“What’s this?” asked I.

“It’s a recording of a conversation between my passengers.”

“Do you eavesdrop on your clients?” I raised an eyebrow in mock indignation.

“Huh, of course I do!” bristled Ger, “You never know what they are up to. Last year, when I was the only one who offered trips on Victorieux, I was hired for a pleasure cruise through hi-sec. It was a round trip through all eight systems in the constellation Ani. A particular point of interest was Republic University station in Nakugard where at that time Gallente and Caldari held peace talks. That event received a lot of publicity so it didn’t seem strange that the tourists wanted to visit the place. When we started from Hjoramold I switched on an audio feed from the cabin in a background mode, just to ensure that the party wouldn’t get disorderly. The company didn’t sound like your typical holiday-goers; they spoke in hushed tones and their conversation revolved around Nakugard. I increased the volume and bit by bit put together the pieces of their actual plan. Apparently, they were a group of Caldari extremists who did not want the peace talks to succeed and they were ready to sacrifice themselves to stop the negotiations. Specifically, in Nakugard, when we would have been in the vicinity of Republic University, they intended to hijack the yacht and, using the CovOps cloak, approach the station unnoticed and crash the ship into the conference hall.”

“But how could those bastards seize control of the yacht? They would have to kill you first but you were inside a pod, and I thought capsules were too tough for conventional weapons,” wondered I.

“Oh, they wouldn’t have to blow up the capsule. Even if they managed to crack it, that would be sufficient to trigger the mind transfer operation which would kill my clone. After that they could use manual controls to pilot the ship. As soon as I uncovered their plot, I decompressed the cabin. Yeah, it was messy, but it’s cheaper to clean the ship than to buy a new one. After that I completed the agreed cruise program and returned to Hjoramold. There I called DED and presented the cabin recording as a proof of their felonious intent. I even managed to get full payment for the cruise after presenting my case to Secure Commerce Commission and proving that I fulfilled the terms of contract by visiting all way-points.”

I shook my head in amazement, “Smart boy!”

“One can never be too smart,” shrugged Gerhardt, “It was after that incident that I started including a no-arms clause in my contracts, and now I always, always listen to my passengers. Even if they don’t have nefarious intentions, one can learn a lot of interesting things from their conversations. Like these, for example,” he winked and started the playback.

A confident but rather monotone female voice said, “Looks comfortable. I hope it is not one of those luxury eggshells which can be blown to pieces by the first rocket.”

“It’s the VIP,” commented Gerhardt.

“No, it’s a cruiser-class ship, Lady, and it has more than adequate defences,” replied another voice with an emphasised deference.

“This is Alf,” explained Ger.

“Good. What about the pilot? Is he reliable? Was the payment sufficient to ensure his loyalty?” asked the VIP.

“Yes, we’ve checked his background thoroughly. He has no affiliation with Amarr government; he has participated in Factional Warfare on Gallente side; he took government contracts all over New Eden and there was no particular bias towards any empire; he always fulfils his contracts and is highly rated among clients as well as among his peers. And he is the only one who knows how to fly Victorieux through null-sec.”

I looked at Gerhardt and gave him a respectful nod. He smiled and slightly bowed his head, “At your service, sir.”

Meanwhile, Alf continued, “But taking into consideration the importance of this mission I used the contacts you gave me, Lady, to ensure that he has no Plan B, if you know what I mean.”

Here Alf produced a sound which I would describe as a mirthless chuckle.

“I see you’ve covered all the bases, Alf. And what about Minmatar fleet? Did you manage to ensure their support?” asked the VIP.

“They are helping us but not directly, Lady. Minmatar don’t want to be seen as active participants in your escape. Instead, they organised a massive attack on one of the Amarr systems and forced Amarr to move significant forces there, thus, giving us more time to prepare. But this time is running out – my observers reported movement of Amarrian capital ships in our direction.”

Gerhardt stopped playback, “So what do you make of it?”

“Don’t know. Your VIP sounded like some high-profile leader of underground Minmatar slave resistance in Amarr who was fleeing for her life,” I ventured a guess.

“If that was the case, Minmatar wouldn’t have any scruples about sending their fleet to her rescue. What if I told you she was Amarrian?” Gerhadt gave me another hint.

“Ah, that makes sense. What, some Amarrian schismatic who found that her interpretation of the scripture was deeply unpopular?”

“Close, but no cigar,” Gerhardt clearly enjoyed this charade, “Did you watch the news this morning?”

“I just saw a news ticker about some government crisis in Amarr Empire but I don’t know the details,” admitted I.

“Then let me fill you in. This morning, Catiz Tash-Murkon appeared on Minmatar news channel with a shocking statement.”

“Hold on,” interrupted I, “Catiz Tash-Murkon?”

“Catiz Tash-Murkon,” confirmed Gerhardt.

“The Amarr Empress appeared on Minmatar news channel? How? Why?” I was completely dumbfounded.

“She made a statement saying that she was the genuine, original Catiz Tash -Murkon who won Amarr Succession trials and became The Empress, but then her enemies tried to kill her and replace with a clone. She managed to escape the ambush but now the throne of Amarr Empire is occupied by an abomination, by a clone which violates the doctrine of Sacred Flesh.”

“What a scandal! But, Ger, what relation does it have to… Wait a moment, are you saying that the VIP on your ship was…”

“Shh…” interrupted me Gerhardt, “I don’t want to advertise my role in Her Majesty’s escape. Whoever organised that clone affair is a very powerful person, and I don’t want very powerful persons to be my enemies. Bad for business.”

“True, true,” agreed I, “but I don’t understand, why Minmatar would support Amarr Empress, their arch-enemy.”

“Oh, she is not your typical Empress. First of all, she was raised by a father who favoured trade connections with Minmatar. Secondly, she has built the most successful business in the Empire from scratch and without any use of slave labour. Before she became the Empress she expressed a view that slavery was not economically efficient. She pointed at the examples of other empires where slavery was banned, especially Minmatar, who managed to develop a strong economy in a short period of time, and built Elder Fleet which nearly decimated Amarr Empire. That declararion surely rubbed salt into the wounded Amarr pride and did not win Catiz any fans but it was an argument which could not be refuted. And to bring it home, in more senses than one, she pointed at the success of her own enterprise which employed only free people. Now, I think, you’ve got an idea why Minmatar would love to see her on the throne again.”

“I guess, I have. And I can also imagine why she was so unpopular among Amarrians that there was an attempt on her life. So, what will happen now?”

“Don’t know, don’t care,” replied Gerhardt and stretched in the chair, “empresses come and go but capsuleers are forever!”

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