Three months ago...
The office was respectably-sized, synthwood-panelled walls adorned with certificates and awards, with the central display being a large original painting of a ship of the line drifting above a planet; the artist had done a superb job capturing the ice-rimed gleam of the Navy-Issue Megathron's armour. The desk was also synthwood, purpose-trained and -grown in a single piece, with computer panels and a holo-projector inset into its surface, comfortable chairs placed before and behind. The wide bay of windows behind the desk filled the curve of the fourth wall and looked out on a spectacular view of the moon and its planet beyond, broad rings glittering from reflected solar radiation. The planetary glow and the station's diffuse lighting left the room bathed in a bluish light which cast few shadows.
Facing one another across the desk, two men saluted.
'Thank you for coming, Commander. Please take a seat.'
The younger man dropped his salute crisply and sat, looking tense in his pressed uniform, the creases so sharp you could cut your hand on them. Valar was just on the short end of average height, coppery hair slicked back in the sort of style used by younger adults who want to be taken seriously by their superiors, well-built in a military-trained sort of way. The chromed gleam of capsuleer-grade neural jacks showed at the base of his skull above the high collar of his green dress jacket.
Commodore Isaar carefully placed his hands flat on the desktop in front of him, fingers spread. 'The reason I asked to see you is that I have received your request for a performance review. This is the third such request you have filed in as many months. In case you're wondering why the first two haven't been seen to, I am authorised to inform you that they were: your performance was assessed upon the initial receipt and found to be exemplary.'
As Isaar's words dropped into the space between them, Valar's face had darkened; now he ignored naval decorum and blurted, 'I've run the training courses, I've received the requisite certifications, and I've served loyally since graduating from the academy six months ago. If my performance is exemplary, why am I still commanding a transport cruiser ferrying tourists and superiors who have served half as long as I have?'
'Commander, you will remember your place, next time.' Isaar's partial Vherokior heritage had built him large for Gallente, tall and broad without excess flesh; he spoke quietly with measured tones out of trained habit, because any stronger tone tended to come across as threatening. 'The reason for your lack of advancement in the ranks is not any fault of yours; the admiralty has concerns that your ties to a known outlaw and pirate will affect your judgement.'
The younger man's lips thinned. 'So I'm being penalised for the actions of my sister? I've not seen her in over a year, nor spoken with her since she left the academy.'
Sighing heavily, the commodore said, 'I understand this, but despite speaking with them at length, the admiralty remain unconvinced. And that is why you have been stationed well within Federation borders doing menial services which would ordinarily be handled by non-capsuleer ships.'
Valar closed his eyes; a muscle in his cheek flexed as he sought to compose himself. 'Sir, I mean no insubordination, but if that is the case, why should I even bother remaining in service? I joined the Navy to defend the Federation. What I'm doing now is, to be honest, a waste of my training and capabilities.'
His superior raised his hands in a placative gesture. 'I am aware of this, Commander, as are the admiralty. However, their concerns are valid, and the decision is final.'
The younger man's posture sagged a little. At a tender twenty-three years, he had left the academy with top marks and distinction. He had hoped for more: a chance to protect and serve his people, especially in these deeply troubled times. Like his older sister, he was a fighter; unlike her, however, Val possessed a deep-seated loyalty to the Gallente Federation, and where she had left service for mercenary work and eventually more antisocial pursuits, her brother had remained. He had been decorated for his service during the Battle of Luminaire alongside so many others, but even then he had been largely overlooked by the naval hierarchy.
'Commander, I have been authorised by the admiralty to make you an offer.'
Bringing his focus back to his commander, Valar saw the older man was holding a datacard between his fingers, its bottom edge resting on the desktop. Isaar looked cagey, as if unwilling to take responsibility for what he was about to say. 'It involves great personal risk to yourself, but if you should fulfill the mission objectives, you will recover both your honour and your reliability in the eyes of the admiralty.'
Val straightened, eyes wide, paying care to both what his commanding officer was saying and how he responded. 'Risk is to be expected sir.'
'This goes well beyond the normal call of duty, Commander.' The Commodore placed the card face-up on the desk and tapped a button. A hologram of the Federal Navy's logo appeared in the air above it, followed by the insignia of the Offices of the Admiralty and the Ministry of Space and Stellar Warfare.
'In short,' Isaar said, as a blob of dense, small text scrolled upwards in the holographic field, 'they want you to pursue and bring in your sister, in the interests of seeing justice done and in part by request of your father wanting to see her safe. She will be treated fairly, with all considerations due a human being,' he added, when Valar looked alarmed, 'and a proper trial will be held. But she needs to be brought in alive. Willing, too, if you can possibly manage it. I'd make assurances for her rehabilitation and eventual release, but your sister is a criminal and has perpetrated countless acts of violence and theft against innocents. At best, she may be released under house-arrest; at worst, she will be executed.'
The young commander looked troubled. 'Is that... the only way?'
The datacard's display finished with the same official symbols it had started with. Turning it off, the commodore pushed it across to the midpoint of the desk. 'Look at it this way: if she is captured by any other Navy captain, she may easily suffer worse, and it would undoubtedly come at greater cost to the Federation than if you could successfully persuade her to turn herself in peaceably. This way, a known criminal will be brought to justice and your request for greater responsibility in the Navy will be approved.'
Valar's green eyes locked on the card. 'You mentioned personal risk.'
'Indeed.' Commodore Isaar rose and paced before the bay of windows. 'Your sister's last confirmed location was in Syndicate nullsec; before that, she narrowly evaded capture by Amarrian police in Aridia, though she lost her Helios covert-ops ship. Based on what we know of her movements in the last twelve months, we know that she has no objections against moving to new areas far afield of each other; once there, she tends to remain in one place, though she has used jump-clones in the past to move between several different bases. Finding her will not be easy; doubly so if you are seen acting on behalf of the Federation. Information will be sent to you as and when it arrives, but you will be on your own.'
Commander Valar Tiann stared agape at his commanding officer. 'I'll have to leave the Navy? And then what? Disguise myself as a pirate, sneak through Syndicate in the ranks of the Serpentis?'
The commodore was shaking his head. 'Nothing so extreme. Join an independant capsuleer corporation with a base there. Tell them the truth: you're a disgraced commander who needs a new start. No need to tell the rest. Most corporate CEOs don't care, as long as an employee can fight and take orders, and won't sabotage the corporation.'
'Can't they send someone else?'
Isaar paused, closed his eyes for a moment, then resumed his seat, leaning forward over the desk with his hands clasped before him. 'The man who last located your sister in Syndicate disappeared shortly thereafter, and she dropped from sight. Other agents hired jointly by us and your father have similarly disappeared shortly after making contact; we assume she's killed them.'
Val looked shocked. His older sister, in his memory, was a sweet, caring -- if somewhat wild and willful -- girl, creative and mischievous. That she would knowingly cause someone's death was unthinkable... and yet, the lives ended at her hands totalled in the millions.
If anything, she needed to be saved from herself.
He reached out and placed his fingertips on the datacard, but did not yet draw it to himself. 'If I fail this... will I be accepted back?'
The commodore's face set in grave lines. 'If you fail, it will be because you're dead.'
Valar Tiann nodded once, took the card, and left without another word.