Pathways (Part 17): A Forlorn Destination

This is a Scope special report.

It has now been a week since the destruction of Tastela. The Servant Sisters of EVE have officially called off all rescue search attempts, citing the continued hostile environment on the planet's surface, causing great risk to rescuers as well as rendering the prospects of finding anyone alive increasingly unlikely. The official death toll roughly numbers two-hundred and seventy-six million, two-hundred forty-five thousand, according to the most recent Amarr census and expert estimates.

Meanwhile, similar outbreaks across the cluster have been contained thanks to the swift actions of Zainou Biotech, which has fabricated a cure and a vaccine against the plague. Company representative Fritz Tankian acknowledged a dedicated team of researchers who spent long hours analyzing samples of the plague recovered from a pair of shuttlecraft that escaped Tastela minutes before orbital bombardment began. Zainou stock has increased in value by fifteen percent since the plague cure was first announced.

DED officials have determined that the plague originated from the Equilibrium of Mankind terrorist group. The plague appears to have been a massive bioengineering project that has been described as both "innovatively complicated" and "horrifically gruesome" in scope. Officials have already arrested several cells of EoM terrorists and confiscated hundreds of samples of the plague, as well as terabytes of research data.

Officials are confident that the plague will be contained from now on and there is no further threat of a repeat of Tastela in the future.

According to official reports, Commander Rottan was "lost in the line of duty" onboard a simple military transport ship in Amamake.

"I'm sorry, Gita," Admiral Defard told her, "but we simply cannot reveal the truth. If word got out to the Empire that the Republic Fleet was operating on Tastela, the repercussions would be... horrific."

Gita shook her head. "He deserves to be buried as a hero," Gita said. "Not a forgotten casualty."

"All soldiers are buried as heroes," the Admiral said.

"No!" Gita shouted, pounding her fist on the Admiral's desk. "I don't mean a twelve-gun salute and a small military procession! I mean a state funeral! All of the people who escaped Tastela escape because of him! He deserves more!"

The Admiral stiffened in his chair and his face went stern. "Control yourself, Lieutenant Sherie!" he barked. Gita barely managed to hold back a scathing snap and set her jaw. She breathed out heavily and sank back into her chair. At that, the Admiral relaxed as well and leaned forward. "I'm sorry," he said, "this will simply have to be locked away along with the stories of thousands of other heroes who must be forgotten. Maybe, some day in the future, Commander Rottan's story can be told."

Gita sighed heavily. "I understand, Admiral," she muttered softly. She stood and looked at the Admiral. "If that is all, I would like to return to duty."

"Actually, it's not," the Admiral said. "We need to discuss your future in the Fleet. Sit down. Let's talk."

"What do you think happened to him?" Sirric asked.

"I don't know," Vernus answered. "You heard the news. What they said about Tastela."

The two stood next to casket that held a body in it, one that looked exactly like Adima. But it was not him not had it ever been him. It was his unactivated clone, the only thing Adima's family could even remotely claim had been the little brother they loved and cared for.

It was better than Reena's casket, however. Hers remained disturbingly empty save for a lock of hair her mother had saved from when she was young. That same mother remained in the corner, weeping quietly while her father stood stone faced nearby.

"He could have escaped," Sirric said. "He and Reena."

Vernus smiled at Sirric. "Maybe," he said in a way that made it obvious there was no maybe about it. The two of them both knew that Adima had died on Tastela. They only hoped he had reached Reena in time to spend a few last minutes with her.

Vernus looked down at the corpse, the not-body of Adima. Then, he looked up into the air, and whispered, "Goodbye, my friend." Quietly, he and Sirric moved on.

The Nightmare remained pinned down by Caldari Navy interceptors, its targetting systems jammed, its locking systems damped to nothingness, and its turrets disrupted into impotence. The Navy was taking no chances, even though the ship had been stripped of crew. Twenty Ravens sat with torpedoes armed only a scant few kilometers away from the ship.

A voice broke in over the comms of everyone there. "Captain Jerek Jumon," the Vice-Admiral overseeing the events began, "you have been found guilty of high crimes against the Caldari State. For this offense, you are to be put to death. If I had been given my way, you would be ripped out of that ship and left to die on the floor like the animal you are. But those in higher places than I have decreed that since you were once a soldier of the State that you are entitled to die like a soldier of the State, no matter the heinousness of your offenses. Do you have any last words?"

There was a long pause. The Vice-Admiral was about to give the order to fire when finally Jerek spoke. "I am not a State soldier," he said, his voice at once ethereal and forced. "I am a True Slave. Last words? I have none that will be spoken to the likes of you."

The Vice-Admiral gritted his teeth. "Very well. Men, ready weapons!" He waited a moment while the Ravens acquired locks on the Nightmare. "Fire!"

A stream of torpedoes flew slowly from the Ravens toward the Nightmare. Their explosions were so bright, it seemed as if the ship merely vanished from existence.

The attendance at Commander Rottan's funeral was almost nonexistent. There were the casket bearers, four of them. There were the other three members of the honor guard who would be joined by the casket bearers to fire a salute to the Commander before he was interred. Then there was Gita and the six men who had escaped Tastela along with her.

He had no living relatives, at least none that were free men in the Republic. His superiors were busy with the duties of the Republic Fleet and couldn't spare themselves for the funeral. Gita guessed they were too ashamed to attend anyway. She had hoped Cierra would be there, but she wasn't. Gita swallowed the lump in her throat at noticing that.

The seven of them stood at attention in silence as Commander Rottan's casket was carried to the grave, then placed it into the grave. The honor guard took up their rifles and aimed them into the sky. One shot. Two shots. Three shots. Then they each saluted the casket, turned, and marched off.

The other members of Commander Rottan's each came up to Gita one-by-one and saluted her, then shook her hand. "Congratulations, Commander," they each told her, before moving to salute the casket.

Finally, Gita was the last one there. She walked up to the casket and looked down at it. It was empty, of course, a mere ceremonial burial of the rank insignia that the Commander had left behind when he and his men went under cover. "I'm sorry we couldn't bring you home, Commander," she said. "And I'm sorry you have an empty funeral. You deserve more."

"I think he would have wanted it this way," a familiar voice said. Gita turned around in shock and found Cierra standing there, a reserved smile on her face. "I mean, I didn't know him at all. But he seemed like the kind of man who would have been fine with being a forgotten hero."

Gita limped forward - her leg still hadn't healed properly and probably never would until she eventually cloned - and threw her arms around Cierra. "I didn't think you'd come!" she said.

"Well," Cierra said, grinning wide and returning the embrace, "I didn't think I would either. But I had to." The two pulled back and Cierra looked Gita up and down. "So, you've been promoted?"

"That's right," Gita nodded. "And, I have some leave time coming up. I was thinking..."

Cierra cocked an eyebrow. "You want to spend it with me?"

Gita nodded, blushing a small bit. "Yes. You're the... Well, I don't really have too many friends. And I haven't been able to stop thinking about you since we escaped."

Cierra laid a hand on Gita's shoulder. "Yes, of course," she said. "And besides, Nora has been very eager to meet you."

The two of them began to walk away from the casket. "Nora?" Gita asked.

"And here, we have the traditional cloth dolls of the fourth Haku dynasty," the tour guide was droning. "As you can see, they are made with exaggerated foreheads, which were considered to be a sign of sexual prowess at the time..."

Sneila heard only parts of it. Maybe she heard none of it, as she had heard all of it before anyway. In truth, she was not really interested in hearing it. "So, Jotin, what do you think?" she muttered to herself. "I hope you like it."

Of course, there was no answer. She swallowed hard and gritted her teeth. She had kept herself from crying so far and wasn't about to start now.

The tour was moving on. Sneila shuffled along after them, alone.

"I have the entire cluster in front of me," Alard said, kicking his feet onto the shuttle console.

After delivering the cure, he had managed to slip away from the Amarr Navy. They had no idea who he was, after all. He was a free man, for the first time in years.

"I can go anywhere I want to!" he said again, out loud. "I can find old friends. Find old enemies, even. No one needs to know who I am or where I go. Who knows where these pathways will lead?"

He smiled, then looked down at his console. There was a voice in his head, urging him into a course of action. It wanted him to return to Stain. He set in a destination. The voice fell silent. Alard smiled wider and engaged the engines.

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