Her father's reassignment to the Jerma V, Ministry of Assessment Information Center had been unexpected. The previous dockyard technician had suffered an accident with an ice filled hauler that attempted to dock while heavily damaged from a pirate attack. An entire section of the station had been shut down for an extended time while repairs were made. Pjar Damsel had been tapped for the position. It had meant leaving his comfortable situation managing the harvesters on Vashkah I.
Illiana had spent a terrible week worried that her father would refuse the position. She was tired of Vashkah's bleak, dry landscapes. The vast planes rolled into the distance, a dull yellow brown as far as the eye could see and the skimmer travel. The harsh yellow sun burned unprotected skin as it burned through the thin atmosphere.
He had gone to the ministries to seek guidance. Illiana had stayed at home. Their small group of servants had ignored her. They were bound to the position not the people. For them, one caretaker was as good as the next. Illiana did not think that her father had ever poorly abused them. But, in the five years they had been on the planet none has warmed to them.
But it was not as if they were from one of the Houses. Once she might have dreamed about being a lost heir. It was a common enough dream. To be swept away to the vast, glittering palaces of Amarr. To kneel at the Emperor’s feet. Now her hands plucked at the baggy, bronze pants that she had replaced her sweeping, floor length skirts for There would be no royal balls in her future.
In the distance, a massive Orca separated from the station. A cloud of smaller Hulks fanned out around it as the fleet drifted, majestic in their size and presence away from the station. For a moment, deep orange fire illuminated the engines of the ships before they vanished into warp. And now she had seen it. Seen some of the greatest industrial vessels skim around as gracefully as the most planet bound bird.
What she had thought were glittering windows in the station turned out to be the engine trails of ships. The space around the station was busy. The providence dwarfed the traffic was it made a graceful curve towards the dock. Frigates and barges swirled around them in a frenzied dance where no one crashed but everyone looked as if they might. She muffled more than one squeak of fear as tugs moved the ships around and barely escaped death.
“It is impressive, Daughter.” Arnhur Damsel rested his hands on his daughter’s shoulders. They shared the same golden hair and bright blue eyes. However, where Illiana was grace and slim lines, Arnhur was muscular and solid as stone. His face heavily lined from life was saved from brooding by its intelligent eyes. Most would call him stern but for Illiana it was her father as she had always been. Solid. Comfortable.
“It’s lovely.” Illian turned from the window and smiled at her father. She did not want him to think that she was upset. He had worried that she would be unhappy going into space and leaving the planet. She had not told him how unhappy she had been living amongst angry servants with the constant threat of mercenaries descending upon their refinery. “I am excited, Father.”
He smiled then. Illiana knew that her father loved her. His heavy hand on her shoulder was a comfort. Together, they watched the station grow large enough to blot out the dark space beyond it. The tugs were so small that they were almost unnoticeable as they guided the freighter to dock. The activity levels around them buzzed as people gathered their bags and prepared to leave the ship.
Transport on the freighter had been exciting. The ship was a city. Passenger quarter were restricted but once they were underway, tours had been given of the enormous cargo holds that made up the vast majority of the ship. Illiana had felt her knees weaken when she had looked down, and down, and down through one of the boys. Unlike the others, stacked from wall to wall with organized, marked bins that one bay, with its vast expanses, had held the dismantled structure of a Megatron.
The battleship, even in pieces, had emitted an aura of majestic power. Hundreds of millions of ISK hovered, supported by stasis fields. It seemed so little for something the cost of most planetary colonies. Yet the crew had worked around it. Inured to the site, she could only believe. For her, that sleeping giant shattered the last thread to her old past. It felt familiar somehow and completely new at the same time.
She had never been into space before this moment. She had never seen the massive machines of battle that swept through the distances between planets. She was not one of the soulless immortal capsuleers nor had she ever met one. Yet, as she looked back over her shoulder at the dismantled Megatron in its berth she had felt something.
That same something called her again as they approached the station. A faint, echoing memory. She spread her fingers and pressed her hand against the station's image as she tried to chase the memory. She could not capture it and could only puzzle at the faint, lingering air of familiarity.
"Arnhur, welcome! I am Covus."
Arnhur would have known that even if he had not studied the file on Covus Gastal Du’Lavicatis. The distribution foreman engulfed Arnhur’s hand in a firm handshake. Corvus was a classic Caldari. Tall, pale, close cropped brown hair with a hawk nose and deep set gray eyes. Everything about him was neat and efficient. He ushered Arnhur past his secretary and into his office.
The entire rear wall showed an image of Jerma V. The massive, Lava planet throbbed through every spectrum of red. Highly volcanic, in some places the entire surface flowed, rivers of Lava that carried precious trace minerals. Arnhur had supervised enough extraction facilities to appreciate both the hell and attraction of a place like Jerma.
He had left Illiana in their new home to unpack while he hurried to meet his new supervisor. It was not required. He could have requested several days to settle in. That, however, was not Arnhur’s way. He was well rested from the relaxed trip and eager to begin the venture that he made. He was also facing his own worries head on. He had uprooted his daughter and swept her off into space and away from everything she had ever known.
Arnhur had worked for an Orca pilot in his youth. He had spent several years upon that massive ship as it supported mining fleets and travelled across empire space. That was where he had met Illiana’s mother. A beautiful woman, she had grown up in space, a child of a Gallente man and an Amarr woman, she was both graceful and exotic. If anything, space reminded him of what he had lost but he had promised her that their daughter would be able to experience the same things that had brought them together.
Covus he liked. The man did not user him to a seat before the massive desk that sprawled across the room. Instead, he called for refreshments and led Corvus out to one of the windows. The two men stood in silence. Arnhur in appreciation and Corvus in apparent, pleasure at the busy station undock. Ships poured in and out, their intricate dance assisted by the delicate touch of barges and their own internal shield systems. Massive Orcas and fleets of barges flowed around the station. Occasional the dance was broken by the massive, bulky form of a freighter.
All of this would be his responsibility. He would be in charge of some of the major distribution chains that caused all of this traffic. It was an enormous job but one he felt surprising comfort with. It was no different than the massive extractors and processing plants he had managed before. There the timelines to the launch pad had been tight and the processes to search for new extraction points an exhausting, nonstop process.
"You interviewed my servants?"
"Yes. No one knows a person like a servant. At work your people may know you as a charitable boss and someone they can talk to but at home you beat your wife and starve your children. That tends to lead to unreasonable tensions that I don't want to deal with."
"I would never."
"I know. That is why you are here. They spoke quite well of you and your daughter. Understand that we work with capsuleers. A lot of them. I can’t have someone holding onto a bunch of misplaced anger and personal issues about them." Underneath his words Arnhur heard what else he was saying. Amarr. Religion. Separation of work and belief. Without them, Arnhur was useless to him.
As bitter as he found it to be he could not blame Corvus for it. Corvus was a businessman. Where Arnhur worshiped he analyzed figures. Many considered capsuleers to be soulless. Their ability to bond with machinery a sign of the empty state of their nature. Their thirst for immortality an effort to taste the future they would never possess.
In that, they were arthema.
"But capsuleers are expensive. Their numbers and interest are often limited. I also needed someone that can work with mercenaries."
"I know that you do. Some are not as understanding. Their inflexibility costs lives. The universe is dangerous enough without blind ignorance making decisions. How goes your move?"
"And your daughter?"
"Illiana is a good girl. She has just reached her majority and still has studies to finish. She is a quiet child and has found much solace in the sciences and geology. She has added astrogeology to her classes here."
"A sensible young woman then."
"Yes. She has had to mature faster then I would have wished."
"No father wishes for their daughter to grow up. You are a good man, Arnhur. We will do well together. Come."
In the depths of the station, past the hallways and levels of the residences, the factories churned. Massive furnaces roared as they were fed raw ore. Heat and friction crunched rock and spat out precious metals. Instead of dirt they chewed pure rock but the processes were the same. Arnhur leaned over a rail and watched the conveyer belts of ore roll past. In the distance, barges bobbed gently against their teeter as extraction tubes connected and sucked the ore from their holds.
The air smelt of smoke and metal. He could taste the dust that plumed off of the rocks as they slammed together on the great belts. Great extractor fans roared overhead, cleaning the air of fine particles. Instead of the great crawlers that moved production on the ground here it was the barges and the vast Orca.
Up was also a new direction. The plant sprawled out of his view both above and below. There was no gravity. The souls of their shoes were magnetized and stuck to the floor. At first, the pull had felt strange against the weightlessness but Arnhur had quickly adjusted. Here, a helmet was required but also an emergency jet belt in case full contact was lost. Corvus had explained that a grid of sensors lay before the extractor fans and would deactivate them if anything larger than a bolt entered the great shafts.
Crew members made polite greetings in the distracted manner of those that were busy. Corvus tread his way through, his stride confident enough for Arnhur to know that he was well willing to leave his office. They worked their way through the vast plant and into the massive docking bays. Row upon row of births spiraled out of view. The ships were enormous creatures, nestled amidst swarms of tubes, webbing, and cargo vessels.
“Capsuleer ships are here,” Corvus explained as they watched an orca slide into its birth. “They are low maintenance with docking and undocking. The regular ships are down a few levels. You might as well meet the mercenaries.”
“Are some in station?”
“I have a local deep with one of the main mercenary captains, Kruul. He keeps people stationed here for various needs. I asked him to come in so that he could meet you. The two of you will be spending a lot of time together.”
Corvus found the mercenary captain overseeing maintenance. He was crouched on a catwalk that overlooked the maintenance bay. A tall man with dark skin he flowed to his feet and engulfed Arnhur’s hand in his own, equally impressive hand. The two stared at each other for long moments before Kruul nodded and gave Corvus a curious look.
“The new foreman?” Kruul asked.
“Yes. I am Arnhur. Tomorrow my home will host a greeting dinner that I would like to invite you to attend.”
“Oh?” The mercenaries thick brows rose. “Of course,” he said in puzzled amusement.
Arnhur nodded. Corvus, pleased with his new employee led him off to see more of the station’s services. Arnhur was glad that he was an active man. The pace Corvus sent was grueling. He hurried to catch up. Kruul was crouched again, his eyes back on the ship below him. An interesting man that one.
Illiana swirled her sparkling water around its glass as she smiled up at the production manager. Halsan Novach. His name drifted up to her. He was Caldari and her father had spoken favorably of him. She kept her smile on her face as he explained, in the most earnest manner, how the dense veldspar production lines were helping them to keep up with their deliveries.
She managed to deliver him to a group of his peers, make her introductions, and detach herself. Free, she worked her way around the edge of the room eyeing the gathering. It was a good mixture of people. From her count, everyone had attended. Automated trays circled the floor and descended to offer various delicacies. She had kept the menu traditional. It would reflect her father the best. The drinks she had made varied flavors and colors. Even the water was a bright, sparkling pink.
Parties were exhausting. As the hostage she did not have to entertain anyone directly. Still, the flow of people and the constant attention to details eventually became wearisome.
“That is an impolite way to greet your hostess, Sir.” Illiana looked up through lowered lashes. “I am not of any house.” He was very tall. Taller than her father. His skin was tanned a dark, dusky gold. Bright, silver gray eyes looked down at her with amusement. Amusement that did nothing to soften the hard lines of his face. “May I offer you refreshments?”
He leaned forward and murmured, “Are you offering yourself?”
No answer came to her. Her cheeks flushed a bit. But, no chastisement rose to her lips. Instead, she looked up at him, lips parted but unable to speak. He leaned forward, close enough that she could smell a rich, spice that flooded her senses.
“With an expression like that, I think yes,” he murmured in her ear. His breath tickled her ear and she swallowed as a shiver worked down her spine. “But not in front of daddy, no?” He brushed past her, close enough to feel the intense heat of them. Illiana found herself turning as he passed her, unable to stop herself from leaning towards him.
“He’s a looker,” a female voice said from beside her. Illiana spun around to find a woman near her own age eyeing Kruul’s retreating form with approval. “I’m Jaya,” the girl said, her eyes not leaving Kruul. “My mother and father are mining foremen. They dragged me here to meet some culture.” Bright, golden brown eyes dragged themselves away from Kruul. “I think they are hoping you will be a good role model for me.”
“Me?” She felt hot and dry at the same time. She sipped from her glass and forced herself not to gulp the liquid.
“Sure. Amarr, demure, obeying your father. All the stuff no good Gallente girl does. Plus Amarr and Gallente never talk in most places. Your dad’s rumored to be open minded so they hoped you would be to”
Illiana blinked at the girl. Jaya seemed confident if blunt and forthright. She wore a sleek, form fitting silver one piece that was transparent in the oddest places. Her dark hair was pulled up into a ponytail that cascaded down her back. A blue gem glittered from between her eyes and both of her eyebrows were pieced with silver rings.
“My father is a good man.”
“I don’t think anyone doubts it.” Jaya smiled. “How about I show you around the campus and you tell me how to behave well enough to make my parents happy? I already upset them by going into drone construction.”
“Drones are not bad. Miners use them all of the time.”
“That’s true. But they are crap and no one can use them and defensive drones. If someone improved mining drones maybe more miners would use them. Oh wow, I might have a thesis paper now! I’ll pay you back with the tour and dinner?”
Illiana looked at the other girl and felt herself smiling in response. “Deal.” She gazed back over the room. The tall man was speaking with her father now. She knew his name. She had memorized every name on the list and spent most of the evening putting names to faces. She had never seen him before, but he was ever, so familiar.
End of Part One: Continue to Distress - Part Two
End of Part One: Continue to Distress - Part Two