“Jaya, do you ever feel like you’ve met someone before?”
Jaya rolled her eyes. “Every day,” she said. “Who is it?”
“What do you mean?”
“Don’t what do you mean me, all stiff and cold Amarr, Illiana. Who has your eye?”
“No one,” Illiana said and turned away. “I don’t know where you get that idea from.”
Jaya laughed. “Because I can tell,” she said and spun around. Illiana could not hold onto her expression and found herself laughing as the dark haired, Gallente girl twirled and leapt in the middle of the hallway. She was graceful and for all her antics it was as graceful as a dance.
They were in the college market. A massive, open garden with wide, synth-stone walkways the market teemed with activity. Stalls of goods filled the aisles as students and residents moved through. Jaya had told her that the market was the busiest area in the station and as Illiana looked up at the blue tinted ceiling she could believe it. If she closed her eyes the warm light that mimicked the sun was almost enough to make her feel that she was back on a planet. A feeling she did not know she missed until she had stepped into the synthetic sunlight and laughed in delight as a flock of exotic birds flew overhead.
Jaya had showed up at her door and told her that they were going out before classes started the next day. “You need to know your way around,” she had told Illiana. “And do you have to wear all of that?”
Illiana had looked down at her mid thigh tunic and the loose, comfortable trousers she wore over them. Compared to Jaya’s midriff baring top and tight,metallic pants she might appear to be over dressed. She coiled her hair and left a message for her father as to where she would be. Initially she had been hesitant about Jaya’s offer but the girl’s appearance at her door along with the same, easy smile gave her confidence that Jaya wanted to be there. Illiana was not sure that formal ways could affect the girl if she chose not to follow them.
As it was, she was too perceptive. Illiana desperately wanted to talk to someone about Kruul. She wanted to find out more about him. However, she did not know how to go about it. She had delicately questioned her father about the dinner guests. It was he that had given her the scant bits of information she now knew about Kruul.
She was not sure that she had never met him before. Yet, the familiarity of him was uncomfortable. Even when she walked, she knew his step, It left her unsettled and often unable to concentrate.
“What would you have me wear?” she asked.
“Something nice. Something comfortable. You have to be hot.”
Illiana was not. “This is what I am used to wearing,” she said. It was much hotter on the planet then it is here. The wind was even hot and sand was in everything.
Jaya’s expression was Illiana’s answer to how the other girl felt about the hostile conditions of planets. Jaya she had learned had never, ever been planetside. THe thought of wild, uncontrolled weather shocked the other girl.“You could wear your hair down too,” Jaya added as she walked around Illiana. “After all, it is a new place. It is time for new things.”
“My clothing suits me fine,” Illiana answered. “As does my hair.”
“But your hair is so gorgeous. Its a shame that you wear it in a braid. How long is it?”
She brushed and braided her hair every morning and evening. She had not worn it loose since she was a child. “My knees.”
“Oh! With some color...” Jaya’s eyes glazed as she thought about whatever she wanted to od. Illiana decided to move a bit. The bright excitement was worrisome. “let’s at least look at something to give you something to catch the eye.”
“I don’t need to catch anyone’s eye,” Illiana protested as she was dragged off to one of the shops. Jaya was immediately drawn to a display and allowed Illiana to hover near the entrance in the bright sunlight. She tipped her head back and let the warmth wash over her. It was hard to remember that the sun was not real. That this was not a planet.
“Hello again, Princess.”
Illiana snapped her eyes open. The false sun was as bright as a real one. She closed her eyes, blinded. When she blinked them clear she found herself looking up into amused eyes. Jaya had moved into the store, away from the display that had attracted her attention. Now Kruul occupied her entire field of view. She backed away to put some distance between them. He followed, his long strides consuming the space the moment she created it. “Shopping?”
“We could slip away while your friend is occupied.” Jaya was deep, into the store at this point. Illiana flicked her gaze over and then back to Kruul. In that moment he had somehow moved even closer. “You don’t want to run away with me?”
She opened her mouth to say, “No” but paused as a sense of dread washed up over her. It was strong enough that she found herself panting and pressed against the wall as a shiver overtook her. Kruul, the amusement gone hovered over her, concerned. She touched her tongue to dry lips and tried to slow her frantic breathing.
“I...” she started and stopped. She took a deep breath. “I don’t think that would be best,” she got out. It sounded weak and Kruul’s look of amusement returned.
“Is there that little passion to you? What about excitement? Desire?” He leaned close enough that she could feel the heat of him. “You know that people don’t always spend a long, prolonged time getting to know someone. The Amarr married their slaves as they saw fit.”
“You judge me on the actions of others? I’m Amarr so you hate me?”
“Oh there it is. I was wondering where your burn lay. What would ignite you.” He was rumbling into her ear. She shuddered at the warm tickle of his breath on her ear. “I don’t hate you at all, princess. Forgive me for distressing you, Ms. Damsel.” He pulled away and looked down at her. “Sadly, I must go. Your friend has decided she has left you alone with me too long.”
Behind him, Jaya was walking towards them. Illiana found herself unable to meet the other girl’s eyes. With Kruul a step back Illiana’s senses returned. The sheer presence of the man was too much. He was a rich, vibrant, almost feral creature. He slipped into the crowd with one last wink as Jaya moved into range and frowned at Illiana.
“You look worn out,” she commented.
“It has been a busy day.” Jaya looked back towards where Kruul had vanished into the crowd. “What next?” she asked.
Illiana smoothed her shirt. The air smelt of flowers, perfume and food. She purred the musky, hot scent of Kruul from her senses and shook her head. “I believe you were showing me the classroom layout?” she gave Jaya a weak smile that the other girl accepted with a nod.
Two days on the job and his first major incident.
Arnhur kept his grip as the Harbinger turned and dove. The view screen filled with the dark, obscene form of the Sansha Eyster. Behind the Harbinger came a Aurgoror. The spaceships were graceful as they twisted and shot forward into battle. Sunlight glittered on the Harbinger’s hull as it spun around and locked down the inky frigate. Behind them an Oracle erupted pure energized destruction and the frigate exploded.
On a planet it would have been a containment leak or a bad weather pattern knocking out communications. It might be a raid or an accident that made everyone question the safety systems.
Another one. He could only curse and grind his teeth as they fought the relentless wave of frigates. The mining barges were almost free. Two Mackinaw were down and fire gouted from the Orca’s sides. The last Sansha frigate was captured as the crippled Orca entered warp. It streamed energy at the Harbinger. Shield alarms screamed as the cruiser buckled and twisted. The shields went down but the armor held.
Never had he thought that he would be in space, looking at nightmares in the eye.
Sweat dripped down Arnhur’s back. It soaked his arms and collar. He could feel the cold trickle down the side of his face. His hand would not unclench from his support as the last Sansha Nation frigate exploded. The Aurgoror hovered off field. Streams of pure energy coated the Thorax as the shields surged back to full power.
He had directed rescue operations before. Never anything like this. Even the time when the entire launchpad had exploded it had been nothing like this moment as his body was slammed from one side to the other aboard the ship.
He would never understand capsuleers. The bridge crew had all been focused on small tasks. Communication. Ammunition loading. There had been screams to debin the cap boosters. Frantic but calm roars as they faced death moment after moment.
And still, people had died. The two Mackinaw had held full crews in the ore holds. The mining fleet had stayed out. They had ignored the warnings when the incursion was spotted. Now Sansha’s spawn lurked the belts and scooped up the populace. Even as they checked the last wreck he knew it was futile.
People were gone. They were his responsibility. Not that anyone would blame him. No one knew when the incursions would hit. No one knew what drove the madness behind their rampage of destruction. He had put off all of the warnings. He had tried to personally contact the crews. And when half of the berths were still empty he contracted the only capsuleers in station and went out to rescue those that could still be saved.
What had he gotten himself into? It was madness. Even as the Harbinger reunited with its Oracle and Aurgoror companion he knew it was madness. He had seen the battleship fleet. The Vindicator that had docked beside the freakish mass of a Nightmare. They had fueled and left without a word. And still more came.
They entered the next asteroid belt. The ping told him that a mining fleet had been there. It was empty of anyone. Just the rocks, stretched out in a long, awkward arc around the distant planet. They must have left. He would believe they had left. There was nothing else to believe. Even as a dark, mottled form appeared from behind an asteroid.
The battlecruiser thrummed under him. Did they know no fear, these capsuleers? These things were death and destruction, converted and perverted. But he was pressed back into his seat as the ship accelerated around him, the sound of its drives a vibrating war cry.
At least, Illiana was safe, he thought as plasma and gouts of raw energy erupted between the ships. The stations were almost sacred. Even if Sansha tried to assault them the battleship fleet that hovered around it would defend the station if not but for their own selfish needs. Unlike planetside, space held his daughter away from its dark terrors.
The claxtons had startled the entire class. Tablets dropped to desks. Illiana had been on her feet before she realized what happened. The lights dimmed as red and amber emergency light flared to life.
“Incursion warning,” announced the station services. “Station services are interrupted. All residents are advised to respond to their safe stations at this time.”
The class had evacuated. Everyone knew where to go. She did as well. Or so she thought. Her tablet, clutched in her hand she stopped at an intersection and huddled into an alcove. The safe stations were all assigned upon registration for personal quarters. But the station was so big. She took a deep breath and called up the map on her tablet again.
A diagram of the station appeared. It was overlayed with a simple, white line that led to her destination. She was going the right way. Once she had crossed the University's open market she had thought she was lost again. It had been a strange experience, crossing the market in silence. The empty stalls had retracted into the floor. All that was left were empty paths and the circular outlines of where the sellers normally were. Even the lights were off and the tree leaves turned black by the red and amber glare.
The wall was cold to the touch. It was so quiet. She passed her hand across the tablet again. Icons flickered but none flared to life. The communications lines were still open but there was no message from her father. She would not let that worry her. He would expect her to make her way to safety. This was no different from a raid planetside. It was safer even. Everyone said that as long as you stayed in station during the Incursions you would be fine. Sansha had too many soft targets to waste their time trying to pry people from the stations which were guarded by both Concord and capsuleers.
Her mouth dry, she smoothed her tunic and pushed away from the wall. The station was still secure. The the lights turned shadows into murky, blood colored puddles. She glanced down at her tablet and down the hall. Without the press of people and constant, steady drum of sound the corridor was a different place. The arched buttresses looked like the ribcage of some vast, metallic beast.
She moved, her feet a faint whisper against the floor. The alarms were lower, but constant. They faded in and out with her heartbeat. Illiana realized that she had slowed to a craw, pressed against the wall. Frustrated by her own illogical fears she pushed away from the wall with enough force that she stumbled. Hands grabbed her and she screamed.
Kruul just managed to avoid one of Illiana’s panic fueled blows. Her tablet flew by his head and smashed against the wall. He pinned her arms to her side as she screamed and kicked. “Illiana!” he said into her hair. “Stop it.” He repeated himself over and over again as she slowed. Finally, she rested in his arms, limp. She had not passed out. She noisily sucked in breath as her body shuddered against him.
Cautious of her reaction, Kruul released his grip. Illiana twisted around, agile as a serpent. Her coiled braid had come undone and the long braid snaked down her shoulder and across his arm like silk. He watched her eyes dilate as she recognized him. Her nostrils flared and then she relaxed. “Its you,” she whispered, her voice thick. “I was so scared.”
“Why are you here alone?”
“I was heading to my safe,” she said. “I’m not lost. My tablet...” her words trailed off as she looked for the device. Her face fell as she saw it, shattered against the wall.
“We are leaving.” The words fell out of his mouth. He couldn’t stop them. He didn’t want to stop them. They felt right. He linked his arm with hers and started to move down the hallway.
“What? Why? Is the station in danger?” The claxtons flared with each breath. The red and amber lights darkened, Illiana’s ash blond hair. Her eyes shone, bright as quicksilver as she looked up at him. Trusted him.
“The station services are shutting down. If we go now they can’t find us.”
“Go?” She mouthed the word a second time and started to shake her head. “Kruul, I can’t go.”
“Why not?” He kept walking. She didn’t pull away but she continued to shake her head. Her braid slipped down her back, its heavy weight an emphasis on each movement.
“My place is here. With my father. I can’t just get up and leave him!”
“Have you ever done anything for yourself? What about you, Illiana? Have you ever lived for yourself?”
“I love my, father Kruul. I can’t just run off. It is a lovely dream but reality isn’t so nice.”
“Why do you say no?”
“I have to. Whatever this pull is between us isn’t reality.”
He stopped. She stood as far away as she could without breaking contact. They stared at each other. “In my dreams,” he whispered to her, “It is always this way. Every time something stops you. But that is what makes you you.” Kruul stepped back and dropped her hand. Illiana stared at her, her eyes wide as he lifted a stun pistol.
“And this is what makes me, me.”
He pulled the trigger.
Arnhur was a man of deep emotion and deeper control. Yet, as he walked, the thud of his step caused heads to turn. He walked. He did not run. But each step was loud. Louder than it should have been. For such a large man he was fast. He was through the foyer of Corvus’ office before, Kitia, the receptionist could greet him.
The doors snapped back to let him through. Kitia wondered if Arnhur would have simply moved through them, the force of him shattering them without him noticing. She had found the man intimidating but likeable. Now, as the doors snapped closed behind him, she found herself a bit frightened.
Arnhur took in the striking vision of space that framed the wall of the option. Only days ago it had been the vast, beautiful unknown. Now it was just darkness. Darkness seeped in death and sorrow. Behind the desk, Corvus watched him, his expression intent. Arnhur ripped his gaze away from the view and stared at the man. “Corvus, that Mercenary has taken my daughter.”
It was a bad sign then, that Corvus knew. “Yes.”
“Tell me what happened.”
“The incursion.” He had been out of the station for a days. A week of endless raidings and trips on one ship after another. Communications had been down. People had needs. He was not sure that he slept during that time. It was not until the vast battleship fleet has swept through and into the heart of the swarm that the incursion had been pushed back. And there had been so much loss. Even the capsuleers seemed worn and exhausted.
“When I returned she had not checked into her safe. Scans of the security footage show Kruul carrying her to his ship. One of her friends saw her in Shakti with him. She tried to reach her but he stopped her and vanished. This is my daughter, Corvus. Stolen by your mercenary.” The rest was unsaid. They had both seen Kruul’s interest in Illiana at the dinner party. Arnhur had held his tongue and now his child was gone for his caution.
“I had not expected this of him. You have my sincerest apologies. I had not thought that he would be so bold. Do you have the security footage?”
“I do. I’ve also requested assistance from Shakti.”
The red and amber lights made the scene all the darker. Kruul carried Illiana, her brade turned dark red in the lights. The footage from Shakti showed Illiana sitting at a table and Kruul by her side. It showed various angles. They arrived. They sat. Kruul met with people. Illiana was kept tucked beside him the entire time.
Arnhur watched Corvus become angry. The man's jaw tightened but his eyes were hard. ”None of the capsuleers that work closely with us will do. They don’t all fight nonstop. This station hosts industrialists and miners. The incursion forces are already gone. Sometimes you can ply them for other deeds.” Corvus stood. “Come.”
The took a fast shuttle to another station, systems away. Arnhur found himself lost in pensive brooding. Corvus had a contact who he thought could help. In the confusion of the incursion Kruul had managed to slip away to his base. He would be deeply entrenched there. Going up and knocking would get them laughed at or worse, Illiana harmed.
Jaylina was a security agent. Her neat office was located close to the capsuleer docks. She was reading over the report Corvus had forwarded to her. A tall, lean, unnaturally attractive man stood on the other side of her desk. He didn’t sit. Bright green eyes flickered over Arnhur and Corvus and back to Jaylina.
“Gentlemen, this is Mar. He was in contact with me when your message came in. I am briefing him. Forgive me for not waiting but time is of the essence.”
“How will I know where to find him?” asked Mar.
A three dimensional display appeared on Jaylina’s desk. “The location is here.” Arnhur’s head snapped around to the display. The system was Aldali. The map was edged in red. Jaylina’s face was hard. “We may use the mercenaries but it does not mean that we trust them.” The display spun around as a three dimensional grid of space snaped into the air between them. “We know every place that Kruul has been and everyplace that he normally goes. These coordinates will land you at the pleasure hub that he runs.”
Pleasure hub. The words sent a ripple of horror down Arnhur’s back. A headache had a vice grip on his head. He swallowed and looked down. He was to blame for this. He had brought Illiana into this environment. Now he stood as a beggar before a soulless immortal. His pride the cost of hope for his only child.
“Aye,” said the capsuleer. He was unaware of his own arrogance as he skimmed the information Jaylina had acquired. Arnhur bit back the irritation. He swallowed the anger. To this creature retrieving Illiana was a job like any other. One that he would accomplish with the signature lack of emotion that characterized his group. “It’s out in low sec. It will cost you more.”
Did all this abomination think of was ISK?
Jaylina remained cool. “The rates are listed. They are standard for the security status of the system. Understand that we are concerned that this girl has been placed into slavery or prostitution. Her father here is her only family. He needs her back safely.”
“Okay. I’ll take it, I guess. I’ll need a week at the most.”
“When have I ever failed a mission for you, Jaylina? Standard fees are fine. I have to scout. That takes time. Jumping into a pirate camp off the gate won’t get his little girl rescued any faster then letting me do things right.”
“Done,” Jaylina agreed before Arnhur could object.
He nodded to them and walked out of the room. Arnhur watched until the door closed. Immortality was not worth that. He would accept death as the price to possess a soul.
End of Part Two: Distress Part Three