I entered the canteen fifteen minutes late and spied Rhys sitting in the corner, at his usual table, tapping on a portable terminal. I sat down, there was a glass of spiced rum waiting for me, the ice had nearly melted.
“Sorry, I got caught up in-,” he simultaneously silenced and forgave me with a wave of his hand and continued tapping on the thin sheet of plastic for a moment. Looking through the back of the transparent screen I could see it was some sort of market interface. Moments later he folded the screen twice, to pocket size, and slipped it into his vest pocket.
“Good to see you friend,” he smiled and took a sip of something that smelled like licorice and looked like nuclear waste. “You have no idea what people are willing to sell armor plates for these days.” He shook his head.
Rhys was the head of Section 7, the somewhat enigmatic division concerning themselves with the corporate wallet. I’d met him early on in my short career as the CEO of my mercenary corp, and we’d been close friends since. He pulled his dark hair up into a short ponytail and postured himself for conversation.
“So I hear you’re going to leave us for the milita.” Business first, I thought, Rhys had always been that way.
“For a while,” I replied, “I’ll be back when things are a bit more stable, or if the Corp needs me.”
Rhys smiled and took another sip from his glass. His silence and sharp blue eyes prodding me for more details.
“Well, the situation is pretty dire, the Federation is in need right now,” I continued, “and I’m ready for a bit more action.”
He nodded slowly, placed his drink on the table and folded his hands. I braced myself.
“The Federation would indeed benefit from your skills.”
He smiled, unfolded his hands and lifted his drink to his lips. I relaxed a bit.
“Of course,” he said as his glass touched his lips, “so would the Empire.”
“If it’s a question of loyalty -”
Rhys scowled at me as he took a sip of his drink. “Loyalty,” he laughed, “no need to go on the defensive. I’m just interested to know why you chose to side with the Federation. A month ago you requested to be stationed in the Empire, why the sudden change of heart?”
I nodded, it was a fair question. The corporation had spent resources resettling me in Amarr territory, and not even I could have guessed I’d be back in Gallente space so soon.
“The Amarr-Matari war is not my fight,” I replied honestly. “The Minmatar want to free their people, the Amarr refuse. I won’t fight for a family again. I despise politics.”
Rhys burst into laughter, nearly spitting a mouthful of Quafe and Absinthe onto the table, “Dear Ghenna, if you dislike politics,” he said as he recovered, “you’re definitely in the wrong sovereignty.”
He steadied himself with a deep breath and continued, in a more serious tone, “Look, I for one certainly appreciate you helping my people. I won’t dissuade you. I’ve just always taken you for an idealist, and that war is a war for idealists.”
“It’s a war over slavery,” I said frankly, “and a waste of time. The Minmatar will never be satisfied with the result, and the Amarr will never yield. Anyway,” I said, taking a drink, “we’re all slaves one way or another.”
Rhys leaned back in his chair, his blue eyes boring into my soul. He was silent for an uncomfortably long time. I took another drink.
“You’re very clever,” he eventually responded, “and you’re right. Philosophically we are all slaves in one form or another.” He sat up straight, he was building steam for a debate, and I didn’t win debates with Rhys. “Some Minmatar are fools, I agree with that point. They think freedom means doing whatever you want, whenever you want. But this is not possible. Even we Gallente, the supposed champions of freedom in New Eden, trick ourselves into believing we are actually free, but that is also foolish.”
He took a long sip of his drink, draining the glass, and raised his hand for another. “You are free to create a business, enter the market. You are free to refuse to work. You are free to attack your fellow citizens. But your fellows are free to stop your business, to punish you for transgressions. If you refuse to work, you starve. You see, no one can be free, unless they are the master of everyone else, when there are consequences, no one is free. Philosophically speaking.”
A short pretty Gallente waitress placed two fresh drinks on the table, Rhys thanked her with a smile and then turned his piercing gaze on me. He slid my drink across the table to me.
“The Minmatar aren’t fighting over philosophical slavery,” he said, “that argument is bullshit, and you know it.”
I blushed at the truth. He sat back, waiting for a response.
“When I was a child,” I started, “I was told that the slaves were being groomed,” I hesitated, choosing my words, “groomed to do God’s work. It was a path to enlightenment. They served their masters, I served my family, my family served their house. There was an unbroken, unquestioned hierarchy. We were all an equal part in His machine.”
“When I was a child,” Rhys responded with a grin, “I thought that spacecraft must have a terrible time avoiding all the birds.” He smiled warmly, “there comes a time to put away childish naiveté. Do you still believe the Amarr have a million million Matari slaves to help groom them to do God’s work?”
“Absolutely,” I replied with conviction. Rhy’s left eyebrow raised an inch. “Those lessons were correct, every Slave, every citizen, every family in the Empire is groomed to serve God,” I finished my warm watery glass of rum and moved the fresh glass into my hand. “My mistake was assuming that God was some sort of benevolent sentience. As it turns out the Amarr God is the same as the Caldari God,” I took another sip of rum, my throat and stomach becoming warm as the liquid trickled down. “We were groomed to serve the almighty isk.”
Rhys sat back in his chair and smiled, “You’ve always been smarter than you look,” he said raising his glass, “welcome to the Federation, Section 7 will see to it that you are never in need of ammunition”
“I primarily use lasers Rhys, ammo will be pretty cheap.”
He smiled, “And that,” he said beaming, “is why I am head of Section 7.”