Fiction Friday! Escape pod here!
"Ten million" she muttered under her breath as she took a drink.
Interstellar Kredits where trading at a rate of about one to twelve local credits on her Federation homeworld. Ten million was a lot, one hundred and twenty million was more money than one could spend in a lifetime back home. That sum had taken her just under a week to make and she'd hardly done any real work for it. A few hours here and there. She could retire now or continue. She had forever.
Money was no stranger to her. She'd been born into a wealthy family. Her father owned a foundry making starship components on Gallente Prime. He'd sent her to an expensive private school where she'd excelled. As a straight "A" student she'd been accepted at the top university. It was there, during her first semester, that'd she been walking down the corridor and felt a little light headed. Next thing she knew she was waking up in a med-bay with her concerned parents by her side. Apparently she had a rare generic disorder. It had been dormant but had woken up. Whilst serious, it was nothing that couldn't be fixed with money. The medicine of New Eden was so advanced that they could grow you an exact replica of your body, minus any defects, and transfer you consciousness into it. Thankfully a simple course of gene enhancement would cure her. After the doctor had explained there was nothing to worry about he dropped the real bombshell. She recalled his voice as she lay in the bed worried, despite his reassurances.
"This genetic sequence you have, it is very rare, however it is more common in those who are also what is known as 'capsule-compatible'. With your permission we'd like to run some more tests for this."
She knew exactly what that meant. She might be one in the a fraction of a percent of the population who could use the Jovian technology known as a hydrostatic capsule to control a starship. An immortal spaceship captain able to link their mind with machine and cheat death.
The training was long and hard. Her father had paid a small fortune for it but she knew at this rate she'd be able to pay him back and more. Ten million ISK was a huge sum for her but she had only been a capsuleer a week. An experienced capsuleer could make ten times that in a day.
She looked around the bar. It was quiet. The few capsuleers that were there were sat on their own. Busy with multiple datapads, ignoring the world around them. She felt lonely. They had been warned about it in training. Capsuleers tended to be aloof, superior and most of all utterly untrusting of anyone. She put her datapad away and picked up the menu. It burst into life as she lifted it from the table. A suggestion for a vodka and Quafe jumped up in a 3D hologramatic advert which she dismissed with a swipe of a finger. She cycled through the drinks starting with the Matari ales, on to fine Amarrian wines and then Gallente and Caldari spirits. Following the food section there were the recreational boosters. From Matari smokeleaf to Gallente chill-pills. Another swipe of her finger brought up the girls. From almost every corner of the cluster, girls for hire by the hour or for longer. Another swipe of her finger and the men appeared. She paused a moment and put the menu back down only to pick it up a moment later. She needed something but wasn't sure what. This new life was so confusing.
Her fresh drink appeared a little while later delivered by a small automated drone. She looked up at the podium dancers, swaying to the music even when nobody was really paying attention. A Matari guy caught her eye. All muscles and oiled skin. She shook her head. Not tonight.
"Ah and I was just thinking about my favorite capsuleer!" Javenins stated as the comms-link opened. The Agent was sat at his desk as he looked into the holo camera.
"Got anything for me?" she asked. The Agent on the other end was looking at a computer simulation of her. She was in her capsule in the belly of a Catalyst class Gallente destroyer.
"I always have something for you! Do you want the official long winded mission briefing or the short one?"
"Short." she replied inwardly smiling.
"Pirate nest next door in Cat. Clear out the defense fleet. Report back."
The holographic representation of her nodded and she disconnected the communications link, aligning her ship to the distant stargate. The full briefing and details of the mission had been transferred so she could refer to it if needed but it sounded simple enough. The starfield blurred as the warp core generated the depleted vacuum around the ship and propelled it to speeds faster than light. In her pod she felt nothing, the incredible speeds to her meant nothing safely inside her hydrostatic capsule. The ship dropped out of warp a few seconds later, coasting to a stop 2000m from the massive stargate which allowed the relatively small ship the ability to jump interstellar. Linking with the controls she activated the jump systems and generated a small artificial wormhole. It swallowed the craft and spat it back out several light years away.
Wasting no time she accessed the coordinates Javenins had sent and activated the warp drive. In space terms, it was a short hop. A few seconds to cover the millions of kilometers to the isolated base. As the ship dropped from warp her overview filled with hostile contacts. Serpentis pirates in various frigate sized ships. With her body linked to her ship she could actually feel the 125mm railguns on her ship track the first one she'd selected for destruction. Before the pirates had time to react the antimatter rounds were propelled at speed from each her eight guns. The first pirate vessel exploded in flames.
"Easy ISK!" she thought to herself as she locked up the next pirate.
Looking at the data pad she'd broke into eight figures. Nearly 11 million ISK. She liked Javenins but knew that she was a low level agent and only gave out the poor paying missions. She needed to cement her reputation before she could access any higher-level agents. She'd also need a better ship. Currently destroyers were the best ship available to her. She'd need a battleship and then she'd be making millions per mission, not every few days. If only she knew how to fly one. However she was training. Information was being constantly uploaded into her brain through her implants. It was a slow process but still faster and better than classrooms and burying your face in a datapad and physically reading and learning. Then again in a classroom there were other people. Fellow students to laugh and joke with. Friends.
She downed her drink and picked up the menu. Selecting another drink she skipped through to the back and glanced once again at the companions. There to pleasure her and make her happy in exchange for a fistful of credits. She put the menu back down without making any further selections. It just seemed wrong. She could leave the capsuleer decks and find a club with normal people. She might even meet someone who wasn't just nice to her because that's what she was paying them for. The voice of her instructor crept into her thoughts.
"Be careful with mixing with the norms. You will be immortal if you complete this course. You won't age unless you want to. You can stay young forever. There is nothing worse than watching the one you love wither and die. Do yourself a favour. Stick to your own kind."
Another drink arrived and she took a healthy swig. She'd only been a capsuleer just over a week. She must not get too down. Things would improve when she really found her feet. Glancing around she tried to work out the other capsuleers stories. There were a few in but all keeping themselves to themselves. There were two capsuleer agents in this station. Both in the security division. The one she used had level 1 clearance. The other was level 4. One of the highest and only gave out the best, high-paying missions. It would be a long time before they would deal with her. There was little else in this station to attract capsuleers so the others in the bar were likely either running mission for one of those two agents or traders, making their money stocking the local market with what mission-runners needed such as ammo. Nobody looked up, nobody made eye contact.
"Stick to your own kind?" she muttered "Egomaniacs who don't trust anyone?"
She picked up the menu again but skipped passed the drinks and the boosters. She just got onto the section with the men when she flicked back. Down in the bottom left corner someone had caught her eye. She opened the profile. The woman was stunning. Caldari with sharp features and silky black hair. Something about her was... she couldn't put a word to it. She'd messed about in school. At the all-girls boarding school they all did but it had never gone really far. She knew she liked men. However this woman stirred something in her. She scrolled down hoping to see an absence of the little pink symbol meaning the decision would be made for her. However it was there next to the blue icon. This woman saw both men and women.
Sighing she put the menu down before picking it back up again. She downed the last of her drink as the next one arrived. This has to be the last one she thought. The Gallente Prime Sunrise cocktail was a vivid green and orange mix. She sipped this one slowly.
"Hello, I'm Isunmaa." the female voice made her jump a few minutes later. There stood next to her booth was the Caldari woman. She was dressed in short lace dress which showed her vivid red underwear below. Her heels looked like some kind of Matari weapon but had obviously made no sound when walking.
"Hi." she croaked back, her throat dry.
"Want to go up now or sit a while?" Isunmaa asked. Her voice soothing and seductive.
"Please join me." she said realising that she really didn't need to offer a polite invitation to someone she'd just paid 2000 credits for.
Isunmaa slid into the booth opposite her smiling. The drone scurried over with a small bottle of water. Obviously pre-programmed and knowing what to bring if she sat down.
"So what are you? A week old? Two?" Isunmaa asked.
"Just over a week. Am I that obvious?" she asked nervously.
"No, its your skin." Isunmaa reached over and stroked her arm "So soft, I love fresh clones. I've been around enough capsuleers to spot a new clone. Plus you seem a little nervous so unlikely someone who has just been podded and is in a fresh clone that way. Therefore I go for newbie."
"Yes, this is all rather new to me." she replied.
"Not really. I went to an all girls school, but never went really far. You know what its like...." her voice trailed off when she realised this companion probably didn't attend an exclusive all-girls boarding school.
Isunmaa smiled. "Don't worry. I'll take care of you."
The following night she was back in the bar again. She looked at her datapad again. Nearly 12 million now. The knowledge to control four drones at once was slowly being uploaded into her brain. She was thinking about cruisers now. The Vexor was a good choice she'd heard. A drone boat with the ability to swap differing types of attack drone depending on the need at the time. The Thorax class cruiser dealt more raw damage but at close range and had difficulty with smaller targets. The Vexor was far more flexible. It would be another week before she could fly one though.
"Hi. Do you mind if I join you?" a male voice asked.
She look up to find an Amarrian man stood there with two drinks.
"Sure" she replied and motioned for the man to sit.
"I'm Milley. It's not fun is it?" the man said as he pushed a Gallente Sunrise cocktail towards her.
"Doing this on your own? I assume you are flying for Javenins Angelle at the Fed Navy office? Running her low-paying security missions. Ending up here most nights. A bar with no soul. Just odd capsuleers keeping themselves to themselves."
She nodded as Milley spoke. At the same time she appraised the man. He looked to be a capsuleer. The clothing, the way he carried himself. They all indicated to her capsuleer.
"Yes. Its a bit of a lonely experience but we were warned about that in training weren't we?"
"Yes we were." Milley agreed confirming to her he was indeed another capsuleer. "However it doesn't need to be like this. There are alternatives you are not properly told about. Your first agents, the trainers, I bet they told you to get involved with the Federal Defense Union right?"
She nodded. The initial agents who held her hand through the final stages of training had indeed encouraged her to join the fight against the Caldari. However she was reluctant. Capsuleers had access to all the Empires as long as you'd not done too much to mark yourself as an enemy to them. Enlsiting in the Federal Defencse Union would soon have her marked as an enemy of the Caldari State cutting her off from Jita, the commerical hub of New Eden's capsuleer community.
"I represent a capsuleer corporation. We are a family of over nine thousand capsuleers. We can offer you training, ships and most of all a home. People like you."
"We are always on the look out for good pilots. Our corporation is affiliated with another capsuleer corporation. Perhaps you've head of them? Pandemic Legion."
She nodded. PL was one of the most famous capsuleer corporation. Only the previous week they'd destroyed one of the first Keepstar class citadels of a rival corporation.
The Amarrian picked up his datapad and swiped a finger. A message was transferred to her own datapad.
"I just swiped you our details. Think about it. What are you making? A million a day?"
"About that." she confirmed.
"You can get that plus fifty percent more in CONCORD bounties for one single kill where we are based and we'll give you the ship to do it for free to get you started. Of course nothing in this life is free. Our tax rate is ten percent. We'll also be keeping an eye on you to see if you have what it takes to move up the ranks, may be even transfer to the main corp one day. We'll also expect you to fight for us. The Legion has some of the best pilots in the Cluster but the Horde has the numbers. All the information is there if you want to join us. Trust me, its a better life out there. Enjoy the drink."
With that the man stood and left.
She looked at the message. It indeed offered training and ships to get her started. A tempting offer.
She looked at the command button. 'Terminate Clone' appeared to be such a harsh term suddenly. Of course there was no physical button. It was a visual representation in the meld between her mind and the machine. She'd spent two more days thinking about it and finally put her application in. It had been accepted straight away so she needed to leave the relative safety of hi-sec space and head out to null-sec. The easiest way was to set her medical clone to the Keepstar class citadel that was to be her new home and self-terminate her clone here. That would set into motion the automated transfer of her consciousness. Her brain-state would be scanned and sent the dozens of light years to her new home. It sounded simple but the fact remained she had to terminate herself.
She had already died before but not by her own hand. The final lesson at the academy was death. A new clone had been grown including all the required augmentations and implants needed to be a full capsuleer. She remembered walking into the med-bay that day with the other graduates. Laying down on the bed in the flimsy gown. Having the neural scanner placed on her head and being injected with a paralytic to keep her still. Then the fatal injection. Her memory was sketchy. As soon as her heart stopped the neural scanner would have taken a snapshot of her brain-state, scrambling it in the process. The image then was transferred and burnt into the new clone. She remembered vividly waking up in that new clone. The muscles ached and her eyes stung. Sound appeared distorted and her lungs burnt with fire. After a few hours she felt incredible.
"Frack it!" she thought to herself and pressed the button in her mind.
Everything went black.
She gasped in the crisp air and opened her eyes. The bright light stung them so she snapped them shut.
"Easy egger. Take your time." A female voice sounded next to her.
She slowly opened her eyes allowing them to become acustom to the light. She was in a medical bay, laying inside a clone revival unit or CRU for short.
"Vitals looking good. You can sit up." the medical technician stated draping a sheet over her naked body.
The woman ran a scanner over her body and checked the readings.
"You're fine. There are some clothes and a new datapad on the side. The datapad is set to direct you to the quarters assigned to you. You then need to contact one of the NBI's to get your starter package."
"NBI?" she asked confused.
"Sorry. New Bean Initiative, what they call the system for you fresh capsuleers. They have a care package for you. Its a few ships and a collection of capsuleer skill books. There are details on the datapad on how to maximise your skill queue and what to do next. I'll leave you to get changed."
The woman walked over to another CRU that was starting to open.
She stared at the pile of clothes and the datapad wondering if she had done the right thing.