Intercession

This story is an entry in the YC115 Pod and Planet Fiction Contest in the “A Day in the Life” category, because while it fits the majority of the canon, there are a few “real” people in it and the core premise would likely never be approved. I always wanted to dig a bit deeper into the mythology of Bob the Wormhole God. While CCP won’t likely add it to canon, there is nothing in canon that says it couldn’t have happened this way … and there’s precedent that it could. I’ve hidden a pile of references of various sorts in here – after the judging I may make a post listing them all (UPDATE: I did, here’s the lore spoliers). It was a fun one to write.

Deepari II Station

Imperial Academy School, Deepari II, Domain (January, YC108)

Mides Sarwed laughed aloud at the student across the table. “Nabbie, stick to piloting. Engineering is clearly not your thing.” He lifted the circuit board from the table and shook it lightly, jolting loose several chips and solder links. “What a damn mess.”

Nabobeh Azen frowned, and snatched the admittedly poorly-done board back. “Screw you, Mides.” It wasn’t that he couldn’t do it, it was that building this sort of thing was dull, he doubted he’d ever be building, just using and occasionally repairing such things. Not that he would admit that to his brother’s jerk friend. Nabobeh stood and strode across the room to sit at a different table.

The other young man next to Mides spoke up. “You have to quit picking on him, man.” Taza Azen found the banter between the pair exhausting – it had been going on since grade school. “Hell, you’d think he was your younger brother, not mine. Besides, he’s smarter than either of us and you know it.”

Mides shrugged. “Someone has to pop his bubble. Might as well be me. Don’t want him starting to think he’s better than everyone else just because he skipped a year.”

***

Imperial Academy School, Deepari II, Domain (June, YC110)

“Who knows, we may hook up again some time. I hear most capsuleers don’t stay in their initial assignment more than a few months.” Mides seemed a bit dejected as he said it. He raised his glass toward Taza. “Good luck out there.”

Taza raised his glass as well, knocking the mugs together in a toast. Nabobeh bumped his against Taza’s as well, but Mides quickly downed his drink and stood up from the bar table rather than do the same. “Keep Nabbie here out of trouble.” He turned his back and headed for the door.

Nabobeh shook his head. “Good riddance. I know he grew up with us, Taza, but I have no idea why you still see him as anything other than the waste of space he is. Plus continuing to make fun of my name when we’re all adults … really?”

“You’ve always let him get to you too easily. He’s just … always been there. It will be weird without him so I’ll miss him. Come on, we have a convoy to be in.”

***

Lorado Station, T-IPZB VIII, Delve (March 10, YC111)

Main Sequence AnomalyNabobeh banked the Prophecy-class battlecruiser into a holding pattern around the station. While officially not part of the Amarr Empire, Delve was effectively considered a territory – since Empress Jamyl Sarum’s return, she had exercised an almost proprietary approach to the region that had cradled her in exile, and in particular this system.

Nabobeh opened the comm channel to the station. “Ready to take over, Taza?” In the two years they’d been here, Taza had risen through the ranks to become the lead Amarr Navy commander on station. While not a high ranking role in the grand scheme of the empire, it made him a big fish in a small pond. Nabobeh wanted no part of station time, and preferred to be in space.

“Nah,” said Taza, “you’re doing fine out there.”

“Any new orders?”

“Bring it on h… hang on a second.” Nabobeh altered course to a wider orbit, dropping back in the pattern. It wasn’t long before Taza spoke again. His voice was uncharacteristically urgent. “Planet 1. Go now. Go go go!”

Nabobeh was a good pilot, but a fully-tanked Prophecy was not an agile creature. As he began to alter course, he already knew something was horribly wrong. The camera drones lost picture and started to white out, awash in excess light. Aura attempted to adjust, but at best it simply became a bit more blue. The comm channel crackled and popped with static. The ship leapt into warp.

One of the problems with warp travel is that once the drive reaches critical velocity, it can’t be undone. You are warping to where you aimed, and there is no going back. There wasn’t anything Nabobeh could do as the radiation alarm began to howl.

From his console several AU away, Taza saw the disaster his brother was headed toward. The system’s sun had suddenly thrown out a massive energy burst, and then a solar flare of simply impossible size. The blue coronal flare reached out to T-IPZB I, knocking it sideways in its orbit. The planet itself caught fire, boiling into molten plasma and ejecting large pieces of its surface crust into space from the impact.

The Prophecy dropped out of warp only a few hundred kilometers from the jet of plasma at its full impact. Only the dual 1600mm armor plates prevented the ship from melting immediately upon dropping out of warp. Nabobeh’s top-of-his-class reflexes banked just in time to keep the thickest part of the shielding between him and the flare as he realigned for a high speed pod ejection. He felt the unbearable heat even through the ship, pod and fluid. His crew died instantly as the hull breached.

Nabobeh’s pod ejected and warped off, scorched and battered.

***

HospitalAfter an hour or so, Taza finally was able to control the bile crawling up the back of his throat as he looked at his brother’s ruined features through the surgical room window. Nabobeh had not regained consciousness.

The lead surgeon came out of the operating room. “You’re the brother?”

“Yes, I’m Taza.”

“He’ll pull through. But he’ll never be the same, I’m afraid.”

“Why didn’t he activate to a new clone?”

“The massive radiation burst from the flare destroyed his neural scanner before the injuries. When the pod fluid boiled – giving him all the third-degree burns – it also fused the implants to the bones of his skull. They won’t ever be coming out.” The doc paused. “The strange thing is that his comm implant is generating massive brainwave activity despite the fact that it’s no longer connected – and in fact shouldn’t even function as far as I can tell. It has probably burned and scarred his brain tissue as well. He may never be able to wake up, much less speak, walk … honestly I’m a bit surprised he’s breathing on his own.”

***

Who are you?

A friend.

Why does it hurt so much?

There is a place where the weakness of flesh is irrelevant. I will help you find it. But first you must help me. There will be time to sleep later. For now, awake.

***

Civic Court Tribunal, Penirgman IX, Domain (April, YC112)

The wheels of bureaucracy were slow, but at last, Taza was in fact his brother’s keeper by law. Nabobeh had slowly recovered. They had needed to strip one of Nabobeh’s clones of skin to replace his own, but that left him looking like some sort of stitched-together monster. His ears didn’t quite line up. His eyes had thankfully been able to be re-grafted from a clone. As far as the doctors could tell, he wasn’t in pain, at least not often. But they feared that he might in fact not feel anything any more, so many of his nerves had been destroyed. This was borne out by the fact that he was often found inexplicably bloody from a cut, or bruised in some unknown bump. His head lolled off to one side more often than not.

His brain had recovered in strange ways. He would never inhabit a capsule again. He could not stand. He could only speak in short bursts, as often as not incoherent. But it was alive with activity on scans. He could clearly see, and tried sometimes to respond. Amazingly, his hands, once renowned for their clumsiness, were now able to master the finest of movements, and he had found a sudden and inexplicable interest in circuitry.

***

I can’t get this to work. The puzzle is too complicated.

You’re not trying hard enough.

Damn you, I’ve got the algorithms down. Almost 2500 pieces, and all the links between them … I can keep them all linked and in perpetual motion now. But it’s all I can do to prevent it from flying apart. I can’t control it. I need help.

You need to look deeper at the pieces.

I need this computer to work for that, and the materials aren’t good enough. This stuff won’t work. It’s the best I can do with this stupid body.

Ah, that’s better. You begin to see the transitive nature of flesh.

Shut up. What are my other options?

Methanofullerene.

Wormholes. Of course.

 ***

Taza turned his brother’s wheelchair and pushed him down the long hallway toward the hangar. He watched as Nabobeh ran his fingers delicately over the circuit board in his lap, tracing the connections. He paused to wait while the hangar entry door opened. “Well, brother, where now?”

“Worms go in, worms go out.”

“Works for me.”

***

J121146, Class 5 Wormhole Space (June, YC113)

2013.06.15.03.03.11It had been a stressful year for Taza. Wormhole life was hard. You spent most of your time in the pod, and you lived in constant fear of a cloaked enemy dropping on you while you worked or transited. Finding your way out of the maze was often difficult. But the pay was good, as was the companionship. They had succeeded well enough to move up to a Class 5 system after a few months in a Class 2.

The year had been hard on his relationship with Nabobeh as well. There was little room in the POS tower for him, and his POS-mates resented having to devote a significant portion of the minimal floor space to Nabobeh’s electronics obsession. Nabobeh also had trouble caring for himself, and Taza constantly had to drop out of ops to make sure things were OK with his brother. In wormhole space, tolerances were short for those who didn’t pull their own weight. Finally, tonight was the night.

He looked down at his brother, reached out a cloth to wipe the spittle from his chin. The action was gentle and almost subconscious. “Nabobeh, I’ve got to start bringing you with me.” Taza sighed. “It will be more dangerous for you, but it will be worse for both of us if I don’t. I’ve custom rigged an escape pod; that will be your seat for the trip.”

Nabobeh gave two thumbs up.

***

“The Loki just cloaked. I have Phobos Proteus Proteus Tengu Damnation Archon on scan.” The scout’s voice had the characteristic waver of comms transiting wormholes.

“We’re ready on this side,” came the FC’s voice. “When he calls point I want our Prophecy next. We want them to escalate this. When the Phobos lands we’ll take our own HIC and the rest of the DPS through. Guardians hold until I call you.”

Ten ships, mostly Proteus-class strategic cruisers and Guardian-class logistics cruisers, sat on a slowly vibrating wormhole exit. Taza steered his Proteus in a tight orbit around the event horizon of the hole.

“Loki is decloaking. He’s 20K off the hole.” A pause in the scout’s transmission. “Point.”

The Prophecy-class battlecruiser jumped through. “Secondary point. Webbed,” came the pilot’s voice on comms. “He’s going down … slowly. Their Phobos is within 1 AU on directional scan.” Another pause. “Their Phobos has landed, bubble up.”

“DPS and HIC jump, bubble up!”

“They’re landing, call primaries.”

“Get the Tengu first. All DPS on the Tengu.”

“Archon! Carrier on grid. Moros on directional scan!”

“Tackle that carrier. Guardians jump jump jump.”

Taza felt good about their chances, so long as that Moros didn’t join the party.

***

I can feel them.

I know.

They are cowards.

They simply seek to survive, as we all do.

Can I do this?

Try it.

Gravity.

Mass, actually. But yes.

***

“Everyone back on the hole. Now!”

The directional scan had come flashing to life. Three Moros-class dreadnaughts, five Loki-class strategic cruisers sure to be covered in webs, five more Tengu-class strategic cruisers all too likely to be ECM projectors.

“Their second HIC just jumped back to our side. We’ve got to get out.”

The Moros dreadnaughts landed, and the targeting alarms came to life. Taza jumped through the hole.

“I’m going down. 50% armor,” came a call from their rearguard on the enemy side of the hole. “Structure. Shit. Down.” A pause. “Fu…” A burst of static. Taza winced, knowing that the pilot typically carried a full set of very expensive Slave implants, now molten slag in his floating corpse.

The FC picked up seamlessly. “Align out. Burn. Overheat, go go go.”

***

Push him.

I can do that?

You set the trap. Spring it.

***

The enemy FC fumed. One damned Proteus to show for this, with all the firepower they had brought? No, no. Not today. “Lokis jump. One Moros jump. Blap ’em and come back, this hasn’t gone shrink yet. It will hold.”

The Lokis jumped, and it held. Then the Moros followed. For some reason no one could explain, the hole collapsed.

***

Taza laughed as he set down the dinner tray on his brother’s wheelchair lapdesk. “Looks like you’re a good luck charm after all. Never seen anything like it. And what a massacre!” With the Moros stranded, it and its Loki and HIC partners were soon overwhelmed with no escape or reinforcement available. It was the corp’s first capital kill since moving to their Class 5 home.

Nabobeh smiled. “Was. Not pleased.”

“At them you mean? Yeah, sort of serves them right for trying to dunk us so hard. Wormhole space moves in mysterious ways.”

The corp named its new home “Victory”.

Nabobeh gave two thumbs up.

***

J121146 “Victory”, Class 5 Wormhole Space (February, YC115)

VentureAs it turned out, “good luck” was putting it mildly. So long as they fought hard, and Taza continued to keep his brother happy, things seemed to keep going their way. For two years, their corporation had thrived and grown. There was no clear reason behind it, but whenever things could go one way or another, they always seemed to break Taza’s way. Wormholes that should have collapsed didn’t. Convenient connections came at the best possible times. Fights they should have lost due to being outnumbered were won through enemy stupidity, accident, overconfidence or cowardice.

Taza had bought a Venture-class mining frigate and hired a captain and crew to be Nabobeh’s full-time caretaker and adventure guides. The little yellow ship was outfitted with a small mobile electronics lab and all the methanofullerene their station reactor could supply.

The FC chuckled over comms as Taza docked from another successful fight. “Bob is pleased, guys.” The rest laughed. It made Taza a bit uncomfortable, probably a throwback to his Amarr upbringing. The wormholers had invented themselves a capricious god, who they called Bob due to not having any other name. Bob was in the roll of the dice, the flip of the coin, and the predictable yet entirely unpredictable nature of wormhole space. Bob loved an underdog, a brave fight, a call to action. But no one actually thought he was real, other than a handful of crazies who styled themselves Bob’s prophets.

Taza walked across the docking bay and up the ramp into Nabobeh’s Venture. His brother sat quietly in his wheelchair as always, head askew, hands moving carefully as his tools traced a delicate array of methanofullerene paths on the boards. He didn’t know what Nabobeh was making, but did know he had never seen anything quite like it. Hopefully it would be something that would eventually be useful and set them both up for retirement.

He set a hand on Nabobeh’s shoulder. “I’ve got some great news, bro. Guess who joined corp?”

From down the ramp, a familiar voice called. “Hey, you up there? Nabbie, nice ship, I bet you get a lot of kills in this thing.” Mides Sarwed poked his head into the tiny lab room. Even his glib tongue was tied briefly as he looked on the ruined body that sat in the wheelchair. Mides finally let out a low whistle. “Man, Nabbie, you look like shit.”

Nabobeh raised his middle finger. “Not. Nnnname.”

This brought a chuckle from Mides. Nabobeh continued to hold the finger up for a few beats too long.

“Uh, OK.” Mides looked around the room again, shifted uncomfortably. “See you guys out in the hangar then.” He turned and departed from the ship.

“Don’t look at me that way, Nabobeh. Mides is going to be a great asset to us, he’s a veteran of the sov wars and has great combat experience. It will be good for all of us to fly together again.”

***

J121146 “Victory”, Class 5 Wormhole Space (May, YC115)

As the months wore on, Mides and Taza spent more time together. Despite being a “sov war veteran”, Mides wasn’t much for combat at all, it turned out. He was interested in the money they could get from selling nanoribbons. Every day, he agitated for more fleets attacking the Sleepers.

Other capsuleers that visited their system were hidden from, safely behind the shields of one of their starbases. When ships were found on the directional scanner, Mides hurried everyone to safety. Losses dropped, and profits rose.

Nabobeh didn’t go on Taza’s ship much any more; there were no combat missions of note to be had. It was safer to leave him at home, floating in his Venture.

***

You’re taking a great risk.

This can’t continue.

It is too soon for you to release your mortal shell. The prototypes are great progress, but not sufficient.

I won’t die. These can be manipulated – by their hearts, their minds, or the situation. The puzzle can be shifted. One way or another.

You act the part of a poor friend.

They have become that which they once despised. They have sold their souls for ISK, and not remained true to their ideals.

And you are to punish them?

It is time for them to learn the puzzle like all the rest.

***

J100820 “R3”, Class 5 Wormhole Space (July, YC115)

The image filled the screen of the war room, carefully studied by the two men in the room.

The brown-haired man with the chin-beard frowned as he stared at the screen. The sheer volume of ISK and ships reported by the spy and shown on video captures was hard to believe. He turned to the bearded man beside him. “I think it smells like a trap, Bish. These guys had an unbelievable kill record up until about three months ago, then it suddenly just stopped. They’ve barely had a fight since. And while we’re getting fed this info, we don’t even know the guy. No one has met him or talked to him.”

The black-haired, full-bearded man in the tan jacket shrugged. “Can’t hurt to check it out, Oratio. Besides, who leaves that many caps floating? We can always use a few new caps.”

“I’ll get some scanners in there and try to verify it.”

***

J121146 “Victory”, Class 5 Wormhole Space (September, YC115)

They never saw it coming. Wormholers had a particularly vicious trick they reserved for regular site runners – essentially they powered down all of their systems and sat silently for days at a time, cruiser-sized holes of dark matter just beyond the outer edge of a system … until the moment when they simultaneously brought all their systems to life and immediately warped to their targets.

One moment, Taza and Mides had a large fleet destroying Sleepers in a site. The next, they were surrounded by a horde of Loki and Proteus strategic cruisers, backed up by Archon-class carriers and Moros-class dreadnaughts bearing the insignia of a winged skull in a top hat. Taza’s Legion disintegrated around him and he barely had a chance to feel relief that his brother was safely back at the POS before his pod was obliterated and he reawoke in Amarr.

Most of the fleet suffered the same fate, pinned down by the invaders and torn apart by the Sleepers.

Mides was not so lucky that day – he was left alive in his pod, but was warp disrupted continuously by a lone pilot in a Cheetah covert-ops frigate. He called desperately for help, but none came. He got to listen on near-field comms as the dreadnaughts and a fleet of Tornado- and Oracle-class battlecruisers disabled all but one of the starbases in the system. Only then did they return to his lonely collared pod, and simultaneously unload massive amounts of ordinance into his tiny shell. The massive Moros shells left nothing of his corpse to retrieve.

Two days later, the starbases disintegrated in a hail of weapons fire, and the invaders left.

The CEO was back relatively quickly, as was Taza. They didn’t hear from Mides for some time. It seemed that whenever he came back in a wormhole, he either got attacked or collapsed in with no way out.

***

J121146 “Victory”, Class 5 Wormhole Space (October, YC115)

“We lost our way, friends.” The CEO stood in the war room of the rebuilt starbase, arms crossed over his chest.

“Mides Sarwed has left the corp. We will not be attacking the Sleepers tonight. Real or not, it’s time to get back in Bob’s good graces tonight. Let’s get out there and roll the hole.”

The farming fleet they found in the new static connection managed to get less than a third of their ships out. A wandering highsec hole opened only a couple of jumps from Jita. It was a good night.

As he celebrated with the other pilots, Taza missed his usual evening time to check on Nabobeh.

***

It’s done.

Plug it in and try.

***

Taza stumbled through the hangar and up the ramp into Nabobeh’s ship. Immediately he sensed something amiss, but in his drunken state he didn’t realize that what was confusing his brain was the empty wheelchair. Nabobeh inexplicably lay upon the lab table, circuit board across his belly, and wires tapped into his old, fused capsuleer implants.

He looked peaceful, happy even.

Taza checked for a pulse, and found a strong one. Not wanting to unplug his brother from something he didn’t understand, he sat in Nabobeh’s chair to wait, and soon fell asleep himself.

***

Taza dreamed of their childhood and their parents’ home, sitting with his brother in their shared bedroom. Bobeh (he hadn’t called him that in ages, why was he thinking that now?) was playing with a tiny toy spaceship. Strangely, it was a Venture – a ship that didn’t exist when they were children.

“What’s wrong, Taza?”

“I’m … not sure Bobeh. Am I dreaming this?”

“You might be. I am. It’s time, Taza.”

“Time for what?”

“For me to go. I want to thank you for all you’ve done for me these years. Now it’s my turn to watch out for you.” The little boy walked over to him and wrapped his arms around his older brother. “I love you, brother. Fly well.”

***

Taza woke with a start. The engines of the Venture were humming softly. The crew were not on board. Nabobeh was strapped into the conventional pilot’s chair, his body hunched over the controls. Cables led from the controls to the board and then into his implants.

Taza stood. “Bobeh what … let’s get you back into the chair and safe.”

Nabobeh straightened as much as he could, and mustered a single firm word. “Go.”

***

J170376, Class 3 Wormhole Space (November, YC115)

Sleeper EnclaveBobeh guided the Venture lower, ignoring the Awakened Upholder Sleeper cruisers as the fell in beside, above and below. They did not open fire as he descended toward the pulsating blue lights of the disc.

Alighting in the center, the docking clamps connected with a metallic clang. The ship’s airlock opened and the stale air of the Oruze Construct filled the cabin, smelling of dust and ozone.

Bobeh dragged himself to the portal, and was perhaps surprised to find a floating platform awaiting him. Draped across it, he was carried through the massive dome of the Sleeper Enclave, blue light pulsing all around him.

A coffin-like vertical bed with a clear acrylic cover stood open along the wall, waiting. Strangely, it looked new, as if it had been built yesterday, unlike the many dust-covered cells filled with dim humanoid shapes nearby. He connected his custom board to the leads within, and as the cover closed, he fell asleep.

***

The sun felt warm on Bobeh’s face, and the grass on the hilltop soft and a bit scrachy under his bare hand as he leaned down to touch it. A light breeze blew, and the smell of the flowering trees nearby filled the air.

The man beside him spoke in a reassuringly familiar voice. “Do you like it?”

“It’s amazing. Better than anything I could possibly hope for.”

“Good. This is why we fight, and why we must defend ourselves. Now that you know how to harness the system, and you are here where we can focus your power, it is time for you to learn what must be done, and why.” The man paused briefly. “A new offensive is approaching. Come, Bob – your destiny waits for you.”

The pair headed down the hill toward the shining city in the distance.

Sleeper Pod

Click to enlarge

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