Leap of Faith - Chapter 4
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 ran on consecutive Fridays beginning on November 30 and concluding today. For other stories from the EVE universe, visit Eve Chronicles.
The final chapter was written by Michael Lafferty, CCP's Abraxas and Matt Eberle. For the preceding chapters in this story, please see The Minmatar Encounter , The Caldari Quest and The Gallente Call.
Leap of Faith
Chapter Four – In the Light of the Star
It had been a spur of the moment decision … no, it was more than that; it was a mandate – one stemming from the soul. Kirryli had felt that she had ‘heard’ a voice calling to her, a voice from beyond the gate. It had been that which had lured her into synching her ship to the gate and making the jump.
But she was starting to regret that decision. There had been the darkness, the void of the jump, where nothing seemed alive and all she ‘felt’ was her heartbeat in the stillness. But the ship’s sensors should have come back online by now. She should have started to receive data about the system, the camera drones should have started to feed her visuals.
There was nothing. Not even the matronly voice that had been the nuturing anthem of peace within her pod. She sent out queries, calling for data feeds.
She demanded diagnostics to kick in, seeking to find some trigger to reset the system.
She wanted to yell, to scream, to proclaim existence inside the seemingly dead shell of the pod, but the liquid of the capsule prohibited the action. For the first time since she had been smuggled to freedom to the Minmatar Empire, for the first time since early childhood, she felt truly entrapped. The cage was tangible; the prison, though, had been of her own choosing.
She allowed a whimper to echo through her thoughts. Death was coming for her and there was no miracle to save her. The liquid stasis that held her body and fed it would end, and her body would die – die in a place that she did not know. Her self-assurance was slipping away and she was, again, a little girl cowering in the corner of a cell.
“Where is your laughter now? Where is the mocking tone of the conqueror?”
The voice seemed to coalesce in the liquid of the pod. It was not the voice of the computer system, but much deeper, stronger, more accusatory. Still, it was something and she mentally grasped for it.
“Where is the pilot who can see the beauty of the stars but yet, through all her trials and tribulations, through all the teaching, does not the possess the soul to see beyond the mere surface glory?”
See beyond them? I don’t understand what you mean. She replied. What glory?
“You have come far, child, but not yet far enough. What shall I do with you now?”
The voice, she reasoned, must be from within her, and if that was the case, then there was no harm in her reply …
Help me, please.
The silence returned. Her mind cast frantically about, searching, but there was only silence, pressing down, enfolding her.
A single word, but heartfelt.
“Behold!” the voice was loud, causing her to wince inwardly. And then all shipboard systems came to life and she was flooded with input. There was a ship in front of her, a Caldari capsuleer, and he was locking on to her vessel. She shook off any thoughts of voices, started her own locks on the Caldari, and felt her body come alive once more with the thrill of combat. She would make space hers once again, if she had to burn this pilot out of the sky in the process.
Jaak had been on a new path, to destination unknown, and found it hard to believe that his journey would end so soon. Shortly after being dropped into this new system - he hadn't even checked its particulars, for fear that he would recognize its details and find himself on yet another familiar branch in the path - he had spotted a Minmatar vessel floating inertly in space, apparently observing ... what? The stars beyond?
No matter. Jaak set his Caracal-class cruiser to slowly make its way towards the Minmatar pilot, taking his time to get into perfect range. Once there, though, he did not lock the ship, but let his own idle to a standstill. This felt wrong. It felt like yet another path, well-trodden and known. One more fight, one more attempt to atone for crimes he couldn't even name. And against an opponent whose vessel might be disabled, or who might even - Jaak shivered at the thought - be on a path of his or her own.
He began wondering whether to turn and leave, but all of a sudden the Minmatar's ship lit up, its engine started sputtering trails, and Jaak immediately locked it on instinct more than anything. The pilot locked him back, and Jaak got ready for a fiery death.
Inside the safety of her Rifter-class frigate, Kirryli readied to fire at the aggressor, but held off for a moment. He had locked first, in a fight to the death, and he should have started firing by now. He wasn't even moving, so it was not a question of range or subtle tactics; he was a sitting duck if anything. She held off, and waited for the first shot.
It came shortly after, the missiles ringing off her shields, and on instinct she let off a volley of projectiles, but she took a deep breath and turned off her guns. If this was all it took to provoke her, she wasn't much of a fighter.
Another volley of missiles hit her, but nothing her shields couldn't handle. The other pilot should have been circling her by now, getting ready to tear her to pieces, but he wasn't.
She kept her guns off, and waited.
After a while he stopped firing, and shortly after there came the strangest message she had ever received: "Kill me."
She could have given any number of answers, from mocking to quizzical, but there was something about this man and his presence here, which seemed in its own way as empty as her own. There was only one answer she could give, in defiance of all logic.
"No," she told him, her message flitting its way across the void of space. Before thinking too much about it, she added, "We don't need to die."
"I do," the other pilot said.
She could never have explained why, but in that moment she understood. Not only that there was a kind of infinite emptiness the likes of which she'd be thankful never to know, but that to some, the void of space was not a comfort, but an endless admonishment of failure.
It occurred to her that this freedom of solitude, if it were to be prevented from degenerating into solipsism, carried with it the occasional responsibility of fellowship, reaching out to those trapped by the same thing that had set her free, but before she could take that thought any further, they were interrupted with noise and fury.
Kirryli twitched as the sensor warnings in her pod began flooding through the input relays. She tuned out the nerve-jangling beeps with an effort. Sitting at 40km a single Galletean Thorax had just locked onto her ship. Her ship’s sensors were rapidly filling her in on the new arrival. Normally she’d be immediately trying to figure out how to stay out of the Thorax’s limited blaster range, but just then an entire flight of five small drones shot out of a bay.
She spent a precious second and a half watching the drones as they raced through space. A cold, sinking feeling lanced through her stomach. The drones were moving fast. They wove a complex pattern with their contrails. Only an expert could use drones with that level of finesse.
Options, she thought. First, the drones seemed to be heading for the Caldari vessel. Part of her knew that if she engaged the microwarp drive, she would be out of the fight before the drones could readjust and lock her. To fight them is foolish, said the voice of reason. But to run now would leave the Caldari alone, and he would get his wish to die. Something inside recoiled in horror at the decision she made. The Rifter lingered for a moment, and then headed toward the drones.
Jaak felt the rumble in his pod. The gentle fluid supporting him moved ever so slightly from side to side. Repeated impacts from the drones’ weapons were shredding his shields. Death calls, he thought grimly as the tiny weapons darted around his ship like rabid bladefish. His missiles were too large to get an adequate lock, and the Gallente who launched them was too heavily armored for a quick kill to disable the drones. Before he could fire up his engines a brilliant line of tracer fire arced over his bow. Two autocannons hammered away at a single drone. The unlucky construct twitched twice in frantic dodges before exploding in a shower of shrapnel and debris when a pair of rockets caught up with it seconds later.
Jaak turned his attention to the distant ship. His targeting computer began attempting to lock onto the Thorax. Another accursed drone had launched from the Galletean, this one on an intercept course for the Minmatar that was the new target of the drone swarm. He noticed the Rifter‘s shields flare brilliantly. Must be diverting power to the shields, he thought. The Rifter’s autocannons were hammering away at the drones whirling around it. The fast moving targets were taking hits here and there, but the situation was quickly devolving into a race between the Minmatar pilot’s guns and the remote weapons of the Galletean’s Thorax. Whichever side managed to deal critical damage to its opponents first would win.
And the Minmatar is still fighting just the drones, he thought.
The moment hung frozen, three minds racing.
Gabriel knew the Minmatar frigate would die sooner rather than later, but what puzzled him was why the Minmatar ship had engaged the drones. The pilot’s skills were obvious, and doubtless he or she knew it was a losing battle. Then why fight? he wondered. The answer came, and Gabriel’s mind froze for an instant. It was not an answer he would have expected; and he didn’t like it much, either.
Jaak’s mind felt like a charge had gone off inside it. Everything inside him was screaming shock, bewilderment. She had put herself between him and the drones, she was taking the damage meant for him. She was not running as she should have … his mind seemed to melt, to break down. Memories flooded over him, his sins screaming for him to sacrifice in atonement, to welcome his own death again. The moment seemed to drag for an eternity. no … the voice seemed small and far away. The sins balked for a moment, then resumed the barrage. There was a thread there, a sense of something Jaak had never felt before. He reached for it, grasping, then securing. The sins were screaming now – ‘We should be dying!’ NO! his inner voice screamed, and for once, there was only silence answering.
Foolish, foolish child, she admonished herself. Too many years of pain, no wish to carry it forward with another clone, no wish to relive the tortures of the past, to die in the peaceful embrace of space … but space is empty, it is a craving monster that deceives with the hope of something it cannot give, she thought. Her mind wove back around. Why am I here? She thought of the Caldari and the unknown Gallente assailant. Her mind danced backwards, and she saw the faces of those who helped a young child escape the fetters of slavery. At each defining moment in her life, there was someone else. That is the key, she decided, to give for someone else. It is the definition of our race as a whole; it is the core of our souls.
The voice inside the capsule carried the hint of a smile. “Well done, child, you have grown this day.”
The Caldari vessel sparked to life, propulsion engaged, the ship sliding forward in space. A voice boomed out, hammering through into both the Minmatar vessel and the Gallente vessel.
“ENOUGH!” There was an odd sense of power in Jaak’s voice, unwavering as he continued, "Gallentean, unless you cool your jets and call in your remaining drones, I am going to kill you."
Gabriel instinctively replied, "Is that a threat?" and regretted it immediately, though not so much from fear as from a growing sense of unease with the whole scene.
"No," Jaak said. "No threat, no promise, no start of a fight. I'm not going to trade quips with you. If you go after that Minmatar ship, I will kill you. That is the end of it. You'll awake in a clone somewhere, and go back to your life."
Gabriel's control of his drones was equal to that of his own limbs, and without thinking, he called them back. He did not even realize he had done this until they were orbiting his own ship, silent and patient. It occurred to him that submerging his machismo for a while might be a good idea; this was a recon mission he was on, and if he returned in one piece he could undoubtedly use the information to win himself a very private interview with Claire.
It also occurred to him that right now he really wasn't that interested in talking about this whole thing to anyone, Claire included.
Jaak relaxed only a little. His mind was still swirling with the revelations of his own actions, his own new sense of self-worth. The Gallente was still in his targeting window. If those drones even twitched, the lock would complete and he would release his weapons. For Kirryli, the sudden breaking off of the drone swarm was like air to a drowning victim. Then she ran through damage assessment. Her armor had taken some damage, but was already being repaired and her shields were regenerating quickly. Turrets and launchers were being resupplied, just in case the …
The radio channels were flooded with a booming voice, one very similar to that which Kirryli had heard inside her pod.
"Why are you here?" it demanded. The very tone compelled answers.
"To die," Jaak responded, truthfully.
"Recon," Gabriel said.
"To be …" Kirryli started and then stopped. ‘Alone’ would have been her next word, but that was wrong. “To find answers,” she finally replied, staying as neutral as possible.
The voice waited. Gabriel felt as though eyes were fixed on him, strong and waiting. He took the initiative.
"Caldari, what happens if I attack you?" Gabriel asked.
"One of us dies."
"Do you want that to happen?"
"I ... I don't know. It is always what happens," Jaak said. He thought about it for a moment, then said, "No, what usually happens is that I die. I don't fight back, or stand up for anyone."
"Why not?" Kirryli asked.
Jaak inadvertently shrugged in his pod. "It's not part of the path I'm on. Not until now."
"This path leads you to self-destruction?" she said.
"It did. I can't say I've had anyone hold me back from it, either. Thanks, by the way."
There was another awkward moment and then Kirryli directed her next transmission toward Gabriel.
"What are you reallydoing here?" she said, without much rancor in spite of what had transpired only moments before in the desperate fight with his drones.
"I was sent on a recon mission, like I've been doing for ages," Gabriel replied. "I'd hoped that I'd find something of interest, if only to alleviate the boredom, and I saw … something.” Then the words spilled forth. Gabriel wanted to pull them back as soon as they were stated, and yet he could not. “I'm also hoping to get promotions, and maybe a date. I don't know why I'm telling you this. I took some drugs before I undocked, and I think they're wearing off. Uh, did I say that out loud, too?"
Jaak smiled inside his pod. "We won't tell if you won't, I suppose."
Gabriel thought about this, and realized that he really wasn't concerned about anything right now other than the fact that he hadn't killed either of these people, something he felt profoundly grateful for and a bit confused about. He said, "No, I don't think I will."
"What led you here?" Kirryli asked.
"Well," Gabriel said, "there was something I heard, right before I found my gate, but I don't know if that was real or just the drugs again. And you?"
"I was following a star, although that may sound a bit strange," Kirryli said.
"Not at all," Jaak said. "A star guided me to this place."
"Yeah, there's a few of them in space," Gabriel quipped, hoping to lighten the moment.
"There was a star," Jaak said, "and it led me to a gate that …"
He stopped, and Kirryli was about to ask for more when she turned her camera drones around and realized what had caught his attention.
A blue giant was there; not a few thousand kilometers away, not shining down on them, not approachable in the distance, but there, in the unbelievably gargantuan way that only a planet can be. They weren't moving and neither was the star, but nevertheless it grew, getting impossibly larger until it had filled their vision and eclipsed their view of everything else. Their collective minds were set free of the tiny little concerns that flit through minds in the course of being alive, and all that remained was an utter feeling of peace.
“To shine upon them that sit in darkness …” the voice said.
“and the shadow of death,” Jaak felt himself saying, though the words seemed to stir from somewhere deeper inside of him than he had ever looked.
“To guide our feet into the way of peace,” Kirryli’s voice seemed but a whisper.
“And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it,” Gabriel said, ancient words sprung to new life in his mind.
With the words, unvoiced realizations came to each of them. Being in this place and this time was not mere chance, it was ordained from something greater than the individuals within the pods, but culled by the collective yearnings of their souls.
It seemed to them the star got brighter as it grew, and before they could even begin to articulate their thoughts to one another, before they could express what new understandings they had realized, it eclipsed their entire view, growing so bright that it seemed their camera drones could barely convey its luminescence, and then brighter still, until the light so flooded their minds that the rest of the world faded away, leaving them blinded and unconscious.
The darkness faded and each of them came to in their own part of the world, alone and dazed. The planet was gone, and though they were all still in their ships, and though – for two of them – clones were entirely untouched back at the vats, they all felt reborn.
“… if the house be worthy,” Gabriel reiterated and knew that in that moment that he saw the star that something with a greater power than what he cluttered his life with had made him worthy of this gift of peace he felt. It was more than a mere touch of the mind, it was a new calling for his soul. It was the same feeling that Jaak and Kirryli were experiencing.
Ages and eons apart, they all looked around in unison and noticed a new, bright star shining on the horizon. And it brought them a joy they had not felt in a long, long time.