Pathways (Part 07): Walking Down the Road, Hand-in-Hand

Another riot was breaking out, this time in the commoner's level. To an outside, the commoner's level looked little better than the slave's level. In some ways, that was true. But in many ways, it was worse. Much worse.

"This is Unit 045," Officer Beckard said quietly into comm unit. He was crouching behind an overturned vehicle and listening to the cacophony from the other side. Several Amarrians were busy attacking each other. All of them looked more like bloodthirst Minmatar savages than proper Amarrians. "I need backup in the Amann Sector."

The slaves at least had security. Slaves were property and a Holder has to keep account of his property, lest people begin to whisper about his lackadaisical ways. The commoners were afforded no such benefits. Oh, there were police to keep crime to a minimum and ensure that the peace was kept. But they were not in the direct employ of the Holder, nor were the especially well compensated or trained.

There was no immediate reply from Beckard's comm link. "This is Unit 045. I need backup in the Amann Sector," he repeated. "I've got a fight going on and I'm outnumbered." After a half-minute, there was still not even the hint of a response.

So when the first fight started (begun by a Ni-Kunni man who friends would have described as friendly, outgoing, and calm), the situation was only exacerbated and not contained. It didn't help when several other fights broke out across the level. People began to panic. Some fled. Others found themselves overcome with a similar demented rage. They couldn't control it.

Beckard tried one more time to contact the central authority. "This is Unit 045," he started. "I need back in - " But he was cut off.

"Unit 045, this is central," the comm link chirped, way too loudly. He was sure the rioters had heard it. "Backup cannot be sent to your location presently. You are authorized to discharge your service weapon. Please keep this channel clear unless you are in a life-threatening situation. Central out."

Beckard simply sat there. Of course he was in a life threatening situation. He looked down at his service weapon, a small, hand held pulse laser weapon. It was more for show than combat. If he hit someone in the eye, sure, it'd blind them. And it produced a mean burn on the skin. But it couldn't kill.

With a sigh, he stood and looked at the rioters. Five of them had ganged up on two others. The two were being held down, while the others took turns stomping and kicking and beating them. Both were covered in blood and gore and looked little more than masses of broken bone and swollen flesh.

"You stop right there!" Beckard meekly declared. None of the five turned to look at him, though one did turn to another of the aggressors and attacked him. A moment later, all five of them were brawling again.

Beckard simply turned and ran away.

It had been hours and Lord Jerimiah had not come for Jotin and Sneila. The two sat in Jotin's room, talking. At first, the hours had passed like a breeze. The two had been working together for nearly two years; Sneila was one of the members of his first crew and had been one of the three who was still with him. But their relationship had been purely business. The State and Hyasyoda considered fraternization beyond different social levels to be untoward.

Even though Heth's rise to power had introduced some leniency, in many places - especially the corporate security wings - the old unspoken rules were still very strongly in place. So the two quite enjoyed learning about one another. Jotin had a large smile on his face when he happened to glance at the ornate clock and realize that it had been a full four hours since they last saw Lord Jerimiah.

"That's a bad thing, isn't it?" Jotin asked.

Sneila has paled. "I think so," she said. "An hour. Maybe two. He should have cooled off by now. Even if he was a hot head."

Jotin stood and paced around the room. "Maybe we offended him more than we knew?" he asked. "Maybe he'll refuse to negotiate now. Maybe he's contacting the corp offices and letting them know."

Sneila cringed slightly at the thought. "That would definitely be a bad thing. If we crossed a line, the corp would surely discipline us. We should have read Lord Jerimiah better. Realized that he would have reacted this way."

"Maybe there's still hope," Jotin offered weakly. "Maybe Lord Jerimiah is simply busy with something else and he'll be here to see us any minute."

As if on cue, there was a knock at the door. Both Jotin and Sneila nearly leapt out of their skins, then Sneila began chuckling, then laughing heavily to herself. Jotin glared at her, but was struggling to keep from laughing himself, when the knock came again, far more urgently, with a voice. "Excuse me, Caldari?" a harried sounding voice asked. "This is urgent! Please open up."

Jotin strode over to the door and swung it open. A wide eyed security officer stood there. "Yes?" Jotin asked.

"Please, come with me," the security officer said.

"Is Lord Jerimiah ready to see us?" Jotin asked.

"We have an urgent security matter," the officer said. "For your safety, I am asking that you come with me."

Jotin and Sneila exchanged glances of worry, then looked back at the security officer. "What sort of security matter?"

The officer shook his head. "I can't... I can't really explain it fully, sir," the officer said. "Please, just come with me and Lord Jerimiah can explain when we get there."

"Alright, let's go," Jotin said, turning to Sneila and waving for her to follow. The two followed the officer briskly down the hallway. The man looked nervous and unsure of himself. As they walked down the halls, servants scurried about while at times other security ran past with grim looks plastered on their faces.

Jotin and Sneila shared a long, worried look. Jotin gave her a reassured smile which seemed to ease her tension by a small bit. That helped ease him as well.

"What 's the point of this?" Cierra asked. "You've kept me here for hours! Either tell me something or let me go or whatever!"

The man they'd left to guard her remained stone faced. He simply sat and looked at her. He betrayed nothing in his face. No sign of attraction to her. No sign of contempt. No sign of even the slightest interest. Nothing. She could use something, anything. But not nothing.

"You know, if you let me go, I'd be very grateful," she said, pouting her lips. Still nothing. "Fine, be that way. You stupid Minnie savage. Probably can't even understand me through that thick skull." Nothing. "Agh! You're impossible, you know that! Show some emotion! Anything!"

Still, the guard remained unmoving. He merely stared at her, with unblinking eyes. Cierra suddenly froze. She stared back at the man for several minutes, watching him. He wasn't blinking. He wasn't moving at all. Not breathing, not making the small involuntary twitches that everyone makes, nothing.

"Son of a bitch!" Cierra growled. She struggled in her chair, twisting and turning until she managed to free one of her hands from the rope they had tied her down with. She pulled her hand, with raw wrist, out and began the process of untying her other hand, then her feet. Then she stood, barged right past the dummy, and out the door.

There were several other Minmatar, these all quite real as they turned and looked at her, along with Gita, sitting around a large table. Their leader, the one she had kneed in the groin earlier, grinned at her. "Finally figured out it was a dummy, huh?"

"What the hell is going on here?" Cierra demanded, walking brazenly up to the table and slamming her hand down. "Why did you lock me up in that room with a dummy?"

Their leader laughed. "Well, it's a funny thing. Most people never realize it's a dummy. They just think it's a real person. Like you did."

"That wasn't the point of the question!" Cierra growled.

Gita sighed. "Fine, I'll explain, if you don't mind Commander." She looked at the leader. He simply nodded. "I am Lieutenant Gita Sherie, Republic Fleet," she said. "This is Commander Melko Rottan and his staff."

Cierra could only blink in surprise. Once she processed the information, she said, "What is the Republic Fleet doing on some backwater Amarrian planet?" She almost immediately regretted it for its stupidity.

"Commander Rottan and his staff have been under deep cover for nearly a year," Gita said. "They've been working to undermine the Amarrian militia's efforts for some time."

"But this is nowhere near contested space," Cierra blurted out, once again feeling it to be a stupid statement.

"Yes," Gita responded without condescendsion. "Lord Jerimiah, the Holder of this planet, has very close ties to the Crusade. He's been supplying them with equipment. Commander Rottan has been attempting to simply cause worker revolts and lessen the productivity, but the people here are..."

"Unreceptive," Commander Rottan grumbled.

"Yes, unreceptive," Gita parrotted. "So the Fleet has sent me to take a more proactive approach."

"Proactive?" Cierra wondered. "What, are you going to blow up his factory?"

"Not exactly," Gita said, shaking her head. "Too many Minmatar work in the factory. We're going to blow up the space port instead."

Cierra almost wasn't sure she'd heard right. But she had. They were planning on blowing up the space port. "How?" she asked.

"I'm afraid that's not your concern," Gita said. "It's my mission."

"Actually," Commander Rottan said, "we think we can use her to help you."

"What?" both Gita and Cierra said at the same time.

"We have a file on you, Cierra," Commander Rottan said. "The Fleet keeps files on every pod pilot. Some are longer than others. Yours is quite short. You stay out of trouble. You keep your nose clean. You avoid risk."

Cierra laughed. "Yeah, that makes me sound exactly like the kind of person who'd blow up a space port."

"But obviously, that report was inaccurate," Commander Rottan continued. "Because you also followed an undercover Fleet operative down to an Amarrian planet, right into a terrorist cell, attacked one of them, and did so without blinking. So, are you really the meek capsuleer the files paint you or are you something more?"

Cierra stood motionless for a moment. "What do you want me to do?"

Part 8

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