Entry for the Pod and Planet YC116 Fiction Contest.
Category: Eight Thousand Suns in New Eden
May have broken out of official canon a few times but I had a blast writing this nevertheless. Hope you enjoy reading it too. 🙂
EDIT: Missed the deadline. Woops. Feedback still welcome!
Playing the Man
Caille – YC116, 6th day of 10th month.
Xamian Kuroux hurried through the crowds of scantily-clad girls and young men making their way down the twinkling paths of the Crystal Boulevard to their favourite nightclubs. Perfume assaulted his nostrils, music blasted from open doors, lights half-blinded him, but the Federation Navy clerk ignored temptation and pressed onwards. He clutched his documents, stored in a bright pink waterproof briefcase edged with lace, tightly to his side, trying to hide as much of it as possible. Rain began to patter down and girls squealed in horror and rushed for the nearest indoors, or risk destroying their meticulously applied cheap make-up. A passerby snickered at Xamian’s briefcase as he walked by. Gritting his teeth, Xamian reminded himself to check the weather next time; the briefcase he held was bought desperately at an exorbitant price from a nearby brothel when he saw the incoming clouds. Even though felt like he paid a small fortune for it, they had still not let him keep the handcuffs.
The streets began to clear as the raindrops began to fall more heavily, and Xamian sped up. Thunder growled in the distance.
The clerk was half-running now as the rain fell in such thick sheets he could barely see a meter in front of him. The office was so close, just a few minutes beyond the city-
A figure loomed out of nowhere in front of him, and Xamian, head bowed against the torrent, did not even notice.
Clerk and folder went flying. Xamian got up quickly, panic rising.
“No!” He yelled over the noise. “My folder! Oh dear Jove, no, where is it!?”
A hand suddenly rushed out from his right, grabbed him by the collar of his work shirt, and pinned him against a clear display window. Xamian struggled against the iron strength of his assailant, choking.
“You,” the attacker began, voice low and gravelly but somehow easily heard over the downpour. “You are lucky I’m in a hurry.”
The hand disappeared. Xamian fell to his knees, coughing, head throbbing from temporary lack of air. At the edges of his vision, though, he caught a flash of pink. His folder!
He crawled over, finally thankful for its garish colour.
An hour later he was sitting on the floor of his office, soaked. It was a dinghy, single-room block in some side street that no one wanted to work in because of the constant frenzy of activity in the Crystal Boulevard, causing hard workers to go mad with annoyance or frustration at not being able to partake in the fun.
Xamian understood the inconveniences all too well, and had been striving for the past few years to escape for his sanity and to sustain his new family. The pink briefcase he held in his hands was that way upwards, hopefully more than a few rungs up the hierarchy. The documents inside were transcripts; transcripts acquired from a microphone Xamian had accidently left behind after at another brothel in Caille, after acting as scribe for a meeting between Federal Navy officials. The FN claimed the brothel was the perfect place to stage such an important meeting. Xamian understood the sentiment, but he had his doubts. Doubts which were confirmed when he returned hours later to collect his microphone, and found that the recording had activity far past the closing of the original meeting. Frantic, loud activity that Xamian could have sworn involved a sweaty Admiral Auver Bauvon and numerous females all of which were calling “Admiral!” and none of which sounded like his wife.
Xamian chuckled at the memory of that discovery. He was still chuckling as he unclasped the briefcase and yanked out the papers. He was an honest man, but if a respected Gallentean admiral could be unfaithful, was blackmail really out of the question?
The clerk stood up and theatrically waved the transcripts in the imaginary face of the Admiral before him.
“Now, Admiral, before you go calling security, I ask that you read a few words – mostly grunting though, I’ll have to say, you grunt very well – of this document.”
He paused, staring at the back of his own chair, pretending the Admiral had acquiesced.
“Great, now I’d like to point out this one line here, a personal favourite, about the Sisters of EVE- huh?”
Sisters of EVE?
Xamian looked down at the transcripts. They were not the words he had expected. Confusion stunned him for a moment. Silently, he mouthed some of the words highlighted in the header of the unknown document he held in his hands.
“Servant Sisters of EVE… Sleeper Activity Report… CONCORD Assembly Inner Circle… Classification Level…”
Xamian’s jaw dropped.
Algogille, YC116, 7th day of 10th month
Auver Bauvon fine-tuned soldier senses woke him… to the sounds of ecstatic moans. For a moment he was thought he was dreaming. Then he sat up and saw, to his utter horror, an ultra-quality premium erotic holoreel playing on the master bedroom holoscreen in the house his family lived in, volume up loud.
He swiped down viciously. The room’s sensors responded and the holoreel closed. Instead of the usual animated ocean background, though, the screen was black, with white text.
You will find the need to make a public announcement soon. The Scope will hear of it first. Or your wife will hear of you and the Caille girls.
Bauvon’s eyes widened. He swiped again. The message disappeared, and the ocean returned. The admiral reached for his wristcomp, strapped it on and dialled his Scope contacts. His wife stirred beside him.
“Everything alright, dear?” She asked, sleepily.
“Yes, yes darling. I think I’ll have to make an announcement for work soon.”
Jita 4-4, YC116, 7th day of 10th month
The food court beside Terminal 1 was as alive and as dead as ever. The grey concrete smelled of disinfectant, the florescent lights flickered and dimmed, the people walked from paces varying from crawls to sprints. A group of eight Caldari businessmen, each a prominent figure representing each of the megacorporations, sat around a table being served food prepared with much more care than that which was served to the rabble below the mezzanine they were elevated on, but which probably started from the same base ingredients.
None of the eight shared their names. Such was the caution that had to be exhibited at a place like Jita, where anyone could be listening. Their faces, of course, were not their own. Nor their bodies. None could tell if the others were using proxies, clones, facial reconstructions or props to mask their true identities.
They gathered for the sole purpose of competition, the engine that powered the gears of the State.
“A hundred million on that Minmatar down there puking in five minutes.”
“Two hundred he doesn’t.”
A cloaked figure slid onto the table. “Care if I join ya’ll?”
“You have ISK, you play,” one of the business man said jovially.
“One billion ISK says the Gallente know something the State doesn’t.” The newcomer said calmly.
The table went as cold as the concrete surrounding them. One of the eight broke the silence.
“The State came from the Federation. We were its backbone. One-point-five that you’re wrong.”
“Back off, CBD,” one of the others said, referring to the CBD Corporation member. “He’s fooling us. Sure the Federation may know things we don’t, don’t mean we want to know everything that goes on there.”
“Two billion, then, that the Federation Navy will announce something today, that the Caldari Navy would have loved to know first.”
“This guy knows something.”
“What, Wiyrkomi, something none of us do? I call his bluff. Three billion. Don’t even know why I bother, he won’t even have a penny to throw at us.”
The floodgates opened, and before long, the eight of them had pooled a formidable twenty billion ISK against the stranger.
Then a hologram appeared in the center of their table. A hologram of Admiral Auver Bauvon. The eight listened in absolute dismay as he talked. All around the mezzanine, conversations were paused to listen. Below, holoscreens above stores played the exact same footage.
“…the Federation Navy believes that this change in Sleeper activity presents an enormous opportunity for deeper research into their technology, which will hopefully yield more fruitful results than previous avenues of testing.”
The Scope logo danced across the eyes of all watching before the transmission cut off.
“Now,” the stranger began. “I don’t want that twenty billion, but if you listen, there is a favour you can do me.”
The eight looked at one another. Then back at the stranger.
CBD piped up. “Who are you?”
Silence. Then the man stood to leave.
“WAIT. Wait. Thirty it is. What do you have to tell us?”
Five minutes later, the eight megacorporation representatives had whisked themselves away to their respective private quarters in 4-4 contacting everyone and anyone with the same message: acquire sleeper salvage.
Dam-Torsad, YC116, 24th day of 10th month
Astur Auxeda’s whining voice resonated across the hall. He sat on a plush couch that was in turn on an elevated platform at one end; his own personal throne. A Matari slave raised bread to his plump face, being careful not to let crumbs fall onto his equally plump body. His purple robes made him look like an overripe fruit.
Outside, under the heat of Amarr’s sun, Commoners walked past his mansion, almost castle-like with its fluted towers and outer walls, everything laced in threads of gold.
One of the many Holders in the stifling city of Dam-Torsad, it was said Auxeda yearned to be part of the uppermost echelons of Amarr Society. Part of the Privy Council. Someone whose name is more than a name in the Book of Records. He made sure all his slaves and the Commoners who worked for him knew it, such was the desperation for his name to reach lofty ears.
It infuriated those who heard about him. Here Auxeda lived like a king in a veritable paradise for most of the populace, and still he wanted more. Other Holders enjoyed their position of power, abused it. Yet here was one who was unhappy with his lot in life: a Holder in Dam-Torsad. A position that many would kill to have.
However, the jealousy and hate surrounding him, made him fit in; it was natural for a Holder to be resented yet envied by Commoners, just as slaves envied and resented the way Commoners treated them. Auxeda became the very thing he feared: another Holder spider crawling along the rigid social spiderwebs of the Imperial City, preying on everything that got caught inside those walls until he became bloated.
Auxeda sat on his couch all day and wished he would one day become part of something greater. And since fortune smiles upon the unwitting, today, his wish would come true.
The door to the Holder’s throne-room opened, and a messenger slave scurried in, head bowed low. When he reached the feet of the Holder, he kneeled on one knee and held out both hands, presenting a gilt scroll to Auxeda.
The Holder reached out and plucked it from the slave’s hands, unfurling it in the same practiced motion. He read quickly, eyes wide, lips quavering. He had been invited to the Imperial Palace for a banquet tonight, one of four Holders to have been selected.
“Lord Holder?” The slave was still kneeling, staring at Auxeda’s feet. The Holder blinked, surprised. He had forgotten about the messenger entirely.
“What is it?”
“There is also the matter of your… liberal… purchase at Izoni Square a week ago.”
“What of it? Speak, slave, I have to prepare for this banquet.” He raised a hand to sleek back his hair at that last word.
“Well, your Greatness, the Parnetorius’ require confirmation that a Holder purchased half their fedo stock, sir. They are worried that their compensation will not be guaranteed otherwise.”
“Not guaranteed compensation? I buy the same amount from them every week! I’ll talk to them after I come back from the Palace.” He punctuated the sentence with a happy sigh.
“Their last payment is overdue, sir. They have sent an invoice, if your Magnificence would like to confirm you have read it?”
Auxeda sighed again, this time impatiently. “Hand it over.”
He took the invoice, then pressed one of the rings on his hand onto the paper. Sensors registered contact and imprinted his seal on the paper in the Holder’s blood, drawn from the same ring.
“There. If they doubt this, I will personally send slaves over to collect my fedos with force.”
As the messenger left, Auxeda was fed another bite of buttered bread, and he chewed thoughtfully.
That evening, Auxeda found himself at the gates of the Imperial Palace. Four slaves held him elevated on the same couch, modified to become a shaded litter. Two guards stood on either side of the magnificent golden doors. One approached him, spear held upright by his side.
“State your business!”
Auxeda took the invitation out of his pocket and handed it down.
The guard made a show of reading the document. Truthfully, he was not literate. The hierarchy of Dam-Torsad needed a large base, a foundation that did not wish to uproot itself. Revolution was spawned by ideas, so ideas were quelled. Public communion was encouraged over education. Those Commoners who could afford to send their children to schools dared not, fearing stories of the hostility their children would face from Holders and their spawn, stories that ended in depression and suicide. So the guard saw only the gold trim around the paper, nodded absently, and pocketed the invitation, already thinking about how to melt down the precious metal to sell.
“Go ahead, Holder.”
The slaves slowly resumed moving forward as the guard returned to his post and opened the doors.
The entrance hall was empty. Auxeda pressed on. He had studied the layout of the palace by heart, and as he now realised the invitation had not specified a location, he methodically set about searching each and every room. Most of them were vacant or occupied by the palace slaves and staff. At each door, thoughts of the banquet was replaced by nagging doubt. The Holder was uneasy upon his litter, which the four slaves still bore as they followed his directions.
Then, around a corner, Auxeda came face to face with Admiral Ren Karetta, flanked by an abnormal number of guards. Both stopped, surprised.
Auxeda recovered first. “Admiral Karetta! I thought I was the only one here. Leaving so soon?”
“My business here is done, but might I enquire as to your purpose in the Palace, Holder?”
“The banquet, of course!”
Auxeda opened his mouth, confusion lining his face. Instead of words, though, a choking noise came out of his throat. His face went purple and contorted in pain. He fell forward and tipped the litter over the guards and Karetta. One of the slaves yelled “ASSASSIN!”
In the chaos, the Admiral was tackled by no less than six bodies attempting to protect him. The rest scrambled around, slicing up the entangling litter with their ceremonial swords, causing the stuffing of feathers to fly everywhere.
When the last feather hit the floor, the Admiral managed to stand up again, scowling. Auxeda lay under a coating of feathers, dead. Three slaves were cowering, one lay unmoving in a pool of blood. The Admiral nodded to his guards. Three of them walked over to the remaining slaves and beheaded them.
“The only suspects are dead. I will file a report later, I need to get back in contact with the capsuleers. Get the cleaners.”
Later, the cleaners would come and remove four bodies, three headless and one extremely fat. And strangely, what they identified later as a pool of fedo blood.
Vakir (Pator V) – Republic Fleet Logistic Support, YC116, 26th day of 10th month
“Valklear General Heder Elislar, a visitor.” A reception called into the office.
“Tell this visitor to leave a name and make an appointment.” Elislar was poring over the sleeper salvage acquisition numbers.
The receptionist talked with the stranger softly for a moment, then: “He says his name is Astur Auxeda.”
The General looked up. “Bring him in.”
A clean-shaven, well-built Udorian-looking figure walked in.
Elislar’s eyes narrowed. “You’re not Auxeda.”
“But you know him.”
The General paused. The Udorian pressed on. “Conditioning was perfect. I assume you used the same root that your race uses for spirit journeys, to make him pliable.”
The General spoke, “What are you here for?”
“Your sleeper salvage.”
“Then the Amarrians find out who Auxeda was, and you will lose the rest of your agents in Dam-Torsad.”
“There is no proof.”
“A rumour in that city spreads faster and stronger than the truth.”
“Our spies will die then, and we will acquire new ones eventually.”
“What if you knew what the Amarrians were doing with that technology?”
“We need a third party.”
The Udorian smiled. “I swear on my name you will get what you’re after.”
“You haven’t told me your real name.”
Yulai, YC116, 29th day of the 10th month
“Someone’s hoarding sleeper salvage. I don’t believe it’s a capsuleer.” A voice spoke in a dark room.
“Evidence?” A second voice, female.
“The State megacorporations have been purchasing salvage from nearly every non-capsuleer entity in the cluster. For the State. Suddenly, though, their storages have been emptied.”
“Dam-Torsad. Some Holder purchased it all.”
“They just have to get their hands on the latest buzz, huh.”
“Funny thing is, he died five days ago. This was on his will.”
“I’ve seen them do worse,” a third joined in. “One wanted to be buried with all his wives and slaves. He got it.”
“Anyway,” the female voice broke in. “Where is the loot now?”
“The assigned freighters on the way to the Imperial City arrived empty.”
A fourth voice, more aggressive. “What about the damn Matari? Why has three-quarters of their salvage vanished?”
“They may just be hiding it,” the first voice replied. “Reports suggest their research progress has been unhindered.”
The final person in the room spoke. His voice was deep and rich. “The sleeper components are not toys for the masses. We need to buy out this hoarder. Rayla, Arve, press release. Paint the picture; this hardware is dangerous. That’s reason enough for us to take action. Set the price, I want it to be high enough even those pesky Arek’Jaalan capsuleers would be tempted to cash in their own stash.”
The fourth voice muttered, “Someone’s about to get very rich.”