Pathways (Part 05): The Long Road Ahead

Cierra had arrived in Tastela with Gita early in the morning and dropped her off at a small private station orbiting one of the planets. On the night side of the planet, numerous small blobs of light displayed the centers of civilization.

"So, what are you doing in Tastela?" Cierra asked Gita as they both disembarked.

"That's not your business," Gita answered.

Cierra smirked. "Well, you know, I've been thinking of taking a few days off. I've never really been to an Amarrian planet before." Gita's eyes widened slightly. "I think I might head down planetside and check it out."

Gita bit her bottom lip. "You should not do that," she said, in a low whisper that attempted to be a growl but came off forced.

"Oh? Why not?" Cierra probed.

Gita paused and narrowed her eyes. She was thinking, Cierra could tell. Trying to come up with an excuse for why Cierra should not go planetside. "You are a filthy Gallente," Gita finally said, lamely. "You should not blemish a great Amarrian planet with your presence."

Cierra laughed at the absurdity of the statement. Gita's face darkened in a mix of embarrassment and anger. "Here's a tip," Cierra said. "A lie doesn't work when you have no confidence in it. Next time you tell someone you hate them, think of something you actually do hate when saying it. But just be careful not to slip up."

Gita's face twisted in a frown. "Don't say I didn't warn you."

"Ah, now that was the truth," Cierra said. "But I still think I'm going to head down to the planet. Do some sight seeing. And who knows what else?"

Gita sighed and turned away from her without another word. Cierra simply nodded to herself then went back into the frigate to send a message home to Nora. For some reason, this Minmatar woman intrigued her and she would find out what she was doing on this planet, no matter what.

The meeting with Lord Jerimiah was going exactly as Jotin had imagined it. Incredibly poorly. Holders were not known for their gregarious and jovial moods, but among them, Lord Jerimiah had to be one of the most obstinate and antagonistic. He treated this negotiation as if it were a battle. And while Jotin could appreciate that as a very Caldari way of thinking, Lord Jerimiah definitely did not employ what could be called Caldari battle tactics.

"Your counter offer is offensive," Lord Jerimiah growled from the other end of a long table. Behind Lord Jerimiah stood two large Kameiras. Behind them was a grand tapestry displaying - from what Jotin could gather by looking at it - a history of the Jerimiah Family that stretched back to the days of the original Reclaiming.

Apparently, the Jerimiah Family had seen - and been responsible for - a large amount of bloodshed in the name of the Empire.

Jotin told himself he was not bothered by the theatrics Lord Jerimiah employed to gain a psychological advantage. In fact, he felt no nervousness at all. He felt supremely confident in himself and saw this man - soft, slightly pudgy, and progressing from an opulent youth into an opulent middle age - as beneath him. He felt annoyed, more than anything. Annoyed at how anti-Caldari he was.

And that bothered Jotin to no end, because business was to be dispassionate and logical and cold. That Lord Jerimiah had managed to evoke a feeling of contempt gave him an advantage. Jotin could not wait for this farce to be over.

"Lord Jerimiah, I'm afraid that Hyasyoda simply cannot lower the prices of these components any further," Sneila said. "Not at the amounts you are purchasing them, at least. You would need to at least triple the size of your shipments in order to get such a discount.

Lord Jerimiah laughed harshly. "Triple my order size? That's a fine thought, except that I know how things work with you. You'd more than triple the freight fee, I know it. Perhaps if you would promise to keep the freight fee at its current rates, then I could see doing that."

Sneila's face scrunched into a small frown. Jotin stood up. "Perhaps you simply wish to waste our time," he said. The two Kameiras made a single small step forward. "We have been at this meeting for three hours already. So far we have accomplished nothing. You constantly reject our offers and insist on ludicrous discounts. Any attempt to meet you half way is met with some equally disingenuous provision designed to keep us from ever agreeing."

Lord Jerimiah leaned back in his chain, steepled his fingers, and smiled. "Oh my," he said. "I do believe the tensions have risen to untenable levels." He rose from his chair. "I believe we should call a recess of an hour. Perhaps we can all have lunch, rest our minds and tempers, and come back to this."

The Holder didn't allow either Caldari a chance to object and simple strode from the room, his two guards following several steps behind. Jotin sighed and slumped back into his seat.

"That went well," Sneila said without any hint of sarcasm.

Jotin rubbed his face. "What do you mean? That went terribly."

"No," Sneila said. "It went perfectly." Seeing Jotin's unconvinced expression, she continued. "Lord Jerimiah could not have agreed to any of our provisions. He can't show any weakness. Our best can never be good enough for him."

"And that is good how?"

"Well, it's not," Sneila admitted. "But it's pretty standard when negotiating with Holders, at least from my limited experience. By which I mean it's what I read in my business courses at the STI." Jotin just groaned. "He was essentially waiting to see what your breaking point was. He knows what you will and won't agree to and can, in the second round of negotiating, concede to several of our points."

"So we might actually get this done in the next stage."

Sneila looked away from him briefly. "No, not exactly. He's still likely to be absolutely awful to negotiate with. And unless he doesn't follow form, he'll still make offers we have no choice but to reject. But there'll be headway, at least."

Jotin slowly pushed himself from his chair and leaned on the table. He turned to Sneila. "If we get out of this alive, we're taking a vacation," he said. "I heard there's an amazing doll museum in Oimmo. If you're still interested in those things, of course."

Sneila smiled and nodded. "I've been, but I didn't have time to see everything there," she said. "I'd love to go back."

"Great. Let's go have lunch and make plans. Hopefully, by the time we're back at this table, I'll have forgotten all about the first three hours."

Gita stared at the strange Gallente woman who sat across from her on the atmospheric shuttle. There were about forty people in all aboard the shuttle, heading to Tastela below. And yet Cierra somehow was seated directly across from her.

Gita could not figure her out. Why was Cierra so interested in her? Why couldn't she have just done her job and then left? Why did she have to follow Gita down to the planet? And, most of all, why did she do such a good job in undermining Gita's confidence in her mission.

Ever since she had first received the assignment, Gita knew she was wrong for it. She knew she couldn't pull off the lies and skulking that it would require. She had even tried to tell her superiors such, but they assured her she was perfect for this mission. That she would ensure that things went according to plan.

After her brief training, she had even started to believe it. She believed she could convince Amarrians and slaves that she had grown up on a slave colony, that she was a fervent believer, that she had been released by Empress Jamyl's decree, and that she decided the Republic was of no use to her and she had to come back to the Empire. She could pull it off, she had decided.

And immediately after meeting Cierra, her confidence was broken. Someone who had no reason to doubt her saw through her without a problem. Cierra knew less about slave colonies, worshipping the Amarr god, and being a zealot than Gita did. But Cierra could notice a bad lie when she heard it and Gita had told bad lie after bad lie.

But when the shuttle touched down on Tastela, in the spaceport of Lord Jerimiah's capital city, Gita swallowed her nerves and unease. She had a mission to do and failure was not an option. She had to see things through and do as she was told.

Before the day was out, the spaceport would be no more.

Much as had been anticipated by everyone, entering Caldari space with a Sansha's Nation ship carrying a State criminal onboard did no go smoothly. It took a few jumps before Customs and the Navy caught on to what was actually happening, but it took only a few minutes for them to interdict to Nightmare and its Amarrian escorts, pin them down, and train enough firepower on them to instantly vaporize them should any resistance been offered.

"All according to plan," Adima muttered to himself as he waited as his CEO attempted to explain the situation to the fleet's commander. It had been fifteen minutes so far. Every so often, Vernus would supply an update in the corporate channel, but the updates were necessarily brief and vague. Most of his concentration was spared to making sure a Navy pilot with an itchy finger didn't kill everyone.

"They say that the pilot of the Nightmare is a wanted Navy traitor," Vernus suddenly informed them. "They want to extract him and try him."

Alard, who had been allowed access to the channel for the duration of their mission, answered. "Ah. Yes, I should have anticipated that."

"You knew?" Adima asked, incredulous.

"No," Alard answered. "But it was a possibility. No small amount of Sansha's Nation comes from people disillusioned with the kleptocracies of the empires. I should have anticipated that my pilot may have been one of them."

"They say he captained an entire industrial full of people, including his wife and son, into the hands of the Nation," Vernus reported. "They want us to turn him over for a trial."

"Ah," Alard sighed. "I'm afraid that would be difficult. You see, he has been wired directly into his ship. Not unlike a pod pilot, but with a bit more permanency. Removal would unfortunately kill him."

"Hold on," Vernus said. After a few minutes of silence, he returned. "They say that's an acceptable consequence."

"Can it at least wait until this crisis is solved first?" Alard asked. "I require access to my equipment and research if we're truly going to solve this problem and it's all onboard the Nightmare."

"Hold on." After another few minutes. "Alright, they agree to that. But they're sending a navy escort with us, to make sure that you two don't try to escape."

Alard simply sighed. After a moment, Adima spoke up. "Well, where to now?"

"We need to see a friend of mine," Alard said. "His name is Fritz. He works for Zainou Biotech."

The factory had erupted into violence within a matter of moments. It had begun with one man, a normally quiet, unassuming line worker by the name of Damon. He doubled over in pain and, when someone rushed over to help him, he decked him. Everyone was too stunned at first to do anything. No one had ever seen Damon do something like that.

But Damon simply walked over to someone else and punched them as well. Then another worker attacked someone else. Things escalated from there. Half of the workers seemed like they wanted to kill each other. The other half only wanted to get away. Even the slaves were split down the middle. The ones escaping only wanted to flee the violence. Those fighting attacked their fellow slaves as much as their Amarrian betters.

The factory manager barely had time to call for Lord Jerimiah's security forces before someone clubbed him in the head with a pipe. He sunk to the ground, dazed, turning in time to see the pipe coming down again. The man holding it had been his closest friend for decades. He wore an expression of madness and attacked without pity. A splatter of red took over his vision before it plunged blissfully into darkness.

Part 6

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