Business 101

Sylvia groaned. “Why are you making me relive my business training? It was the most infuriating ten weeks of my life!”

Alissa sat on the table beside her. “I’m just asking for basics. We need the funds to continue research to improve your new ship, and I’m sure you have a few tricks up your sleeve.”

“Can’t you just hire me out as a bounty hunter?” Sylvia sighed. “Fine, you want a way in? Emulate scarcity.” She pointed toward the screen on the wall, which displayed a series of graphs and products sold. “Have you looked at the market and done the research on how ISK translates to products?”

Alissa leaned against the wall. “Tell me about it.”

Sylvia shook her head. “It doesn’t. Frankly, I’m not even sure how the economy stays afloat. If you bought the materials necessary to make much of anything, and then sold that product at a competitive price, you’d go bankrupt within a month.” She pointed toward the Frequency Crystals. “These are in constant demand and the prices are scattered enough, and the supply is scarce enough, that it’s a good starting point.”

“Starting point for?”

“If you want profit, you want a stable economy where profit’s a possibility. You have to create profit if it doesn’t exist. Buying and selling is the only way to change how the economy works. 500 ISK is low enough we can change it with what we have.”

Alissa smiled and looked at the screen. “Would people buy it at 3,500 ISK?”

“People would buy it at 5,000 ISK if the supply was short and the competition was insufficient. Supply and demand. Simple as that.” Sylvia held up a tablet with calculations on it. “Buying the resources and building those things would only be 1,500 ISK. We could make a profit making them at that margin.”

Alissa clicked her tongue. “But if we raise the prices, wouldn’t the materials go up?”

Sylvia pulled up a screen containing various products utilizing the same materials. “Frankly, those crystals make up a tiny fraction of the economy. No-one’s likely to notice, and the material market is too congested for everyone to suddenly decide to raise all their prices. Literally a million people would have to start a campaign to raise prices, or one person with trillions of ISK would have to decide it’s worth it.”

While looking the screen and calculations over, Alissa shifted her feet. Sylvia added a few calculations to depict possible profit from the venture. With a grin, Alissa nodded. “It’ll take a bit of work, but I think we can do that. I’ll be on the lookout for other products, too.”

Sylvia huffed. “Great. You do that. I’ll be out blowing things up, trying to forget I just did a bunch of business stuff.” She walked toward the control room.

“Drop me off first. I have a lot of work to do, it seems.”

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Early Allies

Alissa tinkered with a tiny missile, a third of the size of a standard small missile. A wineglass on the table beside her and few dozen extra parts on the couch, wires aimed in no particular direction from the work-in-progress. “Huan Yaken contacted me today. It would seem our name is already getting out, even if we haven’t done much yet. I suppose it’s possible House Yaken obtained our name from the new-corporation registry.”

Using a thin, short-range laser device, she cut a wire and split it. “Either way, it turns out they have strong allies for research, and wanted to expand their connections. I have to admit, I’m not used to diplomacy or making deals, even after watching my mother form countless agreements in our own home as I grew up.

“I was a bit nervous, but I tried not to let that show. It became easier when we moved away from the business topic, though I believe Huan was expecting me to share a story of betrayal or tragedy as my reasoning for leaving the Academy behind.”

A spark shot from the missile as two wires touched. Alissa flipped a switch inside the missile, then connected the two wires. “I suppose it’s understandable. Many have tales of tragedy leading to the distrust of the Empires. Why else would there be pirates? Independent corporations operating outside the jurisdiction of their once-home?

“I once watched a bulletin with my mother, sent to all Gallenteans. My mother respected every organization equally, but she saw not all they did was right. The bulletin was for a man wanted for ‘criminal activity.’ It turned out, it was someone she knew. She even knew why he was wanted.

“His crime was defending a Gallente search party, and himself.” Alissa stopped tinkering with the missile and huffed. “Ironic to mention this while working on a tool which could be used for self-defense.” She shook her head and covered the connected wires. “Someone in the Gallente fleet attacked him because he– well. They say he refused to exit his ship. In truth, he was unable to exit his ship.

“Apparently his pod had an explosive rig between it and his ship. If he were to exit the ship, it would have exploded and taken half the fleet with him. No-one is completely certain who put it there, but an anonymous individual warned him after he had taken off.”

Final wires connected, Alissa screwed the missile’s five pieces together, then looked it over. “When the first shot was fired, he warped out. The fleet searched for half a week before they found him transporting materials.

“They scrambled his systems and insisted he exit his ship. This time, he agreed, as there wasn’t a threat. However, before he left the ship, a band of — what we call pirates — attacked the search party.

“My mother was receiving information from the man they were hunting. He, apparently, had nothing to do with their arrival. They didn’t even lock onto him before leaving the system, despite his ship being perhaps the most valuable conquest, along with being the easiest target.

“Later, we saw what we were permitted to see across the network and I had to ask: Why would someone attack the Gallente fleet and not a cargo ship they didn’t have any affiliation with?”

Alissa smiled and shook her head. “My mother responded: ‘Some people are too reasonable.”

She took the missile apart and took careful note of the circuits and wires inside. “Too reasonable. That was a new one to me. At first, I thought she was joking.

“She said the guy they were tracking would have been tried as a pirate had they taken him in, even if he was now complying. They wouldn’t ask questions, nor would they believe his reasoning. Especially since the explosives were no longer on his ship.

“He was being too reasonable by turning himself in, so these — what we call pirates — stood up for a man unwilling, or unable, to stand up for himself. The word she used to describe them: Vigilantes.”

Alissa wrinkled her nose. “My mother showed me numerous records involving this same group. All of them were similar stories. One of the major Empires making a minor or even catastrophic mistake, and this group of vigilantes blinding, locking, destroying, or otherwise distracting the Empire Fleet to prevent them from their goals.”

She used a bright light to look deep into the shell of the missile, then smiled. “I think I’ve cracked these missiles. They can still be improved, but we’ll need different resources for that. Resources we don’t have access to… yet.”

She rested the missile on the table. “It was interesting to look through those records. Every instance, this group of vigilantes would do something appropriate to the occasion. While it may seem extreme to destroy the fleet ships, that’s exactly what would have happened had the man left his ship the first time.

“Once, a security fleet scrambled an industrial ship that was retreating from a pirate group. The fleet was looking for contraband at the time. The vigilantes disrupted their scramblers, then their warp drives. This forced them to fight the incoming pirates and let the industrial ship go.

“To this day, I hold on to my mother’s words: Some people are too reasonable.” Alissa smiled when she glanced at a picture of a honey-blonde woman with emerald eyes. Her attention moved to the screen, which displayed a series of wanted individuals.

“I look forward to seeing where our new alliance with House Yaken leads. Their research connection and factory have tools well beyond what can be found in public stations. Our use of the facilities aids them. In the future, perhaps we can do more to help.”

Who I’ve Become

“Are you seriously going to make me do this? I didn’t sign up for this! I said I’d help you test weapons, not–” Alissa clipped the dictation device to Sylvia’s strap. Sylvia’s eyes grew cold. “If you ever touch me without warning again, I’ll encase you in the ice-stroids.”

“It’s on.” Alissa waved over her shoulder with a smile on her way back to her quarters.

A groan escaped Sylvia. She began to reach for the dictation device. Instead, she leaned against the rail, looking up at the ship in her for-now personal hangar. “I’d like to start this whatever-session with: My new boss is torturing me by forcing me to do this. I’m a warmonger, not a politician! Fair warning on the record: If this is some kind of trick-therapy, someone’s getting floated!”

A long pause was interrupted by an agitated sigh. “She said I have to talk about my life, whether present or past. You get the gist of the present, so let’s try a happier moment in the past, shall we?” She folded her legs on the hangar and rested an elbow against it, looking up at the ship. “Let’s talk about my first time in a Kestrel.”

Sylvia drew the Caldari logo in the air with a finger. “I’d been in the Caldari State War Academy for two years. I was the best pilot, but most people didn’t like me. The staff said I was too tough for my own good. The recruits avoided me.

“To this day, I’m not sure what kept them from kicking me out. I had four warnings for what they called ‘excessive violence’ and another three for supposed ‘unnecessary threats.’

“If I was such a menace, why was I permitted to stay? Besides, what’s an ‘unnecessary threat?’ If I had the presence of mind, I would have launched a heavy missile their way and been done with it!” A soft chuckle interrupted her thought. “I guess they’d say that was unnecessary, too.”

“One day, I was required to visit a Caldari Military outpost, but my ship from the Academy was still undergoing maintenance from the day before, so it wasn’t ready for flight. Turned out this girl at the Academy was going to the same place, and she had access to a Shuttle that her parents owned.” Sylvia smiled. “That thing was a beauty. Mmm. My first time in a high-speed shuttle. It was even painted like camouflage! The inside was spotless, even. You could tell her parents took good care of it.”

Her head tilted to glance at the Kestrel in the hangar. “The only thing more beautiful than that Shuttle was what came next. Well– what came later, then. See, we had to stop because it was too cramped. While we were readjusting, pirates decided it would be a good time to scramble our systems.” Silence followed her explanation, extended several minutes.

She folded her arms, a slight waver in her voice. “We were lucky. There was a military outpost just below us, and a space suit in the shuttle. I’d managed to be ignored by the pirates when I left the ship and crashed onto the outpost.

“The outpost was displaying a new Kestrel prototype, which, despite all the attention focused on it, made it easy to lift. After loading the missiles, which they clearly hadn’t tested yet, I locked the pirates. The lock didn’t scare them enough to pull them away from the shuttle, so I had no choice but to take my shot.”

A deep exhale echoed through the device. “I remember so many things going through my head right then, and so many more when it was all over. Had anything been off, things would have ended far worse.”

Sylvia looked down the hall to her quarters. “I refused to admit it before, but there truly isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t regret harming that girl. She was unconscious for three days, and it took a few more before the shock wore off enough for her to speak to anyone. No long-term damage from what anyone can tell, but–”

With a shake of her head, she walked toward her quarters. “Piloting that Kestrel was the best and most frightening moment in my life. I even learned a life lesson from it: I’m no heroine. Holding someone’s life in the palm of my hands — or at the tip of my trigger-finger — isn’t a place I want to be all that often, unless that life is an enemy’s.”

A huff escaped. “I played it cool when Caldari security arrested me and took the Kestrel back inside. They paid more attention to my being a mere recruit and the fact another recruit was injured than anything else.

“It conveniently slipped their sights that all the debris might be from the pirates I just blew out of existence. I was treated and even tried as a criminal, both in the eyes of the Caldari Military and then the Academy. Fortunately, because I was a recruit, the Academy determined my fate.”

Sylvia stared at the Academy emblem on the table. “My mind raced, heart sank, and I couldn’t breathe when I heard their decision. No; no, not just their decision. Their unanimous decision. I would be expelled from the Academy indefinitely, and all piloting privileges of any ship would be revoked instantly.”

She rubbed her neck during a gasp for air to keep composure. “I lived with their decision for a few days. I can’t say a life of piracy didn’t sound tempting, if it meant I could keep flying. I’d even drawn up blueprints for certain military outposts and the Academy to figure out what I’d need to collect the resources necessary to go out on my own.

“That girl, the one that was flying me to the outpost. I hadn’t gone to see her in the medical wing. To that point, she hadn’t crossed my mind with all the accusations against me. All of this made it strange that she came to visit, especially since she and I never saw eye-to-eye on anything.

“She said she’d heard about the Academy’s decision to kick me out. It was too soon to talk about that, so I did what I felt a normal person would do. I told her I was glad she was okay. She visited for a few hours that evening and we just talked between long silences. For once, we didn’t get into disagreements. Admittedly, it was a quiet night, which likely helped.”

She picked up a small tablet from the table and began tapping different parts of a picture of a Kestrel, glancing at a series of numbers determining the status of each part on her ship. “The following day, her parents — who turned out to be highly influential in the Academy — gathered the staff so she could explain the situation to them. This without my knowing.

“When my — what I called executioner — walked into my quarters at the Academy, which was where I’d be isolated until it was time for me to leave the grounds, I wasn’t keen to talk. The more that was said, the more angry I became. During some spiel about how I need to control my anger, I remember insisting everyone stay out of my room until it was time to leave, and even then I didn’t want to hear a word.

“I could have signed my own death right there, had anyone else been the reason they changed their minds. During the refusal to leave the room, I was edging close to throttling that fool. Until I heard the words: ‘You’re not expelled.’

“Never have three simple words meant so much to me. I wasn’t thrilled about what came next: I’d be required to attend a Business course for ten weeks, during which I wouldn’t be allowed to pilot combat ships, nor attend the Academy.”

With a chuckle, Sylvia walked back out to the hangar, admiring her ship. “They called the Business course a means of therapy for me. Anger Management, they said.

“I don’t know if you’ve ever gone through a Business course, but let me tell you, it’s more cutthroat than any number of years in the War Academy. They may as well have given me a handheld laser pistol and told me to never pull the trigger.

“I think that message was quite clear when I doubled the number of warnings received within my first week back from their ten-week experiment.

“Fortunately, I’m a proud graduate of the Caldari State War Academy. I became a pilot in the Caldari fleet, and now, I’m– … recording my emotional history in some weird gadget because someone I don’t know told me to.

“Excuse me, I have to go kill someone now. Um, CONCORD and Caldari State, and… any other authorities such as Gallente that might get involved, this is not a confession.” She slipped the dictation device off, stormed into Alissa’s quarters and threw it at her. “I never want to hear a word about anything I said today!”

Alissa smiled. “Thank you for participating.” She switched the device off and placed it on her table.

The Empty Quarters

Alissa plopped on the couch, leaned her head back and stared at the ceiling. After a glance each way, she reached for a small dictation device. “I’ve walked into this room several times in the past, but never has it felt this… lonely?”

Her eyes moved to the screen on the table in front of her, which displayed the words as she spoke. A soft sigh broke the deafening silence. “It was another day of mining while my mind focused on the real problems I face: Inefficiency in the design of that new blueprint. I keep looking for some way to make it better, and although I’ve made a number of tweaks, I fear I’m going to have to redesign it from scratch to make a real difference. Caldari’s missiles are impressive, but I need them to be more.

“While mining, I was attacked by pirates. Usually I have automated drones, but earlier in the day I’d taken them apart to modify one of the prototype missiles I made. The worst part was that my ship didn’t have the power to keep another weapon on board, and the pirates managed to block me from retreating.”

She clipped the device on the neckline of her top, keeping silent long enough to grab a wineglass and large bottle full of red liquid. “At the last moment, a volley of the very missiles I tried to make better versions of turned the once-threatening pirates into stardust.”

A smile appeared as the red liquid fell from the bottle to the glass. “It was quite a sight. Now that I’ve seen what those things can do, I’m motivated more than ever to understand them better.

“A Caldari State pilot by the name of Sylvia was my savior. After a short lecture, of which I feel I may have deserved, being in a dangerous area without defenses… she escorted me home. She’s a bit rough, and I’ll need someone to help test these missiles when I finally finish them.”

A long drink was followed by her nervous voice. “I may have lied to her.” She sighed. “I had brought up the intent to modify missiles and asked her to test them when they were finished. Perhaps out of pride, or unfamiliarity, or even fear of trickery, she declined, stating she would never purchase anything which wasn’t sold by a corporation. Without thinking, I told her I had a corporation, and that the corporation focused on research and new designs.

“To cover that lie up, I went through the process of making a corporation. Fortunately, it doesn’t involve so much paperwork. It’s just a bit expensive. Still, I’ll end up telling her, I’m sure.”

A glance around the still-empty room caused her eyes to drop to the liquid in the held glass. “Although I may have created the corporation to make my activities appear more official, I can’t say it wouldn’t be nice to have others to work with. Bounce ideas off of. I am not the only one seeking to become the best in my field.”

A press of the button on the dictation device disabled it. She slid it off and placed it on the table, then stared at the guts of the light missile on the table across the room. She folded her arms and rested them on the arm of the couch, sprawling across the cushions.