Two months ago:
She jolted up in bed to the sound of crashing thunder, instantly assaulted by the smell of smoke. She panicked as she glanced about the dark room.
A few feet from her bed, she could make out the faint silhouette of a man smoking a cigarette.
She blinked, trying to adjust her vision to the darkness as she forced herself awake. Several things came to mind at once.
She was on a space station and there shouldn't be any thunder. Secondly, and more importantly, she was supposed to be alone.
"Quite dramatic, don't you think?" He swayed his hand slowly, leaving a streak of burnt orange light in front of him. "I've always enjoyed a good thunderstorm. Seems the appropriate mood for our little talk. Hope you don't mind the jack-in to your holographic system."
The voice was eerily familiar. Kathetel. An Imperial Agent who was working with Micah on the Priboj case several months back. He had nearly killed her at St. Alms Cathedral and would have succeeded if Vlad Cetes hadn't have come to her rescue.
But he was supposed to be dead. She watched him die, had seen Vlad's security team shread him to pieces. Though she had thought the same of Micah. Of course she should have realized the agent would have had a soft clone. Of course.
He exhaled a mouthfull of smoke, "You thought you were free of me." The corners of his mouth twisted up into a slight smirk, "I can see it on your face."
"I should have known better..."
"Indeed. What good are we to the Empire if we can die by a few stray bullets hmm?" His tone was mocking. "But don't worry your pretty little head over it, I am not here for revenge."
He laughed. "If I wanted revenge..." His gaze slid across her thin nightgown.
She jerked the sheet up around her shoulders.
He laughed again. "Bygones, and all of that. No my girl, we have much bigger plans for you now."
Thunder rolled across the room again, "What do you want from me?"
"You were contacted by the Minmatar General, Eran Mintor last night in Kurniainen."
She frowned deeply, "It wasn't like that, I don't know him. It was a random thing, I'm no traitor."
He laughed as he lowered his cigarette. "We know." He ran his thumb over a small hand-held device, replaying the voice comms from local the previous night.
Region: The Bleak Lands
"What's your interest in this Blooder infested land anyway?"
"Why are you here, rather."
"Why are you here?"
"Because I have a store of drones and I just needed to replace them...at this location."
"....but now I see you're possibly trying to assault Minmatar Naval forces. Or could it be coincidence this facility is open...."
"You should probably station camp me." she retorted with equal sarcasm.
"I probably shouldn't."
"But how are you, anyway? I know that station to be cozy."
"Oh, I'm perfectly lovely, thank you for asking."
"Good good. Looks like nobody has died in this facility yet, for that I'm grateful. Forgive me for assuming you had. Would I be wrong to you assume you will?"
"Mmm you would be wrong, yes. My patrol shift is done."
"Really? Not your usual hours..."
"Are you familiar with my usual hours hmmm?"
"Approximately..." He chuckled, then asked; "Well would you care to join me for drink?"
"A drink? With you? What, so you can kill me with your bare hands?"
He laughed, "No m'dear. I am just in need of some good company, and it has been awhile since I have shared a drink with an Amarrian."
She seemed to hesitate. "Yeah. Okay. On one condition."
"What is that?"
"Face to face, not VR."
"Of course. Your place of choice."
"The Last Gate?"
"Or if you have none in mind I know of a place but its in Metropolis..."
"Whats your place?"
"A place I used to work when I was a kid....it's very quiet."
"Yeah okay. Send me the coords.... I'll meet you there."
Kathetel stood. "So you met with the illustrious General in Yrmori."
"Yes. I thought that...that just having him off of the warfront for a few hours would help give our militia a much needed respite. Mintor is infamous for his zealous drive. He doesn't stop, he's like a machine." She didn't know why she felt the need to justify her actions. It was harmless meeting. And anyhow, she wasn't in PIE any longer, technically she was free to talk to whomever she wanted.
He nodded. "Indeed. And what did you think of him?"
"You will meet with him again."
"What? No...no. He is a terrorist for God's sake. It was a one time thing, I probably shouldn't have to begin with." She could just hear her old Captain's voices scolding in the back of her mind. She silently shushed Mitara and Laerise.
"But he has shown an interest in you, and dear girl, we will use that to our advantage."
He scoffed, "You speak as if you have a choice in the matter. You are a sworn defender to Empress and Empire, and that means you will follow orders."
"But...I can't kill him in cold blood. Even if I should somehow get the opportunity to do so...I couldn't. Don't ask that of me..."
"All we want is for you to distract him. Keep him off the battlefield as much as possible. Gather intel whenever you can. Charm him." He smirked, "It's not like it's a chore for you."
"Mmm no. I'll let your General have the honors." He deliberately dropped his gaze to the sheet she had wrapped around her, "For now, anyhow."
"And if I should say no?"
"But you wont. You will do your duty like a good little soldier." He took a final draw from his cigarette. "Anyhow." He tapped his fingertip to his temple. "Superiors thought of that. In case that defiant little temper of yours kept you from agreeing..." He tossed a datapad onto the bed with a picture of Raphael, half starved, bloodied, beaten.
She stared at it then lifted her gaze to him, "How is this even possible...I saw him the other day...."
"The man that came back to you isn't who you think he is. 'Your' Raphael is in captivity, still." He motioned for her to change the display picture. She slid her thumb across the screen. The next photo was of Micah. "Just keeps getting better, doesn't it?" He nodded again, as if to urge her on. The screen flashed with a photo of Michael Priboj in a cell, haggard and worn, beaten.
"But-but...how? Where are they!"
"You want answers? You follow orders, and everything will be revealed in due time." He dropped the butt of his cigarette into the ashtray at her nightstand. "By the by, you really need to be more careful." He pulled a handful of broken surveillance devices from his pocket and dropped them into the ashtray as well. "Your apartment was buggier than a garbage bin. Someone is keeping tabs on you. Or someones, I might say. Passed a few spooks on the way in here, and not ours."
"Oh god...can this get any worse?"
He leaned over and pressed his finger beneath her chin, tilting her head up to meet his gaze, "Definately."