Grocery Shopping

Khaihraz stepped off the shuttle and took in a breath of satisfaction. He truly hated flying, hated the closed off compartments meant for people to sit in. The forced interaction with people around who smelled of filth was intolerable. But here, on this planet, everything felt much better.

It reminded him of his home, the powerful desert winds and intense, dry heat. Even the architecture was a gentle memory of where he came from, its stonework battered and broken in many places, yet still standing. Yes, this was much better than that disgusting shuttle, indeed.

The sounds of conversation in every which direction was a comfort as well. Bargaining merchants and customers, camel-like creatures chortling their annoying noises, children running and playing through the streets- all of it was loud and distracting enough that he knew no one would give his appearance, being a newcomer, a second thought.

He traveled along the busy crowd, dipping and weaving in what was like a dance with the natives to the planet. A smile rest at his face. Oh, how he loved the smell of the market. The cooking foods- (was that shawarma?), the strong spices, the perfumes and incense of jasmine were all overwhelmingly pleasant. He was almost jealous that he couldn’t live here, himself. But he knew what he was really there for, and it certainly wasn’t browsing for spices.

This planet held the key to his salvation. The key to his freedom. And no matter what it took, he would find her.

He found himself within the alley designated by his contact, then leaned against the wall, waiting. Of course, it didn’t take long for his presence to be noted, and soon a large, burly man approached. Dressed in neutral colours, a longer robe, the man’s hand outstretched. One chip was given in return for another, and then he was gone. It was the best kind of business, no words needing spoken. Khaihraz smiled, then plugged the data chip into the pad he kept in his pocket.

The words flashed on the screen clear as day.

Approx. 06:00-08:00, 18:00-19:00, days vary. Hover car from West.

His brow raised. From the West? A hover car? She couldn’t have been too far, if that were the case. He checked the time on his data pad.

18:23

He would never admit to anyone that his heart gave a jump. Would he actually see her? Khaihraz’s eyes scanned the crowd, searching aimlessly for her. It was a large market, but he knew her face. There was no way he’d miss her, provided she was actually there.

It felt like hours to the man, his methodical wanderings leading him to the places he knew were popular. Meats. Vegetables. Next, the spices.

And there she was.

He knew her form before she even turned to speak to the merchant. It was much more frail than he’d seen in the pictures, but he knew it was her. Clothing a vibrant orange colour, it hung loosely off her body. She certainly fit in with the other women here, that’s for sure. When she turned, he noticed her face looked as it always had; his heart pounded in his chest.

The man would not approach, of course. That was not part of the plan. No, he would wait. This was all he needed for now, anyway. And so, he began to turn to leave.

The moment he did, though, he paused, noting the man at Julianni’s side; he did not belong. Khaihraz watched carefully, taking in every detail of the man’s that he could; his face; his mannerisms; his treatment of Julianni; his hand at the small of her back. Khaihraz felt an anger brewing.

A significant other.¬†“Most interesting,” he said to himself quietly.

The more he watched, the more he noted Julianni and the man begin looking around. He frowned. They were more perceptive than he realized. But it was no matter, he still had the information he needed. Without another thought, he turned down the market walkways.

Things would need to change, he knew. While they’d accounting for potential friends and acquaintances, they certainly hadn’t thought she’d be with someone. What if he stayed at the house? Khaihraz frowned, knowing full well he needed to figure out a way to fix this.

As he boarded that travel shuttle again, he pulled up his datapad to send a quick message to his contact.

Kredits for info on the man.

Wandering Star

It had become one of her favourite parts of her estate as of late, the prayer room. Each morning, the sun would rise just right as to shine through the circular window, like arms outreached to offer a comforting embrace. Warm. Gentle. Grounded. It was something Julianni had cherished on the mornings she had been at home.

Home.

Not long ago, she purchased the property, but it still had grown on her. She knew the subtle sounds it made, the twists and turns the halls and rooms had provided. Most of all, she felt it was hers.

But not today.

Today, the sun was just that: a star within the sky that only rose because of the turn of the planet. No warm embrace to be offered, no comfort in the sight of such beauty.

This day, Julianni’s home stood as a simple building, its walls and foundation built because someone had ordered it, and she had just so happened to purchase it later on. There stood no other meaning.

So much laid itself to rest heavily upon her shoulders. The weight crushed her, pushing her under. And all the while, it was invisible. She could smile, and no one would have to know that each breath she took felt as if she were suffocating. A laugh could work its way from her lungs, and most would never be able to tell that blackened waters were drowning her.

There were perhaps one or two people that knew, that saw and heard Julianni’s gasping breaths for air. But to reach out for help was something she couldn’t do completely, for they were drowning, too. They needed more air than she did. They deserved it more. And so she would do her best to prop them up.

Such was her purpose, wasn’t it? Lord Degario had once told her to be that pillar; to the Faithful, she should be nothing less. No matter how many cracks that formed in the marble, they had to be filled with gold: hopeful smiles, encouragement, words of advice, and Faith. No one needed the knowledge that the very gold filling the cracks was also slowly destroying the stonework, threatening to consume it until there was nothing but the false material left. The pillar would stand until another took its place.

Then, and only then, could it crumble to dust, whipped away into the winds to be forgotten.

The world came back into focus, her reality seeping in.

No matter what it took, how much it hurt, how it may destroy her, she would do it. For them.

A Challenger Appears

Now that a painting had been hung in Julianni’s office, it had felt a little more homey. She didn’t necessarily care if it felt as such, but she couldn’t help but feel as if the small bit of personal touch helped ease her day-to-day stresses.

The painting appeared as scene she had seen before in person, and one she had fallen in love with the moment she saw it. The hills, tricking across the land, complimented the autumn grass, each twist of the brushstroke having been meticulously done as God had when creating it. The waves of the ocean, curled in their white to light blue colours, crashed into the rocky cliff faces dotted in the distance. It was Heavenly. That Lord Iyhr had sent her the painting still warmed her heart; traditional gifts were that much more meaningful.

She smiled.

Her attention flickered back to her display to focus on her task at hand: monthly financials. Julianni let loose a sigh to see the Black Rise information missing. Once again, a technical malfunction was preventing the personnel member’s data from being reached. “I really need to speak with the IT manager about this,” she muttered softly to herself, raising her hand to push aside her hair and rub at her cheek.

An alert: someone was at her office door.

Julianni raised her head and glanced to it, seeing the shadowed outline of a feminine figure that, by all accounts, was rather tall. It was a form she was not familiar with. There were few women she’d met personally that matched the height as this one, save for DUSTers, of course. But it was no matter. Her finger pressed to the access button at the side of her desk and she stood, smoothing out the creases in her skirt.

Once the door opened, the recognition of just who it was happened immediately. While she’d normally have felt at least generally comfortable around the Internal Watch, lately, it seemed the opposite. Especially when she saw the woman’s expression.

It was a cool one, the pursed lips and professional posture that Sheyan Mazaki wore. Obviously, there was something bothering her, and even if Julianni had asked not to be disturbed, she had a feeling it wouldn’t have mattered.

“Mazaki-haani, it’s g-”

The Calmatar entered the room briskly without waiting for anything else to be said. Lithe, yet somewhat broad and athletic with her darkened skin, this woman was a shining example of Caldari and Minmatar stock. The most prominent of her features, however, was the quiet seething the woman was letting bubble beneath the surface.

“…Mazaki-haani?”

Again, there was no response. Julianni’s eyes lowered. What she didn’t see, doing that, was that Sheyan’s eyes flashed as her implants went active. Then, across Julianni’s screen, came a recording of Sakala’s words in what was labeled as the system of Nahyeen.

“Be a dear, when you see Jules next let her know I have a few gifts for her. Well a few bottles if you know what I mean.”

Julianni read over the words, her heart stopping. Had he really…

“Our men didn’t die just so you could go on a drug binge,” Sheyan finally said, her voice full of venom. The toxin that seeped into Julianni’s very heart. “You mean to tell me that after everything that happened, you’re still dealing with that man? No. Not a man. That¬†gaairagi.”

Julianni froze. She didn’t know what to do or what to say. Now, things were public.

“No answer? I should have expected that.” The military officer turned on her heel, giving her back to Julianni. “I’m sure you’ll understand that I have to notify my superiors of what was said, regardless of my opinion on the matter.” The woman paused before the doorway, glancing over her shoulder. “And as far as that goes? You’re no better than Sakala.” With that, the woman left the room before Julianni even had a chance to reply.

Left speechless, Julianni simply stared at that screen. Just what was she supposed to do about this? What could she even have said? Her drug tests had all come back negative. They spoke for themselves. But still…this…was exactly what Sakala was hoping for. She knew it.

Now, she simply had to make the decision of if she was going to sit by and simply do damage control, or decide to play his game right back.

 

Chrysalis

“-dn’t you agree?”

Julianni snapped out of…where-ever she had been and focused on the room. Her appointment, that was right. She glanced back to Doctor Aneozomi and her head gave a nod. “Oh, yes. Frankly, it went much smoother than I thought. I wish you would have been able to attend.”

Emiri smiled, even going as far as to chuckle. “Oh, those kinds of get-togethers aren’t my thing, Avala-haani. While I understand its meaning, I am certain both the presence of the Executor, the I-RED baseliner personnel, and yourself was more than enough to show our gratitude towards our allies.”

“Of course. But I still think it would have been nice to see you there,” Julianni countered. “Nevertheless, there is always next time.”

“So there is. I’ll keep your thoughts in mind. Now…let’s move on. You are in a relationship now, correct?”

Julianni’s dip of the head confirmed and she sheepishly smiled. “I am. It’s been well so far. I believe it’s that…what do they call it, the ‘honey-moon stage’?” Her nervous chuckle escaped her lips faster than she could stop it.

Doctor Aneozomi gave a simple nod. “That’s what they call it, yes. Do you believe he’s good for you?”

“I’m…” A pause. “Pardon?”

“Is he good for you? Is he aware of what you’ve gone through? Both in the distant and recent past?”

Julianni furrowed her brows. “Er…he’s…aware of many things, yes. Forgive me, Doctor, but…is this necessary?”

The doctor raised a brow, a neutral expression replacing whatever smile she’d worn before. “It is, yes. If you’ve kept things from him, then it will only become a problem later down the road. And I don’t think I need to mention the issues it would have with your work productivity.”

This was something Julianni could never get used to with the Caldari. She understood it, most certainly, but no matter how many times it came up in a topic, it always felt like a low-blow to her. Was work really so important? Or was Faith?

When she spoke, she did so carefully, glancing off to the side. “He is aware of my past, yes. I’ve told him of Dominius, though not in full detail. I’ve also made mention of the…ah…the drug use.”

“And how did that go?”

How did it go? Julianni thought back to the interactions and she nodded. “It went well.”

This session, the doctor’s brow was becoming perpetually raised. “Well? That’s…such a simple word for those issues, Avala-haani.”

She was right, really. Julianni wouldn’t dare tell the doctor about the seemingly lack of concern that was exhibited regarding the drug-use. “It is, and it is the truth,” she said with sincerity.

Doctor Aneozomi frowned softly and her eyes went blank as she used her implants. “Utari Onzo, correct?”

“That’s correct.”

“I see,” came the doctor’s response.

An uncomfortable silence began, the kind where one is most assuredly looking through dirty laundry all the while standing beside someone watching. Julianni’s legs crossed and her shoulders sank somewhat.

“Were you aware of his record of carrying illegal substances?”

Well, she couldn’t very well lie, could she? A small wince came from her and she cleared her throat. “Later, yes.”

“Later?”

“With respect, Doctor, I didn’t go through his record to decide if I was attracted to him or not,” she replied softly. “Only after it was mentioned.”

The discomforting silence began again. This time, it lasted longer, leaving Julianni sitting there in it for at least fifteen minutes. Her palms began to sweat, and the fidgeting with her hands she usually did increased ten-fold.

What would happen?

“The Executor is not concerned with the lack of professionalism here regarding the fact he is a shareholder?”

Now Julianni was beginning to get frustrated. “Respectfully, I believe that is something to discuss with the Executor, if you believe there is a problem.”

“Very well,” the doctor replied. “Before you go, I’d also like you to make a trip to Medical for your testing. It’s been some time since the last one, anyway.”

At this point, Julianni stood in a gracefully swift action and bowed. “As you wish, Aneozomi-haani. I will report there at once.” The woman couldn’t tell if she was grateful for this end of the appointment, or disturbed that she couldn’t come up with good answers to Emiri’s legitimate questions. She turned on her heel and began to leave, heels barely making a noise.

“Also, Julianni?”

She stopped, then turned and glanced off to the side towards the doctor. Julianni could only imagine what would be said next.

“You should find someone willing to support you and guide you. Not potentially lead you down a darker path. Not only will your workload thank you, but I think you’ll find that you yourself will, as well.”

The look on Emiri’s face was not a stern one now, but instead showed of concern. It gave Julianni a small pause in her breath and she turned her head.

A smile then began to creep up onto her lips as she answered softly.

“I already have.”