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Eve: The Empyrean Age
By Tony Gonzales
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2008 CCP hf
All rights reserved.
The first experience of life was a bright point of light followed by the sound of distant, muted whispers. A flood of sensory information registered self-awareness, when just before there was only a sea of blackness. A new mind took inventory of the world surrounding him: his chest, rising and falling with the sensation of air rushing into his lungs; the taste of saliva and the contraction of throat muscles as he swallowed; hands that opened and closed into fists as he commanded; all virgin experiences, so it seemed, for a man who was just born inside a coffin.
Lying supine, he blinked several times, struggling to make sense of his narrow confines. A glass shield was just inches from his face, where he gazed with frustrating uncertainty upon a reflection that was his own. An older man, with creases stretched across a high forehead and steel-gray eyes set upon severe cheekbones, returned the bewildered stare.
Who am I? this lost soul asked, struggling to reach backward in time for a memory or reference, anything to place this surreal state of being into context. But there was nothing there, and the sea of blackness prevailed.
As he tried to lift his shoulders, a medical device descended from inside the chamber and passed a bluish light over the entire length of his body. It was then that he realized the base of his skull was fastened to the bed's surface, and that the connection was through a metallic socket implanted directly into the bone.
I am a capsuleer, he realized, peering through the glass at a ceiling high above. One of the immortals, but ... what happened to me? The device hovered over his squinting eyes before an artificial voice spoke softly:
'Good morning. Your vital signs are excellent. Try to relax while I assess the rebuilding progress of your temporal lobe. Scanning ...'
With the center light focusing on his eyes, additional beams were projected onto his face. Then he felt a tingling sensation in the back of his head.
'I'm going to ask you several questions,' the voice continued. He found her voice soothing, despite its artificial tone. 'Do you know what today's date is?'
'No,' he answered. 'Where am I?'
The voice remained impassive, but gentle. 'Do you know what your name is?'
He was about to answer 'No' in desperation again when a bright flash illuminated the room beyond the glass, followed by a loud muffled thud that shook the chamber. He felt his pulse accelerate as his instincts registered danger for the first time.
'Good morning. Your vital signs are excellent,' the automated voice repeated. 'Try to relax while I ... Good morning. Your vital signs are ...'
The device hovering above him flickered once, and then retracted back into its lair. He realized that a new face was staring at him through the glass, and that the predatory look in this stranger's eyes was reason enough to be very afraid.
With a series of mechanical clicks and hisses, the chamber's lid began to open.
Hidden Above The chamber was a camera lens, one of hundreds located throughout the starship. Optical data was routed directly into a cybernetic implant which, like the man inside the chamber, was embedded within the skull of the ship's pilot. Using onboard processors and the raw computing power of his cerebral cortex, telemetry was converted into ocular images that he could therefore 'see', despite being hundreds of meters away from the chamber itself.
Terrifying events were unfolding before him: an assassin had infiltrated the ship, sealed himself in the cargo bay, activated the CRU (Clone Reanimation Unit) prematurely, and was now moments away from murdering the most important figure in Theology Council history.
The same cybernetic implant feeding data to the pilot's brain made his ship a natural extension of his own physical self. All he needed was to will his starship into action, and his biochemical signals were translated into digital instructions that were executed immediately by automated systems or the hundreds of crew members onboard. Because of this union between man and machine, the ship could react as quickly as its pilot could think – but only if he knew how to act. Dealing with onboard saboteurs was a situation that had, until now, been unthinkable.
Opening a command channel through the cruiser's subspace communication arrays, the pilot watched helplessly as the assassin stood over the CRU and began taunting the vulnerable clone of Falek Grange.
'Lord Victor, we have an emergency,' the pilot said.
'Lieutenant Thornsson,' the stern voice replied from dozens of light years away. 'Go ahead.'
'We escaped from Karsoth's forces and survived a Covenant ambush,' the pilot replied. 'But there's an assassin onboard and —'
The pilot lost his concentration as the attacker's clenched, metal-plated fist crashed down upon Falek Grange's face, spraying droplets of blood across the room.
Despite The Physical appearance of an older man, this incarnation of Falek Grange was less than five minutes old. Every cell in his body was an exact replica of the original man, who by now had been dead for almost forty minutes. Although the brain of this clone contained elemental knowledge artificially distilled from simulated life experiences that an older man should have, in this case the core attributes of Falek's original personality and personal memories were absent. A person awakening in this state has knowledge, but lacks the understanding of why he knows what he does.
To call this condition 'amnesia' would be inaccurate, for the term implies that there was once a memory to lose. This was far worse. For Falek Grange, there were no memories. Every experience from now on would seem both new and distantly familiar all at once.
But there was nothing familiar about the horrid violence that Falek was enduring now. With each blow, Falek could feel both skin and bone breaking beneath the assailant's mailed fists. Every strike was perfectly placed to inflict maximum pain; just when Falek thought he would lose consciousness, the assassin instructed the CRU to inject him with enough adrenaline to keep him awake. With his head still attached to the neural interface and his hands clamped to the chamber walls, Falek was helpless to defend himself.
When the sparks of pain and numbing disorientation parted for just a moment, he gurgled out a single, pleading question:
The assassin – a much younger man, with features similar to Falek's – removed his gauntlets, unveiling thick, calloused hands. As if in prayer, he murmured a series of phrases in a foreign language, closing his eyes while speaking.
Then he pressed both his hands into the deep, symmetric lacerations on Falek's eye sockets and jawbone.
'Unholy Beast!' THORNSSON raged as he watched Falek scream. 'The assassin is Covenant!'
'You have to seal him inside the CRU,' Victor answered. 'Force it shut if you have to —'
'I can't! He disabled the hatch – my crew can't get inside!'
The assassin raised both blood-soaked hands upward as if to make an offering, and then lowered them to allow droplets of the crimson fluid to fall into his mouth.
'There's nothing they can do at all?' Victor pleaded.
'They're trying everything to break in,' the pilot replied. 'We don't stow any explosives onboard to blast through ...'
He thought about that for a moment, and then added:
'A Pity That you'll never know your crimes,' the assassin said, manipulating the bloody controls of the CRU. 'They are too numerous to mention in the time we have left.'
Falek Grange would have sobbed if he could; his eyes were swollen shut as his body rushed fluids to the trauma sites on his face. But the physical pain was no less excruciating than the mental anguish of not knowing if this cruel fate was deserved.
A shudder wracked his aching body as the locking shunt connecting his implant to the CRU withdrew from his skull.
'My master has passed judgment on you,' the assassin continued, placing one hand over Falek's disfigured face and running it slowly toward his neck. 'It is my devoted honor to serve him.'
Using his free hand, the assassin brandished a small scepter. As Falek felt the grip around his neck tighten, he wished for the nothingness that was before the whispers brought him to life.
'This will purge New Eden of your curse once and for all.'
'Your clones have been destroyed, as all of ours have,' Victor warned. 'You know what that means!'
'I believe in her, my lord,' Thornsson said, swallowing hard as the assassin forcibly yanked Falek upright by his neck and positioned the scepter beneath his head. 'And she believed in him.'
With a single thought, Lieutenant Thornsson armed the self-destruct sequence for his ship.
'This is all I can do to save him,' he said, just as the assassin thrust the back of Falek's exposed skull downward. 'Tell her that I did this for her glory ...'
'She already knows, my friend,' Victor replied.
Falek had little time to scream as the electrically charged scepter made brief contact with the implant's socket, producing a sickening flash of white and red. As the surrounding tissue vaporized along with metal, the lid of the CRU forcibly closed down, knocking the scepter loose and forcing the assassin to release his choking grip. Falek collapsed, unconscious, onto his back within the chamber as the lid shut completely and formed an airtight seal. The last thing the enraged assassin would ever see was a reinforced blast shield rise from the floor and enclose the CRU, where his prey continued to breathe.
Powered by an aneutronic fusion reactor, the Prophecy-class battle-cruiser piloted by Lieutenant Thornsson relied on magnetic containment fields to regulate the flow of plasma used for propulsion. If these fields collapsed, the plasma would scatter internally and destroy the surrounding structure.
They also served as the primary self-destruct mechanism for the ship.
Lieutenant Thornsson was sacrificing himself and his crew in a desperate attempt to save the life of Falek Grange. Normally occurring after a sixty-second countdown, the fail-safes regulating the fields were instructed to switch off earlier, making it impossible for anyone onboard to escape. In the exact instant when the blast shield locked into place over the CRU, the containment fields ceased, and the engine room's plasma began incinerating everything in its path, eating its way back into the fusion reactor within seconds.
Expanding outward in every direction, the resulting explosion tore the ship in two, obliterating the decks leading up to the forward superstructure. Fragments of superheated debris travelling at immense speeds perforated every remaining section of the ship. For the crew closest to the engine room at the time of the blast, death came as quickly as a thought. For those in the forward compartments, there may have been just enough time to grasp the severity of what was happening, but not much more.
For Falek Grange, the experience was the same as the blackness from which he had emerged. Protected by the blast shield, the CRU continued to function, keeping him alive for the time being. Suspended inside the chamber, he floated among the ruins of a shattered starship, unwillingly clinging to an existence whose single memory was of being tortured and beaten to within an inch of his life.CHAPTER 2
Delve Region – 05K-Y6 Constellation System IB-VKF
'How many times does that kid have to screw up,' Vince started, holding the two charred electrical couplings up for emphasis, 'before you realize he just can't handle this yet?'
Téa remained defiant. 'You ever think that the problem is how you're teaching him? He's a lot smarter than you give him credit for.'
Vince gritted his teeth. 'Look, I'm serious here, someone is going to get hurt if this keeps up —'
A blaring intercom interrupted the two squabbling siblings. 'Did you find the problem?'
'A capacitor rig was installed wrong, courtesy of the boy genius,' Vince answered. 'I have to replace a bunch of cable, and we're out of spare caps.'
'Oh, that's real big of you, blaming him like that,' Téa protested. 'You're unbelievable sometimes!'
'Téa, enough,' the voice interrupted. 'I need you in front with me. Put the kid on the winch controls before you head up.'
She glared at Vince, fuming.
'You heard the captain,' he said, smirking. 'Go someplace where you can be useful for a change.'
'Vince, forget the cap, just replace cables,' the intercom continued. 'Get into a survival suit when you're done. A battlecruiser blew up out here, and if there's salvage, we need it. You've got about five minutes.'
'Yes, sir,' Vince mocked, setting down on a knee and ripping access panels off the bulkhead. They fell with a crash as he reached for a soldering torch.
Téa stormed past. 'Just one fucking shred of compassion for once.'
He lowered a welding mask over his face. 'Don't hate me because I'm right,' he muttered, as sparks showered onto the metal grating.
Téa was accustomed to the putrid concoction of odors aboard the Retford. The recycled air was ripe with the heavy stench of mildew, sweat, and mechanical lubricants. Flickering lamps illuminated the pipes and bulkhead fittings that snaked along the ceilings as she navigated the ship's narrow corridors, which she could probably manage while blindfolded. Like the rest of the small crew, these metal catacombs had been her home for years, replacing a life in Caldari society that was only slightly worse than this.
'Gear?' she asked, ascending a small ladder.
Scanning the confined galley, she already knew that the boy was here. Apart from the bridge, there were no other rooms with a view outside. This was the only place on the Retford where one could find some peace, if just for a short time.
The tip of a tiny shoe was protruding from the galley's single table. Téa squatted to look below. 'Hey,' she said. 'Whatcha' doin' down here?'
Gear sat with his hands clasped around his knees, his hazel eyes full of dejection. Lowering herself beneath the table, she took a seat on the floor beside him.
'Sometimes, learning isn't easy,' she said softly.
The child looked up, gesturing with his hands: I did it the way he told me to!
'Oh, I believe you!' she said, her heart wrenching with sympathy. 'Vince is careless at times. He isn't the best teacher ...'
Gear's hands motioned in a flurry. He's a big jerk! And he told Captain Jonas about my mistake!
'Captain Jonas isn't mad at you,' she said, leaning forward to place a gentle hand on his cheek. Her pale skin contrasted sharply with his olive tone. 'In fact, he needs your help with the winch again.'
All I ever do around here is work the winch, Gear motioned. Vince won't let me do anything else.
'You'll get your chance,' she said, brushing aside the thick locks of hair from his forehead. 'Everyone does. But you're the best winch operator on the ship – even better than Captain Jonas.'
Gear shrugged. It's easy, once you get used to it.
'You know, the captain thinks that a battlecruiser blew up out here ...'
Really? His eyes lit up. A battlecruiser?
'Yes,' she smiled. 'There's only one way to find out for sure!'
The boy scampered out from beneath the table and disappeared down the ladder.
Three Years Of this, Jonas thought. And I'm no closer to getting rich than when I was planetside. He rubbed his temples, staring at all the yellow markers in the schematic display before him. Each was an indicator of a component that was either malfunctioning or in danger of ceasing completely. The Retford was a sick starship, urgently in need of an overhaul. But with what money? Jonas thought, annoyed that it was taking Téa so long to reach the 'bridge', which in this frigate was little more than a cramped room with a forward view and two uncomfortable seats. This flying shitcan represents my entire net worth, and it's crewed by two goddamn fugitives and a ten-year-old kid who can't talk. Disgusted, he shut down the schematic and switched to the scanner. A flashing marker indicated the approximate location where the battlecruiser explosion was detected. At least I have my health, he thought, just as the door behind him opened. For now, anyway.
'What took you so long?' he muttered.
'I was trying to fix the damage that my asshole brother did,' Téa answered, settling into the seat beside him. 'Gear's just a child, for God's sake, and Vince needn't be so hard on him.'
Excerpted from Eve: The Empyrean Age by Tony Gonzales. Copyright © 2008 CCP hf. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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