Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Short Story

This is my entry to the Inspired By Images Of Eve Competition 3. More details and links to all entrants can be found at Starfleet Comms.


Waking up for the first time isn’t that bad, comparatively. You open new eyes and hear Aura’s voice welcoming you to wherever you had a medical clone stashed. Most of us head straight for our new pod. If you aren’t in your pod, someone actually could kill you for real. They don’t allow weapons on station, but there's always something. Heavy paperweight, shard of glass, a shoelace around your neck from behind. It wouldn’t be easy, but in a long enough career you’re going to give someone a good reason. It’s better to stay in your pod, with the equipment that will read your brain-state if you’re about to die and transmit it to your clone.

Here, they don’t wake you up in a sterile medical bay. They wheel you into one of those little hotel room quarters and leave you, so you wake up in “your” bed. The process is so standardized that nobody bothers to monitor you. I tell the machines in my room to spit out some clothes, and I get dressed. I have memories of doing this a few dozen times. I don’t cry or get the shakes, but if I did there wouldn’t be a nurse around to see it.
We are the Immortals. You can’t let the team down by letting some normal human see you upset. If I ever did the math, the average version of me probably killed ten or twenty thousand people before he was taken down. The very smallest ship that I own is worth more than most humans will ever earn in their entire lives. If I wanted to call in some favors, I could probably topple a small planetary government.
Not bad for a man less than a day old.
I can tell that I’m really new because my clothes feel comfortable. The goop-filled casket they store a medical clone in keeps the epidermis in something like a normal configuration. Same for your nerve endings. If you’ve been in your pod for a long time and do decide to decant, you won’t be used to walking around in an environment with things like air and dust and friction. It doesn’t hurt, exactly, but it’s just on the edge of hurting. It’s a constant discomfort, and it makes your clothes feel like rough bandages over an incompletely-anaesthetized wound. This is what being mortal feels like.
I open the door and walk to the station promenade. I know I should be plugging myself into my pod, plugging my pod into a huge metal body with electronic eyes and a nuclear furnace heart, but I don’t. It’s hard not to. That’s what you sacrifice everything for: You get to live forever, and you get to trade your crapsack human body for metal and fire and computer dreams.
Every storefront is sparkling clear to my new eyes. The technology gets better every day, but it’s especially good in Gallente space. It doesn’t matter what shitty DNA your parents gave you, you come out with six-pack abs and better than 20/20 vision. That stuff is so standard they don’t even ask any more. You have to tell them not to do it. There’s tinkling electronic music and the smell of coffee. Articulated mannequins pose and strut in the windows, all illuminated by carefully-designed indirect lighting.
I check the killmail and my insurance report while I walk. I don’t even use a neocom anymore. The new-generation implants build it all in. Direct neural interface to everything you used to use a tablet for. You can set it to project a heads-up display into your visual cortex, but I use direct cognitive access. It’s alienating for the first week to simply know what all your emails say, the status of all your accounts and assets, and a hundred other things. Still, you’ll have gotten used to worse things by that point.
I sit down at a table in the back of the bar and order something fruity and nonalcoholic. This may make you look weak, but it also marks you as rich. Anyone can industrially manufacture alcohol from base elements. Only a well-heeled person can afford real fresh fruit in a station environment. Also, I haven’t liked alcohol since I got my implants in. Personal taste, I don’t like the way it affects my interface.
If you do decide to become a capsuleer and get the interface, you should know that it’s the worst thing that will ever happen to you again. People think it’s only some plugs in the base of your skull and down your spine. That’s just the tip of the cranial iceberg. You can’t feel it, but there’s metal and semi-organic components running all through your skull, creeping all through the wrinkled gray mass of your brain. You don’t even want to think about the necessary surgeries. But when it’s done, you’re an immortal with miraculous powers. You can learn foreign languages and advanced mathematics during a long afternoon nap. You can do things with a starship that a normal pilot could only dream of. The best part is you only have to have them put in once. They grow your clones around the interface – no cutting required.
Supposedly, in the next generation or two of the technology, they’ll be able to make an interface that can do a destructive read of your brain tissue outside of a pod environment. If that happens, we’ll be truly immortal. Able to walk about, secure in the guarantee of instantaneous reincarnation. I wonder if the humans will really let us have that. I wonder if they'd really let something like that loose.
When he sits down, I don’t talk much. I’m not used to using my voice anymore. You can’t really talk in your pod, because there’s no air. You get used to using your interface, sending out plaintext to the local channels and reading it back. Some people use a synthesizer to make it sound like they’re talking, but that burns up a lot of the quantum entanglement in your fluid router. You may have friends someday, or think you do, but you won’t ever hear their real voices.
I scratch self-consciously around the shiny new interface plug at the base of my skull. The man in the turtleneck is pleased that I succeeded as a decoy, and that everything went according to plan. Suicide missions aren’t common, but you can make real money doing them. I'd been buzzing this "hidden" asteroid base in a stock Rifter, as obvious as anything, daring them to shoot me.  Of course, they did.  My job was actually over the instant they fired on my vessel, but I didn't get to clock out until after I'd felt the frigate explode around me, after they locked down my pod and shot a relativistic tungsten slug straight through it.  The last thing I remember before waking up is the sudden sucking sensation of fluid spraying out of the breach and into space. I heard Aura say goodbye, and then a subjective second later she said good morning.
He’s incredibly flattered to meet me in person. His principal has something else, a courier mission that needs to go outside of Empire space. Out where the capsuleers have formed up into empires of their own, out where the wars never really burn out, only die down to embers for a while.
It’s not exactly a suicide mission, but you should definitely hire a pilot who isn’t afraid to die.
The interface keeps your memory alive, and keeps it sharp. You’ll learn to do things, and you won’t forget them. Even if you die, a clone will wake up and it will know everything you knew. It gets those memories. Skills honed from a thousand battles, corporate takeovers, massive covert operations involving drugs, human trafficking, restricted technology. Good or bad, those memories live on.
I take his job with a smile and a handshake. My grip is firm, my hand feels just like anyone else’s hand.
I’m already remembering things that I didn’t do, that previous versions of me did. My inheritance. A few were good, most weren’t. Some were awful. You decide whether you'd do them yourself or not, and you learn to live with it. And, if you can’t, you pass it on down the line. Nobody’s going to miss you; you’re easy to replace.

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