The blackness fogging your senses slowly drops away, after innumerable hours spent screaming into its muffling silence. It might have only been half a day, it might have been a month, spent drugged into the depths of your own subconscious. The dreams were no better than the nightmares and you feel exhausted, mentally, from the futile struggles to escape back to reality.
A reality where the physical exhaustion outweighs the weariness in your mind. Your skin feels hot and tight, like the first stages of a fever, and your limbs too heavy to lift. The pulsing aches of strained joints and fresh bruises tell you that someone has been moving you, and none too gently, since the girl--
The girl, the girl! Damn, how did she know!
-- doped your drink. It must have been the drink, you remember feeling dizzy and wondering if you'd had more than you'd thought, right before the world spun down to nothingness. Your neck aches and your shoulders burn from being propped upright in a chair; your head has fallen forward, and the teeth on one side of your mouth have bitten into the flesh of your tongue. Removing them hurts more than ignoring it.
There's someone in the room with you: you can smell the light perfume she prefers over the pervasive station tangs of warm metal and electricals, hear the soft movement of fabric against skin. She's moving her fingers in time to a song only she can hear through her implants, the way she always does when she's waiting for something, and the clicking of her silver rings against each other sounds loud in the silence. You know her well enough by now, you think you could actually identify the song from the rhythm.
'You can stop pretending. I know you're awake.' Her voice, soft and low and husky, like the whisky she drinks, lightly accented still from a planetside childhood. You struggle to open your eyes against the weight of the chemicals still buzzing in your blood. Her delicate fingers appear before you as she takes your chin and tilts your head up to rest against the high back of the chair.
'No, no, don't try to talk. You're still so doped you'd go crosseyed if you stood up.'
Her freckled, heart-shaped face, pixielike whether in the bedroom or in the run-up to battle, regards you dispassionately. Her expression could be carved in ice, for all the warmth it contains. Red hair tied back in a plait makes her look younger, innocent, belying the blood on her hands; green eyes glitter like distant stars in the dim light, cold and alien. She's wearing a plain grey jumpsuit which lends an interrogation-chamber atmosphere to the room.
'My father sent you after me. Didn't he. He hired you to find me and bring me home, alive, in exchange for twice what's on my head right now. I can't say I blame you for accepting. That's a hell of a lot of money for an ordinary person like you. That'll keep you and your family cosy for the next generation, at least. What's funny is that he couldn't have made that offer before I left the pirates. That bounty was more than his entire bloody estate is worth.'
She's only stating the obvious, telling you what she knows. And what she doesn't -- her father served as the contact, true, but the money was a donation from an outside source. You glance around the room and try to ease the tension in your shoulders from having your hands cuffed behind you. Your pockets have been searched, and you note with resignation that they even found the hidden ones with your lockpicks. The room, you realise, is an airlock, the pressure doors sealed shut. Black space is visible through the outer window; you think you can see a person silhouetted against the inner window, but beyond the bulkheads, nobody can hear a word of what's happening.
'I can't even imagine how happy he must have been when he learnt I'd decided to go legit. How much do you think it cost him to find out I'd moved to Syndicate?'
You don't have to speculate. It was your search algorithms and your own painstaking research which finally picked up her trail a week after she'd vanished from the lowsec system in Kor-Azor where she'd been living. But even if you want to volunteer that revelation, your throat isn't working enough to do so.
'Poor daddy.' Her tone is harsh, bottled rage directed at a man whose distilled family values had turned to vinegar after too many years at the bottom of the rack. 'He was so proud when I tested highly for capsuleer qualities. It was a big step up the social ladder for him, you know? And when I graduated into the Navy, it was even better. Too bad for him I didn't stick around very long. He didn't approve when I joined the mercenaries, but out here? I'm in control of my own life, now; the old man has lost his grip on my strings and can't accept he's never going to get them back.'
The old man wasn't that old. A minor functionary still in touch with his lower-class roots, insisting that his children find work while in higher education in order to appreciate the struggles of others, he'd spoken with pride of her achievements and those of her younger brother, and with sadness at what he'd seen as her betrayal of his bourgeois Gallente ideology. His obvious concern for her safety and security had driven you to your work with perhaps more urgency than you might otherwise have used.
'I've got to give you credit, sweetheart, none of the other spooks he's hired in the past did such a good job at getting close to me as you did. Of course, you're a professional, aren't you? Not some rookie pilot thinking to make a quick isk towards his first cruiser. Props for your backstory, by the way.'
She ruffles your hair affectionately and affects a theatrical stance:
'A simple Caldari mechanic, stranded tragically in hostile Gallente space after surviving the destruction of his last captain's battleship, propping up the bar in a null-sec station until some wonderful, trusting, compassionate pilot might accept the risk of taking him on until he reaches his home space again -- very sweet, tugs all the right heartstrings. The cat was a nice touch; father told you I have a soft spot for them, didn't he?
How many pilots really looked that far into the background of their crews, you wonder bitterly. You've done this before, but never with such disastrous results. It strikes you that this one did seem to care more for her support than many of the others. Had any other pilots ever treated a gunnery ensign to birthday drinks, or sent an engine-room tech home on paid leave when his wife went into labour with their first? An interesting amount of empathy for someone who'd chosen the way of the outlaw.
'Too bad for you being good in the sack wasn't enough to make me fall asleep the first night.'
'Yeah, that's right. I heard every word of that report you made to him, started recording them after that. It's been fun toying with you the last three weeks, hearing you get the old bastard's hopes up for my... oh, what did he call it? Rehabilitation?'
Her laugh is little more than a quick exhalation as she leans close.
'Don't make me laugh. As funny as it was, it got old fast. I'm sick of playing games. This place...'
She sighs as she straightens, takes a step back and casts a glance towards the inner door. There's definitely someone on the other side, at least two of the security detail from one of her larger ships.
'The whole Being Good thing has too many strings attached. Too much political bollocks. It's been a nightmare for me, just trying to get used to not being able to trust, not being trusted. Where's the fun in jumping when another alliance you're not even part of tells you to jump? Where's the camaraderie, the satisfaction of being on equal terms with your allies? It ain't here, I'll tell ya that. Bad enough to be hunted for having low security status, now I'm hunted because my alliance is associtated with people I've never even met. It's ridiculous.'
She stalks around the small space as she rants, long strides thudding bootheels hard on the bare metal flooring, prowling like a caged feline. It's nothing new, what she's saying. You've heard her discussing as much with her warrant officers over drinks with increasing frequency; many of them had been in agreement, and the ones who weren't had been offered transfer options.
'You think I'm weak for it, don't you. "Girl, if you can't suck it up and bear the load that comes from responsibility, maybe you shouldn't be in a pod if you can't grow up." Yeah, you said that. You were wasted. Maybe you're right. But you know what? I don't take orders well. It's why I left the Navy in the first place, and it's why I've made my decision now. I'm going back to where I belong, where I feel valued for my part in the group, rather than just being another meat-shield. Where I come to know my mates so well, it's like telepathy when we fly together and we take care of each other. It's pure magic, the best feeling in the world, and I miss it so much it's like a hole in my heart that the blind obedience expected of us out here just can't fill.'
She looks at you, green eyes burning with the passion of the terminally rebellious, the fire of every reactionary dissident and anarchist through the ages. The Gallente Federation can take care of itself; she is a child of the stars alone and beholden to none.
'And as for you, my sweet? You betrayed the trust I offered you, and I cannot forgive you for that. I could do a little... selective amputation, leave you as a warning to my father, hmmm? Ha, made you squirm there, did I? I'm not joking; the thought crossed my mind long ago. But I've decided I'd much rather disappear. And I'm sorry to say that you must disappear, as well.'
Your shoulders tense involuntarily as the fight-or-flight response tries to kick in, but the drugs are still active and interrupting the signals.
'No, I'm not going to leave and cycle the airlock open. That was your first thought, wasn't it? When you woke up here? I love playing with your head, darling, your expressions have been priceless. Don't scowl at me. You brought this upon yourself.'
From her pocket, she removes a crude syringe, the type cheaply available on the street to junkies the universe over for millennia.
'You see this? Yes, it is a drug, a lethal toxin available through the right connections on Intaki. We injected you with this to wake you up, and it's already going to work destroying your central nervous system. I'm going to leave you here to consider what you could have done to avoid this end, starting with never having dealt with my father. Don't worry about your cat, I'll take good care of her. Farewell, chéri. It's been fun.'