Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6
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I went down the wrong corridor on my way to my apartment, backtracked, then fumbled with the passcode, Nhi'Khuna's words still ringing in my ears .
Did you ever wonder why those mining outpost drones keep going haywire? Why they can't keep them operating normally and not attacking and killing anything that moves? Its because the corporation's competitors hire hackers to attack the drones' programming. All the corporations do it, a constant battle between techheads to see who can erect and breakdown firewalls faster, whose virus detector is more advanced, whose worm is more invasive. Its been going on so long all of the corporations assume its the nature of the business, the lives of poor miners and pilots lost a simple value in the accounting spreadsheet.
I stumbled into my apartment and turned on the lights. I had gotten my food to go so I placed the bag on the counter, not feeling as hungry as I did before.
Those "hard to find smokes" she sent you to get from a system or two over? Smuggling the results of industrial espionage in nano circuits in the packaging. That crate of imported Amarrian spiced wine? One bottle of custom genetic splicing poison. Capsuleers are used to avoid any chance of detection for these things.
I figured a shower, hot to the point of scalding, might help.
The shower didn't help. Time for a drink and I head to the fridge.
Did you ever wonder where the hordes of Guristas pirates came from around here, deep in the State? Why the local military forces are helpless to stop them from setting up outposts, smuggler's gates, black markets? And how can there be so many? I'll tell you why.
The life of the average citizen is hell. Living in industrial complexes on inhospitable worlds with no hope of real advancement, health issues from hazardous working conditions, sometimes forced to watch their children starve while they grow up with rudimentary education and no hope for the future. Its hell, Kirith, and billions upon billions are stuck in it.
Guristas recruiters come around and offer a chance at a better life. An outside chance to be sure, and years of indentured servitude without even the facade of law and corporate regulations to protect them, but one in a million of new recruits becomes rich beyond their dreams so the hordes of desperate souls feel it is worth it.
They go in debt to the Guristas, buying ragtag ships that are little better than deathtraps by borrowing at rates that would make your banker father squeal in delight, and are organized into haphazard fleets. Then with liberal bribes to government officials (and more debt to the Guristas overlords) they get permission to setup shop in a system and mine asteroids, pirate civilian traffic, salvage wrecks, hire themselves out as muscle, move illegal goods or sell illegal services, whatever they can to make a buck.
But the officials want that space for another group of desperate souls. Gotta keep the system moving, right? So they write up official complaints about pirate infestation for the State and get approval to hire contractors to take care of the issue. They take government money, taxed the corporations who bleed it from the same poor masses stuck on the planets, and give it to agent to hire a capsuleer to remove the problem.
The corporation gets some population control on old established colonies, the Guristas get indentured servants for life pretty much, the corrupt officials get the bribes, the agent gets a share and the capsuleer gets a share and the warm fuzzy feeling of "fighting evil pirates". Everyone wins, right?
As I pass through my living room my neocom beeps and a message appears on the apartment screen. it reads:
"Kirith, good work on that last one. When you're not busy, I have some more work for you. Details below. Love, Lisa G"
I opened up the attachment while a ball of mud sat in the bottom of my stomach. Mining habit under siege, caught between warring pirate factions. Go in, get the miners out. I wondered how much they would be charged for the rescue services. I wondered who paid the pirates to attack the mining operation, and who paid to protect it. I wondered if it mattered.
The offered payment was over 200,000 ISK. I told the neocom to call up the agent. I wasn't sure what my response was going to be.
She came on the viewscreen with her trademark smile and said, "Kirith! Good to see you! You got my message then?"
"Yeah, Lisa, I did."
"So how soon can you get it done?"
I swallowed hard. I thought about everything Nhi'Khuna said, I thought about the image of those "pirates" in the ships I was being asked to engage and possibly destroy, simply looking for a better life with no other choice. And I thought about the money.
"Hello? Honey? What's wrong?" she said with what appeared genuine concern in her voice. A bitter part of me figured it was probably just worry about losing a good tool. I thought about the Navy and how they kicked me out for protecting the innocent; I thought about Rusack and how he walked free after shooting my brother; I thought about Blodel and his slaves that the State simply turned a blind eye to; and I thought about my father.
And at that point my love for Caldari broke. Deep down I realized that up to now I still thought the State was a good thing, perhaps with rough edges, but still inherently good and filled with good people. But no longer. I now saw the greed and corruption that stood over a rotting carcass of an ideal, and the millions of lives it chewed up and spit out as it consumed everything in its path.
"Nothing wrong, Lisa, just got something caught in my throat," I stammered. "I'm just calling to tell you that this mission sounds risky and I'll only do it for 250."
Her face took on a look of surprise and a slight grin. "Negotiating terms now, eh?" Laughing she said, "OK, just this once but only because I like you. Don't think this means it will work ever again." She pressed some buttons and the details on the other panel changed to show the new value for the mission. "You'll get this done sooner rather than later, hon?"
"Yeah, Lisa. No problem."