Chapter 1 - Seeing Red

Alerts blared in Durannis’ mind, warnings that the first bulkhead had been breached. He was in structure, stirring frantically in his pod as he tried to get his massive ship to turn, shells raining down on his precious treasure during its maiden voyage.

His mind streamed with curses as it raced through the structure’s systems. Where the ■■■■ is Concord?!

A message popped up in the local system chat, one of his assailants come to mock him.

[A Charon in faction warfare? How stupid are people?]

Of course. Of COURSE! That was why Concord wasn’t coming. It didn’t matter that this was high sec, less than ten jumps from Jita. As long as his assailants were registered with the Amarr militia, they could fire on him with impunity. As his ship was reduced to half hull integrity, Durannis checked their pilot registration. Not Amarr, but Caldari? Curious…

Well, there was nothing to be done. He was neuted, webbed, scrammed, and taking heavy fire. His massive freighter couldn’t turn around anywhere near fast enough to reach the gate. His Charon was doomed. 3 billion ISK down the drain, plus the 75 Catalysts he’d been hauling. Nothing to do but sit back, relax, and enjoy the oblivion that came with yet another death.

As the hull integrity dropped below 10%, Durannis couldn’t help but feel like this death was different. No matter how much he shifted in his pod he couldn’t relax, the boiling rage inside him, the indignation, the humiliation refusing to abate. He knew at the end of the day it was just money. What was a few billion to an immortal like him? None the less, he wanted revenge.

He’d lived a relatively peaceful life since becoming a capsuleer, dedicating himself to mining and hauling, building with what blueprints he could get his hands on. Yet things like this seemed to happen to him more than once a week. Blindsided by something, pirates and greedy ■■■■■■■ crawling out of the woodwork to take what he’d worked so hard to achieve. All too willing to kill a man for their profit margin. It hardly mattered that he would come back, they would have killed any man and not thought twice. The cluster was an unfair place, but by God’s own wrath he wanted to make it a fairer one.

The explosion rocked through him, launching his capsule out into space. Quickly he spun, trying to orient himself to the next gate, stars whirling around him as he sloshed about inside. But the pirates were faster. A notification that he’d been scrammed again blared on his HUD, but they didn’t kill him right away. They wanted to gloat.

[■■■■■■■ idiot. Waste of capsule fluid.]

He didn’t care. He was floating ever so slowly back towards the gate, salvation only a few hundred meters away. Then he heard the pounding of the guns, the scream of steel as his pod was torn open, throwing his body out into space. His skin froze immediately, a silent scream on his lips as he reached fruitlessly for the wreck of his pod. Eyes frozen open he could hear his lungs collapse, feel his blood freezing as it tried to reach his brain. Another death, excruciating.

Durannis stepped out of the showers on the Eystur HQ station, wiping the last of the cloning vat fluid from his hair as he breathed in the stale station air. It was good every now and again to get out of the pod, stretch his legs, and talk to people on something more than a fluid relay. Even if it was in a giant can like this, at least the martinis tasted like something. Way better than the nutrient paste his adopted mom STILL insisted he eat, despite his asking not to be on her subscription plan three times over the past year.

As he pulled his pants out of his locker and shoved his foot in the pantleg he heard a noise behind him, his ears pricking at the sound. He tugged on the other leg, turning to see a well dressed man smiling at him, reflective sunglasses casting an image of Durannis’ bare chest back at him. He scoffed.

“Like what you see?” he said, pulling on his vest “Or do you prefer to start all your conversations with half dressed men?”

The man just smiled more widely, slicking back a strand of black hair, forcing it back in line with all the others. He didn’t look Matari, didn’t have the same bronzing to his skin, and his chin was too short. No, Durannis guessed he might be Gallente, which was confirmed by his accent when he spoke.

“I wanted to catch you before you ran off to your pod. You capsuleers seem to love the damn things, no? Could never do it myself. Bah! Say, are you the hauler that just got blown to smithereens out in Sivala?”

“The very same,” Durannis admitted. “You come to mock me too? I know it was damn stupid of me.”

“No, not at all!” the man said, clearly exaggerating his offense for effect. “I have a proposal for you, actually. That was a particularly nasty way to go, and looking ot your record it seems the Ammarans and Caldari seem to have it out for you. I want to offer you a way to get back at them.”

The bar was shoddy, but better than anything you’d find planetside. The pair had tucked themselves away at a shadowy side table, Durannis swirling his martini while the mysterious stranger sipped at an old fashioned.

“What did you say your name was?” Durannis asked, remembering that so far he hadn’t referred to the man with anything other than a ‘hey’. The man grinned.

“I didn’t, and it’s best for you not to know. You can call me Grieves though, just to have something to say.”

Durannis shrugged. It was weird but suited him just fine, God knew he’d used a false name often enough, so he was in no position to judge. Grieves pulled out a dossier from his briefcase and started flipping through it, showing images from the young capsuleer’s life.

“You were raised in an orphanage run by the Sisters of Eve, yes? With a few of your brothers, I see.”

“Not brothers by blood,” Durannis admitted, “but by circumstance. We all grew up together, Maldis, Salador, Elias, and me. We still keep in contact most days. The Sisters funded our acceptance into the AIR capsuleer program less than a year ago, and we try to help each other out when we can. Why?”

Grieves pursed his lips.

“Do you know why you four were taken in by the Sisters? Do you know what happened to your parents?”

Durannis looked down into his drink, head bobbing slightly as he considered. He hardly knew this man, and suddenly he was asking about his family history? He didn’t see how it was relevant, but if this was some sort of interview he was determined to pass inspection, and if that meant dredging up old painful memories then so be it.

“I don’t know much in the way of specifics, who our parents were and all that. I remember being told that we’d been captured by the Blood Raiders, that our parents had been separated from us on the craft and that they…uh, couldn’t be saved when a capsuleer shot down the flotilla and called in the Sisters to take care of the survivors. The four of us have been together ever since, brothers thanks to the origin we share.”

He could still remember the strands of organs hanging from the light fixtures, the blood running down the walls, the metallic scent of it everywhere. He shook off the flashes of poisonous memory, focusing instead on the man across from him.

“What is this about, Mr. Grieves?”

The slick businessman took a deep breath, leaning towards Durannis with his elbows on the table.

“Mr. Vern, are you angry?”

The question shocked Durannis; it wasn’t the question he’d been expecting at all.

“Uhh…what do you mean?”

“I mean what I said,” said Grieves, a cool, calm smile plastered across his face. “From the moment you were born the minds of fate have buffeted you about. Born into slavery you were taken from your parents by a bloodthirsty cult, just to be raised by a slightly more humane one.They dictated your destiny, pushing you toward the stars and urging you to hop in a pod, just like your brothers. We’ve had our eyes on you for a while now, Durannis. What do you do with immortality, while your brothers and sisters toil in slavery? You mine asteroids, build ships, funding those brave enough to actually take a stand and put themselves on the line. And what does it get you? I just watched you blown to smithereens in a ship you flew for the first time today, 3 billion ink gone in a flash. Just because you’re avoiding your responsibility to the Minmatar people doesn’t mean the enemies we fight against are going to leave you alone. So I ask you again, Mr. Vern. Are you angry?”

Durannis was left speechless, his fist trembling as he clenched it tight. This man has no right to insult him, to call him a coward, say he was leaving his brothers and sisters in bondage. He was just one man! What could he do? But still, there was something about the man’s words that resonated with him, and after a long moment he nodded.

“I…I am. I want to be useful. I want revenge on those that have wronged me. But I feel powerless…”

“Powerless?” Grieves scoffed. “Man, you’re immortal. Get out of here with that ■■■■. You capsuleers have more power in this cluster than just about anyone, and you’ll have it forever. What you feel is unsupported, which is very different.”

Grieves dug around in his briefcase, pulling out a slip of paper that he pushed across the table.

“That is a bond for 4 billion isk,” he said, his smile as unchanging as the position of the stars. “To replace your Charon, plus a little more as an incentive to hear me out.”

Durannis’ mouth hung open as he took the page, staring at the crisply stamped paper, looking between it and the man that handed it to him with awe. He was out of his depth now, truly at a loss for what he’d stumbled into, and Grieves didn’t wait for him to catch up before posing another query.

“Do you believe, Durannis, that there is any means unacceptable to employ when the ends is the liberation of the Minmatar people? Do you believe that is an end noble enough to justify doing terrible things to achieve it?”

“Um…” he stuttered, scrambling to gather himself. “I…suppose so. I mean, the things that happen in bondage…I’m supremely lucky to have escaped at such an early age. The Amarr are monsters, hiding behind God to justify the most foul practice known to man, and the Caldari are just as bad for supporting them. I’d object to harming civilians, bu-”

“Civilians?” Grieves snapped, suddenly furious. “You’re talking about slavers, Durannis. People that own slaves, that benefit from those that do, that believe you are less of a human being than them because of which planet your race originates from. Can you really even call them people? You said it yourself, they’re monsters, Durannis. And those that slay them are heros.”

“I-…I suppose you’re right,” said Durannis, tucking the bond away in his vest and turning back to the man across from him. “So yes…the ends justify the means, if it means setting my people free.”

Grieves’ fury evaporated, and once again the Gallente was all smiles.

“Then our interests are aligned,” he said, digging around in his briefcase again. "I’m a representative of an organization that is willing to do the hard things to free your people. Willing to go far enough to actually accomplish the goal of liberation, but we suffer from…a bit of an image problem. The Republic has declared us terrorists because they don’t understand that wars in space alone don’t free the slaves planetside. We specialize in removing Amarr interests in Minmatar space, and we have some very wealthy backers that have been accumulating wealth since we went offline a few years back. We’re ready to take the stage again, and we want you to be the face of that effort.”

“Terrorists?” Durannis whispered, incredulous. “Wh- I love the Republic! I don’t want to work with anyone they’ve declared-”

“Don’t you understand, Durannis?” Grieve’s hissed, fist pounding on the table in a way that made their drinks jump. “They have to say that, for political reasons. But when it comes to actually moving against us? That’s a whole nother story. We’re patriots, Durannis. Like you. We do what we do to make the Republic pure, clear of Amarran interests and free to pursue its own destiny. It cannot do that while it still wears the chains of the Amarr, gilded or not.”

Durannis swallowed, staring at his nearly untouched drink, and took a hefty swig from the glass before meeting Grieve’s eye again.

“Who are you people?”

Once again, Grieves smiled.

“Do you remember, a few years ago, the riots in the streets of Dober Harn? The firebombs? “One ISK for Midular”?”

Durannis furrowed his brow, thinking back as best he could. He’d heard of the protests, but he’d been in capsuleer training at the time and didn’t have much time to pay attention to the news. But when Grieves raised his fist, the symbol of their movement, it all came together.

“The Bloody Hands of Matar?” he asked in surprise. “I thought you guys were all gone.”

“Not gone. Not even sleeping. We’ve been working under the radar, letting our public image repair while we make connections, make arrangements, and maneuver for our reammergance. Now is the time, and you have every reason to stand with us. The Republic is polluted with Amarran influence. Even EDENCOM, our protectors from the Triglavians, are a puppet of the slaver theocracy. We have to take a stand, and with everything coming together there is no better time than now. I ask you, Durannis, are you with us?”

Durannis leaned back in his seat, nursing the last dregs of his drink. Grieves was right, he was angry. Angry at all the people that kept taking from him. The Amarr, the Caldari, their proxies corrupting his beloved Republic and the organizations that were supposed to defend them, be the ‘good guys’ in this dark cluster of stars. And he felt powerless. It would feel good to have a cause, to have people at his back cheering him on, to become the face of something bigger than his own petty ambitions. He wanted to help, wanted to be important, wanted to make a difference. He set his glass on the table.

“What can I do to help?”

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