Thanks to Azdan Amith and James Syagrius for participating.

Intaki V – Moon 5 – Astral Mining Inc. Refinery

The door opened; a blond-haired man peeked in before quietly entering. He paused at the doorway to bow, carefully balancing the tray he held so as not to spill its contents.

“Madam President,” he said respectfully.

She seemed not to have heard him. Her attention was focused entirely on the holodisplay projected by the desk; one hand rested on its wooden surface, the fingers idly tapping out a pattern as if to some music only she could hear. The other hand’s fingers dallied near her mouth, tugging thoughtfully at her lips as she frowned in concentration while a document—a mail, he thought—composed itself before her.

He crossed the office to the credenza, his feet making no sound as they padded over the carpeted floor, and set the tray down. Then he took stock of the credenza’s contents: the water remained chilled, the tea and cider were hot. The bottle of Payloqan k’Adharnam was nearly empty; he made a mental note to order another supply from the surface.

Selecting a mug, he reached for the pot of cider and poured. The liquid’s semi-sweet berry scent steamed into his face and he inhaled. Yes, this would be good. Then he selected a plate and transferred three small sandwich wedges, along with a few slices of sweet pod melon, onto it from the tray he’d been carrying. The remaining food he covered up to keep fresh.

“Another late night, khasri?” he said, a bit louder than was proper, as he turned and gently laid the plate within the president’s reach. “Here. I’ve brought you something to eat.”

Sakaane blinked and looked up, then smiled as she accepted the mug from him. “Thank you, Karan.” Sipping from it, she sat back and gestured at the mail. “Yes, another late night. This damned war. The council voted in favor of opening it to allies. I’m trying to rustle up some support.”

Karan nodded and produced a serviette, using the motion as a cover for the nudge he gave the plate to put it a bit closer to her. Noticing a particular trio of photos on the desk, he continued his motion to surreptitiously sweep them out of sight.

When she worked these late nights out of capsule, Sakaane often forgot to eat. There had been a lot of late nights recently, spent either in long discussions with others about the Valkyr war or poring obsessively over the photos he’d just hidden away. She was pale, with darkened circles under her eyes.

The plate had scraped audibly when he pushed it. She took the hint and picked up one of the small sandwiches, swallowing it in just a few bites before reaching for another.

Karan waited until she’d eaten nearly all the plate’s contents before adding more to it. Then he said, “I have an Azdan Amith holding on comms to speak with you. He indicated he’d sent a mail earlier, about the war.” Before she could protest about the delay, he added, “He was more than happy to wait for you to finish your meal.”

Sakaane tried to give her aide a disapproving look but wasn’t successful. Karan had become invaluable to her during her time as president, a loyal member of her staff who willingly looked after her best interests even when it meant that he, too, ended up staying in the office much later than he should have. He never complained. She wondered briefly if Bataav might be paying him a bit extra to keep an eye on her when he wasn’t able to.

“Thank you,” she said again, setting the plate aside. “I’ll speak with him now, and finish this later.”

Karan cocked an eyebrow at her, glancing deliberately at the plate and back again.

“I will!” she laughed. She was tempted to order him to go home but knew it would be useless. Instead she said, “Remind me to introduce you to Aranza next time we’re planetside.”

“Yes, Madam President.” He bowed again and left, closing the office door behind him.

Sakaane sat up in her chair and smoothed out her hair before connecting to the call. The image of an Amarr man appeared before her. Though she judged him to be young, no older than she was, his face seemed severe, with deep creases to either side of his mouth. His moustache and beard were dark though his hair rapidly faded to white past the roots. Small, intricate tattoos adorned the right side of his face above and below the eye.

“Namas,” she said.

He inclined his head. “Ash’ten President Eionell. I pray I have not caught you at an inopportune moment?”

She was pleased at his polite manner. “Not at all. I’m sorry for the wait.”

“As promised, the purpose for this request is to discuss how I may be of assistance. I am a very young pilot as far as my capsuleer license is concerned but I have prior military combat service and I am willing to assist in combat if necessary.” His hazel eyes met hers earnestly. “If there are other ways you believe I may be of use, please do not hesitate to suggest or request.”

“I was pleased to see your offer. I’ll admit it was unexpected.”

He smiled faintly. “Yes, I imagine offers to assist heathens from an Amarr are somewhat unexpected.” When her eyebrows shot up, he continued, “Please understand I use the term ‘heathen’ colloquially in this instance.”

Sakaane wrapped her hands around the mug to warm her fingers and returned his smile. “I’ve not had much exposure to your people. I do have a Ni-Kunni friend but I expect he is something of a…unique example.”

His smile faded, replaced by a saddened expression. “We are…more insular than we should be and what little of our interaction is seen by those outside of the Empire is often negative. Our purpose and place in creation is misunderstood by many but the fault is ours for we fail to explain it adequately in most cases and we have lost our compassion over the years.”

“Compassion is something I think many people give up too easily. It’s easier to turn a cold shoulder.”

He nodded slowly. “It is my prayer that I may serve as a rekindling to even just a few. Perhaps that is vain of me, but I will strive nonetheless.”

Sakaane sipped the cider. “It sounds like a worthy goal.”

“Perhaps, but I will not deceive you. My ultimate goal is to lead as many toward righteousness before God as I am able. However, I believe that truly following after God requires that we embody the love for his creation that he possesses and that requires compassion and sincerity.” He paused, then added, “My desire to assist in your struggle is without ulterior motive. It is one of sincerity. It may be difficult for you, or many others, to believe the truth of that, but I give you my word it is truth.”

Sakaane nodded and was quiet for a moment. She studied his face, made slightly blue from the holoprojection. “Will you forgive me for asking if the fact they are members of the Minmatar militia has anything to do with it?”

He smiled warmly. “There is nothing to forgive. It is a fair question.”

Suddenly, her attention was jerked away as her wetware alerted her to a new, priority message. “Oh my,” she murmured and set down the mug. Turning back to Azdan, she said, “I just received a missive from CONCORD. They’ve invalidated the war. Breach of articles in the Yulai Convention.”

Azdan blinked and arched an eyebrow. “They don’t tell you which articles have been breached?”

“No. It most likely means Valkyr failed to pay the bill.” Sakaane sat back and scrubbed her hands over her face. “Last night they were trying to get us to agree to a ‘deal’ to end the war. I wouldn’t put it past them to redec, in case this was an oversight.”

He blew out a breath, seemingly disappointed. “Perhaps. But to answer your question, no. The Minmatar are the enemies of the Empire because we failed them. There is no hatred toward them as a people in my heart. My desire to assist has nothing to do with their status in the Minmatar militia, but merely that they are now betraying allies and friends, disrupting lives of the uninvolved and displayed the sort of behavior that represents all that should be purged from this cluster.”

“That is a fair answer.”

“The question remains if you believe it or not. You have little reason to take my word as truth.”

“I have no reason to disbelieve you.” Sakaane gazed steadily at him. “I like to think I haven’t become so cynical yet as to see an enemy behind every offer.”

A gentle smile tugged at his lips. “Some would say that because I am Amarr, you have reason enough.”

She glanced down. “Racism… It serves no one, really.”

“On this we agree.”

CONCORD’s message replayed itself in her mind. “This may be a ruse. Not that I think it’s fake. But I wouldn’t put it past VKYR to invalidate the war, get us to relax, and then redec.”

“Indeed. It would be wise to maintain a level of caution.”

“Part of me is disappointed too.”

“My offer to assist remains should they renew the war, President.”

Sakaane smiled. “Thank you. I appreciate that. In any event, the war has allowed me to meet new people and forge some potential new friendships.”

He nodded once. “I make myself available in any capacity you may need, be it related to this war or not.”

A blush flushed her face. “I’m thankful my organization is able to garner such support.”

“You represent a side of humanity that is sorely lacking among capsuleers and your desire for cooperation to succeed over conflict is something we share. Though the Empire conquers in the name of God, it is always the last resort. I realize that you do not necessarily prefer cooperation over conflict in all things, as you are mostly concerned with the independence of the Intaki people to govern themselves.” He shrugged lightly. “But from reading the information of your organization and the dealings of its members on IGS, it is apparent that your inner desire would be that your people would be independent and willing to cooperate as an independent nation rather than subservient.”

“We do ultimately want to achieve secession peacefully. Violence is something the Suresha chooses as a last resort. As his Isha, I try to follow his lead.”

Azdan nodded again. “We have this in common. We Amarr would prefer that the people of the cluster would submit to God willingly and peacefully, that their hearts would be drawn to him without resistance. Sadly, this does not always happen.”

Sakaane picked up the mug again and relaxed into her chair, finding it easy to chat with Azdan and enjoying his company. She noticed, then, that Karan had removed Darac’s photos of her mother from her desk, and her mind turned briefly to thoughts of her parents and then her father. God, faith. Ida. “May I ask a question, about that?”

“I encourage it.”

“Well, I know nothing about Amarr religion. But I wonder if there are concessions for the idea of, say, one god–many faces? The idea that a higher being might present itself to different groups in different ways, to suit their particular environment or stimulus, but in the end, the belief is all in the same overall creator?”

“It has been argued, yes. It is not the official viewpoint as the Amarr see no reason why the creator of all would need to conceal himself in such a way. However, as I have said before, I believe as follows: If the principles and character of a people’s deity remain consistent with the revelation of God, then the name of that deity is irrelevant.”

She nodded. “That’s refreshing.”

“If it is one, not many, if it is supreme above all, if it demands righteousness of all who seek it and establishes judgment and justice for those who sin against it…then there is little reason to divide over a name.”

She smiled faintly, choosing to explain the reason of for her question. “I was raised a follower of Ida and I am Reborn. But some years ago I lost my way and don’t really know what I believe anymore.”

He frowned very slightly. “It is a difficult place to be, wandering in the wilderness of uncertainty. Perhaps you will permit me to share my faith with you in future interactions? Perhaps you will find something you seek within.”

“We could talk, certainly,” Sakaane said easily. “Though I may be something of a challenge! I’ll warn you now.”

“The human soul is invaluable and worth all struggle. Even should it take the duration of my life, if it brings you before God in righteousness, then the struggle and cost have not been wasted.”

She grinned. “You wish to convert me! I wouldn’t mind to learn but you might end up frustrated if you seek more than that.”

His hazel eyes twinkled. “Ah, it is never frustrating to share one’s faith with another. My purpose is ultimately to bring you before God, to convert you as you call it, but the sharing of my faith is a joy, not a burden.”

“I wish I could return the favor, about Ida.”

“I would, of course, listen to your own viewpoints and anything pertaining to Ida you wish to share.”

Sakaane pursed her lips. “Would that I could. There was an…incident…some years back which left my memory of my childhood damaged. I have many of my memories recovered but the lessons I learned are gone. There have also been…other things which have shaken my belief in what I was taught…specifically because of who taught me.”

He frowned again. “I…believe I can relate to that, the latter part.”

“My teacher was my father,” she volunteered. “But I learned things recently which make me question the…underlying intentions, I guess. I’m not sure how to describe it.”

“I will not pry if you wish not to share,” he said respectfully. “Should you wish to share, you have my vow of confidence.”

“I think I need to figure it out myself first! It’s quite fresh still.”

He nodded. “Then I will share my faith with you as we interact and leave myself open to your questions and comments.”

“Sounds fair enough.”

“I have only one condition.”

“Oh?”

“It is not in me to sow deceit, so I will speak plainly and truthfully to you. I ask the same of you.”

Sakaane nodded. “Certainly. I’d like to believe I’m an honorable person. I try to conduct all my affairs honestly.”

He smiled warmly at her and ducked his head. “It has been a pleasure. I will need to take my leave at this point. I pray we speak again soon.”

Sakaane returned his nod with one of her own. “Thank you very much for your time.”

“Likewise. May God’s light shine upon you.”

“I’ll look forward to speaking to you again. Suprab nahi.”

He faded from view. She stared for a while at where his image had been. Yes, it was nice to have met new people and built some fresh relationships as a result of the war. That, at least, was something to feel good about.

She toggled the intercom at her desk. “Karan, the war will be over in twenty-four hours. Would you please make a note to draft up a mail for me? Tomorrow is fine. I’ll need to contact everyone who pledged us support to let them know it won’t be needed now.”

“Yes, khasri. Right away.”

What a waste, Sakaane thought. Relief that the conflict would soon be officially over washed over her, but in the meantime, their allies had begun mustering to enter the fight as well. All that effort, for nothing.

The cider in her mug had gone cold. She sighed and stood, stretching the stiff muscles in her shoulders, and refreshed it from the pot on the credenza. Once back at her desk, she ate another sandwich in silence.

Thinking again about fresh relationships, it occurred to her there was someone she wanted to inform personally about the end of the war. In this case, she felt just a mail to him wouldn’t do.

She came to stand in front of her desk. It took only a moment to connect to James Syagrius’s channel. The lights in her office dimmed as the virtual representation of his office at the Duvolle Labs Factory in orbit of Slays II was projected around her.

He was seated at his desk and glanced up briefly with a smile as, she expected, her figure flickered into his view. “Good afternoon,” she heard him say.

She inclined her head, making a mental note about the time difference. “Namas, James.”

He nodded politely. “That is good to hear.”

“Er?” Sakaane said, confused. “What is good to hear?”

James seemed very distracted, his attention focused on the report in front of him, and she wondered briefly if this was how she appeared at times to Karan. “I am sorry my dear? What did you say?”

At her command, they heard James’s voice repeat: “That is good to hear.” Sakaane added, “It’s an odd response to ‘hello’.”

He smiled and nodded again, absently. “Yes, yes, hello. How are you?”

She stepped closer to the representation of his desk. “I’m reasonably well today. And yourself? Is everything all right?”

He looked up, seeming to focus in on her. “Absolutely well,” he smirked, “thank you. I am sorry, I have been overwhelmed with inquiries related my call for ‘assistance’ with the current situation in Intaki.”

A twinge of guilt touched her. “I’m sorry it’s turned out to be such a burden for you.”

The smirk became a smile. “It’s not a burden my dear. I do it gladly. I detest bullies. As I haven’t the means to fight myself I want to contribute what I may to the effort.” He looked again at the datapad in his hand. “While there have been many inquiries there are three organizations who have expressed interest in the effort that are actually capable of changing the balance of the conflict in your favor.”

She spread her hands apologetically. “I’m afraid their services won’t be needed. The war has been invalidated by CONCORD. It ends at”—she paused to check—”02:43 tomorrow.”

James continued speaking as if he’d not heard her. “All have presented with what I consider fair estimates of cost related to joining the ‘effort’. A cost RECLT is willing to bear. I suggest that the next—” His face turned sour as he looked at Sakaane, her statement finally registering. “I’m sorry, what did you just say?”

She took in his sour expression and felt annoyed at the reception she was receiving. “The war ends tomorrow.”

He stared blankly at her for a few seconds, his expression unchanged, before setting his datapad down. “I see.” Standing, folding his hands behind his back, James walked slowly over to a brownstone pedestal holding the bust of Abel Jarek. His back to her, he asked, “So you think the conflict is actually over?”

“Possibly,” she said guardedly.

Absently, James stroked the face of the bust with the outside of his right index finger, before returning the hand behind his back. “I see.” Then he slowly paced to one of his chairs and sat. “And your feelings on this?”

Sakaane remained silent for a short while, uncertain how to answer. James must realize his efforts had been wasted, just as she’d felt the same about her own. But it seemed to her that James was actually offended by news of the war’s end. This sudden change in his demeanor, combined with the company she now knew he kept, made her nervous. Fleetingly, she wondered if there might have been more behind his offer of assistance than she knew. She was actually relieved to have a reason to decline his support after all.

Swallowing, she decided it was probably better to not say such things at this exact moment considering the look on his face. Instead, she tried to shrug lightly. Whether or not this particular conflict was actually over, there was a great deal else that needed to be done in IPI so they would be more capable of dealing with conflict in the future. “I have more important things to do than worry about it,” she said.

He nodded slowly to acknowledge her statement but his face flashed red with anger. “I see,” he said again.

Just then, the holoprojectors shut off with a bang and a shower of sparks. The office filled with acrid smoke and the shrill cry of an alarm. A second later the fire suppression system kicked on. A moment after that, having decided the fire was sufficiently suppressed, it shut itself off. A feminine voice apologized for the inconvenience and indicated fire personnel were on their way.

Karan burst in to find Sakaane, wide-eyed and bewildered, standing in the middle of the room covered head to toe in foam.

“Oh…oh dear. What a mess. Are you all right?”

Sakaane turned to him, spitting foam from her mouth. “I’m fine.”

Karan tried to keep a straight face.

She pointed at him. Globs of foam slopped off in all directions. “Not a wor— Stop laughing!”

He composed himself. “My apologies, Madam President. What happened?”

She gestured vaguely. “Holoprojectors blew for some reason.” More foam dripped to the floor. “Ugh. This stuff is everywhere.”

“It won’t damage any of your things, khasri. Here, let me fetch you a towel.”

Once he’d returned, towel in hand, Karan asked, “You were on a call?” as he helped clean her off. The foam was a peculiar substance. It had a wet, smothering quality about it yet didn’t seem to soak into anything and was wiped away easily, though small flecks of it remained stuck in her hair. “I can reschedule it for tomorrow if you wish.”

Sakaane wiped her face with a corner of the towel and looked back at where James’s image had been. His angry, red face remained with her. Perhaps it was better that conversation hadn’t continued.

“Leave it with me,” she sighed. “For now…I’m going home.”