* * * * *
We entered the dark interior of the Vortex and let our eyes adjust to the dim indirect lighting. It wasn't very busy for an evening with only a handful of patrons enjoying the game machines at the back of the establishment, two men sitting at the bar on the left watching a sporting event on the out of focus vid screen (some sort of fighting thing if I recall correctly), and two men sitting at a small table near the far right wall.
I conferred with Korannon quickly and confirmed that our contacts would be at a table instead of the bar and then we made our way through the empty chairs and tables to the waiting duo. The place smelled of stale alcohol and cleaner but was not grimy and looked to be in decent repair (except for the vid screen which was driving me crazy... I remember I made sure to sit with my back to it). I figured it probably got busier later and a couple nights later I came back on the eve of a Restday and sure enough, the place was packed with university students and young adults looking for a good time. I barely recognized the place then.
"Rusack?" I queried the pair as we got to their table.
One of the men got up from his seat and smiled as he reached over the shake my hand. He had dirty blond wavey hair and bright white teeth that flashed as he smiled, but the eyes were dark and hard. "That's me! You are Kirith, right? And you must be Korannon," he said as he switched his handshake to my brother.
I reached out to the other man and said perfunctorily, "Nice to meet you."
He looked up for the first time and I realized he was Gallentean with fine features for his face and a slim wiry body. He looked about my age but his eyes were disinterested and he did not move his arms to shake my hand. I awkwardly pulled my hand back and sat myself down and he went back to staring at his drink. That was when I noticed one of the implant jacks on the side of his skull and I realized with a start he was a capsuleer.
"This is my associate Barak Vorn," Rusack introduced jovially, "but don't mind him, he doesn't talk much."
I sat down and made small talk with Rusack while Vorn sat silently and Kornannon went to the bar to get a drink for me and him. When he was back and seated he said, "Ok, let's get down to business." Ah, my brother: always direct and to the point.
"Jeez, don't waste any time, does he?" Rusack joked with me as he noticed my rolling eyes. We chuckled at my brother's expense and made a few jokes about how the ladies appreciate a slow hand. Of course my brother flushed with embarassment and tried to laugh it off but I could see he was really feeling uncomfortable so I steered the conversation back.
"My friend said you needed some help moving some stuff. Since you couldn't talk about it over the 'net I assume its not exactly legal."
"Bah," Rusack waved dismissively, "its not drugs or weapons or anything like that. Its some Desirree Inc hovercraft ATVs from Gallente that got hit with a huge import tax in that bill last year."
"The 'State Interests' act?"
"Yeah, that one."
Korannon nodded as he tried to join the conversation having recovered from his embarassment. "Right, there was a clause that imposed a 95% tax on any mechanical goods imported to the State for non-necessary purposes."
"That killed the pleasure vehicle market all over the place. But the demand is still there and if someone could get a few thousand of these for sale with only a 50% markup over pre-tax retail price..." Rusack's voice trailed off as he smirked and watched our faces do the math. Prior to the import levy these ATVs ranged from 5000 to 10000 credits each and the Desirree built the high end ones. We were looking at millions of credits profit and although Korannon and I came from a relatively rich family, it was still a lot of money.
I smiled. "Colour me interested. So what's the plan?"
"My friend Barak here has 2500 ATVs in the hold of his ship docked at station. We need someone with a clean background to act as brokers and set up a corporation. Then they act as if they are receiving a load of frozen food supplies and the import tax will be levied against your corporate accounts for which I'll provide the cost to cover."
"The levy on that much bulk frozen food will not be insignificant," Korannon pointed out.
"I know but I'm not without means," Rusack said confidently. "Once the ATVs have cleared the port authority and are in your corporate hangers we can arrange for shipment to several dealers on the surface and to nearby systems. The dealers, of course, will pay up front and we won't have to wait for our payout. The profit is split 25% each, after expenses." He indicated the four of us sitting at the table.
"It sounds very interesting, Rusack," I began to say but was interupted by my tackless and sometimes clueless brother. "Why does he get a full share?" He said nodding towards the silent pod pilot. "He takes no risk and does no work. Seems a little unfair."
Barak Vorn, who up to this point had been studying his ice melt in his drink, looked up across the table to my brother with those flat eyes. Then he began to speak in a flat even low voice in the distinctive accent of the Gallente.
"The reason is because my ship spent three days travelling 30 light years from Pelille system, dodging pirates, border guards, and overly enthusastic customs officers to get her. My ship that costs hundreds of thousands of ISK per day to maintain and pay crew and is actually losing me money every day that it sits in dock. And because without me, the rest of you have nothing to sell." He didn't raise his voice or get emtional but Korannon looked as if he had been punched in the gut.
"I... I... I am sorry... I didn't think..." he stuttered and I moved in to smooth things over.
"You'll have to forgive my brother. Its our first business dealing with a capsuleer and he often speaks his mind too quickly." But the pod pilot simply shrugged and went back to watching his drink approach room temperature.
I turned back to Rusack. "We'll need to talk about it but it sounds like a good plan."
"Great! Here is the number of my buddy in the Department of Commerce who can get you set up with a corporate office and a hanger in the station." He handed a card to me and we all stood up and Rusack shook our hands with pleasantries and big white smiles while Barak Vorn turned and walked over to the bar. Rusack took his leave of us and exited the bar and Korannon excused himself to the washroom so I sauntered over to the bar to check out what was on the vidscreen now. The previous occupants of the bar had left while we were talking and the screen was showing an old holoreel from a couple years ago I had already seen.
"Hey kid." I turned startled to the Gallentean voice and was surprised to see Vorn actually looking at me instead of through me. "Watch yourself with Rusack, ok?"
"Pardon me?" I asked stupidly, still taken aback that the pod pilot could actually show facial expressions.
"Rusack. He's got a rep for being... slippery."
Over my shock, I was mildly put off at being called a 'kid' by someone who was practically the same age I was (but really wasn't due to the cloning) and and some knee-jerk patriotism kicked in and I said some words I immediately regretted. "We Caldari don't treat each other the way you Gallanteans do, so don't worry about me."
His face went blank again, he muttered "whatever", flicked a credit chip to the barkeep, and walked out without a second look back. I half considered running after him to apologize for acting like a backwater-world hick but I didn't. Instead I waited for my brother and I spent the rest of the night mentally kicking myself once we agreed that we would go ahead with the plan after a few minutes of chatting.
Years later after I became a pod pilot I ended up in a corporation with Barak Vorn and I apologized to him face to face like I never got to properly. He said not to worry about it and that before he became a pilot and saw more of the cluster he thought the same way about Caldari. We are more alike than anyone in power will admit.