(posted on PIE forums Jan 12th)
Patroling out in the back systems of Amarr, Shalee had offered her assistance to the Imperial Navy in one of the military complexes. It was an easy enough task, just patrol around the base for a set amount of time in case a minmatar should happen upon it. With local empty and the intel channels quiet, it wasn't very likely she was to see reds. She sighed as she warped to the accel gate, wishing to see a little action. Lately she had gotten a bit restless with patrols, though she knew they were absolutely necessary for the war effort. PIE's patrols literally made the difference if a system was captured by the Minmatar or not.
But that didn't change the fact patrols were a bit dull when flying solo in the backwater systems.
So when a transmission came in from a random source, she couldn't help but welcome the conversation....
"Have a moment?" Ashar KorAzor's face flickered to view on her screen.
"I do," she replied curiously as she started to run a background check on the stranger. Employment history showed very little, though she was set with negative standings to PIE. Her curosity piqued a little more.
"I wonder if you might tell me if I'm coming up with any standings, positive or negative, on your display."
"Uh yeah, actually. You're orange to me."
"Lallara Zhuul sure knew how to hold a grudge."
Shalee quirked a brow at the mention of Lallara, a once famous Admiral of PIE, long before her time. A few months back, Lallara visited the PIE Public channel and caused a lot of drama with her views on the Empress. Shalee had tried to step in and shut her up when the senior officers failed to do so. She had gotten an ass chewing for it by Captain Laerise, but in the end Lallara's access was blocked to their neocomm channel.
"So, does Praetorian doctrine allow you to speak at length to capsuleers at such conditions?"
"The Praeotrian doctrine prefers that I not speak with you, no." Like that was going to stop Shalee from asking, "So what happened?"
"Oh, many things. Mostly, according to her, I was right." Ashar, paused. "Well, I don't seek to get you in trouble with your commanders if they'll get hot and bothered over your speaking to me, captain. Would be troubling."
"It's lieutenant. But I don't mind, I don't think I'm likely to get in to much trouble. So, what happened?"
"Captain applies fine, I think, if you have to get stuck in a pod. Not a lot of the pilots I find of interest who fly Praetorian colors are still active. I'd rather not be responsible for misfortunes on your part, so I say again, are you sure you'd like to continue?"
Shalee checked the countdown timer, she still had a long while to patrol around the Navy complex, "Nothing could please me more, to be perfectly honest. By all means, continue."
"What happened between me and Admiral Zhuul, retired, is that I expressed certain values she did not share concerning the Empire's stance on traditions, and various other liberalities, and questioned the integrity of her values. She didn't like that. Then, Jamyl Sarum became Empress, and she quit the Praetorians, voicing concerns I had raised in her presence. I doubt she'll ever forgive me." Ashar shrugged, "It's the life of a capsuleer in Imperial politics, or as close as we get to them. Feeling sated now?"
Shalee grinned, "Indeed." Any gossip about Lallara was satisfying. "However, to be honest, I don't know her very well. But what I do know, I don't care for."
"So, mind telling me why you're keen to displease your commanders?"
"I am not eager to displease them."
"I've had an eye on you for a few days now. Pulling feeds and so on. You speak to foreigners without losing your hold on tradition. This is significantly more integrity coupled with the sort of progressiveness that the Empire values. As such, I'm not eager to put you in a position to displease them. Not a lot of pilots around of your sort. They're in short supply."
Shalee frowned, suspicious, "You've been watching me?"
"Lieutenant, I am a telecomm magnate and like yourself, a recruiter. I am quite good at it. You're a capsuleer in a prominent paramilitary. It is my role to watch, and yours, to be seen. Expect it. More malevolent individuals than I will undertake such things, and worse."
"I see." Local spiked suddenly. Shalee forgot the conversation as she concentrated on the flow of reds into her complex. It was a quick skirmish with no losses on either side. "Well, since nothing of substance has been said, you should probably get away safe and sound if questioned about this. Especially if you direct me to the Praetorian public comms now, so you can say that you did so when asked about standings. Do direct me, yes, Lieutenant? And thank you for answering my question."
"Sorry, I was in combat. You have my attention now. Yes, I can direct you to the public comms."
"Oh, I'm just keeping you out of trouble. I know where they are. This is so you can say you did."
"I'm not worried so much about trouble. My superiors seem to think I attract it," she grinned smuggly.
"Mm. Well, know that I am publicly reviled for using the privlidges that, while mine by right, are generally understood to be vestigal: interacting with suspicious foreign powers, conducting business with such, and so forth. That and my political views make me significantly troubling."
"Political views? Care to elaborate?"
"...If Laerise is an arch-conservative, I am nearly an an arch-liberal. If Ardor was an extremist in his traditionalism, I am an extremist in my progressiveism. The Praetorians usually cleave to the center, which is set by whoever sits on the throne. I...don't. It's of concern to the likes of them, and it is why I have low standing with them."
"I'm really nothing like Laerise."Ashar smiled slightly. "Nobody's anything like Laerise. She lives on a wholly constructed reality, carefully built up by wiser backers."
"She is...unique. But." Shalee shruged. "She is my commander and I will show her the resepct due to her rank."
"As you should. Nothing built around a military structure goes anywhere good when there's a breakdown in the command chain."
"And whatever Laerise's familial problems may be, her adoptive daughter seems to be breaking clear of them, so there is hope."
"Adoptive daughter? Sorry I am not much aware of Laerise's personal life."
"Daughter in law, albeit adoptive. Not wholly relevant to her command experience. Evidence of anyone's chance for redemption. Look, Lieutenant, I'm going to stop making trouble for you, now. If you'd like to make some for yourself, I won't prevent further contact, but best it were undertaken at my arbor, or somesuch. Less...problematic on the reports. You'll find the GalNet data on it instructuve."
"Your arbor?" Somewhere in the back of her mind she could hear Captain Mitara's voice warning her to drop it, that she was set to orange for a reason. "Yes, captain. It's in Amarr. Just tell the next pilot up the chain that you took respite on the Theology Council Station over Zorast."
"Will do." This time her subconscious became a chorus of Captain's voices, both Mitara and Laerise telling her not to step anywhere near Ashar. She mentally shushed them.
"It's also VR accessible, I suppose. Well, do take care, Lieutenant. May God preserve you."
"Wait. VR accessible?"
"Mm? Yeah, but I wouldn't recommend it. You're familiar with virtual reality projection systems?"
She laughed, "Oh. Right. Yes, of course. But I rarely use them, I prefer face to face."
"My order's arbor is...let us say coordinated with a projected virtual reality environment. The technology in question is oddly simple, but I didn't get the expensive bits, so there's only limited things you can do to affect it from VR. In other words, you're right to prefer to be there in person."
"It sounds interesting."
"Well, by virtue of ships and gates, it's perfectly reachable for you, I imagine."
"Though I'm not certain why I should go there when we are having a perfectly fine conversation here."
"Madam captain Lianne, I'm pointedly ignoring your rank to indicate that I am not engaging you in conversation over the comms as a Praetorian because people have ways of finding out. Aside from that, I asked you about standings. This has been answered, and as such I'll cease taking up your time unless you, y'know, have more questions. My previous contacts within the Praetorians typically met with demotion and so forth because of getting found out, one way or another. I'd prefer not to inflict that on someone I've just met properly. But, if you've more to say - by all means, I'll stay and listen."
Shalee hesitated for a moment, "No I really have nothing to say. More or less just curious, but mostly all of that was before my time, so there's really nothing I need to know. I suppose."
"Oh, they do tell you that. And then a dead woman is enthroned and a war started and seven hundred million slaves freed and all the rest." Ashar grinned provokingly, "Come by for tea, then." She killed the connection.
Shalee was in her Choonka apartment, her bed covered with luggage, closet door open as she padded back and forth, packing up a few days worth of clothing. A camera drone followed her, buzzing above her head, recording as she busily packed.
"The other day I'm in the Basilica and run into one of our new recruits, Ollin. We were chatting when Davlos happend by. I introduced him to Ollin, and the next moment I'm getting pulled away by Captain Laerise."
"She scolded me for talking to him and for introducing him to the new Ensign, all because of his past. I tried to explain that Davlos was joining the militia, thus he was perfectly acceptable to talk to. I mean, if the Empress allows it, what can Laerise say?"
"Laerise pointed out that he wasn't in the militia yet." Shalee frowned. "She had a point."
"So after that asschewing, I couldn't help but be in a mood with Dav. Later on that night he tried to comm me but I told him not to bother, that I was tired of him making me out to be a fool. I had told so many people, my Captains, that he was joining the militia but he had not. I told him I couldn't talk with him any longer until he joined." She tucked a uniform shirt into the bag, "He got snippy, then ended the conversation."
"Not twenty four hours later he is flying DIA colors."
She checked the time, realizing she had half an hour to escape her apartment. She drug her bags to the front door, then went back to her bedroom. Catching a glimpse of herself in the mirror, she frowned. She was sick to death of seeing herself in her PIE flight uniform. She'd practically lived in the thing. With a few minutes left, she quickly changed out of the flightsuit and slid into a simple white linen dress that tied across her shoulders. She pulled her hair up, then glanced to the clock again a bit nervously.
Fifteen minutes left. Enough time for a smoke and drink before she had to leave. She wandered off into the living room, poured a drink and lit up a cigarette as she mentally replayed the conversation with Garst from earlier....
She'd just walked into the apartment when the internal comm unit opened up with a transmission from him.
"Shalee darling it's been a week since I've last talked to you. It's been hard for me to keep my mind off you, I heard the war is going badly and I was scared that you might have been hurt. I had to contact you, I couldn't wait any longer for you to get back to me..."
The silence was thick as she debated on answering him or not.
"I am fine."
"Thank God! It does me good to hear that, and see you again Shalee, even if its only over the damned comm network."
"And if I wasn't fine? Then what? What would you have done hmmm?"
"I would have moved the stars in the sky to get to you again of course, what kind of question is that?"
She shrugged, "I don't know."
"Well never mind the what ifs. What matters is that you are alright, and thank God that you are. Are you ready to come with me? I miss you so badly."
"You know I cannot...will not, leave PIE. Not now."
He looked crestfallen and turned away from her slightly before looking back into the screen as he composed himself. "You need a break. The war isn't going anywhere, but we are. You'll understand when you are with me. Come with me, if it isn't everything I promise it to be, I will take you home myself."
"Come with you where, exactly? And to what avail?"
"Does it matter where we go? As long as you are with me."
She was silent for a moment as she thought about her conversation with Mitara recently. Perhaps there was still a way to reach Garst, to lead him back to salvation. "Garst...do you believe in God still?"
"I would not be standing before you in one peice, what I am, if I didnt. I believe in him, and more importantly, I know he believes in me."
"Very well. Will you do something for me...?"
"Anything your heart desires."
"Will you meet me tonight? At the St Alms...."
"Is that where you want me to pick you up? I'll bring my transport immediately, I've prepared a room for you."
She shook her head, "No Garst. I'm not coming with you. I wanted to pray with you....for you."
"What good would that do? I don't need prayer, I need you."
She sighed."What's gotten into you!"
"Me?! What about you!"
"I don't know what you're talking about, I'm still the same Garst who bought you your first Slicer, saved you when those Minmatar subhuman dogs had you in their gunsights, held your head and let you cry into my shoulder that night at the waterfall." He kept his piercing gaze locked on her, "I'm me. And thats all."
The transmission drone followed her around the apartment. She stopped at the minibar to pour a drink. "No, you're different now. You're still trying to hold on to that man...maybe I am too." Her brows furrowed. "Maybe thats the problem. Maybe it's time we both let go of something that's passed.
"He growled into the screen and made to grab her before realizing that she was just a hologram. His grip relaxed, "NO! I will not let you go. Get your things, I'll be in the Choonka system in an hour, I will be at your apartment a few after that."
"The clock is ticking, four hours. Get packing. Go."
She took a long sip of her drink as she glanced at him, "I said no. What are you going to do, beat down the door?"
"No. I have goons for that. Is that whats it's going to come down to?"Her gaze drifted to the door, "You wouldn't."
"Don't try me."A moment of hesitation flickered across her face. She rationalized that it was Garst. He wouldn't hurt her, not really. "I'm not afraid of you or your goons."
"In three hours and fifty minutes we'll see if you arent packed. You are coming with me one way or another, I know you want me but I'm tired of these mind games."
"You're being ridiculous. First off, I wont even be here in 'three hours and fifty minutes'. Secondly, what, your goons going to chase me down in my slicer? Really Garst."
"Of course you will be, you want to come with me. You will sit there for hours," he challenged. "Tell yourself you wont come, cant come."
"I wont!" She looked at him matter of factly, "I wont be here."
"And when I knock on your door, you will open it, suitcase in hand. Where will you be?"
"I wont tell you."His face twisted with controlled rage, then softened, looking as if he were on the verge of depression.
She remained silent as she poured another drink. Thinking. Wondering if he would ever be the man she once knew, the one she trusted.
"Three hours, thirty minutes Shalee. I'll be there. You better damn well be there too. It's for your own good, I can't wait to feel you in my arms darling. I'll see you soon."
"What? No. Like I said, I'm not going to be here, so you might as well get over these delusions." Before he could answer she killed the connection with a string of curses. Damn him.