Chapter 10 – 28 dead, 5 injured. 30 missing

This is chapter 10 of “Redemption” a fictional tale set in the EVE Universe.  Please see this page for more background on this story.  

28 dead, 5 injured, 30 missing

“It wasn’t your fault.  We all know the risk.  Don’t blame yourself”.  A heavy, calloused hand on his shoulder.

150 men and women under his command, 28 dead now, 5 injured, 30 missing.  Sure, some of them had been rejects, drifting among the stars like dust without home or loyalty.  Some had been dreamers like his father, standing by a porthole, never tired of the unblinking stars against the black velvet of space.  But most had been family men, normal guys who just wanted their share of happiness, bring up good children, send them to schools rather than factories and maybe even take a vacation once in a while.  They had trusted him with their lives, their hopes and their dreams.

And he had failed them.

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Blogbanter: I reject your reality and substitude my own

A blogbanter on Lore?  Can’t resist

How important is “fluff” in Eve online? Would eve online be the same if it were purely numbers and mechanics, or are the fictional elements important to the enjoyment of the game? Would a pure text, no reference to sci-fi or fancy names still be an engaging game? Should CCP put more or less emphasis on immersion?

For me, the backstory of every game has always been a double-edged sword –  too little and the world seems empty and out of sync, too much and my fantasy is weighed down by doctrine.  Even as a teenager, I read Lord of the Rings and never fell in love with the arrogant and ethereal elves, I much preferred the tough-as-rock dwarves, in my mind, I chose to see the books as written for them.

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Blog Banter 41: Director’s Cut

BB41: Director’s Cut

The universe of EVE is not without its drama and epic stories, both in and out of game. Imagine a publisher, movie studio or television network asked you to prepare a pitch for a new brand of EVE-flavoured entertainment. This could be your big break, what would be your synopsis to bring New Eden to the wider audience?

Seismic Stan’s Blog Banter this month is interesting and I already read some excellent submissions but I felt not very enthusiastic about writing for it.  Firstly, I do marketing in real life and if I do it for CCP, they should pay me – at least in ISK.  Secondly, I am extremely cynical about pitches and gone very jaded about the bad movies that have been published recently.  If it isn’t vampires, it doesn’t sell.

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Chapter 3. Iteron

This is chapter 3 of “Redemption” a fictional tale set in the EVE Universe.  Please see this page for more background on this story.  

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To the great relief of the security guards, Orv boarded the old but well maintained Iteron III cargo hauler. Like so many of its class it had been converted to carry up to 200 passengers in a tight forward compartment and although creature comforts were not its high point, it served well enough on long routes across New Eden. Sure, a capsuleer could just set the destination, activate the autopilot and fall asleep but haulers like followed planned routes with dozens of stop-overs. They carried the bulk of New Eden’s goods and people.

He was greeted by a cheerful but scared Gallente crewman, evidently, this was his first big journey and the experience of docking at a quasi-military facility deep in enemy space was the stuff action holoreels were made from. After a few hundred stations this enthusiasm would surely abate. On the other hand, having a Gallente capsuleer on board in this region would mark them as a target for any enterprising enemy. After all, Orv was not going to be plugged into his pod and would die as easily as any man. “Ending” him permanently would earn someone substantial bragging rights, the couple of hundred civilians he would take with him would not matter. Orv knew all of this and was convinced that his presence had been advertised to every police and customs office on the way in hope of a smooth passage. It was logical but ill advised. Not everyone working for Concord had severed all ties to their own race and corruption was always a problem in large organizations. He should have gone with his original plan and change ships and ID frequently but he would have to be traveling for weeks rather than days.

The crewman issued the mandatory survival suits to the passengers and noticed that Orv carried his own, a very expensive, military model, hardly used. Haulers of this class have virtually no armor and a rogue asteroid or missile would cut through the ship like a knife through butter. In that case, the suit would detect the drop in cabin pressure and fire explosive charges around the neck, encasing the head of the bearer in a thin plastic hood. The cheap on-board suits stored only a few minutes worth of air and heat and needed to be plugged into a universal jack of which there are many in the passenger cabin. If they worked at all. Orv’s personal suit however had its own isotope heater and compressed air for several hours. Only the very paranoid, ex military with post-traumatic stress disorder and those with first-hand experience of space disaster carried their own. The crewman pondered to which of class his new passenger counted.

Orv dozed off while the loading continued and the hauler’s capacitor charged. The hissing of the outer-hatch’s air-seals and triggered a surge of memories to rise up slowly and unstoppable, like fat bubbles in pod goo. He could have suppressed them, he was good at it after years of practice but he realized that one day he would have to confront his memories  – if nothing but to justify the suffering he imposed on himself and on his sister. While his body now stared absentmindedly out of his porthole, his mind relived that fateful day 8 years ago.

He had just turned 15 and was on his way to the University of Caille to accept a “Genius Scholarship” in cybernetics. He would be the youngest post-graduate student there ever and the scholarship would restore the honor and dignity of his family who had lost everything and lived in cramped refugee quarters, fleeing from system to system ahead of the frontline of yet another capsuleer war. They had lived in nullsec, his father part of a capital ship construction crew, building carriers and dreadnoughts for capsuleers. When the invasion came, they jumped onto whatever could carry them and fled across nullsec for nearly a whole year. Orv himself had burrowed into cybernetics textbooks more to escape reality than to study. And when the talent scout showed up, he aced the tests with ease. He never wanted to be an academic. He wanted to travel the stars like his dad, an engineer, maybe even a navigator. But the scholarship would change all of that. He simply could not back out.

The university required a parent to enroll him in person and so his father’s employer allowed him extraordinary (and unpaid) leave. He managed to play his old contacts for two seats in the cargo compartment of a gigantic Iteron V and spent the first 2 hours of the flight staring at a packaged Amarr shuttle on its skid. Then his father had a quiet word with the crew and Orv was invited to ride out the rest of the journey on the bridge, clamped into a jump-seat behind the navigator. It was ostensibly to honor his scholarship and Orv absorbed a crash course in star travel the amused bridge crew gave him. Much later would he learn the real reason why his father wanted him to travel on the bridge. It was the compartment with the most armor.

The first 12 jumps across very hostile territory had gone surprisingly smoothly thanks to the experienced crew and two Covert Ops frigates jumping ahead and scouting for activity. Three times, they had reported “hot” gates and the hauler kept jumping ceaselessly from one safespot to another to thwart detection and attack. Although stressful to the crew, it was routine. All knew that someday their luck would run out but not on this trip. Never on this trip.

Finally they reached the last null sec gate leading them back into Concord space, one more jump and they would be reasonably safe. Their destination was still low security, meaning anyone could attack them but it was sparsely populated, the single outpost in that system was their last dock for the night and everyone needed sleep. The scouts went ahead and gave the “all clear” to the large cargo ship. Their crew aligned and warped right top of the gate initiating the jump as soon as they could. The massive jump system propelled them into their final system and the Iteron came to a slow stop, still cloaked from the warp. By now Orv understood the sequence of events and could anticipate the pilot’s action. He aligned the heavy ship towards their station and readied to initiate warp when the navigator in front of Orv jerked and reported the sighting of eight new ships within their d-scan range. He read the names and the corporation aloud – a wormhole outfit which explained how they appeared so suddenly. A tense second later, the small fleet landed almost on top them. Amongst them two battle cruisers, Amarr Harbingers with enormous firepower and very short reaction time. They could lock down the huge and slow Iteron almost instantly and kill it’s warp drive if they were geared for it. These ships were all piloted by capsuleers and hence anything was a target worth destroying. But the hauler had another 10 seconds of cloak left and was only 24 degrees off from their target. If they could just line up and fire the afterburner while initiating warp, they might still surprise the the capsuleers and warp off before they were able to react. Orv heard himself already telling this adventure to his dad who sat in the cargo hold, clueless about the events outside. But Orv also did not quite see the danger for what it was. He had been lulled into a feeling of safety by the experienced crew, their banter and war stories and – when the situation required – their focused professionalism.

The eight combat ships approached the gate oblivious to the cloaked hauler amongst in their mids. They were in jump range. And then they stopped, only a Helios went through the gate, a scout ship to check out if the other side was hot. The remaining seven lazily orbited the gate.

Time had run out. The Iteron slowly decloaked, first, the structure became visible and turned opaque and finally, the ship emerged from the stars. Now that the game was up, the pilot issued a stream of orders that were crisply confirmed by the crew. One of the commands started the massive but still undersized afterburner and Orv was almost deafened by the howl of the system as it pumped raw energy into the turbines. It takes a lot to accelerate an Iteron V and it would take many seconds before the ship markedly gained speed. The navigator furiously called in the local coms channel, repeating their ship ID and that they carried nothing of value. The combat pilots out there would not care if hundreds of civilians died but might want to save munitions if all they would get was worthless scrap metal. It was a gamble, and may have paid out with other capsuleers but evidently not with these. Instantly, one of the Harbingers peeled out of formation and started targeting them. The bridge crew instinctively hunched when the shrill beep-beep-beep flowed through the speakers, then stopped. The Harbinger had locked the hauler down within seconds and the last remaining question about the intent of the capsuleer fleet was answered when their warp drive was stalled by force of the battlecruiser’s scramming system. They were hanging dead in space with little forward velocity and no means of escape. The co-pilot tripped a red switch and the “abandon-ship” alarm sounded through the hull. This would be the first sign of trouble his father and the rest of the passengers heard and it came just before the first salvo hit amidships. Orv had stared out of the bridge window at the small spec of light 35km away, moving quickly starboard when the battlecruiser opened fire and the Iteron’s flimsy shields evaporated in a spectacular display of yellow and blue light. Klaxxons sounded and the pilot tried to gain some transversal velocity, more out of reflex than necessity, an Iteron V does not outrun an Harbinger. But sitting there helplessly was worse than doing something useless and so, everyone was intensely busy. Everyone but Orv who realized that he was almost 100m away from his father. The next salvo hit deep into the armor and Orv saw pieces of it being flung into space and then congealing in front of the window. He stood, and fell more than climbed down the stairs to the passenger compartment.

The passengers screamed in many languages, struggled in their belts trying to move away. To where, Orv asked himself. But he too had the urge to move, do something, anything just not to stand and wait for the next laser to burn him alive. He started to run down the central isle of the hauler behind the crew who aimed for the lifepod exits in the midsection of the ship. These were lashed to the outside of the hauler and would float free when tripped by the crew. And that was exactly the section where the next salvo of the laser batteries hit, literally melting the lifepods and burning deep into the armor of the hauler. Acrid smoke started to pour through the ventilation, the structure was damaged already. The next salvo would finish them off. Orv sprinted past the crew towards the aft section of the ship. The bulkhead to the cargo hold had failed to close.  Some passengers used the cycling time of the enemy’s weapon systems to paw for their survival suits’ umbilical and with wide and panicked eyes looked for the jacks to plug themselves in when the lasers finally burned through structure. The hit was in the extreme rear of the passenger cabin, right in front of the bulkhead and the intense light bored through the compartment wall from starboard, incinerated several rows of passengers and ignited the air around it into a roiling yellow plasma before it melted its way through the port side. Orv came to a skidding halt about 10 rows away and shielded his eyes from the granular light. Just for a moment, he admired the beauty of this horizontal column, the tongues of fire leaping away from it. Then it just disappeared. Air rushed out of the holes and Orv’s survival suit triggered it’s hood with a sharp report.

Everything went quiet as the air escaped and with it the ability to transmit sound. Orv felt the Iteron buck under his feet. The afterburner was still active in the engine rooms aft, pushing hard at the mass of the ship. But the structure had collapsed and would not take the massive force trying to accelerate it. Orv started to ran aft again and lifted off. The gravity field had ceased and he propelled himself by kicking off the passenger seats. Most passengers had their hood on like Orv and were panicked but seemed safe for the moment. For others, the suits had failed and the vacuum and intense cold of space had burned their faces to black masks, boiled their eyes and lungs. Some were still alive and jerked with spasms, their faces frozen into an inaudible scream. A Gallente woman tried to pinch a leak in her daughter’s suit that was bleeding air. Orv caught the girl’s eye staring at him not understanding, not knowing and yet full of terror. He half sprinted, half floated in the dying gravity field towards the bulkhead where he could already see the wing of the packaged shuttle when the lasers hit again, this time behind him, closer to the bridge. He did not look around but the light suddenly changed, cold glaring sunlight poured into the hauler and illuminated the shuttle in front of him. A tear in the floor began to widen. The Iteron was falling apart. Orv did not think, reflect or weigh his options. All he could think about was his father. If he found him, all would be good. His father survived literally hundreds of attacks and and surely could work a way out. Orv jumped over the tear at the last second. The aft section of the ship pushed the passenger compartment aside as they ripped on each other. He found himself in the cargo hold when the next salvo hit the remains of the passenger cabin. It crumpled and melted into a congealed mass of metal, wires, plastic and human flesh.

Orv spotted his father hovering above the packaged shuttle. He was tearing at the tarp that had covered it, revealing its stubby wings and domed canopy. He was alive. They would live. Orv propelled himself towards the shuttle, his father turned and eyes grew wide recognizing his son. He caught Orv with his left arm in a hug and held on to the shuttle with his right arm. Tears welled up in Orv, he had found his father all would be good, when he felt himself pushed backwards. His father’s face was tense and twisted by pain and determination. He motioned towards the shuttle open cockpit. Orv looked closer and saw what his father was pointing at, a single universal jack for power, air and heat. Their supply in their suits would not last for more than a few minutes. Orv looked around. All spaceships have power jacks for these emergencies in the passenger compartment and on the bridge. But not in the cargo hold where – ordinarily – nobody would allowed. His father had understood this and hoped his son was safe in the cockpit. For himself, he had identified the packaged shuttle as his only chance. Orv’s confused brain almost understood the implication when the air on his suit ran out. These cheap survival suits gave no warning. The faster you breathe, the faster they run out. And Orv had been hyperventilating.

Holoreels made suffocation look almost like a peaceful fading-out. The reality that Orv experienced was very different. His breathing was getting harder and harder until the lung spasmed. He was fully conscious when blinding headaches and involuntary tremors signaled his end. His vision turned black and white, narrowed to a tiny tunnel. His world had shrunk to naked panic and terror, forgotten was his father, forgotten was his family, the hauler and why he was here. He even forgot about himself in this last struggle to live. He had already unlatched the umbilical from its pouch, a 2 meter long finger-thick armored hose and now tried plug himself into the shuttle’s connector. His arms trembled badly and he failed again and again. Finally, he lost control over his shaking hand and knew he would not make the connection when he saw his father’s hand gripping his wrist and ramming the connector home. Orv was rewarded with an instantaneous rush of air into his suit. The air soon warmed as the isotope reactor came online and Orv felt as if an immense weight had been lifted from his chest. Nausea hit him, cold sweat and the urge to urinate all at once but all he could think about was that he was going to make it. Orv started to breathe. He could feel his heartbeat slowing. They were going to make it. He had known it all along.

Carefully, Orv pivoted around looking for his father. He was not there anymore but floated by the forward bulkhead that, now that the passenger compartment had gone, formed an open door to infinite space. His father turned, raised his arm, barely controlling the tremors, waving goodbye to his only son. Then he jumped into the light of his beloved stars.

Orv broke down in tears, uncontrollable shaking and sobbing. He screamed knowing nobody could hear him, he pounded the shuttle’s canopy and more than once did he grab the connector of the umbilical wanting to end it all. But every time he did, he saw his father’s hand steadying his wrist. He could not undo what his father had died for and so he stayed connected to the shuttle, tethered to this machine inside a wreck. His breathing slowed, his eyes dried up and the warm air defogged his visor. He could see, he could act, he was alive. His father wanted him to live, save his mother and sister and live his life. He had a duty now to get out of this wreck and into safety. Orv recalled the last seconds on the bridge. The pilot desperately trying to steer the hauler to safety. The red flashing of the square on the navigator’s computer showing that this Amarr battlecruiser had opened fire. The name next to the Icon on the same display. He remembered the name of the pilot who destroyed the hauler, killed the crew and passengers and his father.

He would find that capsuleer and destroy him.

Chapter 2. The Departure

This is chapter 2 of “Redemption” a fictional tale set in the EVE Universe.  Please see this page for more background on this story.  

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His metamorphosis had taken place deep in Amarr space. Getting there had been frightening and only the special visa had prevented detention, death or slavery on the way.  Orv was not the only Gallentean in the passenger ship but certainly the only without government or business purpose.  None disembarked at the medical station in  Emrayur.

ID check. Yet again. Armed guards led Orv to his bunk in the detention wing, evidently the station was not prepared to accommodate Gallente pilots in the medical facility at all and this prison cell would have to do.  As a nod to his special status, someone had kindly removed the shackles from wall and scrubbed the floor drain clean of bodily fluids. Apparently, a billion ISK go a long way to create a warm welcome.

The medical tests prior the surgery took days and were as thorough as the ones he had gone through in the academy before he set out on this trip. Of course the Amarr doctors would not believe the test results that their heathen colleagues had generated and in addition, they rarely had living Gallente specimens to prod and poke.  A score of giggling medical interns were allowed to subject him to battery of unnecessary and degrading examinations. He was evidently the first enemy they had seen outside the holoreels and he made a point to be patient, polite and even cheerful throughout this ordeal, some of these interns could well end up on some battleship caring for Gallente casualties.  In addition, his mission was to destroy one man, not an entire race.

Once, his sense of humor was tested when they made him sign his last will before the procedure.  A sensible precaution but the questions made him laugh, the forms were designed for a religious Amarr, not an agnostic Gallente.  Whether Orvalone Signoret wanted his ashes to be dedicated to the Empress and fired into the nearby sun or sent by courier to his home?  He chose the Empress / Sun combination because it was much cheaper and besides, he had no home address.

And the evening before the operation, he was allowed to meet his sister Lydie – in his cell under the watchful guard of unblinking cameras in the walls.  Of course he knew that she was on the station, that was the hole point of doing it here and not in Gallente space.  But he had not seen her in weeks and when she finally walked into his cell, he could not contain his bottled-up emotions any longer and fell apart in tears.  Lydie sat and took his head on her lap and stroked his bristly hair while he sobbed.

Her dry eyes stared down the watchers on the other side of the the camera.

After the procedure, Lydie walked Orv back to his cell. His body did not know what and where to heal next and simply shut him down.  In vivid dreams, he was a boy again at home, listening to his dad’s tales when he had returned from some far flung journey amongst the stars.  His father had been a engineering officer and crewed more starships and had seen more solar system than most capsuleers.  His tales grew more and more fantastic although he never let on when he crossed the threshold from truth to fiction. Like when he single-handedly rescued a Damsel in Distress from a pleasure-hub single.   To his mother’s chagrin, his dad told the stories with so many details as if he actually had been inside the structure, not just outside in the Minmatar Battleship keeping the shields charged. He heard himself asking “Dad, what is a pleasure-hub?”, which resulted in his mum giggling and blushing.

Sometimes, he woke fully aware where he was but could still hear the voices of his parents in his head.  Then he realized that they were dead and he relived the surprise, the anguish, the feeling of abandonment, the guilt and last, the rage and lust for vengeance.

The next night, Orv came around finally and his body felt like it had been through a particularly hard combat session with his sister.  Lydie was half his weight but twice his speed and could dance around him without impunity, her fluid kicks coming out of nowhere and her tiny fists striking like ballpen hammers with surgical precision.  He was no match for her and they both knew it, but he never declined a session, never backed down, always got up.  Orv expressed his love in these fights with an almost inhuman stamina and Lydie hers by not showing any mercy.  He learned how to take the worst pain and she learned how to inflict it.  Together, they would conquer the universe or so they made themselves believe.

And so Orv recovered from the surgery much better than the nurses had thought. He observed a glimpse of admiration in their eyes when they came change the dressings around the connectors in his neck. This is where would jack in the main communication link, effectively joining his nervous system with that of the ship he was flying. All output was going via that line and the conscious decisions as well. So he could think the ship into doing something. Unfortunately, combat situations did not allow for this slow method of decision making and this is where his new pod-suit came in. Bright-blue and made of a stretchy biomaterial it literally consisted of electrodes and stimulators. The electrodes read his status and responded to subtle movements, changes in temperature, conductivity and so on. The stimulators had the opposite job, they would activate based on the urgency of the the issue in their sector of the ship. So for example, small meteorite scratching the shield would induce a slight itch in his hand. A full blown hit of enemy laser fire into the structure would feel like a flaming fist penetrating into his stomach. Pain was the body’s normal way to rank possible decisions. The engineers who designed the system simply jacked into the firmware of his biomass.

On his last night on the station, Lydie left to fetch more water and never came back. Her owners had allowed her to stay with him since they had fronted the ISK for his transformation and wanted to see their investment pay off. Beyond that, they needed to make sure that she doesn’t get any ideas to bust out of the station and run away with him. Her collar had turned on the nasty flashing-red light indicating that it was charged with enough raw electrical power to kill her and anyone near her if she decided to leave her set perimeter. The surge would be strong enough to sever her neck cleanly and cauterize the wound, so not to make too much of a mess. Amarr love neatness.

And so, instead of a long good-bye, she simply walked out. Orv knew her well enough that he anticipated the move and said all the things he needed to say before she left. Saying goodbye to your last relative is hard enough. Saying it fully knowing that it may well be the last time in your life is worse.  Doing all of this in front of a camera with the enemy watching was the ultimate torture and humiliation.

In the morning, heavily-armed security officers walked him to his transport. Overkill, he thought, I can barely walk and certainly not take over this station with my bare hands.

Although the thought had crossed his mind.

Chapter 1. The Awakening

This is chapter 1 of “Redemption” a fictional tale set in the EVE Universe.  Please see this page for more background on this story.  

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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.