Leap of Faith - Chapter 2
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.
CCP's Abraxas penned Chapter Two of this four-part tale. For the first chapter, please see The Minmatar Encounter .
Leap of Faith
Chapter Two – The Caldari Quest
Jaak was flying under the stars' unyielding gaze, heading for confrontation, failure and death, when one of them seemed to flash and blink out of existence. It was only for a moment, and the camera drones that encircled his ship barely caught the burn on their lenses, but he chose to believe that it had happened, and that it was an omen. This, at long last, would be the time when he could debase himself, die and be reborn - rid of his indelible taint.
It wasn't long since he'd last been cloned. He had awoken coughing and spluttering on the cold cloning bay floor, naked as dawn and soaked with the ectoplasm that had been nourishing this new body. A new ship awaited him in his hangar, courtesy of blessed forethought during a much older visit, so it was no time before he made it onboard, hooked his body up to the sensor lines in his escape pod, and undocked from the station into space and the blanket of stars.
The ones around him shone dully, their luminescence entirely failing to light his way, but the one he'd now glimpsed for an instant was enough to lift his spirits. He tended to navigate by instinct, taking whatever route that felt like it would get him further than last time, and not thinking about why he was doing this.
There was a planet in the same approximate direction as his ghost star had been, and Jaak set his ship to warp there. He could never get used to warping; the tunnel through which his ship coursed was beautiful and unreal, but the feeling that he was following a path from which he couldn't turn was sometimes almost too much to bear.
His ship came out of warp in another part of the system, and immediately he was rewarded with an evil prize. There were pirates here, zooming back and forth through a gas cloud. They were Sansha, a freakish group of slaves bound by invasive technology to obey and protect their masters. The sun glinted off the carapaces on their ships, and made the multitude of spikes that dotted their hulls look even more unpleasant.
They locked him immediately, but he didn't worry and put his ship in a lazy orbit around their flight. He let them take a few potshots before he locked them back and started sending off missile volleys. It wasn't so much of a fight as a prelude to loss; already their shields were gone and their armor rapidly disintegrating.
To Jaak, it was also a pre-death ritual. These guys couldn't harm him, but he was planning to find death in battle later on, and if that death was to have any ritual meaning Jaak must already have engaged in combat at some point in his life. It was true, of course, that Caldari noncombatants could find honor through an assortment of cleansing rituals. But Caldari fighters with no blood to their name weren't warriors, merely peasants with aspirations; and their deaths, while tragic, were empty and devoid of purpose. Since Jaak had theoretically only been alive for an hour, these Sansha were a lucky break.
The last Sansha fell under Jaak's missiles, its ship exploding in the briefest of blazes. Jaak felt slightly envious. They were gone now, for good; not reawakening in a cloning vat. No chance of forgiveness, yes, but no presence of memories to weigh them down, either. Whatever they'd done in their lives had died with them, and since they were not bound by the same web of codes and rules of honor as he was, they could go in peace.
He wasn't sure what part of his secret offense had finally broken him, or how much it had informed his behavior since. He had tried seeing himself from the outside, objectively judging his own actions and weighing them against his idea of normality, but since he couldn't be sure that this idea was any more acceptable than what he was already doing, he always gave up. In the end he did what felt right, even if it was nothing more than committing the least of the wrongs, and tried to make amends.
Now, with blood on his hands, it was time to find other pilots, proper Empire capsuleers, and start the atonement for good and honest.
Jaak set course for insecure space, that area of violence and danger. The ghost star hadn't cropped up again, but he nonetheless found himself taking a different route than usual, and decided to interpret it as divine guidance. He drifted to a stargate that would take him into the unguarded territories, activated it, and was shunted through in a searing blast of light. When he got to the other side, cloaked and silent, he found himself surrounded.
These areas were still bound by laws but not policed in the slightest, which meant that honorless capsuleers would hang around chokepoint gates and attack anyone who dared venture into their territory. Jaak winced inside his pod. There was no honor in fighting these men; they were his equals in name only.
He looked around, spotted a handy planet to warp to, and got ready. Any movement on his part would drop his ship's cloak and open him up for attack. He tensed inside his pod and gave his systems a final check to make sure everything was working alright. Luck willing, his microwarp drive would shuttle him out of the attackers' range, and its overdrive function would give him that extra boost they weren't expecting.
He clocked on the overdrive, activated the microwarp drive, dropped cloak, and ran. The pirates immediately started locking him, but he was already headed away, his ship revving up to the speed it needed for proper warp, and by the time they started firing salvos he felt the familiar rumbling as the motors started up the warp tunnel. His ship tore away at immense speed, and within moments the pirates were nothing more than dwindling specks and dull stars fading to nothing in the background. Jaak wasn't happy about having a microwarp drive on his ship - it smacked of cowardice and flight from combat - but it was a small concession so that he wouldn't travel countless jumps into dark territories only to be killed by an unworthy adversary. The deaths, all his deaths, should mean something.
Once he broke out of warp he got the strangest feeling of something being off, and immediately started warp again, going deeper into the system and praying they hadn't managed to follow him. After he'd broken warp a second time he finally allowed himself a breather, and rotated his camera drones to scout his surroundings. There was no one here. He relaxed, feeling the paranoia and adrenaline backrush wash from his body, and set his ship to the next stargate. There were no more chokepoints on this path, and there would be no more stalkers waiting in secret.
He couldn't plan the impending confrontation, for that would be murder or intentional suicide; he must be engaged first, and fight to protect his honor. He would follow his whims on these travels, but the paths he took had long since become too well known, and the stars that shone down on him were far too familiar. Everything he did seemed planned, and it felt as if it had always been that way. He thought of the offense, and tried not to.
It took him a few more jumps to reach a system he felt had some promise. Other pilots were registered on the system-wide communications board, and Jaak had no doubt that some of them would bring the fire. He was drifting through the system, looking to put himself in harm's way, when something caught his eye: A stargate that he didn't remember ever being there, and that wasn't listed in the location selector of his warp interface. He experienced the same strange feeling as he had when he warped from the pirates at the gate, and idly realized that in those few panicky seconds right after the warp, when he'd been panning around before warping again, he couldn't actually remember seeing the planet he had warped to.
Jaak shook off the feeling, suspecting he was becoming so inured to the celestial vistas that he was starting to subconsciously ignore them, and approached the gate.
As he reached jump range he suddenly felt unsure about using it, and stopped his ship, letting it sit there in total stillness as he thought about it. After a while, his thoughts spinning down in ever darker spirals, he came to the conclusion that try as he might to break away, he had by now been completely conformed to the patterns of his Empire, to the point that forging brand-new paths seemed anathema to him. He thought of the planet he didn't see, and of the ghost star that had led his way, and of the terrible offense that had led him to this in the first place, and not for the first time he wondered if he might possibly be nothing more than a broken, deluded man.
He shirked off that thought, and for the first time since he'd been brought back to life he allowed himself to think in full about the offense he'd committed, the one that had driven him to this. There was no single event, but a series of them, an endless trail of unforgivable transgressions that compose living and being human. From first to last he had failed everyone: His wasted childhood of obedience and concentration, his exemplary grades, his meteoric rise through the ranks and instant acceptance into the pilot program, and the ascendancy to the pod and the stars above, all of which had failed to satisfy not merely his closest and dearest but this whole closed system in which he'd been formed, this Empire that had shaped him into what he was and taught him that in a life that had been imbued with nothing but the purest success, he was still, somehow, a waste and an utter failure.
And at some point, he had changed. It might have been when he first undocked his ship and came to the inexorable realization that even though he had achieved godhood, he was still not good enough for a Caldari. Every decision he had made, along with all decisions he continued to make, they only accumulated his transgressions, watched over by the stars' invisible eyes, until such point as they became intolerable, and he could see nothing but his desire for escape, and for redemption, and for an end.
He trembled in his pod. The stars, the stars, the stars shone down on him.
He felt like he was part of his own ship. This was normal; pilots were parts of their ships in the same way that central nervous systems were parts of the bodies they held up. But they were not unified parts, Jaak thought, for when a person feels like a part of something they can also see themselves as individual entities and can imagine being separated, however painfully. Right now Jaak felt like he and the ship could not be divided, not even in thought and theory, and it was as if the ship's parts were holding him back, like shrinking skin stretched too taut over a body that wanted to expand and tear itself out. He should have been a god in the sky, he thought, but right now all he wanted was to break through this metal shell and be free at last, from the constraints on form and spirit. So that was what he'd been trying, that and fulfilling his duties to the last as he'd always done. He'd had missiles and gunfire and lasers tear him to shreds, break open the shell that encased him, and set him free. But it never worked. He always woke up again in the pod vats with nothing changed and nothing to do but go out again and sacrifice himself once more on the altar of invisible penance.
The gate was there in front of him, silent and strange.
And Jaak realized that if he was that far gone, this choice couldn't possibly be worse than any others. It might, in fact, be the only path he had yet to take; and at that moment the idea of treading all the others yet again was terrifying and bleak.
He activated the gate, and disappeared.
chapters in this tale:
Chapter One - The Minmatar Encounter