Confrontation

5 March YC112
Bereye III – Moon 1 – Roden Shipyards Factory
Golden Phoenix Inc. Office

Sakaane sat at her desk, staring at a datapad. The display swam before her, prompting her to drop the device with a sigh so she could massage her temples and forehead. The act did nothing to ease the ache behind her eyes; she leaned forward instead, resting her elbows on the desk and leaving her head in her hands.

It had been a hard twelve months and Sakaane felt drained. A year had passed since the first Caldari occupation of Intaki and everything had gone downhill from there. She'd lost Mourning Star and its crew to rogue slavers because of her own stupid, completely avoidable negligence: she'd been so worried about her homeworld that her mind wandered from the battle and she'd failed to activate any defenses. Some weeks later, reports began to surface of shortages in Intaki, and by June of YC111, the Caldari had swept through the rest of the Federation war zone, claiming it all for the State. Long conversations with Njal about these developments had ignited a desire to go back to Intaki and fight for independence…but still she found herself in hisec.

She opened her eyes. The datapad's display listed the current Golden Phoenix roster. Annoyingly, all but four of the names showed as inactive, including Nailo's, their CEO, and she sighed. More and more over the last year, Devan had been forced to step into his shoes and make decisions that shouldn't have been his to make. He'd stay up late working on reports and tasks which should have been solely the responsibility of the CEO and no one else. His own responsibilities and other obligations, including to her, had fallen more and more by the wayside, and she'd seen him less and less for all the time he spent holed up in the corp office. Nailo had been more or less unreachable and left no word as to when he'd resurface. The corporation had floundered without proper guidance, and there had been no one else with at least some authority to do anything about that but Devan.

Their relationship had degenerated to frequent arguments about Devan's role and what Nailo's absence was doing to TGPI and to their relationship. Sakaane had tried to help as much as she could, but Devan was stuck being a director doing a CEO's job without a CEO's roles or title. They could only hobble along and, for lack of a better term, fake it.

She flicked through the list of inactives. How am I supposed to do my job as Director of Personnel when we have no CEO to properly greet new recruits? How are we supposed to explain to these people what the corp's direction is and why Devan makes all the decisions when he doesn't technically have the authorization to do so? Morale around the office had become brutally low. Sakaane had started pushing Devan to track Nailo down and ask him to transfer CEO status to him, even if only temporarily, so they could at least get something worthwhile done with TGPI, but Devan had been reluctant, arguing that Nailo was a friend first and he didn't feel it would be fair to imply Nailo was no longer worthy to be CEO.

How can Nailo remain worthy of a role he isn't fulfilling? Sakaane thought irritably. She and Devan would only go around in circles on that point. She appreciated his perspective, but they were stuck so long as they had no active CEO: wheels spinning and nothing productive getting done. So if he wouldn't ask for the CEO role, perhaps it was simply time to let TGPI die. Devan had liked that suggestion even less.

I'm not happy either, she thought, and not for the first time. As she tapped on the datapad, terminating those pilots who had been inactive for far longer than was properly decent, her thoughts went once more down a familiar path. I want to go home. No. I need to go home. I feel helpless out here, and things are spiraling out of control there. But I'm not sure what I would do when I got there or even if anything I could do would be of any help. I'm one person against such an enemy…and that, perhaps, is the only thing keeping me from leaving this very minute. That…and I think Devan wouldn't go with me. He is committed to keeping TGPI afloat. I would feel guilty for abandoning him.

That wasn't the only thing making her restless. The unexpected appearance of a very large amount of ISK in her wallet from a so-called Anonymous Benefactor that past fall was still unexplained. She didn't like the idea of potentially having someone show up one day to collect on that favor when she had no idea who that person might be. Devan usually shrugged and tried to explain it as a rare, but not totally unheard of, random act of kindness from some New Eden philanthropist, while Njal was similarly dismissive, telling her there were bigger issues to worry about.

Bigger issues…like corp activity reports. She groaned and closed out of the datapad, shoving it away from her. Maybe things would improve in the next few days.

A soft knock made her look up. There, in her office doorway, was Kruznik Abel, the only remaining active evidence of her many attempts to recruit new pilots for TGPI. She smiled, set aside her discontent, and beckoned him in.

"Hey," he said in greeting, sitting in the seat she gestured to. "Sorry to bother you."

"It's no problem. What can I do for you?"

He made eyes at her datapad as if he knew what she'd been doing. "How goes things with the corp?"

"So-so," she said, leaning back. Then, looking at him, she decided to be frank. Kruznik had stayed on despite the corp's troubles and, she figured, had earned the right to know. "Devan finally sent Nailo a message about potentially dissolving the corp. He basically said he thinks since those of us who are active are working independently now anyway we should all look for another corp or alliance, either together or separately. I've made some inquiries in the community to see if I could get any recommendations."

Kruznik nodded slowly. "And any response from the head cheese?"

"Not yet. Devan only sent the mail this morning. So...we'll see. I'll keep you informed though."

"Thanks. I appreciate that."

ǂ

The next morning Sakaane woke alone. Devan had risen early, mumbling something about having to meet an agent somewhere, and left. She washed, checked for messages, then made her way to the TGPI offices, promising herself today they'd figure something out.

The lights in the office were already on, but when she flashed her ID to the security pad, the panel turned red and the door remained locked.

She tried again.

ACCESS DENIED.

"What the hell—?" She pounded on the door. "Hello? Who's in there?" Through the frosted glass panels on either side of the entrance she saw a shadow moving closer. Her hand groped instinctively at her waist for the holster that wasn't there. "Goddamn Nailo, not letting me pack a sidearm on corp premises," she muttered, and banged on the door again. "Hello?"

The lock clicked and the security panel flashed green. Sakaane stepped back. Slowly, the door opened.

"Nailo!"

He scowled, but then, other than for his wedding she wasn't sure she'd ever seen him not scowling. "Hello," was all he said.

"What's going on? The door wouldn't unlock for me."

He stepped aside to let her pass but said nothing, following her to her desk and watching while she bent over it and tried to access her files.

ACCESS DENIED.

A cold sensation prickled down Sakaane's neck around her implants. On a hunch, she tried to call up the corporation's hangar manifests.

ACCESS DENIED.

Slowly, she straightened and met Nailo's gaze. "Uh. Devan and I have some of our belongings in the corp hangar. I'd appreciate having access back."

His lips twisted. "You'll get it back, don't worry. What hangar and what stuff?"

Right. Because I can list off everything in there just off the top of my head. "There's a container in the General hangar in Mies. There might be another one somewhere else but I'm not sure—Devan usually looks after it. I also know he has a few other things in some of the other hangars but I don't know what."

"So let me know and I will move it to either of your personal hangars."

"He's out on a job, and I don't believe the container in Mies is movable." Quickly, she accessed her private comms to get in touch with Devan, relaying the situation as soon as he answered.

Nailo and Sakaane stared at each other in silence. In her head, Devan fumed.

Then, finally answering her earlier question, Nailo said, "Devan sent me a message asking about joining a bigger corp. To do that you needed to have twenty-four hours to clear your roles."

Her eyes narrowed. "Kind of premature to revoke them, don't you think?"

"If you are thinking of leaving anyhow, what's the difference?"

"Devan sent the message to broach the topic so everyone could talk about it and see what we wanted to do. It's not like we have anything lined up. Nobody is actually prepared to leave."

"I'm not kicking you out," Nailo countered. "All I am doing is opening the door."

She snorted. "I find that hard to believe since you went ahead and stripped the roles overnight without actually asking anyone for further details first! And now that you've done that and we have to 'ask nicely' for our stuff and give you an inventory when you're not around ninety-nine percent of the time anyway, it's going to be a pain."

"That's why I removed roles, as the thought process of 'this is mine and this is mine' and taking everything and leaving nothing for those who haven't been around...now, is that fair? Just because I haven't been around doesn't mean I haven't put stuff into the corp hangar or wallet."

Her jaw dropped. "Who said anything about taking everything? You think so little of your best friend that you believe he would rob you and the corp blind? That's really classy." She tried to control her annoyance but it was quickly escalating to anger. "At least Devan did you the courtesy of trying to suggest something for the group. We could have just disappeared without saying anything, but I guess that didn't occur to you."

Nailo crossed his arms. "I guess that shows the trust you have in me. It occurred to me and I didn't assume that you already took the stuff. I didn't ask for anything back, did I? Did I assume that you stole anything?"

"I would have expected you to at least wait for an opportunity to talk to somebody before doing anything."

He spread his hands. "So, talk rather than accuse me of acting too fast."

"You just said the reason you stripped our roles was to prevent 'people'—us—from taking everything out of the hangars, which means you don't trust us to only move the things that are actually ours."

"I just froze all assets. That's it, so that newer people can't take anything." He sneered. "Sorry, lumped it all into one word."

The comm channel with Devan signaled for her attention. She stayed silent a moment to tend to it, then spoke aloud, her voice biting at each word. "Devan tells me the entire contents of the Mies hangar is ours, including the logistics ships, and he would like you to restore his roles so we can get at those things."

Nailo shrugged. "Didn't realize that it would be such a big deal, but holy I guess I did the right thing from your reaction."

My reaction? He was acting like a spoiled brat and her blood boiled. How dare he walk in after months of neglecting his duty and act like the wounded party? Nevertheless she struggled to stay calm. "It's only a big deal because you didn't bother to actually respond to anybody and talk about what was going on first. It's not a good impression to come in to work and find one's access nerfed."

"I wasn't mailed about the corp drop in taxes nor talked to, anything, it was just done. So I did the same thing. So it's okay for someone else, just not me, right?"

Are you kidding me? "Devan made that decision and in the past you often said you trusted him to do things of that nature. You can take that up with him if it bothers you. But he did go to you first about doing something about the corp as a whole, but you didn't respond to that at all."

"He sent that yesterday. I got it today. Sorry, been busy, working sixteen-plus hours a day, but I don't complain about it. It just limits my ability to take care of things, go see holoreels, or talk with my wife."

She wanted to throttle him. Never mind that they had absolutely no evidence of Nailo doing any sort of work on behalf of the corporation in the last year—but he must have taken Sakaane for a complete fool if he expected her to believe he received Devan's message any later than yesterday morning—more or less immediately after it was delivered—to have completed the change in their access. You already admitted you had to have twenty-four hours to drop our roles, you twat. "We work too, you know. Nobody said you had to do something right away. You could have just responded to him and said 'let's talk about it' and waited."

"That's true," he mumbled.

She continued, speaking over him. "Working for the corp limits our abilities to do all those things too. Devan and I haven't had a day off together in months, and thanks to having no one else around this place we won't get another one again until who knows when. Oh well, hey. Life sucks!"

He drew himself up straight and raised his voice. "It's your reaction that only proves the lack of trust in me. Not to screw you personally, as I said you will get all of your stuff, don't worry. But that isn't good enough."

She grit her teeth and tried to keep in mind who she was talking to. "I'm just a little offended by your response to Devan's message. Yours was a knee-jerk reaction and I figured you would have stopped to give some more consideration first—"

"I agree with his reasons and think it is a great idea."

She just about lost her train of thought at that and had to shake her head to clear out the sudden burst of disbelief. He thinks it's a great idea but he's locked us out anyway? "—and all I can say about your work schedule, whatever it is you've been doing, is that is what you picked for yourself, so if you don't like how it's working out, it's nobody's fault but yours and you should change what you're doing. Don't put that onto other people."

"I haven't."

"It's coming across like you're trying to."

He stabbed a finger at her. "You said, 'poor me, Devan and I haven't seen each other since whenever and blah blah' and that is my response. That is your and Devan's choice."

"You were already complaining about poor you, you work over sixteen hours a day and don't get to talk to your wife. The reaction is that you're not the only one, so suck it up." Exasperated, she threw up her hands. "It really doesn't factor into the topic at hand!"

"So it was said just to tell me to fuck off? I get it, you're pissed and you are just trying to do, what, piss me off? Well, congrats, it isn't going to work."

"I'm not deliberately trying to piss you off. I just really hate it when people talk like they're the only ones in the world who work hard and struggle to spend their free time with their family and friends. The rest of the world works that way too. It's a lousy excuse."

Despite his assurances that she could not make him angry, his face started to turn purple. "Not an excuse—a statement. I haven't been around due to the work I've been doing. That is why I am not here ninety-nine percent of the time. No excuse, fact. And the free time I have I would rather be with my wife. Fact! Therefore I don't have the time to respond to Devan's message. Fact!"

"Oh, for god's sake."

"So where's the excuse?" Nailo shouted, practically jumping forward to thump both his hands onto her desk.

She couldn't help herself: she laughed at his scowling, darkened face. Though he leaned his short, stocky body forward almost threateningly, she didn't believe he'd actually strike her.

"The time you took to strip everybody's roles and then come down here from wherever you've been hiding was the time you could have taken to respond to Devan's mail. And, oh, I don't know, say something like, 'Should I strip the roles yet, or do people want more time to figure things out, or are there any ideas for what we could do instead?' yadda yadda. That's what I figured you would do. Devan expected much the same."

"Well it didn't happen that way as I was approached by a few people to do different things and I chose this way. Sorry if it ticked you off."

She raised an eyebrow. "I find it interesting that you had time to be approached by 'a few people' to do 'different things' but you had no time to reply to a mail or actually have a discussion." And who could those people have possibly been? You are a ridiculous liar, Nailo.

He crossed his arms again and continued to stare her down. "All I did was freeze corp assets. Guess that was the wrong thing to do."

She raised her chin defiantly. "I guess I don't understand why you thought you had to when no one is around anyway. Of course, Devan and I have talked for months about what to do about the corp, since it's been just the two of us to keep it going! There's one other person who's asked about TGPI's status, but otherwise the only other person who knew about the mail was you. The idea being that sweeping changes in corp status are generally things that get discussed between the two highest ranking people running it."

"What would change if I left the roles and we discussed it?"

She shrugged. "That would depend on the discussion, wouldn't it? Considering the topic has never been talked about before that I'm aware of, how am I to say? At least then there wouldn't be a feeling of having the carpet yanked out from under us for having just broached the subject."

"I have had this discussion before. That's why I know there is a twenty-four hour hold after roles are removed."

"For all I know you might have suggested transferring CEO status to someone else since you are so preoccupied with mysterious other things. Or maybe leave the corp the way it is but have us join an alliance. Or whatever. That's why it was just a message. When or if each of us was ready to go we could have dropped roles ourselves. We didn't need you to do it for us. And nobody asked you to." She drew a breath in, slowly, trying to stop herself from trembling. "Actually stripping roles is like, five steps down the road. Or would have been."

He remained defiant. "So step one is what, then? Maybe we can get to step five quickly to avoid your harsh tongue."

She ignored that. "In my mind it would have been reading Devan's message and sending a reply like what I have mentioned before, about talking about it further."

"I did send a reply and explained my actions to which there hasn't been a response yet. And yes I know he is out on a job so he may not reply as he may not be able to get his mail. In fact I have sent four messages!"

She checked with Devan via their comm channel. Nailo's mails had all arrived within the last ten minutes. "He has them, which is all well and good but now it's like the cart after the horse. Better late than never I guess."

Nailo suddenly adopted a faraway look as if he were listening to someone else. Sakaane wondered if Devan had finally contacted him directly. "I haven't kicked anyone out and I won't," he said absently. "All I did was freeze assets, as I have said many times."

You stopped just short of giving us the boot. She wondered if the only reason she hadn't found herself removed from TGPI completely was due to her arrival at the office interrupting Nailo in the middle of it. Right now, she wouldn't have been surprised if that was actually the case, but said, "I know you didn't kick us out, and thank you for that. I didn't expect you would do that either. It's just really surprising and not welcome to get up and find access to the corp is denied."

His vision refocused on her. "I gotta go, as the wife is bitching that it's Friday and I haven't done anything worthwhile yet." His lip curled. "But you don't care, so forget I said anything." He turned and started to walk away.

"Nice attitude," she called out, then quickly followed after him. "Do us a favor and please restore the roles before you go since it's anybody's guess when we'll see you again."

The office door slamming shut was his only reply.

ǂ

Later That Evening
Capsuleer Residences

The first words Devan said to Sakaane after the door to their quarters closed were, "Did he do it?"

"No."

He frowned and tossed down his jacket, heading for the comm panel. Not long after, Nailo's face appeared.

"Let's talk," Devan said.

"Sure, let's talk."

"What's your side of why you did what you did?"

"All I did was freeze assets. That's all. Pretty simple."

"Why?"

"So I have time to get my stuff out."

Sakaane watched the tension bunching up in Devan's shoulders as he spoke. "Do you seriously think I was planning to rob you blind or something?"

"Nope."

"Then explain to me why it makes any sense to do what you did."

"I didn't think you would be around."

"Which makes a difference how, exactly? You still have yet to give me a solid reason why you froze the assets."

Nailo frowned. "Had I had the time to do things without Sakaane asking questions for two hours I would have been done everything and you wouldn't have known anything. However that didn't happen."

Across the room, on the sofa, Sakaane lowered her book to her lap, a finger between its pages so she wouldn't lose her place. So he was trying to sneak around and I caught him in the act!

"That still doesn't make any sense," Devan was saying. "How you're going about this feels like some knee-jerk reaction."

"Only because you assumed I read your message first."

"I wasn't going to let your assets, or anyone else's, get locked in unpaid corp hangars either. Our corp bills are like, what, two, maybe three mil all together? And if I was leaving I'd have shut down the most expensive and no longer going to be used offices, dropping that to one mil tops. You haven't been around so that's why I didn't approach you with the tax change... But it didn't make sense to keep taking ten percent of everyone's wallet if we're doing fuck-all with it and not having any luck recruiting."

"You say that now but I have no way of knowing that."

"You could have fucking bothered to ask!"

Nailo snorted indignantly. "Swearing gets you what?"

"Screw you. I'm angry, and I'm damn well entitled to be. What you did shows me you have no trust in me or my decisions."

"Same here. I trust your decisions. I never said I didn't."

"Excuse me? I approached you wanting to discuss alternatives because of the difficulties we've experienced to build up the corp. You're the one who flew off and locked everyone out of the hangars."

"You assumed, not me. I haven't been in space in a long time and was thinking of this for a while. Today was my first chance to do anything. Just bad timing for your message, and Sak flew off the handle."

"Considering the timing, you have to admit how it looks. And if that's the case, I'll take what you've said at face value. Can't say I agree with how you did it, but fine."

"Yes. But I didn't read your message until Sak said something about it."

Sakaane just about choked and had to restrain herself from jumping up to barge in on the call. That lying son of a bitch!

"Just for the record, I told Sak I'd sent you the message, so that's where she's coming from as well."

"It looks bad, yes. But in an hour you will be CEO and be able make your own choices."

Devan blinked at Nailo's unexpected statement. He opened his mouth, then closed it again, reconsidering what he'd been about to say. "Fair enough. With that in mind, I'm sorry for going off on you."

"This would have been done long before you got home and before anyone really noticed. Just bad timing."

"Yeah, well, you know that saying about assumptions, let alone Murphy's law."

"That's true."

"Sorry for making your afternoon shitty. On the flipside, I think you can appreciate how it looked coming from our side of things."

"That's fine, but it caused more problems than it was worth and she won't leave it alone."

"You could have saved a whole ton of headache if you'd given us warning instead of just doing. Anyway, I'm going to go. Hope you have a better night."

"Sure. The wife is pissed. It will be a great night."

The call terminated. Devan exhaled a long breath.

Sakaane put the book away and went over to him, rubbing his shoulders briefly before slipping her arms around his middle and leaning her head against his back. "I'm sorry," she murmured. "I know that wasn't easy for you."

"No, it wasn't."

There were a lot of things she wanted to say just then, but all of them felt like they'd come out with an underlying tone of 'I told you so', which she knew he didn't need to hear. Instead she said, "He's making you CEO though. That's something."

He broke her embrace and headed for the cooler, grabbed a bottle of Quafe and downed about half in one go. "Yeah. I guess." Still angry, he glared at the bottle. "I don't think we'll see him again after this, regardless." He took another swig from the bottle and then set it down. "I'm going for a walk. I need to cool off."

"Can I come with you?"

Devan picked up his jacket. "I... No. Sorry. I just want to be alone for a bit."

"Oh. All right... I'll be here when you get back, then."

He left. Sakaane stared at the door for a while, then went back to the sofa and reopened her book.