Thursday, 27 October 2011

The Rinn of Mara

I wasn't always called "Mara Rinn". My original name is about fifteen syllables long and roughly translates to "First born of the chief of the people of the sand who count the stars as their footholds." It sounds grand, but you have to realise that my tribe was more of a family group, about 80 people in a nomadic trading caravan. The nicest sounding syllable in my name is the second last, "rinn" - it's part of the word for "use as a foothold," and my nickname meant "little steps".

My family (or tribe, call it what you will) regularly ran the circuit of Molden Heath. We'd buy fish here, vines there, rhizomes at the next stop. Just the usual stuff that traders did. It was a wonderful life, but things went off the rails at my group's Voluval ceremony. For everyone else the ceremony itself was a wonderful time. For me it was horrible, my mark was a series of chain links up my back, interpreted by the seer as indicating I was to be bound into slavery. My parents were of course distressed, but they tried to find ways of explaining how this would be a good thing - perhaps it wasn't slavery but some other bondage such as taking vows in the priesthood.

There wasn't much time to ponder it though, as half way through the next day, just as we jumped into Osvetur, we were raided by slavers. My last memory of my parents was seeing the slaver hounds ripping their throats open while they were trying to hide me. To this day, when I see slaver hounds I can still hear my parents' screams being silenced by the murderous animals.

Where we were taken after that, I don't know. I remember being introduced to vitoc at the Caldari Navy Assembly plant in Tsuguwa, where I was also introduced to my new life as "crew" on a Drake class battlecruiser, "Freedom's Shield". You don't think about irony much as a slave. You just think about staying alive.

My service aboard that hell lasted the best part of ten years, long after I was due to receive my rank tattoos and accept responsibility for running the trade caravan under my father's wise supervision. I didn't have a trade caravan to run, but somehow managed to find some friends amongst the slaves on board. We did our best to keep the captain's ship in good order, and through our work the captain and his battlecruiser saw many commendations for the various trivial acts of policing, counter-insurgency and escort duties that we performed. This captain was performing trivial duties as a result of his religious beliefs — he had married an Amarr woman and converted to her faith. His superiors apparently thought that he was no longer as efficient as he used to be, so he was granted lighter duties.

Over time we got to hear that there was a new class of people rising in New Eden. Apparently the Jove had gifted the Caldari with new technology that would allow humans to control their ships with thoughts instead of verbal commands. The bridge crew of "Freedom's Shield" were excited, because capsuleer ships would ensure fewer bridge crews would come into the line of fire. Command was excited because capsuleer ships would reduce the manpower required to run a ship of this size to one pilot and a handful of slaves. No longer would captains have to worry about getting their crews home alive. Understandably, this left the slaves feeling a little disappointed.

I have to detour a little here to explain about Vitoc. You see, in planetary environments it's easy enough to keep control of slaves by having guards and slaver hounds and all manner of tools of persuasion, coercion, and outright torture. In space, there's not much in terms of space for slave handlers, so the Amarr and Caldari resort to other means of controlling their slaves. The slaves are injected with a biological toxin and then require regular doses of an antidote (Vitoc) in order to keep the victim alive. Thus on a spaceship the only slave controller needed is the guy who supplies the Vitoc. Death from the Vitoc method is particularly horrendous, and most spaceship captains will make a point of letting at least one slave die on a regular basis just to remind the remaining slaves of the fate in store for them. Dying from (lack of) Vitoc involves massive organ failure, terrible amounts of pain, leading to the body thrashing around wildly, screaming in pain until it eventually destroys itself from the inside. If you're a well-to-do captain on a battlecruiser you might leave the task of discipline to someone else on the ship, and you might be well insulated from the horror of Vitoc death. Without the antidote, the slave will die in about one and a half days, with the terminal effects only being felt (and displayed) in the last hour. Now back to the story.

Now it turns out that our captain had a brother who knew someone who knew someone — you know the story. The Caldari Navy was looking for volunteers for their experimental capsuleer program. Our good captain thought it was his God-given duty to place his life on the line for his State (his duty, of course, nothing to do with realising his naval career had dead-ended, and deciding that he wasn't going to spend the rest of his life commanding a mere battlecruiser). Through means fair and foul, the captain was transferred to the experimental operations division, and we found ourselves in Piekura.

For those of you unfamiliar with the life of a capsuleer I have to point out that first, we are immortal. Second, we are immortal only because we cannot die again. You see, the implants and neural linkages that make up the capsuleer's interface to their capsule (and thus, their spaceship) are far too intricate to be surgically implanted into any host. So what happens instead is that a clone body is grown (I use "grown" loosely) from the capsuleer's DNA around the neural linkages, and the capsuleer's mind is transferred into that fresh, clean body. The process of transference for a non-implanted body is irreversibly destructive. That is to say, the process of transferring your mind into the capsuleer body kills you. Everything that made up your personality is copied across and rebooted. Once the transfer is complete though, you are capable of transferring to another body essentially at whim. Capsuleers will often have multiple bodies ready to transfer their minds into, specially maintained as part of a "jump clone" program. There's more to the capsuleer story than that, but I'll leave the rest for another time.

So our dear captain, bless his deeply religious socks, had not properly studied the capsuleer program — there was talk of "godflesh" and clones and heirs. I had offered to review the paperwork for him (because he was, of course, too important to be burdened with such trivialities), and by the time we arrived at Zainou Biotech in Piekura had already learned all there was to know. I pointed out to the captain that the process of transference was — essentially — suicide: the brain of the capsuleer is destructively scanned, and the body is euthanised after the process is completed (if necessary). I also suggested (perhaps a little sensationalised) that the process was still experimental, and would he be able to face God knowing that he had thrown his life away in the pursuit of vainglory? The captain agreed of course, and I was able to talk him into demanding my services as a guinea pig for this experiment. After all, if something went wrong and a slave was killed, who would care? Noone thought about the consequences of a spaceship slave being transferred successfully into a capsuleer clone.

I don't remember the process itself. Have you ever had an operation (to graft skin back onto a limb burned in a missile misfire, for example) and tried to count to ten when the anaesthetist has put you under? I remember sitting on a chair surrounded by transference equipment, the anaesthetist starting the injection. I remember counting one … two … three … an intense pain welled up from within me, then there was a jolt as if the world was twisting itself to pieces, then blackness, and then I was opening my eyes and counting … nine … ten. I was in a bath of goo and feeling peculiarly happy.

The captain appeared before me, visibly distraught, wanting to know if I was okay. Not knowing what he was talking about, and immediately realising he must have seen something go horribly wrong, I told him not to worry about it too much and that I would forget all about it in time. He instructed me to collect my corpse, and proceeded to vomit into the bath that I was lying in.

Now this may seem peculiar to you, but in ten years I had never seen my Voluval mark. It was on my back, and in ten years I hadn't thought of it at all other than acknowledging that my fate was, indeed, to be chained in slavery. As I collected my corpse, I saw my mark for the first and last time. It wasn't a chain at all, but a series of circles up my spine, exactly where the neural interface links are located in my clone bodies. If only I could tell my parents!

I wept. I wept tears of grief and mourning for the loss of my parents, tears of joy that I would be able to serve the family in ways we would never have dreamed of, and tears of sadness that they had died thinking I was to be a slave, not knowing that my fate was far more interesting. The disinterested research aide tried to comfort me with some words along the line of, "just think of it as an old pair of shoes that don't fit anymore." What he wouldn't have known was that the old skin didn't fit anymore because it was bound by vitoc and most likely died biologically from the vitoc rather than the euthanising drugs. I smiled, happily aware that noone had poisoned my new clone with vitoc, knowing that even if they tried I would not be bound by a physical body any more.

Noone wanted to be involved in a project involving a slave being made a capsuleer, so the remainder of the project went deep underground. The slaves and bridge crew were transferred elsewehere, the ship itself was written off and its armaments removed. For weeks I lived as a machine - treated with no more dignity than a refrigerator - in a dark recess of the station as the battlecruiser was retrofitted to accept my capsule. Eventually the retrofit was complete, and a set of navigation trials was planned in the neighbouring lowsec system of Mara where noone would notice us.

The next day, the captain took his capsuleer-piloted ship out for a trial run. There was noone else on board, just the captain and his pilot. He didn't speak to me, the horror of what had happened during the transference was obviously weighing heavily on his mind, the presence of the capsuleer egg in the command deck serving as an unwelcome reminder of the horror of transference.

We jumped to Mara. We completed the trials. Then before returning to Caldari-controlled space, I ejected from the battlecruiser and left, travelling through space in the warp-capable capsule, with blissful disregard for anyone or anything around me.

And that is how I chose my name. Mara was my first foothold in my climb to the freedom of the stars, as a Vherokhior with no family, my point of origin no longer being the sands of some long forgotten world but the system in which I emancipated myself. I am Mara Rinn, capsuleer, unbound.

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