I rubbed my eyes. This wasn't the conversation I'd hoped to have -- I wanted to talk about what ships to set up, and quickly follow that by getting into those ships and using them against the Amarr.
But that wasn't happening.
"Yes," I said, pitching my voice to carry to the speaker on my desk. "Due to the problems with one of the corps in the alliance --"
"Which one?" That was Em, his voice snapping with the same mix of irritation and head-shaking bemusement I felt.
"Doesn't matter," I said, not wanting to start pointing fingers. "Anyway, due to some issues they've had with the Minmatar Republic, the TLF rescinded official recognition our whole alliance's legal participation in the war, which means CONCORD will treat any hostilities we take in the region as criminal or at the very least suspect." I sounded like I was reciting from memory, because I was -- I'd read and re-read the message from Alliance Command more than a few times in the last day.
"So..." Shan's voice was calm and quiet. "If we fight any of the big fleets right now, with all those 'illegal' targets..."
"We're going to be outlaws in our own high-security space in less time than it takes to tell it," I finished the thought. "Yeah."
"I'm borderline already," Shan observed, "from that last thing."
"I know," I said. "No one has to fly if they don't want to."
"I want to," Em said, "and I'll take the hits to my sec status if it's a fight worth taking, but this..." I could easily imagine him shaking his head in disgust. "This is taking the lashes for someone else's fuck-up. That's..." He let it drop. I knew what he would say, in any case -- this was all ground we'd covered. "How long til it gets sorted out?"
"Twenty-four hours," I said, willing myself to believe it. "TLF is sorted out, and they've filed their retraction with CONCORD, but with all their red tape -- twenty-four hours."
"Then I'll see you then," he said, and his comm cut.
I let the silence linger. Shan filled it. "I'm going to move some ships," he murmured, "while there's time."
I raised my head and nodded, though he couldn't see me. "Sounds good," I replied, and he was gone.
"What are you gonna do?" CB asked, after a few seconds.
What did I want? A chance to find out what was right and a chance to act on it! I laughed. Who is ever granted the first, let alone the second of these? A workable approximation of truth, then. That would be enough... And a chance to swing my blade a few times in the right direction.
I shook my head, fingering the page edges of the book I held. "Not sure yet. Get back to me?"
I was many things -- some of them objectively 'bad' -- but I wasn't an outlaw or a pirate.
Not yet, came the thought, and I scowled.
Technically, nothing in the fight had changed. The Amarr were still the Amarr -- still slavers, still the reason we'd joined this war.
But to think of those in the safer parts of New Eden reacting not to me, but the warning ahead of me wherever I went -- to see those I fought for cringing away -- it was a bitter pill.
I stood up to get away from the thought, moving across the room and dropping on the couch, my book in hand. A comfort, just then; despite all the religious and philosophical texts out there, it was this book -- obscure, rare, and older than the New Eden Gate -- that I turned to for the best, most unflinching advice on how to live as an immortal with few allies I could trust.
I might have told her that I do not recognize rules when my life is at stake, or that I do not consider war a game. I could have said a great number of things, but if she did not know them already or did not choose to understand them, they would not have made a bit of difference. Besides, her feelings were already plain.
So I simply said one of the great rite truths: “There is generally more than one side to a story.”
I didn't read. I hardly needed to -- I'd been back and forth through the text so often I could quote long passages verbatim. I knew what it would tell me -- what, put into my position, the story's protagonist would do.
It came down to one thing: Why did I fight?
Was the war just another accomplishment to tick off a list? Another laurel wreath and a few more medals? Another business opportunity? Another way to call myself a hero? If so, I must walk a line that kept my fine clothing clean and my shoes polished.
It wasn't about why; it was about who. Who was I fighting for?
That question was easier to answer. Plainer. Cleaner.
In the mirrors of many judgments, my hands are the color of blood. I am a part of the evil which exists to oppose other evils; on that Great Day (of which prophets speak but in which they do not truly believe), on that day when the world is completely cleansed of evil, then I, too, will go down into darkness, swallowing curses.
But until then, I shall not wash my hands nor let them hang useless.
I left the book on the couch and headed for the hangar.
CB was waiting by the entrance.
"You heading out there?" I asked, not entirely able to conceal my surprise.
He nodded, his expression hidden behind his ever-present glasses. "Just waiting for you to sort your shit out."
Yesterday, Isbrabata was the most violent system in all of New Eden. Over 300 ships turned to scrap.
But we held.