Thanks to Gabriel Alkest, Devan Corvel, and Saxon Hawke for participating.

Sinq Laison Region – Coriault Constellation – Odotte System

“We’ll be testing fits today,” Natalya said. “Pair up to start. First one to get their partner to twenty-five percent armor wins. Do not proceed further than that, else I’ll fine your whiny asses. Sak, you’re first.”

She nudged her ship, Fire of Sekhmet, into the arena, watching her opponent’s Megathron approaching from the opposite direction. A ring of ships surrounded them, each from Comic Mischief member corporations.

The pilot in the Megathron jettisoned one unit of ammunition. She sent a command to loot his can, bypassing the automated warning that she was about to commit a criminal act.

He flashed red on her overview as he opened fire and she returned the favor, launching drones and pulling her Harbinger in tight, orbiting him at her laser turrets’ optimal range.

It was a close battle, but the Megathron, stationary and not fitted to web her down, slowly found its tank breaking ahead of her own. Eventually, Natalya called it.

“Good work. So here we see the importance of being able to stay moving against targets and how your optimals can work for or against you. The Meg couldn’t track as well with the Harb spinning around it like that, while Sak scored solid hits against the stationary target. Being inside the blaster’s optimal range while still being at her own meant her hits were better, while the ones she received didn’t do as much damage as they could have. With some better drone skills, Sakaane would have easily pulled ahead and beat this battleship. Let’s have a look at that Meg’s fit…”

Sakaane retreated from the arena, retaking her position along the ring and listening attentively while her aggression flag wound down.

Then, just as the next set of combatants entered the arena, her attention was diverted by an unexpected comms request. Her heart suddenly thudded in her chest: it was Saxon Hawke, Suresha of the Intaki Liberation Front.

She accepted immediately.

He spared no time getting down to business. “I need to talk to you about Mr. Alkest. I’ve looked and I honestly have no record of his application.”

“There was no application. It was a mail. He didn’t want to apply to the corp until he’d contacted you first. You traded a few mails regarding when you were available, and the last one he sent to you went unanswered.”

The Suresha was silent. Then he said, “I’ve just re-read his message and I see now the misunderstanding. I thought his message was a precursor to an application. He was looking for an invitation. The mistake was mine, but was not intended as a slight.”

“I understand, and I didn’t think that you intended any, but unfortunately Gabe can be rather…prideful.”

“I see. That can get a man into trouble.”

She laughed. “Yes, it can.”

“If he’s agreeable to it, I’d like to speak with him sometime.”

She checked. Gabe was not attending the training op but he was in space, off on a job. “You are welcome to try, but I can tell you that he is not your biggest fan.” She hesitated, considering her next words carefully. Despite his vindictive streak, Gabe was a friend, but she also felt loyal to the Suresha. Gabe would feel betrayed if she told Saxon of his intentions, but how could she not say something? He wanted to kill this man. “I honestly don’t understand why he has gone off so badly about this but if he ever meets you in space…please be careful. He can get rather single-minded about things when he chooses.”

For some moments there was no answer. Then she felt her stomach drop when Gabe’s name was suddenly added to the comm channel. Oh god, I didn’t mean right now!

“Mr. Alkest,” Saxon said, “I believe I owe you an apology, so let me begin by saying I’m sorry to have neglected your message and that no slight was meant by it.”

Gabe’s first response was a moment in coming. “This isn’t some diplomatic function, man, you can speak freely…”

“You’ll find that this is how I speak, more often than not. In all reality your message came as I was headed planetside with my family for the weekend.”

Gabe snorted. “And where you’re from, weekends last over a month?”

Sakaane groaned quietly to herself at Gabe’s tone. Not good, not good! If there’d been a black hole nearby to dive into she would have. Meanwhile, in the background, Natalya was moving another pair of pilots into the arena.

“Unfortunately, it got lost in the shuffle more than anything. It was an oversight on my part and I am truly sorry for it. Had I followed through, I would most likely still have several promising pilots and you as an experienced FC.” After a moment’s pause, he added, “I’ve lost enough already without compounding my misfortune by adding you as an enemy. Seeing as how you have already formed your own corp and joined an alliance, there is little else I can offer than my apology.”

The Tantalus corporation channel started signalling for attention. She shifted her attention to it. Gabe had left her a text-only message: Sak, what the hell?!

She flashed back: I had no idea he was going to invite you to the conversation! You didn’t have to accept!

“Let me ask you this,” Gabe was saying to Saxon. “Would you have even considered saying anything if you didn’t know that all of your lowsec assets were currently jeopardized? From your mere lack of attention to detail…” He paused, she assumed, to check the Tantalus channel, then came back. “Sorry… Something else aside from this has gotten me in a rotten mood. To be perfectly honest with you, I was very interested in your corp… It’s a shame you couldn’t take the three minutes it required to reply to my mail.”

Saxon was unperturbed by Gabe’s irritation. “My assets are always jeopardized. I’m a vocal opponent of piracy in the Placid region. I learned from Sakaane that your feelings were hurt. I felt bad for that and offered an apology.”

“Your small-time pirates in Intaki aren’t what you should be worried about,” Gabe shot back. “But I’m going to drop the issue and I accept your apology.”

“No, please do tell. Who is going to come for me?”

Silently, Sakaane prayed. Please Gabe, be the better man. It’s not worth it…

“At the moment you are not being targeted.”

Sakaane felt some of her stress ease at Gabe’s words and imagined the Suresha nodding as he replied. “That’s a relief. I’m glad you will accept my apology.”

Gabe adopted an aloof tone not reflected by the angry messages he continued to send her in the corporation channel. Aloud he said, “Cool man. Well don’t worry about it… I’m an ass sometimes. You caught me at a bad time.”

Saxon was gracious. “Let’s keep in touch. If things don’t work out with your current alliance perhaps we can talk business at some point in the future.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Gabe said, and dropped out of the channel.

“I’m very sorry for all this,” Sakaane said, feeling red-faced.

“For what? You didn’t do anything.”

“No, but I have felt caught in the middle. Obviously I’ve known for a while what Gabe’s attitude was but I was reluctant to tell you because I knew what it would do to my friendship with him. I also knew what leaving ILF would do to the very feeble relationship I had forged with you and the other ILF pilots I had met, and I knew if I left that Devan and Eric would also leave.”

In the corporation channel, Gabe flashed: That conversation should not have happened. You shouldn’t have fucking let that happen, Sakaane! Mentally, she shrank away, feeling very small.

Her voice wavered. “I encouraged Gabe to look at ILF in the first place. I feel very much at the center of this.”

“We must each follow our own path,” Saxon said gently.

“True.” She risked another glance at the corporation channel and regretted it. “But at the moment having done so appears to have left me at odds with people I don’t want to be at odds with. Gabe is…actually quite furious with me.” She could no longer resist the emotions overwhelming her; later, her capsule technicians would report they’d discovered a large amount of saline and other ocular compounds mixed in with her containment fluid.

Natalya called for Sakaane’s attention. “You there? We’re about done. Your ship’s drifted away from the arena and it looks like it’s…shivering? Everything all right?”

She tried to bring her body’s trembling and her tears under control and silenced the worried messages from her crew’s captain which indicated her life signs had gone a bit erratic. “I’m here. I’m sorry…I’m trying to pay attention. There is something else going on in the background.”

“I didn’t mean to cause problems for you,” Saxon was saying, and she gladly gave her full attention back to him. “I only wanted to explain to him that I meant no insult.”

“I know you didn’t. I think in the long run you speaking to Gabe will be fine. I think he needed to hear from you either way. It’s not that so much. He’s…just a very passionate man.”

“You are a good friend to forgive so much.”

She couldn’t help but smile a little. “Thank you for saying so.” Then, noticing she’d been left alone in space, and still feeling very much that she needed to crawl into a cargo container and shoot herself into the nearest star, she said, “Suresha, I am going to excuse myself for the night. Thank you for speaking with me.”

“Be well and fly safe. Mail me whenever you are ready to return.”

Relief swept over her and instantly she felt better. “I will. Take care.” Then she laughed. “Naturally, as soon as I say I’m going to depart, another comms request comes in.”

“That is the way it works.”

“Mammal is asking me about Nimloth. You have a good pilot there.”

“Mammal is dedicated.”

After some minutes she concluded her conversation with Mammal. He wanted more details about what Nimloth had said regarding having spies in ILF channels and she promised, without hesitation, that she would provide any information she could dig up.

When she returned to the channel she found the Suresha still there. A great deal was going on in her heart just then but all she could bring herself to say was, “All right, I’m actually going this time. Thanks again.”

“Suprab nahi.”

Suprab nahi, Suresha.”