Many thanks to Bataav for his valuable input and written contributions to the Holoreel RP.
An ebook of all seven parts of this ficlet can be found here.
Dodixie IX – Moon 20 – Federation Navy Assembly Plant
Bataav’s arms were still wrapped protectively around Sakaane when her voice woke him. There were no words, just notes of a song escaping from her randomly when she exhaled. He listened a while, eyes closed, and hoped it meant her subconscious had worked its way through the prior day’s events.
He carefully shifted back to have a look at her. She was sound asleep, her honey blonde hair tussled and loose everywhere. The cures on her face had done their work and dissipated overnight: no trace of bruising remained. Lifting the blanket, he examined her side. In the end the doctor had applied a second, more advanced triage cure which picked up and carried on where the first-aid kit’s epidermal patch had been inadequate for the task. The wound was nearly gone; a pale pink line remained and even as he watched it seemed to fade. In short order it would heal completely.
Good as new, he thought, tucking the blanket back around her shoulders and brushing his lips against her forehead. On the outside at least.
She stirred, her green eyes blinking sleepily awake.
“Hey you,” he said, his voice low. “How are you feeling?”
Sakaane’s head was full of remnants of jumbled dreams and her body felt stiff. She stretched to ease away the discomfort while remaining within his embrace. “Better. Tired still,” she said honestly and yawned. “What time is it?”
“No idea. Late I think. Did you know you talk in your sleep?”
“Do I? About what?”
“Last night… There wasn’t much intelligible. But on and off about your father and pirates.”
“Hmm.” A blush turned her face rosy. “I kept you awake?”
He smiled. “No. I stayed up a while to make sure you were all right. And then, this morning, you were singing. Well, humming I guess.”
He’d meant to tease her but all the blood drained from her face. Astonished at this reaction, he asked, “Did I say something wrong?”
He was warm; she snuggled closer. “Last night you said you didn’t want to let things overshadow the rest of our stay here. This would. It’s…” She fell silent. It had been long time since she’d last trusted anyone enough to speak about her music. I trust Bataav with my life, without hesitation. Especially after yesterday, how could I not? He saved me. But this… She swallowed, reflecting on all the times she’d felt his reservation to talk about his past, understanding that he must have his own reasons for holding back, just as she did now. Her fingers briefly touched the tattoo on her left cheekbone: three solid circles followed by one hollow one. “It isn’t an easy subject.”
He didn’t immediately reply; his thumb idly traced the circumference of one of her implant sockets.
Eventually she said, “It has to do with how my father and brothers died.”
“Ah. Before, on the planet… You mentioned Serpentis.”
As his finger circled the implant’s edge he understood in an instant why this was hard for her. Her father and brothers? It was natural then she would find it difficult to talk about something as traumatic as loss of family. But he didn’t want her to be upset if he questioned her about it.
His eyes met hers. “I don’t know what happened to my father. It’s likely he died…” he said, half-smiling despite himself at this sudden admission. He wanted to be there for her. He wanted her to know that if she wanted to she could talk to him. He knew he was protective of his own past; habits long borne of training and necessity had seen to that. But if he opened up a little, perhaps she would too.
“We don’t have to talk about it now though. Today is the last day of the convention. We should enjoy it.” His thoughts turned to after the convention’s conclusion. “When we’re back in Intaki…” Even considering all their long conversations he realized she must want to know more about him. He knew he wanted to learn more about her. There was something that told him she was one of the few people he could trust. “Would you like spend some time together and maybe talk then? I’d like that.”
Pleased by Bataav’s quiet confidence and patience, Sakaane answered without hesitation. “Yes. I’d like that too.” She smiled, enjoying how natural it felt to be with him and how eagerly she looked forward to spending more time together. Then she said, “What happened yesterday makes no sense to me. I need to figure out what went on, who that Caldari was and why he used my father’s name. But I feel too many ghosts right now to have to deal with…with other things on top of it all. Leaving it for later is fine with me.”
He nodded and started to get out of bed but she stopped him, gazing intently into his blue eyes for a long while. Her expression was focused but unreadable and he wondered what thoughts were passing through her mind. Then she seemed to shake herself, banishing the ghosts, and smiled shyly. “Let’s not go just yet.”
He raised an eyebrow questioningly.
“I want to start today on a good note.” The shy smile became a grin as she pulled him back to her.
Much later, they emerged from his quarters and took a route to the convention center which passed the hall to Sakaane’s quarters. A moment later Sakaane noticed Bataav’s associate cross their path and exchange a look with the ILF pasha before disappearing into the crowd.
Bataav nodded to himself. That one look had told him what he needed to know: the pirate had not shown up at Sakaane’s quarters during the night and there remained no sign of him anywhere in the station. The more time passed, the more likely it was he had slithered back to whatever hole he called home.
Sakaane’s hand touched his. “Will you tell me more about him too? Luggage guy? He does have a name, right?” She craned her neck to try to follow the man’s progress but he was gone.
“One thing at a time,” Bataav answered, grinning.
Finally they approached the convention center. The crowd thickened considerably, becoming a mishmash of faces and bodies amongst which anyone could be hiding. After only the briefest hesitation Sakaane strode ahead. Bataav caught her hand, interlinking the tips of his fingers with hers so she’d know he was right behind her as they wove their way forward.
They passed a group of capsuleers engaged in animated conversation. Too late, Bataav saw one step back mid-sentence while making a sweeping gesture with his arm, subsequently bumping into Sakaane. She yelped at the unexpected contact and leapt reflexively aside, narrowly avoiding being elbowed in the gut.
The pilot turned around, snapping, “Careful! Watch where you’re going!”
Bataav took Sakaane protectively by the arm but leveled his eyes on the other pilot. “I believe it is you who should pay more attention,” he said evenly.
“You—uh,” the pilot stammered, staring back at Bataav. “Right. Sorry.”
They moved on. Bataav let go of Sakaane’s arm but stayed close to her, his hand moving discreetly to her lower back instead, and was pleased a moment later when he felt her relax against him.
She exhaled a long breath before saying, “I’m starving. We never had dinner last night, and no breakfast this morning.”
“No breakfast is your fault.”
“I don’t recall you protesting that at the time!” she teased.
He laughed, glad to see her in good humor. “It’s nearly lunch. Let’s grab something quick from the snack bar and figure out what panels we should see.”
They decided to attend a panel hosted by CONCORD to discuss the challenges of low-security space and the roles capsuleers played in supporting the empires in such areas, most specifically by combating pirates and taking on the risk of hauling equipment and goods both to and from more secure space. A great deal of pilots participated, often expressing the sentiment that CONCORD and the empires moaned about crime and low living standards prevailing while simultaneously opting to not take a larger role or make worthwhile investments there. Lowsec citizens felt caught in the middle with few incentives (and opportunities) to do more due to red tape. Bataav smirked and recalled his point about the Federation’s station monopoly preventing the Intaki Assembly from gaining a presence in Placid. By the panel’s end it seemed little had been accomplished, although the hosts said they would take the feedback into account during further internal discussions.
Following that, the ILF pair attended a more light-hearted panel covering the sudden surge of capsuleer interest in their personal appearance while out of pod. Historically, capsuleers generally spent the majority of their time in space and even when docked often chose to conduct business from within their pods via commlink.
Recently however attention had been turning to disconnection and spending more time on their feet inside the stations they frequented, and this trend coincided with the cluster-wide station renovations which had been in progress for several months. Fashion outlets and aesthetic professionals had seen an increase in business from pilots who suddenly wished to portray a certain look face to face, especially from some who seemed to enjoy changing their look solely to fit ever-changing moods. Nano-tattoos had also found a fresh injection of popularity, with artists from each empire cropping up to offer more culture-specific designs which could be easily changed or deactivated altogether.
Most surprising was the revelation this trend was not unique to the Gallente Federation, widely stereotyped for frivolous or superficial tendencies, but was actually sweeping through the whole of New Eden. The latest reports indicated the Federation’s Mannar style was being replaced by a broader casual look also breaking ground in other nations, seemingly led by established fashion houses based in the Amarr Empire. Capsuleer corporations and alliances expressed fresh interest in mass producing quality clothing bearing their custom logos at affordable rates, with several representatives responding with indications the industry was exploring ways to do just that beyond cheap street vendor laser-on-t-shirt transfers.
At 1400 Sakaane and Bataav participated in an open panel chaired by representatives from Ishukone, Roden Shipyards, CreoDron and several other corporations seeking feedback on the standard pod interface and ideas for improvements or new features pilots would like to see in future firmware releases. Sakaane pointed out a persistent bug which always slotted certain sizes of Amarr laser crystals in the incorrect order on the pilot’s HUD. Many other pilots expressed a desire for a more streamlined interface. Even at the speed of thought, some commands were buried in protocols which seemed efficient in theory but cost pilots precious seconds in practice.
At the panel’s conclusion, the pair filtered slowly out of the room and joined a crush of pilots waiting for the convention’s final presentation: Impetus Presents! The large auditorium was full to capacity and then some; Sakaane and Bataav found themselves once more in the dark to the side at the back of the cavernous room, seated closely together on the floor.
The already dim lights dimmed, revealing a large simulated starfield decorating the backdrop of the stage. A slideshow of photos, some taken during the last few days interspersed with shots of Impetus employees preparing for the convention itself and doing their daily work, flashed up on a large holodisplay above stage-center as upbeat music pumped over the auditorium’s loudspeakers. The crowd applauded enthusiastically and the air became replete with the squeaking of dozens of toy bees at the presentation’s end as the lights came back up to reveal Rhoun Ysatault, CEO of Impetus, standing below the faded display.
“Hello how’s it going?!” someone in the audience shouted, followed by a fainter “I LOVE YOU!” to laughter and bee squeaking.
Rhoun smiled and waved. “Welcome to the seventh Impetus Holoreel Convention, YC113,” he said, and was nearly drowned out by cheering from the crowd. “It’s been quite a show already but I hope we have saved something of interest to play out for you. First, I want to welcome you all to Dodixie.”
He waited a moment for the crowd to settle down before moving ahead with his presentation.
“So there’s been quite a few new things this time around. We have this amazing leather jacket offered by Vallou Outerwear and they look quite serious and expensive. We’re just testing to see what pilots are interested in, and I guess you are interested because we’ve sold twelve already. These are custom ordered and based on the feedback we’re getting from the sales and various panels that have taken place, I understand there will probably be more items like this becoming available in the near future.”
He advanced to another slide.
“Ah, the tattoos… Of course there are many tattoo establishments out there already but we sorta had the idea of, ‘Let’s have a tattoo booth, maybe someone will get a tattoo’ just for the convention. Over twenty people already have gotten a tattoo. Even Impetus employees are getting Impetus tattoos.” The crowd applauded.
“Of course, there’ve been a lot of interesting presentations already by some seriously smart people…who also look it…” He grinned at the audience who laughed in return. “There’ve been live agents, a whole panel of ‘Women in New Eden’—these are all female capsuleers who are violently passionate about their careers and will give many of you men a run for your money and ships! Which is interesting to see, and of course, the chess boxing—”
“—which is sort of, ‘Okay, let’s do chess boxing’ and I immediately had the idea in my mind: Okay, Impetus doing chess boxing…what will that look like? Well, it looks sort of like this:”
The crowd cheered while Rhoun went on. “Those guys were not kidding! It was hardcore. Congratulations to Bjössi. I met him just in the lobby prior and he’s sort of pulling through on very strong painkillers.” Another grin split the CEO’s face. “He’s uh, he’s a bit of a mess, frankly,” he teased, to audience laughter.
“Then there was the pub crawl…”
Rhoun paused and listened to the rather quiet round of applause from the gathered capsuleers. “Not a lot of enthusiasm for the pub crawl?! What…or are you all still too hung over?” Again he grinned. “I have more pictures but I’m not going to show them to protect the innocent.”
His welcome speech largely concluded, Rhoun went on to talk about Impetus and the corporation’s growth over the years, followed by some promotional videos—including a few which were not at all serious and had the crowd laughing and groaning in earnest—before he invited several guests on stage to do some final presentations.
Chief among these was a demonstration of new turret models being released by designers for immediate market consumption. The new models were sleek and provided improved interfacing with camera drones and ship core systems to allow both capsuleers and their crews more detailed views of module performance. The models also featured new deployment systems which would tuck them neatly away when in not in use—leaving a pilot’s ship streamlined and sexy, and making it harder for nervous observers to judge what armaments might be brought to bear upon them.
The presentation moved on to discuss the so-called “Captain’s Quarters” and the great expense the empires were taking to renovate their stations to improve short-term housing for capsuleers. Concept designs and layouts for the new quarters not shared at panels held on the previous days were shown, and then the presentation bridged to a related subject: capsuleer corporation establishments. All empire stations across New Eden were working toward freeing up real estate and easing restrictions on capsuleer corporation occupancy. Once the changes were ironed out, these independent corporations would be able to obtain lease permissions other than for office space. Plans included allowance for corporations to customize the areas to suit their needs and the ability to hire staff from the general non-capsuleer population to fill specific roles. This initiative would increase station revenue through additional lease agreements while allowing corporations new avenues to bring in their own ISK. Example establishments included private bars or small scale casinos. Corporations would be permitted to sell mild legal boosters at their own price index from within their establishments if they so desired, host games of chance, and so on. These announcements were met with hearty support from the audience, with many pilots turning excitedly to one another to discuss ideas.
A CONCORD representative joined the presentation to announce, in concert with the easing of restrictions on establishments, they were also working on finding ways to empower capsuleers to assist in policing other capsuleers. “We want to crack down on contraband and smuggling in space,” the representative said. “We’re looking at ways to let you, the pilots who are out there every day and have the most intimate knowledge of New Eden, help us keep the space lanes safe for all travelers. Many of you assist CONCORD’s efforts already by hunting down and destroying pirates. However, currently only Customs officials and faction police are authorized to implement consequences after scanning capsuleer cargo for smuggled items. We are investigating how we can transfer similar authority to capsuleers. So, for example, if you catch a smuggler, you should be able to confiscate his cargo and fine the pilot. If he refuses or escapes, you should be able to tag him so everyone knows his true colors.” He grinned at the audience. “After all, you pilots inflict justice much better than CONCORD!
“However,” he continued, “a fair warning. Cracking down on smuggling and trading contraband in space—which as you know is already prohibited via open markets and contracts—means that corporations which take advantage of eased restrictions on station real estate also adopt a responsibility to police their establishments. Pirates and other undesirables may turn to person-to-person trading within such locations to do their business. But as CONCORD cannot track or monitor an individual’s activities outside the capsule, we will want to rely upon your better sense of judgment to assist us in controlling the criminal element. But as stated, these ideas are still in internal development. We’ll make further announcements once more information is available.”
Sakaane frowned and looked preoccupied. Bataav nudged her. “What is it?”
“The pirate. No wonder he got away so easily,” she murmured. “They couldn’t ID him, they couldn’t track him in the station. He could have been any number of a thousand people who undocked yesterday but without a visual inspection of each pod, how was CONCORD going to know? To them he is a ghost.”
He squeezed her hand briefly. “We’ll find out who he is. Trust me.”
The presentation moved on to another tangent: planetside conflicts. To date CONCORD had kept capsuleers at arm’s length from wars fought on the ground, but there had been rumors of this restriction being lifted. The crowd shifted with an almost palpable anticipation as the rumors were confirmed.
Capsuleers were to be directly involved in conflicts that spread across not only solar systems or entire regions, but soon across the worlds within those areas. Armies of dust-pounding soldiers would become a new feature on New Eden’s combat landscape, answering to capsuleer objectives and able to turn the course of events through their victory or failure in battle.
Impetus ended the presentation with a promotional holoreel by CONCORD showing their dramatic interpretation of how capsuleer interaction might change once involvement with planetside conflicts got off the ground.
With cleverly included previews of prototype weaponry, loud explosions, and actors simulating a battle scene which appeared so real and detailed in its scope that it threatened to overload the senses of the audience, the holoreel whet the pilots’ appetite for violence. They screamed their approval and chanted to see the reel a second time. Their energy was contagious; CEO Rhoun Ysatault became caught up in it.
“You want to see it again?” he asked them. “Will you shout ‘Fuck yeah!’ three times for me first?”
Without hesitation the audience roared its response. Immediately the lights dimmed and the holoreel ran again.
When the lights came up, Rhoun had to wait for the audience to settle down again before he could say his final words.
“I want to thank everyone, all the staff and volunteers, who have given their time and energy to the convention this year. We certainly couldn’t make it happen without you, and of course, thank you to all of you pilots who flew from all corners of New Eden to attend our little party, have some fun with us and give us all sorts of ideas and feedback on various things. Have a round of applause for yourselves. I hope you enjoyed this seventh Impetus Holoreel Convention. We look forward to seeing you all again next year.”
Applause drowned out his final statement about a few last events taking place that evening and over the next day. A great rumble filled the auditorium as thousands of capsuleers rose to their feet and started filing out.
Along the side wall, Bataav and Sakaane were still seated together on the floor.
“What did you think?” he asked.
“It was good. I’m looking forward to a lot of what they presented. The new turrets will be very nice. I never really liked my ships looking prickly with guns sticking out everywhere all the time. You?”
“Well now, that’s the good thing about being cloaked. People can’t see what’s pointing at them until it’s too late either way,” he replied with a smile. “But some ships will look so much better without turrets and launchers spoiling their lines.”
She agreed, then stretched and rubbed her side.
He noticed. “Still sore?”
“Not really. Mostly just from sitting so long.”
“Do you want to go to the event tonight? I’ve heard it’s supposed to be quite a party.”
She was watching all the pilots jammed up at the auditorium’s exits. She supposed the party would be like that, a crush of people and loud music. A flash of light from someone taking a photo illuminated a smattering of faces and for a brief second she thought she saw the Caldari pirate. When she looked again and saw the pilot laughing with friends it obvious he was someone else.
“I’d like to see Njal again before we leave for Intaki,” she answered, slipping her hand into Bataav’s, hidden from sight between them. She turned her head to look at him. “Could we skip the party? I’d like to spend more time with you. Just us?”
He grinned and nodded. Together they joined the queue of capsuleers filing out of the auditorium.
Bataav and Sakaane found a table already reserved for them when they arrived at Deck 17 for dinner. Njal escorted them in and seated the couple by the wall with its display of Intaki Prime, taking extra care in seeing them settled in.
He lingered, a concerned expression on his face. “So… What’s this I hear about Sakaane having a spot of trouble with some hooligan?” His voice was low and light so as not to be overheard by nearby patrons but nevertheless his eyes swept expectantly from Bataav to Sakaane and back again.
“He roughed me up but I’m fine now,” Sakaane said, trying to reassure Njal, who look unconvinced. “Really.”
Bataav sat forward a little. “An associate of mine was in the right place at the right time and was able to let me know what was happening before calling in station security.”
“I still don’t know how you were able to take him down so easily,” Sakaane commented, reaching for Bataav’s hand.
“I might be a diplomat these days but I was trained to be a little more…direct before I came to Intaki.”
There was something in Bataav’s tone that caught Njal’s curiosity. Ever protective of Sakaane, he asked, “And what kind of training would that be?”
“Military,” replied Bataav simply. Looking back at Sakaane he smiled and added, “My associate, the guy who took our luggage and was with us after the attack, works for one of my team. Former team. It’s a long story but he works for us.”
Bataav looked thoughtful for a moment before looking up to Njal.
“You don’t need to be worried for Sakaane. I think the guy who took a shot at her realized soon enough he’d bitten off way more than he could chew. I’ll be making some calls when I get back to Intaki.”
“But didn’t he know who you were, Sakaane?” asked Njal. “What if he tries again?”
“He really doesn’t want to do that,” Bataav said quietly before taking a sip of his drink and letting the comment hang.
Sakaane flushed and smiled, then looked to Njal. He gazed steadily at Bataav, seemingly measuring the man against his words. Bataav gazed back, his eyes never wavering. Nodding with satisfaction, Njal moved on to take their order.
Just as he stepped away from the table, Sakaane pulled him back and leaned close. “Do you provide room service? We’ll likely need it tomorrow. And instead of serving us dinner tonight, won’t you join us?”
“If it weren’t the last night of the convention, I would, kainta, but tonight I expect a full house so must keep an eye on my kitchen. Are you still here tomorrow evening? I would enjoy a break then.” He smiled a knowing smile. “As for room service…I’m certain something can be arranged. Excuse me.” He winked and left them to attend to other customers.
Sakaane watched him weave through the tables, then turned her attention back to Bataav. “Military? I think I’d like to hear that long story sometime.” She slowly twirled a glass of ice water. “Thank you, for what you said.”
Bataav squeezed her hand gently in response.
In short order their meals were served and they ate in a comfortable silence. After a while, when their plates had been cleared away, Bataav asked, “What’s on your mind? You keep looking at the feed of Intaki. Anxious to get back home?”
Sakaane blinked and met his warm gaze. In the peripheral of her vision she could see the fifth moon just near the edge of the display, a small dark marble slowly slipping out of sight as it orbited the homeworld. The Astral station containing ILF’s office wasn’t visible but she knew it was there.
“I’m sorry. I was thinking about home, but no, not really anxious to get there just now.” As she’d done earlier that evening she reached for his hand, still resting casually on the tabletop, and linked her fingers with his. “I’m enjoying this time with you.”
His hand tightened around hers. “Me too,” he said.
Next in this series: Holoreel Convention – Part 7