This story is an entry in the YC115 Pod and Planet Fiction Contest in the “8000 Suns in New Eden” category. I have always wanted to explore what capsuleers would really look like after years in the lifestyle we actually have them live. I’ve never believed we would all look as pretty as the Carbon models. At least not after a few years. I originally came up with some of the vignettes and capsuleer characters back in February 2013, but it took 23 revisions to come up with a story to link them together. Hopefully the effort succeeded.
Federation Navy Assembly Plant, Dodixie IX, Sinq Laison
Pilius Geria tapped his foot nervously as he sat, waiting for the transport to stop moving. Growing up on Dodixie VI, he had had a relatively cosmopolitan upbringing and had been off-surface on a handful of occasions. He had even been here to the Hub once before to visit Uncle Meves. But now it was to be full time.
Sure, the job wasn’t glamorous. But it was a chance to be right there in the middle of it all, with the leaders of the military and the government – and with the capsuleers. Rumor had it that with the right non-combat capsuleer’s crew you could make the fortune of a hundred lifetimes at home at minimal risk to life and limb. This job was a tiny first step in that direction.
He rushed off the transport, checked in through customs, and headed off to his tiny one-room apartment deep in the bowels of the station. His first shift was already scheduled for this afternoon.
“You’ll work with Iso. Your job for the next two weeks is to follow her, watch, listen and learn. Don’t talk to the customers unless they ask you something. Do what she says when she says it without question. She’s the best bartender here. Watch, ask smart questions, and learn.” The bar’s owner gave off the air of a jolly showman when he was out on the floor, but in the back rooms he was all business. He sized up Geria briefly. “Your uncle and your planetside boss recommended you highly. I expect my staff to be on top of their game; we have demanding clients.”
Geria nodded. “Yes sir.”
Isoryn “Iso” Airou stood behind the long bar on one side of the tavern. Geria watched her from a distance before going over. Iso was attractive in her own way, but less from looks than from the aura of confidence she exuded. Even from here, you could tell that she was fully aware of and subtly managing everything going on in the room. The other two bartenders plied drinks to the handful of late afternoon patrons, while she handled the drinks servers were bringing to tables. Her eyes never seemed to sit still, glancing across the establishment frequently despite the fact that it was practically empty. Geria headed over.
“Hi. I’m Pilius, the new trainee.”
“You’re Meves Geria’s kid?” He found this funny, since she talked like a friend of his uncle’s, but couldn’t have been much older than he was.
“Nephew, actually.” He paused. “I’ve spent the last couple years bartending on Dodixie VI so I’m not completely clueless. What do you need me to get going?”
She shook her head. “Not much, yet. The boss wouldn’t hire anyone who doesn’t know how to make drinks. What you need to learn first is the difference between the people up here versus the people dirtside. Especially here, everyone has this veneer of respectability. Some you can trust. Some you can’t. And very few of them can be taken at face value. Have you spent much time around eggers?” She used the common nickname for capsuleers, not that either would say it to the face of one.
He shook his head.
“Well, you will. They’re a whole different deal. They’re basically immortal – that means that they aren’t afraid to get a little crazy, which often means a lot of drinks and good tips. But it also means that for some of them, you and I are non-people – toys for their entertainment or insects to be accidentally squashed. They have no fear of the law or the empires. You have to be careful.” She paused long enough to toss him a couple of damp bar rags. “For now, just keep the bar wiped down and watch people. Help the other guys when we get busy. They know you’re in training, and have been through this too, so don’t be afraid to just step back and watch the main room if you need to – they’ll cover. I’ll point out the interesting ones when they pop up.”
He didn’t see much of Iso for a while after that, busying himself with getting to know the bar layout and how the staff worked. There were a few new drinks typically served here, but the Gallente taste in alcohol was pretty much the standard across most of New Eden, so there were relatively few surprises (except for a couple of Caldari who were more interested in playing stump the bartender than actually drinking).
It took a while for him to notice from behind the bar that the business at the tables had picked up pretty strongly as the afternoon wore into dinnertime. He glanced down the bar and saw the others had things well in hand, so took a couple minutes to step back. The diversity of patrons was surprising even for a someone born and raised in Gallente space.
As he was taking stock, he heard Iso’s voice quietly behind him. “Tell me what jumps out at you.”
Startled, he took a quick glance around. “The group of Naval officers.”
She nodded. “Just what they seem. A lot of them regulars. Most of them work here on station or on patrol ships and none are eggers. Treat them well and they’ll treat you as well as they can afford. But that one was an easy one, I’m sure you have police and firemen you took care of back home. Try something harder.”
His eyes drifted a couple of tables further over and was surprised by the sudden juxtaposition – these patrons had similar uniforms, but physically looked far the worse for wear. They were battle-scarred and beaten up. One had his arm in a cast. Another had clearly lost an eye at some point – the glass replacement was cloudy and without even a painted iris. Their uniforms were from various time periods and didn’t always precisely match those of their companions. They occasionally burst out in uproarious laughter, compared to the formal bearing of the nearby officers. “Are those…”
She smiled wryly. “Militia. They just finished quite the campaign up around Villore and Ladistier and have been coming in for celebrations the last week or so. Been good for business.”
“What the hell happened to them?”
“They’re eggers, kiddo. In low security space, they get their ships blown up a lot but they don’t get kicked back to their clones a lot. Instead they get bounced around inside their pods, which doesn’t always do nice things to their bodies. That’s how you can tell a lowsec pilot, more often than not. They look like shit but are tough as nails and drink like fish. Problem is that nine out of ten lowseccers are dirt poor, especially the pirates, so they’re mostly shitty tippers. But they’re definitely entertaining. Who’s next?”
At that moment, a group of men in nearly identical well-tailored suits appeared at the door. They were a bit older than the average pilot, well-manicured, and seemed impatient as they waited behind their leader – a Caldari woman with long dark hair and shocking blue eyes in a nearly uniform-like black and red jacket with knee-high boots. The host all but leapt from behind his stand, dropped a ridiculously low bow, and gestured for the group to follow him. Every eye in the place followed her, and even Iso was a bit wide eyed.
The woman in red detoured briefly to a table where a portly Amarrian (“That’s Araz Hakarvin,” Iso informed him) sat surrounded by fawning hangers-on of his own. She whispered in his ear briefly, then turned to follow the host. The Amarrian’s face purpled and he abruptly stood as if to give chase. One of the woman’s followers shook his head and waggled a finger with a wry smile, and the Amarrian sat down again, fuming as the group disappeared into the private back room.
“Her majesty has seen fit to join us. That’s ominous,” said Iso.
“That’s Jamyl Sarum?”
Iso barked a short laugh. “No, sorry. That is one of the richest women in New Eden, from one of the egger empires out in the far edges of the cluster, Tribute I think. Some people say she’s responsible for the problems in the ice markets the last couple of years, but she always comes out clean even when some of her cronies get chased off by the cops and CONCORD. Her being here is good for the bar but it’s probably a bad sign for Gallente space. They will clean us out of all of our top shelf stuff before the end of the night.”
She smiled wryly – whether from envy or relief wasn’t clear. “The servers back there are sweating, I guarantee you. If they do well, they might be able to retire on tonight’s tip. If they do badly, they likely won’t be back to work tomorrow … or ever.” As if on queue, one of the back room servers came running out at full tilt.
Things were busy for a while after that.
The overdressed Amarrian, Araz Hakarvin, was back again the next night, having seemingly shaken off the apoplexy from his encounter with the woman the night before.
Hakarvin was one of the more famous traders in the station, and known to be remarkably wealthy himself. Apparently also a capsuleer, you’d never know it to look at him – he appeared to spend far more time at the dessert bar than any ship. Iso said he was her best regular customer.
Hakarvin was always surrounded by a small handful of pretty and vacuous men and women in their 20s, who looked like they were in some sort of happily drugged haze at most times.
“Iso my dear, you really need to come and work for me. I can pay you so much more than you make here.”
“Thanks Araz, but you know I’m not looking for that kind of work.”
The Amarrian smiled, almost a leer, as he looked past Iso to Geria. “Maybe your new boy, then. I’m always looking for new crew members.” Geria smiled in return – he hoped not too woodenly. “I’m happy to just get you a drink for now, sir.”
Hakarvin shook his head slightly, his face set into a stiff false smile. “I never like to hear no, you know. It’s very upsetting for my friends.” One young companion was looking Geria over like a piece of meat. Thankfully Iso stepped between them, and they escaped with the drink order.
Back at the bar, Iso explained, “Yeah, he’s a bit of a lech, and his entourage are all drug slaves. I think I’ve finally convinced him that I just want to bring him drinks and nothing else, but he still asks. He’s always here and tips well, though. He’s very rich, knows what he likes and is willing to pay for it. Not all the eggers spend their time in capsules – he sees the station as his own personal palace and spend his time making money.”
As the first week wore on and the weekend approached, Geria felt like he was getting the hang of picking the capsuleers out from the rest of the crowd. He was also getting better at avoiding Hakarvin’s table. Iso could have him as her regular customer; he creeped Geria out.
Iso regularly pointed out new groups. One he had first mistaken for more milita – a bit rowdy and clearly combat vets. But unlike the abused and weathered faces and bodies of the militia group earlier in the week, these were almost all baby-faced and young. “Syndicate gangs,” Iso explained. “Unlike their lowsec counterparts, they get podded. I hear those guys group got nailed by one of the Legion gangs last week.”
The other egger Geria was watching tonight was an obvious one – it was impossible to miss the skull and spinal jacks on his clean-shaven head. But why was this immortal superman in a wheelchair? The capsuleer trembled slightly. His skin was wrinkled and he was so pale as to appear almost albino, his nails almost transparent. He wore sunglasses most of the time, only removing them to look at the menu, revealing amber eyes. He occasionally looked upward to talk with the burly security guard behind his chair.
“How old is he, Iso?”
“Not terribly. 30s or 40s I’d guess.” To Geria, the man looked almost 80.
“What the hell happened? Why didn’t he just blow himself up and get a new body?”
“You see those lumps under his scalp? Implants. That head of his, I’d bet, is probably worth more than a lot of the ships in this station.”
“But … what aged him so bad?”
“He’s a wormholer. Probably has spent most of the last months – or years – in his capsule, rarely leaving. Their starbase towers out there barely have room to store the fuel to keep the shields running, so they mostly live in their pods. No light other than the one his camera drones show. No walking means no muscle tone. No food other than the automated nutrient feeds. If not for the artificial gravitational fields of his starbase and ships, his bones would probably break here as well.”
She inclined her head subtly at a few other tables, where lone men sat, nursing their drinks. “See those? More of his guards. Don’t make any sudden moves around him. Wormholers are paranoid as hell and they’ll order you killed for the slightest thing without apology. Move slow and do what he asks.” Thankfully, all he wanted was a drink and something real to eat. The steak specialty of the house brought the withered man nearly to tears, and the tip was enough to cover most of Geria’s rent for the month.
Geria smiled as he left work. While the days were long and exhausting, he already felt like he was off to a strong start. Even as a trainee he had made more than he ever had dirtside. He counted himself lucky – station life was the privilege of the few. As the planetary economies had shifted from serving governments and navies to serving capsuleers, this had become even more noticeable. Even non-capsuleers generally made a better living on station than down on the planets. He’d have to remember to thank his uncle.
He was perhaps a bit too oblivious as he made his way down the concourse toward the elevators to the residential decks. As he stepped out and the door closed behind him, he caught a whiff of a sickly-sweet perfume. To his surprise, one of the men from Araz Hakarvin’s entourage was in the elevator lobby. Geria quickly walked past on the way to his apartment. Hakarvin’s pets didn’t come across as subtle, and this one was obviously following him.
Geria hurried to his apartment door, but before he could unlock it the man leapt for him, brandishing … something.
Geria spun to one side, reaching instinctively to catch the man’s arm. The weapon was an injector – filled with who knew what. He knew he didn’t want to find out. Geria squeezed the man’s wrist and pushed, trying to get away.
Hakarvin’s pet was freakishly strong, however – and he managed to hold Geria with the other hand while pushing in an attempt to knock him over. With a last twist, the man’s grip suddenly broke free, only to smash him in the temple with the heel of his hand.
Geria slumped to the ground, vision swimming. There was a sudden pressure on the side of his neck as the injector was pushed into it. He looked up to see Hakarvin’s minion’s hideous leer. Just before consciousness fled, he swore he saw another shadow.
So tired. So … bright.
It seemed to Pilius Geria that his eyelids were made of lead and lined with gauze. There was someone in the room with him. He blinked, blinked again.
A middle-aged, serious-looking man in a Gallente uniform watched him with some concern. His voice was soft but firm, a mellow baritone. “How do you feel?”
“Um. Hi Uncle Meves.” Pilius Geria managed a weak smile. “Thanks for the job.”
Meves Geria chuckled quietly. “You’re welcome.”
“You were mugged.”
That didn’t sound right. It took a while for the memory to come. “No, it was one of Hakarvin’s people.” More memory, a flash of adrenaline. “What did he inject me with?”
His uncle shook his head slowly and deliberately, his eyes flicking to the camera in the corner of the room. “The person who did it has not been caught. There’s no reason we’d suspect Mr. Hakarvin. You were injected with a strong sedative, nothing addictive.”
“I … see.”
“You should be able to go home later today. I’ll bring you to our place for the night and feed you some dinner and we’ll catch up.” His uncle stood up. “I’ll be back later tonight to get you. Get some more sleep. Oh … and make sure you thank your bartender friend. She was the only reason you weren’t carted off by your attacker. From the security video it looked like she kicked him hard enough to break a few things.”
Iso squeezed his shoulder. “It’s good to see you back up and at ’em.” A shadow of a smile crossed her face. “I think you’re officially done with training – you’re one of us now.” She nodded at a table across the bar. “There’s your first customer.”
He headed toward Hakarvin’s table.