Category: In Character

Out of Control

“You bought a what?”  Kyreana’s voice penetrated the jammed-shut hatch of my station quarters far better than the plasma lance of the maintenance crew trying to cut the malfunctioning door.  I winced and pinged her comm implant.

“You heard me.  You know how I am with ISK and shiny things.  And it’s not like it was something expensive like a monocle.”

“What do you need it for?  Can you even fly it?”

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Dust and Echoes

In ancient mythology, long-lost to the tides of history, there is a war-god, a deity of thunder and lightning; whose name was bestowed upon one of the earliest orbital bombardment systems. The formal term is a ‘Long-rod kinetic energy impactor’. They are a specialty of the Caldari armed forces. Simple enough in concept, really: take a metal bar, put some fins on one end and a rudimentary guidance system on the other. Gravity does the hard work, it doesn’t even need that much of a propulsion kick. Depending on the size, they can turn a ground combat vehicle into a flattened beer-can or cause a planetary extinction event.
I chose something in the middle.

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The first warning of the attack I had was a shudder rocking through the station, dangerously upsetting the cross-loading of the heavy torpedoes. I’d docked up in the PNQY station to exchange ammunition; substituting some of my incendiary plasma warheads for more precise, for ground attack anyways, kinetic penetrators. But when the entire gigatonne station rang like a struck gong, I pulled my attention away from the magazine waldoes to focus on the grander situation.
The local hypercomm node had shot up by two hundred users. Regional intel channels were awash with reports from covert ops craft in observation points around the system. A single hostile CovOps had lit a cyno gen, and a two-hundred strong force of hostile battleships had been bridged in by enemy titans. A second cyno went up as I watched, and the enemy capital fleet emerged to pound the system infrastructure hub.
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One small step

The ink wasn’t even dry on the contract before I was given a tasking. The Praxis Initiative, some ‘ruddy good chaps’ with the Gentleman’s Agreement alliance had been one of the ‘short-list’ corporations I was looking at, were looking for a few good pilots to aid in pacification actions in and around the Fountain Region. Conversations I’d had with them were generally positive; and I made it abundantly clear, I was a Widow pilot first and foremost. I received high level assurances that I would be more than welcome.
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…And we’re back

The Concord station in the Friggi system was an unwanted layover; but when the Empires-spanning police organization gives you an invitation to stop by and talk, even a demigod like myself gets the hint. The local detachment had a problem, and word came that I was going to be passing through; so the constable commed me. I settled into a lazy-seeming orbit outside of warp-scrambler range, decloaked and moving fast enough to immediately leap into warp before sending the my holographic avatar into the stations’ public comms network. While some little fleshbag clerk put me on hold, I started cycling my torpedo launchers through test cycles; not exactly subtle, but it got the station chief on the line quickly.
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The shore of the cosmic ocean

A week-long shakedown cruise now lay in my wake; every system save two had been tested rigorously, and only one had failed to meet design specs. The yard dogs back at Jita 4-4 were more than eager to assist my service drones in correcting the fault, a glitch in the interface between the portside secondary thruster #3 plenum magshielding and the cloaking system. Once I pointed out that a battleship with a bad thruster array was still faster than the civilian insystem transports they’d be using to go planetside on their next downcycle, the foreman even offered to do the job pro bono. Much to the relief of the other residents of the hab block that found a cranky battleship with an active targeting array floating outside their viewports.
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“And so it begins”

People who’ve never felt its caress against their skin speak authoritatively of the ‘cold’ of space. That near-perfect vacuum of the void between the planets isn’t cold; it’s simply nothing. With no medium to conduct heat into, the biggest problem faced by a functional starship is keeping cool. With no vulnerable organics on board, I cycled all my internal spaces down to death pressure. No atmospheric pressure to violently outgas, no oxygen to support combustion; a ship was simply safer without humans aboard. A thought, and the holographic avatar I used to communicate with organics opened a communications channel with the traffic control network and dock controllers simultaneously. It didn’t take more than a couple of seconds to secure clearance; jettison my umbilicals, and maneuver into my slot in the undock queue.
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Four questions were once put to me by an Amarrian pilot I flew with back in my early days. I don’t know precisely what he meant by them; but as I prepare for this transition in my life, I’ve found they help to focus my meditations while I await final flight clearance. The first two I’ve already stored and made accessible on the cluster datanet; perhaps they’re of some interest to someone. The last two, though, are too interconnected to separate. ‘Who do you serve? Who do you trust?’
Loyalty and trust are two things that come hard to capsuleers. Immortal demigods of the spaceways, our egos and paranoia are the stuff of legend. Arrogance has razed continents, boredom has engulfed whole quadrants in the flames of war. So what can inspire loyalty? When you’re embodied in a starship that costs the ransom of nations, why should you trust?
To draw my loyalty, an organization must, first and foremost, be realistic. Two-pilot corporations that intend to take sovereignty in lawless space aren’t being optimistic, they’re being delusional. Fleet commanders who’d rather fight to the last when outnumbered 20:1 than retreat and conserve resources when there’s no hope of a strategic victory let alone a tactical one, are being psychotic. Inspiring loyalty means being worthy of it. A person who’d order an army to their deaths simply because they can should never gain that army to begin with.
Flying tight on the wing of Loyalty is camaraderie. Do I like the people I’m flying with? Do they like me? Do we have similar senses of humor, similar interests? As they say in the State; a happy employee is a productive employee. Tasked to guard a mining operation of people one doesn’t care for, ones’ mind is likely to wander to more pleasant pursuits and perhaps be a little inattentive; where an engaged pilot would be alert. If I’m to be asked to risk ship and pod to defend others, they’d best not be people I’d be happier to see dead.
From this springs trust. Trust that the Fleet Commander ordering a last stand is buying time for an evacuation or reinforcements. Trust that the CEO isn’t going to raid the corporate accounts for laughs. Trust that the person lighting a cyno for me isn’t dropping me into a trap. Trust that the pilot on my wing is going to fight beside me, rather than against me.
Who do I serve? I serve those who serve the greater good rather than their own. Who do I trust? I trust those who show trust in me.

“What do you want?”

There’s no real way to describe exactly how I went about my search in terms humans could understand without heavy use of analogies. A mind raised connected to a computer interface, one that has never known life without a constant neural datalink except for brief, horrible moments of smallness… This is going to dark places for me.

I perused various methodologies of recruitment for corporations. Galaxy-spanning ‘chat rooms’ filled with semiautonomous spambots, digital fora unkempt and untended… I scanned news reports; searching for areas of activity and cross-referenced with my searches. I knew what I was looking for; and filtered my searches accordingly. Of all the capsuleer power blocs, there were only three which could rival the great Empires; only one that had the… feel that I was looking for. So I cast my search net through the ranks of the so-called Northern Coalition. A BBJ-S vessel requires a certain degree of reliable support that a small or newly-established Corporation wouldn’t be able to provide, and likewise a certain threshold number of fellow covert operations pilots would enhance the degree of effectiveness I could bring to the field. Communications methodologies, sovereignty locations, corporate history and press releases. It was all funneled in to the data sieve I’d established.

And yeah, the recent activity out in LXQ2-T played a part in my decisionmaking. Even with as little frontline experience as I have, I still consider myself a combat pilot. An underhanded, dishonorable jam-happy cloaker freak, maybe; but a combat pilot nonetheless. One of my early space combat instructors was fond of saying “Never kill a man in a fair fight; kill him before he gets the chance to start one.” Facing an opponent on even terms when there’s an advantage to be taken is setting yourself up for failure.

I opened a comm link to the Concord inspection team leader, trying to find out what the holdup was. His reply, that they were having difficulty accessing the interior volumes of the ship to inspect for concealed smuggling compartments, made me laugh. The Widow was conceived specifically for the role of penetrating Empire security, the whole ship is one big smuggling compartment with a battleship inside.

Never laugh at Concord officers; they have no sense of humor.

8 to 10 days for the paperwork to be processed, he said. At least it’ll give me time for my job search.

“Who are you?”

I had been born human; however much I might deride and, yes, despise the pathetic little fleshbags I was all too frequently required to interface with, however wealthy and powerful I might have become since, I have never forgotten that my mother and father were human. Not that I’d ever met them in person, of course. When I was old enough, the School permitted me to access the relevant records. My mother had been a fourth-grade materials-handling technician in a chemical plant in Nourvukiken, my father a pipefitter at the same plant. And while their workplace exposure to toxic chemicals made any viable pregnancy a blessing; such blessings are all too frequently a double-edged sword. Yet the State is nothing if not efficient; and not one to waste any resource. There’s always a chance that, while the body may be twisted and the eyes dim; the mind behind them may hold vast potential. And so, when prenatal encephelography indicated some minimal threshold of aptitude, my mother received a contract from the State Naval Academy to carry to term.

I understand that the childhood I had at the Lab Schools complex in Kisagodo wouldn’t be described as normal by billions; yet it was what I had. Among my classmates, all ‘shell’ people (for the miniature hydrostatic life support capsules derived from Capsuleer technology) and the instructors. We had classes, played games like Stall and Powerseek. With the assistance of the Counselors we probed the boundaries of our aptitudes and abilities; seeking the limits of what our human minds, unbound by the trivial needs of flesh that had failed us before birth, could achieve. And while there was always call for minds with the ability to run entire manufacturing complexes with a thought, we all knew that the highest goal we could aspire to was to become one of the far-travelers, the starborn; a human mind with the body of a starship. A capsuleer.

Of course, there’s always strings attached. While the State may not officially endorse the outright ownership of another human being as is the practice of the Amarr Empire; the life support equipment that had sustained me through my childhood had been the property of Lab Schools, Inc; my education, the costs of the various surgeries, it all added up into a debt that would have been untenable for most normal humans. Thankfully, the School had a very special relationship with the Navy; and the military was more than willing to buy the debt of a capsuleer born and raised as a pod-pilot. The term was ‘indentured servitude’, de-facto slavery until I could repay the crippling deficit on my accounts.

And so I flew with the Caldari Navy, beginning with a tour as the pilot of a Kestrel-class escort frigate, guarding at first low-value cargoes through otherwise secure space. But pod pilots are too valuable to waste on trash hauling duty, and my first tour turned out to be training with the hullform before moving on to a Manticore covert strike frigate; a ‘stealth bomber’ in the vulgate. I loved it. I was fast as a thief, invisible to eyes that sought to guard against me. The spacelanes were mine to explore; within the constraints of the orders given to me. Perhaps I chaffed too openly at the nature of those orders; for I found myself being transferred to ‘command’ of my first Scorpion battleship after only a brief training tour on a Kitsune electronic attack frigate.

At first, I loathed the lumbering behemoth. To someone who’d reveled in the freedom of a frigate, a battleship was like having an anchor chained to my leg. To one who’d lived in perfect neural gestalt with their ship-body, having to wait for a crew, to have a human commander was nigh unbearable. In time, though; I began to learn, that while a covert ops ship might be invisible, an ecm platform made the searchers blind. To reduce a target vessel to complete helplessness became more than an ideal, it became an obsession.

When I’d first heard of the so-called Black Ops Battleships entering service with the various stellar empires, I almost scoffed. What, I thought, was the point of engineering a vessel for covert operations when it massed so much that a depleted-vacuum bubble powerful enough to permit it to warp would completely destabilize any cloak? Yet the idea festered, like a splinter in the mind. First though, there were accounts to settle. My debt to the Lab Schools, now owned by the Navy, and made all the larger for the various ship and ordinance fees; medical expenses for having my mothers’ lifetime of toxic exposure corrected in my own reference genome on file with cloning services. Concord pilot licensing. All while paying the upkeep and maintenance on my ship-body and the minuscule blob of meat in the middle that served as life support for my mind.

I had been born human, I will not contest that fact; but events, one might even say destiny, conspired to transform me something into something so much more. I am a creature of titanium skin and alloy bones. Eyes that can see from microwaves to gamma-rays guide fists of missile systems able to burn cities from the face of worlds. Nuclear fire burns in my heart, coolant flows through my veins. I am a creature of the stars; forced to wait on the inefficient organic ants from whence I sprang before I can emerge from the cocoon of this station, reborn once more into the body I’ve always been meant to inhabit.