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Leap of Faith

EVE Online is a science-fiction massively-multiplayer game and the largest shared virtual world in existence. It's set far in the future, where mankind, long since cut off from Earth, has evolved into several galactic empires that maintain an increasingly fragile peace. It is a dark place full of opportunity and danger, where every day tens of thousands explore new territories, wage wars, manage businesses and corporations, and pirate their way through their fellow pilots. The following story, for the holiday season, was written with permission and the assistance of CCP (EVE’s developer). This is a four-part story that will run Fridays, concluding on December 21. For other stories from the EVE universe, visit Eve Chronicles.

GameZone's Senior Editor Michael Lafferty wrote the first chapter in this four-part tale.

Leap of Faith

Chapter One – The Minmatar Encounter

The star was not where it should have been, if it should have been at all.

Kirryli Rae ran over the charts again, culling the information from the neural networks feeding data streams into her consciousness. When she’d first spotted the star, the camera drone on the starboard side of the ship had panned to reveal it and, at her urging, locked on it. Her mind, working at speeds that made her suitable as a combat pilot, had juxtaposed the star against the system charts and found that it simply should not have been there. She had re-evaluated the image sent from the camera … ‘but there it is,’ she thought. The star seemed to twinkle at her, as if amused that she was so astute as to spot it yet perplexed by its location.

She began a double check of the data, covering with the positioning of moons and asteroid belts – all were where they needed to be. The only thing out of place was …

… gone.

She mentally “stared” at the pinpoint of darkness where the star had been, her mind not comprehending the new data fed into her thoughts, then commanded the starboard camera through a series of zooms and pans, finally re-centering it on the “hole” in her conceptual fabric of space. The star was gone. Her body, suspended in the fluid in a capsule locked in the heart of the ship, gave a slight twitch, and her mind blanked for a millisecond as a wave of puzzlement rippled through her. She wondered if she needed a bit more downtime. She had been working awfully hard. Corporate contacts were a testy and demanding lot, and even the slightest hint of disinterest might translate into losing status with them, which would translate into a loss of income. There was a time when income was not something that concerned her, but that time was past. She needed it to survive; she needed it to remain in space. Space – a word that held a reverence for her, inducing a rare moment of nostalgia.

‘There are some who would proclaim space to be a cold and lonely place. Not for me.

‘I have known cold and I have known lonely. Cold is the space in the heart that has never known love; it is the emptiness invading a soul that longs for more but knows that more may never come. Lonely is the dank cell the masters proclaimed to the young was their home, where what passes for food is slopped into trays and barely keeps the body alive. Lonely are the cries that echo into the dark passages of bonded nightmares and are never comforted by an answer.

‘Space, though, is far from cold. There is a warmth in the riot of colors projected by stars, nebula, and suns, all balanced against a sky painted with a palette of blues and blacks. The tendrils of interspace, enfolding the corridors of warp-drive passage like ribbons of webbing, are the shelter against the storm of destruction that waits to greet the unwary. There is danger, there is exhilaration, but above all, there is life. Some may think it a lonely existence, contained within a capsule, cast adrift aboard a metal machine, but the machine is alive. It thrums a rhythm, a heartbeat – steady, answering. The capsule that holds me is a womb, warm and safe. The voice of the computer is my second voice, never demeaning, never threatening, calm and reassuring, even when the situation is dire.

‘It is quite a contrast from the first years of my life. I have never felt so protected and yet so free. My heart and hope are mine to share, or not.’

Her mind reset itself, refocusing. The vanishing star forgotten, Kirryli’s ship, the Star Spray, pirouetted around the asteroid, a warp-powered ballerina, ungainly in appearance but graceful in flight. Kirryli directed a camera to look at the floating rock. Was it worth mining? Likely not. There were signs that others had picked away at it, small extraction points.

And then, there it was again. The star seemed to jump up in front of her, twinkling, dancing in a spot that should not have held a star in this sector. It had just appeared, even as a drone camera was looking at the spot. She didn’t need to consult the charts this time. A moment of doubt passed, morphing into firm resolve. If the star wanted to be chased, then chase it she would.

She ramped up the engines to high speed and headed straight for it.

Sensors picked up two ships, pirates, skirting the edges of an upcoming asteroid belt. She knew they would not hesitate to attack a lone Minmatar ship. She also knew that they would try to come up from under an asteroid as she passed, looking to deliver the first shots to disable her guns. It was an old tactic – find a blind spot in the cameras and exploit it, maybe panicking the pilot into doing some rash, into making a mistake. Kirryli was young, and not long out of the military academy – a ‘space whelp’ one instructor had called her – but she was no fool. She went into the routine of combat effortlessly, even before the first of the attackers had become visible from beneath the floating space rock. Target lock, orbit to target, autocannons activated. It was standard stuff, not much flying by the proverbial seat of the pants, but what did matter was the way space was used. This sector was heavy with debris and asteroids, so tracking and using the space junk as shields would be effective. The Spray’s CPU did most of the dainty work, allowing Kirryli the opportunity to unleash the weapons array tucked into the ship’s design, some not quite as visible as others.

The guns opened up, a staccato that danced to the rhythm of the engines. The overdrive injector system kicked in, giving the ship a touch more propulsion than the enemy anticipated.

One pirate started to break off, but thought better of it and swung back around to re-enter the fight. It was a minor mistake, but it would cost them the fight. The 150mm turrets chipped away at the one still in the fight. Kirryli unloaded a couple of Sabretooths, the blossoming fire trailing to the target vessel. The shields dropped, then the armament and then the enemy’s vessel began to take structural damage. The attack was broken, as it turned to run, but Kirryli locked in on the vessel, matching directional changes.

A dark humor tickled the edges of her consciousness. This was the moment she enjoyed the most. She idly wondered what was running through the mind of her enemy. Death was calling. Was the pirate pleading for mercy, praying for salvation, hoping for a miracle? None would be coming. The guns fired again, and were answered with a flash as the target came apart.

The other enemy ship had seen enough and was already on the far side of an asteroid, going into warp. She toyed with giving chase, forsaking whatever bounty might be had in the wreckage of the destroyed ship, when out of the corner of the port camera’s lens, she saw a glimmer, a movement and knew deep within that it was the star. 

It seemed to hang in space for a moment, then flickered and re-appeared a little more to the port. This time she nudged the Spray into warp, trying to gain ground on the star. She had to see it, to know that it was real and not a figment of a fertile imagination.

The game began anew, and the hours slipped past. The star would flicker out only to appear again in another area. And then it blinked out and did not reappear. She sat in space, waiting but nothing seemed to be happening.

‘Ok, my friend,’ she silently asked. ‘where are you? … Or better still, where am I?’

A dozen possibilities and twice that number in potential avenues of recourse flashed through her mind. Charts were already there, but this sector was unlike anything she knew. It was as though she had flown beyond the known systems and found something inky dark, sparse and seemingly devoid of that which made her home space feel so alive. Maybe the cameras were failing. Perhaps she had pushed the ship too hard in pursuit of the now-missing star. She was about to run a diagnostic when, closer than she would have wanted it to be, a jump gate shimmered into view. It was old, built from a design at odds with all the jump gates she had seen, and it was starting to purr to life.

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