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.
She had first caught a glimpse of it in a dream. Back then, when they had engulfed the Implant in the depths of her cognizance_ the dark emerald skies tearing up onto the bruised blue of a gaping New Eden; a dead end consumed with too many suns.
It was a devastated galaxy haunted with violent magnetic storms, cradled by the monotonous tide of toxic undulations that unfurled relentlessly. She lingered in the inconspicuousness of her silent immateriality, until the holographic projection finally glistened, reifying her presence to the System, and she winced wearily. The dream began again.
So, tell me… What will you do?
She initiated the elaborate computing of variations to the optimal alignment to the Gate, and her ethereal senses guided her mechanized embodiment through pulsating tempests and cold secrecies. She summoned speed and the ship sliced faster through the air.
Now was the expectancy. The time for prowling legacies and the flickering sphere. She huddled up in the intimacy of her capsule. The soft ectoplasmic matter felt stifling so close to the Gate.
But she was the incantation. She was two, she was the female body and the empyrean aura hovering; she was three, she was the ship; she was One.
Are you alive?
Tears were slowly streaming down; she turned her head not to see them. She could sense the noumenon, harbouring deeper in uncharted territories, beyond, inside, its electromagnetic waves always probing through for guests, finding the leaves of life and terminating them. She hastened.
The fleece of the sky wailed as the wings cut through, burying eclipses underneath in the abyss where extent met with expansion, realm for dreams, profoundly perpetual.
The margin is the essence, isn’t it?
She closed her eyes and reinitialised.
Home… She had been feeling out-of-place for a while now. It just didn’t feel right.
The stars seemed dull and immobile; the space her ship sliced through was cold and reluctant. There… was not where she belonged.
‘So, why don’t you go and search for a home?’
She startled. Her personal AI had suddenly chimed in. It was unusual of it to act on its own. Epsilon508 had a rather meditative personality and would not intervene unless explicitly asked to. Her eyes wandered to where she was naturally expecting to see the holographic manifestation. The device was programmed to answer the intuitive call for alterity: the psychological reports had unequivocally stressed the importance of not-self representation. These humanoid pixels bending over the manual command panel… they shaped the material self her mind was granting the AI. Today Epsilon508 was wearing a dark blue uniform. He had not combed his hair. And yes, she did worry about his hair. He was always so self-conscious, immaculately dressed. Something was off; off their usual interplay. She knew Epsilon508’s ‘body’ was the space of alternative intersection, the land where they could meet_ where she could meet with herself. She accepted the rendez-vous.
‘Why, when and where are a bit of an overkill, Epsi. Don’t you think I have enough questions already?’
All of this just upset her. Was it the place? Was it the people? Or was it a time? Epsilon508 would probably not speak up and let her bathe in her doubts. She wiggled uncomfortably in the capsule’s ectoplasmic liquid. It penetrated through the tiniest apertures, infiltrated the body in places beyond consciousness, yet it was still possible somehow to breathe in it. Somehow, the jagged horizon of doubt could still be treaded.
‘If it can be treaded, it can be found.’
Damn AI… damn herself. She cracked a half-irritated smile, ‘My, aren’t we talkative today.’
A sigh of exasperation crossed her lips.
‘Heavens… Don’t you ever stop?!’
Suimeki just ignored her and opened the second drawer wide. She was as buoyant as always, concentrated sunshine on legs.
She had picked a light blue top and was holding it up triumphantly.
‘This… You should totally wear this, Kin!’
Rain wanted to say something, but she thought better of it as Suimeki was already furrowing through the cupboard for matching trousers. You couldn’t stop her when it came down to these things. She smiled in spite of herself and flopped down onto the bed with her arms spread open, listening to the familiar hustle and rustle of Sui’s unweary fashion quest. At 18, Suimeki was not particularly beautiful, but her happy smile and kind eyes beamed with cuteness.
A shine that would soon turn to ash if Asty finally decided to ‘take care’ of her…
Sui was the only one to see her smile, and that was probably why she was the only one to call her by her real name, Kin. And yet Rain was feeling the estrangement more and more: Kin was starting to wither away.
Rain got up on her elbows. ‘Do you want to watch a holo with me later?’
‘Awesome! I was hoping we’d have a comfy all-nighter together before we leave.’
Rain’s face clouded over.
‘Before we leave’… She still hadn’t figured out why Asty was wanting Sui now. Was it to make her pay for her previous failure when she wasn’t able to deliver what Asty had demanded to the Wormhole base? All she was certain of was that there would be no happy ending.
And there, Sui was at it again, rambling on how excited she was to go live with Asty, how she might become a capsuleer just like her, how she would be glad to meet Annie again who was such a cutie-pie or how she might become the one to unveil the Sleeper mystery. Rain clenched her fists and forced her lips sealed.
Asty… Will you never be satisfied?
Asty had created Rain, and she had taught her that Rain was to fall. So Rain had been falling, with the semi-god shining down her warped truth on fallen rain. But she had never wanted to see the sun burn and consume itself… Asty had the mastery of changing things; changing things into something they should not be.
She had to protect Sui, whatever the cost would be. That Sui who was now gazing at her with worried eyes. She pulled herself together and chuckled, ‘That’s quite the plan you have here. Though how about starting with dressing me up to the end!’
They both laughed, sweeping away the clouds, the rain and Asty. Yes, fashion was the important matter now.
Sui was now looking at her from behind a pair of gray trousers.
‘How about these?’ She winked ‘I’m pretty sure a certain Ren would feel faint all of a sudden…’
Rain blushed but shook her head. No, these won’t do, let me watch you a little more. Before I have to make my sun go dark, before I have never to see you again…
Pictures from the past were flowing back in her mind in fits and starts, back when she was 16 at the Lost Soul Asylum. The Ethernity solar system had been the nexus for the trade of souls for several decades, where Gods and Devils took turns in redeeming destinations for the Lost. That was where Kin had met little Sui.
They were often called to the Fifth Floor. On that day, as on all days of Fifth Floor summoning, they had strayed from the group after the Etiquette afternoon class and waited silently in a nook for all the educators to walk up the staircase behind the flock of Lost. The lift was forbidden. That was why Sui and her had been the only ones standing in front of the deserted lift shaft, where the only elevator within the Asylum slowly grated its way through the floors. Both the ground floor that was open to the visitors and the Fifth Floor that welcomed Patrons – most often virtually – displayed a surreal degree of asepsis. The vast disinfected emptiness was indeed sterile and had lost humanity long ago. These two floors were the only exits to the outer world. However, the old insular building, entrapped between regular office buildings in the upper town, was costly to maintain and the Lost were the most aware of it. In-between the ground and Fifth Floors, the foulness of the mid floors reminded them of who they were. They were the Lost whose humanity was found in-between, in the derelict floors. Such was the integration of the Lost to the Outer world: they were intruders in the universe.
The lift enabled Kin to know where she was going and to keep her personality at check. Directly from the ground floor to the Fifth Floor, she was Kin, the soul for sale. There in the forbidden lift, she knew the self who was summoned up to the Fifth Floor. She would have liked it not to be so cold though.
The old lift had finally come to a surprisingly quiet halt in the impersonal hallway of the ground floor, and the worn crystalline doors had opened for them. It had come down fast on that day. Kin had not known whether to take it as a good omen or not. About everything was dimensional in the Asylum; perceptions and auras were otherworldly telling. In the lift, Kin had carried Sui up to let her press the fifth of the barely readable indicators. Sui enjoyed this responsibility; the responsibility to get them to the Fifth Floor of summoning. ‘You are Lost and there is no going back from the Asylum, I’m afraid’, the Director had told Suimeki on the day of her arrival, patting her gently on the head. ‘Obey the summoning and the Gentlemen and Gentleladies from the Fifth Floor will reward your gratitude.’ And Sui would always answer the call promptly, even with the spark of hindsight years had started to kindle in her young mind. Kin had chosen to protect the innocence that had made Suimeki smile to the Director. That random small girl had moved her although she had vowed to be alone. But it had been for Sui’s sake. Now she could tell it had probably been for hers as well: the cult of Sui’s smile had been a life-keeper. It had been the two of them and it had been better that way. Anonymous others would disappear every week. The curse of isolation can be a blessing, can’t it?
The door had shut Kin and Sui in the narrow compartment, with the muffled thump calling the regular black out. The soft lights from the diodes in the lift would always turn off when the cabin was set in motion. Why? She had no idea. Sui and she had a lot of theories going on and wild that still made them crawl under their sheets when talking about the Asylum lift. She had been scared to death the first time she had trespassed the Asylum Law. The lift had acted like the incarnation of her fear and enclosed her in the dark, going up, up to the Director and her chastisement.
And yet in the end she had developed a sort of deranged intimacy with the lift. She had come to tame the grating, the darkness and the uneasiness in a ferocious adequacy. In all the years spent at the Asylum, she had never ever seen anyone else use the frozen lift. And yet, the lift was always immaculate and fresh; it knew no dust; it knew no waning. It was flat out strange and unsettling but she had accepted the fact without further questioning. It just lay there in-between, waiting for her to call it to the Fifth Floor.
‘Kiiiiin! Let’s play Capsuleers!’
Sui is 9 and is infatuated with space. The children are allowed to go on the roof, but it’s winter and freezing cold. They’ll be alone. Kin picks up three blankets and a couple of candies for Sui. Suimeki likes watching the star-strewn sky. She wants to know what’s beyond; she wants to be on the verge of infinity. She wants to go see God.
‘Kin, where is the Key to the sky?’
She has that idea that the sky opens and closes.
Kin strokes her hair gently and wraps her in a warm blanket. ‘It’s probably looking for you as well.’ The night sky reverberates Suimeki’s star-strewn eyes and goes to look for its dawn.
It’s cold but she feels good.
On the Fifth Floor, she remembered the narrow inspection room – ‘You are Lost and there is no going back from the Asylum, I’m afraid. Only going forth, forth to your Benefactors! Be pretty, my Children!’
the anxious waiting in a perfect line – ‘Find God, as He found you and lit your path to the Asylum!’
the distorted faces around her – ‘Remember what it was to be Lost, because you will never be again!’
the grating hum of the hovering camera drones – ‘Remember the warmth of the Asylum forever!’
She could still feel Sui’s little trembling hand grasping her skirt… and her unfaltering smile despite the apprehension. How could she ever forget such smiling distress, such anxious hope? The inspection room ran throughout the Fifth Floor, in a straight horizontality that stated its blatant unilateralism; its lights were too bright, as if to dig the Lost’s truth forth to the gauging eyes; the smell of fear was too strong, but it didn’t matter to a buyer who couldn’t smell it.
Kin was waiting. With the years, she had gradually become somewhat insensitive to the inspections, but at the same time, she was now closing in on the Asylum specific graduation. She had noticed that those who were taken away were mainly those who had been trained enough to be of use – or so she had presumed. She was waiting for the camera drone to draw near, and she had always hated that moment. What was she supposed to do? Look good? Look away? How does a soul for sale look anyway?
Beyond that cold metallic eye was a fate they had no grip on; a fate whose owner they could not see nor hear. She wished the drone would just skip her, forget her. And Sui too. They were fine just the two of them. Somehow…
Meanwhile the Director would speak aloud, praising number 38 or 72, pouring forth his unctuous business tone and manners with that grandiose sense of self-importance talking to high-status people conferred to him. The Lost were disallowed to hear the words of the Redeemer. The elegant anonymity offered to our Benefactors by the Asylum! he’d say. Maybe those had been the worst moments; hearing the silences of a half-discussion, hearing the conscious mutilation of polyphony. The curse of ignorance can be a harsh one.
‘[…] Oh, no, I wouldn’t recommend this one Madam; he wouldn’t be to Your… taste. […]’
The Lost would see the Director nod, see his eyes look askance at some section of the line, see him stroll leisurely along the line, see him affectionately tidy hair here and there. The Lost would hear the Director speak, hear his steady steps wandering from them or getting closer, hear the ruffle of his movements. The Director was their everything. He was what they could see and what they could hear; or rather what they were allowed to see and hear.
‘[…] Since You are our most renowned Patron, why not take 64 along, just next to the one You are looking at? These too are a deal and would work well together. Although she’s well skilled for her age, I’d be willing to give her for half the usual price. […] That’s how precious Your benevolence is to the Asylum, Milady […].’ He had said that with the delighted grin on his face, the one that raised the sides of his brown walrus moustache and showed his teeth the most (except for the coping smile). It probably meant they would be freed from inspection soon, apart from the anonymous one or two who would leave to the anonymous Patron: 63, 64, 65? She didn’t want to know. She had never wanted to.
Of course, the Lost didn’t know who these numbers designated. They were just put in a line and numbered for the eyes of the Director and the Benefactor only. Every one of the Lost could feel the ambivalent tension filling the room, wishing to be, fearing to be the one. But nothing happened; everything had already happened. The long and narrow room was just a digression of space, a digression of their peripherality.
‘The one outstretching his hand to others truly is the most excellent in New Eden!’
It had been the Director’s last aphorism before Kin and Sui had been taken away. Lying on her bed, Rain shuddered. Had she been 64? Or had Sui been 64?
Asty had come; four years had passed and Kin with them. Times with Sui were the only sunny spells that could summon Kin back to life, that could sweep Rain away like an eerie misunderstanding, that could tell the story of the Kin who vanished to Asty, as if it was all figmental and forgotten. Somehow she was still grateful to Asty for having taken her out of the Asylum, together with Sui. Perhaps that grateful victim syndrome, was it. That was why she had decided not to run with Sui and to continue serving Asty to the bitter end.
Anyway, it was all ending tonight. Once Sui would be asleep, Geinkor and Ren would take her far away in a rapid frigate hull. Rain didn’t want undue attention. They would take her far away where Asty wouldn’t find her. Suimeki would find a mission datapad when waking up on an alien world: such had been Miss Astydameia’s will and orders. ‘[…] Never leave this planet.’
And Rain would fall freely, heavier than ever.
Suimeki looked at Kin thoughtfully, disquieted eyebrows arching over her wide eyes. Kin was acting weirdly but she couldn’t put her finger on it. Was it the destination that was worrying her? Sui knew she had never been at ease in Wormholes. It was definitely a big change in their lives, but they were still together, weren’t they? She wasn’t going to ask for more.
‘Kin? I should go and get ready too for dinner now. I’ll be back in ’20 to pick you up, okay?’
When she left Kin’s room, she had taken her decision: she would contact their Benefactor. She too could take care of Kin.
‘Good evening, Miss Astydameia, Suimeki speaking. It’s about Kin…’
She could hear Miss Astydameia’s smile from the other end of the line, and she only knew warmth from a smile.
‘Oh really? Don’t worry, I’ll have someone watch over her closely right away. Isn’t she such a delicate person?‘
‘I am blessed having so many kind souls around me. Thank you.’
Suimeki cut the communication, relieved, and got ready for their last evening in the station.
((sequel to Rain))
The wall gave way as her hand sliced through; matter gave in as her will discarded it. The nanites felt soft and resilient, like undecided yet on the world to create. The prison was somehow exquisitely hers and knew no boundaries; it was an infection where reality slowly came to wither away in the indefinite sphere of simulation. It was Asty’s sick mind giving her ‘reflective time and space to ponder on these deeds’.
How refined. I wouldn’t have expected less from you… I guess.
Rain watched the nanites run away from her fingers to reassemble farther, retrieving and merging mindscapes into a discharged opening. Space had naturally no sense of space. It was an extent to break and assault with more alien content. The redundancy struck her, and she felt sucked in by the totality of space, both equal to the previous worlds and self-same, that endlessly came crashing its jagged dotted line against the windows of time.
Time… For how long had she been in there?
The windows had what seemed like long ago wrapped in their nanite shutters the scenery of the small planet where she had been left. Asty might as well have taken the planet away too.
Rain’s transit was ongoing; ‘away’ or ‘further’ meant nothing to the Real World there, but her reflection, her shadow and her echo had to wander in a space deprived of its own virtuality. The ‘Nanite House’, as she had come to call it, was always a dimension ahead. Over there, consuming the flux of the biomechanical creatures, space had almost finished mutating, deploying its new palimpsestuous perversion.
But it was all emptiness-to-be, over and ever.
In front of her, the chiaroscuro of space dispersed into a deep crack in the nanite foundation. The instable substance had chosen to defer the revelation. She slipped her body through the narrow opening and entered the edge-universe.
The ‘room’ seemed gigantic around her. Like a raindrop smoothly swallowed into the ground, the previous world had already vanished behind her, cancelled into the now known universe. Now were the gigantic expanse and the soft opalescent light. She took a step. Translucent water started flowing around her feet and dilated into a gentle shallow stream, centrifugally expanding over the universe. Her mind only could sense the water running against her ankles, each step echoing away into tiny ripples soon returned to the fundamental ebb. Access to the destination would probably be granted through transversion; she had to stay vigilant and keep her body awoken as the eventual point of emergence. She opened up to the universe and let the backward rain flow through, allowing the insidious shift to begin.
An incongruous music was playing, both furtive and chaotic at the same time. It seemed to blur her spatial evolution into an erratic dislocation, with all directions turning into margins. She moved to her right; the centre had become sterile, but she was the centre, the origin, the sophistry where the universe came to sink and dash. The nanites were on the run and she wondered how long she would have to move for. Or to flee in the universe that was fleeing her. Hadn’t she set Sui on the run too?
She stopped and lay down in the parallel rain.
Lying there in the watery base, she spent a lot of time gazing at the bleary pearly light above, maybe a few hours, a few days; she wouldn’t know anymore. Universe after universe, have I lost my way? What eluded her -she who flies away- was slowly giving way to the self that stays. The inarticulate music was now familiar and reassuring, like an incoherent but definite part of the universe.
She fell asleep.
When she woke up, a door had appeared further on her left. It was an ancient door with a knob on its side that had to be turned. But she wouldn’t need to; the nanites would give in to her mind’s hand and disintegrate when she would outstretch it. Under the door, a bold ray of light was seeping through the chink in spite of a rangy shadow disturbing it. Yet another junction_ but was it opening or closing?
She had come to like the milky universe though and she did not move.
She did not move, watching the door and the light underneath, until the bell rang, uncanny and misplaced.
It was a discomforting sound in the music of the universe. She turned her head back upwards, her eyes staring at the opalescent light. It was the first time she had a visitor. She wondered if she was still herself.
Nerve-wracking. These things were creeping the hell out of her. It was as if her skin would peel off her bones the instant she’d set her eyes on that wretched spacescape. She cloaked up in a hurry and spammed the directional scanner. The Freaks in the wormholes might have already spotted her and the thought was enough to send shivers run down her spine. She double-checked the cloak. It was as if heaps of covert ships were staring right at her through that bloody alleged invisibility device. Or it was the immaterial eyes of a sentient space. What the hell Sleepers? She had to wonder which one she’d prefer. And that was without counting the nut bars who camped in random force fields within these hell holes.
For Scriptures’ sake! What the hell are you doing, Rain?
She pulled herself together and checked the directional once again. That damn Asty! One day she’d make her swallow her bossy tongue. That girl had the mental agility of a soap dish and yet she was the best at pissing her off. Why did she always ask her, out of everyone else? She treated her ship to a pathetic little pout and that made her cringe even more. Her desperately gloomy temper had driven Asty to ticket her ‘Rain’ and the diminutive now stuck to her skin like spikes to Sansha ships. Damnit. She’d deliver the package and get the hell out of there.
Four nightmares to slip through. Shudders again. Rain initiated warp towards the coordinates Asty had sent over. The place seemed to be deserted, and yet echoes of presence resounded around like far cries. A plaintive requiem for the lost; an unbearable shriek for passers-by. Never had she wished so hard to see the next hole materialize before her eyes. One behind was one crossed safely, but one behind was also her world torn away from her reach. The howling acceleration wormhole space kept delivering in that horrible slow motion finally dropped her ship 4,000 meters off the hole, thankfully still cloaked. She automatically ran the scanner again, her mind hesitating as always. In the front, the ephemeral skylight of the wormhole was sending back to her an obscene reflection of shivers, and yet, strangely enough, she found herself attracted to the gentle opal swirls. She felt like she should abandon herself to the calling waves, beyond the confined space that held infinity coiled up within. Holding infinity… alluring indifference, isn’t it. Fucking monster. Her blood was running cold; she bade it to flow faster. You are out of my league, I know that. Don’t talk to me. She fled through and closed her eyes while one world distorted and combined with another.
Clear. She dashed through the second wormhole, a bright ‘Cataclysmic Variable C3’ whatever that meant. She noticed a few structures on the way somewhere in-between. She’d never understand how people could live there. About just everything felt hostile, from the sinister shroud the air was pressing against intruders to the creepy form of ‘life’ that crawled in there. When she was still a kid, she used to imagine the wormhole settlers as great adventurers who’d discover new ores, develop techniques, unveil mysteries. But that was when she was a kid. Now was different; to her, the settlers had merged into the shroud of mystery and become like the ghoulish souls of some atrocious wormhole gods. Now they were the nut bars that came in with the hell hole package. And she, Rain, had to deal with it because Asty was demanding her to. She gritted her teeth and jumped through to the next system.
As the ‘C3’ vanished when dimensions intersected, her glance lingered on the after-image of a luminous fringe behind. Wait… what was that? A ship? Her heart sank together with matter, and when mended back with the spacescape of what seemed to be a ‘C5’, it had shrunk so much she could barely breathe. Especially when she saw the battleship-class Abaddon sitting nearby. She instinctively hustled the heavy Bustard away from the wormhole, away from the Abaddon, activated the cloak and began scanning the system, the ship slowly cruising away as if really nothing was happening. Faster you retard! The device reported a Sabre and a Loki inbound. What do I do… This is so freaking scary. Come on, faster! This was worse than a nightmare and she was reacting like a hysterical kid. A cloak… I have a cloak…. What am I saying in times like these! This is the real thing, Rain! She thought about turning around but there had been that fringe of light on the other side and she was way too slow. Fuck that, I’m running away! She tried to take a deep breath, maneuvering to align the outer coordinates and entered warp just as the wormhole’s magnetic moan resounded too loud behind. Too loud. Rain turned to see the vortex flicker and disappear: that’s so not happening… her way out had just been collapsed with the return of ‘fringe of light’ dude.
There was only ahead left. Ahead and one way. But she’d get some help to find a new exit. It would be okay, wouldn’t it? If she didn’t get herself killed before… She felt shameful having forgotten the basics of wormhole navigation like that. Her body and mind were just so reluctant to be there she couldn’t get a clear idea of what she had to do. She would have cried if she had had the time and space for it, but warp engulfed her tears together with the receding stars. And that feeling of eternity warping alongside her and her ship… She focused on the elusive end of the warp tunnel, her staring eyes building up phantasmal colours into wormholes’ characteristic whirlpools. When warp stabilized and dropped them immobile, she looked around in a fog. She couldn’t see any wormhole. The crack in her gaze widened. There was no wormhole here. No way out. How can it not be here? She double-checked the coordinates. She couldn’t probe. She was trapped. She would die here.
Asty! Ray of hope as she tries to establish contact feverishly.
Calm hazel eyes met her despair without a word.
“Miss Astydameia, I’m… sorry to bother you.” She winced. “I encountered trouble on my way.”
She waited a little for a reaction, a word or a frown, anything, but Asty kept looking at her in silence. She had never been able to read her mind, probably nor to reach it either, no matter how hard she had tried to see through the unblinking face. She swallowed her pride again and went on.
“I followed your directions and it seems there was a mistake concerning the ‘C5’’s exit. There’s nothing here and some nut… wormhole dwellers have just collapsed my entrance. Could you send me the coordinates again please?”
Even silence might have felt for her, but Asty would not.
“There is no mistake, Rain. There never are for me.” She paused, as stoned-faced as before. “Really Rain, I feel most upset about the delivery. It seems I’ll have to do without my sweet Ni-Kunni delicacies tonight.”
Asty carelessly cut the communications and furor distorted Rain’s features. Delicacies? Sweet Ni-Kunni delicacies? Are you fucking kidding me?
Her broken, muffled voice died out fast but its own echoes resounded deep in her mind and body.
“Asty, I hate you.”
It took her a moment to focus back on her current situation. She tried to gather information. The console notified her that the ‘C5’ was a so-called ‘C5 static with a Black hole effect’. Oh really? More holes? And then she saw it. And she understood. She was trembling uncontrollably. It was the first time she had felt such creeping horror run up and down her body. The blind eye darted its black iris at her, spinning madly its deformed vortex of insight around.