Derelik Region – Oraron Constellation
Jarizza System – Ammatar Consulate Bureau Station
25 March YC 122
I was sitting in Valhalla Bar and nursing a drink when I received a call from Yakub.
“Hi mate! Where are you? Are you in Jarizza?” I asked impatiently.
“Erm… Not exactly. I am in Madirmilire,” said Yakub in a strained voice.
“What are you doing there?”
“Um… Getting a new corvette.”
“Why do you need a corvette?” said I, confused. Then I remembered my recent experience and got a sinking feeling in my stomach, “What happened?”
“Um… I was ganked,” replied Yakub averting his eyes.
“Trigs? No, it was The fucking Initiative!”
“Oh, no! How did that happen? Are you at war with INIT?”
Yakub winced, “No, I am neutral. It was pure, classic hi-sec ganking.” He sighed and continued, “This is really embarrassing. You see, you called me at the end of a long trading session in which I managed to make a decent amount of money. I thought it would be a good idea to celebrate the successful trade with a bottle of good old brandy, so I loaded your stuff into Iteron and set off. Being quite tired I decided to have a quick nap before our meeting and switched off all alarms until my arrival in Jarizza. That was a mistake…
“I woke up when I received a mighty kick into my bum which I felt despite all those wonderful cushioning effects of pod goo. When I opened my eyes I discovered that I was in Niarja approaching Madirmilire gate in a capsule. That kick was caused by pod ejection from the exploding Iteron. The gankers intercepted me when I was slowboating to the gate. In hindsight, I should have piloted the ship myself until at least I had passed Niarja.”
Yakub sighed again. Looking at him I felt terrible. Trying to save on courier costs I dragged my friend into a dangerous situation which cost him a ship.
“Er… Yakub, I am really sorry to hear this. Look, I am rather space-poor now, but when I hit a few good sites, or even a lot of bad ones if I have to do hi-sec exploration in a Heron, I’ll make it up for you.”
Yakub looked at me dubiously, “What are you talking about?”
“Well, I mean, I’ll pay for your lost Iteron…” mumbled I.
“What?! I undertook to deliver your cargo, lost it, and you want to compensate the loss of my ship? That’s not how courier contracts work!”
“It wasn’t really a contract.”
“Doesn’t matter,” fumed Yakub. “We are friends, we don’t need contracts. I took the responsibility for the safe delivery of your stuff and I will bear the consequences of the loss. I will buy the lost merchandised and bring it to you as agreed. If anything, you are entitled to the compensation for the delayed delivery.”
I was taken aback, “Whoa there! I don’t need no compensation. The freight was not time-sensitive and the only reason I asked you to come here ASAP was because I wanted to meet you, with Buzzard or without. Please don’t put a price on our friendship!”
Yakub raised his arms placatingly, “Okay, okay, let’s keep it as it was at the beginning – I bring your stuff to Jarizza, you buy me Damius. Deal?”
Still uncomfortable, I shrugged, “If you insist.”
“I do. See you in an hour,” said Yakub and hung up.
This time there were no surprises – Yakub’s new Iteron arrived safely to Jarizza, Buzzard hull and modules were delivered to my hangar in Ammatar Consulate Bureau Station, and Yakub himself sat at my table expectantly.
“Mate, I am parched! Where is that ambrosia that you lured me with to this godforsaken place?”
I looked at the bartender and gave him a little nod. On my cue he brought a small intricately carved bottle and two brandy balloons to our table. Then he asked me to check the seal and, having got my consent, uncorked the bottle and filled our glasses with auburn viscose liquid. I swirled it around the glass a few times and inhaled the released aroma. It smelled of honey, raisin, old leather and a hint of tobacco. Yakub and I raised our glasses said ‘Cheers!’ and sipped the brandy. It was the first time I tasted Damius III and it exceeded my highest expectations – silky structure, entrancing aroma and the taste so complex I could write a novel about it. That was the best spirit I ever drank. Yakub, on the other hand, was not impressed. He frowned as if he swallowed vinegar.
“What’s that?” he asked the bartender.
“It’s Extra Old Special Reserve Limited Edition Damius III brandy,” replied the guy reverently.
“And how much did he pay for it?” Yakub nodded at me.
The bartender named the price.
“I see,” scoffed Yakub. “Now, listen to me. You may fool your local bogans with the seal and the label but you won’t fool old Yakub. This stuff is good but it’s nowhere close to the Damius which I tasted first time when you were not even born. So be a good boy and bring us the real thing or we are asking for a refund.”
“I… I’ll talk to my manager,” stammered the bartender and retreated with the bottle, sniffing it surreptitiously.
“What’s the problem?” asked I, surprised.
Yakub just raised his hand, calling for patience. Soon enough, a young lady with unpleasantly familiar manners approached our table carrying the bottle.
“Hi boys. I am Elva, the manager. So you are the ones who ordered a bottle of Damius the Third?”
I nodded silently.
“Look, I am really sorry,” said Elva. “We have run out of Damius stock and simply kept that bottle on display. It was filled with cheap brandy just for the looks but we forgot to tell the barman. As a token of our apology, we give you this bottle free of charge.”
Yakub’s face took a strange expression that I had never seen before – a mix of anticipation and ruthlessness.
“Darling,” he said in an uncharacteristically patronising tone, “let’s start with the fact that Jamyl I is not a cheap brandy. It may be ten times cheaper than Damius III but it is still bloody expensive. So I don’t expect you to use it as a colouring agent. Secondly, this bottle was properly sealed. Are you going to tell me that you went to all the trouble of restoring the holo-seal only to make it look good on the upper shelf? Actually, ‘restoring’ is the wrong word. I think a more appropriate one is ‘counterfeiting’. What do you think?”
The lady opened her mouth trying to say something but Yakub interrupted her.
“Don’t. Don’t say anything that can be used against you in the court. Understood?”
The manager slowly nodded and said, “Look, we don’t want any trouble. We’ve made a mistake and I am happy to correct it. In addition to this bottle, you can order anything from the food menu – it’s free of charge. But please, let’s keep this little incident between us,” finished she with an ingratiating smile.
“Food menu and drinks menu?” not so much asked as stated Yakub, in a tone of person who had all the trumps.
The lady shifted uncomfortably, “I can’t offer you that. I need to talk to our director first.”
“Of course you can because you have a very simple choice: either you agree to our terms here and now, or we take this bottle,” here Yakub carefully extracted the vessel from the lady’s hands, “and bring it to the nearest police station. Now imagine how your conversation with the director will go if you choose the latter option.”
Elva nervously licked her lips and after a long, tortured pause conceded, “Very good. Drinks menu too.”
“Good girl,” smiled Yakub. “We’ll keep this bottle to start with but I can see another one like this on the shelf. Bring it now, darling. I wouldn’t like another brandy lover to beat us to it.”
The manager smiled wryly and departed in the direction of the bar.
I was totally bewildered by such turn of events. Instead of my shouting the most expensive brandy in New Eden, Yakub negotiated a free unlimited supply of food and alcohol.
“Yakub,” said I, “where did you taste the real Damius III?”
He smirked, “I didn’t. But Jamyl I is my favourite brandy – there could be no mistake.”
I shook my head in amazement. Who would have thought that Yakub, with all his appearance of a small-time thug, was such a connoisseur!
At this moment the manager returned to our table with another bottle.
“Elva,” said Yakub jovially, “would you like to share a drink with us?”
“Oh no,” replied she, “I can’t. It’s so expensive.”
“Ha-ha. Don’t worry, darling. It’s on the house!”