This guy, he was straight out a wormhole and he had been in there for a while. His hands shook a little bit. He kept moving his fingers, like the feel of the cup was strange to him. I’m sure it was. He had that pale, bloated look to having soaked in pod goo for way too long. I doubt he even remembered what a jump clone was. He could have ordered one that looked a bit less like a dead, drowned ferret. A nice tan maybe. Some muscle tone, perhaps. Instead, he stared at me from red rimmed eyes with wild, almost insane expression. Then he asked, “How did you know I came from a wormhole?”
“Do you have any non-stupid questions for me or am I wasting my time?”
He blinked at that. Then he looked down at his drink. He was nervous, and I wasn’t helping. I suppose he thought that we were together in his little secret. Maybe he didn’t like my restaurant choice. I’d bet he read too many thrillers stuck in his little wormhole. He expected dark corridors and unwashed miners drinking cheap beer and eating cheaper food.
He had contacted me through two proxies. You don’t just stand in the nearest terminal and scream, “Bizz” three times and expect me to appear. He had left a simple note asking, “Wholesale?” I had taken the bait he had laid out. What he didn’t understand is that I had the bait and hook in my control. He needed me. I did not need him. But, creature of opportunity that I am, I was going to see what he had to offer.
“I need to sell stuff.“ It seemed that he was stupid. He stared into his drink when he spoke. I could taste the guilt on him. He had done something and wanted to clean his hands of it. Then he could pretend it was someone else that had made the call. Instead, he ignored the soup he had ordered. He had not even tasted it. Too much direct nutrient absorption will do that to you. Make you unable to appreciate good soup.
“There is a whole market available to you.” The waitress dropped off my coffee. Black with sugar and a synth mindflood. This place was too nice to sell the standard stuff. I didn’t care. They had an amazing torte from Saisio. All cream and rich melon with some type of caramelized local fruit. I loved the things and treated myself to them by other peoples wallet whenever I could. The nice thing about the wormhole types was that they had so much ISK that they never spent that they forgot about value for a while.
He thought about what to say as I ate my torte. The coffee accented the mellon to perfection. I was buzzed by the taste when he interrupted me. “I’m not a trader.” He also wasn't a soup drinker. It had to be cold by now and it looked like it had started to congeal. Maybe he would try it when it reached the consistency of pod goo. “It’s a big list,” he added.
An excuse. One to explain why he didn’t want to take the time to sell the stuff himself or pay me for my time in selling it. People seemed to think that making money was magical. I click my fingers(,) and ISK pours out. That may be true but that is only because I’ve reached the point to make that happen. If I suddenly decided that I was an idiot that flow of ISK would stop. Just because I had it didn’t automatically mean that he got it to.
“I told you my price.”
I leaned back in my chair and signaled for another coffee. “Yeah, that’s market value.”
He actually picked up his soup. I was right about the goo consistency. “We good?” He was a slurper.
He, thankfully, stopped slurping. “Why not? It’s fair.”
“No. It’s good for you. You think volume equal immediate ISK because you can look at graphics and count the highest numbers. You try dumping thirty bil worth of scarce materials on the market at once and see the effect.”
“People buy it. I don’t have the training to handle the taxes and the brokers permits. I’m not a market guy.”
As if I was too stupid to realize he was not a market guy. “Yeah people buy it. Except the market won’t absorb it. The immediate need is filled and its rarity stuff. It's not tritanium and you can depress the market with tritanium. I think even shit is built out of that stuff. Look, I pay you 30 bill and list all of this I’m lucky to pull 20 out of it without tanking and suppressing supplies for months. I could be making money off the ISK locked up in liquidating your stock. I have to trickle sell and that takes time and energy. Time and energy you don’t have to spend but don’t seem to think I should be compensated for.
“It sucks for me. That is what fair means to most people. I buy your dirty goods off you for market price. You walk away with a fat ISK transfer and hope that you never see your old corporation again. Oh, did you think I didn’t know where it came from? I don’t care where you got it. I once sold a guy my soul because he was stupid enough to think I had one. My problem is that I pay you fair value and you walk away fat and happy while I’m eating fees off the floor. No thanks. If you are going to make a shit offer make it to someone else.” The torte was amazing as always. I took a moment to lick my spoon clean. There is pride and there is wasting a good torte.
“I don’t care that you awoxed your corp. They may be huddled around their tower as the last fuel cube ignites knowing that in ten minutes their shields are down and they are taking a one way trip out of their wormhole as a fleet burns down their last artillery battery. You are paying for my time, my energy, and my silence. If you don’t like it, go somewhere else.”
He’d stopped drinking the soup. If he hadn't let it get cold I’d say it was a waste. Instead, I was relieved. The slurping was terrible. “They said you never turned anything down.”
“I don’t turn down ISK. You are not offering me ISK. You are offering yourself convenience. Since when did I give any shits about you? You want to dump this whole sale on the market. I can pay for it but I’m not here to bargain, barter, or kiss your ass and hope that you allow me to help you out.”
He swallowed. I wasn’t sure if it was the thick sludge he was working down his throat or just his attempt to respond. His lips tightened and he frowned. It made him look worse. I almost wanted him to go back to drinking the soup. “You are a hard man.”
“I’m a rich one.”
“Not any richer,” he growled with soup in his mouth.
He was going to play games? The sudden, bright look in his sunken eyes said “Yes”. That was fine. I played games too. I played the game of ordering a second torte to go and walking out on him to handle the tab. That was the best one but I was left curious. Curiosity is a sin to some but a god to me.
I’m a man of principle. There is a chance that if this had been any other day I would have walked away from it. But it was today and today I felt like being a man of principle. Most thieves just dump and go. You could offer them half eaten sandwiches and they would take them if it meant their stuff sold faster. This left me very curious about Mr. Wormhole with his bright, fierce little temper.
Anything can be found out about anyone. Tracks can be covered but even then there are patterns of behavior that most people cannot fully escape. They are the side effect of knowledge. It is almost impossible to give that up, even for a pretext of false ignorance.
Mr. Wormhole’s tracks were scattered. His mistake had been trying to hide them. Wormhole dwellers naturally left almost no footprint. He didn’t know that. His entire income had filtered through his corporation for years. To him, his footprint was enormous. To the greater Market it was almost invisible. His efforts to hide what was already faint only made him easier to find.
When I saw him again I was leaned against the wall, watching Mr. Wormhole talking to Philovus. Dscan doesn't work in station I guess. Philovus had also never met me in person. They met in a quiet corner over some cheap swill from Etherium Reach. This place always swore it was imported organic wine from Uisper. It was trash but they both drank it anyway. I was surprised that my opinion could go lower but it did. No taste at all.
Philovus was an obvious choice. He ran one of the major wholesale lists. His ethics were as blurred as the next trader. Inventory was inventory. Sentimental is a synonym for poor. I had my first run in with him when I was new to the game. He was an exporter. He brought low and sold high. It was a lot of leg work but he had an entire legion of minions devoted to the scraps that fell from his boots.
He also had a hobby. He liked to tank the market. His freighters would dock and everything went haywire. I lost a lot of ISK once. I’d found a tight but juicy deal on the same day he came in and manipulated the market I was in. For him, his margins were golden. For me, new and only a few billion in my wallet it had hurt.
I didn’t eavesdrop. I didn’t need to. Mr. Wormhole might as well have written down his plan with maps and account access information. He even shook Philovus’ hand. Amateur. Blind luck had to be a natural defensive mechanism to stop species from falling suddenly dead for forgetting to breathe. I still was amazed at how stupid people were.
Mr. Wormhole was out of the way. Or, I should call him Sanbastic.
My curiosity had done me well. I owed Philovus for that loss still. I always, always pay back my debts. I lit some sweetleaf as I left. The station issued me a warning for public smoking. I paid it as I sent out a message of my own. I needed to go feed my dogs.
“None of his freighter pilots auto pilot.”
“Done.” She shook her head. Eponte is the type of women that intimidates some and turns the rest on. She crossed her feet at the ankles and learned back to watch me. I knew she wanted to ask questions. She was curious. The type of curiosity that made her pod people just to see what implants are inside. She likes steady work more. She got my contracts because she knew when to shut up. To show her how much I appreciated that I said, “Ask.”
“What is he?”
“Nice. Any use?” That was why I dealt with pirates. Appreciation of a good job and the open mindedness to accept someone. Eponte understood business. From the ends of her braided hair to the tips of her spiked heels she was all business. So much business that she managed to resist the urge to kill me every time we met. I liked that in a woman.
Her wanting to kill me was a pride thing. She wanted me to sleep with her. I refused because she wanted me to. That made her mad. Not mad enough to be stupid but mad enough to harm me if she had a chance. I didn't give her that chance. If I ever undocked she’d be the first one to throw whatever she was in at me.
She and her dogs were my most used mercenary group. No knight behavior to them. We worked together. I gave the hulls, she completed the mission, we split the profit. If she fucked up I was out a handful of pocket change in hulls and she wasn't getting anymore juicy contracts. That would lower her to the level of station camping scavenger she prided herself for being better than.
I was level with her. “No.” To support someone like Mr. Wormhole would mean a poorer quality service in my future. “He’s not worth anyone's time. The contract for the hulls are in your hanger.”
“Efficient.” She stood all graceful lines and slender angles. “I’ll go.” She left then, every step a reminder of what I could have if I played her game. I don’t play other peoples games. I never do.
Eponte sent me a recording. She is an artist. Those that bad mouth her kind don’t understand the effort that they put into what they do. What she does with a fleet is a thing of beauty. I sat back on my couch, buzzed on sooth and watched the show.
Philovus had done better than expected. The shipment was broken up across three freighters and an Orca. To my pleasure, Eponte’s crew picked off each one. The Orca almost made it to its destination before suddenly, Talos. None of the freighter’s made it further than five jumps outside of their destinations.
Eponte’s dogs were glorious. I could imagine Philovus’ watching his investment vanish. It wouldn't break him. I’d never thought it might. The gut punch was satisfying. I chewed on the end of my sweet leaf, for a moment lost in the imagery of his pale, narrow face as his buy went bad. Maybe he would think Mr. Wormhole had double crossed him. I made a note to plant some seeds in that direction.
The explosions were glorious. Somewhere, past the ISK, I’m still a capsuleer. Watching those frantic energies shred the massive engine fit canisters and spew forth billions of ISK worth of loot made my mouth dry.
It almost made me want to undock.