Half-choking, she awoke from her dream: unpodding, ectoplasmic fluid mixed with bile in the back of her throat tasting slightly acrid. Her dreams weren’t fanciful, weren’t glittering; they were memories of the recent past. She started to wheeze and cough.
The captain’s quarters came alive as she stirred. “Too bright,” she thought as she regarded the brilliance of the displays in front of the couch. She swung her feet off the bunk and felt the surge of cold from the smooth metal grating that made up the floor. The quarters weren’t hers, they were shared.
“In light of the recent Sansha presence, The Corporation would like to remind you of your guard duty today,” chimed a recorded message from one of the displays. A Quafe commercial flashed past. She pushed herself out of the bunk.
“Guard duty. Paid duty,” she thought. Payment to buy things that would endlessly dissatisfy; would never fill the longing she felt for pleasure. “No payment, no duty. No payment, no cause.”
“And if I don’t do my duty,” she reflected, “the desire will continue to burn.”
In her long years as a capsuleeer, the infinite cloned life she led had gradually revealed its banal truth. It wasn’t a grandiose gain, a transcendental insight worthy of the Amarrians’ god-empress. It was a mundane fact better suited to the realism of pod pilots themselves: “our cloned infinity is endless degeneration.”
“In light of the recent Sansha presence…” the display began again. She waved the message on. Another Quafe commercial began.
“Sansha Kuveki at least gave his Nation a Cause. All the rest of New Eden gives is longing and dissatisfaction,” she mused. The high security space, low security space, even null security space of New Eden was run by a slavish morality of cooperation and science that lifted the herds from the planets to the stars. “Technicalities,” she muttered to the empty couch beside her. The display, hearing her words, reported that no results matching those criteria could be found. In the background flashed a muted Interbus commercial, its yellow logo bulging out from behind the slightly opaque query window.
Since becoming a pod pilot, a capsuleer, she didn’t need to eat. The pod provided all, even a wet grave. She walked over to her pod and began to strip down. Her bare flesh quickly became cold in the station’s too cold life-support. With the warmth of her body slowly leaving, she stepped in.
A solid floor with dull warmth greeted her first step into the pod. “It’s not actually warm,” she thought, remembering the absence of heating with the pod powered down. Drawing the portal closed she began to power up the pod. Interfaces and tubes extended to meet her body and caress her senses. The influx of the ectoplasmic fluid brought a slow tugging at her feet that gradually filled the lower portion of the pod. The thick mucus fluid rose to cover her knees, occasionally bubbling as the last remnants of air were forced out of the pod. Looking at the droplets forming on the pod’s exterior panel, a memory came to her of Minmatar slaves and the flash-frozen urine that had fed her rag-tag group of refugees in those dangerous days of the rebellion. The fluid had a slightly amber hue from the interface lights and the temperature was adjusted for its utility to preserve life.
She choked slightly as the fluid rose around her neck and reminded her of the dream. “You don’t breathe in a pod.” Sensing her moment of distress one interface registered the tubes feeding activity. “You don’t breathe, you’re fed survival.” Another interface pointed to the fitting of a Rifter.
Once aboard, the pod switched the mixing of its air to accommodate the different conditions of the ship. Ozone seeped into the tube entering her nose. “Hounds,” she thought. The smell reminded her of something old, something forgotten; slaver hounds and raiding Amarrians. Ozone was in the air of the transport that she had stowed away on to escape too, when she was almost too young to remember. The political hand-wringing of the Gallente Republic made their assistance come too late, her brothers and sisters were gone. Anger welled inside her, but she knew it was pointless fighting these ghosts of the past. She was too young to fight then, forced to hide among the crates of samples and soil, and she was as helpless against the past now—like the rest of New Eden and the collapse of the Eve wormhole.
Undocking was taking longer than usual, and she began to feel an itch. Ectoplasm doesn’t prevent all irritations. “Was I really meant to become this?” Undocking continued. “Maybe satisfaction is just an illusion. We’re always going to have to desire something; nothing silences that, and it’s not even a choice.” She was still thinking about the Gallentean vaunting of freedom. Gallenteans. “Other hounds.”
Outside the station the frozen corpse of Vekuik hung in a low orbit. It was being playfully rammed by an incoming freighter. The bulky ship nudged the corpse into another, lower orbit.
A Dramiel suddenly sped in and rammed Vekuik’s corpse as well. “For fun?” she wondered, “Who are these idiots?” The dissatisfaction she felt seemed, for a moment, bewildered by the momentary pleasure Vekuik’s frozen corpse offered these other pilots. Her attention was pulled away by another gentle reminder over the neocom, “In light of the recent Sansha presence…” She mechanically set the Rifter to align to the lab that she was assigned to guard and warped.
In the clutches of her warp bubble she felt at home. The irony was not lost: the only homely place in New Eden was the only place that was nowhere, really. “Even warp bubbles have an end.” And on the otherside, she knew, waited the viciousness of others’ attempts to resolve the most basic of truth about New Eden: the abyss of dissatisfaction. New Eden provided pleasures, duties and chores to briefly fill this gap only to have it reappear like effervescence, everywhere. Only the boredom of guard duty awaited her now.
The collapse of the warp bubble put her Rifter fifty kilometres from the asteroid supporting the lab. The lab’s flat, camouflaged roof signalled an anachronism in an era of scanners and sensors. She set herself into an orbit and waited. “Something should…” flashes of red appeared on an interface, “…happen.”
The Sansha battleships dropped out of warp on the other side of the asteroid and waited. Her heart quickened and the pod adjusted the air. The adrenalin she now felt gave her goosebumps on her arms and legs, and these protrusions pushed the ectoplasmic fluid aside. “Help. Sansha BSs at lab. Heavy support required,” she punched into local. The call for aid was habit. “On my way,” replied a friendly corp pilot. She warped out to a nearby planet.
In the bubble again she wondered, “This ineffectual game, the Sansha have that more that New Eden lacks.” A surge of ego. “But I’m not Sansha.” The bubble collapsed and the warp trip ended, but her thoughts turned to her dissatisfaction. “What I need…” She thought of Vekuik’s corpse. Realigning the ship, she began to warp back to the lab.
The fight had gone badly. No Sansha forces remained but the Dominix that had flown to her call for aid was struggling, leaking flames of burning coolant into the void. “Thanks,” she announced over the neocom. “Not a problem, I…” But before the reply finished she locked the wounded Dominix in her sights. “Hey, what?!” But it was all over quickly. Her projectiles shredded the outer structure of the ship, casting debris everywhere. Small explosions, then larger explosions, then…
The pod ahead of her seemed fragile. More shells rocketed towards it, shearing away the propulsion, silencing the transmitter. The local channel remained silent. Slowly, one by one, the lights of the pod flickered and went out. The green viewports dimmed, and the pod sank into the void.