Written for the Eight Thousand Suns in New Eden Category
for the Pod and Planet Fiction Contest
The name of the capsuleer
I’ve been serving under the same capsuleer for 6 years. At the beginning I served as a navigational engineer under Lieutenant Commander Chandra. Chandra and I graduated in the same class from the Federal Navy Academy, so after that, we wanted to work on the same ship. We were hired by a capsuleer in Yona VI to transport goods in High Sec with an Obelisk freighter. We flew under the banner of Interferometric Co. a capsuleer corporation dedicated to transport goods across New Eden.
I remember how the capsuleer always watched us from her balcony as we were tending to our ship and cargo in the hangar. Although she had delicate lines, her face was always empty of feelings, making her alienated from us crew members. We often joked around, that she looks at us the same way as she looks at the busy machines of the hangar. We often called the capsuleer a surveillance camera and called ourselves assets, not different from the cargo loaded in the ships. Gallente people often considered baselining capsuleers as celebrities or stars, because they felt that descending capsuleers recognized them, but I don’t think it was the case. Many baseliners thought capsuleers were not human, and that they lack all human emotions, and only seek their own goals. Well I think when they baseline it’s not in the interest of the people, but because of their own.
We were in our homestation Yona VI drinking in one of the station’s bars with the nav guys when Lieutenant Commander Chandra signaled, that there is a recruitment to deliver goods to the Outer Ring with a Proteus. Apparently the last delivery did not go well, and the navigational crew got killed when a nuclear projectile penetrated the hull and exploded into the navigational center. Most of the crew died by the impact, the others died of 50 sievert of radiation, not the amount the anti-radiation pills can handle on board.
Outside of simulation, I never flew in a Proteus. As a navigational engineer your job is not really stressful. I mean bar fights amongst shield, armor and hull engineers were a usual sight, but we just bet who gets knocked out before security arrives. For the last 4 years we were never under fire in the Obelisk. So naturally, we were terrified. Crew members don’t really change ships, but it could scarcely happen for the nav crew. I mean celestial mechanics, astrophysics and the map of the universe are the same everywhere. The payment was too good to be turned down, so the crew decided to go, and Chandra accepted the job.
So we started checking the systems on ship for the task; computers, drives, machines, software, and every inch of the ship before takeoff. And there she was again. The capsuleer looking down under at us like a surveillance camera.
Everything went smoothly. We were 10 jumps from 4C-B7X, our destination, when we saw a Raven and a Crow waiting for us to decloak on gate. We ran over the calculations, decloaked, and started to align to the next gate, and activated Covert Ops Cloaking device. As our ship slipped into the background of the universe, and slowly turned towards the next gate, we saw the Crow pilot burning towards the position where we disappeared. It was one in a million, but the interceptor bumped into us disrupting the cloaking system, and moments later we were scrammed.
As a nav engineer your job is simple in this situation, combat navs assist the fight, the rest of us look for a way out of the fight and ways the enemy could flee so we can chase him. It doesn’t matter, how good combat simulation you get in the academy, when real missiles are thundering on your shield you will be disturbed while looking at the iterations on screen. You will be even more distracted when the distant-like electrical sound of the shield goes out, and after the unsettling silence you start to hear the rockets chew into the ship’s armor. But one of the best feel you will get is when you hear on the comms “Crow is neuted, Crow is neuted, free to warp”. We already checked everything to be ready for the capsuleer, to hit warp. Now we just prayed to all the religious entities in the Gallente Federation, that she decides to warp out and does not want to fight anymore.
We warped out.
After that mission, the capsuleer offered a job for the navigation team every time she reached to the stars. We were offered so much payment for the jobs that we never turned them down. We started our neverending journey through all of New Eden. We navigated transport ships in low sec, T3s to null sec, opened cynos for jump freighters, and pretty much did everything they taught us in the Academy. After a couple of them, it was not about the money. We earned enough to retire for life, and go back to our families. But we didn’t. We were hooked. Capsuleers seek to earn a name for themselves, which will be echoed between the stars, and they have immortality and forever to achieve that, but us baseliners only have a measurable amount of years, so making a difference is even harder. But we felt we were in a good path. There are many crew divisions on a ship each lead by a Lieutenant Commander and above them was the Commander of the ship, and of course the capsuleer who was the captain. When we were changing ships the Commander of the next ship felt that we were special, because we went everywhere with the capsuleer and had a lot of experience. Commanders were not ashamed to ask advice from Lieutenant Commander Chandra, so we felt respected amongst the other crew members.
After almost 2 years of continous adventure, we started to ignore the capsuleer’s watch over us in the hangars. I realized that she became just a part of the hangar for us as we must have been a part of the hangar for her too.
Before one of the null sec transport missions we were on 3 day leave on Yona V where most of our families were. We drank in one of the bars meant for crew members with the guys, when the capsuleer entered. It was beyond weird. I knew capsuleers are among us, it’s not that uncommon for them to baseline in Yona, but this was the one we called “the capsuleer”. She approached our table and turned to Lieutenant Commander Chandra and asked:
“Would you join me in my captain’s quarter for a drink the day before the mission?” – she asked, her face ever so plain.
“Errmmm… yes… Yes Captain!” – said Chandra baffled.
“Good.” – said the capsuleer simply, then turned around and walked out, every step like the other with a precision only achieved by machines. We sat there speechless and looked at each other confused.
“The fuck was that all about?” – I finally managed to ask.
“I have no idea, this was the first time a capsuleer talked to me.”
“From the look on your face, can’t say I envy your privilege!” – I said, bursting the guys into laughter.
We were waiting in the station nearby to the capsuleer’s quarters for Chandra. When he came back from the area isolated for capsuleers he looked more confused than ever. He told us that the capsuleer offered him a drink and then they sat down and she asked some basic questions like: Is it a problem for the crew that we are shifted through different classes of ships, do we need a break, are we satisfied with the money we receive, and things like these. After Chandra answered them the capsuleer’s face was still empty of emotion and she said:
“Good. That’s all then Lieutenant Commander.” Chandra did not even finish his drink, so he awkwardly sat the glass on the table saluted and left.
Next day the mission went the same way, the first time we were in the Proteus almost 2 years ago. The only difference was, that this time we were not that lucky. If you thought hearing your shield and armor torn from your ship was a bad thing, you did not hear the sound when the hull received damage. Every hit could be the last you hear, as shrapnels fly around, you hear explosions, electrical shortages occur, and the worst; the shrieking sound of decompression. The nav team is usually safe deep inside the ship, but one of our circuit boards must have fried at the mainframe, and repair bots did not appear to function, so Chandra decided to replace it by hand.The capsuleer managed to destroy one of the attacking ships, but hearing the armor, hull and weapon engineers struggle on comms, I decided it’s best if I go and help Chandra.
I found him on the corridor floor, his torso ripped apart by a huge metal panel. I felt devastated, but the yelling on comms cleared my mind in a second, so I ran to the mainframe. The repairbots next to the room were indeed damaged, so I entered the room and replaced the circuit board. As soon as I changed it I heard cheering on comms, and saw on the directional scanner that there were two wrecks next to our ship. We lost 30% of the whole crew.
When I left the ship the capsuleer was already on her balcony watching over the undamaged goods transported from our cargo bay. I helped Chandra’s remains on to the levitating stretcher. The rest of the nav crew got out of the ship and gathered around Chandra, to see him off to his cremation. As we walked next to the stretcher I looked at the capsuleer. Her eyes swept around the hangar, but when she saw us her eyes stopped. She looked at her holopad and started to look for something. She looked down at us, and then she turned around and left the balcony. When we reached the exit door of the hangar she was already on the corridor waiting. She must have been running to get there so fast, but she was not panting, and her face was emotionless as always. As we passed by her I glimpsed at her, she was looking at the stretcher slicing through the air.
The capsuleer left in the fastest ship but we did not receive a job. We were a little disappointed. I was next in rank, so I became Lieutenant Commander. I was in transmission with my wife and daughter, when we received a massage that the capsuleer was inbound after 5 days. When she arrived she posted a job offer for the nav team:
Opening a cyno for an attack team deep inside of the corporation’s sov who tried to blow up our Proteus. Most of the team was deeply shaken by the last mission, but just like me, they saw this as an opportunity to pay back for Chandra, so we accepted.
As the repair of the Proteus conducted, the capsuleer followed the whole procedure from her balcony. Her face was still as ever, but there was something in her eyes. It was like a raging storm of devotion. It was the look crew members often talked about. To serve under a capsuleer determined to do anything for her purpose.
After the repairs we went to a Caldari system, where we had to stay put for 2 weeks. We decided we are going to baseline on one of the planets, because we have never been on a Caldari planet before, and of course this may be the last time, to have a natural ground under our feet.. The bureaucracy was insane. It took 2 days until all our data was cleared and we could descend on the planet. The caldari official who arranged our papers said that the capsuleer from our ship is also trying to baseline. I don’t think she will be able to manage that within a week with this kind of paperwork. Baselining as a capsuleer in Caldari is not an easy task.
We were looking for a place to drink and found a really good bar, but when we entered, we saw that the place was crowded with Caldari militia, we did not serve in the Faction Wars, but decided that it is not the best place for crew members from the Gallente. So we settled in a bar which welcomed all the travelers and traders from the other worlds. A few days before the mission as we walked to our usual place I heard a voice from behind me.
“Lieutenant Commander Kalle!” – I turned around and saw a stranger.
It took me a few seconds until I realized it was our capsuleer heavily masked. She wore a lot of makeup, changed her hair and eye color and was in local clothing, but the look she had for the past few weeks penetrated the disguise.
“I’m sorry captain, I did not recognize you!”
“The rest of you, go!” – she said to my crew not even looking at them.
“Yes captain!” – They replied and hurried from the scene. I felt they abandoned me, I did not want any trouble on this planet next to a capsuleer either.
“Would you care to join me for a drink?” – She asked.
“Of course Captain.” – I answered puzzled.
“Don’t call me captain, I must not reveil my capsuleer identity and it may draw attention. You should call me…” She reached into her pocket for her holopad to look for his temporary ID “Call me Kaimi.” – she did not blink once while speaking.
“Yes erm… Yes Kaimi.” – I realized I don’t even remember her real name. Sure I signed a contract which mentioned her 6 years ago, but we never actually received any notifications or payment transactions directly from her but from the corporation, and we always referred to her as the capsuleer, or captain in formal.
She guided me to the place crowded with Caldari militia. She did not mind them at all, and asked me the same questions she asked Chandra a few months back. After that she went silent so I gathered myself and asked a few questions, but since I did not know what basic questions I should ask from a capsuleers, I asked the things I would from any random baseliner. If she was surprised, she did not show it, but answered the questions hesitantly. After a few drinks the conversation turned out real good, I mean it still felt like I am talking to some AI but at least we were talking. She started asking about my personal life.
“Do you have a family back in Yona?”
‘Yes. A wife and twin daughters.”
“I am not an expert of baseliner financials, but from the work you do what is your family’s status?”
“The truth is, we are considered to be the middle class on the planet. I did enough jobs, that I could retire right now and live from the money I made so far.”
I was surprised that she did not ask why didn’t I retire, because baseliners who get enough money, leave the service of capsuleers quite often. Not that they notice it.
“What would you do if you retired?”
“Well… I thought of teaching in the Federation Navy Academy. In the last few years I gathered up a pretty good resumé to be considered as a valid candidate. Also it would be an opportunity to move to one of the planets where the Academy is, it’s a higher standard of living.”
“Do you want your daughters to become capsuleers?”
I was shocked at the question.
“I… I never thought that they could or wanted to be one. One of them is eager to become a fighter pilot, the other passed the preliminary tests of cloning, but there are more tests to come. Even if she passes the bar which is a lower chance than one in a million, it is a long road to become a capsuleer, and I would not want her to sign a contract with a corporation to sponsor her, my family can’t afford the education. Even if we could, the hard part comes only after that.”
I felt really awkward how fast I could argue against one of my daughters becoming a capsuleer, with reasons which were only part of the whole truth. It was me who felt silent this time, because the only things in my mind were the real reasons. The capsuleer picked up the conversation by talking about the job. She was pretty calm about it, and asked that if we were aware, that it is a mission that baseliners would refer to as “suicide mission”. I reassured her that the nav crew is determined and we will get the job done. I got paranoid that the people around us started to look at us suspiciously after the capsuleer topic, she did not want to break her cover, so we left.
Walking back to the hotel where me and the nav guys stayed, I reflected on the things we discussed. I think everything I feel attached to, she detached herself from. I told the guys about the conversation. They joked around a little, but the unsaid truth was that it reminded all of us to Chandra’s conversation before a job. Not that I am superstitious, but I felt uncomfortable nonetheless.
So here we are, jumping through the last gate. In the next system we have to find a safe place and open the Cyno for the attacking fleet. The attacking fleet was a mercenary corp. hired by the capsuleer, for billions of ISK as she explained to me on the Caldari planet. I could not even fathom how much money that is.
As soon as we arrived, we broke cloak and aligned to the middle celestial object, while in warp we calculated the coordinate for a safe spot to warp to. We saw the local communication system coming to life in a moment, as they saw our ship. There were more ships on d-scan than I cared to count. We decelerated from warp and begin to prepare to go to the saved coordinates. We aligned and was in warp in seconds, the nav crew was in high alert. As soon as we dropped from warp the capsuleer activated the cyno. The ships on d-scan started to get closer by the instant. An alert went up from the capsuleer to set all systems to auto and abort the ship, the capsuleer knew the ship was going to go down. She did not have to signal twice, the crew started to run to the escape pods, and poured into them, like it was our last chance to live. Well it indeed was exactly that. As we entered the escape pods we saw flashing lights joining the stars. After the blinding lights faded an immense fleet of ships emerged from them, and moments later the enemy welcoming ships arrived from warp. We launched from the ship and the crew started to maneuver the pod to the nearest Thanatos’s docking bay, and watched a battle so stunning that dimmed all other experience. But my eyes were locked on our Proteus, as the vanguard of the enemy fleet rapidly unloaded its first salvo on the ship. The projectiles and charges hit first, demolishing the shield and stripping the armor from the ship like it was only clothing. Numerous parts of the ship caught on fire and explosions went off everywhere. It stood still shining the cyno, as the missiles arrived, blowing the structure apart. I saw the capsuleer ejected in her pod, but she did not flee. Just stayed in one place, and waited for the frigates to destroy her. Well… she arrived home faster than we did.
After the mercenaries destroyed the enemy fleet and structures, it took us 2 weeks to return to Yona. In the first high sec system a Council Diplomatic Shuttle was waiting for us sent by the capsuleer. I never saw such luxury with my own eyes. It was the time when I received two messages in my holopad. The first was a recommendation letter for the Academy, the second was from the Gallente Educational Board, claiming that all the fees for my daughter have been paid. Preschool, University, equipment, training, exams, tests, everything paid by a name I did not know but remembered I saw somewhere before. I had to look it up, and I could not believe it.
When we exited the shuttle in Yona VI station I looked up at the capsuleer’s balcony, and she was there standing and watching at us walking through the hangar with a face where you would not find any emotion in a capsuleer’s lifespan. When we got closer I saluted at her. She slightly lifted her hands from the balcony fence, making a minimal gesture towards me. I could not hold it, and laughed at the effort. I waved at her like I would wave at my baseliner friends.
I think she smiled. She was human after all.
Her name was Luwien Daise.
The things that inspired and helped the writing of the story:
If you liked the story, it continues in my other entry: The Proteus: LC-K-114