A man walked along a lower deck promenade of a low security system station in Heimatar space. He knew ahead of time that the lower levels of stations were typically less safe than the well-patrolled public higher levels, but he was searching for something specific not available in the safer areas.
Even had he not been aware, it would’ve been obvious early on: the upper levels were in pristine condition by Minmatar standards – shining, people laughing, well lit, minimal visible duct tape. There was a buoyant happiness in the crisp, recycled air, and it was easy to see why so many made stations their homes. There was the promise of adventure, of a future that knew no bounds, of profit and dreams beyond imagining. In the lower levels however, the air had a smell of decay to it, as did the corroded metal that enveloped everything. What lights did work were either flickering, sparking, or old and nearly spent. The rest had fallen to disrepair or vandalism long ago. Puddles of liquid gathered in warped bulkheads and people were far more cautious to show themselves publicly. These were the ones that had experienced the cold reality of life; their dreams crushed, the nightmare of their lives hanging on by a thread each and every day.There were still the occasional ConSec patrols but the levels this deep in the station were ruled by the gangs.
This man wasn’t oblivious to any of these things, nor was he so self-absorbed that he considered himself immune to the inherent dangers. This man knew danger intimately. This man was a capsuleer.
To some, capsuleers were the next step in the evolution of mankind, gods among us that through the power of their will and mind alone could command hulking war vessels capable of massive destruction. To others, these capsuleers, or pod pilots, or eggers, or any of the less savoury names they were sometimes known by, were nothing but a galactic menace that needed to be eradicated for the prosperity of the human species. Nothing good had come from the capsuleers, only more war and destruction.
He had experienced his fair share of war, death, destruction, and loss. He had also tried to do his best, making tough decisions and questionable calls that he had stood by in order to save lives, or do what he believed was right despite the personal consequences that had come his way as a result of those choices.
This man knew that within the warm embrace of his ship pod he was immortal, his consciousness instantly transferred to a waiting clone should he perish. It wasn’t a pleasant or easy experience and the sensation of death was never something one could adjust to, but at least there was always life afterwards.
This man knew that outside of his pod, his weak flesh was no better than anyone else. This is why many capsuleers would remain submerged in their pods for months at a time, only separating when protocols were enforced to prevent permanent muscular atrophy and mental dementia. The human mind and body were only meant to sustain so much prolonged traumas, and being melded to a ship would be considered such.
Even then, few capsuleers ventured outside of their captain’s quarters, safe high above the publicly accessible levels of any station, confident in the additional security their infinite isk provided.
This man never wanted to forget his humble roots as an Amarr slave, as one who had lived his early life with nothing. He worked hard every day in the public fitness facility to maintain his muscle mass, his cardiovascular health, to not take for granted what technology afforded him. He wanted to socialize amongst the “norms” as there were sometimes called by other pod pilots in an effort to stay grounded, to stay rooted, to stay up to date with the matters of the rest of the universe, not just the limited sphere of activity most capsuleers obsessed over.
There were some that considered him inconsequential. There were others that found him inspirational. He considered himself no better or no less.
What he didn’t know is that point was going to be tested.
GalNet, holovids, and other media outlets all tended to glamourize celebrities and their lives. Everything was sensationalized, made glorious, larger than life. It was something to aspire to, to dream of one day being. It was also an outlet for mockery, for ridicule, an equalizer to make our own dreary existences seem slightly less miserable.
A simple example of this would be any primetime serial with a protagonist. The main character gets ambushed, overwhelmed and either:
• Manages to overcome the insurmountable odds and comes away unscathed
• Gets hit by something that seems impossible to recover from only to shrug it off with a minor cosmetic bruise
That is what we become to believe of reality.
The problem with this perception is that it is inaccurate in the most deadly of ways.
This man wasn’t overly cautious. He considered himself capable and had relied on his intimidating physique, his facial tattoos, and his aggressive demeanour to prevent actual incidents of personal violence from occurring. When those deterrents had failed in the past, he had fought dirty to survive, and even occasionally prevail.
He turned a corner, and was hit by a heavy metal pipe across the face. It wasn’t glamourized. There was no time dilation, no martial reflexes that allowed him to dodge skillfully out the way – there was only the solid crunch of bone as the pipe connected.
He didn’t brush it off. He didn’t overcome insurmountable odds. This wasn’t a primetime serial.
There was a blinding flash of light followed quickly by his vision collapsing as darkness threatened to overtake him. There was the searing pain of the initial connect as his cheekbone shattered in over a dozen places. There was the stabbing knife of agony as several of his teeth cracked, exposing nerves to the air as he tried to inhale, making his knees buckle. He didn’t have time to recognize the metallic tang in his mouth was his own blood. His sunglasses lens shattered at the point of impact, sending a piece deep into his eye, partially severing the optic nerve therein.
All of this happened as he involuntarily fell to the ground, his body shutting down. He never felt how hard he hit the ground, like a flimsy sack, his skull bouncing off the cold, unforgiving deck.
Again, if this is were a primetime serial, he would be rescued, or some cosmically aligned event would occur to frighten the bad guys away, or the hero would miraculously recover moments before his impending death.
In his unconscious state he had no way of knowing what was going to happen to him. Perhaps that was for the better.
As fate would have it, if you believed in such a thing, he awoke two days later, strapped to a bed in a medical center as an unidentified patient. His wounds had been deemed critical, and he had been left to die; yet he had recovered. Was that also part of the Jovian technology that allowed for capsuleers to live forever? The attending physicians weren’t sure.
What they were certain of was the amount of pain this man had endured, and would continue to endure during his recovery. Mentally, they were concerned he might never recover fully.
The on-duty nurse returned. He wasn’t aware she had left. With her were two Concord Security officers, and a doctor.
His head felt full of cotton. His ears rang, the voices talking to him distorted. He breathed in and felt vomit rise in his throat as his ribcage protested violently with several firey hot stabs of agony.
The doctor lifted his chin, shining a light into his eyes, then away, and then back. It hurt. Everything hurt.
He gently sipped some water the nurse was offering through a straw, hardly able to keep it down and he found himself wondering what the hell had happened to him.
He had survived a lot in his life, but at that moment he was terrified. A man only had so much fight left in him. Had his amount run dry?
In the blink of an eye, life could change, without warning. People could die, fortunes made and lost, relationships ended. There is so much in this universe we have no influence over.
It is how we react to these unexpected events in life that define our character, define our spirit. Do we give up, give in, and let ourselves withdraw? Or do we rise, stand once more, hope beyond hope for better?
That was the question.
With great effort, the man focused his senses. One of the ConSec officers was talking to him.
“Aim. Romaine.” was what he heard. He took another cautious breath.
“Your name. What is your name?” the officer asked, his datapad in hand, wanting to make sense of this situation as well.
His name. What was his name? He knew this. He knew he knew this but couldn’t recall this simplest thing. A tear began to well up in his eye as panic rooted itself in his soul.
No, he wouldn’t allow it. He knew he was stronger than that, better than that. He cleared his mind and remembered.
He looked directly into the eyes of the officer and replied.
“My name is Roc Wieler.”
Past present or future history Roc? Very nice writing btw!
Awesome as usual. Inspirational as well. A reminder of our own mortality and being humble in that is always nice. And if memory serves me, you still need to write a story for myself and another contest winner from a while back.