Thanks to Gabriel Alkest and Devan Corvel for participating.

Intaki V – Moon 5 – Astral Mining Inc. Refinery
ILF Office

The corporation lounge was empty. Again. Sakaane sighed and let the door close behind her.

“Such a crowd!” she said to the vacant space. “Wherever shall I sit?”

Sinking down onto the nearest cushion, elbow on her knee and chin cupped in her hand, Sakaane accessed her comm link and flipped through various channels, trying to see where everyone was. But, as had become the norm for her in the last few weeks, there was no one to be found. No Mammal, no Bataav, no anyone.

A familiar feeling of frustration washed over her. TGPI all over again. This is ridiculous. I came home to help my homeworld but instead find myself sitting idle. I could have stayed in Bereye and accomplished exactly the same!

Despite the encouraging first impression ILF had made upon her arrival in August, her excitement and hope from being home again for the first time in six years had quickly been crushed, starting with a triple set of losses to other capsuleers—one of which had nothing to do with actual combat but was due entirely to an embarrassing mistake on her part. Tactics and combat down here were so very different to what she was used to in high security space. How many years shooting Serpentis and yet I feel I have learned…nothing.

Immediately after that her new corpmates all seemed to evaporate. This sudden and disturbing lack of activity from the corporation had left Sakaane alone in Intaki. With SCUM and Tuskers running rampant through the area, space was simply too volatile for a single pilot, already feeling inadequate to the task, to venture out into space and do anything but be a target.

A comms request came in. A small smile tugged at her lips when she saw it was from Gabe.

“Heya,” he said. “If your corp doesn’t have anything goin’ on you’re welcome to come along on a couple of jobs with me. Just doin’ some slowpoke work in my Drake.”

She glanced around the quiet, empty room, hoping someone might suddenly spring up from behind a chair. “We don’t. Whereabouts are you?”

“You can meet me in Cat if you wanna come.”

Grateful for the invitation to do something, she stood up and headed for her hangar. “What would you like me to bring?”

Essence Region – Eustron Constellation – Cat System

Ost, as usual, had been full of reds but she’d made it safely out to Stacmon, stopping only briefly to get organized before making the rest of the trek to Cat. Along the way she continued her conversation with Gabe to fill the silence.

“How are you?”

“Not bad, just getting into an alliance. Comic Mischief. It’ll be a nice starter alliance. They do a lot of wardecs so I’ll be out fighting every day.”

“Sounds right up your alley.”

They’d kept in touch a great deal the last few months and become good friends, though they never quite figured out what it was about their original meeting so long ago that had gone so poorly. She’d tried to convince him to join ILF with her, but that had not worked out and Gabe had chosen instead to start his own corporation, Tantalus Inc. Since then, and having relayed to him her experiences with ILF thus far, she knew what was coming next.

“You and Devan can still join my corp, be a part of this active alliance…and get some practical combat experience in. Or get back in TGPI and put that corp in this alliance.”

“Interesting idea. Have you spoken to Devan about this?”

“I haven’t talked to him. It was just a suggestion. I was really only thinking about you… But I know you won’t do anything without him.”

“I have been lately.” The truth was she’d been doing everything on her own lately and Devan had all but vanished along with everyone else, but she didn’t really want to admit that much to Gabe. “I’m not joined at the hip to him.”

“It’s up to you. The alliance has about seventy active members. The next dec will be on another one hundred-fiftyish pilot alliance.”

A stargate loomed before her. “Why are they decing?”

“Not sure on the details, but they just like to fight. They go after people that talk crap about their pilots, you know stuff like that.” He was quiet for a moment, then admitted, “This isn’t a ‘noble’ alliance. Some of the corps run active piracy ops…”

“I see. You know I shoot pirates for a living.”

“Well here’s the deal. This is an alliance, and we can take part in the alliance activities we choose but Tantalus is still my corp. And if we got big enough we could set up a wormhole op, run nullsec roams, do that sort of thing just within the corp.” There was another pause. “The alliance CEO just finished telling me they plan to take over a lowsec system. That means POSes and constant fighting.”

“My goodness Gabe, you’re really trying hard today to recruit me.”

“You won’t die daily in this alliance like you will with ILF and their fruity ROE.”

Sakaane tried to let his snark pass, not really wanting to get into that argument again. Though he’d once considered joining ILF, his experience in trying to do so had created a grudge he apparently still wasn’t yet willing to let go. “I would like to get more experience that doesn’t equate to me being mopped across the cosmos,” she said instead. “Or smeared, as the case is. I might not mind losing a ship provided I actually had a chance to fight back.”

“People run from this alliance. Just a little FYI.”

She landed in Cat and warped to his position. He took command and sent them to the deadspace pocket coordinates his agent had provided. The area swarmed with rogue drones.

“Why’s that?” she asked after they’d fallen into a comfortable attack pattern. The red blips on her overview dropped slowly one by one.

“What?”

“Why do people run from the alliance?”

“Oh. People are afraid to fight. Wardecs extend to empire so fighting in empire is safe.”

Sakaane laughed. “After having me in there for a week they’d say, ‘Psh, here comes Sakaane, easy kill!’”

“Who would?”

“Anyone I’ve tried to fight in the last week.” She felt her cheeks growing hot against the pod’s containment fluid as she thought about her losses. “I have kill rights on fourteen people I’m so bad.”

They cleared the area but discovered an acceleration gate leading away from the hive and went through it, landing in a secondary location with yet more drones.

“It’s up to you… You don’t have to come, but you’ll have something to do. And we can practice combat tactics if you’re in my corp.”

“That’s true, we could.”

“Just understand, if you are really considering it, that when we wardec people everybody in the corp is a target. Miners or not. I noticed quite a few Hulks in their kill records. But yesterday alone had a good six or seven kills.”

“No sparing the civilians, hmm.” That didn’t sit well with her at all, but no one could force her to open fire on a target she didn’t want to fire upon. After thinking along that line for a while, she said, “Let me ask you something.”

“Hm?”

“Are you planning on asking them to wardec ILF?”

Silence. She wondered if he was thinking about his reply or if he was consulting with the alliance CEO. Maybe both. Gabe’s grudge against her corporation was ridiculous but it worried her. There was no way she would go to war against them for the sake of gaining some better combat experience.

Eventually he said, “If I knew I could, I would. But your CEO being a doucher and disrespecting me isn’t really a reason to get these guys riled up. Especially if I’m not paying them like I had planned. I’ll just be sure to send him a happy torp whenever I get the chance. You going to fire on that drone mother or am I doing all the work here?”

Sakaane set her ship to pursue the target he indicated. Gabe’s answer wasn’t a surprise to her in the least but that didn’t make it any less appalling. She knew quite well how he felt and the knowing left her in a difficult position. ILF would defend their Suresha to the death and then some. But she’d also known Gabe hadn’t had the resources to do anything about his grudge. He couldn’t take the whole ILF on. At least, not until this alliance business. Yet if Gabe felt he couldn’t bother them about it, that was better than the alternative and what she’d have to do if he tried. He could rant all he wanted in the meantime; talk was cheap.

“It’s not a big deal. He’s a small timer with something up his ass.”

Her hackles rose a little. “If it’s not a big deal why does it bother you so much? It was just a mail. I’m sure he’s busy and it just got overlooked.”

He laughed. “Because that’s what being a capsuleer is about: getting what’s coming to you. And I took time out of my day to pay him respect… I expect it in return. I could have just sent in an app and ruined the fuckin’ corp but I decided to do it the right way. And he showed me the back of his hand in the worst possible way…

“I would have let it go if he was like, ‘Nah man I don’t think this corp is right for you’… But what he did just proves that he’s a bitch of a man…so he should get popped and all of his assets should be liquidated.”

She resisted the urge to target Gabe’s Drake, knowing it would do no good. On this topic it was better not to argue but hope instead one day soon he’d forget or latch onto something else. “You can be rather vindictive sometimes, Gabe.”

“Why, thank you.”

They worked in silence for a time after that, finally clearing out the hive and returning to station so Gabe could report the results and pick up another contract. Sakaane followed along behind, struggling with knowing how much harm her friend intended to Suresha Saxon Hawke and completely flabbergasted that Gabe felt so strongly about it in the first place. Because of a lack of one mail? Suddenly reminded of Nailo, she would have laughed aloud if she could have. Why do guys get so upset over mail? Send a mail and they freak. Don’t send one and they decide to kill you.

But then her own mixed feelings crowded in and she felt again that helpless inadequacy. She was doing no good at home like she wanted, and Gabe was the only immediate opportunity she had to do anything about it. Oh, there were certainly other organizations out there that could teach her what she needed to know. But they were all full of strangers. Gabe was at least someone she knew.

“There are aspects of ILF I like a lot. They have good people. I have enjoyed myself, when those people are around. There is so much potential there. I just…have no idea what’s going on and I can’t go through that again.” She considered. “Tantalus is small right now, like how TGPI was. What happens if your plans don’t work out and the corp doesn’t grow? Let me tell you, recruitment isn’t easy. What happens if you and Ven decide to run off to fight in the militia again? I’d end up on my own, back right where I started.”

“It’s not only gonna be us three in the corp if it works out right. But you know, maybe you’re right. Just stay in ILF.”

She felt taken aback by his sudden annoyance, a hint of the old Gabe creeping out, but ignored it. “If I were to join your corp instead…you’d understand it would only be temporary, only for training? That’s really all I need. I can’t hold my own down there right now and I can’t do anything about making things with ILF work until I get better experience fighting other capsuleers. But ultimately I want to be at home. That’s where my path is, Gabe.”

“This group of guys will get you some killmails. It’s just something to think about. You don’t have to make a decision right now.”

She sighed. “I won’t have another TGPI. I can’t do that again. That’s the part that disappoints me. I mean, they do have their shit together in a lot of ways. The corp programs are active when people are around, they do provide the benefits they say they give their members, and so on. They maintain a couple of POSes and whatnot too, so they are doing something right. I just don’t know where everyone is all the time—”

“You joined the corp so you’d be able to fight pirates in Intaki, no?”

“Correct, but also to feel like I was contributing to something a bit greater, that was going to have longevity and go somewhere.”

“And where is exactly is ILF going? What with your guys’s flawless leadership, hell you have a foundation set for future titan production! You’ll rule the skies!”

“Gabe!”

He laughed. “I’m kidding. Look, this agent has more work for me. You want to help some more tonight? Or is your corp having you do stuff?”

She checked the corporation channels and saw she was still the only active pilot just then. “My corp is not having me do stuff. I’m still docked in Cat. So…yes, please.”

“Check that out, a smaller corp has you busier than the pirate hunters ILF!” He was quiet again and then, when he returned to the channel, spoke excitedly. “Actually, come on a lowsec roam with me.”

“So long as I don’t get blown up again…” Sakaane had seen too much of that lately.

“Well, nothing is guaranteed, Sak… But these guys know what they’re doing. Give me a sec, I’ll see what’s up.” After another moment she heard him mutter, “Damn I wish you were in corp, I could get you on this… All right. I guess they’re going to make an exception, though being in the corp would be nice. Do you want to come?”

“All right. Yes. Send me the coordinates.”

Sinq Laison Region – Coriault Constellation – Odotte System

Not long after, Gabe and Sakaane met up with the Comic Mischief crew in Odotte and set out from there, heading with ten others into lowsec.

Gabe kept their private channel open. “Breathe, lady.”

She smiled. “How did you know?”

“I can just imagine you floating in your pod, back straight, all hyped up for a fight. Take comfort in knowing you could kill me in two shots right now!” Gabe had swapped his Drake for a Falcon. The ship cruised around her Harbinger within the cluster of Comic Mischief ships.

He fell silent as commands came over the link from the FC, Natalya Vodka. As one, the group warped to a safe point while one ship, the bait, went on. Otherwise, the fleet’s comms were quiet.

“These guys are pro,” Sakaane said to Gabe privately. “That one ILF roam I warped into where I got my first kill wasn’t smooth like this. Everyone talking…” She remembered her training with Commander Halerit and how he’d always insisted on strict discipline while on comms. In TGPI they’d never really used comms since there were never enough people to warrant it. The other recent patrols that had resulted in her losses had had no organized fleet comms at all.

“Pro?” Gabe said. “This is how it is, babe. This is how wardecs will play out except we won’t have to bait pirates or anything. We’ll be hunting.”

They fell silent again and Sakaane tried hard to keep up. Natalya and the scout spoke clearly but used acronyms and shorthand commands she simply wasn’t familiar with so she had to refer to Gabe a lot to clarify, and felt embarrassed for having to do so.

“Don’t sweat it,” Gabe reassured her. “This is a good chance for you to get your feet wet and see if this is what you want over ILF.”

“That is why I came.”

The gang balled up and held in a system while the scout went through a few neighboring gates to see what he could find for targets. While waiting, Sakaane noticed Devan’s name slide into the corp channel along with a greeting.

A few minutes later, Sakaane said to Gabe, “In a moment you might see a familiar face in local space.”

“Oh?”

“Devan asked what I was doing and is now flying up in a covops.”

“What, is he spying on us?”

“Just wants to watch. We’re only four jumps or so from Intaki so he’s curious.”

“Tell him to be careful. These guys aren’t beyond getting an easy kill. What did he say when I told you I got you in with my alliance?”

“I haven’t exactly told him yet.”

The fleet moved again, pursuing a target. Devan followed along behind, maintaining a distance of about one hundred klicks from her as she relayed their position.

“It’s weird that he’s watching,” Gabe said. “Just putting that out there.”

The target got away so Natalya called an end to the op and the fleet disbanded.

“I’m heading back to Cat,” Gabe said. “Did you have a good time?”

“Yes! Excellent to see how a capsuleer group can be organized and work together, even if we didn’t see any action. Thank you for getting me in there.” As they flew back to Cat, she split her attention between the channel with Gabe and the one she still had open with Devan. Eventually she said to Gabe, “Devan asked about leaving ILF. I told him I’m considering it. I don’t like patrolling the system by myself.”

“What did he say?”

“Doesn’t blame me for feeling the way I do. I could learn a lot here.”

“You will die. Eventually everybody does.”

“I know. Just so long as I don’t die the way I’ve been dying already.”

“Oh, of course not. You should already know after today’s patrol that won’t happen.”

Sakaane sat in silence after that, wondering just how much Gabe understood her intentions. She was willing to bet he was conveniently ignoring her earlier statements about only leaving ILF temporarily. If she could not gain the experience she needed from ILF, she had to get it somewhere else. And she wanted to be with ILF. For all her frustrations, for everything she’d been through in the last year, the jumbled mess of emotions she felt still left one thing clear: she wanted things with ILF to work out. Her gut instinct told her that was where she needed to be. But Gabe tended to have a singular vision and only included those things in it which suited him.

I can’t help that, she thought. I can only worry about my own path. And right now, this is what I need to do, so I can become a better pilot. I don’t like it, I thought I was better prepared than this… But all I can do is push forward.

She accessed her mail client.

Namas Suresha,

It is with regret that I am writing to inform you of my resignation from ILF.

I have enjoyed being in ILF this last month and meeting the fellow corp members. In this short time I have developed a sense of loyalty to ILF and its vision, however I feel currently ILF cannot meet my needs and vice versa. In order to better contribute to the corp and the future of Intaki I require more complete combat skills and I feel I cannot obtain them from ILF. The available ILF pilots seem to be just as inexperienced as I am and there is not much organization in the Aditipala division. In the last weeks I have found myself alone, or nearly alone, in Intaki which leaves me too nervous to venture forth, especially given the increased activity by members of SCUM and the like.

For the immediate future I am going to seek out more experienced combat pilots and learn from them. When I am more confident in my skills and knowledge I would welcome the chance to return to ILF and put my knowledge to better use if you will have me back. I also hope by that time the Aditipala division will see growth and have more seasoned pilots to fill its ranks.

Thank you very much for including me in ILF. I wish you and ILF the best success.

Respectfully,
Sakaane Eionell

Sakaane reread the mail a number of times and made a few more edits. Then, reluctantly, she sent it.