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[Novella] The Colonists

Author
Shaalira D'arc
Aliastra
Gallente Federation
#21 - 2011-09-23 00:47:09 UTC
"I appreciate the gesture. But, you don't have to be polite to the point of feigning an interest in my story."

"I am interested. We will be working together."

"Really, now." Ykaterina's voice rings with skepticism, the voluminous sleeves of her tunic crossing over her chest, "I suppose I could bore you, foreman, by telling you of a little Holder girl growing up in a manor of servants and machines. Of how this girl, who would have gladly spent her days chasing fireflies and playing with toy starships, nonetheless obeyed her distant parents to attend etiquette lessons, learn planetary dialects and master the myriad forms of the curtsy.

"She did it because it was expected; because it was proper. Because she was a faithful servant of God and a loyal member of her family.

"I could tell you of her husband, the insufferable but high-born wart that he was. Of how dazzling dreams of noble weddings and low-gravity waltzes faded before a bloated man that preferred gynoids to human company. Nonetheless, the duties of marriage were kept, and the rigors of childbearing borne.

"Why? Because she was a faithful servant of God and a dedicated wife.

"Would you like to hear of the children, perhaps? Of idiot newts made spoiled by an indulgent father? Perhaps you would hear of their mismanagement, of entire cities subjected to the tantrums of thirteen-year-olds and blue-blooded adolescents? No, because none of it mattered. Because there was a woman there, a doting matron who would clean their messes, suppress the revolts, and handle the grit of logistics and governance. Because she paid attention to her lessons.

"After all, she was a faithful servant of God and a dutiful Holder.

"But there was only so much she could do. The excesses were too much. A Speaker of Truths arrived, as brilliant as the gateflash that heralded his presence. The fire of investigation would consume everything, from toady husband to faithful wife to the entire litter of misbegotten children. Even the youngest, an infant who did no harm to anyone. The one child who shined with intelligence and compassion. He would be taken too."

Ykaterina's voice quiets. She utters, low and almost wistful, "It would have been wise to cooperate. That would have been expected, proper. That's what a faithful servant of God would have done, or a loyal citizen of the Empire."

"Why didn't you?" asks Domai.

The woman snaps, a bark of lightning, "Because he was my son."

The air between the two is thick with silence. Outside the cylindrical elevator, the rolling lights slow, then come to a stop. The door opens.

Domai straightens, hand clasping wrist behind his back. Eyes to the side, he begins, "I'm-"

"Don't," interrupts Ykaterina. She brushes a hand down the front of her shawl, "Spare me any stumbling attempts at apology or comfort." She turns her head to examine Domai with a look that sharp and searching. "Your laconic manner is deceptive, Foreman. But it serves you well."

Thale Domai inclines his head and extends an arm politely to the door, "Forewoman."

The woman sweeps out of the room, chin lifted. The man soon follows, tugging at his worn jacket.

<endfile>
Shaalira D'arc
Aliastra
Gallente Federation
#22 - 2011-09-23 00:47:28 UTC
Holographic Render, Intra-Cam Unit #33-S, Maintenance Network
Iteron-class Industrial Vessel, Carcasonne
Prow Observation Room, Deck 5
Feed begins 06.19.112, 13:32 Universal




A scarred man stands between stars and sea. On one side, a viewing port dominates a curved wall. Beyond, the void is broken by pinpoint lights and nebulous bands of violet. On the other side, a translucent wall glows dim and blue. The aquarium contains viridian and ochre coral, and silver slivers dart amongst them.

Thale Domai's footsteps ring loud in the spacious room. He approaches an empty desk and chair, made of the same black-green metal as the floor. Interface lights are dimmed and inert. The scarred man looks about, searching. His mouth opens to speak, but his eyes are drawn to the aquarium. Distracted, he steps close to the translucent wall and lays a hand on it. Refracted blue light dances over his face with the gentle contours of flowing water.

"Moya fish. They're probably native to the world of my birth."

Domai looks over his shoulder as he hears the voice. A slender, tawny woman stands before the previously empty desk, the interface lights behind her now lit up. She is clad in an airy Intaki robe, of the same deep red as her facial markings. Yet, despite the clarity of her appearance, her outline glimmers with a faint electric nimbus. A scan line slowly runs down, from head to toe.

The hologram smiles.

"Probably?" asks Domai.

"Yes," says the hologram as it walks soundlessly towards the translucent wall. "After all, we lack reliable records from the prehistoric period wherein a wave of colonization is theorized to have originated from EVE gate. What we do know is that the ecologies of garden worlds throughout the cluster are remarkably similar. By and large, chiralities are compatible, carbon is the structural element and water is the preferred solvent. Some species, aside from human beings, were common to many planets since before the modern era of expansion and consolidation. Wheat grains, for example, are ubiquitous."

The simulacrum stops side-by-side with Domai, lifting her gaze to the aquarium. "The Moya are unique. They've not been found on any other world."

"I see," says Domai, his attention drifting back to the ebb and flow of life before him. "They certainly don't look like any fish I've seen."

"Fish is a misnomer, in fact." explains the hologram. "The Moya have vexed the scholars and taxonomists of my world for generations." Her false arms spread as if to encompass the scene before her. "Watch them dance. Can you spot the electrostatic charges between the golden bulbs? Do you see the acidic emissions from the pores of the small pale ones? None of these creatures have internal digestive systems. They swarm, trap, and break down prey with external chemistry. Take any one of the moving parts before you and you'll find nothing approaching a central nervous system. Yet watch them for any length of time and you'll be convinced that there's a guiding intellect at work here.

"Individually, they are transient and helpless. Together, they are something more - something resilient and beautiful. Perhaps, they're not even aware of it."

Domai slips his hands into his pockets. He watches the hologram out of the corner of his eye as he inquires, "Are you supposed to be our guiding intellect?"

The holographic woman faces Domai fully and flashes an impish, bemused smile. Instead of answering, she begins walking back towards the desk, "You did not come here to speak of marine life. Do you also seek to appeal proposal number five?"

Domai turns back towards the center of the room but remains standing by the clear wall, "No, ma'am."

The hologram affects a sitting posture on the edge of the desk, crossing her legs and resting her palms on either side, "I asked you to call me Lira, yes?"

Domai frowns, "Yes."

The image of a woman smiles, "The offer of familiarity makes you suspect. You are a jaded man, understandably so, and you probably associate first-name offers with subterfuge and ulterior motives."

"That may be true," admits Domai.

"It matters not what you call me, Foreman Domai. I offer 'Lira' since most have difficulty with my full name. If the familiarity makes you uncomfortable, I find 'Pilot' to be an equally acceptable form of address."

"If that pleases you."

"It does," responds the hologram with unnatural swiftness.

Domai nods, pausing to press a fist to his mouth and clear his throat. "I wanted to speak to you on a more personal matter, actually."

"Oh?" prompts the image, her legs dangling child-like off the edge of the desk.

"Yes," Domai says. "Since the first orientation meeting, I've gotten to know the other Foremen." The statement trails off, hesitation obvious.

"Do you have reservations about any of them?"

"No- Well, none that are worth bringing up." The scarred man rubs the back of his bare head self-consciously. He continues, "I am more concerned about my own qualifications, in fact."

"Indeed?" The hologram draws up her feet and appears to sit, cross-legged, on one end of the desk. She leans forward with an unabashedly curious tone, "Go on."

<continue file...>
Shaalira D'arc
Aliastra
Gallente Federation
#23 - 2011-09-23 00:47:50 UTC
"You have quite a team here. I've met former holders, ex-mayors, discharged naval officers, and even a Thukker caravan master." Domai glances to the side, "Very experienced leaders. Measured up to them, I'm not sure I'm up to the task."

"Were you not once an officer in the Federation military, Foreman Domai?"

"Warrant officer," specifies the scarred man with some reluctance, "FIO."

"Yet, you led a unit. Yes?"

"Once," responds Domai with a fleeting, pained wince. "Just once."

"Your first and last command," recounts the hologram, her false eyes closing. "Warrant Officer Thale Domai, a Matari cultural specialist and liaison to resistance groups in the greater Devoid. Your final assignment was logistical enhancement of revolutionary elements. In short, supplying arms to rebellious slaves. Your orders specified that you and your unit were to assume civilian identities; under no circumstances were you to be connected to the Federation. Is that correct?"

The scarred man frowns with a subtle swallow and nods.

"You were captured."

"Yes," says Domai, the pain in his voice becoming more evident. He turns away with a grimace.

"You were held for twenty years, Foreman Domai. You grew old in captivity." The hologram's eyes open slightly, as if scrutinizing Domai's back, "But not once did you divulge information on your unit. The actions of your men in Devoid were never traced back to the FIO, and the passage of time inexorably buried the incident."

"It was the least I could do in their memory."

"Their memory?" The hologram's projected voice hints at confusion.

"Those men trusted in me. My decisions led to their deaths. I knew what would happen if their identities were leaked. Their names would be dragged through the mud of every holofeed headline from here to Tash-Murkon. Their families would be outed; there'd be retribution." Domai looks down at a trembling palm, "It was the least I could do, having failed them like that. You want to entrust more lives to my command? No. Find someone competent, trustworthy."

The hologram's legs unwind slowly and she stands, voice tinged with sorrow, "You don't know, do you...?"

"Know what?" Domai looks back, snapping with irritation.

The fake woman speaks softly, "It would make sense for your captors to lie to you, to instill you with despair. Perhaps they correctly gauged your dedication, but underestimated how loyal you would be to the fallen."

The slow realization on Domai's face is quickly replaced by suspicious disbelief, "No."

"You were the only one captured, Thale Domai. The mission was a success and your men survived, precisely because of your reticence. Many are alive still, retired, though all believe you dead. I'll have the data forwarded to your-"

The hologram stops speaking when the scarred man collapses to his knees. It starts with a soft chuckle, shoulders trembling. A laugh takes over, almost manic in its intensity. Salty water runs down from eyes wide and unfocused. He collapses further, hands on cold floor. Tears splatter around his fingers.

"Alive," Domai sputters. "They're alive."

The hologram hovers close, reaching hesitantly for the man's shuddering shoulder. In the end, her fingers and she draws back silently. The simulacrum fades, wispy and ghost-like, before vanishing completely.

Left alone in the darkened room, the scarred man sobs.

Above him, the Moya dance and dance.

<endfile>
Shaalira D'arc
Aliastra
Gallente Federation
#24 - 2011-09-23 00:48:08 UTC
Mail Server CCNet_SAA
Date: 06.20.112, 20:12
To: TDomai
Re: Agitators


Coucou!

I have inquired as you asked. Our mutual friend J.H. has been making quite a few contacts. Most are from the State or former military. He seems quite dissatisfied - makes you wonder why he did not simply choose the door, no? You are right to suspect that he is still planning something.

He's been approaching people outside his team, and it would not surprise me if he's spoken to members of your own. Perhaps it is a good time to interview some of your subordinates, mon ami? A leader should know where his followers stand.

Amicalement,


Henri

<endfile>
Shaalira D'arc
Aliastra
Gallente Federation
#25 - 2011-09-23 00:48:37 UTC  |  Edited by: Shaalira D'arc
Holographic Render, Intra-Cam Unit #99-G, Maintenance Network
Iteron-class Industrial Vessel, Carcasonne
Cargo Chamber Alpha, Habitation Package 201
Feed begins 06.21.112, 09:44 Universal



The corner camera records a simple room. A rectangular meeting table and chairs shine with the same green-metal as the gently curving walls. On one side of the table, a scarred man sits in workman's clothes, a simple synth-leather jacket worn atop. Across the table, a lanky Deteis man with coal-black hair is caught in the act of standing up as the feed begins.

"Thank you, Mr. Pascci," says the scarred man with an amicable tone. A datapad is set on the table in front of him. "Please tell the next one to come on in."

The Deteis wanders off-screen after a slight nod. Somewhere, something opens with a hydraulic hiss. The scarred man leans back in his chair, picking up the datapad and eliciting a shimmering display of text with a few taps of his finger. As he reads, another figure walks into view.

The woman is short, and her baggy technician's fatigues only emphasize her waifish figure. She removes a short-brimmed cap as she approaches the table, revealing an unremarkable face framed by close-cropped black hair. Her large eyes are as bright as stars.

The scarred man stands politely, extending a hand, "Ms. Seija Chiriya. Accounting technician?"

"Yes," says the diminutive woman as she accepts the hand and shakes. She is expressionless, head craning back to take in the scarred man's face. "You must be Foreman Domai."

Domai nods in confirmation, then sweeps with his hand, "Please, have a seat." As he settles into his own, he inquires, "Tea?"

The woman shakes her head mutely. She takes the seat across, upright, stiff and unnatural. Yet, her expression seems to be at ease.

The scarred man begins pouring himself a cup, a hint of steam rolling over the table. "We'll soon be working together, Ms. Seija, and I prefer to know my team. I've read your record. But there are some parts I'd like to ask you about, if you don't mind?"

"Sensible, Foreman. I have no objections."

Domai blinks, once, at the curt answer. He carries on, tapping the datapad, "The entry for your bloodline reads 'Achura/Sebiestor,' is that correct?"

"Sixty-eight and twenty percent, respectively. The remainder is comprised of a variety of ancestries, according to the genetic tests. 'Mongrel' was the term used by the census secretary, if I recall correctly."

Domai lifts a teacup to his lips, concealing a briefly uncomfortable fidget, "I see. Your parents-"

"Unknown, irrelevant."

The scarred man nods, mulling over his tea with a quiet sip. "You have a State Citizen ID."

"Yes."

"You are also listed as deceased."

"Yes. Legally, I was executed on the tenth of this month, at zero-nine-hundred universal." Seija pauses, then adds in a reassuring tone, "The records are not all in error. I was quite guilty."

"But before you were actually executed, the capsuleer..."

"Yes."

Domai leans back in his chair, "Perhaps it would be best to start from the beginning."

"Yes."

Datapad text scrolls in an incandescent blur, "It says here you were born in orbit of Vaajaaita I, specifically the Sukuuvestaa Corporate Warehouse station."

"Yes, that is probably true. To my knowledge, this voyage represents my first and only departure from that station."

"Did you work for SuVee?"

"For most of my life, yes. I had paid off my living debt three years prior, and was a full-time, salaried employee."

"Living debt?"

"An administrative accounting method used by the Vaajaaita I orbital authorities. The same or similar methods may be in use at other SuVee stations, but I would not know. All residents are subject to it."

Domai's single remaining eyebrow rises, "Can you explain?"

Seija lays both hands on the table, her fingers lacing together. Her tone is formal, pedantic. "Environmental services are taken for granted by many planetary businesses, which discount them as externalities. On space stations, however, commodities such as breathable air, potable water and heat-waste disposal are the products of carefully balanced systems. These systems, of course, require initial investment, maintenance, and ongoing renovations. The sum costs of providing a living environment are quantifiable, and are part of the expenditures of an orbital business.

"The Sukuuvestaa Corporation is not a charitable enterprise. Therefore, it seeks to charge service beneficiaries for the commodities enjoyed.

"Through statistical information gleaned from billions of citizens and employees operating on dozens of worlds and countless deep space installations, Sukuuvestaa has the data necessary to determine the air intake, water consumption and heat-waste production of the average individual. Scaled categories account for such variables as age, gender, profession, health-related characteristics and artificial enhancements. When measured against the sum costs of providing a living environment in a particular facility, it is elementary to determine individual apportionment of costs.

"Therefore, the exact monetary value of providing a living environment for a given individual is also quantifiable.

"The consumption of these commodities is, naturally, not always a voluntary process. However, excepting for rare cases, it is a consistent process and can be assumed to occur. Hence, living charges start to accrue when an individual first begins to enjoy environmental commodities. This includes when a new resident arrives at the station-"

Domai's eye narrows as he interjects, "Or when someone is born."

"Yes," confirms Seija in a neutral tone. "That is the most common point in time where living charges start to accrue for station residents."

"But a child can't pay..."

<continue file...>
Shaalira D'arc
Aliastra
Gallente Federation
#26 - 2011-09-23 00:48:55 UTC
"The Sukuuvestaa Corporation understands the credit limitations of new citizens. Therefore, the first payments are deferred until the child in question has come of age. It is not unusual for a station resident to begin his career in debt to the Sukuuvestaa Corporation, for environmental commodities consumed during the time of minority."

Domai asks, "But can't you just leave?"

Seija responds, "The Sukuuvestaa Corporation is a one hundred percent owner of the subsidiary that directly manages the Vaajaaita I orbital facility, which includings docking authority. Administrative accounting rules state that port services will be denied to any debtor of the Sukuuvestaa Corporation."

"I see."

Seija continues, "Affluent residents will often pay off the living debt of their children, at least in part. High-tier employees may also obtain, as part of their compensation package, living charge credits that they can share with their family. For those of neither category, direct employment under the Sukuuvestaa Corporation is the most common method of paying the debt." The woman's gaze lowers, her volume faltering, "Of particular concern are unregistered children, delinquents, squatters and people that do not exist in the station database. The station authority characterizes these individuals as Class C vermin, whose continued existence constitutes property theft."

Domai inquires, carefully, "You were one of the unregistered ones?"

Seija Chiriya proffers a smile, but there is a brittle quality to her eyes, "Not my fondest memories, Foreman."

"If you don't wish to speak of it..." Domai's suggestion trails off.

"There isn't much to say. The 'vermin' category is rather accurate. You live as a rat, scavenging what you can, drinking out of leaking and broken pipes. The spaces between walls becomes your home, your retreat. You crouch beneath the floor, watching through grates as the normal residents carry on. It seems so bright up there, so colorful. But you know the moment you show yourself you will be kicked and spat upon and worse. You're a freerider in a world of workers, of people struggling to pay for the air and water you steal for yourself."

The diminutive woman's eyes do not rise. Instead, they drift to the side, "The best you can do is not to be seen, not to exist. You live through watching others be happy, imagining that you are the one embraced, whose hand is being held. And when the patrols make their sweeps, you try to hide. Oh, yes. You try to hide."

"You were caught in the end," observes Domai, his scarred face wretched in twisted expression.

"We all are, Foreman. I know some fellow rats who found ways to escape the system for years. But you can't go your entire life without being careless, without making mistakes. I was lucky. I was the fourth one caught by the patrol that day, and they had already expended their anger and energy. I was just boxed about the ears a few times and bound for processing."

"Processing?"

"Genetic sampling, database integration. Your age is estimated, along with your level of indebtedness. An appraisal is made of your abilities and biomass, so that the corporation might determine how best to recover lost revenue. Again, I was lucky and was found to have aptitude. The others were not."

"What happened to them?"

"I do not know."

"And yourself? What kind of aptitude did they find in you?"

Seija lifts her gaze, her eyes wide and luminous, "Have you ever heard of a quantum savant, Foreman?"

"Only vaguely," Domai remarks. "Something about human calculators."

Seija shakes her head, though a genuine smile creeps into her lips, "No, we would be far less useful if that were the case. It is silly to imagine a human crunching numbers faster than a modern AI. Quantum savants work in conjunction with artificial processors, not in replacement of them. Given a matrix of data, a quantum savant can make accurate intuitive leaps without full comprehension of what's before them."

"I don't quite follow," Domai admits, lowering his datapad.

"Most people see a stream of numbers, Domai. We see the pattern. The weave and the rupture.

"SuVee trained me to see market trends. I was subjected to a constant river of real estate and property figures from throughout Lonetrek. Ten hours of each day, I was surrounded by a cocoon of holographic readouts, voicing observations to a dictation recorder. I was briefed each morning and debriefed every evening over my nutrient supplements. When time permitted, I was given lessons to make up for my lack of schooling.

"All this took place in-laboratory, of course. The staff observed me over camera and spoke to me via speakers from the moment I woke to the moment I slept. They watched as I ate and bathed and studied."

<continue file...>
Shaalira D'arc
Aliastra
Gallente Federation
#27 - 2011-09-23 00:49:16 UTC
Domai exhales, "That must have been difficult."

"Difficult?" The woman cants her head to the side, looking avian as she grins from ear to ear. "I was happy, Foreman. For the first time in my life, I was seen and heard. People wanted to know how I was doing, whether I was all right. They gave me purpose, and each day ended with a sense of accomplishment.

"The laboratory staff even threw me a party when my living debt was paid. That day, I met some of them face-to-face for the first time. They embraced me and congratulated me. There were smiles everywhere." The woman's voice is filled with vim and mirth. She continues, "I've kept some of the pictures, even. I was utterly loyal to the Corporation."

Domai shifts his weight in his seat, ill at ease. He observes, "It's not surprising you decided to stay on as an employee, then. What changed that led to your, ah, execution?"

Seija straightens, a somber undertone replacing her previous enthusiasm, "After the debt was paid, I had fewer working hours and more leisure time. But the habits remained. During my off hours, I would sit back and just browse data. It didn't matter where it was from or what it was. GalNet provided the numbers in endless varieties.

"There was something comforting about the stream, the oscillating images and emergent patterns. It felt like home. I even took to learning more about the Corporation, accessing the SuVee employee databases, public revenue sheets, and asset portfolios.

"That's when I started encountering the irregularities."

"Irregularities?" asks Domai.

"Patterns that don't weave properly. A normal person would likely not notice, even after thorough study. But I did. Contrived data is like that faint and disgusting aroma you can't quite place. Or that itch that lingers under your skin. It bothered me so much that I had my assistant AI start positing numbers into a hypothetical matrix. True enough, I found alternate values - replaced figures that would flow more smoothly than what was before me."

"Someone was falsifying the numbers."

"Yes. Over a period of months, it became my obsession. I felt the flaws, the sums that didn't add up. Those stitches led me back to the source. And I found it. It was the manager's office of my very own branch, just a few decks above in the same station. I drew up more data - transactions, purchases, transfers. My access was limited, of course, but it was a trivial matter to fill in the blanks. What I found was unauthorized withdrawals, understated profit reporting, and inflated expenses."

"The manager was embezzling," concludes Domai.

"Correct," affirms Seija, momentarily taking the tone of an approving school teacher. "Precisely that."

"Did you report him?"

"I was not that naive, Foreman. I was a new employee at SuVee, without tenure. While I now had a Citizen's ID, my record is clear on what I used to be. There was no way I could accuse a senior branch manager and survive, let alone succeed. There was little I could do but watch.

"And so I did. During my leisure time, I calculated what his corruption was costing the Vaajaaita I Orbital Administration. It was a sizable figure and growing with time. After a week, I decided to compare that curve to my own estimated value to the company over time."

"Why would you-"

The diminutive woman smiles, "Watching was one of the few viable options, but not the only one."

Domai frowns, his prosthetic hand clutching tightly on an armrest.

Seija continues, "Sure enough, there was an intersection. That occurred exactly twenty-eight days ago, the point at which the branch manager's continued embezzlement would start costing SuVee more than the entire projected net worth of my labors to the Corporation."

"That was the day you..."

"Yes. Twenty-eight days ago, I entered the office of the branch manager and murdered him."

The camera feed shows Domai staring silently at the woman across the table from him. The woman's face is blank, with an impeccably polite smile. Seconds tick away.

<continue file...>
Shaalira D'arc
Aliastra
Gallente Federation
#28 - 2011-09-23 00:49:38 UTC
Domai breathes in sharply, running a hand over his scalp, "Why did you wait until then?"

"The cost curve was just an estimation. There was always the possibility that the branch manager would cease his activities, for one reason or another, and the costs of his embezzlement would flatten out. Acting prior to that point in time would have potentially cost the Corporation more. But after that point, removing him at the cost of myself was a demonstrably efficient exchange."

The scarred man reaches for the datapad, "According to the autopsy report, bludgeoning was the cause of death."

"Lacquered metal ashtray imported from Saiso III," explains Seija. She adds in a helpful tone, "It was on his desk."

"The report also says the cadaver suffered from severe post-mortem trauma."

"The manager benefited from an expansive health and dental package. There was the possibility that even clinical death could have been undone by cybernetic rejuvenation. In order to preempt this possibility, I had to do irreparable damage to the brain.

Seija remarks with a hint of embarrassment, "I am not trained in medicine or anatomy so my approach was a bit crude. Messy."

Domai's chair scrapes as he draws it closer to the table, sitting up straighter, "That's not a lot of time between the crime and execution."

"I cooperated fully and admitted guilt. The hearing was very short." Seija's lips thin into a bittersweet smile, "The assistant manager was displeased at the prospect of losing me as an asset, but there was no getting around corporate bylaws in a case like this."

"Any regrets?"

The woman starts to shake her head, but stops. She clutches her cap tightly to her lap, scrunching it between her fingers. "Well, I did feel lost while I was waiting in my cell. Having been stripped of my role, I had no purpose. My duty to the Corporation was done, and it had no further use of me. I was just biomass waiting to be reprocessed.

"I felt like a rat again.

"But then the supervisor entered my cell one morning, and informed me of the capsuleer's purchase. I made one last profit for the Corporation, and then I was released from custody. Under a temporary identity, of course. Justice had to be done, at least publicly."

"Why did you make use of the InterBus ticket? There were other places you could have gone. A different SuVee branch, perhaps."

"I was utterly loyal to the Corporation, Foreman. But it was done with me. Technically, it had killed me and recycled the remains." Seija's luminous eyes rise to meet Domai's, "The ticket was for me. Someone out there was interested in me. I had to find out who it was.

"And I don't regret doing so. The podder gave me a new purpose." She pauses for a soft giggle, "It reminds me of the first heady days in the laboratory, in fact. I look forward to working with you and the rest of the team. I truly do."

Domai shifts in his chair, discomfited, "I trust I'll not end up like your previous manager?"

"Don't be silly, Foreman. The branch manager was a waste of organic mass, a drain on Corporate resources. I have a strong feeling that you will be a value-enhancer. Call it a savant's intuition." Seija nods twice, her voice ringing with certitude, "You will be an asset to the enterprise."

The scarred man manages an uneasy smile, "Thank you, Ms. Seija. And thank you for your time. I'll not take up any more of it, this morning."

The woman stands, doffing her technician's cap, "Shall I call in the next one?"

"That won't be necessary. I'll call for them myself later." Domai's nod is affable, "See you in the mess hall."

Seija Chiriya flashes a true smile, her expression eclipsed by bright, bright eyes. She walks away, leaving the camera's field of vision.

Somewhere, a door opens with a hydraulic hiss. Then, it clanks shut.

Domai reaches for an intercom button on the table, "I just interviewed the one you were concerned about."

A speaker voice responds, "Oui?"

"I doubt she's been contacted."

"I will trust your judgment on this, mon ami. Did you warn her about monsieur Hocke?"

"No. Actually... I'm considering warning Hocke about contacting her."

"Oui?"

"I'll explain later."

"Of course."

Domai releases the button and reaches for his forgotten cup of tea. He grimaces after a lukewarm sip, then leans back. The scarred man stares at the chair the woman used to occupy, quiet and contemplative.

<endfile>
Shaalira D'arc
Aliastra
Gallente Federation
#29 - 2011-09-23 00:50:04 UTC
Video Render, Helmet Camera Unit
Pressure Suit #C221000005
Feed begins 06.21.112, 16:20 Universal



The video feed begins pitch black. A man's breathing can be heard, echoing in the confined space of the pressure suit's filtration systems.

Suddenly, there is space. A gloved hand grips a metal rung and pulls the camera perspective out of a dark hatch. The void spins past, dotted with stars, until the view settles. A plane of green-tinted metal provides the ground beneath the star-lit sky. The suit wearer walks soundlessly across the exterior of a starship hull, the camera's perspective bobbing along with his helmet. His steady breathing is the only noise.

Once, the suit-wearer glances back. His hand tugs at a cable that binds his belt, a cable which snakes back to the open hatch. Somewhere beyond the small aperture, perhaps a half kilometer away, the edge of an engine flare lights up the world like a blue sun. The view spins once more as the suit-wearer faces forward.

The hull slowly curves, like a small world rotating beneath the suit-wearers' feet. The slope reveals another pressure suit, standing some distance ahead.

The person ahead moves through the void with an uncanny grace. Soundlessly, heavy boots slide and stomp over the hull surface. Arms thrust out, then twist, as flattened fingers weave through the air. The form has a martial tempo, a warlike attractiveness.

The suit-wearer continues to approach, his breathing quiet. The second figure abruptly stops moving, drawing upright with boots still clamped to the hull beneath. An opaque visor turns towards the camera.

A voice crackles on speaker, a deep bass, "I see you, but I don't recognize the suit. Who's there?"

The suit-wearer stops approaching, some ten paces away from the man ahead. A familiar voice speaks, made tinny and uncomfortably loud in the helmet's confines, "Thale Domai, Foreman of your team. I assume you are Ryargar Usttig, our ground security specialist and licensed self-defense instructor."

The man ahead raps the side of his helmet and the reflective visor slides upward. The clear helmet reveals a swarthy, grinning face with brown, almond-shaped eyes and broad features. Beaded dreadlocks dance within his helmet, unbound by gravity. "Yeah? How'd you know to find me out here?"

"I asked your students," Domai responds. "It's impressive that you have a following after having known these people for only a few days. That wasn't a traditional Starkmanir martial art I saw you practicing, was it?"

The man named Usttig rests his hands on the belt of his pressure suit and shakes his head, dreadlocks swinging behind his visor. He laughs good naturedly, "Well. I'm impressed, Foreman. On two counts." The man's grin turns sharp, "First, that you picked me out as Starkmanir. Most people peg me as a Brutor. Second, that you could guess what is or isn't a traditional art."

Usttig begins circling to the right, palms upraised and gesturing as he speaks. A glow flashes from the soles of his boots as the magnetic clamps turn on and off. "Matter of fact, you're right. What I practice is something my old teacher liked to call Ógildur-Konst. Familiar?"

"Afraid not," says Domai. "Why is it that you practice out here?"

Usttig stops in place, the arm of his pressure suit making a wide sweep over the stars, "Because out here is the heart of my discipline. The traditional arts are bound by the circumstance of environment. You may perfect a strike on Matar. But will it work equally well on Varkal? Kullheim?" Usttig's fist lashes out, a blur ending in a sharp snap. A bright flash emanates from his magnetic boots. He continues, "At 1g, a boxer lowers his center of gravity to add power to his punch. Will that work at 2g? How about half a gee? Should you even throw a punch at all in low gravity?

"The guiding philosophy of Ógildur-Konst is simple. Go back to the basics. Master combat in zero-gee, and you can fight in any gee." Usttig draws his hand back, turning to look at Domai with a wolfish grin, "Would you like a demonstration?"

"A demonstration?" The helmet-camera's vision shakes from side to side. "I actually just came here to to talk. Get to know my team better before we arrive at our destination."

The Starkmanir drives a fist into his palm, "This is how I talk, Domai. Practicing calisthetics on your own can get dull. I hear you're ex-military. How about we have a friendly match?"

<continue file...>
Shaalira D'arc
Aliastra
Gallente Federation
#30 - 2011-09-23 00:50:24 UTC
"Out here? You're mad."

"Out here is the real thing!" Usttig spreads his palms wide, "You want to get to know me better? Best way to know a man is to fight him. Or have you Federation types gotten too used to your drones fighting for you? Perhaps you have the machines please your women for you as well?"

"Heh," Domai grunts. "Fine." The tops of his fists can be seen rising into the camera's field of vision.

The speakers crackle with laughter, "That's it!" Usstig's soles rise slowly from the hull, his arms deceptively languid and relaxed to either side. He drifts, toes a few inches from the curved starship exterior.

The camera vision lurches forward suddenly and Domai's teeth are heard grinding.

"You'll have to turn off your magnetic boots for this, Foreman. Or do you intend to catch me with your feet glued to the wall?"

The camera view jolts slightly, a tapping sound emerging from the side of the helmet. An almost inaudible hiss follows. Suddenly, the ground no longer seems so stable. The angle of the world begins to move, slowly.

Beneath the sheen of his helmet, Usttig smiles. One hand beckons.

A rough blare announces the activation of Domai's pressure suit jets. He closes the distance in less than a second, throwing his right arm forward in a textbook straight cross. Usstig looms in the camera vision, growing larger very swiftly as Domai approaches. The Starkmanir makes no motion aside from tilting his head slightly. Domai's fist connects, flush, on the side of Usttig's helmet.

Bonk.

The sound of the glancing impact travels up the interior of Domai's pressure suit, reaching the helmet camera. Usttig begins spinning, slowly. Meanwhile, Domai hurtles away, stars spinning and hull entering and leaving the field of vision.

Usstig's voice crackles on speaker, "Remember, Foreman, that you fight in the void. In zero-gee, the laws of action and reaction translate directly! Throwing a punch like that will affect you as much as your target."

Domai's suit jets flare in short, staccato bursts. His vision struggles to stabilize. When it does, the ship hull is directly overhead, a metal sky. Ahead, the apparently upside-down Usttig allows the tips of his feet to scrape against the hull in a strange pirouette. His spinning motion slows, and stops. He bends his legs and draws close to the hull, "Now, if you want to hit someone..."

Usttig shoves with his legs and dives forward horizontally, resembling a swimmer launching into the water. But unlike a swimmer, his gain in speed is constant. His open palms slide forward, reaching towards Domai.

Domai's guard rises instinctively, arms crossing in front of the camera's field of vision.

Usstig twists suddenly, rotating as he approaches. One hand snakes up and takes a hold of Doma's forearm. His voice cuts through the static, "Seize their body, then strike!"

Domai's arm is yanked forward, and at the same time Usstig plunges an elbow into his abdomen. The camera vision tilts forward violently as Domai doubles over, hacking and coughing. Over the sound of the scarred man's retching, the speaker crackles, "Hit off center, and much of the force is lost on spin! Target their center of gravity, and make their body internalize the shock!"

The screen fogs up briefly as Domai hisses in concentration. He twists his other arm over, taking a hold of the wrist that grabbed him. He spins his scissoring legs towards Usttig's head. The other suit's helmet looms, and the man within can be seen smiling calmly, "And if they grab you..."

Usstig's arm rotates rapidly in a circular motion. Domai's attack is thrown off-course as his entire body begins tumbling. In the backdrop, stars tumble madly as all sense of orientation is lost. The speaker hisses, "...remember that your opponent isn't grounded. Toss them off balance!"

Again, the suit jets blare, but they only seem to exacerbate the spin. Arms flail out, reaching for purchase but finding nothing. The hull spins in and out of view at a maddening pace, slowly growing more distant. Domai's breathing can be heard quickening in hyperventilating panic.

With a hard jerk, the camera view stabilizes. A dull thud echoes when Domai's head bangs up against the interior of the helmet. The man groans. Slowly, the angle of the camera peers down to his feet.

Usttig stands on the ship's hull, both hands keeping a firm grip on the cable connected to Domai's belt. He begins reeling it in slowly. The Starkmanir's voice rattles over the speaker, "Can't have you flying out into space, Domai. It'd be bad luck if our team loses its Foreman before we even arrive."

The breathing within the helmet grows calm and even, if exaggerated. Domai accepts Usttig's offered hand as soon as the other is in reach, and his boots clamp down on the hull once more.

"Just now, your magnetic boots were off," observes Domai. He asks, "How did you maintain contact with the hull? Even during the spar..."

"Keen of you to notice! That's a technique for the advanced students. I'll give you a hint, though." Usttig maintains his grip on Domai's hand and leans close. With the helmet visors almost touching, it is easy to see the Starkmanir's sharp, wolf-like grin, "Van der Waals forces."

Domai's response is mute. A glimpse of his confused expression reflects off of Usttig's helmet.

The Starkmanir laughs abruptly, clasping Domai's shoulder with his free hand before letting go. "Good of you to spar with me, Foreman. You didn't do half bad for someone without zero-gee training."

<continue file...>
Shaalira D'arc
Aliastra
Gallente Federation
#31 - 2011-09-23 00:50:43 UTC
The camera tilts down as Domai's hands rub over the front of his suit. They rest on a small indentation on his midsection. Domai says, "I may have to join your class."

Usttig's grin lingers, "You would be the oldest of my students. That bother you?"

"Why should it?"

The other pressure suit takes a step back, arms crossing, "Well, well. Not so prideful that you can't stand on equal level with a younger generation for the sake of learning something new. I'm really starting to like you, Foreman. If only more of the tribes thought the same way."

Domai inquires, "Have you taken a lot of flak for practicing a non-traditional art?"

Usttig turns halfway, helmet tilting upwards to survey the star scape. His voice comes rough over the speaker, "Tradition, hah. The new chains, brother. You would think the homecoming would be enough, that people would be happy just to be reunited with lost kin.

"But it's not. It's not enough that the lost tribe has returned. Apparently we have to become what we used to be, or what they think we used to be. The more traditional tribes - the Brutor, the Vherokior - push us, drive us into reclaiming old traditions. Nevermind that our knowledge of them is largely lost, piecemeal. But they're adamant; they say that the traditions - how we think, how we act - are who we are."

"You disagree?"

"No, I think the same way. We are our beliefs, our values. But we're not the same people that we were centuries ago. The cluster has changed around us, and we've changed with it. We've picked up new ideas, adapted to the circumstances. We survived. Binding us to the old ways is a slow death, but a death nonetheless.

"Ógildur-Konst is a modern art, one for the space-faring age. It's a stark departure from the old Starkmanir martial arts. These days, that's enough to get a practitioner harassed, his students heckled. If you're lucky, you're just ostracized. I decided I was through when a disciple of mine, a promising one, got caught when a mob stormed one of the refugee camps and torched some converts' church. I didn't know where I was going to go, I just knew that I had to get out."

"Then the capsuleer found you."

"Then she found me," Usttig's voice turns wry. "Come with me, she says. Let's start a new colony somewhere far away, somewhere new. Somewhere the old traditions can't reach. Hell yes. That's why you're out here, right Foreman? You're looking for a fresh start too, I wager."

"A fresh start..." repeats Domai, his voice low and pensive. Before he finishes the thought, a green light blinks on at the corner of the camera. Usttig pauses, moving a hand to one side of his helmet. A green light can be seen glowing inside his visor as well.

"It seems our pilot is back online and the ship is coming out of dormant mode," observes Domai. "We best head below-decks before we enter warp."

"Sounds like a plan, Foreman. How about I introduce you to the other students?" Usttig approaches and clasps Domai's shoulder affably as they begin making their way back to the hatch.

<endfile>
Shaalira D'arc
Aliastra
Gallente Federation
#32 - 2011-09-23 00:50:59 UTC
Personal Log of Mahvash Nour Ykaterina
Entry Date: 06.22.112



The assembly began trepid. Their appearances, their backgrounds were so vastly different that even two of the same world seemed strange to one another. Unease marked their gathering, and it was only their deferential respect to the chaplain that had them join hand-in-hand.

Yes, the Chaplain. It was she who represented why we stood together that moment. She who bore the raiment of her office, and the symbols of the one true God.

The idea was a simple one. A special mass was to be held just prior to the transition, and we would join hands in festive hymns as the wormhole overtook our vessel. The song of our faith would carry us to the new world.

As we gathered, I began to doubt the wisdom of the idea. Of so many spheres and stars were we, that our dialects clashed in a riot of accent. How could such strangers form a chorus?

But when the song began, my reservations evaporated. It was not the disjointed noise that I feared, but a glorious polyphony. Rather than shatter the notes, our differences were the manifold layers of a rich tonality. I realized that my worries had been foolish. We may have been born of different soils - forged of exotic rocks - but beneath crass flesh and bone were souls united. We were all of the Faith.

The wormhole consumed us as the hymn reached its crescendo. When the familiar stars vanished, I felt not despair but release. When alien colors swept the sky, I felt not bewilderment but transformation.

And for the first time since I was small girl chasing fireflies, I felt hope.

<endfile>
Shaalira D'arc
Aliastra
Gallente Federation
#33 - 2011-09-23 00:51:15 UTC
Mail Server <404error>
Date: 08.15.112, 14:00
To: KLSarpati
Re: -


Included are relevant data segments provided by our informant. The files should give you insight into the people involved. The data is almost a month old, but more up-to-date information will be forthcoming. You have the channel and decryption files to receive updates from the insider directly.

They found something, something big. You can do whatever you like to the survivors. Full payment will be yours upon delivery of the artifact. If you need more weapons, the line of credit remains open.


NSL


<endfile>
<end download>
Tagera
Dog Nation
#34 - 2011-10-02 13:08:16 UTC
Great story.....any more to this?
Rostok Kemal
Soleil d'Or
Warped Intentions
#35 - 2011-10-03 17:34:30 UTC
Yep, really digging the story so far and looking for more. :)
Shaalira D'arc
Aliastra
Gallente Federation
#36 - 2011-10-10 16:37:49 UTC
Thanks for the kind feedback. The original concept of the story was something resembling Canterbury Tales. That is, you have a number of travelers who come together by circumstance and are all headed in the same direction. The 'plot' is simply one short story after another as each of the travelers recounts their own tales, revealing something about themselves and the society which gave birth to them. In this case, the colonists each come from the major empires - Gallente, Amarr, Caldari, and Minmatar - and their personal story is both character exposition and a critique of the societies which created them. The overarching story was meant to be open-ended.

I didn't plan for more than that, but my realization of the 'Canterbury Tales' idea was imperfect and I probably imparted too much of a unifying plot. I'll look into picking up the story again and continuing in a new chapter, now that there's a cast of characters thrown together.
Kara Yauntyrr
Ministry of War
Amarr Empire
#37 - 2011-10-13 17:59:32 UTC
Really liked it and hoping for a sequel.
Seriphyn Inhonores
Elusenian Cooperative
#38 - 2011-11-09 20:13:35 UTC
Bumping for great justice!
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