The Collectors

The battlefield had already been canvassed by scavengers. They had plucked the skeletons of the destroyed ships clean, removing every last bit of wiring, circuitry, and scrap that might be worth even a Pator penny. For most, there was nothing here of interest. There was nothing that could be gained from this site of death.

But death was what Talen and his crew trafficked in. Not dealing it, of course. The men on board his ship were cowards with weak hearts and slow minds. Talen himself was little better, having neither the bravery to charge into battle nor the charisma to lead men from afar. But what they all had was strong stomachs and few moral qualms.

“A good haul,” Talen said to his first mate. “There’s enough biomass out there to fill our entire cargo hold.”

His first mate, a dirty man named Bark who had achieved his position simply by sticking around the longest, nodded his head. “Yeah, too bad there ain’t a lotta high grade stuff. Most we’re gettin’ is D-grade, C-grade at best.”

Talen sighed. “Well, that’s what happens when a doomsday gets fired. It don’t leave good corpses.”

Bark turned to one of the crewman, a younger man who hadn’t been out on too many missions yet. “You, kid. Look up the goin’ prices on C- and D-grade biomass.”

The crewman brought up some lists on the computers. “Poteque: C for .37 ISK a kilo, D for .10 ISK a kilo. Zainou: C for .39 ISK a kilo, D for .13 ISK a kilo. Genolution: C for .38 ISK a kilo, D for .09 ISK a kilo. Lai Dai: C for - ”

“Shut up with those big ones!” Bark growled. “Gimmie the small companies only, please.”

The crewman hesitated. “Uhh, yes, sir.” He scanned down the list. “Alright, True Rebirth: C for .53 ISK a kilo, D for .26 ISK a kilo. Clonomics: C for .50 ISK a kilo, D for .24 ISK a kilo. Fitzrey’s Discount Cloning Emporium: C for .47 ISK a kilo, D for .20 ISK a kilo. Giffen: C for .51 ISK a kilo, D for .25 ISK a kilo.”

“Ok, that’s enough,” Talen said. “Doubt we’re gonna get better than Giffen. They must be running low on stock to go that high.”

“What’re you talkin’ about?” Bark asked. “True Rebirth was paying way more than Giffen!”

“Yeah, but I’m not selling to Sansha’s Nation.”

“Yer crazy! Just because it’s got the word ‘True’ in its name don’t mean it’s a Sansha front!”

“You were there when we talked to the rep last time! She was a Sansha zombie if I’ve ever seen one.”

“She was just boring! You would be too if you worked for a low-end cloning facility that has to pay almost double what the big boys are paying for low grade stuff, just because you can’t afford to buy high grade stuff!”

Talen crossed his arms. “I’m not selling to Sansha. We’re selling to Giffen.”

“Yeah, like sellin’ it to the damn Guristas is any better.”

“They’re not actually Guristas.”

Bark snorted. “Maybe not, but that’s who most of their customers are. Bah, I supposed it don’t matter. They’re closer anyway. It’ll save us a few dozen jumps.”

Talen grinned and patted Bark on the shoulder. “Yeah, who knows, we might even be able to - ”

“Captain Talen, you might wanna come down to the hold,” the communicator chimed.

Talen shook his head. “Why would I wanna do that? Tell me what you mean, don’t give me that ‘You gotta see this!’ crap!”

“We’ve got a A-grade body.”

“And why should I - ”

“It’s a capsuleer’s A-grade body.”

Talen and Bark looked at each other. “We gotta see this,” Talen said.

Talen peered at the frozen corpse. “It’s definitely A-grade,” he said, his breath fogging in the freezer. “Not a scorch on it. Ice crystal formation hasn’t caused any ruptures in the skin.”

“The bitch looks good enough to screw, for sure,” Bark said, stuffing his hands under his armpits for warmth. “Any idea who she is?”

“Not a damn idea,” Talen answered. “Don’t matter. We hit the jackpot.”

“Who do you wanna go to with it? The crazy, the fanatic, or the creep?”

Talen rubbed his chin. “Well, the crazy probably won’t want ‘er unless he can figure out how she screwed him over some time before.”

“Yeah, but you know how easy it is to convince him that she did.”

“Right, right. But don’t mean he’ll pay the most. The fanatic… Well, who knows if he’ll even want a Gallente.”

“You kidding? The corpse of a Gallente would probably make him wet himself. The only way it’d be better is if she was a Minnie.”

“The creep, well… Look at ‘er. He’d buy her up before we could blink.”

“Still, I hate going there. It’s… well, creepy.”

“I know, I know. The creep’s a last resort.”

“Yeah, last resort.” Bark hopped back and forth. “Now let’s get out of this freezer. I’m freezing my balls off.”

The crazy was Olavi Kei, former capsuleer, former CEO, current bat-shit insane recluse. Rumors swirled about what happened to him. But all anyone knows is that one day, he got himself killed and recloned into a body without pod implants and he never got them replaced. His corporation disbanded and he took what wealth he had hidden in private accounts and went into hiding.
Ever since, he’d vowed revenge against a number of current capsuleers. Many of them hadn’t even been pod pilots when Olavi was, but he vowed revenge nonetheless. If he wasn’t so rich, most people would feel sorry for him.

“Who is she?” he rasped, running his hand down the glass tube the corpse was stored in.

“Don’t you know?” Talen asked. He’d played this game with Olavi before.

“Should I?”

“I thought you would, after what she did to you.”

Olavi sucked in a breath. “What did she do to me?”

Talen shook his head. “You mean you don’t remember?”

Olavi narrowed his eyes at Talen. “Of course I do. But I want to hear you say it.” For all his insanity, Olavi wasn’t naive, unfortunately.

“Bark, why don’t you tell him?” Talen said.

Bark shook his head. “Oh, terrible, terrible stuff,” Bark said. “This lady here, she was one of the worst. One of the worst!”

“Yes, yes, of course she was!” Olavi growled. “A terrible witch.”

“You know it better than me!” Bark said with a sage nod. “She never did any of that stuff to me. You know, if she had, I don’t know how I’d have gone on.”

“I am a stronger man,” Olavi said. “I was a capsuleer.”

“A much stronger man, sir,” Bark agreed. “I envy you, really. Especially since you can get your revenge against this here lady who hurt you so bad.”

“Well, it wasn’t that bad,” Olavi said. “She only destroyed one of my battleships!”

Talen and Bark grinned at each other. “Oh, yes sir, but do you remember which battleship?” Talen asked.

“Which?” Olavi asked. “I had so many.”

“You know, the one that you loved so much,” Talen told him.

Olavi shook his head. “No, no. It wasn’t her that destroyed that one. No. Wasn’t a woman who did that, but a man. I… Wait…” Olavi peered at the corpse, then slowly turned to Talen and Bark. “Are you trying to trick me?”

Talen threw up his hands defensively. “No! Of course not, sir! We’d never do that.”

Olavi sneered. “Well, maybe not, maybe not. But I don’t recognize her, not much. Maybe I will later, though. I can never say when I’ll remember who did what to me… But right now, she’s not worth more than… ten thousand ISK.”

“Ten thousand?” Talen groaned. “But sir, this is an A-grade corpse! You don’t just find those lying around!”

“A-grade, B-grade, Q-grade. It doesn’t matter to me. Ten thousand. That’s my offer. Take it or leave it.”

“What do you think Olavi does with the corpses anyway?” Bark asked. “Never see him displayin’ ‘em like the others.”

Talen shrugged. “Who knows? Maybe he keeps them all in his basement and peers at them in the wee hours of the night, watching them and taunting them.”

Bark snorted. “Probably not tauntin’ em. Probably just makin’ sure they don’t come to get him any more. Crazy bastard.”

“Maybe. Still, this corpse is worth more than ten thousand. Let’s go to the fanatic next, see what he’ll give us.”

The fanatic was Lord Mentas Gran, Amarrian Holder. He was one of the preeminent art collectors in the entire Empire. Not only did he own thousands of the Empire’s most beloved pieces, he regularly held public exhibitions of them, donated massive amounts of money to museums and art institutes, and commissioned dozens of young artists every year, launching them into fame.
But his most prized collection was the one the fewest people saw. It was his collection of capsuleer corpses, forever frozen in positions of torment and torture.

For while the man appreciated the beauty and glory of God and his faithful, he loved the pain and suffering inflicted upon the unholy. And he considered few more unholy than the capsuleers.

“Soulless abominations,” he said, looking at one of his current possessions. “Miserable wretches born of man’s pride. They will bring the end of us all, I fear. But while those of us who remain clean shall join God in His Heaven, they shall suffer eternal damnation.” The glass case contained both an Amarrian and Minmatar corpse, locked together as if in battle, expressions of pain and terror on their faces. Tiny demons were painted around the outside of the case, jabbing at the two with swords and pitchforks.

“That’s good and all, Lord Gran,” Talen said, only briefly glancing at it. “So, what about our corpse?”

Lord Gran nodded and walked slowly around the corpse. “It is quite the specimen. I see no damage from weapons fire. There are few marks from its exposure to the vacuum.” He got close to the glass and peered through.

“Yep, quite a good find,” Talen remarked.

“Do you mind if I take a closer look?”

Talen shook his head. “Not at all.”

Lord Gran smiled and pulled out a small loupe and held it up to his eye. He opened the glass tube the corpse was in, allowing a cold fog to pour out onto the floor. “Yes, yes… Quite good, quite good.” He slowly passed over parts of the corpse’s skin, inspecting every inch. “Very little cellular damage from the ice crystals. No breaks on the skin or unsightly discoloration from pooling blood. Good good…”

“So, how much are you willing to pay?” Talen asked.

Lord Gran stiffened and pulled away from the corpse. He lightly shut the door on the case and turned to the two men. “Who is she?” he asked.

Talen turned to Bark. “You mean you don’t know?” Bark asked.

Lord Gran let out a clipped laugh. “Don’t try that with me. I am not a fool, like that madman Kei. I don’t recognize her, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t famous.”

“Well, she was someone,” Bark said. “She is a Gallente capsuleer. Died in a fight against a titan. Makes her gotta be worth something, right?”

Lord Gran shook his head. “Please, I have dozens just like her. Female Gallente capsuleers might be even more sinful than normal capsuleers. Only the Lord knows what goes through the sick minds of the depraved Gallente people. But I’m not going to pay a premium just for any one.”

Talen gave it one last shot. “She did die fighting an Avatar. Looks like her ship probably got taken out by its doomsday, then her pod got finished off by more conventional weaponry.”

Lord Gran quirked his head to the side. “An Avatar, hmm? I suppose I can have that authenticated, once I have my people identify her. That would make her… rather unique in my collection.”

Bark and Talen grinned at each other. “Then you’re interested, yeah?” Bark asked.

“I am, but she’s still a nobody. I can’t see parting with more than… oh… twenty thousand ISK for it.”

Bark’s eyes widened and he opened his mouth, but Talen grabbed him and pulled him aside. “I think we can get more.”

“More?” Bark growled. “Twenty thousand? We can’t pass that up! That’s more than the rest of our haul put together!”

“But the creep will pay way more than that,” Talen said. “We can get more. I promise.”

“I don’t want to sell to the creep. It’s not worth it.”

“It’s someone’s dead body. Hell, the lady that owned it probably forgot all about it by now! She’s probably out making more dead bodies right now! Why do you give a shit?”

Bark gritted his teeth. “I don’t like it,” he said.

“Ok, fine. I’ll see if I can’t get more from the fanatic. But if he doesn’t go up, no deal. Ok?”

“Fine,” Bark huffed.

Talen walked back to Lord Gran. “Lord Gran, I think that we can - ”

“No,” Lord Gran said. “Twenty thousand is my offer, take it or leave it. Sooner or later, another A-grade Gallente corpse that faced a doomsday will come my way.”

“But we - ”

“If you think you can find a better offer, then go. But if you leave here, I will lower my offer when you come back begging for me to take it off your hands.”

Bark suddenly smiled and grabbed Talen’s hand. “Good, then we’ll just be going.”

Lord Gran frowned, but said nothing as the two wheeled the corpse out.

“I thought you didn’t want to go to the creep,” Talen said.

“I don’t. But you could see Lord Gran wanted that thing. He was tryin’ to bully us with that whole ‘lower my offer’ crap.”

“I know. So why didn’t you take it?”

“Cause, that means he really wants it. If we tell him the creep made a bigger offer - and your right, the creep will - then Gran’ll double it. Easy.”

“What makes you say that?”

Bark grinned. “Call it a hunch.”

The creep was Jerrih Linder. He had old money, money from back before the Caldari-Gallente War.

“She’s so beautiful,” Jerrih said, lightly running his hand over the glass tube. “Oh, so beautiful.”

“Yeah,” Talen said. “So, what’ll you give us for her?”

He was trying not to look around him. As much as Lord Gran’s collection bothered him, it never really disturbed him like Jerrih’s. All of the corpses were women, all probably very beautiful when alive. All had been outfitted with elaborate dresses and jewelry, their faces made up perfectly, and posed primly on benches or chairs. Each wore a hauntingly empty smile.

“She’ll be like this forever,” Jerrih muttered. “Always pure. Always perfect. My perfect little doll…”

“Yeah, so,” Talen said, sternly. “A price?” Bark had refused to even come into the house and meet Jerrih.

“Fifty thousand,” Jerrih said. “She is so gorgeous. My last Gallente doesn’t like me much any more. Her smile is fading, I think. Maybe when she sees her new friend - and her new rival - she’ll be happy again.”

Talen swallowed hard. “Fifty thousand? That’s - ”

“Not enough? Fine… Seventy thousand,” Jerrih said.

Talen’s eyes went wide. Seventy thousand was an immense figure. “I have to speak with my partner about that.” He nervously flipped open his communicator and walked a fair distance away from Jerrih. “He wants to give us seventy thousand,” Talen whispered.

“Seventy thousand?” Bark gasped back. “Why didn’t you accept? Immediately?”

“I thought you… Didn’t want to do it.”

“Yeah, but for seventy thousand? Screw the morals! You get your ass over to him and sell that bitch!”

“Alright, if you - ”

“Wait a second… I just got a communication from Lord Gran.”

“What does it say?”

“He heard we were going to the creep. He wants to negotiate.” Before Talen could say anything, Bark spoke again. “Great, and now the crazy wants to talk to us again too! He thinks he remembers where he knows the corpse from.”

Talen laughed. “Great. Great! Bring ‘em both up on comm channels. I’ll be up there in a few minutes.” He turned and walked back to Jerrih. “Mr. Linder, I’d love to sell her to you. But you see, we have some other offers, and - ”

“Let me speak with them. I won’t let her escape my collection. Never, ever.”

Talen grinned and rubbed his hands together. “I thought you might say that…”

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