Khanid region, Homroon constellation, Neda solar system
Temperate planet III, “Gaïssa”
Finju continent, Kenir town
She looked up, wildly. Her little hands promptly joined with the zeal only children would show. She tried to shut her eyes tight despite her burning curiosity… Another one! Chiyo gazed heavenwards, and it almost seemed the fiery trail had delved its intensity into the depths of her wide chestnut eyes. She stared until the glow phased out beyond the atmosphere, until the mild breeze against her flushing cheeks brought her down planetside. Gone. She picked up the plush pony and lifted it up close to her face, looking in its black button eyes that stared at her attentively and rehearsed,
‘Daddy says they are shooting stars that were once human.’
Chiyo didn’t really understand, but it felt beautiful. Some boys at school had brought pictures of the giant ships that could travel in the sky. They pretended the shooting stars that traversed her eyes were mountains of metal. But they didn’t know what she knew. She knew that the stars ‘were once human’. She knew the individual meaning of each of these words, and it made sense to her that they were awe in her father’s line.
The boys were trading the pictures of the metal shooting stars for valuable things, but even her dear belongings were not enough to trade. So she wished on and on. She wished to the shooting stars, and a shooting star lit up Neda III’s every milky morning sky. And she had never dared missing a prayer, for fear they would not come the next morning. So there she was, clutching her confidant, innocence clutching her, and the star shooting.
‘You think they can see us from up there?’
She paused, gauging Gerd’s trustworthiness, and reckoned she may tell him, in the end. Her voice was almost a whisper now. ‘You know Gerd, Daddy says they will come for us one day. Maybe… maybe I’ve been good enough this year?’
The pony stayed silent.
Ginko looked up from his datapad, worriedly. He caught sight of the vanishing trail of the day delivery rocketed into orbit from the Murdan launchpad based out a few hundred miles away from Kenir, their home town on Gaïssa, Neda’s third and temperate planet. The transport ship must have flown by a few minutes ago. It would never cease to amaze him how ugly things could look beautiful when seen from a distance. In the end everything was a matter of distance, wasn’t it? The sound of galloping gales of laughter startled him. Chiyo was still in sight, playing with her favourite plush animal. That rag was never leaving her side. He’d rather have her sit quietly on a chair next to him, reading a kids book or drawing stick horses rather than rambling all around. Six legs were much more trouble than two, especially when four belonged to a rabid horse. And yes, he did have to admit to his merciless wife he was bearing some sort of grudge against the what-the-hell-was-its-name-anyway stuffed guy. He grinned. That kid was so much fun; the bureaucratic plight that was looming over his head suddenly seemed less upsetting when he looked at her. He focused back on the datapad.
Damn, how were you even supposed to address a Capsuleer? Dear Madam? Mrs Capsuleer? Your Highness? He chuckled to himself. It was the first time ever he had had to deal with such an issue and he was as clueless as a stuffed animal. He would have thrown in the towel for a game of chess with Jude, but his wife was probably spying from behind a window, ready to intercept any escape attempt, and he was not that desperate yet to trigger the blames of a woman. Damn, she knew him too well. For now, there he was, stuck with this datapad and a flock of sighs.
All he had to do was courteously refuse the Capsuleer’s offer. They didn’t want to give up their town to the workforce coming over to keep up maintenance of the fourteen brand new extractors that had been deployed in the close vicinity of Kenir. They wouldn’t leave and they didn’t want the monstrous machines either on their land. It might have sounded pretty basic to him the day before, but now he was realizing the scale of his task. What an idiot he had been to say ‘yes’ right off the bat… Make your woman happy and proud, they say… Well fuck it! He just felt too low; he was a mere planet rat after all, and these dudes were roaming the galaxies. Could he really say ‘no’ and leave it at that? Really? He didn’t have the guts to take responsibility for that freaking form: that was the whole hated truth, screaming its absent words on the blank screen of his datapad.
The air breezing on the veranda was lukewarm; it was only seven in the morning and the air around town was already feeling cramped and tepid. Probably because of the titanic battleship-class vessel stationed over their heads. He looked up again. It would have been exciting if it hadn’t felt that threatening. In their remote patch of space on the fringe of the Khanid Kingdom, they didn’t get many visitors, even less Capsuleers… although a few convoys of humanitarian help and reckless traders stopped by at times. They had chosen the backbreaking life of low security space colonists, and solitude had never weighed heavier on their shoulders than these last few days.
He started typing the answer with as much conviction his reluctant fingers would offer.
She read the form once more. Her mouth convulsed into a furtive smirk.
That pathetic idiot.
She loved the predicament of destruction, when hope met with a point of no return, as much as she loathed encountering incompetence at close quarters. She studied him silently, staring at his imperfect face with a tinge of disgust. The man was wavering between that typical arrogant confidence humans would affect when faced with defeat and the painful confusion dominance would instil in their flesh and mind. He was waiting, trying to gather the audacity to speak first, but the conjuncture would not arise for him, all resilience would be crushed, victory was not for his kind.
The Khanid robes of a female servant rustled against the floor as the luscious silks pervaded the cold of the room behind him, and the man stiffened. Eleanore assessed the small figure apace: that slave was all velvety profusion creeping over deviance. That new personal servant was definitely much better; she’d remember to ask her name later. The Khanid girl moved two glasses forward to them, gave a polite bow and walked off silently. Inch by inch, the doors yielded to the slave’s efforts, their creaking yawn only disturbed by the soft rustling of the dress that struggled with the massive weight. Inch by inch, the looming obscurity filled the too brightly lit office until the man’s body became a burlesque epitome of stark contrast. From behind the wide onyx desk, Eleanore savoured the unexpected piece of art.
The hinges’ whimper blurred the shadows away and light regained absolute sovereignty. They were alone.
She saw him peer at the large holographic projection of New Eden which was floating around the room, flashing its tiny glows in intricate patterns over the map, summoning chartered space into intent. An intent in which there is no room for the likes of you. When ordering her Abaddon hull from Zoar and Sons, Eleanore had ordered this room built in for a few more million ISK. The manufacturing company may have become a shadow of what it used to be in the time of old Zoar, but at least they were now much more accommodating with customers’ personal requests. She would probably have inner sanctuaries settled in most of her ships. As a Capsuleer, the more time went by, undifferentiated and absurd in itself, the more she felt displaced in the world that had once borne her. Planets had become too small, too confined within physical boundaries. Even stations had become somewhat repelling. She never felt more unrestricted than when narrowly connected to the multiple wires of her capsule, when entangled to the multiple dimensions of space.
But she still had to deal with physical matters. And on that day, the room was perfect for her business. She stood up and spoke loud and clear.
‘Mr Leikahn Ginko, thank you for coming to see me.’
Of course he had not, but her word was his polite will. She had demanded the officially appointed representative to come onboard the Prestige, her battleship-class Abaddon. The one who had written that irksome drivel of course. She could feel the implant slot at the base of her skull sending twinges of magnetic resonance in her back as her impatience fused with anger. Her fingers tapped commands on the keypad and the wall behind her displayed a transmission of the form. He twitched.
‘This is the reason I asked you to come, I suppose you figured out that much by yourself.’ She paused and sat down again behind the desk, ‘So now, if I may, tell me what strange stream of unconsciousness led you to think your opinions matter to my Corporation.’
His fists clenched over his most expensive suit, the one that had required half a year of hardship, the one that gave him a status as a representative, a reason, a face, a name… just for that Capsuleer woman and against all of their community’s principles. Ginko pushed them further under the cover of the desk, away from her icy eyes and his burning shame.
Her temperate… How could they call Gaïssa their own planet? His family had been living in this confined world for three generations now; they were from the first wave of settlers who had been building this human colony, away from the deep rifts that were slowly eating at New Eden’s heart, on the fringe of the Khanid Kingdom. How ever you’d look at it, they had been successful, managing to balance their sedentary lifestyle with the dangerous ways of Low Security space, away from the omniscient protection of CONCORD. The compromise between Empires had casualties, and Low Security space sure was one. The universe had been growing too fast and too far to keep policing up with cartography. Minor significance was a minor security issue after all. As mere civilians, Ginko’s community had been relatively safe on their planet. Yet they knew the tables might turn on them at any time and they were cautious. They had built shelters underground in the hope of escaping the ruthless slaver raids that plagued lawless space. The tales told by wandering world trekkers and merchant caravans were horrendous enough to give the goosebumps to a Gallente holoreel… It had happened that spaceship debris had crashed miles away, but they had been lucky in his town till now. But the ubiquitous latent fear lived within them, every day that God would gracefully lend them. Travelling on the other hand represented great imminent danger. As soon as the beginning, they had determined they would need to stay in touch with the ever-evolving world of modern civilization. Therefore they undertook frequent journeys to High Security Empire space and its thriving trade hubs. And most of their men would come back. Ideals were exactly what they were: ideals. Although the cocoon might have felt stifling and dark at times, it was home, wasn’t it?
Their demanding but peaceful life had been treasured with jealousy, until the Capsuleers had come and claimed supremacy over the planet’s resources. They had installed gigantic pipes over the continents and stabbed the land, and the ugly wounds had borne bulky command centres. They had delved through the oceans and swallowed life out of them through enormous submersed conduits. They had wiped out the principle of the colony’s sense of belonging, of their very existence. Their demanding but peaceful life had become confined to the Finju continent. The ‘links’, as he had heard them call those pipes, had become an indigenous species of their land. That had been made clear; the pact of coexistence had been sealed.
And yet, it had not been long until his people had been summoned by the ones who had the power to threaten. The Capsuleers were planning on extending their extraction network to Finju, where precious resources had recently surfaced, and they needed space to station their workforce and intervention troops. Without any further notice, the extractor heads had been seeded all over the quiet Finju; the quest for yield unfurling its gluttonous tentacles every day deeper under their feet.
Everything had happened so fast; Kenir’s inhabitants had been completely overtaken by events that made no sense to them. They had been blinded by their humanity, even timidly welcoming who they had considered as new neighbours. How could they possibly have been more out of it? That Capsuleer sitting straight on the other side of the desk, himself waggling uncomfortably on his chair despite a paralysing apprehension: both were representatives of two worlds far apart, indulging in a dialogue of the death that would not rely on words. And he only realized that now. He had no idea. Damn, we had had no idea. Ginko blabbered confusedly and she kept tapping on a datapad with the tip of her forefinger. It was breaking his nerves. His speech was incoherent, hustled on the notes of pathos and knocking against the disharmony of aggressiveness. Helplessness was growing with the brilliance of the room. She seemed to be beaming from it.
‘So, do you understand? Do you understand how much time and money I lost trying to be good to you and your people? And how did you treat my kindness?’ She leaned a little over the desk with an amused smile. ‘Since you are the official representative for this village on my temperate planet, you will take full responsibility, like a good man.’
Why had it been their faraway system, their planet? They’d never know. They would only learn to bend their heads low and it was not like they had a choice either. The Capsuleers… the wired bats only offered agreement as choice, feeding on their obscenity like clone vats on their life simulacrum. Labyrinths were not for the Kenir people; a shake was instant death and a nod immediate life, there was no twilight path. And now, he was doing everything he was capable of doing for his town although it was all just a deadlock. Therefore, he nodded again, his mind shaking furiously.
It was too late, wasn’t it.
He suddenly stood up, knocking over his chair as his hands awkwardly banged on the desk. He turned a bit hesitatingly to pick up the chair but decided not to. What for?
She looked up and distaste painted a frown on her features. Those manners… She abhorred every single inch of his body with an irrational impression of obscenity. She definitely needed to have her social adaptation chip checked out; something was messing with her nervous system these days.
‘My workers will not thank you obviously… willingly condemning them to rough and ready prefabricated buildings… Well, everyone cannot be a patron of the little people. Let’s make a clean sweep, a tabula rasa, mmh?’
His eyes were fastened upon the Capsuleer in fascinated incredulity. Something unexpected had been kicking in their world, in their dream. And the anomaly was now staring at him, knowing there was no cure for her infectious attention. Peace was already leaving Gaïssa. ‘Why’s’ did not matter anymore; Ginko knew his present life was dying.
He saw her press the intercoms button and saw her lips move, but it was as if his ears had turned deaf. When she fell silent, his mind stopped thinking; his heart probably would have stopped beating if his body had not been relying on it so much. It was as if his mind had been engulfed in a soft bubble, in some sort of alternate world and time. He felt numb and the Capsuleer disappeared from his sight. She had ceased to exist. Now were the ship and his conscience. The instrument of death and the cause of their deaths. He floated to the window and pressed his hands flat against the crystalline. He stared into space.
Ginko watched as the monstrous Tachyon beam lasers slowly rotated their hideous heads towards the North West, towards Kenir. Ginko watched the tremendous waves of energy swell and swell until human means could not contain them any longer, until a blind spot formed in his eyes. He watched a massive streak of fire collide with the planet and gush avidly outwards. The energy had hurled from his eyes to the planet, instantly. At God speed. The houses on the surface were blasted like plastic toys and meanwhile on the battleship his feet did not even feel any recoil. Somewhere behind the ablation fumes, he knew his Town had disappeared. Thousand lives erased, million memories forgotten. All significance dried out. Love, men, hatred, children, compassion, women, fear, animals: all gone in an exquisite and radiant cascade of light. It would never cease to amaze him how ugly things could look beautiful when seen from a distance.
The stuffed pony might have died. It had to have been torn to shreds, mutilated into thousand smithereens. From the depths of his bubble, the man broke up into hysterical laughter.