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[Novella] The Colonists

Shaalira D'arc
Gallente Federation
#1 - 2011-09-23 00:35:58 UTC  |  Edited by: Shaalira D'arc
[OOC Introduction]
Credit goes where it is due. Strong inspirations have been drawn from the River of Gods by Ian McDonald, the Battle Angel Alita manga, Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, Star Control, and of course the EVE Chronicles. There may be others that I'm not aware of.

Feedback is welcome.
[/OOC Introduction]

This data node has seen much abuse. Its case is scarred with both lacerations and scorch marks. Fortunately, the contents appear to be largely intact. The decryption protocol is one common to the Serpentis Corporation, and provides only a momentary obstacle to a capsuleer trained in file hacking.

Node Contents:

Attached Files:
Shaalira D'arc
Gallente Federation
#2 - 2011-09-23 00:36:23 UTC
<begin download...>

June 4th, YC 112 00:00
Secure Commerce Commission

For immediate release to all registered capsuleers:

In accordance with the Planetary Development Treaty, which will come into effect on June 8, YC 112, capsuleers will be permitted full access to surface resources, allowing them to purchase and operate facilities on most planets in New Eden and in wormhole space.

The SCC has reviewed all possible scenarios that accompany the rapid expansion of capsuleer influence in the cluster and has decided unanimously that it will not be placing any artificial limit or restrictions on the acquisition of planets. In light of this, CONCORD is issuing the following recommendations to all capsuleer alliances, corporations, and individuals interested in managing planetary assets:

  • Seek planets outside of known high-traffic systems
  • While CONCORD will maintain its efforts to keep peace in high-security systems, it cannot guarantee complete safety
  • Early preparation is highly recommended - ensure that your skills, equipment, and research are updated

The SCC is confident that this treaty will usher in a new era of unity between capsuleers and planetary populations, forging a stronger economy in every corner of New Eden.

Eman Autrech
Chief Executive Officer
Secure Commerce Commission
Shaalira D'arc
Gallente Federation
#3 - 2011-09-23 00:36:44 UTC
Pilot Log 06.4.112
Thoughtstream begins 09:33

When the message blinked, I considered the possibility of a bug in the personal assistant AI. It certainly had its past foibles; I dare not explore the logic behind mixing Classical Luminaire Opera and Patar Neo Tribal Synth in the same playlist. And, usually, I would not consider a policy announcement by the SCC to be a 'high priority' transmission.

Of CONCORD's manifold branches, the Secure Commerce Commission does not rank high among the institutions relevant to my day-to-day operations. As long as the market interface led to the desired movement of ISK and goods, I couldn't care less about the minutiae of local trade regulations and station logistics.

But after I skimmed the brief transmission, I cut engines, closed non-essential interfaces, and ran through the message again. This time, I took it in with the slow deliberation of a human reading with vanilla-organic eyes.

The paucity of the transmission spoke volumes. Phrases like "full access to surface resources" and no "artificial restrictions or limitations on the acquisition of planets" implied a carte blanche for capsuleers. Yet, for all the delegated authority, the audacity of CONCORD underwrote the entire correspondence. With a stroke of the key, CONCORD subordinated planetary governments, regardless of locale, while asserting jurisdiction over the recently-discovered worlds in w-space. It was the latter claim that concerned me most.

True to form, Corporate comms lit up while I read. The flickering avatars of my colleagues hinted at cautious excitement tempered by well-practiced skepticism. As far as capsuleer corporations go, we were a modest and loosely-organized outfit. Yet, we were also a tight-knit lot, and the exploration and development of w-space was our business.

And, for what seemed like the first time, we were looking at the planets beneath our thrusters.

Tentative planning ensued. Barely a dozen individuals discussed the fate of two dozen worlds. To be fair, the planets we claimed were uninhabited and inert. Compared to the brilliant aura of radio waves and radiated energy surrounding any hi-sec metropolis, these orbs were but mute rocks.

Briefly, I imagined this scene repeating itself throughout k-space. Immortal pilots chat in low orbit over unknowing nations, claiming resources, splitting continents, and bartering entire ecosystems. The sheer economic imbalance between a capsuleer and the local population would render the former demigods; a single purchase would move cities and unearth mountains.

I did not linger on those self-important thoughts. Hubris is dangerous in deep space.
Shaalira D'arc
Gallente Federation
#4 - 2011-09-23 00:38:28 UTC
Video Render, University of Caille Security Network
Feed begins 06.6.112, 12:46

The observation balcony is an afterthought, a protrusion over a chasm of light and humanity. Below, the bowl-shaped arena simulates the effects of zero gravity. Youths in jumpsuits perform arduous gymnastics amidst floating globules of sweat. Their motions are archaic, dating back to the calisthenics of the first long-distance voyages through hoary jump gates.

The stars beyond the dome above are not simulated. The academy station sits in geosynchronous orbit beyond a small moon. An orb of cratered ice shines balefully overhead.

An aperture opens, and two figures step onto the balcony.

The first is an elderly man, slick white hair combed forward over a mottled scalp. His formal suit, of an old Crystal Boulevard print, is tailored to his thin, bent frame.

The second is a woman with ageless skin. Her features are Intaki, lips and cheeks painted with bold, traditional markings. The woman wears a jump suit of a plain and severe cut. She pauses at the end of the balcony, glancing directly up towards the camera feed. Her dark pupils reflect with the lattice weave of artificial optics.

She says, "It is kind of you to meet me on such short notice, Dean Harrow." Her tone is polite, if perfunctory.

The old man raises his palms and responds with a smile. He adds, "The University values our capsuleer patrons. We have departments dedicated to the development and patching of the latest lesson plans, compatible with the latest pod-"

The woman looks down from the camera, interrupting, "What you mean to say is that we're very lucrative to you. I have seen the pricing of your lesson plans. Some of them would dwarf the combined tuitions of an entire generation of your conventional students." She lays a hand on the hovering rail of the balcony and casts a dismissive nod towards the youths below.

The old man replies, eyes drifting downwards, "Be that as it may, our branch of the University of Caille has never lost its focus on the traditional studies, it is the future gen-"

The woman flicks her hand up dismissively, tone bored, "It was not an accusation, good Dean. Just an observation. But on that topic, you seem to have taken on an excess of students this cycle. Developments on the ground, I take it?"

The old man's surprise shows in his stammer, "Why y-yes, it was our decision to accept a larger range of candidates this year." He gestures with withered hands, taking in the assemblage of students, and speaks with a gentle tone, "Gen-V plague on Cilas- ah, one of the western continents. Not to mention rumors of another draft registration. There are many families fearing for their children right now. What can we do but widen our gates and let in as many of the gifted as we can? I fear, though, that our facilities are strained to the limit."

The old man hesitates, and inquires with a hopeful note, "I was not aware that many pod pilots kept track of our troubles planetside."

The woman folds her arms, responding coolly, "We do not. The excess traffic delayed my docking schedule and I made some inquiries."

The old man's crestfallen look lasts briefly, soon replaced by the patient mask of a polite smile.

The woman continues on without any indication of noticing. She holds up her palm and an underlying lattice work shines just beneath her skin. A holographic interface emerges, a wire-framed globe with a halo of scrolling text. She says, "I require data, course plans, and reference libraries pertaining to mineral and ecological resources on planetary bodies. Also needed are relevant technological manifestos concerning power generation and architecture in high gravity environments. Further…"

The old man coughs politely. When the woman pauses, the old man says, "The Planetary Development Treaty is not new to us, madam. We have made the necessary preparations for the inevitable inquiries from the capsuleer community. The new department is called Planetology."

<continue file...>
Shaalira D'arc
Gallente Federation
#5 - 2011-09-23 00:38:55 UTC
"Planetology?" The woman lifts a thin eyebrow, "Sounds dangerously vague. Do elaborate."

The old man nods, "It is an eclectic collection of a variety of disciplines, ranging from meteorology and climatology to geology and xenobiology. In particular, it focuses on operations on the macro level, in anticipation of the… ah… unique perspective of capsuleers. We have also included courses on extraction technologies and atmospheric travel."

"Yes… yes." The woman's eyes glint with the reflection of the holographic display. Lists of treatises and lengthy cyclopedias flow at a frenetic pace. "I believe this is sufficient."

The old man adds, "Mind you, this knowledge has been… abstracted. One could spend a lifetime studying these fields in detail. Actual operations on the ground will require specialist personnel at the facilities themselves."

The woman's eyebrows scrunch together and she inquires with a hint of distaste, "You are saying I need to take on additional crew?"

"Ah, 'crew' may be the wrong term," the old man's correction comes cautiously. "Many of the standard extraction facilities require personnel in permanent residences. Technicians and workers living on the planet, if you will."

In response to the woman's expression, the old man adds quickly, "Such specialists are quite common on most worlds. I am sure a woman of your resources would have no trouble hiring locals for the task.

"'Most worlds' are not the worlds I am considering." The woman lets out a soft sigh and continues, heedless of the old man's questioning look, "Very well. Let me see your pricing plan." She snaps her palm into a fist and the holographic display disappears noiselessly.

The old man dips his head and fishes a datapad out his suit jacket. He hands it over. While the woman pores over it with a critical eye, the dean asks, "If I might be so bold as to inquire…?"
"If you are, ah, docking here for some time yet, we have a class of cadets graduating this afternoon. None have ever met a capsuleer in person, but they all aspire. If you were to drop by, if only for a few minutes, I'm sure they would be thrill-"

"No." The woman snaps. She taps a few entries onto the datapad and thrusts it back towards the old man. "I am purchasing your plan in full; payment in ISK has been cleared."

The old man nods resignedly, accepting the datapad and bowing his head, "Your patronage is always welcome madam… " His voice trails off while his eyes drift downwards. The woman pushes off the rail and strolls towards the door.

"Honored madam, I fear there is an error with the transaction. You have overpaid us by a large margin-"

"There is no error," she responds without turning her head. "Have your facilities upgraded by the time I dock here next."

The aperture closes behind her.
Shaalira D'arc
Gallente Federation
#6 - 2011-09-23 00:39:17 UTC
Pilot Log 06.9.112:
Thoughtstream begins 15:59

The Beta of binary system [redacted] is one of my favorite stars. Not for its rather ordinary red hue, nor its unremarkable corona of blistering flares. It is the particular texture of its solar wind that appeases me; I adore the way it strokes my hull and knuckles my sensors as would a firm masseuse.

I cloaked in a decaying orbit and rested my engines, succumbing to the lethargy of inertia. I could hear a gentle susurration as the amount of sedative in my pod adjusted automatically.

Pilots pride themselves on their processor-enhanced multitasking. My more experienced colleagues do not think twice about absorbing a dissertation on quantum mechanics while simultaneously maneuvering in a pitched dogfight. But as for me, I needed rest. The compressed time of virtual-environment lessons had left my higher faculties fatigued.

The respite did not last long. My attention wandered while I floated adrift, and I found myself connecting to GalNet. I needed workers.

Instinctively, I masked my connection. The ad-hoc beacon network of w-space does wonders for concealing one's login. I had no illusion of hiding myself from CONCORD's hardwiring; it was other capsuleers that I guarded against. My competitors lurked in the shallows between physicality and the sea of information, and the last thing I wanted to do was to make a big splash.

I uploaded a doppleganger avatar, a helper AI through which I would make the key transactions. The doppleganger replicated itself to function simultaneously on the myriad local networks I intended to reach, forming a hierarchy of collaborating intellects. Front organizations and intermediate bank accounts unfolded like a fractal rose. It was as natural as breathing.

Comfortably shrouded in fictions, I made my first inquiries.

Immediately, I discarded the initial results. The slave cartels and breeder-owned colonies offered the cheapest deals for mass labor, no strings attached. However, I was not interested in subjecting myself to the uncertain market and semi-legal logistics of Vitoc. Nor would I entrust the delicate and powerful tools of industry to unwilling laborers.

The next candidates were a bevy of guilds, unions, trade associations, talent agencies, and labor provider corporations. I drifted in silence, watching a dozen live feeds as the dopplegangers entered comms channels and asked for quotations and pricing assessments.

In the end, I closed them all with an irritated swipe. Frontier space lacked stable network beacons, let alone working stargates. DED presence was nonexistent. The planets were not properly surveyed for geological and biological hazards, a process that might take years to complete. To work under such conditions, they wanted danger premiums, contractual commitments, visitation rights and other guarantees: concessions I did not bother considering.

With the AIs in idle chatter, I closed my physical eyes and floated fetus-like. Thoughts flowed. To get around these demands, I needed workers with no attachment to settled space. A staff not only open to residing on site, but willing, no, eager to set up on an unexplored planet.

I needed colonists.

The dopplegangers were rewritten. In their place, I sent out data miners - virtual drones clambering through the cracks of GalNet like gleeful electronic goblins. Bit by bit, they dug out files matching my search criteria. They collected the bios of the incarcerated, exiles, refugees, the impoverished, and the disgraced. Each holographic face was matched to names, resumes, criminal records, public statements, and psychological profiles.

When they were done, a galaxy of lives glittered in my mind's eye, stretching from one end of the virtual landscape to the other. I reached out, clutching at the data and sifting it between my fingers like sand on the beach.
Shaalira D'arc
Gallente Federation
#7 - 2011-09-23 00:39:46 UTC
House Reive Salvation Facility, Mehatoor VI
Stasis Block B, Cell (Solitary) #552
Holographic Render, House Rieve Security Network
Feed begins 06.11.112, 15:45; 07:15 Local

The cell is bereft of color, and form. The backdrop is the dull white of plaster, sans texture. In its space, a man sits. His shadow travels upwards where the floor seamlessly merges with wall.

The man is bald, his scalp a criss-cross of scarring. Improperly healed, they are knotted and ugly. The scars descend down half of his face, ruining it. There is a vague depression where his left eye should be, and his lips are twisted into a perpetual half-grin.

He is garbed in a grey tunic. As he sits, he scoops nutrient gel out of a tin with a scuffed spoon. His other arm is clutched close to his body, limp and bent. The sleeve seems too loose.

Metal scrapes echo.

The cell door opens, a materializing rectangle that swings open. Briefly, a wealth of sensation floods the room. Outside, spartan metal corridors run across a barren landscape of rolling yellow dunes and distant red mountains. A howling wind carries in metal sounds, drone sounds, human sounds. The door shuts, and all of that is snuffed out. The resulting silence is stark.

In place of the door stands a tall figure in a robe adorned with red and gold.

The priest begins to pace around the prisoner, his hands hidden by the voluminous sleeves of crossed arms. He says, "Thale Domai, Mannar. Sampling puts you at roughly 43 years old, almost half of which you have spent in our custody. You are accused, among other things, of murder, manslaughter, theft, and acts contrary to public morals."

The prisoner slips the spoon into his mouth, staring forward.

The priest frowns after a moment's pause, continuing, "Yet perhaps the greatest of your offenses is the refusal of redemption. At any time in the past decades, you could have chosen cooperation and freedom. Instead, you have chosen pride and misery."

The prisoner chews and swallows. He drops the spoon into the empty tin and places it gently before him.

"The psych profile claims you are still sane, prisoner Domai, despite the best efforts of our staff. Admittedly, it was composed before they switched from the cruder methods to sensory deprivation." The priest stops at the prisoner's side and leans forward, voice rising. "You are still cogent, aren't you?"

The prisoner responds with an even voice, made rough by dehydration, "I hear and understand, Chaplain Kalahonne."

"Hrm." The priest straightens and runs a hand down the front of his robe pensively. A signet ring glitters. "Others react quite differently when they see me enter the cell, prisoner Domai. They realize that one of my final duties as your warden is to perform the penultimate rites. Have you given up on life, prisoner?"

The prisoner closes his eye and says with a wry note to his voice, "Your staff made that choice for me, Chaplain Kalahonne. They do not even permit me to die."

The priest steps over in front of him and squats down, "Things do not have to be this way, prisoner Domai. It is not a choice between execution and submission. Providence has delivered you into our custody. As every slave is told, ours is a God of redemption. He will embrace those that come to him willingly, no matter their background. It is not treachery to answer our questions, prisoner. It is a new path, the path of truth."

The prisoner rests his palm on his knee and looks down to the ground, "I do not agree."

"Despite whatever Gallente skepticism you have picked up in the Federation, the one God-"

The prisoner lifts up one hand, "I apologize for being unclear, Chaplain. I do not agree that the only choices are death or cooperation." He looks up, his remaining eye sharp, "You are not here for the penultimate rites, are you? My execution is not imminent."

The priest goes silent, his expression guarded. The prisoner continues, saying, "I have been here twenty years. I have watched." He taps the cheek just below his eye. "Penultimate rites occur on rest days, or holy weeks. You always do them in the evening, just after dusk. I know you, Chaplain. You never rush. What's really going on?"

The priest stands, rearing to his full height. He looks down at the prisoner solemnly and parts his sleeves. Several small objects tumble down onto the bare floor before Thale Domai; the tokens have the clinical sheen of plastic.

The prisoner reaches out tentatively, a finger trembling, "ID chit, translator earpiece, InterBus ticket." He glances back up, voice laced with suspicion, "What is all this?"

Chaplain Kalahonne says, "A third party interceded with Holder Arc Reive, head of the Mehatoor branch. You are to be released into that party's custody."

"But you didn't agree, don't you? Hells, you would've had me chasing after some kind of frakking redemption, not even knowing that I was about to be freed-"

"About to be sold!" The priest nearly shouts. He takes a breath and says, "Before you leap at this apparent stroke of good fortune, prisoner Domai, let me share with you something I heard on good authority. This third party is a pod pilot, a capsuleer." The word emerges with a sneer.

The priest goes on, "You have been with us for twenty years, prisoner Domai. You do not know the arrogance of this breed of starship pilot. They have the pride of gods with all the vices and flaws of man. They are capricious and violent, and by and large they view the rest of humanity as worthless chattel beneath their notice. Know that this pod pilot will treat you as such, using you until you die violently in some mad scheme beyond your ken."

The prisoner stares down at the objects on the floor.

<continue file...>
Shaalira D'arc
Gallente Federation
#8 - 2011-09-23 00:40:04 UTC
Chaplain Kalahonne's voice turns gentle, "If you accept the Faith, you will be a convert. You will be under my authority, and not that of House Reive. I can save you from this fate."

Thale Domai picks up the InterBus ticket and holds it up, looking past the reflective logo at his captor. He says, "I have been at the mercy of your god for twenty years. Perhaps it's time I meet a new one."
Shaalira D'arc
Gallente Federation
#9 - 2011-09-23 00:41:29 UTC
Video Render, Boundless Creation Docking Authority, Surveillance
Boundless Creation Factory, 12th Moon of Hek VIII, Pier F-3099
Feed Begins 06.15.112, 07:40

The concourse is a whirlpool of traffic. Building-sized apertures frame the octagonal space, each leading to the cyclopean piers where starships berth. Crowds stream through these openings in both directions, creating a multi-vectored effluence of humanity peppered with machines.

Automated dispensers service a line of waiting passengers, holographic avatars materializing among them to take orders. The ever-smiling illusions wear uniforms with the Quafe logo.

The customers are garbed in the styles of a dozen worlds. A tattooed youth in synthetic, raw leathers stands behind a businesswoman whose hair consists of illuminated optical fiber. A man in a somber Caldari suit speaks to a portly woman with a half-cybernetic face and a belt drooping with drone parts.

Above it all, hovercraft skim in orderly lines. The vivid colors of their hulls reflect the flowing sea of light beneath.

A scarred man settles into a vacant niche between two dispensers. A cleaning drone, small and insect-like, scurries out of the way. Dropping a duffel bag at his side, the man leans into the wall and draws back his left sleeve. His hand, despite the flesh tone, has a metallic sheen. Fingers flex.

He stares pensively into his palm until he notices the movement at his side.

The Gallente slips soundlessly into the niche and props himself up against the side of a dispenser, facing the scarred man. His black hair is slicked back and his face remains boyish, despite the faint wrinkles at the corners of his mouth and eyes. He wears a zero-friction silk shirt and adaptive pants patterned in denim. He also wears a knowing smile.

When the Gallente reaches into his pocket, the scarred man stiffens. The Gallente quickly says, holding up his other hand, "No, no. It's just a viada fruit. I picked it up on the way here, but it must be eaten quickly, you see." He fishes out a mottled yellow orb, coated in frost. "I can tell by your face that you are not familiar with this Intaki vice. Let me show you its attraction."

The Gallente raises the fruit to his mouth and crunches into it. Without chewing or swallowing, he holds it in his mouth. A faint bubbling sound emerges. After a few seconds, he closes his eyes and exhales. Sparkling orange fumes fill the niche.

The Gallente sighs in appreciation, "The scent is intoxicating, no? The fruit is found only atop the tallest peaks of Intaki V. The flesh cannot exist in solid state at room temperature. Instead of chewing, you let it boil on your tongue and inhale the delicacy. The Intaki say it is a tempting aphrodisiac and a dangerous hallucinogen. I say it is a slice of heaven. Would you like some?"

The scarred man shakes his head silently.

"Mon dieu, man. You would do well to be more friendly. Your face is scary enough as is." The Gallente pauses to take another bite. Within seconds, brilliant red fumes exit his nostrils like a dragon's breath. "To tell you the truth, I had my eyes on you the moment you spoke to customs."

In response to the scarred man's expression, the Gallente laughs, "No, not like that. Not like that. Let's just say that I suspect we have a common interest. In fact, I know we do."

"Have we met before?" asks the scarred man cautiously.

"No. I doubt it." The Gallente's expression turns serious and solemn. He taps the side of his head, "That expensive translator earpiece. I have one of the same model. And that ID chit? Nano-built, like mine. If we were to compare InterBus tickets, I'm willing to wager that they head to the same destination. I'd say we have the same benefactor, you and I."

The scarred man watches the Gallente for a few seconds before extending his right hand, "Thale Domai."

The Gallente accepts it and smiles, "Henri Gaston."
Shaalira D'arc
Gallente Federation
#10 - 2011-09-23 00:42:15 UTC
Audio Record, InterBus, Customs and Passenger Safety Department
Shuttle Étoile, C Deck, Compartment 12
Recording begins 06.15.112, 08:32


"No, no. You misinterpret my expression. This is not the smile of hope; this is the black smile of a man on way to the gallows. You see, I am under no illusion about our fate and I use the term 'benefactor' only in the most ironic sense.

"You look skeptical. Allow me to explain.

"We have storied pasts, you and I. With you it is obvious - suffering's pen has writ all over your face. No offense. As for me, I will be candid in saying that I am a man on the run. I will also admit that if it were not for the machinations of our unknown pod pilot, I would most likely be dead and you would have to suffer this long trip alone.

"Have you ever heard of the Pèrales family? Ah, your blank face is answer enough. There are many tiers of rich, mon ami. On one hand you have the local rich. These rich might be known in a city or two, own a dome perhaps. If they are lucky, their children will get to study in orbit. Move up a few tiers and you hit the planetary rich, the people who slip their relatives into the Fed Senate. These are the people who have hub station decks named after them; that same name can get you into any Crystal Boulevard gala without an invite.

"Go up another tier and you find the Pèrales.

"Gather enough money in one place, friend, and what you get is a psycho-social singularity. Wherever the Pèrales go, people and rules bend around them. This is not mere fact; it is the expectation of a dynasty that has been rich so long that their genetic fibre cannot contemplate otherwise.

"To that incredulous expression, let me posit that the rich seek immortality but only a few attain it. It is the foreseeable consequence of being thought of, and thinking yourself as, a cut above the rest. Suddenly, death's democratic demagoguery is an affront. Most content themselves with a simulacrum - a heir with a trust fund, or a charity bearing their name. Only the upper tiers glimpse the real thing.

"You have heard, perhaps, of Jerseppe, the Rodan patriarch whose centuries-old body is a wrinkled husk plugged to a floating chair that is, at once, life support and personal transport. Or Yvette Moulai, the former holoreel starlette whose skin is grotesquely malformed by anti-senescence drugs. The Pèrales family has its own immortals, and the one I have had the distinct pleasure of meeting is the monster child, Inagio.

"Inagio Pèrales was ahead of his time. A century before companies like Cromeaux, before even Poteque had dipped its fingers into the business, Inagio was funding his own little cloning clinic. In those days, the methods were crude. You couldn't simply take a cadaver and squish flesh-clay until genes matched. Nor were mental transplantations as instant and seamless as they are now.

"No, monsieur Pèrales had to grow his own seed in a tube. And when the infant-copy was ripe, cranium joined wetware. They say the child Inagio watched his old body die, that cherubic face smirking like a demon.

"You see, my taciturn friend, This was not a child with the personality and predilections of a dead man. Those were the tube-clones of yesteryear. What was birthed was a rich man in a child's body. He kept all the vices, all the evil wants, of his past life.

"Did you think he would wait two decades to bed a woman? Sex is more than the stirring of the loins, mon ami. It is expression. Think of the frustration, the emasculation, of a wealthy and powerful magnate who could not get it up. That lurid angst was cruelly expressed. I have heard stories of the toys he used, the acts he performed. Terrible stories.


Words fade to a quiet length. A crunchy bite is followed by a long exhaling.

"It was I who sought out Inagio Pèrales. I have a particular skill set, and rumors whispered that he had a particular job.

"I sought him on Halle III, a burning rock of a planet. Improbably, it hosted a château dome of the Pèrales family, a self-contained red light district made literal by the effulgent rivers of molten rock.

"They call it L'Enfer d'Halle, an inverted city built into the overhanging rim of a caldera, so that illumination rises upwards from the fires beneath. The magnificence of the city's construction was that tint of the biodome could be changed at whim. The crowds of pleasure-seekers might dance to cerulean flames one moment, and a jade inferno the next.

"It was monsieur Pèrales' création magnifique. And it was in one of the stylishly squalid dance clubs of the lower dome that I knew he would be lurking that night.

"The club was a jagged landscape of naked metal. Intentionally incomplete scaffolds supported stepped tiers of dance floors. Through grilles and in between rivets, you could see the distant bubbling of the active caldera. Yes, my friend, the club-goers reveled over the geothermal instability. You could see the madness in their dance.

"I loitered near a bar on the upper tier, just beneath Inagio's overhanging office of one-way tinted mirrors, through which he observed the festivities. That is where I saw the angel.

<continue file...>
Shaalira D'arc
Gallente Federation
#11 - 2011-09-23 00:42:35 UTC
"You can tell by her demeanor that she was clearly out of place. Her features were pretty but unremarkable, the simplicity of a hydroponics girl but with a hint of Jin-Mei ancestry. She wore a straightforward, pale dress of meta-silk and stood alone and awkward with her drink. I might have passed her by were it not for the lure of her eyes. That such plaintive innocence could exist there of all places was nothing short of a miracle.

"I spoke to her, of course, and found to my amazement that her alluring naiveté was not simply for appearances. She was a budding architect from one of the garden worlds of Halle, interned here to work on the château dome's demanding infrastructure. My guardedly suspicious inquiries found her wholly ignorant of the Pèrales family, bubbling with enthusiasm with her work, and yet homesick for the cultured glades of her home.

"I was enthralled, and I could not help but keep her company. I entertained her with tales of past jobs, laced with hinted danger and intrigue. I spoke of the worlds I visited, the people I've done business with, and leaned in close to whisper conspiratorially of well-known secrets. She soaked it all in with great, big eyes.

"You must think me boorish, friend, for showing off to young country woman with such stories. But it served a purpose. The bartender and his assistant, undoubtedly serving as eyes and ears of the monster child, were never far off. I was, in short, announcing my presence to monsieur Pèrales whilst advertising my talents.

"Indeed, it was not long before I felt the hand of a uniformed thug on my shoulder, whispering Inagio's polite yet undeniable invitation to the club's office. I regretfully parted with the young woman, promising unconvincingly that I would find her once my business was done. I left her on the upper tier balcony; her smile was heart-wrenching.

"Up the metal spires I went into the mirrored lair. The office was shockingly normal, horrifying in its banality. For at its center, behind a desk of real wood, sat the monster-child.

"Words, friend, cannot describe the shuddering disquiet caused by monsieur Pèrales' gaze. I knew, from various sources, that he had inhabited this body for decades. Yet the nature of the clone's genetic tailoring was for unnatural longevity. He had the size and look of a boy no more than twelve. But you can see in his eyes and in that smile, that horrible, horrible smile, that something older lurked inside.

"'Good evening monsieur Gaston,' he began, "'I am surprised you did not invite your lady friend to join us.'

"I could feel my stomach tighten when he said those words. I think I kept the dread out of my voice when I told him, 'It is an honor, monsieur Pèrales. As for that woman, she is just someone I chanced upon down below. She is nothing.' I thought to protect her by dismissing her, hiding her in unimportance.

"To my relief it seemed to work. The unchild made a thoughtful burbling sound, then spoke, 'I have been told that you were the who cracked the CBD data node in the Fleur nebula…'

"And so it went. I slid into the business discussion much more comfortably. He hinted and I offered. We bantered, trading bits of information until we both knew that each had something for the other. A bit of puffery to market my abilities, without going so far as dangerous boasting - that sort of thing.

"In the end, despite my half-hearted negotiation, he made me an offer well beyond what I expected. The payment was in isk, friend. And I was certain that the job was well within my talents.

"I was leaning back in my chair, exulting in the moment with a long sip of my drink, when I noticed Inagio Pèrales standing by the wall-window overlooking the club floor. At the center of his view, on the forefront balcony, the young woman stood watching the lower tiers. She defied the flames with an awed smile.

"The monster-child said to me, 'It is an ugly dress, don't you think? It does not suit the décor, not in the slightest. See? Everyone else knows not to insult the aesthetic.'

"I could not think of anything to say. How could I? In the end, I think I stammered a 'Oui, monsieur.'

"Inagio Pèrales turned his attention to me, 'I think she should be removed to preserve the atmosphere. You will do this small favor for me, won't you, Henri Gaston? Call it a small token of faith, so that we might seal the deal.' He gestured vaguely with his underdeveloped hand, 'A push will do. A careless shove. Then we will see if she is hiding wings in that ugly dress.'

"He added, 'After all, you said it yourself. She is nothing.'

"I had prepared a laugh, hoping to turn it all into a joke. It died in my throat as I looked on his face. His eyes, mon ami. I could see nothing but those abhorrent eyes. I realized, then, the unspoken threat. I already knew too much. If that young woman left the club alive, I would not. I knew this with chilling certitude."

<continue file...>
Shaalira D'arc
Gallente Federation
#12 - 2011-09-23 00:43:02 UTC
Several seconds of silence follows. A second voice, rough, asks, "How did you escape?"

The question is met with a bitter chuckle.

"Ah, my silent friend, I thank you. You flatter me, you truly do. I am no romantic, who would risk life and career for a pretty face, nor am I a holoreel rogue with a golden heart, treading dark paths while unable to hurt the innocent. I am a coward, my friend; I am a survivor.

"I had to stop and gather for myself, for I had remembered just then. I remembered the look on her face- the confusion, the realization, the fear. I remembered how she tumbled from the balcony, pale dress spinning, until she caught the rising, sharp spiral of a twisted girder. And I remember most of all, the accusing look in her dead eyes, my reflection in them small and wretched. That hurt expression stabbed me through the heart. All else was numb and cold, but that one pain I could feel.

"I feel it still.

"There were screams from the dance floors as her blood flowed down the girder. Some laughed, thinking it another holographic spectacle. I do not know when security was finally called in, when the 'accident' was dutifully catalogued and the body disposed of. Nor do I know how Inagio Pèrales reacted in his shielded office. Yet, for all the commotion, I could almost hear the monster-child barking a demon laugh at the angel impaled in his hell.

"And that is how I came to work for him.

"You have a strange look, monsieur Domai. Perhaps I should explain why I tell you this story.

"Life is dirt cheap in New Eden. In this era, terraformed worlds are an isk a dozen. Billions upon billions of people live on thousands of planets. How many? No one knows; no one can know. The numbers of humanity are beyond counting, and will continue to grow despite the everyday atrocities of the powers that be.

"We are a ******* renewable resource, Thale Domai. If you or I disappear, no one will notice. Thousands wait to replace you, whether you're a freelance nethack, or a scarred fugitive, or some innocent young architect. We are cheap and we are expendable.

"They know this, the monsters that aspire to be endless. Inagio Pèrales was a mere prototype. His immortality is crude; his wealth old and stagnant. We are about to meet the real thing. Podders are unbound, their transition between bodies seamless. They accumulate isk as naturally as breathing.

"I tell you stories of little demons so that you will know what to expect when you meet a devil.

"You were expecting, perhaps, the story of why Henri Gaston is a man on the run? No, this is the story of my black smile. That other story I will tell you another time. Perhaps. After all, we just met."

The second voice speaks, dry, "And a story of murder was better suited to a new acquaintance, I take it."

The laughter that responds is jovial.

"Yes, yes. Now you are getting it. In whatever purgatory we have been reincarnated into, my quiet friend, murder will be the least of what we face."

After a poignant pause, the second voice asks, "Do you ever regret what happened in Halle?"

"Every day of my life, mon ami. Now, strap in and make yourself comfortable. We have a long trip ahead."
Shaalira D'arc
Gallente Federation
#13 - 2011-09-23 00:44:31 UTC
Composite Video Render, Sisters of Eve Port Security
Arnon IX Bureau, Exchange Quarter, Hangar C-33214
Recording begins 06.15.112, 19:09

The hangar is an orifice that opens, cliff-like, into the station's abyss. The canyon of swelling lights, the wall of gargantuan, identical openings, suggests interior space on a scale that would encapsulate cities.

On the edge of that hangar, one of thousands, an intra-station shuttle hovers like a bloated gnat perched on the lips of a titan. Two men step off the unfurled docking ramp and pause.

"Merde," breathes Henri Gaston as he looks about, "la collection d'humanité loufoque."

Between the high walls, amidst container pyramids and tower stacks, a vast crowd mills. Their heterogeneity hints at a variety of origins; the squat denizens of high-gravity worlds mix freely with the slender forms of lifetime orbitals.

The crowd is a riot of color in defiance of the drab Caldari metalwork, and it is not merely their clothes that provide the patchwork of hues. Ebony flesh, seared by the hottest of stars, contrasts with the ghost skin of oort cloud prospectors, for whom solar warmth is a distant memory. Artifice explores the parts of the spectrum that nature does not; body mods, nano tattoos and genescripts abound.

Thale Domai grunts softly in agreement. He says, "Now, I suppose we find this Quartermaster."

"Instead of attempting the impossible, how about we ask some of those who arrived before?" Gaston says, already making his way towards the nearest group. "Excuse me, gentlemen…"

His greeting falters as he nears the knot of men sitting in a crevice between sealed containers. They gather round a unit heater, the holo-fire illuminating hard faces, naked prosthetics, and faded Home Guard uniforms. They turn to look at the Gallente, expressions far from friendly.

Domai curses softly under his breath and rushes to catch up.

The closest of them stands up and turns around, a lumbering motion befitting a man with the build of a small boulder. A chiseled Civire face looks down at Gaston and hisses, "You sure you're bothering the right people, frog?"

"As a matter of fact, no," says Gaston, standing his ground with a widening smile. "I was looking for information, and this seems the wrong neighborhood for it."

"That right?" The Civire's massive hand tightens into a fist. Movement rustles over the circle of men sitting around the heating unit. Gaston slides back one foot.

Domai crosses the remaining distance with several quick steps and interjects himself between Gaston and the Civire, extending an arm between them. He gazes up at the large Caldari with a level, impassive expression.

The Civire looms over Domai and looks him over. "You. You're military, aren't you?"

"No," says Domai. He adds, "Not anymore."

The Civire remarks, "Even if you've moved on, it doesn't leave you. For me, it was the Home Guard's 14th."

"The Fourteenth," says Domai thoughtfully. "Orbital Insertion. Word was they disbanded."

"You've heard of us, then."

"Fought you. Black Rise."

The Civire grunts. His fist loosens and he extends his hand towards Domai. "Name's Hocke. Jarot Hocke."

Domai accepts it and shakes, "Thale Domai." The small circle of veterans sit back down, relaxing. Gaston lowers his hand from his rear pocket.

Domai adds, "Man behind me is Henri, Gaston. We just got here and we're looking for the quartermaster."

Hocke casts a nod over his shoulder, "Quartermaster's desk is past the freak show. It's between the tractor cranes and the gel dispensers. Follow the wall on the left and you can't miss it."

Domai offers a thankful nod, then realizes that the Civire hasn't let go of his hand.

Hocke's voice lowers, taking on a serious tone, "What do you think of all this?"

"All this?"

"All this. Having some ******* deus ex machina crash into your life, get you some free hardware and meds, and send you on an InterBus trip to some station you've never even heard of. No explanation given - not even a bloody name. Yeah, yeah, I could have just dropped the ticket in some recycler and stayed right where I was. As if I had a choice. As if any of us had a choice. Ask around. This crap smells like a goddamned fedo."

Gaston folds his arms and looks between the two speakers, eyes sharp on the conversation.

Domai says, carefully, "I much prefer where I am now to where I was a week ago, and nothing could convince me to go back. If this pod pilot is responsible for it, then I'm at least willing to hear what he has to say."

Hocke sniffs sharply, eyeing Domai's face, "That's all well and good, but what do you think that egger pulled us out of the fire for? Not out of the goodness of his isk-grubbing heart, that's for sure. Look, we were in a tough spot and he fixed it. That doesn't mean we're bought. Doesn't mean we'll agree to be fodder. Frak 'im if he wants to send us out to die again. You understand me?"

Domai says, "Crystal."

"Good. Good." Hocke pulls back his hand. Domai looks down and finds that he's holding a comms chit. Hocke turns back to the fire, "Watch your back, Domai. We'll keep in touch."

<continue file...>
Shaalira D'arc
Gallente Federation
#14 - 2011-09-23 00:44:54 UTC  |  Edited by: Shaalira D'arc
Domai locks gazes with Hocke for a moment longer and nods. He walks off, heading deeper into the hangar while pocketing the chit.

Gaston walks alongside, casting a dubious look over his shoulder at the circle of men, "Dangerous."

"You didn't seem very intimidated," Domai says distractedly, picking his way through the motley crowd.

"Not them, mon ami. You keeping that chit. Let's say they start trouble and get caught. Someone traces their comms to you and you get pegged as a collaborator. You know what they do to mutineers on a ship?"

Domai lifts his remaining eyebrow, looking sideways at Gaston as they walk, "You think we're going to be on the crew of a starship, then?"

Gaston sidesteps as a body modder slides past. Fur brushes against his skin and slitted eyes regard him with a playful wink. As Gaston looks over his shoulder, eyes following the swaying tail, he says, "Our mysterious benefactor is a pod pilot, my scary-faced friend. Where else would he be? Ambulating on some space station?"

"I guess so." Domai slips his hands into his pockets, pointedly staring straight ahead. He nods to the front, "Think that's it."

The flow of the crowd parts before an elevated platform. A line of people leads up the platform to a 'counter' of crates and cylindrical containers. Beyond, several figures are seated with datapads in front of them. The figures, two women and one man, wear what could have been uniforms. The crisp blue dress jackets are worn in various states of dishabille - cuffs rolled up, shoulders embellished with primitive feathers or polished scrap, buttons undone to reveal flowing nano-tattoos beneath.

Gaston leans towards Domai while they get in line, whispering, "Spacers."

"How can you tell?" asks Domai.

"Look at them," Gaston responds. "That pallid complexion, the awkwardness with which they move. Can you see those metal bits? Those aren't the the glued-on toys of the tech-hip planetside."

Domai's lips curl slightly as he follows the line up the platform, "Worried about your looks?"

"You wound me," chuckles Gaston. "I am not all vanity."

Domai says, "I don't think you need to worry either way. Like you say, the people up ahead are spacers. But you, me... we're not. Just like most of the crowd."

Gaston folds his arms and glances to the side, eyes drifting while the two shuffle along with the line, "You have a point. Still, why then would a pod pilot call together a hangar full of random people?"

"Random? I'm not so sure. But we may get our answers here in just a moment." Domai remarks as he nears the desk. Raising his voice, he says, "Excuse me. We just arrived, and our instructions told us to seek out the Quartermaster?"

The woman sitting on the other side of the container desk has a head half-shaven, the remaining blonde hair drifting over one side of her face in glossy bangs. She wears her tracking beacon as the gem of a necklace, tucked into the cleavage of an open flight jacket. Without looking up from a portable holo-comp, she responds, "Put your InterBus stubs on the counter."

Gaston and Domai exchange glances before digging through pockets. A pair of white and copper polymer chits clatter onto the make-shift desk. The woman looks at them briefly, types into her interface with curiously metallic fingertips and a drone behind her rattles into activity.

While the chitinous drone sorts a stack of electronics, the woman asks, "Domai, Thale Andressi and Gaston, Henri Renault. Is this correct?"

Domai nods. Gaston flinches but does the same.

The drone returns with two datapads, placing them on the counter. The woman says, eyes never leaving her interface, "We have been waiting for you. You are the last foreman to arrive, Domai. Take these pads; they have your profiles and assignments."

"Foreman?" asks Domai, picking up the datapad in front of him and pressing a palm into it.

"Profiles and assignments?" asks Gaston, continuing "Pardon me, madam, but we don't even know why we're here. Nor have we agreed to anything."

The woman responds in a tired, monotonous tone, "The capsuleer will address all recent arrivals this evening at 19:30 universal. The details of the proposal are outlined in your datapad. Should you wish to refuse the offer, that option is available prior to departure at 06:00 tomorrow."

Domai holds up his datapad, "Do we just return these to you when we're done reading or-?"

The woman blows out of the corner of her mouth, displacing some bangs. She says, "Keep them. If there's nothing further, please move on. There is a line behind you."

"Keep- Ah." Domai's eyebrows arch but he nods in compliance, stepping out of the way and down the far end of the platform. Gaston trails shortly behind, face lit up by the text flowing down the datapad in both hands.


<continue file...>
Shaalira D'arc
Gallente Federation
#15 - 2011-09-23 00:45:12 UTC
"You look pale, Gaston."

"This little datapad lists almost every single job I have done, even some that I have forgotten about."

Domai slips out of the crowd, finding a secluded cul-de-sac amidst sealed crates. He turns and leans back against one, folding arms, "So our pod pilot knows a lot about us. That's no surprise."

Gaston stops and looks up, the datapad's pale light casting his face in an ethereal glow. "My sullen friend, you do not understand the nature of my work record. This," he says, jabbing a finger into the pad, "is worse than sticking a gun to my head. There is no way I can get up and walk away, aware that this pilot knows everything."

Domai suggests, "It may not be a threat. The spacer said we could refuse."

"Do you really believe that?" Gaston scoffs, "Why let on how much you know about a person otherwise?"

Domai shrugs, his forehead crinkling in thought. Scars twist. "She mentioned that there was a 'proposal' on the datapad. What else is in there?"

"You do have one of your own, mon ami. Why don't you try reading it?" Gaston glances up as he speaks, looking above Domai. "Well, when you have the luxury of privacy that is."

Domai turns his head, following Gaston's gaze. Atop the crate he leans on, a bundle of polytextiles squirms. A smooth, tawny face pokes out, small fist rubbing at one eye. The bundle says in a groggy, female voice, "I'm sorry, am I interrupting?"

Gaston is already wearing a polite smile, "No madamoiselle, we simply did not see you at first."

"What are you doing up there?" asks Domai, deadpan.

The woman sits up, swaddled composite fabric. A length of cloth drapes over her head like a hood. She says, "Experiencing sleep. When you've gone without for so long, sometimes you get blindsided by how tired you are."

"I hear you," says Domai, a touch uncertain.

Gaston says, "I am Henri Gaston. My frightening but altogether amicable friend is Thale Domai."

"Please, call me Lira." Tiny fingers clutch at the edges of polytextile shroud, pulling it closer around the woman. She leans forward, peering hesitantly down over the edge of the crate, "Though, I am at a loss as to how I even got up here."

Domai takes a step away from the crate and raises his hands, clearing his throat politely. The woman nods and shuffles onto the edge of the crate, legs dangling. She drops down into Domai's arms and he lowers her to the floor. As she offers a thankful, fleeting smile, the cloth falls back from her head. Unkempt chestnut-red hair spills out over brown eyes glittering with copper lattice.

Gaston remarks, "Forgive me for prying, but that is an optical implant, is it not? It is difficult to notice; those eyes are works of art."

Lira pulls forward the polytextiles draped over her shoulders with self-conscious swiftness, covering her head in a 'hood' once more. "Thank you. That is kind of you to say."

Gaston inquires, "You must be a member of the crew here, then?"

Lira opens her mouth briefly, glances to the side, and thoughtfully hesitates. After a second, she says, "Yes."

Gaston responds, doubtful, "I see."

Domai lifts his datapad and waves it, "Perhaps you can answer some questions for us then."

"And perhaps you could answer some of mine," Lira says, with a sudden forthrightness.

Domai glances back at Gaston, saying, "I suppose that is only fair, though to be honest we just got here-"

A green shine cascades down Lira's left eye as she speaks. "Yes, like most of the people in this hangar. Whatever your past circumstances, one you one day received a free ticket off-world. No explanation, no expectations, not even a surchage. Tell me, why did you make use of it and come here?"

"Why?" asks Gaston. "I hardly had a choice in the matter."

"Likewise," grunts Domai.

"No choice," says Lira, sounding vaguely dissatisfied. "Did you not feel any curiosity as to why you received such things? Perhaps a desire to travel some place new?"

Gaston laughs, "Madamoiselle, any of my past associates can tell you that Henri Gaston is not a man for lingering in familiar places. But with 'our past circumstances,' as you put it, being what they were... well. Let me put it this way. I had just spent the better part of a shuttle ride regaling my poor friend about why I could not possibly return to my old employer. As for him, his scars speak for themselves, do they not?"

"Henri was very talkative," agrees Domai.

Gaston continues blithely, "And you ask us whether it was curiosity and wanderlust that drove us here? Ma chérie, perhaps if I had the luxury of a quiet life I could indulge in such childish longings."

"Childish longings," repeats Lira with a soft sigh. She steps out towards the entrance of the cul-de-sac, looking out towards the crowd. She draws the cloth tighter around her, looking like a small bundle.

"I admit," ventures Domai, "I am curious to meet the capsuleer that arranged all this."

Lira looks over her shoulder, face shadowed by the hood. "Oh? What is your opinion of capsuleers?"

<continue file...>
Shaalira D'arc
Gallente Federation
#16 - 2011-09-23 00:45:30 UTC
Before Domai speaks, the lighting changes abruptly. The steady faux-florescent glow of the ceiling is replaced by sharply flickering amber. An industrial klaxon wails. Domai's gaze rises, following the sound of deep mechanical booms from behind the walls. They are the sounds of unseen machinery in motion.

Lira looks up as well, "I see. It is already 19:30."

"Yes," says Gaston, "Wasn't the egger supposed to give an 'address' around this time?"

"This way," says Lira. She tugs her hood forward and beelines towards the elevated platform where the quartermaster held office. After an exchange of looks, Domai and Gaston trail after her.

The crowd stirs with the ambient flux. People stand, heads rise, and the milling knots coalesce in a press towards the center. All attention turns to the elevated platform, where spidery drones gather crates on their back and clamber off. There, the crew members abandon their desks and gather up their interfaces. They sidestep urgently whirring drones as they vacate the platform, looking unperturbed as they move through the automated chaos.

Domai finds hemself pushing and sliding through the mass of people as he struggles to keep Lira in sight, her bobbing hood always a few steps ahead. Her petite frame slips unnoticed past gathering bodies, quickly approaching the front of the crowd.

When the platform is cleared, floor panels part and hydraulic appendages writhe out from beneath. They rise like cobras out of a basket, scaled in metal and dripping frost. One slides above the rest, bearing a multi-faceted head of tinted camera bulbs and quivering antennae. It scans the hangar, tilting this way and that with avian awkwardness. It pauses and clicks.

Several of the robotic appendages level off and snake towards the crowd with blurring speed. Gasps and cries of alarm emerge and some of those nearby stumble to get out of the way.

Domai dashes forward and he reaches out towards Lira. The warning shout dies in his throat, and his eyes widen.

Lira has pushed back her makeshift cloak, and it slides off the skinsuit beneath. The outfit is cut low in the back, revealing bare flesh. Sockets line her upper spine, clockwork cavities dug deep into her body.

The appendages embrace her and she is lifted. She sits calmly upon the quivering hydraulics, eyes closed. When she reaches the platform, a half dozen smaller tubes have risen to meet her. They line with her back and join the sockets with grotesque susurration.

The body jerks, then relaxes. The klaxon ceases, and the flickering light steadies and dims.

When the capsuleer's eyes open, her body is seated upon a throne of coiled machinery and draped with a cloak of squirming tubes. The cascade of tiny green lines down her left pupil has accelerated to the point that the entire eye glows.

When the capsuleer speaks, her mouth does not move. Still her voice, borne by speaker, transmitter, and quantum relay, fills the hangar.

Shaalira D'arc
Gallente Federation
#17 - 2011-09-23 00:45:52 UTC
Transcript of Audio Record, Hangar C-33214 Occupant Broadband
Document Timestamp: 06.15.112, 19:31

"Good evening."

"Before we begin, allow me to direct your attention to the aperture to your left, the one framed in blue light. Should you wish to leave at any time during this discussion, you may depart through there. Deposit your datapad with the drone and step through the screening chamber. The hallway beyond will lead to the station proper, through a customs office that will integrate you and assist you with local work and travel options. I will erase your file and all references to you from this project, and it is unlikely we will ever meet again."

"If you so desire, you may avail yourself of this option now."


"Regardless of your origins, all present share a commonality. A few days ago, each of you received a passenger-specific InterBus ticket, an external translator device, and a GalNet ID complete with a line of credit locked until such a time as the InterBus ticket was used. Many of you also received situational assistance in extricating yourselves from previous habitations."

"Of course, those present do not represent the sum total of tickets dispatched. Some made the choice not to use the ticket, and allowed it to expire. Some attempted the journey, but succumbed to one of the many dangers of interstellar travel. This attrition was accounted for in the planning stages, and the number of actual arrivals is within expected parameters."

"Therefore, to those who are here: Welcome. Congratulations on making it this far."

"Naturally, you have questions. Who sent the ticket? For what purpose was it sent? Where are you to go from here? Why were you chosen?"

"I will address these questions in the stated order."

"As many of you have already surmised, I am a capsuleer and the source of the tickets. Though I am under employment contract, this venture is funded by personal assets."

"A file has been unlocked in your datapads. It contains pre-surgery biodata, a digital copy of my capsuleer license, my contractual history, and my extant criminal record as told by the CONCORD database."

"Read this file at your leisure. If, for whatever reason, you do not feel you can work with me, the door to your left remains open."

"And what exactly is the work I offer?"

"This venture entails the extraction and processing of valuable commodities from hostile environments. This is a task that requires a multitude of specialist skills, ranging from material sciences and core engineering, to xenobiology, FTL communications, inter-cultural disciplines, battle-tested leadership and omni-spatial security."

"In short, this is a task that requires the range of talents now assembled in this hangar."

"The perks of employment are manifold. You will operate with the best-available equipment, utilizing tools that many planetary administrations could only dream of affording. Your fellows, some of whom you have already become acquainted with, are each talented and capable in their respective fields. It is not an exaggeration to say that your work will push the boundaries of available technology."

"As for pay, you may now consult the unlocked folder entitled Compensation Packages. Take a moment now to review your personalized options."


"As you have no doubt noticed, the offered rates exceed competitive local salaries by an order of magnitude. I assure you that these rates are neither profligate nor needlessly generous. Allow me to answer the next question."

"That is, where this venture will take place."

"The hostile environments I refer to are located within a particular solar system beyond the stargate network, accessible via wormhole. I will reiterate; these are unexplored planets beyond the starcharts of the four nations. There will have been no survey work done prior to your arrival, beyond a superficial orbital scan."

"It is not known what natural hazards you will face. You will have to adapt to geothermic imbalances and aberrant weather patterns on the spot. Some of these worlds will contain life. The dangers presented by local fauna and flora, not to mention microscopic entities, will be legion."

"There has thus far been no evidence of native cities or wildcat colonies on the garden worlds of this system. However, sub-industrial cultures can quite easily exist beneath orbital detection. Some of you may have been alive for the ZN0-SR incident. Proper precautions will have to be made to ensure similar tragedies do not occur."

"And, as many of you know, the mercurial labyrinth of wormholes hides remnants of ancient spacefaring civilizations. My organization has detected no evidence of their presence on the worlds of this system. However, that does not discount the possibility of encountering dangerous artifacts waiting dormant on the surface."

"For those of you waiting for the idiomatic 'catch,' this is it. The venture will take you to the very fringes of known space, and the opportunities to return will be few."


<continue file...>
Shaalira D'arc
Gallente Federation
#18 - 2011-09-23 00:46:11 UTC
"It appears that a very high percentage of you remain. This is not unexpected."

"Why were you chosen? Why was it that, of the many accomplished and able candidates of your origin world, you were the one to receive a ticket?"

"The question is not posed to belittle your credentials. If the available record had not suggested your individual skill, you would not be present."

"No, there were factors additional to your resume that led to your candidacy. All of you have an aspect of your public record that suggests a desire to uproot. For some it may be disenfranchisement or disenchantment. For others, escaping incarceration or debt. For others still, perhaps a simple expressed wanderlust."

"This suggestion, this hint, was gleaned from the constellation of data that life produces: legal records, press statements, published works, private interviews, and GalNet histories. There are, of course, limits to inference. Some of you, certainly, have a more extensive record than others. But for all that, records are merely data: subject to error and falsification. Therefore, an added test was structured into the offer."

"When the tokens were dispatched, when the meddling steps were taken, it was by design that no explanation was offered you. You did not know why some stranger had stepped into your life, why some unknown agent had offered you a ticket off-world. All you had was the means to find out yourself, and the choice whether or not to make use of it."

"And thus you are here. You have made the journey of lightyears - crossing the gulf between worlds - simply to find an answer. And for that reason, I am confident that you are suitable for this venture."

"The door to your left will remain open until the early hours of the morning. If you decide to stay, there are quarters available down the hallway to your right. A map on your datapad will guide you to your respective rooms. Pre-flight registration and team orientation will begin at 07:30 universal."

"Good night."

<end transcript>
Shaalira D'arc
Gallente Federation
#19 - 2011-09-23 00:46:32 UTC
Holographic Render, Intra-Cam Unit #<404error>, Unregistered Network
Iteron-class Industrial Vessel, Carcasonne
Magnetic Elevator, Deck 3
Feed begins 06.19.112, 13:13 Universal

The angle of the shot is awkward.

The man, Domai, stands in the narrow confines of an inertia-shielded room. The cylindrical elevator is set at an uncomfortable slant, enclosed by walls of reflective viridian. Because of the corner camera, Domai's bald head seems overly large compared to the rest of his body. The scarred half of his face is prominent.

A door opens like a folding fan and a woman sweeps into the remaining space. Her upright bearing grants her a stature greater than her modest height. She is clad in an Amarrian long tunic, detailed with silver lace, and a hooded shawl. Her lowered cowl frames a face that is all proud lines and sharp angles. Wrinkle lines veil features that were once beautiful, and pockets of white are buried in the roots of her tied-back ebony hair.

She inclines her head in a gesture that is both curt and uncompromisingly formal, "Mr. Domai."

"Forewoman Ykaterina." Domai lowers a datapad, tucking it into a worn technician's jacket.

The woman smiles thinly, turning to stand side-by-side with Domai as the door closes, "Ah. I really should used to that title. Though it sounds so..."

"Plebian?" offers Domai.

"I was going to say industrial," retorts Ykaterina, looking at him out the corner of her eye. "You are from the Federation originally, are you not? I suppose I need not ask you what you think of Holders."

Domai is silent at first. "Would you prefer I call you Lady? Or Dame?"

"Please." The woman lifts her chin, "Do not patronize me with insincere formalities, Mr. Domai."

"I have noticed Foreman Mbadi addresses you that way."

"That Thukker nomad does so because he mocks me. He thinks it would bother me if I am addressed with the honors of a title I no longer have."

Domai tilts his head, casting his eye towards the woman, "I did not know Holders could cease being Holders."

"Many things are possible in the broad expanses of the Empire, Foreman. Pray you never cross the Theology Council or come under the scrutiny of the Speakers of Truth."

"Were you suspected of heresy, then? The Speakers of Truth are said to be apolitical."

"Color me surprised," remarks the woman. "You are familiar with those terms. Somewhat. Have you spent time in the Empire?"

"Yes," admits Domai, who adds evasively, "Some."

"Then you know enough not to ask. I am a 'Forewoman' now, and what I once was is no concern of yours."

"No," concedes Domai, "it is not."

A panel by the door emits a sickly blue light. Numbers flicker on and off, made blurry by the camera's perspective.

Ykaterina folds her arms and glances up at Domai, "It appears we are both on our way to see the capsuleer."

The scarred man nods mutely.

Ykaterina says, watching him sharply, "I intend to personally appeal the personnel committee decision on proposal number five."

"The vote this morning," says Domai, recalling, "Slave labor?"

The woman nods brusquely, "Yes. I am not the only foreman concerned about the degree to which the initial operation will depend on automation."

"And drugged slaves are more reliable?" asks Domai dubiously.

"Yes, precisely. Mechanical errors compound themselves; humans correct their own errors. Properly managed slaves are far more adaptive, and cost-effective, than drones in unfamiliar situations." The woman carries on in an even, business-like tone, "Do not misunderstand me. I completely agree with the capsuleer's decision to rely on technical specialists and colonists rather than bought labor. However, many of those specialists are also proficient in labor management. A lower echelon of slaves would amplify our work enormously."

Domai's shoulders tense up.

Ykaterina observes, "You disagree, of course."

Domai responds, "I wouldn't be the only one. A good many of us are Matari. Do you think they'll accept you taking along slaves? It'll divide the expedition."

"And this troubles you, why?" The woman has a wry smile, "The operational theatre contains multiple worlds and many separate, independent planned facilities on each world. Individual colonies, if you would. Those that object to the presence of slaves need not work in the same facilities. In fact, it would provide an excellent opportunity to see which method of organization is more efficient. The unowned Matari could set up their own-"

"The free Matari, " corrects Domai in a forceful tone. "And they're not going to sit quietly and watch you pen and breed their own. Same for the Gallente, the Caldari, or any other peoples who you will bring along as slaves. It won't end with separate colonies. We'll see fighting before we even finish landing."

"I think you underestimate the capacity of people to ignore what does not affect them, so long as they live comfortably. And, as long as the production quota is met, do you think the capsuleer would even care? I would wager, Foreman Domai, that she would overlook whatever internecine fighting occurs in this motley expedition as long as her planned revenue is unchanged. Do you disagree?"

Domai shifts his weight from one foot to the other, scowling quietly.

<continue file...>
Shaalira D'arc
Gallente Federation
#20 - 2011-09-23 00:46:52 UTC
"You see the possibilities, but you remain unconvinced. Are you truly comfortable with how dependent we will be on automated functions? Our numbers are few, and will take some time to grow. Do we really rely on a fleet of worker drones until then? A slave stock is not just cost-effective, it is self-sustaining. In the worst-case scenarios, they provide a valuable genetic reserve-"

Domai interjects, "These are people you are talking about, Forewoman. They are not tools, not resources. We are not bringing slavery with us to the new worlds."

Ykaterina's smile deepens, "Ah, you're finally showing your true colors. I always suspected you were a man of principle, Foreman Domai, but I never imagined those principles would be so sentimental. Your passion does not lie; you really do believe, don't you?"

Domai stares back wordlessly.

"I have always been fascinated with those of Federation upbringing. Your unrelenting superstitions is so very stoic, if quaint."

"Our unrelenting superstitions...?"

"Yes! You believe, all evidence to the contrary, that simple numerical superiority is the best metric to decide who is fit to govern. You believe that a mass of people absorbed in unrelated professions, based solely on those biased snippets of news they can perceive in their leisure time, can best decide affairs of state. You believe in the independent rationality of an individual in an age where the mind bends to countless tools, subtle and overt. You believe this in an age where a certain few have amassed wealth beyond imagining, whose access to such tools is beyond doubt.

"You addict your immigrants to every manner of vice whilst presenting them with a ballot every few years. Then you step back and call this 'freedom.'"

"And what would you call freedom?" counters Domai.

The woman responds, "Freedom is self-mastery. The animal is bound by instinct; give it pleasure or pain and it will react in the pre-ordained way. The man ennobles himself by rising above base wants and embracing that which is greater, self-less, transcendent. The animal is an entirely material creature; it cannot conceive beyond its senses. The man distinguishes himself by understanding the abstract, by giving birth to concepts and stipulations; he is not trapped by the material, he orders it to his design. The man is free when he forsakes the worldly and accepts the eternal."

"So..." says Domai, "freedom is faith."

Ykaterina's eyes shine brightly, "Exactly, foreman. Freedom is faith. This is why the slavery you decry is so sadly necessary. We strip the lesser races of their material distractions and false idols, so that they might find wisdom in privation. Under our tutelage, they can achieve true freedom - perhaps not in this generation or even the next, but in the end they all will be equals under the one God."

Domai turns his head to face Ykaterina directly. He inquires, echoing her earlier words, "You really believe that, don't you?"

"Indeed, I do. And what better proof of the validity of our faith than the success of the Amarrian way of life? Our peoples are the most numerous; our empire is the largest and greatest of the spacefaring nations."

"And yet," points out Domai, "you've chosen to come here, instead of staying in the Empire."

The irregular pulse of the elevator's lights shifts direction. Shadows stretch and crawl over the walls and the two people within. Ykaterina's expression is veiled in darkness.

Her voice is subdued, "You doubt my dedication to the throne? My faith?"

Domai remains silent, mulling a response. He is preempted.

Ykaterina shrugs, "It is easy to cast such aspersions when you are ignorant of the circumstances."

Domai suggests, "Then enlighten me."

<continue file...>
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