Wednesday, 19 November 2008
Nine weeks ago...
'I hear you're looking for someone.'
Valar glanced up from his notepad. The station bar was quiet and rather empty at this time of the afternoon, and he'd chosen an out-of-the-way table to do his work at. His pint sat at his elbow, empty with a sticky film of dried foam at the bottom.
She was tall enough to be at eye-level had he been standing, a trim Deteis in a dark jumpsuit, straw-blond hair pulled back in gamine bunches just below her ears and an equally gamine sparkle in her brown eyes.
Carefully setting the swirling passive-use animation active, he put the notepad down and sat back in his chair. 'I am, yes. How would you happen to know?'
The Caldari woman clasped her hands in front of her. 'You asked with one of the agents here; he contracted me to help. My connections are good.'
Val's eyebrows arched. 'Did he. And you are...?' He stood and offered his hand as he spoke.
'Sati. Satitha Mbaari, Perkone. My agent gave your Global ID as Madjack Rackham, but that can't be your real name, surely.' Her grip was firm without crushing -- she was trying neither to impress him nor put him off -- and she dropped casually into the other chair as Val resumed his seat.
'It's how people know me. You can call me Jack.' He'd changed his Global as so many pilots did upon leaving their training services. His sister was one of the few who had continued to work under their birth-name, much to his detriment.
'Jack. Very well.' Sati produced her own notepad, switched it on and scrawled something with the stylus. 'If you can give me what you know of this person, I can get started tonight, probably have more info for you by tomorrow morning.'
Val squinted at her, then rubbed the corners of his eyes tiredly, wincing as a finger pressed too hard over the fresh tattoo that marked his cheekbone. His new corporation, the Blackball Rocketeers, were a mixed bag of combat pilots and industrialists, and the few friends he'd made among them had encouraged the facial markings. 'Her Global is Shae Tiann. Twenty-six years old, former Gallente Navy Special Forces. Worked as a mercenary from early September last year, went pirate and outlaw a few months later. She was based in Arzi, in Kor-Azor, for a while, then moved down here into A-ZLHX. Disappeared a little over a month ago.'
Sati was scribbling furiously. 'That's like... half the info you should have. You got precise dates? Corp names, alliance names? Known associates?'
Taken aback, Val stuttered for a moment, then said, 'I can mail you the list-'
The woman responded by unreeling a thin fibreoptic cable from the side of her notepad and twirling it between her fingers so the end waved wildly. 'Secure connection, your pad to mine. No sense wasting airwaves, eh?'
'Oh. Right.' He plugged the jack into his notepad and transferred a copy-paste of the base file, removing the Navy identifiers. Sati, despite her relaxed attitude, was all business, and it threw Valar off a bit. He caught himself watching her as she worked. There was a cute scattering of freckles across her nose and cheeks, interrupted by the green-gold plate of an implanted marking which curved under her left eye. If she was wearing makeup, he couldn't see it. And something else....
'You're a pilot, aren't you?' he asked, before he could stop himself.
She nodded, not taking her eyes from the page. 'I fly for Federal Intelligence, it's why your agent called me in.'
Blinking, he said, 'You work for- the Gallente Navy?' He'd narrowly avoided saying 'us', and kicked himself mentally whilst breathing a sigh of relief that he'd not slipped.
She looked up, an impish gleam in her eye. 'Just because I'm from Tasabeshi doesn't mean I'm exclusive. I've made a point of working with every intelligence service in New Eden to get the connections I need to start my own. A capsuleer-based intel corporation, without all the factional biases, eh? You're fresh out of the Navy, aren't you?' Sati grinned at his embarrassment. 'I've been out of academy a couple years; old habits take a while to fade.'
'Two years? Working for intelligence services?'
'Well, I did run pirate for a bit.' She had dimples, and she put her notepad down. 'A lot of pilots try it, at least once. Any time you profit from another pilot -- looting and salvaging their wrecks or the wrecks of others they've killed, stealing their ore, ransoming, whatever -- it's a criminal act. Me, I went into lowsec and ganked a miner or five.'
Val couldn't cover his shock. 'How could you do that? What did the miners do to you?'
Sati shrugged. 'Nothing. They were just dumb enough to make targets of themselves. It's just what I did. I have no head for the market and no patience for mining. I shot three times as many Guristas as I did haulers while I was out in the belts, tangled with some proper outlaws a time or two. You haven't known real terror til you've seen a force recon decloak forty klicks off and wipe your systems out before you can warp.'
He smiled a bit uneasily. 'I've not had that experience, yet.'
'Stay in the Syndicate a while, you will. There are some ruthless hunting alliances down here.'
'One of our miners lost his Hulk in Covryn. Station-camping carrier with smartbombs,' Valar supplied. For some reason, he felt the need to show that he at least had some experience, even if it was only second-hand.
'Oh, them? That station exit is in line with a planet, your miner could have got out if he'd kept his head. No, no, go down into nullsec. If you make it through the MHC-Harroule chokepoint, you're halfway there. Your target probably used to run that camp all the time, if she wasn't part of the gang sniping passers-by.'
The idea that his sister might have helped to blockade a system entry-point bothered Val.
'Well, CONCORD database is saying she's K.O.S,' Sati said as a green light on her notepad flashed. 'So Miss Tiann is still outlaw even after spending over two months in nullsec. Wonder why that is,' she mused, half to herself.
Valar sighed. 'Maybe I'll ask her when I find her.'
'Who is she to you? If I may ask. If it's none of my business, you can tell me to piss off.'
He sat silent for a second, debating what to say.
'Friend?' she asked, then, 'Lover?' with a quirk of a smile.
'No! No. No, she's family.' He frowned at the morphing fractal on his notepad's screen for a moment, then shook himself back to the present. 'How much will I owe you for this,' he asked, cringing inwardly in anticipation.
'Nothing. Your agent is paying me, you pay him. However...' Sati eyed him appraisingly. 'You could buy a girl a drink.'
'A d-' Val stopped: the look she was giving him was practically predatory.
'What are you having?'