The following is an entry for the Prose and Caldari Culture categories of the YC125 NECWC.
The Badger, loaded with a massive shipment of polymer toys, was on final approach towards the stargate.
One final jump. The captain thought to himself. One more and we’re done. He was reaching for the mug in front of him when a klaxon went off.
The imposing hull of a Typhoon class battleship had emerged from warp only a few hundred meters away, triggering proximity alarms throughout the industrial transport. Additional alarms began warbling as the battleship’s targeting and ranging lasers rotated towards the transport and activated. Boarding shuttles launched from the battleship and raced towards their target. There wasn’t a single communication. There was no need.
The whole attack took less than a minute before both ships disappeared again into warp.
“Well, that makes five attacks in three days,” Spacelane Patrol Captain Salias Kumei remarked to his partner as they walked into the bullpen. “All against the Matsuko Transportation Inc. fleet.”
“And still no evidence?” The other agent replied as he read the latest incident report on his datapad.
“No. They don’t give the customs patrols a chance to respond either before they disappear into deep space. And the response fleets never find them.”
“Organized crime?” The pair turned to the agent, who stood from behind his desk. “They must be using some unregistered gate network to get around. They’ve hit, what, four different systems?”
“Good point,” the captain said. “Run that down. This piracy has been hitting Matsuko hard. That means financial troubles, which means pressure on the bosses to end this soon. That’ll be pressure on us soon enough. Let’s end this before it gets to that point.”
“Matsuko Transporation, Inc., or MTinc., has seen yet another drop in stock prices. This 3.4% drop follows a report by CBD Spacelane Patrol of a hijacking of a MTinc. transport at the Kappas-bound stargate in Funtanaine. Financial analysts in Koichi have expressed concerns over the financial stability of the corporation, which has been in a slump for over two weeks now. It is believed that … ” Aleso Puski turned off the HoloVision set and turned to his computer, smiling to himself. The operation was going well. According to the graph on his computer, in fact, MTinc. stock had plummeted almost 20% over the past month.
He buzzed the intercom on his desk. “Kystie, have one of our traders put in an order. 1.1 million shares of MTinc. Budget of 54 million ISK,” he ordered, leaning back into his chair. Yes. The operation was going well indeed. “And set up a meeting with Mr. Isoraki. I have some important information for him.”
*“Mr. Isoraki will see you now,” the young secretary said, holding open the door. Aleso Puski stood, smoothed his suit, and strode into the office. *
“Ah, Mr. Puski. Have a seat, please.” The well dressed Deteis was seated behind a large and elaborate desk. “Joolia, close the door, please.”
“I’ve heard a lot about you, Mr. Puski. You’re effective, but discreet. Lots of connections too.”
*“I don’t need a review of myself, Mr. Isoraki. Money, not compliments, talks. What do you need from me?” Aleso replied, tapping his knee impatiently. *
“I want to expand my corporation, but it will require capital. More capital than I have.”
Aleso began to stand. “A mining company?!” He scoffed. “My firm holds 534 million in investments from two dozen companies. Half of them are small or medium sized firms like yours. You’re not bringing anything to the table. You’re not worth my time.” He spat as he yanked open the door.
“Wait!” Mr. Isoraki raced to block Aleso. “I need more than capital. I’m looking to expand into the transportation side of the business as well. We currently contract out, but … … well, there’s been a falling out.”
“You want to conduct a hostile acquisition?”
“Yes. The flashier, the better.”
“Ok. I’ll see what I can do.” Aleso said. Satisfied, Mr. Isoraki stepped aside, allowing the other man to exit.
“Mr. Isoraki will see you now,” Joolia said.
“Mr. Isoraki,” Aleso said, entering the room. He shook the man’s extended hand and sat down. “I know you’re busy, so I’ll be brief. My firm has secured about a 20% share of MTinc., and our affiliates have secured another 11.5%. We’ve also secured the support of a coalition of stakeholders holding approximately 6% of the company. Starting later tonight, we’ll begin spreading rumors of an impending corporate takeover by a variety of competitor companies, including yours. That should force another drop in the stock and allow us to pick up the remaining support we need to expel MTinc.’s leadership and put our people in instead.”
“How long before it’s done?”
“A week and a half, Mr. Isoraki. Maybe two.”
“Too long. I want that bastard Augustene and his cronies turned out onto the street by the weekend.” Mr. Isoraki slammed his hand on the desk. “I want his fall plastered all over the tabloids! I want to see it on the Sunday news! I want to hear it in the early Monday gossip! I want everyone in the constellation talking about it!”
Damn … impatient, aren’t we? “This is a delicate process, Mr. Isoraki. We need to tread carefully to keep our involvement secret until we make the takeover.”
“Secret? Our involvement? NO! I want him to know! I want him to know that I’m behind this! I want him to fear MY name!”
… and it’s out. Well, that was easy. “I can make our involvement overt, Mr. Isoraki, but it will risk damage to this corporation or your person.”
Mr. Isoraki scoffed derisively. “Hah! Let him try!”
Aleso nodded as he stood. “I’ll set it up then. I’ll keep you updated about any developments.” As he exited the office, he took a cell phone out of his pocket, dialed a number, and spoke a few words.
“Execute phase two.”
An alert blared on the Neocom of Arela Kurten’s frigate. Her target was about to finish. Time to move. She began manually piloting the agile Slasher through the asteroid field, doing her best to hide the small craft behind the massive rocks.
The bronze-colored Navitas drifted beside a massive Veldspar asteroid, completely unaware of the impending threat. Arela chuckled to herself. No wonder why the bosses didn’t want to send her any help. That thing’s got to be ten years old, at least! Probably cheaper than a modernized vessel. She turned her vessel on its side and nudged it closer and closer to the target vessel from behind the bulk of a gargantuan rock. The Navitas was now aligning, likely with a full hold of mineral rich rock fragments. Completely unaware. She pounced.
“Yeah. Mining ship, this time. An old Navitas. Completely blown apart, too.”
“Don’t think so. M.O. is so different. Different corporation targeted, too. Koichi Industrial Corp. this time.”
“Double all patrols, constellation wide. And I want the forensics report on my desk tomorrow morning.”
The call came in that night.
“HAVE YOU SEEN THE NEWS?!?”
“Ah, Mr. Isoraki! I’m watching it now. Ore prices are - ”
“Never mind that! They blew up one of my ships today!”
“MTinc! Who else? Those bastards want to play with fire, let them get burned!!”
“Are you sure it was them, Mr. Isoraki? There are a lot of pirates, even so close to Jita. It could have - ”
“NO! This was targeted, I know it! And they’re going to pay for what they did! They’re going to burn! I’ll watch them fall in flames!”
“What do you want me to do, Mr. Isoraki?” Aleso smiled to himself. He swiveled around to look out the window and leaned back in his chair.
“Whatever you’re doing now, ramp it up! I want to embarrass Augustene. Rub his entire face in a pool of mud, pull him up, and dunk him in again!”
Aleso raised his eyebrows. Damn, he’s on fire. Such a stroke of luck to have come across him. Easiest mark I’ve ever handled.
“It won’t be pretty, Mr. Isoraki. Might draw some eyes.”
“I don’t care! You do what you have to! I can deal with fallout. I want to see Augustene thrown out on the street, no matter the cost!”
“Okayy … I’ll make some calls,” Aleso said, disconnecting the call while reaching under his desk with one hand to remove the small device he had placed there beforehand.
Aleso walked out of the office with his cloak in his hand, stopping by his secretary’s desk. “Kystie, put your cloak on and come with me. I need you to help me with something.”
The Achura immediately grabbed the cloak hanging on a hook next to her and raced to follow her boss. As she fastened the cloak, she whispered softly, “What are we doing?”
“Accessing some records. C’mon, we gotta hurry,” Aleso whispered back.
“In here, c’mon,” Aleso whispered softly, deftly unlocking the door and slipping through. “The records we need are somewhere in this room. I think I remember where. Let’s go.”
“It’ll be a box of datacards in a cabinet. Second drawer from the bottom.” Aleso pointed. “Should be … this aisle, here.” Deep in the shadows, a camera flashed twice, unseen.
“Huh … it’s not here. Strange. Umm … we’ll have to spread out. Take these aisles. I’ll take the other side.” Aleso ordered softly. He made his way stealthily towards the end of a nearby aisle before removing a phone from the pocket of his cloak and dialing a number. “I’m here,” he whispered. Another man wearing a dark green cloak emerged from the shadows.
“What do you want, Puski?”
“Cutting right to the chase, eh, Adrich? Okay then. Good work, but I need you to hurry it up. Keep hijacking the transports and exploding the miners, but start making multiple attacks a week. Maybe even multiple a day. My sources are reliable. He’ll get you all the intel you need.”
“I need more, then.”
“You’ll get more. You’re paid per kill, Adrich.”
“Not enough. I want a higher rate. You’re putting more risk on me.”
“Fine, extra 2.5% of the hull price. That makes it a nice 6.75%. Happy?”
“A pleasure. I’ll see you, Puski.”
Yeah, you will. Ok, now, to find those reports. Aleso crossed the aisle and knelt beside a nondescript locker. He quickly picked the lock, opened the compartment, and extracted a small, silver lockbox before heading back.
Aleso tapped his foot impatiently. Where the hell is she? Finally, another cloaked figure appeared at the end of the aisle. Aleso looked up at the faint blinking red light above him before moving towards his secretary. “Where were you?” he asked impatiently. He held up the lockbox. “I found the records. You know what, never mind. Let’s go. We’ve been here too long.”
Back in the sanctity of his office, Aleso had just opened the box of records and begun to read when Kystie opened the door.
“The schedule for tomorrow, Mr. Puski,” the secretary handed a sheet over. “I’ll be leaving now.”
“Yes, yes. Have a good night. I’ll see you tomorrow,” Aleso replied distractedly. He went back to absentmindedly flipping through the datacards until he heard the elevator begin its descent. Then, confident that he was now alone on the office floor, he retrieved a phone from his drawer and made a call.
“Did you get enough?”
“Yes. She wandered quite a bit. Should be able to splice in the audio and video segments you wanted. I still don’t see the purpose, though.”
“Just get it done. I’m not paying you to ask questions, Tokiko. I’m paying you for results.”
“Of course, Mr. Puski. Of course. I’ll have it done and uploaded by tonight.”
“Excellent.” Excellent indeed.
“What … how?! … How did you get this? HOW?!” Jenn Bresnadj asked angrily.
“That’s not important. What’s important is how we deal with this,” Ama Sudjaver replied. He pointed to the datacard. “Stepping out on your guy with another gal? I could care less, but the tabloids? Ooh, they’ll pay a lot for that sort of thing, you know?”
“You can’t! You’ll ruin my reputation! I’ll lose my job, my family!”
“Well, what’s it worth to you?”
“Anything! I’ll give you anything! Just destroy that tape!”
“Alright … fine. Here.” Ama handed over a datacard. “That’s my contact information. Keep an eye out. I’ll send you instructions. You follow them to the letter, and the tape’ll disappear into the sun. You deviate, and I send it to the tabloids. I’ll see myself out.”
As Ama left, he allowed himself a slight smile. Four marks down. Five more to go.
“The attacks are increasing, boss. We’ve had three attacks on industrial transports and two on miner vessels in the past four hours.”
Captain Kumei sighed in frustration. “Any leads?”
“It’s weird. Intelligence seems to think that the same group has been carrying out the attacks.”
Captain Kumei’s head snapped around. “What?”
“Yeah. They haven’t found the gates or bases that the pirates have been using yet, though.”
“Interesting. Well, keep on it.” As the other agent left, the captain’s computer pinged with a new notification.
“I see you’ve been having a piracy problem lately. I can help,” the message read.
“These are the new ships?” Chief Manager Daisu Kames asked.
Aleso spread his arms. “Yes. Seven Ventures and three Retrievers, straight from the shipyards. Should be enough to replace all the miners that got hit. C’mon, let’s check one out.”
“And here’s the drone bay,” the engineer said. “You’ll be able to carry two full flights of light drones or a full flight of medium drones. The drone control room is over there. Next up is the bridge, if you’ll come with me … ”
Aleso pulled Kames aside. “I have to take a call, but I’ll meet you outside. Let’s talk more over lunch.”
Kames nodded and ducked out the door as Aleso withdrew his phone from his pocket and pretended to take a call. When Kame had disappeared down the passageway, Aleso put his phone back into his pocket and slipped into the drone control room.
Aleso nodded in response to the greeting by the engineer seated in the room. “You make the modifications?”
“Yep.” The engineer pointed to an infrared scanner on the table and said, “You can use that scanner. Run it over the tubes. You’ll pick up the markings.”
“And it’ll blend in?”
The engineer responded by handing over two seemingly identical photos. Aleso raised an eyebrow. “That well?”
“As long as you hide the transfer, it’ll work like a charm.”
“Well? How’s it going?” .
“I’ve secured enough votes to vote Augustene out. They’re calling a vote now. It’ll be on the news this afternoon.”
“Good work, Ama. You’ve earned yourself a bonus.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Chief Manager Kames sat next to the captain on the bridge of the Orca-class industrial command ship. He twisted in his seat and looked at the tactical display behind his chair. One by one, two Bantams, two Kestrels, six Ventures, and a pair of Retrievers undocked from the nearby station. A Caracal, a Moa, an Osprey, and a Condor were already safely docked in the Orca, waiting to be deployed as necessary. Safe spots had already been scouted out. Escape routes were planned. Piracy would not be an issue. Or so the theory went.
As the fleet formed up, Kames reviewed the list of foremen. He knew, and despised, all of them. This one, Jerohisa Brerta on the Agus, he enjoyed tormenting Kames, refusing to follow orders almost daily. Amargaret over there, commanding the Retriever at the end of the formation, she had not only rebuffed Kames’ advances repeatedly, but she’d made a spectacle of it. Geshnu, in that last Venture just undocking from the station, he’d stymied Kames’ attempts to run for union president for the past seven years now. And Alilissa … … …
Kames hesitated. His younger sister. He teared up as vivid images of him playing with Alilissa and their pet furrier in his childhood home. Can I … can I really watch HER … ?
She’s ten years younger than you, and already a rising star. She’s assembling support among the foremen to supplant you.
But … Kames felt his soul harden. He looked down to see that his hands had clenched into his fists. A memory appeared, unbidden. Alilissa, talking with his fiancé, encouraging her to break off the engagement. Yes, she was his enemy. All of them were. The miner captains, the defense fleet captains. They would all pay today. And their punishment, it would be his ascension to power - the ascension he had spent years working towards.
The fleet entered warp.
Kames pressed a button on the chronometer on his watch.
Half an AU away, a timer began counting down.
The attack, like every other attack, was sudden. Slashers, Dramiels, Cynabals, Cyclones, Feroxes, Rokhs, and a Typhoon appeared as if out of nowhere. All over the fleet, alarms began blaring.
“Launch defense fleet! Prepare and transmit coordinates. We’re taking escape route 1!” The captain screamed, rising from his chair.
“Belay that.” Kames said calmly. The captain turned on him.
“What?! All due respect sir, our fleet is under attack! Protocol requires … ” the captain was interrupted by a sudden, bright flash of light. A stray blaster blast from one of the Rokhs had caught a Bantam amidships and destroyed it in a fiery explosion. When he turned back, he was staring down the barrel of a pistol.
“Listen to me very carefully. The defense fleet has strict orders to not undock under any circumstances. You will keep the hangar doors locked. We will have complete radio silence. We will take escape route 2. There will be no communication with or assistance for the rest of the fleet. Am I understood?”
Kames put an edge into his tone. “Am. I. Understood?”
The captain nodded fractionally.
“Excellent. Let’s go.”
“A dozen ships destroyed. Over a hundred casualties. Even more missing, likely taken prisoner for ransom. It’s the biggest attack so far.”
“They’re still working on recovering the data from the ships’ black boxes, but we already know who’s behind this.”
“Yeah. Are we any closer to finding their outposts yet?”
“No. Still coming up empty with every inquiry. Even DED doesn’t seem to have anything.”
The captain groaned. “Alright, thanks for the update. You’ll be coming back?”
“In half an hour. I want to supervise the evidence collection for a bit longer.”
“Alright. I’ll need you in my office for a full debrief as soon as you get back.”
Captain Kumei leaned back and sighed. Two week investigation, and still nothing to show for it. He pulled up the three day old message. Is it a trap? A pirate who wants out?
“Who … are … you,” he typed. “What do you know?”
The reply came in scant seconds later: “I know everything. From A Concerned Whistleblower.”
“I’m listening.” Kumei replied. It was minutes before a response was sent, but what a response it was.
“In a shocking boardroom meeting tonight, MTinc. CEO Augustene Mamei was voted out of office following a 11-8 no-confidence vote. A new CEO was quickly appointed, and has expressed interest in discussing a merger with rival corporation Koichi Industrial Corp.”
Mr. Isoraki threw his hands up in triumph. “Are you seeing this?”
“Yes, I am,” Aleso said. “We’ve bought out most of the shares available, and compromised enough shareholders to give us enough for the supermajority. It’ll take us about a month to finish consolidating, but we’ve got a solid position already. You have your hostile acquisition, sir.”
Mr. Isoraki whooped in triumph. “And my revenge,” he said, chuckling.
“Yeah. Mr. Isoraki, I’ve always wondered. What happened between you and Augustene Mamei? I mean, a hostile acquisition is one thing. Using piracy to humiliate a fellow CEO? That’s another.”
“He thought he was better than me. Kept bragging about how he was raising more funds, finding better investors. That egotistical, narcissistic, … ” Aleso chuckled at the irony as he reached to shut off the recorder next to the comms device.
“Well, Eilias, I have some bad news,” Aleso cut in. “A deal to make, really.”
“Ahh … another acquisition? Riding on the coattails of success? I have the perfect idea.”
“No, no,” Aleso replied. “You see, every conversation I’ve ever had with you? It’s been on tape. And well, I know this reporter with this local NOH station … really ambitious, and doesn’t give a ■■■■ about morals. Generous payer, though. I’ve given him quite a bit over the years. Mentioned these tapes to him, and the quote he gave me? Oooh.”
“You double-crossing narcissistic, egotistical, two-faced,” Mr. Isoraki continued outlining various profanities in three different dialects of Napanii for the next two minutes while Aleso smiled to himself. “You’ll expose yourself, you know?!”
“Ever heard of this nifty little gadget called a voice scrambler? I love it! Great for blackmail, secret recordings … yes, yes, I know you like your profanity, now can we get down to business? You own quite a large fraction of Koichi Industrial Corp. - I’ve got some business associates who’ll buy it from you for a quite decent price.” Aleso read an estimate from a note on his desk.
“That’s a quarter the market value of the corporation! You cheat!”
“I could just release the tapes, send your reputation into the gutter the way you did to Augustene. But you know what, I’ll provide my associates with a credit donation - enough to increase their offer to half the market value of the shares they’re buying. Happy?”
“Fine,” Mr. Isoraki replied angrily as he launched into another furious, profanity-laden tirade.
“Ok, ok, the yes was enough,” Aleso interrupted impatiently. “Great doing business with you.”
Aleso disconnected the call just as Mr. Isoraki started up again. He leaned back in satisfaction. One down. Two more to go.
“The growery is progressing well, sir. They just finished planting,” Kystie said over the phone.
“Did they say how long to harvest?”
“Two, maybe three, months? But they say the product will be top tier.”
“That’s good. You’re just about home now, aren’t you?”
“Yep … there,” Kystie said, addressing the bald Brutor driving her. “Yeah, just stop here, that’s good.”
“You need an escort?” The hulking Brutor in the passenger seat asked, twisting around.
“To my door? Nah. I’ll see you tomorrow,” Kystie said. “You don’t need to talk to them, boss?”
“No. Kystie, I need you to review the groweries’ financials. Make sure everything is above suspicion.”
“Okay … oh, ■■■■,” Kystie trailed off as she noticed a Spacelane Patrol vehicle parked near her house. A man and a woman, both in business attire, approached and flashed badges.
“Boss, the cops are here?! … … Boss?! … ,” Kystie shouted frantically into the phone.
“If you’ll excuse me,” the first detective said, snatching away the phone. His partner walked behind the Achura with a pair of handcuffs in her hand. “Kystie Kurani, you are under arrest for conspiracy and piracy.”
“Let’s go,” the female detective said, pushing Kystie forward.
Halfway across the city, Aleso disconnected the call before throwing the phone in the trash. He sighed. Two down, one to go. He walked up a short flight of stairs and pressed the doorbell. A minute later, a tall Nefantar answered the door.
“Puski. Come on in. You have an update?”
“Well, the job’s done,” Aleso said, sitting down on the couch. “I’ve transferred the money. You’ll deal with the ships?”
“Yeah, the chop shop’s still working with them. But most of the cargos have been liquidated already.”
“The chop shop in Isikemi? It’s pretty smart, occupying an old mining/surveying outpost. Yea, there’s a tiny problem, though. Isikemi got raided. Most of your crew are dead or in CONCORD custody. They recovered all the ships and enough of the cargo. They raided that gate network you were using, too.”
“You … bastard! I knew I shouldn’t have trusted you! Double-crossing … ,” Aldrich continued muttering as Aleso stood, grinning smugly.
“Perhaps. But you made your bed. You know … Spacelane Patrol’s been looking for you. Even got a reward. And well, now they have you. And enough evidence to convict, too,” He crossed back over to the door and wrenched it open. “Oh, don’t try to pin ■■■■ on me. It won’t work.”
Aldrich charged Aleso, only to be tackled by the detectives who entered the residence as Aleso slipped out. He walked out and met Spacelane Patrol Captain Kumei at the foot of the stairs.
“You got the tapes?”
“Yeah. It’s more than enough to convict both of them,” Captain Kumei stuck his hands in his pockets. “And we’ll look into Eilias Isoraki. But that secretary of yours, she’s alleging something about your company and narcotics trafficking.”
“Huh. That’s interesting. Well, he’s been saying something similar,” Aleso jerked his thumb at the pirate commodore, who was shouting loudly as the detectives dragged him out of the house and dumped him into a patrol vehicle. “It’s a lie - I’ve never dealt in anything like that. They must have come up with a cover story together. Should never have hired that double crossing ■■■■■.”
“Maybe … but I still need to check your company.”
“Oh, come on! Look, it’s been a long month. My company needs to work. We’ve got to finish consolidating MTinc. and Koichi Industrial.” Aleso pulled a card from his pocket and slipped it into Kumei’s pocket, patting the captain’s shoulder with his other hand. “How about this? Go to that Ishukone bar you like so much. Find a girl. Get drunk. Celebrate. You closed a big case.”
“But … ”
“Hey. You can come to the office tomorrow, we’ll have a chat. Figure this out. Come to an arrangement,” Aleso said, getting into his car. Kumei nodded slightly.
Safely ensconced in his car, Aleso withdrew a phone from his pocket and dialed.
“It’s done. The supply chain’s secure, the mole’s dealt with, your rival’s gone, and I’m greasing the wheels.”
“You’re sure this Kames won’t be a problem?”
“He’s an egotistical narcissist with no skills. He won’t last without us. He’ll resent being our puppet, but he fears losing everything more. He’ll need support to double cross us, and he isn’t really liked by his fellow workers. I’ve got a dossier that I’m going to use to ensure his silence as well. By the time he can act against us, we’ll have a replacement ready. And before you ask, I covered my tracks well. What I didn’t catch, my sources in Spacelane Patrol will cover for me. But there IS a problem.”
“The growery network may be compromised. SHE had access.”
“I had to give her something. Make her think she was in. Allay suspicion. But I’ve got a solution.”
“You better! I knew we should have killed her!”
“Hey, a kill would’ve drawn too much attention. This way, they think she got in over her head. Maybe make them think twice about sending a replacement. Anyway, my idea: Isikemi Provisions, that agricultural firm? I think I have a way in. That’ll let us cover our entire supply chain with legit covers.”
“Good idea. Get on it.”
Aleso disconnected the call and smiled. Intrigue - the best tool. So much better than simple brute force.