I didn't run into any issues on the way to Aikantoh. A few months ago the trip might have been an adventure, but I recently started doing jobs for the Caldari government to raise my sec status high enough to enter .5 systems. My associates had convinced me to do it so I could help with a little POS removal project they had planned. I uncloaked and warped away from each gate without so much as an attempted lock ringing in my head. For a moment I let my mind fill with memories of roaming around and hunting targets with the Hellcats. That didn’t last long though as the newer memories of the fight with the blood raiders seeped in. Maybe it was time for a vacation after I settled this mess with Geklov.
Aikantoh local wasn’t very busy. The only ships I scanned in system belonged to Geklov's people. After warping around making some safe spots, I headed to the Bio hazard Containment Facility. I made my final safe one hundred and fifty kilometers outside of the docking bay in case my security status wasn’t the same when I left as it was when I went in.
I was hesitant to go in. It wasn't the encounter with Geklov that I was worried about. It was meeting Tasha that had me all wound up. This time was worse than usual. I really wanted to understand what all I had missed that led her to make such shitty decisions. How the hell did she get to the point where a slime bag like Geklov owned her?
I shook the thoughts out of my head so I could focus. Why could I never let go of us and just accept whatever it was that our relationship was about? I spent months telling myself she was a friend I cared about but didn't need in my life. Yet here I was again, running across half of known space to save her ass and buy her out of a bad deal. When was I going to learn? Someday I would have to let her go, but today was not going to be the day.
I warped back to the station and initiated the docking sequence. I handed over control of the ship to the stations docking computer and started the power down sequence. I felt the pods systems go offline as I mentally pulled the plug on each of them. After the docking sequence was complete the station machinery gently lifted the pod out of the ship and placed it on the ramp.
As soon as the pod was resting on the ramp I started the checklist for the power up. In my world you never know when you are going to have to get off a station in a hurry. I carefully placed each of the wires in the same order, same place, every time. It was a habit that could be a life saver when seconds to launch could mean life or death to my fleet members.
I hurried over to the nearest communications panel and entered Tasha's number, waited about a minute, and disconnected. I didn’t expect her to answer but I knew Geklov would be monitoring her communications and would now know I was here. While I waited for some kind of response I watched the station’s massive machines move ships from one area to the next. The station’s network tracked everyone inside and it was virtually impossible to hide. The docking computers always knew when someone was headed toward the hanger and the machines made sure the ships were ready.
After about ten minutes one of Geklov's lackeys appeared in the hanger looking for me. I didn't recognize him from the assault on the science station but he was so obvious there was no doubt. I scanned the area to determine if he was alone then clicked my blaster off of safe and walked to meet him.
Up close he was not much to look at. He looked kind of like an earth worm. His bald head was wrinkled and he was so skinny that it looked like he had been working on a slave ship. He was wearing a white toga that did nothing to compliment his pale complexion. I have no idea how I could be Caldari. I will never get their sense of style.
I walked up to him and waved. He flinched a little bit and stared back at me.
“Looking for me?”
“I am truly not sure. Are you Ms. Nachthexen?”
“You are to come with me to speak with Mr. Barkly immediately. I shall show you the way.”
That was cute. Geklov wanted to see me immediately. I wasn’t going to meet him without checking in with Tasha first and making sure she was okay. Besides, I needed to know what Geklov had said to her since I’d been gone. It hadn't taken long for me to finish the fight with the Blood Raiders and get up here, but several days had passed since both Tasha and Geklov left the station.
“I am afraid I will need to speak with Ms. Amira first.” I gave him my best “I am in charge here look” and waited for his reply.
He seemed to consider my statement for a second, too briefly, then nodded and started walking to the far lift.
“As you wish.”
I allowed the worm to lead and followed. It was the first time, of many, that I felt tendrils of anxiety spread into my chest. Geklov expected me to want to see her first, of course. I could only guess at how he saw this as a tactical advantage. As much as I hated the man I knew he was good at what he did. It would be a mistake to become arrogant. He was as deadly as I, but in a more cowardly way than I was used to dealing with.
The lift was a solid tube of shinny steel that spanned the entire length of the station. The stations are enormous and have a lot of angles on the outside so sometimes you have to use more than one lift to get to where you want to go. The docking areas normally had access to a station spanning lift. The one we were walking towards however was not one of those. I reasoned that Tasha’s room must be located at one of the angles near the outside of the station.
Was that important to know? Probably not, but it was a part of that obsessive paranoia that kicks in whenever I am in a situation that might go bad. You never know what little piece of information will be the key to saving your ass. As we walked, I observed my surroundings and started filing away little bits of information that might come in handy later.
“So...what is your name?” I asked, trying to get the little man to talk. Maybe if he relaxed he would let something slip.
“I am Pelton Freree”
“Well Pelton Freree, can I get you a couple more vowels for your name?”
Okay, I said it in a dry sarcastic way. Because that is how I like to talk to people. It took the little guy forever to figure out the joke. He nodded and then I waited until a little spark of light shined in his eyes.
“Umm, no that won’t be necessary. I have many already.”
“What do you do for Mr. Barkly?”
“I provide administrative assistance”
“Aren't you a little too cute for that?” I said as flirty as I could.
He looked at me and I could see the wheels turning as he tried to decide if I was making fun of him or not. Before he decided, the lift arrived and the doors opened. Realizing I wasn’t going to get anywhere with the conversation, I followed him in and resigned myself to gathering as much other information as I could. Pelton carefully entered our destination into the control panel and stepped back as the doors closed.
The lift rose smoothly up the tube. They were quiet, but I expected them to be loud. Or maybe I was waiting for the grinding and screeching as the lift fell to the bottom of the shaft killing everyone on board. I didn’t like the lifts, but I wasn't willing to give into fear and walk up seventy flights of stairs. I occupied myself with happy thoughts of blowing up squishy pods and waited for the ride to be over.
The lift reached Tasha’s floor in under a minute and we stepped off into a residential area. It was busy with people going about their daily routine. By the look of their clothes they were probably lower middle class. Tasha's standard of living had dropped since returning to the station. I followed Pelton as he danced around the crowed and headed down the corridor. At each intersection the corridor became less crowded.
Finally, we stood in front of a metal door leading to a living quarters. My heart pounded and my stomach gave a little roll to remind me it was there. I didn’t know what to expect, a feeling I don’t like. I didn’t know what shape Tasha would be in when the door opened, or if this was a trap. I smiled as a little burst of adrenalin hit my system and I moved my hand to rest it on my blaster.
Pelton entered a code and the door slid open reveling Tasha at a table reading on the other side. Relief washed over me when I could tell she was alone and looked physically okay. Tension seeped out of the muscles in my back and I took a deep breath not caring if anyone noticed.
“I will leave you two. Mr. Barkly will be waiting. Please don't take too long,” Pelton said, and headed back the direction we came from. The next thing I knew he had melted into the small crowd near a lift. Maybe he was a little more than an administrative assistant.
I looked back in time to brace myself as Tasha wrapped her arms around me and held me in a tight embrace. I returned the hug, relieved she was okay.
“The room is bugged,” she whispered as she let go and backed up a step. I reluctantly let her slip free.
I looked into her tired eyes. A light pink lined the beautiful green making them seem even brighter. It looked like she had been up crying for days. Once I would have seen her soul by looking into those eyes but now all I saw was the reflection of her physical exhaustion. A little of that heavy feeling returned to my heart as I thought about how much she had been through and how things had changed. I knew she was worried about her association with Geklov, the loss of her research, and about a million other things. I let out a little sigh followed her into the room.
The room was a step down from where she was living before. The small living room led to an attached area for cooking. Off to the right was an entrance to what appeared to be a little bedroom. That was all there was. Geklov was the type who would consider a smaller living space punishment, but the way I saw it if he wanted to punish her she would be living with him.
The room was sparse but everything about it screamed Tasha. Back when we were in pilot training she liked to buy a lot of stuff. As the years passed physical items never compared to the joy she got from being in a lab so those habits had changed. She did however love art, and that was something that had never changed.
Around the room was a collection of very Tasha like art. Every wall had at least one painting. Each painting was a different artist but all of them were Tasha's style. Everything was her style except for a hideous blue neon lamp on one of the tables. I never thought in a thousand years she would buy such garish novelty item. I turned my head eyebrows raised, and looked at her. She gave me a noncommittal shrug in return. It probably involved a lot of Gallente alcohol.
We moved to the center of the room and sat on the small blanket lined couch, “Are you okay?” I asked.
“I am doing okay so far. I didn't think I was going to live until you got here”
“Well I am here now, and I will take care of this. Okay?”
She nodded and slid over next to me on the couch resting her head on my shoulder. I wrapped my arms around her and pulled her close. I needed to get to Geklov and make this okay so she would be safe. I hadn’t been there for her like I should have been. I could be there for her now.
“I haven’t been able to sleep,” she said as she snuggled closer. I reached up and ran my fingers through her hair, not sure if I was comforting her or me. Her body relaxed as she practically sank into me. An old feeling of longing stirred that I had shutoff many years ago. I stopped it cold but not before the memory of holding her against me as she slept flashed through my mind.
Those precious memories were all I had left of the one time in my life when I felt hope for myself. I would lie next to her long after she had fallen asleep and run my fingers through her hair. Never before or after had I felt such love for someone and felt loved as well. I would close my eyes and feel like there were good things in the universe and I could be happy. Peace, I guess is what people call it.
“I’ve missed you,” she sighed. I missed her more than I thought was possible. It broke my heart to know that it had all changed and we could never seem to get back to that special place again. Now wasn’t the time to think of that though. I had a job to do to keep her safe.
“Do you think you can keep Geklov from killing me?” her voice was a whisper and I hated to hear her sound so afraid. Hatred filled me in a way I had never felt before. I wanted to make sure he paid for all he had done. Not just to Tasha, but also to his people. The first thing I needed to do was get her free of him then I could worry about bringing a little balance to the universe.
“I think I can get him to let you go. He should be willing if I give him the right motivation.” I said it as confidently as I could. There were a lot of factors involved in this deal. Money wasn’t going to be enough to make him let her go. She was too valuable. Her research had the potential to make billions of ISK if she could find a way to finish. Even if she couldn't, she would come up with another profitable invention. He had realized her profit potential and convinced her to sell her soul. She hadn’t realized until too late what that bargain had cost her.
“I should go see Geklov.”
“Okay. Should I come with you?”
“No, stay here and lock the doors. Don't let anyone in.”
I stood and pulled my blaster from its holster making sure it was fully charged. Carrying a loaded blaster was illegal on the station but rules rarely applied to my kind. If I needed it I wasn't going to have time to load it because most people who carry a gun on a station already have it loaded. The “good” citizens probably aren't carrying one to start with.
If I got caught, and that was a big IF, I would pay a fine. The security forces on the station couldn't care less who was carrying a weapon let alone if it is loaded or not. Most of the security was automated anyway, and security guards didn’t get paid enough to take a blaster bolt to the chest. There were sensors to detect weapon discharges and panic buttons for station dwellers to alert security if something bad was going on. Security never showed up until they were sure they wouldn’t get hurt.
“Anything else I need to know before I go see Geklov? Has he said or done anything to you?” She thought about it for a second and shook her head.
“He hasn't said much to me since we got back. He told me to stay on the station and he would see me after you got here. I think he wanted to see what kind of money you had to offer.”
I guess that made sense. He could talk to me first and see if I would offer him enough to make it worth letting her go. He knew if he hurt her before I got here I would kill him. It was better for him to keep his cards hidden and see what I was bringing to the table. Make me make the first move. He was smart. I just hoped I was smarter.