One of the things they don‘t emphasize about space is how big it is. Oh it‘s mentioned sure, they talk about numbers, distances, dimensions. But what hits you when you take your first step into the weightless void that‘s been hanging over you your whole life is how meaningless those lessons were. The size of the emptiness cannot be fathomed and should not be fathomed by human minds. You are left breathless, stunned as the great black stares back at you.
And then there is the sound of the warp engine. The whirring of the computer as the ship aligns. The distance is so great that if it is wrong by a single breadth of my nonexistent hair we‘ll end hundreds of kilometers away or even blow up. But it won‘t happen.
“30 seconds ´til downtime,” Amungard said, the tension in his voice not only palpable but basically solid, as if the words had gained mass and floated around the shuttle. He wasn‘t worried, he was nervous and afraid. But not worried. He‘d seen space before, he practically lived here. To him this wasn‘t the dangerous part of what we were doing. And he was right. But still I couldn´t get over it.
What was I doing here? Out in the cold vastness? This is no place for humans, there‘s a reason why we seal ourselves in little tin cans and shoot ourselves toward from one lush planets or space stations to another. We kid ourselves, convinced that space is teeming with life, filled with miracles and promises but forget what‘s in between. Here in the endless dark, the only thing keeping us alive is flimsy technology, Minmatar technology. If we ran out of duct tape we were screwed.
“Twenty seconds” Amungard said and typed wildly in the computer. He was some sort of a Minmatar halfbreed, half Minmatar, half Gallente, half.... something. He was dark haired and small eyed, short but stocky. He‘d told me he‘d been trained in Matari fighting techniques since he was five. He could kill a man in fifteen different ways using only his little finger. He was bluffing of course, just like i‘d brag about severing and sewing back an artery in seven seconds if he knew how impossible it was. But I hoped his bite was at least half as bad as his bark. If not... I was about to find out.
“Fifteen seconds, here we go.” He punched the keyboard and the screens lit up.
“Warp drive active,” declared the female voice of the computer and every principle of universal law was broken. Or bent. I don‘t know, I‘m a doctor not an engineer. And I didn‘t much care for the event anyhow. Space is scary enough, no reason to make it mad by pretending most of it don‘t exist.
I really wanted to feel physically ill, to feel the universe pulling back on my intestines, to feel the inertia or even a shift in speed. But no, the whole experience has been streamlined, there was no way to explain away my severe psychological discomfort. I’d never been to space before and when this was over I never wanted to go back.
“Five seconds” he shouted and the vessel started to shake, it was dropping out of warp, there was no way to back out of this now. ”God damnit!” I whispered and clenched my fist tighter. Suddenly the station appeared in front of us. It was so monstrously big, so inhumanly gigantic and so tiny compared to the moon it orbited. It was a gold plated splendour, a monument to Amarr hubris, a phallic symbol of prowess hurtling through space. And on the bottom, or however you would describe it, there was an opening, a tunnel where ships left this ghastly magnificence. This tunnel was usually filled with ships, floating out on their way to somewhere else. “Usually” being the operative word. Right now something special was going on.
“Downtime!” My friend shouted as we entered the stations’ shields and looked literally down the barrel of a gun.
This was the most dangerous part of the plan simply because it couldn’t be planned. We could precisely calculate the location and relative speed of the station at any particular point in time, we could position ourselves and warp at the right time and we could even calculate the required force to spin the shuttle so it would be in the right position when we came to a complete stop. But if someone was flying out of the opening as we entered it, we’d be screwed.
It was the beginning of Downtime, no one should be flying anything we thought. Especially not out of the station.
“Shit!” We both screamed as a lone Iterion was lazily drifting out of the tunnel. A ship filled with baseliners just like us, using the Downtime when the gates were a little bit safer. And now we were all going to die.
But my halfbreed friend had not been chosen for this mission just for his skills with a blade. A split second later he’d taken manual control of the shuttle and dove away from the Iterion, scratching the containers on his way into the station.
The useless solar panels on the side of the shuttle shattered and I now felt the physical discomfort I’d craved a few seconds before.
“We’re gonna make it!” He shouted, “those fucking wings are useless anyway!”
I puked as the shuttle span out of control into the heart of the Amarr station. Amungard seemed ready to do the same.
The plan, such as it was, had a relatively straightforward goal. Revenge on a certain capsuleer. But accomplishing this goal was anything but straightforward. Capsuleers don’t care if baseliners hate them, Capsuleers are Gods. What do gods care about some lousy pirates they’ve killed by the thousands? And if some of them aren’t pirates, well who the hell cares? Capsuleers are untouchable. Or so they’d like to think.
It’s true, when they float around in their bastions of power, they’re protected by metric tons of armor and impregnable shields. And they rarely leave their ships, the capsules keep them fed and invincible. But in recent years that’s begun to change. They have their own quarters in the stations. They stay away from the common folk, they just stay in their proverbial ivory towers. They’re protected by not just station security but safe in the knowledge that if something were to happen to them, they remain eternal. This is their weakness.
The shuttle sputtered to a halt, stopped spinning around and we were left clutching our chairs, wiping sweat from our eyes. Amungard bashed some keys and the shuttle turned. Our destination wasn’t far but the Iterion had sent us off course. We were running behind, right now befuddled station security were screaming at each other, who had let the shuttle warp into the station? Why weren’t the safeguards working? Why couldn’t they get a lock on its warp signature or even locate the damn thing?
We approached the capsulers quarters or so I gathered, there were thousands of these quarters, but I’d spent quite a bit of money to find this one. The shuttle stopped and Amungard sprang from the chair.
“Quick! He shouted. “As soon as we exit, it will realign. Downtime plus fifteen seconds!” He put on the mask and grabbed his sword. I secured my own mask and clutched my kit. The shuttle door opened and the quarters of our target appeared. I followed, quickly. It was amazing to feel the artificial gravity of the station, to feel the false sense of solid land, as we jumped from the shuttle to the docking bay.
The station was magnificent, golden spires and gigantic statues littered the walls, floating transports hurtled by at dizzying speed and behind us floated the capsulers behemoth of a ship, a golden Abaddon. To the right was a stair to the docked capsule. It was empty and open, a sickening green egg. I wanted to blow it up, but I knew it was less than useless, he’d get a new one before he’d wake up.
I landed on my feet and started running towards the quarters, Amungard right behind me.
The weakness of the capsuleers was not just that they felt untouchable and acted like it, it wasn’t even really the new quarters where they walked around unprotected. The greatest weakness was the unstable nature of the capsule clone itself. They have a tendency to go dormant, they just stop. It can happen anytime. One moment they’re fighting, trading or shooting some enchancement drug into their brain, and the next, they just stop. There’s a reason behind this, a complex side effect of plugging electronics into your brain, downloading knowledge straight into your mind and transferring consciousness from one body to another. There are moments in time when they are not only weak, they’re helpless. Unconscious .We call this Downtime. Most of the time it will happen to each capsuler individually, for indeterminate periods of time. But once a day, they all go down, every single capsuler, for half an hour usually. None of them move, none of them react and the worlds keep spinning.
If they’re in space and go down, their ships warp somewhere into the void where its next to impossible to find them. And even if you do, Downtime will not stop them from reviving, so killing them will only piss them off. But some fates are worse than death.
We entered the cabin. The target sat there comatose in front of the screen. He was engaged in some market manipulation, selling and buying slaves all over the constellation. For a split second it looked as if he would turn his head and wonder why the hell two masked men had just run into his home. But he was out of it. Downtime.
I rushed to towards the bastard, cleared the desk and opened my kit. My kit was a black leadlined suitcase, which contained three things, A neuromatic interface computer of my own design, a transfer helmet and a small glass vat, large enough for a human head.
I grabbed the bastards bald head. He was Amarr, a true Amarr he’d say, dressed in something golden an entire planet would have to work ten years to afford.
“Is that the guy?”Amungard said
“You can bet your eyes,” I said and started the computer.
“These guys all look the same, don’t they? Pointy faced, bald and smug.” He drew his sword. “You say the word doc. I’m itching to have a go.”
“Just wait a minute.”
“We don’t have a fucking minute, we just broke several dozen laws and computer programs getting here. They are scrambling the fucking cavalry as we speak.”
Amungard had been easy enough to motivate to kill an Amarr capsuler but his manners left something to be desired.
“I’m scanning his brain,” I said as I mounted the transfer helmet on the capsulers skull, “It will take as long as I say it takes. “
The computer started scanning automatically. This wasn’t the brain destroying neural burn of the clone technology, this was something entirely different. Something I’d designed. It slowly scanned the brain and stored it without harming the old grey matter. I could have sold this for billions, and maybe if I let go of some of my moral fibers I could sell this to the pirates in Curse after this. But money really wasn’t my concern. The computer finished downloading and I ripped the transfer cable off the computer. His soul was now in my hard drive. His memories, bank accounts, everything.
“Now?” Amungard asked excitedly.
“No! there’s one thing left.” I tucked the computer safely inside the suitcase and turned my attention to the helmet. I cranked a small dial on its side to the max and flipped a switch.
His heart skipped a beat and so did mine, if this didn’t work the whole plan would fail. He would just wake up in less than half an hour somewhere else, furious and several hundred million worth of implants poorer. He jerked wildly but remained asleep and more importantly, alive. I smiled. It was all coming together.
“What happened?” Asked Amungard.
I took the helmet off and readied the vat. “I just burned every piece of implants in his body.Especially the important one. He can’t revive.”
“Now? Amungard asked.”
“Yes,take it off.”
He swung the sword in a beautiful clean arc and cut the bald, scowling face off. It landed with a distinct thud on the hard metal floor. I rushed to the bastard’s head with the vat and opened the container. I grabbed colored tubes in there and dragged them out. Blood spurted out of the body like a geyser, but the head was quickly drained. The cut was clean and straight. It couldn’t be done better with a scalpel. I’d know, I’ve performed a quite a lot of these operations. The human head will survive a while, even minutes once it’s been decapitated. In theory and practice, if you can connect the head to the proper machinery it can survive, just like it’s still attached to the body. Plug the major arteries, stop the bleeding from the minor veins, pump the brain with blood, oxygen and nutrients and the head survives. It’s messy work and requires immense preparations and equipment. Or just a vat and tubes.
Amungard wasn’t happy. “Come on! You crazy fucker, they’re on to us man!”
“I’m attaching a bloody human head to an extremely sophisticated piece of machinery on a floor! Give me some god damn leeway.” I clenched my teeth and dropped the head in the vat. It splashed in the sterilization fluid and the machines began pumping. We were cutting it close , the only reason we weren’t dead already was our timing and the fact that there was no proper protocol for stuff like this. In fact station security was so paranoid about disturbing the new gods they wouldn’t dare coming in after we’d left. Even now someone was probably watching us through several cameras and still they hesitated to send in the troopers. But I could hear them. The cavalry was coming.
Amungard started running, “Downtime plus minute 50 seconds! The ship’s aligned,” he shouted.
I closed the vat and followed him.
There’s a reason why we did this at the start of Downtime. Before Downtime station security is on high alert for the capsulers rushing to the safety of the station. Normally it would have taken them a minute to even realize that we’d warped into the station, but thanks to that damn Iterion they probably noticed us immediately. But even then their ships, computers and attentions was focused on docking the capsulers.
The shuttle was aligned, hovered in mid air, lacking solar panels on one of its wings, pointing towards the end of the tunnel. Somewhere above us a megaphone blared, forbidding everyone to move. They were going to close the tunnel.
“God damnit!” Amungard shouted as he jumped into the shuttle. I followed him with my kit.
“Close the door!” He commanded and the door closed. Cockpit sealed, the computer said: “Ready for warp.”
“Punch it!” he said while we were still reeling from the jump.
“Wait, I have to sit down,” I pleaded.
“Warp drive active,” the computer declared and the engine started to blast off.
We were out before I even had the chance to worry about ending on the walls of the station. That’s the immense speed we’re dealing with these days I suppose, its why nobody does this. There was a decent chance we’d have ended as a fireball consuming a good portion of the station.
But it didn’t happen. We were out. It had been the most intense two minutes of my life but they were finished. It was done. I would have my vengeance at last.
I sat on the floor laughing as Amungard took manual command of the shuttle. “You crazy old man” he said laughing, “I can’t believe we’re alive.”
Space isn’t just some formless void you get in contact with when you leave your planet. It´s always there, waiting for you, waiting for some simple system to malfunction, for your engines to fail. For your silly technology to betray you. And then it strikes.
I’d parted ways with Amungard, he took the information I’d scanned. He knew how to use it to turn a profit. I took the head and left in a separate shuttle. The vat kept it alive, a green light indicated as much. I left the system as fast as I could, before the authorities knew what had happened. I headed for a very particular border system. It was few jumps away and I was there in less than ten minutes. It wasn’t losec, but it was dangerous, I kept clear of the major planets, warped to a point in the middle of nowhere, no one would go there, no one would even go through there, it was more than 40 A.u’s from the sun. No one would pick us up on scanners, no one could find us. We were alone in the black.
The bastard woke up. I knew his name, but I preferred not to use it, I tried to forget it. To etch the man from existence. It must have been strange to wake up like this. up. He was on table in a small cabin in my shuttle. It was caldari, practical and cold.
“What’s going on?” He said with a yawn. “Where am I?” I’d linked his brain to a voice box, it imitated his voice, his feelings and arrogance. I felt that we needed to have a chat.
“You’re at the end of the road,” I said.
He seemed realize he no longer had a body. He screamed in horror as he splashed in the vat. I could imagine what it felt like, to wake up as nothing but a head looking at an old man in a spacesuit.
“What have you done! What the hell is going on here?”
It was the most rewarding feeling I’d felt in a while. It brought tears to my eyes. “You are a head,” I said with a smile. “And you are in the Uchomida system . You’re here to suffer and die of old age.”
“What in god’s name are you on about?” He demanded. “Let me out this instant and I may be merciful.”
“No,” I said. “You’re staying right where you are.”
“To hell with you then! I know your face and where we are. This is more than enough to find you and kill your extended family. When I revive I will make it my mission to ruin your life before evening!”
“Go on,” I said, “kill yourself. Use the implants. Wake up somewhere else.”
He scowled and closed his eyes. When nothing happened he opened them up in disbelief. “What have you done?”
“I burned every implant you have with a powerful emp burst. Powerful enough to take out entire ships if applied correctly. You are every bit as human and non-enhanced as me.”
“But I am Immortal!” He said with every ounce of Amarr superiority he had left.
“No, not anymore. I took it from you. Your silly technology.”
He scowled and clenched his teeth for a while until he shouted with fury: “Why? What do you want?”
“I want my daughter back. She wasn’t immortal, but she should have been. She was all I had left. And you took her.”
“What? I did no such thing!”
“She was the X.O on a frigate. And you blew it up.”
“Well if she was, she was a pirate, she deserved every bit of fire I threw at her!”
“No she wasn’t. She was Caldari navy. She was brilliant. She’d have her own battleship in less than five years. She just had to suffer through some grunt work for a while but she’d get her own ship in the end. And you killed her. The entire ship. You were on a battleship, I think you’d have said you “popped” her frigate.”
A dawning realization appeared on his face. He closed his eyes and muttered with annoyance: “That was an accident, it was the heat of the battle. I fumbled some targets, it can happen. I shot at a few of our own ships, I remember. But I lost a great deal of my security status, it took me weeks of work to get even. My debt’s been paid.”
“Not to me,” I grunted angrily.
“Well what in god’s great realm do you want? I’ll give you a billion just to feel my body again. Give me access to a network, I can do it right now.”
“No you can’t” I said. “Right now, every piece of information you have in that skull of yours is being used to fatten the wallets of a rather impressive pirate gang. I scanned your brain, and gave them every password, every memory of every backhanded deal. Right now your account is being ruined, your assets sold off, your friends betrayed and your alliances broken. Even if you’d get of here, and you won´t, your life is over.”
“NO! God damn you, you can’t do this!”
“Yes I can. I just did.”
“But it was an accident! You can’t….. this is… this is the system where it happened isn’t it?”
“Yes, glad you remembered. I’d go where you killed her, but you’d probably be found immediately.”
“Found? What do you mean by found?” He was worried now, desparate, hopeless. Just like every single crewman and woman facing down one of those immortal bastards.
“I’m going to let you go. But not home. You’re going to space. Where you used to be a god, but now you’ll be debris.”
He was starting to realize what I was on about. “No. Please!” He was begging now, he wasn’t used to this, his face wasn’t right for it. But he was begging all the same. “Don’t do it.”
“Don’t worry, you won’t die of hunger or thirst. I’m packing you several lunches.” I pointed to a large metal box to his right. “This thing’s got air, nutrients, water. Enough to last a lifetime.”
“Watch me.” I picked up the vat and positioned it into a slot on the box.
“You’ve made your point! There are people in those ships. Even in the frigates, I get it. I’m sorry. I really am! Don’t do this please!”
“I believe you, you really are sorry. But only because right now I have more power than you. You sell slaves, you kill people fighting for ideals and you do it without any notion of your own mortality. The universe is your playground and we are the toys. But sometimes the toys fight back.”
I put the helmet on and shut off the gravity. His voice was muffled now, I could barely hear him. I opened the airlock, the great darkness beckoned. Without gravity it was easy to move the heavy box to the airlock. He was shouting now. Begging me. He could make me rich. He could make me immortal. I couldn’t do this, he was immortal. He’d paid the price, and he had been promised eternity.
"You won't live forever," I said to him before I pushed the container out, "But it will feel like it."
As he floated away, I looked at the darkness around me. Space really is frightening. We think we’ve tamed it, we think we don’t need to consider the forces that hold this thing together. But throw a man into space and he will understand how powerless we are. We can fire beams of pure energy into each other, bend and break the rules, defy the very nature of death. But only as long as the tech works. Without it, we’re just trespassing where we don’t belong, floating in the void.