by Druur Monakh
“So, we are in agreement then.”
Mez’s voice cut through the chatter, signaling the end of the discussion for the pilots sitting around the table, now strewn with the bottles, glasses and the pitiful remains of bar food. Around them, the evening business of the Black Hole Pub continued in full swing: people drinking, discussing, meandering, but all smartly ignoring the dealings happening in the booths along the walls.
The pilots had assembled on Mez’s request, all leaders of the corps and alliances in this constellation. Not all corps, he corrected himself, just those who had earned their place in his Intel channel by their actions; and even then he had invited here only those who he knew had the stomach to do what needed to be done.
And at first glance it seemed preposterous to even try to implement an NBSI regime in hi-sec, but with the increased pressure on the natural resources, in particular the local ice belt, the old way of ‘live and let live’ was no longer feasible. No, what the new order needed was people who knew that the only way to deal with industrial competition was to strike first, strike hard, and then strike again.
And the women and men around this table were such people. Their line members of course might grumble and belly ache, but what could they do? Drop allegiance and become targets themselves? No, he knew that the majority would fall in line.
Hareka, his right hand woman, summarized: “We step up our suicide attacks on neutrals, and establish an independent corp to war-dec those neutrals who aren’t getting the message. The corp is open for those pilots we deem trustworthy, both permanently or temporarily. Agreed?”
Mez let his glance wander around the table, focusing on each leader, and one by one he received their buy-in – some by voiced agreement, some by the nod of a head, one in form of a smoke heart puffed from a cigar. Satisfied, he leaned back. Not that he had doubted it, but it was still good to see a plan lurch into motion.
He reached for his whiskey, but Hareka nudged him and hinted towards one of the other booths. “Speaking of pilots, shall we ask those?”
Mez squinted: the dim light, other patrons, and wafts of smoke obscured his view at first, but then he recognized two of the three women drinking at the next table. The Khanid and Sebestior, locally known just as ‘Cat’ and ‘Kitten’ after their repeated choice of ship names, had garnered his interest: they had spent the last weeks war-deccing defenseless industrialists while not letting themselves be intimidated by his own forces. Just what he was looking for.
“Good idea,” he agreed, taking a drink from his whiskey. “Wonder if we can catch them without that other woman hovering nearby.”
“I think so, in a matter of speaking…”, Hareka pointed, “I think they’re about to take off.”
She was right: the three had stood up and showed definite signs of leaving. Mez dropped his glass back onto the table, got up and pushed his way through to the other booth.
“Excuse me, ‘Cat’, a word please?”
The three women moved to look at him, the two pilots with signs of recognition, the unknown one with cool interest. ‘Cat’ turned her head towards the others.
“It’s ok, I will deal with that. You two go ahead, you have flights to catch.” A weird smile flitted over her face. “Godspeed, kitten.”
“You, too.” replied ‘Kitten’, then nudged the third. “You heard her, let’s go.”
Without another glance at her companions, ‘Cat’ gestured Mez to take a seat in the booth, then slid in across from him.
“So, what did you want to talk about?”, she asked bluntly, filling two glasses from a left-over bottle and pushing one of the filled glasses over to him.
“I have noticed your work in the last weeks.” Mez began, picking up the offered drink and taking a sip, “I have a proposal for you…”