Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8
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The restaurant was small but since its clientele was mostly capsuleers that was not surprising. It made up for volume with the exorbitant prices that they charged for the food. Don't get me wrong, the food was good but not for the price they charged. I guess you paid a premium for the exclusivity.
Nhi'Khuna had requested we go to a restaurant instead of a bar as she had been "in a pod for days" and wanted "a warm meal for a change". That was fine with me and we ate together while making small talk about various topics. It had been a long time since I had a warm meal too so I found myself enjoying it and relaxing.
After the meal was finished and we had a light after-dinner wine in our hands, Khi'Khuna activated the privacy shield of our table and I knew it was time to get down to business. The privacy shield was a simple energy distortion field that surrounded the table made the people inside look as if they were on the other side of frosted glass, and it muffled all sound in the process. It wouldn't stop someone from passing through (might make their hair stand on end) but it allowed us to talk freely without being heard.
"Thanks for coming back again. I'm really sorry I ran out on you last time," I started after the field was up.
She waved off the apology while taking a sip from her glass. "It's not a problem, Kirith. I can understand the shock to the system to find out everything you thought you understood was possibly wrong. You should have seen me after I left seminary and saw the real universe beyond Amarr. I was a wreck for months."
"So I'm interested to hear about your outfit. You said you were looking for someone with my skills?"
Nhi'Khuna leaned forward and put her wine down. "Alright, let me give you the whole spiel from the start."
"What is the greatest threat to the securities of the four major empires today? Pirates? Rogue Drones? Each other? No. Its the pod pilots. The CONCORD agreements which were put in place to protect the private podders from being practically enslaved by the empires has had the opposite effect of giving too much power to them.
"Pod pilots can go anywhere, can almost never be stopped without serious effort, and have been banding together in greater numbers with more asset acquisition that is only accelerating as they push deeper in the unclaimed space where the pirates once held absolute sway.
"The empires know this but are helpless to change it or stop it from getting worse. Their hands are tied by numerous treaties with each other and CONCORD, fearing that any lone legislative attempt to curb the power of the pod pilots would only bring sanctions and isolate them to their disadvantage.
"So what are their options? Mercenaries, right? Clandestine hiring of groups to harass and weaken the capsuleers would work wonders except most conventional mercenary groups are completely outclassed by a single experienced podder. Work with the pirate groups maybe? They may have more firepower but any efforts to bring enough to deal with us would look like a full scale invasion of empire space, and the costs that the pirates would ask for would be excessive.
"No, the best option is other pod pilots. Turn them against each other, right? That's where our corp comes in. It is called Interstellar Privateers of Res Comunis, ticker IPRC. You see, there are unofficial channels for the governments- in our case the Federation- to contact us and arrange for us to patrol and secure certain sections of their space making it difficult for non-affiliated pod pilots to operate there."
"Sounds a lot like piracy," I interjected.
"We prefer to call ourselves privateers instead of pirates. After all, we are working, however far off the books, for the government."
"Won't make much difference to the people you kill."
She shook her head. "Its not like that. We take great care to make sure any crews of ships we attack are given adequate time to get to the life pods, and any capsuleers we take out simply revive in a new clone."
"I dunno," I said doubtfully. "Still sounds illegal."
"Oh, it definitely is. The officials that contract us to do what we do have to keep it all off the books. Hence we are not in a contract and not paid directly. Our compensation is often in the form of special prices for supplies and extra resources to work with. Specially trained crew members, hanger crew, ammunition, larger accomodations in the stations, etcetera."
"So how do you avoid CONCORD if its illegal?"
"We operate in the 'low security' space where CONCORD lacks the rapid resposne teams that they have in the rest of the empire. Their forces usually show up hours after we are gone, or sooner if we tip off the local law enforcement that there are escape pods to rescue.
"But make no mistake; we are doing a good thing here. We are weakening the stranglehold of the exploiters amoungst our class on the empires. The areas we secure break the strangholds of the agents and starve them of the cash they need to exploit others."
"So you work with the downtrodden pirates then?"
"No. When our patrols come across them we deal with them like everyone else. I sympathize with their plight and how they feel they have no other option, but they made a choice to be there and would kill me without a second thought if they had the chance. Plus CONCORD will still pay the bounty despite our other illegal actions and give us 'security credits' to redeem ourselves. Not sure what they were thinking when they put those rules in place..."
"Anyways, we are still careful to allow the life pods to get to safety before destroying the pirate ships. But like I said, most of our efforts go to fighting and destroying other pod pilots. We make space better for everyone with our actions, we break the power of the agents."
I had my doubts, but I felt adrift in my life. I knew I would take the chance to find something.
"I'll need time to think about it," I told her, not wanting to appear to eager.
"Sure," she answered, "take a few days. I'm not in a hurry. I do have one question for you though."
"Are the drugs going to be a problem?"
I started to protest and say I didn't know what she was talking about but she simply raised one eyebrow as if to say I could not fool her. I stopped and cleared my throat. "No," I finally answered. "They were a... crutch. Its done now."
She nodded as if that was enough. "Its not a big deal. We have a few casual users in the corp and as long as they show up in their ships we don't care too much. If it gets in the way of you contributing, we'll cut you loose, understand?"
"Yeah," I said, "I get it."
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Later that night I was in my room and looking at Nhi'Khuna at the view screen.
"I've decided I'd like to give IPRC a try."
"Excellent. I'll forward the paperwork and we arrange to meet in a few days so I can escort you to our base."
"That's ok, Nhi. I can fly there myself."
She chuckled and shook her head. "You're not ready for low sec. Not yet." She disconnected and I was left feeling a little embarassed and pissed at her condenscation but forced to admit she was probably right. All my experience with no CONCORD patrolled space was in the structure of the Navy with its support fleets.
I sat on my couch and wondered what to do with myself. I had to sell some extra assets; I wanted to travel light. But I could do that tomorrow. The latest holoreel? Garbage. To the clubs?
One last pill for old time's sake? The little metal container felt cool and comforting in my hand.