“Well, that was uneventful,” I say, relieved. “My kind of trip. We got your new Guardian safely back to Zoo, T’ali.”
T’ali and I have returned from Dodixie where she had bought a Guardian for her Signal Cartel fleet activities. She had initially planned to get an Augoror, but, as so often happens, she had upgraded her ride to something sweeter.
“That we did. Thanks for scouting ahead. You did well. Although, to be honest, that’s what I would have expected from someone focused on explo in Signal Cartel.” T’ali smiles and thumps me on the back as we walk out of the ship hanger. Caught off-guard by both her exuberant display of camaraderie and the vigor by which she delivers it, I stumble, and she grabs my arm to keep me from falling.
“Woah…careful there. Seems you are as fragile as a bird, Void Raven,” she says, emphasizing my last name and flapping her arms for added effect.
I glare at her. “What the…? Not funny T’ali, okay? And I’m not the one who needs to be careful.”
“Oh, have we become grumpy? Lighten up, will you? It’s all in good nature. Hey, want to go back to the bar for another drink before we call it a night?”
“I’ll skip. I think I’ll just go back to my apartment and get an early night.”
“So… sulking now, too? Well, if you change your mind, you know where to find me for the next hour or so.” We only met a few hours ago, but already I’ve come to realize that she can be so damn annoying. We walk a little further together, before I turn to go my separate way. As I walk away from her, T’ali says, “You still got that angst about the future after our discussion at the bar earlier tonight, Void Raven?”
I look back at her, “Yes. Of course I do. Deep-seated concerns that have built up within one over a period of several months don’t simply evaporate after only a few minutes of conversation with a stranger.” T’ali motions towards a bench nearby, sits down and with a tilt of her head invites me to join her. “For the record, T’ali, I think you are underestimating the threat posed by the Triglavians and are overconfident in your – in our – capabilities. We downplay their arrival to our peril. Have you watched that message from the Triglavian Collective? It’s downright ominous. I have recurring nightmares in which they are speaking directly to me in that haunting asynchronous voicing of theirs and they brand me as a ‘Narodnya lacking in fitness’ and expel me from the Flow of Vyraj.” I look down at the ground and continue, “The red darkness is coming, and I fear it won’t be stopped.”
“Yes, I have listened to it. So what? Some ancient fools trying to sound spooky to frighten us? Sure, there’s lightning in the distance and thunder rumbling on the horizon and the winds have picked up. But I say, ‘Bring it on.’”
I shake my head, astonished by her unflappable manner. While I’m glad to have finally found someone in T’ali to talk to about my concerns, in truth, I’m not receiving much in the way of understanding or empathy from her. She is outwardly so carefree and projects confidence at a level that I can only dream about.
I lock the fingers of my hands together. “There’s also something else, but I hesitate to bring it up. You’ll laugh at me.”
She looks taken aback. “Hey, that’s not fair, Void Raven. I’m the first to admit that I joke around and make light of life. But I have never laughed at you for any of the concerns you shared with me.”
I nod my head. “Sorry,” I mumble.
“So…?” she presses.
“Never mind. It’s stupid.” I stand up from the bench.
“Hold on. You’re not getting out of this so easily,” she says, firmly pulling me back down. “Tell me what it is.”
Now she’s like a slaver hound with a bone. “The Society of Conscious Thought,” I reply.
“What of them?”
“There have been rumors in the past; allegations that they provided the Jove technology used in the development of the slave implants that enabled Sansha Kuvakei to establish his Sansha’s Nation. And over the past few years the SoCT has handed out Jove ships in large numbers for free. Why? From nowhere, a crazy thought comes to me. What if similar tech has been surreptitiously embedded in those ships that are now spread all over New Eden? And then one day, a switch is flipped somewhere by someone, and these ships suddenly take over mind control of the Capsuleers piloting them, and they become like rogue drones in service to a hidden agenda that SoCT have been patiently planning for years?” Taking a deep breath, I study T’ali, trying to gauge her reaction to my, admittedly, wild conjecture. But all I see and hear are her inscrutable face and a stunned silence. Now, though, it is my chance to press her. “Well…? Fedo got your tongue?”
“Umm…I think you’re stuck so deep in a conspiracy theory, that we’d need a Titan to pull you out.”
“See? You’re laughing on the inside. I knew I shouldn’t have mentioned this.”
“Oh, I’m not laughing. I’m not entirely sure what the correct response is to what you said. But I will give you credit for originality of thought.”
“And now you’re mocking me.”
“Okay, listen to me, Void Raven. You’re all doom and gloom. You’re filled with inner stress and turmoil and you see monsters lurking wherever you look. And I can see that my lighthearted attitude is adding frustration into the mix. Look, you need a distraction; something to take your mind off things. Now, there’s one thing that works like a charm to reduce pent up frustration and stress. One thing. Works every time. For everybody. What you need is a good f….”
“T’ali!” I exclaim, suddenly wrenched into a completely different frame of mind. “Language! By the Sisters, watch your tongue. Credo, remember?”
“fleet outing.” She creases her forehead. “What… what did you think I was going to say?” She holds out her cupped hands to me as if they are holding something valuable, a mischievous mien upon her face. “Here, I think this is your mind. I found it languishing in the gutter.” She pauses briefly, before continuing with that disarming smile of hers, “Although that would work too. And with fewer people and less travel involved, there’s not as much planning required. But seriously, a fleet outing would show you just how capable we are and would boost your confidence.”
Even though I’m chuckling inside, on the outside I’m squirming uncomfortably in the intensity of her gaze upon me.
“You definitely do blush in Triglavian Red, Void Raven. Quite the shrinking violet, aren’t you?”
“Can we just change the subject? Haven’t you embarrassed me enough yet? Well, anyway, now I won’t be able to go to sleep, so how about that drink you mentioned earlier?”
T’ali smiles and nods her head approvingly.
“You’re a real Pollyanna, you know,” I say.
She shrugs. “Well, I’ll be the Pollyanna to your Cassandra. Sound about right to you? Does to me,” she says with a wink.
That brings a spontaneous smile to my face. T’ali can be so direct and exasperating, but there’s also something about her that suggests friendship between us is not out of the question.