A Bad Day

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“It’s time to wake up.”

“It’s time to wake up.”

“Alarm off.”

One eye blearily opened and looked around to see only gray metal. The other eye opened and confirmed the initial report. Legs unbent and stretched, but gave little resistance. They didn’t want to move but knew they had too. Reaching above his head he grabbed the assist bars and pulled himself out of the tube that counted as his bunk.

Landing heavily and stretching he felt a dull throb from his lower back. “Damnit, slept on my back again.” He thought as his hands reflexively went to the pain. With his hands still on his lumbar he hobbled over to the shower unit in the bathroom.

“Very Hot” he mumbled.

“The human body cannot withstand temperatures at that range for very long” Said the voice, from everywhere and nowhere. “The water will automatically disengage after two minutes”

“Fine. Hot, then!”

The water started cascading in the shower and he removed his clothes before he stepped in. He concentrated the water onto his lower back and leaned against the wall.

“Due to water rationing on Stations, the water will be shut off in…”

“Off!” he said, jerking his eyes open. The water stopped. Had he fallen asleep, or just lost track of time?

After drying off, her put on his clothes and walked to his desk. “Good Morning, Aine, you have three new mail messages. One is personal and two are corporate.

“Read me the corporate messages.”

“Would you like me to send them to your implant?”

“No, read them”

They were messages directed to new pilots. Apparently one pilot decided that the rules did not apply to him and had his ship removed out from under him as a reminder. The second added a warning that if anyone else was caught they would not only lose their ship, they would probably lose their body as well. The new pilots usually complain that these are harsh punishments. They sometimes forget that capsuleers are all clones.

We lost track of our real bodies a long time ago. Not that there’s a way to tell the real body. Losing your ship and your pod in space doesn’t mean dying. It means that you wake up in a bowl of green jelly with a tube down your throat. After you are dressed, you are handed a bag of ISK from the insurance payout for your ship. So the only real thing you lose is the money you paid for your implants and extra modules on your ship.

“Shall I read the personal message?”

“Negative, Ignore it.”

“You have one new personal mail Message.”

“I said ignore it!”

“This is a new message,” the voice chided. “Would you like me to ignore it?”

“Yes.”

Silence, finally.

He looked in the mirror. “Tired” he thought. “You look tired.”

“And you forgot to shave.” He said out loud, regretting it. The voice did not reply.

A brief glance at his training queue showed that there were another three days left on his current skill training. Ahh the wonders of the Capsuleer program! Why spend your time in school or reading those strange books made out of plant fiber when you can simply plug a “skill book”, essentially a data chip, into your head and wait however long it takes to reconfigure your brain. No mess, no fuss, no mistakes, ever. No choice, no difference, no experience necessary. all of a sudden you simply knew what you needed to know.

He walked to the door and it opened before him, showing the corridor of the station. The corridor was empty. It was always empty. Capsuleers are a private bunch by nature. Used to performing their duties inside a little pod of metal inside a completely automated ship run by his brain alone. Very alone. The idea of one of us meeting with someone without four bulkheads and the vacuum of space between them scares the faction out of most everyone. Sure, they talk. There are thousands of channels of nothing but chatter between pilots. But that’s it.

Yet still lonely.

He stepped out and began walking.

---

It wasn’t far to his hangar, only a kilometer or so. But when you spend your day (and sometimes days) in a small pod the idea of exercise can seem a little foreign. He walked in silence. Occasionally, he would pass windows with views out to space. He remembered as a new pilot excitedly looking out of those windows and impatiently pestering his teachers to let him go out. He ignored the windows now; he’ll be out there in a few minutes anyway.

He stepped gingerly into the hangar section and headed toward his hatch. Gravity was hit-or-miss here due to the large amount of ships floating in their hangars. Gravity fields held the ships in place and prevented them from running into the bulkheads. Protecting ships is much more important than personal comfort.

“Aine Mindwolf” he said to his hatchway. The door slid aside and he stepped through. He was inside a small room that started rectangular at the hatch and ended round at the other end. It was designed to provide an airtight seal to his pod so he could enter and leave with being exposed to vacuum. The pod was there, sitting open like a lotus flower. His seat was the stamen. The seat began to retract into the pod immediately as he climbed into it. He adjusted his position as it did so. The petals closed and the pod began to hum to life.

It was dark inside. Light wasn’t needed inside a pod. There were lights, but they were for emergencies. There were never emergencies. The pods weren’t designed to save your life. They were designed to connect you to a ship. Granted they protected you if your ship was destroyed, but if your pod lost power no one will come to your rescue. The self destruct system helped with those issues.

Inside the darkness, the pod began to integrate him. The catheter and suppository tubes found their way and inserted themselves with some minor discomfort. Hair thin filaments snaked towards him from behind his head. They probed and connected to barely visible ports on the back of his neck. This literally connected him to the pod and ultimately to the ship he was piloting. As the connections were made his senses came alive. Even without a viewscreen or port, he was able to see outside the pod. The overview, station information, sensor readouts and other local data appeared at the right. At the bottom was statistical information about his pod. Shields, Armor and Structure were measured and depicted in this readout. Pods do not have shields so the bar remained red. At the left was a menu bar that contained all the functions he can carry out from within his pod; everything from reading mail to buying and selling on the market. He was fully connected to his pod.

He floated free of the hatch room and the gravlift system nudged him towards the active ship in his hangar. He could have as many ships in his hangar as he wanted, but only one active at any time. He never understood how they came up with the storage space to store everything. The hangars had to be finite. Didn’t they?

Hovering now above his Mining Barge he had a good view of it. It’s probably the best barge made for mining, a Hulk, and it definitely shows its use. It appeared dirty from the dust that clung to it. Sections had slag, melted ore and asteroid bits, stuck to it that had cooled in place, never to be removed again.

The pod bay opened and he started drifting down towards the opening. He settled and locked into place with a thud and a thunk and suddenly he was the Hulk. His perception zoomed out to accommodate the larger size of the ship. This was something that new pilots found disconcerting and a little nauseating. The engines were warm already. It was time to go.

A realization came to him that he had spent most of the day recalling back to days when he was new to the Capsuleer program. He wondered why he was doing it even though he knew the reason. He’s only been a Capsuleer for a little while and a miner even less. Isn’t it too early for regrets?

Hangar command reported that he would be placed in line to leave the station in another 18 seconds. Which is exactly the amount he was willing to devote to regrets today. He tried to put it out of his mind.

The Hulk started drifting toward the hangar exit.

“Good,” he thought. “Perhaps I can get something done instead of wallowing.”

A few seconds later he had moved through the line and was ready to exit. The MagDrive grabbed him and literally threw him out of the station. Many of his teachers had threatened to do that to unruly students without their pod if they kept acting up. He hadn’t believed it. It only took dying in the vacuum of space once to teach a valuable lesson that being blown up in your pod is a much more desirable way to die.

“I’m doing it again” He thought to himself. Once clear of the station he set a course to the nearest asteroid belt and activated warp. The navigation system began turning the large ship towards the beacon placed at the belt. After it aligned there was a brief pause waiting for the ship to gain enough speed to initiate warp, about 75% of maximum speed. Once in warp, he watched the “warp tunnel”, essentially a small artificial wormhole, ahead of him as he traveled through it. Ahead everything appeared blue as his speed blue shifted all the incoming light. Behind him, he knew that the other end of the tunnel was red shifted. He didn’t bother to look.

He arrived in a belt and assessed the situation. It was relatively untouched except for two of the Sonics. The Sonics were a corp of macro miners. They set up their pods with scripts and macros that allow them to control more than one ship at a time. This is highly illegal in CONCORD space and very frequently causes permanent brain damage. Otherwise there was no one else here. He targeted a few rocks, activated his mining lasers, and settled into the peace and quiet of him, the rocks and the brain dead.

He watched the lasers do their job for a while. They were a pretty wondrous thing when you thought about it. A high powered laser is enveloped by a tractor beam. The laser vaporizes the ore and the tractor beam pulls it into your hold where it reforms back into a solid ore. His were the top of the line second generation strip miner modules, the best around. But he couldn’t be bothered. Not even watching the lasers would bring him out of his melancholy.

“I suppose I have no choice.” He thought. “I have to think about it.”

But what was there really to think about? What was it that was causing him regret? “I can’t actually regret my birth, it’s not like I had a choice in that!” It’s true that the Caldari Civire had dissenters in their ranks which were watched very closely by the state. But could they really dissent from their birth? He considered what it would be like being a Minmatar, flying around in their rattling ships. Or the holier-than-thou Amarr on their “God Given” quest to enslave everyone. Or the Gallente… Who knows what the Gallente do? “I sure as Hell don’t want to be one!”

Was it the career then? Did he hate mining so much that it was driving him to depression? He thought he liked the silence and the peace of mining. Perhaps he was wrong. He considered his options.

“Could I have been a trader?” He thought. “I’ve been trading for quite some time now I considered it a second income. Should it be my first?” He imagined selling off his beloved Hulk, and moving to the nearest trade hub. To sit there all day. To buy and to sell. To buy and to sell all day. Never leaving, just buying and selling. “It’s like a nightmare!” he said, putting his hands to his face.

“How about mission running? That seems popular.” He in fact had done some mission running earlier in his career. That was only to build standing to get better rates for his ore refining. His Drake was still mothballed in his hangar.

But then he remembered why he mothballed the Drake. The agents; those damn agents control everything! You beg and plead for a mission where you can take out some pirates or liberate a gate camp. But you get: Tobacco! Take this crate of tobacco 14 jumps for me. Those Amarr sure love to smoke! If he wanted to haul he would have become a hauler. A job that he would not even consider.

He just couldn’t become a pirate. It’s too chaotic. You may never be able to return to CONCORD space without CONCORD declaring a police action on you. The worst of it is that there is no organization! He was Caldari after all.

“I suppose that I may just have to be this way.” He said to himself, leaned back and closed his eyes.

“Incoming private chat”

Startled, he looked around. The lasers were offline. They had shut themselves off after they had mined the asteroids that were targeted to dust. Had he fallen asleep again?

“Incoming private chat” the voice said again. It was the same voice as his quarters. It was always the same voice. Everywhere.

He opened the chat and tried to not look like he had been sleeping.

A face appeared in his cerebral viewscreen. “I found you!” He said.

The face looked to his right and said: “I found him! He was sitting dark with the Sonics. I think he was hiding.”

“I was not hiding.” Aine tried to sound serious. “My miners had just gone offline when you found…. Came upon me”

Terrant, the face in chat, leaned in close. A pointless move since the viewscreen was in his head. “You were sleeping! You fell asleep!”

Aine never did understand how people we able to see his face when he was in a dark pod, and how he was able to see others. Someone had once explained to him that the fibers that connected you to your implants to the ship transmitted data about your facial structure and general status to build a proper image for the channels, but that doesn’t explain how it knew about tattoos or what he was wearing. He gave up trying to understand a while ago.

Terrant looked to his right again. “He was asleep!”

Looking back he said, “Come one we have a fleet going. We’ll keep you awake!”

“Honestly I’m really not in the mood today. I just want to…”

“No excuses! Join up or I get… Her.” Terrant taunted, eyes narrowing.

“She’s in the fleet?”

“Yep” The face said. He was trying to be serious but was having a hard time keeping from smiling.

Terrant knew what he was doing. The “she” that he was referring to was a recent friend of Aine’s. Someone the he simply cannot say “no” to. She’s a bit older than him, and has been a pilot a little longer but that didn’t stop their friendship from growing quickly. He introduced her to mining. She had hated the thought of “sitting in space and shooting at rocks” as she called it. After her first mining fleet she was hooked. She reorganized her training and got herself a retriever. The Hulk’s little brother. She still says that it is all Aine’s fault for getting her hooked on mining. She calls him her “pusher”.

“Look Terrant, I’m sorry but I’m having a bad day and I just want…”

The corners of Terrant’s mouth crept up into a smile one last time and the image of his friend disappeared before he could say “be alone.”

Defeated, he didn’t know what he was going to do. He was about to rub his face with his hands when her image appeared. “There you are!” She said.

“Hi Aria.” Trying to sound as cheerful as possible.

“Why didn’t you join the fleet when it formed?” She asked

“I didn’t know there was going to be one.”

“I mailed you about it this morning, funny man!”

Aine suddenly recalled the two mail messages he instructed the computer to ignore this morning.

“Nope, it’s not working.” She said. Her eyes closed to a squint.

“What? What’s not working?” He said with genuine concern.

“You,” she responded. “I can see right through you. You’re depressed.”

“Honestly, I don’t know what I am.”

“What you are, is going to come with us and let us cheer you up!”

The corner of his mouth twitched. He tried very hard not to smile. “You know that didn’t make sense right there.”

“Doesn’t matter. It did what I wanted it to. Now warp to me!” The image disappeared. She’s more observant than he thought.

Aine sighed as the fleet invitation appeared. He joined the fleet, found Aria in the list. And selected “Warp to Member”. “Depression,” he said. “You know what that needs? An audience.” He entered Warp and left the Sonics to themselves.

A few moments later, he arrived at the location of the mining fleet. “Hi, Everyone” he said in response to everyone’s welcomes. It was a good size fleet about seven people, mostly Hulks and Retties, plus an Orca looming over everyone.

“Where have you been?” Kerras asked. His Amarri pointed skull looked even pointier today.

“He was hanging out with the Sonics!” Terrant burst out. Aria’s image in the fleet member list almost seemed to be looking at him. Her eyes were twinkling.

What the Hell, he thought, and took the initiative. “I don’t care what you say, they’re really good conversationalists!”

There was some laughter at this. It seemed to give him strength.

“OK,” he said. “They may miss a few things from time to time. Like Nouns.” More laughter. Was he really starting to feel better?

“They may be eight ships sharing one brain. But if you find the one with the speech center, it’s a laugh riot!”

“You plan on doing any mining, Aine?” The Mailkon asked. He had completely forgotten to turn on his lasers.

“Why? Don’t I get a free ride?” He activated his mining lasers.

“Probably, just not with mining!”

“The line starts at the left!” Everything degrades down to sexual references. Oh well, Aine thought. Go with what works. He smiled.

Terrant’s image started pointing. “Look he’s smiling! We did it!” This caused a round of applause to erupt through the audio.

Aine couldn’t help but to laugh. “You all are jerks!”

---

Hours later, the mining operation was finished, and the ore had been dropped off at the refinery. Aine returned to his quarters tired, and dirty. On the way he had actually stopped at the windows he had ignored and watched a newly formed fleet exit the station and warp off together. The implants in his head automatically identified each ship and pilot and marked by placing a reticle around it. He removed his clothes and threw them under the hamper tube. The tube sucked them up and conveyed them to the recycling center.

“Hot” he told the shower. Water began cascading and he stepped into it and cleaned himself up. When he was finished he toweled himself off and a clean set of clothes were waiting folded on the shelf. He pulled them on and sat at his desk.

Aine activated a viewscreen and reviewed the messages he ignored this morning. They were both from Aria. The first was telling him about mining operation and the second was telling him to hurry his ass up, he had work to do. He smiled and deactivated the screen.

He still didn’t know for sure what caused all this but at least there was something he can do about. Camaraderie seems to cure all.

“Incoming private chat” the damned voice said.

“To implant.” Aria’s smiling face appeared in his mind’s eye.

“I’m glad you’re feeling better.” She said.

“Me to,” he replied. “I was really starting to identify with those Sonics!”

“Funny man,” She said. Her smile faded a bit and she looked down.

“I was wondering,” she hesitated. “I know it’s not our way. But, I wondered if you wanted to meet?”

“I think, I would like that.” I said. Her smile came back and her eyes shined before the image disappeared.

He sighed and got up. He looked at the chair for a moment and sat down again. Then he got back up. His back didn’t hurt anymore! He had completely forgotten about it and now it was fine.

An odd chirping sound suddenly rung throughout his quarters. It was very annoying and something he’d never heard before. “What the Hell is that terrible sound?” Aine asked.

“That sound, is the door chime.” The voice sounded even more condescending than usual.

Aine looked at the door. Perhaps this was a good day after all.