The first time I saw her, I cursed under my breath. See, when you’re somebody like me – just a boring old human worker bee stuck here in the ass end of nowhere on a barely functioning freeport Astrahus, any time you see a capsuleer, you can pretty much guarantee you’re going to have a bad time.
It didn’t matter that she was one of the most beautiful women I’d ever seen. It didn’t matter that she probably had more money in her bank account than me and all of my ancestors had ever earned put together. It didn’t matter that she had eyes that burned like cigarettes. She was a capsuleer and that meant she was going to make the rest of my day miserable.
I mean, it may be as easy as pushing a button for you to get repairs done to your ship, but you know who actually has to do the work?
I’m sure my face registered surprise, if her or the folks escorting her even deigned to acknowledge my presence. We don’t get many capsuleers in here, honestly. Most of the time they just sit in space and make us come to them. Actually docking up, getting out of their ships and their pods and walking in a station seems to be a bit too pedestrian for our immortal overlords. So this was not something I really expected to see on a regular Thursday morning.
We had a couple of routine maintenance jobs in here, a few Vexor Navy Issues with armor damage, some drones that got a little sizzled by the Blood Raiders. Nothing we didn’t deal with every day. Turn on the repair drones, slap a couple of nanite paste packs on them, clean them off, maybe slap a new SKIN on them if the owner wanted to change the paint, and they were good as new. Just a couple hours and they’d be ready to go back out and face whatever the hell it is those guys do out in space. All I knew was that no matter what they did, they were probably going to end up back here in my Maintenance Bay.
Besides the fact that we don’t get many capsuleers in here, we definitely don’t get the station manager himself down here. This place is a slum lord’s dream – low taxes, far enough from the beaten path that nobody really gives a damn about us, and the station owner had paid off Snuffed Out to leave them alone. We can sit here in our ass end of Aridia, otherwise known as Pemsah, forgotten and out of D-scan range from the gates. Which is why the station manager usually stayed up in his office, figuring out new and creative ways to screw over his employees and squeeze a few more isk out this dump, all while being as safe as you can be in lowsec.
I didn’t feel safe right now, though. My heart was beating a mile a minute, and my palms were getting sweaty. I had no idea who this woman was, but she was gorgeous, and she was a capsuleer. Now, I’m not going to act like I’ve got a ton of experience with either women or capsuleers, but I know you take a beautiful woman and make her immortal, and that stuff gets scary.
Her hair was just a few shades lighter than brown, and it fell slightly past shoulder length down the back of her long jacket. I’d never seen a jacket like that before. It looked like an executor style jacket – sleeveless, with high collar and tasteful silver linings along the lapels – but it went to her knees. Underneath, she had on black high heels that looked sharp enough to cut steel, a short black pleated skirt, and a white blouse that contrasted nicely with the black and silver of the jacket. She topped it off with black pearl earrings and a rope of black pearls around her neck.
I knew I was staring, but I didn’t care.
The station manager gestured to her, and she walked forward into the bay. Out of a hidden pocket inside the jacket she pulled out two long, thin sticks, and in a deft motion wrapped her hair in one hand, slid the sticks through and put her hair up so it now sat in a blonde pile on top of her head, and out of the way of all of the machinery I had laying around.
It was one of the most graceful things I’d ever seen. Why the hell is she down here among us grease monkeys? As I tried to pick my tongue up off the floor, the station manager began walking her around the bay.
“We are so pleased that someone of your stature has chosen our humble facility to repair your ship,” he said, bowing obsequiously and gesturing as he showed her around my bay. “As you can see, we have a fully operational repair facility, and we can repair any subcapital ship, capsuleer or otherwise.”
“You don’t seem very busy, Manager Tanaka,” she said, her voice echoing off the walls of the bay. Her voice was dark, like tinted glass, and it sent a shiver down my spine.
“Ehem, well, this isn’t our busy time of year, ma’am,” he said, recovering well. The balding asshole knew as well as I did – and I’m pretty sure she did – that we never had a ‘busy time of year.’ We were lucky to fix a handful of ships a week.
“I notice that you’re still using an outdated UI/UX on your repair maintenance drone monitors,” she said, walking past him and heading towards a diagnostic machine attached to the gantry attached to one of the handful of Vexors we were repairing.
I couldn’t help but smirk. She was sharp as a tack, this one. She was right, of course. But it was my personal preference, and the station manager had no idea how to spell UI/UX, let alone know what she meant by it, and this was my bay after all.
“I’m sure that our Chief Engineer will get right on it, won’t you, Chief?” he looked at me, staring daggers.
“I prefer the old UI/UX, so we’ll be keeping it,” I said. Eat my ass. This is my bay. My rules. “The new Photon UI is still in Beta, anyway, and it won’t be mandatory for at least a couple more months.”
She looked at me appraisingly. I couldn’t tell if she liked what she saw, but just having her attention spiked my blood pressure. I said a silent prayer to Bob, the wormholer God, that I wasn’t blushing. I didn’t really believe in Him, but better safe than sorry.
“I also noticed that if you adjusted the nanite paste allocations, you could get another 2.3% efficiency from your drones,” she noted, tapping the screen with her fingernail. Maybe it was just the lighting, or some kind of weird capsuleer fashion, but her nails shined – they literally glowed – under the harsh lights in the maintenance bay.
They shined like justice.
It was my turn to frown. I walked over to the screen and followed her finger.
“Damn,” I said. “You’re right.” I keyed in the new figures and watched the efficiency number tick up 2.3%. She’d done that calculation in her head. Fast, and thorough. Amazing.
“In my line of work, I find it quite important to have the right allocations,” she stared at me, as if daring me to contradict her. Then she turned back to the screen, one finger of one hand tracing the data on the monitor, and with her other hand she began twisting her pearls around her index finger. If I didn’t know better, I’d think she was almost flirting with me. But that kind of thing doesn’t happen, especially around here.
“Other than that, it looks like this repair bay will meet my needs. Assuming it all works out, I may have even more business for you all in the future,” she said. The Manager smiled his smarmiest smile.
“Excellent. Let’s go back up to my office, have a drink and finish up the paperwork so we can get to work.”
She didn’t even blink. “I don’t think so,” she said. “I’ll transfer a sum that should cover the total cost of the repairs plus a small amount to, shall we say, expedite things, and you can get started immediately.”
Turning abruptly away from me and back to the Station Manager, she started walking briskly towards the exit.
“I’ll give you access to my Megathron so you can begin the repairs as soon as possible. Please notify me the moment the repairs are complete, no matter how late or early – I tend to get up early, and stay up late. There’s not a moment to be lost,” she said, striding confidently out the door, with the station manager at her heels, his mouth opening and closing like a stunned carp. I don’t think anybody had ever talked to him that way. It made my heart happy.
Fast, thorough, sharp as a tack. She’d toured the facility, picked up some slack, and left the Station Manager gasping for air. It was a masterful performance.
As the door closed, I slowly let out a breath I hadn’t even realized I’d been holding.
I don’t know what the hell just happened, but that was not how I expected to start my Thursday.
~ ~ ~
“Can I borrow your pen?”
It was Friday, and Friday was payday. For some reason the idiots who manage this damn freeport still give us our pay via pay tags. Tags require a trip to the local bank to sell, and that’s how we get paid.
Oh, and, of course, the freeport owner gets a taste through the sales tax. Have I mentioned how life sucks if you’re not a capsuleer?
Out here, there’s only one bank – the Caldari State and Region Bank, which we semi-affectionately refer to as “Shittybank.” The bank was relatively quiet today, and that’s probably why I hadn’t noticed her come up beside me.
“Uh, sure,” I stammered, and handed her the stylus I was using to punch my name and account number into the automated kiosk that would turn my pay tag into isk. Oh, did I mention that once the thing gave me my pay, I had to deposit it back into my account, which also cost a fee? It’s a wonder I made any money at all.
“Thanks,” she said. She started plugging her info into the kiosk next to mine, and I couldn’t help but stare at her out of the corner of my eye. Would she remember me?
“You look really familiar,” she said, turning to face me and handing me back the pen. “Do I know you from somewhere?”
“We met yesterday. I’m the lead engineer repairing your Megathron,” I said. “We didn’t get properly introduced. My name is Tsurana Ohmiras. My friends call me Rana.”
“Pleasure. My name is Karennia Otano,” she said with a smirk. “My friends call me ‘ma’am.’”
I remembered that was how the station manager referred to her, and I laughed politely at the joke. She kept looking at me, and my laugh died in my throat. I guess it wasn’t a joke. She stared at me for another second, then hit me on the arm and laughed.
“Just f-ing with you,” she said. “My friends call me Kitty. At least, they used to. Lately, I’ve been more Karen than Kitty, if you want to know the truth,” she sighed. “It’s been a long week.”
“Oh, I believe it,” I said, running my hands through my hair and breathing a private sigh of relief. Capsuleers. “The amount of damage on your Megathron was insane. I can’t believe you brought it back in one piece, to be honest.”
She grinned. “You should have seen the other guys.”
I smiled. “I also saw how you handled that idiot station manager of ours yesterday. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody cut through his BS red tape like that before. It was like you had a machete!”
She snorted. “It doesn’t take much to deal with guys like him,” she said, turning back to the kiosk. “You just need a fat wallet and a reputation. Fortunately, I’ve got both.”
“If I can ask, what are you doing here? In the bank, I mean,” I said, wincing. It wasn’t any of my damn business why she was here, but I’m about as good at small talk as I am at financial management. I knew I was handling this whole thing very badly, whatever this ‘thing’ was.
She waved her hand, dismissing the question. “I’m just here checking on my dividends. I just sold a goodly amount of cargo from my last fight, and there’s nothing I like seeing more in my Shittybank account than a smooth liquidation.”
That she called it “Shittybank” flipped a switch in my head. She was my dream woman. She even talked like me. I don’t know what came over me, but I knew that if I didn’t take advantage of this accidental meeting, I’d beat myself up about it forever. I knew there was zero chance someone like her would be even remotely interested in someone like me, but then again, who the hell understands how capsuleers think? Even if I ended up being a one-night stand, I’d be perfectly fine with that.
I summoned up all the courage I had at my disposal, and threw caution to the wind.
“You feel like grabbing a Quafe with me?”
~ ~ ~
To say I woke up tired the next day was an understatement. The rest of yesterday was a blur. I groaned and rolled over in my bed, and noticed she was gone. I looked at the chronometer on my nightstand. It read 0400 in bright, red digits. I guess what she said about getting up early was true. All that was left of her was a rumpled spot on the bed and some sheets casually tossed aside, in a way that probably would take some video game coder dozens of hours of work to replicate in a game.
One Quafe had turned into two, which turned into drinks, which turned into dinner. The freeport was crowded with the crew of her battleship, and it seemed like everywhere we went we ran into crowds of saluting crewmembers who looked excited as hell to see their capsuleer outside of her pod. We couldn’t go anywhere without her being recognized and her crew was absurdly chatty. It was also clear they had no idea what the hell she was doing with me.
That was fair, because I had no idea either. If you’d have told me I’d be spending a day with a girl in a short skirt and long jacket, I’d have said you were delusional. But it happened.
After about the fiftieth time we were interrupted, I finally asked her back to my quarters to “watch some Scope videos.” It was the most transparent ask in history, and I figured she’d laugh me off, but she seemed as desperate to get away from the crowds as I did. She took me up on it.
We never watched any Scope videos.
You can fill in the blanks in your own heads as to what happened next – I’m sure you all remember the slides from health class.
I rolled onto my back and smiled up at the ceiling. I knew it was too good to be true, and I had no idea if I’d ever see her again. The repairs on her Megathron had been completed during our romp, so I figured she’d be long gone by the time I got back to the Maintenance Bay.
Oh well. One night was worth it.
I threw the covers off and stood up, and as I did I noticed a thin piece of paper fly into the air and land on the far side of the bed.
Who the hell uses paper anymore?
Rubbing sleep from my eyes, I plodded over to where the sheet had fallen, and I picked it up.
The handwriting was crisp and legible, which struck me immediately because who writes anymore? I hadn’t written a word on paper since I was in grade school. I don’t even know where she’d have gotten it. Not in my cabin, certainly. I read through the note once and then I read through it again. I could feel the panic rising in my chest, and I instantly began throwing on my clothes, almost falling face first onto my bed as I got my legs caught in one of the legs of my pants. Goddamn, I hate pants. I knew I was running out of time and I had to get out of there.
It was at that moment the alarms began ringing throughout the station.
~ ~ ~
Alarm klaxons blared loudly across the station as I burst through the doors and into the Maintenance Bay. Most of the ships there were rapidly being prepped for launch. I could see dozens of crew members swarming into the few Vexor Navy Issues we were still working on, and I could see capsuleer pods being lowered into their cradles for fitting into the ships. Everybody was getting the hell out of the freeport as fast as they could.
I whipped around and saw that idiot station manager striding towards me, flanked by two burly security guards holding large assault rifles. I swallowed, the fear rising in my gut.
Well, I knew this was coming.
“Do you have any idea what you’ve done?!” he shouted at me.
“What the hell are you talking about, Tanaka?” I shouted back at him, trying to strain myself to be heard over the alarm bells.
“We know what you did! We know you gave that b1tch our defense window information, and we know she paid you for it! We saw the billion isk transfer into your bank account this morning! The whole station saw you two together yesterday! Don’t try to deny it!”
What I did do was slowly back up towards the repair drone console. One of the things I liked most about the old UI/UX was it was easy to hack. And sometimes when I’m bored, I like to see what I can get the drones to do that isn’t exactly in their programming. It’s funny. A repair drone works great on fixing the hull, armor or shields on a ship, but they don’t tend do very well with human flesh. They tend to incinerate it. On contact.
Fortunately, repair drones have a lot of safeties included to stop them from accidentally harming humans. Unless, of course, someone reprograms the drones and removes the safeties.
Who would do something so unsafe?
“I don’t know why you think you could get away with this!” Tanaka screamed at me, spittle flying everywhere. “But if we’re going to lose this citadel, we’re taking your ass with us!” His two guards lowered their rifles at me.
I slammed my hand into the console and immediately ducked behind a work bench. I could hear a roar as the drones surged to life, spun and started “repairing” the first things they saw in front of them - the station manager and his goons. Well, they were “goons” in the whole “men hired to terrorize or eliminate opponents” sense, but not like real the bee type “Goons.” Those guys don’t waste their time in Aridia anymore. Snuffed ran them off.
A savory smell of burnt flesh, not unlike roast Achuran songbird, filled the air. I hate to admit it almost made me hungry. I reached up from my crouch and hit the deactivate button on the panel, and the repair drones returned to their dormant state. I stood up, admiring my handiwork.
What was left of the station manager and his guards was smoldering on the floor of the bay.
You have no idea how long I’ve wanted to do that, not gonna lie.
The freeport rocked under another barrage, which knocked me out of my reverie. I had to get the hell out of there fast. I knew they couldn’t blow up the structure today – that’s why they wanted the defense timer information, after all, so they could figure out the best time to come back and hit the structure when its defenses would be weakest, and the structure owners’ fleet of mercenary capsuleers least likely to defend it. But if the station manager knew I’d sold him out, the station owners probably did too, and that meant I was living on borrowed time if I stuck around. Besides, I was fabulously rich now and I could go wherever I wanted.
As the last Vexor rose up, shook off the repair gantries and spun towards the citadel exit, I turned and ran towards the small escape bay in the back of my – well, what used to be mine, I guess – Maintenance Bay.
~ ~ ~
It had been a long time since I’d seen the outside of this Astrahus, and as I sat tethered to the structure, a faint blue line tying my ship to the slowly weakening citadel, I had to say it had seen better days. I was fortunate these idiots hadn’t taken me off the ACLs for the structure yet.
The fleet of ships, largely stealth bombers and a couple of angular, scary looking Triglavian destroyers, circled the structure slowly. Volleys of torpedoes slammed into the shields while steady red beams from the Kikimoras bounced across its surface. I thought I could see them glow brighter as the spool up on their disintegrators reached maximum power. Parked above the scene was a lone Megathron, Kitty’s MG, sporting a gorgeous blue and hot pink Zakura Shumyu SKIN (courtesy of me, by the way). Its railguns pulsed every minute or so, throwing their Spike rounds – each the size of my tiny one-man version of the Caldari Ibis corvette – into the Astrahus’ shields. It wouldn’t be much longer until the shields were gone, and the structure would be forced into low power mode.
The red, “hail” light on my comms panel began blinking and I noticed I had an incoming message. I gave the screen a half grin as I opened the connection.
“Thanks for the help, Rana,” the dark voice poured out of the inboard speakers. “I’m glad you made it out of there in one piece.” After a moment, Kitty’s face filled the viewscreen.
“I wish you had given me more of a heads up,” I said. “I barely had time to get out of there, and I had to take care of the station manager myself. I was supposed to be long gone by the time you guys came back.”
“Sorry, we had to hit it when we did if we were going to get the right defensive window. I knew you could handle yourself, after all, and you get to see me again. Besides, I knew how you really wanted to finish your business with Tanaka.”
Guilty as charged.
“Well, all’s well that ends well, I suppose. Can you pick me up?” I asked, looking over the controls of my Ibis.
“Of course, head on over. By the way, thanks for the cupholder armrests – the bridge crew here on the MG is really happy about that little upgrade,” she smiled again, and, I have to admit, I felt like my face was overheating like a Trig gun on a Keepstar hull timer. I had to be the luckiest guy in New Eden.
“Although, I think I’m going to trade her in. I need something a bit more sporty. Buddy of mine is selling his Golem, the Le Baron he calls it, and I think I may pick it up. After I sell the MG and the stuff we loot from this kill, I’ll probably have enough to buy it outright.”
“Nice! I’m pretty sure I’ve got the license for a ‘Ghost Bird’ skin for a Golem lying around if you want want it,” I said, mentally going through my list of SKIN files. Ghost Bird was a pretty white skin, with some red highlights. It wasn’t a Zakura, but it was still pretty good.
“I will take you up on that,” she smirked. “Who’d have thought I’d be trading the MG for a white Le Baron? Then again, who’d have thought I’d manage to finish this operation as quickly and as easily as I did, and get a fun night in the bargain, too?”
“Glad to be of assistance,” I said, smiling. “I’ve already learned the value in keeping you happy.”
She winked at me, and then terminated the connection, leaving me alone in the comms channel.
I sighed, aligning my ship towards the big Gallente battleship dominating the grid.
In three days, my life had gone from boring to exhilarating. I went from barely scraping by in the ass end of nowhere to being a billionaire. And I got to spend a night with a capsuleer. I made a mental note to buy a lottery ticket the minute I got back to civilization.
I never considered myself a spy or a turncoat, but it was surprising to me how easy it was to choose once the opportunity had presented itself. After years of being treated like dirt, making the decision to flip and sell out my employers was a piece of Cake.
But deep down, even knowing how happy I was to see this shithole burn, I knew there was one major reason why I did what I did, and I wasn’t ashamed to admit it.
I want a girl with a short skirt and a long jacket.