Thanks to Devan Corvel for participating.

Bereye III – Moon 1 – Roden Shipyards Factory

Happy Face of Death docked quietly, a speck of armor and guns amidst numerous other ships moving about their own business. Inside the capsule, Sakaane waited patiently for the tug to tow her ship into a bay.

Relief and guilt struggled for dominance within her and as she dwelled upon each it seemed she spun in circles. Relief for being out of the navy and moving on to what she hoped were better horizons, which led to guilt for breaking her commitment to the squad even though she’d watched other pilots come and go the same way…leading back to the same relief for having made the decision she knew was right for her…and on and on.

She noticed her ship sitting idle in an access way between hangars and panned the camera drones around, focusing on the tug just ahead. “What’s the holdup?”

“Sorry, ma’am,” came the speedy reply. “We’ve received a request to berth you in Bay 173 but there is a slight delay due to some…equipment…that requires moving. Please accept our apologies for the inconvenience.”

“Fine, thank you.” She dismissed the channel and returned to her brooding.

Finally, her Vexor was delivered to the designated bay and the capsule extracted. Moments later, as she picked herself up off the deck and wiped containment fluid from her face, a figure appeared at the top of the gantry and hurried down to meet her.

“Devan! Wait, I haven’t showered yet, I’m still covered in—”

He swept her up into a hug that lifted her off the deck and swung her bare feet around in a wide arc while her mouth was smothered in his kisses. “You’re here!” he said after and set her back down.

She laughed. “Devan, your clothes!” A giant wet splotch marred the front of his body.

He grinned. “You can help me get out of these in a minute. I have something for you first.” He retrieved his datapad from a pocket, tapped in a command, then slipped the device away. Turning her around and covering her eyes with his hands, he said, “You almost ruined the surprise. It was delivered just before you docked and I had to get it in first. Walk forward.”

“Oh? What mischief are you up to?”

“You’ll see. Turn right now. A few more steps. Okay, turn this way. Stop. Just a minute now, almost ready.”

All fell silent, save for the sound of dockbots doing something out in the hangar. Then Devan took his hands away.

“Oh!”

His arms slipped around her and he rested his chin on her shoulder. “Surprise.”

Ahead of her where her Vexor had been now floated a different, much bigger, ship, long along the y-axis and shining blue and gunmetal grey in the hangar lights.

“A Myrmidon,” Sakaane said excitedly. “Thank you! But what is it for?”

She felt him briefly plug something into one of the sockets in her upper back, exposed by the wet podsuit she still wore. A moment later her wetware registered a request to flash in a new skillbook for compilation, which she authorized.

“Do I need a reason?” he said, but when she turned to look at him his expression was serious. “It’s a feel-good gift. New ship for a new direction in life. Pretty sure I know what you’re dealing with right now, because I went through it when I left the navy years ago.” He cupped both of her cheeks with his palms. “It will all work out for the best, hon. I promise.” He leaned forward and their lips met again.

“Thank you,” she murmured between kisses, and pulled at his shirt. “Now, let’s get you out of these wet clothes.”


“The corp is eager to meet you,” he said later. “We’re still a small operation, so having another body on hand to contribute will go a long way. Some of our stuff is still down in Ghesis and the guys are sort of stretched all over trying to get it all moved up here but things are coming together. Plus I’ve been able to get set up with a couple of decent agents in the area so there’s always work on offer.”

They walked down a long corridor together, heading from the capsuleer quarters district to the commercial district where Golden Phoenix Inc. maintained an office.

“Headquarters is officially located here now, though we’re still maintaining the old location in Ghesis until it’s cleared out. In June Nailo and I opened a few other offices in Caldari and Minmatar space to see if we can grow the corp’s ranks some more. Interested?”

“In what, recruitment? I haven’t done anything like that before, but sure.” She mused for a while. “What about the war, how does that impact operations?”

Devan shrugged. “It doesn’t, really. We’re not about to tell our employees who to support. Honestly, we’re too small right now to get noticed either way. Essentially we just go about our business. Speaking of that, you should know the corp will automatically take ten percent of all ISK you earn from here on out. It’s appreciated though if you donate a portion of any recovered salvage and other materials you might happen across—ship modules you might not otherwise use for yourself, for example. Helps save us costs if we have a free pool to pull from.”

She nodded. “Sounds fine.”

They entered the TGPI office through a door etched with an image of a golden phoenix rising in front of crossed swords. Devan led the way past an empty reception desk to the back area and a series of private rooms.

“Most of these are for storage right now, but we can easily set up to host meetings, conduct interviews, and so on,” Devan explained as he gave her a quick tour. “We also have a secure hangar. You’ll only have access to part of it to start.” He smiled apologetically.

“I know, security. It’s your job, after all.”

“Yeah. Right, so… The guys should be in here I think.” He stepped through a door into an employee lounge and held it open for her to follow.

Sakaane looked from face to face. In the far corner, standing with his arms crossed and staring out a porthole, was Eric Nevera, Devan’s long-time associate. She’d never actually been properly introduced to him but nevertheless they’d come to know each other in passing. He glanced at the door as Sakaane came in, looked her over from head to toe, then returned his sullen attention back to the view outside the station.

The rest of the handful of faces staring back at her were unfamiliar…and all of them were Caldari.

She didn’t realize she was reaching for the gun holstered at her hip until she felt Devan’s hand gently steer her arm away. In the same smooth motion he led her forward, presenting her first to a short, stocky man with thinning hair.

“Sakaane,” Devan said, “this is Nailo Zook, our CEO.”

Nailo frowned at her, his eyes on her weapon before they met her gaze. But all he said was, “Hello.”

Before she could reply, Devan moved on to a tanned-skin man with brown hair and a scarred face. The man turned his blind eyes forward but gave no hint of actually being restricted by a lack of sight. “This is Aboddon. He heads our R&D efforts.”

“Abby for short,” Aboddon said.

“Over here we have Darwin, and of course you know Eric already.”

She met the eyes everyone in the room and inclined her head slightly. “Namas tayam.”

“Welcome to the corp,” Nailo replied gruffly.

She smiled politely. “Thank you.” Then she turned to Devan, asking, “Could I have a word with you, please?” and promptly left the room.

He followed her into an office across the hall. She closed the door behind him and then leaned against it, as if afraid someone might barge in.

“What the hell, Devan? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“What?”

She stepped forward and hissed, “That you work for a bunch of squids!”

“Because I knew you would react this way. We also have a Minmatar guy on staff, you know. He’s probably out in the hangar, working on his ship again.” He sighed gently and clasped her shoulders. “Nailo, Abby, the others…they don’t live in the State anymore, haven’t for years.”

Sakaane made a strangled sound in her throat. “But they haven’t been living in the Federation all that long either,” she protested. “Where did you say the corp moved from? Ghesis? That’s in Amarr space. The State’s biggest ally! How convenient to move into Federation territory right when the war started. How do you know they aren’t spies? What were you thinking? I can’t work with these people! Eric alone is bad enough, but a whole slew of them? They’re—”

“The enemy?” Devan frowned but didn’t raise his voice. “That’s the navy talking. Listen, Sak, I’ve been with TGPI for almost two years. I’ll thank you to remember these guys aren’t war targets—they’re my friends.” He stroked his hands over her upper arms. “I know what the navy taught you. They taught me much the same. And I’ll grant that that kind of conditioning takes time to shake off. But do me a favor? Don’t judge them before you actually get to know them?” He tried to smile. “Not all Caldari are like the ones you’ve fought. They aren’t all madmen like Tibus Heth. I mean, I know Eric can kind of be a stick in the mud sometimes, but he’s hauled my ass out of the fire more than once. Nailo helped me get financially independent after I left the navy. Give it a chance? Don’t forget, it was Nailo who agreed to hire you on, too.”

She tried to maintain her hard and unimpressed expression, but Devan’s imploring face combined with the sudden unbidden mental image of Eric, his body stiff like a rod and jammed into a field of muck, made her snort a giggle that broke the tension.

“I’m sorry.”

He nodded in acceptance. “I should probably also mention there’s a Raven in my personal hangar.”

“Ugh, Devan…” But she smiled a little to show she wasn’t entirely serious. Then a thought occurred to her. “Where are Ven and Gabe?”

“Oh, you didn’t know? They only stayed about a month. They wanted to join the Federal Defense Union when the war heated up but like I said…we’re staying neutral.” Devan grimaced. “We’ve had some trouble retaining newer people since then.”

“Hmm. Somehow I’m not surprised they left. Not about Gabe, anyway, though Ven didn’t really strike me as the type to want to go to war. But thus the question earlier about recruitment.”

“Right.”

She laid her head against his chest and closed her eyes. “All right. I promise I won’t shoot them, your coworkers. My new coworkers. Yet.”

“Sak.”

“I promise. Really.” She blew out a breath, willing the emotional stress of the last few days to pass, but it didn’t. “As you said, it’ll take time. We’ll see how it goes.”