his voice was drowned out by the blare of the facility’s siren. A voice rang out over the facility’s PA system, though it was muffled—Dosette had heard clearer announcements on Caille’s underground subway network. She turned her attention towards the terminal, which had suddenly become crowded with wide-eyed civilians. Military and security personnel tried to calm the crowds as engineers in similar uniforms began to seal the shuttle bay bulkheads.

But they were too late.

A ship entered the shuttle bay. Even though she had only reviewed wrecks before, she knew what it was: A Hematos-class corvette, specialized for Blood Raider insertion.

Its lasers melted the bulkheads. They also melted hundreds gathered in front of those same bulkheads. The heat from the blasts forced Dosette to shield her eyes and face. When she readjusted her vision, the corvette’s gangplank had extended out and dozens of armed men were surging through the chaos. For all of their infamous bloodletting and for all of their terror, these Blood Raider strike teams operated with surgical precision, gunning down the remaining security personnel and forcing civilians to their knees, regardless of injury, age, or social rank.

Most of the battles she had seen were from space and while she had interviewed plenty of bombardment survivors, she had never experienced one herself. Yet, when ships fought other ships, battle was different: there were no screams, no smell of melting flesh and bone. This was visceral. And she kept her gaze on the dying, the wounded, the attacked, directing her camera drone through her implants.

“A-are you getting this?” she asked her camera drone. It was all she knew how to ask, even if it could not answer. Frozen with terror, her body simply wouldn’t move no matter how she wanted to urge it away from the carnage.

She felt something grab her wrist, then also felt her body begin to put one foot in front of the other, pulling her away from the spectacle of destruction. As she tore her eyes away, letting the camera drone autonomously record the fury of the assault, she focused on the familiar outline of Ofarad’s features. Somehow, he remained calm. Was this all instinct? Had he lived through an attack before? They reached a bulkhead, but it was sealed.

“Damn it all!” he cursed, slamming his hand against an uncooperative keypad as the firefight crept ever closer.

She blinked as she tried to concentrate, wracking her brain for the master security code. She gently pushed Ofarad away, then reached towards the keypad. With any luck, if the officers in charge were as lazy about their codes as the weapons they exchanged…

She peered at the glowing keys, her hands shaking, “I can do this.”

Seven digits. That was all she needed. Six. Seven. Three. Three. Five. One… What came after one?

“Dosette.”

She snapped, “Shut up, I’m trying to remember!”

“Dosette,” this time Ofarad’s voice was accompanied by a gentle touch to her shoulder. It was not a reassuring touch. It was one of defeat.

She turned around to see a Blood Raider strike team, weapons raised, staring at her and Ofarad. They had already seized the camera drones, reviewing the captured footage. The squad leader stepped forward.

“Amarr Certified News and the Scope working together?” His teeth were filed into fangs, a sadistic grin spreading on his face.

“Collaboration,” Ofarad shrugged, his hands raised.

Dosette also raised her hands, then blurted, “I am a Gallente Federation citizen—.”

She was going to continue about proper treatment of journalists during wartime, but her rote recitations of such rules was interrupted by a rifle butt. She fell to her knees, clutching her stomach as she gasped for air. The squad leader gave her a look-over, then turned to Ofarad.

“This,” the squad leader produced a holoreel, “Is a special recording just for the Empire. You, you lucky Ni-Kunni bastard, are going to take it and broadcast it across the ACN’s network. Understand? You get to live.” His voice was icy cold as he thrust the recording into Ofarad’s hand. He added to his team, “Take the girl.”

Two of the assault team’s members holstered their weapons and dragged Dosette to her feet. They pulled her high enough so she would have to look at their leader’s face. It was scarred and covered in tatoos—bastardization of Amarrian Scripture to fit the Blood Raider narrative. The squad leader ran his finger beneath her chin, “I’m sure you’ll taste just wonderful.”

Dosette turned her face away. This was it. This was the end.

“Wait, wait!” Ofarad stepped forward, to be greeted by a pistol barrel to his forehead. Dosette turned to see his face. Calm, but urgent. His placid eyes met hers.

“What?” The squad leader asked impatiently.

“The ACN network is currently offline in this region,” Ofarad lied in his well-metered tone, “Even if I could get a broadcast out, it would only reach a fraction of the audience you want.” He gestured to Dosette, “She is the senior Scope correspondent in the Bleak Lands. I’ve seen her access their fluid router network. If you let her get to a broadcast relay, your message will reach far more people, far more quickly.”

A look of almost-disappointment washed over the squad leader’s face as logic slowly overcame desire. He yanked the holoreel from Ofarad, then handed it to one of Dosette’s minders, “Get her to a shuttle. Make sure this gets broadcasted by the Scope.”

The team member nodded, then proceeded to lead Dosette back towards the wreckage of the terminal. She looked back over her shoulder to Ofarad, who merely smiled whilst calling after her, “Don’t worry about me. I owe you a drink, after all. And tell Alton Haveri he should learn how to pronounce the word ‘Basilisk!’”

As Dosette boarded the shuttle that would convey her to salvation, one word echoed in the confines of her mind: Eight.

Two weeks later, Dosette Ambertin would return to Sahtogas.

Ofarad Emieh, Amarr Certified News Bleak Lands Service, was listed as missing. His status has not been updated.

The Watch Eternal II

Reginald raised his handkerchief to his mouth as he surveyed the opening that Captain Respedes’ unit had blasted into the canyon-side. The presence of Blood Raider markings had caused some worry in the expedition, considering what had occurred on Huola the year prior. This year, however, it appeared that the rabid dog Omir Sarikusa was busy attacking research facilities. The horrors he inflicted upon the researchers and their families, while atrocities in their own right, provided a sense of guilty relief for those who had watched their cathedrals become sites of bloody massacre.

The chamber that the team had excavated was surprisingly pristine in an area of Lady Lianne’s holding where dust and sand got into everything. More surprising was the fact that there was a gentle breeze flowing through the chamber, keeping it cool. Captain Respedes had already dispatched a team of engineers to search for the power source. In the meantime, the men and women of the expedition were awed by the markings on the wall–murals and depictions of Sani Sabik sacrifice and rituals that appeared to date back to Huola’s original reclaiming.

“We’ll need to scrub it all clean, of course,” Reginald reminded them curtly even as they deployed drones to begin recording the artwork.

He almost caught a flicker of disappointment from one of the archaeologists and made a mental note to have the local inquisitorial authorities check in on the student.

The chamber was circular in shape, the ceiling rising as a dome into the solid rock of the canyon wall. A single shaft of unnatural red light glowed upon a stone altar that was located on an elevated dais at the center of the chamber. Artifacts ranging from chalices, knives, and daggers were laid carefully on the altar along with gold-leafed volumes of Scriptures that were certainly heretical. Reginald mused that if he had been a member of the Jin-Mei constitutional hierarchy instead of an Amarrian noble, these items may very well have been placed into an exhibit owned by the University of Caille. As it stood, however, these would likely be obliterated as well. It did not do to have such heretical devices in an area that could be linked to Lady Lianne Cerra’s ancestors.

He slipped on a pair of latex gloves and picked up one of the texts, skimming through it with mild interest. Unlike the other books, this one was more of a genealogy of cult leaders–an extensive list of names–many if not all of which were likely written in blood, Reginald surmised. It was, perhaps, a Sani Sabik equivalent of the Book of Records. The Cerra family figured prominently throughout the pages, all the way until Shalee Lianne Cerra herself. Some names continued past that, of those, a number he recognized from among the lesser nobles of Cerra Holding. He slid the book carefully into a satchel. Their time to be judged by God would come quickly, swiftly, and if at all possible, silently.

“Are there any signs of recent use?” He turned to Captain Respedes, who was speaking to the forensic team.

Drones and mini-rovers were busy canvassing the chamber, their scans producing a 3-D hologram that the forensic team was busy analyzing. Reginald raised an eyebrow as the mapping seemed to continue into a corridor, with no evidence that the drones were stopping or even slowing down.

“None that we have been able to locate, my lord,” She saluted smartly.

“Where does that lead?” Reginald asked, more of thinking out loud than a question.

“Uncertain, my lord. I’ve dispatched a pair of LAVs to follow the trail above-ground. Once we have additional supplies, I am prepared to lead a team through the corridor.”

Reginald nodded, “If the drones find anything of substance, do that. In the meantime, I am declaring this area of vital Imperial interest. Please have any personnel without sufficient clearance to vacate.”

“It will be done, my lord,” Captain Respedes saluted.

It was interesting how the Imperial hierarchy operated, Reginald thought to himself. At the very top was Empress Catiz I, followed by the royal heirs, they themselves followed by holders of every rank from full regions and constellations down to the tiniest plot of land. Yet, to their subjects, each holder spoke with the full authority of the Empire. And that was how, in a matter of minutes, he had turned what had been a civilian archaeological site into a cordoned military compound in the interests of Imperial security. That was how all of the footage drawn by the archaeological teams as well–as the drones that had recorded them–was confiscated.

It was unlikely that this little discovery would ever reach past the holding or the planet, let alone the system or the full region of the Bleak Lands. And that suited Reginald just fine. As he exited the chamber, his hand resting protectively on the satchel upon which many lesser nobles would be found guilty, he knew that there was no reason to draw any additional attention to the site. In three days time, it would be destroyed along with countless tombs of past kings.A pity for the anthropologists, but it would keep the Cerra name publicly intact. In that way, Lady Shalee Lianne could not have had a more loyal adjutant.

The Watch Eternal

Location: Huola, Planet Seven. Approximately one hundred kilometers from “Cerra Manor.”

Reginald bent down and picked up a handful of sand from the ground. As expected, it was coarse and barely capable of sustaining life save for the hardiest of plants. He could see clouds on the horizon, darkening and making their way inexorably towards the excavation site he had come to review. He held the grains in between his gloved fingers before pouring it back down onto the ground, contemplating how his life had changed in the last few months.

There was still no word from his holder, Lady Shalee Lianne, nor really from any of the denizens who had visited Cerra Manor’s Terrace. No word or visit from Templar Thal Vadam or his paladins, nor even from the robot menace Vlad Cetes. In some ways, he had been thankful for the solitude, as it had allowed him to cultivate a relationship with Literia Khammael–a steadfast source of support in trying times. Regardless, with his holder or not, the holding needed to be administered, and with news of an impending “Crimson Harvest,” administration had become almost hectic. But just like Shalee, he was a holder, and holders were God’s chosen to shepherd to His flock, even if that flock was made up of frightened baseliners who wanted anything but to undergo the tribulations of another Blood Raider incursion.

And that was why he was at an archaeological site in the middle of the desert. Well, that was certainly unfair. It was more a small canyon that had been under investigation by one of Cerra University’s anthropological teams, due to the discovery of a series of tombs that shed light on the burial practices of the indigenous humans of Huola. Of course, that had all been turned on its head recently when one tomb had been sealed with rather modern technology–a door emblazoned with the Blood Raider emblem.

Reginald’s skin tickled with sand picking up from the oncoming winds, so he stood up and fastened his goggles around his eyes. The desert was an unforgiving place; the dunes shifted, cuts and abrasions only became more irritated in the dry heat, and water was life itself. Anyone who had ever traveled to the desert knew those basic facts, knew that walking in sand sapped strength and energy, that the temperatures plummeted at night, that being caught in a sandstorm could kill and strand. He was anxious to get this over with so he could return to Kamela and help care for the twins. All in good time, he supposed.

“Lord-Adjutant Reginald,” A lieutenant saluted, “Captain Respedes sends her regards.”

“And?” Reginald asked impatiently.

“The cutting crews have positioned the mining lasers, but it appears the door is energized. They’ll be cutting well into the night.”

Reginald sighed, “Is it possible to just drill through the rock and get around the door?”

“The engineers have contemplated that approach, my lord,” The lieutenant nodded, “They’ve begun analyzing the local seismography.”

Reginald quirked a brow, “For earthquakes?”

The lieutenant shook her head, “In part, yes, but also the possibility for landslides. They wouldn’t want the security team or their own equipment to be crushed, my lord.”

Reginald immediately felt stupid for requiring the full explanation. He nodded his thanks to the lieutenant then turned back towards the horizon. He was slipping and he could feel it. But what was the cause? Being a father again? Having someone who relied on him? He thought back to the days he had been alone, before marriage, before his affair. He had been a different person: more efficient, more incisive.

He dusted off his gloves, then turned back towards the vehicles that were parked near the edge of the canyon. A small security detail remained with them, watching the pulleys that conveyed workmen and equipment to the canyon floor below. The command vehicle was elevated on tracks, its rear revealing crates of food and water. A large receiver was on the roof, serving as a means of maintaining a satellite uplink with a Coercer-class destroyer in low orbit above their location. There were smaller Light Attack Vehicles (LAVs) on patrol around the site, a pair deployed on a local dune closest to the impending storm, others further out making sure that no additional holding subjects wandered to the secure location. Observation drones hovered above the parked convoy, taking meteorological data and updating the computers housed in the command craft.

He had made the decision to not descend into the canyon unless Captain Respedes had actually discovered something of note. Part of him was hoping it was just a couple technologically-oriented university students trying to pull a prank on the archaeological team. They probably hadn’t counted on their field professor immediately notifying the Holding’s security bureau, if such were the case, and if it was, Reginald’s patience and sense of compassion was worn too thin for a merciful judgment. Still, there was no denying that he would have been relieved.

But if Captain Respedes found something in that tomb.

Well, that would be a different story entirely.

 

 

OOC – Three Years And Running

Scammed and Fired

On the 19th of September, 2013, I was convinced by my younger brother to try out a game called “EVE Online.” I had seen it once before years earlier and had watched him pilot a coercer through a bubbled expanse of nullsec on his way to a lowsec destination. He regaled me of tales about how he had been “given” an Apocalypse Navy Issue and though he hadn’t had the weapon skills to use the battleship guns, that was fine, because his alliance gave him Ammatar Navy Mega Heavy Pulse Lasers instead.

Right out of the gate, as I started my life as a capsuleer in Dresi, I was scammed. I figured that as a new player, there would be tons of helpful individuals in the “new player” zone who would be willing to teach me how to play the game. One such individual promised such an experience as long as I acceded to make an account using the buddy invite system. The invitation was sent, I subscribed, then asked him about the game and what sort of weapon systems were available to an Amarr pilot. He never spoke to me again.

So, there I was, 45 dollars (I had subscribed for three months) invested into a game that I had no idea how to play. Ironically, that foolhardy decision to trust someone grew into a goal: I was going to play EVE Online and make enough ISK a month to overcome this initial investment.

The first step, my brother–who was no longer active–told me, was to find a corporation to join. Being completely new, I used the in-game recruiting system to find a corporation that was welcoming to new players and I immediately started my career as a Venture pilot. I was perturbed that there were people willing to send me millions of ISK while my own income stream was less than 3 million an hour. They assured me, that as I got better at mining, I would eventually be able to fly a mining barge and then I would be able to use the minerals to build my own ships and ship construction, as they said, was where the money was located in EVE Online. Mineral you mined yourself, after all, were free.

Several nights later, having been wardecced by a three-person highsec corporation and ordered to remain docked by the CEO, we had a conversation about ISK in EVE. Yes, manufacturing was where the money was, our mining and production director told me, but there was another way to make ISK on the “business” side: contracts, buying/selling items, moving items from one station to another. He also admitted that he had no idea how any of that stuff worked. At any rate, they told me, I needed to be a billionaire in EVE to get involved in the market system.

With a little bit of economic background (and with an understanding of opportunity cost that rendered their analysis on mineral harvesting incorrect), I immediately delved into the world of trade. I invested in a Bestower and immediately began plying the NPC trade routes to have starting currency. Within a week of that date, I grew my modest wallet to fifty million ISK, purchasing the expensive Trade Skill books as I went, and, after looking at the wiki on station trading as provided by EVE University, I began my life as a station trader in Amarr.

Within two weeks of that day, I became an EVE billionaire. In less than a month, I had fulfilled my goal of reaching the billion ISK mark through sheer determination and a general distaste for mining. In fact, I did so well that I was made the trade director for the corporation and was subsequently fired because the CEO couldn’t understand my spreadsheets. With a little wealth in my pocket and a bitter taste of carebears in my mouth, I continued to trudge along on my EVE career.

Faction Warfare

Almost half a year went by as I meandered through corporations looking for fun things to do in EVE. I learned about PVP through highsec wardecs, then became determined to learn how to PVP properly. A few like-minded corporation mates thought that was a good idea so we briefly moved to Domain lowsec. After the alliance grew out of the small pocket we had occupied and moved to Molden Heath, we decided to try our luck in the Amarr/Minmatar Faction Warfare zone.

Back then, the warzone was actually populated. Pandemic Legion still called Amamake their lowsec capital, dropping carriers on cruisers, destroyers, and frigates alike while the main FW groups brawled it out in the safety of plexes with Augoror Navy Issue doctrines. I was fortunate enough to be present for three separate “Burn Huola” attempts, though the only ones of note were the first two when Ice Fire Warriors still possessed an Erebus of mythic proportions that swung frigate and destroyer fights in their favor against the unlinked masses of less-than-well-equipped-but-incredibly-eager Amarr pilots.

For those of you who do not know, Huola is the closest system to the Amarr trade hub in the Amarr/Minmatar warzone. Its strategic importance is not lost on most people, which is why it was particularly egregious that the Minmatar had held it for nearly 1000 days before finally being uprooted by the Scorch OP coalition in 2014 (uprooted only because the major Minmatar alliance at the time, Smile N’ Wave was actually a member of Gallente Militia while old guard Minmatar alliances left for other areas like Snuff Box or wormhole space).

During my time in Faction Warfare, I wrote as the Amarr correspondent for Factionwarfare.com, which was a fantastic resource for keeping up with news and developments on the warzone. It was in this capacity that I was invited to the “Cerra Manor” channel hosted by then-executor of Imperial Outlaws, Shalee Lianne, to commence my foray into the roleplay and lore enthusiast communities.

Oftentimes, I look back upon those simpler days with a fondness that I fail to elicit as a pirate capable of multi-boxing battleships, capital ships, and links or logistic. There was something mythical about the PL deathblobs and the hammers and anvils that served as resonance points on comms that caused pilots to panic. There used to be a sense of dread to fly through Amamake–nowadays, it’s almost a ghost town in comparison. It was a different time in EVE and I hope that the developers at CCP who are striving to breathe new life into the game with recently announced changes will be able to reinvigorate the system that forges the PVP identity of so many.

Pirate Life

The Rooks and Kings videos that you can still find on YouTube are awe-inspiring documentaries of the feats and triumphs of the few against the many. It’s difficult to find places in EVE that are capable to performing similar victories in the current state of the game. Now, a lot of people hate the alliance that I’m a part of–Did He Say Jump–and will say that we overblob/batphone/etc. as bad as the worst of them. But then, those people weren’t there when local spiked by seventy in the system of Bosboger at four in the morning.

 

There’s quite a bit that I’ve failed to recount in this little summary of three years: The early months of dealing with highsec wardeccers or my time in nullsec flying in Triumvirate just as the “Fozziesov” changes arrived. But, at the end of the day, the best fights in EVE are the ones where both sides have a decent chance of winning, and, barring that, are the ones where the few still have a chance of victory against the many.

 

Persona?

“Sit her down.”

Naomi was shoved into the chair, the bag yanked off of her head. Her eyes were immediately bombarded by the bright, golden light. Her eyelids fastened shut in response as she winced away from the sound of the voice.

“Look at me,” The voice demanded.

Naomi cracked an eye open, testing the light as if it were frigid water. She drew a breath, then exhaled softly, the purple and blue circles slowly disappearing from her sight. It took several moments until she could finally focus upon the speaker.

The speaker was arrayed in gold, an elaborate circlet augmenting her position on the throne that itself was on a raised dais. She swayed a hand away, whisking away the burly guards who had manhandled Naomi to the simple wooden chair. She looked every bit a penitent pauper before a figure of divinity. Naomi recognized her as Lady Eliana, the matriarch of the Sakakibara Family.

The brilliantly-clad woman rested her head on her fist, then said briefly, “I don’t know how to address you, if I must be honest,” She regarded Naomi with a look of intense disapproval, “‘Step-daughter’ sounds too legitimate. What was it that Ashessa called you?”

Naomi watched her feint a thoughtful expression, though Naomi knew she expected her to answer, “She called me…”

She called you?” Eliana interrupted, looking impatient.

Naomi gulped, “I mean that… I’m a… whore’s spawn.”

A smile tugged at the sides of the matriarch’s mouth, “Correct.”

Naomi lowered her gaze, wondering why they had dragged her out of the darkness of her cell. The fleeting images of a fiery-haired woman tormenting her to no end continued to flash into her consciousness, punctuated by the silent wing-beats of dozens of emerald and royal purple butterflies. The room suddenly began to spin from beneath her and she collapsed onto the marbled floor in front of the dais.

“How atrocious,” Eliana sighed, “Pick her up again, bind her to the chair if you must.”

Two sets of gruff hands raised her onto the chair once more, one set holding her in place as another wrapped a coil of rope around her torso to keep her from falling. Naomi was too weak to respond with anything but wordless head bobbing until she managed to raise her eyes back in the direction of the golden matriarch.

“Just kill me, please,” Naomi whispered quietly.

Her eyes were dry, but bloodshot. Her tears had refused to answer her summons after the second or third week of her incarceration, whence she had cried herself to sleep. Or was it several months? Years? Time seemed to move at a pace all its own in her cell, wrapping and clawing away at her soul as she struggled to breathe. She couldn’t recall the last time she had seen Alexa, been held by the kameira, felt safe. Or, more accurately, she couldn’t recall the last time Alexa had actually been with her or if Alexa was even real. Were the memories real?

The matriarch left out a soft chuckle, “Kill you? Oh no, you are far too valuable for that, my dear.”

Naomi’s face was gaunt, her once rosy-cheeks stretched across her face like fragile elastic; her lips twitched, her movements were slow and tentative, her eyes were unable to focus upon anything for more than a few seconds, and her head snapped in the direction of the least sound.

Naomi felt herself shiver, “What more do you want from me?”

A sudden crack met her question with the force of a Bestower. Pain seared into her head and through the rest of her body, to the edge of her toes and fingertips. She let out a sharp yelp as she winced away from the impact, her head throbbing with wildly.

“You are not here to question,” Eliana responded, “But I suppose we must cut to the chase. As loathe as I am to say it, I need you for something.”

Naomi panted and gasped–she was sure her brain had been ruptured by the blow, yet by some arcane magic she managed to process Eliana’s words. She raised her eyes weakly in Eliana’s direction, seeing three images of the matriarch speaking in unison as a trinity even as they wobbled together back into a single person.

“There is a message I need to send to my son and you shall be the messenger, of sorts,” Eliana waved her hand airily, “The Holder he now serves–Lady Shalee Lianne Cerra–are you familiar?”

Naomi nodded tentatively. The name sounded familiar, but she couldn’t remember if they had been introduced properly or if she had just read a file on the Holder. She was a well-respected member of the aristocracy of the Bleak Lands, through much of her family’s history was shrouded in rumor and mystery.

“Yes, well, I will need you to kill her.”

Naomi’s eyes widened.

“And you will be wearing my son’s body.”

And Angelic Hosts Proclaim I

It was a quiet evening (New Eden local time) as the infamous Proteus-class vessel, Edge, plied the ley lines of the Bleak Lands and Heimatar. Despite the presence of Curatores Veritatis Alliance forces aiming to reclaim a toe-hold of imperial authority on behalf of the 24th Imperial Crusade, the extensive fighting that had once characterized the warzone had virtually evaporated. Even the sudden, vengeful strike of the Tribal Liberation Force against the last holdouts of the 24th–Arzad, Sahtogas–the fighting had been fierce but confined.

And the Edge had followed along ruthlessly in the wake of combat.

The Edge was equipped with state-of-the-art exploration sensors, a cloaking device subsystem not uncommon for many strategic cruisers, a power core multiplier that fed substantial streams of energy into the reactor core, and a gravitational capacitor (primacy of discovery for which was claimed simultaneously by the Caldari State and the Gallente Federation) that increased the Proteus’ warp speed. By all rights, the Edge was seemingly designed as an exploration ship or as a lowsec smuggler to deliver drugs (an occupation made obsolete by CONCORD legalization).

In truth, however, the Edge was a hunter. Like the omnipresent specter of the fury of the Almighty, it waited for the aftermath of engagements on common escape lines and shipping routes, destroying escape pods as they ran for the protection of station, citadel, or highsec. By no means was the Edge the first or greatest of its kind–the Katana in the Black Rise region fulfilled a similar role and with a much longer legacy–but at meting out death, there were fewer ships that performed the almost surgically precise executions that the Edge and its counterparts could provide.

Today, however, it was a quiet night. The great cataclysmic battles of the spring had waned into a lull of a summer. The shipping lanes had seen a corresponding decrease in volume as the warzone’s map was re-written by the rust-colored banners of the Tribal Liberation Force. The once-great bastions of Amarrian dominance: Huola, Kourmonen, Arzad, Kamela, and Sahtogas, had each fallen and with them the champions of Holy Amarr had fallen back to Mehatoor or turned to the aid of the faithful of Providence. Of course, that meant fewer escape pods were dallying through the warzone. Many of them, of course, were loyal Amarr attempting to reclaim that warzone, and if not for a particular pilot who remained loyal and flew with the militia despite the defections that had characterized an alliance they had served in together, he would be targeting them as traitors as well.

It had been more than a chance encounter, which was not to say that the event had been planned–such was the purpose of blind dates, after all. Nonetheless, he had found the message from Lunarisse Aspenstar of the Societas Imperialis Sceptri Coronaeque to be somewhat of a surprise given the ambivalent attitude that Amarrian conservatives viewed his service to the Empire. At first, he was hesitant to accept the invitation, but Red’s prodding pushed him in the direction to socialize–something she had pointed out, should have been second nature to him–and thus he had found himself sitting in a corner of the Skyhook, a nightclub in the Gamis system.

The sound of three young women laughing and talking among each other had somehow managed to overcome the ambient sounds attributed to night clubs–the Gallente swing music, the clinking of glasses, the boisterous laughs of baseliners. He had thus stood to meet them, per the traditional custom–always stand when approached by a lady, his mother would say. The conversation they were maintaining almost froze him in place.

“… everytime I run into a Lord I seem to get into trouble. Did I ever tell you when I went with Lord Zeke to Lord Sakakibara’s carnival?” The young woman leading them shook her head, “Don’t go there. And then the next time I saw two lords, they got into a duel. That was Lord Sakakibara too. It was bloody and awful–”

And then his eyes had met hers. Maria Daphiti, Praetoria Imperialis Excubitoris, formerly In Exile., Imperial Outlaws. She flashed a quick smile to him, though only the most ignorant of the nobility wouldn’t have seen the smile as forced. That, of course, didn’t mean that his own response wasn’t masked with as much decorum as he could muster.

He bowed partially out of instinct and partially to hide the flicker of terror on his face, “Lieutenant–excuse me–Captain Daphiti. What a surprise to see you here.”

She responded with a cheeriness that seemed all but forced, “Hello Lord Sakakibara. What… a surprise!”

The young Captain, whose face was turning slightly pink, immediately turned his attention to the two women accompanying her, who seemed engrossed in a conversation about billiards, “Joining us at the table tonight will be Varcutii Renalard and Shalinea Vyvorant. My mother thought it would be more conversational with a pair.”

Reginald smiled a court-pressed smile, that same smile beaten into him with a switch over the course of his rearing, “How excellent!” He bowed to each in turn, “Good evening, my ladies.”

Varcutii smiled cheerfully, “Hi there!”

Shalinea did likewise with a, “Nice to meet you!” of her own.

Maria paused for a moment, then ventured, “Shall we sit and get to know each other… better?”

It was as if a pall normally associated with funerals gripped the table around which they stood. They might as well have been viewing the open casket of Empress Jamyl herself–a blasphemous thought, as no one knew where the late Empress Jamyl’s body was actually located. The awkwardness hung like a forlorn jungle canopy. Reginald felt his mind beginning to retreat from the excursion until a familiar voice banished the thoughts for him.

“You idiot, ask her to sit down!” A little girl’s voice–Red’s voice–pierced.

He suppressed the sudden urge to glance around for the source, and instead put on another smile, “Please,” he pulled out a chair for his date, “After you, Captain Daphiti.”

The pall slowly melted away as Shalinea prepared the seats for herself and Varcutii, though Maria only took her seat with a none-too-noticeable trace of awkwardness and another flashed smile. As the other two women settled into their seats, Maria placed her hands together and broached conversation.

“Well… small world,” She chuckled, looking at Reginald.

Reginald responded almost automatically, “Well, you look lovely this evening, Captain Daphiti.

Maria brightened, tilting her head in an oddly familiar gesture, “Why don’t you introduce yourself, Milord?”

Vacutii chimed in, “Ya know the good sir?”

“Of course!” Reginald tried to laugh away the anxiety, “Where are my manners? My name is Reginald Sakakibara. A pleasure to make your acquaintances Miss Vyvorant, Miss Renalard.”

Maria added a touch more information about both for Reginald’s benefit, “Miss Renalard is from the Society. Miss Vyvorant… is a free agent?”

Reginald pondered what ‘free agent’ might mean for a moment and actually entertained the notion of inquiring further. It would have been a social disaster, which was why he was thankful Shalinea asked after fidgeting with her fingers, “Maria said you were a Lord?” She added quickly, “Oh and nice to meet you too, sir.”

Reginald nodded, falling back easily into rote repetition, “I serve as the Lord Adjutant for the Cerra Holding in Huola on behalf of Lady Shalee Lianne.”

Varcutii failed to suppress a grin–one that Reginald recognized likely had something to do with how formal he was being, “Those are some totally awesome moves ya got there… Sir.”

Despite his mental preparation, he found himself turning slightly red at Varcutii’s comments, “Habit, I’m afraid. The situation in Huola has had me in a series of meetings since the Minmatar seized it back from us.”

The faux pas took a moment to slink beneath the surface before pouncing upon the conversation.

“Oh! How is Shalee! I mean Lady Cerra?” Her expression fell as the remainder of his words sunk in, “Oh yeah. Huola fell. Again.” She deflated.

“As I understand, she is quite well. On sabbatical, as it were. She’s been spared the fight for the system, though at this point she’s accustomed, I believe.”

Varcutii and Shalinea, whether out of interest of one another or out of respect for the disaster Reginald was steering his date into, were busy discussing billiards.

He tried to salvage the mood, “But she speaks highly of you, Captain Daphiti. And I’m certain she would love to host you at the estate when she is next able.”

“That’d be awesome,” She chewed her lip, asking quietly, “So did Cerra Manor fall planetside?”

It was too late for Reginald to backtrack from the ludicrously horrendous choice of conversation. While he pondered how he could save the date–a date which he was beginning to suspect was a terrible idea to attend–he noticed Shalinea and Varcutii discussing the menu. They wouldn’t bail him out of this one, it seemed. And why would they? He was a Holder, though perhaps Varcutii found it amusing that he was so socially inept.

“In actuality,” He replied, “We’ve not seen much fighting on the ground. It’s as if the mercenaries just vanished.”

“Awesome. So… everything’s still as it was,” She smiled a little.”

He took a longshot, “Would you like a drink, Captain Daphiti? Shall we leave the warzone behind, tonight?”

Shalinea inquired with Maria simultaneously, “What do you think, Maria? What is good here?”

Maria responded to both, perhaps a little flustered, “Drinks. Yes, a drink could be good.”

The evening moved forward with the introduction of “Screaming Demons” being brought to the table. In a distant planet called earth, it would have looked like a vodka concoction with greenish creme de menthe. As Varcutii put it, the taste was evocative of mouthwash and it hit like an Arty Machariel. Reginald could attest to that effect, once they had placed their orders–Caldari dumplings and a species of beetle that was evidently popular among the Ni-Kunni–and settled into something closer to normalcy.

Now, it was time to fix the evening.

 

 

Intervention II

Reginald awoke to a long, brilliantly-lit white chamber. It was one of those rooms that he had seen before in Gallente-derived virtual reality holoreels. He was, himself, clothed in white garments, though the temperature was noticeably non-existent. He turned his head from side to side, reviewing the surfaces of the room, which appeared to be made up of one meter by one meter squares locked together like building blocks. One of the sides of the room was made up of an archway that stretched into a hallway that seemed to lead endlessly into the distance.

“I hope you don’t mind the cliche,” A little girl’s voice emanated from behind him.

He turned around to see Red, but unlike the ghostly projections from holodrones he had come to recognize her by, she looked like a normal little girl. Her hair had a slightly lighter hue than Shalee’s, though he attributed that to her younger age. Her eyes were of the same blue gaze, though they betrayed a penetrating intelligence well beyond the maturity of a five year-old. She wore a chaste red dress common among daughters of the nobility, trimmed in white, the sleeves running down to her wrists, complete with a collar that covered her neck.

She continued, glancing around the chamber, “It’s not very creative, but I didn’t want to overwhelm you.”

A moving walkway appeared beneath the archway, the conveyor belt moving in the direction towards infinity. It was at that moment that Reginald realized that this wasn’t merely a dream. He was living in Red’s world, in which she had absolute control.

“Don’t be scared,” She huffed, crossing her arms, noticing the fear flicker in his eyes, “If I wanted to hurt you, the shuttle would’ve exploded by now.”

Reginald managed to chuckle softly at the thought despite himself as he walked towards the conveyor, “All right. What is it that you wanted to show me?”

Red seemed mollified as she took his hand and led him onto the walkway, “I know why you want to go back to your earlier self.”

“Oh, have you been watching?”

“Mmmhmm. I was there for all of it,” Her hand twitched slightly, her voice hardly above a whisper, “Like when you had those Sani Sabik children killed.”

He frowned, “Red, you know that–”

She shook her head and cut him off, “She thought that you would’ve hurt her if she had been one of those children. Everyone was afraid of you. Katerina was mad.”

He looked away, “Oberyn wasn’t even born yet. I missed his birth.”

“I know.”

A glass window appeared in the hallway as the walkway came to a halt. On the other side was a scene of Katerina cradling Oberyn in a swaddling of blankets, smiling down at him as she sat upright in a very comfortable-looking bed. Sunlight from the Myyheran sun shone through the windows in a perfect display of radiance. Reginald could feel a lump begin to form in his throat at the scene, recognizing the room to be their bedchamber in his former Holding. His eyes widened as a version of him stepped into the picture, taking a seat by Katerina. He placed an arm over her shoulder before joining her in smiling at the newborn baby.

“What is this?” Reginald asked, raising his hand towards the glass.

Red smiled, “This is the life I can give you. What you really want. You don’t want to forget. You want things to be the way they were supposed to be.”

The walkway started moving once more, though Reginald kept his eyes glued on the scene for as long as he could. His mouth was dry, his heart beating erratically, as his mind raced with the possibilities Red was offering him. A new chance at life. The life that haunted his memories.

“Everything would be as it was supposed to be, and everything will be as it was meant to be,” Red smiled.

They stopped before another scene, this one in a courtyard that looked quite similar to one on the Terrace at Cerra Manor. Katerina wore her Holder attire rather than her Pandemic Legion uniform, Oberyn sitting on her lap, his eyes full of wonder at the tropical environment of Huola. Katerina was laughing brightly as Reginald went through fencing forms with Rebecca, teaching her how to parry, their practice sabers shimmering in the sunlight. Shalee sat at the same table with Katerina, leaning over to her from time to time, whispering gossip that caused the latter to giggle.

Reginald bit his lip to hold back the emotion welling in his eyes, “I… I could have all this?”

Red nodded, “Yes. You could be there for Oberyn’s birth, for his first steps, his first words. You’d see him grow up. Katerina would be your wife again, would help you rule fairly in Myyhera. All of the mistakes would be gone. You’d have your life back. And–”

“I can’t.” Reginald shook his head, “It wouldn’t be right.”

Red blinked, “What?”

“I don’t deserve any of this, Red. I’m the one who destroyed my marriage. I’m the one who ruined my life.”

“And yet you’re trying to run from the consequences.”

“I…”

“You want to destroy yourself,” Her tone softened, “Let me help you.”

He shook his head again, “But it wouldn’t be real. It’d all be a lie. And I’d have to wake up eventually.”

She grinned mischievously, “Leave that part to me.”

Reginald opened his mouth to say something when he found himself inside of the shuttle. Red was gone. His glass of half-finished spiced wine sat undisturbed.

“Lord Reginald?” The pilot’s voice broke the silence, “Our docking request has been accepted.”

 

 

 

Intervention I

A gold-plated shuttle of Amarrian design jumped into the Gallente Federation system of Egghelende, on the border of Amarrian-reclaimed Siseide. Despite the victory of Tash-Murkon champions in Amarr, the 24th Imperial Crusade seemed unfazed by the news. For the legion pilots of the Amarr Empire’s premier militia, whatever happened in Dam-Torsad was little more than a pleasant distraction from the incessant conflict against the capsuleer proxies of the Republic. Kor-Azor or Tash-Murkon, it mattered not. All that mattered to the mercenaries and privateers was if a 24th Imperial Crusade agent was ready to monetize their loyalty in exchange for Republic officers’ dog tags.

Reginald tapped an armrest with immense impatience as his request for docking was processed by the Gallente port authority. Much like the Empire, the Gallente relied heavily upon a bureaucracy for handling their sprawling Federation. But unlike the Empire, they couldn’t care less about Reginald’s Holder status. Normally, that would give Reginald a slight advantage on the docking waitlist–a few name drops and references and he could be propelled to the front of the line above wealthy commoners or merchants. But the Gallente Federation reviewed his name as just his name, one of many capsuleers that docked in Egghelende.

He sighed heavily as a screen flickered his position in line, a number that he didn’t care to repeat in his head for how low it was in priority. He picked up a neocom and reviewed his messages. At the forefront was the reply from Lady Lianne–a curt response, one devoid of the warmth he had to expect in missives from his once-executor. She had granted him permission to undergo the procedure. If it weren’t for all of the clearances and bribes that had been necessary for her to secure an earlier state of his clone–something that was really only possible within the ever-shifting legalities of the Federation, where the eyes of the Ministry of Internal Order were relatively sparse–he would have felt as if she hadn’t cared for him at all. As if he was just another toy to be thrown away.

But that was how life had been proceeding for the Holder: His wife had left him, only allowing him to see his son on incredibly rare occasions; his once-executor remained in the depths of Nullsec, too distant to be relevant; the war in the north had consumed the time of his companion, Literia; the 24th Imperial Crusade had marked him as a traitor despite his righteous smartbombing campaign against Sani Sabik infiltrators.

What other option was there than to revert to a world where the pain of the last year was no more? To be free of the memory once and for all, to never have to experience the rolling waves of solitude that encapsulated his soul in the same way that pod fluid kept his body submerged in space.

He set his neocom on a desk and gave instructions to the baseliner pilot to adopt a holding pattern across a number of tactical safes crisscrossed around the system. As the shuttle began its semi-randomized sequence of warps, he poured himself a glass of spiced wine. He thought for a moment how strange it was, traveling at speeds unthinkable for the first producers of the luxury liquid. He wondered if any of the owners of those first vineyards had ever thought that the fruits of their labor might one day make it to the stars themselves.

As he was lost in thought, his neocom entered projection mode and the ghostly image of a little girl wearing a red dress, her hair done in a mess of curls, flickered into the center of the shuttle.

Red.

He watched the projection for a few moments, then placed the glass onto a solid surface. Perhaps it was just force of habit, but he was uncomfortable drinking in front of children.

His mouth somehow managed to twitch into a smile, “Hello, Red. It’s been quite a while.”

“It has,” The ghostly girl nodded as she turned her head to and fro, looking at the interior of the shuttle.

“She’s asleep, then?” He asked quietly, finding his mind wandering towards his former executor.

Red simply nodded in response, hands clasped behind her back as she began inspecting the interior. Once the projection had hopped onto a walkway, she grinned, “That’s very like you.”

He quirked a brow, “I’m sorry?”

“Your first thought is to ask about someone else. But, we both know that your concern is only half-altruistic,” She tilted her head at him, “Because I know that you’re wondering why I’m here. You’re just too polite to say so.”

He grinned slightly, “Always reading me like an open text of Scripture.”

“Nah,” She shrugged, “I’ve already memorized the Scriptures. You’re more interesting to read.”

He took a seat, resting his head on his hand, regarding the ghostly projection with amusement. It had been months since he had last spoken to Red, the the five year-old subconscious AI of his former executor, Shalee Lianne. There had been a time he had been more curious as to her freedoms and capabilities, a time where the little girl had been one of his main allies on the Terrace–dangerous as it was, located at the confluence of Amarrian noble protocol and capsuleer hedonism. He was, in truth, happy to see her once more. She was a welcome, familiar sight, despite her startling capacity for observation–in some ways, almost approaching omniscience.

“And do I read like a classic or a penny novella?”

She shrugged again, adopting a gait as if there were stones scattered across the floor of the shuttle, lava flowing between the stones, “Like any good story, you’ve seen a lot of conflict. But, now the plot is sort of confusing. You want to be loyal to the Empire, but you fly with Pred. You want to be a good husband and for Kat to forgive you, but you cheated on her. You want companionship, but keep Literia at arm’s length. And then,” She looked at him, “You love her still, don’t you? Even after all this time?”

He was the first to break the gaze, though he shook his head, “I don’t know.”

“Uh huh,” She lifted her chin into the air, looking prim, “If you weren’t in pain, you wouldn’t be here. You wouldn’t want to do something illegal, if you felt there was no other choice. And she’s helping you, because deep down, she does care, even if she can’t be here to say so.”

“Is that why you’re here, then?” He turned back to look at the ghostly, flickering image, “To be the voice at my bedside as I walk into oblivion?”

“No, I’m not fatalistic like that,” Red responded, “And neither is she. That’s why she’s trying to help you. But I can help, too. And my way is better.”

“Your way?” He quirked an eyebrow, “You can magically wave your hands and reset the last year and a half of my life, wrought with mistakes, shortcomings, and consequences that have rendered me, here? Living the life of a shell of a Holder on the fringes of the Empire?”

Red grinned, “I can’t make the bad things go away. But I can give you your future back.”

“What do you mean?” He felt his heart skip a beat at the surety in her tone.

“Close your eyes, then start counting back from one hundred. Let me show you what I mean.”