This is chapter 1 of “Redemption” a fictional tale set in the EVE Universe. Please see this page for more background on this story.
They did warn him about pain, nausea, blurry vision and memory loss. Then they made him sign a waiver absolving the doctors, nurses, their families, friends and pets from all liability for all eternity.
If they had just taken him under the anesthetic and sold his body parts, they would have walked free. But they did operate and they had not lied about the side effects. The memory loss prevented him from knowing why he was in pain.
And so, when he woke up, all he knew was the pain. He had no words for the pain, had no words at all and did not know time. For all it mattered, pain defined who he was for all eternity. His howl and screams were primal, had no language, showed no hope and only subsided when he had not one ounce of strength left in his body. They could have given him pain killing boosters. But those were illegal and expensive in Amarr space and the small stash was given only to customers with very deep pockets or very powerful friends. He had neither, of course.
Eventually a voice reached him deep down in his brain where his personality had been shelved during the procedure. It called “Orv”, a word that sounded familiar and he knew that it was the short version for Orvalone Signoret – his name. Orv decided to emerge from the drug-induced coma. He opened his eyes and was greeted with a blinding brightness, he gasped for air – or what passed as air in this place, a simple act that at once reduced the pain and connected him with his body. Having a body was not all that unpleasant, his skin tingled and felt as if it radiated energy. His newly recovered memory told him that this was a permanent side effect of having been injected with the sensory-stimulating nanites. And he needed those to translate his nervous impulses directly into the brain of the most fearsome weapons that humankind had ever known.
He had become a capsuleer, one of the New Eden’s residents with near god-like powers. A social class created by science made up of men and women with immense wealth, few scruples and plenty of ambition was welcoming him into their ranks. From now on, he was above the law, invulnerable and beholden to no-one. He could murder entire families, brag about it and there would be no consequences.
Which, of course was why his path led him here.
Out of the brightness came a dark oval shape. It came closer and he flinched backwards but the nurse hand clamped his head between the claws of a vise (she had a medical expression for it but a vise it was) to prevent him thrashing around and injuring the expensive equipment they had stuck into his brainstem. Bracing for impact, he clenched his fists and struggled in his restraints. The center of the oval developed contrast, lines, eyes, a nose and a chin. Orv recognized it as his sister Lydie’s face bending down and offering to kiss his brow, the old family ritual of showing affection. A memory flashed up like a jagged holoreel, his mother kissing his father in this fashion and then trying to kiss him before they went on their last journey together. He was 15 at the time and kissing was uncool and so wiggled away pretending to fuss over the single beat-up suitcase almost all of his his and his dad’s remaining possessions. Funny. He remembered the stench of the floor that had been drenched with caustic chemicals like all surfaces in the refugee camp. They made his eyes water and he worried that mum and sis would take it for tears. So he avoided the kiss, grabbed the handle of the suitcase and started walking towards security – hearing his father’s heavy steps behind him.
His sister’s face was still beautiful, the surgeons had done an excellent job, not because they were paid but because she had been found in the debris by a doctor’s family who rushed them to the front of the hospital without even checking her identity card. She bent down and kissed his brow and he recognized her expression of relief, pride and a slight jealousy. He was her big brother and on his way to avenge their parents. She was a martial art expert who had killed before in cold blood and he was a cybernetics geek with flat feet. Revenge should be her job, not his. But she was proud that he brought the courage to undergo the operation and afraid that she would lose the last person in her life she loved.
The fog started to clear. She encouraged him to breathe and someone released the restraints, the vise let go of his head.
Orv rolled over and threw up. Before the surgery, they had filled his intestines with the hydrostatic stabilization liquid which everyone just called pod-goo. It had the viscosity of sirup but did not stick to anything but itself. He retched and vomited a perfectly flat puddle into the offered metallic dish. He would have to get used to that, of course. In order to survive the massive acceleration of space ships and remain conscious, his body could not contain cavities of any sort. He had to be one with the ship or he would black out at the worst time. Non-capsuleer crews had form-fitted buckets in which they lashed themselves during maneuvers but the sheer complexity of running the ship required a more immersive solution. The goo also would fill his lungs which means he had to learn how to drown himself and not to breathe for days.
Nobody knew exactly how long a capsuleer could live locked into the egg-shaped pod that contained the goo, his body (biomass, the doctors call it) and the life support system. There used to be a time when capsules could not self destruct, leaving a stranded pilot no choice but to watch his biomass age and die at the slowest possible speed. A few capsules had been found after they drifted for decades. Their life support system was intact and powered, the biomass only marginally degraded but the mind inside had gone crazy first, then into stupor and finally just flickered out. A tiny programming mistake in the navigational system could turn the most powerful and advanced technology ever built into an eternal prison for the mind. Which is why capsules nowadays have a mechanical lever installed that can be pulled by the biomass itself, instantly opening the communication relay to a cloning vat and venting the pod to the vacuum of space.
Suicide with the hope of revival beats the infinite isolation of the mind.
His feet touched the ground. He did not remember sitting up, so this it how it feels to stand. The new nanites in his skin amplified the sensory perception of touch and he could clearly resolve tiny cracks and elevations in the metallic floor as if they were pebbles. It hurt. But without this massive boost in sensory perception, he would not be able to deal with the incoming data from every part of the spaceship and act accordingly. He just had to learn which inputs changed and what it meant, something the upcoming training would give him plenty of time to do.
The image in the mirror looked at him astonished. He had not changed. He somehow had imagined himself to be bigger now, more powerful, stand straighter, like the models on the clinic’s brochures. Be dressed in the silly warrior outfit that cost more Aurum than the GDP of entire planets. But he just looked like himself stark naked, on the short side for his tribe with blackened eyes from the pressure pads that had programmed the nanites through his optical nerve. He did not look like the most powerful being in the new Universe and a glance on the nameless Amarrian nurses showed that he was not the only one thinking this. They pursed their lips in their arrogant ways that had become so familiar to him as he lived on of their stations. He was not a chosen one, not furniture or a slave but something in between human and animal that they despised.
His sister appeared behind him in the mirror. She handed him his old gown and his new tactile sensitivity recognized the material, each seam, each spec of lint, dirt or loose thread. He wrapped himself and turned around, straightening his back and looking at the doctor who fussed with some device in the corner. Their eyes met. The doctor started the pursing of the lips but changed his mind and bowed. After all, he knew the doctor’s name. He could find out where his children went to school and put a missile through their window. Wiping out a few hundred civilians dents a capsuleer’s standing just enough for Concord to notice but not enough to really matter. Respect and fear. Something else he would have to get used to.
His augmented heart worked on about half of the speed as before the operation, he was conscious of the change in the internal rhythm. He had lived 23 years with that heartbeat and now it changed entirely. But it was for the better, it worked more efficiently and would respond to surges in adrenaline in more measured ways. Some early capsuleers had died from cardiac arrest caused by sensory overload during a battle. The enterprising ones then used a stick-on defibrillator before drowning themselves in the goo but those tended to detach or misfire with often tragic consequences such as inadvertently warping the ship into a star. Eventually someone in Caldari space came up with the plan to flush a special breed of nanites into the coronaries that control the heart better than the body could. Caldari technology would keep him alive on his quest.
The universe loves irony.
Walking out, his sister recovered his shoes and slipping them on denied him the sensation of the floor. He’d buy a special suit to wear in the pod, a skin hugging number replete with millions of sensors and haptic feedback mechanisms. But that was for later. His sister guided him through the door and out of the medical center.
A familiar smell greeted him – the same eye-watering stench as he had known from the refugee quarters on that cursed Amarr station. An old Minmatar slave on his hands and knees scrubbed the floor. His uniform was non-descript, some quasi military sack of cloth, the collar showed the yellow flashing light indicating his status: Allowed to roam – Not a threat. While some progressive parts of Amarr started to make do without slaves, this side of the universe apparently adhered to the old traditions. But slaves used to be more numerous and the old man only was allowed to live because replacements were hard to find. He was unlikely to run, sabotage or commit suicide. His entire family probably served on the station. He stepped in front of the slave. His sister with her third sense had foreseen this, pivoted around and assured herself that nobody else was watching. He bent down to the slave and touched his shoulder. “look up” he said. I’ll come back for you and your family one day”. The slave did not change his posture but he spoke clearly and in the typical Minmatar cadence: “You are not the first who said this to me in the two years I have served on this station. None have come back. You will forget the reason why you gained this power, you will forget your family, your race, your friends. The power you will gain will corrupt you. Please do us all a favor and do not speak of coming back. When you come back, this station will be nothing but a spec in your target sights”.
He turned and walked away in tears, knowing he was right and hoping he had the strength to prove the slave wrong.