I took another sip of my rum & quafe and continued to browse through the mess of corporate news. Being alone, cut off from the secured corp channels was annoying. Waiting for a bunch of bureaucrats to decide whether or not I was dangerous to the federation was more annoying. The alcohol helped.

I perused the recent news. A smile spreading across my face.

Corp Pilot was assaulted while on a federation mission in the system of Yvangier. Pilot escaped the situation and returned in a destroyer seeking retaliation.

My lips mouthed the words as I read. My smile growing.

Corp mining operation interrupted by thieves. Mining foreman left operation and returned in a combat craft. Pilot destroyed one potential threat, no losses recorded.

I put the datapad down and took another drink. I remembered the old days, as a mercenary. We protected our fair share of fat weak industrialists. It was a decent living. My work since coming back to the sky had been different. I had been living amongst the industrialists, training, advising… learning.

Times had changed, at least here. These were the industrialists I recognized. They spent far too many hours pouring over ore reports for my tastes, spent far too long training to blast asteroids, melt rocks. But they were different. They were not fat and weak, they were lean and becoming progressively more dangerous.

“You possess only that which you have the capacity to defend,” I mumbled, a quote from somewhere long forgotten. Industrialists certainly, but they understood this.

They were beginning to bare their teeth.

The Waiting Game…

My stint in the militia had been brief before being called back for corporate duty. I sat patiently in an uncomfortable chair, awaiting the approval of a new corporate charter.

“Yes, everything looks in order.” The Gallente official looked up from behind the pile of paperwork and smiled. “The federation now recognizes you as the CEO of your new corporation. Congratulations.”

“Thanks,” I said, somewhat agitated. “I presume this corporation, being that I’m in charge, will be in good standing with the federation.”

“Uhh, yes, of course,” he said, nervously, “we’ll need to do some background checks first though, standard procedure.”

“Background checks! You can’t be serious,” I stood up angrily. “After all the crap I’ve done for the Federation…”

“It’s standard procedure,” he interrupted, his hands gesturing either for me to sit down or in an attempt to protect his face, I couldn’t tell which. “It takes about a week, there’s nothing I can do madame.”

“A week? Do you not have computers,” I took a deep breath, “fine, do your checks.”

I left the room, still trying to calm myself down, and activated the private channel on my neocom.

“It’s going to be a week before things are ready to go. Background checks or some nonsense. Is everything ready to go?”

“Hmm… well that’s ridiculous. Yeah, things are ready. We’ve negotiated the charters for anchoring and purchased a month’s worth of fuel… Damn, a week… what are you going to do with yourself for a week?”

I walked down the corridor toward the station center, a pink neon sign offered half price drinks after 7.

“What time is it?” I asked Rhys over the com.

“About half eight,” he replied, “why?”

“No reason,” I replied as I opened the door to the bar. “I’ll figure out something to do with myself. Talk to you in a couple days.”

Temporary Goodbyes

I docked the great hull of the bestower industrial at the Carthum factory in Pimebeka, for what would probably be the last time for a while. My hangar was unusually clear, all of my belongings either packaged up in containers for hauling or moved into holding as my brokers handled the job of disposing of them for isk. I exited my pod, gave the orders for the cargo bots to load the last few containers into the cargo hold, and exited the hangar via the freight elevator.

“Corporate level,” I said, and waited for several minutes as the elevator moved me through the massive metalworks of the station toward my destination. There was a slight jolt as the elevator shifted from vertical to horizontal. I peered out of the small round window as my conveyance sped a path over the main factory floor. An apocalypse was being assembled below me, the sheer size of the battleship giving the illusion that the elevator was moving much slower than it was. A half a minute later, the factory view was replaced by blackness as the elevator entered another shaft, and another jolt signaled it’s shift from horizontal to vertical.

Moment’s later the doors opened, and I stepped out into the central office of the Carthum Conglomerate.

“Welcome, how may I help?” The young amarr man smiled as I approached the lobby desk.

“I need to talk to someone about cashing in my corporate credits,” I replied as nicely as I could. He pressed a few buttons on the terminal in front of him and then looked up, “No problem Madame, room 35421,” he said as he handed me a datamemo with the number glowing on its surface. I thanked him and headed down the corridor to the office. Entering I was greeted by a portly man behind a desk.

“Well, Lady Ghenna. It’s great to see you,” he said standing up to shake my hand, “you’ve done a lot of work for us. What can I help you with?”

He offered me a seat, and I took it smiling. “I need some focus crystals, Amarr navy issue. Multi’s and Microwaves, and a few Standards and Gammas.”

“Not a problem,” he smiled, “what size?”

“Mostly smalls, a few mediums,” I pulled a datasheet out of my flight suit and handed it to him, “as soon as you can get them.”

He took the datasheet smiling, the smile fading slightly as he looked it over. “That’s a lot of ammo,” he finally replied, “how many loyalty credits are you planning on cashing in?”

“All of them,” I replied.

His smile returned, though a bit forced, “of course, we’ll get them ready for you today. It might take an hour or so.” He tapped his terminal screen for a few minutes, “hope you’re not leaving us. You’ve been a valuable asset.”

“Just for a while,” I replied. I still wasn’t sure how Carthum would take it if I told them I’d be using their crystals on the Caldari. I decided to say as little as possible.

“Okay, all done. Had to call in the lines from a few neigboring stations to get it filled quickly, but you’re a priortiy customer,” he winked at me lowering his tone of voice, “and the resell value of these things is very good, I’m sure you’ll do well.”

I stood up and bowed, “thank you, I’ll keep that in mind if there are any left over.”

He grimaced as I exited the office. I made my way back to the hangar and made small talk with a group of marines that seemed to have taken up residence in my nearly empty hangar.

A few hours later I bid my farwells to Amarr space for the time being. My corporate duties still required my presence for another week or so, but I no longer had business in the Empire.

One day, I thought to myself as I jumped my industrial across the Gallente border, I’d return.

The Eminent Rhys Thoth

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.”

The Ombernator

I pulled my Abaddon up next to the secure anchored container, targeted the massive veldspar asteroid and set my bank of mining lasers on full power. Then I sat back and waited for my cargo hold, made considerably larger by the cargo expansion modifications I had made, to fill up. I primed my digital cigarette and relaxed… I was going to be here for quite a while.

Meanwhile, less than a kilometer off sat several mining barges, tearing through asteroids at a pace that made my bank of eight mining lasers look like a waste of time, and a group of industrials sat like hawks, 160 km above us, waiting to swoop in, collect the ore and ferry it back to the corporate offices.

I mentally reassured my ship, which didn’t particularly care. “It’s okay girl, we’re helping the corp. We owe them a lot. I promise, after this we’ll put the guns back on and go shoot things all day long.”

“Hold nearing capacity,” came over my internal com. I gave the order for my cargo drones to transfer the ore to the external container. It was going to be a long night.

I spent several hours sitting in the asteroid field with the miners, tearing apart rocks and chatting in the local coms. To be honest, it was refreshing. Running security one can become overly serious. Conversations inevitably become very similar to interrogations: where? how long ago? who? how many? It was good to chat with people on a more personal level, as capusleers, instead of charges under my protection. They were all good people, they had families, dreams, ambitions.

After five hours in the field, there were no rocks left to mine, and I and the remaining retriever turned our slow hulls toward home to dock up. The corp coms reported our earinings: several million isk for the corporation and several million for my part in the operation. It was apparently a great success. I declined my cut, I made enough isk on my own endeavors, and saw no point to taking pay for the operation. I had my nav computer set a course for my home station in Pimebeka.

I left with a renewed sense of duty. In all my years as a military pilot, as a privateer, as a mercenary, I had only ever been charged with defending – or destroying – assets. Here, in this small budding corporation, I was responsible for defending people.

The difference was astonishing.