Seventeen hours earlier...
She stood in the foyer of the St Alms, having walked in on a holgram acoloyte speaking with Raphael Saint. Assuming it was Michael incognito, she waited until he could come speak to her in private. Moments later the acoloyte made his way to her.
"Shalee.... thank God."
"Michael! Oh god I've been so worried are you alright? Are you coming back? Whats going on?" Her voice a soft whisper, not wanting Saint to overhear.
"My situation has gotten worse. My lone companion has died. He never was one for conversation, but at least he could alternate the watch with me. Now, I'm stuck to using proximity sensor grids and stims to keep track of the natives."
"Please come home. Whatever it is it's not worth it..."
"They've, thankfully, stopped attacking us. But they definately know we're here. I'm afraid they might let slip to the Jovians my location before I can complete my objective. I want so badly to return home. I can only imagine how terrible it is for you all without me." He grinned.
She sighed, forcing a faint smile. "I'm so worried. You have no idea whats going on here, I am not even supposed to be talking to you..."
"You're telling me. Remember that I'm on a god-forsaken rock half on the other side of the cluster camping out with the local three-legged natives who would rather eat me than see me while waiting for a jovian scientist. Wait.... why can't you talk to me?
She pulled her cloak open, baring one side. Beneath she wore her flight suit. Unzipping it to her waist, she tugged it open, showing him bruises along her ribs. "The men who did this."
"My word.... what happened?"
"I had a little visit from your 'friends'.."
"Bah!," he exclaimed, a little too loud, then stepped in closer to whisper again. "They're no friends of mine. They're a wretched excuse for a....well... For a whatever they are."
She whispered, "They dont want me talking to you or anyone about you."
"Government organization, religious order, fanatics, terrorists.... fools the lot of them. They really do want my mission to succeed. And I can't say I don't blame them. The cure for the Jovian sickness would be a powerful political tool to bring to the bargaining table in exchange for Jovian technology."
"So what now? Just wait it out?"
A smile played across his mouth "Did they leave you a method for contacting them?"
"No they just show up randomly."
"Have you made any reference in your logs to our conversations?"
"Logs? You mean my private logs? Um...probably so. Why?"
"Lay everything out in a private log, encrypt it as heavily as you can, and send out several hundred of your logs to every news agency you can think of. Give hard copies to your servants and several paid strangers and have them send them out to the news outlets as well. Eventually the outlets will crack the code, but by that time... I'll already be back in Amarrian space. I can "disprove" the whole thing."
"But I don't understand...in case they should kill us?"
"However, you can send the encryption codes to the news outlets if you don't get what you want from... my friends. They'll see you send your logs out, I'm sure. So they'll know you've got leverage over them."
"And what would I even ask them?"
"They'll contact you again not long after that and ask you what you want. Shalee... I have no method of returning to Amarrian space. I was shot in a magrail capsule to this rock.... there's no ship to take me back. Except the Jovian's. And can you really see me, or anyone for that matter, taking a jovian vessel single-handedly and piloting it back to Amarrian space? They want me to die out here... but I don't know why."
She paled, "They meant for you to die there? Oh god. No. No you will not die there, absolutely not."
"Then get me out of this damn place."
"Yes of course I will! I will find you, do you even know the name of the system?"
"As long as we hold the chips in our hand, this organization must bow to our wishes. Ask them to come and get me."
"I don't trust them to."
"I can't let you risk yourself for me."
"Michael I'm already at risk."
"If you send out your logs and then come on out after me, what's to stop them from blowing you to smithereens in space and making it look like a gate malfunction?"
"Maybe they wont know when I come for you, I'll get someone else to bring me. I know people...people not connected with PIE..."
"If they can find you in your quarters, you can be tracked no matter the ship. It might be better for you to send your logs, then stay in public as much as possible."
"As you wish." She sighed softly.
"It'll draw them into contacting you without beating the crap out of you. Forcing them to come and get me out of this hell-hole, and keeping both of us safe."
Raphael Saint finished his prayers and looked to the alter, his gaze lingering on it before he stood and headed for the exit. He entered into the foyer and stopped, seeing the acolyte and Shalee. He hesitated for a second, seeing what looked to be a serious conversation between the two then continued walking, hoping to reach the exit behind Shalee without ever making eye contact.
She nodded to Michael then fell silent as she saw Saint. "Ensign."
Michael turned towards Raphael while stepping away from her, attempting to pass off the conversation as nothing more than a meeting between Priest and congregant.
Raphael came to a stop, thinking they were acting a little too suspicious. He turned his gaze to Shalee "Lieutenant."
The holo-image rippled.
"So...giving counsel to the Lieutenant, Acolyte?"
"Yes. She's proving to be an adept pupil of Father Priboj's brother."
"Oh? And just what was the problem, if you don't mind me asking?""
"Problem?" She looked at Raphael, clearly annoyed.
"That's.... umm... a good priest never breaks confidence."
Saint narrowed his gaze. "It seems the Lieutenant is not even aware of a problem."
"Rule number one actually. It's what Michael taught me," she said with a tone that made her annoyance at his disruption evident.
"Right. That's exactly what Michael taught her."
"Oh? Are you an expert on what he has taught her?" Raphael inquired.
"It's none of your business what he and I talk about unless you want to tell me what you and he were talking about first," she retorted.
"How do you know I was even talking to him?"
"I overheard you when I came in."
Saint frowned, "Sneaking about, are we? Is there a particular reason this congress was held in the entranceway of the Church?"
"I'm not sneaking about. Anyhow I wanted to talk to him in private."
He crossed his arms, unconvinnced.
Michael crossed his arms as well, intending it to be a stalemate... instead, his holo-image rippled again."
Saint looked over, quite certain of what he had seen now. "Enough of this charade. What is going on, Lieutenant?"
She lifted her chin, assuming an arrogant expression, annoyed. "Don't presume to ask me what is going on, I don't answer to you."
"Answer me, Shalee."
The holo-image backed away from the pair.Raphael Saint pointed his hand at Michael. "Don't you move! And don't you dare deactivate! You're not going to want to leave her alone with me." His face flushed with anger.
"DO you really think that you can harm either of us? As we're both holo-images?"
"Ensign! I suggest you watch your temper, " she yelled out the order.
"You seem to have figured all of this out. So tell me.... what do you think is going on Ensign Raphael Saint of PIE Inc"
He yelled at Shalee. "Quiet! I won't brook any insolance here, regardless of your rank." he looked to the holo-image. "I am quite certain she is here, holo..." he trailed off as the holo addressed him by his name and rank.
"Well? You seem to have it all figured out. Do tell." Michael stepped forward, a few feet closer to Raphael.
"You...you're not going to wrap me into this either. I don't care what faction you are from, but this meeting is not going to end well." Saint looked to Shalee. "Have you been feeding him information on all of us? Who're you spying for!?"
"You don't scare me, Holo. Approach as much as you like." His gaze lingered on the Lieutenant. "So, this is why you have been out of sorts. And it certainly explains a lot. Goddamn you Shalee."
"No goddamn you Raphael, how dare you speak to me in such a tone, and who are you to suggest such a thing. Do you not trust me at all?"
"You will stop addressing me unless I address you first. No more games." Saint said to Michael, his expression grim, then turned to Shalee again. "You! You're the one, getting friendly with everyone, asking them personal questions. I thought you were just friendly, but now I see. And Zenton, your precious boyfriend...well, we got him out of PIE, but he still spies on the militia. Now I know why I saw Koronakesh at that decripid Arbitrator. It's all falling into place."
Micahel laughed, the sound filling the small cramped space of the entrace quickly, echoing throughout the church. "Ensign.... you really do have alot to learn. You're about to get into a whole heap of a mess." He looked to the Lieutenant, "Shalee.... I'm going to have to do it and he'll wish he'd have learned self control over on that pew over there."
Saint slid his hand down, reaching for his pistol only to realize he wasn't carrying it. He pretended he had it anyways, keeping his hand at his hip. "Don't try it!"
"Ensign Raphael Saint of PIE Inc,. What I'm about to tell you is classified by her Imperial Majesty Jamyl Sarum herself, and is pursuant to PIE Executive General Order 17 which states, "Any information given to a member of the Empire by the Imperial Household may not be in turn dispensed to any member of PIE in any form of tribunal, inquiry, hearing, or conversation. In other words, you tell anyone what you're about to hear... and you will die a painful death. Period. Do you understand what I've just said?""Shalee paled as she watched him reach for the gun she knew he carried.
"You would kill me? How could you...oh god how could do this. You've got it wrong, all wrong."
Raphael looked ot the holo, barely registering Shalee's voice.
Saint frowned, not comprehending. "You...you can't be with Amarr. Why all the secrecy here? Why not in a more secure place?"
"Do. You. Understand."
"Hit me."Michael reached foreward and touched a console outside the view of the holo-projectors at his end of the line. His holo-image reformed into the face and body of Michael Priboj of PIE inc. His face was dirty and his torso and arms were covered in fresh wounds. His metal right arm had been dented and hung nearly lifelessly at his side. He was dressed in Amarrian stealth commando combat attire, it's obviously been worn for weeks without washing or changing. On his hip hung a rather advanced amarrian laser pistol, the power cell long empty.
"Oh Michael.." she whispered, heartbroken at the real sight of him.
"I told Shalee and this....this organization decided to rough her up a bit. It might be prudent for you to keep your mouth shut as well Raphael." His holo-image flashed again. "I don't have much time. The sun's coming up again."
"Commander....?" He shook his head. "Commander, what was it we talked about when I requested your counsel?"
"You were about to betray a friend. Then you're being hot headed. And now, mere moments ago, you were accusing a friend of betraying you... and displayed such hot headedness again."
"No, not tonight. I need confirmation it's you. It's obvious you can change your form to anything. When I first met you, when I first met the Commander, what was it I spoke of?"
Michael closed his eyes to remember. "You asked me on our public channels if there was a place for a Miner in PIE Inc,. I encouraged you to apply."
His jaw dropped "Commander? I...I had heard you were dead."
Michael grinned "Yeah.... I heard the same thing." The holo-image flashed again taking longer for the image to return to normal. "I don't have much time Raph. Long story short.... my death is a cover up by a shadow organization within the Amarrian government, sanctioned by the Empress in order to have me covertly camp on a planet in the middle of the Kalevala Expanse and wait for a Jovian Scientist and as payment I'm getting better implants, prosthetics, and a large amount of isk."
"Well what the hell are you doing here?"
"I hacked an orbital minnie communications relay three sectors away in order to broadcast a secure comm line to this location and PIE's public channel. I wanted to keep in contact with those I care about enough to defy The Empress over." He smiled.
"If this mission is supposed to be so damn secret that I would be killed for speaking a word of it, you tell Shalee about it and put her in danger? How does that show you care?"
"I didn't realize it'd be dangerous to her when I did it. Obviously... I was mistaken."
"Well you obviously learned of it's danger at some point, and yet here you are contacting her again. And PIE public? Hopefully you disguised yourself there."
"Of course. I may be foolish, but I'm not stupid. So... now that you... now that you.... now now now that you know." The holo image faltered momentarily.
"Yes... yes... Sorry. Unfortunately due to forces out of my control... I can't communicate on this system during the day. Solar interference."
"When do you expect you'll have your mission completed?" She asked.
"If all goes according to the plans we discussed a while ago, very soon indeed."I'll get on that tonight."
"Thanks. And as for you-for-you-for-you." The image rippled and he disappeared completely before reappearing again a few seconds later. "And as for you, Ensign Saint. You're going to keep your mouth shut, and you're going to stay with Shalee every moment of every day until I get back. That way, you're both protected. Play it off as though you're dating or something. But both of you now know, so you're both in danger."
Saint looked over at Shalee, frowning heavily. "I hope that's not an order, Commander."
"What?! No." She protested.
"Listen you two.... I'd happily camp either one of your quarters to insure your safety. I expect the two of you to figure out some way to keep each other safe as well."
"Commander...you better get the hell back her quick."
Michael laughed. "Shalee has a task of which you might be able to help with. Shalee will you brief him on what you're doing tonight and hand him a copy and have him do the same thing to his logs?"
She folded her arms across her chest, clearly annoyed with the whole idea. "Is it an order?"
"Dead men can't give orders. I'm just hoping that the two of you understand what I'm asking you to do and put aside any... whatever-the-hell-it-is you have between you."
Raphael Saint frowned.
She mirrored his expression.
"Listen up boys and girls... this is bigger than the three of us, and if we have any hope of getting my butt back to you in one piece, you'd best start figuring something out quick." He looked up from the two of them into the distance, far beyond the walls of the Cathedral, then returned his gaze to the two of them. "Do I make myself clear?"
Saint grunted his acceptance."And Raphael.... if you so much as lay a finger on her that isn't got a medical device in the other hand, I'll personally tear them off of you one by one when I get back. So no fighting you two."
He sneered. "No problem there."
"G.....Good. Alright... Time to go."
"Be safe, Commander.""
Remember what I said, You've only got each other as backup. Trust no one, not even PIE members."
Shalee furrowed her brows, worry etched across her face. "Will we see you again soon?"
"I don't know. I'll contact when I can. But I promise that when I do, I'll be alive." He smiled warmly.
"Alright. Take care okay?"
The holo-image nodded and wordlessly tapped a few commands on a console out of sight. His gaze lifted to the pair of them, he smiled to Shalee then vanished.