Pathways (Part 03): First Steps

Cierra walked briskly toward the docking ring. She couldn't quite believe the assignment she'd been given by her agent. It was completely out of line with what she was normally given, especially for an agent of such high standing.

"Who in the world am I couriering into the Empire?" she had asked incredulously.

"According to the Republic, she's a political dissident," her agent had told her. "One of the Empire's recently freed slaves, in fact."

Cierra rubbed the bridge of her nose as she remembered it. "And why, exactly, am I supposed to transport her back into the Empire?"

"Like I said, political dissident. Apparently, the Amarrian indoctrination took very well with her."

"That doesn't answer why it's my job to take her."

The agent had smiled ruefully. "Well, the Republic can't very well admit that it's shipping the very people it fought so hard to free back into the mouths of the slavers, can it? Not only would that
* a lot of people off, it'd pretty much destroy their credibility in international affairs."

"So what's to stop either of us from blowing the lid on it?"

"Me? Because I truly appreciate the difficulty of the situation the Republic's been put into. And with my good reputation, the Republic knows I won't choose someone who would blow the lid. Even if I did, well... No offense, Cierra, but you're not important enough for anyone to listen to."

She wasn't sure what specifically had her in an emotional maelstrom. To her, the Amarr and what they stood for was the greatest threat to the cluster she could fathom, much worse than rampant rogue drones, blood curdling pirates, or even apocalyptic madmen. So having to ship a former slave back to her masters - even if she believed her masters to be right - didn't sit well with Cierra.

But then, even as she thought about it, she wasn't sure that the problem wasn't really that her agent considered her unimportant enough to be no threat. She was a pod pilot, after all. A capsuleer. One of society's elite. How dare her agent think like that.

Of course, soon after she thought that, she felt terrible for even considering it. She was placing herself on a pedestal she didn't deserve to be on. Surely, such thoughts would lead to her becoming one of those madmen she saw on all the holos who proclaimed righteousness and demanded followers based simply on the fact they were capsuleers. So she must be angry because of the details of her mission.

Which started the entire thought process again.

Finally, she found herself in the docking ring. She headed for her ship, a small, fast frigate that would carry her and her passenger with no one else onboard. It was designed for speed and escapability, nothing else. With it, she could fly into Amarr territory, get to her destination, and be rid of her passenger.

When she got to the ship, she found her crew chief already waiting for her. "The ship is ready for departure," he told her.

"Good. Help me get out of these clothes." She stuck out her arm and the man grabbed the end of her sleeve as she tugged. She slid out of her jacket and started to unfasten her blouse, while the crew manager unlaced her boots.

"Excuse me," a voice came from behind her. Cierra turned to see a small-but-athletic looking Minmatar woman standing there, wearing Amarrian robes.

"Yes?" Cierra asked as she pulled the blouse over her head.

"What are you doing?" the woman asked.

"I'm getting undressed so I can get into the pod. I'm guessing you're my passenger."

"That's right," the woman answered. "My name is Gita."

"I don't care what your name is," Cierra answered. "Just get in the ship. I'll be in the pod soon and we'll be leaving right after."

"Yes, but... Why are you taking your clothes off? Shouldn't you already be in your pod suit?"

"No, I pilot in the nude," Cierra replied. She expected the Minmatar woman to be shocked, maybe even disgusted.

Instead, all she got was a small, "Oh," and a brief flash of surprise. "Yes, I suppose you're not in the military."

"No, I'm not."

"Ready," the crew manager said as he grabbed onto the waist on Cierra's pants. Cierra grunted and started to wiggle as the crew manager pulled down, slowly peeling the pants off like the skin of a fruit.

Cierra frowned as she noticed Gita merely watched her impassively. "You sure don't seem like a religious kook," Cierra said out loud.

Gita narrowed her eyes and said "What do you mean?" in a way that wasn't offended and was more suspicious.

"Well, you're so religious the Republic is kicking you out, right?" Cierra asked. "But you're just sitting there watching a Gallente woman get undressed and haven't even said anything about it."

Gita's cheeks started to darken, though the effect wasn't terribly noticeable considering her tanned skin. "You have no right to judge me," Cierra said, though not terribly firmly or convincing.

Cierra narrowed her eyes and snorted, then finished removing her clothes. "Whatever, just get in the ship and wait for me." Gita huffed and walked back into the ship. Cierra looked down at her crew chief, who was busy preparing the cables and tubing to hook Cierra into the pod. "There's no way she's who she says she is."

The crew chief looked up at her. "What do you mean?"

"She's no religious nut. She's lying about her identity. Plus, you can still see some scarring on the back of her neck, right around the place a pod implant would be." Cierra flinched a little as the crew manager plugged the cable into the exact implant she was talking about.

"So? Are you going to say anything?"

Cierra shook her head. "Not a chance. Why should I? She's a pod pilot whose had her implants removed. I don't want to know anything about her. I just want to drop her off in Tastela and be done with everything."

"Fair enough." The crew chief lifted the breathing mask to her face and helped her fit it on. "Alright, we're ready for you to be lifted into the pod."

Cierra nodded back to him and gave a thumbs up. A second later, a metal claw was gently hoisting her into the top of her capsule.

"What do you mean, I'm authorized?" Jotin asked.

"Exactly what I said, Jotin," his agent said flatly. "Hyasyoda is authorizing you to conduct negotiations with Lord Jerimiah regarding his purchase orders."

"With all due respect, Ms. Togami, I'm not a negotiator. I don't know the finer aspects of trade law or business. I'm trained as a combat pilot!"

"And that's why we think you will do an excellent job here," she said. "Lord Jerimiah is... an unusual person. He does not respond to the traditional techniques our negotiators and corporate lawyers usually use. Frankly, we think it's quite beneficial that he asked for you, of all people, to handle the negotiation."

"But I don't know the first thing about the current deal, or the prices and profit margins on the items we're selling him, or, well, anything that might be pertinent to negotiations."

Togami gave him a slight smile, the first one she'd allowed in the entire conversation. It looked wholly unnatural on her. "Don't worry, we'll send you that information now. Look over it. And if you need assistance understanding anything, ask your assistant. From what I understand, she is impeccably trained."

Jotin leaned back in his chair and sighed. "Very well. I'll do my best, Ms. Togami."

"Unless your best is success, then you must improve what your best is capable of. Togami out." With a brief flicker, the screen went dead. Jotin groaned and stood.

"Don't worry, Jotin, we'll manage it," Sneila said. "After all, how hard could negotiating with an Amarrian holder be?"

"I just hope Lord Jerimiah isn't a terribly shrewd businessman. Because I know I'm not."

The two walked out of the communications room together, with Sneila trailing a few steps behind Jotin. Jotin clasped his hands behind his back and walked tall and sure. "Oh, don't sell yourself short," Sneila said. "You are a Caldari, after all. That gives you a leg up right from the start."

"If I don't make any headway, I suppose I could always threaten to drop my ship on his city from orbit," Jotin mused. "With his giant gold palace on the very top, it'd make an easy target.

Sneila smiled. "See, there you go. Negotiate as if from a position of strength, even if you're not prepared to actually exert that strength." She stopped and tapped her finger on her lip in thought. "Though I don't suggest using that specific tactic. Threats of decimation generally aren't the best outside of combat."

He shook his head. "Well, we're likely to be in deep no matter what we do. Let's just hope for both our sakes that we manage to get what we want out of this deal."

A pair of nurses walked into the room. "Hello, Reena," one said. She recognized the voice as Tira Thoesis, an older nurse who had taken quite a shine to Reena.

"Hello, Madame Theosis," Reena said through her neural interface. The voice hummed and had a slightly metallic quality to it. Over the years, Reena had gotten used to it, though it never quite matched the voice she heard in her head.

"Oh, please," Tira said. "None of that Madame stuff, darling. You know how I hate that!"

"But you are a True Amarr. I'm just a simple Ni-Kunni girl."

Tira laughed. "Darling, you don't need to put on airs. You're married to a pod pilot, don't forget. I'm just a lowly commoner, not even fit enough to lick my Holder's boots."

Reena laughed, though the machine replicating her voice definitely didn't replicate her own laugh like it should sound. Unfortunately, she had no recordings of it to turn over to the engineers from before her accident, so the only thing they could go by was Adimas and her descriptions. Which, apparently, weren't at all accurate. What came out sounded more like a furrier in heat than her actual laugh.

The sound of it set Tira to laughing even more. "Oh, darling, how are you feeling today? Good, I hope."

"Yes, good. I'm happy, because Adimas is due back today from his null space excursion in Providence. It'll be the first time we've gotten to speak in person for a while. What about you?"

Tira shook her head. "Oh, well, I'm doing alright. Especially for being so old."

"Oh, quiet. You're barely eighty. Practically a spring chicken compared to some people."

"Maybe compared to a Holder I am but..." Tira suddenly grimaced and put a hand over her stomach. After a moment, the face passed and she shook her head.

"Are you alright?" the other nurse asked.

Tira waved him off. "Oh, yeah. Just a stomach cramp. Getting old, I guess."

The other nurse shook his head. "We've had a few people complain about that lately. It's only been through the nurses so far, so it's probably something they put in the food."

Tira shook her head. "Well, whatever it is, it's gone for now. So, Reena, lets get you into the bath. You ready?"

"Of course," Reena said.

"Alright. This may be a little uncomfortable." The male nurse lifted Reena into his arms while Tira unhooked the vocal transmitter from her implant. There was a small pinch, but it wasn't actually pain that Reena felt.

The male nurse carried her over to the tub, sat her in the chair sitting in the middle, then bowed lightly to Tira and left the room. "Now, let's get you out of that gown. After I get you clean, I'll dress you in one of those fancy dresses you have, so you can really impress Adimas when he comes back."

Reena simply blinked her eyes twice rapidly at Tira, a practiced sign to say "Ok."

Tira smiled and began stripping her down, only briefly stopping to rub her own stomach. "Ooh, I hope these cramps don't get much worse. That's the last thing I need today."

Part 4

Check out other stories that are Novella, EVE, Action, Horror, Science Fiction.
Permalink to Pathways (Part 03): First Steps.