Joined: 07 Mar 2006
Location: Under an emu.
|Posted: Sun Nov 12, 2006 6:43 am Post subject: One Lie
“One lie, for one promising future as a capsuleer. Your parents will never know. In fact, all records concerning your failure will be discarded. You will be able to tell your friends that a mistake was made, and you’ll graduate from the Institute next Saturday. We’re even throwing in a little dough.”
They were standing at the dead end of a poorly lit maintenance hallway. He was a lanky, clean shaven Deteis who put more weight on one leg than another, as if he had a limp. She was taut, a delicate young Achur woman who held a miserable countenance, even though this stranger was offering her an out.
The woman brought a hand up to the back of her neck. Two little fingers circled the metallic holes that were drilled not long ago. She wondered how she had gotten here: two hours of surgery, a week of recovery, an entire year of training, and nothing to show for it. She had tortured herself because she looked up to the very person he wanted her to betray. The last few years she had been trying to find her again, and this shady figure knew how to reestablish communications. The Achur wondered if she could lie to her cousin’s face and smile at the same time.
“Nothing is wrong with your implants or your phrenic conditioning,” remarked the man. “I looked into these things myself. You panicked, froze, and therefore screwed up your last exam. The simple fact that you did not go into mind lock proves that you are fully capable of using a pod correctly. Each one of your test scores leading to the final was perfect. You would pass a retest if it was allowed. The question is: do you want to be considered a failure, or do you want a second chance?”
“This is blackmail,” she said submissively. She knew that she had to give in. The way she washed out, the humiliation… it could become more of a weight on her conscious than lying to her distant cousin about events long past. The expectations were high. Achur society, just like the rest of the State, demanded that their students succeed. The price to pay for being an underachiever was becoming a sort of untouchable, and while she would get recognition for her efforts to become a capsuleer, she was certain her parents would never want to see her again. Their corporate affiliation was insignificant, and so they paid for her tuition out of their own pockets, hoping to get a return on their investment when their daughter entered space.
“Yes, it is.” At least he was forthcoming in his reply. “You also don’t have much of a choice. To crash and burn after such a long haul and become a disgrace... a constant reminder of your blunders lodged in the back of your brain… Besides, how do you know this is the same person you knew six years ago?”
She wanted to cry, but couldn’t. If she did, he might leave then and there. She needed this, even though she would never forgive herself.
Such a Practical man, working for Ishukone!, she mused somewhere along the way.
“May I at least ask why she is of intere—?”
“No, you may not.”
Just then, a tear.
“Fine,” the lady surrendered. “This is ruthless opportunism at its best… but I will do your bidding.”
He stared at the Achur for a moment.
“Then it is settled. Two hundred thousand ISK will be wired to you immediately and the required contact information as well. We’ll tweak your records and you will be flying in no time.” Then a sharper tone: “Might I add, Itsu-haani, that you must keep your end of the bargain. Any attempt to shortchange us will result in… disastrous consequences for you I am sure.”
Chalk accumulated in the back of her throat. She realized now the gravity of their agreement.
“Now leave,” he said.
Soaked in self-disgust, the woman walked out the nearest exit.
The businessman produced a small wireless device.
“Am I secure? … … Right. It’s done, she caved in. … Yes, I know the importance of keeping them out of contact with the Guristas, but what reason do you have to believe this will turn out exactly as you said? … … Yes, sir.”
She retracted her ear from the wall, and paced away from the door quickly before the devil man could hear her sob.
Kyoko Sakoda adjusted her winter jacket, pulling it in closer to her chest to keep warm. The damned zipper was broken, and she had been meaning to at least get it fixed, if not buy an entirely new coat. She didn’t quite understand why her contacts always chose the most obscure meeting places, such as this open tundra somewhere on the surface of Airkio III, an unnamed, desolate ice planet. In fact, if it had not been for the vast deposits of rich ore hidden below the frozen surface, Minedrill wouldn’t have bothered setting up their obelisk-like atmosphere scrubbers, one of which loomed over her, its shape barely perceptible through the snowy fog.
The informant told her that he’d extracted new information concerning her previous employment in the Omerta Syndicate. He also asked her to come alone. Kyoko was weary of learning any more secrets about her former employer, and the fact that she for some reason needed to be here without escort made the contact suspect. Still, she scanned for heat signatures with the aid of her ocular implants, and there was nothing on the horizon. There were no snipers, no recon, not even so much as a frisky snow rodent within a half kilometer radius. It was only her and the shuttle she had parked a hundred meters away. The ability to spot trouble before it came her way was of little comfort to her however.
Cursing at the cold, Kyoko found herself brooding over memories the weather so thoughtfully made worse. It was over a month ago that she had run away from the Syndicate over some dubious circumstances, but it felt like she had abandoned her friends just yesterday. Some of the most agonizing days of her life played back again in the forefront of her mind. She concluded that it was probably an aftereffect of the Blue Pill she’d been stuffing three times a day for the past month. Her long lost cousin Sayuri had approached, claiming that her mother had died of an illness while she was under protective custody following the Palermo bombing. Kyoko had been told differently: that her mother was killed in the blast. It was the reason she felt obliged to join Omerta Syndicate in the first place. She wanted revenge against the Minmatar terrorists and she had died countless times attempting to get at the people she hated so thoroughly. She was furious. Learning it was all for nothing set her off, and so she did set off. Feeling crushed and desperate for a new beginning, her new home became the Mito constellation. She visited dark underground venues, pirate havens, black markets, and for a time even considered high-profile prostitution. Somewhere in there she had joined a Guristas splinter cell. Exactly when and where she applied she did not recall.
The Syndicate found her, and they attacked. Kyoko warned them to turn away. She didn’t want to hurt people she still considered her friends, but they kept coming. The boss ordered her to turn in everything she knew about her former comrades so that the cell could hunt them down systematically, out of their pods, one by one, most prominent member first. At that point, as much as she loved Sayuri, she wished that she never had a cousin. The founder of Omerta Syndicate, Vassili Zaitsev, was constantly moving, and always under the radar. His niece Yuki Li therefore became the first target.
Zaitsev had always used obligation to tie his employees to him, allowing him to bend them to his will. It was very Caldari of him to do so. She was sick of his lies, and disgusted with the State: Ishukone had evicted her and the rest of the Syndicate from their New Caldari home not a year earlier as well. Kyoko caved in, and fed entire secure line radio feeds to her CEO, allowing The Black Rabbits to locate and storm a complex, putting two bullets in Yuki’s chest.
It was then the Syndicate backed off. But somehow, Yuki was still alive, and Kyoko was glad. She never was sure whether it was because she genuinely cared for Yuki, or rather that the message had gotten across not to fuck with her.
Another shuttle of Caldari design boomed overhead, derailing her train of deep thoughts. Kyoko covered her face with her forearm, shielding her eyes from the violent snowstorm caused by the VTOL jets. As it landed another hundred meters away from her, she had her implants zoom in on the cockpit. A familiar silhouette with a depressed demeanor was staring out the window, but the frost tint disallowed any concrete recognition.
Two other people walked out the back of the shuttle as it powered down. Their faces registered instantly. It was Zaitsev himself. Kyoko would have drawn her weapon if the woman walking beside him wasn’t her cousin. She had a few moments to look dumbfounded while they approached.
“Did I catch you by surprise?” Zaitsev asked, stopping before her. The bastard was actually smirking.
Sayuri Itsu looked to her cousin with great remorse on her face. She held a rosary in her hands.
“Sayuri!” Kyoko exclaimed. “Are you okay!?”
She nodded solemnly. Sayuri wasn’t handcuffed, tied, collared, or bound by anything. There was even a meter of space between her and Zaitsev.
Kyoko scanned the horizon again with her thermolytic vision, but it wasn’t a trap.
“Vassili, what the hell is going on!?”
Zaitsev put up a hand, “former director Sakoda, please calm down. We’re only here to talk.”
There was a passing moment of silence.
Zaitsev set the stage, “Itsu-haani. I believe you having something to say.”
The young woman snapped her eyes shut, bowing her head as if saying a short prayer. Kyoko looked upon her compassionately. There was definitely something wrong.
“Kyoko,” she stuttered. “I’ve been tricked into doing something immoral and… I’ve committed an atrocity.”
“What do you mean?” Kyoko inquired with a much softer tone.
“I lied to you about your mother, my aunt. I was forced to.”
Her eyes widened.
“Please forgive me, Kyoko. I failed my final capsuleer exam. A man approached me and said he could give me clearance, falsify my records, and spare me the humiliation.” The young woman looked up and started sniffling. “I hadn’t seen you in over six years. I took the offer. I thought he was going to kill my family if I didn’t carry out my end of the deal.”
Kyoko looked immediately to Zaitsev.
“This is a really shitty trick.”
“It isn’t another trick Kyoko, I came to Zaitsev-haan myself,” Sayuri said.
Kyoko swallowed. She stared at the lady, and as she processed all the information over a matter of a few seconds, her eyes became colder. Then she raised her voice angrily and took a couple steps forward.
“Do you have any idea what you are saying? You’re taking responsibility for driving me away from my home, my friends, making me even more of an outcast than I already was! For fuck’s sake Sayuri, I’ve turned to boosters the past month because I can’t stop thinking about the Syndicate and everything I’ve lost! Do you know what it feels like!? I’ll fucking show you!”
She shoved the girl into the snow and raised her fist.
“Sakoda!” Zaitsev barked.
Kyoko growled, “if you weren’t my cousin, I’d put a bullet in your head right now!”
At that, Sayuri wailed, and as soon as Kyoko noticed she was crying, her temper subsided. She remembered who she was talking to. Here kneeled a woman who rarely left her side during her teenage years. Despite their age difference, Kyoko always clicked with her younger cousin. They shared the same interests, many of the same hobbies, and always turned to each other when they needed an ear. She remembered their last conversation as teenagers: Kyoko was weeping on one end of the vidlink while her cousin consoled her over her mother’s death. Before the bombing she made an effort to visit her on Achura whenever she could, but for the past six years Kyoko had shrugged Sayuri and the rest of her relatives off as if they didn’t matter to her. For the last two, the only people that were of any real importance to her were comrades in the Syndicate. Maybe I’ve been just as cold, she thought.
She stepped up to the young woman and wrapped her arms around her carefully.
“He was Ishukone,” Zaitsev interjected.
The humiliation felt like being beaten at a week long game of chess, except it was a thousand times worse.
“Son of a bitch,” whispered Kyoko. “That’s why you joined the nunnery, isn’t it?”
The girl gave an imperceptible nod as her cousin held her a bit closer. Kyoko looked over the girl’s shoulder.
“So what do you want, Zaitsev?”
“I want you to come back. We need your expertise.”
Kyoko told Sayuri to give the two some time to speak in private and to wait by her shuttle. When she and Zaitsev were alone, she spoke.
“After what I did?”
“I’m not going to forgive you, Kyoko,” said Zaitsev plainly. “You made an inexcusable mistake. You forgot everything I ever taught you about trust when you took her words for granted and defected based on a single spoken sentence. But you need us, and we need you. That’s the way it works.”
“Your little sermon about distrust was the reason I left without warning,” Kyoko replied.
“Okay… so you don’t trust me. I respect that.”
“That’s not what I meant—“
“Of course it is, and I don’t care. In fact, I prefer it.”
She put her hands in her pockets.
“We’ve left the State, Kyoko. I know how you feel about it, so you should have no issues with operating in Curse.”
“I’m working for the Guristas now.”
“No, you are not. You’re working for a Guristas splinter cell. Your boss Naphtalia might have indirect ties to the cartel’s chain of command, but you have none at all, and that’s where the incentives come in.”
She bit her lip.
“We need a Guristas envoy, someone who knows how they operate, their desires, and their vision. We’ve obviously gotten off to a bad start with our war declaration against The Black Rabbits. We’ve also downed a lot of Guristas ships in the past. You had as well, not long ago, but I want to see our relationship improve.”
“Because they are friends with the Blood Raiders and Sanshas. We have the same allies and enemies.”
“You allied with Mebrithiel, Lillith, and that bunch?”
“Yes. We are trade partners now that the Syndicate is going back to its roots. Our med-tech research has resumed and previously outsourced R and D work is being linked. Slacker Industries have also been helpful, assisting us with in-space logistics and planning. When you’re not specifically assigned to a task you will be hunting the Angel Cartel and running missions for Sansha agents. If the Guristas take notice, you’ll moderate our negotiations and prove that Omerta means business.”
“What about Ishukone?”
“That’s our common enemy. If Omerta could verify that Gariushi really was an ex-cartel member, all of the pieces would finally settle into place.”
Kyoko sighed. She was under Zaitsev’s thumb again, but it was a weight she felt she could handle.
“And what are you going to do about Naphtalia?”
He looked over his shoulder, back at his shuttle, and sighed. Kyoko rarely heard him sigh. It was then she realized who the other person in the cockpit was.
“I don’t know. I’ll probably let you do as you wish with her. You will be the ambassador.”
She swallowed, “and the rest of your employees?”
Zaitsev turned around and started walking away. “They’ll fly with you if I tell them to.”
Kyoko watched the man until he returned to the vicinity of his shuttle. She expected hostility from the others upon her return. As she walked back to her shuttle and her cousin, she pondered Zaitsev’s greatest teaching. She was certain each of her friends would keep it in the forefront of their minds as they flew with her. It made her uneasy.
“Distrust is the key to survival. Keep this in mind, even when you sit at the table of your family, and look them in the eye.”