Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Transcending trust.

“I... don't know, Okani. It's not like Nicole to just be out of contact like this. Not when you know where she is, at least.”
“You sound like you don't trust her.”

Sinikka glanced up from giving her foot a well-earned massage after a day spent in wedge heels, and met her brother's eyes. A second later she looked away. Despite the fact that they'd both inherited the characteristic Hakatain blue eyes from their father, Verin had always had more ice in his gaze somehow. Some quality that made him a hard man to make eye contact with, even for her.

“I love her like a sister, you know that.” she said, swearing for the umpteenth time to spend some of her now-bottomless funds on a pair of bespoke boots that actually fit properly.
“Same way you love Meera?” Verin asked.

This was enough to cause her to glare at her older brother, and somewhere behind the outrage she allowed herself a flare of hot triumph as he was the one to look away this time, chagrined.

“It's Meera every time.” she said, firmly. “You know THAT, too.”
“Nicole isn't Meera, Shenane.” Verin said, mildly.

She made a disgusted noise “Thank our ancestors for that. I don't think I could cope with having two sisters like that.”
“Don't dodge the subject with flippancy, please. Do you trust her?”
“Nicole? I... I don't know, Okani.. I really don't.”
“Why not?” He rose to his feet and began walking slow circles around the office. The question had been mellow, calm and entirely reasonable, but Sinikka restrained the urge to flinch as if he had shouted it. She covered with indignation.

“Why...? Hasn't the single most important piece of advice you've tried to drill into me for surviving and thriving as a pod pilot been that you can't trust anyone?
“Do you trust me?”
“Why me and not her?”
“Because you're my Okani and she's... family. There's a difference. We both know that.”

Muscles played around Verin's face and jaw as he took a sharp breath through his nose.
“Don't bring Him into this.” he said.
“Why not? Sure, I love Nicole like a sister, but I loved.... him... like a brother, and look where that got us. Just because I love somebody doesn't mean I trust them.”
“But you trust me.”
“Do you trust me?”
“Do you trust Nicole?”

Verin didn't answer. Instead he picked an item of crystalline material up off his workbench – some small piece of art that he was doubtless creating – and turned it contemplatively back and forth with the light shining through it.

“Verin? Do you trust her?”

He set the item down and instead busied himself pouring a vodka, still silent.

Okani... ukaki peloisorete vaito hido?” Sinikka asked. She pulled her bare feet up onto her chair and hugged her knees, sharing his insecurity.

Verin took a deep breath, then knocked the vodka back with a shaking hand.

Nei sa.” he said at last.

“Do you want to trust her, then?”
“I want to trust a lot of people. People I love as friends and colleagues, people I'm quite certain will never, ever betray me. My Rakkai is one of them.”
“But you don't.”

Verin's hand produced a rasping sound as he ran it through the whiskers of his chin, and the even shorter hair at his temples. “It'd hardly be advice worth giving if it wasn't mostly the grim truth..."

He drummed his fingers on the workbench for a few seconds. "Yes, I'm afraid to answer your question. But the answer is yes, I do trust her. Even if... no, especially if there's a part of me that says I shouldn't.”
“Right. Because it's not trust if you don't have that little nagging doubt, is it?”
“No. I suppose it isn't.”
“I don't have that nagging doubt about you.” Sinikka told him. “So I guess that means I don't trust you.”

Verin finally barked his monosyllabic laugh. “Hah! Well, in that case I don't trust you either, Shenane.
“Damn straight. Pour me a vodka?”

Saturday, 13 August 2011

EVE Is Real submission: "This Dystopian Heaven"

The philosophy of a pod pilot, as he explains just why he embraces the power of entropy and devastation that being a Capsuleer brings... and why the dream of a perfect Utopian society is poison to his way of thinking.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Aato: The beginning of the end.

Minmatar Republic, Metropolis region, Ankard constellation, Eygfe VIII – Moon 9 – Ishukone Corporation Factory, YC113.

“Just to let you know, I won that cage match. You owe me Seventy ISK. You can pay me next time we go drinking.

Obvious code if her mail really was being read, but recognising it as code and understanding the real message were two very different things.

Aato read the rest of her messages, staying entirely professional as she sorted out the day-to-day of her employer's personal itinerary and safety. She wasn't alone in the office, though nobody ever sat too near her desk, no matter how cramped the facility they were in on any given day might be. She had a tendency to unsettle people.

Once, she wouldn't have. Not so long ago, she'd have been the life and love of the security team, everybody's best friend and the object of most of their fantasies and affection. It went against the grain somewhat to drive them off with a prickly demeanour and the utterly cold façade that her clothing and thin buzz-cut of blonde hair were calculated to create.

So, she completed her work and then, without a word or glance to anyone else, she stood up and departed, locked herself in the head, and allowed herself to cry for the first time since she had left Jesken's Reach, and for only the second time in her adult life.

The message had read, to the dwindling supply of people who knew how to read it: “G-14 captured, presumed dead. Get in contact.”

Eight left, herself included. Eight out of thirteen.

With the self-control that had been drilled into her since early childhood, she forced her professional mask back into place until the redness around her eyes was gone, until her chin was steady enough to balance a glass on, and cleaned sticky tear runnels from her cheeks. Then it was a simple, short walk to Pilot's office.

Pilot Hakatain was reading a message written holographically in the air above his desk when she entered, which vanished as those targeting-laser blue eyes flicked over to a command icon, then focused on her. He didn't appear to notice anything out of place, which Aato took as a good sign that she was outwardly as composed as ever. If a Capsuleer with a top-quality social adaptation chip couldn't spot evidence of her grief, then she wasn't showing any at all.

“Afternoon, Aato. Report?”
“No report sir, everything as we agreed yesterday. I'm here to request leave.”

Pilot blinked in surprise, and one of his eyebrows quirked upwards for a fraction of a second, but there were reasons that Aato liked working as his Personal Security Officer. The cloning contract and the umbrella of his diplomatic immunity were part of it, but Hakatain was also nicely discreet. He would definitely be curious, but he had a very clear sense of what was and was not his business.

“Effective...?” He asked, leaning back in his chair and stroking his beard.
“I may need as much as a month, sir.”
“I'll need a replacement PSO while you're gone.”
“Jenesk” Aato said, without even having to think about it. Pilot nodded.
“Then your leave is granted effective as soon as you've briefed him.”
“Thank you sir.”
“You've never taken leave in three and a half years, it's about damn time. Take two months, fully paid. In advance, if you want.”
“That won't be necessary, thank you sir.”

He shrugged. “Offer stands.” He gave her a long, calculating stare then shrugged again. “Any other business?”
“No sir.”

Aato could feel him watching her as she left.


Caldari State, Lonetrek region, Malariya constellation, Endatoh V – Echelon Entertainment Development Studio, YC113.

It was a subdued, very Caldari greeting for people who hadn't seen each other in four years and who were in many ways closer than siblings. A brief embrace, a quiet “Saisa” and then they were immediately down to the business of opening the bottle of Hak'len.

It was a busy bar, with sound-mute fields around each table to give everyone some sonic elbow room and prevent eavesdropping. In an Echelon studio full of teams who spent their working lives turning out mass-media for an insatiable market, gatherings of eight people weren't uncommon, and nobody glanced twice at them as they lifted eight shot glasses and drank a toast to the ninth, sat full in front of a vacant seat.

Present: A-7, Aato Sihayha. A-12, Akio Munioten. D-3, Dahtoh Miit. F-1, “Big” Fisk Onaneri, F-2 “Little” Fisk Sichono, K-8 , Kirase “Puppy” Korkukka. M-15, Mikasa Navirola and Y-2, Ylamaa Aritie.

Absent: D-10, Danani Pekewara, G-14, Geshozura Askuo. M-2 Mitakada Vantoh. S-3 Sundan Appas and S-9, Skitichida Ronken.

“We can't hide forever.”

That was Big Fisk, a man whose nickname hadn't required much imagination. “G-14 was just as good as any of us. We've been safe for four years now, but if they got to him...”

There was a general nodding round the table as he trailed off meaningfully. They all had gone through the same training, the same half-hell, half-heaven childhood.

“Better than me.” Ylamaa opined. “Gesh was one of the best of us. Almost as good as you, A-7.”

Aato didn't bother denying the compliment. She had come second in the class, beaten only by S-3 who had been the first to die, on the day when the corporation decided their services were no longer necessary. Instead, she knocked back another shot of black liquor, content to just enjoy the company of her classmates, even in such sad circumstances.

“So trying to get lost isn't going to work.” Puppy said. “It's a big State, but not big enough.”
“Not a big enough damn cluster, really.” Navirola said. “Skits went to the Guristas for cover, that didn't stop CBD from finding him. And I think M-2 was working at a pleasure hub in the Federation.”
“So... what do we do?”

Aato set her drink down. “We Troubleshoot.” she said, simply.

The reaction was mixed. Both the Fisks, D-3, Navirola, and Y-2 nodded, as if the answer was obvious, but Puppy and A-12 looked alarmed.

“You're kidding!” Munioten exclaimed.
“We can't hide, we can't run. May as well try doing what they trained us for.” Aato told him.
“Troubleshooting some backwater Serpentis courier is one thing. But we're talking about an unknown number of people of unknown competence with Megacorp backing.” Puppy said.

So it's uncertain just what we're up against. Whereas we know damn well that if we just stay hidden and try to put ourself out of CBD's sight and mind that they won't give up, they'll just hunt us down and either send in a strike team while we're asleep, or have some fucking egger blow us up like happened to Vantoh.” That was little Fisk, who was only “little” when compared with Onaneri.

Besides. I'd rather go down fighting.” Navirola added.
Show of hands” said D-3.

It took a few seconds for Korkukka and Munioten to decide, but eventually even their hands went up. They were all in agreement.

First step is finding out who our targets are.” Aritie said, sniffing another shot of Hak'len.
If I know Gesh...” D-3 mused “he'll have had a contingency ready.”
Probably, but... Seven, you work for one of those eggers, right?”
We're not involving him” Aato said, flatly.
Why not? He's got the money, the connections, the tech...”
We're not involving him because capsuleers are trouble. Mine's not bad, and I think he'd help me if I asked him... but getting him on board would solve three problems and create twelve.”
Besides, it was a podder who killed Vantoh.” Little Fisk repeated.

Aato restrained herself from correcting him with the slightly more painful truth that the podder in question probably hadn't thought for a microsecond about all the people on that pleasure hub when they blew it up, and that they'd probably never even heard the name Mitakada Vantoh. It would just have been another in a long, anonymous string of contract work to them. Instead, she ran a hand across the fuzz of her scalp.

I know somebody who could probably help who isn't an egger.” she said. “Assuming he's still alive.”


Caldari State, Lonetrek region, Makiriemi constellation, Pakkonen system, Planet III – colony “Jesken's Reach”, YC113.

Daii Tarko was warm, comfortable and a little tipsy after a large whisky, so having to haul himself off the couch was a source of instant grumbling, but the voice recognition controller for his apartment hadn't worked properly in months and his pension never quite seemed to stretch to getting it sorted out. He lightened up very slightly when he saw who was calling.

Aato, Kirjuun, it's good to hear from you agai-” he paused, looking again at the image made slightly fuzzy from cheap fluid router line rental. “The fuck'd you do to your hair?”

Aato gave him a rare smile. “Sorry it's been so long since I last called, Daii. You don't like the buzz cut?”
Makes you look like a man, kid.”
Beats the hell out of not being taken seriously, partner.” she said.
You never make social calls, Kirjuun. What do you need this time?”
A few friends and I are coming to Jesken's Reach on an... assignment. We're going to want to talk with Neurone.”
Neurone?!” Daii's voice went up half an octave partly out of outrage, partly out of fear. “No. Aato no, seriously, I swore I'd never deal with that son of a...” he paused, mindful of Neurone's reputation “...of a woman who I'm sure was lovely and kind. Anyway. Never again. Not after the first time.”
Ten thousand.”
Scrip? Aato, I wouldn't go within a mile of Neurone for that kind of money, he scares the white out of my teeth.”
Not Scrip. Interstellar.”

It was almost as if a stiff gale had suddenly blown from the screen, rocking Daii back on his heels as he performed a swift currency exchange in his head and produced a number large enough to banish prudence. His voice caught in his throat.

That's... I don't know Aato. Neurone...”

She's desperate, Daii realised. An old cop's instincts swung into place, the fatal ones that always meant you backed your partner up, no matter what. Anybody willing to pay twenty K Interstellar to talk with one of the most dangerous Guristas in Lonetrek had to be in serious trouble, and not so long ago, Aato had been his ward and partner.

And with twenty thousand I could retire to New Caldari.

Done.” he said. “But I pray to my ancestors you know what you're doing, Kirjuun.
I'm quite sure I don't.” Aato said, characteristically blunt. “But that's how life is for me right now. Meet my at line bottom when my friends and I arrive tomorrow?”
Thanks Daii. You might literally be a lifesaver.”

She signed off, leaving Daii to the bitter thought that anybody putting an old friend in touch with Neurone was pretty much the opposite of a lifesaver.

His cybernetic knee whined in protest as he limped back to the couch and poured himself a whisky much larger than the one he'd just finished.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Something From Nothing.


The Caldari had their own name for the small, distant, ruddy star that gifted their world with barely enough heat to live, but it was the Gallentean name that had stuck.

For now, it was invisible. Risen above the horizon, but not the mountains, it had brought second-hand light to the valley to see by, but not full illumination yet.

It was cold in the twilight of a Caldari Prime autumn morning. Cold enough to set even a nine year old girl who was determined to be on her best behaviour fidgeting in the climate-controlled comfort of her coat.

The grown-ups didn't seem to mind it. Even with the chill turning their cheeks and noses pink and raising great clouds of warm moisture with every breath, Silver and Ami were in quiet conversation and Cia was distant, as if she wasn't really paying attention even when she lightly touched Camille's shoulder to get her to stop jigging on the spot.

They were standing slightly apart from a knot of other attendees who had the uncomfortable expression that normal people always wore when in the presence of a capsuleer, let alone two. Camille had always heard that you should wear black at funerals, but nobody here was. Instead, everybody was wearing white, or green, or blue. It looked more like a sombre party than a funeral to her, except without cake. She fought back a treacherous giggle at the thought.

She looked around at the temple again. It was a bit more than she could take in easily. They were by an avenue of smooth, neatly dressed stone that led to the front door, flanked by standing stones and trees that sheltered them under an arched ceiling of copper-hung limbs. The temple itself reminded her of a Scorpion-class battleship, with two arms sweeping forward to create a courtyard in front of the main door where a pyre had been neatly stacked. It was built on a mountain shelf, and to one side there was a stunning view over the valley, and the pinkish glow of the rising sun on the mountain peaks opposite. To the other side, a dense forest of evergreen trees that seemed to swallow the light.

There was another hand on her shoulder and Camille thought she was being stopped from fidgeting again, but the touch was the firm weight of Ami's hand, rather than Cia's light pressure.

“They're coming.” Ami murmured, nodding towards the long flight of stone steps that led up to the avenue from the plaza at the bottom of the mountain.

There were sparks there. Five fire torches, just like the ones from the summer festival on Debreth. It was a small procession led by an old man who looked like he should be freezing cold in his robes, but showed no sign of it if he was, who lit the way with a big torch. Behind him came the bier, carrying a man who looked startlingly like Mr. Verin, if Mr. Verin was old, well, really old instead of just old. Mr. Verin himself and three people – a man and two women – that she didn't recognize were guiding the bier as it floated along on four graviton pads, also holding fire torches.

Mr. Verin caught her eye as he walked past and gave her a little, sad smile and a bit of a wave with the fingers of the hand holding his torch. Camille waved back, but she wasn’t sure he saw before the bier went past.

The guests fell into line behind the bier as they passed between the temple arms and fell into a crescent around the pyre as the bier lifted itself on top and settled among the dry, oiled wood. The priest and family bowed to the body, followed by the guests. Camille had to hurry a little as it took her off-guard.

The priest cleared his throat and when he spoke, he spoke softly, but well enough to carry his words to everyone present.

“We are here to carry out the sad duty that must come at the end of life.” he said. “And to honour Mattias Iroh Kuwabi Hakatain for the life he no longer lives, for the legacy he leaves to us, and persons who will remember him. We pray that his Ancestors receive him in kindness and honour. Please, be silent for a minute to reflect on his life.”

Heads bowed around the half-circle, and for a minute the only sound on the temple courtyard was the swish and rush of wind in the trees and the cry of a bird of prey as it circled in the frigid morning air. It was broken eventually by the priest, who raised his head again and shook his hands clear of the sleeves of his robe.

“We are not the Starsmith's creation.” he reminded them. “It is important to remember that the only thing in all of infinity that the Starsmith made is the stars themselves. Everything else that has come since that moment has been an evolution from initial conditions.

“We are not stars, or planets, or even this blood and bone. We are spirits, luminous minds born from oblivion. The fact that we exist to stand here today to grieve and remember Iroh is a greater miracle than the fact that the stars turn, or the worlds dance. We are creation in its purest and most perfect form, something made from nothing. Impossible, but real nonetheless.

“The spirit does not wither and die with the body. The body is an ordinary creation, something made from something else, subject to all the laws of entropy. The spirit however, the perfect creation, endures. Living proof that the mind – the soul - exists independent of the body stands here today, among our number. ” he bowed slightly to the small knot of capsuleers at this.

“Death is only a small ending. It is the conclusion of one chapter, but the next begins straight away. Our grief is not for a soul destroyed, but for ourselves, forced to endure bound in the chains of matter and entropy while Iroh is free to join his Ancestors.”

Here, the priest stepped forward and lifted a clay jar sealed with a wooden stopper, which he removed. Camille caught a powerful scent that reminded her equally of flowers and of Cia's spicy cooking. As he spoke, the priest poured a drizzle of clear oil from the jar all over the pyre. “All his life, this man has been bound in service. He has raised a son and daughters of the Caldari people, successful in their own right. He sought, and found, wealth among the stars and brought prosperity to more than just his own family. Thanks to his selflessness, it is impossible to count just how many people have had their lives improved by his work. His memory is an example to all Caldari of a life well-lived, and his place among the Ancestors will be honoured.”

He placed his hand over the body's heart, and anointed Iroh's forehead with the scented oil. “Rest, kaashivono haanuu. You are free of your Heiian at last.”

He bowed to Mr. Verin, who stepped forward and murmured, so quietly that Camille could barely hear him; “Okrikaato useuusai fuzasen yn taisaan.Uaaka haokosen nahui arkuu.” and lowered his torch to the wood.

Dried timber soaked in flammable oil lit with a fwoomph noise and Mr. Verin took a step back as the flames spread to the whole pyre in seconds until there was nothing to see other than an impenetrable wall of flame. The heat was incredible, even from several paces away, but welcome after the chill they had been standing in for so long. Something in the fuel made the flames burn with a blue edge that made harsh shadows on the walls and on the faces of everyone present. The sweet flowers and spice scent that had come from the jar became powerfully present, but not oppressive.

Some of the guests stood for only a few seconds before they bowed and started to walk away. In ones and twos, they left the pyre behind, slowly and thoughtfully. Eventually, Cia took her hand and led Camille away as well. Camille wanted to ask her how Mr Verin’s papa could go down the River if he’d been burned up, but Cia’s expression told her that now was not the time for questions.

Camille glanced back as they went. Verin had sunk to his knees, staring as firelight reflected in the startling blueness of his eyes, and off the wet lines on his cheeks. He was, very faintly, smiling.

Sunday, 19 June 2011


He wasn't the person he was pretending to be. Not that it mattered. His imitation was so close that any imperfections could have been passed off as a mood. Even the expression of understanding, complacent boredom with the routine security check was in place and bombproof.

“Morning, Pilot Hakatain. I'm afraid Pilot Roth isn't here right now sir.”

“That's okay, I just wanted to drop something off and say hi to the twins.”

“We'll need to inspect everything you're carrying, sir.”

“Yep.” and he spread his arms. The briefcase he was carrying was taken away, run through a scanner then visually inspected, then returned without comment. The assortment of stuff in his pockets – a small field medical kit which was confiscated, a steel cigar case full of finest New Caldari tobacco which he was forbidden from smoking, a personal fluid comms unit and NEOCOM, a lighter, a pack of cards, five dice, and a monogrammed leather wallet full of Republic Dollars and hard copy pictures.

He felt the discreet but extremely thorough multispectral scan of his body as a tingle in his thigh where the complicated lattice of metamaterial pockets disguising the other thing he was carrying carefully deflected and redirected the scan so as to appear that there was nothing unexpected there.

“Got a security name for me, sir?”

“Suma Kidachi” he replied, and clamped down on his nerves as this appeared to pass muster. “Verin, you really are too easy...” he thought

“Lucky number?”


“Any vices I should know about, sir?”

“Just the cigars” he said with a bit of a smirk, tapping the pocket they were in.

The security tech nodded and stood aside. “Okay sir, you're clear to visit. We'll inform Pilot that you were here.”

“Thanks Junone. How's your elbow?”

“Much better, thank you sir. The exercise you suggested cleared it right up.”

“Thought it would. Let me know if it flares up again.”

“Will do, pilot.”

He nodded and left the security desk behind to fill in the log book, obviously none the wiser.

It was a simple little “building” really. Set inside a standard cargo container, wrapped in a bubble of simulated environment and the front door opened with a hush to admit him to a place that was at once beautifully and stylishly decorated, and simultaneously a bit of a disaster area, the clear hallmarks of occupation by a child visible everywhere.

The calm, broad-shouldered walk evaporated the instant the door was closed behind him. Suddenly, the body language was ... sharper, more alert, more predatory. His speed doubled, but the weight of his footsteps halved. He trotted across the room, past homework left half-done on the floor, swept a pile of reports and data slates away from a desk terminal, and from the compartment in his thigh produced the first of the two contraband items he'd brought it.

The Universal Data Port on the front of the terminal made the usual solid click as he pushed the data stick in, and both lights came one. He couldn't see it happening, but there was a program on that stick that immediately rocketed into the heart of Ciarente Roth's personal data network and began to hunt down one simple search term with ruthless elegance.

Roth, Jorion.

The voice came from behind him, flat and hard. It was female, and punctuated by the “CLICK!-whiiiine” of a pistol's capacitor arming. He hadn't heard footsteps or the door opening. “Pull that fucking thing out right now, Tarn.”

He didn't move except to pinch out the other contraband from his shielded skin pocket.


“Hands where I can see them. NOW!”

“Nanite bomb.”

He turned and slowly raised his hands. The object in his right hand, his thumb depressing the dead man's switch on top, wasn't big. It was about as large as a half-used pencil. But it didn't need to be big. Its contents certainly didn't.

He gave her a moment's silence to think about just what the tiny can full of seeker-shredder nanites would do to this apartment and anybody who entered it for the next week. Her expression never shifted from coolly neutral professional hostility.
“Terms. I walk, right now, no funny business, and I take the drive with me.” he told her, pitching his voice quietly, but firm.

She was smart. Or at least knew her job well enough to do the smart thing. After a moment's apparent consideration she stepped aside to one wall, lowered the gun. Kept her foot pointed right at him though. Very smart. Skilled too, coming up on him all silent like that.

Or maybe just well trained. Same thing in this circumstance.

He heard a baby start crying upstairs and grinned at the sound. It was a paradoxically genuine, happy smile, not some sadist's rictus or the grim lip-tightening of somebody without a sense of humour. The blonde with the gun didn’t smile back, her unblinking gaze fixed on him with cold calculation.

He retreated to the terminal, was pleased to see the light on the data stick had turned blue, and tugged it out. Then it was the slow, turning walk past the Roth girl's bodyguard, then out onto the “lawn” where more weapons were being very specifically not pointed at him.

He wished that he'd thought to include some means to upload the vital data via his NEOCOM, for insurance. Irrelevant now. He made it to the public service transport unit, slipped inside, mentally keyed his NEOCOM to start broadcasting the jamming signal that would prevent StationSec from overriding it. As an afterthought, jammed the data stick into the UDP on the side of the NEOCOM for good measure and rushed an upload that probably wasn't totally secure but that was somebody else's problem now.

He waited a few long, tense moments but there was no subtle jolt of the transport getting overriden, and when it opened on the hangar deck and his Eris was still there with no sign of an ambush waiting for him, he finally allowed himself a sigh of release and put the nanite bomb back in safety mode.

Three minutes later his interdictor screamed out of the undock corridor in a way that left the docking manager swearing at him. Just before he went to warp, he flushed the bomb, the data disk and the clone out of the garbage airlock. Twelve seconds after his ship had vanished in a blizzard of radiation, another much larger ship slammed to a relative halt on station approach.

In his pod, Byre Tarn, formerly Byre Hakatain, smiled that same happy smile as he saw the Navy-Issue Scorpion “Arcurio Scar”, briefly register on his directional scanner. The smile broadened just a little as millions of kilometres put that brief glimpse of his older brother behind him. The flare and tugging, falling feeling of a stargate jump multiplied that number a billionfold in an interval that had no describable duration.

Now he just had to figure out if and how to use the Roth girl's data to leverage his colleagues in the FIO.

Edited by Ciarente.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Flashback, part 2: "Briefing"

Pakkonen III

Corporate ownership:
CBD Corporation – 67%
Caldari Constructions: 15%
Zainou Biotechnology: 11%
Misc. other/Independent: 7%

Planetary Synopsis: A standard type 2 Temperate world, colony established YC.98. Currently in colonial stage 5. Pakkonen III has a population of approx. 57.4 Million persons. Estimated unemployed vagrant population – 230K (+/- 3%). Principal exports – metallic ores, bacterial cultures, aqueous liquids, industrial textiles, livestock, luxury consumer products, foodstuffs, petrochemicals, plastics, alcoholic beverages, flora and fungi of potential pharmaceutical significance. Principal imports – human resources, electronics, consumer products, entertainment material, medical supplies, vehicles, Quafe. Capsuleer import/export data not available. Estimated contraband traffic level – very high.

CBD-specific information: Corporate jurisdiction covers 88% of the planet's population. Corporate colony capital – Yakiya. Other settlements of note – Eristaken, Port 13, Pakkonen Landing, Jesken's Reach, Retikko. 56% of corporate personnel of Pakkonen III colony live in the above-named settlements. Remainder addressed at agricultural or industrial settlements on all continents or sectioned to non-CBD corporate enclaves.

Your mission:
Primary Objective: Colonial security and policing in city of Jesken's Reach outsourced to private contractors,“Bastion Security Co.” Headquartered intersection of South 18th street and Jernau Road. You are to assume role of Spacelane Patrol investigative graduate, sectioned to Bastion Security for observation and protection of investment. Be efficient and competent in handling criminal investigations you are assigned, but project an air of naivety and youth under a professional and serious façade. Make the occasional minor and forgiveable rookie mistake.

The corporation is concerned by the high apparent level of contraband moving through Jesken's Reach. Your primary objective is to investigate possible causes for this above-average volume of smuggling, and especially to examine possible corruption and/or complicity inside Bastion Security. Full liberty is given to exercise your punitive discretion up to and including human resource reclassification, but if Bastion are involved at a level higher than lower-middle management, we would prefer legal action to be brought. Any Guristas, Serpentis, Angels, affiliated or independent criminal cartel operations are to be dismantled through strategic targeting of command structure and/or provocation of gang war. Ceasing contact with Bastion Security permissible if this will further investigation. Code phrase in this eventuality - “Think somebody tried to follow me last night so I caught a taxi home.”.

Secondary Objectives: Individuals Mejan “King” Kalesti, Irigo “The Reader” Vasten, Akia Junat, Byre Tarn believed to be present on Pakkonen III. See attached dossiers. Eliminate if possible, else secure information concerning movements since April YC110.

Tertiary Objective: General security monitoring and intelligence, reports to be given weekly unless priority Copper or higher.

Resources: You have been issued with an apartment (1540 North 11th, Apt. 404), personal funds in local corporate scrip (Equiv. 1.6 ISK), professional expenses account (with handling and approval agent) equiv. 400ISK/quarter. 1 personal vehicle, 4 seats, executive armour modification.
Also issued: 3x safehouses (Railyard South A, Warehouse 6; 223 West Menenden Av, apt. 104; Spacelane Patrol recruitment showroom, 95 1st street (recruiting staff have Silver clearance, briefed that a CBD corporate agent will use the space above the shop as a safehouse). code in all cases as per your public address. Visit ASAP and change.)

Armouries (identical to all three safehouses. Biometric locks with iris pattern scanners already programmed) each containing 1x gauss rifle, 1x projectile shotgun, 1x projectile SMG, 3x projectile handgun, 2x gauss handgun. Ammunition for all, 3x nervejam grenades, 2x fragmentation grenades, 5x thermite demolition charges, 1x nausea gas grenade, 2x smoke grenades, 1x stun gun. 1x complete suit modular armour, appropriate tools and materials for maintenance and repair of above, 1x set of silencers, scopes, customisation options etc for all weaponry, plus workbench. All weapons have full biometric locks and are tagless, all ammunition is rifling-falsified and has no nanotracers. You will be issued with a sidearm and armour by Bastion, to be stored with the Bastion armourer. Do not take your armoury equipment to Bastion HQ with you. Do not take your Bastion equipment to your public address or safehouses. Be aware that all Bastion equipment is nanotagged – return to public address and shower thoroughly after duty, then have housekeeping drones conduct a hypoallergenic clean.

Each safehouse also stores one personal vehicle (motorbike).

Platinum-grade emergency healthcare at all clinics and hospitals in the city.

Fluid-router personal comms device rated for unlimited calls within the State, extraterritorial calls by arrangement with your handling team

Personal pocket terminal with HUD contact lens/spectacles support, earpiece, microphone/dermal subvocalisation patch.

Replacements for any/all of the above may be paid for by the corporation, or may come out of your expenses account or be docked from your salary, depending on after-action review by your handling team.  

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Flashback, part 1: "A-7"

The schools of the Caldari State differ in a great many respects. With each falling inside the demesnes of one or another of the eight great megacorporations, and also within the ambit of different catchment areas, with different demographics, under the control of a dizzying variety of subcorporations, education contractors and citizen resources executive control boards, the result is that no two are quite the same. Not least because children inevitably introduce a touch of anarchy to any system.

The one constant is monitoring. In a society rooted in Meritocratic principles, the argument that each person naturally gravitates towards the role for which they are best suited is subtly aided from a very young age through observation, data mining and the findings of centuries of studies in child psychology. The children who prefer to run around on the padded part of the play yard, throwing the ball around in a vague semblance of the final, adult form of a game are encouraged towards physical pursuits. The ones who cluster at the other end of the yard and buzz around playing Pod Pilot are destined for a life of intellectual education and academia. With subtle labyrinths of extra checks, tests, observations, data points and feedback, the ideal is that a person's life can from a young age be set on the course intended to be most fulfilling to that person.

Such a system must – and does – account for a staggering variety of burgeoning child personalities.

The girl's first fight was at age four. A boy knocked her down while running after a ball. Where other little girls her age would have resorted to upset bawling and caused the teacher to reprimand the careless boy, this one picked herself up again and, even with hurt tears clouding her vision, attacked her classmate with such vicious energy that corporate security had to be called. The boy, two teachers and a Spacelane Patrol officer were treated for bites.

She was a tube child. No parents except in the genetic sense. No home except the creche she shared with other children, none of whom felt comfortable around her after the fight. The problem escalated – they avoided her when they could, ran scared from her when necessary. She responded with violence despite the best efforts of their caretakers to prevent it, which only made the problem worse.

She was eventually taken out of the creche by a tall woman in a silver-grey greatcoat. The other children, demonstrating the remarkable mental tenacity of the young, soon forgot all about her.

They took her name away. It had never meant much, having been randomly assigned to her by a computer when she had been born from the tube, but it had been hers. Now, only the initial “A” remained, tagged to the number 7 for identification purposes. She fought at first, refusing to respond to the label, insisting on doing nothing unless called by her name. She quickly found that discipline was a real thing in this new school. Before, “discipline” meant being sent to stand in the naughty corner, or stacking the chairs at days' end before being released to the lonely quiet of the Creche.

Here, discipline meant a firm slap across the face. She attacked the first person to slap her – she got slapped harder, a ringing blow that left her too dizzy and sick to even stand, let alone try to bite. The approach was simple and made her cry at first in frustrated anger, but unlike the weak bleating of her previous teachers, she came to respect it in time, and appreciate that it wasn't handed out arbitrarily. She was told in clear terms every time what she had done to earn the reprimand.

She stopped demanding her name and started answering to “A-Seven”. Before long, she became more comfortable with her designator than she had been before. Eventually, she forgot her name entirely.

Her class numbered more than a hundred children of both genders, all sleeping in one enormous barrack patrolled by armoured persons – she couldn't guess at their sex under the riot armour they wore, and she wasn't allowed to talk to them – whose function was to keep a barrack full of psychopathic pre-teens from each others' throats. Fights were broken up by the simple expedient of hauling the participants apart, binding their wrists and ankles and throwing them onto their bunk to cool down. Bigger fights prompted the use of charged pain prods that left many a child buckled over and mewling in pain. Riots were ruthlessly gassed. A-7 felt the sting of all the various humiliations the guards could give over the years, and by the time she forgot her name at age ten, discipline in the barracks was absolute.

They were educated, for much longer hours than she had experienced at her dimly-remembered first school. Calisthenics, gymnastics, swimming or running in the morning before breakfast. Physical education theory after breakfast. Gentler lessons in the afternoon, with no apparent theme – biology, chemistry, languages, acting, mathematics, engineering, mechanics, military history, literature, music and more. The lessons were well-taught by engaging, intelligent teachers who made learning fun. Then in the evening – practicals. Some were obvious training for war and killing. Martial arts with bare hands, martial arts with weapons, firearms training, medical training, assault courses, stealth challenges. Others were of no obvious practical benefit to a soldier, which was what they all now believed themselves to be. They learned how to play poker, they staged plays and concerts, they role-played conversations in a host of languages and dialects with assumed personalities and histories, they sat and discussed philosophy with their tutors.

The day started at 05:00. Breakfast was at 06:20, and lasted an hour, including recreation time. Lunch was at 12:00, again lasting one hour. Dinner was 17:00, lasting half an hour. They had an hour and a half for recreation before bunk time at 22:00. There were no days off and the pace was unrelenting, but the things they did were so varied, and their tutors so skilled, that every day was fun.

Time progressed. The class splintered into smaller groups as the aptitudes of each child were identified and they were re-assigned into smaller classes to better focus on their fields of expertise. A-7 found that her philosophy lessons came to an abrupt end, replaced with classes on people – how to read their emotions and manipulate them, and how to spot other people doing the same to you and fool them. She enjoyed those.

Failure had always been an option for the children – right from the first weeks, a few had quietly been removed from the barrack and the big board at the end of the room would have a big red stamp over their designator that simply said “Failed”. Now, it became rampant. The lessons began to encompass more difficult concepts, the practical lessons and exams got much harder. Classmates vanished at a steady pace, their “names” buried under that stern red stamp.

At age 14 – below the age of consent for CBD and the State, but the normal rules didn't apply to her - she had sex for the first time. K-1 was from a different education group, one which hadn't received the social training she had. He was almost alarmingly easy to seduce, pathetically eager to believe the things she told him. She enjoyed playing his emotions like an instrument, thoroughly enjoyed the physical act itself when she allowed him to think he'd finally convinced her to “go all the way”. She found a perverse pleasure in the sense of superiority she felt when he cried afterwards. She checked his name on the board in the morning. K-1: Failed. She wasn't surprised – instead, she allowed herself a moment of satisfaction at this confirmation that even their most intimate moments were closely scrutinized.

It also didn't surprise her when later that day, her social lessons discussed sex and seduction, and the power they held for controlling people. “You are all young, and in peak physical condition” the instructor told them. “Unwary persons, and you must remember that the average citizen is not wary of being seduced, will prove remarkably eager to obey your wishes if they are given even a hint that you might reward them with your bodies. We expect that none of you are afraid to couple with whomever you wish, whenever you wish and for whatever reason, nor will you be afraid to enjoy it. But remember – your openness will titillate some persons, and scandalize others. Your behaviour must forward your objective, and if your objective would be threatened by sexual openness, then you must become closed.”

That objective, of course, was assassination, and by the time that the board in the barrack had dwindled to only a handful of identifiers holding out a grim last stand against a red army, She and the others had all figured it out. None of them minded. There were no more failures throughout her seventeenth year of life, nor her eighteenth. Their practical lessons trained them on investigative procedures for homicide and how to elude identification and capture. They were never called upon to actually kill somebody in training, but they all knew that if and when the time came, none of them would hesitate for an instant. They had been selected, and eliminated, far too carefully and cleverly for that.

Their graduation was nothing special. They were each given a certificate describing them as “CBD Human Resources Troubleshooting Specialists”. The bland, corporate term described thirteen precision weapons, each one of them capable of telling a direct lie with a perfectly straight face, of assuming a whole new identity, of walking undetected in a crowd, or silent down an empty corridor. Each of them was nearly as lethal with their bare, unassisted bodies as they were with any form of weapon. A-7 was quietly proud that the difference between her best time on the assault course, and her time while wearing an extremely impractical formal dress, were within five seconds of one another.

They bid farewell to the classmates they had grown up with. It was a quiet, unemotional affair – a handshake and a good luck wish – and then each was off to their assigned posts, complete with address, cover story and cover job for which they were perfectly qualified.

A-7 was assigned to a lowsec settlement called Jesken's Reach. She had expected a shanty town – she got a thriving city of seven hundred thousand citizens. She had a house, a job with the local security contractors as an investigator, a rank – Lieutenant –  and a name. HER name.

She'd forgotten that name, and felt some mild surprise at seeing it written down again, but not the shock that some gut instinct told her that somebody else might have felt. It made, she realised, a good deal of sense to use a name to which she was at least distantly accustomed to responding. It would help her fit the role a little more naturally.

Her name was Aato Sihayha.  

Monday, 23 May 2011


The biggest part of a capsuleer's job is outside of their conscious control.

The human brain is an enormously complicated processor that handles certain types of information with an efficiency and speed that not even the very best quantum computer chips can achieve.

The process is known as "intuition", but what the human brain really is best at is Adjusting.

Throw a ball. Aim to hit a point. The hand moves, adding kinetic energy, fine-tuning a vector in three-dimensional space, adds spin, compensates for wind. Adjusts.

Catch a ball. Calculate trajectory and velocity. Move hand. Time the closing of the fingers, the relaxation of the muscles to rob the ball of kinetic energy. Compensate for relative motion of the thrower and the catcher. Adjust.

Balance on a beam. Predict shifts in weight before they've even properly begun. Clamp down on vibrations which threaten to build up to the tipping point. Adjust.

Fire a gun. Calculate target's motion, lead them. Compensate for wind, intervening cover, confusing intervening motion. Adjust to hit the centre of mass. Adjust grip strength to compensate for recoil. Adjust aim for the next shot. Adjust

Refine this process a thousand times over. Feed information to the brain. Watch as it makes snap decisions, without any conscious intervention. Watch it decide how things will be or should be as opposed to how they are, adjusts starting conditions accordingly, produces an output.

Feed this output back into sensors and computers capable of a billion times more precision. Analyse. Send back to the brain, which adjusts.

Fire a ship's railgun. Megajoules of power are summoned, meters of gun barrel swung to roughly the right angle. Targeting data is input, refined, adjusted. Smaller, more precise servos in the gun mount fine-tune the angle. Return, refine, adjust.

Microscopic changes to the intensity of the magnetic field in the barrel fine-tune the round's initial trajectory by milliseconds of arc.

Return. Refine. Adjust.

Nanovolts are robbed from one circuit, applied to another. Tracking computer predicts >99% probability that the round will no longer intersect the target's current trajectory.




Target velocity - 3,112.1617m/s. Target distance - 18,004.91415 meters. Target trajectory a complicated relative motion vector in three dimensions.

Tracking computer evaluation: <0.01% probability of hit.

The round has left the breech, 25% of the way along the firing coil, gaining kinetic energy.







Round leaves the barrel with a muzzle velocity of 0.11C.

Tracking computer evaluation: 3.07% probability of hit.

The target adjusts speed by 0.0022 m/s, adjusts vector by X<+0.001 radians, Y -0.362 radians, Z by -1.18 radians.

Energy flare. Tracking computer retroactive evaluation – >99% probability target hit.

Gravimetric tactical sensor return. Evaluation: Target well hit. Hull breached.

Radiation flare. Target warp drive loses power.

Target warp bubble implodes. Target destroyed.

New target command accepted. Aiming.

Calculating preliminary firing solution.