The word hung there between them, those sitting behind the table, and she, standing in the middle of the room. It took everything she had not to turn and just walk out. Then at least there would be an ending. Turn the page, roll the credits, scan the bibliography. Done. The fucking samurai had it right, a quick jab in and up and someone more competent than you to lop your head off before you can utter a sound. Thank you very much for your service. Clean up, aisle twelve.
“I, ah,..” her throat seized and bowed her head to regain her composure. She closed her eyes and pictured the disciplinary committee, Soprian, Krinari, Murashu. Three other chairs were empty, the three voids speaking just as loudly. The timing couldn’t have been any worse.
Commanding Director of Joint Operations, Soprian, had worn his special ops uniform to the hearing, customary under the circumstances. Uniformly black from boot to glove, the rank holo display on his sholders had been set to maximum info and thus displayed his rank, station, current corporation assets and holdings, current net worth as well as any current corp special considerations and authorizations. It was all there, a visual representation of his CV. The first time she’d seen Soprian’s dress uniforms at her vetting convocation, Callista had been impressed by the seemingly never ending chevrons for valour in market operations, station management under duress, and exemplary behaviour during war time. Now they frightened and intimidated her. He’d been on hand when the incident occurred and was thus judge, jury and witness. Clearly none of these roles felt comfortable to him. He fidgeted constantly with his holos and his chair seemed to be made of thorns, thorns covered in ants. His eyes roamed everywhere around the room, everywhere except on the subject standing right in front of him. Eye contact was clearly out of the question. She guessed his verdict, he’d had no reason to change his mind. It was even in the transcripts of the incident, locked away for all eternity in the corporate archives. “I told you so.”
Next to Soprian was an empty seat which should have been occupied by Commanding Director of Financial Warfare and Economics. Frabrik but he’d declined the invitation and even holoing in. His report had been succinct and factual. Total non-recoupable losses reported to shareholders 218 million isk, actual value 394 million isk. Phoibe, he’d reported, had been lucky as the reported value of Mackinaw class exhumers was still undervalued by about 120 million isk. Furthermore, the net value of Bistot and Arkanor lost in the newly designed ore hold had not been reported. Approximations varied between 12 and 17 million isk in raw materials, double that, in projected terms, due to highly favorable wormhole connection’s proximity to Eygfe and Arlek systems. And even though unvoiced, the numbers spoke loud and clear: non-recoupable losses 400M isk.
Next to Frabrik’s empty chair, Senior Vice-president of Operations and Strategic Business Development, Krinari had also come in person. Her uniform similar to Soprian’s simply displayed her Sr Vice President status. Her unadorned quad suns on her shoulders were as intimidating, if not more so, than the full display shimmering upon Soprian’s. And as much as Soprian couldn’t sit still, she sat impassively as her gaze slowly alternated between her readouts and the subject standing in the middle of the room. Krinari had no problem making eye contact, it was Callista who couldn’t meet her eyes. Moments ago she’d visibly sighed when Fabrik’s accounting report came through. What had been even more devastating to Callista, however, was the slow shaking of her head as they’d played back the encounter. She’d so far not uttered a word except to state her name at the beginning of the hearing as demanded by protocol. “Protocol, Callista, is what makes all this work.” She’d said only weeks earlier as they were preparing Callista’s transfer to Phoibe Headquarters. “Vigilance, communication, actions, they were all encoded in protocols which have developed over countless wars, battles and encounters ranging from simple Veldspar harvesting to inter-wormhole war. Phoibe is still around because of our adherence to protocol.” Callista recalled that conversation only too vividly now. Now, she could see why.
Next to Krinari, was the holo of Chief Executive Officer of Phoibe Enterprises. Murashu was also in uniform and had chosen to not display any credentials; he blackness of his uniform the perfect mirror for his mood. He stared unwaveringly at Callista throughout the proceedings, interrupting only once during Soprian’s elocution asking for a clarification as to the lack of drone signatures in the area throughout the encounter. The impenetrable façade would have been complete had it not been for a moment during the listing of possible consequences that he allowed himself a brief glance over to the next two empty seats. For the briefest moment, Callista had felt she’d seen a surrender, a defeat. “The worst possible time” kept echoing through her mind. Was she the feather that broke the camel’s back? The drop which overflowed the vase?
Murashu repeated the question, “Well, Joint Harvesting and Industrial Process Manager, Callista Dalmore, what do you have to say in your defence before we begin sentencing?”
Looking up and clearing her throat, Callista looked at each of them in turn and began. “I am fully to blame for the entirety of the loss, material and financial. I am also aware of the negative exposure this has brought upon the corporation and that further losses may and should be attributable to my actions or inactions as the case may be. The ease by which my ship was destroyed may encourage those hostile to Phoibe to believe combat operations to be a profitable enterprise here against Phoibe Central. I cannot fully express my shame in this and thus request that my assets be re-appropriated by the Phoibe and that you accept my resignation.” She then bowed her head.
A moment passed. And then another.
Murashu spoke, “Your request is summarily denied on all accounts. May the void help us if you think you will get off so easily. Turn you into a free agent so that all our investment in you and your departments go over to a competitor? Have you learned nothing? Do you actually think, in any way that the loss of a measly exhumer will have these cataclysmic repercussions? If you do, you clearly have delusions of grandeur. The loss of that ship is completely insignificant in regards to the finances of Phoibe Enterprises. Collectively our income ranges in the billions of isk, even now, in our slow period. No ser, resignation over something as petty as the loss of a ship and a ship fitted with the lowest of modules technology, is refused.”
Clearly he was still angry, she looked about and Krin and Sop were equally hard faced. Well if they weren’t letting her resign…then what?
Murashu continued, “No, what disciplinary actions will be meted out at this hearing will be in consequence to the standard operation protocols you broke and ignored which, in the opinion of this tribunal could have easily saved your ship, it’s cargo and perhaps even allowed us to do some profitable hunting.”
“First, communications from your ship clearly indicate that you had not checked your directional scanner in the 32 minutes between jumping from the POS to the gravitational anomaly site you had been mining at all morning. D-scan protocols are explicit, every thirty seconds to a minute at 360 degrees, maximum range.”
“Second, communications also indicate that although you were maximizing ore extraction rates by integrating Soprian’s Orca processing routines, you were at the time scanning and evaluating planetary interaction. This distraction clearly reduced your ability to react in an appropriate manner when the hostiles appeared on grid. Carrying on multiple activities while mining may be standard in hi-sec, but here, every mission is a hi-risk op, treat them as so.
“Third, you decided to bring your high security space mining exhumer into the wormhole and equipped it for maximum yield. No warp stabilizers installed. Sheild hardners were installed and the active ones enabled as well as the jury rigged EM shield hardners were correct, however no amount of effective damage resistance will save you if you are pointed and a proteus uncloaks in range. I am actually surprised that they weren’t able to alpha you.“
“Fourth, you had a full complement of dones in your drone bay and probably due to your attention to the PI, that is where they stayed. The outcome would probably have been the same as they were only TI warrior class, however the fact that they were not launched indicate a general breakdown in procedure.”
“And fifth, telemetry shows that your ship was not aligned with any jump point astral body or otherwise and in fact at the time the hostiles decloaked, the ship was facing a rather large scordite asteroid.”
“It is this council’s decision that in light of the aforementioned breaches in WH protocols and minor loss of property that you should accept the following repercussions. All stand.”
Callista looked up as the three members stood. Her uniform’s dormant display holos suddenly winked into view.
“First, that you be demoted to probationary status in WH operations. You will retain the numbering as well as the station hangar space allocated to you but you may not initiate any operations other than anomaly scanning without the express assistance or permission of a higher ranking member.”
“Second, you are restricted from the acquisition, purchase or leasing of any exhumer class ship for the period of 6 months. The covetor-class currently stationed in hangar will stay in dry dock and all mining operations will be conducted by the retriever class barge currently stationed in Hek.”
“Third, your current training regimen in harvesting and industry as well as training in Exhumer, Barge or Transport Ship class vessels will be suspended and replaced with combat ship training. Effective immediately, you are to achieve pentagram level training in Caldari Cruiser class ships. According to your current map and implant levels you should have completed this training in 21 standard days.”
“Finally, fourth recommendation by this committee, that you begin developing the Phoibe Enterprise’s standard operating procedures for mining in the wormhole. The title has already been chosen for you, ‘Maximising profits while Minimising Risk in High Exposure Regions’.”
“This action is taken in accordance to correct procedure regarding oversight of newly promoted employees. Balance must be struck between governance and freedom of operations. So concludes this tribunal.”
"Do you have any questions?" asked Krinari.
“Yes, ser, the first three provisions I understand and will comply with immediately. However the forth one, I am having trouble understanding. Clearly after that last incident I would be the very last person you would want to develop Phoibe’s procedures in wormhole mining operations. I mess up and then you put me in charge?”
Krinari allowed herself the briefest of smiles, “Why of course, dear. I can see that you are still struggling with the pain of clone death. We all have it. A scarring of the soul some say. I prefer to call it, The Echo. It will be with you day and night, no matter what drugs you take, how many jump clones you use, it is there, always, hurting. The Echo will be your constant reminder of your failure. Now, tell me, who better to understand the consequences of not having adequate procedures than you?”