It Started with a Splash

The Forge Region – Anttanen Constellation
Uitra System – Planet VI, Moon 4
State War Academy Station – The Abyss Bar

20 June YC 121

It was a busy time at The Abyss – the throng of thirsty students who waited for their drinks was four men deep, and bartenders were jumping crazily from tap to tap like monkeys during mating season. I was standing in a queue after another capsuleer; I recognised him by an interface slot on his exposed neck. When he finally made his way to the bar, with me in his tow, the bartender greeted him like an old friend and made small talk. I couldn’t hear them well because of the noise, but I caught a few words, like ‘decryptors’ and ‘bargain’. As you can imagine, having just looted a data site I was very much interested in any bargains that involved decryptors and moved closer to the bloke in front of me. Unfortunately, it coincided with the moment when the guy received his order and turned around with a drink in his hand. As I was literally breathing down his neck, he didn’t have enough space for manoeuvre and rammed his glass into my chest, splashing the drink all over my shirt.

Yakub Albaf
Yakub Albaf

I raised my eyes and saw a grim fellow who was obviously unhappy about the incident. As it was clearly my fault, I wanted to say sorry for invading his space, but before I could utter a single word, his ferocious expression suddenly gave way to a childlike apologetic half-smile, and he mumbled, “Sorry mate. I didn’t notice you. The laundry is on me.”

Caught by surprise at such turn of events, I still wanted to admit that the fault was mine, but at that time my olfactory receptors finally managed to communicate something important to my brain. I looked at my shirt, drew a finger across the wet spot and sniffed it.

“Is it 21-year old Shibiki?” asked I in disbelief.

The guy looked startled and said, “I see you know your whiskies.”

“How did you get it here? It’s not on the list.”

The capsuleer smirked, “No, it’s not. You have to ask for it. They keep it for regulars only.”

I made round eyes, “I’ve spent half a year in this station; I thought I was regular enough.”

“Well, now you are. Welcome to the club, mate.”

“Much honoured,” replied I sarcastically. “Look, I have an idea. Forget about the laundry, just buy me a glass of this whisky and we’ll be cool.”

He laughed, “You are driving a hard bargain – a glass of Shibiki 21 can buy you two new shirts like this! But I am happy to shout one for a fellow whisky connoisseur, and my own glass needs a top-up too.”

This time I gave my new acquaintance plenty of personal space and made sure that he safely made his way through the crowd. When we were out of the throng he handed me a glass, raised his and said, “Cheers!”

I clinked my glass against his and replied, “Fly safe!”

The guy raised his brow, “Are you a capsuleer too?”

“A rather new one, but yes, I am. By the way, are you meeting anyone here?”

“No, just relaxing after making a few deals.”

“I am alone too,” said I. “What about finding a quiet place and having a chat? Maybe we too can strike a deal.”

“Why not?” agreed he.

We settled in a far corner of the bar and started the usual dance of acquaintance. Both of us had pretty high level of Social skill and we moved smoothly from topic to topic, avoiding those which caused guarded responses and digging a bit deeper into the ones which seemed to resonate. As the night dragged on and we got drunker, both of us volunteered a bit more information about ourselves. Here is what I learned about my new friend.

The capsuleer’s name was Yakub Albaf and he was an industrialist. The only industrialist I had met before him was Kokseri Velen, and I thought it took a special type of person to enjoy such career. As it turned out, Yakub was not that type of person – by his own admission, Industry was only a way to make money while his real passion was science. Before becoming a pod pilot he studied fundamental properties of space-time continuum at Hedion University. As he grew older he became increasingly frustrated by the lack of progress he was making. His work required advanced experimental equipment but the funding was pretty scarce. At one point he realised that at such pace of research he would never discover anything important in his lifetime. He became despondent, lost interest in science, started drinking and was kicked out of the uni. He spent his days on a couch, watching holos and pumping himself with alcohol – doing pretty much anything to forget his failed career.

One day, flicking through the channels, he came across a soap opera about capsuleers which looked mildly more interesting than other trash. He had, of course, heard about empyreans before, but he thought of them as advanced spaceship pilots which didn’t interest him much. The holo series, called Warp Drive Active, at first reinforced that perception because all the main characters – evil pirates, dashing mercenaries and proud military officers – were ship captains. And of course they were all filthy rich. Then, a few episodes later, there appeared a secondary character, a rather plain guy, who was a capsuleer but didn’t fly at all. His main occupation was “invention” of blueprints – a rather boring job which required advanced knowledge of physics and engineering. The only saving grace of that brainiac was that he was the richest of the lot. Yakub laughed bitterly at such Utopian view which was in stark contrast with his own real-world experience, and discounted the whole plot as artistic exaggeration.

Nevertheless, in the following days his thoughts constantly returned to that too-good-to-be-true world of capsuleers. As Yakub later realised, that serial brought together a few ideas that spoke strongly to his unfulfilled desires – to have unlimited lifetime for scientific work, to earn big money with his intellect and to be able to fund his own research. Intrigued, he read up on capsuleer technology and economy and discovered that, if anything, the holo show underestimated the empyreans’ wealth and underrepresented the opportunities open to pod pilots.

Needless to say, Yakub became obsessed with the idea of becoming an empyrean and started looking for ways to get into training. Unlike me, he couldn’t get a referral from a capsuleer but he had broad connections in the scientific community. One of the research groups was actually based in Hedion University and it didn’t take much effort to find a friend of a friend of the research lead who recommended Professor Yakub Albaf as a promising candidate to Amarr Imperial Navy.

Just as me, Yakub had no trouble passing the first test – the lifetime in academic environment prepared him well to such examination. After that he started the second test and, absolutely unexpectedly, excelled at piloting the capsule; it took him less than a month to acquire total control over the neural interface and complete the test course. Then, at the following mandatory Navy training Yakub’s mastery of the ship impressed his instructors so much that they prophesied a brilliant fighter pilot career for him. But Professor Albaf had his own plans.

At this point Yakub made a pause and went to the bar to buy another round. When he returned, I said, “So, you decided against the military career?”

“It was tempting,” chuckled Yakub. “I was very surprised when I discovered that I had aptitude for piloting. Guess, it was my maternal granddad’s blood that saw me through the capsule test – he was an infamous smuggler who dodged Imperial patrols for years. Got hanged in the end all the same.” Yakub raised his glass, “Let’s drink to the old fart – I wouldn’t be here in more senses than one if not for him.”

I raised mine and we drank in silence. After a while Yakub continued, “Aptitude is not everything. Granted, it determines how fast you can earn money in the chosen occupation, but if you are immortal, then this factor becomes less important. After all, it’s not like I am competing with anyone.”

“What career path did you choose then?”

“The same as the plain guy from the serial – Industry: Invention and hi-tech manufacturing. In fact, my scientific background enabled me to quickly get into advanced production. For example, even when I was a baseliner, my Graviton and Electromagnetic Physics skills were at level IV which enabled me to produce Mobile Cynosural Inhibitors almost immediately. At the same time, if I chose a military career then I’d have to start my education from scratch.”

Yakub took a sip from his glass and continued excitedly, “And this occupation also gives me access to scientific artefacts which I could never get hold of in my previous life. Take, for example, Talocan Mathematical Schematics; they are needed to produce Heavy Capacitor Boosters but the part that is used in manufacturing is, in essence, a standard piece of mathematical knowledge which serves only as an introduction to advanced concepts presented in the rest of the schematics. And you know what, no one ever looked at those concepts – they are simply ignored and destroyed during production.”

That ringed a bell but, being inebriated, I couldn’t remember in what respect, so I returned to the current topic.

“Did you say Talocan Mathematical Schematics? I’ve got one. Can sell it to you if you are interested.”

“Sure thing,” said Yakub enthusiastically and quickly calculated something on his datapad. “I’ll pay you 465480.41 ISK for it.”

I took out my own pad and checked the market, “Hmm… This is a significantly lower price than I can sell it for in Jita.”

“And also a much higher price than I can buy it for in Jita. In fact, it is slap bang in the middle of those two figures.”

“So what’s in it for you if you can buy cheaper?”

Yakub shrugged, “Saves my time and, if you think about it, yours too. How long are you prepared to sit in that station watching the market and adjusting your price by a kredit or two just to stay ahead of your competitors? And this is not counting the travel time. Or maybe you enjoy playing those market games?”

I smiled, “You’ve got a point. To be honest, I planned to fly in Jita and sell those schematics to the highest ‘buy’ bidder.”

“And I give you an opportunity to sell it without leaving your bar stool and for a significantly higher price. Do we have a deal?” asked Yakub and gave me what I thought to be his best used-car salesman’s smile.

“Well, I wouldn’t call it a significantly higher price,” objected I half-heartedly.

“Your words, not mine,” retorted Yakub. “You said that my offer was significantly lower than the ‘sell’ price. By the same token, it should be significantly higher than the ‘buy’ price that you were ready to accept. In fact, my offer is 39% better than the ‘buy’ price, while only 22% lower than the ‘sell’ price. You see, it’s a bargain!”

I laughed. “You are a swindler, Yakub! I should know better than argue with scientists. Deal,” agreed I and we shook hands.

“By the way,” said I, “is it why you are in Uitra? To buy components for invention and manufacturing?”

“Yep. It’s one of the stops on my regular procurement trip.”

“Hmm… I’d say Uitra is an unusual shopping destination. If you look at the market, hardly anything is sold here – everything goes to Jita.”

Yakub tapped his nose, “Oh, you’d be surprised. This Academy Station attracts a lot of new capsuleers who try their hand at exploration. Having hacked a few cans, they get back to Uitra and dream about all those shiny Tech II modules that they can build with their loot. However, when they discover that they need to spend several months training their scientific and manufacturing skills before they can even start, their enthusiasm evaporates and they are ready to go to Jita and flog their haul to the first buyer.”

I snorted, “Sounds familiar.”

“This is where I make my appearance and offer to buy their stuff at a,” he winked, “significant premium. And now I extend the same offer to you. Anytime you need to sell the loot you brought back from data or relic sites, just create a contract for me. If the price is right I usually accept within a day.”

“And what if I have components for invention or manufacturing and want you to produce something for me? How much would that cost?”

“Good question. No one has asked me about it before. Let’s say it will cost you half the profit I would make, if I bought components for mid-price and sold the final product for ‘sell’ price. How is that?”

“Sounds fair,” nodded I and we raised a toast to the success of our trade relationship.

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